Our burst of warm sunny weather has brought the snowdrops peeking through the surface in my garden and it feels like Spring. But it will be a long time before my garden looks like the bright and beautiful Spring fantasy that is currently on display at Madison's Olbrich Botanical Gardens through March 22.
The theme of this year's Spring Flower Show is "Beatrix Potter's 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit'." It's a treat for families with young children. There is also lots to engage grown-up gardeners as well. Information on days, hours and price can be found here.
A number of the characters from Potter's many books have been rendered as three-dimensional creatures made of chicken wire (above and below).
Jemima Puddle-Duck is my favorite among all the animals depicted in wire. She's immediately recognizable.
Some animals are hidden in plain sight, including Peter Rabbit himself.
Perhaps the most wonderful aspect of any Spring flower show — and certainly of this one — are the combinations of flowers, herbs and veggies that can't really happen in nature because the plants bloom in different seasons and different climates. But for this one moment, they are all gloriously flowering together in breathtaking displays.
What could be more satisfying than the fragrance of rosemary or jasmine in March?
Or the sight of Beatrix Potter's desk adrift in a sea of flowers?
The current cold and snowy weather has garden bloggers ranting and raving about "winter interest" in the garden. Elizabeth Licata, a Buffalo gal like me, says it's a myth. Evelyn Hadden, who left Minnesota for warmer climes, says we just need to get out into the winter garden to love it. Beth, an Iowan who blogs at Garden Fancy, looked at the books on the subject and the realities of cold weather for those of us who garden in the Upper Midwest. As she says, where we live the cold can kill you!
Readers of this blog know that Mark and I moved to this property specifically to creat a garden. We spent a lot of time looking out the windows the first winters we lived in our house, well aware that we'd be seeing snow for a good part of each year. We looked forward to an annual break from garden work but we didn't plan to turn our backs to the garden in winter. Certainly not given the expanse of glass that brings the outdoors into our house.
We read all the books that Beth mentions on her blog, like "The Garden in Winter" by the late Rosemary Verey, and a number of others. Currently I own seven books on the subject. They all had something valuable to say and we listened. Here's our take on winter interest.
We added art to the garden that would be visible even in deep snow, including this lantern and a sculpture of Buddha that sits on the deck. We also added a number of very large rocks.
We emphasized the sloping terrain in our garden with steps and walls and berms to give us a more dynamic scene.
We were lucky to have some big evergreen trees on site but we added lots more: Pines, Spruces, Yews, Arborvita, boxwoods to name a few. They offer a variety of colors, textures, forms — and size.
These apple branches mark the edge of paths in the summer and provide a graphic punch in winter.
Our deck furniture stays outdoors year round adding pattern and a bit of color.
Fences, gates and sculpture all add drama. This view has always reminded me of the garden shadows cast by a fence in Rosemary Verey's book (Pg. 24 if you have a copy).
This bell is too heavy to blow in the wind, but the smaller bells right outside our back door always alert us to the weather.
More sculptural drama in the front garden.
The grove of River Birch trees is in front of an evergreen hedge to highlight their pale color and peeling bark. Each tree was placed for viewing from inside the house.
These weed trees make a mess with berries in the summer but their bare trunks are gorgeous at this time of year.
The ivy looks great even though it's dead by now. I pull it down when the snow melts and let it start climbing again.
Every gardener knows about 'Autumn Joy' Sedum and grasses for winter interest. But my favorite is this Carex greyii which provides a touch of intergalactic glam.
When I realized we had planted trees that had persistent leaves, I was completely bummed. But after a few years I came to love their warm color and papery texture, so at odds with the season.
We did not think of Carolina Silverbell as a winter interest tree when we planted it. But it holds its seedpods which is a bonus. We just added a second one in a more visible location.
This is my lolipop lilac coated with ice and buried in snow right up to its crown. This is planted next to the driveway where we can enjoy it every season.
I am so in love with this view of the garden that I have a framed photograph of it. It's currently sitting out next to a picture of my sister's house in Vermont in winter. They both have white mats and white frames making them even more wintry.
Beth in Iowa says that you should include winter interest in your garden under these conditions:
I haven't been outdoors in five days and I garden in Zone 5a, so clearly I don't meet her criteria. But I can't imagine how long and dreary and downright disastrous I would find winter without my garden to cheer me up.
This year I was able to walk in the garden in December and cut branches to bring indoors just like the Brits. Some years I've had snowdrops in February, though March is the month they usually appear; definitely not on the same schedule as English snowdrops!
I believe winter interest in a garden in the Midwest is not only possible, it's necessary. I want to look out the window and see something beautiful in January, February and March. It's the only way I'm going to make it through the snow season. Though I love my flowers, I guess I like pattern, structure and green even more.
For the last year, our basement has been home to many boxes of papers, cards, letters, photo albums and scrapbooks that belonged to Mark’s mom, who died just before Christmas 2013. Recently his sisters took her photos and scrapbooks to try to figure out how to deal with them and divide them among family members.
Seeing all those boxes of paper made me aware of my own containers of paper memorabilia from school, jobs, and life in general. Last spring I organized things from schools/jobs into three binders. While I saved more than I initially anticipated I would, there is a big bin in the basement that I will be tossing soon. I’ve kept it for 6 months and have not gone looking for anything, which means I can safely discard the contents.
The next paper memorabilia project concerned all the letters I'd received from sisters and friends in the years since I'd left home. These photos give you an idea of the number of missives I'm talking about. I organized them into groups by sender. Then I put them in chronological order. Then I returned them to the sender.
But first I READ THEM ALL. What was clear from doing that was that everyone wrote about what was happening to them in order to keep me current. The letters were funny, sometimes sad, often with an elegant turn of phrase. There were many things that I had completely forgotten about and many references to people that I could not recall.
These stacks of personal letters are an amazing example of how often all of us took pen to paper in those pre-cell phone, pre-computer, pre-email days. Those days are gone, and now so are the letters that captured them. But revisiting all those memories was a lovely way to end one year and prepare for the next.
I love love love snowdrops!!! With a mere eight named varieties in my garden, I don't have enough breadth to consider myself a "galanthophile," but I am working on it. Last spring I purchased Galanthus 'Sam Arnott' and 'Hippolyta' in the green from Munchkin Nursery. Last September I bought "The Plant Lover's Guide to Snowdrops" by Naomi Slade which I've read almost cover to cover. That convinced me to add 'Magnet' (below) from Old House Gardens to my collection.
From OHG: "One of the most popular snowdrops for over a century, this strong-growing beauty holds its flowers on unusually long pedicels which, in the words of the great E.A. Bowles, 'causes them to swing to and fro in a slight breeze,' making it especially graceful and 'easily recognized even from a distance.' We’re planning to offer one different, extra-special snowdrop every year from now on — so if ‘Magnet’ 'attracts' you, now is the time to get it!"
I won't know how any of these bulbs fared until next Spring when they come up — or not. I had already made up my mind, however, to order more snowdrops from Munchkin Nursery when I got an email from owner Gene Bush saying he was retiring and shutting down the business. Another great source of plants gone! Just when I was feeling this loss most keenly, I got an email from Carolyn's Shade Garden that she had decided to offer her annual snowdrop catalog now instead of in January.
I had already made a list of potential snowdrop purchases based on my new snowdrop book and her past catalogs. I decided to opt for three plants each of G. woronowii and G. nivalis 'Viridapice' at $15 each. Enough to make a small clump right off the bat. And both are described as "easy" to grow. Then I made a major splurge on G. nivalis 'Blewbury Tart' (above), rather a whacky-looking double. My doubles (G. 'Flore Pleno') have been the most robust growers of any of the snowdrops I've planted, so it seemed worth trying another. And I've been smitten with 'Blewbury Tart' for a long time. How can you not like a flower described as "cheeky," "charming" and "bonkers"?
This sudden slide into unseasonably cold weather has made me want to spend all my time in the kitchen. Pots on the stove, pans in the oven, and hands in soapy dishwater mean I am warm. And that soon I will be seated at a table for a fabulous meal: Burning River chili. Fish Chowder with smoked whitefish, shrimp, scallops and lots of cream and butter. Sauteed Chicken with Parmesan/Panko Crust. I can't stop cooking.
Sunday I began marinating a nice big rump roast for Sauerbraten with Three Ginger Gravy from one of my favorite cookbooks, the wonderful "Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland," by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson. It will be ready to go in the oven on Thursday. Not sure what I will serve with it: dumplings and red cabbage, potato pancakes or spaetzle, applesauce, spiced red beets. Too many tasty possibilities. The above photo shows the pot of marinade after its been simmered to meld the flavors of all the spices, onions, garlic, ginger, and cider vinegar.
The book contains lots of cooking and cultural history along with a great group of historic photos. Facing the Sauerbraten recipe is a picture of the members of the Wausau German Men's Choral Society of Sheboygan, Wisconsin in 1913 enjoying themselves in the beer garden (below). Those days of German-Americans celebrating their heritage would come crashing to an end the next year when WWI broke out. On the hundredth anniversary of that conflict, it seems like a good time to resurrect those wonderful dishes from the German side of my family.
Saipua is one of my favorite florists in NYC (actually Brooklyn). Not that I've ever been there in person; I only know of them via their web site. I can spend hours looking at all their floral designs and the creations made by students who attend the Little Flower School, a joint project of florists Nicolette Owen (Nicolette Camille) and Sarah Ryhanen (Saipua).
Recently I received an email from Saipua announcing they were selling Spring bulbs online instead of just in the shop. They offered two collections which you can see in the groupings below. I thought they were a lovely assortment of plants chosen to provide a variety of flower sizes and shapes within limited color palettes.
Looking at the low numbers of each bulb offered in the groupings, it suddenly occurred to me that Saipua was selling bulbs chosen on the basis of creating bouquets. It's not enough bulbs to make much of a display in the garden, though it would result in one that is perfectly composed.
No, I think these bulbs are meant for the cutting garden and then the house where the gardener will arrange them to perfection. They would also make a nice grouping — planted one variety per pot — by the front door. If you aren't familiar with Saipua, be sure to check out their website and The Little Flower School's site.
Since the folks at Saipua are professional florists, the bouquets they feature on their website are always composed of a mix of flowers that grow in different seasons. That means you can't achieve the same look in your bouquet with just the plants you can harvest at a given moment in the garden. But looking at their displays is still inspirational because you see how they mix and match and contrast: Pale and dark, ethereal and heavy, flowers and branches, in bud and in bloom, fruits and veggies. Below are a couple of their creations to show what I mean.
High contrast drama in a Spring bouquet:
Meandering drama for Spring (note the Fritillaria Persica which is one of their bulb offerings).
If you want to see what hands-on gardeners are gathering from their own gardens and putting in a vase today, visit Rambling in the Garden for one of my favorite memes: In a Vase on Monday.
The UW–Madison Arboretum is presenting their highly respected Native Gardening Conference on Sunday, September 21. This year's theme is “Native by Design: Gardening for a Sustainable Future.” I've attended this event in the past as both a participant and a speaker and found it well-worth my time.
The conference is a day filled with demonstrations, workshops and tours for gardeners who want to use native plants in their home landscapes. Participants can choose from workshop sessions about native garden design, attracting native pollinators, native trees and shrubs, planting and maintenance, sustainable practices, invasive species management, plant disease, and wild edible landscaping. There will be information suitable for both urban and rural situations. I can attest from my experience that it is a great chance to meet and connect with fellow gardeners and go home with practical tips, information and inspiration.
A keynote address follows the sessions. I've heard some of the top names in the field speak at past conferences and found that part of the day to be worth the price of admission alone. This year's keynoter is Doug Tallamy and his topic is “Your Role in Building Biological Corridors: Networks for Life.”
Tallamy advocates for "sustaining regional biodiversity through native home landscaping, which can provide important habitat connectors", according to the Arboretum's press release. Tallamy is professor and chair of the Entomology and Wildlife Ecology Department, University of Delaware. Tallamy's latest book, "The Living Landscape: Designing for Beauty and Biodiversity in the Home Garden," was co-authored by Rick Darke, a previous Arboretum Conference keynoter.
The all-day conference runs from 8:45 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Advanced registration is required by Sept. 15, and lunch is included as part of the conference fee. For complete information and registration visit uwarboretum.org/education/native_gardening_conference/
Our Doublefile Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Mariesii') is the star of our front garden. At sixteen years old, she's beyond mature width which Michael Dirr lists as 9-12' wide. This photo from 2011 doesn't do her 16+ foot width justice. Height-wise she's in Dirr's ballpark of 8-10' high. Normally at this season she just glows with double rows of white lacecap flowers.
Though this shrub is on the north side of the house surrounded by mature deciduous trees and backed by an old yew hedge, our winter seems to have done her in. Mariesii is listed as a Zone 5 shrub and I don't really remember any dieback in prior years. Mostly we prune any vertical growth since it is a plant that emphasizes the horizontal.
This spring we've only seen leaves on the lowest branches, along with vertical suckers coming from the base. I was pretty distraught about this situation initially. At first we thought we'd just stand back and wait to see what happens. Since it was pretty obvious what was happening — the top of the shrub was completely dead — Mark decided to prune it back to live wood. At this point we're talking about putting off any decision about taking it out completely until next spring.
At one time we had planned to put stone steps up into this garden from the driveway, but then filled the space with trees and shrubs. We abandoned that plan because we couldn't come to a mutual decision about what to cut down for the necessary pathway. At this point, I think we're becoming resigned to the possibility of losing this Viburnum and gaining a new entrance point to the garden.
Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen: Witty and wily tale of the experiences of the post-college-age daughter of Vietnamese immigrants living in the Midwest. A wicked look inside “Asian” restaurants, sibling rivalries, college lit degrees and what it’s like to be born in the U.S. but not look “American.” All of it filtered through the lens of the Little House on the Prairie books and the lives — literary and hidden — of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. A brilliant concept and beautiful writing.
My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead: This caught my eye at B&N on my way to buy my favorite UK magazine. I have owned a copy of Middlemarch since 1994. I continually think "I should read that," when I'm not wondering if I should donate it to the library sale. I loved the Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of the book and have watched it many times over the years. But the book has always seemed forbidding until now. Author Rebecca Mead has been reading Middlemarch since she was a teenager and talks about what she saw in the book at differing ages up to middle age. Her book is the equivalent of a semester devoted to the Middlemarch with discussions of characters, motivations, other books and authors at the time Eliot was writing as well as how her life influenced the book. Mead also provides an excellent biography of Eliot, with updates and asides on the many bios and critiques of Eliot that have appeared over the years. A totally satisfying and enjoyable read and perhaps what I've needed to spur me to read Middlemarch itself.
Wake by Anna Hope: Excellent novel of WWI with three interconnecting stories whose characters move in and out of each other’s lives. And a fourth recurring segment describing the search for and burial of the unknown soldier at the 11/11/1920 Cenotaph dedication. The author is a surprisingly young woman who understands — and can movingly describe — a broad group of characters, ages and social strata. Finally a current novel that lived up the reviews.
Molly Fox's Birthday by Deidre Madden: Two of my favorite book bloggers liked this one so I decided to give it a try, and am glad I did. Here'a a link to Book Snob's take on it.
Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn: When I commented on one of my favorite books, An Uncommon Reader, displayed on the counter at Arcadia Books in Spring Green, they suggested I might like Mrs. Queen. It's as funny and charming in its way as "Reader" but with a wider story and cast of characters. Kuhn has written a number of non-fiction works about the monarchy and knows how to deftly speculate about life behind the scenes as well as poke gentle fun at the woman who is queen of all she surveys but hasn't a clue about real life and real people. What happens when she wanders off the Palace grounds wearing a hoodie and carrying her trademark handbag is the perfect summer read.
And I'm giving up on Backstage at the Lincoln Assassination, The Pope and Mussolini, and Not I by Joachim Fest. These are winter books and the garden is calling.