Vegetal Venom, Poisonous Plants

by Categorized: Books, Botany, Gardens, Just Because, Plants Date:

Ali MarshallAgatha ChristieGardens often are replete with mystery, but murder? Well, yes.

In a very entertaining story, The Financial Times reports on a garden at Torre Abbey in Torquay, England, where the various plant species that Agatha Christie used in her murder mysteries to dispatch hapless victims have been assembled. Torquay is a seaside town on the south coast of England where Christie was born and had a vacation home later in life.

From ricin hidden in fig paste sandwiches to digotoxin, derived from the foxglove plant (which Agatha used to bump off Mrs. Boynton in “Appointment With Death”), the Potent Plants Garden, managed by head gardener Ali Marshall, seems like quite a deadly delight.

FoxgloveClick here for the full story.

Photos via the Financial Times, from top: Ali Marshall, Agatha Christie, foxglove.

‘Contemporary Handwoven Treasures’

by Categorized: Art, Color, Crafts, Design, Fabric, Rugs And Carpets Date:

StormThe Handweavers’ Guild of Connecticut opens its juried show today, April 4, at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, running through April 26.

Some of the pieces are incredibly innovative, such as Kate Barber’s “Storm,” pictured above, woven in a pleated technique known as “shibori.”

The 68 pieces on display in the biennial show could get creative ideas shuttling back and forth in your own imagination. Sunday, April 18, is a demonstration day, with free admission, and you can try your hand on some of the looms and spinning wheel there.

Here’s my story: Click here.

Photo by Kate Wick / Kate Wick Weavings

A Garden To Honor Garden Writer Lee May

by Categorized: Garden Design, Gardening, Gardens Date:

Harry Link, a master gardener who lives in East Haddam, had the great pleasure of being Lee May‘s friend. They were next-door neighbors for 12 years until Lee, a well-known garden writer, moved back to Atlanta from Connecticut in 2013.

Having just been in touch by email with Lee in November, I was stunned and terribly sad when Harry told me that Lee died in December after a short and difficult fight with cancer.

Now Harry is planning to install a memorial garden at the East Haddam Senior Center in Heritage Park to honor Lee. The garden will be dedicated on May 30 — and it will be a surprise for Lee’s wife, Lyn, who will be visiting for a memorial service.

Here’s Harry’s sketch:

2015-03-19 08.44.35

 

Harry told me that Nancy Ballek Mackinnon, a partner at Ballek’s Garden Center in East Haddam, is contributing “tons of perennials,” and other garden centers also are donating plant material. One section of the garden will be planted to attract lots of pollinators.

And, as an homage to the distinctive style of Lee’s own garden — with its rock assemblages and dry bed stream of stone — Harry plans to incorporate those sorts of elements as well in the memorial garden, on town property just off Great Hillwood Road and Route 149. The gently curved garden — about 90 by 45 feet — also will incorporate a rain garden and several pathways, and Harry says he’d like to buy an arbor for an entry.

He also says a granite bench will be carved with words of Lee’s: “Gardening … well, gardening is life.”

Harry has set up an account with the town for cash contributions (which are needed). They are tax-deductible, and can be made to the Lee May Memorial Garden Fund, East Haddam Finance Department, 7 Main St., East Haddam, CT 06423.

“Lee meant so much to me, so I just want to honor him the best I can,” Harry said.

I can’t think of a more fitting tribute.

I met Lee and Lyn when I visited to write about and photograph the garden back in 2010. Lee had shifted gears in the early 1990s from being an award-winning hard news and investigative writer for the Los Angeles Times and the Atlanta-Constitution to focus on garden writing.

Lee’s distinctive garden in East Haddam was one of Asian grace and playful touches. His quiet humor rippled through the landscape. For example, he tucked rubber snakes here and there in an effort to scare off squirrels. “They were amused,” he dryly observed.

Lee’s passion for pruning trees in search of their essence was fascinating, too.

Most of all, I was touched by Lee’s gentle demeanor, his sheer pleasure in both story-telling and in creating enticing and enjoyable spaces in nature. He worked with nature and shaped it, but he clearly revered it, too. Take a ramble through his wonderful blog: Lee May’s Gardening Life.

And here’s my story: Click here.

Lee May-1

Lee May-shrine

Lee May at his garden in East Haddam.

Lee May-stones

Photos by NANCY SCHOEFFLER

 

 

A Japanese lantern harmonizes with the stone and rock in the garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of a number of handmade cairns.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lee May-bridge

Japanese blood grass, one of many varieties of grasses in the garden, adds a brilliant jolt of color alongside a bridge over a dry bed stream of stone.

Lee May-bonsai

Bonsai played an important role in Lee May’s East Haddam garden.

Secret Gardens

by Categorized: Books, Children, Elizabeth Park, Garden Design, Gardens, Heritage, Landscape Architecture, Magazines Date:

HRG--4-.JPG_HCMagazine1_03-29-2015_FullRun_HTM_847PM2T1.jpgThis month’s issue of Hartford magazine is all about secrets — and included are two secret gardens that I’ve loved visiting.

Houghton_AC85_B9345_911s_-_Secret_Garden,_1911_-_coverSecret gardens have captivated me since girlhood — even before I first read Frances Burnett Hodgson’s classic novel, “The Secret Garden,” rooted in the wisdom of a garden as a healing, health-restoring tonic.

In particular, I was entranced by the sheltering bowers of rhododendrons at my grandparents’ home, where I often played hide-and-seek with my siblings and cousins (all of them younger than I). Those hiding places offered quite a refreshing respite; I could get away from the fracas and daydream, yet still be part of the action.

 

Cardinal Richelieu rose, bred prior to 1847Back in 2010, work had just begun on what is now the glorious Heritage Rose Garden, in an intimate and often-overlooked corner of Elizabeth Park. Restoring the garden and replanting Elizabeth Park’s collection of old roses — and I mean old, all of them developed prior to 1867 — was the Rose-Apothecary Rosecentennial project of the Connecticut Valley Garden Club (though the actual centennial isn’t until 2017).

One of the ancient roses included is the Apothecary Rose, at right, developed before 1240 and thought to have been brought to France by a returning Crusader.

Alice Prescott Whyte, an aficionado of antique roses and author of “The Roses of Elizabeth Park,” designed the 10 raised beds in a lovely rosette pattern. Her photographs of roses are featured here. Back in 2010, when volunteers were replanting the roses and the garden still looked pretty bare, Alice told me that the popularity of contemporary Knockout roses has knocked a lot of older roses out of favor.

Rose-Camieux“We’re saving history, one rose at a time,” she said.

The Heritage Rose Garden is tucked a little bit out of sight so be sure to make a point of discovering it later this spring, when the park’s famed Rose Garden arches and beds are in full flowering glory.

For now, feast your eyes on Krystian von Speidel’s appreciation: click here.

Another Hidden Gem

hc-farmingtongarden002-jpg-20150325Meanwhile, Iris Van Rynbach writes about another hidden garden — this one in Farmington, created by landscape architect Fletcher Steele in 1954.

hc-farmingtongarden009-jpg-20150325A pioneer in landscape design, Harvard-educated Steele designed nearly 700 gardens in his career. Many were at grand estates, like the renowned gardens he designed in the 1920s at Naumkeag in Stockbridge, Mass., now a museum, with its renowned Blue Steps flanked by white birches.

hc-farmingtongarden004-jpg-20150325It was quite a coup for Stuart and Mary Smith to have the highly exacting designer transform their 1-acre yard on Main Street — which he initially derided as looking like Tobacco Road — into such a serene showplace.

Here’s a link to Iris’ story: click here.

I love the tale of how the garden was created in the 1950s by the renowned Steele, who had a fondness for martinis and a rather authoritarian streak.

And here are a lot more photos of the garden, by Mark Mirko and yours truly: click here.

Photos, from top: Heritage Rose Garden at Elizabeth Park (courtesy of Elizabeth Park).

Cardinal Richelieu, Apothecary and Camieux roses (by Alice Prescott Whyte).

Farmington garden, including view of ram’s head fountain drenched with water (all three by Mark Mirko).

 

April Is The Impatient Month

by Categorized: Garden Design, Gardening, Nature, Seasons, Vegetable Gardening Date:

stone bowlBefore you rush willy-nilly into the garden this month… the experts I talked with for my latest gardening story in the April issues of Hartford magazine and New Haven Living offer this advice: Wait.

You don’t want to compress the soil and the crowns of plants you can’t yet see by walking around on too early in the garden, or jump the gun by removing leaf debris and wind up exposing tender shoots to a late frost.

But there is a lot you can do this month to ensure a gorgeous garden ahead. Click here for the story.

Photo by Irene Jeruss / courtesy of White Flower Farm

Horticulture Scholarship: Apply By March 9

by Categorized: Horticulture Date:

hydrangeaAnyone in Connecticut know of a horticulture student who needs money for college?

That’s the question from Nancy DuBrule-Clemente of Natureworks, who is on the board of the Connecticut Nurserymen’s Foundation, an industry-sponsored endowment that provides funds for scholarship and research.

She says the group has “a fabulous scholarship and NO applicants.” The scholarship is $5,000 per year for four years. The application deadline is March 9.

For more information on how to apply, go to http://ctnursery.org/#apply or click here.

summer_hillkousa_dogwoodPhotos via Connecticut Nurserymen’s Foundation

Red Carpets And The Oscars

by Categorized: Antiques, Color, Decorating, Glamour, Rugs And Carpets Date:

This Sunday the red carpet rolls out for all the Academy Award stars and hopefuls, so I can’t resist sharing this blogpost from Doris Leslie Blau, a rug gallery in Manhattan that sells antique, vintage, contemporary and custom rugs:  “5 Oscar-Worthy Red Carpets.”

Red-Carpet-Geometric

The folks at Doris Leslie Blau selected “a handful of A-list textiles,” including “Best Geometric Design,” a modern Swedish flat-weave design (at left).

Then there’s “Best Persian Picture,” a late 19th century Sultanabad rug on an ivory field (below right).Red-Carpet-Persian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-Carpet-GlamFor glamour, there’s this French Art Deco rug (at left) signed by modernist architect Jacques Adnet. The folks at Doris Leslie Blau cite the old-Hollywood appeal of its scalloped frame and center design, and opine that those “who walk across it are inclined to start feeling ready for their close-up.”

Could be a winner in the foreign language category…

 

Red-Carpet-DiamondsThere’s also an American rag rug with an all-over diamond pattern (at right) — “a clear audience favorite,” the blogpost says.

Last year, Doris Leslie Blau’s blog delved into the history of the red carpet tradition, in a post amusingly headlined “Before the Oscars, a look at how big red became the thoroughfare of modern royalty.” Read that whole post here.

The red carpet was added to the Oscars in 1961, according to the post, which cites the Academy of Motion Pictures’ Margaret Herrick Library’s Linda Mehr as its source. Five years later, when the broadcast switched to color, the rosy hue of that famed walkway was clinched.

Little wonder. “Red is the color of blood and power. Cheerful, robust, vibrant, strong – a bold, red textile can imbue a bit of glamour and stateliness into any space, even if there’s no chance of Brad or Angie crossing the threshold.”

These days, the red carpet that will be stretched out for the stars at the Dolby Theatre is 600 feet long. And it will be freshly vacuumed on Sunday.

85th Annual Academy Awards - ArrivalsJennifer Lawrence at the Oscars in 2013, via Doris Leslie Blau, via Gloss.

 

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‘I Am So Ready For Spring’

by Categorized: Flowers And Floral Design, Garden Design, Garden Ornaments, Gardening, Horticulture, Landscape Date:

2015-02-19 04.24.14The temperature was in the 20s, yet flowers were in bloom everywhere.

The Connecticut Flower & Garden Show, which opened today and runs through Sunday at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, comes at just the right time of year.

I overheard this refrain at least three times this afternoon: “I am so ready for Spring.”

People were out in force, shopping for vegetable seeds, garden ornaments and big bunches of pussywillow branches, checking out landscapers’ displays, picking up ideas and brochures and inspiration, and delighting in the experts’ seminars (I caught Roger Swain’s delightful and information-packed talk on “Vegetables That I Have Known & That You Will Love”).

Vendors displayed everything from fencing, fountains, peonies, pavers, jewelry, soaps, outdoor kitchens, tools and tulips to books, bonsais and butterflies.

Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens of South Deerfield, Mass., displayed a case filled with exquisite, fluttering butterflies from around the world, and was selling cups of tiger swallowtail and black swallowtail butterfly eggs, which will hatch when the time comes. General manager Kathy Fiore also offered information sheets on which plants will attract specific butterflies to yards in New England. She said many people had been approaching her table to talk about the plight of monarchs and the need to plant milkweed, which monarchs require to lay their eggs and which newly hatched caterpillars need to feed.

“”People are aware of it, conscientious about it,” she said. “The plight is out there.”

The lovely sound of waterfalls and water features splashed gently through a number of the 18 lush landscaping displays, including Creative Contour Landscape Design in Middletown, which took best-in-show honors for landscape design (photo at top).

Creative Contour owner Jennifer Noyes created a marvelous gazebo topped with sedum and succulents, over an inviting outdoor table. A river literally ran through it: Water flowing through a narrow trench along the middle of the length of the table then cascaded into the shallow pool surrounded by daffodils and other plantings.

“My whole goal is to make people think differently about their yards,” Noyes said.

2015-02-19 03.34.37The landscape designed by Pondering Creations in Terryville (photo above) as a rock garden packed with plants also featured little waterfalls and a pond. It was honored with the Best Horticulture Award.

And Hillside Landscaping Co. of Berlin earned the Best Design Award.

A waterwheel gently rotated through the koi pond in the display created by Comets to Koi of Branford.

2015-02-19 03.40.53And Rob Townsend, owner of Aquascapes of Connecticut in Portland, had built an Oriental azumaya, hand-cut and hand-planed, with a panel of etched glass. The display (photo above) was landscaped with tulips, Lenten roses and Japanese maples, and an unusual copper fountain sculpted like a Japanese maple shimmered with droplets of water.

The Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut’s flower show boasted several hundred entries in a variety of categories, all with a “Ports of Call” theme —  from the “Far East” (very petite arrangements) to “Caribbean Cruise,” “Jacob’s Ladder” trained plants, “Haku Lei” floral hair wreaths, and, in keeping with weather outside the show, “Into the Arctic,” where one cool arrangement paired orchids with silvered English ivy.

2015-02-19 03.08.27In the “Coral Fringed Barbados” division, the arrangement created by Alice Luster of Country Gardeners of Glastonbury (photo above) — with Asiatic lilies, green spider chrysanthemums and dried palm fronds — had collected a number of ribbons, including first place in the design division, the Designer’s Choice Award, Terry Stoleson Award and an Award of Design Excellence.

The show continues Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For details, Click Here.

Photos on this page by Nancy Schoeffler.

For more photos at the show by Hartford Courant photographer Stephen Dunn, Click Here.

 

 

Spring Fever? Here’s An Intoxicating Cure

by Categorized: Composting, Crafts, Garden Design, Garden Ornaments, Gardening, Gardens, Horticulture, Landscape, Nature, Plants, Seasons, Vegetable Gardening, Wildlife Date:

CTFlower&GardenShowCascade“After that hard winter, one could not get enough of the nimble air.”  — Willa Cather, “My Antonia”

If you’re yearning for the intoxicating fragrances that are the very breath of spring, “the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere” that Willa Cather so aptly described, there’s no need to feel discouraged by the mounds of snow that still abound.

The 34th annual Connecticut Flower and Garden Show opens Thursday and runs through Sunday at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, and while the show is not the same as an actual spring day, it does offer a tantalizing preview of springtime to come, which is particularly welcome this time of this year.

Photo SwirlThe show covers nearly 3 acres and includes 18 professionally designed gardens that cover more than an acre. Yes, these gardens are indoors, but the sights and scents are so pleasing to one’s winter-weary senses.

Nancy DuBrule-Clemente of Natureworks in North Branford said her winter-battered spirits were completely turned around when she started setting up for the show earlier this week. “Huge witch hazel trees forced into perfect bloom, piles of mulch and sod, flowering plants absolutely everywhere — my soul was soothed and I came home singing a joyful song!”

CTFlower&GardenShowFlower&FireplaceThere are more than 300 booths with displays of flowers, plants, garden ornaments, bulbs and seeds, gardening books, patio furniture and more. If you can dig beneath the snow in your yard, bring along a half-cup of soil to the UConn Cooperative Extension’s booth for a free soil test.

I always love the eye-popping creativity of the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut’s Advanced Flower Show — more than 250 entries that could inspire you to new heights of artistry when arranging a few flowers of your own.

And through the show there will be more than 80 hours of seminars by horticultural, garden design and gardening experts, including:

Mar Jennings on “Creating Casual Luxury in Your Home and Garden”;

Garden photographer and author Ken Druse on “Making More Plants: Propagation” and on “Natural Companions”;

Garden author and photographer Amy Ziffer of Sherman, whose “Shady Lady’s Guide to Northeast Shade Gardening” is an invaluable guide, on “Shade Revealed”;

Roger Swain, former host of “The Victory Garden” on PBS and HGTV’s “People Places & Plants on “Vegetables That I Have Known and You Will Love”;

Bob Buettner, Connecticut Florist of the Year in 2010, on “Floral Arranging”;

Organic gardener, photographer and lecturer Karen Bussolini of South Kent on “40 Great Plants for Connecticut Gardens” and “Gardens in Winter.”

The list of seminar topics goes on and on — “Create and Enhance Wildlife Habitats in Your Surroundings,” “Rain Gardens,” “Daylilies,” “America’s Romance with the English CTFlower&GardenShowDaffodilsGarden,” “Composting and Soil Health,” “Water Gardening Basics,” “Working with Wetlands on Your Property,” “Disease Control in Home Vegetable Gardens,” and many more. For the complete seminar schedule and details about the presenters, Click Here.

The seminars are included in the price of admission, which is $16 for adults, $14 for seniors age 62 and over (Thursday and Friday only); $4 for children age 5 to 12, and free for children under age 5.

Hours are Thursday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Convention Center is at 100 Columbus Blvd.

For more information and details on parking, including free parking, Click Here.

DSC05134Photos courtesy of Connecticut Flower & Garden Show