Twelve Days of Christmas: #2

Two Turtle Doves

By Anita Van Hal

Repost from Dec. 14, 2014: Winter Bird Notes 

By Debra Knapke

The choice of the turtle dove for the second day of Christmas is significant. Turtle doves form very strong pair-bonds which, I believe, is the basis for their association with love. The turtle dove has two broods a season and two eggs in each brood. Its gentle “turr turr” is a double song. For this bird, good things come in pairs!

The male cardinal immediately catches your eye, but this also makes him more visible to predators.  There is a price for beauty.

We see the same pattern in many of our native birds, especially cardinals. I’ve watched pairs face off for the suet and seeds we offer in the winter.

Pardon a moment’s rant: I have to take issue with those that say the female is drab compared to the male; I think her coloring is more complex and subtly nuanced. Along with the feeders, my garden is populated with plants that support wildlife. The birds love the fruits of spicebush, chokeberries, rose hips, and the seeds from purple coneflower, native grasses and more. All I need is a water source that stays ice-free in the winter; maybe this year.

‘Wishing you love in this giving season!downey woodpecker on suet crop

 

 

Twelve Days of Christmas: #1

A Partridge in a Pear Tree

By Anita Van Hal

Repost from Dec. 14, 2014: Landscape Trend Foretold in Song Lyric

By Michael Leach

Partridges have gone the way of powdered wigs, but producing fruit is uber trendy. From potted herbs on windowsills to towering nut trees in the backyard, edible landscaping is in.

Fruit-bearing plants do double duty. They produce some food, while filling some landscape roles of strictly ornamental plants. Think of strawberries for ground covers, espaliered fruit trees for screens and fences, berries for informal hedges and dwarf fruit trees for accent plants. Almost all can adapt to container growing.espaliered pear great dixter 9-1992 resized

Reduce labor — Because picture-perfect produce takes much work, shorten your to-do list by selecting plants that are resistant or immune to common diseases and pests.

Learn more — Visit:  your state’s extension website, Missouri Botanical Garden ; Chicago Botanical Garden ; Purdue University Consumer Horticulture ; Nebraska Statewide Arboretum ; Morton Arboretum .

All I Want For Christmas

By Debra Knapke

If you are wondering what Santa should be bringing to your favorite gardener, here are a few suggestions based on what I would like. Many gardeners would be happy with a load of compost, but if you want to give something that lasts longer, here are a few suggestions.

1. Pruners:Corona Tools has some of my favorite pruners and saws for money-conscious gift-givers. Try the FlexDIAL® ComfortGEL® Bypass Pruner at 3/4 inch. Notice it has bright orange handles.

Retail varies from $27.00 to $35.53 depending on the dealer.

2. Soil Knife:AM Leonard carries a version of the tool that goes everywhere with me, the soil or perennial knife.  You can choose the Classic or the Deluxe style, and if you add a sheath, then your giftee will be less likely to lay it down in the garden and lose it!

Retail for the classic is $19.99; $29.99 with the sheath. Retail for the Deluxe is $23.99; $31.99 with the sheath.

3. Forged Trowel: DeWitt of Holland makes beautiful hand tools for that special gardener in your life. Who needs diamonds when you can have one of these forged works of art? Warning: the wooden handle will disappear in the garden. Ask me how I know.

Single tools or combination sets are available online and at your local garden centers; cost varies with the tool.

4. A compost bin is also on the wish list, so I can compost my vegetable scraps from the kitchen. My Mother’s Day redwood compost bin, a gift from approximately 16 years ago, has finally fallen apart.

For your favorite gardener, you can build one from old wood pallets, but know that they will breakdown quickly. If you build a bin system, please do not use treated wood. There are plans on the web for building compost bins made of wood, wire and plastic.

If you are not the handy type, there are many types of compost containers to buy made out of metal, plastic and wood. Retail cost can be as low as $29.99 to over $400.00. Check out the Mantis compost tumbler ($299) and the Ecostack composter ($128).

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5. Garden Gloves: For your favorite gardener, please be aware that gloves can be difficult to buy for someone else, so do your homework. Look at the gloves your giftee uses. I suggest several pairs in bright colors . . . remember about losing things in the garden? For gardeners who actually use gloves and garden-hardy, each pair may last a month or so. Favorite glove brands include West County Gloves, Fox Gloves and Bamboo Gardener. Also consider nitrile gloves for working in wet places or rose gloves for the rosarian in your life.

7. Time: Offer a coupon of your time to work with your gardener in the garden. Or hire some help at the beginning of the season. Find out which tasks are onerous – spreading mulch? – and find a local landscape professional to do the job.

6. Heartland Gardening book:  I’m definitely giving copies of our book “Heartland Gardening: Celebrating the Seasons” to several friends. Our blog book is a collection of gardening lessons and meditative essays woven among beautiful images and illustrations. The book leads readers through the region’s heralded seasons, offering tips for favorite plants, recipes for beloved edibles, plant design ideas and advice for top garden destinations.        

8. World Peace: I can’t think of a better place to practice peace and love than a garden. 

Wishing you all a beautiful and balanced holiday!!!

The Biltmore’s Fifth Season

conservatory decked out 11-13-18

A Taste of A Biltmore Christmas

By Debra Knapke

While I have visited the incredible Biltmore House and gardens in all four seasons, this year I had a chance to tour it in its “fifth season” (to borrow the phrase from Adelma Grenier Simmons in Herb Gardening in Five Seasons).

At the Biltmore House, Christmas could easily be called the fifth season. The lavish Christmas decorating traditions started when George and Edith Vanderbilt moved into their newly finished, 175,000-square-foot mansion and officially opened it on Christmas Eve 1895. Visitors who travel to Asheville, NC from early November to early January can view the opulent house lavishly adorned with lights, ornaments, garland, poinsettias and presents.

In November, my husband and I visited during the Christmas season display. This was the only season we have missed in our previous five visits. We have been in the gardens, on the roof, in the cellars and in the servants’ quarters, but this visit was not about understanding the house and the owners, but to see a grand display of holiday décor.

Approaching the house is always an exciting moment for me. This is time turning back. I imagine I’m in a gently swaying coach with clip-clopping horses prancing along the cobblestone pavement. In the capacious porte-cochere, I descend from the shiny black coach and am escorted by members of the gracious staff to a guestroom. My trunk is carefully unpacked by a quiet and efficient maid. There’s time to rest before dressing for dinner in something silken and flowing. There’s a king’s ransom in jewels around my neck and glittering at my ears.

A foggy day at the Biltmore

Guests might gather in the Winter Garden (conservatory) which is in the center of the home. Here, you can see the impressive greenhouse dome that offered some of the best light for taking pictures. Note the stacks of presents on the floor. We speculated if they were real and might be for the staff.

The Winter Garden

The day was overcast and most of the interior light levels were low. I mentioned that it seemed darker than usual to a docent. His response was that this is one of compromises that must be made in a home that has been restored to much of its past glory. The textiles, furnishings, wallcoverings can all be degraded by too much light. It is expensive to replace flocked satin wall coverings that are only made by one firm in France; at great cost.

To protect this wall covering from being touched, it is “under glass.”

One of the most impressive spaces in the Biltmore is the Banquet Hall. Some of the trees, garlands and wreathes that adorn the house are artificial due to the length of the Biltmore Christmas season, but in this room with a seven-story high ceiling, the three two-story trees are freshly cut.  

The opulence of the decorations of today is an exaggeration of what you might have seen if you were a guest of George and Edith Vanderbilt. I was told that there would have been one large tree in the Banquet Hall; not three.

The Salon was another gathering place for guests. There were amaryllis and poinsettias scattered throughout along with a humble, yet detailed, nativity scene.

When you visit the Biltmore be prepared to climb somestairs. There are elevators, but the wait is long. If you take the stairs you will be rewarded with a birds-eye view of the Banquet Hall. If you were Cornelia, daughter of George and Edith Vanderbilt, or a young guest, this is where you would have watched a party that you could not attend.

Below is an intimate dining set-up in George Vanderbilt’s bedroom, complete with another tree, candles and plants. Edith’s golden boudoir is close by, separated by a sitting room. This private part of the house would not normally be visited by quests.

Back down on the first floor there is the gallery off the Main Hall; another gathering area for guests. There were at least five large trees and several smaller ones. But what caught my eye was a vignette of family pictures and Santa on his sleigh. Like the nativity scene in the Salon, this captured the time of the Vanderbilts for me.

I wish I could give you a glimpse of the decorations in the library, but my pictures are truly dismal. The library holds George Vanderbilt’s personal collection of 22,000 volumes that span art, history, philosophy, travel, architecture, novels and more. Each book that he collected was sent to be rebound in leather before being added to the library. It is no surprise that the Biltmore curators keep the light levels quite low to protect the books and the opulent furnishings.

The wreathed twin lions, which flank the front steps, are a last glimpse of a Biltmore Christmas. There were moments when I was frustrated by the crowds, but there were also moments to get lost in the story of this home, and of a time gone by.

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