Monday, June 6, 2016 6 comments

Return to the Biltmore Rose Garden


 
 
Back in 2013, I went to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville to work on an article about the first International Rose Trials that had recently taken place there.

That year, an amateur hybridizer, Mike Athy of Gisborne, New Zealand, walked away with top honors for his ground cover/climbing rose Athyfalaa.  The article included an interview with Athy, and a history of the Biltmore rose garden.  
 

Since then, I have been honored to become a member of the permanent judging panel for the trials, so I get to visit the gardens four times a year and evaluate all the roses entered in the competition. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it!

This year, the judging and gala awards event will be held in September instead of May. (And The Dirt Diaries will dish dirt on all the winners!) So I went up last week to complete my spring judging and see how the roses were coming along after a tough winter and some late freezes.

To say everything looked spectacular would be an understatement. Emily and her crew are doing a splendid job and the roses have never looked prettier.

I had two cameras with me to take advantage of any photo ops. I was not disappointed. After I got home, I went back and revisited the pictures I’d taken each May since 2013. Boy, talk about changes!

For example, look at the Maypole in 2013 and 2016. Those little Rural England bushes have taken off in the past three years!

The Maypole was pretty in 2013





 
But baby, look at her now!
The climbers were also gorgeous. And so were the perennials accompanying the roses. So if you can’t visit yourself just now, sit back and enjoy your private tour courtesy of The Dirt Diaries.

Sadly, the photos aren’t scratch and sniff.  But take my word for it, the fragrance was intoxicating.


Climbers got extra TLC this spring and it shows!


American Beauty and her perennial partners


Climbing roses and the conservatory



The Maypole and Zepherine Drouhin in 2013

Zepherine (background left) and the Maypole this year




Perennial companions add interest between flushes of bloom

Baronne Prevost



New Dawn


Roses and yarrow



Glad I don't have the deadheading chores!

Thursday, May 12, 2016 10 comments

New faces and welcome old ones in our spring garden.

Bleeding Hearts near our trail

 
One never knows what winters in the mountains will bring. Unlike many friends who also live here full time, we don’t escape to Florida when cold winds start to blow. We actually enjoy the season and look forward to being snowed or iced in for a day or two as long as we have plenty of good food and wine.

This winter was a bit different. My mother fell in November and broke her hip and did not recover as well as the doctors had hoped. I went down to Florida several times to help out. Here at home we did have one nice snow, but the rest of the season was pretty much a blur.

Mother passed away somewhat unexpectedly a few weeks ago. Please don’t feel sorry, it was a blessing. She had some serious ailments we didn’t know about, and she went downhill quite quickly.

When I returned from the service in Florida, Carolina wildflowers greeted me. The 14 roses I’d planted or moved the day before she died were displaying vigorous new growth. And it looked like the hydrangeas were setting buds after two flowerless years. I appreciated all these sights more than I can say.

Pink Lady Slippers are blooming
A garden can be a source of joy and a source of solace. The past few months have been tinged with sadness. But I am comforted by the hope that 2016 will be one of our most rewarding gardening years ever. 


We added Yellow Lady Slipper Orchids to the wildflower garden








A segment of our forest has become trillium heaven this year







A clematis we thought was a goner is back and blooming

'Music Box' is a new addition to the rose garden



Can't wait to see my new 'Cherry Parfait' look this yummy

The Bluets down by the stream have been showing off for weeks
























'The Poet's Wife'






'The Poet’s Wife’ is just one of six new David Austin roses that will be taking a bow in the Hunt garden this year. You can be sure when they start flowering, along with the hydrangeas, salvias, coneflowers, centranthus and  phlox, I will wax poetic about them all.

Until then, happy Spring.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 6 comments

Window boxes of London



Now that the first day of spring has arrived, it is time to turn our attention to the beautiful possibilities that lie ahead for our 2016 gardens. This year, I’m thinking of adding a couple of window box-type planters to the front porch railing.

We had two gorgeous English “hayrack” window baskets at our home in Maryland, gifts from my late mother-in-law. I’m scratching my head as to why we didn’t bring them with us to the mountains. On second thought, removing them may have damaged the windowsills on the front of house. Or they may have been considered a part of the structure. At least we noted in the listing that our obelisk “did not convey.”

So during my travels, I like to look at window boxes and see what goodies people are planting. My trip to Nantucket was a real eye-opener. I wrote about the amazing boxes there in November of 2013. If you click on the word “Nantucket” above and check out the posting, you’ll see they used a variety of clever materials in their boxes from caladiums to cabbage. It all worked.


I didn’t think much could top those head-turners, until I visited London last September. Wow.





I love the way they used hydrangeas for fall boxes
















Very cool draped ivy






The second floor of the house above. The bust and flowers make a great combo!









Take a break from the window boxes for a pick-me-up!


Sweet!

Detail of the wooden door carvings








Of course if you are going to grow these magnificent displays, you can’t just lay back and eat bonbons. I chatted with the pub owner who is climbing the ladder to water his boxes and he needs to get up there twice a day during warm weather. Otherwise the boxes will dry out in a jiffy.

You also don’t want to be timid. We Americans tend to follow instructions and put a plant 8” away from another if that’s what it says on the tag. “Mais non!” gardeners told me in in Annecy, France. Stuff as many plants in there as possible! That’s how they create their luscious boxes and baskets.

That appears to be the strategy in London as well. The flowers there were traffic stoppers. And even phone boxes rate a smashing, color-coordinated hanging basket.










Monday, February 15, 2016 9 comments

Legends, lore and almanacs may give us a glimpse of 2016


Mountain legends say if owls scream in daylight, bad weather will follow


Will you be smart or lazy?
Although we have only lived full-time in the mountains of North Carolina for four years, I have been visiting this breathtaking area of the country since I was in high school.

I’ve spent many a happy day sitting by a waterfall on Cedar Creek listening to my friend Margaret spin tales of catamounts, panthers, owls and wildflowers that possess magical powers.

American Indians used trilliums as an eye medication
For years she has been collecting the local lore -- advice, stories and superstitions handed down from generation to generation. For example, legend holds that if you see a butterfly first in spring, you will be smart. But if you spy a fence lizard first, you will be lazy.

Of course, much of the mountain lore deals with atmospheric conditions. So after experiencing such unusual warm weather over the holidays, I decided to revisit some of the signs old timers rely on for predicting the weather.


Sage advice or old wives’ tales?

Here are a few of my favorites:

-       If it snows on Christmas Day, the grass will be green by Easter.
-       The first 12 days of January foretell the weather for each month of the year.
-       When hogs carry sticks in their mouths, bad weather is ahead.
-       If smoke blows to the ground, it will soon snow.
-       If you see raccoons and possums feeding during the day, there will be bad weather in 12 hours.
-       When the new moon rises with its points turned up, there will be no rain.
-       There will be a winter snow for every morning fog in August.
-       If you harvest onions with thin skins, the winter will be mild.
-       If the wooly worm has a narrow brown band, winter will be harsh.

 
Spider webs are said to stop cuts from bleeding
I like the idea of observing animal behavior and nature for clues as to what may lie ahead weather-wise. It’s a lot more fun than listening to the weather guessers on TV.

In fact I think I’ll start a journal and see if the “signs” prove to be correct or just fanciful tales.

I also consulted Baer’s Agricultural Almanac & Gardener’s Guide to see what is in store for the mountains in the upcoming months. Baer’s has published a guide since 1825 and it is an interesting collection of everything from long-range weather forecasts and garden news to recipes and folklore. Surprise! It appears colder days are ahead.

The largest Lady Banksia rose covers 9,000 square feet
The almanac in the past has also included some fun facts about roses. Apparently the largest rose bloom ever bred was 33” in diameter. In addition, the largest rosebush in the world is a white Lady Banksia that came to Arizona from Scotland in 1885 and has a single trunk six feet in diameter. Talk about a pruning challenge!

Reading about these unusual roses has me anxiously looking forward to spring.

And since it did not snow here on a balmy Christmas Day, I’m assuming that the legend is right, and we won’t have bright green grass by Easter.


Mountain folks say speedy red squirrels can snag a pine cone and be waiting on the ground when it falls


Thursday, January 21, 2016 4 comments

A bear and a Queen are part of the buzz about bees in the UK



The plight of pollinators across the pond

Last March I wrote an article for The Christian Science Monitor talking about the alarming decline of honeybees in America.

Give bees a chance” discussed factors behind the disappearance of pollinators, and outlined things gardeners could do help struggling bee populations.

Recently, I visited England and learned that bees there are also in danger. 

Unlike in the US, Colony Collapse Disorder is not an issue in Europe. However, the varroa mite, viruses, pesticides and industrial farming are all believed to have contributed to the loss of more than 50% of the bee population over the past two decades.

There are also fewer grassland habitats and wildflowers in the countryside thanks to sprawl and new agricultural practices. As a result, two UK honeybee species are now extinct.

The buzz about shrinking numbers of honeybees has mobilized concerned citizens and help is coming from all manner of honey lovers including Winnie-the-Pooh and Queen Elizabeth II.

Visit bbka.org.uk to download kid and bee friendly activities
The British Beekeeping Association recently launched a new campaign (Friends of the Honeybee) encouraging children to lend pollinators a hand. Pooh’s 10 simple steps include planting a flowering tree and building bee habitats.

Buckingham Palace is the Queen’s official London home. The Changing of the Guard in front of the palace has long been a major tourist attraction, but visitors seldom see the 39-acre walled oasis behind the 775-room royal residence. I was fortunate enough to be included in a walking tour last month.



The Queen’s Garden is aptly named because Her Majesty oversees all landscaping decisions. The garden features 6,500 plants, 420 trees and 35 types of mulberry. The various garden “rooms” including a formal rose garden, are connected by 2 ½ miles of gravel paths. The original landscape design is credited to Capability Brown.

80 varieties of birds have been spotted there, along with, bats, foxes, hedgehogs and 20 tawny owls.

In 2009, two Italian honeybee hives were placed in the garden as requested by the Queen. Two more hives of these “placid” bees were added the following year. An expert from the London Beekeepers Association tends to the 200,000 bees, along with a specially trained royal gardener.

Busy bees: the Royal Hives are on an island in the Queen's garden. (Courtesy Daily Mail)
All four hives are located on a man made island in the middle of the garden’s 3.5-acre lake. The island is virtually untouched and is part of the Long Grass Policy, where over 350 varieties of wildflowers are allowed to go through a full cycle of growth, including seed spreading, before grasses are cut in late August. The plants reproduce and sustain themselves without help from the eight gardeners on staff.

Bees can also visit and harvest nectar from 600 other plants in the main garden where something is always in bloom. These busy bees produced 420 jars of honey last year. The Queen is said to enjoy a bit of royal honey on her breakfast tray.

The Long Grass Policy is just one of the initiatives employed at Buckingham Palace to keep the Queen’s gardens as “green” as possible. According to Gardens Manager Mark Lane, 99% of green waste is recycled on site. Grass cuttings, twigs, branches and soiled straw from the royal stables are shredded and turned until rotted sufficiently to be used as mulch. Even tree stumps are allowed to rot naturally.
 
F&M's hives are painted in their traditional duck egg blue.
Not far from Buckingham Palace, the legendary Fortnum & Mason, purveyors of fine foods, has added four 6-foot tall beehives to the roof of their flagship Piccadilly store. Shoppers can watch the “gentle” Welsh Black bees on the bee-cam. There is a waiting list for the honey.

Surprisingly, beehives were on the roof of the Macdonald Hotel where we stayed in Windsor. Visitors can take a peek at the hives in action through glass windows overlooking the roof. Each window is inscribed with a bee fact such as  “Honeybees account for 80% of all insect pollination.”


 
You can even name and adopt a bee for £1 through Plan Bee, the firm that cares for the bees at the hotel.

Beehives are also located on a barge moored to Tower Bridge, and on the roof of the National Portrait Gallery. And more people are inquiring about beekeeping every day.

It appears things are beginning to look a lot sweeter for honeybees in Britain.
Beehive at the Chelsea Physic Garden in London


 
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