Back From the Equator

We've just returned from a few weeks south of, or more precisly, along, the Equator. We were in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, and it was a trip full of energizing ideas, incredible sights and a feeling of what the the earth might have been like had humans never trod upon it. The Galapagos are an amazing destination about which I can offer only one word of suggestion: GO!

While our trip is likely to generate a number of future posts, I still need to intellectually digest All the stimuli it provided. In the meantime, please enjoy this gallery of faces-such as the blue-footed booby above-from the Galapagos Islands, latitude zero.

Giant tortoise from Santa Cruz. Each island has its own variant of the tortoise. Supposedly Steven Spielberg visited the Galapagos years ago, and the tortoises provided him the inspiration for creating the face of the most famous alien of all--E.T.

Land iguana

Albatross chick


The Pause That Refreshes

Oops! I realize a fair amount of time has passed since my last post. I even missed two Fab Foliage Fridays. I guess that means I'm taking a break. Circumstances (but good circumstances!)warrant a brief hiatus. So, I'm outta here. But I'll be back--and so will Fab Foliage Fridays--in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, you can take a gander at my patio, where a dismal garden season actually managed to end with flourish.


Open Garden Today

Since I've spent the last several days sunk deep into the endless tasks that that precede going public with the garden, I forgot to mention something: today is Garden Conservancy Open Day, 12-4. Come if you can.


Fanged Frogs and More

An international team of researchers descending a kilometer deep into the crater of Mount Bosavi, an extinct volcano in Papua New Guinea, founds all kinds hitherto unseen life: mammals, insects, birds, amphibians...fanged frogs, grunting fish and then some. It was like some biological jackpot. and it just goes to show how important it is to preserve bio-rich rainforests the world over. For more on the New Guinea crater, read this.


Fab Foliage Friday...err, Saturday

I'm agape over agaves. Really, just about anything agaveaceous gets my attention. So sculptural! So shapely! So...lethal! They are one of those plants that go with anything, anywhere. I know I'm not being so specific as to nomenclature, but that's because many of my agaves have come from Home Depot, a friend or whatever and I have no clue as to their actual botanic names. I don't have to know the name of something to like it. Any agave will do, from the steely blue-gray ones to the beauteous variegated version seen here. This year I even got a way cool gold one, and though hail and slugs have battered the poor little guy, it should put on a good show next time around. So easy to grow: well drained soil, sun and...well, that's it. Overwinter in cool bright indoor space.


Travels With Delphine

Let Delphine show you the way to the weird, the wonderful, the strange, the seductive...Delphine Gitterman is a tireless prospector of the garden blogosphere and her blog Paradis Express offers eye candy extraordinaire. You never know what you'll find--botanical tattoos, cool sheds, exotic artworks--but it's always worth the visit. Delphine is prolific too-there's always something new to see. What are you waiting for?

Follow The Burning Man

I've always wanted to attend Burning Man, the sci-fi/art/music/tribal event held each year around this time at Black Rock City in the Nevada desert. But I never have. This year though, I've happened onthe next best thing, the Burning Blog, which offers fine coverage of all the goings on. I guess it's just about the next best thing to being there. You might also check out Burning Man.


Fab Foliage Friday

Shades of Audrey II! Not since "Little Shop of Horrors" has there been a plant so hungrily carnivorous as the rat-eating pitcher plant recently discovered in the Phillipines. You may recall reading about the real mutant monster in the newspaper. As it turns out, the plant, named Nepenthes attenboroughii (after the intrepid BBC naturalist), may not actually eat rodents. At least not on purpose. What does all that have to do with Fab Foliage Friday? Well as it turns out, those amazing pitchers, of the aforenamed Nepenthes and its many relations, are actually leaves. Who knew? It's fascinating...but why not let Richard Attenborough himself explain. Enjoy the hypnotic imagery.

Hat tip: Boingboing


Some Way Cool Containers

I'm always on the lookout for hot new plants and stuff I haven't seen before, so I recently took a swing by Loomis Creek Nursery in Hudson, NY. It's full of good stuff, not least of which are the many pots displayed, singly and in clusters, designed by owners Bob Hyland and Andrew Beckman. So, I thought it worth posting a gallery of pix from their place (with a few more over at Gardening Gone Wild). Here goes:

Bob also collaborated with Margaret Roach to design a series of contianers plantings at the Berkshire Botanical Gardens in Stockbridge MA.


Make Your Own Monster Plant

I've heard of using the plant hormone Gibberellic acid to coax reluctant seeds to germinate, but according to Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories, it can also be used to induce gigantism in plants. In other words, it can make big plants. Really big plants. Amazing. Now, if only I can use it to create a sequoia-sized Brugmansia...
Hat Tip: Boingboing


Fab Foliage Friday

Ahhhh! Now I'm feeling cooler. Nothing like the sight of an umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) no matter what the time of year, to remind me of the beauty and value of dark green backgrounds, against which are highlighted colorful blooms and the shapes of other foliar delights. Umbrella pines are easily among the very finest of needled evergreens, Their needles-which look like two side-by-side needles fused together--also have a specatacular dark green sheen that looks stellar from January to December, (hough the straight species often gets a bit bronzey in the depths of winter). And finally, those fat, fleshy needles are arranged in cool-looking whorls along the branches, crowning the tip of every branch with regal splendor. Though they are reputed to be very slow growing, mine are chugging right along and often put on aabout a foot a year.


Fab Foliage Friday

It was a case of love at first sight soon as I laid eyes hardy tapioca (Manihot grahamii). Those wavy-edged leaves, sinuous as an Indonesian kris, or ceremonial dagger, cut me to the quick. I just had to have one. Now I do. (They aren't all that easy to find.) I'm growing it in apot this year so I can move it around as it gets ever-larger, and compare its foliar effects with those of a variety of neighbors, for cannas and elephant ears to irises and slender grasses. And you know what? It looks good with everything! But hardy? Not here. Reputedly hardy to Zone 7b. I will nonetheless try to winter this over, probably in a cool bright spot. I'm already looking forward to its presence next year.


The Whatchamacallit Science

OK all you taxonomy geeks--this one's for you. As a gardener one who is forever fascinated by the sometimes changing nature of scientific names-Latin binomials--I've always been interested in the process of assigning stuff--plants, animals, insects--not only a name but the science behind it: family, genus, species, and all the rest. Kings Play Chess On Friday, Generally Speaking--if you know what I mean. Anyway, interesting story in the New York Times this morning, here.


Fab Foliage Friday

Golden hinoke cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Crippsii') pays the rent all year. Bedecked in glorious gold needles, it creates a beacon that shines in the garden all season long, no matter what the season. Its color is best in full sun, so this small tree is not one for brightening the shade but it does catch the eye even in the brightest of light. I especially like this scene in Raymond Hagel's Westport, Ct garden, designed by Mike Donnelly. Colorful foliage can add so much more when it plays a role in a larger, more complex color-based vignette like this one.


Meanwhile, Over At Chrissie's...

Stopped by the other day at gardening juggernaut Chrissie D'Esopo's for a look at what she's been up to this season, and...wow! This hillside, top, is her latest evolving project and it's going great guns. It's been a good year for establishing new areas--with all the rain there's no need to water, and boy has this area ever been catching on as a sizzling example of her typical no-holds-barred approach to color. Of course, all the rain has meant lots of slugs, fungal diseases, and other fun stuff, but Chrissie hasn't broken stride. She's an inspiration to us mere mortal gardeners! Unlike lots of her other areas, this spot is heavier on trees and shrubs than it is on annuals and tender perennials; but it's no slacker in the happy color department either. She just keeps rolling out big bold blocks of color--it looks almost as if a box of gigantic crayons overturned in her back yard.

She's got a pair of fine-looking ponds at the bottom of the hill.

Also fairly new is this cactus and succulent garden, which is really shaping up nicely. It provides a real contrast and has a totally different character from her other gardens.

Containers are everywhere. She's up to almost 750--SEVEN HUNDRED AND FIFTY!!!--pots this season. The whole area in front and to the side of her house, as well as the island bed in the foreground (near the top of the post) is all, or at least mostly, contained in a mass of pots. I am sometimes wearied by watering my paltry 150 or so pots, so I can only imagine the patience required to slake the thirst of this pot monster garden.

This bed along her driveway offers plenty of non-stop color punch.

Lastly for a bit of relief from all that eye-popping color extravagance (but just a little bit) take a gander at the is sweep of color leading to an island of tall swaying grasses. Their forms dance in the wind, offering a measure of soft green tranquility. For more on Chrissie's exuberant use of color, go here; for a look at one of her way-cool garden projects, go here.


Fab Foliage Friday

OK, I like all the Nicotianas. For different reasons. Some I like for their fragrance, some for the color of their flowers. This one, tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca), earns my affection for the lovely blue gray of its foliage. I grow this South American native as an annual, but in some parts of the world this can top off at more than 20 feet. Hereabouts it rarely reaches a third that height. It does get some attractively dangling, yellow, trumpet-shaped flowers, but only rarely for me. The leaves are what this is all about--they can easily be big as your hand, and their color comes in handy for making neat foliar compositions and groupings. I often cut plants back to make them bushier.


For A Fun Five Minutes...

If you haven't already seen Jill, Kevin and company stepping out for their wedding, check it out now.

Fab Foliage Friday (on a Sunday)

Golden creeping speedwell (Veronica repens 'Sunshine') sure knows how to brighten the day. This sweet little groundcover forms a half-inch (not even) mat that serves as the perfect backdrop for a red lettuce, Helmond pillar barberry (Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Helmond Pillar') or black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscarpus 'Nigrescens'). Or heck, why not all three. This super, simple plant needs plenty of sun to be at its brightest; mine starts heading toward chartreuse in the least bit of shade. It spreads slowly to form a carpet of shimmering gold that's sure to catch the eye. Oh yeah, tiny purple flowers too (sometimes) in spring.


Wisteria: It's Back

Why won't my wisteria bloom? I can't tell you how many times I've seen this question asked in magazines, newspapers, and the like. Maybe I'm just lucky, but my wisteria not only blooms, it does so three times a season. Once in late spring as per usual, again just now and then yet again later in the season. I reckon this happens because: A) the roots are restricted--yes it's in the ground, but in an island bed in the middle of our patio, so it is, in essence, a small oasis of good soil in an ocean of stone dust and gravel. B) I never feed it. C) It gets cut back-ruthlessly-after every flush of flowers.

But those are just guesses. Maybe it's the way the stars align over Clatter Valley. Or maybe something even more esoteric. Really, I don't know why it happens. Gardens are often full of mysterious, hard-to-explain events? How wonderful is that?


Fab Foliage Friday

The Missouri Botanical Garden's most excellent website has this to say about lead plant: "Somewhat ungainly...somewhat ordinary looking...with an attractive bloom but otherwise with no particularly outstanding landscape features." Excuse me? I find lead plant (Amorhpa canescens) a stellar foliage plant in the right circumstances. Its tiny silvery leaves, arranged on fernlike branches, are just the ticket for introducing a most appealing and delicate texture into beds and borders. A sun loving, bone hardy (USDA Hardiness Zones 2-9) shrublet, this plant should appeal even to native plant purists--at least those who define a native plants as one from the same contintent (for me a native plant is one found anywhere on planet Earth)-as it can be found growing in the wild throughout a very broad swath of the midwest.

This serious breach in taste regarding lead plant aside, the Missouri Botanical Garden (Mobot) is a superlative resource for quickly researching the design and horticultural characteristics for any garden plant I wish to know more about. I go straight to their Plantfinder, and hunt it down. Actually, the fastest way is to Google the plant's name and enter "mobot" in the searchbox too.

One last thing: yes, Fab Foliage Friday is all about foliage. Really. But since Mobot says that basically the only worthwhile part of lead plant are its flowers, I though I'd better include a shot of them as well. The bllooms are indeed striking in their purple and orange raiment. My plant is covered in these beauteous spires at this very moment--and the butterflies like them almost as much as I do.


Fab Foliage Friday

Like an arrow pointed to the sky, Alocasia 'Sarian' aims for the heights. And it gets there. This awesome elephant ear reaches anywhere from 4- to 8-feet tall, with the leaves accounting for about half that size. The upright, arrowhead-shaped leaves look a lot like the better-known but harder-to-grow (for me anyway) elephant ear 'African Mask' (Alocasia x amazonica 'African Mask'), only bigger and greener. I grow these guys in a pot, so the dramatic effect they create is a portable one. Anywhere I need a quick blast of drama, it's ready and willing to provide a touch of magic.


Fab Foliage Friday

Do you know 'Bert'? You might want to make his acquaintance. 'Bert' is a flowering maple (Abutilon spp.) with stunning maple-shaped leaves dappled with a splashy yellow variegation. Just the thing for brightening up a dark spot or for shimmering in the sun. This tender perennial cavorts happily in the ground or a pot, in sun or part shade, but 'Bert's best tricks are his flowers-colored a pale moonbeam yellow that matches the brightest sectors of the variegation. It's a color echo all by itself. I got this passalong plant from Sydney Eddison, who got it from Peter Wooster, in whose knock-em-dead Roxbury, CT garden, she adds, it originated.


Field Trip to George and Bob's Spring Fling

Back in May, before our rains of biblical proportions began, I went to give a talk in the Hamptons, and while there visited the garden of Bob Luckey and George Biercuk in nearby Wainscott. Again. And it was even better than the first time I saw it. George is a garden designer, and his display of choice selections of all kinds of plants and, most especially, azaleas and rhodies is a show-stopping tour-de-force in spring. And from all accounts it's sweet in October, when legions of tall fuchsia 'Gartenmeister Bonstedt' preside over the garden from one end to the other. I'm looking forward to seeing it then. But in the meantime, let's cut to the chase: pictures. Enjoy 'em.
A network of twisting, turning paths radiates out from the house to weave throughout the garden.

Burgundy Japanese maples--especially the low, mounding cutleaf types- always make stellar backdrops for more delicate plants.

A naturalistic swimming pool lies at the garden's heart.

Love the tawny oranges of this Acer shirasawanum 'Autumn Moon' echo with the orange azalea, rhody, whatever.


A Perfect Pair

My visit a while back to White Flower Farm to check out Fergus Garrett's border is in no way meant to suggest that his opus is the only thing worth seeing at the Litchfield, CT mecca. Beauteous display gardens abound, and serve as a showcase for WFF's mail-order and onsite plants. One combination that really caught my eye is this smoldering duo of Centaurea montana 'Gold Bullion' and Huechera 'Rave On.' The dangling blades of some iris (?) sharpen the edge of this showy combination.


One Hail Of A Storm

Clatter Valley got hammered. Friday afternoon the sky got black as night, lightning flashed and driving rain and pounding hail, big as marbles, came crashing out of the sky. There was a tornado not far away. No electricity here for several days. What does all this mean for a garden that is comprised primarily of foliage, especially big bold foliage? Nothing good. Looks like Dick Cheney was hunting in the backyard. The leaves are blasted, the succulents are covered with divots--it's ugly. Clean-up, I'm afraid, will require little more than a machete and and a weed whacker. Much of what didn't get perforated got flattened, so either way its going to get cut down. Guess it will be interesting to see what bounces back, but at the moment it does not look promising.