Friday, June 29, 2018 3 comments

New challenges and old friends in the garden


A year ago I was at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show admiring acres of gardens and gorgeous blooms. The roses in the marquee were so stunning, they almost brought tears to my eyes.

A glance at my garden today almost brings tears to my eyes. But not because I am gobsmacked by the beauty before me. Fact is, this may be my worst gardening year ever.


First blooms of 'Vanessa Bell'


When we returned from England in mid-July last year, the garden was in a pretty sad state. Fair enough. You cannot leave a garden for three weeks in the summer and expect it to look like something out of a magazine when you get home.



I don’t have that excuse in 2018. We’ve been here the entire spring and early summer. But we haven’t been able to overcome the annoying weather we’ve experienced since March. 

Another new addition, 'James L. Austin'

Clematis 'Josephine' has been one of the few bright spots
First, we had many late freezes with temps going down to single digits several days in a row. Then we’ve had downpours virtually every day for weeks. Some of my new plants are literally rotting in the ground. And my rose leaves look like filigree thanks to sawflies.

Still, I am not ready to call this gardening year a total failure. I am going to cut everything back, fertilize and try to coax everybody into perking up for fall.

'Lyda' is almost always a dependable performer

I know I can rely on old friends like ‘Lyda Rose’ to lead the way with her charming candelabra of summer blooms. I’m hoping new additions like ‘Vanessa Bell’ will continue to impress. I’ll replace some tired perennials with colorful new ones. And I will politely ask the bears not to step on my bushes. 


 
Will it work? In the end it doesn’t matter. Because as you all know, gardening is a journey. 

I may have hit a bit of a rough patch this year. But next year is bound to be smooth sailing! 

Or so the optimist in me hopes.


Some hydrangeas did flower despite the freezes
Monday, April 16, 2018 4 comments

Small wonders revisited

Houstonia serpyllifolia, not Forget-me-nots
Dear friends,
I originally wrote this posting in 2012. Boy have times changed since then. The wildflowers I photographed in March of that year are three weeks late in 2018. And another freeze is expected tonight. Still, it was nice to reminisce about my first spring in the mountains. And whether they appear in March or April, I will always find them charming.

 
In a recent newsletter, the folks at Gardens of the BlueRidge report the very warm winter has caused most of their plants to go into a tizzy. Apparently many species are flowering up to three weeks early and because of the warmth, the bloom period has been very short.

Their Bloodroot and Virginia Bluebells have come and gone. The Trilliums appeared early and were quickly devoured by grateful deer. Aside from the Toad Trillium (which apparently Bambi doesn’t care for), all other varieties for 2012 are gone.

This was all very interesting because I had no clue what to expect or when. This will be my first spring in the mountains so I wasn't sure when most of our native wildflowers bloom. Every day has been a treat because there is always something new popping up.


Halberd-leaf Violet
In an earlier posting I wrote about stumbling across the Halberd-leaf Yellow Violet. Since then I’ve discovered we have bunches of them all over the property – I’ll certainly recognize the distinctive leaves next spring.

I’ve also found two other tiny violets, a white one no wider than ¼ of an inch. The other is a bit bigger with purple markings, but I can’t find it in any of my wildflower books.

Another wonderful discovery was a swath of Forget-me-nots growing down by the stream. This native New Zealand flower of the genus Mycostis sylvatica is regarded as a symbol of remembrance, love, constancy and undying hope.

Upon further review, the jaunty blue flowers aren’t forget-me-nots at all, but Bluets, a member of the Madder family. They are sometimes called “Innocence” or “Quaker ladies” because the flower shape resembles a Quaker lady’s hat. They can grow in open grassy areas, woodlands and along streams.
Didn't know the name in 2012. It is a Confederate Violet

No matter what you call them, these delicate blooms are a welcome addition to my garden.

And with so many new wildflowers making their appearance this time of year, I can’t wait to see what’s out in the woods tomorrow.


Friday, February 16, 2018 11 comments

Birds I have known



The Barred Owl hunts in the daytime and stops by occasionally


I grew up in a suburb of Miami and, as a little girl, was intrigued by the variety of colorful birds that would appear in our yard every winter.
I’m not talking about tropical birds like parrots or cockatoos. They could be seen quite regularly in our area year-round. In fact, knowing someone who owned an “exotic” bird was about as common as a friend with a German shepherd or Siamese cat.
I don’t know the names of the birds that sat in our trees or listened for worms in the grass. But they fascinated me.
 


Later, as an adult, I became a dedicated bird bore. My husband and I bought reference books and made notes each time we spied a new variety and jotted down the date it first crossed our paths.
While living in the D.C. area, we noticed a few bluebirds in the garden so we rushed out and bought a proper nesting box. Before long, Mr. Bluebird was standing on the house singing, inviting prospective partners to come by and see his shiny new digs.
It appears he turned at least one female head, because within days, Mr. and Mrs. were setting up housekeeping (probably with newlywed furnishings from Ikea.) For a few weeks, there was continual activity at the box, with both birds flitting in and out. Then nothing.
It wasn't unusual to see a hawk near the bird houses
My husband finally decided to take a peek. Inside the box, he found four tiny babies, dead and covered with ants. Not wanting to see, I went inside while he buried them and cleaned out the birdhouse.

I called our local Wild Bird store and tearfully described our discovery. “They were probably an immature pair and didn’t know how to be parents,” he explained. “Next time, they’ll do a better job.”
And they did.

 A Bird Bonanza

We next moved to a cottage on a river off the Chesapeake Bay. For bird bores like us, it turned out to be heaven on earth.

For the 15 years we lived there we were treated to an amazing parade of birds: herons, Tundra swans, turkeys, ospreys, egrets, woodpeckers, all manner of ducks, red-tailed hawks, and “regular birds” including catbirds and hummingbirds.
Mrs. Mallard made her nest every year under one of my rosebushes.

We were privileged to witness a continuing nature documentary almost every day.
We had dozens of eagles living nearby on the Eastern Shore

I once photographed seven Bald Eagles fighting over a dead duck stuck in the ice on the river. We watched a Great Horned Owl land in a tree by a birdfeeder my Dad made.  We saw the sky darken as thousands of Canada geese headed back to the wildlife refuge from local cornfields. We listened to the haunting cries of the loons.

Something new was always happening in the garden and on the water.

Now that we’ve moved to the mountains, we realize how very lucky we were to have so much wildlife on our doorstep. Not long ago, we saw a mallard on the golf course, and it was as if we’d caught a glimpse of some extremely rare creature.
 
Of course, we love our local birds including cardinals, juncos, nuthatches, tufted titmice, finches, and hummingbirds. The pileated woodpeckers live here too, but they are shy birds and don’t care to have their picture made.
On occasion an unusual bird stops by and visits for a while.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
We’ve had a Barred owl, Rufous-sided Towhee and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Not long ago I noticed a Scarlet Tanager while I was walking. I had never seen one before.
 That sighting took me back to the time when I was four years old. I was looking out at the yard one day when a beautiful cobalt blue bird landed on a branch of the oleander bush outside my bedroom window.
Oh, how pretty, I said softly to myself. Then the bird began to sing just for me.
And I was hooked.



                                           
                                     Kookaburra I spied in Australia (laughing of course)











Thursday, December 14, 2017 4 comments

Storybook Introductions from David Austin for 2018



'Roald Dahl' debuts at Chelsea. (Show photos courtesy David Austin English Roses.)

2016 was another golden year for David Austin English Roses at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

His rose stand at the legendary show won yet another gold medal.

He had a “chinwag” with Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. 
 
The Queen meets the King of Roses
And he introduced three gorgeous new English Roses, including one named in honor of beloved children’s author Roald Dahl.

"Roald Dahl'
It has just been announced those three roses that turned heads at Chelsea will be available to American and Canadian gardeners in the Spring of 2018.


At the Chelsea show, Felicity Dahl, the author’s widow, was on hand for the launch of Austin’s Roald Dahl themed display. Several years earlier, “Liccy” Dahl had approached the Austin firm to ask whether they might consider naming one of their new roses after Dahl. 

The author in his garden. (Courtesy the Roald Dahl Museum)
Dahl was a keen gardener and was quite passionate about his glorious garden at Gipsy House, Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire. He wrote in a hut in the grounds he tended from 1954 until his death in 1990.

The father and son team at David Austin English Roses agreed to Mrs. Dahl’s request. The stunning peach colored rose was unveiled at Chelsea alongside a giant copper peach, the centerpiece of Austin’s 2016 display. 


Stephen Myburgh designed and sculpted the copper peach

Dahl’s longtime collaborator QuentonBlake created a new illustration depicting the rose and characters from James and the Giant Peach

James was Dahl’s first children’s story, about a four-year-old boy who escapes from his hateful aunts, Spiker and Sponge, on a gigantic floating peach. 

It was published in 1961, the same year David Austin launched his first English rose, ‘Constance Spry’.

‘Roald Dahl’ has a delicious Tea fragrance and is a remarkably strong repeat bloomer. It is also highly disease-resistant, according to Michael Marriott, the technical director and senior rosarian of David Austin Roses in Albrighton, England. “To honor the writer of James and the Giant Peach, the flower color is marvelously, perfectly peach,” says Marriott.

'Imogen'

Two other English roses also made their debuts at Chelsea that year, and will be coming across the pond next spring.

‘Imogen’ is a very pale lemon yellow that ages to a light cream. The rose boasts a rare button eye reminiscent of antique Gallica and Damask roses.  I love the delicately frilled petals, so it looks like a must have for my “yellow” garden.



'Bathsheba'
‘Bathsheba’ is a new short climber with a warm myrrh fragrance. According to David Austin Roses, the blooms are a beautiful blend of apricot colors.

The roses are available on a first-come basis, so it makes sense to order early (www.davidaustinroses.com) because I suspect demand will be high.

I say that because I saw all three of these beauties at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show in July. They were all gorgeous, but ‘Roald Dahl’ particularly caught my eye.

'Roald Dahl' at Hampton Court in July

Having a few in my garden will be as inspiring as winning a coveted Willy Wonka Golden Ticket.


Monday, November 27, 2017 4 comments

Showy poinsttias get showier





When we think about “decking the halls” for the holiday season, most of us envision boughs of holly, evergreen wreaths, and fragrant firs or pine.
But in addition to traditional greenery, one plant has become a Christmas icon -- the poinsettia. With more than 65 million sold each year, this colorful plant has moved from the desert into three-quarters of American homes to become a holiday superstar.
New for 2017: 'Christmas Joy Marble'


The poinsettia is a Euphorbia, a succulent from the arid regions of Central America. It was named after Joel R. Poinsett, a Charleston, S.C. native who was appointed ambassador to Mexico in 1825. Poinsett was a keen gardener who was captivated by the plant’s vivid color. The bright scarlet objects many thought to be “flowers” were not flowers at all, but petal-like leaves called bracts. The actual flowers are those little yellow dots at the center of the bracts.

Because the yellow flowers and attractive bracts emerge during the holiday season, the poinsettia has been a part of Christian celebrations for hundreds of years. In the 17th century, Franciscan priests in Mexico carried poinsettias in nativity processions. The Aztecs were said to have prized the plant for its color and medicinal properties. 




Although poinsettias were well known in Mexico and Central America, it was a family of German immigrants who spied the plants in the desert and created the Christmas favorite we know today.

In the early 1900s, Albert Ecke and his family left Germany to establish a farm in California.  One day his son Paul noticed an unusual plant growing in the wild and decided to develop it as a cut flower. Before long, the family’s fields of poinsettias in Hollywood became a huge tourist attraction. 



In the 1920’s an amateur hybridizer in New Jersey bred a poinsettia called Oak Leaf, which was the first to resemble modern varieties. The Ecke family further developed the plant, then devised a system to distribute cuttings to nurseries throughout the country. Today, the Paul Ecke Ranch holds the patents on most popular varieties and is the largest supplier of poinsettias in the world.

Of course, the traditional red poinsettia remains the top holiday choice, but interest in white, cream, pink, and mottled varieties is on the increase. In fact, the popularity of the red poinsettia has been steadily falling over the past decade thanks to the introduction of new and more colorful varieties each year. One such variety, 'Ice Punch' is cranberry red with frosty white center markings. 

'Ice Punch'



In addition to new colors (PLEASE no glitter-laden or phony blue varieties!) we can thank breeders for giving us plants that last longer and are more vigorous. Today’s poinsettias aren’t too fussy and are relatively easy to care for. Above all, don’t overwater -- plants should be kept on the dry side but don’t allow them to get bone dry. Keep them away from drafts and sources of heat like a fireplace.

This is just wrong!
 
Poinsettias like bright light and will drop leaves and get leggy in a location that’s too dark. A window will provide the light and cool nighttime temperatures plants need to thrive.

It’s possible to keep a poinsettia alive and blooming from year to year, but like most people, I toss mine out about mid-February. It seems sad and cruel to throw away something that was so lovely during the holidays. But by next Christmas, another showy poinsettia will catch my eye, and this year’s beautiful blooms will be just a happy memory.

Here’s hoping your holiday season will be filled with happy memories, too. 

White poinsettias now account for 20% of sales

 P.S. We’ve all heard the rumors that poinsettias are poisonous. Apparently this urban legend started in 1919 when it was reported that a 2-year-old had died after eating a leaf. According to the American Society of Florists, poinsettias have been tested more than any other plant, and the verdict is they are safe for people and pets. But you still wouldn’t want to eat one.


Wednesday, September 20, 2017 8 comments

Rose heaven at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show



I attended the Chelsea Flower Show in May 1992 while we were living in London. That year, a Silver Medal was awarded to a garden called Gothic Retreat. If I saw it, the plants and design have completely slipped my mind. You see, I was so gobsmacked by the enormity of the show and the variety of blooms, I didn’t know which way to turn.

I trained 'Cottage Rose' as a climber
That year a hybridizer named David Austin introduced three roses I later grew in my Maryland garden. ‘Cottage Rose’, ‘The Dark Lady’ and ‘Evelyn’ remain among my favorites.

Mr. Austin was not new to Chelsea:  in 1983 he unveiled two of his new, old-fashioned “English Roses” to the world, ‘Graham Thomas’ and ‘Mary Rose’.

The rest, as they say, is history.

A sea of Austin beauties
A year earlier, I was a volunteer for the Royal National Rose Society at the second Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. That year the British Rose Festival made its debut in the show. And I believe it was during that event I was stricken with a rare disease called “English Rose Fever”. I can assure you there is no cure.

So imagine my excitement after 26 years to be returning to Hampton Court and the amazing rose marquee!  My expectations were high and I was not disappointed. 



'Jacqueline du Pre"
The 2017 show was overflowing with hundreds of varieties of roses from the old fashioned ‘Jacqueline du Pre’ to the Rose of the Year 2018, ‘Lovestruck’.Thankfully for my bank account, I was not able to bring any roses home. (Other visitors had special carts to hold their treasure trove of new bushes that they took to the “flower crèche” to be tended to while they bought more plants.)

Since my first visit, Hampton Court has grown to become the largest flower show in the world.  The extravaganza is spread out over 34 acres where more than 140,000 people wander around oohing and aahing for four days.

Eastcroft Roses



Peter Beales Roses

The Gold Medal for Best Rose Exhibit is below the statue

The first show boasted 265 exhibitors; this year there were over 500. There was something for everyone from alpines and orchids to rare succulents.

Delectable samples from the Cook and Grow booth
I wonder if I can grow Painted Sage in the mountains?

The 40 show gardens were quite impressive, especially The Blind Veterans UK display (Two top photos below).  It take a minimum of three weeks to set up a show garden and five days to break them down.

Photo courtesy BBC Two

The Oregon Garden
Michael Marriott
My friend Michael Marriott of David Austin English Roses told me it takes them about a month to get all the bushes ready for prime time at Hampton Court. This year's Gold Medal winning display featured over 700 roses, and 1000 more were available for sale.

But enough of my rambling. Take a look for yourself.

I wish this blog were scratch and sniff. Enjoy!






















 
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