Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Gravetye Manor

One of my favorite evenings in July was spent with Great Dixter students at Gravetye Manor, the famous old home and landscape of William Robinson, a pioneer of wild gardening.   A few years ago, Tom Coward was hired as head gardener and began an extensive renovation of the neglected gardens that were overrun with bindweed. Prior to his arrival at Gravetye, he was the deputy gardener under Fergus Garrett at Great Dixter. It was very exciting to see Great Dixter influences in plantsmanship, creative combinations and full plantings, but it was also inspiring to see Tom Coward's own style emerge in the spirit of Robinson. We arrived in the early evening and just caught the last rays of light on exuberant plantings.

Looking out the meadows from the main borders. This geranium feels like it is calling out to the meadows- it is a perfect transition plant, connecting the cultivated borders to the wild.

Stipa gigantea, a plant I never got tired of. Everywhere I saw it, it was spectacular.

This combination of plants keeps crossing my mind:  Stipa gigantea, Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum', Cephalaria gigantea, Digitalis, and Cirsium rivulare 'Autopurpureum.'

Always amazing to have foxgloves blooming at odd times of summer. Since they are biennials, gardeners can often sow them in the fall, and get them into bloom in the spring. If they are sown early-late winter, you can get a later bloom time, pushing them into summer. In Vermont for the past few years, I have purchased digitalis starts from Walker Farm. Every year they put up blooms in August and September. It is a little shocking to take in the fall garden with foxgloves in full bloom.

The perennial bineweed is so tenacious that the borders have to be dug out and over each year. This makes planting foundation plants and more permanent plantings difficult. Tom Coward has creatively used plants like the biennial Angelica archangelica to add substantial structure to his borders.

This was my first sighting of Silene 'Blue Angel,' a plant I sowed, handled, and planted at Great Dixter in March 2011, but never saw bloom. I was immediately drawn to it and then when I was told who it was, I had one of those exciting recognition moments of putting a face to a name. It is interplanted with lacey Orlaya grandiflora.

At the grandest entrance facing the meadows is this very grand Rheum specimen.

A very tall foxtail lily (Eremurus) in the walled kitchen garden. It was likely eight feet tall, dwarfing Makiko and Rachael.

Nigella hispanica in the kitchen garden.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Bunker Farm

In July I received some good news. Noah and I, along with my sister Jen and her partner Mike, were  selected to purchase the Bunker Farm in Dummerston, Vermont. In May the four of us put together an application to purchase the newly conserved farm from the Vermont Land Trust. In a hefty eighty page document, we outlined our diversified farm plan; which included raising animals for meat, growing various vegetable crops for local markets and restaurants, growing annual and perennial flowers, selling our own maple syrup, and developing educational programs with local school and community groups.  It is the most exciting thing that could have happened for the four of us and we are looking forward to a long and fruitful life on the farm.

This farm is nestled in one of the most beautiful valleys in all of southern Vermont. There are sixty acres of open fields and one hundred acres of woodlands. The hills rise up in all directions from the house and at times it is steep. There are two ponds, sixteen acres of sugar maple woods, stands of locust and white pines, and the place teems with wildlife. We are constantly aware that the land is so much bigger than us and that it will remain in conservation and agriculture long after we are gone.

The farm house was in pretty good condition, despite the looks of the paint job. There is a lifetime of work to be done, the short list includes major chimney repair, a new roof, and replacing rotten sills, but during the month of August we managed to paint a majority of the exterior and interior, refinish the old pine floorboards, and replace some of the worst of the old windows and doors. In September, we all moved in.

Giving the house a fresh coat of paint and digging out all the plants around the foundation made an immediate impact.

I uncovered this nice stone pathway, previously covered in weeds and grass. In every direction, there is endless work to do. I found myself taking on the garden in little sections, digging out the weeds and brambles, saving the odd bits of good looking plants. Across the road is our pole barn, which is in better condition that it looks.

One of the ponds on the property. We swim in it despite the rumor of very large snapping turtles.

Hills rise on three sides of the house and the land encompasses all three sides of the road. Walking up through an upper pasture there is this little picture window looking down on the beautiful old hay barn. Apple trees scatter the landscape, all gnarly and overgrown, but still elegant and delicious.

Here is the beginning of our very own cow herd. At the start we have five hearty Herefords and two Jersey/Angus crosses.

Our lovely sheep are Dorset crosses and we hope to breed them with a Finn ram this winter. Sheep are great to have in conjunction with cows- the cows graze first, but only eat the tops of the grass. The sheep come through and eat the grass much closer to the ground, but they also eat a large variety of weeds and undesirables. The land is a little overgrown, particularly along all the edges and hedgerows, with massive crops of beautiful, yet horribly weedy plants such as Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), Rosa multiflora, Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), and Berberis (Berberis thunbergii). All of these plants are non-native and tenacious, creating twelve foot impasses of tangled plants. Luckily, our sheep herd came with a goat, serendipitously named Dahlia, and she prefers these woody, thorny plants above all else.

Our pigs are Tamworths and of all the different pigs we've raised, these are by far our favorite. As far as I can tell, pigs have three personality traits; a little mean, a little dull, or curious. These ones are curious, unafraid, and affectionate- what more can you hope for in a pig! We are considering breeding the sows in spring, if we can find a good boar. Breeding pigs and keeping 800 pound boars around is a bit of an undertaking, but we love having pigs and nothing is better than a piglet. We picked these piglets up from a farm in Windham. When we arrived, the piglets were still in the pen with the sow and the boar.  It was a testament of their genetics that we were able to hop in the pen and take the piglets out with the parents standing by. These pigs are fenced in two acres of overgrown orchard and they spend their days feasting on fallen apples.

Chickens. These girls are our two laying hens, a gift from my father, and I am sure we will get more in the spring. We are also raising meat birds and have already raised, slaughtered, and sold our first 150 and we are on to our second batch. It is a little late to be raising chickens this time of year and keeping them warm enough has been a challenge. Our goal is to raise 1,000 birds a year, primarily in the spring and summer months.  

The day we got the farm Mike planted a vegetable garden. Throughout the fall we have been eating carrots, cucumbers, radishes, herbs, and kale out of this little kitchen plot. In the background is our illuminated greenhouse.

Inside the greenhouse, Mike has planted all sorts of leafy, vegetables- some from starts and other directly sowed- and we are presently selling bags of spicy, mixed greens.

This is the Flower side of the greenhouse, where come February I will sow lots of seeds, and probably far too many out of enthusiasm. In the meantime, my Dahlias are drying out.

Much to do on the gardening front. Digging is my main occupation- turning brambles and nettles back into garden space. The soil is ideal- light, beautifully colored copper brown, rich, free draining, and there is no clay. I only have experienced soil like this a few times in my life, so I have a lot to learn.  I have planted a few things that were hanging around in pots, just to get them in the ground, but I will have more to show and tell in spring. Here's to the beginning!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Rabdosia longituba

At long, long last this beauty has bloomed. Rabdosia longituba is a plant I acquired from Ed Bowen at Opus Nursery two summers ago. I loved its quirky name, its bright foliage, and I was lured in by the promise of late purple flowers. Well, that first year I kept it in a pot for too long and in October I desperately stuck it in the garden. I was sure it would die. In the spring there was no sign of life for awhile, and then one little shoot appeared. In September this year it put out some delicate little dangling purple droplet buds! That alone was thrilling, until yesterday when I caught its little flickering flowers aglow in that low afternoon light.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Late Summer Gardens

I returned home at the beginning of August, after a wonderful month at Great Dixter, and was greeted with many happy sights. Most notably, while I was away I found out that Noah and I, along with my sister and Mike, were the chosen applicants to buy The Bunker Farm, a 160 acre farm in Dummerston, Vermont. Naturally we have been busy getting the farm started. We are now all living in the house, the 60 acres of hay fields are mowed and baled, we have chickens and plans for cows, and the gardens are slowly turning over one by one. Pictures to follow!

I also came home to very exuberant gardens. All of those little plants I planted grew and grew, as well as a few weeds.  All in all, the gardens were well- tended and wild. Above is a photo of Deb Shumlin's garden in mid-August. This spring Deb replaced a small terraced lawn surrounded by gardens with a stone patio. We brought the gardens right up to the edges of the stones and planted a few annuals. In a few short months, the gardens have completely filled out. All of the giant Nicotiana sylvestris are self-sown.

Looking back up to the patio. In the back, are the nodding stems of African foxglove (Ceratotheca triloba 'Lilac') and the pink flower in front is the Chinese foxglove, Rehmannia angulata 'Popstar' (also known as Rehmannia elata). I got the Rhemannia seeds from Diane's Seeds and they report that the plant survives zone 5 winters and is more floriferous the following year. It will be interesting to see if this happens for us.

Here is a shot of Bruce Lockhart's Pleasure Garden in Petersham, Massachusetts. I helped him in the spring bringing in new perennials and annuals to his already beautiful garden.

In the Pleasure Garden we planted reds and oranges, in foliage and flower. Emilia javanica (syn. Emilia coccinea) and Cosmos sulphureus 'Towering Orange' give dotted blasts of orange, while Monarda 'Jacob Cline' offers up some red. The deep burgundy hues are from the lovely Hibiscus acetosella 'Mahogany Splendor,' which I started from seed in the spring.  Leaning awkwardly in on the left are the Suess-like arms of Helianthus salacifolius.

 In the Willow Garden, there are more subdued tones, composed in blue, purple, and white. We did throw in a little Solanum ptycanthum, to add some spiny orange stems as a little compliment.


This perennial garden at Diane Bower's garden in Newfane was designed by Gordon Hayward, with room to incorporate some annuals. Diane hired me to plant the garden and add that annual touch.

At Stan Fry's garden in Peterborough, New Hampshire, I designed and planted ten planters and containers dotted throughout the garden. Here is one just coming into its own, with Lophospermum 'Lofos Wine Red' dangling with dark pink flowers. The grass is Unicina unicinata 'Rubra,' grown as an annual here, it is a native to New Zealand. 

These last few photos are from my own small garden, which has been mostly neglected all summer, especially since moving onto the farm. However, it is definitely holding its own and seems to be continuing on perfectly fine without me. My mother saw it and said, "You really have taken on wild gardening." I think she meant it well... Above are a few examples of some incredible, intentionally-left weeds running wild with a few more refined characters. In the weed category are the huge aralia-like purple berries of Phytolacca americana, the very tall Coreposis tripteris, and the native Geranium bicknelli. The pale blue flower in front is an annual I tried this year called Gilla capitata. It has nice foliage and sweet, but very subtle blue flowers. Its habit is a bit too sprawling and tumbling, but I think I might be able to improve on it next year by pinching back and planting in leaner soils.

A good messy combination of lots of things, looking rosier as the cooler weather kicks in. I tried Dahlia 'Fascination' this year and had great results. It is a very strong pink on dark leaves, the flowers stand up well on long stems, and it starts blooming earlier than the others.

Looking in the other direction you can get a good look at the Dahlia. The white spray arching over is from the single flower of a Artemesia lactiflora 'Guizhou,' which is a plant I have been wanting for a few years and just got a piece from Bruce Lockhart's garden. It seems to be doing well and I have high hopes for the future!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Garden Inspirations Workshop

Please join us on Januray 25th at the Latchis Theater in downtown Brattleboro, Vermont for a Garden Inspirations Workshop, as part of a fundraising effort to restore the historic and gorgeous Latchis Theater. I will be giving a talk on my experience at Great Dixter and sharing the program with some of my garden heroes, including Gordon Hayward, Julie Messervy, and Dan Snow! Sign up soon as they are only selling 100 tickets.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Beth Chatto's Gravel Garden

This month at Great Dixter has been packed full of incredible experiences, including meeting Beth Chatto and seeing her incredible garden. Beth Chatto is an amazing woman, in the her nineties now, and so generous, sharp and poignant. I hung on her every word, enthralled, listening to her stories and ideas. And then her garden was glorious. I was most enamored by her Gravel Garden, an experiment in zero-irrigation gardening, cultivating and expertly arranging truly drought tolerant, tough plants. They were beautiful, textural, sculptural, wispy and brilliantly colorful. Asa Gregers-Warg has been gardening with Beth Chatto for thirteen years and she led us through the garden. She said that in the gravel garden, the arrangement and design had more to do with editing at this point than with anything else; deciding which self-sowers to leave and taking the majority out. I was impressed by the spaces created by all this editing. I think it is hard to pull out all those great plants- and it would have been easy to leave in many more, but the effect was just perfect. 

I love the above combination with the yellow Alcea rugosa, maroon Allium sphaerocephalon, gray leaves of Artemesia, and the bright gold feathery leaves and stems of Asphodeline liburnica.

Stipa gigantea catching the morning light.

A beautiful Genista aetnensis in full flower and fragrance. I have seen these small trees/large shrubs in other gardens too, including Chelsea Physic, Wisley, Sissinghurst and here at Great Dixter.

A nicely framed vista

Beth Chatto's garden is beautifull composed. Here is a nice example of the layers and shapes she has created, with lots of varying textures and colors. The scalloped gray leaf plant is Ballota, and likely B. pseudodictamnus.

A bee coming in for a landing

This was a great plant, Galactites tomentosa. It's buds, seed heads, and flowers all kind of blended together and you had to get up close to really see what was what. From a distance it was a fuzzy field of silvery white. I saw another form of this plant at Siisnghurst, with slightly larger purple flowers with glossy mottled green foliage.

Stipa gigantea swirling around with Verbena bonariensis.

My favorite moment in the garden was sitting on Beth Chatto's patio, listening to her stories and peering out from under the Magnolia into her garden. There are two massive conifers, rising upwards like thick, dark green columns framing the view. The early morning light was passing between them and illuminating a wavering stand of Verbena. It was glorious!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Views from the Weekend

The best part of spending a month living and volunteering at Great Dixter, is being in the garden in the early morning and late evening- when the light is the best and the crowds have dispersed. This is the time to capture the best photographs as well. Above in the Barn Garden is the lovely Salvia scalera 'Vatican White,' flowering with the Lychnis coronaria 'Alba.' Fergus came around a few days ago and said the gods of Sissinghurst are playing a trick on us! The Lychnis was meant to be magenta pink for some outrageous color contrast and instead it looks like a slice of the white garden at Sissinghurst.

The pot displays all changed around on Friday. This ensemble was created by Fergus to show the students how to do it.

The Long Border in full swing. 

Late sowed foxgloves still looking gorgeous despite the heat.

One of my favorite parts of the garden right now is the Orchard Garden with Erigeron annus floating through.

Lagurus ovatus with pink Amberboa mauritanica in the Barn Garden.

Thalictrum 'Elin' with the new plumes of Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' in the Barn Garden.

The Exotic Garden. Stay tuned for more on that- it is starting to put on some growth!

Looking down the Long Border in the evening light, watching that teasel grow.

Looking up the Long Border.

The wonderful Campanula lactiflora is blooming in pockets all over the garden. It is such a great, glorious plant, with giant, thick heads of purple on sturdy, slightly arching stems. This specimen is growing right on the edge in front of the iconic Eunoymous 'Silver Queen.'