Planting Fields in March

I took a quick trip out to Long Island NY last weekend and since it was just me in the car it was a very brief back and forth before the decision was made to sneak in a garden visit.  Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, NY was the choice.

florist cineraria pericallis bedding

I didn’t know florist cineraria (apparently called pericallis these days) would be hardy enough to go outside already, but they were and they looked great in front of the annex building to the main greenhouses.  Dark centered daisies are a favorite of mine btw.  

I used to work ten minutes from this NY historical state park and obviously because of the greenhouses, plant collections, hundreds of acres of open land, plus a manor house, you know it was a favorite pitstop along the way to and from work, but I had already been visiting for a few years before that.  Over the years the visits have settled in to follow a traditional path, and that path nearly always begins in the main greenhouse.

planting fields main greenhouse

The Main Greenhouse at Planting Fields.  

What shows up in the main greenhouse depends on the season or the year.  Sometimes the beds are filled with delphinium or foxgloves, poinsettias, chrysanthemum, orchids… wherever the mood of the planting staff has gone.  This March it was overwhelmingly tropical.

planting fields main greenhouse

When you follow the outer path your way is completely enclosed by tropical shrubs, palms, trees… oranges overhang and starfruit grow alongside bunches of bananas.  I believe in this photo we are looking up into a Bismarck palm. 

Radiating off the Main Greenhouse are several grow houses which back in the day served to supply the estate’s cut flower supply.

planting fields orchids phalaenopsis

Several greenhouses are devoted to orchids.  On this bench part of the phalaenopsis collection was still putting on their late winter show.

Back a few years ago, more of the greenhouses were accessible but today there are still at least six of the side greenhouses open for visitors, and you can always find plenty to see.

planting fields cactus

Agave are always cool.  Not so much fun to touch, but to see them growing in someone else’s warm, dry greenhouse just as we’re breaking out of winter… 🙂  

planting fields cactus

There’s always something special in the cactus house.

I seem to remember one of the greenhouses being a fern house.  Imagine my surprise when these bright, tropical rhododendron greeted me through the next doorway instead.

planting fields rhododendron vireya

A few vireya rhododendrons in peak bloom.

Vireya rhododendron represent a section of rhododendron which hail from the tropics of Southeast Asia.  As you can see, out of the couple hundred species there have been quite a few exceptionally showy selections and hybrids.

planting fields rhododendron vireya

Just a touch of golden yellow.  It’s so bright it almost overwhelms the smaller species to the right.  Also, in case you’re wondering, my nose detected no scent although some say they’re remarkably fragrant.

planting fields rhododendron vireya

The spring sunshine made everything even better, but notice the mossy root ball behind those extravagantly ruffled ivory flowers.  Many vireya are epiphytes, and grow up amongst the branches of the tropical canopy.   

Sorry but I thought the vireyas were exceptional 😉   Next on the agenda was a short stroll over to the camellia house.

planting fields camellia house

Side view of the Planting Fields Camellia House.  This used to be shaded and blocked by massive beech and pines, but disease and storms can take a toll.

The camellia house (1917) shelters the largest collection under glass in the Northeast.  I believe I once read that Mr. Coe got a really good deal on a bunch of imported camellias and only later discovered that they likely wouldn’t be hardy in his new garden.  Build a new glasshouse was the solution!  In any case, this year I managed to catch the tail end of the show.

planting fields camellia house

Camellia ‘Captain Rawes’.  A small arching tree which used to be matched by another equally large tree on the other side of the walk.  I wonder how long its partner has been missing, they were always my favorites. 

Here’s a little 1996 NY Times article on the camellia house.

planting fields clivia

Although many of the camellia were over, the clivia were coming on strong.

The camellia house is another place which comes and goes.  Some years it’s a thicket of bloom and bush, other years it’s recovering from the occasional massive pruning these big plants need.  I guess this year was somewhere in between, still excellent of course.

planting fields camellia house

Southerners would probably pass right by this one, but here in the cold north these huge flowers made me smile.  Plus the brickwork and greenhouse doors aren’t all that shabby either.

A brief run through the grounds was the next requirement.

planting fields pool

The mixed perennial borders surrounding the pool were still 100% sure spring had not yet arrived.

William Coe built Coe Hall as a residence, but his botanical collections and interest in horticulture had this former gold coast estate donated as a school of horticulture, and then preserved as an arboretum.  As such it’s filled with interesting things, and whether you’re just strolling or looking for specific plant goodies you can’t go wrong on a beautifully sunny March morning.

planting fields coe estate

Coe Hall beyond the branches of one of the remaining mature beech trees.  

I tried to get a quick visit in with all my favorites.  The giant sequoia trees were looking sad, as it appears fungus has finally caught up with them, but I was happy to see the odd monkey puzzle trees were still up to their usual monkey business.

planting fields monkey puzzle tree

Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) in the sheltered high shade of the North rhododendron garden.  

The monkey puzzle is an exceptionally curious thing, and ranks as one of those living fossil trees which still keep chugging along as if the dinosaurs were still around to graze them.  Nowadays they’re confined to the Southern tip of South America but eons ago ranged across continents.

planting fields monkey puzzle tree

Spiny, sharp, and a puzzle for any monkey to climb, Araucaria araucana is not for everyone.  The foliage is cool though, and individual leaves can stay on the plant for decades.  Trees over 1,000 years old are not unknown.  

How can people not get excited about plants?  Beats me…

planting fields snowdrops

Of course I still found plenty of late season snowdrops.

So that was last weekend.  Maybe you can guess that in the week since I’ve been busy and/or lazy again, and if that’s a bad thing well at least on the good side it spares you from much of the rest of our snowdrop season.  It was an ok year in case you’re curious.  Too much wind, a lot of temperature ups and downs, and last year’s monsoons seemed to have been too much for many of the plantings, but hopefully the snowdrops which did come up  will be enough to last until next year.

We’ll see.  Have a great week regardless 🙂

Snowdropping 2019

Better late than never… and although Paula and I did meet up for a February greenhouse tour of snowdrops, that visit was a far cry from our traditional all-day snowdrop adventure.  Fortunately we were able to get one in.  This trip was a check off the bucket list, and it involved a four hour drive in a completely different direction,  with us getting out of the car just short of the Eastern tip of Long Island, NY.  Understandably my wife told us several times we were crazy (although she did use slightly different terms).

galanthus david baker

Treasures tucked in under the shade of a southern magnolia.  Galanthus ‘David Baker’ sits next to what I think is a golden variegated sweet flag (Acoris gramineus ‘Ogon’).

We had been hoping to visit this garden for a few years now, and the more sane version started with me heading East for a visit with my parents, Paula driving out the night before, a one hour ride to the garden in the morning, and then wherever the weekend leads after that.  Of course other obligations interfered and once again the plan didn’t work out, but our host was exceptionally accommodating and so was the weather, so tally-ho!

snowdrop garden

Snowdrops were peppered everywhere in this mostly sunny garden.  Our host kind of confessed he’s pushing several hundred cultivars, so ‘everywhere’ does end up being a necessity!

This was the garden of a true galanthomaniac but still remarkably balanced.  Roses, perennials, evergreen plantings, interest for all seasons but still space for tons of galanthus!

galanthus green tip richard ayres

Not the best photo, but I do like galanthus ‘Green Tip Richard Ayres’.  I like it a lot.

This is a garden where the majority of snowdrops were planted in pond pots, a plastic mesh pot used for aquatic plants, but also embraced by serious snowdrop growers as a way to cram tons of cultivars into a small plot yet still be able to lift and divide and find bulbs easily.  Even when the dormant bulbs show nothing above ground.  It makes a lot of sense and the results do speak for themselves.

galanthus godfrey owen lady beatrix stanley little ben

The shade of conifers is usually not good at all for spring bulbs, but on the edge of a sunny lawn with just a few sheltering boughs above, galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’, ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’, ‘Little Ben’ and others, are all quite happy.

Although I won’t use the word obsessive, this is absolutely a collector’s garden with a careful inventory and organized labeling and placing.  You kind of need that when the numbers start adding up.  The plantings may appear to spread casually throughout the garden but you will notice (even faster when your host points it out) that there’s another brilliant quirk of order.  From one area to the next, all the plantings are organized alphabetically.  ‘Dodo Norton’ follows ‘Danube Star’ while ‘Dracott Greentip’ sits just to the right.  It would make an OCD heart sing 🙂

galanthus natalie garton chris sanders

Galanthus ‘Natalie Garton’ (aka ‘Chris Sanders’) soaking up the March sun at the edge of the rose garden.  Note the brown label off to the right, that’s our host’s sign that this clump is marked for digging, dividing, and sale(!) this summer.

I’m going to guess that years ago this gardener realized that when collecting, you can only really hold on to so many of any given cultivar.  You can also only trade and give away so many, so for several years our host has taken to offering a few (actually quite a few) each year for sale.  I’m going to foolishly direct you to >my snowdrop page< for contact information (scroll down about halfway to ‘snowdrop sources’ and you’ll see him listed by name)… although the selfish side of me is hoping you don’t beat me out to my favorites, and leave me with the leftovers since it sells out fast.  While you’re requesting a list you may also wish to ask him about getting email updates from his annual UK trip each spring.  It’s a fun narrative of an A list of snowdrop events and personalities from overseas, and will help you steel through the last few weeks until our own season takes off.

snowdrop garden

Round the house another garden filled with snowdrops 😉

I’m sparing you from most of the endless stream of individual photos, but there was one more snowdrop which really stood out for me.  Under the pergola a monster clump of elwesii caught my eye even from across the garden.  Well over a foot high, with wonderfully large flowers that still held a classic grace, this was one more snowdrop for my growing list of favorites.  I don’t know what the plans are for this one, but I made sure to drop plenty of hints that I’d like to be on the waiting list!

Galanthus elwesii under the pergola. Sorry about the lighting, but as you know I’m more enthusiastic than skilled.

I hope I pre-warned our host sufficiently that we would surely overstay our welcome, but even after two hours plus of garden wandering he still graciously extended us an invitation for tea.

snowdrop garden

Our host wisely excused himself midway to get some inventorying done while we photographed, but we found him anyway and the warm shelter of the juniper hedge made for a perfect spot to enjoy snowdrops and sun while talking galanthus.

I love a late winter garden visit where the sun is strong and the lawn is dry, and it’s ok to just sit there and take it all in.  Of course the close up quarters to so many snowdrops added a few more favorites to the list, but what I really enjoy is hearing the stories and getting the advice and coming up with new plans.  We were really spoiled on this trip 🙂

galanthus bernard rohlich

Ok.  One more, Galanthus ‘Bernard Rohlich’.  Note the brown label, hopefully my budget can handle this one!

So finally it was inside for tea, which we probably overstayed as well, and then out the door.  Our host was still kind enough to offer us more garden-wandering time but a long drive home was hanging over our heads.  We headed out to the car but not before one last pause to admire all the galanthus ‘viridapice’ clumping throughout the garden.  If I remember correctly these were the drops which started most of the obsession in this garden.  A pack of bulbs simply marked ‘snowdrops’, and thirty years later (and a lot of luck to get such a nice form of viradapice in that pack!) and the garden has drops all over.

galanthus viridapice

Just one of many, many healthy clumps of galanthus ‘viridapice’ growing throughout the hedges and woodland plantings of the garden.

After we said our goodbyes we began the journey back west.  Of course there was a side-trip.  With 40 minutes to go till closing we popped into the Bayard Cutting Arboretum for a quick run through the snowdrop highlights of this former estate, present day NY State park.  It’s an old manor house property which dates back to the late 1880’s and recalls Long Island’s history as an escape for the rich and famous of NYC.

bayard cutting arboretum

“Westbrook” overlooking the Connetquot river and estuary as it leads out to the Great South Bay on Long Island’s South Shore.

This arboretum was one of my favorite off season destinations while growing up.  The coastal air and sun would usually keep the walkways clear of snow and ice, and the pinetum plantings and many paths and trails were always a nice outing.  Since I’ve already mentioned I was a little weird as a child, I don’t think it will surprise anyone that I knew where many a snowdrop patch was located.

naturalized snowdrops galanthus

Naturalized snowdrops (galanthus nivalis) filling in amongst the vinca minor.

We were quite satisfied with this stop.  Not to date myself but over the decades many a change has come through here.  Hurricane Gloria in ’85 was probably the worst when it wiped out an awesome hundred year old conifer collection and closed the park for months, but saltwater flooding from Sandy in 2012 seems to have done in my favorite patch of giant snowdrops (g.elwesii).  Still it’s a wonderful spot which I’m happy to see protected and accessible.

bayard cutting arboretum

A maintenance moneypit I’m sure, but the Tudor style with awesome shingling and crazy chimneys puts the approaching worm supermoon to shame.

But even our epic adventures have to heed reality, so back on the road to drop Paula off at her car and then part our ways.  I still got a couple hours in with my parents (and of course a garden tour!) before hitting the road but it was still a satisfyingly long day even with the late night drive home.  I will recommend it to all crazy galanthoholics 😉

Thanks again to our host for a very enjoyable visit, thanks Paula, and here’s to hoping our latest drop of snow (the real thing, not flowery kind) melts quickly and I can get out again and enjoy the snowdrops here.  Have a great weekend!

A Return to Edgewood

In hindsight the weather could have been better for the two hour plus drive down there, but when you’re matching up three busy calendars you sometimes just get what you get.  Fortunately for the most mountainous part of the drive the bulk of the snow hadn’t yet arrived, and for the flatter portions the thermometer was beginning to rise.  At least it was pretty to look at…. I guess…

witch hazel diane

A slow, careful walk up the icy drive gave plenty of time to admire the witch hazels.  I believe this is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’.

We really had to squeeze this visit in because John Lonsdale, Edgewood Garden’s proprietor, was busy loading up trays and packing the truck for the Pine Knot Hellebore festival in Virginia which kicks off this weekend and then runs for the next three.  Lucky you if you’re close enough to visit, but for now the seven and a half hour drive is more than I’m willing to consider… you never know though.  It’s on the bucket list.  >click here< for exact dates and locations of this and other Edgewood sales events.

hardy cyclamen foliage

Cyclamen ready to hit the road.  Such awesome foliage you almost forget they also cover themselves with bloom, C. maritimum on the left wouldn’t be hardy for me, but I could easily pick out at least four or five of the C. hederifolium to the right and they’d do just fine here in the mountains 🙂

My friend Paula met up with us and we had a great morning looking at and talking about just about any and all snowdrop nuances you could think of.  Then we talked about cyclamen.  As usual I overstayed my welcome.

John lonsdale Paula Squitiere

John and Paula working their way through the G. plicatus section of snowdrops.

I honestly intended to take pictures of some of the latest and greatest hybrids and named sorts and share the photos here, but I really do get a little overwhelmed when hit with the variety of species John grows.  If you’d like a more focused report I’d recommend clicking >here< to read the recent Washington Post article on Edgewood Gardens and some of John’s work with several of the rarest snowdrop sorts.

galanthus gracilis

Just one of the many pots which made me say “oh look at this one, I like that too”.  I believe these were all G. gracilis seedlings.

Of course I like galanthus for the flowers as much as anyone else, but for some reason the varied foliage of the snowdrops had me distracted on this visit.

galanthus gracilis

Curly thin foliage, flat wide foliage with a grey tint, wide apple green…  This photo shows some of the range in Galanthus foliage.  G. gracilis mostly but also a few other species such as G. plicatus and G. ikariae subsp. snogerupii…. a name which I can never resist saying 🙂

I think it’s a bad sign that I now know the names of more than three or four snowdrop species…

galanthus ikarie

Various pots of Galanthus ikarie seedlings.  Such nice foliage, some big flowers here and there, and even one with a nice flush of green on the petal tips.

There weren’t just a few species.  I asked which ones in particular he had growing in the greenhouses and his response was just “all of them”.  It was very cool to see, but even that was overshadowed by the thousands of snowdrop seedlings coming up on nearly every spare shelf or extra rack.

galanthus seedlings

Future snowdrop flowers.

The incredible diversity of species coming along is staggering but before I was even able to get myself grounded again it was off to the next greenhouse to check in on some hardy cyclamen.

cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum filling the bench with an exceptional range of forms and colors.

I took this visit as an opportunity to correct the severe lack of cyclamen coum which my indoor garden is dealing with this winter.  For those who need to know, my budget only allowed me to pick four new ones, so you needn’t worry that I made a huge dent in his offerings.

cyclamen coum porcelain

Cyclamen coum ‘Porcelain’, a nicely striped special strain he had coming along, as well as a particularly dark form below it.

Speaking of budgets, since last year was such a success in restraint and control, I’ve decided to leave off on a good note and never mention tracking my gardening costs again.  It seems almost pointless to worry about a few dollars here and there when I’m faced each month with writing the checks to put a ten year old girl through gymnastics.  All my gardening budget is now officially part of my health care budget, and that would be mental health specifically.  Spending money on the garden will hopefully distract me from the endless drain of money going towards filling birthday cards and financing icecream shoppes and filling the belly of a twelve year old boy who always seems inches from famine.

eranthis orange glow

Another Edgewood offering this year, ‘Orange Glow’ winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis).  I could have easily added a few of these to my order, but have to keep faith that my little seedling from a previous year is still just waiting to show itself.

As long as we’re talking about the budget I wasn’t going to talk about, I might as well admit this visit wasn’t all just the usual me inviting myself over to look at plants.  John has put out a spring listing of plants and I may have needed to pick up a few snowdrops as well as my new cyclamen.  It can be found >here< and although I did save on shipping by picking up directly, you may choose to avoid a five hour roundtrip through snow and icy roads, and just have them mailed to your doorstep.

galanthus plicatus

A large flowered Galanthus plicatus seedling.  The rule of thumb here is about one inch for that particularly fat digit, and that puts this well endowed snowdrop at over two inches!

As always it was a great time, and even though the walk out went even more slowly with precious cargo in hand, we still took a few more minutes to again admire the optimistic witch hazels lining the drive.

hamamelis witch hazel

Icy witch hazel (Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Barmstedt Gold’) in full bloom despite the sub-freezing temperatures.  Everyone should have a few of these.

Thanks all around, and since this post is starting to sound like a shameless plug for Edgewood gardens (which it is) I guess I should say I received no compensation for it, and as a matter of fact it was actually a little costly even if you don’t count the stop at IKEA on the way home.  Well on second thought that’s not completely true.  On a previous visit John gave me an ‘unsellable’ cyclamen which had a few yellow leaves.  It’s now growing and blooming beautifully in its new home, so maybe that cyclamen was all just part of some elaborate master plan 😉

Have a great week, and judging by the strength of the sun this morning you can probably guess what my next post will feature heavily!

An Iris Visit

Although it was a struggle to break away from the garden during this (I should be) busy season, a friend convinced me to take a day and ride out to The Presby Memorial Iris Garden in Montclair NJ to finally follow through on a promise to visit.  Word was that the hot weather and rain had been tough on this year’s show, but that was all lost on me the minute we pulled up to the entrance and saw the beds full of color.  I was way too excited to be there, and just in case there was any doubt left, I’m absolutely a plant nerd.

presby memorial iris gardens

Looking across part of the Presby iris gardens towards the building which houses the Citizens Committee which oversees the gardens.

An all volunteer Committee runs and maintains the gardens, and their work is amazing.  There were several people out and about tending the beds, either deadheading or staking, and I’m sure that’s quite a job considering how many plants are being grown here and the maintenance needed to keep them at their peak.

presby memorial iris gardens

A bed of more modern iris (~1970’s) stretching upslope behind the house.

Personally I tend to prefer the older and simpler forms of historic iris (older than 30 years) but I’m only human and the fluffy, ruffly, overblown flowers of the modern tall bearded iris are very tempting.

iris 'wings at dawn' 2014

Iris ‘wings at dawn’ (2014).  A ‘space age’ iris due to the little tabs ‘launching’ off the falls of the flower.

This might have been my first time around so many iris.  They put on quite a show and I can see how the garden drew in hundreds of visitors the day before when the weather was nicer (but much hotter).  In spite of the fact I had actually brought an umbrella along, a light drizzle started shortly after we arrived and normally I’d complain about my luck, but actually the fine mist only added to the relaxing effect of the pearly light, glowing colors, and nearly empty gardens.

presby memorial iris gardens

A mixed planting near the house.  

My friend and I slowly took in the plantings.  We went back and forth between admiring each bloom to admiring the overall setting and figuring out which varieties we had and which we absolutely needed now that we’ve seen them in person.

presby memorial iris gardens

Long iris beds follow the contour of the land along a small creekbed which separates the gardens from the rest of Mountainside Park.

Although I was mostly interested in seeing all the older iris this garden is known for, here’s just one more that’s “too much”.

iris montmartre 2008

Wow.  Iris ‘Montmartre’ (2008)

Before making the visit I saw an online comment calling the gardens “small”.  I guess I can believe that.  Some people could probably walk the gardens and take a selfie in just over 20 minutes and then hit lunch, but just for reference we iris lovers strolled about in the rain for about two hours before feeling we’d gotten a fair dose of iris.

presby memorial iris gardens

Iris stretching off along the street towards the woods. 

I did enjoy spending too much time admiring some older iris I’d never seen before.  They have a grace and elegance which some of the newest varieties lack and to be honest I might have added a few more to my wanted list.  Now would probably be a good time to mention the annual grab bag sale the gardens host as they replant beds each summer,  and also next month’s annual Historical Iris Preservation Society (HIPs) rhizome sale.  Both are excellent means by which a historic iris addict can add some of the seldom offered older varieties.

iris 'titian lady' 'melanie' 1941

White iris ‘Titian Lady’  and the rosy ‘Melanie’, both 1941 introductions.

I’ll leave you with just a few favorites as we enjoyed the older iris plantings.

historic iris 'ariane' 1930

Historic iris ‘Ariane’ (1930)

historic iris reingauperle 1924

I loved the tall historic iris ‘Reingauperle’ (1924).

historic iris 'waverly' 1936

The light rain was perfect for bedazzling the flowers of ‘Waverly’ (1936)

…and there were peonies as well.  The entrance to the building next door had a nice smattering of peonies filling its beds.

presby memorial iris gardens

Peonies outside the gift shop.

presby memorial iris gardens

Iris and peonies holding up to the rain.

Thanks to Trish for meeting me there, and thanks to the volunteers who make this show happen each year.  It was great seeing such a nice garden and it has me wondering how difficult it would be to start something similar in my neck of the woods 🙂

Have a great week!

Snowdropping 2018

Four snowdrop gardens in one beautiful day was a little too much.  We started early, had a tight schedule, but even with the best intentions still didn’t have nearly enough time.  It was still a thrill though, and with brilliant sunshine combined with comfortable sweater weather we really enjoyed our annual Philly drop adventure.

galanthus nivalis

The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) plus winter aconite (Eranthis hemelis) in the rooty, mossy shade of a large cherry tree.

We started at Paula’s and I couldn’t resist checking up on nearly every drop she has.  Of course that takes time since you don’t just look and move on, you instead admire it, ask where it’s from, how it’s doing…  to keep a long story short you’ll be relieved to know this is the ‘executive post’ and you’ll be spared from at least 99% of our comments and 99.9% of my photos.  You can thank me later.

galanthus kermode bear

Galanthus ‘Kermode Bear’.  One of the ‘bears’ coming out of Canada, an attractive ‘poc’ elwesii with six nice long outers and none of the usual shorter inners.

I did have to show ‘Kermode Bear’.  He’s a newer snowdrop out of the breeding work of Calvor P. in Victoria Canada.  All the Bears are poculiform elwesii which means they’re these nice, large snowdrops with ‘poc’ flowers… meaning the three normally short inner petals are expanded to be nearly as large as the three outers.  I’m a fan, just as I was a fan of many of Paula’s other drops, but the clock was ticking and we were already an hour off schedule by the time we arrived at our second garden.

masses of snowdrops

Sloped beds covered with sheets of snowdrops and winter aconite.  Hard to imagine this gardener began with an empty field and a few gifted clumps.

There were masses of snowdrops at our next garden.  Dozens of years of dividing and transplanting the original clumps can lead to amazing things, and we hit it at the exactly the right moment.  The February sunshine and warm temperatures had everything up and open, including the first hellebores.

hellebore

An amazing newer hellebore with huge flowers, clear rose with a darker center, and flowers facing out and up.  It was even nicer in person!

Again, I’m leaving out so many hellebore and snowdrop closeups it’s practically negligence, but I don’t want to cause too much suffering for those who don’t have quite as much tolerance or enthusiasm as we do.  Here’s a quick image to give you an idea of just how elaborate the rest of the grounds are.  It was intimidating to think of what a force of nature this gardener must be, considering she does all the maintenance herself and has been doing so for several decades now.  Inspiring is probably a better description.

garden design

A parterre off the house overlooking the open fields.  The homeowner admitted she was still in the process of trimming back the grasses.  I’m embarrassed to say mine look worse.

I’m afraid we overstayed our welcome, but our host was still remarkably gracious, and although we tried to hurry on our way the schedule still suffered further.  The light was getting lower by the time we reached our third garden, the home of the King of Cyclamen (in the US at least), Dr. John Lonsdale.

hardy cyclamen

Cyclamen coum in the greenhouse.  They’re perfectly hardy outdoors but these are all potted up and ready to go on a roadtrip to the next specialty plant sale.

John tolerates us very well.  We’re always late, we always stay too long, and we always ask way too many questions, and I can’t imagine our plant purchases and gifts of beer make up for the time we waste, but he’s yet to kick us out and so far he hasn’t put us to work.  Probably for the best of course, since I’m not sure we could be trusted with a weeder or trowel around so many treasures.

eranthis hyemalis

Snowdrops and several varieties of winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis).

To put it in perspective, there were probably more treasures seeded into the walkways than I have special things in my entire garden.  Give his online photo database a browse if you don’t believe the extent of his collection, there’s everything from the rarest species to the newest galanthius variety…. oh look at that, I hadn’t mentioned snowdrops for at least five sentences.  Here’s just one which can’t be left out, galanthus ‘Elsje Mitchell’.  She’s a new and extremely rare  snowdrop out of Europe, and rumor has it John might be potting up one or two for this weekend’s Galathus Gala.  The price remains to be seen, but even in Europe the price runs into several hundred dollars…

galanthus elsje Mitchell

Galanthus nivalis ‘Elsje Mitchell’.  A delicate Dutch snowdrop with fine markings both inside and out.

The sun was much lower by the time we started to make our way out to the car.  It was beautiful to see the witch hazel flowers glow in the low sunshine but sad to consider we were running out of time.  One more garden though.

hardy cactus

There’s never enough time to really check out the hardy cactus, yucca, and agaves which fill the side yard.  The light through the spines was amazing.

We got to our last garden as the light was fading and temperatures were beginning to drop.  The snowdrops were closing up for the night and I believe our host had almost given up on us ever getting there, but was still incredibly enthusiastic and accommodating in spite of the unreliability of his visitors.

hellebore planting

A beautiful garden filled with layers of snowdrops and hellebores, witch hazels and dogwoods, and a tall canopy of deciduous trees.

The light was fading and even though this garden also has masses of early spring bulbs and carefully designed vignettes there were far too many distracting snowdrops and interesting garden stories to pay attention to.  I love going here and could have easily spent another hour or two poking around.  I will spare you most of the rest of my dimly lit photos and leave you with just two more particularly wonderful scenes.

galanthus seraph philippe Andre Meyer

Galanthus ‘Seraph’ and ‘Philippe Andre Meyer’ in the protected nursery beds.

Before the most special drops go out into the open garden this gardener bulks them up in one of several nursery beds.  There were a number of treasures such as galanthus ‘Seraph’, “Philippe Andre Meyer’, and ‘Matt Bishop’ plus many, many others.  Some people are really nuts about snowdrops.  With this in mind I’ll leave you with one last drop who’s name really seemed appropriate for our adventure.

galanthus grave concern

I believe Galanthus ‘Grave Concern’ was discovered in a cemetery, but considering how much my wanted list grew on this trip I think it’s a perfect name to end this post on.

If you’ve made it this far I thank you,  just as I thank the wonderful people who allowed us to tie up their schedules for as long as we did.  On top of that I’d also like to point out that this upcoming week is just filled with a bonanza of other Philadelphia PA snowdropping events which amazingly coincide with the peak of this year’s season.

Here’s a quick rundown starting out with my most anticipted event, the >second annual Galanthus Gala< this Saturday (March 3rd) in Downingtown PA.  This celebration of snowdrops and other late winter flowers and shrubs is hosted by the plantsman, author and designer David Culp, and promises to be a wealth of plants, talks, sales, and all things snowdrop on this side of the Atlantic.  Free admission is a plus, but I challenge you to walk out again without some little treasure in your hands.

You might also want to consider stopping by >Carolyn’s Shade Gardens< in Bryn Mawr PA.  It’s about 35 minutes away from the Gala location and word is Carolyn is hosting an open garden Saturday, March 3, from 1:30 to 5 pm, and Sunday, March 4, from 1 to 4 pm.  Snowdrops and hellebores in full bloom plus plants available for sale.  The address is 325 South Roberts Road, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, 610-525-4664.

If that isn’t enough, the >Philadelphia flower show< also kicks off this weekend and runs through the week, and to cap it all off >Winterthur Museum and Gardens< will be holding their annual ‘Bank to Bend’ lecture and plant sale on Saturday, March 10th.  The grounds should be perfectly full of snowdrops snd other spring bloomers, and the lecture by Dr. Peter Zale promises to be exceptional.

The season looks like it’s off to a good start, and as long as we survive this last burst of winter I think we’ll be in good shape.  Have a great weekend!

A Longwood Christmas

A few years ago we almost gave up on holiday visits to Longwood Gardens.  We’re lingerers after all and the crowds and hustle bustle of hundreds of visitors can put a lot of pressure on ‘that guy’ who’s holding up the line because he wants to give all the gardenia flowers a sniff.  We kept at it though because for as nice as Christmas and good cheer are, a few whiffs of the tropics can also go a long way bringing some jolly to a cold winter night… and these are the long nights and stressful days which can really use some tropical relief.

longwood christmas

The orangery decked out for the holidays.  Warmth, humidity, and sunshine made the display even better.

Who would have thought the answer to our crowded visits could be as simple as going on a less crowded day?  For the second year in a row we visited on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and for Christmas diehards that might be inappropriately early, but for us it’s been working perfectly.  The weather was beautiful and we nearly had the place to ourselves (relatively speaking of course).

longwood christmas

This year the apples are back, this time keeping company with thousands of floating red cranberries.

The conservatories are always perfectly decorated with the colors and sounds of the season.  I think my favorite part this year was the bright sunshine streaming in through the glass when we first arrived.  Walking through the doors and into the sunny, humid warmth was an instant escape from weeks of static and dry skin.

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Walls of windows, tree ferns, and fountains… I could get used to this 🙂

Flowers, greenery, and holiday decorations.  You can imagine I took plenty of pictures but since they’re not snowdrop photos I’ll spare you from the bulk of it.  Click >here< for last Christmas or >here< for last summer if you need more, or better yet visit the Longwood website for the real stuff!

longwood christmas

My favorite view this year, a courtyard scene off the back of the music room.

Since the kids ditched us this year there was plenty of time to admire the boring flowers without anyone tugging a coat sleeve.  Longwood always has orchids and I suddenly had the time to admire them… although I’m still far from being an orchid person (mostly due to their habit of dying on me).

I won’t go on and on about every conservatory flower but I did find something which I thought was even more special than their regular.  In one of the back greenhouse passages was a display of a few of their ‘on trial’ poinsettia, and I thought is was an interesting glimpse into some of the variety which this humble plant from Central America has been bred into.  This is also where I met some of the ‘golden’ poinsettias which carry names such as ‘Autumn Leaves, and ‘Gold Rush’, and came in colors more traditionally associated with the end of summer.  What do you think?  At least there’s no blue dye or glitter in sight!

…and then night fell.  We grabbed a bite to eat, toured the grounds, enjoyed the fountains (not the main fountains, they’re off for the winter), took in some Christmas songs around the organ, warmed up around the fire, and then closed the place down with one last tour of the conservatory.  It was holiday-magical in the late evening, with most visitors having already headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

A Longwood Christmas with a French feel.  The symmetry and apple-cranberry patterns surrounded by box are chateau parterre inspired.

Then we were the ones headed to the exit.

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The stroll back out to the car.  A two hour drive home awaits 😉

As usual we enjoyed our visit, and it must have been somewhat inspiring since I spent a few hours this weekend out in the cold putting up our own lights.  So far the reviews have been less than flattering, and there’s no talk of admission tickets, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

If you decide to make your way to Longwood this year for the displays be sure to buy your tickets online before you go, just to make sure they’re available.  Also if you want to take in a quieter visit, try to avoid Saturdays and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Those might be the nights when you’re better off hitting the eggnog at home.

2017 Summer Bucket List: The Fountains of Longwood Gardens

The buzz had been building for 2 years as the fountains of Longwood Gardens underwent a massive, 90 million renovation behind the curtain of construction walls and ‘do not enter’ signs.  You kind of got used to it.  For years the fountain area had been my least liked section of Longwood and as far as I was concerned it was only an area to walk around and avoid while you explored other more exciting sections.  Sometimes a fountain went off.  Ok nice.  I almost felt a little sorry for Pierre du Pont if this was all his obsessive passion for fountains could put together.  Plus I hated all the rows of pathetic Norway Maples which lined the area.  Like I said, it wasn’t a favorite.

Holy crap has that changed.  The restored fountains were reopened this past May and if you happen to have the chance to see them I think you’ll agree they’re friggin’ awesome!  The grounds have been rebuilt into something which could compete with an European palatial spread, but the fountains are something all to themselves and have to be experienced in person.

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Looking in to the heart of the five acre main fountain gardens.  The sounds of water surround you.

Before I get too in to it I just want to mention my kids came along, and a 9 and 11 year old who are more interested in gymnastics and tag were not the best visiting companions, but I decided to take one for the team and hope a little of the experience sinks in.  They love the Christmas show… but strolling and looking at plants… not so much.

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The Orangery in its summer finery.  Throughout the greenhouses things are always perfect regardless of the season, and I question the soul of anyone who isn’t a little amazed the first time they enter.    

We stopped for ice-cream first.  It’s a two hour drive for us so that’s the least I could do for my surprisingly well behaved travel companions, and as they finished that off and played in the children’s section (which I’m glad to see they haven’t yet outgrown) and then toured the indoor gardens, it was at least an hour before I got the first “I’m bored”.

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An awesome canna inside the Orangery.  I loved it and I wanted it, but unfortunately couldn’t find the name.  Perhaps it’s one of the many cannas which have been raised and hybridized in one of Longwood’s many research and breeding programs. 

We tried to move quick.  Maybe getting there at 3 O’clock was indeed a little early considering all the kids wanted was a light show… but the plants, the plants 😉

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There’s water all over.  This was just one of the many fountains of the children’s garden.

The water garden was an interesting diversion.  This is always my favorite spot and I was glad the kids seemed somewhat interested in the water lilies and massive Victoria Lilies which fill the pools.

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The giant pads were approaching five and six feet in diameter, and have a reputation of being able to support babies and small children with their buoyant structure.

I of course always have to touch the nasty spines even though I’m well aware of how sharp they are.  The undersides of the pads and outer coverings of the flower buds are all well defended with this barrier.

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It’s thought the raised lips of the pads prevents them from growing on top of one another, and the two notches on the rim allow rainwater to escape.

While I was trying to explain just how awesome these plants were, the kids were absolutely distracted by the small mosquito fish which filled each pond section.  For the next 20 minutes all they wanted to do was catch one…. or two… or a bigger one… or one more… or just one more…

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Got one.

Fortunately the Longwood employees were very pleasant about the kids harassing their mosquito fish.  They explained how the fish control the mosquito larva and added a few things about nearby plants as well, but overall just let the kids enjoy a little wet fun.  I’m sure this will be the memory they keep from this area even though I tried my darnedest to explain the Longwood history of hybridizing these Victoria lilies and their fragrant, night blooming, beetle pollinated, flowers and… well this is where they caught fish.

longwood gardens

The giant victorias are nice enough, but these day and night blooming tropical waterlilies aren’t too shabby either, and their bright colors and fancy foliage could keep you here hours just exploring the variety.

I made another attempt to visit every single highlight of the gardens but was quickly derailed by another “I’m bored”.  The gardening bug definitely either skips a generation or is a recessive gene since my two are nearly completely empty of any chlorophyll.  We sat for a while playing with cameras and looking at pictures and then headed over for dinner instead.

longwood gardens

Round about 6pm the gardens started to fill up.  It was a ‘pop up’ Luminaries weekend, and thousands of candles were laid out across the lawns and lined up along pathways, and one by one the individual candles were being lit. 

As dusk began to fall the luminaries were being lit throughout the gardens.  Our visit just happened to coincide with a surprise luminary weekend where thousands of luminaries ‘pop up’ throughout the gardens.  While the boy focused on trying to blow out a candle without being caught, we did manage to see at least a few of the best garden areas.  A favorite is the long border which shades from white to yellow to gold…

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One of my favorite rudbeckias, ‘prairie sun’.

…to red to pinks…

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Pink zinnias, canna, and crape myrtle.

…to purples to blues…

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Cleome, ageratum, dahlias, and I think vitex.  The dark purple bushes in the back are a very cool non-hardy euphorbia which I always look for but never find on sale. 

and the crowds continued to drift in…

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Blankets and chairs setting up for the show, even though it was still at least an hour to go.

Once the sun set and the lights came on things really started to get amazing.

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Food stands, wine and beer stands, fancy dining… Longwood at night has become quite the date night location.  

We headed out one more time to see the lanterns at full effect.

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One of the main lawns covered with a spiral of luminaries.  Getting lost amongst the lanterns is the perfect excuse to hold hands 😉

I hope my random point and shoot photography gives you some idea of how cool Longwood is at night.  People whisper.  It’s really captivating.

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Candlelight from the luminaries, soft lighting for the plants, and in many spots the sweet fragrance of night scented flowers such as these angel trumpets (Brugmansia).

There really were a lot of candles.  I think the gardens would be nice enough on any night, but I’m glad we had the chance to see the luminaries as well.  Rumor has it quite a few other people also got the chance to see the show.  I noticed on their website that most nights ended up being sold out…. so even on a regular weekend make sure you have your tickets purchased before you head down.

longwood gardens

I think of Luminaries as a Southern Christmastime tradition, but here in the North I’ve got to say summer nights work out much better.

Once we got through the luminaries it was finally time for the 9:15 fountain show.  The show was epic with music, lights, sounds, and fountains spouting everywhere.  From what I hear the highest can shoot up to 175 feet (53m) into the air and when you’re watching or wandering through the show, it absolutely surrounds you.

My daughter’s favorite…. pink. She insisted on many photos to catch the pinkness.

We settled into the upper area where the largest fountains are located and it was amazing to be surrounded by all the noise and water.  Even with the highlights right there in front of you, you still had to keep looking around to catch the parts of the show up closer to the main viewing area.  There were spouting columns of flames after all!

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Lights, fountains, and FLAMES!  

The fountains were impressive enough during the day, but the show at night was truly epic.  Who would have thought that water shot into the air could be so entertaining… well, who other than Pierre du Pont I guess 🙂

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It was really cool.

Seven hours later we were finally on the road back home.  I barely got to see half the things I wanted to but it was still a great visit and the kids are already talking about a Christmas return.  I can do that, and hopefully we can make it there the day after Thanksgiving again since it worked out great crowd-wise and traffic-wise last year.  The fountain shows go on until September 30th and then I think it’s all about chrysanthemums then for the fall season.  The chrysanthemum show is supposed to be exceptional as well, full of horticultural wonders and floral amazement, and it’s also still on my bucket list to visit that as well… but I think I’ll do that one on my own 😉