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Peter Kukielski and the Sustainable Rose

Peter Kukielski

The April 2014 issue of Fine Gardening magazine has an article by Peter Kukielski, former curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden titled Easy Picture Perfect Roses.  Peter knows all about ‘Easy’ roses because during his tenure at that garden he ripped out 200 or so of the roses in the garden that needed pesticides and fungicides to survive and then replaced them with 693 roses that did not need that kind of care and pampering.

I met Peter in early November 2009 when he gave me a tour of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. Even at that time of the year many roses were in bloom and a number of  volunteers were busy making evaluations of each rose to decide whether it was worthy of remaining in the garden. There is a great article in the NYTimes here that describes that process. I wrote about my visit with Peter Kukielski  here and here. He is not only a brilliant rosarian, he is the most charming and good humored of men.

Since we met Peter, along with Pat Shanley and Gene Waering edited a fascinating book The Sustainable Rose Garden which covers many aspects of rose growing by 40 contributors, including Peter himself, and Stephen Scanniello of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and president of the  Heritage Rose Society. He is now working on his own book Roses Without Chemicals. I can’t wait for it to become available.

‘Applejack’ a Griffith Buck hybrid

My Rose Walk  began with hardy roses which include the Griffith Buck hybrids. It also includes rugosas, albas, another roses that can tolerate the winds and winter of our Heath hill. Many of them also turn out to be disease and pest resistant.  ‘The Fairy,’ a polyantha, is on the Earth Kind rose list, which is something Peter taught me about. I have added other Earth Kind roses like ‘Belinda’s Dream’ and Double Knock Outs. In his Fine Gardening article Peter lists other easy care roses like the luscious ‘Cinderella Fairy Tale’ and the rich golden ‘Tequila.’ Do you think I will be able to resist adding a new rose to the garden this year?  I don’t think so either.

‘The Fairy’ Earth Kind rose closeup

I will be talking about The Sustainable Rose at the little e at the Franklin County Fairgrounds on April 26 and 27. I’ll only be there one day – not sure which yet. Lots of rose photos. I hope to see you there. I’ll be channeling Peter Kukielski, my hero.

The Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Monks Garden at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Last week I visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to meet the noted landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburg and hear him speak about how he approached the challenge of redesigning the Monks Garden. He said that Isabella Stewart Gardener herself acknowledged that she was never satisfied with the small walled garden she called the Monks Garden. “That gave me the confidence and courage . . . to make a garden for the future of the Museum.”

Certainly the Monks Garden has been transformed. The last time I visited, a year or two ago, it seemed very bare and brown. In fairness, it was a gray early spring day and my mood may not have been the best. Now the Monks Garden was a sun dappled woodland, with groundcovers of hellebores and ferns. It was a surprise to enter this enchanted space that is so different from the structured geometry of the interior Courtyard.

Van Valkenburg said, “I wasn’t trying to channel Isabella Stewart Gardner . . . but her museum is not a practical place. The garden doesn’t have to be a practical place. The paths are not practical. They don’t have to take you from point A to point B. They don’t have to take you anyplace.” He wanted the garden to be a place where you could get lost.

Anne Hawley, Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum said, “Michael responded to the spirit of the museum which is totally mad. It is just a romp.”

Hawley later explained that the final decision to choose  Van Valkenburg came after she visited his own garden on Martha’s Vineyard. She said it was ‘beguiling.” I was certainly beguiled, gladdened and delighted as I wandered through this magical woodland. The 7500 square foot garden feels spacious even though it is hemmed in on one side by the Palace, and by a curving high brick wall on the other two.

The undulating dark brick paths, subtly brightened by shist blocks, often wind close to each other and sometimes actually kiss, and yet you can rarely see across the planting bed to the opposite path. As I walked the paths I soon began to notice that there are subtle changes in grade. This garden is not flat. The dark brick paths narrow and swell, but they also rise and fall. I think this is another one of the elements that make this garden seem so march larger than it is.


There are many kinds of groundcover plants from the hellebores that will bloom, to evergreens like Christmas fern and European ginger with it shiny leathery leaves. Van Valkenberg said the garden “will be crazy  with hellebores in the spring.” When they have settled in and put out their own new growth visitors to the garden will have an even greater sense of privacy.

Amazingly the Monks Garden was installed just this year. It is a very new garden.  Van Valkenburg talked about the ephemerality of a garden. We gardeners know that a garden is never the same from week to week. Certainly when early spring arrives next year and the bulbs, hepaticas and hellebores come into bloom, no one will remember this fall’s sheen of newness.

Van Valkenburg said one of the goals of the plan was to stretch the seasons. Although there was only one brave hellebore blossom last week, there will be flowers rising through the groundcovers over a long season. Four varieties of camellia, in shades of white and pink will bloom spring and fall. Several stewartia trees will come into bloom in July with their camellia-like flowers. Species daylilies and tall cimicifuga will follow. Several climbing hydrangeas have been planted against the brick wall, another rich variation that will grow over the years.

The small slow growing trees will bring their own color that will carry even into winter. The foliage of the paperbark maples and stewartias provide good autumn color. In the winter the paperbark maple has beautiful exfoliating bark in shades of cinnamon and reddish brown, the gray birch has chalky white bark, while the stewartia has a subtly mottled bark providing substantial interest..

The one large tree in the garden is an ancient katsura with rough gray bark growing against the brick wall lending an air of majesty to this very informal garden.

Van Valkenburg has designed large parks and urban sites. He has won prizes and awards for his work, including the 2003 National Design Award in Environmental Design awarded by the Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum, and the 2011 American Society of Landscape Architects Design Medal. Still he says he always remembers the advice given him when he was beginning his own business by Kevin Lynch, the noted urban planner and designer, to make as many gardens as you can. Along with large projects like the 85 acre Brooklyn Bridge Park which is still under construction, he has always maintained a consistent focus on small scale gardens.

Monks Garden at the ISG Museum

And that brought him to the end of his talk with a beaming smile as he invited us into the Monks Garden saying, “I don’t know that I’ve ever had more fun making a garden.”

Between the Rows    September 21, 2013

Boston Public Gardens


Boston State House

The Boston Public Gardens begin at the foot of the Boston State House. First is the Boston Common where cattle once grazed, then the Boston Public Garden, the oldest botanic garden in the nation, and finally the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. Here are a few photos from my recent visit.

Boston Common Frog Pond

Frolicking tadpoles in the Boston Common Frog Pond watched over by parents and

Boston Common Frog Pond frogs

the frog statues!

Boston Public Garden sign

The Boston Public Garden, established in 1837 is the first botanic garden in our young nation.

Pink Mandevilla Boston Public Garden

White Mandevilla Boston Public Garden

Pagoda Tree in Boston Public Garden

Small Fountain Boston Public Garden

Medical memorial

Statue memorializing the first use of ether at Massachusetts General Hospital to deaden pain.

Rose in Boston Public Garden

Mass plantings of roses.

Parallel planting in Boston Public Garden

A matching planting is on the other side of the path.

Swan Boats in the Boston Public Garden


Commonwealth Avenue Mall

The Commonwealth Avenue Mall is a grand allée of shade trees forming the central axis of the Back Bay, connecting the Public Garden to the Back Bay Fens. Designed by Arthur Gilman, who was inspired by the new Parisian boulevards, the Mall was set out from 1858 to the 1870s. From its inception, the Mall has been a vital amenity for both residents and visitors. Winston Churchill praised it as “the grandest boulevard in North America.”

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton is just one of the statues on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.  These three public gardens include many statues and reliefs that celebrate the great men and moments of our history.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.


Water in the Garden – Fountains, Birdbaths and a Waterfall


Bloedel Reserve Reflecting Pool in the rain

Most of us will never have a reflecting pool in our garden, but water in the garden comes in many forms. The Bloedel Reserve has many beautiful ways to use water in the garden., this is just one.

A small fountain

A small fountain near the house makes electricity for the  recirculating pump easy.

A waterfall

This small waterfall has been ‘tuned’ to make lovely music. The water enters in a lovely fishpond.

A simple birdbath

A simple birdbath in the shade.

A fountain in the shade

A more elaborate fountain in the shade. Burbling.


Millstone into fountain

A fountain in the sun is beautiful, too.


You can combine a birdbath with art.

A backyard pond and fountain

Through the magic of recirculating pumps you can have a pond and a fountain.

Seattle fountain

Even municipalities can have a sense of humor and play with water.

For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.



P is for Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden


Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden

P is for the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. I last visited this garden in November of 2009 when there was still plenty of bloom on view although you wouldn’t know it from this photo of the view from the entry to the Gazebo where Awakening roses twine around the beautiful iron framework.

Peter Kukielski, Former curator

I had gone to meet Peter Kukielski, self-taught rosarian, and the then curator of the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden, transforming it into one of the most environmentally-friendly gardens in the world.  He more than tripled the number of roses in this garden which seemed miraculous. I asked him how he did that. He looked at me with just the trace of an impish smile, leaned toward me and said very softly, “I planted them closer together.” Surprise and laughter from me. A simple answer.  Last year Peter co-edited The Sustainable Rose Garden with Pat Shanley and Gene Waering, and is currently working on a new book.

Carefree Delight, a Griffith Buck Hybrid

Kukielski looked to the hybrid roses created by Dr. Griffith Buck at Iowa State University. Dr. Buck’s goal was to create winter hardy  roses that also had bood disease resistance.  I have several Buck roses including Applejack which greets people as they come up our road, and Quietness which is a miracle on the Rose Walk. Many of those beautiful roses are still available from Chamblee’s Nursery and Antique Rose Emportium.

Distant Drums, a Kordes Hybrid

He also looked to all the Kordes hardy, disease resistant hybrids.  Nearly thirty years ago the German government outlawed many of the common herbicides and pesticides and other chemicals that were commonly used on roses. That means German hybridizers began work right away to develop roses that could thrive without that help.

The Fairy, an Earth Kind rose

He not only looked at Earth Kind roses, he began a trial garden at the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden to locate and name more Earth Kind roses. Texas A & M set up a test garden, planting a number of roses and caring for them for one year, then giving them no further care for nine years. Those that  did well were named Earth Kind roses because they were disease resistant and did not need supplemental irrigation. The Fairy, a old trooper of a a floribunda. Lots of gardeners appreciated The Fairy’s hardiness and exhuberance long before it became an Earth Kind Rose.

I want to make the point that roses have changed. There are plenty of hybrid teas that still need a lot of fussing, but for those of us who have no inclination to fuss because of the work, or because we don’t want poisons in our garden there is a whole new world of beautiful roses that we can happily have blooming in our gardens. Do you have any roses in your garden?

To see what else begins with P on the A to Z Blogger challenge click here

O is for Organizations on the A to Z Challenge

Our Annual Rose Viewing – designed to delight and edify

O is for Organizations. We gardeners have all sorts of enthusiasms, about plants, about conservations, and about education. There are many Organizations that support those enthusiasms. I belong to the Massaachusetts Horticultural Society which is headquartered in Wellesley. There Mass Hort has a library, classrooms, and wonderful gardens from the Italianate Garden to the delightful Weezies Garden for Children. Founded in 1829 this organization isty is “dedicated to encouraging the science and practice of horticulture and developing the public’s enjoyment, appreciation, and understanding of plants and the environment.” I wrote about Mass Hort here.

I belong to the New England Wildflower Society, one of the oldest conservation organization in the United States. Founded in 1900 mission of the  New England Wild Flower Society is to conserve and promote the region’s native plants to ensure healthy, biologically diverse landscapes.  Members have access to  classes, and the beautiful Garden of the Woods in Framingham and the Nasami Farm native nursery in Whately. And much more

I also belong to the American Horticultural Society because my interest in supporting botanical education is more than just regional.

There are also plant societies where you can learn everything there is to know about hostas or rhododendrons or irises. I did attend a meeting of the New England Rose Society but most of the people attending that meeting were competitive men who were mostly interested in raising roses for exhibition, no matter how much poison it took. That may be an unfair characterization of the whole organization, but I did not continue. I recently learned that the New England Rose Society has brought its Rose Library to Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boyleston. Books are available to NERS members and members of Tower Hill.

You can also join the organizations that support public gardens like Tower Hill Botanic Garden and the Berkshire Botanical Garden. We are gardeners are always learning – in our own gardens, and in the gardens that have been created for our delight and edification. What is your nearest botanical or public garden?


Weezie’s Garden plaque at the Mass Horticultural Society

To see what else begins with O click here for the A to Z Blogger Challenge.

L is for Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Arboretum

One of my white lilacs

L is for Lilac Sunday at the Arnold Aroboretum on Sunday, May 12, 2013. Lilacs are the only plant at the Arboretum that gets its own Day. Not only will there be music and dancing, family activities and vendors, Lilac Sunday is the only day that picknicking is allowed at the Arnold Arboetum. I have attended and it is a fabulous event. The Arboretum, as usual will be open from 10 am to 4 pm. It is best to take public transportation because there is no partking within the Arboretum Gates. Of course, the lilacs bloom before and after Lilac Sunday, so you have many opportunities to enjoy the beautiful blooms and fragrance.

There are more than 380 lilac plants of 176 different kinds in the Arboretum’s collection. These include 136 cultivars that have been selected for certain horticultural merits such as flower size and color. In my own collection I have Miss Ellen Willmot, a white, and Beauty of Moscow with its fat pink buds that open white. I don’t know why I can’t find any good lilac pictures in my files. I will have to make a special effort this spring.

I have bought a couple of my lilacs at Fox Hill Lilac Nursery where you can get a good idea of how many lilacs are longing to be in your garden. Lilacs take little care, will  have a long life and give you beauty and that famous fragrance.

To see what else begins with L on the A to Z Challenge click here.

Talcott Greenhouse and the Spring Bulb Show, Mt. Holyoke College

Russell Billings at Talcott Greenhouse, Mt. Holyoke

While the rest of us have been shivering in our snowy landscapes, Russell Billings, Director of the Talcott Greenhouse at Mt. Holyoke College, has been busy cooling and slowly warming hundreds of bulbs and other blooming plants coaxing them to a perfect stage of bloom. On Saturday, March 2 the doors of the greenhouse will open to the public to present Primavera, this year’s bulb show featuring glorious tulips and daffodils as well as many plants of the Italian garden, herbs, camellias, oleander, lavender, and box. This year terra cotta Tuscan pots add an extra Italianate touch to the displays.

While we enjoyed a brief period of sun, Billings ushered me into the warm Talcott Greenhouse where the air was fresh and sweet. The room was brilliant with color, banks of cineraria and calceolaria, trays of pale schizanthus with delicate little flowers that I thought looked like tiny irises, as well as those familiar early bloomers, pansies and primroses.

Billings said the week before the show is busy with students and staff moving potted plants out of the working rooms of the greenhouse into the main show room where they will be arranged around a reflecting pool. The brick edged pool is surrounded by a miniature fantasy of fine turf which was grown in flats. “Sometimes we arrange moving water for the bulb show,” Billings said. “People love that, but it is different every year. We have never repeated a theme.”

While it gets very busy in the last weeks before the flower show, Billings said preparations actually begin the summer before. “There is always a theme, and then I order special plants that will work within that theme. We also start to design how to arrange those plants in the greenhouse,” he said.

Tulips in the Talcott Greenhouse

Billings took me into the carefully temperature-controlled cool greenhouse where the tulips and daffodils are just coming into bloom. Remembering the time mice ate tulip bulbs I was forcing in my basement, I asked if they ever had trouble with critters. He said he has had mice enlarge drainage holes in a pot to get to the bulbs, but a bigger problem is with chipmunks and squirrels who get into the greenhouse during the warmer weather.

All the plants are in beautiful condition, but Billings said they did have trouble with whitefly earlier. He does not like to use poisons in the greenhouse. “Horticultural oil takes care of most of the problems,” he said. When he does have to use something stronger he makes sure it is nothing that requires closing up the greenhouse for longer than four hours.

Billings took me on tour of the slightly steamy tropical and subtropical rooms of the beautiful glass house which was completed in 1899.  Here is the permanent collection, which includes orchids, cacti and succulents, ferns, begonias, bromeliads, and aquatic plants. The collection is used for study by the students in biology and ecology classes. “We also give a plant to every incoming freshman, usually a jade plant or aloe. I tell them to water only when the soil is dry. But some students are so conscientious that they water once a week or too generously and the plant dies. I’ve been tweaking the planting mix and I think I have something now that drains really quick and makes the students more successful.” He reiterated advice I have heard from other plants people. More houseplants are killed by overwatering than underwatering.

So what happens to the bulbs and other plants after the show closes down? Billings began his career at Mt. Holyoke over 30 years ago on the grounds crew so he is happy to move some of the plants to locations around campus. Others are sold and some are just given away. “People like the tulips  and can’t bear to see them tossed. They put them in their gardens at home, but they rarely survive so we just give those away. At least half of the daffodils will bloom again next year.”

The free Mt. Holyoke Spring Flower Show runs from Saturday, March 2 until Sunday, March 17. Doors are open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Groups should call 413-538-2116 ahead of time to make arrangements. The greenhouse is universally accessible.

The greenhouse is located right next to the Mt. Holyoke College Art Museum which is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m and Saturday and Sunday from 1 – 5 p.m. A current exhibit, Albert Bierstadt and the Legacy of Concern, features Bierstadt’s luminous paintings of the American west. The greenhouse and the art museum will give you two different types of experience, but both about beauty of the natural world.

Flora at Lyman Plant House, Smith College

The Lyman Plant House at Smith College is also holding its annual Spring Bulb Show March 2 until March 17. Hours are 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. In addition, an exhibit at the Church Exhibition Gallery titled From Petals to Paper: Poetic Inspiration from Flowers will be on view. This display of contemporary poetry inspired by the beauty of nature was created by Janan Scott ’13 and Liliana Farrel ’13, who have both been working in the Smith College Poetry Center for the past two years. The exhibits are free and universally accessible.

Between the Rows   March 2, 2013


Look Within for Spring Bloom

Daffodils at Talcott Greenhouse

The best place to find fresh spring bloom is to look within the greenhouses at Mt. Holyoke and Smith Colleges. Both colleges are having their annual spring flower shows and giving us the strength to get through these last days of winter.

Primrose at Mt. Holyoke

This looks just the supermarket primrose that I planted years ago and that blooms every spring in the dappled shade in back of our house.

Lyman Plant House display

Could it be that the goddess Flora has found her way to reign over Smith College’s spring flower show?

Pink tulips at Smith College

Tulips are in full bloom at Mt. Holyoke’s Talcott Greenhouse and Smith College’s Lyman Plant House. The exhibit ends March 17. Both exhibits are free and universally accessible. Hours: 10 am – 4 pm.

My tulips

After visiting the fabulous dispalys of spring bulbs, perennials, and flowering shrubs like camellias I was glad I could come home to my own little spring show. My tulips may not be tall but they are charming. And pink.

Tulips Are Blooming – Indoors

Tulips at Smith College

Yesterday I drove into the valley to see tulips, and many other  bulbs and flowers, blooming at the Mt. Holyoke College Talcott Greenhouse and the Smith College Lyman Plant House. Both institutions are preparing for their annual Spring Bulb shows which require attentive and scientific handling of the potted plants, cool and then slowly warming so that they are at the perfect moment for spring-hungry flower lovers to visit them when the shows open on Saturday, March 2.  Both shows run for two weeks and the greenhouses are open from 10 am to 4 pm.

When I visited yesterday both greenhouses were in the process of being set up. Potted plants have been living in the working sections while they are not blooming, and are just now being arranged in a beautifully designed array. Tulips are always an important part of the display and it is easy to understand. Tulips are so tall and stately and come in so many glowing colors. I love seeing tulips in the greenhouse because rodents inevitably eat them when I plant them in the garden. I love tulips, but I grow daffodils in my own garden. And some of the little bulbs like grape hyacinths.

My tulips

Don’t laugh! I don’t know why my forced tulips are so short. Maybe I should just be glad that mice didn’t eat them before the bulbs even had a chance to sprout.