Category Archives: Recommended Books

Gifts of Gold ~ In a Sicilian Kitchen with Sista Felicia

 

Amanda, Felicia, Pat Ciaramitaro.

Three Generations ~ Daughter Amanda, Felicia, and Mom Pat

My Book On SALE for ONLY 15.00!!! “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden”

Just in time for your holiday gift giving, my book, Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden, which I both wrote and illustrated, is on sale on my publisher’s website for only 15.00. The price is unbeatable as the list cost is 35.00.  Oh Garden! makes an ideal gift for the garden-maker and nature lover on your holiday gift list and at this price, I recommend you buy one for yourself and one for a friend!

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! .jpg

Praise for Oh Garden ~

Anyone who gardens along the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to South Carolina will appreciate Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! (David R. Godine, $35). This book is filled with design ideas and plants that work well in this coastal region, as author and garden designer Kim Smith relates her experiences with her garden in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The first part of the book, “Creating the Framework,” delves into trees, shrubs, and other elements for creating structure in the garden, while the second section addresses how to fill out the framework to create a harmonious living tapestry in your garden. —Viveka Neveln, The American Gardener

Oh Garden! is a 250 page hardcover book crammed full of the most excellent gardening advice you will find anywhere, guiding you through the four seasons, and woven throughout with over 85 illustrations, and fabulous plant lists. All week I will be bringing you excerpts from my book, with more praises from The Boston Globe and other literary reviewers.

The Dreamer by Luis Aira

I am dreaming of blue crabs that talk and dance...

The Dreamer by Luis Aira. Book review posted by guest writer Tom Hauck, “Luis Aira is a gifted writer and his prose is timeless and poetic. The Dreamer will enchant and inspire you to look at the world with new eyes.”

The Dreamer Luis Aira

Congratulations to my friend Luis Aira on the publication of his new novel The Dreamer. This richly imagined story begins in a place called Eden Orchards. Dozing under an apple tree is a local wino named Old Slim. A young stranger suddenly falls through, or out of, the tree and lands with a thump on the ground. This man who fell to earth is like a child with no memory: he doesn’t even have a name, so they agree that he should be called Apple. The stranger has no knowledge of human society, doesn’t know what dreaming is, and is able to talk to animals.

And so begins this magical fable that unfolds with a series of vignettes as Apple, curious to learn more about this world into which he has fallen, leaves Eden Orchards in search of answers. As he travels he meets people; from each he learns something and to each he gives transformative insight.

The underlying philosophy of The Dreamer is exactly what the title implies: that God or the Creator (call it what you will) is not a scientist or an uber-designer in the sense that most Western religions believe, but is a dreamer, and we are all part of a magnificent and ever-changing dream. As Apple proclaims later in the book, “The Dream lives through the Dreamer; the Dreamer lives through the Dream.” Time is not linear, and all things are interconnected – not physically, but by this vast cosmic dream.

One is reminded of the great poem by Edgar Allan Poe, “A Dream Within a Dream,” which evokes a similar if much more melancholy view:

Take this kiss upon the brow!
And, in parting from you now,
Thus much let me avow-
You are not wrong, who deem
That my days have been a dream;
Yet if hope has flown away
In a night, or in a day,
In a vision, or in none,
Is it therefore the less gone?
All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream. 

I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand-
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep- while I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave?
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?

In The Dreamer, hope does not fly away; it is always in our hearts. The dream brings not weeping, only joy. Luis is a gifted writer and his prose is timeless and poetic.The Dreamer will enchant you and inspire you to look at the world with new eyes.

Fabulous Review for Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

My deepest thanks and appreciation to Pat Leuchtman for her wonderful review. Pat has been writing a weekly garden column for The Recorder in Greenfield since 1980. She has been blogging for the past several years and has posted and archived all her columns on her blog Commonweeder. Read more of Pat’s review and spend time perusing her blog, which is brimming with useful information, book reviews, insights, and missives– all beautifully organized.

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

Pat’s Review: Fresh Possibilities are just what I am looking for at this time of the year, so it is no surprise that I have been spending happy evenings with Kim Smith’s beautiful book that includes so many of her own delicate paintings of flowers, birds and butterflies.

Kim Smith gardens, and paints, in Gloucester.  Over the years her garden has grown, as has her concern about conservation and her delight in the roads to literature and art that her garden has opened to her. Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities: Notes from a Gloucester Garden (David R. Godine Publisher) combines all these aspects of her life in the garden in the most beautiful way.

With its delicate paintings of individual flowers, and butterflies, the book does not look like a how-to book, yet it includes plant lists to attract butterflies, of fragrant flowers and plants through the seasons, seasonal blooms and useful annuals. I can hardly decide which I enjoy more, the charming prose of chapters titled The Narrative of the Garden, Flowers of the Air and The Memorable Garden, the exquisite paintings, or the poetry that ranges from our own Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker to Li Bai (701-762 CE),  a famous Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty. I enjoy knowing that Kim has found the same delight  in the connections to history and the arts that I find in the garden.

One of the two chapters I particularly found useful as well as beautiful right now is Flowers of the Air which includes information about a variety of butterflies, and the plants that they need for their life cycle. We have to remember that butterflies are not only lovely, they are important pollinators.

It is no surprise that I also enjoy Roses for the Intimate Garden. Kim’s climate is a bit more gentle than mine and she can grow more tender roses that I can, but we are both devoted to the fragrance that roses bring  to our gardens and to the uncorseted exuberance of old fashioned roses.

If you want information, but also want the kind of delicious prose you find in evocative essays, an aesthetic sensibility, and beautiful illustrations, this is the book for you.  Kim is an inspired gardener and writer, but she isn’t stopping there. Watch for more news about Kim and her latest project soon.

Director’s Series at the Arnold Arboretum

Tulip Tree (Lirodendron tulipfera) American native tulip tree on the front lawn of the Hunnewell Building at the Arnold Arboretum

A Darwinian Look at Darwin’s Evolutionist Ancestors

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing Ned Friedman, the new Director at the Arnold Arboretum, speak about the early history of evolutuonary thought. Well-spoken, passionate, and comprehensive in his presentaion, Friedman answers the question “Is Darwin truly deserving of his place in history?” Although approximately fifty naturalists, horticulturalists, arborists, theologians, philosophers, poets, and medical practitoners had advanced evolutionary concepts for the diversification of life, it was Darwin who wrote about and developed the concept most exhaustively and comprehensively (most notably, On the Origins of Species, 1859) and conclusively, and it was Darwin who convinced the rest of the scientific world. Interestingly, we learn that Charles Darwin’s grandfather, the physician and naturalist Erasmus Darwin (a great friend of our forefather Benjamin Franklin– are you listening tea party creationists?) most certainly planted the seed and devolped the foundation for his grandson’s theories on evolution, through his own writing Zoonomia (or the Laws of Organic Life, 1794).

Erasmus Darwin writes “Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!”

It is not easy leaving my cozy home on a frigid New England evenning. I usually have to depart a full two to two and half hours prior to any event in the city when it is scheduled anywhere near rush hour. This makes for a very long evening, however, I find all the progams that the Arnold Arboretum has to offer entirely worth my while and last night’s presentaion was no exception. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming lecture topic Restoring Hawaii’s Marvels of Evolution, presented by Robert Robichaux, scheduled for Monday, February 7 at 6:30.

All programs in the Directors Lecture series are free but you must register ahead of time online or call 617.384.5277.

Tulip tree (Lirodendron tulipfera). Lirodendron is a genus of only two species of trees in the Magnoliaceae; both are known under the common name tulip tree. Lirodendron tulipfera is native to eastern North America, while Lirodendron chinese is native to China and Vietnam.

Round Robin Redbreast

Round Robin Redbreast

What’s that you say? A flock of robins, in winter?

Yes, yes! Sweetly singing liquid notes. A flock in my garden!

What does a hungry round robin find to eat in a winter garden?

Red, red winterberries and holly, rime-sweetend crabapples, and orchard fruits.

And how does a winter robin keep warm?

Why, blanketed together with air-puffed fluffed feathers.

How long will they stay, how long can they last in the frost?

Only as there are fruits on the bough and berries on the bush.

Round robin red breast, silhouette in bare limb,

Calling away winter, cheer, cheerio, and cheer-up!  

– Kim Smith

The widely distributed and beloved American Robin (Turdus migratorius) hardly needs an introduction. The American Robin is the largest member of the thrush family—thrushes are known for their liquid birdsongs and the robin is no exception. Their unmistakable presence is made known when, by early spring, the flocks have dispersed and we see individual robins strutting about the landscape with fat worms dangling. Unmistakable, too, is the male’s beautiful birdsongs, signaling to competing males to establish their territory, as well as to entice prospective females.

The boundaries of the American Robin winter migration areas are not clearly defined. The robin’s winter range covers southern Canada to Guatemala, compared to their summer nesting range, which extends from the tree limit of Canada to southern Mexico. Robins that nest in Massachusetts, for the most part, migrate further south. Robins nesting in northern Canada migrate to their tropic-of-New England get-away.

During the winter months Cape Ann often becomes home to large flocks of robins and we have had the joy of hosting numerous numbers in late afternoon and early morning. I can’t help but notice their arrival to our garden. Their shadows descend, crisscrossing the window light, followed by a wild rumpus in the ‘Dragon Lady’ hollies. This pair of hollies is planted on opposing sides of the garden path, alongside my home office. I have learned to stealthily sneak up to a window, as any sudden activity inside startles birds that are investigating our garden, and they quickly disperse. Dining not only on berries of the ‘Dragon Ladies’, but also the ‘Blue Princess’ Meserve holly and winterberry bushes, are generally speaking dozens of noisy, hungry robins. These winter nomads flock to trees and shrubs that hold their fruit through winter, feasting on red cedar, American holly, Meserve hollies, chokecherries, crabapples, and juniper. Robins traveling near the sea will comb the shoreline for mollusks and go belly-deep for fish fry. Depleting their food supply, they move onto the next location. Gardens rife with fruiting shrubs and trees make an ideal destination for our migrating friends.

The garden designed to attract pairs of summer resident robins as well as flocks of winter travelers would be comprised of trees and shrubs for nest building, plants that bear fruit and berries that are edible during the summer and fall, and plants that bear fruits that persist through the winter months. Suburban gardens and agricultural areas provide the ideal habitat, with open fields and lawns for foraging insects as well as trees and hedgerows in which to build their nests.

Robins in New England breed from April through July, often bearing three clutches. Nests are built in the crotch of trees and dense bushes, five to fifteen feet above ground, and some are occasionally made on the ground or built on protruding ledges of homes. The female robin weaves a cup-shaped foundation of coarse grass, twigs, paper and feathers, and then lines the bowl with mud she smears and packs firmly with her breast. Later she adds soft fibers such as fine grass and downy feathers to cushion the egg. The first nest is usually placed in an evergreen tree or shrub; for each subsequent clutch a new nest is built and generally placed in a deciduous tree.

The following plants, suggested with robins in mind, will also attract legions of songbirds (and Lepidoptera). The list is comprised primarily of indigenous species with a few non-native, but not invasive plants included.

Trees for nesting ~ American Holly (Ilex opaca), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Red Maple (Acer rubrum), Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida).

Summer and autumn fruit bearing trees, shrubs and vines for robins ~ Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), Blackberry (Rubus spp.), Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), Gray Dogwood (C. racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (C. sericea), Silky Dogwood (C. amomum), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Apple (Malus pumila), Virginia Rose (Rosa virginiana), Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), Wild Grape (Vitis spp.).

Trees and shrubs with fruits persisting through winter ~ Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana), Crabapple (Malus spp.), Sargent’s Crabapple (Malus sargentii), American Holly (Ilex opaca), Meserve Hollies (Ilex x meserveae), Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), Common Juniper (Juniperus communis), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra), Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! for Holiday Giving

Music to my Ears: The following note is from my dear friend Kate Hines who built a beautiful home on a lovely piece of property—former farmland that borders the lush and fertile Rhode Island coastline. Thank you Kate for sharing!





“I was so inspired reading the section you wrote on hollies in Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! that I went to the local nursery and ordered 2 – a female 6′ and a male 5.’ Now they are mixed in with the evergreen grove to the north of the house. They were costly, a big project but soooooo satisfying! Ill send pix.”

XOXO KH

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! makes for a very useful gift for the gardener (and loved-ones dreaming of creating a garden) on your holiday gift giving list. Last year at this time Carol Stocker, the Boston Globe garden columnist wrote the following about Oh Garden:

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

Boston Globe Best of 2009

For Armchair Gardeners Pining for Spring

“Bleak and snowy outside? These lush reads will have you dreaming green. January and February are the reading months for gardeners trapped indoors. Here are some of the best garden books from 2009. “Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes From a Gloucester Garden,’’ written and illustrated by Kim Smith (David R. Godine, Publisher), is a treasure, and perhaps the best garden gift book. Why? Both dream-like and practical, it captures the rapture of a gardener’s journey through her own evolving quarter acre by integrating Smith’s personal essays, hands-on advice, and paintings. I was charmed by her listing of specific scents of favorite peony varieties accompanied by a painted sample of their petal colors…”

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Written and Illustrated by Kim Smith. Available through your local bookseller, David R. Godine, Publisher, and Amazon.


Amaryllis Hippeastrum

Amaryllis Hippeastrum 'Ambiance'Amaryllis ‘Ambiance’

Dear Gardening Friends,

We have been blessed with a delightfully warm autumn, which has made these last few weeks in the garden a delight. As I am preparing gardens for their winter rest, my thoughts turn to the upcoming holidays and the winter blooms that will make the season all that much brighter. I hope you don’t mind—the following is from the chapter on Coaxing Winter Blooms, excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! With our son’s soccer team headed to the state finals, I haven’t had the ability to focus, spare time to write, or accomplish much of anything besides work. We’re all on pins and needles in anticipation of the Big Game!

Warmest wishes and Season’s Greetings, Kim

P.S. Results of Sunday ‘s game: CONGRATULATIONS VIKINGS, the new Division Three North Massachusetts State Champions!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Rockport Vikings 1, St.Mary’s, Lynn 0. Wednesday’s game against the winning southern region state champs will be held in Quincy at 5:00pm. GO VIKINGS!

A Note about Amaryllis

Living in New England the year round, with our tiresomely long winter stretching miles before us, and then a typically late and fugitive, fleeting spring, we can become easily wrapped in those winter-blues. Fortunately for garden-makers, our thoughts give way to winter scapes of bare limbs and berries, Gold Finches and Cardinals, and plant cat-alogues to peruse. If you love to paint and write about flowers as do I, winter is a splendid time of year for both, as there is hardly any time devoted to the garden during colder months. I believe if we cared for a garden very much larger than ours, I would accomplish little of either writing or painting, for maintaining it would require just that much more time and energy.

Coaxing winter blooms is yet another way to circumvent those late winter doldrums. Most of us are familiar with the ease in which amaryllis (Hippeastrum) bulbs will bloom indoors. Placed in a pot with enough soil to come to the halfway point of the bulb, and set on a warm radiator, in several week’s time one will be cheered by the sight of a spring-green, pointed-tipped flower stalk poking through the inner layers of the plump brown bulbs. The emerging scapes provide a welcome promise with their warm-hued blossoms, a striking contrast against the cool light of winter.

Perhaps the popularity of the amaryllis is due both to their ease in cultivation and also for their ability to dazzle with colors of sizzling orange, clear reds and apple blossom pink. My aunt has a friend whose family has successfully cultivated the same bulb for decades. For continued success with an amaryllis, place the pot in the garden as soon as the weather is steadily warm. Allow the plant to grow through the summer, watering and fertilizing regularly. In the late summer or early fall and before the first frost, separate the bulb from the soil and store the bulb, on its side, in a cool dry spot—an unheated basement for example. The bulb should feel firm and fat again, not at all mushy. After a six-week rest, the amaryllis bulb is ready to re-pot and begin its blooming cycle again.  Excerpt Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! ~ Coaxing Winter Blooms

Amaryllis Hippeastrum 'Orange'Amaryllis ‘Orange Sovereign’


Amaryllis Hippeastrum


Chrysanthemum ‘Emperor of China’ and Korean Daisies

Exquisite Flora in Autumn

Green leaves ignite, transformed by a kaleidoscope of incinerating colors—devil-red, burnt tangerine, caramelized amber, searing saffron, and smoldering crimson-purple. The air is impregnated with the aromatic perfume of orchard fruits ripening in the fleeting flush of the sun’s warm light. Hazy, slanting rays gild the late season glory in the garden. Surrounded by flowers of dissipating beauty and juxtaposed against the dazzling brilliance of autumn foliage, we are urged to spend every possible moment savoring our gardens before the onset of winter.

American Lady Nectaring at Korean Daisy

Blossoms thrown in autumn, as opposed to those of spring and summer, are perhaps the most keenly appreciated. Our rambling ‘Aloha’ rose embowering the front entryway abounds in blooms in June, flowering again and again throughout the summer. With a twinge of melancholy, I cherish most Aloha’s lingering remontant rose—inhaling deeply the sensuous fragrance when approaching or upon leaving our home, knowing all will be dormant in only a few short weeks. Manifold members of the composite family hold their flowers well into fall. Forming a substantial clump (four feet wide and equally as tall) is a passalong from a generous friend. From a few cuttings of this heirloom chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum ‘Single Apricot Korean’), with apricot pink-tinted, daisy-like single flowers, we now have a patch of our own to share with friends. Arrayed with a single row of ray flowers encircling the nectar-rich cadmium yellow disk florets, the Korean daisy is host to sundry late on-the-wing pollinators, including butterflies, bees, and beetles. The form is loose and lovely; opposite in appearance to that of the ubiquitous blobs of mums commonly seen in autumn.

Chrysanthemum ‘Emperor of China’ begins its lovely tableau in mid-fall and continues to bloom through the first hard frost. Plum rose with silvery highlights, the quills shade paler toward the outer margins. When the plant is in full bloom, the rich green foliage shifts colors to vibrant hues of bronze and scarlet red. The ‘Emperor of China’ exudes a delicious lemon-spice fragrance noticeable from some distance.

As with asters, it is helpful to pinch the tips of each shoot to encourage branching and more blossoms. Repeat this process at each four- to six- inch stage of new growth until the middle of July, or when the buds begin to develop. ‘Emperor of China’ is hardy through zone six and thrives in full sun to light shade in well-drained soil. This cultivar forms a 2 and 1/2′ mound in only a few years. Give the plant a top dressing of compost and mulch after the first hard frost.

An ancient variety of chrysanthemum originating from China, the ‘Emperor of China’ resembles and is thought to be the chrysanthemum depicted in early Chinese paintings. Chrysanthemums are also grown for their medicinal properties, and their purported magic juices were an important ingredient in the life-prolonging elixir of the Daoist. Fragrant chrysanthemum tea was considered good for the health, and tonic wine was brewed from an infusion of their petals.

Chrysanthemum Tea

Chrysanthemum tea is a tisane made from dried chrysanthemum flowers. The flowers are steeped in boiling water for several minutes, and rock sugar or honey is often added to heighten the sweet aroma. Popular throughout East Asia, chrysanthemum tea is usually served with a meal. In the tradition of Chinese medicine, the tisane is a “cooling” herb and is recommended for a variety of ailments including influenza, circulatory disorders, sore throats, and fever.

Chrysanthemum ‘Emperor of China’

Although thought to be rich in healing properties and lovely in form, a more modest well-being was conferred by the vigorous blossoming of the chrysanthemum. Perhaps the late flowering chrysanthemum suggests their connection to a long life, for other plants have finished flowering just as the chrysanthemums begin.

The techniques for learning to paint the orchid, bamboo, plum blossom, and chrysanthemum comprise the basis of Chinese flower and bird painting. They are referred to as “The Four Gentlemen” and are thought to symbolize great intellectual ideas. The orchid is serene and peaceful, though sophisticated and reserved from the world. Bamboo is vigorous and survives throughout the seasons, forever growing upright. The plum blossom expresses yin-yang dualities of delicate and hardy, blooming through snow and ice to herald the arrival of spring. Chrysanthemums continue to flower after a frost, are self-sufficient, and require no assistance in propagating themselves.

China owes its astonishing wealth of plant life to a combination of geographical incidents. The mountains escaped the ravages of the great ice caps and unlike much of Europe and North America, where many plants were wiped out, plant species in China continued to evolve. Additionally, the foothills of the Himalayas are moistened by soft winds from the south, creating an ideal climate for alpine plants. In this warm and moderate environment three different floras– that of the colder, drier north; that of the sub-tropical south; and that of the alpine species—all mingled and crossed freely for thousands of years.

Ernest Wilson, one of the world’s greatest plant hunters, was not the first collector to explore this botanical paradise, but his determined efforts to push through to remote areas led him to the “richest temperate flora of the world.” From 1899 to 1911, Ernest “Chinese” Wilson sent the seeds of more than 1,500 different plants to the United States and England. Altogether his collection numbered 65,000 plants, representing about 5,000 species, all gathered from the wild. Through his exploration, and the work of the nurseries for which he collected, more than a thousand plants were established for Western cultivation. Despite the wealth of flora collected by Ernest Wilson and his fellow plant hunters, Chinese gardens remained wholly unaffected. Although shiploads of plants were sent to London, St. Petersburg, Paris, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, Chinese horticulturists continued to develop plants their ancestors had loved and that had long since been domesticated. The tradition of conferring qualities of morality to plants and plants’ allegorical to intellectual ideas made the newly collected wild plants unsuitable for the Chinese garden.

The love of flowers was and continues to be a passion among the Chinese. Trees and plants are genuinely loved as living creatures.

Enjoying flowers with tea is the best, enjoying them with conversation the second and enjoying them with wine the least. Feasts and all sorts of vulgar language are most deeply detested and resented by the spirit of the flowers. It is better to keep the mouth shut and sit  still than to offend the flowers. —from a Ming Dynasty treatise on flowers Walters Art Museum

The idea that flowers can be offended by bad manners reflects the belief that the world we inhabit is an organism in which all phenomena interrelate. By the same reasoning, someone who drinks tea from a peach-shaped pot will live longer (peaches symbolize longevity), and someone who dips his writing brush in a peony-shaped bowl will have good fortune, as the peony is a metaphor for success and wealth.

Several passages from above were excerpted from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! (David R. Godine, Publisher).

 

 


 

Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design

“…There is a secret charm which binds us to these haunts of the water spirits. The spot is filled with the music of the falling water. Its echoes pervade the air, and beget a kind of dreamy revery…”                                                                                                                                                       —Andrew Jackson Downing

Book Review: Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design

I was more than delighted to receive a copy of the exquisite book Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design from Sue Ramin, the publicist at my publisher, David R. Godine. Richly illuminated with drawings, watercolors, and engravings, Godine has joined with the Morgan Library and Museum and the Foundation for Landscape Studies to produce this sweeping and superbly researched survey of the development of the Romantic movement in landscape design in Europe and America. This beautiful and beautifully written scholarly, yet accessible, book will become a highly valued resource for landscape designers, architects, landscape architects, historians and students of the Romantic movement. And, as do all Godine books, Romantic Gardens makes for a treasured and thoughtful gift. The book was written to accompany the exhibition Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design held at the Morgan Library and Museum during the summer of 2010. The authors Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Elizabeth Eustis, and John Bidwell co-curated the exhibit.

Drawn from the Morgan’s holdings of manuscripts, drawings, and rare books, from the collections of the authors Rogers and Eustis, and from collections across the nation, Romantic Gardens: Nature, Art, and Landscape Design features approximately one hundred and fifty texts, outstanding works of art, plan drawings, and photographs providing an overview of ideas championed by the Romantics and also actualized by them in private estates and public parks in Europe and the United States. Notable are the plan drawing and early photographs of Olmstead and Vaux’s winning Entry No. 33 of Central Park, a J.W. Winder photograph of Adolphe Strauch’s Spring Grove Cemetery, located in Cincinnati, Ohio, and several Frederic Edwin Church landscape vistas in oil, including a view of Olana, Church’s estate overlooking the Hudson River. Elizabeth Eustis writes about Church’s Eden, “…Olana was truly envisioned by Church. Three decades of his devotion resulted in an environmental version of the Romantic Gesamtkunstwerk, integrating architecture, decoration, and landscape to fully engage the senses, emotion, and spirit. Church opened the view, set the house in an expansive lawn, and laid out more than five miles of drives curving through the estate.” By 1860 Church had become the most famous painter in America and with his Olana he could …“make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio.”  Eustis writes, “He resisted the gaudy flower beds and subtropical foliage plantings that by this time had come to rival the divinized nature garden aesthetic and instead planted thousands of trees.”

So that you may share a bit more in the experience of the exquisite writing found in Romantic Gardens, the following is a brief excerpt from the conclusion of Roger’s erudite introductory essay “The Genius of the Place” The Romantic Landscape, 1700-1900.

The fact that space and time are unbounded and infinite is still difficult for the human mind to comprehend. Romanticism can therefore be seen as the search for the divine in the boundlessness of the firmament and belief in nature as eternal and God-ordained, a bulwark against despair over the darkness-bracketed transience of life.

“…. In Romantic painting the landscape itself became the subject, not merely the background or the setting. The works of Turner, Friedrich, and Church bespeak the sublimity of sky and distant horizon. By such means Romantic art elevates the mind and heart to something approaching joy, peace, and an intuitive appreciation of the divine in the face of the unfathomable immensity and mystery of the universe.

“Nature as both place and space is the medium and the compass in Romantic landscape design. Revealing the “genius of the place” accords nature particularity and personality. The eighteenth-century Romantic designers did not treat space as a tabula rasa, a neutral ground plane on which to plant vegetation in geometric shapes and alignments, as was the case in the seventeenth century. Because of its more practical objectives and domestic sphere of activity, landscape design, unlike painting and poetry, cannot incorporate rugged peaks, vertiginous deeps, or crashing waterfalls—hallmarks of the Sublime. Nevertheless, landscape design is Romantic in its mood-evoking treatment of space, allying itself with nature, obscuring boundaries, and reaching for what lies beyond. We can therefore appreciate Central Park’s seemingly unbounded acres of green spaciousness not only as playing fields, but also as Olmstead intended, an illusion of unrestricted nature fostering a relaxed dreaminess and democratic sociability.”

Elizabeth Barlow Rogers is a scholar, educator, author, and was the founding president of the Central Park Conservatory. She is currently the president of the Foundation for Landscape Studies, which publishes the journal Site/Lines. Elizabeth Eustis is an author, adjunct curator at the New York Botanical Garden library, and teaches at the Landscape Institute at the Boston Architectural College. John Bidwell is Astor Curator and department head of Printed Books and Bindings at the Morgan Library.

A note about Andrew Jackson Downing (see above): Considered the first Romantic hero of American horticulture, Downing was a nurseryman and horticulturist from Newburgh, New York. As editor of The Horticulturist, he became the leading advocate for home gardening, village improvement societies, agricultural education, public parks (including a central park in New York City and a national park in Washington, D.C.). In the above quote from Romantic Gardens (page 157), Downing is describing the Ravine Walk at Blithewood in the The Horticulturist (1847), with illustrations by Alexander Jackson Davis.

Romantic Gardens, Nature, Art, and Landscape Design

Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, Elizabeth Eustis, John Bidwell

David R. Godine, Publisher

ISBN: 978 1 56792 404 6

Available through your local bookseller, David R. Godine, and Amazon.

Gesamtkunstwerk

Definition of Gesamtkunstwerk from wiki: (translated as total work of art, ideal work of art, universal artwork, synthesis of the arts, comprehensive artwork, all-embracing art form, or total artwork) is a work of art that makes use of all or many art forms or strives to do so. The term is a German word, which has come to be accepted in English.The term was first used by the writer and philosopher K.F.E. Trahndorff in an essay in 1827. The German opera compose Richard Wagnerr used the term in an 1849 essay. It is unclear whether Wagner knew of Trahndorff’s essay. The word has become particularly associated with Wagner’s aesthetic ideals.

Definition of Gesamtkunstwerk from Artnet: [Ger.: complete, unified or total work of art].Term first used by Richard Wagner in Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (1849) to describe his concept of a work of art for the stage, based on the ideal of ancient Greek tragedy, to which all the individual arts would contribute under the direction of a single creative mind in order to express one overriding idea. However, the term is applied retrospectively to projects in which several art forms are combined to achieve a unified effect, for example Roman fora, Gothic cathedrals and some Baroque churches and palazzi.

 

Welcome Oh Great Spangled Fritillary!

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly

Singularly beautiful—large and rounded with tawny orange wings checkered with black dots and dashes—when observed from above. When wings are folded, this fritillary shows a striking underwing pattern of spangled spots, bordered by a wide yellow band and outlined in iridescent crescents. Perhaps the Great Spangled Fritillary has graced your garden. I had never encountered this creature of extraordinary beauty until the summer after we planted violets dug from a wildly unkempt cemetery. They were native common violets (Viola sororia). I don’t recommend the common violet for a small garden, unless you desire a garden composed entirely of common violets. Please don’t misunderstand; I do not regret planting V. sororia because otherwise I may never have encountered the Great Spangled Fritillary (Speyeria cybele). No, I am glad to have welcomed this beauty to our garden. There are, however, far better behaved violets that are of equal importance to the fritillary caterpillars and they would be a far better choice for the garden. Both native wildflowers Labrador violet (Viola labradorica) and Canada violet (Viola canadensis) naturalize readily, making rulier groundcovers than common violets, and are lovely when in bloom and when not in flower.

O wind, where have you been,

That you blow so sweet?

Among the violets

Which blossom at your feet.

The honeysuckle waits

For Summer and for heat

But violets in the chilly Spring

Make the turf so sweet.

—Christina Rossetti (1830—1894)

The Great Spangled Fritillary is found throughout New England and its range extends from southern British Columbia and central Alberta, east across southern Canada and the central US to the Atlantic seaboard. It is one of three Greater Fritillaries found in our region, along with the Aphrodite and Atlantis Fritillaries. The wingspan of the Great Spangled Fritillary measures approximately three inches, compared to that of several of the smaller fritillaries found in our area, the Silver-bordered Fritillary and Meadow Fritillary, which measure about half as much. Its habitat is woodland openings, meadows, prairies, and other open habitats where violets and nectar plants such as common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), spotted Joe-pye weed, and ox-eye daisy are found.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Kingdom: Anilmalia (Animal)

Phylum: Arthropoda (Arthropods)

Class: Insecta (Insects)

Order: Lepidoptera (Butterflies, skippers, and moths)

Superfamily: Papilionoidea (Butterflies, excluding skippers)

Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed butterflies)

Subfamily: Heliconians

Genus: Speyeria

Species: cybele

Ancient cultures valued violets for their medicinal and aromatic properties. In art and literature they symbolize a widely varying range of human experiences from new life in spring to death and dying, young love, and frailty. The genus Viola comprises some 400 to 500 species, distributed around the world. Viola, often called pansies, violets, and heartsease, have been traditionally used to create perfumes, dyes, insecticides, soaps, expectorants, and analgesics for labor pain. The flowers and leaves of the violet plant make a delicious and nutritious addition to a garden salad; the leaves are rich in a variety of powerful chemicals including flavenoids, saponins, and glycosides.

The Greater Fritillaries have a unique and highly evolved association with violet plants. In late summer or early fall, the female oviposits eggs close to the ground on twigs or foliage near to, not necessarily on, a clump of violet plants. Newly emerged caterpillars crawl to the nearby hostplant. Rather than feed on the foliage, they nestle into the leaf litter at the base of the plant and enter diapause. For northern butterflies this behavior is thought to be an adaptation to cold weather since undigested food particles in the gut of a diapausing caterpillar would form ice crystals, thereby killing the larvae (Cech and Tudor). Diapause in insects is a physiological state of dormancy in response to predictable periods of adverse environmental conditions—winter in the case of the Greater Fritillaries.

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly

In early spring, the awakening caterpillars, which are black with black protruding spines dotted red at the base, feed on freshly emerging violet shoots. The caterpillars pupate, and after metamorphosis, in late spring or early summer, the male Greater Fritillary butterflies begin to emerge, well before the females. Active courtship ensues once the females emerge. The females typically mate once, after which the males die off. The females live on during the summer in a temporary state of reproductive diapause, until ovipositing eggs in the late summer or early fall. Typically the Great Spangled Fritillaries that we encounter at this time of year are the females.

While photographing Great Spangled Fritillaries at high noon I noticed that the iridescence was quite apparent, although only showing for a fraction of a second. The photo below illustrates clearly the structural iridescent scales (or “spangles”). What the photo does not show is that the large whitish-looking spots also have iridescent hues of pearly pinkish-bluish-greenish.

Great Spangled Fritillary Butterfly

Iridescence in Butterfly Wings

Butterflies, moths, and skippers are members of the insect order Lepidoptera; the name is derived from Greek lepidos for “scales” and ptera for “wings.” Their scaled wings distinguish them as a group from all other insects. Unrivalled in the living world, their wings are adorned with myriad patterns and solid colors in the full spectrum of the rainbow, as well as pure iridescent hues of blue, green, and violet.

The foundation of the Lepidoptera wing consists of a colorless, translucent membrane supported by a framework of tubular veins, radiating from the base of the wing to the outer margin. They are covered with thousands of overlapping scales, arranged very much like overlapping shingles on a roof. Like miniature canoe paddles, the scales are attached to the wings by their “handles.” So small that they feel like and are a similar size to the silky granules of face powder, their purpose is multi-fold. Scales protect and act as an aid to the aerodynamics of the entire wing structure, help regulate Lepidoptera temperature, and are the cells from which color and patterns originate. This color and patterning are used for sexual signaling and as a means of eluding birds and other would-be predators.

There are two fundamental mechanisms by which color is produced on the wings of Lepidoptera. Ordinary color is due to organic pigments present that absorb certain wavelengths and reflect others. Extraordinary iridescence on butterfly wings is caused by the interference of light waves due to multiple reflections within the physical structure of the individual scales. Iridescent scales are composed of many microscopic thin layers; each scale has its own color, from pigment present and from the diffraction of light on the surface (the surface of iridescent scales are intricately corrugated and grooved). The iridescent effect is created much like a prism and is called structural coloration. When viewed under a microscope, the iridescent scales of some species of butterflies have a similar appearance to that of the tiered layers of a pine tree. Sometimes structural color and pigmented color occur simultaneously and a secondary color is created in the usual way color is added. For example, when blue iridescent color is produced from the structure of a scale that also contains yellow pigment, the resulting color is iridescent green.

When Lepidoptera with iridescent scales fly, the surface of their wings continually change from brilliant hues to the underlying relatively duller scales of the wings, as the angle of light striking the wing changes. The ability of the Lepidoptera to rapidly change colors and patterns is one of their defense mechanisms against predators. Along with their undulating pattern of flight and the figure-eight movement of their wings, the effect is of ethereal flashes of light disappearing and reappearing.

Excerpt from Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Chapter 15 ~ Flowers of the Air, pages 130-131.

Monarch Butterfly’s First Sips of Nectar

This female Monarch emerged from her chrysalis late yesterday afternoon. She stayed hidden under foliage overnight. Mid-morning she alighted onto my hand and I placed her on a fresh blossom of the butterfly bush ‘Nanho Blue.’ She is easily recognized as female because her wing venation is thicker and smokier than that of a males wings, and because she does not have the two small black pockets of pheromones on each hind wing.

Female Monarch Butterfly


Male Monarch Butterfly (left) and Female Monarch Butterfly (right).

A Tale of Two Tigers

Dear Gardening Friends,

I have received many emails in the past several weeks from people wondering what is the large, yellow butterfly that they are seeing perusing their gardens and neighborhoods. I imagine they are observing a tiger swallowtail–either an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail or a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail. They may not recognize it as either species because tiger swallowtails are highly palatable. Their delicate tails, and then some, may have been sheered away by hungry birds snipping. The first two photos below show a newly  emerged tiger swallowtail with tails intact and a swallowtail without tails.

I wrote the following column several winters ago after having recently read A Tale of Two Cities. If you can bear to read about winter storms during this delicious stretch of warm weather, you will find information that will be helpful in identifying whether visiting your garden is a Canadian Tiger or an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. Additional identifying photos are at the end of the column.

A Tale of Two Tigers

Recalled to Life

As seed and plant catalogues pile ever higher in my ever-shrinking office, I am culling all for sources of delicious vegetables and herbs, native plants, fragrant cultivars, and plants that will expand the Lepidoptera and songbird habitat. With inviting descriptions accompanied by enticing photographs, it is difficult to exercise restraint. Absorbed in thoughts of new life in spring, I am reminded of an incident that occurred at about this same time last year.

My husband and I had returned home from a venture along the backshore to witness the waves cresting in the aftermath of a late-winter storm. With great gusts blowing up from the south, the storm was tropical in temperature, but not in degree of ferocity. Drenched to bare skin, we came in through the cellar to remove our soaked clothing, where, to our dismay, we encountered a newly emerged tiger swallowtail butterfly, unable to fly, with its wings dragging along the cold stone cellar floor. I carefully picked it up by holding the butterfly along the sturdy leading wing margin, and brought it into the warm kitchen. Its wings had not fully unfurled and the butterfly was in distress. We provided a twig for it to crawl upon, which would have allowed its wings to hang down, and then, perhaps, fully expand. That was unsuccessful and the butterfly preferred instead to simply rest in my hands. We offered it a Q-tip soaked in sugar water and I cupped my hands and held it there for a long time, hoping the warmth would recall it to life.

Within the brief moment of time a butterfly emerges, if just one of the steps in the complicated dance goes awry, the creature will likely fail. The crimpled, wet wings are tightly compacted within the chrysalis. The butterfly pushes head first through the pupa case and upon emerging, with its crochet hook-like feet (tarsi) grasps at nearby surfaces. Body fluids are drained from the swollen abdomen and pumped through tubular wing veins (called struts) to the very outer margins of the wings. The butterfly’s double drinking straw (proboscis) must zip together, or it will be unable to nectar. For several hours after eclosing, it remains in a stationary state, the most vulnerable of positions, to allow its wet wings to dry thoroughly. The mystery of how the tiger swallowtail came to be in our basement, and why it eclosed in early March, prompted me to learn more about this magnificent species of butterfly.

The Golden Thread

Tiger swallowtails are recognized by their four rows of tiger-like yellow and black stripes and thin black tails extending from each lower wing. Canadian Tiger swallowtails are found in all provinces and territories of Canada, northern New England, and eastern New York. Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are more common from southern New England and south to Florida. We are fortunate in Massachusetts to be located where overlapping of both species occurs. Canadian and Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are closely related and were not recognized as separate species until 1991. The clearest way to see the difference is to compare wingspan. The Canadian is smaller, with a wingspan of just under 3 inches; the wingspan of the average Eastern is 4.5 to almost 5 inches— the southern female ranks as the largest butterfly of the East Coast. Canadian Tiger Swallowtails are generally a paler yellow and the darker border next to the body is thicker. When the wings are folded, the yellow sub-marginal band on the fore wings is largely continuous, not interrupted by black wing veins. Tiger swallowtails are highly palatable and, as a defense against predators, have evolved with rapid wing movements and erratic flight patterns, which make these differences between the two species difficult to discern without side-by-side specimens or photos.

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Class: Insecta

Order: Lepidoptera

Family: Papilionidae

Genus: Papilio

Species: glaucus ~ Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Species: canadensis ~ Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

The purpose of identifying the different species is relevant when planting to encourage tiger swallowtails caterpillars to colonize your garden. Host trees for Canadian Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars include native species of birch (Betula), black cherry (Prunus), and aspen (Populus). The Eastern Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars have adapted to a wide range of host trees from multiple families, especially wild cherries (Prunus sp., Prunus virginiana), tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipfera), ash (Fraxinus), and sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) in the Deep South. Both species are generalist when nectaring. I most often observe tiger swallowtails nectaring at plants with clusters and panicles of small florets, for example, native buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), and Verbena bonariensis.

Adding to the challenge to accurately identify whether Canadian or Eastern, female Eastern Tiger Swallowtails may exhibit sexual dichromatism, a dark-phase that mimics the highly unpalatable and toxic blue/black coloration of the Pipevine Swallowtail. The yellow form of the females is more typically seen in our region and is similar to the males, except that the hindwings above the black margin are covered in beautiful blue iridescent scales. Iridescence in wing scales is an example of how Lepidoptera have evolved with structural color that is disorienting to predators. The flashes of light created by the iridescent scales, combined with undulating wing beats caught in sunlight, causes hungry birds to be confused. The characteristic “tails” that lend swallowtails their common name are significant aerodynamically. Airflow is directed over the wings, enabling extended glides at higher angles, whereas Lepidoptera with more broadly cut wings would normally stall.

We look for tiger swallowtails eggs on the topside of host tree leaves. The spherical, green, pinhead-sized singular eggs are not easy to see amongst the surrounding foliage. The first instars are dark brown with white markings, which resemble bird droppings (another defense against birds). Later stages become luminous light green, with yellow and black thoracic “eyespots” that mimic the eyes of small snakes. Tiger swallowtail caterpillars have yet another defense against predators. When threatened, they will evert their osmeterium (a unique horn-like appendage that resembles a snake’s forked tongue), which emits a smelly secretion.

Most tiger swallowtail caterpillars feed at night, spending the day in a rolled-up leaf mat bound with spun silk. When ready to pupate, the caterpillar turns chocolate-brown and spins a silk girdle, a “thread of life” that supports it in an upright position as it begins to pupate. The chrysalis resembles a twig, or knob of wood jutting from the trunk, and the thread holding it in place is as fine as a strand of golden thread. In the case of the chrysalis formed in late summer, the pupa enters a state of diapause and the adult emerges in spring. The same thread of life girdling chrysalis to branch will keep the pupa secure through winter snow, sleet, and ice, and during violent spring thunderstorms and nor’easters.

The Track of the Storm

Artfully mimicking the twiggy growth and withered leaves of the lantana (Lantana camara) standards we winter-over, it became clear how a tiger swallowtail chrysalis could find its way into our cellar. Prior to bringing plants indoors, we now thoroughly examine all for signs of Lepidoptera pupa. The unsolved mystery is why. The eerie atmosphere created by the tropical storm in winter, coupled with the unsettling early emergence of the butterfly is haunting still. Perhaps the electric energy and unusual balmy temperature carried by the storm caused the butterfly to eclose several months too early. Whatever the reason, I return to the not unpleasant task at hand—catalogues beckoning with plants to enhance the songbird and Lepidoptera landscape—anon to be engaged in the garden of possibilities.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . . ~ A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Little Wood-satyr (Megisto cymela cymela)

Dear Gardening Friends,

Although it may seem as though I have been  unplugged as of late, I am actually becoming more plugged-in than ever (is this a good thing?) as I am in the process of teaching myself how to edit  and combine my video clips and photos. To be sure, editing videos is easy for my techno savvy friends, but I find it time consuming beyond measure. The net result is that I will be able to passalong more good information. For example, the video below shows the ventral (underside) and dorsal (topside) of the Little Wood-satyr, as well as its light brown and tan forms. Hopefully, this will help us to better identify, and provide sustenance for, the beautiful pollinators that are attracted to our habitat gardens.

The fearless Little Wood-Satyr seen in the video stayed for several days. While photographing, he alighted on my camera and then onto my hand. As you can see, there wasn’t much remaining of his left wing.

Little Wood-satrys are found throughout the eastern United States (except northern New England) and southeastern Canada, Nova Scotia to Florida, west to Texas and eastern Wyoming, and north to Saskatchewan. The first of its kind to arrive in our garden, we more typically observe the Little Wood-satyr along the wooded edge of clearings and quarries. The body color varies from light brown to tan. The following photos show the light brown version and were taken at a quarry in Rockport where I noticed both tan and light brown forms. Little Wood-satrys are on the wing in the northeast from May through July. The females land on a blade of grass and walk down to the base where she deposits a single egg. The caterpillars feed at night on various grasses including Orchard Grass (Dactylis glomerata), Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis), Centipede Grass (Eremochloa ophiuroides), and St. Augustine Grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum) (Cech and Tudor).

Kingdom: Anilmalia (Animal)

Phylum: Arthropoda (Arthropods)

Class: Insecta (Insects)

Order: Lepidoptera (Butteflies, skippers, and moths)

Superfamily: Papilionoidea (Butterflies, excluding skippers)

Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed butterflies)

Subfamily: Satryinae (Nymphs, Satyrs, and Arctic butterflies)

Genus: Megisto

Species: cymela

Happy Butterfly Days!




Creating Summer Magic

Common Milkweed ~ Asclepias syriaca

Recently a friend inquired that if I had to choose one native New England plant to grow to attract butterflies to the garden, which would it be, and why. It was a challenging question because butterflies are typically drawn to the garden planted with a rich and varied, yet very specific, combination of species. A successful Lepidoptera habitat is comprised of many elements all working in tandem. Sunny and protected areas in which to warm their wings, trees and shrubs that provide shelter, and a host of nectar plants for the adults, as well as specific caterpillar food plants, create the successful Lepidoptera garden.

Perhaps if I had to choose a favorite butterfly and therefore a favorite plant to grow to drawthis butterfly to my garden it would have to be common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), which is both a larval host plant and nectar plant for the elegant Monarch butterfly. People often speak unkindly about common milkweed, rather I think it deserves applause for it is plant without rue and thrives wherever found—in the cracks of city sidewalks and along country roadsides, highly-trafficked soccer fields, and in the most neglected of neighborhoods. Whether in the garden, along the shoreline, or local meadow, it is on the foliage of common milkweed that we find the vast majority of Monarch eggs and caterpillars. Noteworthy also is that we observe many different species of butterflies and skippers nectaring at common milkweed—sulphurs, swallowtails, and fritillaries, to name but a few. In our garden we grow common milkweed alongside marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata); marsh milkweed blooms slightly earlier than common milkweed as it is sited in a sunnier locale. Both species attract a wide variety of winged pollinators. Male and female Monarchs nectar from the blossoms, while the males simultaneously patrol for females. The females utilize the foliage of both species to oviposit their eggs. Typically we observe females freely flitting alternatively between our common and marsh milkweed, depositing their eggs on the choicest leaves and buds, while pausing frequently to nectar.

Monarch Butterfly Egg on Common Milkweed Leaf

The milky sap that flows through milkweed veins lends the genus its common name. Monarch butterflies and their caterpillars have evolved to withstand the toxic milk, but not the predatory bird that attempts to eat one. The adult Monarch’s unique wing pattern and caterpillar’s striped suit warn of its dreadful taste and lethal toxins. A bird that is tempted becomes sick and may even die, and if it survives, remembers never again to try to eat a Monarch. “The larvae sequester cardiac glycosides from the milkweed leaves that they consume. Concentrations of these heart toxins in their bodies may be several times higher than those occurring in milkweed leaves. The glycosides consumed by the caterpillars are carried forward both into the chrysalis and adult stages, affording them protection as well.” (Caterpillars of North America David L. Wagner).

Common milkweed is highly adaptable and grows in nearly any soil. The size of the developing colonies and individual plants reflect the conditions in which it is grown.  Planted in a rich, moist soil, protected from the wind and where it receives some light shade, it will grow six to seven feet.  I use it extensively in my butterfly garden designs, planting in rich, average, and dry conditions, and find it especially appealing and useful for shoreline gardens. In sandy soil, sand dunes, and meadows, where it is exposed to wind and/or salt spray, common milkweed is equally as vigorous, but of a much shorter stature, typically obtaining the height of two to three feet.

A. syriaca thrives in full sun to light shade. In a moist, protected area, plant in the back of the border. In a more exposed site, plant in the mid-ground. Because of its ability to spread readily and rapidly, use in an informal, natural setting as opposed to planting in formal  beds.

Common milkweed is highly fragrant and is the most richly scented of the species of milkweeds found in Massachusetts (A. incarnata, A. syriaca, A. quadrifolia,  A. tuberosa, A. amplexicaulis, A. exaltata, A. pupurascens, and A. verticillata), with a complex wild flower honey fragrance. I have heard it described as similar to the scent of lilacs, but find lilacs have a much sweeter fragrance than common milkweed. Fragrance is highly mutable and subjective.

One- to two-year-old plants are easier to transplant than established plants. Common milkweed takes approximately three years to flower from seed. The method in which I have had the greatest success in propagating Asclepias syriaca, best attempted in early summer, is to dig up a rhizome, found at the base of a plant with newly emerging shoots. The rhizome would ideally be obtained from a friend’s garden. If collected in the wild, be sure to dig from an area where there are many shoots present. You need a fairly large chunk, at least a half-foot, with both roots and new shoots present. Replant the rhizome at the same depth. Water throughout the summer. Towards the end of the growing season you will be rewarded with newly emerging shoots. Common milkweed self-seeds readily, but spreads primarily (and rambunctiously) by its rhizomatic root structure.

Milkweed in general, and in particular, common milkweed, attracts a host of pollinators—bees, wasps, butterflies, and purportedly hummingbirds. I have yet to see the Ruby-throated hummingbird nectar from common milkweed, but it may also be the case that they are attracted to the plant for the multitude of tiny insect populations frequenting the flowers (over ninety percent of a Ruby-throated hummingbird’s diet is comprised of insects). We typically findMonarch eggs and caterpillars on milkweed plants during the months of July and August.

Buddleia davidii ’Nanho Blue,’ with blue-violet racemes, melds beautifully with the muted lavender rose florets of the softly drooping flower heads of common milkweed. The brilliant white of native Phlox davidii and vivid purple-pink of Liatris ligulistylus attractively offsets both. All are famously attractive to Monarchs (and myriad other species of Lepidoptera) and will provide a long season of nectar-rich blossoms and Monarch caterpillar food.

Monarch Butterflies Mating on Common Milkweed Leaves

A note about the video: Monarch butterflies deposit eggs on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and marsh milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in eastern Massachusetts. The chrysalis in this video was attached to a marsh milkweed stem. For a wealth of information on butterfly gardening, read Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

Ravishing Rhododendrons

 

Tales of the Rose Tree Jane Brown

Tales of the Rose Tree

Ravishing Rhododendrons and Their Travels Around the World

Tales of the Rose Tree (written by Jane Brown) was sent to me by the lovely Sue Ramin from my publisher’s office (David R. Godine). Beautifully written and amply illustrated with paintings, photographs, and botanical illustrations, Jane Brown’s Tales of the Rose Tree achieves what she set out to do, and then some—“to construct a history of the genus Rhododendron that pays tribute to the mystery and majesty of these plants.” Every lover of gardens and garden history will want to own Brown’s richly researched and sumptuous celebration of a genus that, in some form or another, nearly everyone grows in their backyard, but about which most know very little.

Jane Brown, the English garden writer whose works include Gardens of a Golden Afternoon (the story of the partnership of Edward Lutyens and Gertrude Jekyll), Lutyens and the Edwardians, and biographies of Vita Sackville-West and Beatrix Farrand, writes that “Rhododendrons are a race of giants on a global scale, at home in the snows of the Himalayas and the swamps of Carolina, in the jungles of Borneo and the island inlets of Japan. They are too complex a genus of single truths, and many of the 1,025 species that we know are of a manageable size, for all azaleas are rhododendrons…”

The first rhododendrons came into Western gardens during the working life of Carl von Linné, the Swedish naturalist we know as Linnaeus, who conjured the genus name from Greek rhodon (rose) and dendron (tree) to create rhododendron. China claims as natives over half the species; her southwestern provinces of Sichuan and Yunnan and the Autonomous Region of Tibet are especially rich in rhododendrons. “That some species are given geographical names—sinogrande, bhutanese, afghanicum, caucasicum, ponticum, or dauricum—reveals that they have evolved especially in response to their particular habits, and yet these names string a necklace of rhododendrons across Eurasia. Others can be added, carolinianum, californicum, canadense, japonicum, to extend the necklet around the earth.”

Brown asks for what reason the similarities? It was the American botanist Asa Gray (1810 -1888) who, in frequent correspondence with Charles Darwin, suggested an answer. In 1859 Gray published his conclusions on the similarities between the flora of Japan and eastern North America, suggesting “before the glacial epoch the flora of the North Temperate Zone had been relatively homogenous, extending in a more or less undisrupted belt across North America and Eurasia.” Rhododendrons, being tough survivors of some 50 million years, had happily circled the globe during this time. Gray further proposed that with the advances of the glaciers, temperate flora was pushed southwards; when the ice finally retreated other complications—“mountain building in particular”—made life difficult for the rhododendrons trying to regain their former territory. Remaining communities found they had to adapt and recolonise, or die. But in eastern North America and eastern Asia (including the great Plain of China), Gray further suggested the ancient flora had survived or was able to recolonise without drastic change: “thus the similar flora in the two regions today constitutes relics of the preglacial flora that once encircled the globe.”

Marydel Coast Azalea (Rhododendron atlanticum 'Marydel')Native to the east coast of the United States, the Marydel Coast Azalea (Rhododendron atlanticum ‘Marydel’), seen here growing in our Gloucester garden, has a fabulous fragrance of sweetness and of spice.

In a thoroughly entertaining and often humorous manner, Brown tells numerous stories, including tales of Quaker John Bartram (1699-1777), the first native-born American to devote his entire life to the study of nature, along with his son William’s (1739-1823) rhododendron collecting and travels of thousands of miles with native American Indians as their hosts in the floral wonderland that was America. Brown’s beautiful book brings to light the curious history of Westerners and rhododendrons as one of swashbuckling plant collectors and visionary gardeners, colonial violence and ecological destruction, stunning botanical successes and bitter business disappointments.

In Tales of the Rose Tree, Jane Brown lists Heritage Plantation in Sandwich as one of the best places in America to find rhododendrons. I am more intrigued than ever to see their collection, and would add too that the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain has a stunning collection of species rhododendrons from temperate regions around the globe, including many North American species of rhododendrons.

Cape Cod Rhododendron Festival

Heritage Museums & Gardens and The Thornton Burgess Society co-present the Cape Cod Rhododendron Festival on June 4 & 5 from 10am until 4pm each day.

This two-day celebration of rhododendrons features private garden visits, hybridizing rhododendron demonstrations, a rare rhododendron auction, exhibits, authors & book signings, plant sale, horticulture lectures by Kim Smith, Sharon Ackland, Mal Condon, Irwin Ehrenreich, Paul Miskovsky and Larry Pannell and so much more!

For more information or to purchase tickets, please contact Arlene Hoxie at (508) 888-3300 ext. 111 or email at ahoxie@heritagemuseums.org.

The Dreaded Red Lily Beetle

Oriental lily ‘Sorbonne’

Last weekend after giving my talk on gardening for fragrance at the Wenhmam Museum, Elizabeth Hourihan from Carpenter and MacNeille, Yvonne of Yvonne Blacker Interiors, Pat and Leon from Finn-Martens Design, and I walked across the street to the charming Wenham Teahouse. The company was as enjoyable as was the lunch delicious!

The front walkway leading to the Teahouse is bordered by flowering perennials and seasonal blooms. Unfortunately, the Oriental lilies, which I imagine were planted for their welcoming fragrance, were in the process of being decimated by the red lily leaf devil. I began to hand pick the beetles, but then thought better of it…I didn’t want my friends to think I was over-the-top obsessed nor to walk into the dining establishment with squished red lily beetle all over my hands. If you do not vigilantly destroy the adult beetle, their larvae, and eggs, the red lily beetle will destroy all the leaves and buds of your favorite lilies. To my utter dismay, just last week, I saw one on the leaf of my beautiful native Turk’s-cap lily (Lilium superbum).

While at a local nursery, a woman came in asking the salesperson what poison to purchase to spray to rid her garden of the red lily beetle. I never tire of bending people’s ears to let them know that when you spray pesticides in the garden, pesticides of any kind, you are killing not only the pest, but all the beneficial insects as well. With early hand monitoring of red lily beetles, Japanese beetles, aphids, and what-not, you will not have to resort to spraying pesticides. I wrote the following information nearly seven years ago and am only too happy to pass along:

This past growing season the dreaded red lily beetle attacked our lilies. I had heard innumerable reports from fellow gardeners of this nasty import with its voracious appetite for lily foliage and wasn’t too surprised when evidence of them began appearing on several choice Oriental lilies. The adults chew noticeable round holes in the foliage. The growing larvae decimate the leaves and the flower buds. About 3/8-inch in length, the beetles are bright cadmium red with thin black legs. Because they have no known predators in North America and because of their extended egg-laying season, from spring through summer, they are difficult to control. As soon as you see signs of the beetle (be on the lookout as early as the first of April), monitor the plants daily. Squash any beetles that are visible. They are quick, and you have to be quicker. Next check the undersides of the leaves for the following three signs: glistening, miniscule reddish orangish eggs (usually, arrayed in a tiny line), their vile black, gloppy excrement, under which is concealed a growing larger larvae, and hiding adult beetles. Destroy the leaves that are hosting the larvae. The only way to maintain attractive lilies throughout the season is by constant vigilance, handpicking the beetles and their larvae in all stages. (Pages 155-156 Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! David R. Godine, Publisher).

Adult Red Lily Leaf Beetle (Lilioceris lilii)

I would add to the preceeding, that, with early monitoring, you will make a dramatic impact on the life cycle of the red lily beetle, and controlling them therefore does become easier as the season unfolds–but don’t let your guard down–especially if you have, as do we, lilies that come into bloom throughout the summer. When I say “they are quick, so you must be quicker;” the beetles are very devilish and will easily slip out of your hands before you have a chance to squish them. Approach the beetle cautiously (fortunately so, you will often capture two at once, because they are constantly mating). Place one hand under the leaf to catch it, before it falls into the leaf debris at the base of the plant. Once the beetle falls to the ground, it displays its black underside and is very difficult to see to retrieve.

Lilioceris lilii Eggs

The most sweetly scented flowers…

Stephanotis floribunda Stephanotis floribunda

“Scent is the oxidation of essential oils of flowers and leaves. The most intensely scented flowers, lily of-the-valley, orange blossoms, gardenia, Stephanotis floribunda, and tuberose, for example, have thick, velvet-like petals that retain their fragrance by preventing the essential oils from evaporating.

The greater the amount of essential oil produced, the lesser degree of pigmentation in a flower. The oil is the result of the transformation of chlorophyll into tannoid compounds (or pigments), which is in inverseratio to the amount of pigment in a flower. Plants with blue, orange, and red flowers have a high degree of pigmentation and usually generate little or no scent. Pure white flowers release the strongest perfume, followed by creamy white, pale pink, pale yellow, yellow, purple-pink and purple. As color pigment is hybridized and intensified in flowers, fragrance is usually lost or compromised.”  –Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

J’adore New York

My friend and fellow writer Isabelle Laflèche, along with her charming boyfriend Patrice, stopped by on her return to Montreal Sunday afternoon. She presented me with a copy of her dazzling debut book, J’adore New York. I simply could not put it down last night, and am suffering greatly today from lack of sleep. J’adore New York is semi-autobiographical; Isabelle draws upon her experiences as a corporate lawyer for a large Manhattan firm, and from her love of all things stylish.

Isabelle’s story revolves around the brilliant and très chic French transplant Catherine Lambert. Our heroine is poised to make partner, and between juggling the loneliness of working long hours in a lamentable job, office politics, and her desire to explore New York, she longs to find romantic love. Think Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, but with a modern twist. The princess is now the high-powered career woman, longing for the beautiful life of personal and professional fulfillment. In Catherine, Isabelle has created a woman of many dimensions—feistily determined to succeed, yet occasionally insecure, trusting and sagacious, sensual, sexual, and down-to-earth. Captivating and a page tuner, I highly recommend J’adore Dior to anyone looking for a wonderful summer escape, especially if you have ever felt trapped in a tortuous job.

I have both the French and English editions of J’adore New York and both jackets are equally as beautiful, don’t you think?

Lily of-the-valley

Lily of-the-valley Convallaria majalis

Lily of-the-valley

No flower amid the garden fairer grows

Than the sweet lily of the lowly vale,

The queen of flowers.  — John Keats (1795-1821)

With its incomparable perfume and snow-white flowers issuing forth in the bright hopeful season of spring, the lily of-the-valley has long been associated in literature with sweetness and the return of happiness.

The lily of-the-valley, known also as May lily and May bells, is native to northern Europe, the Allegheny Mountains of North America, and the British Isles. Between a pair of unfurling new-green leaves emerges a diminutive arching scape, covered in dangling pure white chubby bells. Their fabulous fragrance floats freely throughout the garden, unusual for a plant that grows close to the ground.

Beloved wherever it is grown, for its ineffable scent and sweet flowers, the lily of-the-valley is used extensively for perfumes, soaps, and toilet water, nowhere more so than in Europe. The French translation is muguet des bois (of the wood), the German trans-lation is mit Maiglockchen, the Italian al mughetto, the Spanish say lirio del valle, the Finnish translation is lehmakielo, and the Swedish say liljekonvalj.

Convallaria majalis is the native species of northern Europe. The name Convallaria is from two Latin words meaning “with” and “valley,” having reference to its habit of growing on mountain slopes. C. majuscula is the species indigenous to North America. Convallaria majuscula is found growing in remote woodland locations, along the mountainsides and ridges of Virginia, West Virginia, and south to Georgia. C. majuscula is nearly identical to C. majalis, with slightly smaller though equally fragrant flowers.

Lily of-the-valley is a vigorous perennial ground cover with a rhizomatic root structure that grows and spreads quickly. Thriving in nearly every light condition save full sun, lily of-the-valley never disappoints. Light, fertile, and preferably damp soil is the preferred growing medium of C. majalis. Provided with an annual mulch of compost or decaying leaves, lily of-the-valley multiplies rapidly. With its cold hardiness, ability to spread readily, and pervasively fragrant blossoms it is incomparable as a ground cover. The one drawback of lily of-the-valley is that, come late August, the foliage browns and becomes tattered. Grow with late season blooming perennials and bulbs, Japanese anemones and peacock orchids, for example, to draw your eye up and away from the messy foliage.

Set the pips, or bulblets, three inches deep and about four inches apart in a well-prepared bed. Water during dry periods and fertilize with fish fertilizer throughout the first season after planting to encourage strong root development. After it has become well established, the plant is easily propagated. A freshly dug clump, as a whole unit, can either be transferred and replanted in a newly dug and well-prepared location, or the bulblets can be carefully divided and spread more judiciously, allowing for a small section of roots for each one or two pips. Plunge a serrated-edge knife deeply into the ground. Cut out a plug six to eight inches in diameter. Refill the hole created by digging the clump with compost. Lily of-the-valley will soon recover and fill out the spot. Early spring and mid-fall are the best times of year to divide C. majalis, although they are not that fussy. If the plant has to be divided in the summer, water regularly to prevent the new division from drying out while becoming established in its new home. With regular thinning and transplanting, one’s extra efforts will be rewarded with an ever-increasing treasure of scented flowers and sea of green groundcover, with many gifts to pass along to friends.

Not to be forgotten is the noteworthy Convallaria majalis var. rosea. Characteristic in form to the white lily of-the-vale, rosea has delicate, pendulous bells washed in shades of rosy pink. We have found it to be somewhat less hardy than Convallaria majalis.

A cautionary note is in order regarding Convallaria. All parts of the plant are highly poisonous. In old herbal guides, lily of-the-valley was recommended as a heart stimulant, and was used medicinally in ways similar to digitalis. The eyecatching, plump vermilion berries may be dangerously attractive to young children and can cause paralysis and severe respiratory disorders if ingested.

Lily of-the-valley Convallaria majalis

What a find this weekend!–a sweet handblown bud vase, perfect for lily of-the-valley, found amongst a tumble of dusty old perfume bottles at an antique shop in Essex. So dear –the fragrance of lily of-the valley brings delicious childhood memories of picking handfuls with my Mom at my grandmother’s garden. Happy Mother’s Day Mom!

The Fragrant Garden

Dear Gardening Friends,

I hope you can participate in my upcoming gardening lectures and classes. My spring schedule is posted on the Events page.

Life is full—our daughter Olivia is graduating from Boston University next weekend, our son is working hard in school and at the job he so loves, and Tom and I both have as much work and projects as we can possibly manage—no small feat in this economy. And we have a new puppy–a tulip eating puppy! More about Miss Rosie Money Penny will be posted.

The foillowing is an excerpt from the chapter on gardening for fragrance from my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!, to coincide with the lecture I will be presenting at the North Shore Design Show “Favorite Spaces” exhibit, at 11:00 am on Saturday morning, May 22 at the Wenham Museum. For more information about the North Shore Design Show and to see their full calendar of events, follow this link: 2010 Spring Benefit.

‘Geranium’ narcissus

A note about ‘Geranium’: Sweetly scented, ‘Geranium’ narcissus reliably returns year after year. For a list of fabulously fragrant jonquils and narcissus see pages 178-179 in Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!

The Fragrant Garden

Part One

A garden, a small garden especially, is made more intimate when planted with an abundance of fragrant blooms and foliage. The air impregnated with the scents of flowers and foliage imbues a memorable atmosphere in the garden, playing the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, role of strengthening the ambiance we wish to create. Fragrance, elusive, emotionally colored, and so entirely related to experience, welcomes us as we walk through the pathways of our garden.

The idea of creating a fragrant garden is deeply rooted in ancient history. One of the earliest aromatic gardens was the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built in the 6th century b.c. by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wife Amytes, daughter of the King of the Medes. The Greeks described these resplendent gardens, supported by stone columns with irrigated terraces. The most potently fragrant plants were grown here, and the terraces, which bloomed with lilies and roses, were favored by Queen Amytes for her walks.

The countries of the Middle East abound with an array of scented trees and plants. From historical records dating back to 2500 b.c. we know that the enclosed courtyards of the Persian palaces were planted with jasmine, fruit trees (especially oranges), hyacinth, myrtle, and jonquils. But above all other flowering plants, the rose was held in the highest esteem. The Damask rose grew in nearly every garden in Syria. The country takes its name from the word Suri (a delicate rose), hence Suristan (the land of roses).

From tomb paintings and bas-reliefs we learn of gardens and the use of plants in ancient Egypt. The verdant, fertile flood plain created by the annual rise and fall of the Nile, coupled with the Egyptians’ skill in engineering and irrigation, allowed a wealth of indigenous and imported fruiting trees, vines, and flora to grow in abundance. One of the earliest botanic collections was that of plants and seeds brought back from Syria in approximately 1450 b.c. The images of the plants were carved on the walls of the temple of Thothmes II in Karnak. The Egyptian Papyrus Ebers (written about 1552 b.c.) describes scented plants and remedies and their methods of use. The gardens, enclosed by mud walls, were planted with aromatics and medicinal herbs. Some of the plants described include frankincense, myrrh, saffron crocus, Madonna lily (Lilium candidum), cinnamon, and orchards of pomegranates. The Egyptians were among the earliest peoples to show an appreciation for perfume. Incense and perfume were used extensively for religious and funeral rites. Fragrant oils were used to massage their bodies and concoctions of scented herbs were taken to sweeten the breath. Priests performed the daily ritual of burning fragrant woods as offerings to the gods. The wood was burnt on alters in the temples. The word “perfume,” from the Latin per, “through,” and fumun “smoke,” shows that the origin of the word lay in the burning of incense, both to ‘offer up’ the gratitude of the people to the gods for favors received, and to ask for their blessings in time of trouble. The Egyptians believed their prayers would reach the gods more quickly when wafted by the blue smoke that slowly ascended to heaven.

The Egyptians’ reverence for nature is noteworthy in their use of floral motifs in decorative ornamentation. The lotus and papyrus were by far the most prevalent, together with the daisy, palm, convolvulus, and grape vine. The ‘Blue Lotus of the Nile’ (Nymphaea stellata coerulea), a member of the water lily family, is the lotus flower depicted in ancient Egyptian decorative ornamentation. The fragrance emanating from the lotus creates an intoxicating atmosphere; they have a scent similar to hyacinths. The flowers are star-shaped and sky-blue with brilliant golden centers and stand several inches above the water. The lotus had an inexhaustible symbolism in ancient Egypt, Daoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism alike.

The lotus is significant as it was the symbol of Upper Egypt. When used in ornamentation with the papyrus it symbolized the union of Upper and Lower Egypt, whose symbol was the papyrus. A well-known example of this is the soaring twin pillars that tower over the ruins at Karnak. One capital is decorated with the lotus and the other with papyrus.

The ‘Blue Lotus of the Nile’ had a deeper religious significance. Because the lotus blooms each day, withdraws under the water at sunset, and reemerges the following morning, it was closely linked to the daily rhythm of the rising and setting of the sun and thus to the story of the sun god, creation, and rebirth. The blue petals represented the sky and the golden center the emerging sun. The lotus motif was used to decorate pottery, jewelry, clothing, and appears extensively in the decoration of the capitals of pillars and columns. A wide variety of designs using the lotus flower were employed, in repeating border patterns and in alternating patterns with lotus buds or bunches of grapes. The buds fit harmoniously into the curves between the flowers. During the reign of Akhenaten (New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty) the lotus designs become less stylized and more freely expressed.

When thinking about the history of garden design in the context of our own gardens, we are free to determine our own personal preferences while drawing inspiration from what has come before. By following one’s intuitive powers and adhering to nature’s contours specific to an existing site, the inherent beauty of the garden can be realized. In describing our fragrant path, rather than draw for you a picture of what to grow precisely, as each individual garden setting is unique, the following are suggestions of plants for a well-orchestrated sequence of fragrant flowering plants. The underlying framework would ideally be composed of as many fragrant flowering and fruiting trees and shrubs as are reasonable, including an abundance of aromatic and healthful herbs. And the garden overflowing with scented blossoms provides you with armfuls of flowers to cut and bring indoors to scent the rooms of your home.

Part Two will be posted next week.