Archive for the ‘gardens’ Category

Packing for comfort

January 3, 2011

We must think of ways to make ourselves as comfortable as possible on flights these days, because the airlines won’t do it for us. And when I say airlines, I don’t mean the attendants. Attendants on our flights last year, including Delta/KLM to Amsterdam, Air France from Paris, and Southwest to or from anywhere (I love Southwest), were all competent, friendly and professional; it isn’t there fault that American didn’t offer even a pretzel on our flight to Chicago – not one, tiny pretzel.

So, on the flights for our garden tours this year (Northeast gardens, May 14-22; northern France and Paris, June 19-30), we must do what we can for ourselves. When I fly, I try to keep food, drink, and entertainment self-contained, because I don’t want to end up climbing on someone’s head just to get to my bag out of the overhead compartment (and I hope you won’t do that to me).

Because my entertainment options are limited and, probably to most, archaic, I’ll just say that I’ve got my (older generation) iPod loaded with an audio book, and an actual paperback book that will fit in my purse. (I confess to asking Leighton to take anything heavier in his carryon).

A bottle of water is essential (bought as soon as I get through security). Yes, they will offer water on the plane, but it’s a small thing to carry … just in case.

Overseas flights still offer food, which I believe is more to keep us occupied than anything else, but even on long flights I take along a chocolate bar or two for us, plus a bag of toasted almonds/dried cranberries. I wish I could pop a few protein bars in my purse, but I am allergic to all nuts except almonds, and I am also allergic to peanuts; so far I haven’t seen a protein bar that wasn’t full of peanut butter or walnuts. Feel free to recommend a brand that suits my needs.

Dear airlines: look out. When Southwest begins flying overseas (I’ve heard this is a possibility), I will be first in line – OK, maybe not the very first, but I will pay for Early Bird check-in and be in the A line for sure) even if I have to pack my own fried chicken and potato salad for nine-hour flight.

 

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Italian cypress, not so Italian after all

December 2, 2010

Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) evokes a sense of place more than many plants – those tall, slim, exclamation points in the landscape, whether planted in rows, dotted around or gathered together in small groups, have always spoken of Italy to me. Their contribution to the rolling hills of Tuscany is not overrated, as I saw on our first visit there, in October. From the garden of the villa where we stayed, we could look the cypresses throughout the valley and across to the next hill town. On day trips, we saw them lining driveways that criss-crossed hills up to a house. Close-up we could marvel at the blobby round cones with deep fissures in them. Two things became clear on our visit, one I knew but never appreciated, and the other a surprise.

San Domenico, Siena

Those tall slim cypresses that we see in the States are mostly from a single cultivar. Well, not really a cultivar, but a group. It’s the Stricta group, instead of ‘Stricta’, because over time many slim forms of the cypress occurred, some raised from seed instead of grown from cuttings – and only cuttings would ensure that each ‘Stricta’ was like the last. When raised from seed, they may have some variations in appearance, so all the generally exquisitely narrow forms are collected into the general label.

In Tuscany, we saw the variety that can occur with a straight species. Some tall and thin, some more plump, some extremely treelike, with a trunk showing at the bottom benearth the green coat above. OK, it isn’t as if some of them looked like Monterey cypress, with the wide, wild, windswept appearance that growing on the Northern California coast provides, but still, there was a good mix of Italian cypress forms.

La Foce

The surprise is that Italian cypress probably isn’t native to Italy. It is native to Greece, Turkey, Cyprus and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean region. Because it has been in cultivation for so long – and we’re talking thousands of years – it has naturalized in areas where it was planted. And one of those places is Italy.

Oh, some people scoff at those of us who call it Italian cypress – how could we be so dense? – and refer to it as the Mediterranean cypress; fine, do as you like. But I’ve been to Italy now and I’ve seen it. It is too securely fastened to my memory, and it won’t be anything else but Italian.

 

Notes on Italy: La Foce

November 9, 2010

Sure, October is the only time I’ve ever been to Italy, but it must be the best time. Hearing the olives drop into buckets as they are harvested while sitting in the garden with a glass of wine. Yes, be envious, be very envious.

We rented a villa in one of the Tuscan hill towns, and so we had a home for a week. Although we had several town tours, only one garden was included – I guess we’ll have to go back. You may not think October the best time for a garden visit, but you’d be wrong. These gardens need no frills to be admired. The formal lines of La Foce, for example, are a perfect foil to the Tuscan hills beyond.

La Foce was designed by Cecil Pinsent for Iris Origo, who died in 1988. It was a chilly, windy day when we visited, but the garden and hills beyond held our attention. It’s a place to which I will return, if only to admire the formality around me while gazing out at the muted colors of the Crete Senesi – the unusual clay soil. Winter wheat was being planted while we were there.

Coming soon: what we learned about the Florence airport, renting a car, grocery shopping and the olive oil festival in Montisi.

 

Native plants far from home

August 31, 2010

It never fails that when we go on tour to England, Scotland, and Ireland we see lots of North American native plants in gardens – Oregon grape, red-flowering currant, salal are all ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest, but cherished ornamentals when they travel across the ocean.

Sometimes the North American natives don’t even cross state lines very often. I have yet to see Veronicastrum (culver’s root) in a Seattle garden – not even my own – and yet it’s glorious in the gardens abroad. In early July we caught this sight at June Blake’s garden, which we visited before we headed to her brother Jimi’s garden Hunting Brook.

The Veronicastrum stands up to 6 feet high with whorled sets of leaves up the stems; its inflorescences form slender lavender (or white) flames snaking toward the sky. What’s not to love?

Oh wait, this just in – “How to grow” advice from the Missouri Botanic Garden says: “Soil should not be allowed to dry out.” No wonder it looked so good in June’s garden. With my cavalier attitude toward watering, I’d better take a pass.

Black is the new black – black Tuscan kale

July 20, 2010

at Hunting Brook

Edibles and ornamentals – the new hot celebrity couple. The top honors for the most popular edible to plant in an ornamental bed must go to the Tuscan black kale, seen everywhere but to greatest advantage at Hunting Brook in County Wicklow, Ireland, where Jimi Blake paired it with this fabulous Bupleurum longifolium subsp. aureum. The combination of the dark, chunky, textured leaves with the airy sprays of flowers made a good show.

More on Hunting Brook to follow.

Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, part 2

July 19, 2010

Proving there’s nothing new under the sun – but perhaps always a new way to convey your message – the gardens at Hampton Court this year displayed the essentials: small landscapes, water features, flowers (yes, yes, and vegetables) and sustainable practices. (My friend and colleague Virginia Hand, says responsible designers have always been sustainable.)

NealeRichards Ltd

Water remains a huge draw. Designer David Neale used “floating York steppingstones” across a formal pool and Arthur Northcott and John Gutteridge, in the Fire Pit Garden, included a burbling feature. The latter garden and

The Plant Co

It’s Only Natural by The Plant Company delighted in showing casual reseeders making a splash,causing us all think that we probably spend too much time rogueing out volunteers.

A Lost Loved Garden by Linda and Ralph Gardening brought lots of sighs with the display of those ornamentals that hang on after a garden is no longer tended. A ramshackle gate and abandoned bicycle added to the atmosphere. It reminded me of the gardens that John and Toni Christianson created for the Northwest Flower & Garden Show.

A Lost Loved Garden

No visit to Hampton Court should begin without first getting a Pimm’s Cup for the journey around the grounds.

I Get Around – London

May 25, 2010

The Chelsea Flower Show started today – Monday. It isn’t open to the public, it’s the day the Queen and other notables attend – and part of the build-up on the Daily

Chelsea, 2005

Telegraph’s Web site was “How to get to the Chelsea Flower Show.” That is, of course, if you already have tickets, because it’s sold out. Limiting the number of tickets reduces the crowd; yikes, I can’t imagine more people there than already go.

Anyone who has traveled around London knows there are all sorts of ways to go – bus, tax, the tube. So, to get to the Royal Hospital, take the District or Circle line and get off at Sloane Square. It’s only a 10 minutes walk – you’ll be there before you know it.

Find the lines and stops on the iconic tube map, and when you’re in London, don’t forget the accompanying tourist paraphernalia including “Mind the Gap” t-shirts and refrigerator magnets.

As convenient as it is to get to Chelsea on the tube, at the end of the day, I’d much rather walk out the Bullring Gate and take a cab back to the hotel. It’s exhausting looking at all those gardens, especially after a Pimm’s or two.

This summer we’ll take to the water for the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show, on

Hampton Court, 2007

the Thames River Boat from Westminster – the entire three-hour trip, instead of getting on at Richmond. We saw the boats arriving last time we went to Hampton Court, and thought it would be a great way to see an entirely different view of London. After the show (and a Pimm’s or two), we’ll get on the train that takes us back to Waterloo. The train station is a 10-minute walk from Hampton Court; not everything is a 10-minute walk in London, but these really are easy journeys.

The potted garden

March 2, 2010

holly & ivy, Whichford

This summer, I must stop in at Whichford Pottery for a visit and to admire more of their fabulous work in terra cotta. I have several Whichford pots – Country Garden Antiques in Wapato carries them, and they usually have a booth at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show (where were they this year?). Whichford pots are sturdy, do not succumb to frost or feeze damage, and come in wonderfully traditional shapes (long toms, auricula pots) and many sizes. They are worth every penny.

Smith College had a wonderful exhibition on the pot. Much of the information is still online. Guy Wolff, an American potter – I have some of his pots, too – was part of the exhibition.

Gardeners Commiserate

January 27, 2010

There’s nothing like disaster in the garden to bring gardeners together, and this summer on our Ireland garden tour, we’ll find out just how much we have in

Crinodendron hookerianum (Chinese lantern tree)

common. Here in the maritime Pacific Northwest, we’ve had only one bout of freezing cold this season – a week in December that turned the ground crusty and made the leaves on all the rhododendrons droop. But it was enough to make us think of last year, when the cold, ice and snow lasted far too long.

Last year, gardeners reported loads of damage: Phormium looked wretched and many gardeners swore they would never plant another hebe. This year, the damage was minimal, mostly taking out plants such as Pelargonium, which usually die as annuals anyway, unless you take extra precautions.

In Ireland and England this winter, they’ve had what we had last year. Will the Chinese lantern be in bloom when we’re there? Jane Powers reports on the damage in her garden in the Irish Times.

Garden Book Picks

December 29, 2009

The Daily Telegraph’s list of garden books is out – intended as suggestions for Christmas gifts, but it’s a good list of what caught the eye of British garden writers. Most notably from our end of things, is Great Gardens of America by Tim Richardson , photos by Andrea Jones (Frances Lincoln, 2009). This distinguished list includes quite a few I haven’t visited, although I can see them fitting into a garden tour in the not-too-distant future. Others, I’ve visited and led tours through, such as our hometown favorite, Windcliff, as well as Middleton Place in Charleston. Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, Filoli in Woodside,

Filoli

California, Monticello – this book may have been intended for the British audience, but it’s great find for gardeners in the U.S., too. A memory of what you’ve seen or a wish list of where to go, either way it should be on your table within easy reach when you need to dream.