The June 2015 issue of Fine Gardening is full of interesting tidbits and features. Here are the highlights.
Say What?! (page 10) This short piece is about Latin names. Also called scientific names or botanical names, Latin names can be essential to know, especially in cases of confusing common names.
Other fascinating reasons Latin names are better. • Some describe the plant. Example: Sequoiadendron giganteum (Giant Sequoia). • Most are pronounced pretty much the way they are spelled. The hardest part can be which syllable to emphasize. Example: clematis is properly pronounced KLEM-ah-tis. • Some are lyrical, others spectacular. Example: Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera’ (Japanese Falsecypress). More favorite Latin names are listed below.
The final pages of each magazine includes a pronunciation guide for plants in that issue. The website contains a pronunciation guide for all plants. http://www.finegardening.com/pronunciation-guide/a
Heavenly Scents (page 36) This wonderful feature is written by Joseph Tychonievich, a former nurseryman and a true plantsman. He understands the evocative power of scent. In his opening paragraphs he writes:
“Fragrance, unfortunately, gets short shrift in a lot of the gardening world. Scents can’t be captured in a photograph in a magazine or blog post, and fragrance gets scant attention in most of modern plant breeding.”
Why petunias (and just about everything else) lost their scent (page 39) In this sidebar, Tychonievich explains why plant breeders have forsaken fragrance in their quest for “showier, longer-lasting flowers.” Ethylene is a plant hormone that controls both “aroma production and length of flower life…More ethylene makes a flower fade faster but produces more scent.”
Maybe it’s up to us. Consumers need to “embrace the flowers that fade a little faster. It is a small price to pay for the joys of fragrance.”
Bravo—and not only to Tychonievich but also to editor Steven Aitken for rarely do I see a major publication cross the horticulture industry.
What makes cut flowers last longer? (page 45) Mae Lin Plummer conducted an experiment with the University of North Carolina Charlotte Botanical Gardens testing six additives for water in cut flower bouquets. FloraLife Flower Food 300 was the clear winner. The product contents are proprietary but does contain “‘sugar for nutrition, an acidifier to lower the pH of the water, and a class of compounds called stem absorption enhancers.’”
Regional Picks/Best Fragrant Perennials/Midwest (page 78) In honor perhaps of Tychonievich’s article, the focus of Regional Picks this month is “Best Fragrant Perennials.” Janice Becker, a volunteer at the Chicago Botanic Garden, loves ‘Hyperion’ daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’). It is bright yellow with narrower, more delicate foliage and a “strong, sweet fragrance.” A common name for this daylily is Lemon Lily.
Becker closes with this perfect observation: “You’ll never settle for ‘Stella de Oro’…..once you experience the glorious fragrance of ‘Hyperion.’
Regional Picks/Best Fragrant Perennials/Northern Plains (page 82) Chris Sklar is a landscape designer in Alberta, Canada. One of her four favorites is also one of mine, ‘Festiva Maxima’ peony (Paeonia ‘Festiva Maxima’). It’s the white one with streaks of red and was probably planted in everyone’s garden post WWII.
‘Festiva Maxima’ deserves to be in all Zones 3 - 8 gardens still.
For northern gardeners, May is a great month. First of all, it’s practically carte blanch to buy plants. Then we get to dig our hands in the soil. (See guidelines for planting times at the bottom of the checklist.)
May is also busy with many chores and lots of things to get organized. Best get started.
• With lists and design notes in hand, visit favorite nurseries and greenhouses.
• Be strong! Refrain from cutting back unsightly bulb foliage. The leaves are essential for sufficient food production (photosynthesis) for healthy bulbs next year. It's safe to cut off foliage when it has yellowed and withered.
• As vines start growing, take time to guide new shoots where you want them. (I always forget this one and it’s too late when the clematis already has 100 shoots winding every which way.)
• Practice no-till. Put the soil-destroying roto-tiller away. Instead use a broad fork.
• When transplanting annuals, cut off flowers, prune spindly growth and gently feather out crowded roots. (These practices encourage good root development, branching and future flower production.)
• Put out peony cages, stakes, trellises, obelisks and other garden necessities.
• Also put out fun garden furnishings such as fountains, rain chains, pretty pots, stained glass pieces and other objects d’art.
• If you don't have a compost pile, start one. It can be as simple as a big pile in an out-of-the-way spot surrounded by chicken wire. Nothing better for your soil (ergo your garden) than to apply a 2-3” layer of good compost every fall.
• If your lilac planting needs rejuvenation, you can start after the flowers fade. Cut out 1/3 of the largest stems a couple of inches above the soil surface. Next year prune another 1/3 of the largest stems and the following year, cut out the remaining 1/3. After three years, the lilacs will be completely renewed.
• Monitor plants for pests, diseases and pathogens. If you can live with the problem, don’t do anything. (Some of those are part of your garden’s ecosystem.) If not, choose an organic solution.
• Save all plant tags for those mythical lists and notes you think you’ll make at the end of the season.
• If garden furniture has been stored, pull it out. Clean chairs, benches, ottomans and tables and move into place. When you finally sit down at the end of the day, toast the new season with your favorite cocktail.
OK to plant now: • cool-season or cold-tolerant annual vegetables such as beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chard, collards, kale, kohlrabi, lettuce, onions, peas, potatoes, radish, rutabaga, spinach and turnips. • cold-tolerant annuals like allysum, larkspurs, marigolds, snapdragons and stock • perennial and cold-tolerant herbs such as chives, mint, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme • last year’s or field-grown perennials • perennial fruits and vegetables such as rhubarb and asparagus (if not already in the ground) • woody plants such as trees (shade, ornamental and fruit-bearing), shrubs and vines
Wait until night temperatures are consistently above 50 and soil temperature has warmed to: • transplant warm-season vegetables such as cucumbers, eggplants, muskmelon, peppers, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes and watermelon • plant non-cold-tolerant annuals • put out tropical and greenhouse-grown plants
Gifted writer Jim Harrison is perhaps best known for his fiction but he can also write essays. The Raw and the Cooked is wonderful and in his memoir, Off to the Side, he includes chapters on Seven Obsessions. In his eloquent style, Harrison writes of, among others, The Road, Nature, Private Religion and Hunting/Fishing (and Dogs).
In a far less erudite fashion, I exploit his idea.
Presented below are Seven Garden Obsessions.
Fragrance. Plant breeders are often so intent on unnecessary colors or monstrous double blossoms that they disregard basic botany. The entire raisond’etre of a flower is to produce a seed which ensures the continuation of the species. Scent is key to pollination.
Flowers with fragrance are borne on all manner and size of plants—from herbaceous annuals and perennials to shrubs, trees and vines. Whether scent is sweet or spicy, heady or delicate, I value it more than show-off colors or huge blossoms.
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. ~ Les Brown
Dream big. When designing a garden, I take time to dream big—really brainstorm and plan. Inspiration comes from books and magazines, friends, travel, classes and visiting gardens. The final design is one all-encompassing, long-range project that’s phased in as time and money allow.
Famous gardens. Many famous gardens were once part of private estates and are now generously open to the public. Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Biltmore and Filoli are just a few worth seeing in our country. Overseas, grand gardens include Giverny, Sissinghurst Castle and Villa Carlotta on Lake Como in Italy.
Public gardens often came about due to one person’s bold dream. Minnesotans can thank Dr. Leon C. Snyder who envisioned the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and, in North Carolina, Dr. J. C. Raulston was the force behind his state’s arboretum.
Whether the garden is public or private, I support them with memberships and contributions. And I never miss an opportunity to visit a garden when traveling.
If you make a four-season garden…you feel the life cycle of nature. ~ Piet Oudolf
Four seasons. I value dormant landscapes and design for all four seasons. Gardens should celebrate the compelling cycle of growth, reproduction, decay and rebirth.
Take good care. A garden—whether 10 square feet or 10 acres—is part of our planet’s ecosystem. I take good care of the soil and its microorganisms by practicing no-till tilling, top-dressing with prodigious amounts of good compost each fall. In addition, it’s crucial to consider the food and habitat needs of native insects, birds and other wildlife when choosing plants.
Food. Food-producing plants should be part of the garden. As space allows, I include woody plants and both annual and perennial herbs, fruits and vegetables. Nothing is more elemental or gratifying than cutting an assortment of colorful lettuces from the garden just prior to preparing the evening’s salad. Fresh food taste better, costs less and is more nutritious.
Furnishings. Just as personal effects like books and artwork give a home its personality so, too, do furnishings and ornaments in outdoor spaces. I love to liven up the garden with distinctive benches, chairs, arbors, lanterns, fountains, rain chains, stained glass pieces, beautiful pots and anything else that strikes my fancy.
Photo of Sissinghurst Castle Garden by Jill Bickford. Photos of peony, lilac, beech and winterberry by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman's Cabinet.
Tulips have been capturing the imagination of mankind for centuries. Whether considering 17th century “tulipomania,” Michael Pollan’s analysis of tulips vis-à-vis the desire of beauty in his landmark book, The Botany of Desire, or Dutch grower’s fervor with their annual production of 4.32 billion tulips bulbs, tulips have an extraordinary history and fan base.
Anna Pavord proclaims in her book, Bulb, the tulip is “the queen of all bulbs, producing the sexiest, the most capricious, the most various, subtle, powerful, and intriguing flowers that any gardener will ever set eyes on.”
For me, a tulip is the epitome of elegance, simplicity and charm. The graceful stems, flower form and clear, saturated colors of the petals take my breath away. I’m never without them in my garden.
Tulip facts • The genus name is Tulipa which comes from the Turkish word for turban. • Tulips belong to the Lily or Liliaceae family, a primitive group of monocots that evolved 58 million years ago. Other plants include crocus, hyacinths, iris and, of course, lilies. • Lily family members produce bulbs, rhizomes or tubers and have plant parts in threes. • Tulips are native to mountainous regions in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and China. • From 1634 to 1637, Holland became embroiled in a “tulipomania”—a frenzied tulip-buying period that supposedly began when one tulip fancier coveted the red-and-white ‘Semper Augustus’ bulbs of another. Organic Gardening (April/May 2011) reported that a single bulb sold for what would be $41,000 in today’s currency. • Tulips are divided into 15 groups based on their bloom time, flower form or heritage. Among the divisions are Single Early, Double Early, Triumph, Darwin Hybrid, Lily-Flowered, Fringed, Viridiflora, Parrot and Species.
How to design using tulips in garden beds Designing for tulips in a garden is simple. Follow these three rules.
#1. Buy lots. Don’t be stingy. Tulips look best when massed.
#2. Mix colors. For some reason, whether we need a color fix in spring or tulip colors just naturally blend (or both), most colors can be grown together. (White Flower Farm knows this, too, and offers gorgeous combinations including French Single Late Tulip Mix and Peaches and Cream Tulip Mix.)
#3. Plant in casual groups. In other words, don’t plant tulips in straight lines or geometric patterns. I prefer random placement. Gently toss a handful of bulbs onto the bed and plant where they land.
Tulips are versatile and combine well with other spring-blooming bulbs, perennials and woody plants. Consider using other bulbs such as checkered lilies (Fritillaria), grape hyacinths (Muscari), daffodils (Narcissus) and Siberian squills (Scilla), as well as perennials including bleeding hearts (Dicentra), hellebores (Helleborus), violets (Viola). In addition, the use of plants—whether perennials, ground covers or annuals—is a perfect way to hide unsightly foliage as it fades.
Woody plants that bloom at the same time are perfect partners. Choices include serviceberries (Amelanchier), dogwoods (Cornus), amur cherries (Prunis maackii) and azaleas (Rhododendron).
How to grow tulips in garden beds Even though spring is the season to reap rewards, the work of planting tulips must be done in the fall. (Bookmark this post and make “Note to self” to re-visit in August.)
Buy good quality bulbs. Catalogs and online resources generally have their product lists available in late spring/early summer. Local greenhouses and nurseries will usually stock bulbs in late summer. My two favorite resources are Brent and Becky’s Bulbs and White Flower Farm.
Choose a site in full sun with rich soil and good drainage. No fertilization is necessary. (The optimum way to ensure healthy soil is an annual top-dressing of 2-3” of good compost.)
Brent and Becky’s Bulbs recommends planting tulip bulbs “after the first frost but before the ground freezes.” Or check soil temperature and plant when soil has cooled to about 60 degrees. Try not to procrastinate. The longer the bulbs are in the ground, the more fully developed the roots will be.
Dig holes to depth of 6 – 10” (or 3-4 times the height of the bulb). Depth refers to the distance from the bottom of the hole to the soil surface. Space so that the center of bulbs are about 6” apart (or 3 times the width of the bulb). In heavier soil, plant more shallowly.
You can dig one hole for each tulip bulb or one big hole for several. Choose the method that makes the most sense for the garden design and quantity of bulbs.
After planting, water the area thoroughly. If rainfall of about 1” per week isn’t received, continue to water until the ground freezes.
Apply mulch of loose organic material–straw, leaves or evergreen boughs–after the ground freezes. After the first year and every fall thereafter, apply a 2-3” layer of good compost to the soil surface.
After flowers have faded in spring, cut off flowering stalks. Don’t touch the foliage! The leaves will remain green for a time and slowly, ungracefully, and unattractively turn yellow and die. Then and only then is it okay to cut them off. The foliage ensures future, healthy bulbs.
All manner of critters eat various parts of tulips. Protection from deer, rabbits, voles or gophers will, most likely, be necessary. Options abound including bulb cages, wire mesh over the planting area and fencing.
Pavord’s notes of caution Since tulips are native to the high mountains of central Asia where summers are hot and dry, a key component to success with tulips is to mimic those conditions. Pavord writes: “In gardens, they do not always get that essential hot, dry spell, and many gardeners find that tulips do not flower as well in subsequent years as they do in their first.”
In addition, Pavord thinks it’s unrealistic to expect abundance flowers each spring. “There is, though, an unreal expectation on the part of gardeners that every tulip bulb should produce a flower every year. This is not how they perform in the wild…flowering is an exhausting business for them. They need to build themselves up to strength again. If they are left undisturbed, in the right kind of ground, they will do this.”
How to grow tulips in container gardens If your garden beds are full or your soil is just too heavy for bulbs or you’re weary of deer eating every green bit of tulip foliage as soon as it emerges or you just want to grow more bulbs, here’s a nifty option.
Using good potting soil, plant bulbs close together in pots and cover top of bulb by about 1” of soil. (Normal depth and spread guidelines don’t apply to this method.)
Water thoroughly until water dribbles out the bottom of the pots.
Bury containers in well-drained spot so rim of pot is covered.
If critters are a problem, provide protection. Cover planting area with barrier of some kind—mesh, hardware cloth or an old window screen.
Spread about 4” of peat moss, marsh hay or pine needles over the spot.
If adequate rain of about 1” per week isn’t received, water thoroughly until ground has frozen.
Then forget about them until next spring. When the ground has thawed, gently dig up the pots and place by the front door, by the back door, on the terrace or deck.
When the flowers fade, continue to care for the plants until the foliage yellows and dies. Bulbs grown in this manner aren’t stressed at all and can be re-planted in pots or in the ground.
How to force tulips Tulips are easily forced into bloom as long as the minimum dormancy requirement has been met. Simply plant in containers using a good quality potting soil. Water thoroughly and store at 40 degrees. Throughout dormancy, water only when the soil has almost dried out completely. Keep chilled for 14 – 20 weeks. Then move to warm spot with good light. They will bloom in 2 – 3 weeks.
Tulip bouquets Tulips are beautiful in vases because one can see them up close. The colors always amaze and I love gazing into the interior where the big pistil and stamens rise up. Just as with outdoor design, it doesn’t seem to matter whether colors are mixed or monochromatic. The most important consideration is mass.
My favorite tulips
• ‘Angelique’ The only double tulip I like. It’s a late-blooming cultivar in warm shades of pink. • ‘Bestseller’ Rather than choosing a pure color, this Single Early is a sophisticated blend of soft orange, rose and even some gold. • ‘Maytime’ I love this elegant Lily-flowered cultivar with its pointed petals in a soft-ish magenta/violet. • ‘Prinses Irene’ How to describe this Triumph? It is orange and purple with touches of green but it isn’t gaudy at all…it is gorgeous. • ‘Rococo’ Just as the name suggests, this Parrot is wild-looking. Rich shades of red and purple mark the twisted, fringed petals. • ‘Spring Green’ A Viridiflora bi-color with creamy white petals and a bright green flame. (Photo at top by Chris Mathan.)
As you contemplate spring gardening chores (and I know I'm risking redundancy), let me remind gardeners of an "old-is-new" practice: no-till tilling.
No-till tilling is...just that. Don't till. Don't till soil to prepare the garden every spring. Instead, use a broad fork (pictured above) and each fall, put down a lovely, 2"-thick layer of mulch which will slowly decompose into rich in organic matter and nutrients. (Or if you didn't last year, consider a thin layer now).
The benefits are important and practically magical. • Soil structure isn't damaged. • Billions of creatures (bacteria, fungi, earthworms and others) that live in the soil aren't disturbed, or worse, killed. • Reduces the need for watering and fertilizing. • Saves time and energy. • Helps reduce soil erosion.
Photo above from Valley Oak Tool Company (valleyoaktool.com). Other information posted in the category Saving the World One Garden at a Time.
Lettuce is so easy to grow…and so gratifying to cut fresh, colorful leaves for salads. (In our home a good meal doesn’t seem complete without a salad.) Lettuce can be grown in containers or in the ground. The plants are hearty enough to survive a severe frost. Speedy germination rates of 7 – 10 days ensure quick results. Full sun and a soil rich with compost and/or well-rotted manure is best.
Sow seeds as soon as soil can be worked. Place seeds about ½’’ apart and cover lightly with soil. Thin to about 2’’ apart and make your first salad of micro greens. If you intend to grow some into full heads, thin again to 12’’ apart. Sow every two weeks for continuous growth. Plant a mixture of varieties with each sowing so your salads are colorful and delicious.
Lettuces are roughly grouped into Looseleaf & Oakleaf, Cutting, Bibb & Butterhead, Romaine & Cos. The selections below range in maturity from 42 to 68 days.
• Black Seeded Simpson: Looseleaf type, tender, slightly ruffled. (English heirloom from 1850.) • Buttercrunch: Butterhead, refreshing, dark green outer leaves. • Flashy Green Butter Oak: Oak leaf, crunchy, lime green with dark freckles. • Lollo Rossa: Cutting-type, very frilly and pretty, green at base changing to red. • Parris Island Cos: Romaine, crisp, thick, juicy. • Pirat (Sprenkel or Brauner Trotzkopf): Butterhead, green with light brown pebbling, smooth, creamy. • Red Sails: Looseleaf, crunchy, green at base but mostly red leaves. (Cool name!) • Salad Bowl: Oakleaf, bright green, very lobed leaves. • Speckled Amish: Bibb, beautifully marked green leaves with maroon flecks. (Mennonite heirloom from 1799.) • Winter Density (Craquerelle du Midi): Bibb or Romaine, dark green, tender. (French heirloom from 19th century.)
This post also appeared in the Askov American, Askov, Minnesota.
Michael Pollan describes Joel Salatin as a “grass farmer” in his landmark book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. Pollan describes the symbiotic relationship that exists on Salatin’s farm between cows, chickens and natural fertilizer. Salatin has the responsibility of rotating the cows and chickens at the right time but all he really has to grow is good grass.
In much the same way, I think gardeners are “soil farmers.” Gardeners need to take care of their soil and plants in turn will grow just fine.
Peter Garnham wrote a series of six columns on soil in Horticulture magazine beginning with the January/February 2014 issue. Twice I have written about and highlighted Garnham’s key issues and, with this post, I want to summarize his ideas and offer suggestions.
Healthy soil consists of, among other components, microbial-sized bacteria and fungi and larger beetles, worms, ants, slugs, snails and spiders. There are 30,000 kinds of bacteria alone that live in soil. One teaspoon of soil contains several billion bacteria.
Life in the soil relies on the soil food web, a complex symbiotic process that occurs between some of those soil creatures and plant roots. The action starts in the rhizosphere, a thin layer (1/50”) between roots and soil where tiny bacteria and fungi eat organic material sloughed off by roots. Not only do those bacteria and fungi create nutrients the plant needs but they are also a food source for billions of other soil creatures.
A gardener’s role, then, is to be a soil farmer. In other words, a gardener should do everything possible to nurture, protect and feed the billions of microbes and other soil creatures and not to do anything to disturb or destroy the intricate soil balance. Garnham writes that a gardener should “stop behaving like a mass murderer.”
There are three simple steps to follow.
• Don’t rototill. Ever. Instead, use a broad fork. • Don’t use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. Ever. • Top dress the garden with an inch or two of good compost (your own or look for the “OMRI Listed” mark of approval) annually.
Death at the Chateau Bremont by M. L. Longworth is the first of four murder mysteries set in Aix-en-Provence, the quintessential Provencal city with its cafes, fountains, outdoor markets and famous street, Cours Mirabeau. Aix is as much a character as Longworth’s hero Antoine Verlaque, heroine Marine Bonnet and their assorted friends and business associates. Verlaque is cool—rich, debonair, a bit arrogant but also intelligent, well-read and he drives a sporty little Porsche. Native to Aix, Bonnet is a law professor and lacks just enough self confidence to be a perfect complement for Antoine.
Others in the series, Death in the Vines, Murder in the Rue Dumas and Murder on the Ile Sordou, are also on my stack. The quick, fun books are the perfect foil when I need a break from Jamie and Claire (See next entry.).
The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon is the fifth in Gabaldon’s Outlander series about Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser and James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser. In addition to the unique time travel aspects of their lives and their compelling relationship, the history of the Scottish Highlanders is fascinating. The book can be so engrossing that nothing else seems important….whether work or food or sleep.
On the Water by Guy de la Valdene was just published in February and I’m happy to add it to our collection. de la Valdene is passionate about the outdoors and writes eloquently about fishing, hunting, birds and dogs. Plus, he’s practically a neighbor. He lives on an 800-acre farm in Florida, just over the border from us in the Red Hills/bobwhite quail plantation area that encompasses southwestern Georgia and northwestern Florida.
Indoor Kitchen Gardening by Elizabeth Millard is much in demand. It had been on my request list at the library for weeks and now, after just two weeks, I must return it because someone else has requested it. Much like a column I read in The New York Times entitled “A Conservatory in the Kitchen,” Millard shows just how easy it is to grow food indoors year round. Besides ordinary herbs, she writes of microgreens, sprouts, mushrooms, lettuces and other greens, radishes, potatoes and tomatoes. Light, airflow and drainage are key but all are relatively easily satisfied. The book is full of good color photographs and Millard’s breezy style makes for easy reading.
Buvette, The Pleasure of Good Food, by Jody Williams is named after Williams’ New York City restaurant. Williams nails the eating/cooking relationship—extraordinary cooking skills derived from a passion for eating good food. Her simple preparations of exquisite ingredients are beautifully plated and presented and I would love to spend time in her restaurant.
A perfect Buvette morning: “There are fresh eggs and good coffee and warm croissants served with spoonfuls of butter and sweet jam…”
And on a winter evening: “…a large pot of cassoulet bubbles in the kitchen all night long, and a tarte Tatin waits at the end of the bar. There’s always good wine or a smart martini, stirred not shaken.”
For the look and feel of what it was like to live in an antebellum mansion on the grounds of what was once part of an 1800s cotton plantation, Goodwood Museum & Gardens in Tallahassee, Florida, is a fine choice.
As the property passed through different hands with distinct goals, land was sold off, various gardens were planted, out buildings were constructed and, in 1912, even a snazzy swimming pool was built. Since 1990, the estate has been managed as a non-profit to preserve its historic value.
Thousands of bulbs were originally planted in the West Lawn in the 1880s. While many of those heirloom plants amazingly survive, The American Daffodil Society and the Tallahassee Garden Club have since planted additional bulbs. Unlabeled yellow and white daffodils (Narcissus spp.) were in bloom as well as charming spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum), each petal tipped with tiny dots of green.
What a view from the front porch of Goodwood mansion! Clumps of tropical sago palm (Cycas revoluta), two saucer magnolias (Magnolia x soulangeana) and two centuries-old live oaks (Quercus virginiana) formed a loose circle around a gazing globe. Spanish moss (Tillandsiausneoides) dangled from the trees. (Epiphytic Spanish moss is native to the Southeast and generally causes no health problems for host plants; rather it uses them for support and protection.)
Always a sucker for water features, this might be one of the simplest yet most tempting fountains I’ve seen. In a nice bit of textural juxtaposition, the heavy-duty basin was placed in a bed of soft Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia). A low column of burbling, gurgling water rose from the center. I longed to lean over the rope and dangle my fingers.
A shrubby grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi) was full of ripe fruit. Even though sorely tempted, I did not pick one.
I can imagine that later in the season this container will be dazzlingly but a beautiful pot can be just as nice when empty.
Photo at top: Even though native to Asia, camellias (Camellia japonica) have adapted well to the southeastern U.S. after being introduced in the late 1700s. The foliage is evergreen and glossy and plants bloom from January – Mach. Flower colors include white, reds and bicolors but my favorite is soft pink.
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.