Friday, May 24, 2019 0 comments

Tapping my foot waiting for the roses (again)




A rare mountain beauty, the Pink Lady Slipper

In the 1849 book A Tale of Manchester Life, author Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell observed that a watched pot never boils.

Apparently the same theory holds true for plants we yearn to see flower: A watched rose never blooms.

My roses have been teasing me for the past two weeks, displaying a bit more color every day. But thanks to an unexpected cold snap, the buds have now decided to stay tight indefinitely.

So I turned my attention to the woods.

Spring is a magical time in the mountains and every year I wonder if there might be an interesting wildflower or two lurking just beyond the garden path.  And almost always the answer is Yeah buddy!

Orchids in the wild

Spotting one Pink Lady’s Slipper on the property was a treat, but I actually discovered two! 

Like some other members of the orchid family, these Lady Slippers (also known as Moccasin flowers) will only grow when certain fungi are present in the roots. Obviously whatever it is, we have the right stuff.


I've also added Yellow Lady Slippers purchased from a licensed nursery
Sadly wildflower experts report these exquisite plants are becoming more rare each year. Despite warnings, people continue to pick the flowers or dig up the plants, in which case the orchid is almost certainly doomed. I will be watching my duo (and my new yellows) very closely.

Doesn’t pass the sniff test


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.

Look, but don't sniff.
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.

Although I’ve seen a number of white and pink trilliums growing nearby, my favorite is the burgundy Wake Robin. Apparently that is the “nice” name because it’s also known as Stinking Benjamin or Stinking Willie because of the putrid smelling flower. Early herbalists used it to treat gangrene.

 I’ll take an expert’s word for the aroma and just admire it from afar.

The bee’s knees

Entomologists studying bees have learned they can see four colors – yellow, blue, bluish green and violet. (If I ever meet an entomologist I’ll be sure to ask how they accomplished this feat.)


Sporting flowers of both blue and yellow, Blue-eyed Grass is not only a bee magnet, but a favorite of wild pigs. 

This charming little plant isn’t a grass at all but the smallest member of the Iris family. And even though the flowers last only a day, established clumps put out blooms for several weeks.

Back to the roses


As if trilliums, Lady Slippers and blue–eyed beauties weren’t enough, I’ve spied two native Flame Azaleas on my one-acre patch. The neon orange flowers can stop traffic.

But I digress. The subject was roses, was it not?

And impatience.

However now with all these regal jewels at my feet, waiting for the Queen of Flowers is no longer a hand-wringing, drawn-out ordeal.

It's an adventure. 
Saturday, April 13, 2019 2 comments

A garden diary can make you a better gardener



Get creative when creating your journal (Photo courtesy Esty.)

There’s nothing like early April freezes and blustery winds to make one long to turn the calendar ahead to May. Thumbing through enticing and beautifully photographed garden catalogs helps brighten these dreary days, but doesn’t completely console me. I fear it will take the sight of a jaunty jonquil or the intoxicating scent of a Damask rose to melt away my winter blues.

Fortunately I know exactly how long it will be until I can get a sniff of my first spring posy,

because over the years I’ve made notes of when my roses and other important plants will begin their new parade of blooms.

Climbing Cecile is always first to bloom
For example in looking back at this year’s wall calendar, I’m confident that around April 22nd, I’ll see at least one showy Cl. Cecile Brunner in the garden. It has been blooming around that date since we moved to the mountains and never disappoints. I also know my polyanthas like 'Lovely Fairy' are among the last to bloom so I don't fret if they wait till late May to take a bow.


'Lovely Fairy' is a sport of the original 'Fairy' introduced in 1932

I also know I can plan on seeing male hummingbirds zipping around the garden about that same time. For several years Ive made a note of the first time I spotted the tiny jewels. Last year they were late - April 17th. But according to my notes, theyve arrived as early as April 7th.  

Hummers arrived April 10th this year
 Fireflies will light up the evening sky beginning May 15th -- a sure sign that summer is on the way.

Anticipating the day the garden will burst into bloom can be a tonic on a cold spring day. But having a rough idea of when each variety will be at its best is helpful when planning special events, whether it’s a family bar-b-que or an outdoor cocktail party.

Plan parties for dates when the garden has been traditionally in full bloom


Your “diary” needn’t be more time-consuming than jotting down a plant name on a standard calendar, then updating bloom dates yearly.

Or get a small notepad and keep track of plants you add to the garden each spring. Then while suffering from the winter blahs, go back and evaluate each addition’s performance.

That brief evaluation can be a money saver if you are like me and keep buying perennials  that won’t tolerate the cold in my zone. Note to self: this year when you are enamored with Spanish lavender at the garden center, remember it must be considered an annual!

Lavandula stoechas is charming but only hardy to USDA Zone 8


My diary efforts are fairly simple, but don’t dismiss the idea of doing a more elaborate journal. Some people add photographs, even their own paintings to notations about plants, insects, weather conditions and so forth. Such a journal can be an invaluable garden tool and an informative heirloom.

Keep notes about your tastiest tomatoes
I wrote extensively about my vegetable garden one particular year. I only kept the notebook going for a season, but still enjoy going back to reread my entries. And it’s probably no coincidence I had my best veggie garden ever while I was so attentive.

So if you’re suffering from flower withdrawal and the winter blahs, consider sowing some spring aspirations now in a personal journal or diary.

It may just give your gardener’s soul a chance to blossom early.
Photos in your diary will give you hope beautiful blooms are on the way




Sunday, March 31, 2019 1 comments

And suddenly it's Spring (again)

 




Yesterday I walked down the trail to place a solar light by the waterfall. There I was greeted by a most unwelcome welcoming committee. More about that later.

Along the way, I spied a tiny yellow flower.

When I first noticed this flower back in 2011, the leaves made me think it might be a member of the ginger family. But after checking out a few of my wildflower books it turned out to be a Halberd-leaf Yellow Violet (Viola hastata.)

Apparently 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” since 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.

Oh and by the way, the snakes are back too. 


An uninvited guest on the patio was a (supposedly) harmless garter snake.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019 12 comments

Rethinking my garden





Last summer I was asked to submit some of my photos to a publishing house working on several new gardening books. The list of desired pictures was quite specific, so I went back through my entire photo library to see if I already had some of the shots they were looking for.

'New Dawn' arched over the front porch


My library goes back to 2001 when we were living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. During my walk down Memory Lane, I revisited lots of pictures of the cottage garden I’d created while living there. I had forgotten how lovely it was.

The Pond Garden




Front walkway garden

After looking through all those photos, I felt a bit sad thinking about the garden I’d been working on in the North Carolina mountains since 2010. I was suddenly struck with the realization that whatever I’ve been doing here has not been a success. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

Boaters on the Little Choptank oohed and aahed over our hydrangeas

It started off well enough. My husband Chris took cuttings of the hardy ‘Nikko Blue’ hydrangeas that lined the back of our Maryland home. Boaters passing by on the river behind us called us “the blue house” because of the proliferation of blue blooms they could see from the water.

The cuttings rooted beautifully, and we planted them all along the foundation our “new” house here. (We tore out the cheap, ugly bushes the previous owner had put in and started from scratch.) Then I added roses and perennials like I had done on the Eastern Shore.

Centranthus was a great companion for my roses in MD


My first clue that things were not going well was the discovery that the Centranthus ruber and alba that grew like weeds in Maryland did not thrive here. I tried planting them six different times before giving up. Phlox, coreopsis and other old favorites never made it past one season. Still, I soldiered on thinking all would come together eventually.

Some of the roses did well and some just sulked. The big successes were the catmints, daylilies, Shasta daisies and a couple of dahlias. And to my surprise, the hydrangeas went from strength to strength and started taking over.

The best the garden looked was in 2013 when the roses seemed to be happy and some of the perennials blended in quite nicely. Then things started to happen. For example, we had to dig up part of the garden to repair a section of the driveway held up by boulders that was crumbling. We put all the plants in pots and some of them never recovered.

My mountain garden in happier times


Several of the roses that looked so good in 2013 started to regress. Before long I had a bunch of bushes with a single, pitiful cane. New perennials I put in did not do squat. And the lamiums I planted on advice of a local friend started to become a nuisance.

Time to put on my thinking cap and try again.

So, the first thing I am going to do is test the soil again to make sure we have no new issues there. I’ll keep the roses and other plants that have worked and get rid of the poor performers. Then I will look for new ideas for a mountain garden in Zone 6b according to the new 2012 map. (Apparently, we used to be Zone 7a in the olden days.) Your suggestions are very welcome. 

Clematis works in the NC garden, unlike in MD

I have been looking at some of the cottage gardens on Pinterest and see a few things I’d like to pursue. Low-growing dark green ornamental grasses mixed with salvia and lamb's ears, for example.

Of course, we all know a garden is always a work in progress. I’ll be sure to keep you posted on how mine is progressing!






Tuesday, January 1, 2019 4 comments

An American in the English Rose Garden


Me and David Austin

David Charles Henshaw Austin, a self-taught horticulturalist who spent sixty years working to create his vision of the perfect rose, passed away December 18th at his home in England. It was reported he had been “poorly” the past few months. He was 92.



Mr. Austin started hybridizing plants as a teenager and turned his attention to roses full time in 1969. His first big break came in 1983 when his billowy, fragrant rose ‘Graham Thomas’ was introduced at the Chelsea Flower Show. The rest as they say, is rose history. (He went on to win 24 gold medals at Chelsea.)

 
'Graham Thomas'

Very few people in life leave this world a more beautiful place than they found it. David Austin was one of those rare individuals. He left 230 varieties of his enchanting English roses. And he left many of us with memories of a shy, gentle man who “lived and breathed” the Queen of Flowers. This is my story about meeting the great rosarian in 1998. 

I shall never forget him.


My fave, 'James Galway'

A very successful artist friend once told me a story about the day he knocked on Norman Rockwell’s door. A bashful teenager, my friend only wanted to express his admiration for the great man and tell him of his hopes of becoming a painter.
Much to the young man’s surprise, Mr. Rockwell graciously invited him inside, gave him a tour of his studio, and encouraged him not to give up his dream of becoming an artist.
I felt very much like my friend several years ago during my first visit to David Austin’s nursery in England.
"Jude the Obscure'

As a result of a hybridizing program initiated in the 1950s, Austin 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. I first discovered his roses while living in the UK and immediately developed a fully blown case of English Rose Fever.

I knew I was going to meet the 
renowned hybridizer as a 
result of an article I’d written on the popularity of his roses for Fine Gardening magazine. 
'Marinette'
 I expected he’d say hello, autograph the copy of The Heritage of the Rose I’d brought along, and perhaps pose for a photo with me.
Instead, I was treated to a personal tour of his entire operation and talked with him for a couple hours about roses in general and English roses in particular.

Another of my favorites, 'Sir John Betjeman' 

The first stop on the tour was the nursery Rose Garden. Despite the fact it was early October when we visited, hundreds of roses were still in bloom. The garden features over nine hundred different roses, mostly antique roses, English and shrub roses. Pergolas draped with climbers and ramblers surround and weave through the garden.          

Courtesy David Austin English Roses

Within the main garden there are five individual gardens. The Long Garden is the main aisle from which all the other gardens lead off. Here you’ll find an extensive collection of old roses and shrubs. The Victorian Garden is a circular display filled with English roses and modern shrubs. 
 
Courtesy David Austin English Roses
Another informal garden features wild species roses, hybrids from other countries and an impressive display of colorful rose hips. The Lion Garden is a classic bedding garden composed of a mixture of hybrid teas, floribundas, English roses, miniatures and herbaceous plants.
 
'Lady Emma Hamilton


The geometrically designed Renaissance Garden is devoted entirely to English roses. A narrow canal runs down the center leading to a “temple” with pillars. ‘St. Swithun’, ‘Noble Antony’ and ‘Molineaux’ were particularly impressive in this setting. While strolling through the gardens, Mr. Austin proudly pointed out the many sculptures crafted by his wife, Pat.
       
'Crocus Rose'

Next we walked through several greenhouses packed with cuttings in various stages of development. Some of these would later be crossed with other seedlings. Some would move out to the trial fields. The not-so-promising would be trashed. 

The goal at the moment is to develop English roses with more vibrant colors and disease resistance. Mr. Austin is also interested in the creation of new and better cut flowers. 
 
'Munstead Wood' is fabulously fragrant

Every year, 150,000 pollen crosses are made by hand, that will produce around 400,000 seeds. (Meticulous records are kept of each seedling’s parentage). These seeds are planted after being chilled in a cooler for three months.

Approximately 250,000 will germinate and the resulting plants are evaluated for beauty, character, fragrance, diversity of bloom, disease resistance and potential for use in flower arrangements. 

In the fields, assistants evaluate the bushes for diseases and insect problems. Mr. Austin keeps an eye out for form, color and fragrance in a bloom. He flags those that appear promising with a bamboo stick.
'The Lark Ascending'
Years later, only four to six of the original 250,000 plants will make it into commerce.
I can’t help but wonder if one of the seedlings I saw in the greenhouse, or one of the bushes flagged by Mr. Austin in the trial fields, turned out to be one of my favorite English roses.
Looking back on that unforgettable 1998 day, I like to think I saw 'Darcey Bussell' at the moment she was taking her very first bow.
'Darcey Bussell'


        



Thursday, November 8, 2018 4 comments

How to NOT to kill a holiday topiary

Topiaries are charming, but keeping them alive can be problematic


When we think about “decking the halls” for the holiday season, most of us envision traditional greenery such as boughs of holly, evergreen wreaths and fragrant firs or pine. But in recent years herbal ornamentals and topiaries have become bright new stars in the holiday decorating line-up.  



Now that the holidays are around the corner, you’ll be seeing them everywhere from the grocery stores to upscale catalogs.  And it’s difficult to resist fragrant rosemary shaped like a mini Christmas tree or an ivy wreath. The problem is, not many of us can keep these appealing plants alive long enough to ring in the New Year.

Many topiaries die of thirst


According to experts, topiaries and other ornamentals are quite often doomed from the moment they arrive in the mail or come home from the store. Problem is, they can dry out and begin dying before you even know there is a problem.



When you receive your topiary, examine the first inch of soil to see if it is wet or dry. Better yet, pop the plant out of its pot and give the roots a close look.  If they appear parched, water the plant thoroughly, then check daily to see if the surface of the soil is dry. Most of these ornamentals need a drink at least every three days.



Keep an eye out for mites with ivy
Ivy topiaries and other plants growing on frames stuffed with sphagnum moss also need to be watered regularly. In fact, if they are allowed to dry out to the point of wilting, the plants probably won’t bounce back. (Word to the wise: I just let a little lavender tree dry out too much and it expired.)
 
Immerse a new, stuffed topiary in a tub or large bucket of water and hold it there until the water stops bubbling. Then move it to a waterproof spot until it stops dripping. Finally, place it on a piece of clear plastic where you want it to grow.

Topiaries growing on stuffed frames should be misted every day. And add a touch of diluted fertilizer to provide the nutrients mosses lack.

It’s also a good idea to spray or mist regular topiaries weekly to spritz away dust, deter pests, and add extra humidity to a dry, indoor environment. Or give them a quick bath in the sink or tub.
Pay particular attention to the undersides of leaves, where spider mites gather to begin their dirty work. (Ivy is particularly susceptible to mites. Spray with an insecticidal soap to deter them.)


Location, location, location

You’ll also need to provide plants with the proper amount of light. Most topiaries, such as ivy, like fairly bright light, cool conditions, and good air circulation. East-, west-, and south-facing windows are all fine unless the sun is so strong it singes tender leaf tips.

Rosemary and lavenders crave bright light and will go downhill rapidly if stuck in a dark corner. Rosemary “trees” appreciate full sun, so make sure you have a suitable location before attempting to grow them. The foliage is very dense and without proper light, the tree will begin to rot. If interior needles start turning gray or black, immediately trim the bad bits out and turn the damaged area towards the sun.

Rosemary will rot without enough sunlight

Quick action just might save your rosemary from the trash pile. Standards and trees should be moved one-quarter turn weekly to keep the shapes symmetrical. Feed every few weeks during the winter months with a diluted liquid fertilizer. And be sure to give regular haircuts when plants get scraggly, especially before stems get too woody to prune effectively.

Angel vine (Muehlenbeckia)

At this point it may sound as if topiaries are too fussy to fool with. If so, here’s a less- tricky alternative: scented geraniums. They're great for beginners because they're easy to grow and don't have strict watering requirements like most standards. Best of all, they can provide plenty of "flower power."

Recommended varieties include Ginger, Lemon and Crispum. Be sure to start with a plant that has a strong central stalk.
 
While scented geraniums might be a good choice for the faint of heart, don't completely rule out rosemary, lavender, quick growing angel vine or ivies. 

If you can provide the necessary indoor conditions, you should succeed. And mastering the care of these charming plants can be one of the nicest holiday presents you ever give yourself.



Happy Holidays, dear readers





Monday, September 24, 2018 5 comments

Summer circles the drain



We had an above par summer start with a trip to the Masters
For a variety of reasons I call the past few months the “summer from hell”. We had a parade of trials and tribulations, but I dare not complain too much because folks about 6 hours to the east of us are still under water thanks to a cantankerous gal named Florence.

This shrub went from vigorous to dead in two months
Having said that, I do want to mention that by mid-August, we’d had over 100 inches of rain here in the mountains. No wonder so many of my plants (including roses) rotted. The few healthy blooms were snarfed down by a groundhog. (The brat  even came up on the porch and ate the blooms off plants I had yet to put in the ground.) At one point I was tempted to throw in the trowel. That has never happened before in all my gardening years. 


 So dear reader, here are a few examples of the good, the bad and the ugly.


'Earth Angel' was heavenly








'Vanessa Bell' was another winner


Clearweeds came out of nowhere and infested the garden
We had more bears this summer than ever...


...and fewer butterflies. But Woodrow the groundhog was everywhere.



Thankfully I am an optimist by nature and am already am making a list of cool new plants to add next spring.

As a bonus, I have the Biltmore International Rose Trials to look forward to beginning Friday. As a member of the permanent judging panel, I have been evaluating the roses in the competition for over two years. I can’t wait to see my special rose friends from across the country and unveil the winners for 2018.

It promises to be the beginning of a fabulous fall.


















 
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