Sunday, July 31, 2011

Heavenly Hibiscus

Among the showiest flowers coming into bloom around here at this time of year are the various varieties of the swamp rose mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), my Plant Care Profile for which you can find here. I just added two more varieties to the garden yesterday and this morning the plants already established in the garden opened their first blossoms. So here are the varieties I already had...

... And here are the new additions:

I was also really tempted to buy another variety with enormous flowers of the purest white but since I could not think of a good spot for it off the top of my head I managed to restrain myself, at least for now...

Passionflower Blooms

At the beginning of June I planted a tiny sapling of the purple passionflower or maypop (Passiflora incarnata), a species of passionflower that is native to much of the eastern half of the United States. Since the plant was so small I was not expecting flowers this summer but when I got back from Germany a few weeks ago a number of buds had formed and today the first flower blossomed.

Purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

The flower has a heavy, powdery scent, though it is only perceptible at a very close range. I think it is absolutely stunning and hope many more are to follow.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Article on Permaculture

A few days ago, The New York Times ran an interesting article on permaculture, an approach to agriculture and horticulture that seeks to secure thriving plants and sustainability by mimicking natural ecosystems as closely as possible:

In the Garden: The Permaculture Movement Grows from Underground

I first learned about the concept of permaculture through the writings of the Austrian permaculture pioneer and activist Sepp Holzer, who farms and gardens in a part of the Austrian Alps known for its particularly harsh climate. He is a bit too dogmatic about some of his practices for my taste but no doubt he and the permaculture movement in general have some very interesting - and important - ideas. For more about his work you can visit the website of his farm, the Krameterhof, here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Places to Visit: The Karlsaue and Insel Siebenbergen in Kassel, Germany

Here, finally, is the post I have been meaning to finish for over a week now. While staying with my grandmother in the German city of Kassel I revisited some of the sites of horticultural and landscape design interest in the area. First up was the Karlsaue, a large landscape park that lies adjacent to the main shopping streets of the city's downtown area, and the man-made island know as "Siebenbergen" ("seven mountains") that is located in one of the park's artificial lakes and houses an extensive botanical collection. The park lies more or less at the level of the river while the older parts of the city rise on a hill above. As a result, the otherwise largely flat park, despite being right next to the busiest part of town, is separated from the latter's hustle and bustle by a rather steep drop traversed by steps and winding paths.

A section of the slope between the Karlsaue and the city center, as seen from the park

A close-up of the planted part of the slope

One of the staircases that connect the park with the city's downtown area; this one doubles as a memorial to the victims of the two World Wars.

The history of the Karlsaue as a park began in the 16th century when the local duke began to have a formal garden laid out on the site. Until the middle of the 17th century these formal gardens were further expanded and developed in the ornate fashion of the time and apparently featured elaborate fountains, sculpture, and topiary. Beginning in the early 18th century this original garden came to be replaced with a baroque layout of French inspiration. The new park was given a fan-shaped outline, with three main axis stretching out from an orangery-cum-palace that began to be constructed at one end of the site in 1701. The two outer axis were marked by long canals that ran around the entire park and formed an outline resembling the shape of a lyre. At the end of the Karlsaue furthest from the orangery the two arms of this canal system connected through two large basins, each in turn adorned by a small island. The central axis between the basins was planted as an avenue, and the space between the canals and this central axis was filled with formal parterres, bosquets, artificial hills, and various other decorative features. Since these works were carried out during the reign of Duke Karl the park came to be known as "Karlsaue". In the early 19th century the site was redesigned as an English-style landscape park, but the canals, basins, and avenues were largely retained, as were the two artificial islands and the palatial orangery. 

View along one of the canals

The orangery

View along one of the avenues

Statuary at the edge of the bowling green in front of the orangery

The small Schwaneninsel or "swan island" with its pavilion

A map of the park showing the mixture of French formality and the English landscape park in its layout

A waterlily blossom (Nymphaea alba)

The larger of the two artificial islands, known as Siebenbergen, was originally laid out in a series of formal terraces planted with spruce hedges but was redesigned as part of the overall transformation of the Karlsaue into an English landscape park. In 1822, Duke Wilhelm II put the gardener and botanist Wilhelm Hentze in charge of the administration of all his parks and gardens and by the early 1830s the latter began to assemble an extensive botanical collection on the island, planted largely in a naturalistic manner meant to harmonize with the new style of the surrounding park. His vision for Siebenbergen has been followed ever since, and the island continues to be a sort of miniature botanic garden filled with a profusion of trees, shrubs, and perennials ranging from the ordinary to the very rare, as well as summer displays of annuals, a sizeable fuchsia collection, and a number of tropical and subtropical shrubs in containers. Furthermore there is a family of peacocks that roams the island and one section  of the island is used during the summer for open-air theater performances.

A friendly peacock at the entrance to Siebenbergen

The bridge to the island

Beds of annuals on the island

As a result of its original terraced layout Siebenbergen still has somewhat of a three-tiered structure, with one circular path tracing the edge of the island, another one encircling the central hill about half way up its relatively steep slopes, and a third surrounding a large bed of annuals on the flat top of the hill. The path at the bottom of the hill takes the visitor past most of the perennial displays as well as the fuchsia collection, whereas the paths further up the hill have more of a wood land feel. The top of the hill, apart from the bedding display of annuals and a number of tender flowering shrubs in pots, also provides nice views out over parts of the Karlsaue.

Birches and perennial beds

Gunnera manicata

Flowers of the southern catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides)

Many varieties of Astilbe flourish on the island

A lovely maiden hair fern (Adiantum sp.)

 Creeping saxifrage (Saxifraga stolonifera)

 Memorial commemorating Wilhelm Hentze who, as director of courtly gardens, gave the island its modern layout and began its botanical collection

Flowers of a cultivar of Brugmansia suaveolens

 View along one of the paths that connect the first and second "level" of the island

A path at the top of the hill

A double pink oleander (Nerium oleander) with a wonderful fragrance

Stewartia pseudocamellia - I want one of these!

Since it is now a public city park, the Karlsaue is open to the public year-round and free of charge. Siebenbergen, meanwhile, is open to the public daily from April 1 until October 3 with an admissions charge of 3 Euros for adults and 2 Euros for students. If you read German, you can also visit the website of the Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel ("Museum Landscape Hesse Kassel") here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I sowed some miniature zinnias in one of the new beds at the beginning of June and they just started flowering a little over a week ago.

In the past I have usually preferred zinnia varieties with large, fully double flowers in bright, saturated shades like deep red or bright pink but I have to say I am now also quite taken with these dainty little ones and their pastel shades.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Plant Identification Please!

A few days ago I noticed a large shrub in a front yard a few blocks away from my parents' house which I found very interesting but could not even begin identify. It is a largish shrub, with shiny dark green foliage and masses of creamy white puff-ball flowerheads that emit a faint fragrance. Since I know this does not make for a particularly specific description, here are some pictures:

 Close-up of the flowers

Side view

The whole specimen

Also, since this plant is firmly planted in place and definitely does not get moved to shelter in winter it must be hardy to at least Zone 6. Can someone please tell me what plant species this is? I think it unusual and quite pretty and I also like the fragrance, so I would love to plant some in our own yard.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Awesome Asclepias

As I have mentioned before, I am a big fan of the milk weeds of the genus Asclepias, many species of which are native to various parts of the United States. Many, if not most, make striking garden plants that need virtually no care and attract butterflies to boot. This year I planted two new specimens, one a bright orange Asclepias tuberosa - I had already planted a yellow selection last year - and the other a particularly tall, pink-flowered selection of Asclepias incarnata.

Asclepias incarnata

Asclepias tuberosa

Hopefully I will be able to add more species and varieties of Asclepias in the future. I am still looking, for instance, for a specimen of Asclepias incarnata with deep reddish-purple flowers, and I also would not mind a few clumps of the pink-flowered Asclepias syriaca that commonly grows at roadsides and forest edges throughout this area.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Garden in July

I am still working on the first of the posts on horticulturally interesting places I visited on my recent trip to Germany but in the meantime I wanted to post some pictures of what the family garden looks like right now:

View across the central section of the backyard

A section of the border along the front of the house with purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm), a dwarf cultivar of panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), and Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)

Another part of the long border in the front yard

While these are admittedly some of the best-looking parts of the garden at the moment, pretty much all my plantings have so far held up well to the hot and dry weather that has set in as of a few ago. We did have a relatively cool and wet June but I still hope that this also evidence that my plantings are beginning to mature and that my efforts to use drought-tolerant species and to carefully site plants in accordance with their moisture requirements are starting to produce results.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Daylilies Galore

First off, let me apologize for my prolonged absence from the blogosphere. I was visiting relatives in Germany  and was without internet for most of the trip. I did manage to visit two noteworthy gardens, however, and extended posts about those will follow in the next couple of days. For now, though, here are some pictures I took this morning of the various daylilies  (Hemerocallis cvs.) currently blooming in my family's Michigan garden:

I have no idea what varieties these are  since they are among the handful of flowers that were already in the garden when my parents bought the property. They are beautiful, however, and hopefully I will get around to further expanding this little collection. Just this morning, for example, I spotted a beautiful specimen with huge cream-colored flowers with deep purple markings in a garden in our neighborhood and if I can find that cultivar for sale somewhere I will definitely try to get it...