but both gardeners are under the weather. He's in his 2nd week of a head and chest cold. And now she's come down with some serious sniffles. Very frustrating with beautiful weather here at last and dozens of plants waiting to be put into their new homes.
Having been married for twenty plus years, birthday and anniversary gifts don't have the importance they did in the early days of our relationship. When Mark asked me what I wanted for my birthday recently, I reminded him that I'd been playing fast and loose with the credit card at online garden nurseries for the last six weeks. I had more than my share of treats arriving in the mail. But while he was out running errands, he did find me a perfect present: The Original Garden Broom.
It's hand-made in Sri Lanka from coconut palm leaves that have fallen off the tree and is designed to be used in all weather conditions including rain and snow. It's marketed as "sturdier than a broom and handier than a rake" and useful for situations where you'd normally reach for one of those tools. What I like about it — and what caught Mark's eye as well — is that it's attractive enough that it doesn't need to be hidden away. I'm keeping it near the new front steps so I can give them and the front door area a daily cleaning. I can also say that my first few times using the broom confirm the company's claims. It's has a nice heft, is sturdy enough that it sounds like a rake when I am using it but works more like a broom. An excellent addition to our garden tool collection.
I've always been interested in English history, needlework and culture. Nowhere do they intersect more perfectly — at least to my mind — than in gardening. Gardening is a long and storied part of the larger cultural landscape in the United Kingdom. That's why I love Gardens Illustrated (GI) magazine: it covers the very old and the very new in the world of gardening. There are profiles of plants people and articles looking deeply at one plant in all its permutations. The magazine looks at every type and size of garden in every corner of the world. GI also covers low budget gardens and eccentric gardeners, the kind of topics that got short shrift in most American garden magazines at the time I began gardening.
I subscribed to Horticulture and Garden Design magazines for years. But these days GI is the only one I'm still following. When it began publishing in the spring of 1993 it was a magazine like nothing I'd ever seen: large format, luscious photos and layout, intelligent and opinionated text. I've still got stacks of back issues including the first 30 issues. Originally GI was published every other month and they didn't start numbering them until No. 6.
Maybe because I am so familiar with GI and its foibles I didn't get excited when Garden in a City blog took exception to the cover story of issue No.231: "Tom Stuart-Smith's 100 Plants Every Gardener Should Grow." I, on the other hand, went searching for that very issue as soon as I knew about it. A number of years ago Anna Pavord, another well-known English gardener/author, offered her list of 100 plants that she would never want to be without. When those of us who garden in the Midwest are getting ready to plant, these kind of lists seem like a topic worth considering rather than consigning to the compost pile.
"How do you judge an iris against an oak tree?" Pavord asked, noting that compiling a list like this makes you "ask yourself why you respond to some plants much more warmly than others." As Pavord said, it's an exercise that really makes you think. It got me wondering what would be on my list — so I composed one. As in Pavord's case, it consisted only of things I'd grown. Unlike Pavord, I limited my list to a baker's dozen. Somehow 100 plants suggested nothing was left off her list — either that or she had a very large garden. When I read over my list again all these years later, I saw that every thing on it was still growing in my garden and was a plant I would put on my list again.
In case you are not familiar with him, Tom Stuart-Smith has won multiple medals at the Chelsea Flower show. He's also the first living gardener with an exhibition of work at the Garden Museum in London in 2011. As for his list of 100 plants? He's a terrific designer and I wanted to see what plants he likes enough to recommend — especially since my favorite gardens by him are mainly green (see below). I was also curious to see what he specifically said about his plant choices. Since Gardens Illustrated is a UK publication, I knew from the start the list would have things I can't grow in my Zone 4 American garden. Worse, there would be many wonderful plants that I could grow if only someone was selling them over here. Since Jason at Garden in a City added up the plants on Tom's list where he's growing the exact same plant as well as those where he's growing a different variety in the same family, I decided to do the same. To my surprise I am growing ten of the same things but I am growing another 26 plants that are the same genus. Yet my garden could hardly look more different than Tom's own garden or his creations.
I know from following Jason's blog that he was having a bit of fun here. But I think there is also a serious point to be made. I don't believe even a novice gardener is going to go out and try to buy all 100 of Stuart-Smith's recommended plants, as some of Jason's commenters feared. But I do know that beginning gardeners will kill a lot of plants before they figure it all out, because we've all done it. Learning from our mistakes is the best way to learn. Listening to those in the know like Stuart-Smith is another way to learn. I spent last Saturday — along with more than a hundred other gardeners — at a daylong garden symposium put on by the Allen Centennial Garden on the UW-Madison campus. Every speaker enthused about plants we should grow. And they all have written books which will let us learn about their philosophy and their favorite plants in more detail.
A Tom Stuart-Smith garden in London.
I expected Saturday's event to send me home overloaded with new ideas — and it did. But garden information and inspiration can also come when you least expect it and where you least expect to find it, even in the pages of English magazines. I've come to the conclusion that specific plants — whether they're from Stuart-Smith's list, are common cultivars or cool ones from a specialty nursery — matter much less to my level of enjoyment in the garden than I like to think. The most important thing I've learned over the years is that gardening is about the doing: the digging and weeding and watering. I may plan and plot and dream but when it comes right down to it, I garden to garden.
A Tom Stuart-Smith garden at the Chelsea Flower Show.
We started celebrating Valentine's Day a little early. Actually my husband does not believe in made-up (aka Hallmark) holidays so he's not big on Valentine's Day — despite the fact that he's given me many lovely presents over the years.
We started the day Saturday with our usual group of friends for Saturday morning coffee. Then I went off to spend the morning with my textile group while he talked with his college-bound nephew about his potential options. We met up again to go to the gym for a brief workout.
And then we went off to our city's original shopping mall which is smaller than is common and was emphatically local until recently. Now it's being redesigned and relaunched with brand names like Kate Spade, Sur la Table and Madewell. What that means is there are a number of empty storefronts at one end of the older mall space. So they set up half a dozen pop up shops for the weekend, including Pleasant Living whose east side shop I still miss.
We bought a set of 1920-30s Sheffield nickel silver flatware for six.The knife handles are celluloid, I believe. It has four serving pieces and two kinds of soup spoons, demitasse and dessert spoons. I know. This is totally against the trend of downsizing and casual entertaining. Two things I think about but am not good at. Also picked up a beautiful Chinese ceramic garden stool, decorated in soft blues on gray.
Hit the grocery store to pick up everything I wanted to make a couple of the recipes in this week's New York Times food section. We started with Mark Bittman's Champagne cocktails, Hook's Tilson blue cheese and my favorite cranberry and hazelnut Raincoast Crisps while sitting in front of fire, candles lit and the two of us getting slowly lit as we worked on the NYT Sunday crossword.
Dinner (above) was David Tanis' concoction of Seared Sea Scallops with Ginger-Lime butter, sweet potatoes and greens. He used baby bok choy but I subbed a quick saute of arugula. He baked his potatoes and I roasted mine. A superb meal and one to make again.
So we'll be spending Valentine's Day sleeping in and doing what ever we usually do on Sundays . . .
Our moss garden came into being during the first phases of construction of the garden when we put in the pond, stream and the first big rocks back in the late 1990s. I was not allowed to plant anywhere as access was needed for equipment, beds needed to be prepared and all sorts of other reasons that Mark kept listing.
So I sat under our pair of apple trees pulling the grass — by hand — out of the moss that was growing there. Eventually we had a large velvet garden. But over the years, as we've planted every inch of our half acre, I've realized the moss garden is very high-maintenance. Anything left resting or rotting on the moss will harm it as will all the creatures who endlessly dig in it.
The loss of the apple tree (in the foreground above) last year and the need to create holding beds (below) for the plants in the way of the driveway project forced us to make a decision: The moss garden was wonderful while it lasted but it's time to move on.
After all the plants that were pulled out for the driveway got replanted at the end of the summer, we spread the soil from the beds over the moss and topped it with mulch. I've spent the intervening months mulling over how to redesign this area in a way that fits in with the rest of the garden and is ideally a bit lower in maintenance.
Since the moss garden is located opposite the Tea House, we decided it makes sense to add seating there since it would let us look across the width of the pond to the Tea House at the top of the stream. Therefore, Mark is going to build a covered waiting bench similar to those you see in Japanese gardens (bottom photo). A way stop on the approach to the Tea House.
It will have three enclosed sides and a roof overhead. The bench itself will be long enough so either one of us can stretch out fully and take a nap. The back side of the structure will have panels that can be opened to let the breeze blow through. But the roof will protect us from rain — and falling apples. Those apple bombs put paid to the beautiful hammock we hung between the two apple trees in the early years!
Doing some moss garden maintenance. This shows the view to the Tea House from our proposed waiting bench.
The new structure will be about 4 feet deep and 8 feet long; height undetermined. But that gives me a size and shape that doesn't need to be planted, and nicely breaks up the semi-circular moss garden into sections that can be planted as we move forward. But what to put here obviously is the question.
I unexpectedly found the answer in Roy Diblik's book "The Know Maintenance Garden." He has a number of designs for shady areas based on matrix plantings using limited species. I was attracted to one that had three types of sedges (Carex) and two kinds of ferns. He suggested Geraniums as another plant that might be added to the mix. Mark told me to make a drawing of my idea and so I am. Stay tuned.
A covered waiting bench similar to what Mark is going to build. I believe this one is in the Portland Japanese garden.
It was so sunny the evening of the last WHPS tour of members' gardens that I only managed to snap a few images of the many wonderful things we saw. This garden had a pretty pond and a huge prairie that I could not manage to capture at all. This sloping rock garden was home to many familiar plants . . .
all of them looking happy and healthy.
This container of mixed succulents attracted lots of attention.
As did this stunning green on green Hosta. After the tour I emailed this gardener to find out the name of this variety, intending to rush right out and buy one for my garden. She calls it "Sum and Something" because, she said, "it is a Sum and Substance that morphed into that interesting bicolor, probably due to a virus." She pointed out that she really likes the color variation, and the virus hasn't affected anything else (including several nearby clumps of Sum and Substance), so she's letting it stay in the garden.
Someone knowledgeable about these things, pointed out that it is likely Hosta Virus X. That person also said that the virus won't spread as long as this gardener is careful to disinfect her tools when cutting it back or dividing. So now we all know what to do should such a serendipitous discovery pop up in our own gardens!
As someone much enamored of Japanese gardens, I couldn't resist this little gravel garden.
The bamboo folding screen makes the perfect finishing touch.
The last garden we visited was one of the more memorable I've seen and I could not manage to get any photos but this shot of a Bells of Ireland plant. I've never seen this plant except at the florist's shop and thus enjoyed seeing its quirky shape up close.
What was so amazing about this garden — and gardener — was the fact that it was composed almost entirely of annuals. The amount of seed-saving-and-starting mades me tired just thinking about it — until I was standing in the midst of the results. Her annuals were carefully chosen and combined for color, texture and form with a stream of blue salvia tying the composition together. A major gardening accomplishment in my book.
This is the prairie that is the provenance of the annual gardener's spouse. We saw three prairies on this tour and they were all different. It's not often that one gets to see variations on prairies in one fell swoop like this.
It was also interesting to me that many of the couples whose gardens were on these two WHPS tours, divide their gardens into his and hers sections. He's the prairie guy or the Hosta guy, for example. At our house, Mark tends to be the hardscaping and design guy while I concentrate on plants. But the placement and choice of trees and shrubs is usually something we decided together. I always find it fascinating to see how two people manage to garden together and stay together!
This week began with more rain: the fourth wet Monday in a row. Last Monday, July 6, the rain turned the driveway into the mucky mess seen below. Mark and Matt gave up in disgust.
The next day, however, Matt brought in a couple of landscaper friends and the three of them, along with Mark, made great progress — despite the wet conditions.
First Matt put tubing from one side of the driveway to the other so if we ever want to add outdoor lighting, there is a way to get the wires to the other side without having to remove the pavers.
While he worked on that project, the guys pulled out and took away all of the remaining driveway concrete. Then they started to dig out the mud and bring in gravel. Three loads of clay soil went out and three loads of gravel came in. The gravel was spread out by hand, using little blue "Guido" and with large equipment. Check it out!
By the end of the week the driveway had gone from this . . .
to this! Suddenly it's all coming together. (You wet down the gravel before compacting each successive layer.)
To follow all the stages of this project, click on Driveway Project in the categories list.
It's warm, humid, windy and getting darker by the minute. Rain is clearly on the way. The gardener in me is happy at the prospect of rain. We have a tour of our garden scheduled for late August and some July rain would be a big help in keeping things looking good. I already have a pair of hoses hooked together to reach all the plants that are in the holding beds. Plus a peony, eight big Hostas and a clump of Eupatorium 'Chocolate' that got dug up when Matt was setting boulders last week. That's about as much watering as I want to do.
To be honest, however, I must admit that the homeowner in me does not want rain as Matt and Mark are out in the driveway digging down — excavating by hand — as they start to remove more soil in preparation for laying the gravel base for the pavers.
Matt's four-wheel drive, articulated front end loader is Italian and referred to as "Guido."
This is what Matt was using this morning to move the dirt he and Mark were digging out.
It took the better part of a week for the muck to dry out after last Monday's rain. So part of me really did not want more rain to slow down the project. But the sky kept getting darker as they worked. (My Traffic Island garden glows in this low light).
Weather Bug tells the story.
As soon as the rain began to fall the guys realized it was going to pour off the roof into the trench they'd just dug as Mark had removed the gutters to make it easier to work.
So they quickly put together a "Rube Goldberg" contraption to funnel the water away from the house. Back to a mucky driveway and work temporarily put on hold.
We began our driveway rock garden project on Friday, June 19th with the arrival of the giant Caterpillar earth (and rock) mover. That was followed by the first load of boulders. Work officially began on Monday with no break last weekend. Over the eight days our builder Matt, and my husband Mark, have been working we've had rain on five days — almost two inches total. Here's what's happened since I last posted.
DAY 4 (Thurs. June 25): View from the garage, loading excavated concrete and soil
Matt compacting soil for the first step leading up into the front garden
Placing the second step
DAY 5 (Fri. June 26): Setting boulders alongside the steps
Team work (Matt on the left and Mark on the right)
More step material
Measuring for a cut
So far, so good
A little off the sides
DAY 6 (Sat. June 27): Moving the Big Boy who weighed around 9 tons (8.16466266 metric tonnes)
DAY 7 (Sun. June 28):Nearing the summit
DAY 8 (Mon. June 29): Squaring it up (this stone will sit at ground level at our front door)