Thursday, February 16, 2017

Wildflowers at Mt. Cuba

I visited the Mt. Cuba Center near Wilmington, Delaware, to attend one of their fascinating winter lectures, my first botanical garden event this year. Upon arrival, I fell in love with the location, the verdant acreage and the magnificent Colonial Revival style house.  Here, horticulturists conduct research in trial gardens, home to more than 1,000 species of native plants, many threatened by extinction. No blooms today, but a compelling lecture titled "Wildflower Ecology: A Naturalist's Perspective." Carol Gracie, the speaker, worked for the Nature Conservancy and the New York Botanical Gardens before retiring. With her husband she spent many years studying plants in the South American rain forests. Today, Carol talked about spring ephemerals, our native woodland wildflowers, a perfect topic for this gardener on a cold winter's day.  She illustrated her talk with photographs from her latest book, Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast.

Carol started the presentation with a photograph of herpatica Anemone americana
Carol Gracie, acclaimed naturalist, photographer and writer.

Of course, I bought the book and now treasure my signed copy.

Carol exquisitely illustrated this unique book with more than 500 beautiful colored photos. Going far beyond a field guide, Carol provides insights into the plant world, discussing the latest science, the cultural uses of plants and personal observations. She highlighted some ephemerals from her book in her lecture. I was fascinated to learn that skunk cabbage Symplocarpus foetidus is the first wildflower to bloom in the Northeast. It grows in abundance in a swampy area near my house but, aware only of its unpleasant smell, I never really looked at it. Now I'm anxious to visit the location and see if it really is a harbinger of spring; to see if it has flowers already.

-- beautiful photographs and easy-to-read information --

The book signing took place in the conservatory of the main house. What a beautiful room with large windows giving views of the terrace.

Mt. Cuba main house conservatory
Hallway with lovely Chinese prints on the walls
View from the house of Mt. Cuba's formal garden.

I encourage you to take a virtual tour of the botanical garden by clicking here. I look forward to returning at the end of April to see the wildflowers in bloom. 

Mt. Cuba is one of many public gardens within 100 miles of my home. We are fortunate to have so many, such as those in and around Philadelphia, just a few hours away. I visited a handful of them over the years, but my goal is to tour several new ones in 2017, as well as revisit old favorites -- especially  Longwood and Chanticleer.

My own garden was hit by an ice storm. I wish I could capture the bright sparkle of the shrubs behind the 'naked lady', as my grandchildren call her.

The ice and wind bowed my beloved white pine into the paddock. Upon closer inspection, we see the trunk is split. I think it is lost.

The snow and wind continue, but I'm content to relax by the fire with a cup of coffee and a wonderful new book.

Dreaming of springtime and wildflowers.
Pamela x

Don't forget the Great Backyard Bird Count

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What Worked and What Didn't In My 2016 Gardens

On this snowy day, I'm spending an enjoyable few hours browsing photographs of my 2016 gardens. I need to decide what to keep, what to change, and any new projects for the next garden year. I've consulted my journal, which is invaluable, to see where my gardens were and where they need to go, but photographs are even more helpful. As the idiom says, 'A picture is a thousand words.' Here's a partial list of what worked and what didn't:

1. Glorious April daffodils
The Daffodil Walk that takes visitors to the front porch was glorious. Unfortunately, by June it was a mess; the perennial geraniums I planted in each bed failed to hide the bedraggled, dying daffodil leaves. As a result, I probably cut the daffodil leaves back too soon, so I'll have a weaker crop next spring. I'm thinking of adding petunias. They wont be tall enough to hide the dying leaves but maybe their bright colors will detract from them. I grow petunias in window boxes but not in the ground. I was motivated by a blog posting written by my friend Karen who blogs at Quarry Garden Stained Glass. Her petunias are stunning every year as you will see if you click on the link here. I am going to follow Karen's advice, buy seed and give it a try.

The Daffodil Walk

2.  May Blossoms on the Weeping Cherry.
The weeping cherry I planted in honor/memory of my mother thickened out and bloomed beautifully last year. I need to do some judicial pruning before the end of March while the tree is dormant.

May blossoms on Snow fountain cherry Prunus x 'Snofozam'

3. The Cottage Garden in June
I believe June is my favorite month in my garden: roses, peonies, viburnum, mock orange all bloom profusely. (Compare the next photo taken in June with the first picture above taken today. This is why I enjoy browsing my albums at this time of year.) I'm not so fond of the downtime occurring end-of-June/beginning-of-July when less is blooming. At that point,  giant allium 'Globemaster' fill the void ... they always work.

Roses, peonies and alliums
Allium -- always a success

4. Fourth of July: Red, White and Blue Garden
I can't take much credit for the glorious July Fourth display in the Picket-fence Garden (my grandson calls this garden Strawberry Fields.) The delphiniums self-seeded to make the show work. I wonder what 2017 will bring to this spot.

Bee Balm Monarda 'Jacob Cline,' Larkspur Delphinium 'Bellamosum,' and Yarrow Achillea 'The Pearl.'

In the same bed the plant I thought was goat's beard began to give off a disgusting, rotten-meat odor. Research showed I had planted fleece flower not goat's beard. It had to go. I made changes in the fall that you can read about here.

Fleece flower Persicaria polymorpha -- STINKS.

5. The Shade Garden in July 
 In early summer, the Shade Garden came into its own with a mix of foliage plants of various greens and multiple textures. I loved my shade garden and named it Serenity. Notice the past tense. When we had to remove the very large, dangerous silver maple tree, the shade garden became bathed in sunlight while receiving minimal shade from the catalpa tree. Hostas scorched and ferns disappeared.

Early summer in the shade garden before we removed the tree.
Some of these foliage plants were trampled by the workmen and others were sun-damaged
The silver maple had shaded the southern end of the Shade Garden

I am thinking of relocating the hostas, ferns, brunnera and helebores from the southern end of the (former) shade garden and planting a moon garden with sun/part shade plants there. I've already planted a 'Pee Gee' hydrangea and I'm considering 'Summer Snowflake' viburnum, lambs ears, montauk daisy, snow in summer and allium 'Mount Everest.' In the fall I may plant some white crocuses. A moon garden would be tranquil and I could keep the name Serenity. It's exciting to plan a new garden, but I'm still feeling sick at losing shade.

6. The Kitchen Garden
The kitchen garden provided a steady supply of produce all summer and fall. There was a glut of cucumbers resulting in a cache of freezer pickles. Today there are several jars of pickled red beets in the jelly cupboard. We have pounds of onions still to be eaten. We left parsnips in the ground to enjoy when it thaws. This was a good year for herbs, too, in the garden trug on the patio. I will sow tried and true seed varieties again this year.

A productive kitchen garden

A part-failure in the kitchen garden was the sunflower -- I forget which variety. The blossoms were gorgeous, then each stem began to fall over. I thought it was caused by the weight of the sparrows eating the seeds. My dear friend Katharine told me she believed the damage was caused by a stem borer. Looking inside a stem, I found she was right. Thank you, Katharine. H.H. burned the plant and removed the soil from the raised box so the infestation doesn't remain over winter. I have yet to decide what I will plant there this year.

Beautiful sunflower blossoms; deadly stem borer
Sunflower Stem Borer (internet photo)

7. Container Plantings, August/September
 The five widow boxes along the tractor shed worked. I over-filled them with petunias that spilled over effectively. The petunias covered the bacoba, so I wont plant it next time.

Supertunia 'Bordeaux', Supertunia 'Flamingo', purple fountain grass, (bacoba hidden.)

The four containers of canna lilies on the patio were stunning. However, I'm not sure the tropical look is right for my cottage garden -- what do you think? The canna corms are over-wintering in the basement. What should I do this year? Any advice, dear friends?

8. Plant Markers
One of my favorite successes was the beautiful hand-painted plant markers my friends at Bryant Park made. I'll be purchasing more of them for my 2017 garden.

 9. Bulb Forcing in October/November
Amaryllis 'Picottee' is the last of the bulbs to bloom. Don't you love its delicate white petals edged in red? My amaryllis project was definitely a success. I'm going to try to keep them for next year.

Amaryllis Hippeastrum 'Ferrari'
Amaryllis 'Picotee' and Amaryllis 'Clown'

That's a brief summary of some of my year's successes and failures plus some ideas for my 2017 gardens. What changes are you planning for the new gardening season? Or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, what changes are you making now?

Pamela x

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Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Long January Thaw

My friend Jo who blogs at Through the Keyhole in Yorkshire, England, posted about a walk she took today; she called the post, 'Grey and Dismal.' I could use the same heading here. This week, each melancholy day followed another with drizzling rain and fog. Nevertheless, like Jo, we set off for our daily walks around our property and felt better for them. Of course, we don't have the expanses of green grass you see in Jo's pictures, nor a Tudor-Jacobean house with grounds landscaped by Capability Brown, to add interest to our hike. (Do you detect a note of envy? Check out Jo's post and you'll understand why.) Yet fields of stubble have their own beauty.

The top field shrouded in fog
The lower field with wind-damaged trees

The mild weather persuaded the fish to swim, albeit sluggishly, out of their hiding places in the pond. Maybe this one is heading for the crate of plants looking for food.
Koi fish seen through the protective net over the pond

Our walk generally takes us through the shade garden, along the Woodland Walk, behind the barn, down the edge of each field and along the road to our starting place. We usually make three laps. H.H. says it's about half a mile. Feels more like a mile to me.
Hydrangea 'Pinky Winky' seed heads.

Hakone Grass Hakonechloa macra 'All Gold
The Old Cedar Tree

Into the Woodland Walk

In the Woodland Walk the deer have decimated hellebores and heuchera. Only one hellebore has a few remaining leaves.

Deer-chewed hellebore

As we walk we discuss the work we need to do in the spring and changes we would like to make. We will clear up part of the Woodland Walk and add a stone structure -- a cairn. Watch this space ...

Rain drops on White Pine

 When we near the barn, Billy peeps out. He probably wonders if we are bringing him food.

 Buds on the rhododendron give a tiny hint of hope for spring.

I don't think I suffer from seasonal affective disorder but, like Jo, I'm happiest when the sun shines and there are flowers to enjoy. Thank goodness for the Amaryllis bulbs I forced. They continue to give me great pleasure this winter.

Amaryllis 'Clown' has eight beautiful blooms today.

That may have been our last walk for a while as the National Weather Service issued a warning for a northeaster in our area starting tomorrow with snow, sleet and high winds. Oh, boy. But it IS January and this was a long January thaw.

Pamela x

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