Friday, June 24, 2011

Variegated Aegopodium - don't even think about it, ever

Variegated ground elder reverts often back into the common, all green version; both turn easily into an invasive nuisance in a garden.

Browsing The English Garden magazine July 2011 issue for a dose of old European garden charm, I was surprised to learn that it recommended the variegated ground elder, Aegopodium podagraria 'Variegatum', on a list for 'pale and interesting plants for a star role in the garden'. With a dreamy picture of its creamy-white leaves, the article promotes it as 'a pretty and useful perennial for narrow borders or to edge a scheme', advising that it is less invasive than its non-variegated brother.

The same plant, happily strangling a Viburnum davidii in my front yard...

I do not agree for a split second with this choice. Instead, I would loudly advice everyone against including an Aegopodium into any kind of a garden scheme that cannot be mown down with a strong lawn mover or some other power tool. And unfortunately I have the proof for this from my garden in Seattle, where an unsuspecting landscape architect planted it a couple of years ago as a contrast to some bold-leaved shrubs and perennials (this was before we moved here). At the same time, he managed to create a lasting problem for all gardeners to follow. Just look at the pictures, and take my word for it: Don't plant it. Never. Ever. If you don't want it to take over and strangle everything on its way, covering the soil with an impenetrable mesh of wiry roots on its wake. The only way to get rid of an Aegopodium is a considerable squirt of Roundup, and that's not the kind of plant a gardener wants to live with. 

Here, it has crept into another area in the garden, easily taking over the blue star creeper, Pratia pedunculata, if not treated carefully with some very inorganic gardening methods...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Prince Eugen's Waldemarsudde at Djurgården

Auguste Rodin's 'Thinker' deeply in thoughts on one of Waldemarudde's terraces, with Rundtemplet ("Round Temple") behind him by the inlet to Stockholm.

One more 'homesick' post: I just want to share some pictures from one of my favorite places in Stockholm... Waldemarsudde is a picturesque destination for garden lovers at the island of Djurgården just outside Stockholm city. Built as home for Prince Eugen (1865-1947), one of the foremost landscape painters in Sweden of his time, this palatial manor with spacious parklike gardens by the inlet of Stockholm has been a popular art gallery and museum since his death.

 Buxus-edged flowerbeds filled with pelargoniums. Carl Milles's fountain called 'Triton' as a focal point in the middle, and Nike of Samothrace on the upper terrace.

Beautiful stonework, and group of comfortable chairs for visitors to enjoy the view.

The gardens of Waldemarsudde were designed by Prince Eugen himself.  He wrote once to a friend that flowers were his second strongest passion after art, and he gave strict instructions on what to plant, when and where in the gardens. Still today, skillful gardeners keep the gardens as Prince Eugen wished, working long hours in the greenhouses and gardens propagating plants and flowers for both indoor and outdoor use.

The old linseed oil mill from the 18th century in the background, and another terrace with both bedding plants and sculpture.

 The 'Round Temple' by the Stockholm inlet by is a popular spot for lovers.

Prince Eugen was especially fond of what was called 'old-fashioned flowers' during his day; he especially liked tagetes, morning glory and marigolds, which all were grown from seeds in the hothouses on his property. Many tender perennials like pelargoniums were kept in greenhouses during the winter, and lifted out as bedding plants during the summer months. Probably influenced by the carpet bedding craze of the Victorian time, he loved massed plantings in blocks of singular colour; blue, yellow, white and pink were his favorite colours. All flowerbeds were framed with low and tightly trimmed buxus hedges. The Italianate terraces that Prince Eugen designed nearest the main house provided a well-structured background to his collection of French and Swedish sculpture, and copies of classical works of Roman and Greek origin, like the well-known figure of Nike of Samothrace cast after the original in Louvre.

Prince Eugen's garage with an adjoining orangery, which is still used for winter storage of plants.One of the most beautiful orangeries in Stockholm with its magnificent sea view.

The old garage; the orangery enter is from the left door, towards the sea.

Further away from the main house, centuries old oaks give character to the lush parklands and meadows around the buildings, and in early summer, a strong scent of lilacs lingers around, pleasantly tempered by the salty sea breeze. Wandering along the paths, it is impossible to not think about what an incredibly privileged life Prince Eugen led, and how this garden was made with all resources and possibilities only a member of the royal family could possess. Here, he combined two of his greatest passions, art and gardens, into a classisistic synthesis: conservative and traditional, but still arrestingly beautiful in its magnificent setting. After his death, Prince Eugen left Waldemarsudde with its galleries and beautiful grounds for everyone to visit and enjoy, and so it soon became the most beloved artwork of his, visited by thousands of Stockholmers and tourists every year.

The kitchen garden and orchard towards the greenhouses.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pick-Your-Own organic flowers at Rosendals trädgård

Pick you own flowers, pay at the plant shop, 30:- per hg.

I can't believe we'll be back in Scandinavia in just a couple of weeks; only for a short vacation, but still. While browsing my last years crop of photos, I found some that I'd ignored as boring earlier, but now think are completely fine. Maybe the long winter has changed my eyes...
Anyway, Rosendals Trädgård is a favorite haunt of many Stockholmers, an organic oasis on an island just outside the city center. Besides getting your thirst and hunger deliciously silenced, whole fields of bright annuals wait pickers to carry them away against a small payment. It is amazing to see what people choose  for their bouquets; some go for one single variety, some create a firework of everything they can find. I wonder if their homes and lives reflect their choices?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Orange is for optimism

Californian poppies, powerful enough to light up grey days in Seattle ...

No, I'm not going to whine about the freezing cold in Seattle - we've had three over 70 degree (20 C) days so far, and it's been the coldest spring and early summer on record. About the only heat we get is the hot orange of the Californian poppies (Eschscholzia californica) that are sticking up their bright, papery petals everywhere. They self-seed and spread copiously here and bring a welcome splash of sun to these dull grey days.

Unfurling buds of Californian poppies - I love rose pink collar under the petals.

In my garden in Sweden, hardy Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule) had the same effect as the Californian ones here. Initially, I was annoyed with their habit of impudently disturbing my carefully considered color combinations. But after a while, I grew to love their cheeky self-confidence. It felt like they were shouting with their yellow and tangerine petals "look at me - aren't I gorgeous together with this guy, too?". And in a mysterious way that is difficult for us humans to copy, they often managed to create unexpectedly gorgeous combinations.

Years ago in Melbourne, I bought a book called Healing Gardens (Romy Rawlings, 1998) with generous advice on how to make gardens that benefit our physical and mental health. Besides aromatherapy, Feng Shui and herbalism, this book devotes a large part to colour therapy, explaining the effect colours have on our lives. According to it, orange is the colour of joy and optimism, and exposure to it promotes a feeling of well-being by providing a release from the everyday worries of life. Orange also provokes change, says the book, so it is a good colour for putting one's life back together when grieving or in shock. When used carefully, the 'healing properties' of orange can be harnessed to lift the spirits, combat depression and fight unknown fears. It is also supposed to improve social behaviour, lessen irritability, and increase appetite - maybe something to think about when planting around the outdoor dining area.

A seed pod ripening... 

All goodness, I think, until the writer claims that orange can also be used in the treatment of arthritis, asthma, gallstones, hip problems, impotence, infertility and underactive thyroid, which would be a lot to expect from any modern medicine alone, not to mention a poor single colour, however bright and cheery. But there's no harm trying, and at least for me, orange works well as a pick-me-up on those occasional blue days (they are contrast colours, after all...).

Even if I love poppy-filled meadows, tagetes peeking up from parsley and nasturtiums in late summer, orange is an intensive colour that grabs one's attention, and too much of it can be overpowering in a garden. Just a dab is often enough; besides the plants above, a well-placed (by nature or a skillful gardener...) lily or dahlia, a tuft of daylilies or kniphofias, or a coppery rose can light up a little fire in a garden. Together with dark or even bronze foliage, orange can form striking combinations. In autumn, berries often do the job - rosehips, stinking iris (Iris foetidissima) seeds, crab apple fruit, viburnum berries - even a little illusion of warmth is welcome as the days grow cooler. In winter, many maples, like paperbark maple (Acer griseum), have coppery bark, and when the year starts again, witch hazels (Hamamelis) unfurl their tiny fireworks of golden petals. Therapeutic or not, I'm sure most of us could do with a dash of orange in our lives and gardens.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Lakewold Gardens - a drop of Old World in the New

Blue poppies, Meconopsis betonicifolia, a favorite of Mrs. Eulalie Wagner's, remain a signature plant of the Lakewold Gardens.

I've always loved the work of Thomas Church, one of the greatest and most influential landscape architects of the last century. Anyone with the slightest interest in garden design cannot have escaped seeing pictures of his most famous work with its iconic, kidney-shaped pool from the mid-50s, the Donnell Garden in Sonoma, California. Also, his book Gardens are for people was one of the best-selling garden books of the 20th century, an influential and inspirational source for generations of professional designers and laymen gardenlovers alike.

Above: The main house as seen from behind the buxus parterres. Below: The brick walk towards the belvedere, past the buxus parterres filled with perennials and white flowering Mt. Fuji cherries, Prunus serrulata 'Mt. Fuji'.

Here in Washington state were are lucky to have two gardens on grand scale by Church that are open to the public. One of them is the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, a magnificent garden with great calm and elegant simplicity that I never get tired of visiting. The garden design is not completely by Church, but it includes many features by him, like the impressively architectural Reflective Pool at the end of the long garden walk. The other is the Lakewold Gardens, a large estate garden an hours drive south from Seattle. With its Church-credentials, it had been on my radar for a while, but had somehow managed to escape closer attention.

Unnamed peonies from the cutting garden.

Built as a typical weekend 'playground' for a wealthy Northwest family in the early 20th century, Lakewold entered its golden age when it was sold to Corydon Wagner and his garden-loving wife Eulalie in 1938. It was Eulalie, an eager gardener and plantswoman, who commissioned Church in 1958 to create a framework that would provide a structural background to her beloved plants and flowers.
The gardens were laid out as a series of garden rooms in a formal, traditional style that blends European influences from Edwardian gardens in England to French parterres. A medieval knot garden, a rose-covered belvedere, a swimming pool disguised by its formal quatrefoil form, parterres with topiary swans, a fern grotto and a Japanese influenced woodland garden complete with a rippling stream are only a few eclectic features of the Lakewold Gardens, all surrounded by naturalistic areas that mix native vegetation with choice exotics. Considering the mix, it is remarkable how serene the gardens appear when strolling through the areas.

The medievally inspired knot garden and the Wisteria-clad verandah.

Despite being clear that a masterful hand had planned the garden, I still did not experience that blissful elation that usually follows visits to gardens I really enjoy and admire. All exquisite plants excepted, I found the design too traditional and conservative; just like the pictures of it that I'd seen in Gardens are for people, it just did not stir my senses and feelings like the Reflective Pool at Bloedel or pictures of the Donnell Garden manage to do every time I see them.

The lion fountain; it forms a focal point at one end of the axis that runs between the buxus parterres and through the quatrefoil pool to a sun dial.

 Over 30 species of Japanese maples grow in the gardens; here the deep blush leaves of Acer 'Shindeshojo' brighten up the shady paths that lead through the Japanese gardens.

One would think I am a one-track modernist, but that is not the case; at times, I thoroughly enjoy traditional, formal gardens, or romantic and eclectic ones. But while the Donnell Garden and the Bloedel Reserve express and reflect their time, place and the surrounding landscape - they are all about celebrating genius loci - the Lakewold gardens, impressively beautiful as they were, still felt like a well-arranged collection of features from the history of European garden design spread into the forests of the Pacific Northwest. But then, as much as he was celebrated for his designing skills, Thomas Church was also admired for his ability to let the garden reflect the owner's personality. In Lakewold, while not creating his best or most avant-garde design, he made a magnificent garden for its owner to love and cherish. And maybe that is what made him the extraordinary designer he was.  

The quatrefoil pool, originally a swimming pool disguised as a formal water feature behind buxus parterres. Divers used to jump off the planting boxes in the middle.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The mysterious mounds of Mima

In spring, the soft mounds of the Mima prairie are covered with a delicate tapestry of grasses and flowering plants.

Last Monday was a holiday, so we decided to visit the Mima Mounds, one of the last remaining prairies in Washington state. This strictly protected natural park with its undulating, rounded mounds is something of a mystery. Six to eight feet high and thirty feet across, these soft hummocks form a strange, unreal landscape that no-one has been able to explain how it came into being.
The Mima Mounds prairie covers today about 700 acres, but is greatly diminished from its earlier days.

There has been several theories of how the Mima Mounds were formed. The Upper Chehalis Tribe, the first peoples of the area, believed that they were left behind after a great flood subsided. "It rained and rained... and the whole world was flooded... there was nothing but prairie land beneath the water... at last the water fell, but the earth still remained in the form of waves." In the 1800s, European travelers and explorers were intrigued by the rounded, wavy prairie and their explanations for the mounds ranged from ancient burial sites to water-sculpted river beds.

The delicate stars of Camas, Camassia quamash. It was cultivated as an edible by the first nations of the Pacific Northwest.

Fine-leaved desert parsley, Lomatium utriculatum, is a favorite of butterflies.

Today, modern science has established that the Mima Mounds were formed after the ice-age glaciers receded about 16 500 years ago, but it is still a mystery exactly how. There are theories of intersecting earthquake waves that would have collected soil into tops and dales, about water patterns, and even that they were the work of pocket gophers excavating nest chambers (some industrious gophers, as the prairie reaches several miles in diameter).

Early blue violets, Viola adunca, provide food for caterpillars and butterflies. Many of them lay their eggs in the wilting leaves of the violets.

Prairie lupin, Lupinus lepidus, is another important food plant for caterpillars and butterflies.

Western buttercup, Ranunculus occidentalis, is native to the prairies of the West.

The Mima Mounds is home to several plant species, and in the spring time they form a delicate tapestry of flowers and grasses, filled with Camas, violets, chocolate lilies, buttercups and many other prairie species that are today well-known as garden plants around the world. For the first peoples, these prairies were an important source of food, and rights to tend parts of the prairie were inherited from generation to generation. Especially bulbs of the Camas, Camassia quamash, were an important source of carbohydrates, as they are sweet and tasty when slowly cooked. To keep the prairie from turning into forest, the first peoples burned their areas early or late in season, when the bulbs were dormant.

An old mound, overgrown with trees. If the prairie would not be burn with regular intervals, the forest would take over. The trees prefer to grow on the top of the mounds.

Today, some 700 acres of the Mima prairies are tended by the Nature Conservancy and the Department of Natural Resources, who practice controlled burning and weed management in the area. A small display about the history and vegetation has been installed for visitors, and platforms and pathways guide them through the area without damaging the fragile environment.

While wandering around the beautiful, slightly bizarre meadow, we couldn't help trying to find our own solution to the unsolved mystery. My daughters theory was that a flock of dinosaurs had laid their eggs and then been disturbed by something, leaving behind the soil-covered eggs. I thought theirs was at least as good as the gopher theory... until someone figures out what really happened.