All the President’s Gardens by Marta McDowell
I just finished reading All The Presidents’Gardens which gave me a whole new perspective on Fourth of July celebrations. Our views of our presidents sometimes take the form of some character defining story, like young George Washington and his cherry tree, or singular achievement like Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase or Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. In All The President’s Gardens: Madison’s Cabbages to Kennedy’s Roses – How the White House Grounds Have Grown With America Marta McDowell gives us an engaging history of changes in our nation through the history of the White House Gardens.
It all begins, of course, with George Washington who never planted a garden for the White House because it did not exist when he took office. However, it was President Washington who signed an agreement, after contentious discussions, brokered by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that named a ten acre site on the Potomac as the new capital city. Washington also appointed the architect Pierre L’Enfant to design the new city, and he himself chose the site for the White House on a rise with expansive views. Unhappily, Washington died before the White House was built or gardens planted.
Washington and Jefferson had their country estates and a passion for plants. John Adams was a farmer and he was the first to occupy an unfinished White House, and that was near the end of his term of office. He was defeated in a bitter race by Jefferson who spent most of his two terms concentrating on new buildings for the capital, and larger landscapes than those surrounding the still unfinished White House.
When James Madison took office the White House grounds were described as muddy, “disgusting scenes.” Madison began planting and the oldest plant list for the executive mansion is dated March 31, 1809. Flowering shrubs and trees, pines, hollies, lilacs and roses were ordered and planted along with a substantial list of vegetables for the president’s table. Some of those vegetables might have been bought from the Shakers (United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Coming) who were making a good business of raising seed and marketing it in seed packets, a technique they invented. Things were beginning to shape up when the British burned the president’s house and destroyed the gardens in 1814.
John Quincy Adams found his single term as president so trying that he turned to the gardens for respite. He worked with John Ousley, the new head gardener, and found a place where he could please himself, not the demands of the political world.
McDowell gives full credit to the head gardeners with a special section titled First Gardeners from Thomas Magraw who served under James Madison, and John Ousley who served from 1825-1852. John Watt served under Lincoln and it was he who fudged his books to help Mrs. Lincoln who always spent way beyond her allowed dress budget. Henry Pfister was another head gardener who worked for a quarter century, caring for the great greenhouses that provided flowers for White House arrangements, for Grover Cleveland’s wedding to Frances Folsom, and provided a beautiful welcoming space for Ida McKinley who suffered from epilepsy.
So many stories. Teddy Roosevelt brought his rambunctious family and their pets including Peter Rabbit who earned a state funeral in the garden.
It was Helen Taft who supported the plantings of Japanese cherry trees along the tidal basin – a project that took time and great cooperation with Japan to bring the project to fruition.
President Wilson had sheep on the White House Lawn when there was a shortage of men to mow p photo courtesy of Library of Congress
The White House gardens did their bit during the World Wars. Gardener William Reeves was gardener-shepherd to Wilson’s flock of sheep on the White House Lawns. A victory garden took the place of sections of lawn during WWII.
Harry Truman watched while rolls and rolls of sod were laid out around a cherry tree in full bloom that was planted in preparation for the arrival of the Queen of the Netherlands. Eisenhower put in a putting green and arranged to have helicopters land on the South Lawn.
Many of us may have our own memories of The Rose Garden being installed by President Kennedy in 1962, or President Carter bringing trees from his Georgia farm. Michelle Obama put her stamp on the garden in 2009 by making a food garden that includes varieties from Jefferson’s garden at Monticello. This garden was intended as a demonstration garden that would help teach children about healthy eating. School children came to work in the garden to gain an understanding of the food they ate. Bees were added to the garden as well as a pollinator bed. All of it makes a great teaching garden.
In addition to the excellent section on First Gardeners, McDowell gives us an extensive list of plants grown in the gardens.
My own mantra about gardens (and life) is that Everything Changes. This engaging book gives us the history behind the changes in the White House gardens, and perhaps makes us wonder what changes will come in the future.
In this year with its own extraordinary presidential campaign, I want to stress that All The President’s Gardens is not about politics but a history of garden styles, trends, and needs of the White House, reflecting the styles and tenor of the times told in a charming conversational way.
At one time there were great greenhouse for food and cut flower production, as well as a beautiful space to visit. 1889 Photo courtesy of Library of Congress
Between the Rows July 2, 2016
Tovah Martin photo by Kindra Clineff
Tovah Martin, gardener and author, has devoted a good part of her life to houseplants. Most of us have a limited view of what houseplants we might put on our windowsills, but when she found herself working at the wonderful Logee’s Greenhouse in Connecticut she fell in love with the hundreds of houseplant varieties put into her care.
Over the years Martin has written books like Well-Clad Windowsills: Houseplants for Four Exposures, The Unexpected Houseplant: 220 Extraordinary Choices for Every Spot in Your Home; The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow; and The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature. Her knowledge about the needs and benefits of various houseplants, as well as their beauty, sometimes sculptural and sometimes romantic, is encyclopedic, and her prose is a delight touched with humor.
As a part of the 25th Anniversary celebration of the Greenfield Garden Club, the Club is bringing the notable and charming Tovah Martin to Greenfield on Sunday afternoon, June 5 to give a lecture on terrariums, followed by a book signing, and then a terrarium making workshop. This event will be held at the gracious Brandt House on Highland Avenue.
Martin looks at terrariums as a practical way to have a whimsical or calming snippet of nature at hand, no matter what kind of houseplant space you might have. When I spoke to Martin I asked when she became an expert on terrariums. “I’ve made terrariums my whole adult life. Actually even before that. And now I give workshops for every age group from Brownie troops to senior citizens,” she said.
Terrariums are always a popular type of garden from the charming berry bowls filled with a bit of American teaberry with its shiny petite foliage and red berries, to fish tanks turned into a woodland scene. “Terrariums are the smallest landscape you’ll ever have to design,” Martin said. Participants in her workshop should bring their own container but other terrarium materials will be provided. “Almost any glass can be used for a terrarium,” she said. She added that she has a pretty good eye and is frugal so she is a regular at Goodwill stores. No glass container is too humble, large wide mouth mason jars work just as well.
The New Terrarium by Tovah Martin
“Everyone should have nature by their side and terrariums make it easier. Terrariums are self watering, they almost grow on auto-pilot. Terrarium plants get the humidity they need, especially in the winter when our houses are so dry from the heating systems,” she said.
In her workshop she will demonstrate, and guide participants in the making of a terrarium that includes soil and plants, using surprising tools and giving useful tips. She will cover the basics of construction, and care from every angle including watering and light sources. Terrariums should not be placed in the sun, which is one reason they are such a good solution for the house that does not have much in the way of sunny windows, or possibly an office with limited light.
Beyond the closed terrarium that I am familiar with Martin points out that a terrarium is also an ideal environment for handling cuttings and making new plants, or for starting seeds. She said not all terrariums need to be closed and that even an open terrarium environment can help conserve moisture and will keep a plant happy with less work.
Extra pleasures on June 5: Michael Nix will be providing music, Kestrel of Northampton will be selling terrarium plants and supplies, and the World Eye will be selling books. Tickets are available at World Eye Books or can be ordered by calling Jean Wall at 773-9069. The cost of the lecture is $25 and $50 for the lecture and the workshop. Garden Club members get a discount of $20 and $40. For more information log on to the Greenfield Garden Club’s website http://www.thegreenfieldgardenclub.org/special-events.html
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It is Plant Sale Season. Today the Bridge of Flowers is having their annual plant sale that will include shrubs, annuals and perennials; many are divisions of plants on the Bridge. There will be a great variety from asters to peonies to violets. Master Gardeners will be on hand to do soil testing. The sale will be held on the TrinityChurch’s Baptist Lot on Main Street in ShelburneFalls from 9 am to noon, rain or shine. All profits benefit the Bridge.
Next Saturday, May 21 is the Garden Club of Amherst’s plant sale under the tent on the Common next to the Farmer’s Market from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm. Profits benefit conservation efforts and a scholarship fund.
On Saturday, May 28 The Greenfield Garden Club will hold its annual Extravagaza on the lawn of St James Episcopal Church on Federal Street from 9 am to 2 pm. In addition to plants donated by club members there will be a tag/book sale, a bake sale and face painting for the kids. Rain or shine. Profits benefit the grant program for area schools.
Between the Rows May 14, 2016
Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes
It doesn’t seem so very long ago that no one gave a thought to pollinators. People were afraid of bees and stings, but they never thought about the hundreds of bee species that kept vegetable and fruit farms producing. Perhaps that was because so much of our food came from far off places like California where we were never aware of what farms, farmers and crops needed.
Nowadays, with people we are more sensible of the benefits of local farms and local food. We realize that at least 30% of the world’s food crops need to be pollinated. Happily there are many more bees and insects that do this important job than we ever imagined. Unhappily human civilization continues to encroach on the habitat that pollinators need. Developments of all sorts, housing, business and even agriculture are taking land that was wild, land that provided the plants and living spaces that bees and other pollinators need to thrive.
Pollinator Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies and other Pollinators by Rhonda Fleming Hayes (Voyageur Press $21.99) notes that our awareness of the needs of pollinators has been raised. Hayes has set about showing us how we homeowners can take responsibility for improving pollinator habitat right in our own backyards.
Hayes interviews pollinator experts to talk about the value of native plants versus ‘nativars,’ native plants that have been hybridized; the problems created by GMOs; the need for shelter for pollinators; and the necessity of many other beneficial insects.
She provides plant lists to help us include useful plants for pollinators, plants that bloom throughout the season providing nectar, and food for caterpillars. Once I realized how important dill and parsley were to the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, I never again bemoaned loosing my crop to those caterpillars.
Pollinator Friendly Gardening includes occasional Fun Facts, as well. Did you know that the bees in White House kitchen garden produce enough honey to give as gifts at state dinners and to visiting diplomats? That a single little mason bee does as much pollinating as 100 honeybees? That milkweed seed capsules were collected during WWII so that the fluffy seed material could be used to fill servicemen’s lifejackets?
Hayes, a Master Gardener, has gardened, photographed, and written in various locations and in Minneapolis for the last few years.
Wildflowers of New England by Ted Elliman
Ted Elliman and the New England Wild Flower Society have put together a comprehensive new wildflower guide that has images and information of over 1000 native plants. This book not only has beautiful and helpful images, the introductory section is a veritable course in botany that will help you to identify the plants you find on your nature walks. Since 90% of the wild plants around the world need pollination I can’t help thinking how wildflowers would suffer without pollinators.
Wildflowers of New England (Timber Press $27.95) is very easy to use because it provides a clear road to identitification. You begin with color, but within the color sections plants are organized by petal design and number. For example red Kalmia angustifolia with 5 radial petals is listed after dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) which has 4 radial petals.
With this guide I have hopes of finally differentiating between 11 varieties of aster from 4 different genus: Doellingeria; Oligoneurn; and Symphyotrichum. Of course, the fleabanes (Erigeron) are similar (to my uneducated eye) but I think I stand a fighting chance of knowing one from the other because of the clear photographs and text.
Wildflowers of New England is a substantial little book, in many ways, but the heavy, shiny cover, complete with ruler marking, is tough enough to take on hikes for frequent, on- site referrals.
After all the joyous work of studying pollinators and wildflowers, you might be ready for The Cocktail Hour Garden: Creating Evening Landscapes for Relaxation and Entertaining by C.L. Fornari (St. Lynn’s Press $19.95) who lives out on Cape Cod.
The Cocktail Hour Garden by C. L. Fornari
Fornari suggests we consider our domestic landscape as a party venue, beginning with a quiet cup of coffee in the morning and all kinds of family celebrations that might take place in the garden, to a companionable cocktail hour with a spouse or friends in the evening.
What plants should be included in this garden? Some plants can provide tactile experiences like the soft blades of Mexican feather grass or velvety silver lamb’s ears. Fragrance on the evening air can be supplied by perennials honeysuckle, lavender, oriental lilies. Don’t forget fragrant annuals like Virginia stocks or nicotiana.
Fornari also makes suggestions about lighting, water in many forms, and sound in the garden that can be enjoyed by the gardener, but she also writes about keeping butterflies and birds happy too.
Since this is a cocktail hour garden she is talking about, she also includes cocktail recipes, including non-alcoholic drinks, and the herbs and flowers that can dress up and spike those drinks. Her tone is conversational, a charming invitation to join her for a cocktail and conversation at the end of the day.
Between the Rows April 9, 2016
L is for Literature. In the A to Z Challenge I am referring specifically to Garden Literature which covers a lot of ground. I cannot garden or do much of anything without books. There are general garden books and specific garden books. I’ll mention just a few of my favorites with links to earlier columns that will have more information about each of them.
Kiss My Aster by Amanda Thomsen
The 20-30 Something Garden Guide by Dee Nash
If you are a new gardener you will find The 20-30 Something Garden Guide: A no fuss, down and dirty Gardening 101 for anyone who wants to grow stuff by Dee Nash, professional writer, gardeners and speaker. The 20-30 Something Garden Guide is divided into three main sections that first take the gardener into a container garden, and all the basic information about potting soil, garden soil, fertilizers, watering, and bugs. Let it be known that Nash’s own garden is organic. In addition to providing herself with healthy food and beautiful flowers, she is determined to do her part in supporting the natural world with its pollinators and other bugs, good and bad.
For a humorous and sassy introduction to gardening try Kiss My Aster by Amanda Thomsen. This is a ‘graphic guide to creating a fantastic yard totally tailored to you, Thomsen has real insight into the mind and psyche of the new gardener. You can tell because on Page 14 she asks, “Overwhelmed? Don’t be. You’re just reading a book. Wait until you’re knee deep in quick set concrete before you freak out.” Does that tell you what kind of gardener she is?
For all her smart aleck frivolity and word play, Thomsen walks you through figuring out what can grow in your area, including taking a camera tour through your neighborhood to see what other people are growing This tour will give you inspiration and information Then you can show the photos of the plants you like to the people at the garden center, get them identified and buy them. She is full of slick tips like this.
Roses Without Chemicals by Peter Kukielski
I am passionate about non- fussy roses. A book with the most information about these roses is in Peter Kukielski’s book Roses Without Chemicals: 150 disease free varieties that will change the way you grow roses. He is the former curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden and is now Executive Director of the American Rose Trials for Sustainability. He is also working with Earth Kind Roses.
In my new house I am trying to eliminate lawn. A book I have found extremely useful and inspiring is Lawn Gone! Low Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for your Yard by Pam Penick. Whatever your reason, Penick has practical advice and instructions about ways to create beautiful spaces without a lawn. Groundcovers are an easy answer. In fact, many perennials and small shrubs cover the ground and add great interest when planted over a generous area. Some of Penick’s chapter titles will tempt you to imagine a new yard of your own. For example: Ponds, pavilions, play spaces and other fun features. The designing and installing your hardscape chapter will immediately set your mind buzzing.
The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin
For those who love houseplants, or wish they had houseplants there is Tovah Martin. The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow by Tovah Martin ($23 Timber Press) As far as I am concerned Tovah Martin is certainly the Queen of Houseplants. Readers who drooled over her earlier book The Unexpected Houseplant with special attention to gorgeous or surprising containers will be happy to see The Indestructible Houseplant.
One of my favorite books focuses on bugs and birds. Douglas Tallamy, in his book Bringing Nature Home explains why bugs are good, and why having bugs in your garden will attract the birds. Many bugs are beneficial. This is a call to avoiding broad spectrum pesticides. And a delightful read! Talk about Literature! This is the real thing.
Lawn Gone! by Pam Penick
To see who else is writing a post every day in April lick here.
Month by Month Gar dening in New England
Who knows what weather tomorrow will bring? We are living in New England. No telling what the weather will be from one minute to the next. All I know is that we are getting closer and closer to spring, which means thinking about how soon we can possibly get out into the garden, and possibly wondering how long it will take us to feel that all of a sudden we are way behind in our chore
Charlie Nardozzi, author of Month-by-Month Gardening New England (Cool Springs Press $24.99) has recognized that some of us need help in planning our use of time and has created a month by month calendar of tasks that will keep every section of our New England garden healthy and beautiful.
For every month he gives advice about planning, planting and on-going care which includes watering and fertilizing, and finally solving problems like pests and disease. What makes this book so useful is his dividing each of these sections into specific advice for annuals, edibles, perennials, shrubs, and trees. This makes it easier for us to use if we don’t have every single category in our gardens.
Of course, having a chore schedule isn’t very helpful if we don’t have how-to advice on some of those chores. Nardozzi gives good instructions on planting trees and shrubs, on pruning, building a cold frame or raised bed, controlling tomato blight, aerating the lawn and many other tasks that are not only time sensitive, but may also require new skills.
Nardozzi covers a lot of ground (pun intended) and the book is well illustrated with excellent and clear photographs. His other books include Northeast Fruit and Vegetable Gardening and he has an excellent website www.gardeningwithcharlie.com.
Growing the Northeast Garden
If you want help choosing plants for your garden Andrew Keys, gardener, author and lecturer, has just written Growing the Northeast Garden (Timber Press $24.95) which provides information about the best trees, shrubs, perennials, bulbs, vines and grasses, as well as design suggestions that will make our gardens just what we have been dreaming of.
Keys begins with an overview of New England weather and soil conditions. Weather is unpredictable, but we can protect our most vulnerable plants by paying attention to the microclimates we may have in our gardens. In Heath our garden was on a southern slope where the winds blew the last frosts of winter and first frosts of fall down the hill leaving not even a kiss on my latest bloomers
Keys quickly launches into the best plant section with beautiful photographs by Kerry Michaels. This section presents a palette of different types of plants from trees, to annuals, those bright helpful plants that give us consistent bloom all season. We all know that each plant has a season when it is most interesting or spectacular whether because of bloom, or seasonal color. Knowledge of bloom times is certainly important if you are trying to have something blooming in the garden from early spring through the fall.
Many of the plants in Keys’ palette will be familiar, but others may come as a surprise. I always think of boxwood as a tender plant, but it is hardy in zone 4 which is minus 25 degrees. Likewise, European hornbeam which will grow into a very large tree, and yet it is often sheared and kept low and dense for a handsome hedge.
Grasses in the garden make me a little nervous. I fear they will take over. Keys offers a good selection of grasses that appear well behaved, but I will always be wary of Miscanthus grasses which grow and increase so rapidly.
Once you have gorged on beautiful images of plants that could inspire admiring glances from your friends, you will be happy to look at the section on design. Keys gives some basic design tips, but lets you see how these take shape in different northeastern gardens, each with a very different style and feel.
Finally there is a section on garden practice from building the soil, welcoming birds and butterflies and managing those less desirable creatures like squirrels and chipmunks. We love those ‘flying flowers’ like butterflies, but are less enthusiastic about the rodentia family.
For the Love of All Seasons
Lastly, I want to mention a little garden calendar book, For the Love of All Seasons, which got lost in the mail on its way to my new address. Valerie Vaughn of Colrain did the line drawings to accompany a text by her good friend Geoff Allison who passed away last year. Allison was born blind, but he had an intimate relationship with the plants that he brought into his life and wrote about.
For the Love of All Seasons is a compilation of essays he wrote some years ago. He had an amazing knowledge of history and botany. He never mentions color, but his sensitivity to fragrance, texture, and sometimes taste are palpable. Always he is aware of the ‘aliveness’ of each plant.
Allison’s essays are interspersed with calendar pages, but when the days of 2016 have passed this modest book will have earned a place on your shelf, ready to refresh your own ideas of the ‘aliveness’ of the plants in your garden. It is available at McCuskers for $16 and at Collective Copies for $12.
Between the Rows February 27, 2016
Blue Ribbon Gardening by Jodi Torpey
What excites you in the vegetable garden? For some gardeners it is competition and the desire to grow the biggest, most beautiful beet or squash or cabbage. Jodi Torpey’s book Blue Ribbon Vegetable Gardening: The secrets to Growing the Biggest and Best Prizewinning Produce (Storey Publishing $16.95) will help all those competitive gardeners out there, while some gardeners might think it is time to take up the challenge and enter their vegetables at the Franklin County Fair this year.
Planting a giant pumpkin may not be your dearest desire, but Torpey has lots of advice for those of us who just want to grow the most beautiful beans or carrots. I had my first painful lessons about showing off my beans and blackberries at my first Heath Fair in 1980. I put my berries in a pretty bowl and put my ten green beans on a pretty plate. The ladies who were setting up the Exhibit Hall took me aside to explain the presentation rules and gave me the regulation white paper plate for the beans which was very kind of them. The judges were also kind because they did leave a note on the back of my entry tag letting me know that uniformity in my beans would have brought me closer to a ribbon, and my blackberries needed to be shown in a standard cardboard berry basket. One year a young friend entered an apple pie that included raisins. He got a sharp note on the back of his tag saying that the apple pie class demanded a pie that contained only apples. I noted that the premium book for the Franklin County Fair specifically notes that apple pies should contain no nuts, raisins, cranberries or anything else and should not have a crumb topping.
I don’t think the Heath Fair book was so precise but Torpey stresses that gardeners should study the premium book and obey the rules carefully. When entering any contest you will have a better chance to win if you follow the rules. General rules for presentation are certainly laid out in this useful book.
For those whose competitive spirit does take them into the realm of biggest and giant vegetables Torpey has advice from choosing seed to care during the growing season and tips on harvesting and preparing the vegetable for show.
One of the big attractions at the Franklin County Fair is the Giant Pumpkin competition. I once attended a meeting of local giant pumpkin growers and they were full of information about seeds like Dill’s Atlantic Giant, and they traded seeds from giant pumpkins they had grown themselves the previous year. They also had stories about giant pumpkin events, like the year one group hollowed out their pumpkins, then jumped in to sit cross-leggedly with an oar and raced each other across a pond. I love imagining what that pumpkin regatta must have looked like. These are serious gardeners with a great sense of humor!
Torpey gives basic information, and professional tips for growing giant pumpkins. Who knew that a 300 pound pumpkin would need a 10 x 10 foot plot? Bigger pumpkins would need even bigger spaces. Then you have to be prepared to monitor your pumpkin carefully because as it ripens it can grow up to 50 pounds a day, and you don’t want it to burst from too much rain or overwatering.
“Attention to detail,” Torpey says. “Protect your pumpkins from frost, wind, heat, sunscorch, and other stressors.” Strategic pruning the vine over the course of the season is also essential.
The book is full of fun facts about the history of exhibiting giant vegetables. An early record of a giant pumpkin was a 245 pounder shown in Devonshire England in 1857. Thesedays giant pumpkins can weigh over a ton.
Girls with her giant cabbage courtesy of Ryan Donnell
I knew about giant pumpkins, but never thought about giant onions or giant cabbages. Tony Glover’s 18.11 pound onion made it into the Guinness Book of Records in 2014, and Alaska seems to be the place to raise giant cabbage. In 2014 young Garrett Streit’s 68.3 pound cabbage won the Junior Championship Award at the Alaska State Fair’s Giant Cabbage Weigh-Off. The secret to Alaska’s giant cabbages is the 20 hours of daylight in the summer. Lots of good illustrations.
Exhibiting vegetables is one way of getting children interested in gardening. Boys’ Corn Clubs were formed in the early part of the 20th century, when a county farmers institute organized a contest to get boys growing corn. Free seeds were distributed and $1 prizes were given to boys after yield per acre and production costs were calculated to decide the winners. The corn clubs for boys were so popular and such a good educational program that they ultimately led to the birth of the Future Farmers of America and 4-H clubs.
Jodi Torpey is a master gardener and has written books including The Colorado Gardener’s Companion. She has also created a digital class titled Vegetable Gardening: Innovative Small Space Solutions accessible from her WesternGardeners.com website. Torpey loves teaching gardening, but she also knows how to spark enthusiasm – and maybe some friendly rivalries. What kind of giant vegetable would you like to grow this year?
Between the Rows February 13, 2016
Planting in a Post-Wild World
Everything changes. Change on all fronts is inescapable, unstoppable and inevitable. No one knows this more than a gardener who watches her garden change over the years.
In 2016 I will be gardening in a new garden, a smaller garden, a garden that will not require as much maintenance as the Heath garden. It is also a garden with very different features. The soil is heavy clay. The soil is very wet and drains slowly. There is a lot of shade.
With the help of noted landscape designer Julie Moir Messervy’s Home Outside Palette app my husband and I began to layout and plant garden beds, concentrating on water loving, or water tolerant native shrubs. My desire was to have a kind of woodland garden instead of perennial beds .
Over the years I have become more and more interested in native plants, and more and more aware of their value in maintaining the health of our ecosystems. Certain books have led me along this path including Bringing Nature Home by entomologist Douglas Tallamy. Tallamy also collaborated with Rick Darke on The Living Landscape: Designing for beauty and biodiversity in the home garden. Darke is a landscape lecturer and photographer who proves that a biodiverse garden can be beautiful.
Most recently Timber Press sent me a copy of Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West.
One of their goals is to help gardeners create beautiful gardens that more closely replicate the ways plants grow in the wild even in urban and suburban situations. “The good news is that it is entirely possible to design plantings that look and function more like they do in the wild: more robust, more diverse, and more visually harmonious with less maintenance. The solution lies in understanding plantings as communities of compatible species that cover the ground in interlocking layers.”
While Rainer and West value native species, they call their philosophy “a middle way” in which layered plantings mean more room for compatible non-natives (never invasives) and a greater diversity of beneficial plants. They want to focus on naturally occurring plant communities which means paying less attention to purely native plantings and concentrating on performance and adaptability. Their idea is to make our relationship to nature a collaborative one.
I should mention here that the book is lavishly illustrated with beautiful photographs that give an explicit view of what they are talking about. Photographs show the differences in landscapes from the humble hellstrip along a sidewalk to flowery meadows, droughty hillsides and woodlands.
Rainer and West lay out five basic principles. The first is to concentrate on related populations, not isolated indivduals. This means not planting the Echinacea next to the sedum next to the hellebore. It means letting plants self-seed and intermingle, as they do in nature. My own Heath lawn, or flowery mead as I called it, is a case in point.
Principle two: Stress can be an asset. This is often how we get to naturally occurring plant communities.
Principle three: Cover the ground densely by vertically layering plants. This is a reminder that bare soil does not exist in nature and we can find plants to fill every niche of space and soil type and let nature do some of that filling in.
Principle four: Make it attractive and legible. This principle will calm those who wonder if all Rainer and West desire is messy, weedy woodland. They are realists they say, and “designed plant communities can be patterned and stylized in a way that makes them understandable, ordered and attractive. They need not replicate nature in order to capture its spirit.” They suggest ‘frames’ which can be pathways or other hardscape elements like fences or walls.
Principle five: Management, not maintenance. Gardeners know you cannot plant a garden and then sit back and admire it indefinitely. But with good management you can eliminate many chores, weeding, watering, spraying, etc. This is possibly my favorite principle.
The penultimate chapter gives specific instruction on planting and maintaining a plant community.
Planting in a Post-Wild World is a dense, but readable book. Not all the ideas are brand new but they are presented in new ways, broadening their applicability, and showing how we can adapt them to our own situation. Rainer and West believe the time is right for a horticultural renaissance where plantings will be ecologically diverse, functional and sound, but will also be beautiful, understandable and appealing to the gardener and her friends.
I made a start on a new and different garden this past summer, but there is a lot of work to do in 2016 to make it functional in the ways I first imagined, and in new ways as well. I am now dreaming of a hugelkulture project. Stay tuned. I am also thinking of how I can expand on the plans I made for covering the ground in my new, and soon to be enlarged beds. I think I can be bolder about letting plants intermingle. I want to work towards the plateau of management.
How will you and your garden change in 2016?
Between the Rows January 2, 2016
The Roses at the End of the Road
The Roses at the End of the Road is the tale of my life in Heath and the roses that lived, and died, in the gardens at End of the Road Farm.
My first rose was the delicately pink Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, followed by a number of elegant ladies like Madame Legras de St. German, the Queen of Denmark and the Wife of Bath. However there were a few gentlemen like Martin Frobisher and William Baffin. The Rose Walk famously added a collection of Farmgirls, Rachel, Alli, and Mabel which came from other local farms in Heath.
For your reading delectation the following is a sample chapter
Saint Fiacre Sat Here.
Did you know, Saint Fiacre is considered the patron saint of gardeners? You can go to some garden centers and buy a statue of the good saint with his spade.
As it happens Saint Fiacre is also the patron saint of French taxi drivers. In Paris there is a large taxi rank outside the Church of Saint Fiacre. A slang term for French taxi drivers is “le fic”, a colloquial reference to “figs” or that occupational hazard of taxi drivers – hemorrhoids. Inside the Church of Saint Fiacre is a stone bearing the imprint of the good saint’s bottom; sitting on this stone is said to cure that ailment.
One late June day my husband returned from working in the field shouting with excitement. “Wait til you see what I found!”.
I was confused at the sight of a somewhat triangular concave boulder.
“Sit on it!” he ordered.
I sat and was comfortable because the concavities were so well shaped to my bottom, but still confused.
“Don’t you see what this means? This means that St. Fiacre was here! He walked these Heathan hills and left his imprint for us gardeners just as he did for the French taxi drivers!”
I knew about the French taxi drivers and protested that we gardeners did not suffer from hemorrhoids.
“No, but we do suffer from a gardener’s particular problem,” he said lugging the stone to a log section I used as a stool. He set the rock on the log and sat me down on it. “Now, do you feel a cure taking place?”
I sat on the stone, my bottom tenderly supported and I looked around. The sky was an azure dome, birds were singing and turning somersaults in the air. The breezes were fragrant with the scent of my roses, blooming in shades of pink and white. The lawn, weedy patch though it was, was cool and green beneath my bare feet.
I sat in silence for a moment, then sighed. “I don’t know what you mean about a cure, but just look at this perfect day,” I said. “And I think the garden looks perfect, too.”
“There you have it. You are cured of gardener’s syndrome of never sitting to simply admire the beauty of the garden. You have put aside the spade and trowel, the weeder and pruners. You’ve ignored the weed, the beetle and aphid and admired the whole.”
Well, I wasn’t totally cured, of course, but I do sit periodically on the stone for booster shots.
The Annual Rose Viewing at the End of the Road is our ritual event to encourage everyone to stop and smell the roses.
One visitor this year asked me if roses were a youthful passion, if I had loved them always. I had to confess that this was not the case. Like so many others I thought roses were fussy plants requiring much more care than I could imagine supplying. Even after reading Katherine White’s book, Onward and Upward in the Garden, even after becoming fascinated with the romantic idea of the ancient gallicas, albas, and damasks, I did not picture myself as a rose gardener.
When we first moved to Heath I was devoted to the idea of vegetable gardens, but in 1981 I planted my first hardy old fashioned rose. I was seduced by the provocative name, Passionate Nymph’s Thigh, as well as by its history as a favorite of the Empress Josephine. Without giving much thought to the ramifications, I planted Passionate Nymph’s Thigh next to the unused front door and right under the roof line where it has endured ice and snow cascading down onto it for over 20 years. In self defense it leans away from the house and towards the sun, but blooms every year in a shade of delicate flesh pink. It thrives with the stamina that you might expect of any passionate nymph.
Our own Saint Fiacre stone still sits in the Rose Walk between Madame Zoetmans and Therese Bugnet, across from the Queen of Denmark. Visitors to the Rose Viewing sit on the saint’s stone, or touch it, and we all ignore whatever tasks have been left undone. We walk under the azure dome of sky, and inhale the breeze-borne scent of roses. We forget our chores, admire the beauty that we have cultivated and give thanks.
If you would like to buy a copy of the book send me an email order at commonweeder.com and I will respond and make arrangements. If you want to read the book right now, Kindle editions are now on sale for only 99 cents.
At my house every gift giving occasion should include a book, or three. Every year there is a new crop of books to help new and experienced gardeners keep up with new trends and techniques, and find new ways to make their gardens, indoors and out, more beautiful and/or productive. Here is a sampling of new books for the gardener.
Fruit Gardener’s Bible by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry
Fruit Gardener’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit and Nuts in the Home Garden by Lewis Hill and Leonard Perry ($25 Storey Publishing)
Lewis Hill’s books have been with me almost ever since we moved to Heath and planned to start producing a lot of our food. I constantly referred to his book Cold Climate Gardening, Fruits and Berries for the HomeGarden, and Pruning Simplified. Lewis Hill was a Vermonter who did his best to help gardeners in their endeavors. He passed away in 2008, but his good friend and colleague Leonard Perry took on the job of revising Hill’s book on growing berries and fruits.
The Fruit Gardener’s Bible is a truly encyclopedic work. In revising the book Perry has updated and included new information about sustainable practices including biological pest and disease control. He also discusses the ways gardeners want to incorporate fruits and nuts into their ornamental landscapes to make use of their beauty as well as their harvests. In addition there are many new varieties of common fruits and more interest in less familiar fruits like loganberries and hardy kiwis.
Hill was a lifelong Vermonter and his writings tended to concentrate on gardens for the New England climates. Perry has expanded the scope of crops and the needs of gardeners who live where the climate posses different challenges.
This book has a focus on organic techniques and provides information from propagating to harvesting. The photographs are beautiful and instructive.
Grow a Little Fruit Tree by Ann Ralph
Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph ($17 Storey Publishing)
Ann Ralph’s book is dedicated to the idea that fruit trees can be kept small, no taller than you are, while remaining healthy and productive. What it takes is careful pruning. Her focus is on rootstocks instead of the semi-dwarf label which she criticizes as giving a false idea of how big a tree will grow.
I appreciated her attitude towards growing fruit – which is a good attitude for life. “When you garden, good results depend on three things: what you expect the plant to do, what the plant is capable of in the environment where you put it, and your willingness to contribute.”
Ralph’s prose has a charm and wisdom that would be enjoyable if you never dreamed of planting even a small tree.
Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti
Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti ($25 Cool Springs Press)
You may not aspire to creating a terrarium in an elegant Wardian case as shown on the cover of this book, but Maria Colletti will show you how to choose containers and plants that can be used to create the landscape of your choice, desert or woodland or tropical.
Colletti is the terrarium designer for the Shop in the Garden at the New YorkBotanical Garden and she loves experimenting with carnivorous plants, cacti, succulents, ferns and tropical plants. She gives us step by step projects with advice and sources for terrarium necessities. She shares traditional, standard and classic building steps but always invites experimentation.
Of course it is one thing to set up and plant a beautiful terrarium, but then maintenance is required to mange moisture. The goal is to reach a state of equilibrium so that you can get to a level of “hands off and enjoy.”
The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin
The Indestructible Houseplant: 200 Beautiful Plants That Everyone Can Grow by Tovah Martin ($23 Timber Press)
As far as I am concerned Tovah Martin is certainly the Queen of Houseplants. Readers who drooled over her earlier book The Unexpected Houseplant with special attention to gorgeous or surprising containers will be happy to see The Indestructible Houseplant.
Martin is a captivating writer and the layout of the book gives her plenty of scope. Along with a photograph of one of her own houseplants she gives an extended description of the plant including the different cultivars, and her own experiences with the plant. In addition there is a sidebar for each that lays out specific information about size, foliage, exposure, water requirements, soil type, fertilization schedule and companions that will live with it happily in the same container. She also includes a line for “other attributes” where she comments “famously indomitable” for aspidistra, “succulent, wonderfully bizarre and varied” for kalanchoe.
We often think the houseplant category is pretty limited, often because we see so few varieties in local garden centers, but Martin blasts that idea and gives us a pageful of sources for the indestructibles she has in her own collection. She begins with African violets and ends with Zamioculas samiifolia (ZZ to its friends) which has “no flowers but bulletproof.”
When to do what is often a big question for gardeners as we go through the year and the UMass Extension Garden Calendar for 2016 is available for $12 each plus $3.50 for mailing, and $2 for each additional calendar up to nine. It includes one stunning and inspiring plant image for the month, daily gardening tips for our climate, sunrise and sunset times and more.
Between the Rows December 11, 2015
Natural History of Winnie-the-Pooh
Winnie-the-Pooh and I did not become acquainted until I was an adult and read what had become literary classics, Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, to my young children. I had known of the books, of course, but only through an Eeyore-ish high school friend who was devoted to all the characters who lived in the 100 Acre Wood. I did not understand his devotion at the time, but as I read these gentle stories of friendship and adventure to my children I gained some understanding of what these characters might have meant to my friend.
Those memories of my friend and of the happy bedtime reading to my children came freshly back to me as I read The Natural World of Winnie-the-Pooh: A walk through the forest that inspired the Hundred Acre Wood by Kathryn Aalto (Timber Press $24.95). They also reminded me of my own childhood when I had the freedom to wander in the fields and woods of a family farm in Vermont, quite intent on “doing Nothing.”
By the time Winnie-the-Pooh was published in 1926 Alan Alexander Milne had already written 18 plays and three novels. He wrote screen plays, and humorous columns for Punch magazine and was a highly respected writer. It was while working at Punch that he met and became friends with Ernest Howard Shepard who was an illustrator of books, as well as working at Punch. A. A. Milne and E.H. Shepard shared the same sensibilities about nature which came together in a happy partnership when Milne wrote his famous children’s books.
Milne always said his writing was inspired by the life around him and in 1920 his son Christopher Robin was born. Then in 1925 he bought Cotchford Farm, in East Sussex, only an hour’s drive south of London. Milne and his wife Daphne shared their love of the natural world with their son, and watched him play with his stuffed toys – and so the books were born.
The One Hundred Acre Wood is actually inspired by the real AshdownForest. While the Forest has not capitalized on its being a model for Milne’s book, visitors will find a small sign directing them to PoohsticksBridge. Aalto has given us more landmarks to connect Winnie-the-Pooh to the actual landscape of Cotchford Farm and the Forest. She quotes substantially from the Pooh books and takes us right back to the time when we were children, or were reading to our children about the sweet and gentle adventures of Christopher Robin and his friends, Piglet, Owl, Kanga and Roo and Eeyore. I have to say I am moved to go back to the books themselves and savor them anew.
Milne’s prose is an evocative and charming view of childhood, but it is enhanced by E.H. Shepard’s exquisite illustrations. It is hard to imagine the one without the other. Aalto includes many of Shepard’s delightful illustrations.
Still, if we were to travel to Ashdown Forest today we will not spy a young child busy building a house for Eeyore or reading to a fat little bear who has been stuck in a door because he ate too much ‘hunny.’ What Aalto can give us in one section is a beautifully illustrated guide to the flora of the Forest and a geography of the streams and woodland.
The book is well researched and includes many photograph s of the Forest today but it is the charm of Aalto’s prose that carries us into this Enchanted Place. In this book she has given us some biography, geography, and botany, but most of all a trip back in time to a loving childhood.
Flowering Tobacco by Richard Pocker
In the Illustrated Guide to Flowering Tobacco for Gardens, Richard Pocker takes us on an enthusiast’s tour of nicotianas. I have never grown nicotianas, and therefore have never gotten an appreciation for the delicious fragrance which makes them such a desirable flower. My friend Wendy sent me a photo of nicotiana taken at twilight when the fragrance begins to fill the summer garden air. Unfortunately, the fragrance cannot be transmitted digitally. I never fully realized that the nicotianas for the flower garden were sometimes the same kinds of tobacco plants that get made into cigarettes.
One variety of nicotiana is called Perfume, but Pocker lists dozens of heirloom varieties as well as nursery hybrids, complete with a photograph, description, information about growing and seed sources, as well as diseases and pests. He also gives a stern warning not to grow nicotianas in the vegetable garden because they are toxic. You may recall that nicotine is a poison sometimes used to kill garden pests.
One variety example he gives is the heirloom Florida Sumatra which has been grown in Florida as far back as 1884. “Primarily raised as a cigar tobacco, the leaves are large, about 24 inches long by 15 inches wide and fast growing as it matures in 55 days. Topped with a cluster of pink flowers, the leaves emanate a delicious smell, described by some people as spicy. A unique nicotiana that is easy to grow and with abundant sources of seeds. It is a good beginner’s plant.”
Interwoven with the cultural information are brief stories of the part tobacco played in American history and in the lives of characters like Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr.
This book is available at Amazon for $39.99 for the paperback, but a Kindle version now only costs $4.99.
Between the Rows October 24, 2015