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.
The essence of gardening is simple. A gardener loves to plant things in soil and watch them grow.
A $25 gift certificate from White Flower Farm was burning a proverbial hole in my pocket. After several enjoyable minutes perusing its website, I consideed several plants: • lavender (rather boring), • kalanchoe (really boring), • bulb gardens (sold out), • jasmine hanging basket (cultural needs too difficult) and • orchids of all shapes and colors (too gaudy).
I chose, though, a kit with potting soil and 12 lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) pips. I’ve grown oodles of this plant and it never fails to enchant.
One sunny morning soon after, I spread newspapers on the kitchen table and unpacked my box from White Flower Farm. I dumped the dry potting soil into a big bowl, added water and mixed with my hands. Then I scooped some of the mix into the bottom of my 8” terra cotta container. Carefully, I started placing the pips with their long white roots into the pot and dribbled soil around them. Final firm pats tucked in all the pips and then I sprinkled the soil with water.
Many locations come to mind when daydreaming about places to live. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to experience life--for more than a week's holiday--in another climate, culture or country? I’ve collected a bucket list but not of things to do but rather of places to live. None is extravagant. Most have possibilities to grow a plant or two.
One place in the U.S., two each are in the United Kingdom and France, one is on a tropical island and one is in The Netherlands.
1. True to my Scandinavian roots and near the top of the list is a small, rustic cabin on a glacial lake in northern Minnesota. A simple container garden of bright geraniums would suffice.
2. In Broadway, a bucolic village in the Cotswolds, I’d choose a stone, carriage-type house with a slate roof and window boxes full of lavender.
3. A sturdy cottage built of gray stone on the red grouse and heather moors of Scotland would be next. A fire would always be burning in the village pub and the shelves behind the bar would be full of good whisky.
4. On a narrow, café-lined street in Paris, I’d like a cozy, third-floor apartment. Visible from the street would be my wrought-iron balcony with just enough room for two chairs and pots of seasonal flowers.
5. My place in Provence would be similar to the spare space that Richard Olney called home. Moss-encrusted terra cotta pots of herbs, citrus and olives would line the terrace and, bien sur, a gnarly grape vine would cover the arbor.
6. About 25 years ago, my brother David showed me around the British Virgin Islands aboard his 33-foot Phillip Rhodes Swiftsure sloop. We sailed from sparsely populated Jost Van Dyke to tiny Sandy Key to Cane Garden Bay on Tortola. Ever since, I’ve longed to return. I’m pretty sure I would be happy in a simple, wooden, rum-filled bungalow on a sandy beach in the BVI, much like Jimmy Buffett’s friend in "He Went To Paris."
Now he lives in the islands, fishes the pilin's And drinks his green label each day. He's writing his memoirs and losing his hearing But he don't care what most people say.
Now, though, in the February 2015 issue of Architectural Digest, I read of a new place for the list. Market Hall in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, is a dazzling 10-story, upside-down-U-shaped structure that contains a covered market space and 228 apartments, many with large balconies. According to the magazine, “The central bazaar is home to 96 food and flower vendors, while the surrounding structure houses a number of restaurants and shops.” Imagine the opportunity to buy fresh flowers, bread, cheese and wine before heading upstairs to my charming apartment.
This is merely my current list. Already, I could perhaps add places.....something dazzlingly white on an island off Greece and a ship-shape, shingle-style cottage in the harbor of a small fishing village on the Maine coast.....
Top photograph courtesy of The Guardian. Second photograph is Cabin #27, Burntside Lodge, Ely, Minnesota. Cheese photograph courtesy of Market Hall, Rotterdam, The Netherlands. http://markthalrotterdam.nl/en/
Occasionally, it can be pleasurable to simply enjoy the show, no matter how fanciful or extravagant. This can be especially so for a gardener when the subject is flowers.
In the January 29, 2015, issue of The New York Times, Penelope Green reported on an impressive floral installation created for the Viacom building in Times Square. The suspended arrangements were fashioned from “thistles, Kangaroo Paw, ranunculus and peonies, hydrangeas, delphiniums and over 40 varieties of roses,” Green writes. “In all, 14 species of 16,000 individual flowers” were threaded onto copper wire.
The artist is London-based Rebecca Louise Law, 34. Judging by her background—hippie-ish, gardener parents, early career as a painter interested in big canvases to final stints with four florists—she seems a perfect person to conjure these dreamy pieces.
Her business is global now and has included commissions by several notable and high-end clients including Gucci, Jimmy Choo, Salvatore Ferragamo, Max Mara, Jo Malone, Royal Shakespeare Company and Royal Opera House.
Enjoy the show.
The Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens I can practically smell the 27 flowers and herbs Law incorporated into this installation in Greece. On display until summer 2015.
Coronation Opening Arch at Windsor Castle Royal Windsor Rose & Horticultural Society commissioned six willow arches (one for each decade Queen Elizabeth has been queen) which Law covered with roses—thousands of artfully placed roses.
Sipsmith London Dry Gin For Sipsmith, Law created a greenhouse with juniper berries on the floor and juniper branches hanging from the ceiling. Visitors could experience the pungent aroma of a key gin ingredient while tasting a sample.
Tiffany & Co. A simple yet sophisticated chandelier created entirely of mistletoe adorns a spiral staircase in the flagship London store for Christmas 2013.
Viacom photograph by Robert Wright for The New Times.
All other photographs courtesy of www.rebeccalouise law.com.
Top photograph: RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013 For the 2013 show, Law created a hanging masterpiece of peonies, roses, ranunculus, liatris, gloriosa lilies, delphiniums, lisianthus, sunflowers, celosia and cymbidium orchids.
Garden Design, Autumn 2014. This issue is packed with intriguing stories by and about famous people and illustrated with beautiful photographs and graphics. For many years I was a subscriber but later dropped it when any sort of relevance seemed lost. Eventually, I forgot about the magazine completely, especially since it seemed to vanish from the magazine racks.
But in this issue, topics include: • Stunning fall plants written by intrepid plant explorer Dan Hinckley. • Maine pottery company Lunaform, where gorgeous, graceful urns and basins—as sturdy as they are artistic—are created. • Off-beat bulbs…I knew the writer was legitimate when she included one of the best, Gladioulus communis spp. byzantinus. • Inspiring gardens in Connecticut, Colorado and California. • Adrian Bloom, son of the rascal Alan and former owner of Bressingham Gardens (now run by the third generation), in Norfolk, England. Bloom’s advice on garden design is reminiscent of Henry David Thoreau: “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” • Fall design advice from Craig Bergmann of Lake Forest, Illinois: “Shadows are long in fall, angles are lower. Suddenly, pastels are no longer bleached out. Lighter pinks and purples play a stronger role in fall.”
Outlander, et al., by Diana Gabaldon. The first book in this series, Outlander, was published in 1991. Even though I’m very late in getting caught up the saga, I’m now totally immersed in Scotland, The Highlands Uprising, clans, plaids and especially the fierce love/time-travel aspect of the relationship between Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser. Claire is 20th century-born and strong-willed, spirited, smart and accomplished (a physician). Jamie, a.k.a. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, is a blue-eyed, red-headed fearless warrior of the 1700s, intelligent, a natural leader and wearer of kilts. The books are by no means great literature but they are difficult to put down at the end of the day and I often read far into the night.
The Olive and the Caper by Susanna Hoffman and Roast Lamb in the Olive Groves by Belinda Harley. I was inspired by a Huffington Post piece, “16 Food Reasons Greeks are Better at Life.” It turns out the Greeks not only gave us philosophy and democracy, but the country has delicious food and a wonderful sense of food style.
A sample of HuffPost’s reasons, verbatim: #1. Two words: grilled cheese (All cheese, no bread necessary.) #3. They’ve turned eating LOTS AND LOTS of olive oil into a healthy pastime. #4. NO ONE makes a better salad, so don’t even try. #5. Wine comes first, water second. #6. Feta is their national garnish. #11. They’ve perfected the art of lingering over a meal. #14. Honey flows freer than the wine in Italy. #16. THE YOGURT.
What wonderful notions! I bought these two cookbooks to begin my studies. Successes so far include a true Greek Salad (no greens necessary), Rice Pilaf and a Greek Omelet with Feta, Thyme and Oregano.
The “Holiday Books” issue of The New York Times Book Review is as annual treat. In addition to the usual reviews, special sections include 100 Notable Books of 2014, Travel, Humor, Cooking, Anthologies and Gardening.
Dominique Browning chose nine garden books to critique. Even though her reviews weren’t compelling enough for me to read any of them, she did use a wonderful word to describe the art of gardening when discussing The Gardener’s Garden.
“The desire to photograph and catalog the world’s best gardens must be born of a poignant awareness that this is one of the most evanescent of arts.”
Evanescent…..I had to look it up. According to my dictionary, the adjective means: “vanishing or likely to vanish; transitory; fleeting.” There is an intransitive verb form (evanesce) and a noun (evanescence).
What a word. It perfectly describes my feelings while touring Sissinghurst Castle Gardens in England. Vita Sackville-West, with help from her husband Harold Nicolson, designed the extensive garden, surely one of the most beautiful ever created. But Sackville-West died in 1962 and I saw the garden in 2011. This wasn’t, really, her garden anymore. In those ensuing 49 years, no one could possibly have known what plants she would have moved or removed, plants she would have added, colors she would have chosen or gates, arbors and trellises she would have built.
When Sackville-West died, her garden perished with her.
The notion applies to other businesses where the originator has a strong vision and the brains, personality and nerve to carry it out. Apple Computers and Steve Jobs come to mind, as do two others.
Without Lucia Watson, there is no Lucia’s. And without Robert Wehle, there is no Elhew Kennels.
Lucia’s Restaurant & Wine Bar Lucia Watson opened her restaurant about 30 years ago in a long, narrow space in the Uptown area of Minneapolis. She had since expanded into adjoining spaces—first in 1993 for a wine bar and again in 2006 for a casual, line-style eat-in/take-out venture.
Lucia’s cooking was always French in spirit, using fresh, top-quality, seasonal ingredients, simply prepared. Her style was French, also, and her unfussy rooms oozed with warmth, charm and sophistication. Walls were bare save for huge mirrors and fresh flowers were abundant.
Lucia was a pioneer. She believed so utterly in seasonality that her menu changed weekly. She was an early buyer and firm supporter of local farmers and suppliers.
But Lucia sold her entire enterprise as of mid December. While the new owners state that nothing will change, actually and eventually, everything will.
Robert Wehle & Elhew Pointers The pointer (formerly English pointer) is a sporting dog used for upland bird hunting and field trial competition. For more than 50 years, Robert Wehle bred pointers in his business venture, Elhew (Wehle spelled backwards) Kennels, and used “Elhew” as the prefix of each dog’s registered name.
He, too, had a strong, unwavering set of goals and sense of purpose. His breeding program continually strived to produce complete dogs—not judged solely on performance in the field. He wanted good-looking, good-tempered dogs that were also smart, early-maturing and easy to train.
Wehle was wildly successful. Not only did Elhew-bred dogs have looks, talent and temperament, but they became pervasive. Most likely, every pointer in the country today has an Elhew dog in its pedigree.
Wehle died in 2002 and even though he bequeathed ownership of his kennel name and prefix, the Elhew line of pointers died with him.
"Nothing Gold Can Stay"
In addition to inferences of natural cycles and seasonal growth and loss, Robert Frost’s poem, “Nothing "Gold Can Stay,” radiates evanescence.
Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold. Her early leaf’s a flower; But only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, So dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.
Photo credits: Sissinghurst Castle Garden: courtesy of Jill Bickford, Maureen Dahlquist, Cathy Nyquist Lucia’s Restaurant & Wine Bar: courtesy of lucias.com Robert Wehle & Elhew Kennels: courtesy of elhewkennels.org
At any time of year, a wreath on the front door or over the mantle is a welcoming feature. A wreath can repeat a design element or introduce something entirely different and quirky. It is very easy to hang and just as easily removed. A wreath is versatile, economical and can be inspired by exclusively local components. A simple caveat: a wreath must be round.
Especially during the holiday season, wreath options abound. Here are a few of my favorites. Sometimes the mood calls for an abundance of fragrant greens and, other times, something sparkly or whimsical.
There’s something delightfully joyous about this wreath made of vintage and simple blown glass ornaments. The only problem is this is a DIY project. Hannah Milman, an executive editorial editor at Martha Stewart, was “inspired by the wreaths that I saw at Tavern on the Green in New York. It’s not around anymore, but it had these giant ornament wreaths." Martha Stewart Ornament Wreath marthastewart.com
From Weston Farms, a family farm outside Raleigh, North Carolina, comes this special wreath designed for Garden & Gun magazine. Conifers with blue, yellow and white needles are tucked into a full base of magnolia foliage. Weston Farms Tapestry Wreath: $165.00 westonfarms.com
First offered by Williams Sonoma 35 years ago, this fragrant wreath is made from boughs of fresh bay laurel . “The leaves will dry naturally and can be used in cooking throughout the year.” Williams-Sonoma Bay Wreath: $29.95 - $59.95 williams-sonoma.com
This funky wreath is a dazzling mix of “paper, cotton, wood and metal” with shimmering, glittery touches. Anthropologie Fallen Feathers Wreath: $138.00 anthropologie.com
Fragrant with fresh noble fir, eucalyptus and bunches of lavender, this wreath also incorporates blue globe thistle, pearly everlasting and clusters of pine cones. White Flower Farm Lavender Holiday Wreath: $69.95 whiteflowerfarm.com
This faux, twig-based wreath is adorned with dozens of “starry, warm-white lights” and would be especially striking at night, perhaps paired with twinkly tealights or lanterns. Restoration Hardware Starlit Wreath – Bark: $47.99 - $54.99 restorationhardware.com
Coastally inspired, the wreath is made of natural “shells, starfish, sea urchins and sand dollars,” which are “intertwined with natural grass and green paper hydrangea.” L. L. Bean Seacoast Wreath: $59.00 llbean.com
Pictured at top: This full, fresh wreath is made of magnolia, boxwood and fragrant fir and cedars. It was “featured throughout Southern Living's Idea House 2013” in Nashville, Tennessee. The Magnolia Company Fresh Bunches Wreath: $87.00 - $235.00 themagnoliacompany.com
That is the title of Adrian Higgins’ gardening column in The Washington Post on December 10, 2014. It certainly grabbed my attention. Besides applauding the concept, it’s thrilling to see the word “horticulturist” in a newspaper headline.
For horticulturists are often confused with—and interchangeably called—landscape architects, landscape designers, professional gardeners, Master Gardeners and sometimes just plain gardeners.
According to The American Heritage Dictionary, horticulture is defined as “the science or art of cultivating plants.” In terms of bachelor degrees, horticulture is an applied science and in the early 70s when I went college, it seemed to have better prospects for job opportunities than botany or other plant-related majors.
Higgins’ piece begins with a general plea for more young people to take up horticulture even though the career choice has its pitfalls. He writes:
“For all its imagined bliss, the life of a professional gardener can be hard, stressful and anything but lucrative. It is a world of insect bites, near-heatstroke and the steady degeneration of the spinal column.”
I agree. A greenhouse can be lovely on a winter day but definitely not on a blazing July afternoon when I often felt as wilted as the plants I was watering. My fingertips are still sensitive to frostbite due to a cold, wet spring when I worked at a nursery and spent endless hours lugging cold, gallon-sized pots of perennials from basement storage area to outside display benches.
Higgins exudes “this is an incredibly exciting time to get into horticulture,” and after a brief mention of the local food movement and ecological issues, he introduces his main point: “the action lies most in an area known as planting design.” His sole evidence is Piet Oudolf, a masterful, highly accomplished, world-renown, Dutch designer.
Oudolf creates gardens that not only consider essential design concepts (all too often missing from current landscape design) but seasonal aspect of plants as well. Higgins writes about Oudolf’s work:
“… flower color alone is not the driving ornament; rather, it is texture, line, form and an intangible but powerful sense of seasonal progression…Among its essential points is that when you select plants for a design, flowering is but one component, the others being foliage interest (something of a no-brainer) but also the structural interest of seedheads, stems and the flowerheads of grasses.”
Here, I disagree. Whether “action lies” in design or not, equally important are Higgins’ earlier points about the local food movement and ecological issues. More horticulturists are needed to help solve some of the world’s bigger problems.
It brings to mind the manifesto I introduced three years ago: Saving the world, one garden at a time.
Here’s my short list of the benefits of growing plants: • provide beauty • provide food for people • provide food —nectar, pollen, seeds and/or fruits—for wildlife • provide habitat for wildlife • provide tie to natural world • understand seasons • understand natural order of things • importance of each person caring for their own plot of land • importance of healthy soil and soil organisms • encourage organic practices such as composting and use of manure • encourage no-till which protects soil structure and soil organisms • learn that fresh, home-grown food is nutritionally better and tastes better • know where food comes from • save money on food • increase sales of pots, soil, seeds, plants, watering cans, hoses, tools, gloves, etc. • boost local economies • encourage small farms
For the record, listed below are accepted, horticulture-based words, according to The American Heritage Dictionary. adjective: horticultural adverb: horticulturally noun: horticulturist (not horticulturalist) abbreviation: hort
All photographs above are from the New York Botanical Garden and Oudolf’s design of the Seasonal Walk.
The 2014 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree was recently delivered from its home in northern Minnesota to the Capital. It is a white spruce (Picea glauca) and, at 88 feet in height, a magnificent specimen—not too broad at the base, quintessentially pyramidal in shape.
The spruce is estimated to be 88 years old. In 1926, a seed was dispersed from a cone and germinated in the thin soil of the boreal forest. At various times throughout its life, the tree had to survive forest fires and logging, perhaps insect and disease problems, also. This year, after a 2,700-mile journey from Minnesota to Washington and after being honored at 30 stops along the route, the spruce made its final stand on the front lawn of the Capital.
Many radio stations, especially in Minnesota, reported on the event. Every single announcer that I heard confused the tree’s identity. This majestic white spruce was called, randomly and interchangeably as if it didn’t matter, a fir and a pine.
That’s poor reporting. Trees deserve the same level of fact-finding and accuracy given all news stories. In honor of the holidays, let’s examine the differences in evergreens and elucidate the whole Christmas tree thing.
Pines (Pinus), spruces (Picea), firs (Abies) and Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga) belong to the Pine Family (Pinaceae). Other members include tamaracks (Larix) and hemlocks (Tsuga).
All six genera are conifers, i.e., a plant whose fruit is a cone. With the exception of tamaracks, they are also evergreens. An evergreen is a plant with foliage that remains green throughout the year, i.e., doesn’t lose all its leaves or needles at one time. Tamaracks needles turn yellow and fall off in autumn.
Key differences among the genera include needle arrangement on the stem, maturation date of cones and whether the cones are erect or pendent. Following is a list of distinctive characteristics.
Fir (Abies) • needles are persistent, flattened • cones are erect, mature in 1 year
Tamarack (Larix) • needles are deciduous • cones are erect, mature in 1 year
Pine (Pinus) • needles are persistent, spirally arranged in fascicles or bundles • cones are pendent or erect, mostly mature in 2 – 3 years
Spruce (Picea) • needles are persistent, spirally arranged, usually sharp, borne on peg-like projections • cones are pendent, mature in 1 year
Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga) • needles are persistent, flattened, spirally arranged • cones are pendent, mature in 1 year
Hemlock (Tsuga) • needles are persistent, flattened, borne on a peg-like projection from the stem • cones are pendent, mature in 1 year
To further clarify these trees (and for scintillating small talk at holiday cocktail parties), here is a handy list of the most common members of the Pine Family.
Fir (Abies) • balsam (A. balsamea) • concolor or white (A. concolor) • Fraser (A. fraseri) • noble (A. procera) • Nordmann (A. nordmanniana)
Tamarack (Larix) • Eastern or American Larch, Tamarack (L. laricina) • European or common larch (L. decidua)
Pine (Pinus) • Austrian (P. nigra) • bristlecone (P. aristata) • Eastern white (P. strobus) • Jack (P. banksiana) • loblolly (P. taeda) • longleaf (P. palustris) • mugo (P. mugo) • ponderosa (P. ponderosa) • Norway or red (P. resinosa) • Scotch (P. sylvestris)
Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful. ~William Morris
The plethora of holiday gewgaws, knick-knacks and just plain junk is astounding. From the bulging catalogs in one’s mailbox to the jam-packed aisles at stores, there are endless choices of stuff to buy.
But, really, who needs sheets, towels, tablecloths, runners, napkins and potholders adorned with Santas, stockings and snowmen? Ditto for rugs and pillows. Food always looks best on white dishes so decorated plates and bowls hold no appeal. The same theory holds for beverages in clear glass. Why hide pretty colors of wine and spirits…not to mention the bubbles in champagne?
The gravest mistake in judgment, though, is clothes. Hopefully no men I know would wear garish corduroy pants embroidered with candy canes or wreaths.
Here is my plea for light, beauty, tradition and, in addition, restraint and common sense. One doesn’t need all that stuff to enjoy the holidays. Instead I propose a simpler approach and, as a gardener, a home that includes flowers and plants.
…simplicity is an art and a strength, a source of joy and beauty and power. ~ Michiko Kakutani
Light: Candles Candles are wonderful any time but around the winter solstice, warm light from candles is practically a necessity. And if you choose carefully (preferably not from the hardware store), a fragrant candle is simply lovely.
A few favorite scented candles are Cinnamon Spice from Williams-Sonoma, Frasier (sic) Fir from Thymes, Feuille de Lavande from Diptyque and Belgian Linen from Restoration Hardware. Other options include poured candles, dipped candles, candles in lanterns and for utter coziness, flickering tealights.
Beauty: Flowers & Plants Even though most gardeners grow plants inside year-round, the holidays give us added opportunity and reason to buy flowers and plants. Choices abound. Traditional plants include poinsettias (Poinsettia spp.), holiday cactus (Schlumbergera spp.), cyclamen (Cylamen spp.) and amaryllis (Amaryllis spp.).
A key caution: Choose one full plant or large flower bouquet that will make an impressive presence.
Tradition: Greens & Trees Using greens as decoration during winter months dates back centuries to ancient Egypt and early Rome. Evergreens were especially important as a symbol of hope, that longer days would return and plants would again grow.
Germany is credited with using a cut evergreen tree—outside first and then inside the home—beginning in the 1500s. (Actual dates are controversial.) Trees were decorated with food such as gingerbread, apples and nuts. Later glass ornaments and lighted candles were used.
England began using evergreen trees at the holidays in the mid 1800s. The tradition didn’t reach our shores until later in the 19th century but, within years, the entire country had embraced the tradition.
A freshly cut balsam fir (Abies balsamea) is always my tree of choice for its fragrance and delicate, Charlie-Brown look. Decorations include heirlooms from my grandparents, gifts from friends, souvenirs from travels and many glass ornaments with a garden theme—greenhouse, potting shed, flower-covered garden gate and white tulip.
Outside, simple containers and window boxes are filled with evergreens and an occasional light, candle or sparkly branch.
It's short and sweet. No undue obligations. No present-buying, card-sending or mounting of plastic Santas on rooftops. We simply gather with family and friends around a big table, toast the season and enjoy a traditional meal of turkey and all the trimmings with pies for dessert.
Over the river, and through the wood, To Grandmother's house we go; The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh through the white and drifted snow.
Over the river, and through the wood Trot fast, my dapple-gray! Spring over the ground like a hunting-hound, For this is Thanksgiving Day.
--Lydia Marie Child
As a gardener, flowers are integral to my Thanksgiving celebration. Bouquets shouldn't be formal, complicated affairs with wired stems, though. My formula for gorgeous cut flowers: simple + abundant = elegant.
Place one large arrangement in the entry area to welcome guests. The vase is important so choose with care–whether crystal or pottery, modern or antique. Keep the stems long and fill with a profusion of flowers.
On the dining table I adhere to two rules: nothing tall and nothing fragrant. Place several short, matching arrangements in identical vases in the center of the table. Diners can view the flowers up close and yet still see across the table. Use three or more bouquets, depending on the length of the table.
For a homogenous look, choose one flower and buy plenty to fill all vases generously. Or buy a mix of flowers but of the same color. A bouquet of dahlias, chrysanthemums, tea roses and alstroemeria in similar shades of rich burgundy would be stunning. Look, too, for wax flower, sea lavender, hypericum berries, pepperberry or other berried branches. Always use plenty of greenery–seeded eucalyptus, myrtle, salal, nandina and leucadendron.
In a final gesture of Thanksgiving, offer guests a table arrangement as they leave.
With few exceptions, the blustery winds of autumn have stripped leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs here in the north central region of the country. The gaudy days of early fall have faded and, depending on whether your garden was in the path of the snow storm, either bright white or subdued tans and browns now dominate the landscape.
All of which showcases fruit. From blueberries to chokeberries, bayberries to winterberries, pretty berries are everywhere.
But I don’t think they’re all berries. Apples aren’t and roses have hips. Wait! What’s a hip?
Fruit facts. To get to the bottom of this “berry” business, we need to understand some basic botany.
Plants reproduce by either spores or seeds. In Botany for Dummies, Dr. Renee Kratz writes, “Spores are nice but seeds are better. Seeds have protective coverings and food reserves, helping them to survive away from the parent plant.”
Seed-producing plants are either gymnosperms that don’t produce flowers and fruits (such as ginkgo trees and cone-bearing evergreens), or angiosperms, which do produce flowers and fruit.
Still with me? Here’s the last distinction.
Angiosperms produce two types of fruits: fleshy and dry. Dry fruits include achenes, capsules, grains, legumes, nuts and samaras. The only dry fruit type involved in this essay is a capsule which is produced by the genus Euonymous.
Fleshy fruits can be simple, aggregate or multiple. Below are examples of each.
Fleshy/Aggregate roses, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries (not berries!)
Choose pretty shrubs. Now that you’re a fruiting body expert and know a dry from a fleshy and a berry from a drupe, let’s consider options. Following is a list of shrubs with very showy fruit. Cultivars are available for each species, sometimes numbering in the hundreds and, in the case of roses, thousands. (Or click for DazzleGardensSimpleShrubFruitChart.pdf)
• Bayberry, Northern (Myrica pennsylvanica), grayish white drupe with a waxy coating. Fun Fact: wax makes the lovely fragrant bayberry candles. • Blueberry, highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum), bluish lack, bloomy berry. Caution: plant multiple cultivars for good cross-pollination. • Blueberry, lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium), bluish black, bloomy berry. Caution: plant multiple cultivars for good cross-pollination. • Chokeberry, black (Aronia melanocarpa), purplish-black pome. • Chokeberry, red (Aronia arbutifolia), bright red pome. • Chokeberry, purple-fruited (Aronia x prunifolia), purplish black pome (“lustrous” according to Dirr!) • Crabapple (Malus), virtually every shade of red and yellow pome. Fun Fact: ‘Harvest Gold’ is beautiful. Caution: need multiple crabs or apples for cross pollination. • Dogwood, gray (Cornus racemosa), flashy white drupe borne atop bright red pedicels or stems. • Eastern Wahoo (Euonymous atropurpureus), four-lobed crimson capsule opens to brown and scarlet. • Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), purple black drupe; cultivars available with red fruit. Fun Fact: cooks into excellent pies, jams and wine. • Indiancurrant, coralberry, buckbrush (Symphoricarpus orbiculatus), purplish red to coral red drupe. • Inkberry (Ilex glabra), black to purplish-red drupe changing to black; some cultivars have white fruit. Caution: Hardiness Zone 4/5. • Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma), warm, rich purple drupe. Caution: Hardiness Zone 5 but definitely worth trying. Fun Fact: a truly stunning shrub and one of my favorites. • Rose (Rosa), shades of red and orange aggregate. Caution: be sure to choose plants that actually produce persistent fruit. • Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) , creamy white drupe. Fun Fact: tolerates shade. • Sumac, staghorn (Rhus typhina), bright crimson drupe turning dark red. Caution: Plant is dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). Only females produce fruit so be sure to purchase at least one male for a group of females. Fun Fact: famous ‘Tiger Eyes’ cultivar is a staghorn sumac. • Viburnum, arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), blue or bluish black drupe. • Viburnum, cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum), bright red drupe. • Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), bright red drupe. Caution: Plant is dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). Only females produce fruit so be sure to purchase at least one male for a group of females.
Design ideas. Here are four simple, charming and elegant design ideas.
#1. Plant the right plant in the right spot. (Dazzle Gardens Rule #1.) This is always critical but even more so when the objective is to cultivate a nice crop of fruit. Wouldn't it be silly to prune off flowers and fruit because the plant was overgrowing its intended space?
#2. Incorporate into herbaceous gardens. Shrubs can provide two design principles: focal points (planted singly) or repetition (planted repeatedly to provide cohesiveness).
#3. Plant in a massive shrub border, surely one of the great design concepts. Not only can it be beautiful to view for oneself but it can provide the perfect screen from a neighbor's house, garage or driveway.
#4. Even better, plant a shrub border against the backdrop of evergreens. The effect is dazzling!
Finally… Growing plants that are pleasing in all seasons is another basic rule of Dazzle Gardens (Rule #2, in fact). And by choosing shrubs with showy fruits, the plants are not only pleasing to look at for several months during fall and winter but the fruits provide food for gardeners and wildlife alike.
Photos by Chris Mathan of the Sportsman's Cabinet, www.sportsmanscabinet.com. From top: Crabapple, Cranberrybush viburnum, Winterberry.
The cover photograph of the November/December 2014 issue of Northern Gardener perfectly captures why I wrote the featured piece, “Bewitching Witch Hazels.” The fragrant, saffron yellow petals of Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis) cheerfully bloom even though covered with late winter snow.
My opening paragraph:
“I can’t think of a plant as enchanting as witch hazel, one that offers such an extraordinary package of flowers, fall foliage and form, and yet does so in apparent obscurity.”
Northern Gardener is the official publication of the Minnesota State Horticultural Society, a venerable institution founded in 1866. Editor Mary Lahr Schier presents news and articles on wide-ranging topics, with special focus on local stories and gardening in northern zones.
Two other articles of note in this edition include “Gifts for Gardeners” and Margaret Haapoja’s informative piece about forcing bulbs. Colorful hyacinth, tulip, daffodil and muscari photographs add mouth-watering (but perhaps superfluous) enticement.
The play story in the Outdoors Weekend section of October 17 edition of the Star Tribune, “For the love of bird dogs,” features Northwoods Bird Dogs, the dog breeding and training business my husband Jerry and I own. Dennis Anderson, outdoors columnist, wrote the piece after he visited the kennel and hunted over Shaq and Oscar last week. He also shot the photographs.
Dennis has written about Jerry twice before but those articles centered on training and developing pointing dogs. This time he focused on the background of our business and the importance of our breeding program.
Dennis is an excellent writer no matter whether he’s taking on tough conservation issues or reporting on a fishing trip to a northern lake. I’ve always especially liked his pieces that are essay in format and cover a wide range of subject matter.
In the final paragraphs when Jerry releases Oscar from a grouse point, Dennis perfectly captures the desire of our dogs to find and point birds. “Racing ahead, and quickly up to speed, Oscar was intent on finding still another bird. It’s what he lives for.”
The main photo by Dennis is good, too. Shaq is as good a bird dog as we’ve owned and Dennis caught the handsome head and breath-taking composure on point.
At the apex of this delightful autumn, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston is at it again, horticulturally speaking. Hundreds of chrysanthemums were installed last week in the sunlight-filled courtyard of a building authentically designed like a 15th-century Italianate palace.
In addition to pots of traditional mums, the museum’s horticulturists grow fancy-schmancy, single-stem chrysanthemums in a Japanese style called ogiku. To produce that one spectacular blossom requires hours of special attention and maintenance.
In a previous post, I wrote about Gardner’s nasturtiums. Every April, 20-foot-longs vines in full bloom are installed from balconies three stories high. Other annual displays include hydrangeas, bellflowers, orchids, tropical plants and a red, green and silver-themed winter holiday show.