Refueled and ready to go

I got a good dose of the tropics last Saturday.  The Mid Atlantic group of the Hardy Plant Society organized a tour of the Michael Bowell garden down near Philadelphia.  Michael is the owner of Create-a-Scene, a florist/indoor-outdoor landscaping/container planting/nursery owning/seasonal decorating service which is well known around the country, and in addition to the business Michael is both a long-time Philadelphia Flower Show fixture and an in-demand speaker on all sorts of plant topics.  My intro may be somewhat lacking and vague but hopefully the garden pictures tell a better story.

michael Bowell create a scene

Not your average porch plantings, this one comes with a ton of tropicals, fancy pottery, and random art. The hanging baskets are filled with what I think are those odd tropical pitchers (nepanthes) which end each leaf with a bug-unfriendly pitcher trap.

The focus of the visit was Michael’s extensive (addictive maybe?) collection of tropical plants which are arranged throughout the gardens.  All of them out for the summer and then in for the winter, and even with Michael’s four greenhouses the task seems overwhelming.  Plus on top of that it’s not just a handful of coleus and a potted mandevilla, it’s all kinds of species and families and rare cultivars….

michael Bowell garden

The sheltered side garden of Michael Bowell’s garden. Art, ponds, fountains, arbors, pergolas, and plants… lots of plants. I think most of this garden around the house is mobile and the plants will soon be trimmed and the pots moved back under shelter.

This autumn garden visit by the HPS seems to be an annual tradition and is the setting for an informal cutting swap of whatever members bring along.  The icing on the cake however was Michael’s generosity with his own cuttings.  As long as care was taken, members were allowed to take cuttings of any particularly irresistible plants they came across along the way.  I tried to show restraint but then as soon as the formal tour ended I had to run around one last time to snip a few begonia, geranium, and coleus cuttings.  I’ll let you know how I make out 🙂

michael Bowell create a scene

I felt like it was a garden that almost required entertaining. Seating areas and enclosed spaces really defined the different parts of the garden.

For as interesting as I found the garden, it took me a few minutes to work through my anger issues before I could really enjoy the garden visit.  I was a little irritated with that the powers that be for sending rain showers on the one morning I wanted to do an outdoor tour.  Nearly three months without any serious rain and there we were driving an hour and a half through steady rainfall and then later dodging puddles and soggy lawn.  Luckily we only dealt with one brief shower during the tour and then clear skies thereafter (of course my own garden received nothing more than a light drizzle all day).

lacebark pine pinus bungeana

I think I should finally get myself a lacebark pine (pinus bungeana). My garden is short on evergreens and I love this bark. It’s a clumsy looking tree though and might need quite a bit of pruning and training….

My pictures really don’t do the garden justice and the recent downpour had plenty of autumn leaves falling down on everything, but I hope you can get a good impression of the plants and plantings.  My impression of it all has inspired me to evict the sunflowers and bring the tropical garden back to its full gaudy lushness next year!

michael Bowell garden

I resisted taking any flowering maple (abutilon) cuttings since I have no faith in my ability to overwinter them…. but this tall, red veined flower was delicious and when it showed up in front of a purple ornamental grass I knew I’d need something similar next year!

The tour doesn’t end with the garden, Michael is also an expert on orchids and has a couple greenhouses set up to entertain this passion.  Oh and did I mention the two story high greenhouse which abuts the house?

michael Bowell garden

How cool is an outdoor deck enclosed by the greenhouse? A dinner out on the deck in January amongst the tree ferns and palms sounds like a good antidote to snow.

The garden is a treasure chest of ideas and creativity.  To me it seems like someone came up with an idea and then ran with it, whether that meant carving out a new garden, training a new plant, or scaling a 60 foot tree to hang a little sculpture.  Most of the sculpture is metal and neon art by Simple and it’s hung throughout the gardens.  I bet it gives off an awesome atmosphere at night when all lit up.

michael Bowell garden

I think this is my first garden tour where an invite was extended to go out through a window onto the roof (future enclosed sunporch) in order to get a nice overview of the gardens. An in-training weeping katsura (Cercidiphyllum) dominates and encloses the far end of the garden.

Oh and dogs, fish, parrots, and poultry also share the garden.  What better construction to place at the end of the vegetable garden than a poultry house?

michael Bowell garden

A real beauty or plain ugly? Regardless of your opinion I’m sure this display would melt the heart of any turkey hen.

The majority of my photos were out of focus, overexposed poo-poo, so I’ve got nothing on the vegetable and fruit gardens, but let me slip in one last picture which shows some of the main tropical beds.  These included several areas of full and lush plantings, stuffed with all sorts of exotic goodies… I thought they were perfect 🙂

michael Bowell garden

I need to give my own variegated miscanthus more room next year to develop, and definitely put it close to some dark leaved cannas and elephant ears. Cool.

All this tropical inspiration gives me plenty of ideas for next year.  I think it’s time again to pack a bed full of completely unreasonable, inappropriate, overblown leaves and flowers.  I’ll ignore the amount of work it takes until it’s too late and see what happens.

These are the dreams which will keep me going until we finally get some nice rains and good planting weather.  I’m sick of this dry, dusty crust that passes for soil and it’s a shame to be thinking next summer when I should be excited about tulip planting and perennial dividing.  I’m sure it will come soon enough though!

22 comments on “Refueled and ready to go

  1. Christina says:

    Good luck, sounds like a lot of hard work to me, for just a few weeks of glory! But I’ll look forward to hearing about progress next year.

    • bittster says:

      I sometimes think it’s all just a lot of work for a few weeks, from tulips to chrysanthemums… But then the blooms come and it’s all worth it!
      Over the years I’ve been through this phase a few times, it builds up, becomes too much work and then slowly starts all over again a year or two later 🙂

  2. I always feel a bit guilty, Frank, for enjoying tropicals so much when I am for the native plant movement. You underestimate your photographs — they are great and make me want to visit this garden. P. x

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Pam!
      I like to think it’s all good, and there’s no fear of invasives with tropicals! In either case it’s got to be better than more lawn or asphalt, and I’m all for diversity 🙂

  3. Wow, how generous that Michael let you take cuttings of anything you wanted! I’m sure you’ll have good luck with them. Did your wife groan when you came home with yet more plants? Looks like it was a great tour of an interesting, unique place. I’ll have to try to sell my husband on the idea of a greenhouse attached to the deck–the idea of eating dinner in that tropical environment in mid-January might be enough to win him over! (If only we didn’t have two kids on the brink of college! If only we were independently wealthy!)

    I’ve been toying with the idea of using tropicals on my side porch next summer. I suppose this means I should start the cannas and caladium BEFORE the Fourth of July? I well may pick your brain for suggestions and advice next spring!

    Glad you didn’t have to contend with much rain on the tour. We got a fair amount of rain up here overnight Friday and through Saturday morning. My son reffed a little kid soccer game and came home one very wet puppy!

    • bittster says:

      Michael was generous with everything, from the time he spent with us, to the answers to all questions, to the all around the garden tour. I was expecting more of a here’s the garden, take a look tour.
      Haha, don’t come to me if you want advice on getting thjngs going before the fourth…. I’m still planting into august!
      The rain never hit the valley. A little came down but it’s as dry and dusty as ever out there today. Fingers are crossed for tonight! Hope your not so little ref dried out just fine!
      Hopefully I’ll have a bunch of tropical extras this spring to tempt you with. I can feel another tour coming on!

  4. Chloris says:

    What a great place.. I love the idea of a tropical garden within my existing garden. But the work involved in getting all those tender plants in for winter is overwhelming. And getting them in where? I have already got far more tender plants than I know what to do with.
    Are you going to grow unreasonable, inappropriate, overblown plants which are hardy? Or will you dig everything up for winter? These are things which need to be thought through.
    When I’ m rich I’ m going to have a glass house like the palm house at Kew. It will be full of the most amazing, blowsy plants. There will be a pool with giant water lilies and maybe a waterfall. And it will be aflutter with exotic butterflies.

    • bittster says:

      Maybe an orangerie with nice wide sliding doors…. And a spacious terrace to roll all the pots out onto. You could host elaborate dinner parties in there during the summer and the musicians could sit amongst the foliage near the fountain. I would think you’d need a fountain as well.
      While you’re at it one might as well hire someone to do all the pot moving and watering….
      I’ll end up with a mix of hardy and tropical. The tropicals will be limited to the sorts that can either go dry or cut back to a tuber for the winter…. Plus a bunch of coleus for the windowsill. Maybe I’ll seed out a few castor beans and salvias, that and some grasses will be a good start!

  5. Cathy says:

    Good luck with the cuttings. That garden does look great, but as you say, labour-intensive in autumn moving everything indoors. A two-storey greenhouse sounds like a dream come true though!
    How about trying a rain dance Frank… even if it doesn’t work it’ll give the neighbourhood a good laugh! 😉

  6. pbmgarden says:

    A very lovely garden for inspiration. I do hope your weather balances out soon so you can enjoy a few weeks before it gets too cold.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Susie. I’m realizing the weather has a huge impact on how I feel about the garden. The dry weather is relentless, and with the chrysanthemums yellowing just as the blooms begin to open I feel a little guilty about not watering. Rain and a few warm weeks would be a nice way to wrap up this summer.

  7. Annette says:

    My first thought was: Oh wow, Frank redesigned his porch…but then it’s all possible, isn’t it and this is really your type of planting, all lush and exuberant. All this talk about work…gardening is not work but pure pleasure for me anyway (unless I’m spreading mule manure as I’ve been doing this past while 😉 ). This garden looks so quirky and interesting. Just the sort of place where you can spend hours discovering – thanks for sharing it. Have a lovely weekend 🙂

    • bittster says:

      I wouldn’t mind at all if my porch ended up looking like that, and it does have some similar colors of stone and paint colors…. Except mine has a bright plastics railing to deal with :/
      I agree with the work side of it, it’s not really work if you enjoy the process. I can’t say I enjoy spending a cold drizzly evening lugging heavy pots into the garage but it’s really not that bad if you have a system. It’s the watering that does me in….. I would be thrilled to have mule manure to spread!
      I could go back to Michael’s garden today and I’m sure there would be new things to discover and new ideas to explore!

  8. I was at Michael Boweil’s garden this past weekend on the Scott Arboretum tour. I have to admire the garden for what it is, a wild abandonment to tropicals and chaos. When asked to describe it all I could think of was New Orleans tropical, joyous, and seedy. The invasive plants on the fringes look,like they could move in and take over at any time. And the poison ivy…. And yet I felt that a true gardener would relax and enjoy it all. I definitely want the greenhouse/interior space combo, inspired.

    • bittster says:

      I like that… “New Orleans tropical”. That’s perfect to describe the art, plants, and plantings. The garden is so much about the plants of a collector, I think some years it’s easy to get distracted by some new plant and forget about a whole other group… or at least that’s what happens to me :). It’s only a short season and there’s never enough time to get everything perfect.
      Michael mentioned there was another tour coming through on Sunday, I was wondering who it was. Hope you didn’t notice any overly pinched plants!

  9. I do grow a few tropicals as annuals, mainly in the shady back garden. I’m not a big tropicals enthusiast but I can appreciate this amazing garden. What a treat for you! And I think you’re way to self-deprecating about the photos.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks, used to be I could blame the camera, but now I really have no excuse. I’m trying to learn a couple tricks but I’m no Judy!
      I feel like our summers can be tough on many annuals, and some of the tropicals really love the heat, so I like that their enthusiasm kicks in just when my own is somewhat lacking.

  10. […] cuttings rooting under the shoplight in the garage.  They’re the goodies I snipped from Michael Bowell’s garden in early October, and as the outside garden dies back and bores me the indoor garden takes over.  […]

  11. […] last summer I came across a fruit laden plant during a garden tour.  With the blessings of the owner was able to pocket a few seeds, and six months later I had my own little […]

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