My Trip Home in March

I was going to start this blog in March and my first post was going to be about my visit home for Persian New Year but my old PC crashed right before the trip.  I generally only go home for visits to the east coast in July for my birthday or September for my father’s birthday so I had managed to avoid seeing snow for five years.

Every year my father asks “Do you want to come visit for Christmas?” and I answer “Are you crazy?” and then he tries again in March “Do you want to visit for Persian New Year?”.

Persian New Year or Nowruz is on the first day of spring so in the past I’ve always said no.  The weather is still pretty dicey in March.  I almost gave in last year and at the last minute changed my mind which turned out to be lucky because there was a nor’easter that tore down a blue spruce and other large trees on my fathers property and he also lost power for a week.  This year I decided I should visit and pay my respects.  Attending a family party at my aunt’s apartment in Manhattan first and then later in the week my father had a big party with around fifty guests.

That is me on the right with my brother and sister. Persian New Year 2011.

Of course it is always nice to see my family.  My father lives in northern New Jersey, my brother lives in Brooklyn and my sister is currently at the University of Pennsylvania studying to be a veterinarian. I’m the only one on the west coast so I do miss them.

But I also miss my old garden at my dad’s place.  It wasn’t my first garden or even my second and it isn’t a particularly great garden.  The setting is a busy four lane road in a New Jersey suburb of New York City, the lot is not especially large or attractive, and the materials I used to hardscape were sort of cheap.  But it was sort of an experimental playground for me while I was in school studying horticulture and some collections of plants I had held onto from my older gardens.  It has suffered a lot of neglect because even while I was living on the east coast I was often too busy with school or away  on internships.  It is amazing how quickly a garden reverts back to a semi-wild state if you leave it unattended.

The current care taker of the garden is my fathers handy man who doesnt know much about gardening but does his best.

The weather was 80 degrees in New Jersey but of course that changed when I arrived.  It snowed not once but twice so my five year snow-free record was shattered.

Snow and freezing weather are probably my two least favorite things in the world.

I tried not to let the weather deter me too much and I made it into the Bronx to visit my friends at the New York Botanical Garden despite freezing weather.  I went to my old neighborhood in midtown and took the train in from Grand Central so it would be just like the old days.

Grand Central Terminal feels like home.

I did visit the Orchid Show but I am not terribly excited by Orchids so you’ll have to check out some other blog for pictures of that.  I did of course pay a visit to the jade vine which is my favorite plant in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

Strongylodon macrobotrys or jade vine. I pretty much love all the plants that come in this color.

It was very cold out but beautiful and sunny so I road around with my friend Jean who I used to work with in Plant Records as she put out plant labels and we gossiped and admired the early spring blooms.

Prunus mume Peggy Clarke was looking fierce in the Ladys Border.

Scilla tubergeniana at Wamsler Rock. From a distance it looked like snow.

Iris Katharine Hodgkin outside the rock garden.

Back home in New Jersey it finally got warm enough for me to tackle some of the woody plants that needed pruning.

These Graham Thomas roses hadnt been properly pruned in at least 5 years and were over 8 feet tall. The Cotinus, Hydgrangeas, and Vitex needed some work too.

Try not to laugh at the horrible pillars. I had a collection of about a hundred Clematis at one point and needed every surface imaginable for them to climb up. In fact some of the shrubs in this border exist for the sole purpose as suport for Clematis.

I learned to prune roses from the great horticulturist Mike Ruggiero. I think he would be happy with my work. It wasnt easy after all those years of neglect to find a suitable framework to prune back to but I think I pulled it off.

One regret I have is that I didn’t plant lots of Hellebores in the garden.  I’m not really sure why.  I think I just never got around to being a Hellebore collector. My focus has always been on late spring and summer plants and I am not a fan of winter but Hellebores definitely make later winter and early spring more tolerable.

This nameless white Hellebore near my pond is the only one in the garden. Now I wish I had planted more of them.

My quest to obtain Chiondoxa sardensis was a failure but on the plus side the garden now has hundreds and hundreds of Chiondoxa luciliae.

One of the coolest plants in the garden is a self sown Euphorbia palustris growing out of the rocks and moss in our ponds waterfall.  Palustris is Latin for  swampy or marshy and it is living up to its name by growing in a steady stream of water.  It is something I couldn’t have planned if I tried but the cool thing about Euphorbias is they are seed flingers so you never know where they might end up.

This self sown Euphorbia palustris has been in this spot for about 9 years and has formed a gnarled woody caudex. It looks like something swamp hobbits would live in.

Here is a wider angle so you can see how it is growing in proximity to the water fall. If you look closely you can see that the plant is encased in ice but doesnt seem to mind.

I found this old picture of the parent plants in 2004 at the side of the pond. They are still going strong and always look fantastic in spring.

There are many beautiful Euphorbias for gardeners to choose from. Succulent, shrubby, or herbaceous. Euporbia palustris is one of the nicest of the herbaceous types with beautiful chartreuse blooms in spring and a really nice habit through summer and fall. If it gets too leggy and tall after it blooms you can cut it to the ground and it will come up fresh.

I’m not sure how much work I want to put into further developing this garden.  My father bought an apartment in Manhattan where he will retire in a few years and it is possible that the entire house will be torn down and a McMansion put in its place and most of the gardens replaced with lawns.  But I may go back for a visit in September to renovate the big driveway border a little bit.  The center of it was taken over by some large weedy clumping grass and once that is removed there will be a lot of empty space.  And while I currently do not have a garden of my own it is nice to have one I can visit even if it is on the other side of the country.