Tuesday, June 24, 2008

PLANT OF MY WEEK: Cape fuchsia

Say 'Hi' to Phygelius a.k.a. Cape fuchsia. An exotic tender perennial native to South Africa, this plant sports some for-real funk (as do most of S. African plant life).  

This plant stands out to me this week for a couple of reasons. First of all . . . HOW COOL! I really love the architecture of the panicle (define: simply put, a branched inflorescence in which the basal or lateral flowers open first). Delicate, yet oddly sturdy, the thick petals dangle airily at almost 90ยบ from their candelabra structure.  Sun? Part shade? No problem! Super-versatile Phygelius will show off in either setting. Continually blooming all summer, this tender perennial will push out new panicles all summer. Just be sure to keep these plants well-groomed; the plants will slow down if the spent flowers are not removed.

Then there are the interestingly oddball colors.  Glossy, dark green basal foliage contrasts with the intriguing palette of floral colors.  You'll have to see it for yourself, but the colors are "off": brick red, orange salmon, ice yellow, fuchsia, white. For some varieties, the inside of the tubular flowers offer a subtle surprise: bright red, clear yellow tantalize the ants and worms (the only creatures low enough to look up) as they pass.

The pendulous and airy blossoms are irresistible to hummingbirds which makes this fascinating plant gorgeous and useful.  One of my clients just LOVES hummingbirds.  So, last year I used P. aequalis 'Trewidden Pink' in her container plantings.  I combined it with Talinum paniculatum Jewels of Opar; a pretty dynamite combo.  This year, I found TWO varieties that I love: dark fuchsia 'New Sensation', and pale orange 'Salmon Leap'.  I planted these directly into the garden beds to fill in gaps.  Photos to come! 

Want more?  Read these articles about Phygelius, its species, hybrids and cultivars:   

Sunday, June 22, 2008

A discussion on the phrase: "Oops"

Oops. A word used innumerable times a day, for various personal blunders. It could be an apology for bumping into someone, or a sarcastic explanation after you intentionally bump into someone.

But let's talk about the use of this particular word while working in the garden. Let us delve into the implications of the use of such an innocent word when you are surrounded by plants. Usually, when you hear the word 'Oops' lightheartedly muttered in a garden, you can bet that it means something terrible has happened!

Unintentionally, of course. After all, that is what is at the heart of 'Oops'--not as heavy as 'Damn' and not as excessive as 'F***'. The word of which we speak might be the downplay of an unfortunate, and non retractable event. Or, after a little research into acronyms, 'Oops' could mean: outrageously, offensively, and profoundly stupid. And this is just exactly how I felt today for a brief moment.

Today I went to Claire's Garden Center in Patterson, NY. Great little place: terrific people, family-owned and operated, and stocks the BEST and most funky annuals for miles around. I purchased a load of lilies today. Glen, owner and grower, grew gorgeous varieties this year. I picked up Lilium 'Scheherazade, L. 'Black Beauty', and L. tenuifolium. I tenderly finagled the tallest lilies in, bending their necks just enough to rest comfortably, and then gingerly maneuvered them out of the car once I reached my destination.

Well, the hardest part was over, or so I thought. The lilies had survived the car, but once I attempted to separate their tangled necks, POP! Off came two BIG FAT flower buds. What a horribly outrageous, offensive, and profoundly stupid situation.

EVERYONE has had "Oops" moments like these. Is this you? Felco's in hand, properly deadheading, and SNIP, off comes the burgeoning blossoms you are hoping to promote. 'Oops'; the only appropriate thing that can be said. The ultimate c'est la vie verbal shrug of the shoulder.

So, let us make our mistakes in silence. Because once someone hears the word "Oops" in the garden, its synonymous with something that cannot be glued back on.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

If you're not busy living, you're busy senescing

Maybe it's from when I was studying art. Understanding the importance of negative space, versus what is right there in front of you. Who knows. Maybe it's just me.

Whatever it is, I am always fascinated by the adolescent and mature stages of plant life; the "off" moments that are not in your face.  While most wait for the crescendo moment, the cymbal-crashing sound a particular plant makes, I am looking for something else. It could be the way the newest peony shoots glare at you in their fuchsia skins, or how the beige seedheads of Allium schubertii gently rest on turgid leaves like Martian summer snowflakes.

I saw this the other day. I hovered around this combination pondering just how perfect these random garden coincidences are.  Thank GOD these serendipitous moments happen! How motivating it is to be surprised by something so unplanned!

Allow me to introduce Epimedium x versicolor  'Sulphureum' and Fritillaria raddeanaAs you can see, the newest  growth of the Epimedium is a warm bricky red. The interior veination is creamy-chartruese that is accentuated by the dainty sulphur-colored blossoms.  Similar to the more recognized Crown Imperial F. imperialis, the Fritillaria raddeana that bloomed weeks before is quite an uncommon garden character:  very subtle in hue, and delicate in form, this unusual bulb has dusky chartreuse tepals with a wash of the faintest burgundy on the outside of the blossoms. This is a fantastic addition to a lightly shaded woodland, even though it is noted as preferring full sun. 

What is so unexpected, and what makes this such an interesting facet in this garden, are the senescing leaves of the Fritillaria! Finished blooming weeks before, the life from the leaves draining back into the bulb composes an encore that glows. What an interesting palette! How gracious of the Fritillaria to spotlight the protege at its feet.

I challenge you to look beyond the green and lush. Look closely as plants emerge, and with warm regards as they leave. These undulating moments are many, and are exactly what makes any garden a dynamic place, always in flux.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

My Garden Mecca : Great Dixter

I first heard of Great Dixter Garden, Christopher Lloyd, and Fergus Garrett while visiting White Flower Farm in Connecticut. The Farm's Long Border was a British import, personally designed by Garrett. To my then "green" eyes, that first glimpse of Dixter's style encompassed all that a garden should be, and continues to be, for me: plants shrieking with colorful exuberance, bursting rudely from their rooted positions, gregariously leaning their elbows on their neighbor's shoulders, intermingling drunkenly abreast like tie-dyed Phish-heads lucky enough to score floor seats at Madison Square Garden  during New Year's Eve. Like U2 and Coca-Cola agree, there ain't nothin' like the real thing.  I knew then I HAD to see this place for myself.

And I did. Two weeks ago, I fulfilled one of my deepest horti- cultural desires. May 18th, mid-spring, 68 degrees Farenheit. The incredible scenery moving past my window on the train ride from Gatwick airport did not disappoint: fields so verdant they just glowed spring, and each cluster of hilltop trees were followed by my musings of "Capability" Brown envisioning my exact time and place. After a white-knuckled drive on the "wrong" side of the road, I arrived at Great Dixter early afternoon. I spent my daylight wisely by scampering over every inch of the place, laughing, crying, photographing.  

Great Dixter, the world-reknowned garden, lies in the village of Northiam, near Rye, in southeast England (go to Haye's Inn, and ask Craig for a Scotch egg. Take his advice and do not eat three). The house was purchased by Christopher Lloyd's father in the early 1900's. The layout of the garden was designed by Edward Lutyens, and was first planted with a running commentary of Taxus hedging.  Christo, as he is lovingly referred to, began seriously building the gardens in the 1970's. Not until the arrival of Fergus Garrett did the gardens explode with assertive inspiration. 

Christopher Llyod,  visionary author, plantsman, designer, and resident of  Great Dixter, met his gardening soulmate in his head gardener, Fergus Garrett. Together, they coined the high-maintenance method of "succession gardening".  This technique delivers a constant segue of cacophonous color and texture throughout the gardens that occurs literally  moment-to-moment, not just season-to-season. This team was responsible for shocking the public when they ripped out the ancient rose garden, and replaced it with the Exotic Garden: Cannas, Dahlias, Musa basjoo, Tetrapanax papyrifer, Phormium, Hydechium, essentially launching the contemporary craze of incorporating tropical and non-hardy plants into the garden.  An enviable working relationship, these two collaborated so fervently that you instantly feel the intensity of what they achieved the moment you step foot in the gardens.

The colors! The shapes! The plant personalities! The feeling of this garden is wonderfully chaotic, yet somehow perfectly relaxed.  Self-sown plants are everywhere: boasting their ability to thrive in the crack of a wall, or flaunting their unexpected quaint qualities at the feet of unintentional neighbors. Color schemes at Dixter are not pined over as some garden designers do. If a combination happens to work, serendiptiy descended. Color is considered, but not fussed about. The focus is definitely more on form and texture, because as we know --especially in this garden-- flowers are fleeting.  

The colors at Dixter seem to ask questions of the viewer that are hard to answer.  Do these colors really go? Is this combination meant to provoke? Do these people know what they are doing? As you might imagine, yes, they certainly know what they are doing. Christo thoroughly enjoyed being shockingly adventurous with color. Together, he and Fergus bucked the color wheel and threw fabulously oddball, and at times, accidental, combinations into the garden. As a result, the palette is not too comfortable, overworked, or subtly pulled from some whispered hue. It certainly is not about putting two flowering plants next to each other and walking away with a smug smile.  I came to understand the colors when I picked my head UP, and surveyed the garden in large vignettes, then coming to my own personal relationship with the colors I saw.

I spent 5 days at Great Dixter, honored to work alongside the dedicated group of gardeners there. For me, this garden was a surreal paradise; a tangible fantasy that I was able to walk through, touch, and smell. The smile never left my face. My impressions, lessons, and memories are vivid and permanent.  My only regret is that I am not able to witness the garden unfold throughout the season; I am missing so much, even as I write! To Fergus, Aaron, Tom, and Sarah--see you soon!  And to Christo . . .  you left us your garden. Cheers.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Why manicures are a waste of my money . . .

I once worked with a gardener at the New York Botanical Garden.  She rocks (you know who you are, Mobee).  The woman is the best example of contradiction that I know of.  Mobee is one of the most hardworking gardeners I have met, and she has the BEST kept nails I have ever seen a professional gardener have.  She is in the dirt, 5 days a week, and makes a serious point to maintain a perfect French manicure.

As you can see from my hands, I am a disgrace to well-groomed woman-kind everywhere. Really, ask me if I care.  Now while I am perpetually impressed by Mobee's refusal to succumb to dried-out hands, blunt-tipped nails, and dirt-embedded cuticles, I just cannot bring myself to don at least a pair of gloves. So, forget weekly manicures.

Uuugh.  It's just too much eeeeeefffort!  Don't get me wrong, I will spend unknown, anal minutes plucking yellow leaves off of my large Brassica crop. Well-groomed plants is another topic entirely.  Mealy bugs inside the greenhouse? Believe me, every last petiole is flexed with examination, then promptly sprayed with a 1:1 solution alcohol and H2O.

A manicure lasts me hours, not days.  I have to really plan it out if I want it. Friday afternoon appointment. Inevitable DISappointment by Monday mid-morning.  Now you know just one, one of many, reasons why I am the DIRTY HORTICULTURIST.