Posts Tagged ‘gardens’

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.



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.


Gardening with a sense of place

September 21, 2010

Do you feel that a garden should reflect its surroundings? Apart from the house around which it is situated, should a garden be a part of the greater natural landscape?


Some garden design ties itself closely with place – Japanese gardens reflect, on a small scale, the mountains, valleys and lakes around them. Regional native plant gardens in incorporate trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs exclusive to the surrounding environment.

And yet there are Japanese gardens around the world, and a native plant garden in a city is decidedly unattached to its surroundings. Ilnacullin, on Garinish Island in Bantry Bay, Ireland, carries Harold Peto’s signature Italianate look.

We borrow whole designs, elements of design, and small design devices to make gardens that we love, so I thought it entirely appropriate to find a house in the Preston Hollow area of Dallas, Texas that you looked like it was lifted out of Hobbiton. The effect of stone (these are the hobbits that took to building houses not burrowed into the hills, but still reflecting a hobbit-hole sort of design) and round windows and a round door suited the woodsy surroundings.

Although some gardens I can’t imagine elsewhere – Lawrence Johnston’s Arts and Crafts style at Hidcote is perfect – I’m all for using elements of those gardens elsewhere. If only someone would build me a double gazebo.

Hidcote Manor, of course

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.

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.

The baggallini brigade

February 16, 2010

I didn’t know that baggallini bags were such a cult item. While signing books at the University Bookstore author’s table at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, someone noticed my baggallini Around Town Bagg (color: espresso/tomato) and pointed to her own baggallini. We’re our own underground group.

I promised that this bag would be for travel, but I can’t stop using it for everyday, because it’s so darn handy. The pockets! One for business cards, one for sunglasses (safely stowed through most of the Seattle winter), one for thin stuff, one for big stuff, another one for big stuff, a little one inside that one. Whew. And a wide strap that doesn’t kill my shoulders. Coming up, the travel test as I head to Philadelphia to speak at the flower show, Chicago to check out their show, then later in March to Texas to check out the bluebonnets. This summer, Ireland, England. Fall, Italy. This is what comes of not going anywhere in the awful year 2009, I’m ready to burst at the seams. But my baggallini will be intact.

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,


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.

Neither Ice nor Heat: Top 10 Plants in My Garden 2009

November 30, 2009

In the garden pages of the Telegraph recently, Sarah Raven wrote about the plants in her garden that performed particularly well in 2009. What a brilliant idea, I thought. Here in Western Washington, we had terrible December (2008) and the severe, extreme and unusual cold continued well into January of this year. Then, instead of our rainfall tapering off slowly in April, May and June, the spigot was turned off for good at the beginning of May. Following close on the heels of early dry weather, we experienced extreme heat (103 degrees in Seattle – who would’ve thought?).

It was a strong one-two punch for our plants and gardens, so now, at the end of the year, I look back at what did particularly well in my garden. Here are the top performers – all well-established before the calamites began 12 months ago:

Courtesy of Great Plant Picks

Lonicera pileata – Does nothing harm this short, spreading evergreen honeysuckle with horiztonal branches and tiny glossy leaves? The flowers are unperfumed and unnoticeable, but I’ve grown to admire the purple berries that develop. Shade, sun, whatever.



Phillyrea angustifolia – What began as my “stick hedge” because of my tendency to buy tiny plants has turned into a lovely row of graceful evergreen foliage. One of my alltime favorite plants – don’t tell anyone that when I planted it almost seven years ago, I had to take a pickax to dig a hole in the soil.

Lithocarpus densiflorus var. echinoides – And anyway, it’s such fun to say the name when anyone asks. This natural variety of the Western native tall tanbark oak grows into a shrub about 5 feet high and produces fuzzy acorns. Takes not just heat and ice, but the slacker care I give the parking strip garden.

Quercus sadleriana – Sadler’s oak, a fine semi-evergreen Western shrub. My usual definition of “semi-evergreen” is “looks terrible in winter,” but this is the exception: the crisp, spoon-shaped leaves that stay on give the shrub a distinguished appearance.

Drimys lanceolata – Red petioles and glossy green leaves, always a tidy evergreen shrub. Well, OK, it did get some freeze burn on the leaves after the winter blast, but new growth came out, burned leaves fell off, and once again it is the delight of the shade garden walk (morning sun only).

Pittosporum tenuifolium – Anyone who knows me was waiting for this one. Here, I highlight two cultivars of the multi-talented evergreen shrub: ‘Gold Star’, a variegated cultivar with gold in the center of the leaf and ‘Elia Keightley’, a variegated cultivar with gold in the center of the leaf. Hmmm. The former gets morning sun and the latter all-day sun; both look good. And ‘Golf Ball’ continues to please with its slightly gray-green leaves and black stems. ‘Irene Paterson’ fabulous, goes without saying. Yes, that’s four, but I’ll give one back: I’ve killed two ‘Silver Sheen’ plants, and I don’t know why.

The list isn’t made up entirely of evergreen shrubs; here are a few miscellaneous doers:

Courtesy of Great Plant Picks



Geranium ‘Laurence Flatman’ – It will never grow up to be an enormous plant, but this diminutive perennial blooms throughout the summer with lovely lavender flowers that have dark veins running through them. I had it in a pot for two years, but now it’s at the top of the concrete retaining wall, the better to see you, my dear.

Parahebe catarractae – Slightly woody stems, sometimes keeps some of its foliage … let’s call this one a shrubby perennial. I thought it was a goner after the winter, but I cut it back anyway. Well into summer it began to leaf out, and it’s been in full bloom – little white flowers with a light lavender marking – for weeks now. Top of the retaining wall, sun.

Courtesy of Marty!

Rhododendron schlippenbachii – The royal azalea, planted in the shade garden. I swear I didn’t baby it, but did give it occasional summer water. Great flowers, wonderful fall color.


Clematis ‘Gravetye Beauty’ – I’ve waited for years for this selection of an America native to really take off. It’s a cultivar from the Texensis group, bred in France and introduced in England. That’s quite a trip. This year, it finally grew up into the neighbor’s snowball viburnum and bloomed for weeks in late summer. Cherry red, tulip-shaped flowers. Bring on that 103 degrees, it said.

I could go on, because loads more plants sailed through the troubles – Mahonia ‘Lionel Fortescue’, Sarcococca confusa, the variegated Italian buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus ‘Argenteovariegata’. There are so many, I could write a book about them. What a great idea.