Silvery Heirloom Treasures for the Vase: Nodding Stars-of-Bethlehem …

June 6th, 2011 Comments Off

A late spring bulb for cutting: Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum nutans) sitting pretty in a vase by New Mexico artist Heidi Loewen

They are commonly called the Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem, and I think it may be the perfect name for this beautiful, silvery flower. Five autumns ago, with my late-spring cutting garden in mind, I ordered and planted a handful of these heirloom beauties (circa 1594) from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs, even though they are listed as only marginally hardy this far north (USDA Zones 5-8). And although the exotic looking little stars haven’t naturalized as they do in warmer locations (see warning & plant information at bottom of this post) they have returned each and every year; forming three small clumps near the studio foundation. Striking in the garden, to be sure, I actually prefer this green and white flower in a vase; where I can appreciate her subtle charms. Gathered in a porcelain vessel by New Mexico artist Heidi Loewen, I happen to think these silvery stars are just the picture of late spring loveliness…

Some flowers are even more striking in a vase than they are in a garden. To my eye, Ornithogalum nutans is just such a beauty

I like to display the Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem very simply, here gathered in a porcelain vase by New Mexico artist Heidi Loewen

Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem (Orinthogalum nutans) from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs

The beautiful, sea-green vase by New Mexico artist Heidi Loewen was purchased on a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1999. The Orinthogalum nutans bulbs were purchased from Brent & Becky’s Bulbs. And although neither source is an affiliate of The Gardener’s Eden, I am a happy customer of both.

***Nodding Star-of-Bethlehem (Orinthogalum nutans) is native to Europe and Asia and although it is not currently on the USDA invasive plant/noxious weed list, it has been reported as potentially invasive in certain Mid-Atlantic states (Pennsylvania, Maryland, DC & Virginia) and in some counties of other states, including Washington state. Please note: this species should not be confused with Orinthogalum umbellatum (African origins) which is on the USDA noxious weed list and is widely reported as invasive in natural areas.***

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Hedonistic Garden Pleasures: Lilac Lust

May 27th, 2011 § 2

Fresh Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris): the Fragrance of Springtime

Lilacs, Lily of the Valley,Viburnum, Daphne and Woodland Phlox; the fragrance of springtime swirls about me throughout the day as I tend to my work. One of my newer projects is a garden restoration and renovation. Oh how I love this detail. Ancient lilacs tower above me —dripping like gigantic grapes from branches— and in order to bring them down to nose level, I must prune! Oh, delightful rewards of my labor: fresh lilacs fill the kitchen sink. I’ve loaded a vase on the dining room table and gathered an armful to place beside my bed. Bliss…

The Gardener’s Reward

Native to Southern Europe and Persia, the common lilac (Syringa vulgaris) is hardy in USDA zones 3-7. This old fashioned shrub prefers neutral soil enriched with good organic compost and full sunlight. The blossoms should be removed and the shrub should be pruned in late spring; while flowering or just after the blossoms have faded. Never prune lilacs later than the first week in July or you will forfeit next season’s flowers! For notes on how to prune this old time favorite, click here to visit my previous post on the subject. The Syringa vulgaris pictured above is an unknown cultivar (the house and garden I’m working in is more than 200 years old). I love lavender, blue, deep violet and white lilacs. My favorite white is S. vulgaris ‘Madame Lemoine’ (pictured just below) and Zeke Goodband just introduced me to an intensely fragrant, lavender colored cultivar called S. x hyacinthiflora ‘Pocahontas’ (image at the bottom of this post).

Lilacs often stir childhood memories for gardeners. As children, my sister and I would raid the shrubs across the street from our home, where an enormous stand of fragrant blossoms stood screening a dilapidated outhouse in back of an old, ramshackle hunting cabin. Lilacs will always bring me back to my sister and our days of wild, horticultural plunder. Do you have a special memory associated with this lovely fragrance?

Syringa vulgaris ‘Mme. Lemoine’ in my Garden at Sunset. This white lilac is one of the most fragrant, double-flowered, French hybrids

If you love lilacs, you will adore Father John Fiala’s classic Lilacs: A Gardener’s Encyclopedia; recently revised and updated by Freek Vrugtman for Timber Press.

Syringa x hyacinthiflora ‘Pocahontas’ (French hybrid) at Scott Farm. This intensely fragrant lilac will be the next addition to my garden!

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela Medina at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site (with noted exceptions) is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Hazy Color Drifts Carpet the Garden: Tiny Gifts of Early Spring…

April 16th, 2011 § 4

Spring Heath (Erica carnea) Begins Blooming in Early April (click here to revisit my Erica carnea plant-profile post from last year). Here, Sprawling Across the Ledge  in the Entry Garden…

The Pink, Hazy Blur of Spring Heath is Particularly Lovely Against Grey Sky and Cool Stone. On a Blustery Day, I Can’t Help but Think of Katherine and Heathcliff, Wandering the Bluffs of Wuthering Heights.

In New England, sparkling blue skies and warm, sunny days are few and far between during the month of April. More often than not, the heavens are filled with dusty grey clouds, and the tawny, bare land lies chill and dormant, waiting for milder days. Such is the scene this weekend, with cold, raw air nudging me indoors every half hour or so, to huddle beside the warmth of a blazing fire.

Yet despite the blustery wind and cool temperatures, there are signs of spring here, and color has begun to return to my cold-climate garden. Tiny, early-flowering bulbs and ground-covering blossoms —mass planted in drifts for effect— carpet the walkways and ledgy outcrops. Spring heath (Erica carnea) is the earliest of the low-growing woody plants to blossom here. You may recall my post about spring heath, “Love on the Rocks”, from last April. Bold sweeps of spring heath and various heather ( including Calluna vulgaris ‘Multicolor’ & ‘Silver Knight’) were planted in the shallow pockets of soil between the stone; combined with ‘Sea Green’ juniper (Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’), and creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug) along the entry walk. These tough, resilient shrubs and ground-covering woody plants wake up from winter slumber looking every bit as beautiful as they did when they retired for their nap. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all roll out of bed looking so lovely?

Opening at About the Same Time as Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Crocus, Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) Carpet the Shrub and Perennial Borders Along the Walkway in my Garden…

On the other side of the entry garden, where the soil is deep, moist and rich, a mixed border of shrubs and perennials springs to life from the ground up. Eager to greet the new season, the tiny blue blossoms of Chionodoxa —commonly known as ‘Glory of the Snow’— begin forcing their way through the frozen earth before it has had time to thaw. A welcome sight to these weary eyes after such a long winter, I note that honeybees and other pollinating insects happily greet my emerging drifts of early-blooming bulbs and ground covers as well.

Native to the alpine regions of Tukey, Cyprus and Crete, Chionodoxa (a member of the hyacinth family) is extremely cold tolerant, and tough (USDA zone 4a-9b). When mass planted in moist, well-drained soil in autumn, the blue, pink or white bulbs will slowly multiply, naturalizing beautifully beneath trees and shrubs (this bulb prefers neutral soil, but will tolerate slightly acidic to slightly alkaline conditions). In cool seasons, blossoms will last approximately 4 weeks, and when planted between later-emerging perennials, glory-of-the-snow’s foliage will fade and wither without drawing attention, as it slips into summertime dormancy. This low, ground-covering bulb (2-6 inches high, depending on species and cultivar) is one of my springtime favorites. For such a tiny flower, it sure makes a big impact. In particular, I find  blue Chionodoxa especially lovely when planted in great sweeps across lawns. Viewed from a distance, masses of these blue, starry flowers form a moody haze; ethereal, wistful and undeniably romantic in a rainy landscape…

They Remind Me of Fallen Stars, Scattered on the Garden Floor.

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Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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A Warm Welcome to Spring: Blossoming Beauty at the Smith College Bulb Show…

March 20th, 2011 § 2

Tulipa ‘Blue Spectacle’

Narcissus, tulips, hyacinth, freesia, iris and clivia; from the brash and bold to the delicate and ethereal, all of spring’s finest ladies were on display this week at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. The Bulb Show at Smith College’s Lyman Conservatory —where thousands of bulbs are carefully arranged and artfully displayed with flowering trees, shrubs and exotic plants— is an annual rite of spring for this gardener. Never one for crowds, I notice that somehow I always convince myself to brave the sea of curious characters, enthusiastic gardeners and focused shutterbugs in order to take in this annual floral exhibit. The Vernal Equinox marks the beginning of spring today —March 20th at 7:21 pm ET (23:21 UT)— and in honor of her arrival, I thought it fitting to share some highlights from The Bulb Show at Smith College. Enjoy… Soon the bulbs will be in full bloom outdoors and I can hardly wait!

Welcome Sweet Springtime. We Greet You with Open Arms and Unfolding Petals!

Delicate Charm: Narcissus ‘Hawera’ (one of my favorite garden bulbs)

Wild Color: Red Hot Tulips and Violet-Colored Anemone

Exotic Beauty: Veltheimia bracteata (South African Forest Lily, Sandui)

A Stunning Combination: Iris ‘Blue Magic’, paired with Tulipa ‘Jackpot’ (must remember to try this one)

Always Elegant: Clivia miniata ‘Grandiflora’

A Rhapsody in Blue: Hyacinth, Muscari, Anemone, Ipheon and Tulipa

Color-Saturated Flamboyance: Tulipa ‘Sensual Touch’ (I love growing the more outrageous tulips, particularly the parrots, for cutting)

Dark Drama: Tulipa ‘Queen of the Night’ (one of my all-time favorites)

Exquisite Edging: Tulipa ‘Lucky Strike’ in a sea of pink, rose and purple

Delicate and Lacy: Tulipa ‘Cool Crystal’ (so girlish)

Thank you to the faculty and staff of Smith College for such a beautiful and inspirational show.

Wishing You All a Very Beautiful Spring!

xo Michaela

***

Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Hydrangea Paniculata ‘Limelight’: Gorgeous Color & Fragrance in the Vase & Late Summer Beauty in the Garden…

August 27th, 2010 Comments Off

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ in the studio – Beautiful color and fragrance

When it comes to romance in the garden, Hydrangea paniculata is never wishy-washy about where she stands. Voluptuous, lacy and fragrant; members of the panicled hydrangea clan are unabashedly feminine. Sometimes blushing and always glowing —the air about her buzzing with busy-bee suitors— my beautiful, chartreuse-tinted Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ overflows her boundaries; spilling into the walkway in a delightful disarray. She’s an old-fashioned bombshell, and I think she knows it. I love to gather her blossoms by the armful… Filling vases for my studio and dining room table, and a great, big urn for beside the bed. Although it’s hard to resist cutting every last bloom, I leave plenty to enjoy in the garden later; watching as they tint toward rose at the edge of summer, and then slowly bleach to flaxen blond in mid-winter…

Leather and Lace – Panicle Hydrangea and Copper Beech

But wait… Who is Hydrangea paniculata’s handsome mate? Well, opposites attract, of course. The dark and masculine, leather-leafed fellow standing beside our lacy-lady in the entry garden is…  None other than Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’; a decidedly Gothic-looking, European copper beech. Both partners in this passionate marriage are hardy in USDA zones 4-8. And while Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ will quickly attain a modest 6-10′ mature size, Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’ will continue to slowly stretch to 40′ or more —tall of course, as well as dark and handsome! Both plants prefer a relatively neutral, moist but well-drained soil, rich in organic material. Combined with late blooming blue-violet flowers, such as monkshood and asters, and a few tawny, vertical grasses, they make quite a fashionable pair in autumn…

A Gothic Love Affair – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ paired with Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’, here in the entry garden at Ferncliff…

Unabashedly Romantic – Masculine and Feminine Extremes in the Garden

Still beautiful in the quiet season – Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limlight’ in snow…

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Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Penstemon, Rudbeckia and Veronica: An Easy, Breezy, Flowering Combination for Mid-Summer Meadow Gardens…

June 29th, 2010 § 2

A Sunny Combination of Meadow Flowers for a Long-Blooming, Informal Summer Garden. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Bees buzzing in the garden, sun-tea brewing on the terrace, and books piled high beside the hammock; sweet summertime is here at last. I love waking up to early morning sunshine playing upon the warm, summery colors in my garden. Right now I am particularly smitten with the entry garden, where cool shades of blue and violet are sparked to life with bright flecks of yellow and orange. “Hello, and welcome home again”, they seem to say, as I pull my work totes from the car at the end of a long, hot day.

Bright and cheerful black-eyed Susan, (Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’), sky-blue speedwell, (Vernonica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’), and season-spanning beard’s tongue, (Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’), perform beautifully together in a pretty trio that lasts throughout July and well into August, with little effort on my part. Bee, butterfly and hummingbird magnets, all three; these flowers delight the eye as they sparkle in the sunshine and sway in the warm summer breeze. What genius thought of this combination? Well, I wish I could take the credit, but only Mother Nature could come up with such a sensational mix. Although the grouping featured here blends three selected cultivars, these are all North American native plants. Meadow flowers tend to be drought-tolerant by nature, and once established, they need little care. Rudbeckia and Penstemon will self-seed with abandon, making them the perfect choice for a wildflower walk or naturalized planting. And delightful Veronica provides this low-maintenace group with a heavenly dose of mid-season blue…

Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ plays in poetic, harmony with bees – Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’  with Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’, backed by Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’- Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker’s Red’ provides both blossom and stunning, purple-hued foliage to the meadow garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Hardy to at least zone 4 (Penstemon digitalis and Veronica spicata are cold tolerant to zone 2 and 3, respectively) all three plants pictured here are mid-sized perennials, with Rudbeckia hirta ‘Becky Mixed’ reaching a variable 8- 24″, while Penstemon digitalis and Veronica spicata mature to a consistent 2′-2 1/2′ size.  I like this trio backed by all varieties of Miscanthus, but particularly the shimmering, light-catching cultivar ‘Morning light’. And as an added bonus with this group –  no matter the heat and blazing sunshine, there is nary a droopy bloom in sight. This trio of top summertime performers is a true dog-day’s delight…

A sunny, summertime entry garden at Ferncliff – Design and Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

A bee visits Veronica spicata ‘Sunny Border Blue’ ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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I’ve Got Blooms on the Brain: Tips for Snipping & Clipping Fresh Cut Flowers…

June 27th, 2010 § 3

Fresh cut, country-casual flowers on the kitchen island. Photo ⓒ 2010 Michaela at TGE

Is there anything sweeter than waking up to the scent of fresh flowers? I love setting a vase of blossoms beside my bed every evening, and my kitchen and dining room table are always dressed for dinner with a fresh bouquet. Of course growing your own flowers in a cutting garden —and in my case this is simply part of the vegetable patch— makes indulging in the luxury of fresh cut flowers easy and affordable throughout the growing season. Flowers make great companion plants for vegetables, attracting beneficial insects and sometimes –as is the case with many herbs– warding off pests. Sweet peas, lily of the valley, peonies and roses are probably my favorite cut flowers for fragrance, but I also adore stock, and pinks for their spicy clove-like scent. For bold color arrangements I grow zinnia, dahlia, marigold, cleome and sunflowers. To cool things down I plant plenty of classic blue-violet saliva, daisies, bachelor buttons, Bells of Ireland and Queen Anne’s lace for fresh-cut arrangements. And recently, exotic-looking painted tongue, (Salpiglossis), has become a favorite cut flower…

Rosa de rescht, Valeriana and Cotinus catch the light in a vase by Aletha Soule. Photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Of course, when the garden is looking a bit picked-over, I am never above taking cuttings from shrubs and trees to fill out a vase. Raspberry and other brambles, complete with fruit –as well as all kinds of vegetables– always add drama to table-top arrangements. And foliage, including ferns and ornamental grass, are beautiful both on their own, or when combined with flowers. Bare branches and drift wood, picked up on long walks, can also add structure and character to floral arrangements. I try to keep my eyes open and experiment with found-objects – including rusty junk!

For more fresh-cut arranging ideas – travel back to last summer’s article on flowers just for cutting here.

Helianthus ‘Autumn Beauty’ in my cutting garden…

Tips for long-lasting, beautiful, fresh-cut flower arrangements:

Harvesting:

1. Cut when it’s cool in the garden. The early morning, just as the sun is rising, is the best time. I carry a florist’s bucket into the garden with me and I harvest just after dawn.

2. Use clean, sharp pruners and/or rugged household shears.

3. Cut flower stems longer than you think you need in order to give yourself flexibility when arranging later.

4. Immediately place the flowers in water.

5. Strip the lower leaves from flower stalks. Anything that might go beneath the water should be removed now.

Zinnias – Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Conditioning and Preserving:

1. Recut stems and remove any leaves that might be submerged beneath the water. Remove any unsightly foliage or faded blooms. Check and remove tag along insects or slugs (eewww)!

2. Sear sappy stems –such as poppy, artemesisa, and hollyhock– with a match or by dipping in boiling water for 30 seconds.

3. Although some say it isn’t necessary, I have found that pounding woody stems with a hammer to help with uptake of water actually works.

4. Support delicate stems in the vase with branches or wire, or bind groups of flowers together with rubber bands, wire or twine.

5. I usually add a few drops of bleach and sugar (or some use an aspirin) to vase water. Some people prefer to buy fresh cut flower ‘food’, which simply alters the pH, holds down bacteria and provides sugars for metabolism. A bit of environmentally-sound bleach substitute, and sugar stirred into the vase water will accomplish the same thing.

6. Check vase water at least every other day and add or refresh water as necessary.

7. Try to place flowers in a cool spot. Avoid hot southwestern windows.

Dramatic Floating Dahlia – Photo ⓒ Tim Geiss

Arranging:

1. Be experimental and creative with vases. Start out by trying old soda bottles and tin cans, canning jars, milk bottles or cartons, teapots, glass bowls, desk accessories -anything that holds water. I like to hunt around in old foundations on my property for long-lost medicine and whisky bottles. I think recycled items add charm to flower arrangements.

2. Pay attention to proportion. Flowers rising two to three times the height of the vase is a good ratio to shoot for. But again, don’t be afraid to experiment. It’s a flower arrangement for heaven’s sake! It should be fun.

3. A single, dramatic vase or several vases filled with one kind of flower can make a space seem more dressed up. Clustered vases filled with informal ‘wild’ flowers grouped on vanities or consoles can make a room appear more casual.

4. Soften an arrangement of bold blossoms, such as sunflowers, by adding lacy flowers, ferns or ornamental grass.

5. Pair the mood of the flowers to the mood of the room. In general, I like sunflowers and zinnia in the kitchen, and roses beside the bed. But I don’t believe in hard and fast rules.

6. Keep the option of ‘floating’ blossoms in glass bowls in mind. And never underestimate the power of a single flower…

Dahlia in the cutting garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Bachelor Button (Centurea cyanus) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Painted Tongue (Salpiglossis) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Marigold (Calendula) ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Dahlia in the cutting garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Zinnia ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Zinnia ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Dianthus in the cutting garden ⓒ Michaela at TGE

Audrey Hepburn with blooms on the brain – Photograph – Howell Conant

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Article and photographs, with noted exceptions, © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Time Standing Still: The Immortal Beauty of Duchesse de Nemours and the Pleasure of Peonies in June…

June 14th, 2010 § 2

Creamy white Paeonia lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ picks up some blush from pink-tinged ‘Mother’s Choice’ and an unidentified rose-red cultivar. Vase by Aletha Soulé.

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Oh, Victorie Augusta Antonia de Saxe-Coburg-Gotha -better known as the Duchesse de Nemours- you must have been an extraordinary woman to have such a deliciously fragrant, beautiful blossom named for you. Was your skin the color of luminous cream… Was it smooth and silky to the touch? Were you quietly seductive; luring your admirers from all corners of the room with your languorous beauty and intoxicating perfume? You must have been dangerously voluptuous; teetering right on the edge of outright sexiness, but far too elegant to ever step across the line in society. Of course you were well-mannered and Victorian, with an air of mystery and a hint of sadness. Then, suddenly, your life was cut tragically short when you died at the age of 35, shortly after the birth of your fourth child; a daughter named Blanche. The Duke, it is noted, was dazed and lost without you; left to grieve with four small children – one just a tiny babe. And after your cruel and untimely departure, your childhood friend, Queen Victoria, spiraled into a deep, dark melancholy. Soon, as the sad news quickly swept across the sea, the people of France joined England in mourning your loss. More than just a figurehead, you were deeply loved, and greatly missed. And in time, the French named a gorgeous, fragrant blossom in your honor: Paeonia lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’, a luminous, creamy-white, sweetly perfumed peony. Your namesake flower was well chosen, for garden peonies are one of the longest lived perennials. And in spite of your sad misfortune, the memory of your spirit lives on when, each spring, your flower blossoms in gardens throughout the world; conjuring your great beauty and rekindling the passion you inspired…

This is a portrait of Victorie, Duchesse de Nemours, with her friend, Queen Victoria in the foreground – Franz Xzver Winterhalter – 1852

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Image via Walker Art Gallery, National Museum of Liverpool

“Here lies Victoria Augusta Antonia de Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Duchesse of Nemours, by whose death one more sorrow was added to so many doleful burials of the House of Orleans. She was of excellent soul, brilliance and great beauty, equally admirable both in fortune and of kindly and humble heart, devoted to her God, and a most loving wife and mother, lamented by her relatives and all notable people. She died suddenly at Claremont in Britain, an untimely death, on 10 November 1857 at the age of 35. May she rest in peace.” - From the inscription on the tomb of Duchesse de Nemours

As you can see, I am obsessed with the Duchesse. The peony is my favorite flower… But you will almost never observe it blooming in my garden. Why? Because I am greedy. Well, OK – most of the time, I am a generous person – but not when it comes to my peonies. I am greedy about peonies. I won’t even share them with the rest of my garden. The blossoms never stay outdoors long enough to open. Impatient by nature, I always cut the buds and bring them inside just as soon as they begin to swell and unfurl. I don’t mean to be selfish. Really I don’t. It’s just that the peony season is so short, and the entire experience can be wiped out with one heavy rain. A thunderous downpour, which almost always happens at the peak of peony season in June, will easily snap the delicate neck of an open flower. Double peonies are so fragile, that in fact even the slightest shower will cause their voluptuous, top-heavy blossoms to droop down into the mud. Well, I can’t have that. Not a chance. So the ‘Duchesse’ -as well as the pink bombshell ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, and that fiery, rose-flecked swan ‘Festiva Maxima’, among my many favorite peonies- is quickly whisked indoors where she can linger, mingling with the other blooms and extending my pleasure for weeks.  I like having them all around me; lounging beside the sofa, propped up in the powder room, spilling from stools in the studio; and of course, filling every available space in the boudoir. Why practice restraint? Life is short -as the Duchesse always reminds me- and no matter how much we might like to, we can never truly make time stand still. But we can learn to drag it out a little, can’t we? Of course we can…

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Raspberry Sundae’ © 2010 Michaela at TGE

When cut in early morning, just as the petals begin to curl open, each peony can last more than a week in a vase. I also like to tuck a few buds and blossoms in my refrigerator, pulling them out slowly for arrangements as others fade. By planting peonies with staggered bloom times, it’s possible to enjoy picking them, at least in cooler climates like mine, from late May straight on into the first few days of July. The tree peonies are first to flower in my garden, followed by the singles and early doubles; all of course setting the stage for the late arrival of those bodacious beauties, the ultra-feminine, big-bomb-types. Is there a bombshell-type peony named Marilyn? Delores? Sophia? Ava? Well there should be. What are those hybridizers thinking? Plant names can be so boring. Surely they could come up with something better than Big Red? Come on… Call a peony Rita Hayworth, for heaven’s sake. Why not use some imagination…

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Sarah Bernhardt’ © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Kansas’ © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Paeonia lactiflora ‘Mother’s Choice’

So now that I have -once again- revealed my hopeless hortimania, you are probably wondering where this peony-obsessed gardener goes to find the most delicious cultivars? Well online, White Flower Farm always has some beauties, and then there’s peony grower, hybridizer and resource extraordinaire, Klehm’s Song Sparrow Perennial Farm. {Warning: peony collecting is addictive}. Although these perennial garden favorites are available as potted plants throughout the growing year, peonies are really best planted bare-root in fall. Set these long-lived plants in a sunny spot with well prepared, humus-rich garden soil (amended with good compost). Take care never to plant the “eyes” of the peony root too deep (1.5-2″ below the compost, at most). Hardy, reliable bloomers  in zones 3-8, when properly planted and cared for, herbaceous peonies and their woody relatives, the tree peonies, are some of the longest lived garden plants. Once established, they resent division and dislike relocation. But when handled with care, they will adjust to change, although they may refuse to bloom for a season or two following a move. Below are some classic garden favorites – but why stop at a few, when there are oodles more to choose from? I am ordering an entire box of peonies this fall, because I can never get enough of their sweet fragrance in June…

Paeonia Duchesse de Nemours at White Flower Farm Online

Paeonia Raspberry Sundae at White Flower Farm Online

Paeonia ‘Festiva Maxima’ at White Flower Farm Online

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Article and photographs © 2010 Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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No Shrinking Violet: North American Native, Lovely Viola Labradorica…

April 26th, 2010 § 3

Viola labradorica, (photo © 2010 Michaela at TGE), North American native Labrador violet…

They say that Elizabeth Taylor once drew her lovers in with the flutter of her dark lashes and a passing glance from her violet-hued eyes. I have never seen eyes tinted in such a rich color, but I am sure that they must be powerfully seductive. Richard Burton was certainly captivated -twice in fact- and countless others fell under Elizabeth’s spell. Indeed, if you are to believe the headlines on the front page of grocery check-out tabloids, (oh come on, you know you peek at them too), the violet-eyed bombshell is still reeling them in with her gaze. Of course, not everyone loves Elizabeth Taylor, but I have a soft-spot for her – I admit it. I completely love her in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and her other great roles, and I could care less how many times she’s been married. She believes in love and she throws her heart open wide, with complete abandon…

Violets. Like most divas, it seems you either love them, or you hate them. Some are neat and tidy, and others spread wildly – sometimes even aggressively. Over the weekend, my friend Leah sent me a quick note. She was wondering if she should be concerned about the violets popping up in her garden. Leah finds them charming -as do I- but she is aware that some wild species are considered weeds. By now, it’s probably quite apparent that I have a looser approach to gardening. If a plant performs well as a ground cover, producing a lovely blossom and pretty foliage, why fight Mother Nature, right? OK, sometimes we must. Sometimes. In well-tended perennial gardens, we must keep the rhizomatous roots of spreading wild violets in check. Annual field violets and pansies are rarely a problem however, and I rather like them.

Anyway, Leah got me thinking about violets. I grow many species of viola here at Ferncliff, and I enjoy them all – including the more aggressive types spreading at the edge of the forest. And few European varieties, such as the German violets I grow, possess a powerful and intoxicating fragrance. The scent, drifting from neat colonies clustered at the base of the warm stonewalls here in spring, is quite heady. Much as I love them all, it is our native Labrador violet that has truly captured my heart..

Viola labradorica – © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Lovely Viola labradorica, as the name suggests, can be found growing wild to the north in Canada, from Labrador and Ontario, on southward into Northern New England, (USDA hardiness zones 2-8). Her gorgeous true-violet blossoms emerge in early spring, (April here in Vermont), and continue for several weeks. Throughout the season, Viola labradorica’s beautiful burgundy foliage covers the garden floor in a dense carpet, slowly morphing in color to a purple tinged green by midsummer. To put on the best show, she prefers dappled shade and woodsy soil with moist conditions, though she will also adapt to drier spells once established. This is another tough lady, with deceptively fragile looks. Tiny she is, remaining a ground cover no more than 8 inches high, (typically 3-6″), but shrinking she is not! The Labrador violet forms a bold tapestry – stunning in combination with golden Japanese forest grass, (Hakonechloa ‘Aurea’), and painted ferns, (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum), and virtually any perennial or woody plant – particularly those with gold, bronze and orange-tinted foliage…

Viola labradorica © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Violet seduction, as personified by Elizabeth Taylor {Image ⓒ Wallace Seawell / MGM archive}

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Article and photographs (with noted exception) are copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Great! Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through our affiliate links. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

 

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How To Describe the Beautiful Scent of Bodnant Viburnum ‘Dawn’ ?

March 27th, 2010 § 6

Anticipation! Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ – buds swollen in cold spring rain…

I have always found it a bit frustrating that -at least in English- fragrances don’t have names of their own. Have you noticed? When we describe smells, we use similes, (smells like…), or we borrow other words, because scents have none. Often we use flavors -which have their own definitions- like “sweet” and “sour”, or “spicy” and “tart”. Sometimes we employ tactile and visual comparisons, like “soft”, “sharp” and “delicate”, or when we describe a scent, we lean on other adjectives such as “fresh”, “rotten”, “pungent”, or “beautiful”. Why are there so few words to exclusively define scents? I can’t even think of one! Can you? In fact the more unique a scent is, the harder this task becomes…

Spring rain drops shimmer like diamonds on V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’..

These thoughts occurred to me today as I paused to admire the swollen buds on my beloved Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’. It seems that her velvety, cerise petals will begin unfolding any moment now, and the anticipation is driving me crazy. I stood outside in the cold air for a long time this morning, wondering how to describe this beautiful fragrance to you. How? Words fail me, and there is no “scent” button on my laptop to transmit the odor. Clove-like with a hint of sweet berries and and musk? Hmm… it’s better than that. Pink? How can something smell pink? Yet it’s true – this blossom actually does smell pink to me. The scent is feminine and familiar, yet hauntingly, almost maddeningly elusive. It smells like a memory; something from childhood; something you know and long for, but can barely remember; something you can almost visualize, but can’t quite pull into focus; something you ache and reach for, but can’t quite touch…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, within hours of opening…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ in winter – buds encased in icy globes…

The bodnant viburnum is a gorgeous shrub, not so much because of its form -it can be quite coarse and should be softened with other plantings- but because of its beautiful foliage and flowers. One of the first, and most fragrant flowering shrubs to bloom in my garden, Dawn’s ice-coated buds often glow bright pink in winter – even on the darkest days. On a warm January afternoon, this shrub’s magical buds dangle like glassy-globe ornaments from snow-covered branches at the Secret Garden entry. It’s possible, with even the slightest bit of imagination, to gaze into those crystal-blossom-balls and see the future – a beautiful springtime just around the corner. Impatient by nature, I often cheat a bit and force cut branches of V. bodantense ‘Dawn’ in late winter…

Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’, foliage in autumn, here paired with golden Lindera benzoin, (spice bush)

I’ve certainly waxed poetic enough about this viburnum’s delicious blossoms – but there is more. In autumn, the brilliant foliage of ‘Dawn’ slowly morphs from bright-red maraschino to dark-cherry-fizz; glorious in combination with golden spice bush and technicolor witch alder. Although this plant can be gangly and awkward in adolescence, (aren’t we all?), with proper pruning it will achieve an attractive and shapely mature form. Climate and growing conditions will influence overall size of course, (V. bondnantense is hardy in USDA zones 5-9), but at maturity, something in the neighborhood of 8-10′ high and wide can be expected from this shrub, (my zone 4/5 specimen has grown to 8′ in as many years). Position this treasure where you will pass her frequently in the early days of springtime, and I imagine you too will stop and wonder why we have never created specific words for scents…

Forced branches of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’…

How I wish it could be click-and-sniff…

***

Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through links here. A small percentage of any sale originating from The Gardener’s Eden site will go toward web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you for your support!

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Don’t Break My Heart: A Love Story Written in Old Fashioned Flowers…

February 13th, 2010 § 3

Sweet Peas, from Johnny’s Seeds

One fine day in early spring, a ravishing young lady named Poppy was out tending her flowers when, without warning, a smooth-talking fella named Sweet William appeared at the garden gate. Poppy was immediately smitten, and she leaned toward him as he drew nearer the fence. He was charming and handsome, and as he approached, Poppy detected an old-spicy scent, reminiscent of clove. Oh my – but he was flirtatious – and before Poppy knew what was happening, Cupid’s Dart struck her heart. Both of their cheeks flushed; hers crimson red and his Cupid Pink. Sweet Peas they soon were…

Crimson Poppies, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Sweet William Seed, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Cupid’s Dart, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Cupid Pink Sweet Pea, from Botanical Interests Seeds

Love-in-a-Mist filled the air, and Poppy began to swoon. Before she knew quite what she was doing, she whispered Kiss-me-over-the-Garden-Gate into her lover’s ear. Sweet William was more than willing, and he smiled mischeviously , tossing his Bachelor Buttons to the ground….

Love-in-a-Mist, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Blue Boy, Bachelor Buttons, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

And so Poppy and Sweet William spent many hot summer days, intertwined in the Exotic Love Vine, with the birds and the bees. It was a heady affair, filled with dew-kissing and silky petals. They swore their summer love would never end. Poppy dropped her guard, and soon she confessed to Sweet William that she was dreaming of White Bishop’s Lace and Cathedral Bells…

Exotic Love Vine, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

White Bishop’s Lace, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Cathedral Bells, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

But as some summer love stories go, autumn neared, and Sweet William began to fade away. (Well, OK, it’s also possible that he just wasn’t that into her, and that maybe he did run off with a certain Painted Lady – but I won’t tell if you won’t).

“Oh, my Sweet William, I know you must go”, Poppy sniffed. “But please, please promise to Forget-Me-Not“. And as the bright color faded from her cheeks, Sweet William disappeared. Poppy grew pale, and shadows appeared on the horizon. Poor Poppy - sometimes things don’t work out quite the way we plan, and our Love-Lies-Bleeding on the ground…

Painted Lady, from Renee’s Garden Seeds

Forget-Me-Not, from Johnny’s Seeds

Love-Lies-Bleeding, from Johnny’s Seeds

The months of late fall soon arrived, with Poppy all alone in the withering garden. But by the holidays, Poppy realized she wouldn’t be alone for long. Come spring there was a new arrival in the garden, and Poppy found, much to her great joy, that the warmth of her delicate new Baby’s Breath made up for her heartbreak all around…

Baby’s Breath, from Baker Creek Seeds

HAPPY  VALENTINE’S  DAY    XO    MICHAELA

** All names in this story have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent** ***Please spread your seed responsibly***

Article copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All images here come via the respective links. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden, and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent. Inspired by something you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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Autumn Brilliance Part Two – Plants for Spectacular Fall Color…

October 13th, 2009 § 4

Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’ (Purple Beautyberry)

Could a gardener be diagnosed with OCD if she compulsively checks her ornamental shrubs for changing berry color? Can a collector’s passion for a particularly beautiful cultivar cross the line, where she becomes a stalker of plants? Sometimes I fear I’ve gone too far; slipped off the raft; teetered past the point-of-no-return. But I think you are with me, aren’t you? We can’t help ourselves. The itch simply must be scratched.

I am obsessed with Callicarpa dichotoma, (Purple Beautyberry). Truly, I am. And who wouldn’t be? Her fantastical berries are pure, poetic inspiration; begging to be written into myths and fairy tales. Just look at all that temptingly plump fruit, beckoning the unsuspecting in a glorious shade of shimmering purple. Why I can hear the old witch now… “Come sample the sweet violet berries my pretty.”  *POOF*  Deep sleep for decades. The gullible heroine slowly becomes enmeshed by lacy vines, lost in a trance, awaiting her handsome prince.

For years I have coveted the bright purple fruit of our native American Beautyberry, (Callicarpa americana), but this autumnal prize is hardy only to zone 6. In my desperation, I have killed several plants while attempting to over-winter them here at Ferncliff. Undaunted, I also tried my luck growing Japanese Beautyberry, (Callicarpa japonica), with similar, necrotic results. But last year, just south of here, I was visiting a nursery display-garden when I spotted something that stopped me dead in my tracks. Yellowing leaves, cobalt violet fruits – my heart raced as I rounded the corner and pushed past the browning hydrangea – could it be… ?

Indeed, it was the elusive Callicarpa. Only this time, the shrub I encountered was a hardier member of the family, Purple Beautyberry, (Callicarpa dichotoma). Graceful, arching, elegant in habit, the leaves of the Purple Beautyberry were just turning gold when I met her, highlighting the candy-like quality of her glossy, purple clusters of fruit. There are two excellent C. dichotoma cultivars, ‘Issai’ and ‘Early Amethyst’, both reliably hardy to zone 5. I have been warned to expect a bit of die-back; to be pruned in spring when I fertilize to encourage new growth. I snatched the last ‘Issai’ from my wholesaler’s lot, and placed it carefully in the garden, protected from wind by the American cranberrybush Viburnum, and alongside the blazing fall foliage of fragrant Abelia, (Abelia mosanensis). The color combination is delighting me this October. Will she survive the brutal winter? Only time will tell if Purple Beautyberry is a permanent addition to my garden. But for now, the fantasy is all mine.

So today I will leave you with images of some other bewitching favorites here in my autumn garden. I will elaborate on some of these woody plants over the coming weeks, as I continue to share my favorite design recipes for fall color …

Acer griseum  (Paper bark maple)

The Hay-scented fern, (Dennstaedtia puctilobula), after hard frost

Buddleia davidii, (Orange-Eye Butterfly bush), blooms past the first frost

Abelia mosanensis, (Fragrant abelia), autumn color

Cotinus coggygria, (Smokebush), with a rosy leaf-glow

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ (Peegee Hydrangea)

Hydrangea paniculata, ‘Limelight’, turns mauve-purple in cool weather

Hydrangea quercifolia, (Oakleaf hydrangea), foliage variation

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea), drying flowers

Oxydendrum arboreum, (Sourwood tree), a coveted autumn red hue

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Seiryu’, (Blue Green Dragon), begins to color

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, all ablaze in backlit orange and scarlet

Vibrant Stewartia pseudocamellia with gilded Rodgersia aesculifolia

Stewartia pseudocamellia, (Japanese stewartia)

Article and Photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden 

All content on this site is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without express written permission. Inspired by what you see here? Please give credit where credit is due. It’s a small world and link-love makes for fond friendships. Stealing makes for bad dreams…

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