Wednesday, July 26, 2017 1 comments

Hopes, dreams and disappointments

Goodbye knot garden :(
In the last exciting episode of The Dirt Diaries, I was preparing to leave for Jolly Old England. In addition to visiting with family and friends, I was going to explore the £7.5 million renovation to the Garden Museum in London, and check out the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. The show is now billed as the world’s largest so it was only natural my hopes were sky high.

Unfortunately the visit to “Jolly Old” was a bit less than jolly. Not long after arriving Chris came down with a bug (chest congestion, coughing and generally feeling crummy.) A few days later I was under the weather as well.

Still, I thought what better way to cheer us up than a trip to the Garden Museum we’d so enjoyed before it closed for renovations in 2015! One of my favorite things about the museum was the gorgeous knot garden next to the Tradescant tomb.  As we arrived, we discovered that garden was gone.

The Garden Museum originally opened in 1977 after the founder, Rosemary Nicholson, discovered the tomb of the Tradescants (engraved with skulls and crocodiles) in the graveyard of the ancient church of St. Mary’s. Some of the 20,000 bodies buried on the site date back to before the Norman Conquest. 

 
  The knot garden was planted in honor of the intrepid plant hunter John Tradescant and his son. Both men traveled the globe to find new plants (and parts of exotic animals) to bring back to England. John the elder was also gardener to Charles I.

The garden we saw was planted with species either introduced by the Tradescants, or grown in their Lambeth garden, which has long since disappeared. Most plants in the modern garden were labeled with their country of origin and year they were introduced to the UK.

The new Courtyard (Courtesy the Garden Museum)

The renovated Garden Museum features new flooring and lighting (Courtesy the Garden Museum)

Despite the demise of the old garden, the shiny new Garden Museum offers more space for exhibits that will delight all who share a love of gardening.  There are seven exhibition galleries and over a thousand objects on display reflecting all aspects of gardening from 1600 to today. I especially enjoyed the scrapbook of a lady who as a teenager had collected wildflowers growing in the rubble of the Blitz.



The London Evening Standard liked what they saw:  “There are touching mementoes and curiosities here. Some are impressive artifacts: a wonderful 17th-century terracotta watering can, for example, or a glass “cucumber straightener” invented by George Stephenson. Others earn their place through significant associations with great gardeners: William Robinson’s cloak, Gertrude Jekyll’s desk. 

A special display has been added: a gallery designed by Alec Cobbe known as The Ark, which displays 20 precious Tradescant items on loan from the Ashmolean in Oxford, a cabinet of curiosities conceived in homage to Tradescants’ own museum, one of the wonders of 17th-century London.”

A heritage fruit possibly grown by the Tradescants
One of the exhibitions that particularly interested me was Tradescant’s Orchard: A Celebration of Botanical Art. Fifty modern botanical artists painted heritage fruits that are displayed alongside ‘The Tradescants’ Orchard’, a 17th century volume of 66 watercolors depicting fruit varieties that John Tradescant and his son might have grown in their market garden at Lambeth.

That exhibition made me rethink the idea of taking a course in botanical art I’d once considered.

Take a seat inside the shed and watch short films about folks and their gardens (Courtesy the Garden Museum)

The museum also features new learning spaces, a gift shop and a large café that was doing a brisk business. In addition, the 14th century medieval tower will be open to the public for the first time. The observation platform offers a splendid view of the Thames and London skyline.

I understand new plantings related to Tradescant discoveries are slated for the courtyard. To be fair, the museum just reopened in late May and I’m sure the result will be impressive. If I hadn’t felt so lousy and I hadn’t seen the original garden, I probably would have been delighted.

I may have been a bit disappointed this trip, but if you are a mad keen gardener, you must go.

Next stop: The Hampton Court Palace Garden Show
















































Friday, June 16, 2017 4 comments

London's Garden Museum fascinates (again) with Tradescants and treasures



As we are packing to head “across the pond”, I wanted to repost this article I wrote about the Garden Museum in 2015.

As Dirt Diaries readers may recall, I visited just before the museum closed for a £7.5 million renovation. I will be covering the reopening, along with the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show and other fun destinations.

I’ll also revisit the “window boxes of London” and see what clever things the designers have come up for 2017! And I’ll see how the Queen’s bees are doing at Buckingham Palace.

Enjoy your tour of the “old” museum (which I found fascinating) and join me for all the dirt on UK gardening goings-on when I return. Cheers!
 
The museum is housed in the former St. Mary-at-Lambeth church


Just before we left on our trip to England, I wrote about some of the gardens and sights we planned to visit there.

In London Calling (London gardens that is), I mentioned the Garden Museum and how much I was looking forward to going there. 

We stopped in on a dreary Tuesday afternoon and were greeted by the news the museum was about to close for an extensive redevelopment program  and won’t be reopened until 2017. Even though activity was winding down, we found the exhibits and grounds intriguing.

A selection of garden gnomes from the final exhibit before renovations

How many garden designs did Jekyll plot at this desk?
 
The main exhibit was Gnome & Away: Secrets of the Collection, which featured a grouping of antique tools and objects of interest to gardeners. Other assorted goodies were on display elsewhere in the museum including Gertrude Jekyll’s desk and an American pink flamingo.

An early miniature garden
Outside we wandered through the re-creation of a seventeenth century knot garden planted in honor of intrepid plant hunter John Tradescant and his son. Both men traveled the globe to find new plants (and parts of exotic animals) to bring back to England. John the elder was also gardener to Charles I.

Even though it was late September, the garden was still lovely. I can just imagine what it looks like in spring and summer when topiaries are at their best, and the old roses and herbaceous plants are in bloom.

 
The Knot Garden from above (Photo courtesy London Garden Trust)


The knot garden itself is planted with species either introduced by the Tradescants, or grown in their Lambeth garden, which has long since disappeared. Most plants in the modern garden are labeled with their country of origin and year they were introduced to the UK.

One of the fascinating things on display is a copy of “the catalogue to the John Tradescants’ Ark, cabinet of curiosities and botanical garden.” The Ark was considered to be one of the wonders of 17th century London. Father and son opened the garden and “cabinet” to citizens (at a cost of six pence to get in) and in effect, created London’s first public museum. 

The Tradescant catalog lists an Alegator (sic), Rattle Snakes and a Dragon

Astonishing rarities were reportedly displayed including the “hand of a mermaid, a pelican, a small piece of wood from the cross of Christ and all kinds of foreign plants.”

The Tradescant family tomb is adjacent to the knot garden and is one of the most important churchyard monuments in London. Panels carved into the sides of the monument depict objects from the Tradescant collection.

An alligator and a nautilus shell are among carvings on the tomb

 If you love garden history, the information about the Tradescant catalog, tomb and plants in the knot garden is well worth the price of admission.

But I was sorry to learn I had missed some truly extraordinary earlier exhibits.  One on War and Gardens included a scrapbook of pressed flowers from London bombsites collected by a teenager just after World War II. There was also an array of Wills Rose Cigarette Cards from World War I, and stories of gardens behind the lines.

I loved these rose cigarette cards so much, I bought one on eBay

I am delving into these stories with the gracious help of the Garden Museum, and will be writing about it all very soon.

I look forward to finding out more about these wartime gardens. 

And I truly look forward to returning to this treasure of a museum in 2017.

Welcome Americans!!




 
Monday, April 17, 2017 8 comments

My ugly mound gets a Southern Living makeover




When we bought our North Carolina mountain home in 2009, we inherited an eyesore between our driveway and the road.

We were not the original owners but we deduced a bulldozer had pushed a combination of soil from the woodland floor and builder’s sand away from the house, creating what we dubbed “the mound.”

Interestingly, the side of the mound facing the road is quite nice. It is home to a variety of native trees and wildflowers, even a flame azalea. The side facing the house is a different matter altogether, mostly junky sand and mica bits. For seven years we’ve worked with some success to give it a facelift. 

The plants arrive!

Now, the mound is about to go from blah to beautiful.

When the folks at Southern Living approached me for ideas on using Lorapetalums in my garden, I discovered two of the varieties were perfect for my landscaping challenge.

Purple Pixie® Dwarf Weeping Loropetalum grows 1-2 feet high and spreads 4-5 feet, and it loves slopes! Plus it isn’t terribly fussy about soil condition as long as it is well-drained and acidic.
Purple Pixie

In the spring, Purple Pixie sports pretty bright pink tassel-like blooms which contrast nicely with the handsome dark purple foliage. Because of the weeping habit, it is also an excellent choice for hanging baskets and containers.


To back up the weeping Purple Pixies, I chose Purple Daydream™ Dwarf Lorapetalum. In the past, gardeners may have shied away from lorapetalums because they didn’t have space for a 15-foot shrub. The new dwarfs have changed all that. Purple Daydream grows into a tidy 3’ by 4’ evergreen that is drought and deer resistant. It loves slopes, too.  (If you don’t have a slope to cover, these plants also make an attractive hedge.)

Purple Daydream also flowers in spring

Lemon Lime Nandina

For visual contrast I selected Lemon Lime Nandinas, Evercolor Everest® Carex and  ‘Real Glory’ Leucanthemums. I can testify the color of the nandinas is a dazzling lime green that will fade to light green during the summer months. The lime/purple color combination is going to be a traffic stopper.

‘Everest’ Carex has striped foliage with distinctive silvery edges – another striking contrast with the purple lorapetalums. When mature, the plants will form tidy, graceful 12-18 inch mounds. Once established, Everest will tolerate the dry conditions I sometimes experience with the mound.

Shasta daisies are always a garden favorite so I decided to have a bit of fun and add a few colorful exclamation points to my mix. ‘Real Glory’ features wide white outer petals and a frilly creamy yellow center. I can’t wait to see them bloom! They also make outstanding cut flowers and can last up to two weeks in a vase.

As of the first week of April all the plants are in place and looking right at home on the mound. 


It won't be long now until these lovely plants mature and my annoying eyesore becomes eye candy!



Sunday, April 2, 2017 4 comments

What's next for the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee?





Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis)


The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee received some good news on March 21st. It became the first bee in the contiguous 48 states  named endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

It’s good news because now we can get on with combating the bad news: the fact that this bee, without protection and help, is heading for extinction.

The designation had been put on hold in January by the Trump administration as a result of complaints from a coalition of oil, real estate, farm and energy lobbies.

According to The Washington Post, The American Petroleum Institute, National Association of Home Builders, National Cotton Council of America and two other groups described the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination under the Obama administration as a rush to judgment executed shortly before President Trump took over.

“The implications of this hasty listing decision are difficult to overstate,” their petition says. They called it one of the most significant in decades in terms of its scope because of the bee’s enormous range — 13 states, including Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee. [Article quoted was published March 21, 2017.]

Facts tell us the bee populations in nearly 90 percent of its range have disappeared over the past 20 years. Not exactly a “rush to judgment” in my humble opinion.  Scientists say this decline is the result of issues that range from pesticides and household herbicides to habitat loss and climate change.

Courtesy Xerces Society
So what are the next steps?

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is developing a long-term recovery plan to “spur proactive conservation and focus resources on locating, protecting and restoring habitat which once stretched from South Dakota to Connecticut and two provinces in Canada.”

Now officially endangered
The Department of the Interior is sensitive to the fact that many organizations from transmission utilities to farmers to real estate developers over a broad geographic area will be affected by the endangered designation.  For example, use of certain pesticides, herbicides and other chemicals may not be allowed in some areas. They vow to “work with stakeholders to ensure collaborative conservation among landowners, farmers, industry and developers.”

In reality, the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee is likely to be found in locations that cover only 0.1% of the previous range. Special permits and other regulatory measures may be required in these limited locales. The FWS will post information on their website to help determine which areas considered for development may be affected.


I will be monitoring the progress of the plan and will post updates when more information is available.

In the meantime, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has some suggestions we can all follow no matter where we live:

First, those of us in affected states need to check out this fact sheet from the Service for more information about the bee.

Then, grow flowers, including flowering trees and shrubs. Have a mix with something in bloom from early spring through fall. Include native milkweeds for monarch butterflies.

 
Bumble bees and many other pollinators (bees, moths and butterflies) need a safe place to build their nests and overwinter. Leave some areas of your yard unmowed in summer and unraked in fall, in your garden and flower beds leave some standing plant stems in winter. Provide a pesticide free environment.

It’s a start.  


Let’s all roll up our sleeves and do what we can to make sure the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee makes a beeline for recovery.






Wednesday, January 18, 2017 9 comments

A tragic bee-ginning to 2017

Rusty patched bumble bee (courtesy Takepart.com)



Tuesday the 10th of January was a notable day in American history. But not for a reason worth cheering about.

The rusty patched bumble bee (Bombis affinis) was placed on the Endangered Species List by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a first for the continental U.S. Other native bees may soon follow.

According to Tamara Smith, a biologist with the service, the bee was once so prevalent in Midwest cities, people used to shoo them away. 20 years later, even sharp-eyed scientists are having difficulty spotting one.


In fact, since the late 1990’s the rusty-patched bumble bee population has declined by 90 %. Once found in 28 states, the bee is now reported in only 13 states and 1 Canadian province: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Wisconsin – and Ontario, Canada.


There is no one culprit when comes to the demise of bees:  habitat loss, climate change, exposure to pesticides, and disease all contribute.

For example, not long ago the grasslands and tallgrass prairies of the Upper Midwest and Northeast  were alive with bees. Sadly most of these habitats are now gone for a variety of reasons.

As for pesticides, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says bees can absorb toxins directly through their exoskeleton and through contaminated nectar and pollen. Rusty patched bumble bees nest in the ground and may be susceptible to pesticides that persist in agricultural soils, lawns and turf.


 After the endangered bee was announced, the White House launched its strategy to improve the health of honeybees and other pollinators. This plan aims to reduce losses for commercial honeybees over the next decade. The White House will also ask federal agencies to help restore 7 million acres of pollinator-friendly habitat, so as to improve bee diets and make them more resilient.

This is something we should all applaud no matter which side of the aisle you prefer. Why? The USFWS sums it succinctly:



“As pollinators, rusty patched bumble bees contribute to our food security and the healthy functioning of our ecosystems. Bumble bees are keystone species in most ecosystems, necessary not only for native wildflower reproduction, but also for creating seeds and fruits that feed wildlife as diverse as songbirds and grizzly bears.

 Bumble bees are among the most important pollinators of crops such as blueberries, cranberries, and clover and almost the only insect pollinators of tomatoes. Bumble bees are more effective pollinators than honey bees for some crops because of their ability to “buzz pollinate.” The economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion per year in the United States.”

How you can lend 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. 

 
No room for a garden? Add flowering pots or a window box
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 the Pollinator Partnership and 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. 

Bees love coneflowers

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 or kill 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
Yellow is mellow to bees
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
Twigs keep bees from drowning
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. 

 
Home for solitary bees
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.

And will help solve a bee-deviling problem









Saturday, November 12, 2016 2 comments

If you had to evacuate, what "stuff" would you take?


Fires are raging to our east and west (Courtesy Tusquitee Ranger District)

The brilliant George Carlin once did a very funny (and apt) sketch about all the “stuff” we find important in our lives:

“And I don't know how you are... ...but I need a place to put my stuff. You know how important that is, that's the whole meaning of life, isn't it? Trying to find a place for your stuff. That's all your house is... ...your house is a pile of stuff... ...with a cover on it. It's a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get more stuff. Now, sometimes you gotta move... ...you gotta get a bigger house. Why? Too much stuff."

So what happens when an emergency presents itself such as a flood, hurricane or fire? What kind of “stuff” are you going to take with you?

I ask this question because we are experiencing terrible wildfires here in western North Carolina and other southern states. We’ve had no rain since September and nothing is in the forecast.

I'd have to leave my roses behind :(

Yesterday a friend who lives in the Lake Lure area (about 60 miles from us) was surprised by an evacuation order. Earlier in the day she had posted on Facebook they were fine. By 4pm yesterday afternoon she announced they were leaving.

I wondered if being close to the fires, she and her husband made a list of things to take if they were forced to evacuate. They had, and said it was fortunate because they had little time to gather precious belongings and were understandably very stressed when the order came through. 

A rare "rocket" radio from my collection

That’s why we are starting our list today. We are fine as I write this. But there are fires to our east and west and should the worst happen, I don’t want to wonder why I didn’t save the opal ring my beloved aunt left me.

An emergency evaluation checklist can help get your ducks in a row before facing an evacuation order. One site warned the uncertainty of what to take and what to leave behind in an emergency can leave people paralyzed with doubt and fear. It's best to plan ahead just in case.
Our friend Tom made this uke for me


The advice to take insurance policies, prescriptions, passports, birth/marriage certificates and so forth is common sense. I am also planning to engage an online backup company so my all my computer files and photos are protected.



But what about other “stuff”, items of sentimental value or things that can’t be replaced? I will be putting our marriage album and family photos on the list. My recipe file. iMac, iPads and iPhones plus chargers. My London International Advertising Award. Chris’ Mum’s carriage clock. Maybe his sword from the Royal Navy, if I can convince him to take it. 

 
Rowdy, my Gator hand puppet will be in the car. He is home to all my Gator pinback buttons from the past 44 years. And original artwork, including two irreplaceable paintings of our Maryland home. Plus a turtle painting a dear friend gave me before we moved to the mountains.


Carla Huber's painting of our MD hydrangeas
My favorite ukulele will be on the list. And cameras. A couple of radios from my vintage collection. An everglades painting by original Highwayman Ellis Buckner (my aunt left it to me and I had no clue how much it was worth.) My favorite piece of Portmeirion china. And Lord knows what else. There is too much great stuff and too little room.

I hope we never need the list. But I will rest better tonight knowing we have earmarked some of the things we love to save should disaster strike.

What would you take?

 



Monday, September 19, 2016 8 comments

Squirrels gone wild



A spill in our creek led to strange events in our garden

On June 30, a water utility company that owns storage tanks up the stream from us had an accident.  One of its tanks overflowed sending 220,000 gallons of water and silt down Hogback Creek.

Our neighbor who lives above us came to our door in tears. After years of making sure the creeks and streams on his property were as pristine as possible, his work was washed away. I will write more about this tragedy in my next posting.

Feeling sad and helpless, we offered to walk up there to take photographs to send environmental authorities. While documenting the devastation, I found something that unleashed several weeks of chaos in my own back yard.

The hapless feather briefly guarded my tomato plant
It seemed innocent enough – the wing feather of a wild turkey. I decided to place it in my little veggie planter on the back deck in hopes it would discourage squirrels from digging up my tomatoes and herbs so they could hide nuts.

The squirrels had other ideas.

Not long after I added the feather to the planter, I noticed it was missing.  Later, we saw it on the ground 20 feet below the deck. Perhaps it blew out of the planter, we reasoned.

The next time it was lying on rocks that slope down to the creek. I had to get a long rake to retrieve it.

The third time, the perpetrator not only threw the feather off the deck, the little devil also ate the left hand side of it.

  
Donna spied the feather and flew into a fury
Determined to beat the squirrels at their own game, I used a two-foot strand of covered wire to tie it to the railing. On numerous occasions I found it hanging from the wire over the edge of the deck floor. Each time more of the feather was missing.

Now a word about our squirrels. We don’t mind them visiting as long as they don’t get on the feeders. They quite often come to the back door and beg, or stand on the table to attract our attention.  They are well behaved, and we reward them with a few unsalted nuts.

Donna, one of our regulars, is about as mild mannered as a squirrel can be. Yet one afternoon Chris saw her attack the feather with such ferocity, he had to chase her off. She lunged at it, bit it and tried to rip it free from the wire.

Today, this is all that is left of that poor feather. We have no idea what the squirrels had against it.


But  I definitely won’t be dressing as a turkey for Halloween.
 
;