Long Distance Gardening

I’ve talked a little bit about my old garden and I would like to do a post about several of my old gardens or gardens I have designed but that will have to wait a bit.  Tomorrow is my trip and I should really be packing and getting ready. I still have a lot to do.

But I was looking at some old pictures and I also asked for some current ones to be sent to compare (a task that took my seventy two year old father three days to complete; first he accidentally sent me black and white photos, then video, and finally after an email and an explanation on the phone on how to operate his Droid the color photos were sent).

It is always fun to see what has held up over the course of six years and the results of long distance or intermittent direction in the care of the garden.  The first few years after I left the garden was just neglected and quickly fell into ruin.  Then my father hired a part time handy man to help with other jobs around the house and my friend and classmate Emily who runs an estate in Connecticut came a few times to do some work, make some suggestions, and teach the handy man the difference between perennials and weeds. Of course I visit once or twice a year and give whatever guidance I can from three thousand miles away.

The front garden is not very big. It is a suburban lot and probably about a third of an acre.  My father has a home office so much of the front yard has been converted into a parking lot.  There is a perennial border along the driveway, several mixed shrub and perennial borders that run the length of the sidewalk, then a small strip of lawn separating the final long border that flanks the neighbors property to the north.

The driveway border used to belong to my fathers wife but when he divorced her in 2004 I saw it as the perfect opportunity to pull everything out and start over.  The plan was to create a mostly late summer border with lots of native coneflowers and grasses and the like and a few other large specimen plantings of plants that interest me.  My favorite thing about this garden was mid to late May when it is full of Alliums to bridge the spring and summer flowers.

The garden was renovated in 2004 and this is how it looked in May of 2005.

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The Alliums in the foreground are 'Purple Sensation', in the right center are some A. 'Gladiator', and the center bed houses a huge clump of A. 'Globemaster'. There are also several hundred A. christophii.

Some of the perennials in the border include a large Persicaria polymorpha which had been transplanted from the backyard,  a big clump of Eupatorium, a huge specimen of Echinops ritro and Rudbeckia maxima that I salvaged from the old bed, and some oriental poppies, Echinacea, Veronicastrum, Amsonia, Achillea and Baptisia.

Six years and much neglect later it is fun to see what remains and what has changed.  The same area in 2011 in late May.

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This picture was taken a little later so some of the Alliums have already faded but you can see that they are still going strong.

To the right you can see some of the plants that are climbing the house.  They are a bit unruly because when I was home in March it snowed the day I planned on cutting them back.  But in the center you can see how huge the Persicaria polymorpha.  The Eupatorium has spread but the Echinops is gone.  The Amsonia and a Limonium still remain but the Echinacea and Veronicastrum are gone.  The Purple Sensation Alliums are still there though this picture was taken a bit later so they are fading but you can see on the right behind the Persicaria where I added some more A. ‘Gladiator’ and to the left I added some A. ‘Mount Everest’ because I felt like I needed some white spheres to go along with all the purple ones.  The big clump of  A. ‘Globemaster’ in the middle bed is still looking pretty impressive as well.

The red mulch (shudder) was a huge weedy grass that I had pulled in March before it got too tall. I’m not even sure exactly what it was but I know it wasn’t ornamental and had to come out before it took over any more of the garden.  It wiped out a bunch of perennials that were in that area.  The poor handy man thought it was supposed to be there so it just got bigger and bigger.

I’m hoping to visit again in the fall and maybe do a little work on this border.  Since it flanks the parking lot it is important that it looks nice or at least presentable.

This garden was far from perfect but I do miss it a little bit so it is nice that I still get to see it even though I have moved away. I’m hoping I’ll have something even more impressive here in California some day. I just wish I could grow all those Alliums here.

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.