The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Daffodil Workshop at North Hill

The Daffodil Meadow with a hedge of Forsythia 'Vermont Sunrise' beyond

Yesterday, I played hooky and went to workshop on the Four Ways of Using Daffodils led by Joe Eck. It was North Hill Garden's inaugural class for their new series of gardening workshops. Twice a month throughout the summer, North Hill, the remarkable garden of Joe Eck and his partner, the late Wayne Winterrowd, will host a two hour workshop.

For the first hour of the informal talk, we sat in the kitchen with a cup of coffee and Joe went over the different classes of narcissus, their uses and his favorite sources for daffodils. According to Eck, the four uses of daffodils are 1) naturalizing in a meadow 2) planted in groups of 40-50 in the bays of shrubbery 3) planting beneath roses in particular 4) forced in pots, to be placed in the house in February or in the garden in April.

I personally have had mixed success with daffodils and was interested to learn that narcissus require full sun and are very intolerant of wet soil. I also learned that some varieties are good naturalizers while others should be treated as an annual or a short-loved perennial.

During the second hour, Joe lead us around the garden to see examples of narcissus used successfully and perhaps more importantly, the failures. The highlight of the day was visiting the Daffodil Meadow. Joe and Wayne have planted large groups (50-100 of a single cultivar) of mainly large trumpets over the years. Joe estimated they have multiplied to over 100,000 bulbs. If you limit yourself to mid-season cultivars, the show will last about 3 weeks. The talk was capped up with a light lunch and a glass of wine back.

The next class on May 20th is called How To Use Magnolias in a Garden. Joe will also be leading this talk and promised to illustrate the proper pruning of magnolias in order to best integrate them into the garden. He hopes to keep the classes limited to about a dozen participants. If you get the chance to attend one of the workshops you will not be disappointed.

Beginning on April the 29 and continuing until October 8, their extraordinary garden will be open to the public each Friday and Saturday afternoon from 1:00 until 4:00. It is a great opportunity to follow the progress of the garden throughout the season. They will also be selling their books and pots will be on sale. The gardeners will be on hand to answer questions about the garden or identify unusual plants. For more information, see the North Hill Garden's website.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Day at Ninfa

The river running through the medieval ruins are the bones of the garden

Gunnera manicata along the banks of the river

Crystal clear waters of the quietly flowing river

A grove of bananas at the edge of Campo della Gloria

Cypresses add vertical punctuation with the Lepini Mountains beyond

In the summer of 2000, I visited Tuscany with my wife's family and I had the opportunity to tour several Italian gardens including the iconic Villa Gamberaia, Villa Massei, the garden of fellow blogger Paul Gervais, Venzano and the garden which has been called the most romantic in the world, Ninfa. Ninfa is a picturesque garden built on the ruins of a medieval town near Rome which was sacked in 1381 and later abandoned during a malarial epidemic. It was restored when the Pontine marshes surrounding the village were drained in the 1920's by Prince Gelasio Caetani, whose family has owned the land since 1298.

The plantings on the ruins were developed by a succession of gardeners in the family. Marguarite Chapin, an American, who married Roffredo Caetani, gave Ninfa its natural English-influenced style. Lelia, the last of the Caetani gardeners, who died in 1977, was responsible for the final version of the artistic planting that we see today. Ten years after her death, the Foundation Roffredo Caetani di Sermoneta was founded to ensure the preservation of Ninfa.

Ninfa has a wide range of unique flowering trees, shrubs and perennials planted on the property to create a spontaneous and luxuriant scramble of plants that feel decided unplanned. Lauro Marchetti, the youngest son of Ninfa's estate manager is now the guardian of the preservation and development of the gardens. I was very fortunate indeed, to have my friend, Lynden Miller, make arrangements with Mr. Marchetti to see Ninfa when I was in Italy. In fact, I visited Nina on a day when the garden was closed to the public and I had the entire garden to myself for the afternoon. It was an magical day that I will not soon forget. At that time, I did not have a digital camera and I would talk a series of photographs and tape them together to create panoramic views of gardens. These pictures are copies of those original photographs. If you are interested in reading more about Ninfa, Charles Quest-Ritson has written a beautifully illustrated book called Ninfa: The Most Romantic Book in the World which I highly recommend.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

I Guess That's Why They Call it "Glory of the Snow"

Cornus officinalis and Chionodoxa sardensis

Helleborus x hybrids Heronswood Slate looks praiseworthy with a dusting of snow

A welcome arrival: Five Cussonia paniculata plants

As I was sipping my wake-up cup of coffee and reading a post on one of my favorite blogs,
A Tidewater Gardener, about all the luscious bearded irises blooming in Les' Norfolk, Virginia garden, it began to snow. About half an hour later, the entire garden was white...again! It seemed appropriate that the Chionodoxa sardensis were in bloom.

Chionodoxa, also known as "glory of the snow", are my favorite late winter bulbs and they couldn't be easier. Use them to underplant any shrub, tree or woodland and wait for them to multiply and before you know it, you will have masses of clear blue star-like flowers carpeting your garden. We use a very similar species, Chionodoxa luciliae, to underplant shrubs and in the borders throughout the parks in Peterborough. Each year, as they naturalize, they make a bigger and bigger statement unifying these spaces throughout the downtown public gardens.

Fortunately, a hopeful harbinger of the summer garden arrived yesterday: Five Cussonia paniculata plants from Annie's Annuals. Cussonia paniculata, as described in the catalogue, is
"a wonderful specimen plant that looks straight out of Dr. Seuss, but is really from South Africa, “Mountain Cabbage Tree” makes a small tree, 9-12’ tall, with a curvy, corky, sturdy trunk topped by superb looking blue-gray leaves that are large and palmate -divided and subdivided into segments like a snowflake".

I had first was introduced to Cussonia paniculata at Wave Hill, the inspiring public garden in the Bronx, and finally got a plant about 8 years ago. After two seasons, it developed into a magnificent small tree that I overwintered in our walk-out basement. Sadly, I killed it two years ago. I am pleased to have it again. I am planning to let one mature in a pot to be used on my terrace. The remaining four plants will be used as textural components to the Pavilion Garden at Depot Park this summer. And yes, there will be summer this year!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

First Garden Work Day of 2011

Maude, Laura and Jeannie clean up The Ruin Garden

Molly finishing up her bed

Removing Russian Sage from the garden at Nubanusit Terrace

All done--waiting for the bulbs to do their thing

Today was the first volunteer work (is it play?!?) day in the Peterborough Parks this year. We focused on removing what is left of last year's perennials and ornamental grasses to make way for the bulbs. I was hoping to complete the job before the emerging bulbs had become so large that we would injure the flowers with our footsteps. It was chilly and damp but mission our was accomplished.

Monday, April 11, 2011


The Upper Garden

The Hall With Balls

The Lower Garden

The snow is gone. The gardens are tidied up. Now it is time for the plants to do their thing!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Visiting an Old Friend at the Arnold Arboretum

Cornus officinalis in bud along Meadow Road at the Arnold Arboretum

Am I the only one who feels a deep kinship to certain trees? I was in Jamaica Plain yesterday for an art class and visited the Arnold Arboretum primarily to see if the Cornus officinalis was in bloom. I first met this tree about 15 years ago and it has had a lasting imprint on my gardening life.

Two decades ago, the only shrub I knew with very early yellow flowers was the ubiquitous forsythia. I had no idea a plant like Cornus officinalis existed. Like its Asian sibling, Cornus mas, it has clusters of golden yellow flowers in April, long before the more flamboyant blossoms of crab apples and magnolias come onto the scene. Later in autumn, it will have bright red fruit and striking exfoliating bark as its winter asset.

I had read about this small tree and finally got to see it in person at the Arnold Arboretum. This particular plant originated from seed collected in Japan in 1919, the year my father was born. I fell in love with its subtle charms and located a small plant for my own garden. As much as I love my tree, which finally making a presence in my garden, the Arnold tree is my favorite. It reminds me of the excitement of discovery and wonders of plants and places I had never dreamed of.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Best of English Gardens 2011

Great Dixter

Sissinghurst Castle Garden

Hidcote Manor Garden

Oudolf's Glasshouse Borders at Wisley

I am pleased to report that I will be assisting my good friend, Mick Induni, on a tour of English gardens from May 17-26. I helped Mick out in 2007 and am delighted to return to Britain to visit some of my favorite gardens including Great Dixter, Hidcote, Sissinghurst, Stourhead and Wilsey to name a few. My role will be, as Mick puts it, a sort of “horticultural expert'' to compliment the exceptional British tour guides who will be leading the tours. For a complete itinerary, see Mick's website at The Best of English Gardens.

We will also be in London for the Chelsea Flower Show. With exhibits designed by cutting-edge gardeners like Cleve West and Luciano Giubbilei, Chelsea will be a nice contrast to the historic gardens we will be visiting. You can follow their exhibit construction and design process on the Chelsea Flower Show Blog.

Mick's has a wide range of extraordinary tours on the other side of the pond. For more information, check out his website, Discover Europe.

Friday, April 1, 2011


Pedestals and Table on the Terrace

The Lower Garden

I woke up to these scenes this morning. Expecting snow all day. Happy April Fool's Day!!!
Lovely for December. Sad for April.


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