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March 2011

February 2011

February - Be gone!

Fog on fieldWarmer temperatures are here today as evidenced by the snow fog in the back field.  It has reached 47F.  All is relative.  The calendar shows clearly that this is the shortest month of the year but it just never seems to be the reality.  Perhaps it is anticipation for the sight of bare ground and green growth which goes largely unrealized especially this year of many storms and deep snow.  Maybe it is the continuing snow squalls, the frost heaves in the road, the ice in the drive and the start of mud rearing its ugly back.  The cold, dry days of winter are not quite at an end and the walls of the house have closed in.  StonehengeIt is difficult to step outside on this last day of February.  Heavy rains and snow covered ground make it difficult to walk around the garden but I forced myself outside today largely because of other bloggers who are showing their tommies and their daffs.  Granted these bloggers are down south and should expect spring sooner than New Englanders.  Reading other garden blogs offer respite from my cold garden but they also prompt me to go in search of some sign of life.  Surely there must be something outside which grabs the eye.  Tree trunkThe first thing I notice is that the snow is disappearing around the trunks of the trees, the base of the rocks, Back borderand the southwest exposed portions of the garden.  Cooper and helleboreThe green hellebores are showing and if they did not have that foetidus (H. foetidus which means stinking) name I am sure Cooper would be eating them.  He looks a bit guilty for thinking about it.   IrisI almost missed these little thin wisps of discolored iris stems emerging from the gravel garden.  If it were not for the taunting inspiration of Gail of the tommies and Frances of the daffs, I would have missed them.  I really would have missed them this last day of February.  So I thank you both heartily for rousing me from the chair to go in search of a sign of spring.  As you can see, I found several.  March begins tomorrow with the promise of these little gems in flower sometime soon.   What have you found in your garden these last days of February?  There must be something that gives you hope.    


Rhode Island Spring Flower & Garden Show - 2011

Gardening with HeartThe 2011 RI Spring Flower & Garden Show opened Thursday, February 24th.  I predict there will be record crowds.  This prediction is based on the fact that Rhode Island has been besieged by snow storm after snow storm and the endless expanse of white landscape leaves the spirits weary and the senses underwhelmed. IMG_3433This year the flower show committee has partnered with the American Heart Association to feature the Heart Association's campaign 'Go Red for Women'.  Red is the dominant color this year and red is a great and warm relief for weary New Englanders.  There are 28 exhibit gardens, a Standard Flower Show put on by the RI Federation of Garden Clubs, a marketplace featuring over 200 vendors and many lectures and demonstrations taking place at various times during the show hours. IMG_3444 The Rhode Island Nursery and Landscape Association has a prominent position on the left side of the main garden entrance and they have outdone themselves this year with a walk through design featuring a shed with green walls IMG_3446-1 and a green roof, a natural pergola and bench seating area, a rain barrel, and compost bins. IMG_3449Another garden contains a moon gate which is quite a feat of engineering and it also has plantings of foxgloves and delphiniums which are not the easiest of plants to force into bloom and then transport and install. IMG_3439 The tall spikes are sensitive to damage but these look inviting and pristine. IMG_3461 This garden relies on four season interest and the yucca complements the door to the greenhouse.  The back side of the greenhouse is open to reveal a wonderful workplace and potting area.  IMG_3463I have to say that this greenhouse with gardens and potting room is also one of my favorites.  IMG_3436 There are pergolas, statuary, water gardens, sitting areas, IMG_3418 and stunning forced plant material.  IMG_3415 This azalea is part of a design implemented by a school and it looks as though it is related to the garden behind it with the scarlet doors.  It is not but they do complement one another.  Attention to detail always wins awards and this umbrella is festooned with leaves and mosses.  IMG_3408 This design relies on texture and the cool serenity which the color green  provides.  There is a garden with chickens which is only fitting given their current popularity with home gardeners these days.  IMG_3456 The chickens are kept company by a small goat and their chatter is a delight and certainly will draw the kids to this design.  Hearts abound in many of the displays and some of the gardens are quite small. Small, but elegant, such as this bamboo garden.  IMG_3427 The exhibition by the RI Federation of Garden Clubs is really a competitive art exhibit.  There are different classes, usually open to four competitors. Each exhibitor/competitor interprets the design criteria for that category with their own, unique design.  Here are two examples of the Artistic Craft section- swimwear class.  IMG_3378 Exhibitors were given the mannequin torso and the swimsuit was created with fresh and/or dried plant material. IMG_3401It is amazing how different each design was and this one just begged to be touched. I did catch someone in the act.   IMG_3402-1This flower show is at just the right time of year.  The cold temperatures of New England are still with us and the spirit is weary.  I think that many of the people who attend flower shows go for entertainment.  From a horticultural or gardener's point of view my biggest disappointment is always with the vendors as there seem to be less and less garden related booths at these shows. Do you go to flower shows and if so, what do you look for at these shows?  Do you look for unusual plants, unique paving designs, interesting stone work, garden art to buy, or just the gardens as a whole?


A walk in the garden - February

DSC_0014Walking in the garden is still quite a task.  The snow depth has diminished to mid shin level and  Friday, temperatures hit 63F.  Melt did occur but it will take a week of those temperatures to get rid of the snow on the ground and the ice off the driveway. DSC_0023I am ready but Mother Nature is delivering another light dusting of snow right now as I type. I know it won't be long.  Twenty eight days until spring arrives by the calendar anyway. Who knows how long it will really take to settle in and get the roots moving. DSC_0015The granite bench by the fish pond is emerging from the depths of snow cover little by little.  It is hard to believe that in just a few short months it will look a bit more welcoming. DSC_0045On another note, I posted about forcing some cherry branches on February 7th and they are now flowering adding a bit of spring to the indoor garden. As mentioned, these flowers emerge over a period of time so I will have to see how long the show lasts. DSC_0038Between the forced branches and the potted hyacinths I purchased at the grocery store, spring is not just a dream.  I have drifts of hyacinth fragrance creating the false reality of spring.  I find it necessary to live within the dreams of spring during the last days of interminable February. The RI Spring Flower Show begins on Thursday.  It will be spring and even summer inside the convention center and I plan on attending and bringing you all along.


The Whim, Newport, RI - Newport Secret Garden Tour

Ocean view Garden tours are always sources of inspiration for evolving gardeners and both spring and fall offers tours of some of the gardens of Newport, RI.  Newport is a well known travel destination for the rich and famous.  Perhaps not so much now as in the gilded age of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but still, a more beautiful location is hard to find.  This city by the sea offers historical properties located on the water with sweeping lawns, majestic views and lovely gardens.  Not all of the homes are palatial but many along Bellevue Avenue are of grandiose proportion.  There is a small garden tucked away on a side street which dead ends at the shoreline.  The Whim is a privately owned garden with a modest house by Newport standards.  DSC_0123 The garden is a horticulturist's paradise.  Billowing borders,shady nooks, and windswept coastline all are elements within the garden's gates.  The narrow property extends from the road with the house sitting an arm's reach from the lane.  DSC_0151

The tool shed
The postman must just pass an arm out the car window to reach the mail slot.  The property was optimized for garden views one suspects and the lane is not well traveled keeping privacy intact. DSC_0149The narrow gardens on either side of the house expand past the back patio and while the eye sees to the ocean there are several separate garden rooms slowing the passage to the shoreline.  DSC_0145 I have visited The Whim on three separate occasions.  DSC_0129-1An ocean property offers up a breeze at the best of times and gale winds at the worst of times and these currents are reflected in the ocean in the form of tranquil swells or crested, foaming waves.  A garden must be designed with these elemental factors taken into consideration.  DSC_0128There are walls and hedges built to provide shelter from the tossing and turning of turbulent air and sea spray which carries with it desiccating and sometimes injurious saltiness.  DSC_0125The actual design features of combating nature are not immediately apparent to the visitor as all sensory systems are overloaded already with the content of the garden rooms.  DSC_0126Each year the annuals change a bit.  They provide a constant flush of color to the exuberant borders.   The boxwood in the above border and its matching counterpart on the other side of the strip of lawn are clipped in an undulating pattern which is reflective of the waves in the distance and the breeze in the air. DSC_0135
The repetition of groups of plants provide a cohesive pattern punctuating these borders.  Lower levelThere are grade changes from one level to another as the land slopes naturally toward the sea.  Within each separate garden there are changes in the plant palette and there are also areas to sit and reflect.  DSC_0130  The Whim is a delightful garden to visit.  I do wish I could see it in the winter with the bare bones of the walls and hedges standing in stark relief to the winter ocean.  I will have to close my eyes and try to visualize.  I don't know if the garden will be on the next Secret Garden Tour but the schedule is up and the dates posted here.  It is a tour well worth the price and the proceeds go to benefit the Arts Education programs in the local schools. You never know who you might see at a garden tour.   PanI hope to see you there in June.            


Happy Valentine's Day

D. spectabilis
There are many hearts in the garden besides my own.  The Dicentra specabilis, the bleeding heart, is one of the most beautiful and comes in white also.  DSC_0008
In addition, there is the long blooming Dicentra eximia and this cultivar was pretty while it lasted. DSC_0061
Somehow, it just melted like a chocolate heart shortly after planting.  Other hearts  are purposeful such as this planting bed in the garden of my neighbors, The Dynamic Duo.  DSC_0052
Some hearts express the sentiment while remaining cold to the touch. Dsc_0029 (2)
They are all wonderful symbols.  For, what is life without love.  They are all quite buried under snow but the occasion of Valentine's Day has allowed me to look at the beauty that is past and the pictures which prove that there is hope lying dormant, waiting for warmth.  Don't let your love lie dormant today or any day.  Give the ones you love a simple hug.  Happy Valentine's Day.

Love would never be a promise of a rose garden unless it is showered with light of faith, water of sincerity, and air of passion.

Author unknown


The Glass Flower Exhibit - Harvard Museum of Natural History

My father used to say,

"Superior people never make long visits,

have to be shown Longfellow's grave

nor the glass flowers at Harvard..."   

excerpted from the poem 'Silence' by Marianne Moore

There are many wonders of the world which I will most probably never have the opportunity to see.  The Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Egypt. Not all wonders of the world are as large and prominent as these and some are closer to home than you might think.  So it is with the Glass Flower Collection at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, (HMNH), in Cambridge, MA.  DSC_0050An exquisite and one of a kind collection of blown glass comprised of anatomically correct flowers complete with their various private parts and cross sections.DSC_0013 There are pistils and stamens along with ovaries, pollen, and even some pollinators caught in the act or the clutches.  DSC_0015a How can one resist such an exhibit?  It has beauty, sex, and historical significance.  My excuse is ignorance which I have remedied.  I resisted visiting the collection for quite a while.  I had seen those glass flowers tucked in a vase in the gift shops and those were not for me.  A gardener, plant lover and trained horticulturist, I am embarrassed to say that I did not research, before dismissing, the 'Glass Flower Collection'.  I should have heard 'at Harvard' at the end of the description and realized the import of the exhibit.  It just takes some of us a little longer to see, really see, that which is right in front of us, 'Superior people' or not.  The glass flowers were commissioned by Dr. George Lincoln Goodale, the first director of HMNH appointed in 1888 and as such, he wanted to exhibit plant specimens.  DSC_0081Plant specimens for study in the late 1800's consisted of wax or paper mache neither of which had much longevity or detail.  Dr. Goodale had seen marine specimens made out of glass by German glassblowers, Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.  This father and son team were as much artists as technical glassblowers and at the time of Dr. Goodall's visit they were making a living creating sea creatures which were unique, detailed, and instructive.  A bit of arm twisting ensued which resulted in a collection of over 4000 models which includes 847 life size models of different plant species and their various plant parts.  The production of the specimens spanned a quarter of a century and only came to an end due to the death of one and the age of the other artisan.  The collection was funded over this period of time by Mrs. Elizabeth C. Ware and her daughter, Mary Lee Ware in memory of Dr. Charles E. Ware, husband, father, and Harvard alumnus.  DSC_0065There is much about the collection, other than its ethereal and exacting beauty, which is of interest.  Packaging of the glass which had to travel from Germany to Boston, MA, was initially a challenge.  The packaging was a marvel of engineering.  There was no styrofoam in 1887 when the first flowers were shipped.  Straw and tissue paper helped encase the pieces and improvements were made in the packaging and transport after the first shipment arrived quite damaged but beautiful still.  At one point pieces of the collection were sent by hearse to be part of a 1976 Steuben Glass Company Exhibit in New York city.  It seems that a hearse had the best suspension of any vehicle available at that time.  Some specimens sent for an exhibit were lost in a flood at the Corning Glass Museum Exhibit in Corning, NY in 1972 which also resulted in much damage and destruction at that museum.  Much more concerning the history of the collection can be read on the HMNH website but nothing there can describe each individuals reaction to the exhibit.  For those of us who grow plants and have grown many of those in the exhibit, the reaction is one of wonder, familiarity, and awe. DSC_0024The fragile tendrils and intricate flowers of the twining sweet pea are replicated in exacting detail.  The fragrance of sweet peas was brought to mind while viewing this specimen but, alas, it was just an olfactory illusion.  DSC_0077The pollen collected on the aging catkins of the pussy willow looks just as if it would stain your fingers and clothing if picked but it is just a magic act and one well employed by the skills of the artisans Blaschka.  DSC_0027The color of the swamp maple leaves match the color of the spring flowers which is a good lesson in botany since they are not seen at the same time except in this specimen form.  Mountain laurel is a native in New England and is rendered in glass with painstaking detail.  Mountain Laurel
It is a welcome sight when it blooms in late spring in this area.  It is forever blooming behind the glass doors of the exhibit room.   DSC_0048
From honeysuckle orange to iris blue DSC_0066
the color spectrum is covered in this exhibit as well as these plant species. Every visitor to this exhibit will find at least one specimen which is familiar.   IMG_3241
I offer you this fothergilla flower to view next to the exhibit flower.  One is soft to the touch, the other would be cold and hard if one could touch it. DSC_0020It has been a very long winter here in New England and in many other parts of the country but at the Glass Flower Exhibit, the dogwoods are eternally blooming along with many plants of summer and fall.  DSC_0035
Should you be as starved for greenery and blooms as I, this exhibit will not disappoint you. It is a flower show where the blooms never fade.  It is a marriage of art and science. It is one of a kind.  The Ware collection of glass flowers is close to home if you live in New England and compared to visiting the Taj Mahal it requires little travel effort.  Have you been to see the Glass Flower Exhibit?  If not, when will you go?  You are one of the 'Superior people', I know you are.  


Forcing Flowering Shrubs

IMG_3208-1 Yesterday we had a warming trend and 38F never felt so good.  With three feet of snow on the ground, rain came and added a crunchy crust to the snow in the yard and sheer ice to the walkway and driveway.  IMG_3305 The snow has melted from the glass of the office greenhouse and today's clear skies are showing.  With cabin fever at an all time high I decided to take a walk into the garden to snip some branches of the Prunus x 'Hally Jolivette'DSC_0051 This is a great little tree or a shrub.  The shape will depend on your pruning techniques. It starts to flower in April and it flowers over a long period of time.  DSC_0054 This shrub will bloom for a good three weeks unless there is unseasonably hot weather to force the blooms a bit faster.  I have never brought in any branches to force before today.  The branching habit is dense and the need for a few blooms in the house is worth the sacrifice of some of the spring blooms.   Getting to the shrub was not so easy as the crust of snow holds a fifty pound puppy but that is about it.  With the snow knee deep it was slow going to get to the cherry.  IMG_3291 You can see it here and in the background, planted just next to the cherry is a staghorn sumac, Rhus typina 'Tiger Eyes'.  IMG_3298I was concentrating so hard on getting the feet lifted and plunked back into the deep snow that I didn't notice Cooper doing his own bit of pruning.  IMG_3293 Puppies will eat anything.   Ragged tears are not an ideal method of pruning and puppy teeth not the preferred tool. The sumac is interesting in winter as it has very coarse branching and furry stems.  It is not, however, a plant for forcing.  DSC_0024 Back to the cherry. I chose the stems of the cherry for cutting and forcing based on pruning principles. It is important to note that the stems should have nice, fat flower buds.  Some stems just have leaf buds and on this cherry the leaf buds are a bit more pointed and at the very top of the new growth.  First picked were stems that were crossing or rubbing on other stems.  Next, I went into the center of the shrub and cut out a few stems in order to open up the canopy of the shrub and increase light and air circulation.  I trudged back to the kitchen, recut the stems and put them in water.   IMG_3307I now have a vase of sticks on the table but I have high hopes of flowers in the next week.  Have you clipped anything for forcing indoors?  I would have clipped forsythia but mine is buried still.  Cherry will have to do.


Looking Inside The New England Grows Show - 2011

IMG_3245 This year I attended the New England Grows Show in Boston not as a Sales Rep exhibiting product but as part of the Garden Writer's Association which held a meeting during the show. The trade show floor can be exciting as one looks for new, innovative, and appealing items which will sell well at an independent garden center.  I found just a few.  This year's show had its difficulties with the opening day shrouded in snow and ice.  Attendance was dismal on Wednesday and very light on Thursday. That made checking product easier as the aisles were not crowded.  IMG_3212Campania Statuary is always interesting and unique.  I am not a big gnome fan but these little guys are quite cute and without garish colors, they could fit right into a little garden crevice.  IMG_3214The lucky cricket is a bit oversized but then it would need to be in order to be noticed by some of the large outdoor fireplaces gracing the patio of a home with substance.  I wouldn't expect to see them anywhere near this IMG_3216colorful tin tree which I know would appeal to the other gardeners of the world.  There should be something for everyone at a garden center.  There should be prices which keep everyone happy and that means bringing in the caviar with the popcorn.  IMG_3239I think the fact that these little critters are carved from real stone keeps them from being too cutsy.  They would make a good paperweight, at least the smaller ones would, and who doesn't like a hedgehog, penquin or an owl?  IMG_3236-1Plants were in evidence at the show although much less so than in past years.  It used to be easy to bring plants into a show, or at least economical, but with the unions controlling the docks smaller stock which can be rolled in on a cart is shown and not much of it.  IMG_3253There was color at the Proven Winners booth and their forced material always looks pristine.  The trend is vegetables and these vegetables come with a great tag and an easy carry tray.The tag comes with a recipe.  IMG_3255If you buy a pot or two of mint, you can stop at the liquor store on the way home and pick up the ingredients necessary for the mojito recipe. IMG_3220Vertical wall systems were also being displayed in different size units by several vendors in response to the new demand for them.  IMG_3231I find them interesting but wonder if they will catch on or are just a fad.  It could be a good repeat sale of plants as some decline and have to be replaced.  In keeping with the fruit and vegetable theme, there were a few people in interesting apparel.  IMG_3246Some of them were even smiling and why not?  A smile begets a smile. IMG_3263The most unique item in the plant world was the blue phalaenopsis orchid.  It is very blue.  It will re-bloom white.  I am just not sure.  What do you think?