Saturday, November 30, 2013

Precious Blooms

The garden here in Michigan has for the most part gone dormant already but for one little plant its annual time to shine is beginning just now. My winter heath (Erica carnea) is opening the first of its crystalline white buds, delicately flushed in shades of lilac-pink. It has been growing ever more vigorously since a weedy nearby maple tree has been removed and it thus receives much more water. This year the whole little bush, about a foot (ca. 30cm) across, is densely studded with buds in a way it never has been in the eight or so years I have had the plant.

Winter heath (Erica carnea)

Considering how carefree and resilient this little plant has been and how well it grows now that it enjoys more adequate conditions, I am surprised that it is not more commonly planted around here. Leafy evergreens and plants that strongly prefer acidic soils such as most heathers generally do very poorly in this part of Michigan but that does not seem to deter landscapers and home gardeners from sacrificing thousands of rhododendrons and hollies every year. All the more odd then that this hardy plant has not gained more of a following.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just a little sample of my family's turkey- and pumpkin-themed Thanksgiving paraphernalia

Wishing you all a peaceful day full of warmth, family, and food!

Friday, November 22, 2013


My order of vegetable seeds for next spring from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has arrived! Somehow there is something very satisfying about stacks of seed packets, filled with so much promise of things to come.

Fun with seed packets

My order included three Indian eggplant varieties (two from Tamil Nadu and one from Kashmir), two varieties of melon (one Afghan and one Uzbek), an Iranian winter squash, an Iraqi water melon, an Indian chili pepper, Portuguese kale, mâche, and two varieties of rice. Of course, I will not be able to grow proper quantities of all of these on the modest garden plot that belongs to my apartment, so further selections may have to be made. The  rice is entirely an experiment; after spending much of my childhood desperately wanting to grow rice plants - I know, I was weird; but I was just mesmerized by all those pictures of rice paddies in travel magazines and glossy coffee table books, and I still think that the rice plant (Oryza sativa) has some of the most beautiful shades of green in the plant world - and not being able to buy rice that was not hulled and polished anywhere, I simply could not resist the opportunity to buy these seeds.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Spoils of War... Or Rather My Lovely Weekend Trip to New Orleans

As I mentioned in my last post, my visit to New Orleans also included quite a bit of plant shopping. We visited Urban Roots and Harold's Plants, and there may also have been a quick trip to Home Depot and some digging for saplings and divisions in the beds in front of my friend's house.

My luggage on the way home

I ended up bringing back the following as my carry-on luggage, through two flights and a layover in Atlanta:

1 Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus)
1 Bear's breeches (Acanthus mollis)
1 Frangipani (Plumeria cv.)
1 Desert rose (Adenium obesum)
2 Australian tree ferns (Cyathea cooperi)
1 Rose glory bower (Clerodendrum bungei)
3 Cast-iron plant divisions (Aspidistra elatior)
18 Freesia bulbs (Freesia cv.)

Many of these are experiments for my new sun room; the Australian tree ferns (Cyathea cooperi) unfortunately are not doing so well thus far, probably because the humidity is not as high as they would like. The sapling of rose glory bower (Clerodendrum bungei) also might not make it. It dropped all its leaves, which is perhaps not surprising, but new growth has yet to set in. The freesias are sprouting, though, and the other new plants appear to be doing ok so far.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Places to Visit: Longue Vue House and Gardens, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

A little over a week ago I visited one of my best friends in New Orleans, where she has been a teacher for the past two years. I would have written about the trip earlier, but for the past week - in fact since the morning after I got back - my computer was out of commission. It was a wonderful weekend get-away. The weather was lovely and we whiled away most of our time catching up and enjoying the city's great culinary offerings. In between eating and laughing and eating some more we also visited a nursery or two - more on the haul from that shopping spree later - and a historic house and garden. Long Vue was the home of Edgar and Edith Stern, local business magnates and philanthropists, first begun in 1924. From 1934 onward famous landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman worked on the estate, and in 1939 the current house, designed by William and Geoffrey Platt, was begun to better match the gardens she had laid out. The exterior of the Classical Revival mansion itself is actually rather restrained, at least as far as early twentieth-century estate places go, though it does have four rather different façades designed to match the portions of the garden they look out upon. Meanwhile, the interior is sumptuous as can be, having actually been designed around much of the antique furniture. Apart from individual antiques, there are the rather typical room interiors bought wholesale from European estates being liquidated, ancient wood paneling and all. More surprisingly, perhaps, there is also an interesting collection of modern art.

The front entrance to the house as seen from the Forecourt

The intimate Pan Garden off the dining room and breakfast nook

The fountain in the Pan Garden

The gardens feature a series of distinct spaces around the house. On the northern side of the house, a shaded, flower-fringed terrace known as the Pan Garden sits just outside the dining room, the bay window breakfast nook of which used to open directly to this space. The eastern side of the house overlooks the golf course of a country club across a narrow terrace, while most of the gardens stretch out from the south side of the mansion. Most prominent among them is the Spanish Court, which features a long panel of lawn running from the house towards a loggia and a long canal with fountains, all framed by clipped boxwood, further Moorish-style fountains, and brick walls draped in flowering shrubs. Wedged between the house and this majestic space are two smaller gardens, the Portico Terrace Garden consisting of a boxwood parterre and the Yellow Garden, a small space planted monochromatically in shades of that color and featuring a modern fountain. 

In the Portico Terrace Garden

View along the Spanish Court towards the house

The lovely brick work around the Spanish Court

 One of the many smaller fountains

 In the Yellow Garden

Beyond the Spanish Court is the Canal Garden, a shady space centered on a narrow rill flanked by pots of snake plant (Sansevieria trifasciata), purportedly inspired by a garden near Lisbon in Portugal. It connects a more naturalistically planted Gold Fish Pond and the Walled Garden, a square formal space that features various varieties of Citrus and lots of herbs arranged around a central sunken fountain.

View of the Canal Garden

Around the Gold Fish Pond

In the Walled Garden

Beyond the Walled Garden lies the Wild Garden, which apart from  Louisiana native plants, including a large collection of Louisiana iris, features camellias and a pigeonnier or dovecote.

Entering the Wild Garden

Early camellias

The pigeonnier

Finally, there is the Discovery Garden, a later addition with flowers, herbs, and vegetable plots and whimsical informative displays aimed primarily at children. For more information, you can visit the website of Long Vue House and Gardens here.

Saturday, November 2, 2013