Sunday, September 7, 2014 2 comments

I think that I shall never see, Part 2

The world's largest Fraser Fir

Back in March I wrote a Dirt Diaries posting called “I think that I shall never see a sight as lovely as a tree."

In kind of a tip of the cap to Joyce Kilmer, I visited nearby High Hampton  to see what winter had done to some of the most magnificent trees in the country.

World's largest Bald Cypress

Bald Cypress in August
For those who may not have seen that posting, High Hampton Inn and Country Club in North Carolina is a haven of southern hospitality where afternoon tea is still served, gentlemen wear coats to dinner and televisions are non-existent. I first went to High Hampton when I was in high school. Days spent there with my Dad are some of my most treasured memories.

The estate was originally a summer retreat for the Hampton family. Wade Hampton III later purchased the property and along with Modecai Zachary, built the Hampton Hunting Lodge. They also built the Church of the Good Shepard which still exists today, and a school for mountain children.

Copper Beech trunk

Copper Beech

In 1890, Carolyn Hampton (Wade Hampton’s niece) married Dr. William Halstead of Johns Hopkins, and the couple honeymooned on the mountain property. Dr. Halstead (who was also an amateur botanist) thought the land to be the most beautiful place on earth. They purchased the estate from Carolyn’s aunt and renamed it High Hampton.

Kentucky Coffee Tree (behind cabin to the right)

Today when you visit High Hampton you can see the world’s largest Fraser Fir, a National Champion Bottlebrush Buckeye, the tallest Bald Cypress in America and several North Carolina State Champs including a Kentucky Coffee Tree and a Black Locust. All were planted over 100 years ago.

I was told this tree was a Weeping Willow

It's actually a Weeping Beech

I took pictures of many of those trees five months ago and promised to come back to show you what they look like when dressed up in their summer greenery.

National Champion Bottlebrush Buckeye

So here’s how they all looked this summer. I’ll return to see them ablaze with color this fall. 

But my camera still won’t do them justice.

The trees were magnificent. The gardens weren't too shabby either.
Monday, August 25, 2014 2 comments

Summer 2014, we hardly knew ye

I went back to look at the posting I wrote about the end of summer last year, and I am going to sound like a broken record: Wasn’t it just a couple of days ago we were at the Biltmore for the unveiling of the International Rose Trials winners?

Miracle on the Hudson took top honors at beautiful Biltmore

Then wasn’t it just yesterday we headed out on a 10-day road trip in early June that took us to Williamsburg, Virginia Beach, Cambridge, MD, Longwood Gardens and DC? 

The wild onions of Yorktown

Another amazing Virginia Beach sunset

American Pillar (a hybrid wichurana)  at Longwood

Mama Robin in DC

I always feel like somebody's watching me
So what happened to the rest of the summer and how come next weekend ushers in Labor Day?

Well, I don’t have any answers. Once again summer seems to have evaporated. 

My roses were spectacular (if I do say so myself)

But at least I have some wonderful photographs to remind me of the time that seemed to go by as a blur.

Enjoy my summer snapshots and join me in savoring the final days before we feel a nip in the air.

Because I am certainly not ready for mums, pumpkins and black cats.

Gorgeous wildflowers everywhere

Bees were wild about the 86-bloom spray of Lyda rose
Our hydrangeas died to the ground but these Annabelles survived
The view from the mountaintop garden was just as spectacular
Golf was good
Goodbye summer :(

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 14 comments

Are the new coneflowers just pretty faces?

When you specialize in one particular plant, it’s easy to fall into a gardening rut.

While living in Maryland, I focused on roses and companion plants that looked good with roses. I wasn’t very interested in experimenting with anything new.
Now that I’m starting over with a garden in the mountains of North Carolina, I see I’ve been missing out on some really interesting perennials. I inherited a few daylilies and am just beginning to appreciate their beauty and usefulness.
I was also intrigued when a coneflower popped up in an area where I’d sown wildflower seeds last summer. It was just an old fashioned Echinacea purpurea but it looked quite elegant amid a group of oxeye daisies.

I wondered why I hadn’t noticed this appealing flower before.
The humble Echinacea has some fancy new cousins
Hardy, attractive, and easy to grow, these popular American wildflowers have long been a staple of the perennial border both here and in Europe.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, a number of enterprising plant breeders began making crosses between several varieties of native coneflowers in an attempt to make a good thing even better.

Harvest Moon

The result is a dizzying array of new hybrids in a rainbow of delicious colors, along with a wide choice of flower forms (including pom-poms and doubles) and sizes from midget to statuesque.
Keeping up with all these new and unusual coneflowers is about as difficult as figuring out which of a multitude of rose introductions to try. The number of choices and names boggle the mind.
Milk Shake

Should I get a Milkshake and Tomato Soup? Or a Marmalade and Merlot?
And once I decide on which of the new beauties to try, should I assume it will be as easy-care as the old standby?
The coneflower controversy
The traditional purple coneflower has been a Top 10 perennial for decades. It self-seeds so even when the original plant is just a memory, true seedlings will have taken its place.
Unfortunately, many of the new introductions don’t perform as dependably in the garden.
Raspberry Truffle

Many seem to disappear after a year or so, and others never bloom. Some fade quickly in the heat. A number of varieties don’t set seed and others produce strange seedlings.
It’s a disappointing result after a great deal of hype and high expectations.
Anecdotal evidence also suggests that the success rate for certain new coneflowers may depend on the region where they are grown.

Jeff Dinslage of Nature Hills Nursery reports that Tomato Soup has been a star in his Nebraska yard for several years despite being placed in the worst spot in the garden. Kim’s Knee Hi is another variety that does well in the heartland.
Kim's Knee Hi
Fatal Attraction and Fragrant Angel don’t mind the heat and clay soils of the mid-Atlantic according to a three-year study done by the nonprofit Mount Cuba Center in northern Delaware.
And compact Elton Knight has done well enough in Britain to be given the Award of Garden Merit by the Royal Horticultural Society.
White Swan
I don’t know if my White Swan and Ruby Star will be winners here in the North Carolina mountains, but I will certainly report if either one rates a thumbs-up.
I hope to hear more about Echinacea experiences in other areas of the country.

The explosion of these unique and enticing plants is exciting news for gardeners.

But before we all go coneflower crazy, we need to separate the dazzlers from the duds.

Hot Paprika

Monday, June 23, 2014 5 comments

Another golden Chelsea for David Austin English Roses

I attended the Chelsea Flower Show in May 1991. 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. 

But 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.

This year David Austin English Roses secured an 18th Gold Medal in the Great Pavilion awards. Their team of eight worked for five days to prepare the display in the main marquee. Those readers who recall my posting about the 2013 Austin stand may not believe it, but this year’s presentation was even more stunning.

As a bonus, this year’s show was a family affair.

David Austin Senior, David Austin Junior and his son Richard were on hand to celebrate the award.  In addition, one of the 2014 Chelsea introductions is named Olivia Rose Austin after David Junior’s 19-year-old daughter.
Olivia Rose Austin
Because the variety is named for a family member, it had to be something special. Olivia is the first offering in their disease-free line and has been in development for almost ten years.  The rose features soft pink rosette blooms and a fruity fragrance.  The Austin folks believe it might be their best rose to date. 

 A second introduction, The Poet’s Wife has really caught my eye. Technical Manager Michael Marriott says it is a rare color in the David Austin pastel palette – an unfading rich yellow. It is a low grower, ideal for the front of the border. The fragrance is described as lemony, becoming sweeter and stronger with age.

The Poet's Wife
The final new rose to make its debut is The Lady of the Lake, only the fourth rambler to be added to the English Rose collection. It promises to grow 10 to 12 feet or more with long, slender, flexible canes. Unlike many ramblers, it repeat flowers throughout the summer and boasts a fresh citrus scent.
The Lady of the Lake
So there you have it. All the beauty of Chelsea, and all the beauty to come with three new David Austin roses.

I am checking now to see if they will be available here in 2015.  Hope so.

I already have The Poet’s Wife at the top on my must have list.

Sunday, June 1, 2014 9 comments

More miracles at the Biltmore International Rose Trials

Ta da, this year's big winner at Biltmore

Last year, a part-time hybridizer made history when one of his creations won Best in Show at the first Biltmore International Rose Trials competition in Asheville, North Carolina.

Mike Athy of Gisborne, New Zealand entered his climbing/groundcover rose (temporarily known as Athyfalaa) in 2011 and after eight rounds of judging over two years it was declared the winner in five of eleven categories.

This year another amateur, Robert Neal Rippetoe, took top honors with “Miracle on the Hudson”, a vibrant shrub named to salute the Captain, crew and passengers of US Airways Flight 1549. Rippetoe’s rose also won for Best Shrub Rose, Best Growth Habit and Most Disease Resistant. Some of his other introductions include “Buttercream”, “June Anne” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

The Biltmore Rose Garden was nothing less than spectacular
This is the second year Biltmore’s Rose Garden has been home to the trials where more than 90 varieties from growers and breeders worldwide have been planted and cared for by Biltmore Rosarian Lucas Jacks (he is a certified genius) and his team of horticulturalists.

No fungicides or insecticides are used on these roses and any entry that displays disease over 25% of the bush is removed from the competition.

Each trial lasts two years and a permanent jury judges the roses four times annually. I am fortunate to be on that permanent panel (despite the fact it can be mighty cold out in the gardens in mid-January.) 

The Biltmore Estate and its glorious gardens are a must-see

 The roses judged this year were from Canada, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Germany, the UK and the United States. 29 roses planted in 2012 made it to the finals (the roses are displayed by a numerical code and names are not known to the judges.) An international panel from across the rose world joined our permanent group to select the pick of the posies.

Lest you think only newbies are snapping up awards, many luminaries of rosedom also made the head table. 

Sweet Drift

Tequila Supreme
Meilland of France won Best Groundcover with “Sweet Drift”, Best Floribunda with “Tequila Supreme” and Best Hybrid Tea with “Francis Meilland.”

“Munstead Wood” hybridized by David Austin English Roses was named Most Fragrant.
My Munstead Woods are almost always in bloom

And the stunner “Bajazzo” from Kordes of Germany won Best Climber.

Bajazzo bewitched judges

New rose varieties are planted for the trials each May. These bushes are evaluated for garden performance, fragrance, disease resistance and usability in a variety of landscape situations. The next awards will be in 2015 for the trials planted in 2013.

I judged the 2013 hopefuls as part of my duties Saturday.

I saw some amazing entries, so I fully expect more wonderous events to materialize next May.