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October 2009

September 2009

Michael Dirr and his Noble Trees - Blithewold


Ginkgo biloba

If you ask any student in the field of Ornamental Horticulture, Landscape Architecture, or perhaps even Arboriculture which text book they use on a regular basis, they will tell you The Manuel of Woody Trees and Shrubs by Michael A. Dirr.   I acquired this book during my plant identification courses and have used it continuously since.  Rarely does a week go by when I don't check this book to verify one fact or another concerning trees or shrubs.


That said, when Michael Dirr speaks, plant lovers will listen and listen we did at his lecture on Monday at Blithewold Mansion, Garden and Arboretum, home of Kris's Blithewold blog, in Bristol, RI. 


His Monday lecture was well attended and his lecture concerned new introductions of some of the largest landscape trees used in the industry.  He discussed 'Noble Trees'.  You know, those that acquire stature, presence and individual architecture.  These are not the trees for home landscapes unless you own more than an acre. 


These are the trees of parks, open spaces and cities.  Professor Dirr is an entertaining speaker and he followed his lecture with a walking tour of the Blithewold property which is home to some of the largest specimens of 'Noble Trees' in New England. 


He has boundless enthusiasm for his subject matter and he often crawled under a canopy


or marched into the border to grab a leaf for emphasis and identification. 


Michael Dirr with his NBF, Kris on the right and Gail over his shoulder

His uniform is our uniform and while he looks like one of us (gardeners, plant geeks, lovers of nature ) with his baseball cap and practical footwear, his mind is the Library of Congress when it comes to plant identification and information.    Trees are so often just background, observed yet unseen in detail.  I am guilty of checking out this view


at the expense of walking up to the trees and looking at their components, structure, bark, leaves and overall presence.  I am a lover of trees but I will look at them a bit more closely because of Professor Dirr's lecture. 


Sequoiadendron giganteum-planted in the 1930's

It is a gift when someone teaches you to see anew what is right there in front of you.    Do you see the trees on your street or in your local park?  What are their names?


The harvest


Last weekend was a great one for gardening.  I finally managed to dig the potatoes and onions.


  I have not grown potatoes before this year although my Dad planted enough to feed his six kids for most of the winter.  Digging the potatoes brought with it the scent of the soil and that long ago memory of potato harvest with Dad.  He never made any of us help.  I think he enjoyed the solitude and physical work of that job.  We were all running about on those days and often stopped to check his progress which brought with it the unobserved but ever present aroma of freshly turned earth, tubers, and the smell of bruised marigolds which were always about in the garden.  Scent is such a gift especially when it brings with it the memories of  the past. 


  The onion crop was a bit disappointing as far as the size of the onions.  They are a bit small and I have been told that growing them from seed yields bigger bulbs.  Maybe next year but planting sets is just so darn easy.   Moving on, I forgot to spray deer repellent when I went away over the Labor Day weekend. When I left, the hostas were full and lush and this is how they look now. 


Celery sticks anyone?  Maybe I will be serving Bloody Marys this weekend.  You are all deserving of at least one pretty picture for reading this blog so here  is my attempt at one. 


Enjoy the day!

The belly of a bird, twinings, and gall wasps

DSC_0119Working at the desk this week I was startled by the pecking and tapping of mourning doves on the overhead glass.  Apparently some seeds had fallen in the window ridges and I was treated to this view of the belly of the bird.  Such  curious little creatures with their bobbing heads and ungainly waddle.  This one continued walking on the glass undisturbed by my stare although he does seem to be staring back doesn't he?    When checking the oak tree for acorn production, I came across this gall which attaches itself to the acorn so the wasp larvae inside can feed on the acorn as it develops.  DSC_0021This is an acorn plum gall which seems to be trying to masquerade as a red acorn.  The wasp responsible for this gall is thousands of years old and according to information from the Michigan Entomology Society has been found in fossilized form in the La Brea Tar Pits of California. 

The details in the garden this time of year seem to be better than the whole picture.  Are you finding this to be true or has your garden finally come into its' own this time of year? 



Seboomook Lake, Maine - Labor Day Weekend


Swan Farm in the glow of the campfire

Labor Day heralds the official end of summer and the last vacation summer weekend.  In New England, even  the upper part of Maine, the weather was perfect.  Daytime temperatures at the family compound were around 70 F with night temperatures dipping into the 40's.  DSC_0027 Seeboomook Lake is remote.  There are very few camps on this lake which make it an ideal place for solitude unless you travel in packs as my family tends to do.  Even so, there is always a space unoccupied.  This porch, which is being rebuilt, is ninety three feet long and connects the three buildings. DSC_0157 This is the view from the porch in early morning.  The stairs were those removed from the old porch and now are the 'stadium seating' for the campfire.  I jest, they will be reused or burned but here they sit until work is completed on the porch. DSC_0081 What a porch it is.  You can watch the sunrise and the sunset on either end of the lake  or you can catch a glimpse of the loons bobbing on its' surface.  You are more apt to hear their haunting calls. You can also spot the dust thrown up on The Golden Road which is across the lake.  The Golden Road is used by the logging trucks and it is best not to meet these trucks on the road as they are traveling at great speeds with heavy loads. Back to the porch....  Books are read on this porch, food is eaten on this porch and suffice it to say that a few beverages have been consumed on this porch. DSC_0159

It connects the cabins, each having their own unique charm.  The main cabin has a kitchen and living area, DSC_0169 the middle cabin is the work shop with an array of tools collected over many years and the third cabin is small but equipped with stove, sink, bed and  flour cupboard.DSC_0017   What more could an inhabitant want?  Here is the inside of the small cabin. DSC_0018 It It does look rustic doesn't it?  Although there is a generator, there is no cell service, no television and no computer.  So, in this age of electronics, what is there to do?   There is boating to be doneDSC_0129 and four wheeling DSC_0021 up the two miles of bad road to the main road and the car parking area.  In Maine, when the locals say 'You can't get there from here', this is just what they are talking about.  Some family members have been known to arrive by sea plane but a monster truck is what is needed to make it all the way down the driveway.DSC_0009   Driveway is a loose term here.   There is also cooking and eating which take up a major portion of any vacation. DSC_0170

I find 'Communal Cooking' to be more interesting than solitary preparation and eating in a group is always more enjoyable than dining alone.  Rob is enjoying chili and cornbread in this picture taken in the first, or main cabin.  In addition to the above mentioned activities, spotting moose tracks is second to none.  The size of these prints always amaze me. DSC_0060 Moose are not to be toyed with so seeing the tracks at this time of year is almost enough for me.    This vacation has one major drawback which is the seven and a half hour ride to get to this property.  It is not a convenient weekend trip but there is a price to pay for solitude.    Hailey took her first trip to MaineDSC_0172   and Tucker enjoyed all of the activities but none so much as resting on the porch in the glow of the firelight.  DSC_0113 So, what did you do on your Labor Day weekend?


Today's blooms

DSC_0028 It is September and how did that happen so fast?  School has started and the rudbeckia are well in tune with the school buses I am seeing on the roads these days.  School bus yellow...what can one say.  It is a color with which to contend but this is not a post about that color but of the other colors blooming right now in the garden.Kirengeshoma p. Yellow was bells The Kirengeshoma is blooming and Buddha sits serenely at its' feet.  Since this plant is native to Korea and Japan it does seem only fitting and appropriate.K. palmata Also, I will be traveling to Nepal in December of this year so Buddha seems to fit.  I love Kirengeshoma. Four feet wide and tall, this plant blooms for over a month with lemon yellow flowers. It works well with any yellow variegated hosta or blue plumbago, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides.  I would hate to do without this plant.  It is a plant with few pest or disease problems.  Love it.  DSC_0002

Also blooming, although inundated with the Dutchman's Pipe, is the Phlox ' Laura' which is  doubly special as I have a niece Laura.  She is just as lovely.DSC_0006

The best in the garden today was little Hailey who fed the fish and listened to the wind chimes. I found that it is difficult to take a baby's picture when you are holding her all of the time but Grandpa came home and I did take this picture of the little princess with two crowns.  I will remind her of this when she complains of a bad hair day.  


Confessions of a New England Gardener


Shining in September in my New England garden are the few annuals I planted and the harvest of peppers, tomatoes, and other vegetables just now coming into their own. The peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes have taken their sweet time bearing fruit this season. Each season has its' challenges and this season was cool and rainy from June through July with hot, dry weather finally arriving in mid-August. Dsc_0025 (3) The early cool, damp weather is great for the gardener as it is much easier to pluck weeds and deadhead without the glare of the relentless summer sun. The warm season vegetables suffered from lack of sunlight and excess moisture which causes many different leaf spot diseases. Fortunately, I didn't experience late blight on my tomatoes as many area gardeners did but my plants look like Charlie Brown had a hand in their cultivation. They are spindly with just a few fruit on each plant causing a bit of embarrassment to this gardener.DSC_0007

Nature humbles the gardener in a new way each season. Local weather reports indicated that of the thirty days in June, over twenty five were dull and gray. This affects not just fruit production but also the energy level of the gardener. I confess, I turned away from gardening for just a bit this summer. Cucumbers were planted twice and are just coming to maturity now.DSC_0020 Tomatoes sat in their bed looking wretched and worn for most of the summer. The pepper plants are small and the few fruit they have produced are also less than expected. DSC_0018

I have gardened for many years and each season is different. I have learned that even an ugly plant can produce beautiful fruit. Gardeners rarely admit defeat. There is always next year. There is always something beautiful in bloom. Gardeners are optimists and even as the tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers sulked and sighed, the cool loving vegetables thrived. The red leaf merlot lettuce and silver leeks planted in combination with the walking stick kale look elegant. DSC_0011 The squash and beans are still producing for the table and the 'Heavenly blue' morning glories, poisonous though they are, climb in combination with the red flowered pole beans providing nourishment for the eyes and the soul. Those are the garden visions that I choose to remember from this season's planting. What are yours?