I've spent the time since Tuesday's election in the garden: the most restorative place I know. I've been weeding, watering and spreading the last of the Olbrich leaf mulch that's been sitting in a pile in the driveway. I have noticed, however, that I've been humming union songs as I work!
This weekend, when temperatures are expected to be in the 90s both days, I'll be indoors. But I've got a garden waiting for me there as well. Mark brought me this lovely new book, "Angie Lewin Plants and Places," from the Kohler Art Library on the UW-Madison campus. I love Lewin, which is easy to see if you type her name into the search box at the top of my blog. She's a British artist: painter, printmaker, fabric designer. Lewin finds both inspiration and imagry in weeds, wildflowers, and natural found objects like stones and feathers.
This is the first book I've seen that is actually about Lewin and her works as opposed to the garden books I have that she's illustrated. If you are an artist who looks to your garden for ideas and inspiration for your artwork, Lewin is a great example. She reduces the most complex flowers — Alliums and Queen Anne's Lace, for example — down to their essentials. Form, rather than scale or perspective, is her guiding principle which makes for very unusual compositions.
What I find particularly satisfying about "Angie Lewin Plants and Places" is that it is large enough that you can study her work in detail. It also includes working drawings and paintings which I often find more interesting than the finished prints. If you are curious about Lewin's work, you can look at the book's pages on her website. You can order the book there as well.
Japanese spurge — pachysandra terminalis — is ubiquitous in American gardens as a groundcover. It's an aggressive spreader but is grown for its attractive shiny leaves. But I think the native version is even prettier. Allegheny spurge — pachysandra procumbens — is a slower spreader, or at least that's been my experience. I have a patch of it growing near a down spout where it seems to flower more prolifically than the nearby clumps in drier soil.
But it has gorgeous mottled leaves that have an almost tortoise shell look to them, no matter the location. These are the old leaves from last year and this is how they look after being covered with snow and going through cold temps. New leaves will appear soon but with less dramatic markings. If you've been thinking about using spurge as a groundcover, go native!
I don't think any of us really believed the mid-week weather forecast that predicted a big snowstorm for Madison and environs on Friday. But by about 11 a.m. yesterday morning, it was snowing steadily, if lightly. It didn't take long for the storm to get serious. Wet, heavy snow started to come down quickly and to stick to everything it touched: wires, roads and walkways and every tree and shrub were soon coated.
It was so gorgeous we kept running to different windows for different views. While many of our trees and shrubs were bowed down under the weight of the snow, nothing looked like it might turn into the garden crisis that resulted from a similar storm in 2009.
We took photos, ate in front of the fire and then went out after dinner to clear the driveway. When we were done with that chore, we threw a few snowballs at each other and toured the garden by snowlight and faint moonlight.
These photos show the drape and droop of the trees, except for the last picture which shows the geometric patterns made by shards of snow falling off the roof and onto the deck. Hard to reconcile the sticky snow on all the vertical surfaces and the crisp design on the horizontal deck.
Still more images from Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison. This group concentrates on all the myriad ways the staff plant and display containers. They include subtle potted groups that reflect the surrounding landscape . . .
. . . planted pots set deep within the larger garden
. . . planted pots rising out of similarly colored floral areas
. . . same colors as above but using different plants for a completely different effect
. . . one plant per container for drama and emphasis
. . . these pots are a perfect way for those of us in cold climates to enjoy tropical plants in the garden but still easily bring them indoors in the fall
. . . a reminder that pots don't always need to be planted to have an effect in the garden
. . . a secret spot for a conversation with only a potted plant separating the speakers (note the sedge lawn instead of grass)
. . . and the pots de resistance at the garden entrance.
Gardens have so many curvaceous forms that a little geometry is always an effective visual foil. In this scene the pyramid of bamboo stakes in the foreground is a simple device to help the gardener prune this shrub into that particular geometric shape. Behind it is a tuteur, a structure designed to support climbing plants, with a rooftop echoing the shape in the rear.
This pyramid is a dramatic way to locate a bat house at the necessary height without it being obscured by foliage. A practical piece of large scale sculpture.
The rooftop of the tower in Olbrich's rose garden provides another pyramidal exclamation point. The tower's viewing platform offers a dramatic view out to Lake Monona and is the one spot where the elegant overall design of Olbrich is visible. The tower lets you experience Olbrich in a completely different way than walking its myriad paths and garden spaces.
My former co-worker and gardening mentor Doris Lang will be bringing the members of her garden club on a tour of our garden Monday evening. When a group makes a reservation a year in advance, you want everything to look its best. So we've spent the last few days weeding, pruning, deadheading, mowing the grass and just generally sprucing up the garden.
The last thing Mark always does before we have garden visitors is to rake the gravel into patterns. It looks best in the early morning or late afternoon when the low angle of the sun highlights the texture of the gravel, emphasizing the high and low areas of the design. So their early evening tour will show this area at its best.
We have been growing Doublefile Viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Mariesi' ) for 13 years. That means our shrub has reached its mature size (about 10' high and 15' wide) and is a spectacular sight at this time of year. You'd think after enjoying its performance all these years, we would have realized why it's called "Doublefile" before now.
While we were admiring it this spring, we realized that the spreading horizontal branches literally have double rows of flat clusters of flowers. They resemble lace-cap hydrangeas which often confuses people who are not familiar with the plant.
Though it is a large shrub, the fact that the flowers "float" above the branches gives it an airy appearance. Later in the summer there will be berries and then wonderful fall color, making it a multi-season addition to the garden. Though it takes a few years to begin to develop its horizontal structure, it's well-worth the wait.
No flowers outdoors as yet, but we are enjoying a bit of a warming trend that's helping to melt our huge snow piles. There are abundant blooms indoors however, all from a beautiful book on Swedish scarves and shawls sent to us by our friends, Julie and Mats, who spent Christmas with Mats' family in Sweden. Enjoy these colorful bouquets from "Folklig Grannlåt" by Birgitta Farhang and Ingrid Herrdin.
And be sure to visit Carol at May Dreams Gardens to see what's blooming in gardens around the world.