Friday, May 8, 2015 22 comments

The melodic beauty of my Appalachian spring

Solomon's Seal is a native that blooms in April and May

The ballet score Appalachian Spring won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1945, and remains one of the most inspiring works in American history.

But composer Aaron Copeland didn’t have mountains or forests in mind when he started working on the orchestral suite in 1942.

He initially called the score “Ballet for Martha” for the ballet’s choreographer and lead dancer, Martha Graham.

Graham suggested the name the day before the ballet premiered.

Copeland once said “I gave voice to that region without knowing I was giving voice to it.”

Shooting Stars are spring superstars
And he was often told he’d brilliantly captured the beauty of the Appalachians in his music.

As far as I'm concerned, it really doesn’t matter that this region wasn’t the original inspiration for his masterpiece. 

Every time I hear Appalachian Spring I can't help but envision the beauty of the mountains.

Especially this time of year.

 Diverse and dramatic

The mountains that surround me make up one of the most biologically diverse areas of the world with more than 1,600 flowering plants.

Here, visions of violets signal spring is on the way. The Halberd-leaf Yellow Violet is usually the first flower I see. 

Halberd-leaf Violet
Its name comes from an observation that the arrowhead leaves are reminiscent of a battle-ax type weapon used in the 15th and 16th centuries. I’ll have to take the historians at their word.

The humble violet has been celebrated in myths and literature from ancient times, a symbol of modesty and simplicity. Longfellow wrote that it “lurks among all the lovely children of the shade.”

Shakespeare described the violet as “forward” as it trumpets the awakening of the earth following winter. He also writes the violet is “sweet, not lasting. The perfume and suppliance of a minute; No more.”

So we should gather our Halberd-leaf Yellow violets while we may. 

Confederate Violet
Along with the other violets that grow along my trail, including the Confederate, Common Blue, Pale and several other varieties.

 Trillium heaven

A couple of years ago, according to folks in the know, a very warm winter caused many wildflowers to go into a tizzy.

Apparently a number of species flowered up to three weeks early and because of the warmth, the bloom period was very short. Trilliums also appeared early and were quickly devoured by hungry deer.

Catesby's Trillium (maybe)
At that time I was new to the mountains, so I didn’t know what I was missing. 

This spring has been an entirely different story.

 Trilliums are members of the Lily family and are among the showiest of springtime wildflowers. The local natives sport three distinctive leaves and when they bloom, the flowers have three petals.

Stinking Benjamin
American Indians used the plant as an eye medication and women boiled the roots to make a love potion. Mountain folk say if you pick a trillium you will bring on a rainstorm.

Wake Robin, a favorite that I did see last year, is back with its deep burgundy blooms. Apparently that is the “nice” name because I’ve learned it is also known as Stinking Benjamin or Stinking Willie because of the putrid smelling flower. Early herbalists used it to treat gangrene.

A number of Painted Trilliums are growing down by the path. It was a happy surprise because I didn’t see many in the past. I’m delighted to have them because experts say they have been virtually bulldozed or picked into extinction.
Painted Trillium

The white and pink trilliums nearby are beautiful, too. But I’ve become partial to the Painteds.

Every time I see one, I hear music.

Sunday, April 12, 2015 2 comments

All we are saying, is give Bees a chance

In 2006, an alarm sounded concerning the health of honeybees when a Florida beekeeper discovered 400 of his hives were empty. Similar reports about disappearing bees came in from across the country.

Even though historical records tell us these insects have abandoned hives over the centuries, researchers were concerned because so many bees were vanishing so quickly. They feared a new disease was to blame.

Colony Collapse Disorder was the name given the decline, and over the years, fingers have been pointed at many potential culprits including parasitic mites, pesticides, immune system issues, stress from overwork, and poor nutrition.

After extensive research it appears CCD is a multi-pronged condition with no singular cause. But because a large percentage of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators, the search for answers continues.

Home gardeners can land a hand

Various species of bees, along with moths, butterflies, birds, bats and other animals are pollinators. The pollen (powderlike material from the male parts of flowers) they move between flowers of the same species results in fertilization, enabling plants to produce blooms, seeds or fruits.

Gardeners can play an important role in helping pollinators like bees increase their numbers by offering essential food, water and shelter. Even those who don’t have a garden can participate by planting window boxes and containers with bee favorites.

The first step is to choose plants for your garden that supply a diversity of nectar and pollen throughout the growing season.  Bees are partial to plants living in their own habitats, so choose wildflowers and natives whenever possible. Not sure which natives flourish near you? Visit, type in your zip code on the Planting Guide page, and you’ll be able to download a PDF with specific recommendations for your area.

There is also a helpful Bloom Period guide so you can have something flowering from spring to fall.  Native plant societies can offer additional guidance.

Beyond natives

If natives aren’t readily available, you can find bee-approved choices at most local nurseries and garden centers.  (Before buying, ask if their plants have been bred with neonicinoids, pesticides that can harm bees.) Pesticide-free verbena, rudbeckia, yarrow, salvias, coneflowers and flowering herbs are all good choices. Catmints are particularly useful because they will continue to bloom deep into fall with regular trimming.
Heirlooms from grandmother’s garden such as daisies, hollyhocks, asters, and old-fashioned roses are especially attractive to bees. (Flat flowers like daisies and single roses make it easier for bees to collect pollen.) Even veggies can be part of the plan: pollinators will make a beeline for cucumber and squash flowers.

Colors and clusters

Entomologists studying bees have learned they can see four colors – yellow, blue, bluish green (which is how they view white) and violet. They perceive red as black. So when considering plant varieties, your palette should include the blue, yellow and purple flowers bees find appealing.

Choose a sunny location and set out your plants in groups. Again, be sure to stagger bloom times so there will be food available throughout the year. And avoid using pesticides that can be toxic to bees.

Water and shelter

Although we rarely see them taking a drink, bees appreciate gardens that offer a source of water. It can be as simple as filling a shallow dish with small stones and twigs so bees can land and rest while drinking. A birdbath also offers a dependable destination for bees to take a sip when necessary. Be sure to use clean, chemical free water, and replace supplies regularly.

According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, there are over 5,000 different species of native or wild bees living in the US. These bees don’t live in hives like honeybees but in logs, dead tree limbs, even in holes in the ground.

As part of the garden, leave an area of bare dirt for ground nesters. You can even build your own shelter by drilling holes in an untreated wood block. The holes should be 3” to 5” deep and approximately ¼” in diameter. Allow an inch between each hole. Choose a site for your “nest” that is protected as much as possible from wind and rain, under the eaves of a shed, for example.

These habitats, along with access to water and bee friendly plants will create an environment that will soon have your local pollinators buzzing.

 I first wrote this article in March, 2015 for The Christian Science Monitor.

Sunday, March 8, 2015 7 comments

Admiring, judging and drooling over roses Down Under

'Crepuscule" at the Royal Botanic Gardens

Poppy, the prettiest flower in Australia
This past October we made a return trip to Australia to visit son Sam, his wife Hayley and new family member, Poppy. 


Hayley found us an amazing flat overlooking Sydney Harbour, which meant all the pleasures of the city were just a ferry ride or stroll away. 

 Our second day there we headed downtown for a tour of the Royal Botanic Gardens. This 70+ acre showplace was established in 1816 as the colony’s “veggie patch.” The parcel of land overlooks Farm Cove and offers a stunning view of the harbor and Sydney Opera House.

Pope John Paul II

It’s a very relaxing place to spend an afternoon and recover from jet lag. The entrance sign says: “Please walk on the grass. We also invite you to smell the roses, hug the trees, talk to the birds and picnic on the lawns.”

Mr. Lincoln
I made a beeline for the Palace Rose Garden, which features about 1800 bushes, all selected for their ability to thrive without pampering.  They use predatory insects to control pests, but the wasps on duty were falling down on the job. 

Never mind, the abundance of blooms made up for the aphids.

The Jamberoo show is the largest in New South Wales
The next day we set off on a trip to Kiama where I judged the New South Wales Rose Show in Jamberoo. Their rules for judging are very different from ours in the US, so I mainly watched and learned. Many of the entries were simply stunning.

'Glorious' (and it was)

While there I met fellow judge Mark McGuire who has won just about every prize in rosedom. He and wife Julie invited us to visit his magnificent downtown rose garden when we returned to Sydney.

 Mark’s garden called “Rose View” was created in 1993 and attracts visitors from Sydney, indeed from across the globe October through April. For his outstanding
contribution to the beauty of the area, he was awarded the North Sydney Achievement of Excellence.

'Brass Band'

In addition to the display in the main garden, Mark has a number of potted roses that have not had fresh soil or fertilizer for over two decades. They were blooming their heads off.

Oh, and if the sight of all these roses wasn't enough of a treat for the senses, you can also see the harbor from his front garden.

'Evelyn Fison', 'Scarlet Red' and 'Cherry Parfait'
Another amazing vista in amazing Australia.

Monday, February 23, 2015 10 comments

The greatest roses you never heard of

Not knocking 'Knock Out' but...

 Ask most people to name an “easy care” rose and the most likely answer you’ll hear is ‘Knock Out’.

Introduced to the gardening world in 2000, this humble shrub is highly touted for its disease resistance, hardiness and drought tolerance. I‘ve nicknamed it the Lazy Gardener’s Rose because it even tidies itself up, eliminating the need for extensive pruning. 

'Double Red Knock Out'
Fact is, when you visit a big box garden center or nursery these days, 'Knock Out' and the members of its extended family are about the only varieties of roses you’ll find. And although these shrubs have their place in the landscape, it is a shame other varieties are overlooked. Especially one largely unknown and underused class of antique roses that can give modern shrubs a run for their money.

Rosedom's unheralded superstars are Polyanthas, and I'm pleased to report these oldies but goodies are now enjoying a resurgence in popularity.  
'Cl. Cecile Brunner'

Polyanthas made their debut in France in late 1800’s, originally the result of crosses between China roses and sprawling Multifloras.  The new class of rose was disease resistant, hardy and everblooming. And because they tended to be compact growers, polyanthas were ideal for mass plantings, containers and low borders. 

As a rule these roses are only available through mail order. Two exceptions are ‘The Fairy’ and ‘Cecile Brunner’, (also known as the Sweetheart Rose). You may just stumble upon these in your area. But there are dozens of other varieties in a palette of colors ranging from white to cherry red to purple just waiting to be discovered by gardeners.
'White Pet' Courtesy David Austin Roses

Cydney Wade, owner of Rose Petals Nursery in Newberry, Florida, declares polyanthas to be the “rosarians’s secret” because of their versatility, bloom power and history. “It may be a small class, but it includes some highly rated varieties that have survived over 100 years.”

'Clotilde Soupert'

‘Perle d’ Or’, ‘Clotilde Soupert’ and ‘The Fairy’ are three of the most popular at the nursery. (Rose Petals has a number of polyanthas in stock and they ship each Monday.) She recommends ‘Pink Pet’ and ‘White Pet’ for containers and ‘Gartendirektor Otto Linne’ as a stunning climber.

Consulting Rosarian and American Rose Society judge Bill Blevins is also a polyantha enthusiast. “ They offer ease of growth, quick repeat bloom and the charm of a bygone era.”

He notes ‘Lullaby’ remains a favorite from 1953 with its heavily petaled white to blush pink blooms and dark green leathery foliage.

But Polyanthas aren’t all antique. Along with ‘La Marne’ (1915) and ‘Marie Pavie ‘(1888) Bill gives high marks to two modern additions to the class: red ‘Wing-Ding’ (2006) and orange-red ‘Zeniatta’ (1991). 

'Pookah' was a head-turning winner at Biltmore
Last May, a gorgeous polyantha called ‘Pookah’ bred by James Delahanty, won The Honorable John Cecil Award for Open Group at the Biltmore International Rose Trials.  I was one of the judges there and would love to add this robust beauty to my garden.

I grew ‘Zeniatta’ in Maryland and like ‘Pookah’, it was very vigorous, throwing out spray after spray of traffic-stopping blooms.

I also planted ‘The Fairy’ in the small garden we started at our cottage on the Eastern Shore. When we decided to tear the house down and rebuild, we planned to dig up the roses and keep them in pots during construction. 

'Zeniatta' is perfect in borders and containers
Unfortunately, the backhoe showed up a day earlier than expected and my plants, including ‘The Fairy’ were buried under a mountain of broken concrete blocks. I was devastated, because my late mother-in-law had given me the rose as a housewarming gift. I vowed to replace it one day.

Six months later while clearing construction trash to start my new patch, I noticed something green emerging from the debris. When I looked closer I spied the unmistakable 7-leaf leaflet of ‘The Fairy’. She’d survived, and within a short time was once again waving her cheery pink blossoms at me from the front garden.

'Lovely Fairy' is a sport of the legendary original

So next time you think about buying a rose, choose one that combines a rich history with dependable performance and spunk.

Pass up the ‘Knock Out’ and pick a polyantha.

Friday, January 23, 2015 8 comments

David Austin's 2015 pick of the posies for American gardeners

Thomas a Becket is a stunner in the landscape (Courtesy David Austin Roses)

I’ve mentioned in the past that when I’m giving a lecture on roses I often begin by telling the audience my presentation could be hazardous to their health.

You see, I know better than most that once rose fever sets in, there is no cure. No matter how many roses one has, there will always be a more appealing one coming up at garden centers or in the 2015 catalogs.

Which means rose fever can also be hazardous to the pocketbook.

I myself contracted a rare strain called English Rose fever while living in London in the early 90’s when I fell in love with a new line of “old fashioned” roses created by David Austin.

Courtesy Chris VanCleave

As a result of a hybridizing program initiated in the 1950’s, he captured the appealing features of Old Garden Roses (roses introduced prior to 1867) such as cupped or rosette-shaped flowers and strong fragrance in bushes that have the repeat bloom and vigor of modern roses.

Now many years later, I still have English Rose Fever.

And it doesn’t help my bank balance that the new David Austin catalogue has just arrived with four new US introductions that look irresistible. These roses have been specially selected to perform well in a variety of growing conditions throughout America.

Maid Marion

We all dream of finding a rose that has the charming form of yesteryear, produces armloads of blooms and is delightfully scented as well.

Maid Marion delivers near perfect blooms all season
‘Maid Marion’ delivers all these attributes and more. 

According to Technical Manager and Senior Rosarian Michael Marriott, ‘Maid Marion’ produces some of the most superbly formed flowers in English Rose history. It is also quick to repeat.

The catalogue tells us the buds start as rounded cups with larger outer petals, enclosing numerous smaller petals within. These open to perfect rosette-shaped flowers in the form of a saucer; the outer petals forming an appealing rounded rim. It produces clear, rose pink flowers from early summer till frost, with a soft myrrh scent that becomes fruitier with a distinct clove character.

Maid Marion grows 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide, and is hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.
 The Albrighton Rambler

Rambler roses that repeat bloom from summer into fall are rarities. Those that don’t ramble here, there and everywhere are even more rare.

Now David Austin introduces ‘The Albrighton Rambler’, a well behaved rose that grows from 10 to 12 feet, and offers large sprays of soft pink blooms (with a little button eye) that hang gracefully on the branch. It mixes beautifully with large-flowered climbers on an upright structure and is a perfect choice for arches, pillars, walls – even small trees.

A well behaved rambler that can spread 12 feet or more

It repeats well and is exceptionally healthy. In addition, the flowers are not affected by rain. According to Michael, the ‘Albrighton Rambler’ has a light musky fragrance typical of the Sempervirens hybrids.  Hardy in USDA Zones 7-10.

Thomas a Becket

I love the reds so this is a "must have" for me
This red beauty is a bit different than many English roses in that it is “closer to the Species Roses than to the Old Roses and more natural and shrubby in growth.”

The color is difficult to pinpoint or even photograph but is described as a light red that pales to a carmine red. (I am wondering if it will be similar in shade to Darcey Bussell or Sir John Betjeman. We shall see.)

The Austin team says the individual flowers open as informal rosettes; the petals quickly reflexing as the flowers age. They are held in medium-sized heads; the individual blooms nodding attractively on the stem. They have an Old Rose fragrance with a strong lemon zest character.

Michael says ‘Thomas’ blooms a week or 10 days later than most English Roses, then produces masses of flowers for the remainder of the season. He does caution it may take three years to look its best.  

If I get a bush that eventually looks like one in the photo above, I will be willing to wait! Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.

The Lady Gardener

This Lady is said to be a blooming machine
Michael Marriott says this a particularly interesting rose in that it is the first in the English “Old Rose” group to sport apricot flowers. (The Old Rose hybrids were the original English Roses such as ‘Wife of Bath’. They have much of the character of the true old roses – the gallicas, damasks, etc. Prior to The Lady Gardener, the colors by and large were soft shades of pink, crimson and purple.)
The 65-petaled blooms are large, about 4" across, and start out as a rich apricot that pales towards the outside of the bloom.  It is said to produce a “staggering” number of roses, is very healthy and laughs at rain. As a bonus ‘The Lady” has a delicious Tea rose fragrance with hints of cedar wood and vanilla.  Hardy in USDA Zones 5-9.

So there you go, the English Class of 2015. All these roses are now available for spring delivery to your garden. Have you selected one you can’t live without?

With apologies to my pocketbook, I think I must have them all.

Monday, January 12, 2015 3 comments

Farewell, 2014. It's been a Fab year. Part 2

When we last left my 2014 stroll down Memory Lane, we were contemplating whether or not to cancel our trip to Australia and New Zealand.

Chris was recovering from emergency surgery and an 11-day hospital stay in September. Then, a week before we were to fly out, I was coping with a sinus infection and an abscessed tooth.

Poppy and her gorgeous Mum, Hayley
Wondering what else could possibly go wrong, we made the decision to go for it. On October 15th, we took off for the Land Down Under.

We’d been to Sydney before in 2011 for son Sam’s wedding. Now, part of the reason for the journey was to meet little Miss Poppy Hunt, age 1.

We stayed in a flat overlooking the Sydney Harbour, which meant all the pleasures of the city and surrounding areas were just a ferry ride or stroll away.

Crepuscule (Noisette) at the Royal Botanic Gardens
Love that view of the "Coathanger" bridge

Royal Botanic Gardens, Sydney

Mr. Lincoln, Down Under

 One weekend we took a side trip to Kiama where I judged the New South Wales Rose Show in Jamberoo. There I met fellow judge Mark McGuire who invited us to visit his magnificent rose garden in downtown Sydney.

A rose called 'Glorious' took top honors

You can see the Sydney Harbour from this amazing city garden

Alas the time with Sam, Hayley and Poppy flew by, and soon we were back on a plane bound for Auckland, New Zealand.

One of the joys of our visit there was getting together with old friends (new ones for me) Mike and Carolyn from Chris’ days living in Hambledon, England. 

During our week on the North Island we visited Waiheke Island, the Bay of Islands and of course, more beautiful rose gardens.

Tui birds can become drunk and disorderly after too much Kowhai nectar

Captain Cook counted 89 islands here (there are 144)
Me and Syd the cat at the Waterfront Cafe, Paihia
Nancy Steen Heritage Garden in Auckland

Back on the plane, to Christchurch and the South Island. We were shocked and saddened by the devastation that still lingers after the 2011 earthquake.

Francois Juranville (Rambler) at the Christchurch Botanical Gardens
Gorgeous rhododendrons dotted the trails at the gardens

From there we took the TranzAlpine train to Greymouth, then drove to Franz Joseph (home of the glaciers) for the night.

Took these photos hanging off the observation car

The trip to Queenstown was beautiful and scary. Chris failed to tell me a British couple had been swept away crossing the Haast Pass and have yet to be found. 

Lake Wakatipu at Queenstown and the Remarkables mountains

There was a heritage rose trail at Arrowtown

Near Glenorchy

If you have not been to Queenstown, you likely will feel like you’ve visited there. The mountain range,The Remarkables have hosted numerous movies, including Lord of the Rings.

You pass a variety of scenic vistas on the drive back to Christchurch, then turn a corner and there is Mount Cook. 

Fact is New Zealand is so amazingly gorgeous it is difficult for the brain to take it all in.

Was it real or was it a dream?

And how can we top it in 2015?

Oh, one last thing. We also celebrated our 25th anniversary a few days after returning home!