Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Lotus Land

My first Wordless Wednesday post.  Well, not quite wordless.

Just to orient you, this is not the Lotusland of Santa Barbara, California, but the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens in northeast Washington, DC.  After living just outside the capital city for more than 25 years, I finally got to see these lush water gardens in their summer glory.  Kenilworth's acreage is dense with native and exotic water lilies, but, to my mind, it's the blooming lotus (nymphaea) that are the most spectacular.

The photos below were taken during a visit I made almost 3 weeks ago on July 25th when flowering was near peak. (It was midday so the lighting was pretty harsh.)  You'll notice some Asian visitors (I think Vietnamese) in festive, traditional-looking garb.  The Lotus has special meaning for many Asian cultures.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summer Stalwarts

I've maintained this northern Virginia garden for a little more than 10 years, tending it one day a week, which never seems enough.  (Notice the yew hedge on the left needs trimming?)  A talented engineer turned garden designer is responsible for the garden's basic structure and layout, but I've tweaked the plantings quite a bit during my time--adding, subtracting, and moving things around.

I took these photographs about three weeks ago.  Now that the heat of summer is coming on it's the stalwart plants that have to carry the garden.  Sometimes the attraction is the flowers, but it's foliage, too, like the cool blue of  Dianthus 'Pixie' along the pea gravel path (they finished blooming several weeks ago) and the yellow leaves of Spiraea thunbergii 'Ogon'  just to the left of Clematis 'Etiole Violette.'

This is probably the most formal part of the garden. It was once a rose garden, but, about three years ago, the owner asked me to redesign it (the roses weren't getting enough sun) and it became a blue, white, and yellow garden.  There's a row of Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' on the right and towards the back in the photo below.

Some shade helps this plant look its best and keeps it from flopping and wilting in the heat and humidity of our Virginia summers. They always bounce back when it cools off but they can look pretty forlorn when they droop. Annabelles are planted in deep shade in another part of the garden and they still bloom, though the flowers are a bit smaller and tinged a more greenish shade of white.   I think they could be used more often as a shade shrub, brightening up areas with low light; after all, that's where they occur in nature.   Like Oak Leaf Hydrangeas, the blooms of H. arborescens are effective for a long, long time and still interesting when they dry to the color of creme-brulee, often remaining presentable through most of  the winter.  When pruning them back in late winter or early spring (they bloom on new wood), I now leave a longer cane-- maybe 8 to 12 inches when I used to whack them back to about 4 inches--which also seems to help them stay more upright and avoid the splay that can occur when they are in full flower.  I've forgotten to prune the ones in the shady outlier bed and they've looked fine, so it's possible to skip a year of pruning, but they will fill out more quickly if you do prune.  And, by the way,  H. arborescens and quercifolia were unfazed by the severe winter, unlike macrophylla and paniculata (though these are resprouting from the ground.)

Below is a better view of Spiraea 'Ogon' on either side of the bird bath.  Kalameris 'Daisy Mae'  is the little white composite in the foreground, an Asian aster that's a workhouse, blooming steadily through August and then fizzling out about when our native Asters get going.   The tall, narrow spikes of  Liatris spicata 'Floristan White," are blooming now, but weren't when I took this picture.

If the pots in the foreground of the photo above were visible, they'd be to the right
That's Sykes dwarf Hydrangea quercifolia in between the Spiraea.  I also planted a H. 'Pee Wee,' though it hasn't remained particularly small; I've had to prune it to keep it in bounds.

Liatris flower spikes are interesting even before they bloom. 

One of the many new cultivars of Echinacea  below.  This one I think is 'Sundown.'  It blooms orange, but tends to fade to pink.   The white flower behind it is Daphne x transaltantic 'Summer Ice' and seems quite robust (especially for a Daphe).  It came through our crazy cold, snowy winter virtually unscathed.   And it's variegated, which should make it even more popular.

The garden's biggest and boldest feature is this pond.  It looks natural but isn't.

We, the owner and I, wade in about twice a year to pull out decayed plant debris and thin all plants, including the cattails, which had to be removed soon after the owner  planted them. (They are incredibly aggressive and probably will always reappear.)  Once a pond is dug maintaining it is all about keeping it from filling in again.  Given that this one has a liner it will happen a bit more slowly, but still that's the trend. Claude Monet's Giverny, which I've only seen in pictures, is the inspiration for this pond and certainly the profusion of water lilys and the general exuberance gives it a similar feeling.

The native water lilys (Nymphaea) never fail to reappear each summer and require little or no maintenance, except to be thinned out occasionally.

A path leads around the back of the pond and over a small water fall where native Tradescantia virginiana grows.  The flowers are a nice shade of blue, but it has a somewhat gawky habit, so I have to think twice about where to put it.

Also at the back of the pond (you can see it in one of the larger scale photos above) is one of my favorite shrubs, Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora), which is now blooming its head off but was just beginning when I took these photographs.  Some may remember an earlier edition of Michael Dirr's Manual of Woody Plants, which featured a cover photo of this adaptable, bold-foliaged member of the Soapberry family (Sapindaceae) turning yellow, which it does reliably in the fall, as well as blooming on and around the 4th of July.  In fact, the blossoms call to mind some sort of botanical sparkler.

Back in the mixed border tough plants like Gaillardia (Blanket Flower), Rose Campion (Silene coronaria), Oenethera fruiticosa (Evening Primrose), Allium sphaerocephalon, (Drumstick allium), and Echinops ritro (Globe thistle, not yet blooming in these photos) soldier on even in the murk of 90% humidity.  Okay, Rose Campion often ends up with ratty looking legs (caused by a fungus that comes with high humidity and rainfall) after it blooms, but I just cut it back hard or pull it out completely.  It will always reseed somewhere else.

Some might find the magenta Rose Campion and the mustard yellow Gallardia  a jarring color combination, but when the Allium blooms a deep purple they seem to temper things.

This Yucca recurvifolia below provides some architecture to focus on in the midst of the chaotic, intermingling perennials.

What favorite summer stalwarts do you use to keep the garden looking good through the hottest summer months?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Garden Industrial Chic

My friend Jane's Arlington, Virginia, garden was on tour on Sunday and it was still looking quite spiffy this Monday morning.  I need practice shooting--with my camera that is-- so what better place to take aim than in her crisp, cutting-edge garden, which she's recently updated with industrial chic metal features painted in bold primary colors.  A driveway of permeable paving is a new eco-friendly feature made possible with a grant from the local county's StormwaterWise Landscape Program  

This fence hides the trash bins and will ultimately have a gate attached on the right

The yellow Yuccas 'Color Guard' are the perfect foil for the newly installed azure blue trash corral. The combination injects a dose of Mediterranean, or could it be Californian  (Jane is originally from Pasadena), flair in this small town garden.  

The fence sits at the back of her new driveway.  In the photo above you can see into the garden where grass now replaces some of the old driveway leading to the garage.

Beds flanking the grass contain plants that like to bask in the southern exposure and reflected heat of pea gravel mulch. (That's Yucca rostrata on the left below.)

Perhaps the most unifying detail in the garden is the chunky red metal edging (seen below), a satisfyingly 2 inches thick, though hollow inside and secured by long flanges plunged into the ground. This sleek powder- coated curb visually defines and anchors the beds in the sunny portion of the garden. The bright garnet color stands out even in the harshest mid-day Virginia summer sun.  

Jane designed all the metal features, including the warm, rusty brown fence made of panels of cut out circles.  In addition to the nice visual texture, it's a good support for twining vines.

Grass seen through a close-up of the fence

A cultivar of Campanula glomerata

Above Cuphea and an orange Colibrachoa make a color echo against the red edging.  

Amazingly,Curry plant winters over (and you know what our past winter was like) in the opposite bed up against the chimney.  And that's the grey green leaves of Eryngium yuccifolium on the right. 

Clematis happily twines

Turning the corner in front of the garage, you discover the "Zen Sand Circle," as Jane calls it, a pool of raked sand surrounded by chartreuse Spirea, a tall Cryptomeria and a Sweet Gum screening the apartment house behind.  Jane has played with adding an object, like a sinewy tree limb, to set off the space, but her preference is to leave the circle empty, a  simple void in an otherwise lush garden.    

A close-up of Oenothera fruiticosa and Rhus typhina 'Tiger's Eye
At the back of the house Jane designed a set of blue steel stairs with a landing at the top just big enough for two to sit overlooking the sand circle.  Jelly-bean-colored plastic chairs were a cheap find at the local Harris Teeter about 5 years ago and add a whimsical punch.  

On the north side of the house there's a respite from the dazzling color and open spaces of much of the garden.  Here a brick path cuts through a shady, woodland planting.  The fertile fronds of Royal Fern brush up against the house.

Native Ginger canadensis
Jane's garden is, in many ways, a big garden in a small package.  I admire how daring she's been with her architectural features, as well as her planting scheme.  She manages to grow a wide variety of plants well  and doesn't rely heavily on the regular repetition or broad sweeps of plants that many designers do to achieve unity.  I hope I can get back in her garden again soon to record the changes. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Ode to Dumbarton Oaks

In the last few weeks temperatures have been bouncing up and down here in the metro-Washington D.C. region.  When last Saturday reached the balmy low 70's, I took advantage of the weather and spent a few hours wandering around Dumbarton Oaks in upper Georgetown, a garden I never tire of visiting.

It's an expansive (by American and city standards) neoclassical garden known for its discrete garden rooms and terraces. There are lots of wavy box hedges, thick-as-your-thigh wisteria vines, intricate brick and stone work demonstrating craft that's probably extinct, some fine specimen trees, and a planting style that's generally from a bygone era.  But it's not just a relic.  Dumbarton Oaks, today, still reflects the strength of Beatrix Farrand's original design, which takes advantage of the natural topography and is also site-sensitive with the most formal spaces surrounding the house gradually transitioning to a satisfying wildness as the garden merges into the woodland at its edge.

I can get lost in this place so it's an adventure to visit.  Maybe not literally lost, although some of the paths and walks lead to sheltered corners where I can be hidden, but emotionally transported. Dumbarton Oaks is another world and time, a carefully maintained, "grande dame" of a garden, which is rarely crowded and offers a certain serenity, maybe because the formality seems generally unfussy and is balanced with a rustic, romantic quality that grounds it in the landscape.

Here are views of the house:

The lower section on the right is an Orangery

In 1921, Beatrix Farrand began designing the garden in close cooperation with owner Mildred Bliss soon after Bliss and her husband Robert bought the property. They kept at it for more than 30 years.  

Jane Brown recounts in her book, Beatrix: The Gardening Life of Beartix Jones Farrand, 1872 - 1959,  that Farrand strived to give the Blisses  the "country garden" they wanted without offending their city neighbors when she screened the R Street boundary with plantings that only allowed for periodic glimpses of the house.  Amazingly, the secluded feeling still persists despite being in the middle of Georgetown.

The garden sits on sloping land, which is especially steep at the northern and eastern sides of the property (to the right of and behind the house), where Farrand created a series of interconnected terraces overlooking the neighboring woods and the city skyline in the distance.  
An entrance to the Rose Garden. These finials can be seen in a photo below of the Wisteria on the Urn Terrace.  MBR, the owners' initials, are viewed here in reverse at the top of the gate.  

The Urn Terrace sits below the Beech Terrace and overlooks the Rose Garden

Another view of the Urn Terrace with a glimpse of the Rose Garden below it. 
Apparently, Farrand's original design of the Urn Terrace was simpler with no curved lines and no Urn; it had been called the Box Terrace and was intended as staging for the larger Rose Terrace below, rather than as a stand-alone "room."
A close-up of the Wisteria on the wall of the Urn Terrace.  The white finials sit atop the gate pictured above.

Not an elephant's leg, but the trunk of an American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) that dominates the Beech Terrace.  The original Beech, which existed when Farrand began designing the garden, had to be removed in 1948.  

Gate into the Beech Terrace.  The ornamental baskets of  flowers were designed by Farrand.

Crocus blooming in the grass 

A distant view of the Hornbeam Ellipse.  

Inside the Ellipse
I love this space and its quiet simplicity.  As the Dumbarton Oaks website mentions, Farrand intended for the Ellipse to be one of the most peaceful areas of the garden and, to my mind, it is. The native Hornbeams (Carpinus caroliniana) are a post-Farrand addition and a positive one, I think.  (Previously the boxwood hedge was the only encircling greenery.) The regularly spaced, statuesque trunks add depth and a modern geometry to the garden.  They remind me of pictures I've seen of some Dan Kiley designs, where he placed trees on a grid pattern to great effect.

Floral ironwork at the top of the gate between the Fountain and Arbor Terraces

Entering the Arbor Terrace

This photo is taken from under the Arbor that gives this terrace its name.  
It's draped with Wisteria and shelters a small a grotto. 

Originally designed as an herb garden, the Arbor Terrace became a more elaborate paved terrace in the 1950s. The gravel and reflecting pool are relatively new features left over from a fantastic (in every sense of the word) contemporary sculpture installation of a few years ago, which transformed this space to the "Cloud Terrace."  This and other exhibits, introduced, in part, by Gail Griffin, who oversees the garden, have helped to keep the garden exciting and relevant.  Thankfully, they kept the pool, which provides a nice mirror of the landscape behind it. Soon this terrace will be filled with pots, spilling with color.

Galanthus (Snowdrops) bloom in the sloping lawn behind the Arbor Terrace
Another favorite feature are these garden buildings with "ogee-style" tiled roofs.  They sit at the edge of the cutting and vegetable garden.  Farrand intended them as tool sheds.  Who wouldn't want one of these in their garden?

This area is filled with flowers and vegetables during the growing season.
One of the most highly decorative areas at Dumbarton Oaks was originally a tennis court.  Now an Italianate-style pebble garden, this enclosed space is described in  Landscapes in History "as visually part of the formal gardens, but not part of the spatial sequence [of the east side terraces] intended by Farrand."   But it works as a visual surprise when visitors in the overhead terrace, flanking the house, discover it as, invariably, they look out over the landscape below.

The Pebble Garden 

The image below of Crab Apple Hill  is copied from the Dumbarton Oaks website, where you can also see views of the other "informal gardens" located at the outermost reaches of the estate. Dumbarton Oaks was once 50 some acres and is now only 10.  Much of the extra land was donated by the Blisses and incorporated into the neighboring park, now administered by the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy    You can still see structures in the adjacent park that were originally designed by Farrand when it was part of the Bliss estate. 

Crabapple Hill
Crab Apple Hill 
There are more areas to discover at Dumbarton Oaks not pictured here. And many visitors will find the garden more interesting when flowers are blooming and the trees are leafed out.  I consider it a place to visit in all seasons to discover all its facets and aspects, and, indeed, it is now open year-round. Come between November 1st and March 14th and admission is free!

Mr and Mrs. Bliss donated their beloved garden to Harvard University in 1940.  The University runs it and other institutions and a museum on the grounds.  Visit the website for more details.

A few parting images:

The perennial border should soon come alive with spring color.
Branches of a a Magnolia soulangeana, in bud and ready to pop, hang above.  

The sprawling Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) near R Street and the front gate.