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Seeking Spring at the Leonard J. Buck Garden in NJ

 

Leonard J. Buck Garden

Leonard J. Buck Garden

I went to New Jersey, the Garden State, to search for spring and found it at the Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills. My brother Tony and his wife Joan took us to the 29 acre garden which was originally part of Mr. Buck’s estate. In the 1930s Buck began working with Zenon Schreiber, a well-known landscape architect, to create a naturalistic garden that incorporated the various rock outcroppings, the sinuous Moggy Brook and two ponds.

I was searching for spring, but she was elusive, even in the Buck Garden which is, to a large extent, a spring garden. Trees were barely leafing out, it was too early for the groves and allees of azalea and rhododendron that would be spectacular by the end of May, and even the large patches of primroses were not blooming. What we did find were certain rocky areas in bloom that seemed to encourage us and remind us that spring was finally on her way.

The stone outcroppings vary in size and height, creating different microclimates. My sister-in-law- Joan and I spent a lot of time that day talking about and marveling at the power of microclimates. For example the primroses in the large boggy sections of the garden were almost entirely without bloom because this garden has also been having a very cool spring. And yet, nestled against the Big Rock stone cliff primroses were blooming happily in the sun.

Growing among the soil pockets were a number of colorful spring bloomers from the delicate red and yellow native columbine, brilliant basket-of-gold, petite iris reticulata, epimediums, barren strawberry, trillium, bluets, familiar creeping phlox, bleeding hearts and small narcissus like ‘Jack Snipe.’

It does not take long for most of us to identify the microclimates in our own gardens, and learn to take advantage of those spots where a plant will be protected from the wind, or where stone might act as a heat collector as well as a wind barrier. In those protected spots we can grow plants that are marginally hardy in our zone, or get earlier bloom.

Hellebores at the Leonard J. Buck garden

Hellebores at the Leonard J. Buck garden

There were various plantings of pink or white Helleborus orientalis or Lenten rose. I first became familiar with these lush early bloomers on the Bridge of Flowers. Last year when I attended the opening of the newly redesigned Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Michael Van Valkenburg promised that this spring the garden would be ‘crazy with hellebores’ which had been planted, along with ferns and shiny European ginger, under the new young trees.

One of the pleasures of visiting the Buck garden is the ability to see closeup woodland plants that you don’t often find in cultivated gardens. There were trilliums, red and white, just coming into bloom, guinea hen fritillarias, and sunny marsh marigolds that shone in a boggy spot.

Another sunny plant that stopped us was a clump of yellow flowers with sharply recurved petals, and mottled leaves. I couldn’t remember their scientific name (Erythronium americanum) but thought they were trout lilies. I pointed out the mottled leaves to Tony and Joan, explaining that they could be said to resemble the markings on brown trout. I thought they were also known as dogtooth violets even though they are not violets and do not resemble dog’s teeth in any way. Of course, later we had to do some research, and I was correct as far as I went. We learned the dog’s tooth refers to the little corm from which it grows.

Trout Lilies at Leonard J. Buck Garden

Trout Lilies at Leonard J. Buck Garden

Later in the day, at another garden, we saw a similar clump of flowers I thought were trout lilies again, but the petals were not curved back. We looked all over for a label, but only found one that said Bletilla striata. More research. These were trout lilies, but we learned it takes strong sun to make the petals curve back. Bletilla striata is a small purple ground orchid. No purple flowers of any kind were in sight. Which just goes to show you have to be careful when looking at plant labels. The plant they refer to may not yet be blooming, or the label may have been moved, but not with any accuracy.

While doing this trout lily research I also learned that every part of the plant is edible. One warning. I can’t anyone would actually manage to eat a large number, but in large amounts trout lilies act as an emetic. However a few blossoms to brighten up a salad will not hurt.

Most of us will never have enough trout lilies to take up roasting and eating the little corms. They are very slow growing. It takes seven years for a plant to mature, bloom and begin to reproduce. Mostly they increase by runners, not by seed. If you find a colony in a damp humusy woodland it is likely to be quite old. I prefer to just admire them because they are so lovely.

New Jersey has quite a number of public gardens that are a part of the park system. After we left the Buck Garden, and refreshed ourselves with a hearty lunch, we went on to Willowwood Arboretum, New Jersey’s largest (130 acres) and longest continually operating arboretum. You will hear more about the gardens there, as well as the trees, in the future.

Between the Rows  May 3, 2014

Hypertufa Trough – You Could Make Your Own

Troughs at Smith College

Hypertufa is a concrete and peat moss mixture used to make garden troughs and ornaments.  Hypertufa troughs are often used for succulent or alpine plant collections and can be a charming and useful element in the garden. You can make your own. I am not sure how Smith College made their troughs, but hypertufa is a great DYI project.

Not being very adventurous in the craft area I am happy that the Bridge of Flowers committee has organized a hypertufa workshop scheduled for Saturday, April 14 from 1-4 pm at the Trolley Museum in Shelburne Falls.  Here is the description of the workshop:

The Bridge of Flowers is offering a hypertufa workshop at the Trolley Museum in Shelburne Falls  on Saturday, April 14, from 1-4 pm  led by Carol Lively. Participants will make two small hypertufa planting containers, one for themselves, and one for the Bridge of Flowers Plant Sale. The cost of $20 covers the cost of materials which will all be provided. There is no other cost. Participants should bring a cardboard box or other item to use as a mold for their container.

Hypertufa is a mixture of Portland concrete, peat moss, vermiculite and sand. Carol Lively will help participants shape a container using a box, or other container desired as a mold. The container will then need to cure and dry for four weeks or so before being used.  Participants should wear old clothes, and bring heavy duty rubber gloves, the mold of your choice, a board to hold the container while it dries and a black plastic garbage bag.. To information or to sign up for the  workshop call Pat Leuchtman 413-337-4316. Your garden and the Bridge of Flowers will both benefit.

Let me know if you have any questions. This is a great opportunity for you and your own garden – and to help support the Bridge of Flowers.

Another Smith College trough