Saturday, September 25, 2010

Make love, not war

Two amorous bees at work in a heliotropium...
I've been spending time at the Elisabeth Miller Library, our wonderful botanical and horticultural library in Seattle, wading through old magazines for an article series I'm trying to put together. Amongst the fragile, yellowed pages of "Little Gardener", a publication by Lake Washington Garden Club's ladies division, I found following advertisement from 1933:
War! War! War!
We don't believe in disarmament!
We do believe in preparedness!
We are not pacifists!
We are for war!

Gardening is a perpetual warfare against
weeds, slugs and insects!

I can easily see those little ladies in aprons, all well prepared with gleaming cans of DDT, chasing up poor little slugs and bugs in their gardens... and I hope I'm not too optimistic when I think that we gardeners have evolved into something better now that organic gardening has become mainstream in most developed countries.

Have a love-filled gardening weekend.


Saturday, September 18, 2010

The rose of the Sweetbriar Bride

Louisa's rose was filled with lacquer red hips when I visited...
Gardens often give us a sense of belonging. When we are uprooted and thrown - voluntarily or not - into new places and surroundings, the plants we grow can link us to people we have lost and long for, and offer a living connection to places that used to be called home.
Louisa Boren Denny, the "Sweetbriar Bride" and one of the founding mothers of Seattle, was a wonderful example of this. In 1853, she was the first white woman to get married in what then was only a tiny new settlement of maybe 140 people. Louisa earned her nick-name from fellow settlers by planting the fragrant but hardy Sweetbriar roses, Rosa eglanteria, in front of the windowless, cramped cabin she and her husband David had built for themselves. In 1851, before starting from her long journey to west by wagon from Illinois, Louisa had gathered Sweetbriar seeds in the garden of her dearest childhood friend. Throughout her long life, she kept planting her rose in front of every house she moved into, like a sign of enduring loyalty to her friend whom she never got to see again.
A typically thorny cane of the Sweetbriar rose.*
I've often wondered how it would have been to leave, and not to be able to go back like Louisa and countless other settlers and immigrants have been forced to do throughout the history. I am so lucky to have the choice to revisit places and friends I miss. Even if my story is not nearly as romantic as the Sweetbriar Bride's, I still grow plants plainly out of nostalgic reasons, and as long as I live in places with a suitable cool or temperate climate, there will be snowdrops and wood anemones in my gardens...
The pictures above are of a Sweetbriar that is said to come from a cutting of Louisa's rose. It grows in the Woodland Park Rose Gardens in north Seattle. It is unmarked in the maps and not entirely easy to locate, but with some tracking, it can be found on the left side of the decorative white retaining wall at the north side of the park. Last week, when I visited, it was too late for any flowers, but bright hips filled some of the typically thorny canes of the Sweetbriar.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

No peonies before breakfast

I shall try to fix firmly in the mind of the peony lover
the proper time to begin planting:
it is September 15th at 9 A.M.
(I do not believe in hurrying through breakfast).

- Alice Harding, The Book of the Peony, 1917 -

Alice Harding, also known as Mrs. Edward Harding, was an American horticulturalist and peony expert. Her two books, The Book of the Peony (1917) and Peonies for the Little Garden (1923), were much appreciated and popular works when they were published, and still remain the standard account of propagating and growing peonies. Her work was widely acknowledged by horticultural societies both in the United States and in Europe, and several peonies and other garden plants were named after her.
While writing this, it is already one hour past the "proper time" so I'd better get going...

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A roof garden by the sea...

The elaborate roof garden of the club house...
Just have to share this... we spent the weekend with friends, camping by the beautiful, rugged coast of northern Washington. Our kids were happily engaged in building huts out of the plentiful, silvery drift wood that fills the shoreline. When we parents almost started to feel completely neglegted, a proud delegation arrived and invited us to inspect their new club house, complete with a roof garden and a watering system made out of water-filled kelp bladders, as shown in the picture below. I guess there's no need to worry about the creativity of this "nintendo-generation"...

The watering system made out of water-filled kelp bladders; long stems of kelp drift up from the deep, cold waters of the northern Pacific ocean.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Two portraits of a Bishop

A baby Bishop, with an exquisite combination of lime and plum on the top of the glossy bud.

I'm baffled over that I'd forgotten about getting a couple of Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff' tubers from Marian last November. I can't understand how this could happen; I was so excited when she gave them to me, and then wandered around for a long time in my garden trying to find the best place for them with rain dripping along my neck.
In one of the beds, I found a suitable corner between a hazy burgundy smoke tree (Cotinus coggyria 'Royal Purple'), some deep purple Spanish Lavender stoechas, and a crimson Berberis (B. thunbergii 'Atropurpurea nana' - not my favorite, but it fits into the color scheme...). I wasn't sure if the wonderful, dark foliage of the Bishop would be a good complement to the combination, or if it would disappear completely against the others. But luckily, my Bishop seems to enjoy its new diocese, and appears to be getting along very well with its earlier inhabitants.
A Bishop in full regalia... I love the way the grey tones of its dark leaves both pick up and contrast with the greys in the Lavender, and how its bright scarlet flowers pop against the hazy purples and greys of the smoke tree behind. (The flowers are not this bright in reality, somehow photos of them get this neon-like quality in whatever weather I try to catch them...)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

An odd crop: Camellia fruit

A swelling, walnut sized fruit in my Camellia japonica.
This autumn, the branches of my double pink Camellia japonica are filled with swelling fruit, up to the size of a large walnut. The youngest ones are glossy green-pink, but as they mature, the shells of the fruit get a matte brown coating that makes them look like doll-sized quinces.
I can't remember that I've ever seen a Camellia fruit before. I don't know if I've only been negligent or if producing fruit, especially in prolific amounts, is a rare occurrence in the life of Camellias. In that case, maybe a bountiful crop of Camellia fruit has a special meaning in its countries of origin, the way plentiful rowan berries are said to predict harsh winters in Scandinavia... I would love to know.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A dashing bunch of tubers

Dahlia 'Brookside Cheri'
I have to admit that I've never been really keen on Dahlias, even if I sometimes admire them in other people's gardens. I've thought that their stems and leaves resemble too much potatoes and other nightshades, and that their often giant flowers, too heavy to carry their own weight, are a bit too over-bred and elaborate to be truly beautiful...
Dahlia 'Fire Magic' and 'Mingus Toni'.

Maybe as a person, I've just never been flamboyant enough to grow the large ones with their cactus-like blooms, nor sufficiently preppy for the small pompon-flowering ones. But it is difficult to ignore a flower that the late Christopher Lloyd, legendary plantsman and gardener, once mentioned as one of the eight (!) plants he would not want to live without on a desert island (in case you are curious, the other seven plants are Verbena bonariensis, Canna 'Wyoming', Hydrangea aspera Villosa group, Melianthus major, Aucuba crotonifolia, Anemone 'Honorine Jobert' and Crocus speciosus, of which I would probably choose at least the Melianthus, Hydrangea and Anemone...).
Dahlia 'Odyssey"
So I've been approaching them tentatively, observing them from all angles, occasionally stepping back a little, and then looking again. And I have a feeling that if I give them a bit more time, I just might have to try a couple of them, in case I manage to decide which ones to choose from the hundreds of different cultivars...

My oldest daughter, Astrid, didn't have any difficulties in choosing her favorites amongst the hundreds of cultivars blooming in the Volunteer Park Dahlia garden in Seattle two days ago, where I took all photos above.