Thursday, December 14, 2017 5 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.


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’ 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 ( 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 9 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!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017 4 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 5 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!