Monday, December 26, 2011

One more image of this morning's sunrise over the Long Island Sound in Fairfield, Connecticut

I forgot to include this second image in that last post!

Sunrise this morning about 7am over the Long Island Sound

The sun just starting to come up this morning over the Long Island Sound.  Hope all my gardening friends have a week full of peace and wonder as we look forward to another year.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Knockout roses by the Long Island Sound - the fall gift that keeps on giving

The pretty salmon pink Knockout roses in my garden have held on and keep coming with our unusually warm Connecticut fall weather. They are such a pleasure to see in the almost sleeping garden.

Fall color on Jennings Beach last week

Views from the beach by my house last week.  I love the colors of the catamarans on the beach against the grays and blues of the Sound.  

Walking by Ash Creek in shorts in December enjoying the view

My neighborhood by the Long Island Sound on my walk a few days ago...fall wanes and winter will soon be here. But our warm weather has stayed with us through the fall months, coming and going, coming and going again. So we still see so many flowers that are normally long gone by now.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas holly, our American version

I've always loved hollies, but after learning so much more about them in my Broadleaved Evergreens class at the New York Botanical Garden recently, I've come to really appreciate all the differences within  the genus Ilex in what seems like endless species, varieties and cultivars.  It's pretty mind blowing, which is what I thought would happen to my poor head while I tried to memorize all the ones we had to know for our tests, with correct spelling of all that Latin to boot...but I kept reminding myself that our list was relatively small as compared to the whole as self pity repeatedly washed over me!

There are hollies that look like the traditional Christmas holly, some with shiny berries and leaves and some with duller berries and leaves, hollies that look like boxwoods, hollies that grow tall and skinny, hollies that grow wide and shrubby, hollies that grow as large trees, and hollies that are native. My favorite by far is the Ilex opaca, the American holly.

Photo of Ilex opaca from Wikimedia Commons

This photo shows the Ilex opaca's deep green leaves with its shallow cuts.  The English holly, Ilex aquifolium, has much shinier, lustrous leaves with deeper cuts and is the one that is probably most recognized as the preferred decoration for our mantles and railings in our homes.  But I love the not so showy leaves of the Ilex opaca.  The berries, which here are still green, do turn red, but a duller red than the Ilex aquifolium.  For some reason, the less shiny nature of the American holly appeals to me.  And the fact that it's native is a big plus for our gardens and landscapes.  It will attract many more beneficial insects for our gardens and we'll get the bonus of much more pollination for our flowers, fruits and veggies.

In homage to the glorious American holly, I've been doing some reading and researching its history and uses in our homes.  Here is some of what I've learned.

The American holly naturally grows in the deep woods, is a mid-story tree, and is the state tree of Delaware.  These holly trees were noticed by the Pilgrims who landed in our country the week before Christmas in 1620 on the coast of Massachusetts.  When they saw it, the American holly reminded them of their native English holly, Ilex aquifolium, which was a symbol of Christmas in England and much of Europe.   

Ilex opaca is the only native North American holly that reaches tree size and proportion.  It's slow growing, but some cultivars will attain 6" of growth a year.  American holly naturally grows to a small to medium tree of about 40-50' tall in optimum conditions of moist, organic, acidic, well-drained soil.  It is found in North American from Massachusetts down to Florida.  As with most broadleaved evergreens, it should be protected from winter sun and winds to prevent scorching of its leaves.

There are many good cultivars of Ilex opaca for our North American gardens.  Some for northern states are 'Croonenburg', 'Old Heavyberry', and 'Miss Helen', and for southern states 'Savannah' is a great choice.  

"Considered by many gardeners the finest tree-type evergreen holly.  Over the years, over 1000 cultivars have been named." - Michael Dirr, Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs.

Many poems and songs have featured the holly.  A Christmas poem in an almanac of 1695 begins:

'With holly and ivy so green and so gay, 
We deck up our houses as fresh as the day.'

And even King Henry VIII used holly to help describe his love for one of his many ladies in "Green Groweth the Holly" from Poetry of the English Renaissance 1509-1660.  The poem begins:

Green groweth the holly, so doth the ivy.
Though winter blasts blow never so high,
Green groweth the holly.

As the holly groweth green
   And never changeth hue,
So am I, and ever hath been,
   Unto my lady true.

After reading this poem, Ilex opaca, American holly, will forever have a much more romantic meaning for me.  It's reassuring to know that some things in life stay the same and can have so many uses and meanings for so many different gardens and people.  

So go out there and find some native American holly in the woods for your decorations this holiday season.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all of my gardening friends!

Monday, November 14, 2011

My love-hate relationship with Pieris japonica

I really hate Pieris japonica, or Andromeda, its common name.  Or at least I thought I did.  It's one of those shrubs you see everywhere in Connecticut.  The landscapers and designers seem to love it, and you even seen it all over in the big box stores.  But its droopy flowers have never seemed that attractive to me, and I've just never been able to understand why so many homeowners succumb to its questionable charms.  That is until I took my 'Broadleaved Evergreens' class at the New York Botanical Garden.  I'm finishing this class up now, and my final is Wednesday -- which I should be studying for instead of writing this post!  But I can justify my laziness by telling myself I'm learning more about at least one plant we studied by writing about it now...hmmm....a pretty sorry defense I know.  Anyway...back to the Pieris japonica and why I'm starting to understand its abundance in local gardens.

First of all and probably most important, it's evergreen.  It also has pretty, glossy, dark green foliage, I have to admit.  But the reason most gardeners, designers and landscapers seem to love it is its unusual drooping flower clusters that emerge in April and persist on the plants all the way into winter and that also give a slight fragrance.  A lot of folks call them Lily-of-the-Valley-like, and I have to admit they do resemble that flower in a smaller form.  But the way the flowers stay on the plant for a long time does give it a bunch of points, and there are many, many cultivars of the straight species that are very interesting.  One of them is the 'Dorothy Wyckoff' that you see in these photos I took just a couple of weeks ago at the NYBG.  A lot of the cultivars are smaller than the straight species and not as leggy, as this 'Dorothy Wycoff' shows very well.  The straight species has white flowers, but many of the cultivars have pink flowers, like this 'Dorothy Wyckoff'.  They look pretty planted as a specimen in a border, but also really stand out planted as a grouping as they are here.

They do have some drawbacks.  If they are planted in too much sun, they are very attractive to lacebugs.  They do best in part-shade with protection from strong winds, just like so many of the broadleaved evergreens.  They can get leaf scorch if in too much sun, and also mites and leaf spots.  BUT, a really positive attribute is they are deer resistant!  A big plus here in Connecticut and most of the Northeast.

The native mountain andromeda, Pieris floribunda, has flower racemes that are erect and not droopy like the Pieris japonica.  These are especially pretty, too, since that droopy flower has always bothered me.  But the Pieris floribunda IS attractive to deer.  Go figure.

The Pieris species is in the Ericaceae family with the rhododendrons and the mountain laurels and also love acidic, organic, well-drained soil.

So after learning more about its fine qualities and seeing the very pretty 'Dorothy Wyckoff' planted in mass at the NYBG, I might just be a Pieris convert.  Those cute little cultivars are a really nice size for most gardens, and I love the pink hues a lot of them have in those cute droopy flowers.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fall's last holdouts in my garden by the Sound

A few last holdouts in my garden by the Sound. First of all, there's the prolific Miscanthus sinensis 'Morning Light'...this grass truly lives up to its name. I just took this photo with the morning sun shining through the still green leaves and delicate feathery plumes. Then my favorite fall bloomer, Viburnum plicatum tomentosum 'Summer Snowflake'...still blooming! This amazing performer should be called 'Three-Season Snowflake!  It just keeps blooming long into the fall after frosts have come and even after our October snowstorm.  I can't say enough good things about this plant.And of course, my mint will probably be growing long after fall ends and winter has begun. Every time I see it somewhere new in the garden, it just seems to call out "mojito time"!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chartreuse leaves and luscious red berries at the New York Botanical Garden this week

One more view from a fall walk with my class earlier this week at the New York Botanical Garden.

The Bronx Zoo yesterday

Don't you feel like you're in Vermont looking at these photos? Nope, I took these from the monorail to "Asia" at the Bronx Zoo with my son Mark yesterday. The day was perfect - sunny, crisp and cool. The animals were out and mobile and the crowd was light. And I got to see some vintage Bronx fall son could not understand why I was taking pictures of leaves at the zoo...

Fall foliage, fall berries and snow at the New York Botanical Garden this week

Incredible Japanese maple foliage at the New York Botanical Garden this week. And a very pretty display by this Callicarpa. And one more view of our freaky snow's remnants in one of my favorite spots at  NYBG.

Our freaky October snowstorm left its mark at the New York Botanical Garden days later

Remnants of our October snow storm at the New York Botanical Garden this week.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Annuals in my garden by the sound

Even with our really cool nights these tropical annuals by my front door are going crazy! They even seem to have woken up in the cool nights and still pretty warm days and their lush colors and textures are like the gift that keeps on giving.  I know with that first frost that will be here soon I'll come out and find my lovely elephant ear plant crusty and dead, so I just keep watering it and treasuring its glossy leaves as long as I can.

Grasses rule the fall beach gardens in New England

Grasses are everywhere by the beach and in my mind they are the kings and queens holding court in the New England fall garden.  And this hydrangea standard overflows with bounteous blooms in the summer that turn this gorgeous pink in the fall.  This one sure loves where it's planted!

Summer Snowfake viburnum flowers from spring till fall in my garden

This 'Summer Snowflake' viburnum rewards me from late spring and all the way through fall with its lacecap white blooms.

Fall look of my hydrangea standard 'Tardiva'

My standard hydrangea 'Tardiva' is so pretty in the fall with its blushing pink flowers.

Fall in my garden by the sound

My garden by the sound in its waning hours before freezing, snow and sleep for the winter.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tomato heaven at our garden by the Sound

Just picked from my garden.  The best part of my Indian summer garden right now.  The last few weeks have given us dozens of tomatoes from the seedlings my son brought from his aunt's plants in North Carolina way back in April. We weren't sure they'd survive a too early planting back in our cool spring or a severe plague of whiteflies that we got rid of - finally - with sprays of natural dish soapy
water, but they made it...and now they are giving us a gift of beautiful organic tomatoes.  And they are delicious!

Indian summer color in my container gardens

My containers in front of my house are still going strong in our New England Indian summer.  I know it won't be long till the first frost and I'll come out and find my beautiful tropical and heat loving annuals wilted and done.  And then the long cold winter is on the way and the dreams of spring 2012 begin.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The almost fall look of some of my gardens

The first blooms of my Caryopteris 'Blue Mist Shrub' - the bumblebees just devour its nectar, and this spectacular blue is so welcome amidst the late summer and fall colors. My Hydrangea Paniculata 'Tardiva' standard survived my crazy radical pruning of this past spring. I always prune it hard in late winter/early spring, but this year I really sheared the tree.  It came back with huge leaves and the biggest flowers it's ever had! I just love the red color the blooms of this 'Blue Billows' lacecap hydrangea turn in late summer.  They look so pretty sandwiched between the white panicles of my 'Tardiva' and the 'Blue Mist Shrub'. Fall is almost here....

Friday, August 19, 2011

Monstrous sunflower and more from my gardens by the Sound today

Whoops, this is the photo that should have accompanied my post below titled "Today in my gardens by the Sound"...not sure what happened to it as I was posting here on my iPhone while I wait for my sons and our neighbor to finish playing laser tag.  This is such a needed respite from all the summer fun at home :). Air conditioned blogging and all alone....aaaahhhhhh.

My hydrangeas and phlox still bring happy smiles even in this August heat

My front gardens today - they fared much better during "vacation neglect".  

More of my gardens by the Sound today

More of my gardens by the Sound today after my crazy hacking and chopping of yesterday.  I should have taken some before shots!

Late summer views of my gardens by the Sound

Today in my gardens by the sound. I sort of hate August in my gardens - especially when we come back from vacation like we did Sunday night. After ten days of only water and none of my usual weeding and deadheading, plus hot sun and lots of rain, my gardens are completely overgrown and out of control. And I finally made it out yesterday to do some not so judicious pruning, cutting back and deadheading. Somehow the kids, laundry, grocery shopping and pets all came before my sad state of affairs that is my garden. It looked like a tornado had blown through, so I literally hacked away at the gigantic sunflowers that fell away from their staking and the gargantuan coneflowers, black eyed susans, Russian sage, agastache, and goldenrod. I was so fed up with the whole mess that I ripped - barehanded amidst swarms of fat bees - the old mound of raggedy catmint right out of the ground. It was time to bid adios to this greedy, creeping, ratty last bastion of catmint in my garden anyway. I ripped out another mound last year. I've had enough. I love the little dwarf 'Kit Kat' and 'Little Titch' varieties that stay where they're planted and don't hungrily take over precious garden space, and I use them on client's gardens quite a bit. But they are not what I had. Now I can spend delicious hours trying to decide what I'll plant in that beautiful empty patch of dirt. Hmmmmm.......

Saturday, August 6, 2011

By the beach in Fairfield last Sunday morning

Scenes from my walk last Sunday morning.  This is the end of Fairfield Beach Road which snakes along the Sound.  I love this walk, and this was a perfect summer morning...not too hot and no humidity.

Summer bouquets from my gardens

Summer bouquets from my gardens.  One of my favorite parts of summer flowers is bringing them inside and putting vases of them all through the house.  These sunflowers are my son Mark's that he brought as tiny seedlings from his aunt's gardens in NC in April.  We weren't sure if they'd survive our very cold spring, but we babied them and they rewarded us with these huge luscious blooms.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The sound a few minutes ago after a summer downpour. I've never seen a rainbow like this right over the sound in 12 years of living here.  Isn't it beautiful?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Herb and veggie garden featuring specimens from around the world at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Images from what they call the herb garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden today. It has herb and some veggie varieties from all over the world. And each plant variety has a name plate with the common and scientific name, its country of origin and its historical and/or current medicinal use.  There are also annuals and perennials mixed in that bring in beneficial insects to help with pollination and organic disease control.  There were thousands of pollinators - bees, wasps, flies - all over the garden.