A Mother’s Day Gift

A Mother’s Day gift that keeps giving is this pink dogwood along the driveway. The yellow shrub is Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora.’

Special trees, like dogwoods, take root in your heart

By Michael Leach

The affair started with the first glance and continues almost a half century later. As with similar affairs, it’s unrequited love. The object of my affection couldn’t care less and never deigns to notice me. Yet enchantment grows and reaches fever pitch for about a fortnight each spring.

My aloof horticultural love in this case is the pink dogwood tree, Cornus florida f. rubra. I encountered pink dogwoods when taking a shortcut to church through an old cemetery near my apartment in the small southern Ohio city of Portsmouth. This was during my cub reporter days. Jaw-dropping clouds of cotton candy tethered daintily to slender black trunks were scattered across the sward of Irish green grass.

I had to have one. I eventually bought two — as Mother’s Day gifts that I planted at the home place in suburban Columbus. Mother, who had planted two white ones in the yard, was delighted.

My journalistic career took me from Portsmouth to Kentucky, Florida and finally back to Columbus 30 years ago. I moved into the home place. Every spring since then, I’ve had my own little pink cloud to look at. Sitting in an old wicker rocker on the sunporch makes a comfortable, all-weather viewing spot. 

One of the pinks was cut down almost four years ago, new growth couldn’t keep up with the dying branches. The second tree was stingy with flowers this spring, after being a small cloud of pink in previous seasons. Perhaps this is only a hiccup. Mother’s little white trees slowly declined and were cut down about 20 years ago. This is not great territory for  dogwoods.

Pink dogwoods serve as memorials in Greenlawn Cemetery in Portsmouth, OH.

Meanwhile, Portsmouth’s Greenlawn Cemetery launched a memorial pink dogwood plan in the 1990s.  Even in that much friendlier clime, they aren’t known for longevity. However, the ones that do live decades become spectacles. At the base of many trees are small white marble markers with the names of special people. Their horticultural legacy is a tree with burgundy foliage in fall, a silhouette worthy of a Japanese print in winter, and those pink clouds every spring.

In recent years of semi-retirement there’s been time to head south to Portsmouth for a view of the dogwoods. Along U.S. 23 are what could pass for tufts of clouds that got too close to the branches of the chartreuse wooded hills. They are groves of dainty white dogwoods, often accented with redbuds. It’s a 3-D Impressionist painting.

The allure and excitement never dims. Each spring I thank God for granting me another view of pink clouds. And each time I pass the little tree at the end of the sidewalk, I remember Mother.

In autumn, dogwoods produce another spectacle.

No Waiting on Spring

Tips for Forcing Blooms Indoors

By Michael Leach

Buds are nature’s promise that spring is coming — eventually. Pussy willow catkins and plump star magnolia buds practically shout spring long before they bloom.

Butif you’re like me, waiting for spring seems interminable. Instead of mopingabout gloomy winter, take matters into your own hands and create a glimpse ofearly spring in the comfort of home. Sometimes I have forsythia andold-fashioned flowering quince from the garden to grace my table well beforethe Super Bowl.

Flowering quince blossoms emerge pink or white.

How?A big greenhouse? Magic? Nope. I “force” the buds into opening. Besides the liftsuch eye candy provides, snipping a few branches is an excuse to get into thegarden and do something.

Forcing is a simple process. For quickest results, let nature do some of the work. The later in winter you make cuts, the shorter the wait. I’m so impatient, the first cuts come just after New Year’s Day, preferably when temperatures are in the 40s or better 50s. This gets the juices going a bit. Depending what part of the Midwest you call home and local weather conditions, you may already have the earliest of flowering shrubs blooming their heads off. In that case, experiment with some of those that open later in spring.

Pussy willow symbolizes spring’s return.

Bringthe stems indoors, dip the cut ends into powdered alum to enhance water uptake,place them in a suitably sized container, and fill it with water. I leave mycuttings in the cool, dimly lit cellar for a couple of weeks until buds swelland hints of color appear. (I’ve also had success simply putting the cut stemsin a coolish bedroom.) This transition reduces chances of buds blasting intoshabby blobs, not blooms.

Lovely but short-lived star magnolia

Thenit’s off to the living quarters for the grand opening. Blossoms can last for aweek or so, depending on the type of plant. Star magnolias are the day liliesof woodies, but quince sometimes goes nearly two weeks. Such stems look fine ina container by themselves, or they’ll ad’d an artisan touch to one of thosebargain-priced clusters of florist flowers or pots of forced spring bulbs.

Forced forsythia blossoms make late winter more bearable.

Isuppose later flowering beauties, such as lilac and crabapple, can be forced.But I never have time to try. Long before getting around to these, nature providesbunches of daffodils, sprigs of hyacinths and of course forsythia and quince inthe garden. By then the grass is green, and occasionally a balmy south windwhispers of even better things to come. Such diversions — not to mention thelong gardening to-do list — keep me from expanding my forcing horizons.

Perhapsyou’ve tried tried some of the later flowers and want to share yourexperiences. Please do.

Ohio Friend Debuts at Philadelphia Flower Show

“All Along the Watch Tower“- a design by Nick McCullough for the Philadelphia Flower Show – March 2-10, 2019

By Debra Knapke

We often look back on a person’s career and think we see the pivotal career-moment:  “Ah, this is where it happened”. But Nick McCullough is not new to the world of landscape and garden design, and the Philadelphia Garden Show is his next – giant – step.

Nick has been building his skills for close to 20 years. First as a student of art history and horticulture and, then with training in design in England, Nick positioned himself to blend art, plants and a creative eye to create contemporary gardens.

Teresa and I had a sneak preview of Nick’s talent when he submitted a design for the Perennial Plant Association Landscape Design Award program.  The shade garden design was a subtle interplay of green, gold, silver and white perennials and shrubs. It was stunning.

Photo credit: Nick McCullough

His design for the Philadelphia Flower Show is the polar opposite of a calm, enfolding shade garden. Think sun, mirrors, colors exploding, and immersion in nature. For a more detailed description of his design, visit his Thinking Outside the Boxwood blog where Nick explains his inspirations and the execution of his design.

We wish Nick success as he presents his garden to the public, and we look forward to his future ventures.

Favorite Valentine Flowers

Choosing a favorite flower to share for Valentine’s Day is a difficult task. Dozens could be given with a list of reasons for each. But we’re trying to keep this simple. Perhaps it’s best to say we’re offering our first among equals as a way to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a holiday of love and flowers. Perhaps you have a favorite. Please tell us what it is and why.

Michael’s Pick: White Lily Tulip

The white lily flower tulip lacks fragrance, repeat bloom, multiplication, long flowering and longevity. However, this tulip with its simply elegant flower, excels at symbolizing my favorite time of year — spring. It blooms about the time crabapples and the pink dogwood are making spectacles of themselves. The spice bush is adding wispy charm and tantalizing fragrance, and common lilac perfumes the air. Foliage on sugar maples and other woody plants is emerging into a chartreuse haze, making the scene so lovely it almost hurts to gaze upon it. This type of tulip graces gardens far and near.  While walking the grounds of the Topkapi Palace Museum in Istanbul many years ago, I noticed a lily flower tulip bas relief on the metal plate of a small fountain. That’s one way to add elegance year round.

Debra’s Pick: Organic Purple Roses

In the language of flowers the rose is recognized as the classic expression of love: white for pure love or sympathy, pale pink for innocent or young love, yellow for friendship or jealous love, and red for desire and deep, sensual love.

The fragrance of roses takes me back to my childhood. My Nana was a rose grower and many of my earliest garden memories are of running around her garden being surrounded by the heady scent of roses. I remember Peace and Mister Lincoln and grew them in my early gardening life. I eventually let these two roses go as I was not willing to spray and fertilize these finicky hybrid teas, like my Nana did, to keep them looking “perfect”. 

Several years ago I found organic roses for sale on the internet and I bought lavender roses for Valentine’s Day. Their fragrance took me back to the beginning of my passion for plants and gardens. And this is appropriate: lavender roses symbolize enchantment and love at first sight.

Teresa’s Pick: Daffodils

In the depth of winter’s cold and snow, I dream of daffodils. While I may not go as far as dancing with daffodils like poet William Wordsworth, I do get a little scissor-happy cutting lots of bouquets to bring indoors or share with friends.  It’s no wonder the American Cancer Society adopted these cheery yellow blooms as the “flowers of hope” for the annual Daffodil Cancer Awareness Days. I first planted daffodils 20 years ago when we moved to the country. Since then I’ve planted dozens more especially after learning they were undesirable to hungry deer and immune to Ohio’s late spring snows and frosts.

Writing assignments about daffodil collectors – including Michael Leach — gave me further inspiration to plant more. I’m grateful these collectors shared valuable growing tips and pass along a few here: 1) plant them in the fall in clusters of six to eight, 2) avoid planting them in wet or irrigated places, 3) salvage flopping double daffodils by cutting short bundles and placing them in canning jars for support, 4) camouflage daffodils’ fading foliage by planting them near hostas or daylilies and 5) underplant taller daffodils with muscari.

Pick up a pot or bundle of daffodils at your favorite florist or even grocery store and share some hope with your Valentine for spring days ahead.

Go Get A Flower Fix

Orchids on Display Across the Midwest

By Michael Leach

Had enough Midwest winter with its brown, black, gray and glum? Beginning to think your garden is dead, not merely dormant? Are glittering icicles over head a bit too disconcerting and sparkling snow drifts too annoying?

Then head for the tropics if schedule and budget allow — or a reasonable facsimile should you, like me, be lacking in the time and money departments. Instead of Florida or someplace even closer to the Equator, I  took a short drive to a warm, lush place —  Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus.

It was a double treat. Not only were the waterfalls cascading and giant palm fronds overhanging the paths as usual, but the annual orchid show had recently opened. There are scores of exotic blossoms throughout this gift from foresighted civic leaders, which has been expanded and lovingly tended since its debut in 1895.

Other Midwest metro areas boast of Victorian and newer conservatories. However, a tropical experience on a more intimate scale is possible in towns where some garden centers have greenhouses filled with light, warmth and life. Think of this as green therapy.

Among the Midwest public gardens featuring orchid shows during the seemingly endless wait until spring are:

Garden Treasures

A Most Valuable Possession

By Michael Leach

The possession a person values most varies as widely as personal tastes. Cars, boats, houses, antiques, islands and jewels certainly rate as most valued for some. Not me.

Like many people across the ages and continents, I value something that seems commonplace but uniquely expresses its owner. 

While I certainly like a smooth-riding car and comfortable home, my treasure offers so much more than dust-collecting furniture. When calm and isolation are required, I needn’t board a jet (private or commercial) to flit to a distant tropic isle in an azure sea. As for jewels, few pirate chests contain more splendor.

Where else does music, art, history, family tradition, science and sustenance meld in a single creation? Truly this is a many splendored thing.

Those of us who have such a possession give our treasure a unique twist, for the basic elements can be infinitely arranged, timed and colored,  Constant, though imperceptible, change is a given and usually welcomed. Time eventually changes everything, but not always for the better. Cars rust. Paint fades. Roofs leak. We, however, plan for a future that will probably be radically different from where we start. 

Each season, actually each moment, brings changes in hue, shape and content. Over the years, only photographs will bear witness to what it was “back then” and what it is now. Due to the fragility of our most-valued possession, such graphic evidence is all that remains after we leave it behind, as inevitably we will.

Depending on its design and scope, our possession may enfold us in seclusion or put us centerstage in a dazzling show. Some of us have possessions that do both. Broad smiles, sighs of pleasure and occasional gasps of delight are usually heard when we share our possession with others. Our treasure may exude a fragrance no perfume maker can duplicate. It may produce songs Mozart could never compose or colors to make Monet jealous.

No matter its size or cost, we are stewards of an incredibly complex operating system that consists of countless life forms. Can’t say that about a car or diamond ring.

We hold life itself when seeds spill from a little paper packet into our cupped hand. From such tiny, insignificant things, we can produce a living mosaic of seedlings, giants towering a 100 feet, and a host of all sizes in between.

We invite birds, butterflies, bees and toads to share the treasure. Few mansion owners want that kind of company on their polished floors. 

Our treasure is a garden, whether potted plants by the window, manicured acres or postage stamp plots. My garden around the family home place includes sugar maples over a century old ,planted by great-uncles, flowers passed down from almost every side of the family, gifts from gardening friends, and a few new introductions. Some are native plants, others from China or Europe. The Madonna lilies from Grandpa Leach’s garden have been cultivated  since ancient times.  

Money is an essential for creating and maintaining a garden; some say it is the best manure. But the most important ingredient is passion. Ours is a labor of love. We dig, water, prune and fertilize with our hearts. Working with nature, the forever owner of our treasure, we cultivate a vision in three dimensions and a span of time.

We are called gardeners. Is that because our most valuable possession possesses us?

Twelve Days of Christmas: #12

Twelve Drummers Drumming

By Anita Van HalRepost from Dec. 25, 2014: Pipe Down to Hear What a Garden Has to Say

By Michael Leach

A dozen piping pipers could be fine in some gardens, but for most of us,IMG_3166 wind chimes and fountains are the only tolerable decibels.

Unless bluejays squawk about a lack of peanuts, the wind roars through frantic tree tops, or a riding mower pretends to be a biker-gang Harley, sound rarely breaks into our consciousness in a garden. That’s largely due to gardens being places traditionally sought for their quiet. Yet a garden can be “noisy.”

The garden’s gentle, subtle tongue speaks in the rustle of leaves. It whispers with the warm breath of breezes caressing our skin. It hums startlingly when a hummingbird whirs past in zigzag swoops.

Colibri-thalassinus-001-editThe garden talks, too, in the silence of fireflies dancing in twilight.

I take for granted some of this “chatter” or worse, block it with a mind too concerned about weeding, watering and countless other chores. We may even ignore our gardens’ soothing comments because we are too busy listing their deficiencies.

A garden blesses all our senses. It wants to be our personal spa and use invisible “hands” to restore our beings as surely as a masseuse eases physical aches. For the garden to heal us, we must let go; then listen to and follow nature’s command.

The garden’s message comes from the Creator who made the first garden, the one we keep trying to recreate. Ours will never be the perfection of Eden, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to the story of paradise. Gardens still speak that same language.

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.

Garlic: The Indispensable Condiment

garlic-harvest3-6-21-17crop_res.jpgBy Debra Knapke

Here’s the latest podcast on “Garlic: The Indispensable Condiment.”

https://anchor.fm/teresa40/embed/episodes/Garlic-The-Indispensable-Condiment-e1vkvr

Previously published in Edible Columbus (Winter 2016, p. 8-9), you can find the printed article here.

“My final, considered judgment is that the hardy bulb [garlic] blesses and ennobles everything it touches – with the possible exception of ice cream and pie.”  The Unprejudiced Palate (1948)

For recipes, see Good Eats: Garlic Scape Pesto.

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