Monday, December 15, 2014

Mid-December update

No flowers to share for GBBD this month (though we do have shockingly-colored shiny balls in the magnolia branches) but it is the time to start going through the seed catalogs that are quickly accumulating, and this year instead of putting lots of sticky notes on the pages I'm trying out a preliminary wishlist on my Pinterest page, with links to seed company web pages; I've been through three catalogs so far. (Note: I got the Pinterest account as a place to stash images related to my novels, and am not entirely caught up on doing that, but the "Gardening" board that should have lots of stuff in it has practically nothing. Someday it will, but I think I function better as a collector in specific categories than as a general noter-of-cool-things.)

You may note that there are about twenty zillion kinds of radishes listed there. I'm not going to grow them all (even though I have two gardens to work with) but I've been enjoying colorful radishes and finding them delicious roasted, and would like to expand my repertoire a bit. And the idea of the wishlist is to get all the possibilities down in one place.

Other things to do, aside from look through more catalogs, and take inventory of the seeds I already have:

  • Soil test for the community garden plot (probably should do one for the oh-so-pathetic fruit garden too)
  • Finish cleaning up the fruit garden area, which got very weedy this summer
  • Decide, with some nod to reality, how much I can actually do with the weed- and black raspberry-choked back part of that fenced area
  • And ditto, with the rest of the "way back"
Of course, a lot of that depends on weather, but we usually have some decent non-snowy periods to work outside in. We'll see.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The moment of the poppy and the moment of the boxwood

… to paraphrase T.S. Eliot.

I've been thinking a lot about time recently (not surprisingly - my new book is coming out soon) and of course particularly as it relates to plants, spurred on by two ideas. First, the Remembrance Day poppy. We've all seen photos of the lovely display at the Tower of London -

- with many thousands of ceramic poppies representing the dead of World War One. But it's even more poignant to consider why Papaver rhoeas took on this symbolism in the first place: because they are the first flowers to recolonize the fields of Europe after the damage caused by warfare. You could say, melodramatically, that they sprout out of ground soaked in blood, or more realistically that they do well in soil that's been stirred up into mud and had all its layers disturbed and then been compacted by feet and hooves and heavy vehicles. They are tough little plants, determined and opportunistic; not long-lived individually, they store a seed bank in the ground and keep coming when all other plants give up. They are practically designed to be symbolic of battalions of soldiers dying and being replaced until the seed bank is exhausted.

Secondly, I read Adrian Higgins' excellent article on tree planting this week in the Washington Post, and was struck especially by this ending paragraph:
But if you want to be far-sighted, you could follow the example of Huw Crompton, the landscape architect behind a 15-acre plantation of boxwood north of London, installed for the express purpose of providing authentic material for baroque woodwinds. It should be ready for harvest [] by the middle of the next century.
We have all sorts of timelines in the garden - the oak tree planted for the enjoyment of the next generation; the radish we're going to harvest three weeks from now; the bulbs we put in this fall for next spring and many springs after that - and nature has them too. One of the joys of spending years in a place, whether it includes carefully cultivated beds or wild areas or both, is getting to know its patterns of growth intimately: trees that you plant yourself and watch grow into maturity, trees that succumb to disease or old age and die, thirty-year-old daffodils and tulips that last only a season, the weeds that just keep appearing no matter how often you pull them out, the mushrooms that pop up after a rain and then vanish. Change is good, and so is continuity; more importantly, you can find both in ancient trees and annual flowers - even an old plant alters its form every year, and flowers that die in a season leave seeds behind for new growth (if they aren't bred to be sterile, but that's a human innovation). So go outside and watch time happen, and find your place in it: be humble and be creative and be an agent of change and continuity; be a gardener.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mid-November blooms

I zipped out into the cold and took Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day photos. Yes, I have a few flowers! Here in Maryland it is cold (in the 30s F.) but not as cold as in the center of the U.S., where the arctic air has been forced well south (meanwhile, it is warm in Alaska). Next week we will have another blast of even colder air, so I think my blooms will disappear, but for now -

I love this. Two blooms appeared yesterday on this clematis (whose name I forget) that grows by the mailbox and refuses to climb it even when provided with assistance and support; it prefers to creep. These flowers are a very cheerful sight.

Of longer standing are the fall burst of roses on my Bonica shrubs:

They just keep hanging out there, not fading; I keep touching them to see if they are plastic, but no.

And there is still one battered Japanese anemone in the bed by the side of the house:

Also lots of nice fall leaf color still. Here's the Mohawk viburnum in front:

That one green leaf is not a joiner. You go, leaf!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Italy, part the second: serendipity

I like visiting gardens, but I like even more just coming across plants and gardens in unexpected ways when I travel, so that's what this post is about. Of course, I'm the one who's always going to take photos of ferns growing out of old buildings:

Santissimo Nome di Maria, Rome
or ironic failures of upkeep:

either Romulus or Remus is dead here
While we're on Rome, here's a nice juxtaposition of ancient and modern, wild and cultivated:

Newer (if not very new) building, with potted trees on the balcony, constructed around the ruins of Roman baths, with sprouting weeds from the stones. Cool!

I'm also always thrilled to come across vegetables, whether in markets or in gardens or growing wild. Being able to cook on vacations makes me feel much more human, and since we had a kitchen in our Rome hotel room, we bought vegetables and pasta at the Campo de Fiori market and made lunch. These zucchini, cut up with their flowers, look like the Costata Romanesco type, but could be something else similar.

Vegetables and fruit are not necessarily encountered only in reality but also in art. We didn't visit a lot of museums on this trip, but we did go through the Villa d'Este (see other post for Tivoli Gardens shots) and I snapped these portions of murals:

which do have some recognizable edibles in them.

On the Sorrento leg of our trip, we encountered lots of growing fruits and vegetables, including the citrus trees right outside our little cabin:

On the long trek up the stairs and pathways from Amalfi to Ravello, we walked right under a trellis of netted pumpkins (my son's photo; I was too exhausted to lift my phone camera):

and then much later, up at the Terrace of Infinity in the Villa Cimbrone gardens, I was thrilled (and dizzied) to look down from the heights:

and to actually spot the trellis and the more tan-orange of the pumpkins on it. You can't see it in this photo because the resolution isn't good enough, but it's there.

Also in Ravello, one of the hotels had an organic vegetable garden near the path:

closeup of cucuzzi gourds

On Capri, the very long chair lift journey up Monte Solaro took us right over people's gardens:

In this one I can spot amaranth and kale and beans and squash climbing the hillside. Kale (or an older generic brassica relative) grows wild in the Mediterranean region; this is a view from the top of Monte Solaro with kale in the foreground:

Another view from the top:

including the agaves in which people unfortunately inscribe graffiti:

For more perspective (if fewer plants), here's the chair lift going down:

Don't do this if you are afraid of heights!

I failed to take many photos in Tuscany, mostly through fatigue, and partly because the iconically beautiful landscape as we first saw it, afternoon sun glinting across the green hills and the orange roofs and the lines and angles of vineyards and olive plantations, looked so much like a painting that it didn't seem real. No cell phone camera photograph could do it justice, certainly, though maybe when we upload the photos from the real camera there will be something. But here's the landscape near Arezzo, where my younger son is studying this semester (you can see the yellow villa where he lives, off in the background):

And, speaking of serendipity, a final shot of random artichokes in the grass outside a gas station somewhere in Tuscany:

By accident? On purpose? Who knows. Just accept that they are there.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Italy, part the first: giardini

We got back a few days ago from a two-week trip to Italy, during which we saw quite a lot - though of course only a fraction of what's available. I took some photos, not the best and not of the right things, but so it goes. I'm trying to remember with more than the camera these days.

I'll break this into two parts because it would be far too long otherwise, and will start with more formal garden visits (the second part will embrace serendipity).

Our first stop was Venice, but I didn't take plant-related photos there, and there aren't a lot of plants to see; people have small private gardens in back of the larger houses, or window boxes outside of apartments, but public garden spaces are infrequent. We did wander around the Giardini della Biennale to see the architecture exhibits, but as a garden it's not inspiring. I adored Venice nonetheless, but there really isn't space to grow things.

We made a brief stop in Padua (Padova) during our journey to Rome, and of course I visited the Orto Botanico di Padova, which is the oldest botanical garden in the world still operating in its original space.

Araucaria at Padua

I had an etymological discussion after my recent East Coast travels, first about why some gardens choose to call themselves "botanical" and some "botanic" (and some plural or singular garden(s)), but then about what the term means. I think for the most part, in this country, those who run gardens call them botanical to indicate a degree of seriousness, and perhaps to imply that they actually label the plants, but I believe that the original meaning was more along the lines of "does something to improve knowledge of botany," and few public gardens value this goal over aesthetic impact. The Tower Hill garden in central Massachusetts, which I visited last month, has a systematic garden, arranged by plant families, which is highly unusual and educational (they also manage to make it pretty). But the more usual approach is to focus educational efforts on practical horticulture and design - how to grow, rather than what it is you're growing, where it comes from, and how it's related to other plants.

Anyway, Padua's garden was originally created to educate students about medicinal plants, and then evolved to represent the world's botanical riches. It's not arranged in a purely systematic fashion, but it does have sections that demonstrate purpose and origin, and collects broadly. I was happy to see, in the midst of the collection beds with far more glamorous specimens, this:

Yup, it's a potato
Aesthetics is not the primary goal here; where plants are arranged at all, they are pretty much just plunked down, Here are some cacti:

But while my Italian was poor enough to flounder on the ticket-buying exchange, inside the garden the primary language was botanical Latin, which created a sense of familiarity and camaraderie, and there's also so much history here (most of which I don't know, but it would be fun to read about). There are a few really old trees left in the arboretum, including a plane tree dating from 1680. I photographed the giant ginkgo:

which I note is only 35 years older than the specimen at Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia; at least when you're dealing with late-discovered trees, Europe does not necessarily mean far more ancient!

From Rome, our next stop, we took a bus journey out to Villa d'Este and Tivoli Gardens, which is horticultural elegance on a grand scale, with fantastic use of water:

including lots of quirkiness and humor:

The garden makes lovely use of the stunning verticality of the landscape, and was beautiful even in October when not much was in bloom. Most of it is green and gray anyway.

And finally, on the Sorrento leg of our trip, we took a boat over to Amalfi on the other side of the peninsula, and walked from there up to Ravello (many many steps, oh dear) where we visited Villa Cimbrone (now a luxury hotel; we sat on the terrace and experienced the expensive cocktail menu, which is probably worth it for the view). The gardens there are not at their best (time of year plus less than perfect maintenance) but still charming.

Lots of unexpected twists and turns and corners and vistas. The best and most famous part of the complex is the Terrace of Infinity, which looks like this:

And yes, that is a pretty steep drop-off on the other side; I'll have another picture in my other post.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Travel post: Monticello, Hershey, Coastal Maine, Tower Hill

I've just returned from a trip up and down the Eastern U.S., Virginia to Maine and back, and of course I saw some gardens! My trip started with the Monticello Heritage Harvest Festival, an event I've been to almost every year since 2009, and I've taken so many photos there over the years that I tend to skip it now, but the weather was nicely gloomy in the morning, so here's the obligatory vegetable garden shot, with pea sticks:

But I did take photos of the other gardens, so before I start, here is the inadvertent collection of Large Red Grass shots:

Hershey Gardens
Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens
Tower Hill Botanic Garden

Perhaps these are photos representative of each garden's style. Or else it's just me liking red.

Anyway. First garden stop was Hershey Gardens in Pennsylvania, across the road from the amusement park and near the big hotel. It's worth a visit if you're there and want a nice walk, but I didn't find it particularly exciting or intriguing. (I should note here that I got in free to all these gardens as a member of the American Horticultural Society - the Reciprocal Admissions Program makes joining this organization very worthwhile if you're planning a lot of garden tourism - so any sense of cost-effectiveness, if that applies to gardens, was not in the forefront of my mind.) Hershey has a number of the right elements for a successful public garden, including (not unexpectedly considering the location) a decent children's garden, lots of roses, well-selected trees and perennials, and plenty of vistas, but to me it was kind of formulaic and pretty rather than instructive or appealing to gardeners (also, the plants were inconsistently labeled, which is always annoying - either label them all or none of them!). The "seasonal display garden" area, where the above shot is from, was the most photographable, so here's the rainbow section:

There was a little cafe which was closed, and a gift shop that didn't tempt me. Verdict: not worth a pilgrimage, but okay as part of the Hershey Experience, especially if you like roses.

A few days later I spent a few hours at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, and loved it. It's in Boothbay Harbor, so there's plenty of other stuff to do around there if you happen to be touring the coast of Maine (also you will drive right past Edgecomb Potters, which is my favorite pottery place ever). This is a garden that uses its setting very well. It actually reminded me a lot of Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, where we went last year: a different coastal vibe, obviously, but the same sense of place.

Here are a few photos:

Part of the hillside microclimates demo area

Lots of Maine woods trails; lots of art objects
Part of the sensory garden, though it was too chilly to walk barefoot on

Also in the sensory (and accessible) garden
The vegetables in the "five senses" garden (representing taste) looked better than the ones in the veggie garden proper, and the raised wheelchair-height beds were splendid. That's Portuguese Beira kale to the left, which I am definitely growing next year.

Other things I liked:

- The children's garden is spectacular; the best one I've seen. Kids could enjoy it for hours and learn things while they're at it. And then they can wander down the slope into the woods and play in the Fairy House Village, which is an area full of stones large and small, and lots of fallen tree branches and pinecones, etc., that can be rearranged into sculptures and Eeyore houses and anything you want. Wonderful use of environment.

- Lots of instructive and usable ideas for different microclimates, if you happen to live in Maine - but beautifully done so nice to look at even if you don't.

- Walking trails! I only did a small portion of these, but it's great to get a hike in while you're there. You can also rent boats in season.

- Plants are labeled; beds are stuffed full in the formal areas and left natural in the woodsy parts.

- Excellent sit-down cafe and intriguing gift shop.

I'll have to go back sometime to visit the rhododendron garden when it's in bloom. Verdict: a must-see, especially with kids, and if you enjoy walking a lot (but you could also stick with the central areas if you can't walk far, and they have shuttle service to the far-flung regions).

My last visit was to Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA, which I also recommend highly if you are in the area. It's smaller in scale, but nicely put together. The highlights are: the systematic garden, arranged by plant families, which was pleasing to this plant geek; the vegetable garden; the heirloom apple orchard (they do tours and tastings, which my visit didn't coincide with, but I wandered around for a bit pleasantly - there are apples in my family tree on both sides, and I love seeing these old varieties grown); meadow and hill hikes. They have an orangerie with warm-climate plants, and a lot of educational programs.

It was a grand day for photos, nice and cloudy:

What I assume was the cutting garden, near the parking lot

I like the simple tomato trellising

Golden larch in the systematic garden

I chose the Ericaceae to photograph, naturally

Great use of color blocks in the veggie garden
Verdict: go if you're in central Massachusetts. Doesn't take too long to see it all, and they have a real commitment to both beauty and education. You can eat and buy gifts here as well.

I also rambled through the Wellesley College greenhouses while I was in town. They have some great stuff in there - it's really just as good as many of the public garden greenhouses I've been to, with the feeling that research is going on in the background. Free and usually open to the public. Didn't bring a camera, sorry.

Where I didn't go: I decided against Yaddo Gardens while I was in Saratoga Springs, because it was raining that morning and because a second look at the website led me to think it would be on the boring side - formality and roses do not really appeal to me. And I was going to take in Chanticleer again on the way home, but neglected to note in my planning that it's closed on Tuesdays. Oh well; I'll have other chances.

Now it is time to tend my own gardens for a while! (Although we are leaving for Italy in less than two weeks. Expect more garden photos after that!)