Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Year in Review / The Ones That Got Left Out

As it is the last day of the year, I thought it appropriate to post a review of sorts. I considered focusing on highlights from my own garden but then I remembered the various wonderful gardens I visited over the course of the year that had never actually made it onto the blog, primarily because I did not get around to writing about them at the time. So here they are, in chronological order, primarily in pictures without much of a write-up, but hopefully still pretty and inspiring.

Serre de la Madone, Menton, France (March 2015)

Located in the warmest, most Mediterranean corner of France in the exceedingly lovely Côte d'Azur town of Menton, Serre de la Madone was the winter home of Lawrence Johnston (1871-1958), the American-British plantsman who created the famous Hidcote Manor Garden in the United Kingdom. Unlike the latter, which has been in the care of the National Trust since 1947, Serre de la Madone had a number of owners and experienced varying levels of garden maintenance after between Johnston's death and the 1999 acquisition of the property by the Conservatoire du Littoral. Restoration work has been done from 2008 onward, but the place retains an overgrown, enchanted feel.

Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC, USA (June 2015)

Dumbarton Oaks, the historic estate of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington DC, is now owned by Harvard University and is home to a museum, a library and research center focusing on Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and garden and landscape studies, and extensive, immaculately maintained gardens. The latter were designed by Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959), one of the most famous and prolific of early American landscape architects. A number of terraces and garden rooms oscillating in style between Italianate and English Arts and Crafts spill down the hillside below the manor house in a complex layout that takes much longer to explore than one would initially think. Not that one would want to leave quickly; I visited on a sweltering afternoon and yet found many a perfect spot to sit and dream under the shady pergolas and in the many secluded corners.

The Gardens at Elm Bank, Wellesley, Massachusetts, USA (September 2015)

The Gardens at Elm Bank in the tony Boston suburb of Wellesley - home to the prestigious women's college of the same name - belong to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and consist of a serious of formal gardens as well as sprawling meadows and woodlands along the Charles River. They are popular for weddings, and this is actually what brought me there as the best of significant others - promoted this summer to best of fiancés - and I were scouting for wedding venues. We eventually settled on a different location for our nuptials, but not because the gardens are lacking in loveliness. Only the Manor House at one end of the Italianate Garden is in dire need of renovation, which I hope the Massachusetts Horticultural Society will be able to undertake soon. Other than that, this is a very nice local public garden and horticultural resource, and in retrospect I am surprised it took me so long to discover it.

If nothing else, I am ending 2015 with a lot of pretty pictures. Here is to hoping that the next year will be the best one yet. Happy New Year Everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - December 2015

It being December, around here in New England most of the flowers are currently to be found indoors. Normally I would have bought some poinsettias and maybe forced some bulbs for the holidays, but since we will be traveling a lot in the coming weeks I decided to hold off on those. Even so, there are a few things blooming around the house:

Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac 'Maid of Orleans')

A pinkish white Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera truncata cv.)

A 'Bliss' perpetual carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus 'Bliss')...

... and one of the 'Cheshire Cat' variety

The trusty, reliable, ever-blooming crown-of-thorns (Euphorbia milii)

A delicate yellow mystery daisy - anyone know what this might be?

However, since much of fall and winter so far have been unseasonably mild, there are even still a few blooms outside in the garden:

A 'Resina' pot marigold (Calendula officinalis 'Resina'), freshly washed by the rain

Too see what is blooming at other people's places around the country and the globe, visit May Dreams Gardens.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


This summer when the best of significant others and I went to Seattle for a long weekend I came back with a number of plants - what else did you expect? - gingerly carried in my carry-on luggage all the way back to the other side of the country. Among them were two little camellia cuttings to replace a previous set that had croaked on me rather spectacularly - think sudden, total self-annihilation - late last winter. The previous camellias, which had grown beautifully for just over a year prior to their mysterious decline, were of the Camellia japonica varieties 'Victory White' and 'RL Wheeler' and I had bought them at the Lyman Estate in nearby Waltham. This summer's new acquisitions are a tea shrub (Camellia sinensis) and the old Japanese hybrid Camellia 'Showa-no-Sakae', which is supposedly a cross of Camellia hiemalis and Camellia oleifera, though the former is probably itself of hybrid origin. Unfortunately, it has not been easy sailing with these species either, since the edges of many of their leaves soon started turning brown and crispy for as yet undetermined reasons and the squirrels for some reason developed a particular liking for digging in their pots. Nonetheless, they set some flower buds, and now 'Showa-no-Sakae' has just begun to bloom, about two weeks after being moved to the sun room for the winter.

Camellia 'Showa-no-Sakae', photographed awkwardly from below

I am going to tentatively consider this a success. Maybe I will eventually figure out how to keep camellias happy in containers after all. I did see a small specimen of what looked like another Camellia hiemalis or Camellia sasanqua cultivar growing in the open ground and covered in fat buds in a front yard in Boston's South End the other day, but I assume that one just enjoys a particularly sheltered spot and the heat island effect of the city; not far from it there is also a fairly nice southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) growing out in the open...

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Happy First Advent Sunday!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving... and now let the Christmas season begin! As always, my mom has put together a lovely Adventskranz or Advent wreath. You can see those from previous years here, here, here, here, and here.

The first candle lit on the Adventskranz

Wishing everyone very happy holidays!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Put to Bed

This fall has been mild verging on balmy, and so the garden has not gone fully dormant yet. The pot marigolds, stocks and Nicotiana mutabilis are still blooming, and annuals and biennials that relish cool, moist conditions, like garland chrysanthemums (Glebionis coronaria), wallflowers (Erysimum cheiri) and corn and Shirley poppies (Papaver rhoeas) continue to actively grow, producing wonderfully stout and chubby shoots and foliage. One can only hope that the winter will be snowy and not too cold, so that much of this growth will actually survive and burst into glorious bloom come spring. Nonetheless, after a first real frost earlier this week, I tidied up the garden a bit, cutting down what had been blackened by frost, and covered with thick layers of dry leaves those things that need some protection to make it through the winter.

In the garden today - Nicotiana mutabilis is still going strong, and there is lots of lush foliage of Calendula and other cool-season annuals and biennials; cozy and sheltered under the piles of dry leaves are Jasminum x stephanense, Agapanthus 'Hardy Blue', Dahlia 'Mrs. I. de Ver Warner', and torch lily seedlings (Kniphofia cv.)

The only thing left to do will be to cut down the Nicotianas after the first bout of frost heavy enough to take them out, and then to let things sleep peacefully through the winter - hopefully under a thick insulating blanket of snow - until spring brings new growth and new work.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Still Blooming

I somehow missed Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day this month, but there are still some beautiful flowers in the garden that I wanted to share:

Even after a year filled with Calendula blossoms, this might be the biggest and most perfect pot marigold bud I have ever managed to grow

'Resina', bred for commercial use in cosmetics and such, is a bit daintier than the purely ornamental selections of Calendula officinalis, but it is a beauty nonetheless, and in the garden here it flowers almost non-stop, ceasing to bloom only briefly in the hottest weeks of July and August and when the garden is under a thick cover of snow

There is always something exquisite about Petunia exserta, even if its true color is almost impossible to capture, perhaps because it is simultaneously so clearly a petunia and so un-petunia-like

I also did some actual gardening work today - I pricked out a handful of florist's cineraria (Pericallis x hybrida) seedlings. An old English book about gardening in the cold greenhouse says that they go into bloom as soon as they become pot-bound and thus only grow as big as the pots they are in allow. I therefore moved the seedlings directly into fairly big clay pots, even though they are tiny. Hopefully they recover well from the stress of transplanting and grow nicely through the winter. I have visions of big mounds of blooms in all shades of white, pink, purple, and blue come spring...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Fragrant Fruit

A few days ago I bought some citrons of the 'Etrog' variety, which I have previously talked about here. Relatively little known today, citrons (Citrus medica) were probably among the earliest citrus fruit to be cultivated and held considerable cultural and economic importance in various part of the world throughout history. They are appreciated as an aromatic for their wonderful scent - the reason I am now keeping mine in a bowl on our dining room table - and as the source of succade used in baking and confectionery. The fragrance of the ripe fruit is strong; it wafts far enough that I randomly catch whiffs of it as I walk through the apartment. It is also quite distinctive: citrusy, but much sweeter than that of lemons and lime, almost floral.

 'Etrog' citrons

As with many species of citrus, it is unclear where exactly the citron originates, but it likely hails from somewhere in South or Southeast Asia. It has been cultivated on the Indian Subcontinent since antiquity, and is probably the most prominent type of citrus in Sanskrit literature. The scholar of Sanskrit and South Asian religions James McHugh writes the following about it in his magisterial Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture:

"This is the fruit of Citrus medica L. This is a large fruit known as a "citron" (cédrat in French), and it is the same fruit known as the etrog used in the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. This fruit was probably far more culturally prominent in the ancient world than today, no doubt as an important source of citrus scent prior to the ubiquity of oranges, lemons, and other fruit. The citron is somewhat like a large lemon with thick pithy skin, scant internal flesh, and many seeds. The peel (tvac) of this fruit has a lemony citrus fragrance and was used as a mouth freshener. It is mentioned as such in the Kāmasūtra where citron peels (mātuluṅgatvacas) are said to be part of the ideal man-about-town's domestic paraphernalia. As well as the mātuluṅga, it is also known as bījapūra, "full of seeds," and it is a common element in certain iconographies, for example, Jaina sculptures of yakṣīs. A stylized and elongated version of the same fruit is held by the female attendants who adorn the famous Hoysala temple of Somnathpur near Mysore. On these elongated fruits, the knobbles and ridges that are found on some citron varieties are carved in a very regular manner (as is the case for stouter depictions carried by Jain yakṣīs), and the fruit, therefore, somewhat resembles a rather pointy, dehusked ear of maize. On the basis of these sculptures, it has been mistakenly suggested that maize was present in India prior to its introduction from the New World. The great irony of this claim is that it obscures the significance of South Asia as the origin of many citrus species." (McHugh 68-69)

A medieval Sanskrit tree cultivation manually prosaically entitled Vṛkṣādīnāṃ ropaṇādiprakaraṇa or "The manner of planting, etc., for trees, etc."  devotes three verses to the care of the citron, more than it dedicates to most other garden trees of classical India:


शृगालमीनखण्डे तु मूले दत्ते सुवेगतः।
बीजपूरी फला दुग्धगुडमांसजलोक्षिता।।

पिण्याकमदिराबीजमत्स्याखुपललेन च।
सिद्धेन वारिणा युक्ता बीजपूरी बृहत्फला।।


ṛgālamīnakhaḍe tu mūle datte suvegata
bījapūrī phalā dugdhaguḍaṃsajalokṣitā

piṇyākamadirābījamatsyākhupalalena ca
siddhena vāriṇā yuktā bījapūrī bṛhatphalā

 Watered with water mixed with sesame meal and meat of mice, fish, and hog
The citron shall be bending under a wealth of many heavy fruits.

   And when given pieces of jackal and fish at the root and watered with milk with palm sugar and meat
The citron will rapidly fruit.

And treated with a perfected paste of asafoetida, liquor, marrow, fish, and mice,
 Along with water,  the citron bears huge fruit.

Whether this cultivation advice is to be taken at face value I will leave open to debate for now, but I will definitely plant some of the seeds from these citrons when they no longer look nice enough for the dining room table and see what will grow.

McHugh, James. Sandalwood and Carrion: Smell in Indian Religion and Culture. New York: Oxford UP, 2012.  
Sureśvara. Vṛkṣāyurveda: Das Wissen von der Lebensspanne der Bäume. Rahul Peter Das, trans. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 1988.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Happy Deepavali!

"A row of lights" - the literal meaning of "Deepavali"

शुभ दीपावली!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween!

Orange chrysanthemums in the front yard

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Mystery Flower

I collect seeds. A lot. Often. If I see an interesting plant by the wayside and it has seeds that appear to be ripe, at least a handful will inevitably find its way into my pocket. Most of the time I have a fairly good idea what the plants in question are, but occasionally something just looks nice or is new to me and I decide to give it a try. A plant from one such unidentified batch of seeds fished from a pants pocket weeks later just began blooming, and I was wondering if anyone could tell me what exactly it is - "yellow daisy-like flower" does not make for a particularly precise Google search.

Yellow mystery flower beginning to bloom in the sun room

I planted these seeds in April, and the plant has been slowly but steadily growing in a pot on the balcony all summer. The flower buds appeared rather suddenly and rapidly about three weeks ago, right around the time I moved the plant inside. Given this behavior, I suspect that flowering in this species might be triggered by short days and that it generally blooms in winter.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fall Bounty

My mom just sent this picture of this mornings harvest from the garden in Germany:

'Concord' grapes (Vitis labrusca cv.), walnuts (Juglans regia), and figs (Ficus carica cv.)

Every time I buy walnuts at the store and consider their price I miss the big walnut tree in our front yard in Germany...

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Return of the Roses

As anyone who grows them in this part of the world knows, most roses have their peak in May and June around here, and those species and varieties that bloom just once a year generally flower only then. Those roses that are capable of repeat bloom - which includes the modern hybrid teas and those plastic-y "Knock Out" roses that have conquered every strip mall parking lot and suburban front yard in recent years - generally languish somewhat through the hotter part of the summer but then put on another beautiful show as temperatures cool down in the fall. I already posted about 'Gruß an Teplitz' a little while ago, and today I wanted to share a few pictures of the historic China roses 'Old Blush' and 'Slater's Crimson China'.

Rosa 'Old Blush', leaning out from the balcony

Another bloom of 'Old Blush' - note how different the shape is, with many more petals

Rosa 'Slater's Crimson China'

Meanwhile, my mother sent a picture this morning of the beautiful Bourbon variety 'Souvenir de la Malmaison' blooming in our old garden in Germany.

Rosa 'Souvenir de la Malmaison'

Tonight we might get the first frost, so I moved a few more plants inside this afternoon. The roses, though, I do not expect to be fazed by just a light frost. Last year they bloomed well into December.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2015

Fall is in full swing and the nights are getting quite chilly, but there are still quite a few things blooming in the garden. The stars of the show are those plants that only come into bloom at this time of the year. Much like short-lived spring flowers, they are all the more precious because their appearance is so brief and seasonally specific.

Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus)

An orange chrysanthemum...

... and a pale pink one

Heart-leaved aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) - these pop up by themselves and can be a bit weedy but their delicate fall bloom is lovely

However, there are also still a few flowers that are just carrying on from summer and will do so until frost cuts them down.

A big red zinnia (Zinnia elegans cv.)

Agastache rupestris

Dahlia 'Mrs. I. de Ver Warner'

 Nicotiana mutabilis

 Abyssinian gladiolus (Gladiolus murielae)

 Nicotiana sylvestris

Finally, there are those cool-season flowers that largely disappear during the heat of summer but now begin to bloom again, reinvigorated by cool weather and fall rains.

'Resina' pot marigold (Calendula officinalis 'Resina')

California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

A tall single stock (Matthiola incana cv.)

To see what is currently blooming in other people's gardens, check out May Dreams Gardens.