Garden Diary - April 2007

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Saturday, 28 April 2007

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens

My journey north to Boothbay, Maine brought me to Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Sure to become a premier destination for the garden-minded, there is already much to enjoy. It is a very young botanical garden. By one measurement it all began with the idea for a botanic garden located in the mid-coastal region of Maine in 1991. The concept gained the first step towards reality with the purchase of 128 acres of stunningly beautiful, natural landscape in the coastal community of Boothbay in 1996. The site has dramatic topography with natural cliffs and ravines, rock outcrops, conifer forests, more than 300 native species of plants including ferns, mosses, and lichens. There are two spring-fed fresh water ponds and a vernal pool, a small wetland area with diverse botanical possibilities, and two-thirds of a mile of tidal waterfront on the Back River that validate the gardens Coastal Maine name.

The forest is vibrant and healthy with seedling and sapling conifers.

Site plan for the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden reveals the careful planning that has gone into its design.

In concept, the primary functions of are education, research and stewardship. Five separate areas of use were determined. A campus area for an education and reception center where formal gardens and those requiring the highest maintenance would be located. Next, an area of broad trails bordered by informal gardens with seating that complements the landscape. Additionally, there would be trails through areas typical of the Maine woods and shoreline. An area of unaltered landscape including a walkway over wetland. Lastly, the necessary infrastructure of roadways, provide parking areas, and a maintenance building. Today there are two miles of walks, trails, and drives providing access to the gardens and the natural areas. The wide roadways allow a leisurely stroll for groups as well as individuals. They gently wind across the terrain, leading out from the just completed 9,500 sq. ft. shingle style visitor and education center, complete with library and cafe, and a gift shop. The handsome building is surrounded by ornamental display gardens on a 5 acre main campus. Discretely concealed parking areas keep vehicles unobtrusively out of sight.

There is a beautifully laid out Potager, a kitchen garden to be planted for the first time later this Spring.

This magnificent coral bark maple, Acer palmatum 'Sengokaku' is barely visible in the center of the previous image.
Both native and non-native plants embellish the existing landscape.


A pergola stands as a destination above a gentle flight of stone steps.

The wide, gently graded roadways lead through the forest to "rooms"
with carefully laid stone floors, a stone bench for seating.
Enjoyment of the scenery, each also holds an object to contemplate.

I came upon one such pocket garden. And behind the concealing boulder
a rough-hewn water basin at the base of a spill of crudely dressed and broken stone
simply embellished with moss and ferns.


Elsewhere, a different garden of serenity with a bronze urn.
Weather has just begun to age it. In my mind
it achieves the patina of time.


Viewed through the trees, a sphere of chiseled glass plays with the light.
Henry Richardson uses broken glass, chipping it as other sculptors do with stone,
then bonding pieces together to create geometric shapes.
"Chiseled Orb" was installed just last year, in 2006.


Water is a delightful feature, a recurring theme throughout the property.

Stone steps lead down to a boulder-edged pond. Behind the boulder these a glimpse of stones that step out into this pond,
then curve back to shore. The scale of a little rill is subtly emphasized by the changing scale of boulder to cobbles to pebbles.


A Wetlands Garden has a bridge to take visitors dryshod across the soggiest spot.
There is a Shoreland Garden of native plants, where a Fern Trail opens up a world of mosses, lichens, heaths and ferns.

Lichens create a delicate tracery on a boulder.

Verdant hummocks of moss create pillows of green over rocks and around tree roots.

Reindeer moss is common. No reindeer in the garden
but there was sighting of a moose.

Umbellicaria lichens adhere loosely to a rock.
They're source for a rich purple dye.


A stone face, one of several, sleepily peers at the passing parade.


Stone and moss, elsewhere Nature's art,
here creatively juxtaposed in a sculpture titled 'White Line'.

In 2005 the Radcliff Family Trust donated 120 undeveloped acres to the gardens, extending the shoreline to 4500 feet. This makes the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, at 248 acres, one of the largest botanical gardens in the United States. CMBG is growing not just in size, but through the careful design, planning and planting that is taking place. The fourth dimension, that of time, slowly takes it day by day into the future. I hope to visit again, and again, and again, to see it grow.

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Thursday, 26 April 2007

The Auricula Theater at the New York Botanical Garden

What's an Auricula, and why does it have a theater? Auriculas are primroses, a special type with extraordinary flowers. Native to the Alps, Carpathian, and Apennine mountains, Primula auricula hybridizes with other species to create an immense complex of Show Auricula primroses in a rich array of jewel-tone colors. The leaves (and sometimes the flowers) of auricula primroses are often dusted with a meal-like farina that is disturbed by any accidental contact with a finger or a raindrop.

An Auricula Theater is a specialized, tiered stand for the outdoor garden, where potted primroses are placed on display. Dating back to the 17th century in France and Belgium, the earliest versions were simple open-fronted boxes that protected the flowers from rain and wind. By the 19th century, in England, these had become quite elaborate, grand stages with faux-painted curtains and proscenium arches.

The theater design for this exhibit, complete down to its tromp l'oeil draperies,
was created by Christianson Lee Studios and is based on sketches
by the Dowager Marchioness of Salisbury.

This event is simply a display, not a judged competition.
You can learn more about auriculas at the National Auricula Society, Midland & West Section web site.

Many plants are brought from the greenhouse, and the finest will be chosen for display.

For example, each specimen must display only one stem. Other flower stems, any yellowing leaves,
anything that detracts from the perfect appearance of the plant is removed and discarded.

The pots are called "long Toms," taller in proportion to their width than a standard pot.
Each pot is carefully wiped clean of any dirt and debris before being set into place.
Each individual pot is held securely in place by a slim metal pin
through the drainage hole and fastened to the shelf.

Lady Salisbury was at the opening, to snip the yellow ribbon with an enormous pair of scissors.
Gregory Long, president of the New York Botanical Garden, waves to the audience.

Everyone there enjoyed the event.

The Auricula Theater at The New York Botanical Garden,
located amid the herbs and flowers of the Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden,
will be on display through May 13th.

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Thursday, 26 April 2007

Art at Wave Hill: Emily Dickinson Rendered

There's always an art exhibit in Glyndor House at Wave Hill. Sometimes it spills over into the garden. Multiple artists present. These are usually younger artists. Some pieces appeal strongly to me. Others are "nice." And some have me walking around like a stiff-legged cat, wondering just what it is I am missing, because I can make neither head nor tail of the piece. Which is what truely makes a great exhibit. Wouldn't it be sad if it was all a mediocre, inoffensive pastiche. Better to stir the viewer up and make them think about what's on display.

The current exhibition, Emily Dickinson Rendered features the work of ten different artists who immersed themselves in the poet's live and writings, to create works of art inspired by her relationship with nature.

Multiple works by Merideth McNeal are incorporated in Beside Your Shimmering Doorway, an installation placed in the western, river-facing side of the gallery that creates a portrait of Emily Dickinson through reference to her love of gardening. It is evoked by period seed catalogues on the same table as a pair of paper gloves imbedded with pressed plants, acknowledging Dickinson's youthful herbarium.

McNeal also created several Victorian-inspired silhouettes, using period wallpaper as a background for black velvet silhouette images placed in a loose chronology, from childhood cradle to the bureau where she stored her poems.

Valerie Hammond explores the mysteries surrounding Emily Dickinson's life and self-imposed isolation in five pieces. Two, Séance and Traveler use ink, graphite, color pencil, and wax on paper, in which Hammond takes the shapes of vines, leaves, ferns evocatively placed to create gestural outlines that conjure.s up the poet's form and memory.

There will be two more exhibitions in the 2007 season at Wave Hill, continuing the exploration of 19th century American writing about nature, visualized through the lens of contemporary art. This summer, from June 7 through August 26 it will be Thoreau Reconsidered. In the autumn, from September 8 through December 2, the focus will be on the writings of Edger Allen Poe and Mark Twain. For more details, visit Art at Wave Hill.

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Thursday, 26 April 2007

Wave Hill in Springtime

By dint of organization (slides selected and in carousel on Tuesday evening, clothes chosen and packed on Wednesday evening) I was free to take a day in which to visit gardens. The weather was cooperative - not sunny but more importantly, not raining. Merely overcast with an occasional gust of wind to remind me it was still early days. On the road by mid-morning, and Wave Hill for my first stop. I wanted to see how plants in this sheltered garden were responding to our first substantial week of mild weather.

Lunch on the terrace was an option. Breaks in the clouds offered an occasional spill of sunshine. While the dining tent is in place, I opted to take my luncheon salad of mixed greens, blue cheese, grilled pear slices, and candied walnuts over to a table at the terrace edge. A hazelnut latte (with whipped cream) was I freely admit, a delicious indulgence.

Then off across the lawn

Grape hyacinths spill out into the turf,
accompanied by the billowing branches of a cherry.

and up towards the Wild Garden, but stopping first for my favorite view of the Jersey Pallisades

Masses of daffodils brighten the overcast day,
sunny against dark conifers and the waters of the Hudson River.

Bulbs in bloom in the Wild Garden include several cultivars of dwarf tulips.
Simply put, they're hurling themselves into bloom.

Satin petals of a hot orange tulip stand like bright flames.

This classic tulip shines like a give-me-a-ticket red sports car.

Embellish with bar code striped leaves,
this greigii cultivar sports red-blotched white petals.

Elsewhere in the Wild Garden several established colonies
of Fritillaria verticillata display their silent bells of pale greenish white.

The seasonal bed in front of the conservatory is filled
with a golden treasure trove of tulips.

Dripping cascades of deeper pink flowers embellish a weeping cherry.

Magnolia 'Elizabeth' adorns itself with blossom-laden branches.
One of the earlier yellow magnolias, it remains a desirable cultivar for the discerning gardener.

A stroll across the lawn for a close up view
reveals the warm, old ivory glow of the substantial flower.

Clearly, Spring has arrived at Wave Hill.

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Monday, 16 April 2007

Spring? What Spring?

A nor'easter, they said, typically a winter storm but this huge low pressure system crawling up the coast from Virginia to New England was happening in mid-April. At least here at BelleWood Gardens that meant rain rather than snow. Fortunate, since an inch of rain is 10 inches of snow. Saturday dawned sunny, clouded over, rain overnight. Heavy rain.

It rained overnight, heavy at times and we were sure that on Monday there'd be more sweeping, squeegee-ing, etc. in the morning. Yet, even though there was a further 1.4 inches in the rain gauge when I checked at 7:30 a.m., except in the corners the basement was dry.

An hour later when I went out to take these pictures the landscape offered a different, sodden, story.

My little drainage creek was raging

Road crews were out, checking culverts and making sure water could drain off the edges of roads

The Nishisackiwick looked like chocolate milk, with a froth of foam where the water was cresting.
That little tree looks like its roots are losing their grip.

The water is actually flowing from lower right towards the top of this image,
at such a rate that the culvert cannot handle it.
Some of the water eddies and deepens between the culvert and the bank,
then must flow backwards to reach the opening

Temperatures must have dropped in the darkness before dawn
because a layer of icy snow / sleet coated the ground.
Lenten rose, Helleborus ×orientalis, is looking good.

In contrast to the icy snow the older flowers of Christmas rose, Helleborus niger,
look warmer, a creamy, old ivory white.

Less substantial, the dainty flowers of Narcissus 'Mustard Seed'
bow before the icy, wintry weight.

Sky blue, Chionodoxa lives up to its common name of
Glory of the snow.

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Friday, 13 April 2007

A Sign of Spring

A couple of days old, these two fluff balls are little Aruacana chicks

The back room at Global Ag in Clinton, New Jersey is full of peeps. Not the marshmallow fluff Easter version. Rather, all sorts of chick-a-biddies: Rhode Island Red, Australorp, Barred Plymouth Rock, Brahmas, Araucana (the so-called Easter egg chickens because their egg shells are soft turquoise blue or pale green) and other breeds. While they are very appealing right now, chicks quickly turn into gawky adolescents, with quilled feathers poking out of the fluff, "chick dust" wafting about, and big feet that they try to grow into. Better yet, these are all pre-sold. Though Paul once designed and built The Chicken Hilton (room rates one egg per day) for me, I don't know that he's currently interested in another smallholder venture.

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Thursday, 5 April 2007

Coping with Invasive Vines

Jim Thornton of Conyers, Georgia is especially fond of azaleas, and at this time of year his garden is filled with early azaleas in full, magnificent bloom.

Photo credit Jim Thornton 2007

Like gardeners everywhere, he has his share of weeds. And the worst, in his view, is horse briar, Smilax rotundifolia.

Photo credit Jim Thornton 2007

The traditional advice is to "cut and dab" to get rid of horse briar. Jim cut the thorny vines and dabbled herbicide on the wound, but with less than effective results. He tried everything: he pulled, dug, cut, dabbed, and painted with weed killer, even swore and tried a little voodoo, but nothing worked. The nasty, thorny, smilax was, as Jim put it, a "thorn in my side" for many years. Besides, he says, he's getting to old to crawl around under 6 to 7 foot tall azaleas. He came up with the following technique three years ago, and has been using it ever since.

He wrote up the results in an article which appeared in The Azalean, Volume 29 Number 1, Spring 2007, publication of the Azalea Society of America. Jim has graciously given me permission to share the information here.

Get some floral water pick, those tubes with a soft plastic cap used by florists for individual cut flowers. Jim bought a pack of a dozen tubes for about one dollar at a hobby store. I posted a "want" on freecycle and got 14 tubes from one woman and 35 from another. Since the vials are transparent or pale green in color, Jim spray paints them hot pink to keep them from getting lost in the garden.

Photo credit Jim Thornton 2007

Jim first used Round-Up® but now prefers Spectracide® Brush Killer. Fill the pick with undiluted herbicide. Only fill each pick about half-way to two-thirds full. Jim uses an old syringe from a refill kit for a printer ink cartridge but suggested that a meat / poultry injector will also work.

Photo credit Jim Thornton 2007

He begins treatment in late spring and continues through late fall. Find an invasive vine of about matchstick diameter and long enough to bend to the ground. Strip off any leaves or thorns. Cut the vine, and insert the cut portion that is still attached to the plant into the cap, making sure the cut end is down in the herbicide and that the vine is bent downward.

Photo credit Jim Thornton 2007

The vine absorbs the herbicide, translocates it back to the roots, and dies.
No muss, no fuss, and no herbicide accidentally drifting around to where you don't want it.
It is a perfect point-of-use application technique.

Jim has used this technique on horse briar, also honeysuckle, blackberry, kudzu, and Virginia creeper. He notes that it is not as effective on wild grape, as they apparently exude so much sap that the herbicide is forced out of the vial. I asked about multiflora roses and poison ivy. Jim said that, "As far as treating [multiflora]roses, shouldn't be any problem. They can't be any tougher than smilax! I have treated poison ivy with good results. I wear latex gloves and long sleeve shirts. I understand that, even though the vine is dead it is still toxic, so dispose of it accordingly."

Kudos, Jim, and thank you so much for sharing this clever, innovative method of coping with invasive vines.

COMMENT: Jerry said:That water pic idea gave me a good hope of trying it on the bindweed that has been driving us silly the past few years. I found the pics on the internet for very little money but the shipping was three times the cost of the product. I checked at Flemington Floral and they sold them to me for a dollar and change for two dozen. I can't wait for those miserable bindweeds to put their noses out of the ground.

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Monday, 2 April 2007

Shades of Green

It has been raining, and moss growing on the creekside cliffs is sopping up the moisture. In the gray light of an overcast day it glows with a verdant liveliness. Green is a color often given short shrift: leaves are green, grass is green, it's chlorophyll and now let's move on to the rainbow hues of flowers.

Haircap moss, Polytrichum communis, pillows out over the rocks to which the lichens flatten themselves.

Instead, let's linger on green for a while. Green, according to Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, is firstly "1. of the color of growing foliage, between yellow and blue in the spectrum." Chartreuse then came to mind, and that color was secondarily defined as "2. a clear light green with a yellowish tinge." But there is also Pea green, which is defined as "a medium or yellowish green." Glaucous is "1. light bluish green or greenish blue. 2, Bot. covered with a whitish bloom, as a plum."

The dark green fronds of Ebony spleenwort, Asplenium platyneuron, arch over a mossy hummock.

There are words relating to green: Verdant "green with vegetation; covered with growing plants or grass: a verdant oasis." Secondarily, "2. of the color green: a verdant lawn." How about Viridescent "sightly green; greenish: a viridescent wall, tinged with moss."


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