In a mercurial mood change, Mother Nature seems to have tired of our spectacular autumn. Gone are blue skies, dazzling foliage and ultra warm temperatures. In their place are glowering clouds filled with cold rain and fierce winds.
But that’s okay. I welcome the change in seasons and have always embraced the following words—no matter whether one prefers the biblical version or the lyrics of Pete Seeger.*
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: ~ Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
To everything, turn, turn, turn There is a season, turn, turn, turn And a time to every purpose under heaven ~ Pete Seeger
Not only weather changes with the seasons. Habits do, too. Darkness settles early and now there is time to read a stack of books.
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. The bookshop, is named Literary Apothecary, is actually housed in a barge on the Seine. Owner Monsieur Perdu has a rather magical reputation of matching books to patrons’ emotional needs. There is also a mystery surrounding his own love life and the central conflict will probably be whether he can help himself.
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny is the latest in her mystery series featuring Armand Gamache of Three Pines, Quebec. His fellow villagers—talented artist, psychologist who owns a bookstore, poet with a pet duck and a gay couple who own a B&B/bistro and serve tantalizing drinks and meals—are wonderful and quirky. This murder, though, seems especially grisly.
Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace is the first of Wallace’s many books to make it to the pile even though I’ve long been intrigued by both the man and his writing. He seems as insightful as Jim Harrison although his subjects aren’t perhaps as compelling to me. In any case, I can read almost anything if it’s well written.
The Ploughman’s Lunch and the Miser’s Feast by Brian Yarvin. When I’m traveling in the UK, pubs are always favorite choices for meals and not only for the local brews on tap and the cozy, warm, welcoming atmosphere. I love the food. My go-to lunch during my first visits was the ploughman’s lunch. Specifics varied but crusty bread, English cheese and pickles or chutney were always on the plate.
The photographs are mouth-watering (and make me wish for a pint) and I can’t wait to try some of the recipes—Deviled Crab, Salmagundi, Classic Roast Beef, Chicken and Leek Casserole, Fish and Chips (the authentic!), Welsh Rarebit and, in honor of a hilarious evening in the Costswolds with my gardener friends, the dessert Spotted Dick.
The Cook and the Gardener by Amanda Hesser is a nonfiction memoir/cookbook (including 240 recipes) of the year when Hesser was the personal chef at a French chateau. (Not a bad gig, n’est-ce pas?) I’ve known of Hesser since she was a writer for The New York Times food section and always admired her writing. She befriended the quiet, old gardener at the chateau and used the plants from his garden as inspiration and centerpieces in her cooking.
* Another interpretation of Pete Seeger’s lyrics are of an anti-war sentiment.
Suddenly it seems as if every leaf of every deciduous tree has changed color. What was once green and chlorophyll-filled has turned to scarlet, yellow, bronze and every tint in between. No doubt this warm glorious fall played a part in the delay of our annual spectacle.
What isn’t different is the question I always hear: “Why do leaves change color?” If the person is really inquisitive the questions might continue. “What causes vibrant orange of sugar maples, scarlet on sumacs and golden aspens? And why do leaves fall?”
The main reason is autumn itself—with its cooler temperatures and decreasing day length. But other things are happening, too.
Yellow/Gold/Orange Leaf Color Leaves contain several pigments but chlorophyll, the green pigment, prevails for most of the year. Pigments such as carotenes and xanthophylls also exist but are masked by the presence of chlorophyll. These pigments are responsible for yellow and orange colors in carrots, corn, daffodils, egg yolks and bananas. As the hours of sunlight decrease, plants make less and less chlorophyll until eventually none is produced at all. Gradually, carotene and xanthphyll pigments become evident and produce those yellow, gold and orange colors.
Because carotenes and xanthophylls are always present in leaves and aren’t susceptible to other conditions, these foliage colors remain fairly constant from year to year.
Red/Purple/Crimson Leaf Color Anthocyanins are water soluble pigments that give fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, red apples, cherries and strawberries their color. In leaves of select plants, anthocyanins are produced under certain fall conditions.
Anthocyanin production is dependent on both light levels and temperature. On sunny days, leaves are busy photosynthesizing and producing large amounts of oxygen and sugar. When night temperatures fall below 45°F, very little movement of sugar occurs from foliage to other plant parts. Instead, these substances are trapped in the leaves and the red pigment becomes evident. In oaks, anthocyanins combine with naturally occurring tannins and the foliage turns brown.
Often anthocyanins combine with carotenes and xanthophylls in leaves to produce the truly spectacular shades of coral, scarlet and bronze.
Why do leaves fall? Deciduous woody plants prepare for dormancy by shedding parts that aren’t able to survive freezing temperatures. Cells of foliage contain watery sap which is vulnerable to cold but t trunks, branches and buds have necessary cell structure to withstand winter conditions.
Triggered by cool nights and short days, leaves reduce production of the enzyme that holds cells together and an abscission—or separation—zone develops at the base of the stem. Once that separation layer is complete, the leaf falls.
Why do some leaves not fall? During autumn, certain deciduous plants exhibit a phenomenon called marcescence, defined as “withering but not falling off.” Hornbeam (Carpinus spp.) trees and many members of the Beech (Fagaceae) family, including oaks (Quercus spp.) and beech (Fagus spp.), exhibit marcescence.
If marcescent foliage isn’t broken off by wind and snow during winter, it eventually falls in spring when a corky layer forms at the base of the leaf stem. Those cells expand and eventually break which causes the leaf to fall. Coincidentally, this occurs when the buds of new leaves are swelling.
Botanists and plant physiologists aren’t sure why marcescence occurs. It might be more common on younger trees, or on new growth of older trees or on leaves high in the canopy that receive more sunlight. One benefit of these marcescent leaves is to protect exposed shoots from browsing deer and moose.
This glorious autumn is like none other I can remember. Sunny, unseasonably warm days are followed by evenings of colorful sunsets, extraordinary moons and bright stars.
The garden, too, is amazing and plants have taken complete advantage, unencumbered by killing frosts or freezes. Tender herbs and annuals live on and on—and a Hemerocallis flava and several hardy geraniums have new blossoms.
Woody plants are thriving also and seem loathe to move on. While fall color is beginning to show on maples and aspens and birches, the leaves of oaks in the forest and shrub roses in the garden are steadfastly green.
And I was thrilled to see a final thorny ‘Purple Pavement’ stem shoot through the cedar trellis and pleasure me with a froth of her spicy blossoms.
Most container gardens are stuffed with several different plants showing off the gardener’s expertise with color and texture. But sometimes the simplicity of a single plant is perfect. In the shade of my birch grove, a vigorously mounding and trailing Impatiens ‘Tumbler Rose’ guards the grave site of a very special puppy.
For much of the season, the essence of Clematis ‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’ is her rambling foliage and boisterous form. Now in full bloom, though, it’s elegance. The froth of dainty lavender flowers resembles a ball gown and the stained glass butterfly a flamboyant brooch.
For several years, petunias have self-seeded in the grass under my window boxes. These new plants reverted to their parents and now bear fragrant blossoms in old-fashioned colors of white, pink and lavender. Suptertunia ‘Vista Bubblegum’ seems garish when compared to the charm of my petunias.
Usually the earliest signs appear by the middle of August. The first crisp night that doesn’t get out of the 40s and perhaps a windy day with low clouds are subtle but foretelling. For even though the autumnal equinox is still several weeks out, shortened day lengths and the lowering angle of the sun are harbingers of the season ahead.
Fall is glorious in Minnesota and, in my opinion, second only to spring. Nature must agree. Nothing is held back as it signs off in a blaze of glory. Foliage and berries turn rich shades of scarlet, tangerine, amber, bronze, copper and russet.
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower. ~ Albert Camus
Most gardens could use freshening and the best way is to pot up some container gardens. Ignore glossy magazine photos and instead just go the nursery. Head out on your own and prowl among the greenhouse benches for inspiration.
Be on the lookout for fun, new plants. Lonnie LaMontagne from Burntisde Lodge was recently given a pot of Mukgenia from Arla Carmichael and Steve Kelley, owner of Kelley & Kelley Nursery in Long Lake, Minnesota. The plant--a cross between Mukdenia and Bergenia--was developed by Terra Nova. It flowers in spring but has pretty fall foliage from its Bergenia parent.
Listed below are plants that are wonderful options for fall container gardens. Some plants are hardy, some not. If it is hardy, plant in the garden at the end of the season. If not, simply toss onto the compost pile.
Herbaceous plants • Chrysanthemum (Dendranthema) Some might consider them boring but they are beautiful, long lasting and have a pungent fragrance. • Coleus (Solenostemon) One colorful plant can be the foundation for the entire container garden. • Japanese Anemone (Anemone) The white 'Honorine Jobert' always looks crisp and classic. • Herbs are pretty and useful. Good options include rosemary and thyme. • Heuchera (Heuchera) Pretty foliage provides similar colorful accent as coleus. • Lettuces. Why not? Attractive and edible. • Pansies (Viola) The same purples, blues and oranges that work well in spring are perfect in fall. • Sages (Salvia) Many shine in the fall including S. greggii, S. 'Indigo Spires'. • Wormwood (Artemesia 'Powis Castle') ‘Powis Castle’ is simply the finest artemesia with lacy, silvery foliage that somehow looks perfect with fall’s colors.
Grasses • Forest grass (Hakonechloa) The variegated foliage is eye-catchingly bright with a beautiful flowing form. • Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) Darling, dainty, nodding fruit on graceful stems. • Silver spikegrass (Spodiopogon sibiricus) Clump-forming grass similar in look to bamboo with yellow, orange or red fall color. • Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) Native to the tall grass prairie. Try 'Prairie Fire', 'Northwind', 'Heavy Metal'.
Woody plants • Dogwood (Cornus) An extraordinary native is gray dogwood with crimson foliage and white berries. • English ivy (Hedera helix) This graceful, trailing plant comes in many foliage colors and sizes and can withstand freezing. • Hydrangea (Hydrangea) Generally the foliage isn’t much but the flower stalks are outstanding. • Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) All are simply lovely but a favorite is 'Waterfall.' • Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) An amazing shrub with amazing fruit and graceful habit. • Shrub rose (Rosa rugosa) Choose plants with good fall color and persistent hips. • ‘Tiger Eyes’ sumac (Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger') Hope this doesn't become overused because it is stunning. • Viburnum (Viburnum) Many options with colorful foliage and fruit.
Some final thoughts about creating a fall pot A container garden for autumn is different from those of other seasons. Among other considerations, time can be short before the first snow flies so make the most of it.
• Use lots of plants for abundance. • Use flowering plants. • Remember at least some of the design principles. Proportion, balance and scale come to mind. • Keep it simple. Rather than choosing 10 different plants, consider multiple plants of fewer types. • Groups several pots together.
Photos of blue hydrangea at top, red leaf and pink hydrangea above are by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman's Cabinet.
This stack of books might look innocuous but it packs a powerful punch. Joan Didion and Irene Nemirovsky are extraordinary writers and among my favorites. And what gardener could resist Cooking with Flowers?
The Fires of Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky is a newly translated novel by this remarkable woman. She was born of aristocratic Jewish Russian parents who fled after the Russian Revolution. The family ended up in Paris where Nemirovsky studied literature at the Sorbonne. But once again, terror found them and Nemirovsky was sent to Auschwitz where she died in 1942.
Most of Nemirovsky’s novels were forgotten at the time and discovered later by one of her daughters. Her subject matter is France and its people and her lyrical prose pulls one into their stories.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion was published in 2005, about two years after Didion’s husband, John Gregory Dunne, died suddenly. It reads like a series of beautifully written essays—full of insight and “magical thinking.” For anyone struggling to overcome grief after an agonizing death, this is the book.
Her opening lines are simple.
Life changes fast. Life changes in an instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon is the last of her books chronicling feisty, intelligent Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser and her wonderful, fierce Scottish Highlander husband James Fraser. I need to savor this one but am comforted by the September release of more episodes on DVD of the compelling adaptation by Ronald D. Moore.
Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King is the newest novel featuring married couple Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes as they travel around the world solving crimes. Russell is a perfect foil to Holmes whether considering age, family or education. She is independent, too, and keeps her own home in Oxford where she retreats when necessary.
On her drive to Oxford, she stops at a pub for dinner.
Heaven lay within, an ancient gathering space that could only be in England, every breath testifying to its centuries of smoke and beer, damp dogs, and the sweat of working men.
Cooking with Flowers by Miche Bacher is a gorgeous, tantalizing flower book/cook book. Bacher founded the now-shuttered Mali B Sweets bakery in the village of Greenport on Long Island’s North Fork. The chapters feature edible flowers like dandelions, elderflowers, geraniums, herbs, lilacs, nasturtiums, roses and violets in all manner of recipes from sweet pastries and savory dishes to yummy sounding cocktails and jams, jellies and syrups.
The photographs by Miana Jun are beautiful, including the mouth-watering picture on the cover.
The Calendula Orange Cake is decorated with a sprinkling of rose, dianthus, bachelor button and marigold flower petals. According to Bacher, the floral confetti turns the cake into a “colorful, flavorful and textural” celebration dessert.
Absolutely! I want this cake for my next birthday.
To rebuild a little chunk of the flowering earth: This should be every gardener’s goal. ~ Umberto Pasti
The magazine section of The New York Times Sunday newspaper has been revamped at least a couple times in recent years. Changes are due in part, no doubt, to changing demographics and how people receive the news. Their periodic “Style” magazines cover fashion, design, travel and culture and are truly outstanding. In my opinion, these special editions are far superior to the best periodicals in their genre—including Vogue, Architectural Digest, Town & Country, Vanity Fair and Esquire—in terms of content, in-depth coverage and, most importantly, writing ability.
The June 14, 2015, issue of the now-called T: The New York Times Style Magazine was about design and was excellent. A short “In Nature” piece was written by Umberto Pasti, a writer and horticulturist who perfectly captures the essence of gardening.
"To become a gardener means to try, to fail, to stubbornly plug away at something, to endure serious disappointments and small triumphs that encourage you to try and fail again. But it means, above all, perking up your ears, sniffing, identifying the rhythm and the secret voice of a place, so that you may abandon yourself to and indulge it. To make a garden is to surrender so completely that you forget yourself. It is to obey.
"But to obey what? First of all, the quality of the soil, its exposure to light, the quantity of available water, where the water will drain and where it will remain stagnant, the climate and its extremities—the same laws that even the most pigheaded gardener is obliged to obey. Great gardens, no matter their look, are born from careful attention to the voice of nature and the desires of the genius loci, the spirit of the place.
"Making a garden is not a task or an action whose goal is the creation of a garden. It’s a condition, a form of being. Your garden is you, as you make it, draw it, think it. This is why the errors are important: not only because it is thanks to them that you learn what not to do, but because in them you express something profoundly yours, your identity.
"For gardeners, paradise doesn’t exist elsewhere; it is here. You, too, come in, with the force of your hands and the power of your imagination, breaking your arms and your back, fantasizing…Nature rewards the bold."
To view more of the sublime Umberto Pasti, watch this youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mIVLHdRfFs. Jason Oliver, London’s contributing editor of Veranda magazine, traveled to Tangier, Morocco, to photograph Pasti and his home and garden for the September/October 2013 issue.
Even though classic design principles such as balance, scale, sequence, simplicity and repetition should be applied when planning a garden, a little whimsy doesn’t hurt. In fact, something quirky provides a foil—an element of juxtaposition.
There are many ways to add that touch—a piece in stained glass, rusty wrought iron or some goofy piece of garden art. One cheap, easy option is to paint something.
Paint a bench. At the exquisite Burntside Lodge on the shores of Burntside Lake outside Ely, Minnesota, Lonnie LaMontagne tends the gardens. As with most gardeners, her style and plant choices have evolved throughout the 30 years she and he husband Lou have managed the resort. Perennial beds at the main lodge are edged with large native stones and a soothing water garden borders the old shuffleboard court.
Lonnie embraces simple concepts, too. Bright white petunias are planted in vintage wheelbarrows and hanging baskets while Burntside’s signature plant, a deep red geranium, fills various containers from old dishwashing baskets lined with moss, huge cauldrons and stumps of white pine and birch.
But Lonnie knows that whimsy also works. A plain pine bench at the back entrance of The Post is painted purple. A flat of marching pansies await planting.
Paint a watering can. Watering cans are strategically placed near gardens and pots at Burntside Lodge so it’s easy to trickle water on a droopy plant. Occasionally a watering can will get in the way of a guest’s vehicle but a dent and some pink paint only add to its charm.
Paint a window box. The color used in countless ways at Lucia’s Restaurant & Wine Bar in Minneapolis is a shade of bright blue reminiscent of France. It’s a suitable choice because much of the Lucia Watson’s original inspiration came from that country. The logo is blue; so too are cloth napkins, cooks’ aprons, chair upholstery and bud vases.
Outside under blue awnings are simple wood window boxes painted the same shade. Amazing but those blue window boxes look terrific whether planted with a colorful jumble of annuals in summer, pumpkins and gourds in autumn or, in winter, adorned with greens, birch twigs and fairy lights.
Simple Cooking by John Thorne and Matt Lewis Thorne is a newsletter (a real newsletter!) that’s supposed to be a quarterly but appears quite randomly. I’ve been a fan of John Thorne’s cooking and writing styles since happening across his first book, Simple Cooking, in the late 1980s. Outlaw Cook, Pot on the Fire and others followed. He starts with a simple idea of a dish or a food product and then ponders it, exhaustively researches it and concludes with wonderful observations. He’s similar to Michael Pollan but has the charm of Steve Kelley, owner of Kelley & Kelley Nursery and writer of an annual garden newsletter.
Unfortunately this is issue #95 and John and Matt have announced they will cease publication after #100.
The Swimmer by Joakim Zander caught my attention first, for the title (I'm a sucker for water and swimming analogies) and second, because it’s a spy thriller written by a Swedish attorney. The intriguing plot has characters with deep secrets chasing around Europe and the Middle East. It’s perfect for a summer holiday at a cabin on a lake.
A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon is the sixth of her Outlander novels. Even though Jamie Fraser now resembles Forrest Gump in his ability to be everywhere of historical importance in the late 1700s and none compare to the first two, Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber, Jamie and Claire are still compelling characters. Too, Gabaldon’s attention to detail is fascinating, especially when told from the angle of Scottish Highlanders.
The Sunday New York Times newspapers have stacked up since late April. When time is short and work duties take precedence, there just is no way to do them justice. One should brew a pot of coffee and have hours of free time. This is the best newspaper in the country and, in a way, it compares with National Public Radio in the breadth and depth of its coverage. I always start with the Sunday Styles section because I can’t wait to see where Bill Cunningham has been.
The English Garden magazine is published in Gloucestershire, England, but judging by the subtitle, “English Style for North American Gardeners,” is marketed to the U.S. No matter, English gardens are the most beautiful in the world and I learn more from its pages than from any magazine in our country. Many thanks to my friend and fellow garden traveler, Cathy Nyquist, for sharing her copies.
Inspiration can come from different places. Reading, talking with friends, taking a class and travel are options. Emptying the mind and daydreaming are good, too.
Photographs are perfect. When I see something I like in a book, magazine or newspaper, I save it. I've cut photos from myriad publications and made color copies from book pages. I've even asked permission to cut while in waiting rooms—whether doctor, dentist or veterinarian—if there's one particular photo I have to have.
This method has proved successful. Designing and building our house was made far simpler because, for many years, I had been saving photos of my dream kitchen, the ultimate dog/laundry room and even cool light fixtures and cabinet hardware. When our builder and his contractors had a question, I simply whipped out a photo and they knew exactly what I envisioned. The result? Our house is, quite literally, a dream come true.
Dream herb garden. While sorting through file folders last winter, I discovered a photograph I had saved of an herb garden in a rustic cedar window box. It was lush with herbs and colorful with bright annuals. There was even a cute cherry tomato plant. I could do this!
So this spring, I hauled out my big, long window box and placed it on our south-facing deck. I filled it with good soil and planted plenty of herbs—thyme, rosemary, tarragon, basil, dill, sage, Italian parsley, chives and lemon verbena. I also placed two 'Whirlybird' nasturtiums to tumble over the edge of the box (and to eat) and a diminutive Nemesia fruticans with fragrant pink flowers. Unfortunately, I couldn't fit in the cute cherry tomato.
Not much happened for several weeks...and I fretted. This wasn't my vision at all. Just lately, though, temperatures warmed and rains abated and my herb garden burgeoned.
Another dream come true.
This also appeared in the Askov American, Askov, Minnesota.
The June 2015 issue of Fine Gardening is full of interesting tidbits and features. Here are the highlights.
Say What?! (page 10) This short piece is about Latin names. Also called scientific names or botanical names, Latin names can be essential to know, especially in cases of confusing common names.
Other fascinating reasons Latin names are better. • Some describe the plant. Example: Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Sequoia). • Most are pronounced pretty much the way they are spelled. The hardest part can be which syllable to emphasize. Example: clematis is properly pronounced KLEM-ah-tis. • Some are lyrical, others spectacular. Example: Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera’ (Japanese Falsecypress). More favorite Latin names are listed below.
The final pages of each magazine includes a pronunciation guide for plants in that issue. The website contains a pronunciation guide for all plants. http://www.finegardening.com/pronunciation-guide/a
Heavenly Scents (page 36) This wonderful feature is written by Joseph Tychonievich, a former nurseryman and a true plantsman. He understands the evocative power of scent. In his opening paragraphs he writes:
“Fragrance, unfortunately, gets short shrift in a lot of the gardening world. Scents can’t be captured in a photograph in a magazine or blog post, and fragrance gets scant attention in most of modern plant breeding.”
Why petunias (and just about everything else) lost their scent (page 39) In this sidebar, Tychonievich explains why plant breeders have forsaken fragrance in their quest for “showier, longer-lasting flowers.” Ethylene is a plant hormone that controls both “aroma production and length of flower life…More ethylene makes a flower fade faster but produces more scent.”
Maybe it’s up to us. Consumers need to “embrace the flowers that fade a little faster. It is a small price to pay for the joys of fragrance.”
Bravo—and not only to Tychonievich but also to editor Steven Aitken for rarely do I see a major publication cross the horticulture industry.
What makes cut flowers last longer? (page 45) Mae Lin Plummer conducted an experiment with the University of North Carolina Charlotte Botanical Gardens testing six additives for water in cut flower bouquets. FloraLife Flower Food 300 was the clear winner. The product contents are proprietary but does contain “‘sugar for nutrition, an acidifier to lower the pH of the water, and a class of compounds called stem absorption enhancers.’”
Regional Picks/Best Fragrant Perennials/Midwest (page 78) In honor perhaps of Tychonievich’s article, the focus of Regional Picks this month is “Best Fragrant Perennials.” Janice Becker, a volunteer at the Chicago Botanic Garden, loves ‘Hyperion’ daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’). It is bright yellow with narrower, more delicate foliage and a “strong, sweet fragrance.” A common name for this daylily is Lemon Lily.
Becker closes with this perfect observation: “You’ll never settle for ‘Stella de Oro’…..once you experience the glorious fragrance of ‘Hyperion.’
Regional Picks/Best Fragrant Perennials/Northern Plains (page 82) Chris Sklar is a landscape designer in Alberta, Canada. One of her four favorites is also one of mine, ‘Festiva Maxima’ peony (Paeonia ‘Festiva Maxima’). It’s the white one with streaks of red and was probably planted in everyone’s garden post WWII.
‘Festiva Maxima’ deserves to be in all Zones 3 - 8 gardens still.
For northern gardeners, May is a great month. First of all, it’s practically carte blanch to buy plants. Then we get to dig our hands in the soil. (See guidelines for planting times at the bottom of the checklist.)
May is also busy with many chores and lots of things to get organized. Best get started.
• With lists and design notes in hand, visit favorite nurseries and greenhouses.
• Be strong! Refrain from cutting back unsightly bulb foliage. The leaves are essential for sufficient food production (photosynthesis) for healthy bulbs next year. It's safe to cut off foliage when it has yellowed and withered.
• As vines start growing, take time to guide new shoots where you want them. (I always forget this one and it’s too late when the clematis already has 100 shoots winding every which way.)
• Practice no-till. Put the soil-destroying roto-tiller away. Instead use a broad fork.
• When transplanting annuals, cut off flowers, prune spindly growth and gently feather out crowded roots. (These practices encourage good root development, branching and future flower production.)
• Put out peony cages, stakes, trellises, obelisks and other garden necessities.
• Also put out fun garden furnishings such as fountains, rain chains, pretty pots, stained glass pieces and other objects d’art.
• If you don't have a compost pile, start one. It can be as simple as a big pile in an out-of-the-way spot surrounded by chicken wire. Nothing better for your soil (ergo your garden) than to apply a 2-3” layer of good compost every fall.
• If your lilac planting needs rejuvenation, you can start after the flowers fade. Cut out 1/3 of the largest stems a couple of inches above the soil surface. Next year prune another 1/3 of the largest stems and the following year, cut out the remaining 1/3. After three years, the lilacs will be completely renewed.
• Monitor plants for pests, diseases and pathogens. If you can live with the problem, don’t do anything. (Some of those are part of your garden’s ecosystem.) If not, choose an organic solution.
• Save all plant tags for those mythical lists and notes you think you’ll make at the end of the season.
• If garden furniture has been stored, pull it out. Clean chairs, benches, ottomans and tables and move into place. When you finally sit down at the end of the day, toast the new season with your favorite cocktail.
OK to plant now: • cool-season or cold-tolerant annual vegetables such as beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, rutabaga, spinach and turnips. • cold-tolerant annuals like allysum, larkspurs, marigolds, snapdragons and stock • perennial and cold-tolerant herbs such as chives, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme • last year’s or field-grown perennials • perennial fruits and vegetables such as rhubarb and asparagus (if not already in the ground) • woody plants such as trees (shade, ornamental and fruit-bearing), shrubs and vines
Wait until night temperatures are consistently above 50 and soil temperature has warmed to: • transplant warm-season vegetables such as cucumbers, eggplants, muskmelon, peppers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes and watermelon • plant non-cold-tolerant annuals • put out tropical and greenhouse-grown plants
Gifted writer Jim Harrison is perhaps best known for his fiction but he can also write essays. The Raw and the Cooked is wonderful and in his memoir, Off to the Side, he includes chapters on Seven Obsessions. In his eloquent style, Harrison writes of, among others, The Road, Nature, Private Religion and Hunting/Fishing (and Dogs).
In a far less erudite fashion, I exploit his idea.
Presented below are Seven Garden Obsessions.
Fragrance. Plant breeders are often so intent on unnecessary colors or monstrous double blossoms that they disregard basic botany. The entire raisond’etre of a flower is to produce a seed which ensures the continuation of the species. Scent is key to pollination.
Flowers with fragrance are borne on all manner and size of plants—from herbaceous annuals and perennials to shrubs, trees and vines. Whether scent is sweet or spicy, heady or delicate, I value it more than show-off colors or huge blossoms.
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. ~ Les Brown
Dream big. When designing a garden, I take time to dream big—really brainstorm and plan. Inspiration comes from books and magazines, friends, travel, classes and visiting gardens. The final design is one all-encompassing, long-range project that’s phased in as time and money allow.
Famous gardens. Many famous gardens were once part of private estates and are now generously open to the public. Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Biltmore and Filoli are just a few worth seeing in our country. Overseas, grand gardens include Giverny, Sissinghurst Castle and Villa Carlotta on Lake Como in Italy.
Public gardens often came about due to one person’s bold dream. Minnesotans can thank Dr. Leon C. Snyder who envisioned the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and, in North Carolina, Dr. J. C. Raulston was the force behind his state’s arboretum.
Whether the garden is public or private, I support them with memberships and contributions. And I never miss an opportunity to visit a garden when traveling.
If you make a four-season garden…you feel the life cycle of nature. ~ Piet Oudolf
Four seasons. I value dormant landscapes and design for all four seasons. Gardens should celebrate the compelling cycle of growth, reproduction, decay and rebirth.
Take good care. A garden—whether 10 square feet or 10 acres—is part of our planet’s ecosystem. I take good care of the soil and its microorganisms by practicing no-till tilling, top-dressing with prodigious amounts of good compost each fall. In addition, it’s crucial to consider the food and habitat needs of native insects, birds and other wildlife when choosing plants.
Food. Food-producing plants should be part of the garden. As space allows, I include woody plants and both annual and perennial herbs, fruits and vegetables. Nothing is more elemental or gratifying than cutting an assortment of colorful lettuces from the garden just prior to preparing the evening’s salad. Fresh food taste better, costs less and is more nutritious.
Furnishings. Just as personal effects like books and artwork give a home its personality so, too, do furnishings and ornaments in outdoor spaces. I love to liven up the garden with distinctive benches, chairs, arbors, lanterns, fountains, rain chains, stained glass pieces, beautiful pots and anything else that strikes my fancy.
Photo of Sissinghurst Castle Garden by Jill Bickford. Photos of peony, lilac, beech and winterberry by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman's Cabinet.
Tulips have been capturing the imagination of mankind for centuries. Whether considering 17th century “tulipomania,” Michael Pollan’s analysis of tulips vis-à-vis the desire of beauty in his landmark book, The Botany of Desire, or Dutch grower’s fervor with their annual production of 4.32 billion tulips bulbs, tulips have an extraordinary history and fan base.
Anna Pavord proclaims in her book, Bulb, the tulip is “the queen of all bulbs, producing the sexiest, the most capricious, the most various, subtle, powerful, and intriguing flowers that any gardener will ever set eyes on.”
For me, a tulip is the epitome of elegance, simplicity and charm. The graceful stems, flower form and clear, saturated colors of the petals take my breath away. I’m never without them in my garden.
Tulip facts • The genus name is Tulipa which comes from the Turkish word for turban. • Tulips belong to the Lily or Liliaceae family, a primitive group of monocots that evolved 58 million years ago. Other plants include crocus, hyacinths, iris and, of course, lilies. • Lily family members produce bulbs, rhizomes or tubers and have plant parts in threes. • Tulips are native to mountainous regions in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and China. • From 1634 to 1637, Holland became embroiled in a “tulipomania”—a frenzied tulip-buying period that supposedly began when one tulip fancier coveted the red-and-white ‘Semper Augustus’ bulbs of another. Organic Gardening (April/May 2011) reported that a single bulb sold for what would be $41,000 in today’s currency. • Tulips are divided into 15 groups based on their bloom time, flower form or heritage. Among the divisions are Single Early, Double Early, Triumph, Darwin Hybrid, Lily-Flowered, Fringed, Viridiflora, Parrot and Species.
How to design using tulips in garden beds Designing for tulips in a garden is simple. Follow these three rules.
#1. Buy lots. Don’t be stingy. Tulips look best when massed.
#2. Mix colors. For some reason, whether we need a color fix in spring or tulip colors just naturally blend (or both), most colors can be grown together. (White Flower Farm knows this, too, and offers gorgeous combinations including French Single Late Tulip Mix and Peaches and Cream Tulip Mix.)
#3. Plant in casual groups. In other words, don’t plant tulips in straight lines or geometric patterns. I prefer random placement. Gently toss a handful of bulbs onto the bed and plant where they land.
Tulips are versatile and combine well with other spring-blooming bulbs, perennials and woody plants. Consider using other bulbs such as checkered lilies (Fritillaria), grape hyacinths (Muscari), daffodils (Narcissus) and Siberian squills (Scilla), as well as perennials including bleeding hearts (Dicentra), hellebores (Helleborus), violets (Viola). In addition, the use of plants—whether perennials, ground covers or annuals—is a perfect way to hide unsightly foliage as it fades.
Woody plants that bloom at the same time are perfect partners. Choices include serviceberries (Amelanchier), dogwoods (Cornus), amur cherries (Prunis maackii) and azaleas (Rhododendron).
How to grow tulips in garden beds Even though spring is the season to reap rewards, the work of planting tulips must be done in the fall. (Bookmark this post and make “Note to self” to re-visit in August.)
Buy good quality bulbs. Catalogs and online resources generally have their product lists available in late spring/early summer. Local greenhouses and nurseries will usually stock bulbs in late summer. My two favorite resources are Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and White Flower Farm.
Choose a site in full sun with rich soil and good drainage. No fertilization is necessary. (The optimum way to ensure healthy soil is an annual top-dressing of 2-3” of good compost.)
Brent and Becky’s Bulbs recommends planting tulip bulbs “after the first frost but before the ground freezes.” Or check soil temperature and plant when soil has cooled to about 60 degrees. Try not to procrastinate. The longer the bulbs are in the ground, the more fully developed the roots will be.
Dig holes to depth of 6 – 10” (or 3-4 times the height of the bulb). Depth refers to the distance from the bottom of the hole to the soil surface. Space so that the center of bulbs are about 6” apart (or 3 times the width of the bulb). In heavier soil, plant more shallowly.
You can dig one hole for each tulip bulb or one big hole for several. Choose the method that makes the most sense for the garden design and quantity of bulbs.
After planting, water the area thoroughly. If rainfall of about 1” per week isn’t received, continue to water until the ground freezes.
Apply mulch of loose organic material–straw, leaves or evergreen boughs–after the ground freezes. After the first year and every fall thereafter, apply a 2-3” layer of good compost to the soil surface.
After flowers have faded in spring, cut off flowering stalks. Don’t touch the foliage! The leaves will remain green for a time and slowly, ungracefully, and unattractively turn yellow and die. Then and only then is it okay to cut them off. The foliage ensures future, healthy bulbs.
All manner of critters eat various parts of tulips. Protection from deer, rabbits, voles or gophers will, most likely, be necessary. Options abound including bulb cages, wire mesh over the planting area and fencing.
Pavord’s notes of caution Since tulips are native to the high mountains of central Asia where summers are hot and dry, a key component to success with tulips is to mimic those conditions. Pavord writes: “In gardens, they do not always get that essential hot, dry spell, and many gardeners find that tulips do not flower as well in subsequent years as they do in their first.”
In addition, Pavord thinks it’s unrealistic to expect abundance flowers each spring. “There is, though, an unreal expectation on the part of gardeners that every tulip bulb should produce a flower every year. This is not how they perform in the wild…flowering is an exhausting business for them. They need to build themselves up to strength again. If they are left undisturbed, in the right kind of ground, they will do this.”
How to grow tulips in container gardens If your garden beds are full or your soil is just too heavy for bulbs or you’re weary of deer eating every green bit of tulip foliage as soon as it emerges or you just want to grow more bulbs, here’s a nifty option.
Using good potting soil, plant bulbs close together in pots and cover top of bulb by about 1” of soil. (Normal depth and spread guidelines don’t apply to this method.)
Water thoroughly until water dribbles out the bottom of the pots.
Bury containers in well-drained spot so rim of pot is covered.
If critters are a problem, provide protection. Cover planting area with barrier of some kind—mesh, hardware cloth or an old window screen.
Spread about 4” of peat moss, marsh hay or pine needles over the spot.
If adequate rain of about 1” per week isn’t received, water thoroughly until ground has frozen.
Then forget about them until next spring. When the ground has thawed, gently dig up the pots and place by the front door, by the back door, on the terrace or deck.
When the flowers fade, continue to care for the plants until the foliage yellows and dies. Bulbs grown in this manner aren’t stressed at all and can be re-planted in pots or in the ground.
How to force tulips Tulips are easily forced into bloom as long as the minimum dormancy requirement has been met. Simply plant in containers using a good quality potting soil. Water thoroughly and store at 40 degrees. Throughout dormancy, water only when the soil has almost dried out completely. Keep chilled for 14 – 20 weeks. Then move to warm spot with good light. They will bloom in 2 – 3 weeks.
Tulip bouquets Tulips are beautiful in vases because one can see them up close. The colors always amaze and I love gazing into the interior where the big pistil and stamens rise up. Just as with outdoor design, it doesn’t seem to matter whether colors are mixed or monochromatic. The most important consideration is mass.
My favorite tulips
• ‘Angelique’ The only double tulip I like. It’s a late-blooming cultivar in warm shades of pink. • ‘Bestseller’ Rather than choosing a pure color, this Single Early is a sophisticated blend of soft orange, rose and even some gold. • ‘Maytime’ I love this elegant Lily-flowered cultivar with its pointed petals in a soft-ish magenta/violet. • ‘Prinses Irene’ How to describe this Triumph? It is orange and purple with touches of green but it isn’t gaudy at all…it is gorgeous. • ‘Rococo’ Just as the name suggests, this Parrot is wild-looking. Rich shades of red and purple mark the twisted, fringed petals. • ‘Spring Green’ A Viridiflora bi-color with creamy white petals and a bright green flame. (Photo at top by Chris Mathan.)
As you contemplate spring gardening chores (and I know I'm risking redundancy), let me remind gardeners of an "old-is-new" practice: no-till tilling.
No-till tilling is...just that. Don't till. Don't till soil to prepare the garden every spring. Instead, use a broad fork (pictured above) and each fall, put down a lovely, 2"-thick layer of mulch which will slowly decompose to enrich the soil with organic matter and nutrients. (Or if you didn't last year, consider a thin layer now).
The benefits are important and practically magical. • Soil structure isn't damaged. • Billions of creatures (bacteria, fungi, earthworms and others) that live in the soil aren't disturbed, or worse, killed. • Reduces the need for watering and fertilizing. • Saves time and energy. • Helps reduce soil erosion.
Photo above from Valley Oak Tool Company (valleyoaktool.com). Other information posted in the category Saving the World One Garden at a Time.
Lettuce is so easy to grow…and so gratifying to cut fresh, colorful leaves for salads. (In our home a good meal doesn’t seem complete without a salad.) Lettuce can be grown in containers or in the ground. The plants are hearty enough to survive a severe frost. Speedy germination rates of 7 – 10 days ensure quick results. Full sun and a soil rich with compost and/or well-rotted manure is best.
Sow seeds as soon as soil can be worked. Place seeds about ½’’ apart and cover lightly with soil. Thin to about 2’’ apart and make your first salad of micro greens. If you intend to grow some into full heads, thin again to 12’’ apart. Sow every two weeks for continuous growth. Plant a mixture of varieties with each sowing so your salads are colorful and delicious.
Lettuces are roughly grouped into Looseleaf & Oakleaf, Cutting, Bibb & Butterhead, Romaine & Cos. The selections below range in maturity from 42 to 68 days.
• Black Seeded Simpson: Looseleaf type, tender, slightly ruffled. (English heirloom from 1850.) • Buttercrunch: Butterhead, refreshing, dark green outer leaves. • Flashy Green Butter Oak: Oak leaf, crunchy, lime green with dark freckles. • Lollo Rossa: Cutting-type, very frilly and pretty, green at base changing to red. • Parris Island Cos: Romaine, crisp, thick, juicy. • Pirat (Sprenkel or Brauner Trotzkopf): Butterhead, green with light brown pebbling, smooth, creamy. • Red Sails: Looseleaf, crunchy, green at base but mostly red leaves. (Cool name!) • Salad Bowl: Oakleaf, bright green, very lobed leaves. • Speckled Amish: Bibb, beautifully marked green leaves with maroon flecks. (Mennonite heirloom from 1799.) • Winter Density (Craquerelle du Midi): Bibb or Romaine, dark green, tender. (French heirloom from 19th century.)
This post also appeared in the Askov American, Askov, Minnesota.
Michael Pollan describes Joel Salatin as a “grass farmer” in his landmark book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Pollan describes the symbiotic relationship that exists on Salatin’s farm between cows, chickens and natural fertilizer. Salatin has the responsibility of rotating the cows and chickens at the right time but all he really has to grow is good grass.
In much the same way, I think gardeners are “soil farmers.” Gardeners need to take care of their soil and plants in turn will grow just fine.
Peter Garnham wrote a series of six columns on soil in Horticulture magazine beginning with the January/February 2014 issue. Twice I have written about and highlighted Garnham’s key issues and, with this post, I want to summarize his ideas and offer suggestions.
Healthy soil consists of, among other components, microbial-sized bacteria and fungi and larger beetles, worms, ants, slugs, snails and spiders. There are 30,000 kinds of bacteria alone that live in soil. One teaspoon of soil contains several billion bacteria.
Life in the soil relies on the soil food web, a complex symbiotic process that occurs between some of those soil creatures and plant roots. The action starts in the rhizosphere, a thin layer (1/50”) between roots and soil where tiny bacteria and fungi eat organic material sloughed off by roots. Not only do those bacteria and fungi create nutrients the plant needs but they are also a food source for billions of other soil creatures.
A gardener’s role, then, is to be a soil farmer. In other words, a gardener should do everything possible to nurture, protect and feed the billions of microbes and other soil creatures and not to do anything to disturb or destroy the intricate soil balance. Garnham writes that a gardener should “stop behaving like a mass murderer.”
There are three simple steps to follow.
• Don’t rototill. Ever. Instead, use a broad fork. • Don’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. Ever. • Top dress the garden with an inch or two of good compost (your own or look for the “OMRI Listed” mark of approval) annually.
Death at the Chateau Bremont by M. L. Longworth is the first of four murder mysteries set in Aix-en-Provence, the quintessential Provencal city with its cafes, fountains, outdoor markets and famous street, Cours Mirabeau. Aix is as much a character as Longworth’s hero Antoine Verlaque, heroine Marine Bonnet and their assorted friends and business associates. Verlaque is cool—rich, debonair, a bit arrogant but also intelligent, well-read and he drives a sporty little Porsche. Native to Aix, Bonnet is a law professor and lacks just enough self confidence to be a perfect complement for Antoine.
Others in the series, Death in the Vines, Murder in the Rue Dumas and Murder on the Ile Sordou, are also on my stack. The quick, fun books are the perfect foil when I need a break from Jamie and Claire (See next entry.).
The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon is the fifth in Gabaldon’s Outlander series about Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser and James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser. In addition to the unique time travel aspects of their lives and their compelling relationship, the history of the Scottish Highlanders is fascinating. The book can be so engrossing that nothing else seems important….whether work or food or sleep.
On the Water by Guy de la Valdene was just published in February and I’m happy to add it to our collection. de la Valdene is passionate about the outdoors and writes eloquently about fishing, hunting, birds and dogs. Plus, he’s practically a neighbor. He lives on an 800-acre farm in Florida, just over the border from us in the Red Hills/bobwhite quail plantation area that encompasses southwestern Georgia and northwestern Florida.
Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard is much in demand. It had been on my request list at the library for weeks and now, after just two weeks, I must return it because someone else has requested it. Much like a column I read in The New York Times entitled “A Conservatory in the Kitchen,” Millard shows just how easy it is to grow food indoors year round. Besides ordinary herbs, she writes of microgreens, sprouts, mushrooms, lettuces and other greens, radishes, potatoes and tomatoes. Light, airflow and drainage are key but all are relatively easily satisfied. The book is full of good color photographs and Millard’s breezy style makes for easy reading.
Buvette, The Pleasure of Good Food, by Jody Williams is named after Williams’ New York City restaurant. Williams nails the eating/cooking relationship—extraordinary cooking skills derived from a passion for eating good food. Her simple preparations of exquisite ingredients are beautifully plated and presented and I would love to spend time in her restaurant.
A perfect Buvette morning: “There are fresh eggs and good coffee and warm croissants served with spoonfuls of butter and sweet jam…”
And on a winter evening: “…a large pot of cassoulet bubbles in the kitchen all night long, and a tarte Tatin waits at the end of the bar. There’s always good wine or a smart martini, stirred not shaken.”
For the look and feel of what it was like to live in an antebellum mansion on the grounds of what was once part of an 1800s cotton plantation, Goodwood Museum & Gardens in Tallahassee, Florida, is a fine choice.
As the property passed through different hands with distinct goals, land was sold off, various gardens were planted, out buildings were constructed and, in 1912, even a snazzy swimming pool was built. Since 1990, the estate has been managed as a non-profit to preserve its historic value.
Thousands of bulbs were originally planted in the West Lawn in the 1880s. While many of those heirloom plants amazingly survive, The American Daffodil Society and the Tallahassee Garden Club have since planted additional bulbs. Unlabeled yellow and white daffodils (Narcissus spp.) were in bloom as well as charming spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum), each petal tipped with tiny dots of green.
What a view from the front porch of Goodwood mansion! Clumps of tropical sago palm (Cycas revoluta), two saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangeana) and two centuries-old live oaks (Quercus virginiana) formed a loose circle around a gazing globe. Spanish moss (Tillandsiausneoides) dangled from the trees. (Epiphytic Spanish moss is native to the Southeast and generally causes no health problems for host plants; rather it uses them for support and protection.)
Always a sucker for water features, this might be one of the simplest yet most tempting fountains I’ve seen. In a nice bit of textural juxtaposition, the heavy-duty basin was placed in a bed of soft Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia). A low column of burbling, gurgling water rose from the center. I longed to lean over the rope and dangle my fingers.
A shrubby grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi) was full of ripe fruit. Even though sorely tempted, I did not pick one.
I can imagine that later in the season this container will be dazzlingly but a beautiful pot can be just as nice when empty.
Photo at top: Even though native to Asia, camellias (Camellia japonica) have adapted well to the southeastern U.S. after being introduced in the late 1700s. The foliage is evergreen and glossy and plants bloom from January – Mach. Flower colors include white, reds and bicolors but my favorite is soft pink.