Awakening

When spring finally comes, especially after a long winter, I think to myself how very brave it is for plants to send out buds and leaves and flowers again.  They have the courage to reach for the light and keep growing, despite the fact that they’ll inevitably die.

Magnolia

Magnolia

Especially courageous are spring ephemerals like Mertensia virginica, or Virginia bluebells; for these beauties are but fleeting bursts of color in the spring landscape, typically above ground for only a few short months before folding back into dormancy again.

Virginia Bluebells, or Mertensia virginica

Virginia Bluebells, or Mertensia virginica

And what about the sheer doggedness of our native dogwood tree, whose bracts unfurl in April to reveal the true inner blooms, tiny and button-like?

Dogwood

Many of our spring flowering trees send out blooms even before leaves emerge.  That’s like getting up in the morning and walking outside naked, in my opinion!

Yellow Magnolia

Yellow Magnolia

If only I could take a lesson from spring’s treasures, and learn to get back up with grace when life knocks me down, knowing that it’s all just part of the cycle of life.

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hydrangea blues

My small world has been vibrating with blue lately…the blue of the hydrangea.   In the little town of Swarthmore, the sky-colored puffs are so prolific they must be predicting the end of the world with their abundance of blossom.  We’re surely going out in style!

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Penny Mac’ – flowers on both old and new growth

A stroll through the Hydrangea Collection at the Scott Arboretum will leave you reeling in disbelief at nature’s ability to create shades so cerulean.  Actually, their color can vary depending on the soil’s acidity…alkaline soil (pH>7) produces pink flowers, while acidic soil (pH<7) produces blue flowers.  We must be having quite an acidic year.

H. macrophylla ‘Nigra’ has lovely dark stems

H. macrophylla, one of the most common species of Hydrangea, can have two different forms of flowers – either hortensia, the mophead, ball-shaped form; or lace-cap which is flat topped.

‘Claudia’ has a lace-cap form.

H. serrata – Another lace-cap form: the smaller darker flowers in the center are fertile, while the outer more showy flowers (actually sepals) are infertile.  The bees know the difference.

Most hydrangeas like dappled shade and well drained loamy soil.  Hydrangea macrophylla blooms from late June through August, and prefers part shade and moist soil.    It flowers on the previous season’s growth and should be pruned immediately after flowers have faded in late summer or early fall.  (Unlike H. arborescens and H. paniculata – prune those in late winter or early spring, they flower on the current year’s growth.)  Here’s more on pruning, from Fine Gardening.

Larry enjoys a moment of relaxation

‘Glowing Embers’ also called ‘Alpengluhen’

These blooms are as big as my niece June’s head!

Finally, hydrangeas make wonderful cut flowers.  They can last for weeks if their stems are re-cut and the water is changed frequently.  For my birthday, I created this simple arrangement using Hugh and Juliet’s blue macrophylla hydrangea (thanks guys!) and some of the Ammi majus from my garden.

oriental paper bush in bloom

Back in January, I came across the magnificient Paper Bush in bud on the grounds of the Scott Arboretum, blogged here. Back then it was hung with delicious metallic furry fairy-attracting buds.

Edgworthia chyrsantha Jan 25th - buds

I took a walk the other day and was hit by the scent first – a clean sweet just utterly delicious smell that transported me to a magical kingdom where everyone has good intentions.  Then I saw the blooms – BOOM – they are huge and almost Seussian!

Edgworthia chrysantha 'Tony's Clone' or 'Snow Cream' Mar 19

This member of the Daphne family is high on my list of must-have shrubs!

2012 philadelphia flower show inspirado!

floral wave

“We’re going to Hawaii!” my peeps and I kept shouting on the way there.  And it was just what the doctor ordered for our sunlight-starved, oxygen-deprived, pale winter bodies.   And I’m glad there were so many plants to compensate for all the oxygen-breathing crowds – I mean, it was SO crazy packed I could barely get over to see Longwood Instructor Jane Godshalk’s amazing Hula Man.

Hula man in AIFD's installation by Jane G. - WOW.

I liked how there were rows of arrangements displayed in their own little specially-lit boxes

This design evokes 'Tiki' the best according to judges - Pincushion Protea

Paphiopedilum Orchid

someone please tell me what this is

Ikebana by Midori Tanimune, one of my Ikebana Longwood Instructors

I want to fill a special room in a house I don't have with botanical prints

Ladies, look over here at the Amorphophallus!

Prizewinning Euphorbia esculenta

I feel this way sometimes - it's a good thing

Don't you just hate when that happens?

'Outrigger' - Winning design by my instructor Jane Godshalk! Judges called it "brilliant"

My sister Amy took a lot of great pictures on a much better camera than mine – check them out HERE.

a garden of my own(-ish)

Okay, I’ve done a lot of digging in the dirt, at other people’s houses. For money. I’ve taken classes in ornamental horticulture, worked at NYBG, and been a TV garden editor for Martha Stewart. But I’ve never envisioned my own garden and created one. What would it look like?

Photograph: © Country Life Picture Library, from Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden by Judith B. Tankard, Rizzoli New York, 2011

No, not like that.

I guess I tell myself that my excuse for never making a garden of my own is that I got caught up in television production, a career that has served me well over the years but also required an unhealthy amount of ignoring my own life. But if I’m being totally honest (and I think I should because this is my blog,) gardening and I parted ways after a traumatic event that occurred at Martha’s house in Maine. Yes, I’m going to blame it all on Martha.

garden mothra: i drew this mustache on using GIMP

We had Dan Hinkley as a guest, you know the fantastic plantsman of Heronswood fame, and I was the producer and garden prep person for a segment we were to do on shade treasures. Since Dan travels the world collecting rare specimens and cultivating them for trade, you can imagine the amazing plants he had brought for the Skylands property! (And he’s also the sweetest guy you’ll ever meet.) This would be a chance to educate folks on some of the possibilities for shady areas, so we had a good variety of stuff out there. As I’m prepping Martha for the segment, she looks at all the “shade treasures” and says, “what’s all this? I can’t plant all this here! I only want one kind of plant here, Solomon’s seal.” I tried to argue with her (bad idea) about the fact that we had already discussed every inch of the material and she had already agreed to all of the plants going into the ground, but she was steadfast. It was her garden, of course, so we turned it into a Plant of the Week segment on the very beautiful Solomon’s seal that Dan had brought. Yes, we flew him across the country to talk about ONE PLANT. I think I was more upset about that than anything else.

Polygonatum odoratum

But…in this process of arguing with her, and trying to convince her that the plant variety was important for education, she hooked onto the idea that I was more of a television producer than a gardener. She looked at me with those see-everything brown eyes and said, “You’re not a real gardener.” This was pretty much the only time Martha ever made me cry in the entire decade I worked for her. I almost quit right there. And I think I really took that statement to heart, and followed the TV production path instead of the gardening one. It was quite stupid of me, to listen to someone who has minions that make her gardens. And stupid of me to let this one sentence sink into my bones. It doesn’t mean I can’t grow a few fucking flowers. (Addendum: please don’t get the wrong idea about Martha. I have so many good things to say about her, and her beautiful gardens, and all the opportunities she gave me, and the Emmys we won, and everything I learned…but I just had to tell that one little Fleur de Mal.)

ANYWAY…now that I’m ‘in-between’ TV gigs, or maybe done with TV altogether, this gardening/floristry/plant path is once again beckoning to me. I’ve begun dreaming about my garden…made possible by my amazing parents, who said they’d let me have a little patch of earth on their property to play with. Oh golly! Really? I hope they’re serious! Because I already ordered some seeds from Seedsavers Exchange! That’s the first place I thought of, because they offer heirloom varieties of seeds that gardeners from around the world save and swap each year.

cosmos

I’m thinking cutting garden with some herbs and veggies thrown in. In other words, it will be totally utilitarian with a bunch of stuff I love. Keep it simple, try to be successful at something small. Neat and organized. I haven’t measured or really taken this to the next level by cordoning off an area yet, because I don’t want to scare my parents off of the idea. I must admit I went a little crazy on the Seedsavers site today, and I know I will have to scale back (bearing in mind I also want to order plants too.) I need to do this in the proper order, starting with doing a LOT of research and reading about what plants perform well in zone 7a (yes, that’s right, we are 7a now with the new USDA plant hardiness map!) and are also deer resistant. I hope to create a spreadsheet with all the salient facts to help keep me organized. Last night, I fell asleep with a cut flower book in my lap and tonight I plan on doing the same. This is my Seedsavers order:

The cukes are for my husband, who has been talking about pickling for the last 1700 years. This is the year to do that, too, I hope. Enjoy the new moon energy!

some little spring things

how about this hellebore?

Tra la la, skipping through Swarthmore with my doggie…well, not exactly skipping, more like being pulled by my doggie through Swarthmore…we come across all sorts of botanical treasures. It is usually Larry who finds them first, his nose sending him on a zig zag mission that wraps me up in his leash. Here! They! Are!

Winter Aconite on Elm Ave near Swarthmore Ave

I don’t remember these little yellow guys, and suddenly they’re everywhere I look. They look buttercup-y to me. Online searching sends me right to the Scott Arboretum’s blog, where Eranthis hyemalis, or Winter Aconite, is well described: “The sunny persona of Eranthis hyemalis can’t help but make one believe that spring is just around the corner. The tuberous ephemeral is a member of the buttercup family and is best planted in mass and left undisturbed. Over time plants will seed to create even bolder, brighter displays.”

pleasing but poisonous

A little deeper digging reveals that these late winter/early spring-blooming beauties have a dark side. Turns out Larry was smelling Cerberus’ spit – which you can imagine is quite toxic – when he discovered the deceptively dainty yellow blooms on Elm Ave. According to Greek legend, when Hercules dragged Cerberus (you know the three-headed canine who guards the gates to the Underworld) to the Upper World, his reaction to the sunny side of things was to froth madly at the mouth. And wherever this crazy beast’s saliva touched the earth, up sprouted winter aconite. Thanks, Cerberus, it’s a nice touch. Winter aconite is in fact poisonous – all parts especially the tuber. So, you might not want to plant this if you’ve got dogs (Larry did NOT ingest any of this) or kids who dig in the garden.

Onward, ho, my brindled hound

What else have you found for me today? Okay we’ve been looking at snowdrops, or Galanthus nivalis, for almost a month now. But some fact-finding revealed a great story (or at least I think it’s great) about this early spring bulb. There’s a sort of snowdrop-mania going on in the UK and last year one bulb of the ‘Green Tear’ cultivar fetched £365, making it the world’s most expensive snowdrop (and perhaps bulb?) Well, yesterday, this record was shattered, when Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was auctioned on Ebay for £725, purchased by the seed company Thompson and Morgan, who say in their press release that “the stunning snowdrop Galanthus woronowii ‘Elizabeth Harrison’ was named after the owner of the garden where it first appeared as a seedling in Scotland a few years ago and it has not been identified growing anywhere else.” It is really striking, with a golden yellow ovary and yellow petal markings. I wonder how long it will take them to produce more, and how much longer it will take to be discovered growing in Swarthmore!

Galanthus woronowii

oriental paper bush – aka the shrub to attract fairies in winter

Image

Like I said, I’m totally spoiled living essentially on the grounds of Scott Arboretum.  Every corner you turn, there’s a plant you know nothing about (true for me, anyway) but thank heavens, they’re labeled. Today I was literally blown away by this shrub that looked as if it were hung with silvery-sage ornaments in the shape of flowery bells.

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I can’t even describe how deliciously the slightly metallic flower buds seemed to glow from within. Oh and they’ve got a downy fuzz on them as well.  I looked around expecting to see fairies doing a little dance with their rabbit friends.  Seriously.  Then I came home and did some research, and guess what, it’s a member of the Daphne family so when it blooms expect there to be a heavenly scent!  I will check back on this plant to document the buds unfurling and ensuing foliage. Apparently they’ve finally officially named it ‘Snow Cream,’ according to Tony Avent at Plant Delights Nursery in Raleigh, NC where they have sold it “without a cultivar name for the last decade.” Aw, I kind of liked it being called ‘Tony’s Clone.’  Did some further reading at Kew and found that the common name, Paper Bush, refers to the fact that its’ bark is used for making paper, including ornamental Japanese wallpaper, calligraphy paper, and at one time, Japanese bank notes of the highest quality.  Neat.

life lessons

Taking a walk today at the Scott Arboretum, I was counting myself extremely lucky to be at such close distance to these grounds.  I’ve taken many (dog) walks here, and there’s always something to see whatever the season.  It’s especially exciting to watch the landscape return to life after the dormancy of winter, and noticing the little signs that spring will come (eventually) fills one with a sort of buoyancy.  The tinge of pink of this Higan Cherry tree starting to bud caught my eye.

Prunus subhirtella, Higan Cherry

Over the next hill, a flowery fragrance wafts towards me on the foggy misty air.  What could it be? It’s so promising, and clean.  Ahh…it’s Witch Hazel! I filled my nose with it’s bright scent while marveling at the strappy little punk rock petals, bursting lemon yellow from their red bud shells like party favors.

Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Mollis 'Early Bright'

It’s formal name is Hamamelis mollis ‘Early Bright,’ a cultivar of Chinese witch hazel which was actually introduced by the Scott Arboretum in 1988. They noticed one particular plant which consistently bloomed about two weeks earlier than it’s neighbors, and over several years selected, named, and released this winter beauty.  Here it is blooming in late January but it’s been known to bloom during the first few weeks of January.

Chinese Witch Hazel, Hamamelis Mollis 'Early Bright'

Among those responsible for this fine introduction is Andrew Bunting, now Scott Arb’s Curator and owner of Fine Garden Creations, a company I worked for in 1996/1997. I consider Andrew and his team responsible for getting me started on my journey into the world of horticulture, a world I’ve been sadly distanced from in my profession as TV producer.

Rose Hips in Rose Garden

But witnessing the bravado of buds and fruits in the winter landscape, my spirits are lifted.  There is rebirth, change, growth all around us.   I can grow and change too, and I am, and I will.  I spent a moment really examining these plants, and took in their scents and colors, and when I walked away I think maybe I learned some kind of lesson, that the cycles which govern every living thing also govern me; and that when I feel connected to Nature, I am more alive and more myself.