Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Passion for Gardening - September Book Review

For my birthday, my husband got me a garden coffee-table book called "The Passion for Gardening: Inspiration for a Lifetime."  The book is by Ken Druse who also wrote one of my top 5 favorite garden books (Planthropology).  I asked for it for Christmas but for some reason Santa didn't come through.  I looked for it in the local libraries (I actually have library cards for 5 different cities within the disorganized metropolitan area of Hampton Roads) with no luck.  But on my birthday, I got it and have been enjoying it in small bites (like a box of chocolates) ever since.

The Passion for Gardening is really a book for coffee-table garden book lovers.  It has a few pages of practical matters (some information on propagating plants and source lists) but it is mostly just what the title suggests, an ode to gardening and gardeners.  In fact, it's a little hard to say just what this book is about, so I will quote Druse from his foreword:
I know at once if I like a garden, and my reaction has nothing to do with whether there are meticulously maintained beds and borders or a flock of pink flamingos guarding the gate.  It isn't the style, the plants used, the location, or the size.  What matters to me is the passion of the garden's tender, which comes through loud and clear over anything else.  Such gardeners love plants not just for their color or form, but because they are alive.  These gardeners are not afraid of change; on the contrary, it is a crucial part of their fascination with gardening.  More than simply tilling the soil, these people are the guiding spirits whose devotion makes a garden more than a backyard, or the back forty.
Funny he should mention a flock of flamingos
For example, there is the elderly gardener whose garden is mostly wonderful specimen trees.  At one point, her friends and family tried to dissuade her from planting a young tree - why plant something she won't get to enjoy?  Years later, she's sitting in the shade of this tree when Druse goes to interview her.

The book is organized around a series of interviews of people whose gardens Druse admires, with lots of photos of the beautiful gardens.  Some of the sections cover most of a chapter, and some are just a page.  The book is loosely organized into chapters, but the overall feel is of having a long, satisfying conversation with a good conversationalist in a series of lovely places. 

Most of the gardens are private, but not all.  Druse also visits Chanticleer on the Main Line outside Philadelphia and interviews the chief horticulturalist and executive director there.  Druse's descriptions and photos make it clear that this is not at all a typical public garden or historic garden, and makes me very much want to visit there on some future trip to Philadelphia when I am visiting family.  Interestingly, there are no signs at Chanticleer (or rather, as Druse says, only the most basic signs, like "Restroom").  The vision behind this is so that visitors will focus on the beauty of plants.  Druse says it can be frustrating for plant lovers because there are many unusual plants there, but I can see the reasoning.  I think it is surprisingly easy to get drawn into signs and labels and I see how it might help people to make more direct, personal contact with a garden without any official interpretation getting in the way. 
Do it your way

My favorite story from the Chanticleer section is the story of the "ruin."  The executive director thought it would be interesting to partially demolish a house on the property to make a "ruin" that would be a focal point.  This is a lot like the story of a "ruin" on an English estate I visited on vacation last year, that was intentionally formed by tearing down part of the original house.  But at Chanticleer, it turned out that the house could not safely or aesthetically be turned into a ruin, so they razed it and constructed a "spanking-new 'ruin'" on the spot.  The part that really made me laugh though was that when Druse asked the director about his plan to age the ruin, and the answer was "wait 300 years."
The constructed ruin at Scotney Castle in England

Threaded throughout the book is the theme that gardeners should be stewards of ecosystems by planting native plants and avoiding contributing to the ecological disaster that invasive plants cause.  Many of the gardens featured in the book use at least some native plants, but one of the most colorful - perhaps surprisingly - is a garden that contains exclusively plants locally native to a single locality, eastern Long Island.  This was perhaps my favorite garden in the book.  I love those plants that are native to the eastern U.S. and I love them in gardens, but I've never seen such a well-made garden with just locally native plants.  Franklin Salasky's garden is obviously a garden, not in the least a wilderness or natural area.  It's got varied heights and textures with trees, shrubs, vines, ferns, grasses, and perennials.  And it's remarkably colorful and varied in the photos. 
June color from native plants in my garden - believe me, Franklin Salasky's is better

The conversational feel of the book is supported by Druse's excellent writing and nuanced viewpoints.  While I didn't find any comprehensive treatments of any particular topics, I was frequently pleasantly surprised to read something that made me stop and think again about something familiar in a different way.  A comment by one of the gardeners being interviewed resonated strongly with me.  Geoffrey Kaiser says, "We've climbed the Tree of Botanical Knowledge and learned to love and learned to hate.  So we have to deal with our hatred of things like multiflora rose."  I've learned a great deal about both gardening and nature in the past 10 years or so and while this knowledge enriches my experiences in the garden and nature beyond measure, sometimes I wish I didn't know quite so much about the threats to native ecosystems.  Sometimes I wish I didn't recognize invasive plants, since to me they look like scars in an otherwise beautiful landscape.  The gardener who says this in "The Passion for Gardening" makes a point with his partner to take a day a week off from "hating" and force themselves not to see weeds and invasive species and instead just enjoy what they have accomplished.
Classic love/hate relationship: Asian Wisteria

If you like pretty garden photos, good garden writing, or native plants, or if you sometimes need a reminder of just why you spend so much time and effort on this avocation, you would probably like this book.  Ken Druse's podcast is also worth checking out.  But first, please check out Roses and Other Gardening Joys, where garden book reviews are hosted every month.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

September Bloom Day

Happy (Belated) Garden Blogger's Bloom Day!
One of the greatest benefits of GBBD is that it makes me go out and take a close look in the garden even when I'm not feeling very inspired. Well, I really believe that, but...  I'll be honest, yesterday I was really not at all inspired.  My garden looks weedy and tired, I was really tired, etc. etc. and it seemed like one more chore I didn't feel like doing.  I did go out and take a few shots but even that didn't help.  But then this morning the weather seemed very fresh, it was a little overcast and cool, I was more rested and had a yummy vanilla mocha latte in hand... and suddenly I kept seeing pretty little details in the garden I hadn't seen before, starting with the above combination of cream-colored four o'clocks with the native Late-flowering thoroughwort (Eupatorium serotinum).  So, thanks once more to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for GBBD.  It worked again, even if a little bit late.
The four o'clock and Eupatorium are extras in this bed of Ginger lilies, also called Butterfly lilies (Hedychium coronarium).  Getting grass out of this bed was a major project this spring.  Now that the flowers are wafting their delicious fragrance all over the yard, I'm reminded that it was definitely worth it (unfortunately, I still have to do the other half of the bed, though!)  I had taken out most of the four o'clocks since the Ginger lilies had spread enough to fill the whole bed, but I guess I left a few.  I think they are a nice variation with a similar color and fragrance to the Ginger lilies and I'm glad to have them.  In fact, maybe I should bump the bed out into the lawn and put more four o'clocks in the front.  The late-flowered Thoroughwort is not just native but some might go so far as to call it a "weed", since I have never planted any on purpose.  However, it is a great butterfly and pollinator magnet and plays well with others so I just keep it in places where I like it and rip it out in places where I don't.

Another native Eupatorium that looks good in the early fall (and almost glows in the dark) is the mistflower (Eupatorium coelestinum) above.  I didn't exactly mean for it to take over this whole area, but it's doing better than anything else I've planted in this boggy spot, so more power to it.  Now if I could only get some Joe Pye Weed to take, I'd have the hat trick of showy Eupatoriums.  Why do I have such bad luck with plants that everybody else seems to be able to grow easily?

The front yard is dominated right now by sulfur cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus).  Butterflies love it, particularly Buckeyes and American Ladies.

Not long ago I planted my first dahlia in a fit of acquisitiveness.  I was hoping to find a red-flowered one but I was itching so bad to get something new, I took this one home despite it's not being what I was looking for.  I have no regrets.  I love how the color clash of orange pollen-filled anthers and hot pink petals looks almost electric.

Who knew that orange and hot pink go so well together?  Oh yeah, anybody who has purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) knows that...
The American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is loaded with purple berries.  I keep saying I want to plant something near them that will draw attention to that part of the yard when the berries are on the bush.  I might have waited long enough that I don't need to worry about it.  The shrub is so big and with so many berries, that you really can't miss it.  Still, maybe I should put some purple coneflowers around it?  Or I had been thinking Sheffield Pink mums, but they are not blooming yet.  I'll have to keep an eye out to see if the berries are still on the bush when the mums bloom.
So that's September in my garden in a nutshell.  Enjoying some of the best of August, perhaps even more than in August itself, while getting a teasing taste of what autumn will offer. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hurricane Ridge

As I've complained a few times already, this summer has been busy at work, with lots of overwhelming deadlines and business trips.  So I have hardly been gardening at all, let alone blogging, and I apologize if there was anyone out there who might have liked to see a post on this blog sometime in the past month.  In the midst of all this work-stuff, my husband had a business meeting in Seattle so we took a few days at the start of his trip and made a very short mini-vacation on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state.

On one of those days, we went "hiking" on Hurricane Ridge.  I put hiking in quotes, because the people who were renting bear cans at the visitor center to put into their enormous packs probably would have laughed us right off the ridge.  My husband and I are both into photography and wildlife watching (and wildflower watching, as I'll share in a minute) and allow ourselves to be very easily distracted while out in nature.  We started off on a little loop trail in sub-alpine meadow next the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center that is pretty popular with families with little kids, tour groups, etc., and probably is sniffed at by real hikers.  But we spent lots of time here enjoying gorgeous wild views, wildflowers, and up-close-and-personal views of Black-tailed deer.
Here are two wildflowers found in the sub-alpine meadow.
Magenta Paintbrush, Castilleja parviflora var. olympica
False Hellebore, Veratrum viride
The Olympic Peninsula is about as far as you can get in the contiguous U.S. from Southeastern Virginia where I am most familiar with.  It's further north and at a higher elevation and I had to wear long sleeves and sweatshirts there for the first time in months.  But, surprisingly perhaps, it's in a warmer horticultural zone than where I am in Southeastern Virginia, Zone 8b for Olympic National Park compared to a recently promoted Zone 8a for home.  This is a great illustration of the fact that the horticultural zones refer to wintertime minimum temperatures and are a long way away from telling you everything you need to know about a climate for selecting plants for your gardens.  In this part of Washington, there is also a lot more moisture during the summer.  All in all, it just looks incredibly different.  In Washington I saw lots of evergreens that wouldn't survive the heat here at home very long, but in the rainiest areas I also saw trees covered with a lichen that looks quite a bit like Spanish moss, which to me seems very southern (this is something of a false comparison since the stuff in this photo is a lichen while the southeastern Spanish moss is not at all related and is actually a flowering plant).

While visiting Olympic National Park I was really struck by the large numbers of wildflowers.  I'm a big fan of native plants but many of the wildflowers of the Eastern woodlands are spring ephemerals that put on their show in the brief window of time before the tree canopy leafs out.  Roadside wildflowers are often non-native species that originated in European meadows and take advantage of the meadow-like conditions of a gap in the forest canopy and regular mowing (by Dept of Transportation workers, rather than by sheep and cattle).  But in the mountain settings I saw on vacation, there are always pockets where there are no trees, because of harsh winds, exposures on one side of the ridge versus the other, wildfire and landslides.  The wildflowers even along the roadsides were breathtaking.  
Indian paintbrush, Castilleja sp.
In particular, this "cottage garden" on a roadside slope knocked my socks off.  The variety of really showy wildflowers in this colony is better than anything I can accomplish in my garden even with lots of effort.  Just for context, here's a wider view.  The wildflowers are in clumps at the bottom of this bare slope, right next to the road.  This has to be just about the most harsh-looking garden environment there is.  Wow.