Saturday, March 10, 2012

Aloha from the Philly Flower Show

Prize-winning orchid
This week, I went to my first big flower show,  the Philadelphia International Flower Show managed by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.  With the theme "Hawaii: Islands of Aloha",  I wasn't sure what to expect.  Attending this famous winter flower show had been on my to-do list for years.

The show included many rather elaborate garden displays, recreating lush tropical landscape designs that celebrated the flora of the Hawaiian islands.  Tons of orchids, bromeliads, birds-of-paradise, palms, warm-weather grasses were planted among lava rocks, logs and sand.  Some exhibits had towering waterfalls while others had small lagoons.  A colorful departure from the Northeast winter landscape outside the convention center.  But like a trip to Hawaii, I would have to leave most of these plants and designs behind when I returned to my USDA Zone 7a.

Lava rock garden

There were several displays showcasing vegetable gardens.  One that stood out was a vertical garden of lettuce growing on the side of a shed.  Wouldn't this be wonderful if this really worked?  I could finally have a vegetable garden without sacrificing perennials.

Seven varieties of lettuce growing on a 40-foot wall

Another highlight was the "Store Window" exhibits.  Very inventive designers used tropical plants to create eye-catching displays, celebrating the Hawaiian theme.

"Eye-catching" store window display

A fun way to display plants indoors

VERY colorful spring display
I did find a few exhibits with more familiar plantings, including azaleas, spring bulbs and dogwoods forced into bloom.  And from some of these displays,  I did get some new and relevant ideas for my Hamptons garden.

Like a big state fair, there were many contests for outstanding plants, including orchids, begonias, hanging baskets, succulents, bonsai trees, and bulbs.  The number and variety of orchids was incredible. (I'm not sure I'll be satisfied with the King Kullen grocery's $29.99 Phalaenopsis any longer.)

There were quite a few displays of floral arrangements.  Some left me wondering what these designers would think of my simple, garden-inspired compositions.  Like Crayola drawings compared to Picasso sketches.

Simply dramatic floral arrangement

With a tropical show theme,  I hadn't expected to buy anything from the huge marketplace of garden vendors.  That turned out not to be the case.  I returned to my car with bags filled with gorgeous orchids, violets, vegetable seeds, and porcelain vases.  I might have bought more, but it became increasingly difficult to navigate the aisles with big bags as the crowds increased.

Begonia candidates ready for their close-up

A nice day trip and really close to New York City.  The show runs through tomorrow, March 11th.  If your looking for a Sunday activity, check it out:

A hui hou (Good-bye, until we meet again)!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

An "A" for Effort

Arnold Promise witch hazel

After two summers of leaf blight, the witch hazel in my front garden (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise') started pushing out electric yellow blooms this week.  While more limited in number than previous years, the blossoms are just as beautiful and sweetly fragrant as any year I can remember.   You have to applaud a plant that lost most of its leaves to a fungal infection in midsummer (during the height or chlorophyll production and energy storage) and still puts on a winter show.  

I think I have narrowed down the leaf fungal disease to phyllosticta hamamelidis.  Thankfully, none of my other Arnold Promise witch hazels nor the Chinese witch hazels have caught this disease yet.  I've already enlisted the help of a tree service to help prevent this fungus from taking hold again this season. Improving the health of this mature shrub will be a priority.  Since this shrub is not willing to give up, neither will I.  

Sunday, March 4, 2012

You Can Grow That!

A fellow garden blogger, C.L. Fornari, started a grassroots campaign to get more people to plant and garden (her blog is  I don't think anyone would deny the benefits of spending time in a beautiful garden.  It's even more enjoyable when you find a beautiful landscape right outside your door.

I think the biggest deterrent most have with gardening is not knowing where and how to start.  You may have just bought a new house with no garden or one that has a much neglected landscape.  Making a pleasing garden may seem very daunting.   And if you're like me, you want everything finished as soon as possible.  So my best advice is to SLOW DOWN.  There's no rush.  I learned  this the hard way.  When you take your time, you are able to better understand what you want from your outdoor spaces, what areas need to have screening, what areas are sunny all day and which have mostly shade.  Seek out help.  There are tons of books, websites, and blogs that provide wonderful advice and inspiration.  And fellow gardeners and local nurseries love to share pointers.  I've gotten some of my favorite plant combinations from books written by skilled designers and bought some amazing plants recommended by local nurseries.  If budget allows, ask a local landscape designer to help you draw up a plan.  It's okay to take your time to learn, dream and plan.

As I've written before, my Hamptons garden started out as a sandy mess.  I started with the lawn.  It wasn't much, but I enjoyed sitting on my front porch staring out at the green patch that drifted from the house to the wild woods.  I slowly added small trees and shrubs around the foundation.  For the first three years, almost all of my efforts were close to the house.  The added benefit of concentrating my efforts around the periphery was that I could enjoy my early accomplishments from inside.

Here's a picture of my first season.  I planted the grass seed myself and set sprinklers on timers.  Wasn't much, but I was happy to get rid of the sandpit that was left after construction.

First season, just happy to have some green grass

This more current picture shows how a few additions each year will finally add up.  Believe me, with limited budgets and time, my garden took many years to look like this.

Yearly additions add up

So think of what you would most enjoy adding to your garden this year.  A new lawn?  A blooming tree outside your door?  A few flowers for cutting?  Maybe just a container of colorful annuals on your patio? You can grow that!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

High Times in New York City

All aboard.  This post has departed to my new website.  Clink on the link below to see the original post about the NY High Line:

High Times In New York City

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Winter Rail Excursion

Grove of grey birch (Betula populifolia) growing among the tracks

Evergreens add winter interest
On a rather hot day last summer, I visited the New York High Line, a spectacular New York City park built on an abandoned elevated freight rail line.  At the time of my initial visit, the plantings were lush and filled with large sweeps of colorful blooms.  I went back recently to see what the plantings looked like in midwinter.  I was pleasantly surprised to find quite a lot of sights to enjoy.

For those not familiar with the High Line, I thought I'd share an abbreviated history.  The construction of the High Line was part of a major city infrastructure project during the 1930's called the West Side Improvement Project.  By elevating existing freight lines above street level, dangerous trains would no longer threaten pedestrians or cause traffic.

The first trains started rolling on the High Line in 1934 and the last train was in 1980.  With threats of demolition, Friends of the High Line, a community-based group, worked with the city to save the structure and establish it as a public park.  The elevated park runs from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street.

The design of the park was a collaboration between many architects and landscape firms.  One of my favorite designers, Piet Oudolf, did the planting schemes.  The park's design merges old structures with modern ones connected by abundant plantings.

 Pennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica) creates a green background for winterberry (Ilex verticillata)

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia 'Jelena')
So what did I discover on my winter tour?  I was excited to see that the park had really good bones.  Sculptural tree trunks and evergreen plantings provided significant structure and interest even though the perennials were dormant. The golden leaves of the ornamental grasses were still tall and adding drama (one benefit of limited snow).  Many bright red berries remained on the native hollies.

Revitalizing the winterscape, witch hazels and viburnums were in bloom, adding splashes of yellow, orange and pink.  These fragrant shrubs were pleasantly perfuming the city air.  I also spotted several drifts of gold crocuses that were popping up among the grey gravel.

I enjoyed my winter walk and will be back again for the spring show.  However, I realized that I never posted photos from my summer tour.  Come back tomorrow and I will share some.  You'll be amazed how beautiful this park can be during the summer season.

Crocus ancyrensis 'Golden Bunches'

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn'
A grass-filled pathway crosses under
The Standard Hotel