The Newly Formalized Vegetable Garden
In a normal year, late-April is the beginning of the magnolia season in Bill and Eileen Elliott's garden. This year is different (every year is different for a gardener) and the season has begun about two weeks earlier than usual. So this morning, I drove with my friend Susan to the Elliott's garden in the rural village of Hancock. You see, the magnolia I helped Susan plant in her garden several years ago isn't doing so great and she may need a replacement. I thought the Elliott's garden would be the ideal place for Susan to see how well various varieties of magnolias fared in New Hampshire.
I met the Elliotts in 1997 in Joanna Reed's garden in Malvern, PA. They, like me, had traveled from New Hampshire to visit Joanna's garden. Joanna was a superb plantswoman and had a garden chalk full of unique and interesting plants from all over the world. Joanna, a former president of the Herb Society of America, also studied at the Barnes Foundation Arboretum and was well know as an expert in woody shrubs and trees. Joanna, in her late 70's at the time, was leading several visitors around her garden and I struck a conversation with an interesting couple who were also fascinated by Joanna and her garden. As it turned out, they were from nearby Hancock, New Hampshire and were keen gardeners with a special interest in woody plants. One of trees that I saw in flower for the first time is a favorite magnolia of Eileen's, Magnolia sieboldii. In New Hampshire, Magnolia sieboldii blooms in late May. It has white cupped flowers with a delightful citrusy fragrance and 2 inch long carmine fruit which are a garden feature in August and September.
When we arrived at the Elliotts' garden, you could see the Magnolia x loebneri 'Leonard Messel' from the street. It is a cross cross of M. kobus and M. stellata. It has fuscia-pink flowers and is hardy to Zone 4. The Elliotts also have the cross 'Merrill', an Arnold Arboretum introduction with magnificent white flowers. They have several of 'The little Girl Hybrids' in bud, ready to flower in the next week ot two. The hybrids are a cross of M. lilliflora 'Nigra' and M. stellata 'Rosea' and are all shrubby growers with reddish purple flowers. The have girl's names, 'Ann', 'Betty', 'Jane', 'Judy', Ricki' and 'Susan'. They were selected for a slightly later blooming time in an effort to avoid the frost damage of M. stellata. Later in the season, the yellow flowering magnolias will be followed by M. sieboldii. Bill mentioned they also planted a bigleaf magnolia, M. macrophylla, I believe, which is not fully hardy in Zone 5 and has never flowered for them.
The Elliotts live off the grid, without electricity. They were early followers of Helen and Scott Nearing and share their philosophy of living off the land. The grow their own food in a large vegetable garden. Eileen had just planted some of the seeds and showed me her new labeling system: old knives they reclaimed from the recycling center. In the last several years, they have been adding formal elements to the vegetable garden and new paths paved with granite cobblestones.
Somehow they have also found the time to have a large ornamental garden with all kinds of unusual and hard to find trees, shrubs and perennials. Any plant that has any unique and garden-worthy characteristics that are hardy in Zone 5 are sure to be somewhere in their garden. While I was there, I spied an especially beautiful hepatica with red foliage and light purple flowers blooming in their woodland garden.
In the next several weeks, I hope tho visit the Elliotts' garden to follow the progression of magnolias. I will also have the opportunity to find plants with simultaneous blooming times that I can use as companions to magnolias or to place as a much needed contributor to the early spring gardening picture in my own garden or the public gardens in the Peterborough Parks.