May 28, 2012

I Went to a Garden Party . . .

Next weekend I am going on a tour of six private home gardens sponsored by the garden club in a nearby town. I know, I know, you're all excited to see what wonderful photos I'll post.  I'm all excited too.

I got my tickets early and saved on the admission price.  

Do you see what is printed, nicely, at the bottom?

No cameras?  No cell phones either?  This makes garden blogging a little difficult.

I have not been on a lot of tours of private gardens, but I've been to some, and gardeners have welcomed photos.  If I went to a garden party, and memories were all I saw . . . .

Is this standard garden club protocol in your area?  If you volunteered to show off your garden on a tour would you be uncomfortable with strangers taking pictures of it?


May 24, 2012

Bridge of Flowers

Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

A village made up of two towns (Buckland and Shelburne) in the mountains of New England, situated on the Deerfield River where tumbling water powered the mills that clustered there beginning in the late 1700s.

The mills are gone, and an old bridge that supported a train line was eventually abandoned, but then reclaimed by the women's club in 1929.  Tons of soil were hauled up to the old bridge, and garden club volunteers planted it with vines and shrubs and small trees and many perennials.  The women's club still maintains it more than 80 years later.

They created a lush garden above the river.

It's not long, it isn't very wide, and only two people can walk together down the narrow center path.  The metal span of a bridge that carries traffic runs alongside the elegant stone-arched garden bridge, right in the center of town.  Very old climbing hydrangeas spill over the railings, rather than climb, and gnarled wisteria vines twist along an overhead support, dripping purple blooms.  Baptisias, lupines, azaleas, alliums, and peonies were blooming.  Crabapples had finished.

This is not a simple walkway of hanging baskets and petunias in barrels.  It is a world class arboretum on a bridge.

We visited on a stormy, rainy day in May.  Put on your rain slicker and walk the short span with us.

In August of last year, the bridge and its gardens were completely engulfed by floodwaters from very heavy rains after hurricane Irene.

It recovered, and on our visit we never would have known this garden perched up in the air had been underwater.

I love the fact that this garden above the river has been tended by volunteers for 80 years in a remote, out of the way village.  Less than 4,000 people live in the two towns on either side of the river --- how big can the women's club be that maintains this bridge?

It has been flooded, it was disassembled while renovations took place twenty five years ago (the plants all found temporary homes in resident's gardens, then were re-planted), and it has endured for a long, long time.

It's not a trendy new idea, a copy of The High Line in NYC or some European elevated park.  There are no specimens of new prairie grasses or garden sculptures.  There is no fee to walk across it from one side of the river to the other.

It is simple, quaint, beautifully tended for decades by people who know plants, and utterly frivolous in a working class mill town.

So much of rural New England has decayed and crumbled as Colonial era mills and farms declined over the centuries.  It's a delight to see that tiny Shelburne Falls found a new life for an old place.  And now, all these years later, The Bridge of Flowers itself has the timeless feel of an old place.

May 20, 2012

Black Barlow and Blaze

It sounds like a bad western movie about an outlaw and his horse, but that is what is blooming together in my garden now --- 'Blaze' peony and a columbine called 'Black Barlow' that showed up unexpectedly this spring. 

I planted several columbines four years ago, in yellows and purples and multi colors, but the yellows and cream colors never came back.  Some light purple columbines did survive and reseed, but none of the multi colors.  I also planted one 'Black Barlow' columbine that left town and disappeared after the first year.  I never saw that one again.

Until this year.  I have not one lone columbine, but five huge clumps of dark maroon columbines with yellow centers, and those are 'Black Barlow', returned after four years.

Who knows what crimes and misdemeanors were committed in parts unknown during the years he was gone.  But here he is all over my garden, and not a single other columbine has remained.  I guess they all got out of town when they heard Black Barlow was back.

Columbines do not usually come true from seed, so you get color surprises each year.  But 'Black Barlow' is an exception.  It does reseed itself looking exactly like the parent columbine.  I just can't figure out where it was for the last four years and why so many huge clumps showed up all at once this season.

My 'Blaze' peony is reliable, though.  It always appears just as advertised, richly scarlet, iridescent and impossible to capture on camera.

Two 'May Night' salvias seeded themselves right in front of this peony.  I didn't plant them there, but the salvias thought the shiny red of the peonies needed to be tempered with something darker, so they planted their purple selves in a pair, side by side, guarding the peony.  It works.

'Blaze' blooms only a short time, maybe a week at most, before the flowers shatter and make a violently red pool on the ground.  Because I only get to see them bloom for such a brief time, I try to get good photos to extend the memory of them, but the bright color is so hard to capture.

I sent Jim out with his Nikon, and he got an early evening shot.

'Blaze' is a fast one, come and gone in too short a time.  And 'Black Barlow' is a mysterious one, gone for years, and back again now.  What a wild pair they are.

May 17, 2012


Coincidence?   I think not.

First, Lee May posts about the red buckeye tree (Aesculus pavia, or maybe A. carnea) that he gave his wife for Mother's Day one year.

It's a small tree in his garden, but it has charms, and his wife has come to really appreciate it.  I loved the photo he posted.   Such a little tree, blooming so enthusiastically.  And not in spring whites, but in deep dark red.

Then, on a garden tour in upstate New York this past weekend I see not one, but two red buckeye trees in two different gardens.  Both in bloom.  Beautiful specimens.

This can not be a coincidence.

Having first seen this tree on Lee's blog, it is now calling to me every time I go out.  Every time I enter another garden, I see it.

And you know where that leads.

I want one.
I saw this mature specimen at Mead Farm House in Amenia, NY

I also want a big red barn to show off my buckeye to its best effect. 

If I grow one I want it to be a graceful tree.  The one in the photo below is lovely, but it is still young and could be pruned up a bit I think.
I photographed this is at Margaret Roach's garden (her blog = A Way to Garden)

It seems to have its best season in spring, with gorgeous green floppy foliage and richly red spiky flowers that hummingbirds absolutely love.

In summer, this buckeye, like all buckeye trees, will get leaf scorch and really needs afternoon shade to look a little better.  Lee's tree is in the understory of nearby woods, so I think it must do well there --- I hope he will post summertime pictures of his little buckeye.

I have no woodland understory to grow this beautiful red buckeye in.  No shade for it at all.  And I have no red barn.
another view from Mead Farm House

But it cannot be simply coincidence that I am seeing this tree everywhere I go, so shortly after learning about it.  Someone wants me to plant a red flowering buckeye.

I think someone wants me to have a nice big barn too.

May 14, 2012

A Bluebird Day

I love visiting your blogs online and seeing your gardens through your eyes.

It has been one of the unexpected joys of garden blogging.

Sometimes I get to visit the real garden, and moving from what I know about your garden virtually to what the real garden looks like is quite an experience.

I have followed Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden for years, as many of you have.  This past weekend Jim and I got to see her garden during the Open Conservancy Day held on May 12.

It was a gloriously bright bluebird day, dry, cool and sunny.  How do you order up these kinds of conditions when you are expecting company?  I want to know.

Her garden immediately surprised me with its intimacy.

I have followed her blog for years and thought her winterhazel (Corylopsis spicata) was out in a field, far away.  It is steps from her door, and overtakes the walk up from the drive into her front yard.
Her cutting garden and vegetable raised beds border the roadside, only feet away from the road.

She has a neighbor right next door.

All of her well photographed spaces --- the frog pond, the outbuildings, the spicebush at the end of a small woodland opening, are just steps from her door.

Intimate.  You just don't get the closeness of the surroundings from a blog.

And you don't get depth of space.

The steepness of her property is challenging.  Her two and a third acres go straight up from the house, opening from the closeness of densely jumbled plantings, porches, containers, and stonework all around the house to a sweep of open grass and large trees way upslope.

And here's the thing.  Her gardens as shown on her blog are so perfect, so well designed, so photographically pristine, that I could never achieve anything close.

Not gonna happen on my half acre.

But when we arrived on a beautiful day in May, the mulch was in a pile and only partially spread.  There were weeds.  Some plants needed tending.  A lot needed pruning.  The human spaces --- walks and paths and openings --- were already overtaken by foliage.

Its beauty is that it is a garden evolving in the season.

It was all so natural --- beautifully built but not fussy. 

It's a mature garden, over 25 years old, and it is a garden that is still adding plants, losing plants and changing.  Newly opened earth on the slope showed where some plants had been lost, dug up and removed. 

Her bottlebrush buckeyes, big giant things, had cracked apart in storms and the corylopsis lost branches last year.  In an established garden with so much going on and such large trees and shrubs, these losses fit in with the evolving landscape and it all works.

I loved seeing the real thing in person.


May 11, 2012

I See Clouds

I had visions of clouds when I planted these boxwoods under a small Japanese maple.

These four mini boxwood balls in a little line are Buxus suffruticosa, the true dwarf boxwood, and if left unpruned they will form interesting undulating mounds of tight foliage.

I was hooked by the description --- a cloudlike effect.

Yes, please,  I would like a line of cloudlike foliage bordering my Japanese maple.  I planted four round buns close together and waited to see clouds.

Just like this, which I saw at Missouri Botanical Garden a year ago last May.  I don't make these things up.  I see real examples of achievable garden designs, and want to try to do the same in my garden.

These dwarf boxwoods were indeed soft, cloudlike, undulating.

But instead of clouds, I am beginning to see a rectangular green wall.  These are merging into a solid mass and starting to look like you could sit on them.

Could I have made all three of the most basic mistakes a garden designer can make?  Did I plant these dwarf boxwoods too close together?  In too straight a line, without staggering the plants?

And to finish the trifecta of basic mistakes, did I plant too few?  Just four?  Really?

Never mind.  You may see a short straight wall of dense green blobs, but I see delightful clouds under the richly crimson 'Bloodgood' Japanese maple.


May 7, 2012

Close Ups and Long Shots in May

For weeks the camass lilies, Camassi cusickii, have been threatening to bloom. They finally have started to open their icy blue stars.

From a distance they fade to a skim milk bluish white. They are so pale, and they get overwhelmed by all that strappy green foliage, but I love them and wait for them each May.

The forget me nots, Myosotis, are abundant and cute up close, a rich blue.

Stepping back, you see they form only a small edging along the dry creek bed, contrasting (clashing?) with orange geums on the other side.  They'll spread, I know that, but right now it's kind of a silly little arc.

The star of my early May garden, whether from close in or seen from down the street, is the Doublefile Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Shasta'.

From afar this viburnum looks like a wedding cake.  Or like shooting fireworks going off in all directions.  In last year's storm it lost many branches in the middle and there is an open gap on the right, and although I see that it's not as full as last year, who else could notice?  It looks fine all dressed in white.

Foamflower, Tiarella 'Candy Striper' forms a mini forest of pinky white spires.

The distance shot shows that my attempt to achieve a long sweep of tiarella, winding about under woodland trees is only twelve plants clumped under a young magnolia, but there is a design goal, and I can see it even if you can't yet.

Close up the sheer volume of maple seeds on the red maples, Acer rubrum, is alarming.  When a wind blows, they helicopter down on the swirling breezes.

There is no long shot of all the red maples that surround my yard and grow in the woods.  So imagine the air filled with twinkling, sunlit helicopters as the seeds blow off and twirl in showers to the ground.

It's an amazing thing to see, even if it means I'll be weeding maple seedlings out of my gardens forever.


May 3, 2012

Branching Out

My trees are branching out in some interesting ways.  A couple show some welcome growth, and another is kind of confusing.

First, the confusing one.  This isn't right.  Betula nigra, or River Birch, is a multi stemmed tree that usually forms clumps of two or three upright trunks.  This V shaped River Birch has a long slender trunk on the left, and is branching all over the place midway up the stem on the right.

From the opposite angle it's even clearer how confused, almost tangled, the branching is on one trunk, while the other is straight and unbranched.

It looks like two trees from a distance.  The upper leaf canopy is separated into two distinct forms.  The trunk(s) are hidden by the spruces that are in front of this birch, but go around behind the berm and you see this oddity.

It's healthy, it grows, but even barely leafed out in spring, it is starting to look too heavy on the branched side.  It is leaning too much and looking like it might break off to that side in the next storm.

Could some selective pruning help this situation?  I should simply take off the entire confused branched trunk at its base, and let the remaining straight trunk grow as a single stemmed Betula nigra. That's what I'm thinking.  The multi stemmed clump form is popular, but River Birches do grow naturally as single stem trees.

Yeah, that's what I'm thinking.  I need something bigger than my Japanese pruning saw.

The branching on another tree is not so worrisome.  In fact it's really encouraging to see that the little black gum, Nyssa sylvatica, is finally trying to stand up tall, and is sending up a leader.

I wrote about this tree here, showing how it had become saddle shaped because the top leader branch had been lopped off.  Black gum is a stiffly pyramidal tree and should never be topped.
then . .  in 2009
But it is now sending up a vertical branch, reaching up to re-establish a top.
now . . . in 2012
There is hope for a beautifully formed tree.  Just give it time.

And this is encouraging --- the little sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) that I moved this spring is not only leafing out, but has sent up a strong vertical leader.  The slender, light brown branch growing straight up in the center is new growth.

Branching out, branching up.  I love watching these trees grow into the forms they want to be --- even the confused ones.