Saturday, August 30, 2008


The shakers are long gone from New lebanon, New York. But they did not leave ruins behind like many civilizations, but a spirit not only evidenced in the beauty of the simple buildings, but something tucked into the mountains giving way to the Hudson Valley on the western edge of the Berkshires. The wooded hills roll into the valley with an ancient unspeakable grace. I come to this place as often as possible for retreat and edification. The Abode of the Message, the home of the Sufi Order International,occupies some shaker buildings at the end of the road before it slips off into the woods and up the mountain.
this year the Abode was inaugurating a new House of Wisdom-- The Seven Pillars.
A conglomeration of intellectuals, holy men and women, seekers and artists gathered to explore the possibility of a new world vision where unification was not only a possibility but a reality. The inspiring speakers and seekers filled me with a hope I was hungry for. Not a political hope, but a human hope.
I have included a link to the right for those of you who are interested in reading and hearing more about this weekend. they will be posting videos and transcripts of the weekend starting in early October.

The Elders' Hall, now part of Darrow School where the Seven Pillars Inauguration was held.

The graceful shaker meeting hall at Darrow School.

The Abode herb garden and the building that houses the Seven Pillars offices.

The building where I slept and the native turtle head ( Chelone lyallii ) which grew out back.

The Abode pond, a good place to wait for dawn.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I stumble over my thoughts about why we garden.
What levels of horticultural perfection I saw at Longwood. Such painstaking preservation at Mt. Cuba Center. The humbling wonder of Bartram.
I wonder why each of us gardens. Obsessively fighting the elements and seducing them, though we are at their will. This search on-line, through nurseries, catalogues and magazines for the perfect plant, the ideal concept expressing our individual sense of “Garden”. Certainly it stems from our love of nature, of the elements. But I wonder, too, if there isn’t a tinge of “unfashionable” guilt behind it. Guilt for the “un-gardening” of the world, so we can have cheap shoes, faster travel,more exotic fruits in the middle of winter.
I’m all for global trade.
I don’t know what I’d do with out bananas and olive oil. Cheap shoes. My truck,which keeps me working as a gardener.
I’m starting to think that Meis van der Roeh was right, though.: “Less is more”.
Less cultivation allows for more appreciation. My restless spring days are behind me. Late summer presents time for relaxation. Contemplation.
Yes, and cultivation. I can’t imagine this time of year without the gaudiness of dahlias; that requires deadheading. Or October without pumpkins, or apples; that requires harvesting.
This is what vacation is for. To remember. To remember to slow down.
Why is someone else’s garden more Eden than our own?
Because toil is vanquished and appreciation and contemplation rush forward flooding us with a joy so deep as to be immeasurable?
These are just my thoughts in a agrden where I don’t garden. But they are thoughts I’d like to pay heed to. It seems a shame I had to fly to he other side of the continent to find them in Bartram’s Garden


I guess after 260+ years your house and garden might need some renovation,too. Here at Bartram’s Garden plenty of renovation was going on.
John Bartram was an avid naturalist, and in particular a botanist. Actually he was the botanist to George III of England. Later his son William eclipsed his father with his lively travel writing that involved contact with the Native Americans of the South East, alligators and of course plants. there home on the banks of the Schuykill River in Philadelphia, remains a monument not only to the early days of botany in the new world, but a testament also to the Bartrams’ Quaker faith their pacifist ways and belief in the interconnectedness of all living things. Over the years the garden has remained humbly near it roots. It is considered the first and longest existing botanical garden in the U.S. Bartram entertain many famous fore-fathers like Washington, Jefferson and Franklin in his garden. Washington, it is said, found Bartram’s garden “messy”. Bartram was truly more interested in plants and their natural habitats than in any sort of contrived formalities borrowed form the old world. This is still evident .
I learned about Bartram during my botany studies. So in his garden nearly 300 years later I find I am dazzled more by his mythic presence than by colorful exotics, and my love of the simplest native flowers wakes. This drawing down and in makes Bartram’s garden a place of serenity and contemplation. Here I sit in the stench of modernity, there are refineries across the river, and listen to a cicada’s rattled whirr. The broken moist winds, remnants of hurricane Fay dissipate over the garden. Here nature is the garden and it is endless.
Bartram’s masterpiece was not in layout or design but in erudition and love. A love for the natural world around him from which he fashioned his furnishing , house and garden. Could he have also been the father of the green movement, long before it was necessary?

The house Bartram built; he actually carved the stone himself from the local Wissahikon Schist.

The cider press on the river has the feel of a mystical relic.

Commellina erecta, the dayflower, is a blue like none other.

This is not the mess Washington was speaking of. It's a shame that the modern world has washed up on the banks of this garden.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


As a typical tourist short on time and long on desire I tried to cover a lot of ground today. In particular the grounds of Mt. Cuba Center and Longwood Gardens in the beautifully undulating landscape west of Philadelphia. Both were marvels in their own right.
Mt. Cuba Center, was once the home of the Copelands, has become a charitable foundation and a center for the growing and studying of plants native to the Piedmont Region, which runs from the Hudson river South to Alabama, and from the Atlantic coastal plain to the Appalachian Mountains. The natural setting is ideal for growing woodland, meadow, dry land and wetland plants of the region. Cultivars of natives are tested for garden worthiness. 2 of the introductions I grow in my own garden, Cornus sericea ‘Silver and Gold’ and Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’.What a treat to get a private tour by Vic Piatt and to get to have lunch with the crew that creates and maintains this beautiful place.

Native prickly pear hugs a rock in front of the house.

The tall tulip poplars ( Liriodendron tulipifera) create a colonade in the forest.

My new favorite plant Indian pink ( Spigelia marilandica).

Pitcher plants in the bog

My guide Vic, and fellow gardener, working at Mt Cuba Center over 17 years.


An italianate fountain designed by P.S. Du Pont. The lartgest plume shoots 30+ feet into the air.

Carefully trimmed ivy. I wouldn't want the job.

A scary fountain in the new children's garden.

A silly fountain in the new children's garden.

My guide and fellow gardener Yoko.


Longwood Gardens was not far from Mt. Cuba geographically, but worlds apart ideologically. Longwood was once the estate of Pierre Du Pont, he had bought the property from a Quaker family who had created a private arboretum there in the early 1800’s. Pierre began his garden there with simple flower walks back in 1907. Now the gardens are anything but simple, extravagant would be an understatement. I can truly say I’ve never seen anything like it. I was fortunate once again to get a private tour of the gardens and the operational facilities from a long time horticulturalist there, Yoko Arakawa.

A stunning study in red and yellow.

A board walk up in the trees leads to a tree house.

Topiary ad infinitum. Amusing.

I wish we had the heat to grow these giant amazonian water lilies in Seattle.

Bamboo waiting to be displayed in the conservatory.

Monday, August 25, 2008


Bye-bye Fall, Bye-bye Seattle. I'm off to the east coast where it's still summer.
Here's one last picture for a few weeks.

Okay one more.


I've always loved glads. Well, that's not exactly true. When I was in my wild garden phase glads were definitely "out". But then I realized that every time I went to the farmers market I would stop and linger at the vendors selling flowers. Their big buckets of gladiola spears were so beautiful, took me back to the my Grandmas' flower gardens and the Wisconsin State Fair, where gladiolas stood solitary in coke bottles waiting judgement. Well I passed judgement on glads, too gaudy, too funerial , for the modernn naturalist gardening style I was developing. But then I got a client who wanted a garden full of nostalgia and color. So I planted great clumps of glads. Showy and floppy they took center stage and disappointed. The colors are dynamic but staking is necessary. So I stopped planting glads.
At least for a while. Then I started trying shorter ones like this one which is a part of the Glamini series . This one was labeled 'Christopoher' , but looks more like 'Tom' to me. They do flop a bit but that color is priceless.

The glads I really am loving are the species glads. This one Gladiolus x gandavensis 'Boone' I bought at the old Heronswood a few years back. I leave it in the ground here and it multiplies , never flops and always gets visitors' attention. I couldn't be gladder.

Except when I'm sad.
Like now. Our 30 foot long row of glads for cutting at the farm have all succumbed to thrips and fungal problems, that's the kind of summer we're having.
A cabbage summer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Talking about Fall and changes. The Bellevue Botanical Garden perennial and shrub borders supported by the Northwest Perennial Alliance will be going through some much needed changes soon. These borders have been an inspiration to me even before I moved to Seattle. Volunteer powered and the brain ( and back) child of Whithey and Price it has been the showpiece of BBG. Managing a border to keep it fresh beyond the first 5 years is a challenge and when the borders are over 15 years sometimes bulldozers are in order. I’m looking forward to the new developments, because when I toured the border today I realized it was already being ripped a part


and now.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


I was up at 5:30. I went to sit on the porch. In the quiet dark half hour before I needed to get ready for work, I was able to breath just slightly unencumbered by thoughts of how I must use the day. These can sometimes be the sweetest minutes of my day. Before I’m caffeinated, before light, a soft drowse like a comforter still around me.
Then there was a thud in the darkness, and another. The apples were dropping in the neighbors orchard. Then the crowing began like every morning. Unseen things began to stir. I knew it was time to get up and go.
The day before I had avoided saying the word “Fall”, even though I watched the wind whip some yellow leaves off the alders out back. But this morning it was not only on my lips but in my body like a thud. Something has changed. Something has tipped. Something went thud. It was Fall’s first footstep into the garden. The ripening is beginning, though we’ve hardly had the heat needed for tomatoes, beans or corn. There will be figs and apples and pears. There are blackberries now and summer squash.
But today rains put off harvesting. Just desk work.
I welcome some hours indoors.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I don’t often think of the moon as fiery, shiny but not fiery. This weekend it pierced even our curtains with it’s full moon brightness. I hardly ever garden for moonlight, though I love it so. There are moonflowers and night scented stock and nicotiana, all white and fragrant, poised to lure moths. So why this dahlia got called ‘ Moonfire’ I don’t know. It’s as bright as a solar flare, easy , no-flopping and ever blooming from early June to November here.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


I love to read.
You do to if you’re visiting blogs.
I’ve been hoping to to do what I love this summer, but have barely cracked teh first book in the stack: Oliver sacks “ Oaxacan Journal”. If you’ve read any of Oliver sacks books ( “Awakenings”, which later became a movie, or my favorite, “ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”) you would be surprised to learn this articulate and noteworthy neurologist is a lso a fern lover. His trip to Oaxaca takes him on a fern foray with pteridologist and fern lovers into the jungles of southern Mexico. I don’t want to give away the plot but the telling is sweet and insight full , and coming from such an unlikely place a pleasant surprise on my summer reading list.
Here’s the list:
“The Tree” , John Fowles
“ Tree: A Life Story”, David Suzuki
“ The Tree” , Colin Tudge
“ Arboretum America”, Diana Beresford-Kroeger
[ are you noticing a dendrological bent developing?]
“ Dear Friend and Gardener”, Beth Chatto & Christopher Lloyd
“ The Art of Seeing Things”, collected essays, John Burroughs
“ Farms as Natural Habitat: Reconnecting Food Systems with Eco-Systems” Dana L. and Laura L. Jackson.
An ambitious list I know
What sort of ambition might it take to sit down to read, when there are blackberries and purple cabbage to pick?

Friday, August 15, 2008


Flowers are one of the first things children draw. The simplistic symmetry of a daisy appeals to their happy budding minds. I shocked my sister, while she was visiting the farm last week when she saw our long row of “ Becky” shasta daisies.
“ You’re growing daisies? “ she asked with quizzical doubt.
“ I love daisies,” was my simple response.
I guess her memories of our parents hayfields full of weedy ox-eye daisies ( Leucanthemum vulgare) are different than mine. I know they’re noxious weeds, and degrade hay. But e when the fields are blistered from head to toe with sunny-side-up flowers, who could not be childishly happy. The unsophisticated beauty cheers the dullest heart.
I have one client who requested daisies for her cutting garden. After years i notice they were never cut. When i asked he she said she didn’t like the way they smelled. They have a bitter funk in Michael’s estimation. This same client has me make centerpieces every year for her summer party. It is always a challenge because I am not a florist. I did work as an assistant florist to one of the best floral designers in Germany, Heiko Kalitowitsch [ link in sidebar]. I learned a lot form him over those 2 years when I was living in Cologne. But mostly what I learned was I didn’t want to be a florist. I fear flowers too much.
Not the cutting edge “ fear of flowers’ that drove the foliage /texture revolution in gardening in the 90’s. But the fear of the unholdable, the wilting, the unpropable nature of flowers when they are removed from the plant.
I once was a man of nary an empty vase. Every possible thing was plucked, positioned and posed. That fascination is fading, though I admire the art. Now I rescue what is broken or fallen. I appreciate the single flowers more than the melange. Like Katsuo Okakura in his classic “ The Book of Tea” who laments man’s, especially european and american man’s brutish cutting and disposal of flowers. I hope to develop not just an aesthetic but a disposition that requires less of the flowers by which I’ll get more joy from them in situ.
A few months ago I ran into an on acquaintance from my artsy-fartsy days in Milwaukee. Michael Gafney had gone on to start a floral design school in Chicago [see link to left]. When I told him I was a gardener/ garden designer, he said with pride, almost like a trade mark, “I can’t even grow a tulip” . I guess seamstresses don’t weave,or bakers grow wheat, but when I decided to be a gardener I studied botany, I wanted to know how plants work, what made them grow. Maybe a florist is one step beyond the life processes of plants, maybe that’s why I won’t be a florist. I guess of all the materials an artist can use flowers are probably the most renewable. And I do know florists who garden. Maybe I’m not “evolving”, but just becoming a curmudgeon.
I still pick flowers and arrange them. It’s a simple act that brings joy to me and the people who w see my arrangements. I find I'm also simplifying that act. A single flower in a bottle seems enough.

Centerpieces for a Carnival themed party.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Consider the lilies of the field...
I did.
The roadsides of my home state, Wisconsin are infested with the “ exotic “ day lily (Hemerocallis sp.) It’s orange flowers among the tall grass, goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace bring a reliable cheerfulness to these “ wasted” waysides. That they hunkered into this melange of natives and weeds along the side of the road was magical. Impressed me.
In one particularly unemployed summer, while I was studying botany, I picked huge bundles of orange day lilies from an abandoned cemetery. I sat with them on a street corner in a posh neighborhood and sold them until a store owner chased me away. But I had already made enough money from my wild booty to take a friend out to dinner and drink myself silly. College days are far behind but day lilies stayed.
As reliable long term perennials, day lilies are indispensable. But not without problems.
Daily deadheading to keep them looking clean, to show off each flower as it opens is a must in the estate gardens I maintain. The spent blossoms never drop or if they do they get tangled in the flower-scape, rarely making it to the ground.
The gardener Jon Dove loathes day lilies for this reason and even more so for their rank and floppy foliage ( right when they begin to bloom!)
I am enamored with the lily family. I can’t stop planting tulips, lilies, alliums, and day lilies in my borders. I curse them each year for their problems, mostly fungal here in the Northwest. They deliciously tempt deer and rabbits, and rats dung and gnawed my tulips bulbs. But I keep planting members of this family because I am so in love with their beauty I’ll put up with all the problems.
The same is true for day lilies. As the summer parties approach and the foliage browns and drops I realize I should have listened to Christopher Lloyd who warned of planting too many.
I planted too many.
This year I have pledged to edit. But I’m still glad I planted the 12+ cultivars I did. I had a chance to look at which ones works and which ones don’t.
Here’s my list.

‘Guardian Angel’, has lovely cream colored flowers, I grow it in half shade. Unfortunately the foliage lies flat on the ground by the time the flowers bloom.

‘ Big Bird’, these giant yellow flowers stop everyone walking through the garden. It’s tall enough to plant in the back to cover any foliage mishaps.

‘College Try’, a strong red that blooms and holds well even in the dry part-shade where I planted it.

‘Fairy Tale Pink’, Beautiful! The flower is a taffy pink, lovely in morning light, makes it worth growing despite the lanky foliage. Maybe I’m growing it too moist.

‘Lime Frost’, This superb day lily had strong upright foliage to the end. The large amaryllis-like flowers are a sophisticated pale yellow, almost white, with a green throat. It elegantly blends with anything you put it near. By far my favorite.

My plans for the day lilies in the borders includes deletions and moves. But Michael and I also plan to try more cultivars at the farm. Our own little trial garden, where daily dead-heading won’t be a must and I can finally surrender fully to my day lily obsession.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I hope it lasts!
The day was a rush: vacuuming, wiping, picking greens, digging potatoes, getting ready for guests in the garden. August's greatest pleasure is guests in the garden. And this quiet moment of satisfaction.
And rest.
As they drive up.

Saturday, August 9, 2008


Summer finds me cyber-challenged. I have not been able to connect to the internet, so... no blogging. I don't have time to deal with it, because the farm is absorbing all of my energy right now. Just this morning I was picking blackberries. And black currants, that dangling ropes of black pearls under the leaves.
More photos and words forthcoming. I think I've solved the problem.