Most likely, Andre Le Notre is not well known by gardeners in this country. Due to high school European History, though, more should be familiar with his prime benefactor, King Louis XIV, the Sun King, of France. All should recognize their masterpiece—the dazzling, extraordinary palace at Versailles. Le Notre was the landscape architect who designed its gardens and grounds.
In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Le Notre’s birth, Chateau de Versailles recently presented “Andre Le Notre in Perspective, 1613 – 2013.” As part of the exhibition, Versailles published a huge (9½” x 12”), heavy (416 pages), expensive (lists at $65), hard cover “catalogue.” It is as beautiful as it is massive. Included are detailed hand drawings and plan-views—most in color and some stained—of his designs for Versailles and other projects; and lush photographs of Le Notre’s extensive art collection of paintings, bronzes and porcelain pieces.
Even though Le Notre has been dead for more than three centuries, his landscape design work remains relevant and continues to inspire. One devotee was Dan Kiley (1912 – 2004), a major designer of the 20th century. Kiley was trained at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design but remained lost until 1945 when he encountered Le Notre’s work in Europe.
This was what I had been searching for—a language with which to vocalize the dynamic hand of human order on the land—a way to reveal nature’s power and create spaces of structural integrity. I suddenly saw that lines, allees and orchards/bosques of trees, tapis verts and clipped hedges, canals, pools and fountains could be tools to build landscapes of clarity and infinity, just like a walk in the woods. I did not see then, and to this day do not see, a problem with using classic elements in modern compositions, for this is not about style of decoration but about articulation of space. ~ Dan Kiley
Once he found his muse, Kiley was prolific. Here are just a few of his projects. • Chicago Art Institute • Chicago Botanic Garden • Dallas Museum of Art • Fountain Place, Dallas • John F. Kennedy Library • Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, New York City • London Standard Chartered Bank, London • National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. • Twin Farms Inn, Barnard, Vermont • United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs
Now in the 21st century, the tradition continues. Peter Morrow Meyer worked with Dan Kiley for 13 years and is now with Raycroft-Meyer Landscape Architecture. The timeless approach Le Notre utilized remains the underlying structure for Meyer’s public and private projects, including Burlington College in Burlington, Vermont, Chicago Botanic Garden, Dallas Urban Plaza, du Pont Residence in Rockland, Delaware, and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
And most recently, one look at the National 9/11 Memorial in New York City confirms Le Notre’s enduring legacy of classic landscape design.
“What eye candy! I’m on a visual high!” a large man exclaimed as he walked up the hill to our small group at the trail entrance of the Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve outside Cairo, Georgia. His eyes were bright as he mopped his brow with a discarded shirt.
Fifty million trout lilies in full bloom can do that to a person.
But it’s not only the mass display concentrated on just 15 acres that is mind-boggling. The nodding, yellow flowers seem demure but as they open, petals and sepals recurve completely, revealing pistils and stamens. When those stamens mature, fuzzy anthers match brown freckles on the petals. The mottled green and brown foliage is fascinating, too, and does resemble the skin of a trout.
This particular trout lily, dimpled trout lily (Erythronium umbilicatum), is native to the southeastern corner of the U.S.—from Alabama east to Florida, north to Delaware and west to Tennessee. A northern relative is commonly called trout lily or dogtooth violet (E. americanum). (Throughout this post, “trout lily” refers to the southern plant, dimpled trout lily.)
Trout lily facts. • Trout lily is a member of the Lily Family (Liliaceae) and has the customary flower parts in threes: 3 sepals, 3 petals and 6 stamens. • Another common name is dogtooth violet. “Dogtooth” is suitable as the corm resembles a dog’s tooth but “violet” is a complete misnomer. • The species name “umbilicatum” is derived from an umbilical cord-like connection between the corm and the plant. • Flowers open in early afternoon and close at night. They usually last four to five days. • Trout lily spreads by corms (vertical, fleshy, underground stems) and by seeds. Bees, other flying insects and wind pollinate the flowers. • They are ephemeral that finishes its life cycle in about four months. After April, there is no sign of trout lilies at the preserve.
The history of Wolf Creek. The preserve began innocently in 2006 when Dan Miller (above), a retired chemist with the state of Florida, wanted to grow trout lilies in his garden in Tallahassee. His friend Wilson Baker mentioned this sight as a possible seed source. They both realized the uniqueness of the property and a “For Sale” sign sparked both men to action. They worked diligently with the Florida Native Plant Society and the Georgia Land Conservation Program, among others; but as time wound down, they were still lacking enough money. Serendipitously, a woman from Thomasville, Georgia, anonymously donated the final $44,000 to complete the sale.
In 2009, the land was purchased and Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve was formed.
It is the largest expanse of dimpled trout lily known. That they have been left alone for decades is key to their abundance but so, too, are features of the sight and the plant’s longevity. The mostly deciduous forest supplies not only the perfect canopy of dappled shade but its leaves provide a thick layer of organic matter. The northeast-facing slope offers coolness and “a layer of pipe clay close to the surface allows for high soil moisture content,” Dan says. He added, “Trout lilies can live 30 to 40 years.”
The forest of Wolf Creek. Since the allure of Wolf Creek is trout lilies, most visitors spend the majority of their time looking down. That’s a shame for they are missing out on a beautiful example of a southern oak-pine forest type. Even though conifers were represented by only spruce pines (not a typo…just a confusing name), 15 other woody plants, including six oaks were identified.
• American elm (Ulmus americana) • American Holly (Ilex opaca) • beech (Fagus grandifolia) • hop hornbean (Ostrya virginiana) • southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) • oaks: laurel (Quercus hemisphaerica), live (Q. virginiana), Shumard (Q. shumardii), swamp chestnut (Q. michauxii), white (Q. alba), willow (Q. phellos) • pignut hickory (Carya glabra) • spruce pine (Pinus glabra) • sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) • tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) • white ash (Fraxinum americana)
No matter where a gardener lives—from the frigid, snow-covered regions of the Midwest to the heat and sunshine of the desert southwest—plants are never far from their minds. And they usually take time to check out nurseries, greenhouses, flower shops and garden centers.
I’m no different. Even though my husband Jerry and I are living near Thomasville, Georgia (Zone 8b), this winter where red and pink camellias (Camellia spp.) are still blooming and saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangeana) are just opening, I, too, am always on the prowl.
During a recent stop at the very cool Native Nurseries in Tallahassee, Florida, employees were unpacking a tray of colorful primroses (Primula obconica ‘Libre Mix’). Perky flowers in shades of peach, deep pink, violet, rose and lavender bloomed on slender stalks from fuzzy basal rosettes of foliage. I had never grown any species of primula before and here, serendipitously, was an opportunity. It was tempting to buy the entire tray but reason (and budget) prevailed. After 15 minutes (only) of playing with combinations, I chose plants with peach and lavender blossoms.
Now I had the beginning of a tabletop garden. A plant with white flowers in a different shape would be perfect. I found a nemesia (Nemesia fruticans ‘Compact Innocence’) with tiny, sweet-smelling, snapdragon-like blooms. Rounding out my combination are two pots of delicate maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum). All plants fit nicely into a rustic metal tray.
For now, the indoor garden is vigorous and healthy. As soon as night temperatures remain above 50, though, I’ll move the tray outside.
Plants grown indoors have the same basic needs as those grown outside. They need soil, light and water.
Soil. It’s simple: Healthy soil = healthy plants.
Buy topnotch potting soil from a greenhouse or nursery (Don't buy "garden soil" or "topsoil.") or mix your own. Potting soil is usually an assortment of organic materials in various amounts: peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, compost, sand and lime. Potting soil for cacti and succulents should have more sand while orchids and bromeliads need a mixture containing chopped bark.
Due to all the wonderful organisms that live in soil, organic components such as peat moss and compost break down and nutrients get used up over time. Soil then compacts, resulting in an imbalance of the essential ratio of 50% air to 50% soil. Either top-dress with about 1” of fresh compost or re-pot with fresh soil.
Because we humans run on food, we tend to think that plants depend on fertilizer (as "food")… Certainly they do, but plants derive most of their energy from light. ~ Barbara Pleasant, The Complete Houseplant Survival Manual
Light. Again, it’s simple. Plants need light. Certain plant cells, called chloroplasts, contain the green pigment chlorophyll where the unique and rather magical process of photosynthesis occurs. Plants take carbon dioxide and water, and in the presence of sunlight, manufacture sugar for them and oxygen for us. That sugar is their source of food and energy.
So if a plant doesn't receive enough light, it starves.
Inside the home, though, light levels are different than full sun, part sun, light shade, dense shade. Other considerations need to be assessed.
1. Window direction. East light in summer and winter (although weaker) is excellent as it is bright but never hot. West light in summer is harsh and scorching while in winter is good light. Due to the extreme declination of the winter sun at northern latitudes, light from a south window is fairly weak while from that same window will be intense in summer. North windows in the winter provide almost no light but in summer offer enough light for many plants.
2. Blocked windows. Light from windows could be blocked by awnings, roof overhangs or a covered porch. Trees can also block light. Evergreens could severely limit light in all season while deciduous trees will be bare during for half the year.
3. Color of interior walls. Pleasant wrote: "In rooms with dark walls, good plant-growing space is limited to 12-24 in. from the windowpane, while rooms with light-colored walls can accommodate large plants, or plants placed more than 24 in. from the window."
Once light levels are reviewed, there’s just one simple concept to be understood and heeded.
1. Know individual light requirements for plants.
Water. Since rainfall isn’t an option in an indoor garden, a daily task is to check soil moisture levels. Watering needs vary with the weather. During a period of cloudy, damp weather, plants will need far less water than during bright sunlight. Too, soil can dry out more quickly during the heating season.
Watering indoor garden plants is simple as long as five concepts are understood and heeded.
1. Know individual watering requirements of plants and water only when the plant needs it.
2. Provide drainage, i.e., pots should have holes in the bottom. If a favorite, beautiful container doesn’t have holes, grow the plant in another container that does have drainage and plop it inside the pretty pot.
3. Use room-temperature, untreated (not softened) water. When possible, water from a rain barrel is perfect. If your water contains fluoride or chlorine, fill the watering can and let rest for 24 hours. The chemicals will escape as gas.
4. Water thoroughly until about 10% of the total water drains out the bottom of the pot. I bring all tote-able plants to the sink to water so drainage is easy.
5. Don't allow the pot to sit in water. With a pot-within-a-pot scheme, remove the inside pot, bring to the sink, water, let drain and then return to the pretty pot. If the plant is too heavy or cumbersome to move, water in place. Allow the excess water to collect in a saucer and then remove the saucer.
Most gardeners have a few favorite catalogs—whether for seeds, perennials, vegetables or woody plants. By now though, we have scrutinized every page and even marked certain items for purchase. But it’s still January and spring is months away.
What’s a gardener to do?
You have to dream before your dreams can come true. ~ Abdul Kalam
Dream big. This might also be called brainstorming wherein, at its most basic, everything is on the table. Think impulses, hunches, schemes and daydreams. A favorite source of inspiration for me has always been to study.
So I read. I spend hours at new and used bookstores—reading, browsing and occasionally purchasing. I read my new books, re-read old books and borrow books from the library. And I always check out the periodicals where a plethora of bright covers entice. While books are perfect for certain subjects and information, magazines are current and often edgier.
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft, And from thy slender store two loaves alone to thee are left, Sell one, and with the dole Buy hyacinths to feed thy soul. ~ Moslih Eddin Saadi
Get out. Leaving a cozy home in the gloaming of a wintry afternoon might not sound fun or even seem like a good idea. But once away, the mind becomes free of common thoughts, which, in turn, leaves room for new ones.
Sign up for a class. Go to that garden club presentation and any of the “Home and Garden” trade shows. Drive to nearby public conservatories and botanic gardens and give yourself plenty of time to ramble.
Head to a greenhouse and wander leisurely up and down every bench. On the way home, stop at a flower shop and reward yourself with a bouquet of fragrant hyacinths.
Judging by recent posts, it's evident that January is a good time to catch up on reading...whether newspapers, magazines, novels or nonfiction.
The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, earned a spot on many “best of” lists for 2013. I am intrigued by Tartt who produces only one book per decade due, in part, to her painstaking research. The book is almost 800 pages (love nice, long books) and, so far, the story and her writing are amazing.
I’m in the dreaming/designing phase of a new project. I’m not sure what to call it—studio, atelier, cabin or posh garden shed. The following three are on my bedside table for inspiration and research purposes.
Nano House, by Phyllis Richardson, is subtitled “Innovations for Small Dwellings.” It’s filled with design ideas for small houses from all around the globe. Some are very cool; others are very weird.
Back to the Cabin, by Dale Mulfinger, is added to my collection of Mulfinger books, The Cabin and Cabinology. I adore cabins, having lived in and owned one for most of my life; but more than that, I’m a huge proponent of small houses (See above book selection.)
Elle Decoration Country is half magazine/half book, published by the UK branch of Heart Magazines International. It is filled with wonderful photographs and ideas. Editor Michelle Ogundehin writes:
"…you’ll find within these pages everything from a rustic cabin hidden deep in the woodlands of the Belgian Ardennes to laid-back luxury in the heart of the Australian outback and a simple cottage perched on Baltic shores. And what they share is a sense of retreat."
Fine Cooking (February/March 2014) & Saveur (January/February 2014) magazines. I fell hard for the chili photograph on the cover and accompanying recipes in Fine Cooking and I always enjoy The Saveur 100.
“It’s the new year again, so it’s time to take stock—to survey the magnificent universe of food and to highlight the 100 most mind-bending, eye-opening, and palate-awakening dishes, drinks, ingredients, people, places, publications, and tools we can find. This year we’ve invited 20 guests to the party, including some of the biggest names in food, to look back over the past 20 years of Saveur and help us celebrate.”
Claude Monet’s Gardens at Giverny, by Dominique Lobstein. The reason I bought the book was the photography by Jean-Pierre Gilson. (So far, I haven’t read a single word.) Huge, vibrant flowers fill the pages and I’m transported to Monet’s garden and pond. The book is a balm for winter-weary, color-deprived gardeners who are dreaming of the season ahead.
Bill Cunningham, bicycle-riding, intrepid photographer of The New York Times Style section, is fascinated by fashion and flowers. His wonderful photo essays each Sunday are dominated by them. The features are montages of photographs, carefully edited and cropped and then laid out in artful and sometimes playful ways. They are usually accompanied by matching flowers and gardens.
His Evening Hours essay on January 12, 2014, was especially notable for gardeners. Entitled Memorable Lanes, Cunningham revisits Greenwood Gardens—a garden his first photographed last April. Also included are three gardens and a library that were photographed in 2013.
• Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Brooklyn • Central Park, New York City • Greenwood Gardens, Short Hills, New Jersey • Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston • Old Westbury Gardens, Long Island • Untermyer Gardens, Yonkers
Cunningham deftly captures their majesty and inspires one to plan a visit in person.
News stories with plants as subjects aren’t necessarily unusual but the featured plants most often are commodities like corn and soybeans and the topics are generally weather, price or harvest related. So these four stories—ranging in geography from Alabama to Hawaii, Italy to England—are remarkable.
The Roots Stay Strong, by Greg Bishop, The New York Times, Sunday, January 5, 2014
Tomer’s Oaks were two live oak trees (Quercus virginiana) that flanked the entrance to Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama. They were massive, 80-year-old trees—stately in their welcome—and grew to become symbolic to loyal Auburn Tiger football fans.
In 2011, in an act of unbelievable, mean-spirited stupidity disguised as frivolity, Harvey Updike Jr., a fervent University of Alabama Crimson Tide fan, poisoned the trees with gross levels of the herbicide Spike 80DF.
For two years, Gary Keever, horticulturist and professor at Auburn, “tried to save the oaks.” He and his crew worked diligently. “They even washed the roots by hand.” The site became “like a hazmat site, like something from ‘Breaking Bad.’ They vacuumed the soil.”
Finally, in 2013, the trees were cut down. “Families embraced. Grown men cried.” Auburn is now in the process of choosing replacement trees. They are considering live oaks again or overcup oaks (Quercus lyrata), another native southern oak.
What of Updike? He spent time in jail and “was ordered to pay nearly $800,000 in restitution…He will be on probation for five years, and his is barred from attending a college sporting event or setting foot on Auburn University property.”
On Hawaii, a Lonely Quest for Fact, by Amy Harmon, The New York Times, Sunday, January 5, 2014
Greggor Ilagan, 27, was serving his first term as a county councilman in Kona, Hawaii, when a bill was introduced to ban genetically engineered crops and turn the big island into a “G.M.O.-free oasis.” (GMO means genetically modified organism.) The bill “garnered more vocal support than any the County Council here had ever considered…”
But Ilagan had questions and “sought answers on his own. In the process, he found himself, like so many public and business leaders worldwide, wrestling with a subject in which popular beliefs often do not reflect scientific evidence.
Scientists, who have come to rely on liberals in political battles over stem-cell research, climate change and teaching evolution, have been dismayed to find themselves at odds with their traditional allies on this issue.
Every time he (Ilagan) answered one question, it seemed, new ones arose. Popular opinion masqueraded convincingly as science, and the science itself was hard to grasp.”
This is a fascinating, multi-page story about an extremely complex issue, popular consensus, emotional responses and scientific facts.
The Intelligent Plant, by Michael Pollan, The New Yorker, December 23 & 30, 2013
I’ll read anything by Michael Pollan. I read his first book, A Place of My Own, published in 1997. Even though the subject wasn’t plants, the concept—a project to build a small place behind his house where he could think and write—resonated profoundly. Second Nature was his second book and serendipitous for me as a horticulturist and gardener. To put it mildly, I was hooked. After Botany of Desire came two hugely popular and influential books, The Ominivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food. His manifesto in the latter is so simple and sage: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
In addition to writing books, Pollan contributes regularly to The New York Times Magazine and is journalism professor at UC Berkeley.
His latest piece is a long, serious look at understanding plants. In 2006, an piece was published in Trends in Plant Science magazine that introduced the new field of plant neurobiology, “ ‘aimed at understanding how plants perceive their circumstances and respond to environmental input in an integrated fashion.’”
The article continued: “'…plants exhibit intelligence, defined…as ‘an intrinsic ability to process information from both abiotic and biotic stimuli that allows optimal decisions about future activities in a given environment.’”
As usual, Pollan thoroughly researches his subject and writes wonderfully about his findings. He meets many people along the way and travels to the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology at the University of Florence in Florence, Italy.
Pollan concludes with a riff on a concept most plant lovers have known forever. Plants are amazing creations (“able to nourish themselves on light”) that are not only vital to our current existence but perhaps “’hold the key'” to our future in a valuable new way.
The Garden’s Midnight Snack, by Jeff Cox, Horticulture January/February 2014
The first piece I read about any sort of intelligence in plants was in Horticulture magazine. (It was shorter than Pollan’s.) Cox explores a plant’s ability to feed itself during darkness when photosynthesis isn’t possible. He consulted scientists at the John Innes Centre, an independent plant science and microbiology research and training facility in Norwich, England.
“Plants store starch during the daylight hours and use it at night to grow. But they meter out the starch so that it runs out precisely at dawn. In other words, they divide the amount of starch by the amount of time until dawn.
Scientists hypothesized in their studies that information about the size of the starch store is encoded in a molecule S, and time until dawn is encoded in a molecule called T. To get the rate of consumption, the plant divides S by T.”
Allison Smith, a scientist at the center, further clarifies: “The plant’s circadian clock is reset each dawn and always has a period of 24 hours (like our own body clocks). This means that when it gets dark, the plant can estimate the remaining period of time until dawn, regardless of the timing of dusk.”
According to the Oxford Dictionaries, the definition for the noun is “a piece of ground, often near a house, used for growing flowers, fruit, or vegetables.” To me, the essential part is “used for growing flowers, fruit, or vegetables” because, even though the inference is that a garden is outside, why couldn’t it be inside? Plants have been grown in greenhouses, conservatories and rustic structures for centuries. The Roman emperor Tiberius might have been the first to grow plants indoors when he cultivated cucumbers year-round in 30 A.D.
My definition of a garden is very simple: a space used for growing plants.
Outdoors in the ground or outdoors in a pot? Definitely. Inside a greenhouse or inside the home? Absolutely. All are part of a garden.
So let’s banish that dusty word “houseplant” and open wide the doors. Let’s consider many kinds of plants; let’s grow them in different ways; and let’s be creative about furnishings.
Kinds of plants. Since now there isn’t a clear demarcation between indoor and outdoor gardens, the sky is almost the limit. Fresh, healthy green plants such as ferns, ivies and philodendrons are lovely choices and definitely worth growing but there are hundreds of other possibilities.
Think about: • annuals and perennials • bulbs • cacti and succulents • citrus and other fruits • flowering plants • fragrant plants • herbs • tropicals • woody plants
For inspiration, visit a favorite local nursery or greenhouse. Or for the best, simply go online to logees.com.
Where to grow plants. Below are eight ideas for where and how to grow plants inside. Some are familiar but others might be new. Certainly, a home will be enhanced when several of these suggestions are used in combination. As you’ll see, there’s far more exciting possibilities than growing African violets in 4” plastic pots on a doily in the dining room.
• Beautiful containers: There is just no excuse not to use a attractive pot—whether it’s wrought iron, moss-covered terra cotta, metal, stone or glazed ceramic. • Container gardens: Just as in container gardens for the outdoors, they are a combination of interesting plants—usually mixed green and flowering plants (but whatever suits)—grown together in a nice pot.
• Indoor window boxes: Even though one could attach a window box under an indoor sill (fussing husbands aside), think about a window box that rests on the sill, on a piece of furniture in front of the window or even on the floor by a couch. Plants can be planted directly in the box but maintenance will be easier if kept in their original pots. Add excelsior or moss to the top. To keep the window box fresh, simply swap out faded plants for new ones.
• Hanging baskets: There are myriad, gorgeous, easy-to-grow options for the indoor garden. In addition to ferns and ivies (Hedera, Cissus, Delairia, Plectranthus), try begonias, impatiens, bougainvilleas, jasmines or my favorite Tahitian Bridal Veil (Gibasis geniculata). Create a mixed hanging basket with several plants.
• Plant stands, shelves and metal racks: I own a stainless steel Metro rack which has moved to every home with me for 30 years and has probably housed hundreds of plants. There are wicker stands, vintage shelves with delicate metal curlicues and others made of wood. • Specimen plant: Grow one big plant that serves as a focal point and even a food source. Consider a woody plant (perhaps bay, Lauris nobilis, or Norfolk Island Pine, Araucaria heterophylla), bougainvillea, fig, olive, citrus or succulent. • Tabletop gardens: I have a collection of trays that rotate in and out of use to display plants. Just as in an outdoor perennial border, plants look pretty when grouped together and attention is paid to combined color, texture and form. Best of all, there’s usually room for just one more irresistible plant. • Trellises, obelisks and other structures: If a passion flower can grow on a trellis outside, why not a trellis inside? For decades, my sister Barbara has nurtured the same wax plant on a huge trellis in front of big windows.
Cool furnishings, too. In addition to containers, trellises and plant stands, other furnishings normally considered for outdoors can be used inside. Their addition will introduce a light, fresh feeling to indoor décor.
Consider: • garden-y chairs, tables and benches in wicker, metal and wood that could be new, vintage or simply worn and rusty. (My teak garden bench is in the bedroom adorned with pretty pillows.) • one piece of furniture painted a vibrant color • lanterns and candles • small water features such as fountains and basins
And always include a surprise or a foil—a piece that provides a quirky, funky element.
2013 is drawing to a close. But rather than be morose about times past, I’m thankful for a year full of extraordinary flowers, friends and travels.
January A bouquet of evergreen Formosa azalea (Azalea indica ‘Formosa’) flowers in full bloom brighten up a rainy winter day in Georgia.
February Roses are the traditional Valentine’s Day flower and red roses the quintessential choice but it’s very hard to pass up bouquets of mixed colors.
March At the Atlanta Botanical Garden, nodding, creamy yellow paperbush (Edgeworthia papyrifera) flowers are arresting but a photograph can’t capture their delightful fragrance. (This is the only plant about which Michael Dirr and I disagree.)
April Spring just wouldn’t be spring without the sturdy, cheerful faces of violas.
May Spring in Minnesota can be a trying season and this year it came complete with record-breaking snow and seemingly endless days of cool, cloudy weather. But my bulbs—a striking tulip (Tulipa ‘Prinses Irene’) and demure daffodil (Narcissus ‘Fragrant Rose’)—seemed to love it.
June For many years my husband Jerry and I have stayed in a lakeside cabin at Burntside Lodge just outside Ely, Minnesota. The evergreens and rocks and lake are all I need but a splash of red geraniums and white petunias are a cheerful welcome.
July One statuesque lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus ‘Gallery Pink’) blooms amidst a now-bare baptisia (Baptisia australis) and emerging flowering stalks of Tickled Pink hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata ‘HYPMAD II’) in my garden.
August A huge bouquet of mixed sunflowers is all the embellishment necessary in the sophisticated, simple, uber cozy wine bar of Lucia’s in Minneapolis.
September The Chicago Botanic Garden is one of my all-time favorite places in the world and I travel there as often as time, money and responsibilities allow. One reason is the abundant scale not possible in my garden. I loved the cascading pink chrysanthemums on the bridge.
October Why not combine flowers and water? Velvety yellow roses float in a basin of rough stone.
November A simple bouquet with gold chrysanthemums is a good complement to Thanksgiving festivities.
December A curvaceous, sparkly tulip hangs on a fresh balsam Christmas tree. What a festive way to wish gardeners everywhere a Happy New Year…and all the best in 2014!
The White House Christmas tree for this year is a 20’ Douglas fir that was grown on a New Jersey farm. As The New York Times recently reported, Douglas firs have been the official tree of choice only six times since 1980. With the exception of four spruces, all 34 trees have been firs. Remarkably, there’s not a pine in the bunch.
Here’s the tally: Fraser Fir.....14 Douglas Fir.....6 Noble Fir.....5 Blue Spruce.....4 Balsam Fir.....3 Concolor Fir.....1 Grand Fir.....1
Trees are probably the reason I became a horticulturist. I was drawn to their majesty and, seemingly to me, their power. So when I hear someone refer to a balsam fir as a pine tree, it sounds to me like fingernails on a chalkboard.
In honor of the holidays, let’s clarify the whole Christmas tree thing.
Pine, spruce or fir? The most common types of Christmas trees in our country are pines (Pinus), spruces (Picea) and firs (Abies or Pseudotsuga, Douglas fir). All four belong to the Pine Family (Pinaceae). Other members include tamaracks (Larix) and hemlocks (Tsuga).
Pines, spruces and firs are both evergreen and coniferous. An evergreen has foliage that remains green throughout the year, i.e., doesn’t lose all its leaves or needles at one time. (Rhododendrons are evergreens but tamaracks are not.) A conifer is a type of plant whose fruit is a cone. (Tamaracks are conifers but rhododendrons are not.)
Key distinctions among the genera include needle arrangement on the stem, maturation date of cones and whether the cones are erect or pendent.
Fir: balsam, concolor, Fraser, grand, noble, white • needles are persistent, flattened • cones are erect, mature in 1 year
Spruce: black, Colorado blue, Norway, white • needles are persistent, spirally arranged, usually sharp, borne on peg-like projections • cones are pendent, mature in 1 year
Pine: Austrian, eastern white, Jack, Norway/red, Scotch • needles are persistent, spirally arranged in fascicles or bundles • cones are pendent or erect, mostly mature in 2 – 3 years
Douglas Fir • needles are persistent, flattened, spirally arranged • cones are pendent, mature in 1 year
My tree. As a holiday tradition, Christmas trees rank right up there with stockings by the fireplace and frosted sugar cookies. Even in post-college, low-budget years, I always bought a tree and decorated it. My preference is a balsam fir for its fragrance and spindly-branched, Charlie-Brown character.
While decorating the tree with favorite ornaments, I mix a holiday drink. Hot Buttered Rum is warm, soothing, strong and delicious.
The tree in the top photo is the National Christmas Tree as opposed to the White House Christmas Tree I wrote about. The latter is brought into the Blue Room of the White House.
Perhaps the two most crucial aspects of gardening are also the least cool. They don’t involve color or fragrance or design or rusty wrought iron gates. One is insects; the other is soil.
Both have been written about many times on this Dazzle Gardens website. Even though I might have lost viewers or bored readers, I deemed the subjects worthy enough to take risks. And I really wanted to spread the message.
Like any other species, survival depends on food and habitat and insects have been losing both at an alarming rate. Robbins begins his story noting the decreasing numbers of monarch butterflies that migrate (more than 2,500 miles) to the fir forests (Oyamel Fir, Abies religiosa) of central Mexico.
Monarch butterfly migration numbers: • before 2012—up to 1 billion • 2012—record low of 60 million • 2013—3 million as of November 24
Robbins then identifies four problems affecting insect population decline.
Problem #1: “…farmers have expanded their fields…plowing every scrap of earth that can grow a corn plant, including millions of acres of land once reserved in a federal program for conservation purposes.”
Problem #2: The extensive use of Roundup, a chemical that kills “virtually all plants except crops that are genetically modified to survive it.”
Problems #3: “Around the world people have replaced diverse natural habitat with the biological deserts that are roads, parking lots and bluegrass lawns.”
Problem #4: Bees, pollinators of 80% of plants, are plagued with infections and diseases. Dr. Marla Spivak, apiculture professor at the University of Minnesota, says that the bee decline is exacerbated not only by lack of food but food that “has complicated neurotoxins…It’s just too many stressors all at once.”
Robbins also talks to Dr. Douglas Tallamy, University of Delaware entomology professor and author of the landmark book, “Bringing Nature Home.” Tallamy says, “We notice the monarch and bees because they are iconic insects. But what do you think is happening to everything else?”
Soil. I might have mocked soil scientists in a “Soil Science 101” piece I posted about three years ago. I might have mentioned something about a “nerd ratio” of soil scientists and partying with The Soil Science Society of America.
Jeannette Catsoulis writes: “Unlike many recent documentaries about our careless stewardship of the planet, Deborah Koons Garcia’s ‘Symphony of the Soil’ doesn’t feel like a rap on the knuckles. Unfolding with gentle joy and an unexpected beauty, this ode to the miracle of the Earth’s topmost layer gives us a newfound respect for the ground beneath our feet…But this isn’t simply another plea for sustainable agriculture and the rejection of herbicides; celebration, not disapproval, is Ms. Garcia’s default tone.”
Gardeners should change the way they garden on the 40 million acres they control. In our country, it’s simple. 1. Take care of the soil. 2. Re-think lawns. 3. Grow good plants.
The image in the photo above is a 5” x 7” card I’ve long had in my collection of pretty cards. The New Yorker is dated June 9, 1962, and its cover is a colorful depiction of earth, plants and sky teeming with all kinds of insects. The artist was way ahead of his/her time.
In the earliest years of my horticulture career, I worked in retail flower shops. The Christmas season was frenetic and seemingly endless and by mid December, I could barely stand to look at another poinsettia. And I never, ever bought one to take home.
Those scars lasted decades. But that was then and this is now. Today’s poinsettias are gorgeous! In addition to improved varieties of red, pink and white, cultivars now exist in tempting colors like burgundy, orange and peach, in addition to speckled and bi-colored varieties. In fact, so enthralling were the choices that I recently succumbed and purchased the five plants featured above. • ‘Orange Spice’ • ‘Premium Picasso’ • ‘Ice Crystal’ • ‘Whitestar’ • ‘Classic Pink’
Poinsettia facts. • The botanical name is Euphorbia pulcherrima. Translated from Latin, pulcherrima means loveliest. • They belong to the Euphorbiaceae Family, a diverse group of nearly 1,500 species. All have a milky sap. • Contrary to popular belief, poinsettias aren’t poisonous but, as with all indoor garden plants, shouldn’t be eaten. The sap may cause a dermatological reaction in some people with a latex sensitivity. • The plant is native to Central America where it is a nice shrub reaching 12’ in height. • The colorful part is actually a bract, or modified leaf. Bracts contain less moisture than petals and therefore last longer. • The actual flower is comprised of stamens and pistils in the center of the bracts. There are no petals or sepals.
Poinsettias are named after the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was appointed in 1825. He was an amateur botanist and became so enamored of the plants that he sent cuttings home to his greenhouse in South Carolina. (This man was no slouch. He also founded the Smithsonian Institution.)
In the early 1900s, Albert Ecke started an agriculture-based business in southern California. His son Paul is credited with seizing on the marketing potential of a holiday poinsettia. Currently, Ecke Ranch (where there is a Paul III) is a leading poinsettia breeder and grower.
The 2013 Ecke Poinsettia Catalog includes 65 cultivars. Perusing the catalog is not unlike looking at roses—the photographs are beautiful and the plant names are captivating. Consider ‘Jubliee Jingle Bells’, ‘Polly’s Pink’, ‘Sparkling Punch’, ‘Peppermint Twist.’ I like most of the offerings, but The Winter Rose series is really unattractive with its double, twisted bracts. Some of the bicolor cultivars look more diseased than pretty.
How to grow poinsettias. Poinsettias are Zone 9 plants and will not survive temperatures below about 55 degrees. Take precautions when transporting from flower shop or greenhouse to vehicle to home.
• Once home, place in bright light but away from strong, southern exposures. Avoid cold, drafty areas and keep away from heat sources. • Check soil moisture level often. When soil surface dries, take plant to the sink and water thoroughly so about 10% of the water dribbles out the bottom of the pot. Don’t let the plant sit in excess water. • If you aren’t tired of it after the holidays, place the poinsettia outdoors (in indirect light) after night temperatures remain above 55. • Poinsettias are photoperiodic, short-day plants and will re-bloom only if a very definite set of conditions is met. Keep in 14 hours of uninterrupted, complete darkness (any stray light, i.e., opening the closet door, will delay flowering) for 8 – 10 weeks. To have colorful bracts in time for the holidays, begin October 1.
Finally… Not everything new is preferable. There is something—rich in traditional color and style—about a large, many-branched poinsettia, topped by bracts in vivid scarlet.
This post also appeared in the Askov American, Askov, Minnesota.
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 Winter Berry 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.
Many travelers to Italy are most interested in good food and wine but my target city would be Florence and the prime reason would be to see David. Michelangelo’s David.
Artists are miraculous, I think, in their ability to express themselves in marble, glass, paint and other media. I’ll never forget the wondrous feeling and the captivating vision of Claude Monet’s huge canvases of his beloved Nympheas that filled entire walls in the lower level of the Musee Marmottan in Paris.
Here are six artists who, in different ways, combine their art with gardens. One is American. One is French. The last is a noble family from the United Kingdom.
Dale Chihuly I first bumbled into Dale Chihuly at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis when I saw some of his dramatic, colorful, extraordinary pieces. He created floating glass spheres (titled “Walla Walla” and they do look like onions) for a pond, a towering blue chandelier and decorated gates to the Gladney Rose Garden that look like sun flares. All are mesmerizing and stunning.
Since then, I’ve seen pieces at the Atlanta Botanical Garden (top) and the Minneapolis Institute of Art (above).
Chihuly is from Washington State and graduated with a degree in Interior Design from the University of Washington. He went on to study glass at the University of Wisconsin and the Rhode Island School of Design before he ended up in Venice studying glass blowing from the Venini Glass Factory.
His work is displayed throughout the country and the world with many installations at museums and businesses. An aficionado of glass, though, would seemingly be drawn to glass greenhouses and, in 2001, Chihuly began his first installations at public gardens. In addition to the Missouri and Atlanta Botanical Gardens, his work is now part of the permanent collections at New York Botanical Garden, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Phipps Conservatory.
Joy de Rohan Chabot She works in two studios…and both are greenhouses. One is attached to her town house in Paris and the other is part of her family’s chateau in Auvergne, a region in south central France. She said, "I always said if I hadn’t painted or created furniture, I would have been a gardener."
de Rohan Chabot creates pieces that are at once whimsical, beautiful and serious. Whether the art is big--a bronze “Pansy” chair, tree-shaped metal bed frame (suitable for Titiana), tables, screens and mirrors--or small, they clearly exhibit her sense of style and design. I’m most enchanted by the delicate tumblers, goblets and bowls that she covers with colorful tiny flowers, herbs and leaves.
• Architectural Digest (http://www.architecturaldigest.com/decor/2011-11/de-rohan-chabot-french-chateau-slideshow_slideshow_item2_3) • New York Times T Magazine (http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/02/homework-the-delicate-unique-designs-of-joy-de-rohan-chabot/?_r=0) • http://www.joyderohanchabot.com/
Emma, Stella and Issy Tennant The Tennant family has quite a history. The mother Emma (actually Lady Emma) now lives on a farm in southern Scotland but grew up at Chatsworth House in Devonshire, in the Midlands region of England. Her father was the 11th Duke of Devonshire (dating to 1549) and her mother, The Duchess, was Deborah Mitford, youngest of the seven Mitford sisters. Her brother is the current Duke (the 12th), a.k.a. William Cavendish and Stoker Devonshire.
Chatsworth House was the inspiration for Pemberley, Mr. Darcy’s gorgeous estate in Pride and Prejudice and also the setting for the PBS series.
The eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of the valley into which the road into some abruptness wound.
It was a large, handsome, stone building standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned.
~ Jane Austen
Since the age of 6, Emma has been a gardener: “I cannot remember a time when I was not interested in both gardening and painting. I must have been born with a trowel in one hand and a paintbrush in the other.” So it’s entirely natural that Emma chooses plants as her subjects. Many of her watercolor pieces resemble botanical drawings.
Issy and Stella, Emma’s daughters, are intriguing also. Stella was a successful model (think Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel, Burberry, Hermes and Calvin Klein). She lives near her mother with her husband and four children (daughters are named Jasmine and Iris). She spends time with a couple dogs on the moody, picturesque Loch Roughley, complete with lakeside boathouse and a boat.
Issy is a trained artist and has been gilding for the past 30 years. Like her mother, Issy was inspired by the majesty and beauty of Chatsworth House. She lives not far away from mother and sister, in Roxburghshire, and it’s there that the sisters have their two-year studio, Tennant and Tennant. They now create unique gilded accessories such as mirrors, candlesticks, lamps and chandeliers.
• New York Times T Magazine (http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/11/legacy-one-of-englands-most-renowned-clans-in-its-native-habitat/)
Public gardens are not merely amenities; they are indispensable expressions of the best of human nature…They are places where people from all backgrounds can come together and share a bit of paradise removed from the tensions of the real world. They are places for discovery, for courtship, for quiet reflection.
Perhaps most of all, public gardens exist for the simple appreciation of the endless beauty and bounty of nature viewed through the lens of human creativity. ~ Todd Forrest, The New York Botanical Garden
Places like the Chicago Botanic Garden seem magical to me. They are lovely and gorgeous and delightful, almost beyond imagination, due to of the profusion of flowers, sheer numbers of plants, expert design and professional maintenance. In addition to outdoor gardens, there are greenhouses, labs, classrooms, cafes (in very nice settings that serve tasty food and wine) and gift shops. The environment seems hushed, as a library used to be, due to a profound feeling of respect and reverence. Not only do I feel transfixed but also transformed when I’m in a place like this—optimistic, happy, enthralled and utterly receptive to the fantastical.
Condensed version of Chicago Botanic Garden history. • Ground was broken in 1965 by the Chicago Horticultural Society on 300 acres in Glencoe, just north of Chicago. • It opened to the public in 1972 as the Botanic Garden of the Chicago Horticultural Society. • In 1977 Dr. Roy Mecklenburg was appointed Chicago Horticultural Society President and Director. (Dr. Mecklenburg came from Michigan State University where he had been one of my Horticulture professors.) • The garden was formally dedicated as the Chicago Botanic Garden in 1980. • The final chunk of 85 acres was transferred in 1994 from Cook County Forest Preserve District to the Chicago Botanic Garden. • In 2003 the garden’s plant collection reached 2 million live plants with the addition of ‘Blue Pearl’ Crocus (a beautiful crocus I have in my garden!). • The Chicago Botanic Garden celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2012.
Facts about the Chicago Botanic Garden. • This is a very successful public-private partnership. It is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County and operated by the Chicago Horticultural Society. • There are 50,000 members (including me), one of the largest in the nation. • Total acreage is 385 and includes nine islands. • Six miles of shoreline extend along 81 acres of water, including the Great Basin, North Lake and Skokie River Corridor. • Outdoor spaces include four natural areas, Prairie, Meadow, Nature Preserve and McDonald Woods, and 26 gardens. Many styles are represented among the gardens—formal, romantic, aquatic, rose, vegetable, bulb, Japanese and even an English Oak Meadow, Green Roof Garden and Waterfall Garden. • There are greenhouses, bike paths, picnic areas, research labs and a wonderful library. • Educational opportunities abound for children, families, college students and adults. The garden takes a special interest in conservations issues and researches soil, banking seeds, habitat restoration and protecting endangered plants. It has partnered with Northwestern University just minutes south in Evanston and now offer M.S. and Ph.D. programs in Plant Science and Conservation.
Four designers. One of the many reasons I’m a member and huge fan of the Chicago Botanic Garden is the value it places on horticulture and design. It has always hired top talents—whether in architecture or landscape design.
Here’s a short list of my favorite designers and the gardens they created at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
John Brookes/English Walled Garden/1991 Most of Brookes’ projects are in the U.K. where he has won four gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show.
Michael Van Valkenburgh/Spider Island/2001 Other projects include the High Line in New York City, Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, entry space at General Mills HQ in Minneapolis and the Monk Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden/Evening Island/2002 Other projects include David M. Lilly Plaza at the University of Minnesota, World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., The Azalea Garden at the New York Botanical Garden and Capital One in McLean, Virginia.
Dan Kiley/Crescent Garden/2005 Other projects include Gateway Arch in St. Louis, John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, the Air Force Academy in Colorado, Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia and the four-acre Fountain Place in downtown Dallas.
A tour of the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Most visitors enter the Chicago Botanic Garden through the Visitor Center. Out the back door of the center, one immediately steps onto a bridge adorned with an expansive pergola, planted to masses of pale pink chrysanthemums. Matching mums overflow boxes planted on the outside of the bridge railings.
North Lake then opens on the right with the Crescent Garden in the foreground. Just beyond, is the open, formal space of the Esplanade with its dramatic elm allees and sheared topiaries. In the middle of the lake, a floating fountain shoots water about 40 feet into the air.
I must tour the English Walled Garden where John Brooks brought his country’s design concepts to the Midwest. There is plenty of aged stone and brick in the form of walls, walkways, fountains, pools and statues. Tall dahlias, phlox and viburnums bloom in clear, soft shades.
I follow a walkway up several steps, under a rustic arbor festooned with a morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Flying Saucers’) and come upon a scene, serene and simple: a weeping cultivar of a favorite katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum ‘Pendula’) planted by a dark pool. (Would love to sit with a book by this pool all afternoon.)
Surrounding an elegant fountain, wisteria and rose plants cling to the weathered bricks inside the English Walled Garden.
The route to five-acre Evening Island is lined with about 300 crabapples including ‘Profusion’, ‘Donald Wyman’, ‘Prairiefire’, ‘Calocarpa’ and a Japanese flowering crab. The show is spectacular now when the crabs are heavily laden with fruit but the trees beckon to return in spring. It must be wondrous to see them enveloped in their white, pink and red blossoms. In the middle of the island, Oehme & van Sweden designed a terrace in the shape of a nautilus. At noon, I was serenaded by the ringing of the huge, 48-bell, hand-played Theodore C. Butz Memorial Carillon. Signature mass plantings of grasses and perennials dominate. Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum ‘Gateway’) blossom on the shore of the Great Basin.
In Design 101 every landscape student learns that hardscapes are the real backbone of any space. Have you ever seen a cooler bridge? The base is real wood; the rails are a soft, weathered turquoise and the round railings emphasize the bridge’s graceful curves. This Serpentine Bridge links Evening Island to the main garden area.
Under the weeping willows is a small, tranquil garden, aptly named Lakeside Gardens. A plaque with the final two stanzas of William Butler Yeats haunting poem, The Lake Isle of Innisfree, sets the mood.
Just past the Sensory Garden (I walked briskly through…sounded too touchy-feely for my taste.), I was rewarded with this happy planting of Dean’s Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. deanii). I’m skeptical of plant breeding especially when “improving” a species, but I prefer this airier and more graceful version of the original.
The Circle Garden was earning lots of “oohs” and “aahhs” from patrons due, in my opinion, to the rather too-obvious, too-bright and too-full plantings. Amidst dozens of cannas, zinnias, bidens, dahlias, sage and impatiens, were specimens of boxwood, including ‘Wintergreen’ and ‘Glencoe’ that Chicago is warm enough (and lucky enough!) to grow. A sucker for water features, I liked the noisy, splashy fountain the best.
Container gardens flank the entrance the Circle Garden. This year, robust pots of Glory Bush (Tibouchina grandifolia) are anchored by twin containers of fragrant Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum).
I know I'm a bit dazed, whether due a cool glass of white wine in the Garden Cafe or an overdose of beautiful plants, it matters not; I still have the wherewithall to notice, on my walk back to the parking area, heavily fruited Sargent Crabapples (Malus sargentii).
Last week, the cut flowers were fresh, beautiful and irresistible at Bachman’s in Maplewood, Minnesota.
After many exclamations and many swings by coolers and around displays, I decided what to buy. I bypassed the too-vivid, neon-colored gerbera daisies and sunflowers. Instead I chose four bunches of flowers and one type of berry, all in various, subtle colors: • Huge, football chrysanthemums in old gold • Tall snapdragons in pale pink and apricot • Spicy-scented standard carnations in three shades of pink • Dramatic white oriental lilies • Hypericum berries in a subdued shade of apple green
When I got home and had filled a big clear vase with warm water, I looked at my lovely flowers and berries and thought: “I can’t split them up and arrange them as I had countless times before.”
Instead, a simpler, stronger option came to mind. In addition to the physical elements such as color, form, line and texture that many floral designers (not all) apply them to their creations, I thought about more esoteric principles—simplicity, mass, rhythm, juxtaposition and emphasis.
I arranged them in the vase as I would design and plant a perennial garden. • The flower types and berries stayed together in their bunches. • Bicolor snapdragons (tall and spiky) were placed next to the pink carnations (lacy mounds); green hypericum floats between the two and the berries mimic the snapdragon buds. • The big, frilly mums were perfect between the snaps and the airy, regal lilies. • In a bit of color serendipity, the pollen on the anthers picks up the dusty golden color of the mums.
My New Simple Flower Bouquet is, at once, simple, strong and sophisticated.
Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh, A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh & Dorothy L. Sayers, The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh. As one can tell by the author listings, Sayers was less and less a part of this collection and, unfortunately, it is dreadfully obvious. There are enough of Sayers’ ideas in the first to be fairly accurate and interesting. Now, though, I’m working my way through the last, The Attenbury Emeralds, and there is such a bizarre plot turn amid the convoluted story that I just don’t care anymore.
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny is the most recent book in her mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surete in Quebec. Like other favorites in this genre, the murder is usually a very small part of the story. Instead Penny creates fascinating, complex, flawed characters (Jean-Guy, Myrna, Olivier and Gabri, Agent Nichol and especially Ruth and Rosa, her pet duck) and absolutely wonderful settings. (I adore Three Pines and the rather magical, remote monastery in The Beautiful Light.) This book is mesmerizing and more often than not, I fall asleep reading because I can’t bear to put it down.
The title is from a poem/song by Leonard Cohen, a fellow Canadian:
Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering, There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
What We Eat When We Eat Alone by Deborah Madison and Patrick McFarlin. Madison is a chef, gardener, author and teacher and was a pioneer in farmers markets and seasonal, local food. McFarlin is her husband and also the illustrator of the book. I loved his simple, charming sketches.
Madison and McFarlin write that this is “a portrait of human behavior sprung free from conventions, a secret life of consumption born out of the temporary freedom—or burden, for some—of being alone.”
This is a great book! The chapters are well-conceived, the prose is well-written and the graphics are clever (including the previously mentioned artwork). Best of all, though, are the recipes Madison presents. She includes recipes for pasta, sandwiches and eggs, among other things. The ingredient list is never long and usually consists of rather common items.
Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History by Bill Laws is a book I bought in the Chicago Botanical Garden gift shop on a recent visit. The plant list includes the obvious—cotton, crab apple, tobacco, rice, wheat, grape and corn—and interesting selections like foxglove, hop, sweet pea, poppy, English oak, sugarcane and ginger. Laws does a thorough job with each plant and the accompanying botanical drawings and old photographs are lovely. The chapters are a perfect length to read one or two before sleep.
Those three words are potent and each, with their own definition, stands alone just fine. When combined, though, they have an even more powerful meaning, especially when applied to style.
I’ve written about this notion before. It is, for me, a touchstone for much in life, whether in the lifestyle of work and home, daily food and clothing routines or in the garden realm of flowers and plants.
Autumn seems a good time to re-visit.
~ Elegance Nine golden yellow rose buds float in a stone basin on our front porch. The roses continually bob and change positions, artfully rearranging themselves in the shallow water. Even though our porch is covered, recent heavy thunderstorms left the roses covered with raindrops.
~ Charm Eight velvet pumpkins in various colors—some rich and earthy and others jewel-like—line up single file down the middle of our old pine dining table. The pumpkins are hand-made in St. Paul, Minnesota, and are sturdy little things—heavy and plump with rice filling. Their cute, curly-cue stems are cut from real pumpkins and provide a cool juxtaposition to the velvet fabric.
~ Simplicity Many ways exist to grow plants: outdoors or indoors, garden beds, hanging baskets, containers and on structures. My cedar trellis is simply designed and ornamented with matching stained-glass tiles. Two early-blooming clematis share the trellis but now the exuberant porcelainberry vine (Ampelopsis brevipendiculata ‘Elegans’) takes over.
“I used this vivid, Mexican-inspired teal-green on a pot that’s the centerpiece of the fountain in my front garden…It sets the tone for the whole house.” ~ Kathryn M. Ireland, Benjamin Moore Gulf Stream 670
When people think about color and gardens, most likely they’re imagining colors of the plants, whether flowers, foliage or bark. An equally important consideration, though, is the color of structures and hardscapes. After all, they are a large part of the landscape.
The opinionated gardener, author and nursery-owner, Thomas Hobbs, must agree. In Shocking Beauty, he writes, “Inanimate objects often contribute to the success or failure of a garden by their color. Fences, houses, garages…all figure into the overall palette you are dealing with in your garden…”
A recent issue of House Beautiful magazine included a very nice piece on “Color For The Garden.” Various designers and architects from around the country presented favorite colors they’ve used on garden structures from furniture, fences and pots to walls and gates.
I’m going to heed their advice. Besides, if a color doesn’t work, next season I’ll just re-paint.
“We painted a long concrete wall by a pool in this lavender-blue…Sometimes I’m looking for contrast, but in this case I wanted the least amount of visual distraction—few materials, few colors. It’s calm and beautiful, like the water.” ~ Mia Lehrer, Sherwin-Williams Dazzle 6962
“I love the idea—God bless Lilly Pulitzer—of 10,000 shades of green against this beautiful pop of watermelon pink.” ~ Ken Fulk, Glidden Watermelon Smoothie GLR09
“Verdigris, the natural patina acquired by certain metals when they oxidize, is a traditional color on French treillage. It was the obvious choice for a New York town house garden, where green is in limited supply.” ~ Charlotte Moss, Benjamin Moore Verdigris 685
“Wood fences tend to be very yellow or red when young, which is distracting. This dark gray with a touch of brown helps the fence disappear. It’s a fabulous background color—warm and neutral—and a perfect backdrop for plants.” ~ Andrea Cochran, Benjamin Moore Dragon's Breath 1547
“When you see yellow in a garden…..it sets off the variety of greens in the happiest way. This yellow bench is a bright note in winter, when everything else looks dreary. I added lavender cushions to make it the perfect combo of yellow, lavender, and green.” ~ Whitney Stewart, Benjamin Moore Hawthorne Yellow HC-4