Monday, February 16, 2015

Longwood Gardens: Shades of Gray

It would just be too tacky to make a play on "that movie" that premiered over the weekend, so I won't do that. But I have to show how much better Mother Nature does it anyway.

In my last blog post, I shared some photos of last spring's visit to Longwood Gardens.The conservatory there is a world all in itself, with each partof it worthy of an essay highlighting its features. It was the lovely shades of gray in its Silver Garden that especially caught my eye this visit.

Take a look:

So many of these plants exhibiting gorgeous shades of gray/silver/blue look as if they would be feathery soft to touch (and some are), however those stunning agaves are anything but. Flowers are beautiful, to be sure, but the Silver Garden of the conservatory is a prime example of how foliage, with subtle hues and bold textures, can be a stunning element of design. Fellow St. Lynn's Press authors, Christina Salwitz and Karen Chapman, have written one of the best books on this subject Fine Foliage: Elegant Plant Combinations for Container and Garden.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Springtime Visit to Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens, the treasure created by the Pierre du Pont family near Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is an enjoyable experience at pretty much any time of the year, but my visit last April made more of an impression on me than my first visit way back in September of 2006. The reason for this may have been a combination of two things.

When I made that first visit, I was a new gardener and while absolutely awestruck by its loveliness and grandeur, my familiarity with plants had not yet reached a level much beyond their aesthetics. That alone is more than enough to appreciate this garden or any garden, for that matter, but as my knowledge of and experience with plants has grown exponentially over the years, I look at gardens through different eyes.

Now I look at the design of the garden as a whole, as well as individual plots and vignettes. I try to figure out why I like them, why they work, and ponder whether any of it would work in my own garden. I also look at individual plants that catch my eye and wonder if I could grow this one or that one, all the while looking ahead with regard to maintenance, drought tolerance, and attractiveness as it matures.

Consider too, that visiting any garden in spring - for a northern gardener, at least - lifts a person's spirits after enduring a long, cold, and dreary winter. Last spring was especially joyous because of The Winter That Was.

I was more than ready to see swaths of daffodils and tulips and smell the wet, green fragrance of the gardens coming to life again. Not just the hyacinths or lily-of-the-valley, but that medley of "green" that even those without sight would recognize as spring.

THIS is how you do a conservatory.

This second visit to Longwood Gardens was planned but yet by chance, as it was a personal add-on to a business trip to Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, just outside Harrisburg, where I spent two days touring the Ames Tools facilities and getting to know their company and their products. Good friend Shawna Coronado had been invited by Ames too, and we were delighted when we discovered we both were attending.

With several thousand tulips, you too can have a yard that looks like this!

That's when the wheels started turning in my head as to the possibility of us staying an extra couple of days (at our own expense) so that we could visit both Longwood and Winterthur, if possible, since we were going to be relatively close to both of them. Having visited both places previously, I was hoping to see them again and introduce both to Shawna, but unfortunately, Winterthur would have to wait for another time, because you know how time is - there just never seems to be enough of it.

One of the most photographed locations at Longwood includes the stone
and iron gazebo.

The mother-daughter dynamic duo,
Katie Dubow (left) and Suzi McCoy
After spending two wonderfully informative days at Ames, we were hosted by Suzi McCoy and her husband in their beautiful Kennett Square home, with a lovely dinner at nearby Terrain garden store, where we were joined by Suzi's daughter, Katie Dubow. We also enjoyed a fun breakfast at Fran Keller's Eatery, a local restaurant, where we were joined by a couple of other Garden Media Group peeps, Stacey Silvers and Emma Fitzpatrick.

We arrived at Longwood around 11:00 and for the next six hours, explored the gardens inside and out. If that seems like a long time, I can assure you that it went by in a flash. With over 1077 acres and a conservatory that is alone worth the cost of admission ($20 for ages 18+, $17 for 65+, and $10 for ages 5-18), and camera in hand, it's almost not enough time.

I took over 400 photos that day and choosing which ones to include here to give you a taste of what you can expect to see when visiting Longwood Gardens was not easy. The gardens outside are stunning in their design and use of color, while the conservatory can be described as the best four-acre backyard you can imagine, where the weather is always just right.

Because I know you're going to ask, those pink towers of loveliness are
Echium wildpretii. Appropriate specific epithet, don't you think? Wild and
pretty, for sure.

The gardens celebrated their 100th anniversary in 2006 and miniature terrariums were used as table decorations during a celebratory banquet. When I made my first visit to Longwood in that year, their beautiful gift shop offered some of them for sale. I was able to purchase one and enjoy having a memento of both my first visit and their centennial year.

As with any garden, your visit will be different depending on the time of year you visit. Without further ado, here's more of Longwood Gardens in spring:

In the vegetable garden

The iconic gazebo stands opposite the skunk cabbage coming up on the
other shore of the lake.

I'm thinking that those are some well-placed benches, with that lovely view.

The ferns were stretching out their fiddleheads.

In the children's garden inside the conservatory

In the conservatory

One of the many water features in the conservatory.

The bromeliads are quite happy by this fountain in the conservatory.

One of the conservatory hallways

I've never seen such beautiful foxgloves, inside or out.

Delphiniums and ferns in the conservatory

Beautiful pathway in the conservatory

In the conservatory


Conservatory fountains

Golden Clivia in the conservatory

Bougainvillea in the conservatory

Bleeding Heart
(Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

Bathrooms. Yes, really.

Poppy Anemone
(Anemone coronaria)

Oh, those blue hydrangeas in the conservatory!

Squirrel Corn
(Dicentra canadensis)

Purple Trillium
(Trillium erectum)

Tulipa 'Angelique'

The Topiary Garden

Longwood Gardens is located 45 minutes from Philadelphia and just 30 minutes from Wilmington, Delaware. It's one of the many beautiful places to visit in the Brandywine Valley.

Longwood Gardens
1001 Longwood Road,
Kennett Square,  PA 19348


Thursday, February 5, 2015

l've Never Met a Better Lavender - It's 'Phenomenal'!

We know that fragrance has the power to take us back in time to an experience and it can transform our mood. It's also one of the joys of gardening - growing plants that not only look pretty, but smell that way too.

Lavender is one of the most well-known fragrant plants there is and while I love growing it, it can be persnickety about our Zone 5b climate and our native heavy clay soil. Even with soil amendments, there are years that can be pretty tough on even well-established lavender plants. If only there was a lavender that existed that was just a little more forgiving...

Oh, wait. There IS!

A few years ago, I met Lloyd Traven, plant breeder and owner of Peace Tree Farm located in Pennsylvania, a short distance from Philadelphia. Lloyd is one of those people whom once you've met him, you never forget him. There's just something about him, whether it's his no-nonsense approach to life or his enthusiasm and knowledge about the plants he grows. Or maybe it's the beard. I'm not sure.

Lloyd and me at National Green Centre in St. Louis in
January 2013. (Photo by Chris Tidrick)

Lloyd had been working on some things and in 2012, he introduced Lavandula x intermedia 'Phenomenal' to the rest of us.

Now this is no ordinary lavender. Yes, it has purpley-blue flowers and yes, it smells really nice. But 'Phenomenal' lives up to its name in many ways:

  • It has exceptional winter hardiness. Lavenders succumb to the cold mainly because they require excellent drainage and soggy soil coupled with the cold is more than most lavenders can handle. While 'Phenomenal' also likes good drainage, it's more tolerant of adverse conditions than most other lavenders.

    Remember the winter of 2013-14? Oooooh, that was a bad one. I'd been growing several types of lavender, including 'Hidcote' and 'Munstead', quite successfully for several years in my heavy clay garden that's located in what was once The Great Black Swamp. I had just planted two 'Phenomenal' plants that I'd been given as test plants late in the season right before that brutal winter and I was worried that they wouldn't survive it.

    But when spring came, guess what happened? I lost every single one of my well-established lavenders, but the 'Phenomenal' did just fine. Like most plants last spring, they were a little later to break dormancy, but both plants made it. Of course I bought more and to be honest, it's the only lavender I intend to grow for the time being.

  • It's not bothered by hot and humid summers. Global warming, anyone? We've always had periods of extreme heat in July and August, but in recent years, it's pretty much a sure thing that those months are going to be scorchers. Not only that, with the exception of last summer, it's as if God turns off the spigot around mid-June and gets busy with other things until he finally remembers to turn it back on around September. Most plants hate that. 'Phenomenal' seems to just roll with the punches.
  • It's a vigorous grower. Last summer was a good one around these parts and it seemed like we got rain right when we needed it and not too much when we didn't. So of course I would expect most plants to do well, and 'Phenomenal' was no exception.  But Lloyd sent me a photo of it growing at the farm in Pennsylvania, showing what it's capable of as it matures:

    Candy Traven (Mrs. Lloyd), standing behind just one 'Phenomenal' lavender plant!
    (Photo courtesy of Peace Tree Farm)

    Wowza! To be honest, if mine gets that big, I'ma gonna have to move some plants! Mine are relatively young yet, but those original ones I planted in 2013 just might do the third year leap this summer. We'll see.

  • It's deer and rabbit resistant. Nothing is deer or rabbit proof, as most gardeners who battle these pests will tell you, but they don't seem to like this plant very well. Perhaps it's because of the oil that gives it that luscious scent. It's also resistant to common root and foliar diseases.

  • It has both culinary and aromatherapy uses, not to mention its use in floral bouquets. You know how Dorothy and friends got sleepy when running through the poppy fields in The Wizard of Oz?  I secretly think those poppies were underplanted with lavender. 'Phenomenal' is exceptionally good for using its oil, which is known to have a calming effect and helps us sleep.

    Mmmmm... can't you just smell it?

    I cut the flower stems from my plants this year and let them dry. I then rubbed the dried flowers from the stems and put them in one of the lavender sachet bags I bought at Carolee's Herb Farm near Hartford City, Ind., a few years ago. Carolee grows a LOT of lavender there, among other wonderful things.
The oil in 'Phenomenal' is long-lasting. All I have to do is shake the sachet a bit and it releases a fresh waft of fragrance through the room. It was the beginning of last August when I cut those flower stems.

What you need to know

If you think you can't grow lavender, try 'Phenomenal'. I haven't done anything special in regard to growing them other than what I usually do when planting lavender of any type and that's making sure they've got good drainage. I  plant them in slightly elevated mounds of soil and if the soil is particularly heavy with clay, I'll amend it with a healthy helping of orchid bark. (Don't wrinkle your nose - it works for me!)

I found some plants locally last summer at Stuckey's in Ft. Wayne but they only had a few and I snatched them right up. As the word gets around about what a great lavender this is, I think it will get easier to find, although it's only sold in independent garden centers. If your favorite IGC doesn't have it, ask for it. That would be doing you both a favor.

Lavandula x intermedia 'Phenomenal'
Zone 5-10
Full sun
24-32" height and spread
Average moisture
Slightly acidic pH (our soil is alkaline and it does just fine)
Flowers in spring and summer

Hey, Lloyd... got any other wonderful things in the works?

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