Friday, March 28, 2008

GBBC: Second Nature review

I was delighted to re-read Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education for the March selection of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. (Thanks Carol, over at May Dreams Garden). I read Second Nature for the first time back in the early 1990’s. I loved it, bought several copies for gifts over the years and had to buy a paperback copy for this month’s read. It was well worth it. The book has held up over time and continues to offer thoughtful observations.

Pollan writes of his development as a gardener. He also writes about why we find gardening so compelling an activity. I enjoyed re-reading tales of his grandfather’s great success as a gardener and his father’s near contempt of anything outdoors. His struggles to “control” animal behavior in and around his garden were hugely entertaining. But these tales are not at the heart of my current admiration for the book. What caused me pause this time around, was the chapter titled “The Idea of a Garden” where he tries to give shape to a garden ethic, one that helps us understand why we garden and what is our relationship to nature. Here, the mature thoughts of a man who has spent a lifetime in gardens AND libraries, are revealed to be unsentimental and basic in a way that says “this is the way it is”. Pollan’s garden ethic in part declares:

That nature is local. The gardener needs to understand this fact if he is going to successfully compete with nature which could care less whether human beings exist or not.

The garden ethic is anthropocentric – as humans, we probably can’t move beyond that bias.

As Pollan writes succinctly “The gardener learns to play the hand he’s dealt”.

The gardener has a running battle with nature that he probably can’t and perhaps shouldn't win. (no need to kill all the bugs after all)

The garden ethic is not only about humans vs. nature. Culture also adds influences on how humans interact with nature.

Success is never guaranteed.

Pollan uses the Cathedral Pines restoration story as an example of the wilderness ethic (Nature Conservancy) colliding with municipal interests. He suggests that a garden ethic approach might have resulted in a better result. (It's a long discussion, read it to see what he is talking about. It does get at the difficulties inherent in a restoration/recovery project.)

Second Nature by Michael Pollan is high on my recommended list. In fact, all his books are terrific. I am waiting for the next one!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Plant Purchases Gone Wild!

This week I visited my favorite wholesale nursery with the intent of buying some annuals. I did pick up a few flats of pansies and primroses but.....

I also just had to have these beauties......
I bought 3 campanulas including....

Campanula 'Sarastros' which has lovely yellow-green leaves.....

also zizia which is a new plant for me. It grows in damp woodlands and has sweet umbel flower heads
I also bought ....
a stunning hellebore called 'Swirling Skirt' series, and....

several geraniums including this one G. pratense 'Victor Reiter'. I can't wait to get them settled in.

My garden is really a horticultural zoo. Over the years, I have tried different plants to see how they grow. I want to know how hardy they are and if they are invasive. After they have passed what I call 'studied neglect' I may purchase more or incorporate the plant into a garden design. I'll keep you posted on this crop of newbies especially the zizia which might have the potential for getting out of control.

Friday, March 21, 2008


After yesterday's post I found this picture of last year's spring window box, my own print of primulas. I just love the variety of color in these cultivated pot plants. Instant gratification.

Thought you might like this addendum to my print post.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Springtime through Botanical Prints

March is roaring like a lion outdoors so I am trying to bring spring indoors by visiting one of my favorite websites Panteek prints. I am crazy about all types of prints particularly those that advance my understanding of garden history and culture. I've posted a very narrow selection of botanicals printed between 1825 and 1904. All are available for sale at Panteek but my budget allows for browsing only! The Primula above was drawn by Jane Loudon (1807-1858) in The Ladies Flower Garden of Ornamental Perennials in 1843-9. The prints in her books were hand colored by various technicians and thus vary in quality. This one is lovely.

Benjamin Maund The Botanical Garden 1825-1851 (above)

The Panteek write-up states that Benjamin Maund in his 13 volumes of this periodical, wanted "in the spirit so very true to the era, was to to create a work combining accurate scientific instruction with an occasional appeal to the imagination and to the moral and religious feelings". A Primula verticillata is depicted in the lower left-hand corner of the plate. Primula verticillata was introduced in England in 1825 but was collected in Yemen. An improved variety was first seen in Kew's collection in 1873 as Primula verticillata var. sinensis. It is nick-named the Abyssinian primrose.

Gardener's Magazine of Botany 1850: Primula Auricula

Thomas Moore, curator of the Botanic Garden of Chelsea published The Gardener's Magazine for a few years in the 1850's Panteek states that the earlier publications of Moore's magazine contained quality prints of "a singular beauty and grace". Jane Loudon writes in her volume Ladies Companion to the Flower Garden that the p. auricula : is a native of the Alps of Switzerland, where its flowers are commonly yellow and very fragrant; it may be found in abundance on the roadside of the highest part of the pass of the Simplon, growing with the different Saxifrages, and not far from Rhododendron hirsutum."

Jeannie Foord Parrot Tulip 1904

I am unfamiliar with the printing process called "pochoir". Panteek writes that pochoir process involves "single layers of color ... added by hand to a lithograph using a stencil, in a precursor of the silk screening technique". Here, Foords drawings were transformed into prints by E. Greningaire of Paris. Not much is known about Foord, a Scottish artist. Panteek writes that Foord intended her drawings to be teaching templates for students of the Arts and Crafts movement.

Snowdrops circa 1896

Drawn by M. P. Vemeuil and published by Eugene Gresset, this print represents the genre of Art Nouveau French pochoir prints. I love the evolving interpretation of nature represented in these last two images. They've moved beyond attempts to realistically represent nature to the interpretation of nature in art.

I recommend a visit to Panteek when gardening outside is unpleasant! You'll have a wonderful visit.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day March 15, 2008
or should we call it
"Garden Bloggers' Gloom Day"

I admit that I took these pictures yesterday. Rain was expected for this morning and soggy it is! I faced a bit of a challenge this month getting photos of of plants in my garden that are in bloom. My garden is long on potential but a few subtle plants offered a hint of blossom. First I included this snap of a hardy cyclamen only because I am always surprised to see it return.

My skimmia japonica is showing berrys and can't be counted in the GBBD but it is pretty this time of year.

I planted this sarcococca last year; it's a young plant but it is in bloom!

My helleborus foetidus should have bloomed by now. Its buds are waiting for a warm suuny day.

Finally, one of my andromedas (cultivar unknown) has a single open bud, in the center of the photo.

I enjoyed taking the time to savor these subtle beauties as I await more flashy blooms next month.

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day all. I look forward to visiting your gardens today.
Kathryn J.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Dooryards, Chipping Camden

Yesterday, I dropped my pruning equipment off at the local mower shop for sharpening. This left me without tools to work in my garden this morning. So I browsed through some pictures that my daughter and I took while on a trip to England last June. We concentrated on the Cotswolds andWhiltshire area seeking out gardens and monasteries. I have not traveled much in my life and rarely in June - a prime work month for decades. So in my retirement, I am trying to visit gardens that I have loved in pictures and history (Stourhead, Hidcote, Alhambra and Generalife) as my budget allows. On the way surprise gardens pop up naturally, as they did in Chipping Camden, England. Well travelled gardeners may say that Chipping Camden is a cliche of the Cotswolds but I found it charming and utterly alien.

Where is the plot of land for these Hollyhocks?

Lives are lived behind these doors but the curb garden is for all of us to enjoy.

These are just some of dooryards on Chipping Camden's main street. The age and history that accompanies these gardens is the stuff of legends and dreams. The health of the plant material is the stuff of envy. I could have stayed all summer.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Who would believe it. We've got turkeys in our yard for the first time ever! Our home hosts a number of different types of wildlife that live in our woods: owls, feral cats, racoons, rats, the occaisional fox along with various song birds and small rodents. We even have great blue herons that swoop down to catch the fish in our pond. But never turkeys. This is Long Island folks, around 40 miles from New York City! Apparently these turkeys are not escapees from captivity. Their origin is unknown. It is true that a local man decided to restore the wild turkey to Huntington. He apparently released 15 or so turkeys, on Thanksgiving day in our neighborhood. After much local uproar, he collected them and is raising them himself. This batch of seven birds is apparently not part of the original group. Personally, I am not buying this explanation. Our local town animal control officers want nothing to do with my turkeys - they are free to roam as their nature dictates.

What exactly is their nature and what are they likely to do in the future? Those questions sent me scuttling to for "The Wild Turkey: Biology and Management" edited by James Dickson and published by the National Wild Turkey Federation. (NWTF has a very informative website). The book is facinating and I now know more than you may want to hear about turkeys. But some facts have given me hope that I will not have to garden around turkeys this spring.
1. Turkeys only travel in mixed male/female groups in the winter. So my group of three males and four females foraging on acorns in my yard are pretty typical.
2. Turkeys mate promiscuously from late February to April, after which the females go off by themselves and nest. This may explain why I haven't seen the group in over a week.
3. Turkey eggs incubate for 28 days or so. The poults imprint on the hen and are able to fly 8 days after hatching. Poults follow the hen (who shows little maternal care for older poults) until the following winter when they meet up with a group again, not necessarily the same group.
The mortality rate of eggs and poults is high, possibly because the hen leaves the eggs alone to forage and spend the night in trees. Hens will attempt to chase off preditors though.
4. The toms ignore the hens after mating and usually travel with their sibling toms and exhibit pecking order dominance.
5. Turkeys do fly and they roost in trees at night. They are fond of hemlocks if given a choice.

So I have learned a bit about my turkeys and I have no idea if I will see them again. I suspect I will. Our oak woodland is their preferred habitat and my compost pile in the woodland has been attractive to them. I'll keep you posted (no pun intended).