One notion—water—and one activity—swimming—have always been part of my life. In fact, water and swimming are of such visceral importance that they are both guideposts and sources of inspiration.
Fact #1. I was born in May and within weeks my parents were bathing me in a lake, which I consider a sort of pagan baptism. My maternal Scandinavian grandparents built a small, simple, log-sided cabin on a pretty piece of lakeshore in northern Minnesota and my family spent summers there when I was growing up. Living close to water was “the source of my earliest, fondest memories” and gave me a feeling of “deep utter contentment” as I wrote for a piece in the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2013.
As an adult I still spent as much time as possible at the lake cabin until, finally, I bought my own.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore; While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey, I hear it in the deep heart’s core. ~ The Lake Isle of Innisfree, by William Butler Yeats
Fact #2. Swimming came early, too, as my parents didn’t believe in—or spend money on—fancy rings and duck-shaped floats. Instead, my siblings and I had to learn to swim. Rudimentary lessons were administered at the lake but I remember formal lessons, too. They were always held early in the morning when the air was colder than the water and we shivered as much as anything. I somehow passed through each level—from minnow to barracuda, shark to Water Safety Instructor.
Swimmers generally prefer one stroke over others and my favorite is the freestyle. I like its speed and total body involvement. The back stroke is boring and I never mastered the butterfly. My breast stroke is an easy, relaxing style—totally unlike the Olympic stroke—and perfect for deep, even breathing.
At one level, it’s purely sensual: the silky feeling of liquid on skin; the chance to float free…But it’s also an inward journey, a time of quiet contemplation. I find myself at peace, able to flex my mind and imagine new possibilities without the startling interruptions of modern life. The silence is stunning. ~ Why I Swim, by Lynn Sherr, Parade Magazine, May 13, 2012
Since lake swimming tends to be recreational rather than physically challenging, I’ve been swimming laps in pools since I was 14. The pools have been both indoors and out and have ranged in size from 40 feet to 25 yards, 25 meters and an Olympic-sized 50-meter pool. One pool was in a back yard but I’ve belonged to YMCAs, a private health club and now pay to swim at a local high school pool through an adult education program.
For better or worse, the mind wanders: we are left alone with our
thoughts, wherever they make take us. A lot of creative thinking happens
when we’re not actively aware of it...The body is engaged in full
physical movement, but the mind itself floats, untethered. ~ The Self-Reflecting Pool, by Bonnie Tsui, The New York Times, February 16, 2014
Not surprisingly, my vacation choices are always near water and usually include swimming. I’ve visited the Pacific Ocean off northern California and the Atlantic coasts of Maine, Massachusetts, the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. Farther south about 1,500 miles, I’ve swum in warm Atlantic water off the islands of Barbados and Grenada.
I can vouch, also, for the lovely Gulf of Mexico, too. Holidays have taken me from Fort Walton Beach in Florida’s Panhandle to Key West and many beaches in between.
It’s the most complete feeling of freedom that there is. ~ The River Swimmer, by Jim Harrison, 2013
But one destination surpasses all. The Caribbean Sea surrounding the U.S. and British Virgin Islands is simply the most beautiful water in the world. Ordinary words like blue and green seem inadequate to describe the colors. Instead aquamarine, turquoise, azure, emerald, lapis and indigo come to mind. There is a translucence that makes the water not only rapturous to behold but sublime for swimming.
…I can achieve a blank and shining serenity if only I can reach the very edge of a natural body of water. The very edge of anything from a rivulet to an ocean says to me: “Now you know where you are. Now you know which way to go. You will soon be home now. ~ The Lake, by Kurt Vonnegut, June 1988
Photos from top to bottom: Dock at Burntside Lodge, Burntside Lake, Ely, Minnesota Listening Point, Burntside Lake, Ely, Minnesota Olympic Champion Amanda Weir/photo by Nike Atlantic Ocean, Nantucket, Massachusetts Little Dix Bay, Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands/photo by Little Dix Bay Atlantic Ocean, Tybee Island, Georgia
It is, really, so simple. Healthy soil = healthy plants.
Good soil is the most important aspect of any garden. Good gardeners understand. They know that tidy rows of vegetables and pretty perennials are totally dependent on what’s happening below ground.
The complex, fascinating, symbiotic process that occurs is called the soil food web.
Consider these facts and sequence of events: • One teaspoon of soil contains several billion (billion...with a "b") bacteria. • 30,000 kinds of bacteria live in the soil. • The action takes place in the rhizosphere—a thin layer only 1/50” thick between roots and soil. • Tiny bacteria and fungi eat plant root exudates—organic material sloughed off by roots of plants. • Those bacteria and fungi create nutrients the plant needs. • They also are a food source for other bacteria, protozoa, fungi, beetles and worms that live in the soil.
The January/February 2014 “Horticulture” magazine published the first of Peter Garnham’s outstanding series on soil. It was continued in the March/April 2014 issue and I can hardly wait to read the next installment. Garnham, an organic farmer on Long Island, NY, has written previously for the magazine.
Gardeners can easily do their part. Start this spring.
1. Go cold turkey on synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and fungicides. You’ll save the lives of billions (billions) of bacteria, fungi and larger creatures. Healthy soil is the best defense. If truly necessary, use organic solutions.
2. Don’t rototill. Again you’ll save the lives of billions (with a "b") of bacteria, fungi, beetles and worms. Instead, use a broad fork.
3. Top dress beds with a couple inches of good compost. You’ll nourish those billions of critters.
Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen. I try to read anything by Quindlen, the Pulitzer Prize-winner who also wrote “A Short Guide to a Happy Life.” The lead character of this latest book, Rebecca, is 59 years old when, at a crossroads, she moves from New York City to a run-down cabin in a rural area. She even becomes a dog person, allowing it to sleep at the foot of her bed. She had succeeded at her career in a big way but now suffers money problems, career problems, divorce problems—and must, in other words, overcome difficulties that most of us face at one time or another. The crux is how she copes and comes through her trying times. A little romance never hurts, too. The hero is a big guy (“a block of man”) with fair hair and scarred hands who makes “a good grilled cheese sandwich.”
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt has been on my bedside table for weeks. I devoured the opening chapters but was overcome by Theo’s ordeal and needed a break. When I could summon the emotional courage to pick up the book again, I couldn’t put it down. It is mesmerizing and one of the best books I’ve ever read.
I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron was published in 2010 and is the last book she wrote. She died in 2012 from a rather secret bout of acute myeloid leukemia. Ephron wrote the screenplays for some of my favorite romantic comedies including, "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle" and "You’ve Got Mail." She also wrote "Heartburn" after a nasty divorce from Carl Bernstein, of Deep Throat fame. This book is a collection of essays written in her intelligent, thoughtful, sassy way.
Pines and Plantations, subtitled Native recipes of Thomasville, Georgia, is published by The Vashti Auxiliary. For the past two winters, my husband Jerry and I have lived near Thomasville. We like to eat local—whether at home or out on date nights. We fell hard for lots of yummy southern foods—grits, biscuits, fried chicken, pecans, fried green tomatoes, Gulf shrimp and key lime pie. One thing I didn't care for at all was stewed greens made from kale, turnips or spinach.
Veranda, The Art of Outdoor Living, by Lisa Newsom is more than a coffee-table book of pretty gardens. Newsom is a native of Thomasville and the founder of the magazine "Veranda." What I like best about the places and spaces (the plants are pretty, too) is simple and rare in books of this type--the quality of design.
Newsom writes in her introduction: “The rich talents of some of the world’s finest landscape architects, interior designers, architects, and good old-fashioned green thumbs are on display here.”
If I were a rich man, Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum. All day long I'd biddy biddy bum. If I were a wealthy man. ~ Sheldon Harnick & Jerry Bock
If Tevye, the main character in the 1964 musical "Fiddler on the Roof," were rich he’d build a big house with three staircases and make his wife Goldie happy with money for meals and servants to boss around.
If I were a rich woman, what would I do? Normal trappings have no appeal. Many women would dash out to the nearest Nordstrom and indulge in clothes and shoes. A uniform of jeans, Patagonia long underwear tops and Chaco sandals are more my style. Nor would I want a big house with miles of granite countertops, tile everything and lavish furnishings. My preference has always been for small and rustic—more cozy cabin-ish—and outfitted simply and sparingly.
My choices would be different. I’d travel and buy jewels.
Which is why, when reading the March 2014 issue of "Town & Country," a stunning collection of plant-inspired jewelry caught my eye. Chestnuts, hazelnuts, oak leaves and acorns, figs, rose hips and a pomegranate were fashioned into fabulous earrings and brooches by Hemmerle.
Nature and art have always been – and continue to be – inexhaustible sources for ideas. ~ Stefan Hemmerle
Hemmerle is a German jewelry design company (in business since 1893) that ventures to the U.S. for a semiannual salon in New York City. That show, at the Plaza Athenee Hotel, is now closed and I’ll miss their booth at the TEFAF art fair in the Netherlands. But no bother. I’ll travel (and get a two-fer) to the Hemmerle boutique on Maximilianstrasse, Munich’s tony shopping boulevard.
How to choose? The cranberry brooch (top photo), created of coral, spinels, silver and gold, is nice. But I also like the subtle charm and colors of the fritillary earrings made with diamonds, copper and gold. Or maybe the arbutus...
Sometimes a gardener wants to be entertained, wants simply to be dazzled by flowers and color and exuberance and not pay any attention to plant names, cultivars and culture. Sometimes, it’s nice to just enjoy the show.
Nature has mysterious infinities and imaginative power…The artist himself is one of nature’s means. ~ Paul Gauguin
The Atlanta Botanical Garden is celebrating three impressionist artists—Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin—and the inspiration each found in flowers, landscapes and nature. Famous sights are interpreted through massive displays of orchids: Monet’s water lily pond at Giverny, van Gogh’s swirling yellow, blue and white Starry Night and the tropical scenes of Gauguin.
The special display is titled Orchid Daze—Lasting Impressions and will be held in the Fuqua Orchid Center until April 13, 2014.
Why not a window box or container garden filled with orchids?
More than anything I must have flowers, always, always. ~ Claude Monet
Many woody plants—mainly shrubs or small ornamental trees—were in full bloom outside but their white or yellow flowers seemed dull and unimaginative. • forsythia (Forsythia x intermedia) • honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii) • magnolia (Magnolia x ‘Jon Jon’) • paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) • pearlbush (Exochorda racemosa) • quince (Chaenomeles speciosa ‘Nivalis’) • spirea (Spiraea thunbergii ‘Mt. Fuji’ and ‘Ugon’) • winter hazel (Corylopsis pauciflora)
Now, the only reason for making a buzzing noise that I know of is because you're a bee. And the only reason for being a bee is to make honey, and the only reason for making honey is so I can eat it. ~ Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne
Lately there seems to be a resurgence of publicity about bees, further illuminating the issues and fate of this vital insect. My favorite restaurant recently promoted bees and I’ve noticed bee stuff in magazines. Too, I did just buy a jar of sourwood honey from Savannah Bee Company and it is yummy.
Recent bee publicity. Lucia’s Restaurant, a much-applauded, James Beard award winner in Minneapolis just wrapped up a February “Bee” month. (See bee cookies in photo below.) A portion of February’s sales went to the Bee Lab at the University of Minnesota.
Nearly all of the fruits and vegetables on our menu would not exist without bee pollination. Foods like apples, figs, chestnuts, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, beets, vanilla, and even coffee wouldn’t be here without the hard work of our bees! ~ Lucia’s Restaurant
Chantecaille , a high-end cosmetics company that sells its brand through high-end stores (Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom) introduced a “Save the Bees Palette” this spring. Included are highlighter, blush and eye shade compacts in pretty shades with clever names like Beehive, Nectar Blush and Honey. The company will donate 5% of proceeds from the Save the Bees Palette to The Xerces Society.
When the air is wine and the wind is free and the morning sits on the lovely leaf, and sunlight ripples on every tree Then love-in-air is the thing for me I’m a bee, I’m a ravishing, rollicking, young queen bee, That’s me. ~ E. B White, Song of the Queen Bee The New Yorker, December 15, 1945
Cool bee and honey facts. • Bees need flowers for food. Some flowers provide pollen only and others provide both pollen and nectar. • Plants need bees to transport pollen from one flower to another for pollination. • Honey is the liquid produced by honeybees from nectar they collect, refine and concentrate. • There are about 20,000 known bee species in the world including bumble (Bombus spp.), carpenter (Xylocopa spp.), honey (Apis spp.), leaf cutting (Megachilidae spp.), mason (Osmia spp.) and sweat (Halictidae spp.) bees. • The European honey bee—not a native insect—produces most of the honey. • Varietal or monofloral honey is honey collected from a single source. Some nice options include clover, blueberry, buckwheat, basswood, sourwood, orange blossom, lavender and tupelo. • Honey is sold in liquid, whipped, comb or chunk forms. • Honey is extremely stable and naturally resists fungi, molds and other bacteria allowing it to last years without refrigeration. • Beeswax makes great candles.
Honey is the celestial gift of the dew. ~ Virgil, 29 BC
Simple steps for gardeners and others to help bees. • Grow many kinds of flowering plants all season. (Plants for Minnesota Bees) • Consider reducing the size of turf grass (very unfriendly to bees) or allow some plants like clover, creeping Charlie and dandelions to grow. • Avoid using insecticides and herbicides. • Buy and eat honey.
More bee information. beelab.umn.edu beesquad.umn.edu espseeds.com prairiemoon.com/seed-mixes/pollinator-palooza-seed-mix savannahbee.com thebeezkneezdelivery.com xerces.org/bees
Finally… The March Tastemakers (based in Minneapolis) topic is “The Buzz On Life As We Know It,” subtitled “preventing the steep decline of our world’s pollinators.” The event, March 18, is hosted by Stephanie March and Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl; the panelists are leaders in their respective professions:
• Dr. Marla Spivak, Distinguished McKnight Professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota • Lucia Watson, Owner of Lucia’s Restaurant in Minneapolis • Ron Bowen, Founder and President of Prairie Restorations
Honey bees represent the goodness of the earth and all that grows on it. If we take care of bees in ways that allow them to survive on their own, we are taking care not to contaminate our planet. What we learn from bees is how to be better stewards of the earth. ~ Dr. Marla Spivak
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.