December 23, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Amaryllis ‘Orange Sovereign’ will be in full bloom by Christmas Day!
For tips on coaxing winter blooms, including forcing bulbs and flowering tree and shrub branches, see Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! David R. Godine, Publisher.
August 4, 2011 § Leave a Comment
“At this point, it is the summer phlox and, above all, the towering lilies that are providing the scent in our garden in Milton. And very heady it is, too- especially on still, hot days.” - My friend David Godine writes of his beautiful garden in Milton, Massachusetts.
I am wonderfully fortunate that Mr. Godine is both my publisher and editor for my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!. Not only does David have a deep love for all things books, he is passionate for gardens and gardening.
June 26, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Magnolia virginiana ~ Sweet Bay Magnolia
Located in the heart of Ravenswood Park in Gloucester there is a stand of Magnolia virginiana growing in the Great Magnolia Swamp. It is the only population of Magnolia virginiana known to grow this far north. I took one look at the native sweet bay magnolia and breathed in the fresh lemon-honeysuckle scent of the blossoms, fell in love, and immediately set out to learn all I could about this graceful and captivating tree. Recently having returned from a trip to visit my family in northern Florida, I had tucked the bud of a Magnolia grandiflora into my suitcase. I was dreaming of someday having a garden large enough to accommodate a Magnolia grandiflora and was overjoyed to discover the similarities between M. virginiana and M. grandiflora. For those not familiar with the Southern magnolia, it is a grand, imposing specimen in the landscape, growing up to fifty feet in the cooler zones five and six, and one hundred feet plus in the southern states. M. grandiflora is the only native magnolia that is reliably evergreen in its northern range, flowering initially in the late spring and sporadically throughout the summer. The creamy white flowers, enormous and bowl-shaped (ten to twelve inches across), emit a delicious, heady sweet lemon fragrance.
In contrast, the flowers of the sweetbay magnolia are smaller, ivory white, water-lily cup shaped, and sweetly scented of citrus and honeysuckle. The leaves are similar in shape to the Magnolia grandiflora, ovate and glossy viridissimus green on the topside, though they are more delicate, and lack the leathery toughness of the Southern magnolia. The lustrous green above and the glaucous silvery green on the underside of the foliage creates a lovely ornamental bi-color effect as the leaves are caught in the seasonal breezes.
Magnolia virginiana is an ideal tree for a small garden in its northern range growing to roughly twenty feet compared to the more commanding height of a mature Southern magnolia. Sweet bay grows from Massachusetts to Florida in coastal freshwater wetland areas as an understory tree. The tree can be single- or multi-stemmed. Sweet bay is a stunning addition to the woodland garden with an open form, allowing a variety of part-shade loving flora to grow beneath the airy canopy. The leaves are a larval food for the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly. Almost immediately after planting we began to notice the swallowtails gliding from the sunny borders of the front dooryard, where an abundance of nectar-rich flowers are planted specifically to attract butterflies, around to the shady border in the rear yard where our sweet bay is located.
Our garden is continually evolving and part of our garden has given way to a limited version of a woodland garden, for the shady canopy created by the ever-growing ceiling of foliage of our neighbor’s trees has increasingly defined our landscape. We sited our Magnolia virginiana in our diminutive shaded woodland border where we can observe the tree from the kitchen window while standing at the kitchen sink. Gazing upon the tree bending and swaying gracefully in the wind, displaying its shifting bi-color leaves, provides a pleasant view when tending daily chores and the dreamy fragrance emitted from freshly opened blossoms make the chores all that less tiresome.
Excerpt from “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!” Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine Publisher), written and illustrated by Kim Smith.
May 29, 2011 § 1 Comment
Surely at the top of the list of shrubs to grow for creating the framework of an intimate garden or garden room are lilacs, in particular Syringa vulgaris and their French hybrids. Syringa vulgaris are grown for their exquisite beauty in both form and color of blossoms, although it is their fragrance flung far and throughout gardens and neighborhoods that make them so unforgettable.
Not all species of Syringa and cultivars of Syringa vulgaris are scented. The early French hybrids and hybrids of Leonid Kolesnikov have retained their fragrance. Syringa oblata has a similar fragrance, though is not nearly as potent. Several of the Chinese species have a spicy cinnamon scent, while many of the Asian species and their hybrids have very little, if any, fragrance. To find your personal preference, I suggest a visit to a local arboretum, or take your nose to the nursery during the extended period of time (six to eight weeks, or so) in which the different cultivars of S. vulgaris are in bloom.
Nearly everywhere lilacs are grown (and here I am only referring to S. vulgaris), they are called by some variety of the word lilac. Perhaps the word lilac stems from the Persian word Lilak or Lilaf meaning bluish. The French say Lilas, the Spanish say Lila, and the Portuguese Lilaz. In old English lilacs were called Laylock, Lilack, and Lilock.
Lilacs are native to and found growing among the limestone rocks on the hillsides and mountainsides throughout southeastern Europe, in the Balkans, Moldavia, Serbia, Macedonia, and Yugoslavia. Cultivated by local mountain herdsmen, they were taken from the peasant villages of central Europe to the garden courts of Istanbul. In 1563, the Flemish scholar and traveler Ogier Ghiselin, Count de Busbecq, Ambassador of Ferdinand I of Austria to the court of Suleiman the Magnificent, brought back to Vienna gifts from the sultan’s garden. Attracting much attention was the lilac. Seven years later, in 1570, Ogier Ghiselin, Count de Busbecq, and then Curator of the Imperial Court Library, accompanied the Archduchess Elizabeth from Vienna to Paris where she was betrothed to King Charles IX of France. Count de Busbecq journeyed to France with a shoot of Syringa vulgaris, where it soon began to fill the gardens of Paris.
Two color variants sprang up in European gardens beside the wild blue- flowered lilac, a nearly white flowered variant with lighter foliage and a taller- growing variant with deeper purple flowers. Hybridizers quickly set about to create different forms and color versions from these two variants.
Victor Lemoine of the famed nursery Victor Lemoine et Fils at Nancy in Lorraine Province continued the work of hybridizing lilacs. From 1878 to 1950, Victor and his wife, their son Emile, and their grandson, Henri, created 214 lilac cultivars. The cornerstone of the Lemoine’s lilac hybridizing program was a nat- ural sport that bore two corollas, one inside the other, making it the first dou- ble. This double was subsequently named ‘Azurea Plena.’ Because of the Lemoine family’s success in turning ordinary lilacs into fancy double-flowered lilacs in nearly every hue imaginable, they became known as the “French lilacs.” Spreading throughout Europe, the French lilacs were brought to the Russian court by French travelers. Well suited to the soil and climate of Russia, they soon spread far and wide. Several decades later, the Russian hybridist Leonid Kolesnikov continued the successful work of the Lemoines with his own exquisite variants.
The French and Dutch colonists transported lilacs to North America. These cherished cuttings, wrapped in burlap and wet straw tucked into suitcases for the long journey across the Atlantic, traveled well and were soon growing throughout the colonies. By 1753 the Quaker botanist John Bartram of Philadelphia was complaining that lilacs were already too numerous. One of two of the oldest col- lections of lilacs in North America are at the Governor Wentworth home in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, planted by the governor in 1750. The second collection, perhaps one hundred years older, is at Mackinac Island in Michigan, where French Jesuit missionaries living in the area are thought to have planted them as early as 1650.
With their traveling fragrance, versatility in the landscape, and their ability to live tens, perhaps even hundreds of years, lilacs are garden heirlooms. When selecting lilacs to grow for creating the framework of the garden, take the time to choose wisely. Some lilacs grow readily into a tree shape (‘Beauty of Moscow’), while others are somewhat relatively lower growing cultivars; ‘Wedgwood Blue’ comes to mind, and still others, the common white lilac (Syringa vulgaris var. alba), sucker more freely. And bear in mind that different lilacs bloom over an extended period of time. If you wish to have a blue lilac blooming simultaneously with a white lilac, then it is worthwhile to determine whether a specific cultivar is an early, mid, or late season bloomer. The following is a selection of lilacs growing in our garden, arranged in their sequential progression of flowering, with considerable overlapping. They are all highly scented or we wouldn’t grow them. The last photo below shows the different colors in lilac blossoms of white, pink, blue, lavender, magenta.
S. x hyacinthiflora ‘Maiden’s Blush’ (1966) Skinner ~ Single, pale rose pink; shows different colors of pink under different soil conditions. In a warmer climate and lighter soils it is a paler shade of pink, in heavier soils ‘Maiden’s Blush’ has more lavender undertones.
‘Krasavitsa Moskvy’ translated to ‘Beauty of Moscow.’ Leonid Alexseevitch Kolesnikov (1974) ~ Double, lavender-rose tinted buds opening to white-tinted pink. Grown throughout Russia. Vigorous upright habit, useful for growing into a tree-shape. Very extended blooming period.
Syringa vulgaris var. purpurea. Common purple lilac ~ Lavender, the wild species seen growing throughout its native land. The common purple is the most widely distributed form of lilac. The lilac of old gardens.
‘Wedgwood Blue’ John Fiala (1981) ~ Hanging panicles of beautiful true blue florets. Lilac-pink hued buds. Somewhat lower growing.
‘Madame Florent Stepman’ (1908) ~ Satiny ivory white florets from rose- washed buds. Pure white when fully opened. Tall and upright growing. One of the most extensively cultivated for the florist trade.
‘President Grevy’ Lemoine (1886) ~ Pure blue, immense panicles of sweet starry florets.
‘Marie Legraye’ (1840) ~ Single, diminutive florets, radiant white, lighter green foliage.
‘Monge’ Lemoine (1913) ~ Vivid, intense plum wine fading to deepest rose.
‘Andenken an Ludwig Spaeth’ Nursery of Ludwig Spaeth (1883) ~ Single, rich purple-violet with a smaller pointed-head panicle.
Above excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine, Publisher), written and illustrated by Kim Smith.
More on Lilac Culture in the next post.
February 14, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Tour the Limonaia at Tower Hill Botanic Garden
Register online for my workshop at Tower Hill Botanic Garden: Creating a Butterfly Garden, Sunday, May 1, 1:00 to 3:00. I hope to see you there!
~ Citrus ~
Growing Citrus Indoors excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
We would grow citrus, whether they bore fruit or not, for the lilting sweet scents of the blossoms alone. Whether entering a room in which a citrus is in bloom or approaching the plant on the terrace, one cannot help appreciating their exquisite fragrance.
During the Baroque period, orange and citrus fruits became equated with the golden apples from the mythical Garden of Hesperides. In 1664 Louis XIV of France commissioned the architect LeVall to build the first orangerie at Versailles. It was the Sun King’s love for gardens, and in particular his admiration for the “Seville” orange, which brought both citrus plants and the conservatory into prominence. The orangerie protected exotic and tender plants during the winter, and when the plants were moved out of doors during the warmer months, the orangerie was transformed into a setting for courtly events and celebrations.
The genus Citrus is indigenous to southeast Asia, occurring from northern India to China and south through Malaya, the Philippines, and the East Indies. The earliest records of its cultivation date back to about 500 b.c. The four original wild species from which all domesticated fruits are thought to have been hybridized are Citrus medica, Citrus aurantifolia, Citrus grandis, and Citrus reticulata.
The calamondin orange (Citrus mitis), with heavenly scented, pure white flowers, is among the easiest to grow. Although the fruit is too acidic to eat out of hand, it is fine for cooking, seasoning poultry prior to roasting, or combining with honey to make a piquant glaze. The key lime (Citrus aurantifolia), has an insinuating sweet and fresh fragrance and is used for preserves, garnishes, and juice. Oil of citral is extracted from Citrus aurantifolia for use in perfumes. Highly valued in Japan and China for use in Buddhist ceremonies, the Buddha’s Hand (Citrus medica) is a thorny shrub with fragrant fruits that resemble a human hand. The flowers are comparatively large (3–4 inches across), white shaded purple, and intoxicatingly fragrant.
One of the most beautiful and widely available citrus for pot culture is the Meyer lemon (Citrus limon x Citrus sinensis), also known as the Chinese lemon. It grows to a manageable size, less than two feet, and in a standard shape with a nicely rounded-head form. Not a true lemon, but a hybrid cross of C. sinensis, an orange, and C. limon, its fruit is sweeter than that of a pure lemon cultivar. But it is for the flowers that I grow the Meyer lemon. The blossoms are thick and velvety, creamy white tinted rose. Blooming in notes of honeysuckle and jonquil-like fragrances, the tree flowers prodigally.
Citrus thrive in a well-draining soil similar to what is an ideal medium for cactus. They must be grown in clay pots to insure good air circulation. The surest way to kill a citrus is by overwatering. Wait until the soil is thoroughly dried between watering. Place your finger a full three inches into the soil and water only when it feels dry at your finger tips, and then water deeply until a bit of water comes out the bottom of the drainage hole. With regular feedings of fish fertilizer throughout the summer and an all-purpose fertilizer during the winter months (when we find the odor of fish fertilizer to be repugnant indoors), citrus plants grow strong and healthy and are less likely to succumb to insect infestations.
Citrus plants are fairly indestructible, although they will quickly let you know when they’re unhappy. A few leaves will yellow and fall off, and if the problem is not resolved immediately, the entire plant will defoliate. This is typically due to overwatering and/or a soil mixture that does not allow for excellent drainage. Do not be discouraged, even if the entire plant becomes leafless. Water less frequently and try repotting the plant in a more suitable growing medium. Usually, they can be revived.
When grown indoors, citrus are occasionally bothered by spider mites and scale. Spider mites are easy to detect because they make a visible white web. Scale is a more challenging problem to diagnose as the light brown, pinhead sized and hard-bodied pest is difficult to see. They remain well hidden, where they attach themselves to the stems and along the ribs on the underside of the leaves. Scales produce a sticky substance that coats the leaves. For both pests, spray with a solution of diluted rubbing alcohol (three parts water to one part rubbing alcohol) to keep them in check.
Considered a harbinger of prosperity and good fortune, citrus have been grown in Chinese gardens and courtyards for thousands of years. We can take a lesson from how seasonal changes are reflected in a Chinese garden. Different areas of the garden are used in rotation for social events, depending on the prominence of a particular tree or shrub in flower, and flowering plants growing in pots are brought into the current living areas. After blooming, they are moved to a less visible location, and the focus shifts to flowers that are coming into florescence.
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher)
December 14, 2010 § 5 Comments
Round Robin Redbreast
What’s that you say? A flock of robins, in winter?
Yes, yes! Sweetly singing liquid notes. A flock in my garden!
What does a hungry round robin find to eat in a winter garden?
Red, red winterberries and holly, rime-sweetend crabapples, and orchard fruits.
And how does a winter robin keep warm?
Why, blanketed together with air-puffed fluffed feathers.
How long will they stay, how long can they last in the frost?
Only as there are fruits on the bough and berries on the bush.
Round robin red breast, silhouette in bare limb,
Calling away winter, cheer, cheerio, and cheer-up!
The widely distributed and beloved American Robin (Turdus migratorius) hardly needs an introduction. The American Robin is the largest member of the thrush family—thrushes are known for their liquid birdsongs and the robin is no exception. Their unmistakable presence is made known when, by early spring, the flocks have dispersed and we see individual robins strutting about the landscape with fat worms dangling. Unmistakable, too, is the male’s beautiful birdsongs, signaling to competing males to establish their territory, as well as to entice prospective females.
The boundaries of the American Robin winter migration areas are not clearly defined. The robin’s winter range covers southern Canada to Guatemala, compared to their summer nesting range, which extends from the tree limit of Canada to southern Mexico. Robins that nest in Massachusetts, for the most part, migrate further south. Robins nesting in northern Canada migrate to their tropic-of-New England get-away.
During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in late afternoon and early morning. I can’t help but notice their arrival to our garden. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, are generally speaking dozens of noisy, hungry robins. These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through winter, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, and juniper. Robins traveling near the sea will comb the shoreline for mollusks and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.
The garden designed to attract pairs of summer resident robins as well as flocks of winter travelers would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.
Robins in New England breed from April through July, often bearing three clutches. Nests are built in the crotch of trees and dense bushes, five to fifteen feet above ground, and some are occasionally made on the ground or built on protruding ledges of homes. The female robin weaves a cup-shaped foundation of coarse grass, twigs, paper and feathers, and then lines the bowl with mud she smears and packs firmly with her breast. Later she adds soft fibers such as fine grass and downy feathers to cushion the egg. The first nest is usually placed in an evergreen tree or shrub; for each subsequent clutch a new nest is built and generally placed in a deciduous tree.
The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds (and Lepidoptera). The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive plants included.
Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).
Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).
Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.), Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex x meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).
December 1, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Music to my Ears: The following note is from my dear friend Kate Hines who built a beautiful home on a lovely piece of property—former farmland that borders the lush and fertile Rhode Island coastline. Thank you Kate for sharing!
“I was so inspired reading the section you wrote on hollies in Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! that I went to the local nursery and ordered 2 – a female 6′ and a male 5.’ Now they are mixed in with the evergreen grove to the north of the house. They were costly, a big project but soooooo satisfying! Ill send pix.”
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! makes for a very useful gift for the gardener (and loved-ones dreaming of creating a garden) on your holiday gift giving list. Last year at this time Carol Stocker, the Boston Globe garden columnist wrote the following about Oh Garden:
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
Boston Globe Best of 2009
For Armchair Gardeners Pining for Spring
“Bleak and snowy outside? These lush reads will have you dreaming green. January and February are the reading months for gardeners trapped indoors. Here are some of the best garden books from 2009. “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes From a Gloucester Garden,’’ written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher), is a treasure, and perhaps the best garden gift book. Why? Both dream-like and practical, it captures the rapture of a gardener’s journey through her own evolving quarter acre by integrating Smith’s personal essays, hands-on advice, and paintings. I was charmed by her listing of specific scents of favorite peony varieties accompanied by a painted sample of their petal colors…”
Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Written and Illustrated by Kim Smith. Available through your local bookseller, David R. Godine, Publisher, and Amazon.
November 1, 2010 § 1 Comment
Exquisite Flora in Autumn
Green leaves ignite, transformed by a kaleidoscope of incinerating colors—devil-red, burnt tangerine, caramelized amber, searing saffron, and smoldering crimson-purple. The air is impregnated with the aromatic perfume of orchard fruits ripening in the fleeting flush of the sun’s warm light. Hazy, slanting rays gild the late season glory in the garden. Surrounded by flowers of dissipating beauty and juxtaposed against the dazzling brilliance of autumn foliage, we are urged to spend every possible moment savoring our gardens before the onset of winter.
Blossoms thrown in autumn, as opposed to those of spring and summer, are perhaps the most keenly appreciated. Our rambling ‘Aloha’ rose embowering the front entryway abounds in blooms in June, flowering again and again throughout the summer. With a twinge of melancholy, I cherish most Aloha’s lingering remontant rose—inhaling deeply the sensuous fragrance when approaching or upon leaving our home, knowing all will be dormant in only a few short weeks. Manifold members of the composite family hold their flowers well into fall. Forming a substantial clump (four feet wide and equally as tall) is a passalong from a generous friend. From a few cuttings of this heirloom chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum ‘Single Apricot Korean’), with apricot pink-tinted, daisy-like single flowers, we now have a patch of our own to share with friends. Arrayed with a single row of ray flowers encircling the nectar-rich cadmium yellow disk florets, the Korean daisy is host to sundry late on-the-wing pollinators, including butterflies, bees, and beetles. The form is loose and lovely; opposite in appearance to that of the ubiquitous blobs of mums commonly seen in autumn.
Chrysanthemum ‘Emperor of China’ begins its lovely tableau in mid-fall and continues to bloom through the first hard frost. Plum rose with silvery highlights, the quills shade paler toward the outer margins. When the plant is in full bloom, the rich green foliage shifts colors to vibrant hues of bronze and scarlet red. The ‘Emperor of China’ exudes a delicious lemon-spice fragrance noticeable from some distance.
As with asters, it is helpful to pinch the tips of each shoot to encourage branching and more blossoms. Repeat this process at each four- to six- inch stage of new growth until the middle of July, or when the buds begin to develop. ‘Emperor of China’ is hardy through zone six and thrives in full sun to light shade in well-drained soil. This cultivar forms a 2 and 1/2′ mound in only a few years. Give the plant a top dressing of compost and mulch after the first hard frost.
An ancient variety of chrysanthemum originating from China, the ‘Emperor of China’ resembles and is thought to be the chrysanthemum depicted in early Chinese paintings. Chrysanthemums are also grown for their medicinal properties, and their purported magic juices were an important ingredient in the life-prolonging elixir of the Daoist. Fragrant chrysanthemum tea was considered good for the health, and tonic wine was brewed from an infusion of their petals.
Chrysanthemum tea is a tisane made from dried chrysanthemum flowers. The flowers are steeped in boiling water for several minutes, and rock sugar or honey is often added to heighten the sweet aroma. Popular throughout East Asia, chrysanthemum tea is usually served with a meal. In the tradition of Chinese medicine, the tisane is a “cooling” herb and is recommended for a variety of ailments including influenza, circulatory disorders, sore throats, and fever.
Although thought to be rich in healing properties and lovely in form, a more modest well-being was conferred by the vigorous blossoming of the chrysanthemum. Perhaps the late flowering chrysanthemum suggests their connection to a long life, for other plants have finished flowering just as the chrysanthemums begin.
The techniques for learning to paint the orchid, bamboo, plum blossom, and chrysanthemum comprise the basis of Chinese flower and bird painting. They are referred to as “The Four Gentlemen” and are thought to symbolize great intellectual ideas. The orchid is serene and peaceful, though sophisticated and reserved from the world. Bamboo is vigorous and survives throughout the seasons, forever growing upright. The plum blossom expresses yin-yang dualities of delicate and hardy, blooming through snow and ice to herald the arrival of spring. Chrysanthemums continue to flower after a frost, are self-sufficient, and require no assistance in propagating themselves.
China owes its astonishing wealth of plant life to a combination of geographical incidents. The mountains escaped the ravages of the great ice caps and unlike much of Europe and North America, where many plants were wiped out, plant species in China continued to evolve. Additionally, the foothills of the Himalayas are moistened by soft winds from the south, creating an ideal climate for alpine plants. In this warm and moderate environment three different floras– that of the colder, drier north; that of the sub-tropical south; and that of the alpine species—all mingled and crossed freely for thousands of years.
Ernest Wilson, one of the world’s greatest plant hunters, was not the first collector to explore this botanical paradise, but his determined efforts to push through to remote areas led him to the “richest temperate flora of the world.” From 1899 to 1911, Ernest “Chinese” Wilson sent the seeds of more than 1,500 different plants to the United States and England. Altogether his collection numbered 65,000 plants, representing about 5,000 species, all gathered from the wild. Through his exploration, and the work of the nurseries for which he collected, more than a thousand plants were established for Western cultivation. Despite the wealth of flora collected by Ernest Wilson and his fellow plant hunters, Chinese gardens remained wholly unaffected. Although shiploads of plants were sent to London, St. Petersburg, Paris, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chinese horticulturists continued to develop plants their ancestors had loved and that had long since been domesticated. The tradition of conferring qualities of morality to plants and plants’ allegorical to intellectual ideas made the newly collected wild plants unsuitable for the Chinese garden.
The love of flowers was and continues to be a passion among the Chinese. Trees and plants are genuinely loved as living creatures.
Enjoying flowers with tea is the best, enjoying them with conversation the second and enjoying them with wine the least. Feasts and all sorts of vulgar language are most deeply detested and resented by the spirit of the flowers. It is better to keep the mouth shut and sit still than to offend the flowers. —from a Ming Dynasty treatise on flowers Walters Art Museum
The idea that flowers can be offended by bad manners reflects the belief that the world we inhabit is an organism in which all phenomena interrelate. By the same reasoning, someone who drinks tea from a peach-shaped pot will live longer (peaches symbolize longevity), and someone who dips his writing brush in a peony-shaped bowl will have good fortune, as the peony is a metaphor for success and wealth.
Several passages from above were excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! (David R. Godine, Publisher).
October 19, 2010 § Leave a Comment
“…There is a secret charm which binds us to these haunts of the water spirits. The spot is filled with the music of the falling water. Its echoes pervade the air, and beget a kind of dreamy revery…” —Andrew Jackson Downing
Book Review: Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design
I was more than delighted to receive a copy of the exquisite book Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design from Sue Ramin, the publicist at my publisher, David R. Godine. Richly illuminated with drawings, watercolors, and engravings, Godine has joined with the Morgan Library and Museum and the Foundation for Landscape Studies to produce this sweeping and superbly researched survey of the development of the Romantic movement in landscape design in Europe and America. This beautiful and beautifully written scholarly, yet accessible, book will become a highly valued resource for landscape designers, architects, landscape architects, historians and students of the Romantic movement. And, as do all Godine books, Romantic Gardens makes for a treasured and thoughtful gift. The book was written to accompany the exhibition Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design held at the Morgan Library and Museum during the summer of 2010. The authors Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Elizabeth Eustis, and John Bidwell co-curated the exhibit.
Drawn from the Morgan’s holdings of manuscripts, drawings, and rare books, from the collections of the authors Rogers and Eustis, and from collections across the nation, Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design features approximately one hundred and fifty texts, outstanding works of art, plan drawings, and photographs providing an overview of ideas championed by the Romantics and also actualized by them in private estates and public parks in Europe and the United States. Notable are the plan drawing and early photographs of Olmstead and Vaux’s winning Entry No. 33 of Central Park, a J.W. Winder photograph of Adolphe Strauch’s Spring Grove Cemetery, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, and several Frederic Edwin Church landscape vistas in oil, including a view of Olana, Church’s estate overlooking the Hudson River. Elizabeth Eustis writes about Church’s Eden, “…Olana was truly envisioned by Church. Three decades of his devotion resulted in an environmental version of the Romantic Gesamtkunstwerk, integrating architecture, decoration, and landscape to fully engage the senses, emotion, and spirit. Church opened the view, set the house in an expansive lawn, and laid out more than five miles of drives curving through the estate.” By 1860 Church had become the most famous painter in America and with his Olana he could …“make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio.” Eustis writes, “He resisted the gaudy flower beds and subtropical foliage plantings that by this time had come to rival the divinized nature garden aesthetic and instead planted thousands of trees.”
So that you may share a bit more in the experience of the exquisite writing found in Romantic Gardens, the following is a brief excerpt from the conclusion of Roger’s erudite introductory essay “The Genius of the Place” The Romantic Landscape, 1700-1900.
“The fact that space and time are unbounded and infinite is still difficult for the human mind to comprehend. Romanticism can therefore be seen as the search for the divine in the boundlessness of the firmament and belief in nature as eternal and God-ordained, a bulwark against despair over the darkness-bracketed transience of life.
“…. In Romantic painting the landscape itself became the subject, not merely the background or the setting. The works of Turner, Friedrich, and Church bespeak the sublimity of sky and distant horizon. By such means Romantic art elevates the mind and heart to something approaching joy, peace, and an intuitive appreciation of the divine in the face of the unfathomable immensity and mystery of the universe.
“Nature as both place and space is the medium and the compass in Romantic landscape design. Revealing the “genius of the place” accords nature particularity and personality. The eighteenth-century Romantic designers did not treat space as a tabula rasa, a neutral ground plane on which to plant vegetation in geometric shapes and alignments, as was the case in the seventeenth century. Because of its more practical objectives and domestic sphere of activity, landscape design, unlike painting and poetry, cannot incorporate rugged peaks, vertiginous deeps, or crashing waterfalls—hallmarks of the Sublime. Nevertheless, landscape design is Romantic in its mood-evoking treatment of space, allying itself with nature, obscuring boundaries, and reaching for what lies beyond. We can therefore appreciate Central Park’s seemingly unbounded acres of green spaciousness not only as playing fields, but also as Olmstead intended, an illusion of unrestricted nature fostering a relaxed dreaminess and democratic sociability.”
Elizabeth Barlow Rogers is a scholar, educator, author, and was the founding president of the Central Park Conservatory. She is currently the president of the Foundation for Landscape Studies, which publishes the journal Site/Lines. Elizabeth Eustis is an author, adjunct curator at the New York Botanical Garden library, and teaches at the Landscape Institute at the Boston Architectural College. John Bidwell is Astor Curator and department head of Printed Books and Bindings at the Morgan Library.
A note about Andrew Jackson Downing (see above): Considered the first Romantic hero of American horticulture, Downing was a nurseryman and horticulturist from Newburgh, New York. As editor of The Horticulturist, he became the leading advocate for home gardening, village improvement societies, agricultural education, public parks (including a central park in New York City and a national park in Washington, D.C.). In the above quote from Romantic Gardens (page 157), Downing is describing the Ravine Walk at Blithewood in the The Horticulturist (1847), with illustrations by Alexander Jackson Davis.
Romantic Gardens, Nature, Art, and Landscape Design
Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Elizabeth Eustis, John Bidwell
David R. Godine, Publisher
ISBN: 978 1 56792 404 6
Available through your local bookseller, David R. Godine, and Amazon.
October 19, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Definition of Gesamtkunstwerk from wiki: (translated as total work of art, ideal work of art, universal artwork, synthesis of the arts, comprehensive artwork, all-embracing art form, or total artwork) is a work of art that makes use of all or many art forms or strives to do so. The term is a German word, which has come to be accepted in English.The term was first used by the writer and philosopher K.F.E. Trahndorff in an essay in 1827. The German opera compose Richard Wagnerr used the term in an 1849 essay. It is unclear whether Wagner knew of Trahndorff’s essay. The word has become particularly associated with Wagner’s aesthetic ideals.
Definition of Gesamtkunstwerk from Artnet: [Ger.: complete, unified or total work of art].Term first used by Richard Wagner in Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (1849) to describe his concept of a work of art for the stage, based on the ideal of ancient Greek tragedy, to which all the individual arts would contribute under the direction of a single creative mind in order to express one overriding idea. However, the term is applied retrospectively to projects in which several art forms are combined to achieve a unified effect, for example Roman fora, Gothic cathedrals and some Baroque churches and palazzi.
July 28, 2010 § 2 Comments
One of the most elegant butterflies to grace our garden, the Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis astyanax), is one of two races that comprise the Red-spotted Admirals, the other being the White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis arthemis). Red-spotted Admirals should not be confused with Red Admirals, which are a member of the Vanessa genus. I hope you are not totally confused at this point, but if you look at the binominal nomenclature, or scientific name (see below), it will help you see that, although distinctively different in appearance, both the White Admiral and the Red-spotted Purple are members of the same genus and species. For many years zoologists thought they were two distinct species. It is a wonder of biology that a single species has such different appearances for its survival strategies. With this delightful stretch of warm weather, almost daily, I catch a glimpse, or two, of this most richly hued and unusual of butterflies.
The average wingspan of the Red-spotted Admiral is approximately three inches. The White Admiral has a distinctive wide white band on both the forward and hind wings, and on both the dorsal (upperwing) and ventral (underwing) surface. In the Red-spotted Purple, the white band is replaced with a band of iridescent lapis lazuli blue scales. It has evolved to mimic the highly distasteful Pipevine Swallowtail. Red-spotted Purples are found in greater numbers than White Admirals in the eastern part of Massachusetts. The opposite holds true for the western part of the state.
Purportedly, Red-spotted Purples are seen feeding primarily on rotting fruit, sap, and dung— infrequently at flowers—however, I see them nectaring often, and for long periods of time, at flowers. They are particularly fond of butterfly bushes, meadowsweet, Marsh Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and Joe Pye-weed.
Hostplants for the Red-spotted Admirals are extremely varied. Both races use cherries, including Chokecherry (Prunus virginiaina), Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Pin Cherry (Prunus pennsylvanica), plum (Prunus), apple (Malus), poplars, cottonwood, aspens, willows (Salix), birches, (Betula), hawthorn (Cratageous), basswood (Tilia), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and serviceberry (Amelanchier). The female oviposits a single egg on the upper surface at the tip of a fresh hostplant leaf. Our postage-tamp of a garden is much too small for the aforementioned larger trees, and too shady to grow healthy Prunus and Malus, so I am experimenting with a multi-stemmed Shadbush (Amelanchier canadensis), which I plan to keep pruned to a manageable shrub-size.
Amelanchier’s common names of Shadbush, or Shadblow, are derived from the fact that they bloom at the same time of year as the annual spawning migration of the shad fish. One of the most beautiful sights of early spring is the lacey white blooms of the Shadblow dotting woodland and roadside. Amelenchier canandensis is also called Canada Serviceberry, because of its delectably sweet blueberry-sized berries. You would be lucky to actually sample a berry. In our garden, the bluejays, catbirds, and mockingbirds are first in line. Naturally occurring in moist woodlands, shadblow is highly adaptable to a variety of soils. It can tolerate some dry conditions, but only when once established. Keep very well-hydrated until very well-established.
I am off to Tanglewood, which is located in western Massachusetts, to visit our daughter. With camera in tow, I am hoping to see a White Admiral!
P.S. Although while in Tanglewood we did not spot a White Admiral , we did observe a Viceroy in a wildflower meadow. The Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) is one of four North American species of admirals in the genus Limenitis.
Kingdom: Anilmalia (Animal)
Phylum: Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Class: Insecta (Insects)
Order: Lepidoptera (Butterflies, skippers, and moths)
Superfamily: Papilionoidea (Butterflies, excluding skippers)
Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed butterflies)
Subfamily: Limenitidinae (Admirals and Kin)
Species: White Admiral: arthemis arthemis
Species: Red-spotted Purple: arthemis astyanax
End Note: I am organizing a new show for Cape Ann TV and will be appearing on the Cape Ann Report with Heidi Dallin on Wednesday, August 4th at 6:00 pm to talk about it. More information will be forthcoming. Kim Smith Designs is my interior and garden design firm. I am happy to respond to questions and comments.
June 18, 2010 § 1 Comment
Common Milkweed ~ Asclepias syriaca
Recently a friend inquired that if I had to choose one native New England plant to grow to attract butterflies to the garden, which would it be, and why. It was a challenging question because butterflies are typically drawn to the garden planted with a rich and varied, yet very specific, combination of species. A successful Lepidoptera habitat is comprised of many elements all working in tandem. Sunny and protected areas in which to warm their wings, trees and shrubs that provide shelter, and a host of nectar plants for the adults, as well as specific caterpillar food plants, create the successful Lepidoptera garden.
Perhaps if I had to choose a favorite butterfly and therefore a favorite plant to grow to drawthis butterfly to my garden it would have to be common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which is both a larval host plant and nectar plant for the elegant Monarch butterfly. People often speak unkindly about common milkweed, rather I think it deserves applause for it is plant without rue and thrives wherever found—in the cracks of city sidewalks and along country roadsides, highly-trafficked soccer fields, and in the most neglected of neighborhoods. Whether in the garden, along the shoreline, or local meadow, it is on the foliage of common milkweed that we find the vast majority of Monarch eggs and caterpillars. Noteworthy also is that we observe many different species of butterflies and skippers nectaring at common milkweed—sulphurs, swallowtails, and fritillaries, to name but a few. In our garden we grow common milkweed alongside marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata); marsh milkweed blooms slightly earlier than common milkweed as it is sited in a sunnier locale. Both species attract a wide variety of winged pollinators. Male and female Monarchs nectar from the blossoms, while the males simultaneously patrol for females. The females utilize the foliage of both species to oviposit their eggs. Typically we observe females freely flitting alternatively between our common and marsh milkweed, depositing their eggs on the choicest leaves and buds, while pausing frequently to nectar.
The milky sap that flows through milkweed veins lends the genus its common name. Monarch butterflies and their caterpillars have evolved to withstand the toxic milk, but not the predatory bird that attempts to eat one. The adult Monarch’s unique wing pattern and caterpillar’s striped suit warn of its dreadful taste and lethal toxins. A bird that is tempted becomes sick and may even die, and if it survives, remembers never again to try to eat a Monarch. “The larvae sequester cardiac glycosides from the milkweed leaves that they consume. Concentrations of these heart toxins in their bodies may be several times higher than those occurring in milkweed leaves. The glycosides consumed by the caterpillars are carried forward both into the chrysalis and adult stages, affording them protection as well.” (Caterpillars of North America David L. Wagner).
Common milkweed is highly adaptable and grows in nearly any soil. The size of the developing colonies and individual plants reflect the conditions in which it is grown. Planted in a rich, moist soil, protected from the wind and where it receives some light shade, it will grow six to seven feet. I use it extensively in my butterfly garden designs, planting in rich, average, and dry conditions, and find it especially appealing and useful for shoreline gardens. In sandy soil, sand dunes, and meadows, where it is exposed to wind and/or salt spray, common milkweed is equally as vigorous, but of a much shorter stature, typically obtaining the height of two to three feet.
A. syriaca thrives in full sun to light shade. In a moist, protected area, plant in the back of the border. In a more exposed site, plant in the mid-ground. Because of its ability to spread readily and rapidly, use in an informal, natural setting as opposed to planting in formal beds.
Common milkweed is highly fragrant and is the most richly scented of the species of milkweeds found in Massachusetts (A. incarnata, A. syriaca, A. quadrifolia, A. tuberosa, A. amplexicaulis, A. exaltata, A. pupurascens, and A. verticillata), with a complex wild flower honey fragrance. I have heard it described as similar to the scent of lilacs, but find lilacs have a much sweeter fragrance than common milkweed. Fragrance is highly mutable and subjective.
One- to two-year-old plants are easier to transplant than established plants. Common milkweed takes approximately three years to flower from seed. The method in which I have had the greatest success in propagating Asclepias syriaca, best attempted in early summer, is to dig up a rhizome, found at the base of a plant with newly emerging shoots. The rhizome would ideally be obtained from a friend’s garden. If collected in the wild, be sure to dig from an area where there are many shoots present. You need a fairly large chunk, at least a half-foot, with both roots and new shoots present. Replant the rhizome at the same depth. Water throughout the summer. Towards the end of the growing season you will be rewarded with newly emerging shoots. Common milkweed self-seeds readily, but spreads primarily (and rambunctiously) by its rhizomatic root structure.
Milkweed in general, and in particular, common milkweed, attracts a host of pollinators—bees, wasps, butterflies, and purportedly hummingbirds. I have yet to see the Ruby-throated hummingbird nectar from common milkweed, but it may also be the case that they are attracted to the plant for the multitude of tiny insect populations frequenting the flowers (over ninety percent of a Ruby-throated hummingbird’s diet is comprised of insects). We typically findMonarch eggs and caterpillars on milkweed plants during the months of July and August.
Buddleia davidii ’Nanho Blue,’ with blue-violet racemes, melds beautifully with the muted lavender rose florets of the softly drooping flower heads of common milkweed. The brilliant white of native Phlox davidii and vivid purple-pink of Liatris ligulistylus attractively offsets both. All are famously attractive to Monarchs (and myriad other species of Lepidoptera) and will provide a long season of nectar-rich blossoms and Monarch caterpillar food.
A note about the video: Monarch butterflies deposit eggs on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in eastern Massachusetts. The chrysalis in this video was attached to a marsh milkweed stem. For a wealth of information on butterfly gardening, read Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
June 1, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Tales of the Rose Tree
Ravishing Rhododendrons and Their Travels Around the World
Tales of the Rose Tree (written by Jane Brown) was sent to me by the lovely Sue Ramin from my publisher’s office (David R. Godine). Beautifully written and amply illustrated with paintings, photographs, and botanical illustrations, Jane Brown’s Tales of the Rose Tree achieves what she set out to do, and then some—“to construct a history of the genus Rhododendron that pays tribute to the mystery and majesty of these plants.” Every lover of gardens and garden history will want to own Brown’s richly researched and sumptuous celebration of a genus that, in some form or another, nearly everyone grows in their backyard, but about which most know very little.
Jane Brown, the English garden writer whose works include Gardens of a Golden Afternoon (the story of the partnership of Edward Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll), Lutyens and the Edwardians, and biographies of Vita Sackville-West and Beatrix Farrand, writes that “Rhododendrons are a race of giants on a global scale, at home in the snows of the Himalayas and the swamps of Carolina, in the jungles of Borneo and the island inlets of Japan. They are too complex a genus of single truths, and many of the 1,025 species that we know are of a manageable size, for all azaleas are rhododendrons…”
The first rhododendrons came into Western gardens during the working life of Carl von Linné, the Swedish naturalist we know as Linnaeus, who conjured the genus name from Greek rhodon (rose) and dendron (tree) to create rhododendron. China claims as natives over half the species; her southwestern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan and the Autonomous Region of Tibet are especially rich in rhododendrons. “That some species are given geographical names—sinogrande, bhutanese, afghanicum, caucasicum, ponticum, or dauricum—reveals that they have evolved especially in response to their particular habits, and yet these names string a necklace of rhododendrons across Eurasia. Others can be added, carolinianum, californicum, canadense, japonicum, to extend the necklet around the earth.”
Brown asks for what reason the similarities? It was the American botanist Asa Gray (1810 -1888) who, in frequent correspondence with Charles Darwin, suggested an answer. In 1859 Gray published his conclusions on the similarities between the flora of Japan and eastern North America, suggesting “before the glacial epoch the flora of the North Temperate Zone had been relatively homogenous, extending in a more or less undisrupted belt across North America and Eurasia.” Rhododendrons, being tough survivors of some 50 million years, had happily circled the globe during this time. Gray further proposed that with the advances of the glaciers, temperate flora was pushed southwards; when the ice finally retreated other complications—“mountain building in particular”—made life difficult for the rhododendrons trying to regain their former territory. Remaining communities found they had to adapt and recolonise, or die. But in eastern North America and eastern Asia (including the great Plain of China), Gray further suggested the ancient flora had survived or was able to recolonise without drastic change: “thus the similar flora in the two regions today constitutes relics of the preglacial flora that once encircled the globe.”
Native to the east coast of the United States, the Marydel Coast Azalea (Rhododendron atlanticum ‘Marydel’), seen here growing in our Gloucester garden, has a fabulous fragrance of sweetness and of spice.
In a thoroughly entertaining and often humorous manner, Brown tells numerous stories, including tales of Quaker John Bartram (1699-1777), the first native-born American to devote his entire life to the study of nature, along with his son William’s (1739-1823) rhododendron collecting and travels of thousands of miles with native American Indians as their hosts in the floral wonderland that was America. Brown’s beautiful book brings to light the curious history of Westerners and rhododendrons as one of swashbuckling plant collectors and visionary gardeners, colonial violence and ecological destruction, stunning botanical successes and bitter business disappointments.
In Tales of the Rose Tree, Jane Brown lists Heritage Plantation in Sandwich as one of the best places in America to find rhododendrons. I am more intrigued than ever to see their collection, and would add too that the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain has a stunning collection of species rhododendrons from temperate regions around the globe, including many North American species of rhododendrons.
Heritage Museums & Gardens and The Thornton Burgess Society co-present the Cape Cod Rhododendron Festival on June 4 & 5 from 10am until 4pm each day.
This two-day celebration of rhododendrons features private garden visits, hybridizing rhododendron demonstrations, a rare rhododendron auction, exhibits, authors & book signings, plant sale, horticulture lectures by Kim Smith, Sharon Ackland, Mal Condon, Irwin Ehrenreich, Paul Miskovsky and Larry Pannell and so much more!
For more information or to purchase tickets, please contact Arlene Hoxie at (508) 888-3300 ext. 111 or email at email@example.com.
May 31, 2010 § 5 Comments
Last weekend after giving my talk on gardening for fragrance at the Wenhmam Museum, Elizabeth Hourihan from Carpenter and MacNeille, Yvonne of Yvonne Blacker Interiors, Pat and Leon from Finn-Martens Design, and I walked across the street to the charming Wenham Teahouse. The company was as enjoyable as was the lunch delicious!
The front walkway leading to the Teahouse is bordered by flowering perennials and seasonal blooms. Unfortunately, the Oriental lilies, which I imagine were planted for their welcoming fragrance, were in the process of being decimated by the red lily leaf devil. I began to hand pick the beetles, but then thought better of it…I didn’t want my friends to think I was over-the-top obsessed nor to walk into the dining establishment with squished red lily beetle all over my hands. If you do not vigilantly destroy the adult beetle, their larvae, and eggs, the red lily beetle will destroy all the leaves and buds of your favorite lilies. To my utter dismay, just last week, I saw one on the leaf of my beautiful native Turk’s-cap lily (Lilium superbum).
While at a local nursery, a woman came in asking the salesperson what poison to purchase to spray to rid her garden of the red lily beetle. I never tire of bending people’s ears to let them know that when you spray pesticides in the garden, pesticides of any kind, you are killing not only the pest, but all the beneficial insects as well. With early hand monitoring of red lily beetles, Japanese beetles, aphids, and what-not, you will not have to resort to spraying pesticides. I wrote the following information nearly seven years ago and am only too happy to pass along:
This past growing season the dreaded red lily beetle attacked our lilies. I had heard innumerable reports from fellow gardeners of this nasty import with its voracious appetite for lily foliage and wasn’t too surprised when evidence of them began appearing on several choice Oriental lilies. The adults chew noticeable round holes in the foliage. The growing larvae decimate the leaves and the flower buds. About 3/8-inch in length, the beetles are bright cadmium red with thin black legs. Because they have no known predators in North America and because of their extended egg-laying season, from spring through summer, they are difﬁcult to control. As soon as you see signs of the beetle (be on the lookout as early as the ﬁrst of April), monitor the plants daily. Squash any beetles that are visible. They are quick, and you have to be quicker. Next check the undersides of the leaves for the following three signs: glistening, miniscule reddish orangish eggs (usually, arrayed in a tiny line), their vile black, gloppy excrement, under which is concealed a growing larger larvae, and hiding adult beetles. Destroy the leaves that are hosting the larvae. The only way to maintain attractive lilies throughout the season is by constant vigilance, handpicking the beetles and their larvae in all stages. (Pages 155-156 Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! David R. Godine, Publisher).
I would add to the preceeding, that, with early monitoring, you will make a dramatic impact on the life cycle of the red lily beetle, and controlling them therefore does become easier as the season unfolds–but don’t let your guard down–especially if you have, as do we, lilies that come into bloom throughout the summer. When I say “they are quick, so you must be quicker;” the beetles are very devilish and will easily slip out of your hands before you have a chance to squish them. Approach the beetle cautiously (fortunately so, you will often capture two at once, because they are constantly mating). Place one hand under the leaf to catch it, before it falls into the leaf debris at the base of the plant. Once the beetle falls to the ground, it displays its black underside and is very difficult to see to retrieve.
May 28, 2010 § Leave a Comment
The Fragrant Garden
Located on the southeast side of our home is the primary pathway, which we walk up and down many times in the course of the day. We built the path using bricks from a pile of discarded chimney bricks. Ordinarily I would not recommend chimney bricks, as they are ﬁred differently from paving bricks and are therefore less sturdy. We laid the brick in a herring bone pattern and luckily they have held without cracking and splitting. The warm red tones of the brick complement the creamy yellow clapboards of the house. A tightly woven brick path is a practical choice for a primary path as it helps keep mud out of the home.
Planted alongside the house walls and on the opposing side of the path, in close proximity to our neighbor’s fence, are the larger plantings of Magnolia virginiana, ‘Dragon Lady hollies,’ Syringa, Philadelphus, and semi-dwarf fruiting trees, Prunus and Malus. Weaving through the background tapestry of foliage and ﬂowers are fragrant ﬂowering vines and rambling roses. These include the most richly scented cultivars of honeysuckle and Bourbon roses. Viburnum carlcephalum, butterﬂy bushes, meadowsweet, New Jersey tea, and Paeonia rockii comprise a collection of mid-size shrubs. They, along with perennials, bulbs, and annuals—narcissus, tulips, iris, herbaceous peonies, lavender, Russian sage, lilies, and chrysanthemums —are perfect examples of fragrant plants growing at mid-level. Closer to the ground is a carpet of scented herbs, full and abundant and spilling onto the brick walkway. The length of our pathway is lined with aromatic alpine strawberries, thyme, and sweet alyssum. This most sunny area in our garden permits us to grow a variety of kitchen herbs. The foliage of the herbs releases their scents when brushed against. Including herbs in the ﬂower borders provides an attractive and practical addition to the fragrant garden.
The fragrances are held within by the house and neighboring fence and the living perfumes of ﬂowers and foliage are noticeable throughout the growing season. All the plants are immediately available to see, touch, and smell. The intimate aspects of the garden are revealed by the close proximity of plantings along a much-used garden path.
When selecting plants for a fragrant garden, it is not wise to assume that just because your Mom had sublimely scented peonies growing in her garden, all peonies will be as such. This simply is not the case. Take the time to investigate nurseries and arboretums during plants’ blooming period and read as much literature as possible. There is an abundance of information to be gleaned and sifted through to ﬁnd the most richly scented version of a plant. When seeking a fragrant cultivar, one may ﬁnd that it is usually an older variety, one that has not had scent replaced for an improbable color, convenient size, or double blossoms by a well-meaning hybridizer. And despite our best effort to ﬁnd the most richly scented version, there will be disappointments along the way, as fragrance is highly mutable. Soil conditions and climate play their role, and some plants simply don’t perform as advertised.
A well-thought-out pathway looks inviting when seen from the street and the fragrance beckons the visitor to enter. The interwoven scents emanating from an array of sequentially blooming ﬂowers and aromatic foliage create a welcoming atmosphere. Have you noticed your garden is more fragrant after a warm summer shower or on a day when the morning fog has lifted? Scented ﬂowers are sweetest when the air is temperate and full of moisture. Plant your garden of fragrance to reﬂect the time of year when you will most often be in the garden to enjoy your hard work.
There are few modern gardens planted purely for fragrance. Maybe this is because there is now a tremendous variety of appealing plant material, offered by growers to eager gardeners ready to purchase what is visually enticing, by color and by size. Perhaps it is so because in the past fragrant plantings served the function of disguising unpleasant odors from outhouses and farmyards, and we no longer have to address these concerns. But the pendulum has begun to swing (albeit slowly) toward planting a garden designed for fragrance. Scent, along with rhythm, scale, harmony in color, and form, should ideally be an equal component in garden design. Plant scented ﬂowering shrubs under windows and close to and around the porch. Plant fragrant vines to climb up the walls near window sashes that will be open in the summertime. Plant scented white ﬂowering plants near to where you might brush against them while dining al fresco or to embower a favorite garden spot designed for rest and rejuvenation.
“True vespertine ﬂowers are those that withhold their sweetness from day and give it freely at night. “(Louise Beebe Wilder). Imagine the dreamlike enchantment of the fragrant path through the night garden. The vibrantly colored ﬂowers have vanished. All that you will see are the white and palest shades of pink, yellow, and lavender ﬂowers reﬂecting the moonlight. Perhaps you will have the breathtaking experience of an encounter with a Lunar moth. Syringa vulgaris ‘Beauty of Moscow,’ Madonna lily, Philadelphus, Japanese honeysuckle, Lilium regale, Nicotianna alata, Oriental lily, tuberose, night phlox, peacock orchid, Stephanotis ﬂoribunda, gardenia, Jasminum sambac, Angel’s trumpet, and moonﬂowers are but a few of the white ﬂowers with exotic night-scents for an entrancing sleeping garden.
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
— J o h n K e a t s ( 1 7 9 5 – 1 8 2 1 )
Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! (David R. Godine, Publisher)
May 26, 2010 § Leave a Comment
“Scent is the oxidation of essential oils of ﬂowers and leaves. The most intensely scented ﬂowers, lily of-the-valley, orange blossoms, gardenia, Stephanotis ﬂoribunda, and tuberose, for example, have thick, velvet-like petals that retain their fragrance by preventing the essential oils from evaporating.
The greater the amount of essential oil produced, the lesser degree of pigmentation in a ﬂower. The oil is the result of the transformation of chlorophyll into tannoid compounds (or pigments), which is in inverseratio to the amount of pigment in a ﬂower. Plants with blue, orange, and red ﬂowers have a high degree of pigmentation and usually generate little or no scent. Pure white ﬂowers release the strongest perfume, followed by creamy white, pale pink, pale yellow, yellow, purple-pink and purple. As color pigment is hybridized and intensiﬁed in ﬂowers, fragrance is usually lost or compromised.” -Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
May 24, 2010 § Leave a Comment
It was my joy to give the lecture, held at the Wenham Museum’s North Shore Design Show, on gardening for fragrance. Thank you to Lindsay, Yvonne, Leon, Pauline, Elizabeth, Julie, Lisa, Sandra, Polly, Eliza, and everyone else whose name I did not get, for your interest and great questions.
No garden planted for fragrance would be complete without growing moon vine. Plant moonflowers and cypress vines in late May and early June for September blossoms. Moon vine will give you dreamily-scented late summer nights and cardinal climber will provide nectar for southward migrating Ruby-throated hummingbirds
“You can tell in the afternoon which buds will open that night. In the South, where I used to live, it was the custom to keep an eye on the moon vine, and when sixty or so buds showed they would open that night, to ask people over to watch them. Unfortunately, people in the country talk so much that I cannot recall seeing the buds open very often. They tremble and vibrate when they open. Usually someonewould say “the ﬂowers are out,” and everyone would run over to admire them, then back to jabbering.
Equally festive is the night-blooming cereus. In our neighborhood there lived an old cereus in a tub. It was ninety-seven years old, the last time I saw it, and produced 120 ﬂowers open at once. When it bloomed (and you can tell by afternoon which buds will open) its proud owner would phone round the neighbors and there would be punch or champagne (rather dangerous in hot weather) and cucumber sandwiches for reﬁned persons, and ham and potato salad for mere mortals. These parties, once such a feature of the American summer, were always spontaneous, since you only had a few hours to plan them and invite people. It was always astonishing to see how many people could come at the last minute.”
— Henry Mitchell ~ The Essential Earthman
Perhaps this is the summer we will have our first moon vine party–and I will provide tea sandwiches for my refined friends and ham and potato salad for we mere mortals. What fun to imagine. Grow cardinal climber and moon vine together for a delightful combination of delicately toothed and bold heart-shaped leaves–day flowering red trumpets for the hummingbirds and night blooming sweetly scented blossoms for you.
*Logees Greenhouse carries night-blooming cereus (Epiphyllum oxypetalum).
May 9, 2010 § 1 Comment
No ﬂower amid the garden fairer grows
Than the sweet lily of the lowly vale,
The queen of ﬂowers. — John Keats (1795-1821)
With its incomparable perfume and snow-white ﬂowers issuing forth in the bright hopeful season of spring, the lily of-the-valley has long been associated in literature with sweetness and the return of happiness.
The lily of-the-valley, known also as May lily and May bells, is native to northern Europe, the Allegheny Mountains of North America, and the British Isles. Between a pair of unfurling new-green leaves emerges a diminutive arching scape, covered in dangling pure white chubby bells. Their fabulous fragrance ﬂoats freely throughout the garden, unusual for a plant that grows close to the ground.
Beloved wherever it is grown, for its ineffable scent and sweet ﬂowers, the lily of-the-valley is used extensively for perfumes, soaps, and toilet water, nowhere more so than in Europe. The French translation is muguet des bois (of the wood), the German trans-lation is mit Maiglockchen, the Italian al mughetto, the Spanish say lirio del valle, the Finnish translation is lehmakielo, and the Swedish say liljekonvalj.
Convallaria majalis is the native species of northern Europe. The name Convallaria is from two Latin words meaning “with” and “valley,” having reference to its habit of growing on mountain slopes. C. majuscula is the species indigenous to North America. Convallaria majuscula is found growing in remote woodland locations, along the mountainsides and ridges of Virginia, West Virginia, and south to Georgia. C. majuscula is nearly identical to C. majalis, with slightly smaller though equally fragrant ﬂowers.
Lily of-the-valley is a vigorous perennial ground cover with a rhizomatic root structure that grows and spreads quickly. Thriving in nearly every light condition save full sun, lily of-the-valley never disappoints. Light, fertile, and preferably damp soil is the preferred growing medium of C. majalis. Provided with an annual mulch of compost or decaying leaves, lily of-the-valley multiplies rapidly. With its cold hardiness, ability to spread readily, and pervasively fragrant blossoms it is incomparable as a ground cover. The one drawback of lily of-the-valley is that, come late August, the foliage browns and becomes tattered. Grow with late season blooming perennials and bulbs, Japanese anemones and peacock orchids, for example, to draw your eye up and away from the messy foliage.
Set the pips, or bulblets, three inches deep and about four inches apart in a well-prepared bed. Water during dry periods and fertilize with ﬁsh fertilizer throughout the ﬁrst season after planting to encourage strong root development. After it has become well established, the plant is easily propagated. A freshly dug clump, as a whole unit, can either be transferred and replanted in a newly dug and well-prepared location, or the bulblets can be carefully divided and spread more judiciously, allowing for a small section of roots for each one or two pips. Plunge a serrated-edge knife deeply into the ground. Cut out a plug six to eight inches in diameter. Reﬁll the hole created by digging the clump with compost. Lily of-the-valley will soon recover and ﬁll out the spot. Early spring and mid-fall are the best times of year to divide C. majalis, although they are not that fussy. If the plant has to be divided in the summer, water regularly to prevent the new division from drying out while becoming established in its new home. With regular thinning and transplanting, one’s extra efforts will be rewarded with an ever-increasing treasure of scented ﬂowers and sea of green groundcover, with many gifts to pass along to friends.
Not to be forgotten is the noteworthy Convallaria majalis var. rosea. Characteristic in form to the white lily of-the-vale, rosea has delicate, pendulous bells washed in shades of rosy pink. We have found it to be somewhat less hardy than Convallaria majalis.
A cautionary note is in order regarding Convallaria. All parts of the plant are highly poisonous. In old herbal guides, lily of-the-valley was recommended as a heart stimulant, and was used medicinally in ways similar to digitalis. The eyecatching, plump vermilion berries may be dangerously attractive to young children and can cause paralysis and severe respiratory disorders if ingested.
What a find this weekend!–a sweet handblown bud vase, perfect for lily of-the-valley, found amongst a tumble of dusty old perfume bottles at an antique shop in Essex. So dear –the fragrance of lily of-the valley brings delicious childhood memories of picking handfuls with my Mom at my grandmother’s garden. Happy Mother’s Day Mom!
May 9, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Dear Gardening Friends,
I hope you can participate in my upcoming gardening lectures and classes. My spring schedule is posted on the Events page.
Life is full—our daughter Olivia is graduating from Boston University next weekend, our son is working hard in school and at the job he so loves, and Tom and I both have as much work and projects as we can possibly manage—no small feat in this economy. And we have a new puppy–a tulip eating puppy! More about Miss Rosie Money Penny will be posted.
The foillowing is an excerpt from the chapter on gardening for fragrance from my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!, to coincide with the lecture I will be presenting at the North Shore Design Show “Favorite Spaces” exhibit, at 11:00 am on Saturday morning, May 22 at the Wenham Museum. For more information about the North Shore Design Show and to see their full calendar of events, follow this link: 2010 Spring Benefit.
A note about ‘Geranium’: Sweetly scented, ‘Geranium’ narcissus reliably returns year after year. For a list of fabulously fragrant jonquils and narcissus see pages 178-179 in Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!
The Fragrant Garden
A garden, a small garden especially, is made more intimate when planted with an abundance of fragrant blooms and foliage. The air impregnated with the scents of ﬂowers and foliage imbues a memorable atmosphere in the garden, playing the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, role of strengthening the ambiance we wish to create. Fragrance, elusive, emotionally colored, and so entirely related to experience, welcomes us as we walk through the pathways of our garden.
The idea of creating a fragrant garden is deeply rooted in ancient history. One of the earliest aromatic gardens was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built in the 6th century b.c. by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wife Amytes, daughter of the King of the Medes. The Greeks described these resplendent gardens, supported by stone columns with irrigated terraces. The most potently fragrant plants were grown here, and the terraces, which bloomed with lilies and roses, were favored by Queen Amytes for her walks.
The countries of the Middle East abound with an array of scented trees and plants. From historical records dating back to 2500 b.c. we know that the enclosed courtyards of the Persian palaces were planted with jasmine, fruit trees (especially oranges), hyacinth, myrtle, and jonquils. But above all other ﬂowering plants, the rose was held in the highest esteem. The Damask rose grew in nearly every garden in Syria. The country takes its name from the word Suri (a delicate rose), hence Suristan (the land of roses).
From tomb paintings and bas-reliefs we learn of gardens and the use of plants in ancient Egypt. The verdant, fertile ﬂood plain created by the annual rise and fall of the Nile, coupled with the Egyptians’ skill in engineering and irrigation, allowed a wealth of indigenous and imported fruiting trees, vines, and ﬂora to grow in abundance. One of the earliest botanic collections was that of plants and seeds brought back from Syria in approximately 1450 b.c. The images of the plants were carved on the walls of the temple of Thothmes II in Karnak. The Egyptian Papyrus Ebers (written about 1552 b.c.) describes scented plants and remedies and their methods of use. The gardens, enclosed by mud walls, were planted with aromatics and medicinal herbs. Some of the plants described include frankincense, myrrh, saffron crocus, Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), cinnamon, and orchards of pomegranates. The Egyptians were among the earliest peoples to show an appreciation for perfume. Incense and perfume were used extensively for religious and funeral rites. Fragrant oils were used to massage their bodies and concoctions of scented herbs were taken to sweeten the breath. Priests performed the daily ritual of burning fragrant woods as offerings to the gods. The wood was burnt on alters in the temples. The word “perfume,” from the Latin per, “through,” and fumun “smoke,” shows that the origin of the word lay in the burning of incense, both to ‘offer up’ the gratitude of the people to the gods for favors received, and to ask for their blessings in time of trouble. The Egyptians believed their prayers would reach the gods more quickly when wafted by the blue smoke that slowly ascended to heaven.
The Egyptians’ reverence for nature is noteworthy in their use of ﬂoral motifs in decorative ornamentation. The lotus and papyrus were by far the most prevalent, together with the daisy, palm, convolvulus, and grape vine. The ‘Blue Lotus of the Nile’ (Nymphaea stellata coerulea), a member of the water lily family, is the lotus ﬂower depicted in ancient Egyptian decorative ornamentation. The fragrance emanating from the lotus creates an intoxicating atmosphere; they have a scent similar to hyacinths. The ﬂowers are star-shaped and sky-blue with brilliant golden centers and stand several inches above the water. The lotus had an inexhaustible symbolism in ancient Egypt, Daoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism alike.
The lotus is signiﬁcant as it was the symbol of Upper Egypt. When used in ornamentation with the papyrus it symbolized the union of Upper and Lower Egypt, whose symbol was the papyrus. A well-known example of this is the soaring twin pillars that tower over the ruins at Karnak. One capital is decorated with the lotus and the other with papyrus.
The ‘Blue Lotus of the Nile’ had a deeper religious signiﬁcance. Because the lotus blooms each day, withdraws under the water at sunset, and reemerges the following morning, it was closely linked to the daily rhythm of the rising and setting of the sun and thus to the story of the sun god, creation, and rebirth. The blue petals represented the sky and the golden center the emerging sun. The lotus motif was used to decorate pottery, jewelry, clothing, and appears extensively in the decoration of the capitals of pillars and columns. A wide variety of designs using the lotus ﬂower were employed, in repeating border patterns and in alternating patterns with lotus buds or bunches of grapes. The buds ﬁt harmoniously into the curves between the ﬂowers. During the reign of Akhenaten (New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty) the lotus designs become less stylized and more freely expressed.
When thinking about the history of garden design in the context of our own gardens, we are free to determine our own personal preferences while drawing inspiration from what has come before. By following one’s intuitive powers and adhering to nature’s contours speciﬁc to an existing site, the inherent beauty of the garden can be realized. In describing our fragrant path, rather than draw for you a picture of what to grow precisely, as each individual garden setting is unique, the following are suggestions of plants for a well-orchestrated sequence of fragrant ﬂowering plants. The underlying framework would ideally be composed of as many fragrant ﬂowering and fruiting trees and shrubs as are reasonable, including an abundance of aromatic and healthful herbs. And the garden overﬂowing with scented blossoms provides you with armfuls of ﬂowers to cut and bring indoors to scent the rooms of your home.
Part Two will be posted next week.
May 6, 2010 § Leave a Comment
The bridal season has begun and the grounds are topfull of tulips and sweetly scented jonquils. While photographing with eyes and nose at flower height, I am intoxicated by the the heady perfume emanating from the narcissus and the splendorous hues and broken patterns of the shimmering satin tulip petals–and dreaming about making cocktail dresses in every colorway! Lenna (from Willowdale) and I are creating a book of garden photographs for the brides, and because all the flowers and butterflies are so gorgeous, it is a challenge to decide what photos to include. Dan Pritchard, who works for my publisher, David Godine, suggested that I post regular updates on what is currently in bloom at Wdale and I think it is a great idea. The following are a few potential candidate photographs to add to the spring section of our photo book.
The new pergola designed by Gerald Fandetti, Architect
Native dogwood (Cornus florida) with tulips
Wisteria Arbor in the Butterfly Courtyard