After weeks of dry weather, we’ve been rewarded with a few days of rain at last. Our gardens are so thankful. How about yours?
February came in like a lamb, and it’s trying to muster a roar as it takes advantage of leap year’s extra day of winter. Signs of green are everywhere, despite the official start to spring still weeks away. Northern gardeners like us know that the joke could be on us if we get too accustomed to this mild weather, before March has played out. But how can we not be giddy when a walk about the garden revealed these beacons of spring heralding the new season?
The Galanthus (Snowdrops) are not too big a surprise, but little Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ usually waits until late March to show off. Helleborus foetidus ‘Wester Flisk’ looks rather well this year, thanks to the mild winter. Helleborus ‘Jade Tiger’ which we planted last year, proudly displays his first flower, but an older clump of an almost black Hellebore is not quite sure if it’s safe yet. For the past 3 weeks, the witchhazel ‘Feuerzauber’ has been emitting the sweetest perfume. What little gems do you have in bloom in your garden right now?
This gardener needed a getaway. So what does she do? She catches a flight to the Philadelphia area and takes in a garden photography workshop at Chanticleer, one of the loveliest gardens on the East Coast. And a garden has to be pretty lovely to draw you outdoors when temperatures top 100 degrees F.
That’s right. The rental car temperature gauge read 95 when I picked it up at the airport on Friday afternoon at about 1:30 p.m. but Chanticleer is 25 minutes inland, and by the time I reached Wayne PA, the temperatures had soared to 108 F. Hot tamales!
Thankfully, our opening session on Friday evening was indoors. The excellent instructor, Allen Rokach, gave us the rundown of what he had planned for us: on both Saturday and Sunday we would meet in the morning by 6 a.m. to catch the early morning light, shoot until 9:30, then take refuge in the air conditioned luxury of the Main House to review and select our images (and fill our tummies with healthy goodies). A group review would follow with 10 images we each selected for feedback. We’d end the afternoon with scouting for more shots before Chanticleer closed their gates at 5.
The artistry of Chanticleer’s plantings offered countless photo-ops. What’s always fun for me are the new plant discoveries….this year the one that charmed everyone was the unusually large flowered Gomphrena ‘Fireworks‘, a tender perennial we can all grow from seed. I also discovered an unusual tropical plant, Mussaenda frondosa, with little orange blossoms and showy white bracts that resemble the green leaves.
To briefly summarize what I learned despite the heat’s affect on my memory retention:
1. Just because something is interesting or beautiful, does not mean it is photogenic.
2. Take lots and lots of pictures. Look, and then look some more from other angles. Then, delete what is not good.
3. Observe how light is complimenting (or not!) your image.
4. Skip the midday picture taking. The bright sun washes out too much.
5. Use a tripod! Use a tripod!
6. Have fun using Photoshop.
Visiting Chanticleer is a must! Here’s more info.
Are you walking around your garden now and kicking yourself for not planting more bulbs last fall? Or, did you plant bulbs and now that they are up, are realizing that you need a bit more to create the impact you had planned? Well don’t be so hard on yourself. Act now. Go out with your camera and take shots of the areas you want to amend. These images will be helpful reminders of what the areas looked like. Next, consider what other bulbs bloom at the same time, and what perennials are appearing on the scene to compliment the show, so that you can create cheerful vignettes. After you’ve made your list, go for it. Go online and visit a quality bulb merchant. Think in large numbers. Bulb merchants give quantity pricing, so splurge and go for 100 rather than 25. Yes, that’s alot of bulb planting, but you will be so pleased with yourself next spring.
We have preconceived ideas concerning the color pink. Actually it is more assertive than we may think. Google the word Pink and the first hits include the performing artist by that name, Victoria’s Secret, and surprise! an alcoholic beverage. Pink is for girls. Light blue is for boys. (Actually this color=gender logic didn’t take hold until the 1940’s, and prior to then, pink had been associated with little boys). Just being told that I should like pink made me rebel and declare NO I won’t. Early preferences stuck and I held on to that assertion for 50 years. Could I be mellowing with age or just choosing to look at things differently… last year I realized I wanted to look at this shade of red a whole lot more.
Interestingly we rarely say “light red” when describing pink. When I visualize red I think of tomato or fire engine red, a powerful primary color, which is a far cry from my preconceived image of sweet and gentle pink. Pink is essentially red diluted with white…but ah, there are so many variations, depending on which shade of red you begin with. Warm orange reds soften to peach and appleblossom. Bluer reds infused with white take you to cool lavender tones or vivid cerise. And then there are all the hues and tonal variations in between.
Twenty years ago, the gardening magazines were laden with images of planting schemes using the lovely and oh so safe palette of pinks, blues, silvers and whites (with perhaps a hint of pale yellow). Then, tastes began to change. A new generation of gardeners responded with a no thank you, and began using the once taboo shades of orange, lime and purple. Well, what was old is new again. Pink is suddenly fresh, and there are plenty of adventurous pink color combinations waiting to be tried. You can play it safe with pale blues and whites, or break the old rules…pinks with reds for example. Last year I used shades of pink in combination with wines, golds and silver, and found plenty of inspiration to play some more. Are you ready to give pink a try?
We are the brief, but committed stewards of one of the oldest trees in our town. A Quercus bicolor, commonly known as Swamp White Oak, spreads its majestic limbs, covering 6400 sq. ft of garden in the lower area of our property. It stands as a venerable member of an ancient clan, reaching its many arms, some 50 feet long, in all directions, from a trunk with a robust 12 1/2 foot caliper. Although it is no more than 60 feet tall, an understatement for a 200+ year old tree, it’s sublime presence creates a complete and awe inspiring space. Stand in the welcoming shade of its vast crown, place your hands on the deeply furrowed face of its trunk, letting your fingers feel the wrinkles of 200 hundred years, raise your eyes to wander into this living sculpture, home to thousands upon thousands of flying and crawling insects, not to mention dozens of birds, proving a feeding ground for so many more creatures; one of many children not of our own womb, but generously lent to us by the most grand and trusting mother, Earth. Everyday, we take care of this grand old tree, and in return, it takes care of us.
Come and share this sacred space when you visit, if only for 5 minutes. When the time comes for you to plant an heirloom tree, you will see the road of time stretching out before you, and on it, your loving, grateful heirs and when you look behind, the beautifully wrinkled and wise faces of your ancestors.
We always think of the first day of a new season as a holiday, one of nature’s holidays, a marking of time which reminds us to take stock of what is important. This year, Dec. 21 marks the Winter Solstice when all living beings in the northern hemisphere experience the fewest hours of daylight. For thousands of years, societies around the earth have celebrated the Solstice by having feasts, making merry with song and drink, and keeping an ever burning fire. Many of our favorite rituals of the Christmas holidays had their origins in Winter Solstice Celebrations.
As gardeners we have reason to celebrate light. The sun is essential for growth, and the winter months restrict us by limiting daylight. Sure, you can are argue that we need this down time to rest, to contemplate. But the sun is our source, and we can easily turn moody and feel depleted until ample light returns.
Why give in completely? We came across a website created by a group of Canadian artists, who know a thing about illuminating long winter nights. Their adventurous spirit can provide inspiration for us all. Why not ward off the darkness by bringing light into your garden? You don’t have to be elaborate, and the display doesn’t have to come down the day after New Year’s. Some thoughts: Adorn a garden structure with a strand of lights, illuminate a lovely tree with a ground spotlight. Create a blaze in your fire pit or line a walkway with luminaria. It will make your heart, and the hearts of those passing by, glow a little too.
The holidays are approaching, and it’s hard not to feel frantic. One place we try to avoid is the shopping malls. If you have gardeners to select gifts for, that?s easy. Consider a few alternative gifts that will continue to give throughout the year. (hint/hint: you may be the only gardener in the family so “cc:” this webpage to the Secret Santa who pulled your name for the Gift Exchange). Here are a few ideas that offer inspiration and support and that don’t have to cost a lot of money.
Gift Memberships to a Plant Society, such as The North American Rock Garden Society, and The Hardy Plant Society, or a Local Botanical Garden. In our area there is The Arnold Arboretum, Blithewold, and The New England Wild Flower Society. Memberships in plant societies and botanical gardens provide the recipient with excellent and often free (or at a reduced price) lectures, seed and plant exchanges, opportunities to buy rare plants, periodicals on horticultural topics, and a chance to chat it up with other plant-o-holics. Memberships are a great way to support these valuable institutions as well.
Quality Garden Tools. Quality does make a difference. These tools last, making them sustainable. Felco Pruners are a must have for every plantsman. Also, check out Red Pig Garden Tools for hard to find implements. Birdbaths, Handsome Pottery and Containers are all low maintenance focal points that add a sense of place. What about a hammock or garden bench?
Gift Certificates to Favorite Nurseries. Is this too hard a sell? The long cold days of January will soon put us all in a funk, and dreaming of new plants and new gardens is one way to get through the early part of winter. Of course we’d be delighted if plants from Avant Gardens helped your favorite gardener fulfill his or her dreams.
Thanksgiving is a bit early this year, which is good and bad. Good, because we can enjoy this autumnal feast among family and friends without paying heed to retailers’ nagging “there’s only 4 weeks left before Christmas.” Bad, because, if you’re like us, there are still more tasks and cleanup to do outside, and we gave ourselves a tentative deadline for wrapping up the “putting the garden to bed” chores –Thanksgiving.
Fact is I don’t think there’s ever been a year when we’ve completely “finished” this end of the season chore. There’s always so much to do. A prioritizing list helps us focus on the most important tasks, but we always have so many good intentions. If the weather holds out longer, we’ll take advantage of whatever reasonable days we get to plant the rest of the bulbs or to tackle dividing and transplanting the Siberian Iris that haven’t bloomed well for 3 years.
And what if the garden itself doesn’t want to be “finished”? Our raised vegetable beds are still producing lettuce, kale, carrots, parsnips and beets. We’ve mulched our beds with rinsed and dried seaweed, which protects and insulates the soil for easy digging. To extend the season as long as possible, this spring Chris purchased a hoop bender from Johnny’s Selected Seeds which enables us to make inexpensive supports from galvanized electrical conduit for covering planting beds. The installed hoop frames can be covered with Remay or clear plastic to rebuke the hard frosts. These hoops just might enable us to harvest lettuce into the New Year!
Are you confused? We were. Asters were one of the easy botanical names to remember, since the common name was exactly the same as the Latin name, until maybe a decade ago. We started to notice that certain wholesale sources were listing many common fall aster species as Symphyotrichum (pronounced sim-fy-oh-TRY-kum). This brought up questions. Will this name take hold with the gardening public? Should we reclassify the plants we were calling Aster? And which asters were considered in the genus Symphyotrichum? Would our customers know to look under this new genus name when seeking the fall blooming asters?
Upon research we discovered that once botanists began comparing the DNA of Eurasian Asters with North American species, they found that the asters native to North America were more closely related to other native genera, especially Boltonia, Solidago and Erigeron. To be brief, the North American Asters included in the Symphyotrichum group are the species: cordifolius, dumosus, laevis, lateriflorum, novae-angliae, novi-belgii oblongifolius. Two New World Asters, divaricatus and macrophyllus are now considered to be Eurybia species.
Some of the Eurasian species have been reclassified into the genera Crinitaria, Galatella and Bellidiastrum, (few of which are commercially available here in the US) while others still remain in the genus Aster, including Aster amellus, ageratoides and tartaricus. The question remains as to what would be the correct nomenclature for Aster hybrids, such as the new selection Aster x ‘Blue Autumn’, recently introduced in the US by European breeders as a cultivar of Aster laevis, incorrectly we might add. We’ll keep you posted when we know for sure.