Archive for the ‘Gardener Portaits’ Category
Ive always been curious about a plants namesake.
About half dozen years ago I had acquired a handsome dwarf Rhododendron with brilliant purple flowers named Jonathan Shaw. As coincidence would have it, not long after I was at a plantsmans meeting and heard this name mentioned in a discussion at the next table, and I was all ears. Mr. Jonathan Shaw, a fellow member, was not at that table, but the folks who were had been discussing his fabulous collection of Galanthus (Snowdrops). Not hundreds of one or two cultivars, but hundreds, thousands of many, many cultivars. I knew right then that I wanted to meet Jonathan or Jon as he prefers to be called, and perhaps get invited to see this magical collection.
Jon is a soft spoken gentleman with a lifetime of accomplishments in both horticulture and education. His first career was as a teacher and school administrator. His second career, (yes, I tell my sons, you can have more than one) was as an administrator of two Botanic Gardens, first the New England Wildflower Society in Framingham MA, and next, in a totally different locale, the Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, Florida. If you read between the lines you can deduce that horticulture and gardening activities were part of Jons life long before his second career began.
Much of Jons childhood was spent in Sandwich MA, at the splendid Victorian home that belonged to his great grandmother, and in which Jon and his wife Eugenie now live. There were horticulture genes in his family tree: a great great uncle had a nursery in Boston and acquired some of the first Ginkgo trees in the US (one of which stands 70 tall in the Shaw Garden in Sandwich), an uncle who was a science editor for Time Magazine and who presented a young Jonathan with a sapling Metasequoia (Dawn Redwood) , which up until that time had been considered extinct. And of course there was Jon’s mother who like many others planted a Victory garden during WWII and encouraged Jon to make a plot of his own.
Its rare that a gardener is interested in only one genus, but often a particular group of plants seduces him or her, and he/she wants to seek out as many examples of this group as possible. Jon admits to be a recovering Rhodoholic. He has grown and hybridized many Rhododendron cultivars, (although Jonathan Shaw was not his selection but one a friend made at his suggestion and named in his and his son’s honor). When he realized that some of his specimens had reached proportions of 30 in height and width, he had to accept that space was becoming limited. Jon then moved on to a group of plants with smaller proportions, the genus Galanthus.
Jon and his wife Eugenie share gardening duties. Eugenie, who is from Norway, is the enthusiastic vegetable gardener, and is devoted to cultivating her berry crops. Jon tends the vast collection of ornamental plants. A visit to the the Shaw garden in late winter is enchanting: tens of thousands of snowdrops, many quite rare. They carpet the garden under ancient trees, and invite the up and coming Crocus, Iris reticulata and Eranthis to compete for attention. If Jon must pick a favorite, it would have to be Galanthus S. Arnott, a particularly robust selection.
The Snowdrops in the Shaw garden are a testimony to the promise of a glorious New England Spring. I asked Jon if he had any encouraging words for the novice gardener and this was his reply: Have fun! Do not make your garden a hospital for sick plants which require constant care and chemical treatmentsdispose of them. And last but not least, develop a special garden interest and discover all you can about it!
SNOWDROP TEA 2014
You are invited to a special Snowdrop Tea, 2 pm to approximately 4 pm, at the historic home of Eugenie and Jonathan Shaw, Sandwich Village, MA. The Tea will begin at 2 pm with a tour of the landscaped grounds which feature drifts of tens of thousands of snowdrops, one of largest and most extensive collections of snowdrops in the United States, and including over 100 different named cultivars of snowdrops. Accompanying the Tea is a delicious abundance of American and Norwegian desserts, prepared by Eugenie Shaw. The Tea will conclude with an auction of rare spring bulbs and snowdrops. Each participant will receive a gift of a snowdrop in bloom. All participant fees and auction proceeds will entirely benefit the endowment of the Shirley Cross Wildflower Garden of the Thornton W. Burgess Society – names that honor Shirley Cross, a gifted botanist/gardener, and Thornton Burgess, the nationally-famous 20th century children’s author and environmentalist. This special Snowdrop Tea was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal in March 2010.
Seating is limited to 25 persons on each of two days: Wednesday, March 19, 2014 and Thursday, March 20, 2014.
Admission is $25.00 per person. Call the Thornton W. Burgess Society 508-888-6870 for reservations.
Some folks grew up with a family member who tended a garden, a mom or dad or aunt or uncle who spent most of their free time growing any number of plants vegetables, herbs, perennials, fruit trees, conifers. No need to add that what they learned through osmosis could fill a book or two. And then there are the folks who never played in the dirt, only to discover in adulthood how seductive making and caring for a garden can be. Ellen Lathi was seduced and this is her story. Ellen spent her youth and early adult years in big cities. She grew up in Philadelphia, and then moved to New York for college and medical school. Next big city move was Boston, where she did her neurology residency. You can assume that she had a pretty full schedule.
Family life came next. Ellen bought a house in Needham, a suburb of Boston, and here she raised her two children. About a dozen years ago, her son Jono, who was 11 at the time, wanted a hangout, a cabin in the woods at the back of her property. Not realizing what she was getting into, she was game, and the two of them took on the project of clearing bramble to create pathways to navigate. Truckloads of wood chips were shoveled onto the paths. A few hollies were exposed from the cut back bramble. All of a sudden Ellen realized there was this wonderful woodland escape in her back yard. Now that the potential was uncovered, she began to consider what new plants she could add. Jono liked the idea of planting Hosta Sum and Substance for a moat like effect around the cabin. It did look pretty cool, until they discovered soon enough (like the next day) there were some obstacles in garden making, particularly deer browsing.
And so Ellens education as a gardener had begun. She consulted with Kevin Doyle, a garden maker from nearby Dover MA, who helped her in making sense of the original woodland which included some pretty wet areas. She visited many nurseries to observe plants and ask questions (I remember Ellen’s first visit to Avant Gardens) Ellen soon met up with one of the most encouraging and well known gardeners in New England, Gary Koller. Gary, a horticulture mentor to so many of us, guided Ellen in all aspects of garden design structure, negative space, working with nature, taking risks and making mistakes. One lesson, have fun and dont take yourself or the process too seriously, is one we all need to be reminded of from time to time.
A walk through her garden shows that Ellen learned her lessons well. Her passion/obsession with plantsmanship is evident in the choice specimens she has sought out. Trees and shrubs flaunt foliage in shades of yellow, gold, green and burgundy. A vast array of forms contribute to the garden composition, whether it is the exclamation point effect of a fastigiate beech, the cascading branches of a weeping Japanese maple or the texture and movement of ornamental grasses. Perennials with good foliar display play an important supporting role, as well as late bloomers that add a colorful last hurrah to the garden. Bold potted tropical foliage plants add drama to the summer season, and change the flavor of the garden a little each year. As much as her medical practice is her bread and butter, Ellen’s pursuit and acquisition of horticultural knowledge could be the basis for a new career. She attends lectures, visits horticultural trade shows and travels to visit gardens and nurseries in faraway places. And like so many great gardeners she shares her knowledge, and has graciously opened her garden up for Garden Conservancy tours and horticulture groups many times over.
All images are courtesy of Ellen Lathi.
You may ask How does Ellen find the time? Priorities, I might answer. Yes, she still has a full schedule practicing medicine. She is a dog lover, and now that her children are adults, she has taken up training service dogs for MS patients. Her life is wonderfully full and yet her garden still seduces her to come outside, to observe, and to play.
I, for one, think gardeners are the most curious people. Young or old, they never cease to wonder about the natural world around them, and this curiosity infects so many aspects of their lives, especially in the arts: drawing, painting, sculpture, literature, cuisine. Often when asked about when they first became aware of this curiosity, they recount tales of childhood adventures playing in the woods, building dams in streams, making potions from wild berries and seeking out foraged foods.
With this in mind, please meet Jill Nooney: a gardener, sculptor, and landscape designer, she is one of the most curious plantswomen we know. And to confirm that she’s a renaissance woman, I might add that she has maintained a private practice of psychotherapy for the past 30 years, to ensure she gets sometime to sit down every week. When I first visited her Bedrock Gardens in Lee, New Hampshire, I was astonished and humbled. This 30 acre property, acquired in 1987, is a collaboration of the vision and hard work of Jill and her husband Bob Munger. (Jill gets top billing but Bob is the ultimate “man behind the scenes”.) The Gardens (are you ready?) consist of a parterre formal garden with pool, a 3/4 acre wildlife pond with bridge, a 400 foot allée, a pinetum, a rock garden, a 1/2 acre ornamental grass ‘painting’, various fountains and water features, several pergolas and shelters, and the many fantastic sculptures that Jill creates from salvaged farm equipment. Theres more, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you.
Jill grew up in a humble 18c farmhouse on 7 wooded acres in what was then rural northern New Jersey. One of her childhoods clearest memories was an almost religious experience. She found herself lying on earth softly carpeted with fallen petals under an apple and pear tree. At the same time, she realized she was gazing up into branches still laden with the pink and white blossoms. For Jill, this was a totally magical experience. She was about 10 years old when she remembers creating her first garden. Jill and her mother foraged for plants in the nearby woods and along the roadside. They brought home a collection of birch seedlings, moss and an assortment of rocks that sparkled and these were the ingredients for her first creation. She remembers planning escapes from everyday chores to visit her little sanctuary, bringing a blanket to lie upon, admire and daydream.
Jill likes to make things, and has her whole life: pottery, wood carvings, bookbinding, quilts, drawings. When her own garden turned middle age she began making sculptures to grace the plantings. Since Bedrock Gardens was originally a working 18c farmstead, the idea of using old farm implements and artifacts to create sculpture was a natural conclusion… from the farm, then back to the garden. Jill scouted for materials and created one a kind pieces which took form as arches, wall pieces, and containers, as well as small and large sculptures, which can be both whimsical and strikingly bold. Many of her pieces are for sale and can be seen at her website http://www.finegarden.com/
Like most lifelong gardeners, Jill has gone through many plant obsessions: perennials, unusual annuals, dwarf conifers. They all grace beds at Bedrock Gardens. Her years of experience have steered her away from invasives, and she shies away from plants dependent on staking, use of pesticides and lots of irrigation (hint: this means lower maintenance besides being ecological). Jills adventurous spirit has always been spurred on by her act now, think later rationale and this has often allowed her to delight in unexpected results. So what happens if an impulsive plant purchase turns out to be a space waster? Out it goes, or as our mutual friend, the talented Gary Koller says, Plants need to earn their spot.
So have I piqued your interest about Jill and her garden? You can visit, and you absolutely should. Check out the open garden dates on the Bedrock Garden website http://www.bedrockgardens.org/
Talk about collecting plants for winter interest! Our horticultural friend, Bill Cannon, has devoted his Brewster MA property to growing the most varied and unusual varieties of Hollies (Ilex) of anyone we know in New England. He truly has created a Holly Arboretum, home to over 2000 Ilex plants, including 300 different species and cultivars.
How and when did we first meet Bill? It was perhaps a decade ago. Chris and I were at a plant sale at the Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Worcester MA, (you often discover the coolest plants at these events), when we came across the booth of a charming gentleman with twinkling hazel eyes who was selling unusual varieties of holly. The gentleman, Bill Cannon, had brought a sampling of young starts from his vast collection. Of course our eyes bee-lined to the perfectly shaped glossy foliage of an English Holly, Ilex aquifolium, but having lost a few in our zone 6A garden, we hesitated. Bill encouraged us to try again, which we did, and went home with a new selection, a hybrid of English and Perny holly called Ilex aquipernyi Dr. Kassab, plus planting tips. We heeded the tips Bill provided: extra protection the first couple of seasons, plant in well drained soil and out of drying winter winds. We are pleased to report that despite experiencing a cruel winter or two, Dr. Kassab has formed a slender 6 pyramid of small dark green perfect foliage adorned with luscious red fruit. Not bad for an almost zone 7 plant.
Our paths crossed several years later, when I became a member of the Horticultural Club of Boston, and found Bill, a longtime member, sitting next to me at one of the meetings. It was a special December Holiday meeting, and Bill had brought in as his fund raising donation a most beautiful Holly wreath, featuring so many of the unusual cultivars of the genus he knows and grows so well. He explained that he keeps quite busy in late November and December filing orders for these gorgeous wreaths, using material from his holly farm. When I mentioned I would love to see the farm, he graciously said to please come, call first, but not to wait too late in the season, since the robins would be visiting soon and the berries might be all gone.
I was unable to make the visit that December, or the following year or two either. Suddenly, it seemed, this year, our little Ilex Dr. Kassab had come into her own in our garden. I thought of Bill and his holly gardens. Chris and I had to make a visit to Cape Cod to see Bills exotic hollies. The weekend before Thanksgiving we gave Bill a call, and were in luck. He would be around and could spare some time from his wreath making to give us a tour.
Our visit was perfectly timed. The Sunday afternoon weather was mild plus the Hollies were loaded with berries. What a treat and an education! Bills property on Main St. originally belonged to his father, who was a florist and who had, 30-40 years before, planted many boxwood and hollies on the lot for cutting and arranging. (These older trees and shrubs still provide Bill with much cut material). Bill had the family genes for growing plants, and went to UMASS for floriculture. He was employed as the nursery manager for Kennedy’s Country Gardens for years, and also taught horticulture and gardening courses in Adult Education Programs. His passion for the genus Ilex grew, and after becoming a member of the Holly Society of America, he was elected president in 2007-2008. He is now retired, but runs a micro nursery on his property, propagating many of the unusual Hollies he has acquired over the years, which he sells to discerning plant collectors. He continues to lecture on gardening topics, especially on his favorite genus Ilex.
A few of Bills tips on growing hollies are:
1. Most people know you need male and female hollies to cross pollinate for berry set. What you should also know is that the male cultivar needs to be in bloom at the same time as the female.
2. Hollies bloom on old wood, just like mophead hydrangeas. If you cut lots of branches for winter decorating, be aware that you’ve cut off the potential fruit set for next year.
3. Hardiness of many species of Ilex has not been adequately tested. Experiment on your property with some of the warmer zone cultivars. (We did!)
Bill can be contacted at email@example.com, if you are interested in scheduling a lecture or acquiring some of his rare hollies. He takes advance orders for his beautiful wreaths, but there may still be time to get your request in.
If this article has piqued your interest in growing unusual hollies, why not join the Holly Society of America ? It’s a great resource, both for information and acquiring new and unusual plants.
And a few more from Bill’s collection:
I remember first meeting the talented Louis Raymond, oh, can it be 20 years ago already? He visited Avant Gardens with a list in hand of at least a dozen hard-to-find plants, but soon was distracted by other selections. The whole nursery heard his booming and joyful exclamations. Oh, goody: You have this, too! “You mean that now comes with purple foliage? Fantastic!” Before Louis was a landscape and garden designer, he was an opera singer. Once you develop the resonance, you don’t lose it.
In an even earlier life, during his childhood in Erie, PA, Louis was already a performerbut with plants. As a first grader he demonstrated to his fellow classmates how to sprout an avocado pit in a glass of water. As a high school student, he took on real gardening jobsactual pruning and dividing, not mere lawn mowingand began advising on where a path should be constructed, or suggesting to the homeowner with surplus hosta divisions could best be used as a ground cover on a neglected slope. Today, the plants in these gardens wouldn’t seem very exoticthey probably weren’t exotic even thenbut to a young man learning of them for the first time, they were exciting, indeed. The client with all those hosta also had the first clump of Autumn crocus Louis had ever seen. What a horticultural thrill: Huge crocuses in September not April!
Nowadays, the thrill needs to be a bit (a lot) more exotic for Louis. As many of us know, plant collecting is the obsession of a lifetime, and one we like to share with others who are similarly blessed. In his web journal www.LouisThePlantGeek.com, Louis chronicles day-by-day the wondrous plants currently performing for him in his gardens in Hopkinton, RI. One day it might be Erythrina x bidwillii, the next perhaps Leucosceptrum japonicum Gold Angel.
His Number One plant obsession right nowand there are so many that it was a little hard for him to pin downare trees and shrubs that lend themselves to pollarding, coppicing, and espaliering. His Number Two obsession are tender trees, shrubs, perennials, vines, and bulbs that extend the seasons but can easily be overwintered dormant in his root cellar. (He already overwinters a packed greenhouse-worth of tender plants that need to stay in leaf in the cool months. But there’s still plenty of room for more in the cellar!)
As he has for the past 20-plus years, Louis designs and installs gardens and landscapes for clients from New York to Boston, the Cape to the Berkshires. His projects range from intimate city spaces to waterfront and woodland estates. He mixes formality with casual abandon, and he loves to insert an astonishing plant here and there for that WOW factor. Two dozen of his favorite projects over the yearsincluding his own gardensare in the galleries of his project site, www.RGardening.com.
His advice for the novice gardener? Dont worry about making your garden interesting in May and June, which in any event, will happen automatically as soon as your roses, peonies, and iris start blooming. Instead, focus on August and February, when a garden can be sparse indeed; if your garden’s tap-dancing in August and February, the rest of the year will take care of itself. And remember: Flowers are just the icing on the cake. A gardens best and most sustainable interest is in foliage, form, bark and berry.”
There is new energy in the field of horticulture. We have been lamenting the loss of so many keen gardeners in recent years, whose ranks have not been renewed by a new generation of plant devotees, and then we met Andrew Keys. Andrew, whose most recent garden related activity is creating the podcast, RadioGarden for Horticulture magazine, is savvy with electronic media as well as with plants. He spreads the gardening buzz by way of RadioGarden , his blog Garden Smackdown , and he’s hard at work on a book for Timber Press he tentatively says is about unique plants, due out Fall 2012.
Andrew currently lives in the Boston area, but is a Southern boy who grew up playing in the woods near his childhood home in Mississippi. His first plant crush was on Aralia spinosa or Devils Walking Stick, which he discovered in those woods. Now hes hard pressed to specify a favorite plant, as it changes with each new discovery. He did mention a few varieties which we recently began offering: Aster Ezo Murasaki, Rosa sericea var pteracantha and Aralia cordata Sun King.
His own garden consists mainly of low water use plants, including Nepeta , ornamental Oregano and his favorite grass Pennisetum orientale Karley Rose which begins producing inflorescences in early summer. When asked what advice he has for the novice gardener, he disarmingly pronounces Dont freak out! Yes, there are a zillion options at that nursery, but there’s probably more than one that’s right for you, so don’t be overwhelmed by them. Yes, plants WILL die, but as my friend Mindy said on my December podcast, mourn the loss of that dead plant only as long as it takes to pick out a new one.
To the illuminated man or woman, a clod of dirt, a stone and gold are the same….Bhagavad Gita
A man reaches for the end of a strap hidden within a pile of stone. From a void his hand appears with the strap. Now cradled in the strap is a mass of stone. This stone, the fertile ground to where our sculptor, Ron Rudnicki, brings his tools, is now just a great mass. All acquaintances left behind, soon it will be freshly minted and asked to play in ensemble. For now, all is in flux, all possibility: Ron and the stone standing still between reflection and rotation. The only certainty is that a new relationship will develop. Now a piece, formed from Ron’s reflections and memories, will inform his admirers, his clients and their communities. Perhaps some of Ron’s reflections will become theirs, but the overwhelming presence of the piece will remain, bridging generations, creating new communities. Prescience from a pile of stone.
Ron’s sculpture gardens invite interaction. He places stone, found and composed, or tooled and contrived, into the landscape. Often it is both. He builds sculpted garden environments with stone that create a sense of permanence, perhaps because his work sometimes appears to have been uncovered rather than constructed. These gardens, united with their sites, honor existing and future stewards where stone is not seen as a static, unchanging mass. Stone is an active participant in the garden construct and will continue to find new expression through the eyes of the viewer. Stewards of these gardens may enjoy these spaces framed through their windows, observing the changing light through the course of the day and the seasons. Others will find repose within these spaces. No single right or wrong connection can be brought to these living, breathing, rhythmic spaces, dynamic in themselves but which allow those of us with stronger biological rhythms to draw out new meanings as we continue to engage them.
You shouldn’t be left thinking that no plant can grow where stone is so dominant. Though Ron confesses nomenclature isnt his strong suit, he instinctively integrates strong architectural plants, whether they be bamboo, hellebore or forest grass, into his stone environments.The individual who becomes the caretaker of his sculpture gardens may want to play with companion plantings. Ferns, grasses and the occasional burst of color are welcome suitors in spring and summer.
Ron’s work is part of the permanent collections at the DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park in Lincoln, MA and Jack Lenor Larsens Longhouse Reserve in East Hampton, NY, as well as in the gardens of private collectors. Ron works from his studio in East Freetown, MA. He can be reached through his website if you’d like to schedule a visit. http://ronrudnickisculptor.com
One of the most rewarding benefits of being involved in the gardening world is meeting other truly dedicated and generous gardeners. We met one particularly passionate individual, Susanne Lucas, well over a decade ago, and immediately responded to her infectious, Lets have fun in the garden attitude. Her fabulous outlook is apparent when you visit the Plymouth MA garden she shares with her husband Morry, and her two children, Amelia and Ripley, a pair of amazingly well behaved Airedale Terriers.
Although her garden is composed of many types of plants, Susanne has a particular passion…an ornamental grass we commonly call bamboo. Susanne has a thing for all kinds of Bamboo, but most importantly the hardy forms, particularly Fargesia. How did this obsession begin you may ask? Susanne recalls that she first became aware of Bamboo as a youngster. She had custody of her elementary schools pet guinea pig, and it escaped from her care .into a neighbors grove of Bamboo. Its easy to picture Susanne as a feisty little eight year old with dirt under her fingernails, exploring the jungle-like tangle in search of the missing pet, and at the same time, being distracted by the bamboos sheltering cover.
Susanne went on to study horticulture in college, but credits the many incredible plant people shes met over the years for inspiring and influencing her education. One such individual, a Swiss gentleman named Anton Grieb, whom she met in 1992, was an amazing mentor whose love of all plants was only superseded by his infectious attitude. Over the past 20 years, Susanne has built a distinguished career in horticulture. She now wears many hats: shes a landscape gardener and consultant , a former president and now honorary life member of the American Bamboo Society , a founding director of the World Bamboo Organization and is co-owner of Pioneer Plants, a collaboration with Jan Oprins of Belgium,which introduces and promotes the use of Hardy Bamboo here in the US.
With all these Bamboo related credentials, Susanne has sometimes been referred to as the Bamboo Queen, but she really doesnt appreciate this reference. Gardening is a not about rank or achievement. And it sounds snobby. When asked what advice she could offer to novice gardeners, Susannes response conveys what we all want to hear. Travel, even if its in your own neighborhood, and look at plants. Learn about where plants originate from so you understand the conditions they grow well in. Make friendships with others who garden; you will learn so much from them. And make sure you do what you want in your own garden.