Flower Power – Feeling Groovy

A long time ago (in my misspent youth), probably around the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, I had a brilliant idea. Looking around at the sparsely decorated white walls of my teenaged bedroom, I thought nothing would do but that I decorate those painted walls with brightly colored, very groovy, mod, abstract flower-power stickers. Think about the decorations of a VW or perhaps a Peter Max poster and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what those stickers looked like. In fact, they are widely available and they bring a smile to my face whenever I see them. The hippie in me will never fade, I guess. Do these look familiar to anyone?

I was particularly attracted to the most vivid, brilliantly colored ones: bright pink petals and an orange center! Chartreuse circular centers surrounded by shocking yellow and, just to tame it a bit, purple and blue stickers were scattered in between those really big, bright, colorful ones. I’m pretty sure I added a peace sign or two but it was the flowers that made it a masterpiece. Did I mention how sticky they were? This was in the day before removable stickers that could be repositioned were sold – once one of these stickers was placed on a wall, there they stayed. I gave absolutely no thought to peeling off the paper backing and sticking them all over my room. I stepped back, looked at my artistic mastery and immediately smiled. It was so happy, so much fun and lively!

My mother thought otherwise and, years later, when it came time to transform my room into one for guests, I think my parents spent hours painstakingly removing them (if I look really closely at the wall, I think I can still see where one had to be chipped out and there’s some spackle and paint as evidence). Now, as an empty nester myself, I understand their displeasure but at the time, all I can recall is the feeling of pure joy. I was feeling groovy.

I think about those days and the joy Flower Power stickers brought me and wonder if some of that exuberance and desire to be surrounded in color hasn’t, in some way, carried over into adulthood. Although I’ve always loved – actually, I crave – color, it hasn’t been until the last decade or so that that passion for strong color combinations has been channeled into gardening and the types of plants I am consistently attracted to. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why in these months when it’s harder to get my “color fix” just by wandering around a garden outdoors, it’s even more important to me to continue coaxing bulbs in the colder months. I need the colors growing throughout winter: bulbs, blooming plants and the occasional indulgence of a bright bouquet (there’s nothing quite so satisfying as a bright bunch of tulips in a vase during these cold, winter months). Now, as I look around my house, it’s pretty easy to see hints of the teenager in me:

I’m NOT an orchid person and yet? The sunny, floor to ceiling window in my dining room is filled with blooming plants. It’s actually become somewhat of a joke because, despite my protests, I take withering, half dead orchids from my friend, Kelly, and somehow – despite my lackadaisical approach and complete lack of orchid education – they thrive. The stronger the color, the more delighted I am. The plants with what I consider unusual color combinations (e.g. purple and chartreuse) are personal favorites and when I see buds forming on a plant I had long ago give up for dead, I can’t help but be excited to see what will unfold. Sure, I have a few standards and solid colored orchids and I love them – they are reliable bloomers and bring a sense of calm to the cacophony of color – but when these “Kelly Orphans” were recently revived? As Jimmy Cliff sang, “Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for . . . it’s gonna be a bright (bright) sunshiny day.”

 

 

 

 

 

Starting in December, it is, for our family, Amaryllis Time. Previously I’ve written about my family’s tradition of selecting a traditional amaryllis to give to family and friends as a holiday gift. It’s a process my mother started years ago and has continued, thanks to my father, despite her passing almost six years ago. I know he carefully reviews the choices, makes sure we’re not repeating varieties and I like to think that he tries to incorporate my mother’s aesthetics into the year’s selection. Last year’s “Caprice” was a stunner and some of us are trying to bring it back to flower this year.

While waiting for the traditional amaryllis to bloom, I enjoy coaxing other bulbs to bring color and life into the house. The waxed amaryllis are lovely not only for their colorful wax but for their reliable, brilliant flowers and ability to grow without any maintenance (though they are controversial as they are “one and done”) and I’ve enjoyed watching their progress. They bring the same vibrancy and exuberance as those stickers did long ago without the permanence and aggravation In addition, when I’ve sent one to a friend, the progress is excitedly chronicled via Facebook and they, too, are embracing nature’s beauty:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paper whites, cut flowers and assembling greens from the yard mixed in with herbs, seasonal vegetables (I especially love using unusually shaped fruits mixed with different colored artichokes) also bring life indoors and I find myself drawn to using whatever plates and dining accessories I have that represent nature when setting a holiday table. Obviously the teenager who once decorated her room in groovy flower power stickers has matured but she’s not gone.

 

 

 

 

 

One of the bulbs I have growing was selected because it’s one of the few that produces a striped flower. Instead of the more predictable, single petal (and quite lovely) red flower, this copper bulb promises to produce at least two stalks of brightly red striped white flowers. Of all the waxed amaryllis I’ve been coaxing this winter, it is this one that has proven to be the most anticipated and the most stubborn. I inquired and was told that yes, the striped variety is slower to start but assuming the bulb stays in tact, the results are well worth it. I’m now in the stages – I’ll admit it – of expecting a magnificent show any minute now. There are three stalks on this amaryllis and now, late in January, they are beginning to put on a show – yes, it’s worth the wait:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amaryllis ‘terra mystica’ (my father’s Annual Amaryllis selection this year) has also been slow to start and I’ve placed these bulbs together in a warm spot by a sunny window in my bedroom. They are one of the last things I see before going to bed and one of the first things I see when I wake in the morning. Watching their growth has been delightful and the color adds so much to the “view” during these cold weather months. The traditional amaryllis began slowly but it’s now beginning to produce blossoms in earnest. This year’s selection did not disappoint and the beautiful earthy color is rich and unique:Now things seem to bloom daily and it’s almost as exciting as my summer ritual of touring the garden to seek growth and change. No doubt about it – I’m feeling pretty groovy with Flower Power.

Swing Into Spring – Hatchings & Spring Things

 

Spring can be an unpredictable season and these days, it feels like there’s a constant struggle between winter and summer with no clear winner declared (so far). It might seem like it’s hard to get into the Swing of Spring, especially with the temperature’s pendulum going from one extreme to another, but no matter what the weather, there are plenty of ways to Swing Into Spring:

Like thousands of others, I’ve become enchanted by the live cam on the eagle’s nest in the National Arboretum (http://dceaglecam.org). This “bird’s eye view” into the 5 foot wide nest high in a Tulip Poplar is a treat and beautiful sight. In addition, one can participate in (or simply read) the information in the “live chat” forum to learn more about the American Eagle Foundation, specifics about this nest and/or information about other nests (in this area and in other locations, too).

From the first signs of the piping process in the two eggs to watching the tiny grey fluffy eaglets mature and become independent, it’s easy to see why an active bird’s nest helps nature lovers get into the Swing of Spring. Just clicking on the website allows visitors to see lovely sights (day and night), such as the screenshot below of the adult feeding freshly caught fish from the Anacostia to the eaglets:

Eaglets

Eaglets

 

 

 

It’s likely that in your yard and/or neighborhood (perhaps right outside your office window), there are many active nests. Some are obvious, others a little less so. Predictably, the prolific Mourning Doves have returned to my yard, taking up residence in the juniper and holly trees. The first active nest was spotted in the holly tree, nestled carefully behind a thick veil of prickly green leaves and in a sturdy “v” at the top of the tree against a brick wall. Mourning Doves might be common birds and I hope my garden attracts more unusual nests over time but for now, as we’re trying to get into the Swing of Spring, nothing could be as much a hallmark of spring as the sight I was lucky to capture (below): the proud mother dove’s hatchling cuddled up with mom for warmth:

Mourning Dove - Mother & Child

Mourning Dove – Mother & Child

 

 

There are beautiful signs of spring in my garden and I enjoy seeing many of my favorites slowly return this year. For me, spring is like a treasure hunt – I search the garden and surrounding areas for signs of growth. When I spot something coming to life, it’s the same satisfaction as finding buried treasures. Finding spring’s treasures help me move forward with the new season, no matter what the weather. There are days when things seem to change within the course of a few hours but when the temperatures drop, it’s as if the garden stands still for a while – pressed on the “pause button” – waiting for warmer, sunnier days before the blooms really strut their stuff.

I’m a huge fritillary fan and this year, a new variety in the lavender bed has made for a spectacular sight. Watching it grow has been exciting and helped me get into the spirit of spring:

Fritillaria persica - Emerging

Fritillaria persica – Emerging

 

Fritillaria persica - Growing

Fritillaria persica – Growing

Fritillaria persica - Blooming

Fritillaria persica – Blooming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the garden, color is beginning to emerge and although the morning ritual of touring the beds is not yet a lengthy endeavor, it’s hard not to feel excited by the beautiful sights (and smells) of early spring:

Tulipa

Tulipa

 

Tulips

Tulips

Epimedium

Epimedium

 

Narcissus Oderata

Narcissus Oderata

Daffodils

Daffodils

One of the best ways to put both feet into this new season is to visit one of the many spectacular gardens open to the public. My personal favorite is McCrillis Gardens located on Greentree Road, right across from The Woods Academy. From its welcoming gates and lovely stone house at the entrance:

McCrillis' Gates

McCrillis’ Gates

 

McCrillis Stone House

McCrillis Stone House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

McCrillis Garden is a beautiful garden no matter what the season. Paths meander through the property and the mature beds are filled with beauty. There are benches scattered along the property and it’s a peaceful, casual and always interesting setting. The camellias, bloodroot, hellebores, azaleas, witch hazel and more definitely help me get a whiff of the season and all the treasures to be discovered:

Corylopsis

Corylopsis

Hamamelis x Int. 'Primavera'

Hamamelis x Int. ‘Primavera’

Camellia

Camellia

Camellia japonica hybrid Crimson Candles

Camellia japonica hybrid Crimson Candles

Azaleas

Azaleas

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bloodroot

Bloodroot

Japanese Skimmia

Japanese Skimmia

 

 

 

 

Whether it’s taking an interest in nesting birds, appreciating your own garden, exploring the nursery for things that might be fun to add to your yard, taking walks through the neighborhood and/or visiting any of the beautiful sights, especially the public gardens, in our area (even with a winter’s sweater on hand just in case the temperatures are a bit chillier than anticipated), these are terrific ways to get into The Swing of Spring.  IMG_1993

IMG_2015

 

A Garden’s “Welcome Mat” – The Textures of Plants

The other day while strolling through a nursery looking for signs of spring and inspiration, I saw a lot of pussy willow branches, a sure sign of spring’s approach, and chuckled to myself. Always fascinated by the texture of plants (almost as much as color), I’ve consistently been attracted to plants with “people friendly” textures and shunned those less kind to the human touch.

Pussywillows

Pussywillows

 

 

 

As a very young child, the soft, velvety texture of a pussy willow attracted me much in the same way as babies form an attachment to a soft, cuddly “blankie” and it becomes a child’s cherished, comforting object. Intrigued by pussy willows, I would rub the soft, white, fuzzy buds between my fingers, loving the velvety texture and the way it felt to stroke the softness – rub it any direction and it became softer and more soothing. The advent of spring, for me, was the bunch of pussy willow branches my mother would place in a vase and seeing forsythia line the street.

My admiration for forsythia wasn’t terrible strong (still not a favorite of mine) but those pussy willows? Joy. Pure joy. I still love them and look forward to having a few sprigs in the house as a way to transition to spring from winter. As a child, however, my admiration for the pussy willow didn’t stop with a simple touch or a glance at the artfully placed branches in a vase. Stashower Lore will happily tell you that I, obsessed with caressing those pussy willow buds, took it one step further . . . and as I held a single pussy willow bud in my hand, feeling the deliciously soft texture, I just couldn’t help myself and I brought that bud up to my face to feel the velvety texture against my skin. Somehow – I just don’t “remember exactly how” that bud ended up . . . in my nostril. As in LODGED in my nose. Panicked, I ran to my mother who clearly was horrified and knew that any attempt to remove it would probably make the situation worse. So, off we went to the pediatrician who, with a scary looking instrument, extracted it.

That experience has kept me from shoving pussy willows up my nose but it hasn’t diminished my love for soft textures and an appreciation for plants that, in my definition, are “people friendly.” At the same time, I’ve also developed a strong dislike for plants that are sharp, prickly and to my touch, aren’t welcoming, comforting or soothing. Yes, it’s just another thing to add to my persnickety selection of plants: it’s about color, fragrance, growth pattern, interest and . . . texture.

My preference(s) for certain textures and dislike for others always comes into play when planting, selecting stems for bouquets and/or merely enjoying the scenery. I despise plants with sharp edges because if I can’t enjoy touching them or they discourage exploration, they are banished from my yard. The first to fall victim to my less than rational attitude was removing a Pyracantha (AKA “Firethorn” which I feel is particularly apt) near the entrance to our garden. The orange berries were delightful, I loved the way birds were attracted to it and it took up enough real estate in a not yet developed garden to warrant its placement – it really wasn’t doing any harm. But when I got near it and was pierced by the thorns and found it impossible to prune without “gearing up” I knew it had to go. Those lovely orange berries would have been delightful in a vase near the window, particularly against a backdrop of snow, but those sharp thorns and rigid branches were too big a deterrent so, with help, I was perfectly fine removing it from the garden.

Pyracantha

Pyracantha

 

 

 

In its place are my beloved Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’ (no berries but that corkscrew silhouette during winter more than makes up for the lack of color) and an Edgeworthia chrysantha (providing the brilliant color in warmer months).

Corylus avellana

Corylus avellana

 

Edgeworthia chrysantha

Edgeworthia chrysantha

 

 

 

 

 

To be fair, I appreciate the aesthetics of many plants and landscapes that are strictly “hands off” and when, years ago, we enjoyed the unique, spectacular sights of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson (https://www.desertmuseum.org), I developed newfound appreciation for that magnificent landscape. The shape of the saguaro cactus with white flowers in spring and covered with red fruit in summer is magnificent and a hallmark of the Sonoran Desert. I appreciate their history and ability to adapt to a specific climate but all the same, those spines definitely kept me at arm’s length. The incredible variety of cacti were lovely to observe and learn about – I would love to see the desert in bloom and it is a photographer’s dream any time of the year but when texture comes into play, my preference is to admire these plants through a lens and from a distance. I would love to see the desert in bloom but have no desire to try my hand at growing cacti no matter where I live.

Fish Hook Barre - Sonoran Desert

Fish Hook Barre – Sonoran Desert

 

Cactus Garden - Sonoran Desert Museum

Cactus Garden – Sonoran Desert Museum

I wasn’t crazy about learning about ‘the jumping cholla cactus” and discovering how this plant’s common name came to be. While in Albuquerque one summer for a family bar mitzvah, my husband and I spent an afternoon exploring a shopping district, wandering into cafes, looking at the shops and enjoying a quirky neighborhood. The streets, lined with lovely landscapes of native plantings, seemed removed from foot traffic yet I managed to lose my footing, tripped and fell right into a tiny patch of native plantings – including one of those jumping cholla cacti. I think every single thorn jumped off their cactus and landed directly into my sunburned, already sensitive skin. Hours later, after suffering the indignity of it all and painstakingly (literally and figuratively) pulling out those prickers one by one with a tweezers, I once again vowed to steer clear from plants that couldn’t welcome someone’s skin without protection. It might not be an enlightened gardener’s view or very practical – it might limit my inventory – but at least I won’t feel the pain of gardening merely by walking past a plant!

Jumping Cholla Cactus

Jumping Cholla Cactus

In my own yard in Maryland, the previous owners lined the walls defining our yard with hollies. You guessed it – not a favorite. I appreciate the year round color, I like the berries and the birds they attract and yes, they mask the ugly walls I despise in our yard but slowly, I’m trying to replace those hollies with other choices – leaves that don’t get stuck in bare feet and welcome people into the garden. So far I’ve removed quite a few and found suitable replacements but this is going to be a long, expensive process.

Holly in my Garden

Holly in my Garden

If I could fill my yard with plants that encourage touch, I would. Even if touch isn’t the goal, I would be satisfied with plants that, at the very least, don’t discourage people from appreciating their beauty. I’ve added a smokebush because the fluffy “smoke” hovering above the bush is both beautiful and doesn’t repel someone who might brush up against it and many other shrubs add interest, height, texture and color, helping to evolve the landscape. The succulents I’ve added might not be the sort one would spend a long time touching but they’re not going to harm anyone and I enjoy them all the more when they bloom.

I love lamb’s ears, multi-hued, velvety violets, rows of edibles, exuberant sundrops, feathery amsonia and the way many plants sway in the wind. The lush, almost jelly-like filled succulents, stonecrop, fescue, nepeta, scotch broom, sedum, lady’s mantle and spring ephemerals in the Green Bed add color, pattern and yes, acceptable texture. You won’t find any plants with thorns or stiff textures in my landscape if I can help it. Slowly, over time, I hope to be surrounded with color, interesting, varied, welcoming and people friendly plants that encourage exploration with no fear of injury. I’d like my garden to say, “Please, Touch Me!” It’s OK with me to touch the puffy globe of allium and walk through the native bed to gather phlox, cardinal lobelia, bluebells, daisies, lily of the valley, mountain mint, helenium, camass and more. The fothergill, nine bark, hydrangea, viburnum, witch hazel and little gem magnolia have replaced many hollies and I’m trying to figure out what shrubs and/or trees will be added this year. Like everyone else’s garden, mine is a work in progress and there are so many variables as well as seasons of trial and error. But what you won’t find in my garden will be new plantings that intentionally discourage visitors from touching, smelling and experiencing (safely) the landscape.

Lamb's Ear

Lamb’s Ear

Soft Green Bed

Soft Green Bed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soft Green Path

Soft Green Path

 

Phlox

Phlox

 

 

 

 

 

 

As spring approaches and the beautiful beginning of a new season emerges, I hope to soon begin my morning ritual of exploring the garden and delighting in whatever nature brings. No shoes required.

Colorful & Soft

Colorful & Soft

Unwrapping Gifts After The Holidays

Amaryllis Bouquet

Amaryllis Bouquet

I don’t know about you, but even though many of the traditional winter holidays are over, I’m still opening presents. In fact, it seems like every day I discover new “packages.”

These gifts, enveloped in nature’s wrapping paper, are a treat. Sometimes they’re a surprise and catch me off guard, a few develop over time and others have been anticipated after careful planning. Enjoying these gifts isn’t temporary and the delight can last for a long time. The gifts I’ve been opening won’t be returned to a store: they’ll return to bloom next year (I hope).

Typically, it’s not until the warmer months of spring before I begin my morning ritual of walking through the garden to explore what exciting changes developed while I wasn’t looking but with December’s unusually warm temperatures, assisted with a copious amount of rain, people were flooding (pun sort of intended) the Internet with unusual blooming sights. The saucer magnolias, flowering quince and camellias in full bloom in South Carolina, cherry blossoms in D.C., forsythia in numerous zones and countless observations of the telltale green tips of spring bulbs breaking the earth’s surface are photographed and shared all over social media.

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms

The last of the winter blooming camellias in our neighborhood are fading but I’ve seen more hellebores than I can recall from previous winters. In my garden, Ivory Prince is a delightful holiday gift – especially admired because they begin as lovely white blossoms and within just a matter of a few days, they begin to develop into a gorgeous, unusual shade of green. I have three lush plants lining the entrance to the garden and it still startles me to walk to our front door and see bright, healthy, colorful blooms outdoors even though it’s cold enough to see my breath in the cold night’s air.

Hellebores

Hellebores

Hellebores - Prince Ivory

Hellebores – Ivory Prince

 

Hellbores - Prince Ivory

Hellbores – Ivory Prince

 

 

 

 

What I wasn’t expecting was the number of treasures I discovered in the garden’s beds. I see the daffodils are about an inch above the ground’s surface; the camass, allium, tulips, snowdrops, scillia, anemones and others are not far behind. Little green dots, like tiny gifts tossed out into the garden’s beds, are strewn everywhere . . .

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

Spring Growth

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just seeing the green packages are a gift in and of themselves – when they burst open, revealing their identity and displaying their lovely characteristics, it’s like unwrapping a gift all over again. They are gifts that keep on giving. Yesterday’s garden stroll did not disappoint – it was like being on a treasure hunt and I was intrigued, curious, surprised, excited and simply delighted when I saw signs of change and the beginning of new growth.

One of the most unexpected and exciting gifts was in the Green Bed where I saw violet shaped distinct dark green leaves with white highlights. I’ve had a lot of cyclamen plants indoors, especially at this time of the year and I know asarum splendens/ginger and cyclamen coum were planted in the Green Bed and Native Beds but I wasn’t sure, without a flower, if I could identify the plant. When I looked under those lush, healthy leaves and looked closely, I saw gorgeous bright pink flowers beginning to emerge and knew the cyclamen plants were about to bloom. What an exciting, precious gift!

Cyclamen

Cyclamen

Cyclamen Blossoms

Cyclamen Blossoms

Osteospermum are blossoming, pansies are still vivid and the green of plants which typically are gone by now still dot many landscapes. It’s a different view, especially in comparison to last year at this time – instead of seeing the shapes of plants frozen in position from chilly temperatures and a flat, winter dormant landscape, I’m surprised by the pops of color in unexpected places.  

Osteospermum

Osteospermum

 

 

Indoors, things are also fun and I’ve enjoyed “unwrapping nature’s gifts” for weeks – no specific date on the calendar necessary. The paperwhites continue to blossom and scent the air, orchids have returned to bloom, my waxed amaryllis bulbs have produced a dizzying display of brilliant red blooms and my traditional amaryllis, “Caprice” is growing so quickly it seems like it doubles in size daily.

Waxed Amaryllis Blooms

Waxed Amaryllis Blooms

 

Amaryllis Caprice

Amaryllis Caprice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until we’re blanketed in white and most of nature’s gifts will be unwrapped indoors, I think I’ll keep exploring the outdoors in hopes of more presents waiting to be discovered . . .  

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Orchid

Falling Into Focus

In the vivid, glorious display of summer, it’s easy to become enchanted and overwhelmed by the plethora of colors, textures, blooms, scents and options. A well-planned garden can be interesting and colorful in autumn but in general, the majority of gardens are becoming less varied and lush. A lot of us look to the changing leaves for our “color fix” and it takes more time and patience to appreciate the detail and unique characteristics of fall.

St. Michaels Maritime Museum

St. Michaels Maritime Museum

In late September, we were lucky enough to attend a wedding in St. Michaels on the Eastern Shore. Held at the Maritime Museum, the wedding embraced the area’s natural beauty, history and atmosphere into every element of the wedding. A wedding in St. Michaels would be beautiful any month of the year – but I had to wonder, if the town’s inherent beauty had been swathed in the brilliance of summer blooms would I have taken the time to notice and appreciate the subtle, unique, seasonal details?

St. Michaels, MD.

St. Michaels, MD.

In some ways, I think it would have been easier to decorate the rustic museum with grand floral displays rather than allowing the setting’s beauty speak for itself. Using carefully selected, subtle flowers incorporating nautical elements, the autumnal wedding embraced the time of year and setting. The wedding was warm, personal, elegant and beautiful.

Wedding Flowers

Wedding Flowers

With a cocktail hour in the Maritime Museum and dinner in a clear-sided tent overlooking the water, it was easy to see how a season (and setting) influences and accentuates the beauty of such a happy event.

Wedding Cake Made by Bride's Sister

Wedding Cake Made by Bride’s Sister

Wedding Flowers

Wedding Flowers

 

 

 

 

 

Table Setting

Table Setting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The weekend in St. Michaels continued through my birthday and we enjoyed a memorable evening with dinner at the Inn at Perry Cabin, watching the Harvest Moon rise early in the sky, climbing above the boats in the harbor:

Harvest Moon Rising - Inn at Perry's Cabin

Harvest Moon Rising – Inn at Perry’s Cabin

As the sun set, the Harvest Moon’s brilliance outlined the boats and made a pattern on the water’s surface. The evening concluded with a front row seat for the total lunar eclipse from our hotel room’s balcony. The beauty, and scent, of a moonflower vine was the evening’s punctuation mark.  Harvest Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moonflower

Moonflower

 

 

 

 

When we returned home to real life in Bethesda, I looked at my parched, tired garden and sighed. Wasn’t it only a few days ago when I was so flush with blooms I had bouquets to spare and didn’t notice the blossoms’ absence in the garden?

After some rain, and with a few additions selected and planted by Serena Masters Fossi, I went into the yard armed with pruning shears, yard trash bag, my camera and a lot of hope. I was delighted to post a few pictures of the garden in early October – the Native Bed had a few blooms, some annuals were holding on and every bed had interesting shapes, textures and shades of green.

Artemesia

Artemesia

 

Creeping Succulent

Creeping Succulent

 

After posting a few pictures of the dwindling number of blooms in my garden, my friend Kelly said, “the close-up is a spent garden’s best friend.” She’s right – by taking time in the garden and focusing – literally – on what was present, I noticed beautiful things that might have been lost during those lush months.

Easily, I would have missed the delicate blossoms on the succulents in a terra cotta pot near the entrance to the yard. They are tiny – really, really tiny – and if the astilbe, Lady’s Mantle, hellebores and ligularia had been blooming, I would have missed these little treasures:

Blossoming Succulent

Blossoming Succulent

If I were still obsessing about The White Wall with the White Chiffon Rose of Sharon, Cleome, Mandevilla and clematis vines, would I have bothered to take the time to look at the pot of Hens & Chicks (as I referred to them on Facebook – they are “Hens & Chicks Gone Wild”) on a table? They’ve thrived on neglect and the pot is chock-full of purple tinged succulents with baby chicks dangling over the side of the pot.

IMG_8069

IMG_8070

 

 

 

 

Hens & Chicks

Hens & Chicks

As I went through the yard picking up the branches, pruning and bringing in things that shouldn’t stay in the yard during cold weather, I once again tried to focus on signs of life and the current garden’s view. Heavy rains brought down acorns – they sounded like grenades hitting our roof. Annoying in the middle of the night (and scaring our dog, Alice) but in the light of day – I thought they were lovely. I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to clear the yard of them – they really do cover the entire backyard – but for now, I think the shiny brown nuts and goofy looking “hats” are fun:

My "New Groundcover"

My “New Groundcover”

Scattered throughout the different beds are dots of color. Instead of being lost in the cacophony of color during summer, they now stand out and make a statement, as if they are asking for the spotlight. I think they deserve the focus:

Helianthus "First Light"

Helianthus “First Light”

Anemone - "September Charm"

Anemone – “September Charm”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tricytris sinonome

Tricytris sinonome

Physostegia

Physostegia

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last week, we spent the afternoon in Middleburg VA and, just as St. Michaels showed autumn in its full glory and I’ve discovered a newfound appreciation for the way autumn is appearing in my own garden, Middleburg put on a beautiful seasonal show. The streets were lined with lovely shapes and colors typical of autumn, several gardens showed clever blends of herbs and blossoms and window boxes decorated historic buildings. Remaining summer blooms blended easily with autumnal additions and together, they adorned a lovely town with unique seasonal characteristics.

Middleburg - Window Boxes

Middleburg – Window Boxes

Window Boxes

Window Boxes

 

Window Boxes

Window Boxes

 

 

 

 

What would autumn be without the Fall Trademark – pumpkins and gourds? Just as previous Behnkes blogs have beautifully described and photographed the many varieties of pumpkins, I was happy to see the unique characteristics of different pumpkins and gourds casually placed on the stoops of many buildings.  IMG_8089

Pumpkins, gourds, fall blooms and changing leaves are, to me, “Autumn’s Anthem.” This is the time to shift our focus and embrace the nuances so specific to this period of time on nature’s calendar. “You can see a lot by just looking” (Yogi Berra) is exactly what autumn is all about. Whether you’re walking through your neighborhood, exploring a town, taking a drive to see autumn’s landscape and/or tending to your own garden, I hope you, too, appreciate the distinct flavor of the season.  IMG_8085

My Roots

While visiting my hometown, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, this summer, I was struck by its beauty. Yes, you read that right. All you cynics who remember when the Cuyahoga River was on fire and imagine Cleveland like this:

Cuyahoga River Burning

Need to reframe your image to something a little more like this:

Cleveland's Lit & Functioning Bridges

Cleveland’s Lit & Functioning Bridges

 

 

Cleveland’s Metroparks (Tom Jones, Photographer)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I returned from July’s visit, I posted a few pictures on Facebook and received many comments from Cleveland friends. Some friends are scattered across the country and others have remained in the area yet regardless of current residence, the response was universal — there was pride (not surprise) in our hometown and genuine appreciation for its history, reincarnation, tenacity and beauty. 

Most comments were nostalgic, proudly recounted shared childhood experiences and some ratted me out about antics we had, until now, kept under wraps. I was struck by how many friends remembered exploring the numerous parks and recalled field trips to historic sites in Cuyahoga County.

We traded messages about “Pioneer Days” at an area camp (Red Raider) where we learned how to navigate with a compass, tell time with a sundial, build and cook over a fire, live for a week without electricity and identify native species. Many science classes were held in Cleveland’s Metroparks (www.clevelandmetroparks.com), teaching us about geology, botany and biology. On March 15th, some classes traveled to the Hinckley Reservation (part of Cleveland Metroparks –also referred to as the “Emerald Necklace”) to watch the buzzards return to “Buzzards Roost,” a natural phenomena that has occurred every March 15th since 1957.

The reactions to the photographs and ensuing comment string (which continues to this day) brought one central theme and message home: nature’s accessibility (formal, informal, educational and recreational) was an important part of our childhood and has influenced me (and I’m sure many others) as an adult. The memories are precious, often humorous, the lessons have endured and some of the feelings elicited are now reflected in my own garden and appreciation for nature.

One friend’s comment struck a deep, strong chord – after looking at the photographs and thinking about her own childhood in Cleveland, Tipler, said “ . . . after more than a decade in CA it amazes me to remember how gloriously green summer is in Cleveland” – that’s it. She’s right – many of us have attachments to childhood locations and/or preferences for various landscapes but for a lot of us, it’s those childhood memories so intricately tied to nature that captures our hearts and stirs emotions. Cleveland was (and still is) gloriously green.

As my interest in gardening strengthens and reworking our garden is an ongoing project, I think my insistence for certain “vignettes” and preferences for specific plantings is a way of recreating some of the Cleveland feeling(s) and memories that resonate so strongly with me.

My grandparents lived in a lovely white Victorian home within walking distance of our house. With a deep wrap around porch and distinct turret, the house was welcoming, warm and beautiful.  

My Grandparents Home

My Grandparents Home

Without much of a yard, the landscape had a lot of wild violets as groundcover and the walkways were lined with lush, deep beds of hostas – all with purple blooms on their scapes. For reasons that escape me, my siblings and I would approach our grandparents’ home and delighted in “popping” the purple buds before they opened. What were we thinking? Moreover, it was like a contest for us and we rushed up the path, popping as many purple buds as possible. It was like bursting bubble wrap – we couldn’t help ourselves and yet, we were harming the lovely plants so precious to my grandparents’ landscape! I’m pretty sure my grandmother, as patient and loving as she was with us, was none too pleased. Maybe my way of correcting this childish behavior has been to include hostas with purple scapes in my garden. No – I don’t pop them. But when I see them upright and blooming, I smile because it reminds me of my beloved grandparents.

Hosta

Hosta

 

 

 

During one of our many field trips through the “Emerald Necklace” I distinctly remember identifying plants with our teacher, Mr. McDaniels. He presented the lesson as a kind of nature scavenger hunt, arming each student with a clipboard and papers describing what we were looking for while walking through the park.

 

Looking for some of the plants (I have no recollection of the animals – probably I’ve managed to suppress those memories) was a lot of fun and I’ll never forget the delight in seeing Dutchman’s Breeches in bloom (I figured out why it was named as such), the May Apples were more delicate and subtle than expected and I was intrigued by the Jack in the Pulpit. When a plant’s common name aptly describes its’ bloom, it’s hard to forget those lessons.  

Dutchman's Breeches

Dutchman’s Breeches

We loved finding the brown, rough, pliable covering of a buckeye and when not throwing them at each other, we would peel off the covering to discover a shiny, rich brown buckeye – Ohio’s State Tree. Mr. McDaniels said the name was derived from the way the nut looked like a deer’s eye. That I remember. The “real” name – Aesculus glabra – took a little more time.  

Buckeyes

Buckeyes

 

 

 

 

 

Those memories have prompted me to develop a “Woodland” section in the garden. As I watch the Jack in the Pulpit seeds ripen, I think about that clipboard and remember the delight in finding the plant – the same is true as I watch many other plants come to life.  

Jack in the Pulpit Seeds Forming

Jack in the Pulpit Seeds Forming

Ripening Seeds

Ripening Seeds

 

 

 

 

 

 

         

 

 

 

Jack in the Pulpit

Jack in the Pulpit

The fields of trillium, turtleheads, butterfly weed, St. Johns Wort, sedum, bee balm, wild geranium and more were intoxicating (as is defined through a 7th grader’s eyes) and I’m pretty sure some of my enthusiasm and preference for these plants is rooted (couldn’t help myself) in the informal and formal education received by taking advantage of the magnificent Cleveland Metroparks. I notice how many of the plants I remember identifying in Cleveland’s parks now are incorporated into my landscape:  

Trillium

Trillium

 

            

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium

            

 

 

 

 

 

A few months ago, as I sat on the patio with my father and looked at his garden, I remembered moving into that house and skeptically looking at scrawny trees planted in mud wondering if it would ever feel like home. It was NOT the home of my dreams – where was the big lawn? How could those puny trees ever provide shade on a hot summer day and what were my parents thinking when they left our first house with its deep porch and long backyard filled with fruit bearing shrubs and trees and plenty of area to explore?  

Our First Home

Our First Home

But as we sat there enjoying the morning’s cup of coffee and leisurely reading the paper together, I couldn’t help but enjoy the peaceful setting and look out at the lawn to admire how those scrawny trees and a yard full of mud transformed into a gorgeous, tranquil view:  

My Father's Front Yard

My Father’s Front Yard

My Father's Front Yard

My Father’s Garden

 

 I was lucky enough to grow up on a unique piece of property blending old and new, using elements of a century old estate to enhance the “new” house, built in the 1960’s. It’s easy to wander around the property and understand how big a role nature played for original owners and my family was fortunate enough to see it, daily, and create our own memories.

A century ago, the property had horse stables and bridal paths. Now those stables are used for storage but with the stone horse head clearly identifying its original use, it’s fun to imagine going into the yard, taking out a horse and spending the day riding around the property:  

Old Horse Stable

Old Horse Stable

 

 

 

Old walls and ornamental structures, whenever possible, have been integrated and maintained. The landscaping, much of which has probably grown around the structures to accommodate the architectural details, seamlessly blend nature, history and physical structures.  

Old Wall, Decorative Urn & Plantings

Old Wall, Decorative Urn & Plantings

No longer using plywood over mud to walk through the property, paths are now established and beautifully planted. Mature trees bring warmth and the walks were established to accommodate their placement:  

Property Path

Property Path

 

 


 

 

 

 

This sweet two-story house looks like something straight out of a childhood fable but I imagine that long ago, it was used as a play house for the children living on the property. We refer to it as the “doll’s house” – note the purple martin house in front:  

"Doll House" & Purple Martin House

“Doll House” & Purple Martin House

These were the stone structures, original to the property, where I would go and “hide” when I stormed out of the house in an adolescent hissy fit. Originally they may have edged formal gardens:  

Original Stone Wall

Original Stone Wall

One of my favorite things on the property is this wrought iron arch, probably hand lit at night:  

Wrought Iron Gate

Wrought Iron Gate 

My roots are firmly planted in Cleveland although Bethesda, Maryland has been my home for much longer than I lived in Cleveland. Yet whenever I return to Cleveland, and I continue to work on my garden in Bethesda, I realize – you CAN go home again (or at least bring some of it with you). The very things I treasured in nature as a child are the same I embrace as an adult.

No doubt about it . . . Cleveland Rocks

Cleveland Rock & Roll Museum and Hall of Fame

Cleveland Rock & Roll Museum and Hall of Fame

Picking Favorites

If you have siblings it’s likely that at some point, you questioned which was the “favored one” by a parent. When the question was posed (usually not at the best time), the typical response was “I love all of you equally. I don’t have a favorite child.” And as a parent – more challenging, the parent of twins – I’ve responded the same. But the truth really is that as a parent of more than one child, I don’t have a favorite. Honestly – I love my children equally. I’m hopeful the same is/was true for my parents.

As a gardener? I’m grateful my plants aren’t able to pose that question because the answer wouldn’t be “I love all of you the same. I don’t have a favorite.” Come on all of you gardeners and flower lovers – you have favorites, admit it! Most of us have seasonal favorites, preferences for bouquets and scents, or lack thereof, often attract admirers (think lilacs and peonies). Those who love flowers and appreciate gardens have favorites.

As August’s dog days of summer inch towards a new season and many gardeners grow weary of required daily maintenance (I confess), if my garden spoke to me and asked, “am I your favorite flower?” I would probably glare and say, “are you kidding me? At this point of the season, I don’t like most of you – it’s work. The deadheading, pruning, watering and maintenance is tedious, color is getting spare, formerly faithful perennials are AWOL and the enthusiasm of a growing, changing and exciting garden has waned.”

However, as challenging as a garden is at this point of the summer, I’ll admit to having a few favorites. So, with apologies to the rest of the garden, I hope you’ll understand when I say . . . here are a few of my late summer favorites:

Ligularia “Othello,” planted last summer (or was it the summer before?) stands beautifully in the “Woodland” section of my yard and I’ve always enjoyed the large leaves and deep burgundy colored stems. This year it decided to bloom – and what a show it has been (apologies, in advance, to professionals for my novice descriptors).  

Ligularia 'Othello'

Ligularia ‘Othello’

 

 

One morning, while touring the garden (my summer ritual after the first cup of coffee), I noticed “Othello” was forming what looked like spurts of new leaf growth – to my eye, it looked like tidy packages, shaped like a closed rosebud, wrapped with leaves. When I managed to get down to plant level and look, here’s what I saw:  

'Othello' Growing

‘Othello’ Growing

 

 

 

After a few days, and resisting the urge to Google images of the plant while in bloom (it’s a “thing” with me – I love a new flower’s surprise), Othello (an easier name reference) started changing dramatically. Tiny hints of color started to emerge:

Hints of Color

Hints of Color

 

 

 

Slowly, as growth began in earnest, the leaf blobs opened to reveal orange-yellow colored tube shaped blooms. Not yet flowers, it was clear something special was happening.

 

 

Tubes of flowers emerging from a package of leaves – intriguing! Soon the plant was covered with blooms – the burgundy stems rise high above the foliage and provide a stunning late summer display of color:  

Tube of Flowers

Tube of Flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best of all, weeks later, the plant is still in bloom.  

'Othello" in Full Bloom

‘Othello” in Full Bloom

 

 

Othello is definitely a favorite – a great garden plant without flowers, fascinating to watch bloom and long lasting blossoms – how could it not be a favorite?

 

 

The Native Bed’s natural planting feels refreshing right now – this is an area where I’m less preoccupied with borders and definition than the other beds. Past the Green Bed’s verdant plants following the dry stream bed, I love the way the Native Bed has a completely different feel:

Native Bed

Native Bed

 

 

Maple tree branches, trimmed out of necessity, are now arranged on the ground with native plants growing around them, creating a natural feeling landscape. As the bed matures, I hope the use of natural materials combined with mixed native plantings creates a meadow-like area.  

 

Planted with helenium, thalictrum, chelone, cardinal lobelia, amsonia, heuchera, asciepias, bluebells, phlox, fothergilla, pycnanthemum and more, the Native Bed welcomes nature’s visitors, adds a new aspect to my garden and blooms from early spring into late fall.    

Butterfly Weed

Butterfly Weed

Cardinal Lobelia

Cardinal Lobelia

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to pick a favorite in the Native Bed as it’s new, there are many blooms I haven’t seen and I usually like to live with a plant for a few seasons before I fall in love. Yet it’s not hard to pick the helenium’s (‘Mariachi Fuego’) magnificent colors and constant blooms (not to mention the descriptive name) as a beautiful addition to the garden.  

Helenium 'Mariachi Fuego'

Helenium ‘Mariachi Fuego’

 

 

 

The cardinal lobelia’s height and striking color brings my eye directly to the Native Bed but in truth, it’s the subtler pycnanthemum, AKA mountain mint, that’s a favorite this summer.

One of the first plants to show its staying power regardless of conditions, the mountain mint, like ‘Othello’, has been fun to watch for an extended time. The new growth is a lighter green than the base and they have a soft, refreshing look.

But it’s that subtle, concentric circled bloom on the top of each stem that really makes me appreciate this plant. What began as this:  

Mountain Mint

Mountain Mint

 

 

 

 

 

Blossomed like this:  

Mountain Mint

Mountain Mint

Although not an obvious or splashy style, I can’t help but respect this tenacious, understated, lovely addition to the garden.

The best part of having favorites in the garden is they don’t talk back, as they mature they won’t recount stories that exemplify all your parenting “mistakes” and you don’t have to worry about therapy expenses as they sort through the issues resulting from perceived issues resulting from NOT being the “favored” child.

With each season, I usually have a few favorites – and I don’t have to tip toe around the question if asked. For now, this late is the summer, I’m grateful for the pure enjoyment and display of these exceptional plants.

Written, obviously, by a Middle Child.

A Whiter Shade Of Pale

I crave color. I’ll even admit to sometimes overlooking the characteristics of a plant and its appropriateness for my zone much less garden’s conditions, just to grab that color and add it to the garden. Color can make me an impulsive shopper at the nursery.

So . . . for someone obsessed with color, for a gardener who absolutely lusts over magnificent hues, what’s happening to me? Suddenly I’m enchanted with white. I can’t get enough white into my garden and I find myself marveling at the detail, delicacy and yes, vibrancy of those white blooms.

I know that technically, white’s not a color – it’s the absence of pigment. White is a color without color – achromatic. If color brought me to gardening and I delight in unique hues and combinations, what’s going on?

Yes, I loved The White Album, look forward to seeing a show on The Great White Way and white fireworks exploding in the sky are my favorite type (you know, the ones that look like a dandelion before you blow away the seeds and make a wish).  

 

 

 

 

 

I love the way small trees look when wound with bright, twinkling little white lights, whether decorating a sidewalk café in the summer or signaling the onset of winter’s holiday season. A Midwesterner at heart, I’ll even own up to enjoying the occasional snowstorm – especially when it looks like frosting on an early, colorful bloom.  

 

 

 

 

When Spring arrives, it’s the early white blooms that so many of us find especially refreshing and hopeful – all the more so when following a harsh winter. My garden’s first hellebores are white and often are accompanied by snowdrops, white crocuses (and purple), a mixture of daffodils (I have one huge clump of “ghost daffodils – the whitest I could find) and later, other Spring Whites appear. Is it the “whiteness” we find so refreshing? How could that be if we’re sick and tired of winter’s relatively bland landscape and/or done with snow? Maybe this is one of those gardening things to simply appreciate and revel in rather than trying to make sense of it.

As early spring bloomers emerge in earnest, it’s hard not to get excited about seeing the ground covered with blossoms instead of snow, ice and remnants of winter. Galanthus, Polygonatum, Lily of the valley, white crocuses, Hellebores, Sanguinaria, Snowdrop Anemones, “Minature Snowflake” or Mock Orange, and if you’re lucky, white lilacs (and more)– a beautiful, colorless yet colorful – transition from one season to the next.

 

 

 

 

As I look at the garden now, midsummer, I’m delighted to see vibrant colors in the perennial bed and the “Green Bed’s” refreshing shades of green with many textures, growth patterns following the dry stream bed is accentuated by the occasional color from Maltese Cross, blooming succulents, skullcap plant, salvia and more. White Shasta daisies border the Green Bed – proving more credence to the clean, crisp and refreshing combination of a white bloom against green foliage. Whether it’s the white scape of a hosta or the Viburnum’s lovely white flowers floating above the long branch of green foliage, it’s that fresh white and green combination that seems so appropriate no matter what the setting or season.

 

 

But it’s the area we’ve been working on for a few years now that has really captured my attention and is now nicknamed The White Wall. It bears NO resemblance to tires and it is fueling my newfound respect for white as an important, treasured “color” in the garden.

What began as a trio of trellises covered in three different varieties of clematis has slowly evolved into a beautiful White Wall. The first step was extending the flagstone into a vertical, low, upright “edge” to a) define the area and b) retain the soil and plants. Here’s the “before” and “after.”

 

 

 

The next step, figuring out what to plant in the narrow, specific area using the trellises and existing boxwoods, proved a lot more difficult than I initially thought – especially using the bland brick as a background (I have no choice in the matter). Coral tones and reds clashed with the sand colored background (sand is putting it nicely) and making it even more complicated is the location – directly across from the patio where we grill and spend a lot of time in the summer. It also happens to be a wall that’s visible from the dining room. It would be ideal to have a wall with year round interest but for now it’s a work in progress.

I’m absolutely delighted with the summer view – it’s my White Wall and it’s making me look at the entire garden with an eye towards opportunities to add more white here and there. The White Wall holds my respect for achromatic blooms.

After considerable thought, we decided to let the trellises stay where they were, moving the boxwoods in between them to provide a static, vertical structure “outlining” whatever we selected to place on the trellises.

By using a combination of white plants, accented very strategically with color, the area has come to life and is now a treasured area of the garden. The Mandevilla vines, cleome and a magnificent White Chiffon Rose of Sharon provide the majority of colorless-color and their unique textures, bloom times, complementary foliage and visual interest makes this White Wall a thing of beauty (in my opinion). The entire area feels crisp, new, interesting, textured and incredibly unique:

 

 

 

 

The White Wall has made me take a look around at the other beds and appreciate the summer’s beautiful white blooms. The daisies, phlox, liatris, hydrangea, penstemon, astilbe and delightful buds on my new Little Gem Magnolia are lovely in and of themselves, but they also help accentuate brilliant colors throughout the garden. It’s unlikely I’ll ever turn away from the razzle-dazzle of colorful summer blooms, but I do have an appreciation for achromatic plants, now.

 

 

 

 

White blooms make me pay attention to so much more about a plant than just the color of the flower – I look at the plant’s characteristics: the stem’s color, height and girth, the way a bud unfolds, the textures it reveals, the growth pattern and so much more. Without looking for intense color, I notice a petal’s shape more than I did when I overlooked a simple white bloom. I like the movement in each petal on the phlox and see a little color bleeding into each flower. Little Gem’s flower opens to expose a lovely patterned center and the lacey astilbe waves in the slightest breeze. Could I (or should I) have appreciated and noticed these lovely nuances before the White Wall? Of course. I’m simply grateful for this added layer of interest resulting from a simple task – planting a wall with a trio of trellises.

Forget what they say about not wearing white clothing before Memorial Day and putting them away after Labor Day – in my opinion, white in the garden is beautiful year round. It’s almost like a chameleon with its ability to fit in to whatever the weather, landscape or mood.

And if nothing else, how about using a lovely white vase to display the dazzling colors so plentiful during these magnificent summer blooming times?

Months without an “R” No Oysters, Great Gardens

The other day, while searching for seafood to make a celebratory dinner, the saying pertaining to oysters came to mind– are you familiar with it? Basically, it says we shouldn’t expect fresh oysters during months that do not contain the letter R. Did this saying affect our menu? Of course not – there are plenty of ways to enjoy the flavors of the summer season. Yet it shouldn’t surprise you that as I was thinking about the “r-less months” – May through August – my thoughts wandered to how the saying might, or might not, apply to the landscape.

Let me say at the outset – I don’t happen to think the oyster saying really has any direct application to the world of gardening. The four “r-less” months of summer are delicious and that’s pretty much where the analogy stops and starts. But it certainly does make a gardener look at those precious months as a unique, changing color palette that is sure to appeal to anyone’s gastronomic palate. Maybe for a gardener, May – August is like a four course/monthly meal.

For starters, the first month without an “r”, May, is summer’s prelude – an appetizer. The beauty of May is found in the lovely flowers unique to the month. After the delightful, and somewhat “typical” spring landscape of crocuses, daffodils, tulips, snowdrops and flowering trees, May brings us special views of new, fresh starts. After all, what would May be without peonies?  

 

 

The exciting thing about May, however, is that peonies are not the only standouts – during this stage of the gardening season, the peonies, along with bluebells, allium, wisteria, camass, unfurling ferns, flowering shrubs, geum, amsonia and beautiful, developing greens, set the stage for the months to follow.

On my Facebook page, I try and post a Bouquet of the Day (no – they are NOT daily but somehow, the name stuck so I kept with it). In the r-less month of May, I transition from posting this kind of spring bouquet:  

 

 

To this – more descriptive of May’s blooms and colors:

 

As the r-less months progress, gardens seem to change before our eyes and with that, come so many extraordinary sights and smells. Whether it’s your own garden, a landscape you pass while walking somewhere and/or a public garden you visit, the four r-less months serve up a mouthwatering, sometimes unexpected and usually refreshing, beautiful sight.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As summer leisurely moves forward, blooms continue, lawns are tended to, treasured perennials are welcomed and songbirds are a common sound. This is the time when we also appreciate the benefits of shade. The trees, now fully in leaf, form a canopy of shade as welcomed as an ice cream truck and/or shaved ice.

The cooling, calm relief of sitting beneath a densely shaded area is unique to these r-less months and it’s a feeling that for many, typifies summer and brings back memories. It reminds me of going to sleep away camp and staying in bunks cooled only by the occasional cross breeze through the opened, screened windows, playing sports in the relentless heat and looking forward to “letter writing time” in the afternoon, often under the shade of a large, old, protective tree.Now it’s officially summer and time to, in addition to the ongoing chores, enjoy our gardens. The palette of spring is changing as summer’s brilliant blooms begin to dominate the landscape. Lawns are still green, leaves are bright and it’s hard not to appreciate the spectrum of colors. Perennials appear and, if well planned, provide a display of colors over the remaining r-less months. Annuals help fill in pots and areas in the garden beds where a little oomph is needed and bright, cheerful bouquets –whether freshly picked and filled with wildflowers, herbs, perennials, greenery and/or any combination thereof – are available everywhere.  

 

 

Summer means blooms on the butterfly bush (I saw my first swallowtail this morning while writing this post). The yellow in a garden is no longer coming from crocuses and daffodils because you might have sundrops, St. John’s Wort, lilies and other vibrant flowers. Brilliant yellow might also appear as buds in your vegetable garden and/or the center of so many lovely multi colored flowers.

Who needs oysters when we can sit on the patio and enjoy a perennial garden filled with color and plants whose blooms are a month or so away? I’m just fine with this view:Sitting outside and enjoying a beautiful view is just about as delicious as the freshest oyster in my opinion.

The Balloon Flower’s bouquet helps celebrate summer’s colors and I really enjoy watching the process of this plant forming the balloon, seeing it “inflate,” deepen in color and then . . . POP! Beautiful balloons.  

This summer, as the four r-less months progress and nature has done a lot of the watering for us (so far), my garden is full of returning perennials and beautiful blossoms are plentiful. As a result, this summer I don’t feel like I’m robbing my garden of its purpose and beauty by cutting some colorful blooms to bring indoors – for some reason, the garden’s almost begging me to gather a brilliant bouquet and the diversity of colors, textures and scents is hard to resist.

The Bouquets of the Day, in my opinion, represent the vibrancy and diversity of summer. Picking the flowers is doing my garden a favor (so I tell myself) – I’m encouraging future growth! My most recent Bouquet of the Day represents early summer colors and diversity. I think they reflect what’s going on in nature. 

 

 

As summer continues, I enjoy watching the Mandevillea vines climb the trellises and can’t wait to see my new White Chiffon Rose of Sharon’s buds open.

 

The Monarda’s blooming and it’s only a matter of time before the hummingbirds drop by for a taste. The deep purple Speedwell’s spires next to the orange Agastache is a distinct summer palette I love. Cleome, butterfly weed, phlox, zinnias, lavender, ornamental oregano, coral bells, penstemon and coleus weave together, reminding me of my Aunt Cora’s beautiful crazy quilts I adore – no neat, perfectly lined and planned rows for me. I love the result of a seemingly unplanned pattern becoming a work of art – planned to be soft, irregular, interesting and artfully worked to blend together.

 

 

 

 

My garden’s planned with heights, blooms times, textures and colors but the goal has always been a garden of interest, relying less on mulch to highlight plants and using plants growing together to form the carpet of my landscape.  

 

 

 

 

When the four r-less months wind down, we will all notice changes: a later sunset, fading summer flowers, emerging fall hues and the hint of a crispness to the air. The dense foliage providing shade from the summer’s heat will be appreciated for other reasons as we enjoy watching the colorful changing leaves. When September arrives, we’ll embrace the “r” and who knows? Perhaps we’ll toast to the new season with champagne and oysters.

Seasons of Change

The past few weeks have been filled with several significant milestones: my twins turned 25, my husband celebrated his 65th birthday and June marks our 30th wedding anniversary. We could say “where have the years gone” or “my, haven’t the children grown so quickly” and/or other predictable, appropriate exclamations but, true to form, I look to the landscape as a way to measure the Seasons of Change.

 

 

 

 

 

For some parents, one way to mark Seasons of Change can be found on a wall with pencil lines and a date. Often, those treasured “growth charts” are an annual tradition and visible reminder of their children’s physical growth. For a while, through the sleep deprivation and struggle to make it through a day much less a year with twins, I marked their growth on a wall. But those lines were painted over when the twins decided their rooms needed a fresh coat of paint. It didn’t bother me – for some reason, I wasn’t sentimental about that growth chart.

Seasons of Change is a composite picture: growth charts, photographs, art projects, report cards, records of all those “firsts” and so much more. For me, especially as we celebrate the milestones in May and June, Seasons of Change, is strongly evidenced in our landscape. It’s the little maple tree in the backyard, planted by the previous owners, that is now a large tree providing much needed shade on a hot summer day and requiring serious pruning in spring. When we first moved into the house almost 30 years ago, the tree couldn’t have been taller than 6’ and it looked as sad as Charlie Brown’s Christmas Tree before Linus lovingly put his blanket around it to encourage strength and show that tree some love.

It’s not just the maple tree that marks the Seasons of Change – it’s the yard’s transformation and the stories it could tell if able. Our yard began as a serviceable place, it was the hub for neighborhood children to gather and play games. What little grass grew was soon ruined under the wear and tear of childhood games, inflatable swimming pools, colorful plastic play equipment, an occasional sleep out and a plastic picnic table. The landscape was one of childhood games, birthday parties and a lot of antics I probably don’t want to know about.

Over time, as we developed one part of the yard into a Children’s Garden and the inflatable pool was retired in favor of a neighborhood pool, the landscape grew and we viewed the yard as more than utilitarian. The metaphoric pencil mark was drawn, indicating growth, but it wasn’t just the maple tree’s growth that survived toddlers. The change marked our yard’s slow movement to blend aesthetics with purpose. The first “real” garden bed was planted while the yard was still a neighborhood hang out. The trees were strong enough to support a hammock and I was carving out a few areas to begin my own garden – staking my claim for a colorful garden to satisfy my strong craving for colorful blooms and the hope of attracting winged creatures to my yard. While the children were gathering fireflies, I was looking for the first hummingbird.

The first “garden” I worked on was, what I thought, an ideal spot: sunny, out of foot traffic’s way, near the outdoor water spigot and in a location I could admire whether indoors or out on the patio. It was my first perennial bed. Plants were selected impulsively and there were more than a few weekend trips to local nurseries to buy whatever looked nice. I bought things in bloom – I needed “Instant Pretty” and didn’t think about bloom times, growth patterns, good planting practices, soil conditions, maintenance . . . or anything other than it looking pretty right then and there.

Always craving color, I selected plants I liked – I gave little or no thought to plants that might like my garden. But I learned a painful lesson when, after a few weeks, those beautiful blooms (previously tended to in ideal conditions) disappeared. How dare they? I remember buying my first daylily crown (at the time, I thought it was an extravagant price) and only knew I didn’t want the orange ones I saw growing in massive clumps along the streets. Thirty years later, the one lovely crown has divided into many and remains, sentimentally, one of my favorite summer blooms. It reminds me of having very little money to spend on decorative plants, knowing almost nothing about planting and yet somehow, after 30 years, the daylilies have multiplied, bloom reliably and make a lovely addition to the perennial bed.

After many Seasons of Change, a lot of trial and error and with the help of two experienced landscapers (Sam Nelson and Serena Masters Fossi), the landscape has now matured – it’s still on the growth chart and I know there will be a lot of change in the years to come – but it is now a more mature garden, based on good gardening principles, an overall plan for its structure and it is filled with the color, textures, interest, purpose and blooms I love.

What began as a bunch of plants crowded into a space and looked great for a few weeks has become my established perennial bed. With Serena’s guidance, and a considerable amount of impatience and doubt on my part, this is what it looked like in its infancy:

It still includes many of the plants I invested in, such as the daylilies, but it has now gone through enough seasons to grow up and become the beautiful sight I had always craved. Those Seasons of Change were a necessary part of maturing and I know there are more to come – nature will always evolve – but it’s clear my landscape has grown up. It’s getting closer to the top of the growth chart. Below are pictures of the perennial bed as it looks this week:  

 

 

 

Today, the perennial bed is filled with the colors I love, the spring’s bulbs emerge, are replaced with early summer’s green and fresh colors and soon will transition to more blooms, different colors and eventually, in the fall, I hope it will surprise me with the late season bloomers I impatiently look for even though I know it’s too early for signs of the toad lilies, asters and peacock lilies (among others). I love these Seasons of Change.

The Green Bed, formerly the Children’s Garden, taught me to appreciate the beauty of a monochromatic garden (with a few pops of color) and most importantly, I learned how to impatiently be patient and wait for the different greens to grow into each other, forming a map of green whose boundaries are marked with different shapes of green plants. Here’s the Green Bed “before” –

And, with more than a few years of “pencil marks on the wall” and quite a few planting seasons, here’s the Green Bed now:

It’s not just the growth of plantings in our landscape that remind me of our milestones and the Seasons of Change, though their growth and the lessons learned have been important and enlightening. There’s another piece of our landscape that, for me, is the most beautiful and obvious reminder of an earlier era. It is permanently imprinted in our home’s landscape (or at least for as long as we live here).

When the twins were 6, we spent a few very warm summer days painting the outside brick walls in our courtyard. They are a daily reminder of the passage of time and for me, no line on the wall indicating physical growth could replace these paint strokes.

The drawings are colorful and full of life. I remember when we stood in the unbearable heat as they carefully painted, delighted with the permission, and encouragement, to color our walls with whatever they wanted. Some are joyful scenes of trees with fruit, fish swimming in the ocean and birds flying high in the sky. Courtesy of my son’s obsession with history, a detailed scene of the doomed Titanic – complete with the distress fireworks high above the sinking ship in the ocean – takes up an entire section of the courtyard. I treasure each and every picture and cannot bear the thought of being in this house without them.

 

It has taken the better part of our 30 year marriage to reclaim the garden and slowly (very slowly) turn it into something that I love. I’ve treasured the process as much as I love what it looks like today. Our leaveslandscape has it’s own chalk marks indicating significant milestones: the Harry Lauder Walking Stick my parents bought us to honor a significant anniversary, the Scotch Broom we planted when my brother married his wife in Scotland, the azalea my friend Denise brought over to plant in the garden after my mother suddenly passed away, the lilies of the valley my other gardening friend, Denise, was kind enough to share with me and so many other generous additions to the garden.

I’m grateful for the milestones we’re celebrating and know we have been fortunate. Forever, nature’s growth and meaning helps me appreciate our Seasons of Change.