Upon a May Night . . .

May 25th, 2014 § 5 comments § permalink

Upon_a_May_Night_2014_Copyright_Michaela_Harlow_thegardenerseden.comJPG An Evening Stroll to the Secret Garden, through a Carpet of Wild, Blue Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Awake before the dawn this morning —listening to the forest come alive with the songs of hermit thrush and the yelps of young fox— my mind drifted back to yesterday evening, and a few stolen hours in the garden at twilight. A glass of wine and few moments to  collect fresh Lily-of-the-Valley, Daphne, fragrant Viburnum and Wild, Woodland Phlox for beside the bed. Spring is such a fleeting season, and oh, how I treasure May nights.

Memorial Day is the biggest gardening weekend of the year in New England, and yesterday was a busy work day for me. I spent the day shopping at nurseries and making multiple trips to and from growers with truckloads of plants. Hours in my own garden are so limited in May; with available time for maintenance confined mainly to early mornings and evenings. Thank goodness for lengthening daylight hours and French-pressed coffee to greet the sunrise.

Secret_Garden_with_Ostrich_Fern_and_Sterling_Narcissus_copyright_Michaela_Harlow_thegardenerseden.com The Secret Garden: from Fiddleheads to Feathery Fern, in the Blink of an Eye

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“Native Plants: Why We Love Them and How to Use Them” – Free Seminar – This Saturday at Walker Farm in Southern Vermont – Please Join Me …

May 13th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Native mountain laurel, Kalmia latifolia, (here a cultivar named ‘Pink Charm’), are durable, evergreen plants suitable for ledgy, exposed sites… far more hardy than their more tender cousins, the rhododendrons. To read more about Kalmia latifolia, click here.

I am very fortunate. This place in Vermont, where I live, is a true paradise and I cherish it. Every morning I wake up to the beautiful sights, sounds and smells of the Northeast American native forest. The songs of the veery, hermit and wood thrush, the mist rising from the Green River valley and the fragrance of the woodland surrounding my home relax and comfort me. Of course, I am not alone – many people, including a great number of my friends, share this passion for the native forest, and I love hearing about their woodland hikes, experiences and discoveries. I have also traveled throughout North America, and I know that every spot I have visited on this continent -as well as those I have yet to see- has it’s own unique and irreplaceable natural environment. This great love of nature is part of the reason that our native plant species are so important to me. There are many, many beautiful trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants all over the world -and I do have quite the collection of exotics growing here in my garden- but none more beautiful or important than those growing naturally outside my front door.

As is often the case with horticultural terms and phrases, native plant can have different definitions and meanings, depending upon the source of the information. In the strictest sense -and according to The New England Wild Flower Society–  when describing woody plants and perennials on this continent, the term native “refers to plants growing in North America before the European settlement”. Does this definition include species cultivars that have occurred since the European settlement through natural selection? I imagine so. But I would expect that the NEWFS definition excludes individual cultivars and hybrids created via the hand-of-man. My own definition of  native plant is somewhat looser and more tolerant of the various seedlings and crosses commonly found in gardens and in the nursery trade – but I’m no research scientist. Perhaps because one of my favorite North American native trees, Serviceberry, (Amelanchier) , is a horticultural wild-child, (freely hybridizing with neighboring species within the genus), I see the process of plant evolution as inevitable and fascinating. Mother nature seems to approve of variety, as do I !

Beautiful, spring blooming trees of the forest understory, such as North American native Halesia tetraptera, are excellent choices for home landscapes…

Beyond their obvious importance in the natural ecosystem, native plants also make fantastic additions to the garden. In fact so many North American native species, such as coral bells, (Heuchera), coneflower, (Echinacea), gayfeather, (Liatris), and cranesbill, (Geranium), have become such superstars in the nursery trade, that many gardeners have no idea that many common garden center plants are actually wild-flower cultivars. As far as I am concerned, that is good news because native plants, and nursery-grown native cultivars, provide season-spanning food and habitat for local animals and insects, and they also tend to require less water, commercial fertilizer and chemical support than imported plants. And again, I am no purist when it comes to my own garden. I have a great passion for exotic plants – especially Japanese maple! However, I make every effort to garden responsibly, both in my own private paradise, and in the various landscapes where I work as a professional gardener and designer.

This Saturday morning, (May 15, 2010, from 9:30 – 10:30), I will be presenting a free, introductory seminar on native plants for home gardeners at Walker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. If you are in the area, and you would like to learn more about how to use some of these incredibly beautiful and hardy plants in your own landscape, please stop in and join the fun. The emphasis will be on home garden design; creating season-spanning interest, and wildlife support in your back yard oasis, by choosing trees, shrubs and perennials native to the Northeastern United States. Examples of lesser-known native plants will be on display, and free color handouts, (including design tips, plant information, and online resources), will also be provided. Visit Walker Farm online or call 802 – 254-2051 for more information.

Native Lady fern, (athyrium felix feminina), and selected cultivars such as ‘Lady in Red’, shown here, provide shady habitat for toads and frogs, and durable but delicate beauty for dappled gardens… Especially in combination with other natives such as Heuchera and Phlox divaracata.

An excellent ground-covering choice for acidic, shady areas, native labrador violets are stunners whether blooming or not…

Clethra alnifolia, our native summersweet, is a low-maintenance shrub producing pollinator-magnet flowers in late summer…

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ is a lovely, select pink-flowering cultivar of our native summersweet shrub, shown above

Aruncus, commonly known as the ‘goat’s beard’, is a statuesque June bloomer for perennial borders and woodland edge…

Fothergilla major, (witch alder), and Lindera benzoin,(spicebush), provide a changing backdrop for gardens all season long…

By combining native shrubs and cultivars, a natural but dynamic, sustainable design can be achieved…

Fothergilla gardenii, our native witch alder, lights up the garden in spring and again in late autumn…

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For further information on native plants, I highly recommend the following books by Allan Armitage and William Cullina; two accomplished, renowned, horticulturalists and brilliant and poetic authors I admire…

William Cullina – Wildflowers

William Cullina – Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines

Armitage’s Native Plants for North American Gardens

Article and photographs copyright 2010, Michaela at TGE

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Trout Lily, Fawn Lily, or Dog-tooth Violet: No Matter What You Call This Woodland Beauty, Erythronium is a Springtime Delight…

May 3rd, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Erythronium tuolumnense in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff © 2010 Michaela TGE

Fawn lily, Trout lily, Dog-tooth Violet: Beautiful, evocative and curious, the common names for the various North American Erythronium species are as delightful as the lovely woodland flower itself. In Northeastern forests, yellow trout lilies are a common, early-spring, ephemeral wildflower. As a child, I collected these tiny, golden beauties in the forest behind my home, and presented them in little bouquets to my mother. When I was a little girl, the mottled green foliage of the trout lily made me think of a frog. Soon I confused the name, and called them ‘toad lilies’ for years – even now I catch myself making the mistake. The flowers themselves remind me of little yellow hats, especially when I catch them bobbing up and down in the morning breeze; fancy and feminine, like bonnet Audrey Hepburn might have worn.

The forest surrounding my garden is filled with trout lilies at this time of the year, but the beautiful Erythronium in my Secret Garden is a different species. This Erythronium, (pictured above and below), originates from California’s Sierra range, and is highly prized for both large bloom, glossy foliage, and a tidy, clumping habit. Many beautiful Erythronium cultivars exist -including pink and white hybrids- but I have a nostalgic preference for the pretty native species, as well as the golden California girls in my Secret Garden…

Erythronium tuolumnense and Phlox divaricata in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff © Michaela at TGE

Trout lilies, (and their cousins, the dog-tooth violets and fawn lilies), are native to North America and are generally hardy in USDA zones 3-9, (Erythronium tuolumnense hybrids have a narrower range of 5-8). Trout lilies can be purchased potted, and planted in spring, or the corms, (bulbs), are available to plant in early fall. All Erythroniums prefer a site with moist, humus-rich but well-drained soil. Slightly acidic soil, with a lower pH is best for trout lilies. Although this lovely wildflower enjoys the soft sunshine of early spring, she should be planted in a spot where drier conditions and shade prevail in summer. Trout lilies are usually found beneath deciduous trees and shrubs in native woodlands, and they will do well in similar garden situations. Like all spring ephemerals, the foliage of Erythroniums will die back soon after flowering, leaving empty spots in the garden during the dormant period. Because of this, from a design standpoint it makes sense to combine Erythronium with other shade-tolerant plants, which will fill the holes later in the season. Ferns, EpemidiumTiarellaHeuchera and Hosta all make good companions for Erythronium. Trout lilies also combine well with other early-blooming flowers, including Phlox divaricata, Helleborus, Narcissus, Dicentra and many other springtime beauties…

Erythronium tuolumnense and Lamium ‘White Nancy’ in the Secret Garden at Ferncliff © Michaela at TGE

Similar… no? It seems Audrey had a thing for hats and umbrellas, and so do I – especially in the garden. (photo credit not located)

Audrey Hepburn by Terry O’Neill

Audrey Hepburn films are some of my favorites, (Photo Still: Paris When it Sizzles, 1963, © Bob Willoughby). She is definitely a Fawn Lily to me. What do you think?

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Article and photographs, (with noted exceptions), 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 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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Well Fiddle-Dee-Dee: Unfurling Spring Pleasures in the Forest at Ferncliff…

April 30th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

Fiddlehead ferns unfurling in the Secret Garden – Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica)

Lady fern ‘Lady in Red’ (Athyrium filix feminina), in my garden

Oh yes, we are smack-dab-in-the-middle of fiddlehead season here in the Northeast; one of spring’s most delightful and ephemeral pleasures at my forest home in Vermont. Here on my ledgy site, Ostrich ferns, (a member of the cliff fern family), are abundant; producing large, tightly curled heads as they emerge from the ground in April and early May. Of course fiddleheads are beautiful to behold, and in my garden I enjoy their delicate springtime beauty paired with spring bulbs and emerging perennials such as Lenten rose, (Helleborus x hyrbidus), and native ephemerals including foam flower, (Tiarella), dogtooth violet, (Erythronium), woodland phlox, (Phlox divaricata), bloodroot, (Sanguinaria), and spurge, (Euphorbia). All ferns produce fiddleheads, from which their feathery fronds unfurl, (I dare you to say that 10 times, fast). And some, such as the red-tips of the Lady Fern, (Athyrium filix feminina) ‘Lady in Red’, and the silvery fiddles of Cinnamon fern, (Osmunda cinnamomea), are quite stunning. But there is another reason for my fern-euphoria: this is tasty, tender fiddlehead harvest time!

Collecting Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads at Ferncliff

The Ostrich fern, (Matteuccia pensylvanica), and the Cinnamon fern, (Osmunda cinnamomea), are the most commonly harvested fiddleheads in the Northeast, and for good reason. These two large-sized native ferns produce the most delicious fiddleheads in the forest. If you’ve never gathered a fresh meal of fiddleheads from the woods, let me just give you a hint of what you are missing. To me, fiddleheads taste a bit like asparagus, only sweeter and more earthy. Although you can buy this gourmet treat in markets at this time of year, there is really no substitute for the taste of a hand-harvest. Fiddleheads can be eaten raw, (not advisable in great quantity due to possible health risks), but usually they are cooked. One of the easiest ways to prepare them is by cooking in a pot of boiling, salted water until tender, (7 -10 minutes for super fresh fiddleheads and slightly longer if the harvest has been refrigerated for a few days), and then serve them warm with a bit of butter. Although fiddleheads can be added to a variety of dishes, and also be preserved by pickling or freezing, one of my favorite ways to eat them is simply prepared in a Fiddlehead and Feta omelette…

Ferncliff Fiddlehead and Feta Omelette

Ferncliff Fiddlehead and Feta Omelette

Ingredients (makes one omelette)

3    medium sized fresh eggs

2    teaspoons of butter

1    handful of freshly harvested and lightly cooked fiddleheads

1/4 cup of fresh feta cheese

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Whisk three eggs together in a small bowl with a fork, (just enough to combine the yolk and white), add salt and pepper to taste. Melt butter in an 8 inch skillet on low, (do not brown). When the foam subsides, add eggs to the pan, wait a few seconds and slowly pull the egg toward the center of the pan, (this creates a fluffy, evenly cooked omelette). Cook on medium/low, and after about a half a minute, scoot the omelette over to one side and add the feta and fiddleheads. Fold the omelette in half. Cook for another half a minute or so, (pat if you like). Turn off the heat and then place a plate over the pan and flip the omelette over. Serve with a helping of fresh blanched or steamed fiddleheads and a bit of feta crumbled on top. Delicious!

Fiddleheads and Feta: Ingredients for the Perfect Morning Omelette

Mmmmm…

Ostrich fern unfurling at Ferncliff © 2010 Michaela at TGE

Shadow of a Lady Fern © Michaela at TGE

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Words and Pictures copyright 2010 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 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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