Kicking Back In Seattle’s Lovely Kubota Garden

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Covering over 20 acres of rolling hills and valleys, Kubota Garden is a quiet refuge amidst the bustling city of Seattle. The garden is a magical blend of what might at first glance seem to be contradictions; that is, Japanese garden concepts and native Pacific Northwest plants. Somehow it all works, though, and the garden unfolds in a progression of spaces to reveal streams, waterfalls, ponds and dramatic rock outcroppings, all embellished with a rich assortment of specimen trees and plants.

If you’re looking to reconnect with nature, this place is for you.

FROM DREAM TO REALITY

The garden is the legacy of Fugitaro Kubota, who emigrated to the United States in 1907 from the Japanese island of Shikoku. As a young man in America, he discovered a hidden passion for gardening and in 1923, he established his own nursery and landscaping firm called the Kubota Gardening Company.

Entirely self-taught as a gardener, Kubota began his first garden in 1927 with the purchase of five acres of logged-off swampland in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle. His initial intent was to use the land as a nursery for the plants he sold to his customers. But as the years passed and his nursery stock grew in size, he began experimenting with ways to showcase the plants themselves in a garden-like setting.

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Kubota began to dream of one day creating a garden that would display the rich diversity of Pacific Northwest plants in an intimate, multi-layered Japanese setting. To gain expertise, he returned to Japan a number of times to study traditional gardening practices. As his business grew, the Rainier Beach garden grew as well, eventually expanding to encompass 20 acres.

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Kubota gradually added Japanese-inspired streams and ponds to his Seattle garden, enclosing them within high hedges of native cypress, spruce and hemlock. He positioned specimen blue spruces, white pines and weeping hemlocks amidst broad swathes of indigenous hydrangeas, viburnums, and rhododendrons. To his garden’s winding paths, he added low masses of indigenous azalea, cotoneaster and flowering perennials that, just like in Japanese gardens, functioned to both reveal and conceal the view.

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In the 1960s, Kubota brought in 400 tons of stones to create a ‘Mountainside’ featuring waterfalls, reflecting pools and mature specimen trees.  He also introduced traditional Japanese garden ornaments into the garden, such as lanterns, bells and bridges.

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In Japanese gardens, bridges symbolize a journey from one world to another

Eventually, Kubota’s garden came to serve as a home, nursery and business location for the entire Kubota family. As their Japanese-American style garden grew in popularity, the family regularly opened it to the public. By the 1950s, Kubota Garden had become a center of social and cultural activities for Seattle’s Japanese community.

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In 1972, Kubota was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Japanese Government “for his achievements in his adopted country, for introducing and building respect for Japanese gardening in this area.” Kubota died in 1973 with the hope that one day his garden would help increase American understanding and appreciation of Japanese culture.

In 1987, the City of Seattle bought the garden from the Kubota family, and it is now maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreation as well as volunteers from the Kubota Garden Foundation.

 

THE GARDEN

Visitors begin their tour of Kubota Garden by passing through a traditional Japanese entrance gate. Imbued with deep, symbolic meaning, the gate functions simultaneously as a screen and a threshold, offering tantalizing hints of the garden beyond.

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A large bronze bell is located to the right of the walkway.

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To the left, a broad path winds uphill to a Japanese pagoda. The walkway climbs through masses of azaleas, dogwoods, rhododendrons, irises and thousands of specimen evergreens and Japanese maples.

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Path leading uphill to the overlook and pagoda

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A small sampling of the diverse number of evergreens at Kubota Garden

Directly behind the pagoda, at the highest point of the garden, a green lawn fans out towards a backdrop of large evergreen trees. The expansive area is framed by generous groupings of hydrangeas, viburnums and azaleas interspersed with flowering perennials.

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Right side of lawn behind pagoda

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Left side of lawn behind pagoda

From the pagoda, a series of serpentine paths lead back down the hill into different sections of the garden. The garden spaces, which vary greatly in character, are all carefully maintained to look as natural as possible, in keeping with Japanese gardening principles.

 

JAPANESE INFLUENCES

Kubota Garden is at heart a Japanese garden; albeit composed entirely of native Pacific Northwest plants. And, in Japanese gardens, water is a fundamental component. Flowing streams, waterfalls and ponds are all common features in Kubota Garden. This quiet pond inspires reflection, framed as it is by the colorful and multi-textured evergreens planted along its borders.

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This natural-looking waterfall cascades over a ‘mountainside’ composed of large rocks.

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There is also a healthy respect for mass and proportion at Kubota Garden, both in the arrangement of plant materials and the placement of garden structures and ornaments. All these elements contribute to a sense of balance and harmony in the garden, in keeping with Japanese principles. This pair of simple stone bridges, while slightly different in design, are united by their diminutive scale and proportion, a perfect complement to the small pond they traverse.

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In Japanese gardens, ponds can represent lakes and rocks can represent whole mountains. In Kubota Garden, stones (or are they mountains?) carry deep symbolism as they point the way through the garden.

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To a Western eye, the ‘emptiness’ of a Japanese garden can prove unsettling. However, it is a key element in Japanese landscape design. This striking space, reached through a small opening in a hedge, makes use of empty space to show how nothing defines something.

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These spaces, and many more, are all free to the public. For more information on Kubota Gardens, click here for the official website.

 

Garden Visit: The U.S. National Library of Medicine’s Healing Herb Garden

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A stroll through the secluded campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland is an otherworldly experience. First, there’s the security, then there are the imposing, mainly windowless limestone buildings towering hundreds of feet in the air. I stopped by NIH late last week to visit a little known but remarkable garden. Located directly across the parking lot from the world’s largest biomedical library, it is the National Library of Medicine’s own herb garden.

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) Herb Garden was established in 1976 as part of NIH’s Bicentennial celebration. Initially composed of low borders of boxwood, lavender and thyme, the garden has since grown to include over 100 flowering herbs. Meticulously arranged in symmetrical rows and beds, the plants bear silent testament to the healing power of nature and the integral role it has played in the development of modern medicine.

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The first thing you notice upon entering the space is a large Indian totem pole located at the far end of the garden. A part of the NLM’s new Native Voices exhibit, it was carved by Jewell Praying Wolf James of the Lummi Nation from western red cedar found in Washington State. The totem, which symbolizes and promotes good health and healing, is the main focal point of the garden . Its colors also have deep meaning.

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Flanking the totem pole are two ‘story-telling’ benches, also carved from western red cedar. The bench on the right side of the totem depicts the Salish traditional story of the Bear and the Steelhead, which teaches respect for nature and the natural cycles of life.

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NLM Native American sculpture ‘The Bear and the Steelhead’

The bench on the left side of the totem depicts the Salish traditional story of the Raven and the Sun. The story tells of how at great pain, the Raven delivered the sun, moon, stars and fire to humanity and how we humans should treasure them as essential to our survival.

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NLM Native American sculpture ‘The Raven and the Sun’

 

Nicholas Culpeper’s World-Famous Herbal Guide To Radiant Health (see jacket, below)

Among the nearly 20 million books, journals, manuscripts, audiovisuals, and other forms of medical information on its library shelves, the NLM considers Culpepers’s Complete Herbal  to be a primary source for information on herbs and herbal medicine. Written over 350 years ago by Nicholas Culpeper (1616-54), the guide contains a wealth of pharmaceutical and herbal knowledge, including a listing of herbs and their properties, many of which can be found in the garden.

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Culpeper’s master work, The Complete Herbal

Culpeper was a 17th century physician and herbalist who spent much of his life outdoors gathering and cataloguing medicinal herbs. Although he studied medicine at Cambridge, he abandoned a traditional practice in order to provide low-cost health services to the poor.  Culpeper believed that no man should have to ‘starve’ to pay a physician, and he saw plenty of suffering around him. So, he sourced his medicines from the surrounding countryside and that enabled him to offer the bulk of his services for free.

He wrote,

This not being pleasing, and less profitable to me, I consulted with my two brothers, Dr. Reason and Dr. Experience, and took a voyage to visit my mother Nature, by whose advice, together with the help of Dr. Diligence, I at last obtained my desire; and, being warned by Mr. Honesty, a stranger in our days, to publish it to the world, I have done it.”

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Considered a radical in his time, Culpeper’s  herbal medicine practice and writings on the subject proved to be a thorn in the side of his fellow physicians. Moreover, Culpeper believed that expensive fees and the use of Latin by doctors kept power and freedom from the general public.  He shocked the establishment by publishing the Complete Herbal and other works in vernacular English so that everyone could read them. It is widely believed that Culpeper’s systemization of the use of herbals was a key development in the evolution of modern pharmaceuticals.

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A sample of some of Culpeper’s cures using various plants and flowers can be found on the NLM Herb Garden website. Readers are cautioned, however, from attempting any of the remedies at home since they have not been officially proven to work. Following are just a few plants whose curative properties caught my eye in the garden.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)  USES:  Diaphoretic, immunostimulant and tonic.

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Boneset

Cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans)   USES: To reduce inflammation and treat sore mouths and ulcers. It also can be applied to painful joints.

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Cinquefoil

Goldenrod (Solidago Canadensis)   USES: Mild diuretic and treatment for urinary tract inflammation and kidney stones.

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Goldenrod

African Blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x O. basilicum ‘Dark Opal’)  USES: Reduces fever and treats skin infections.

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African Blue Basil

Comfrey, Knitbone (Symphytum Officionale)  USES:  A healing plant for broken bones, wounds and ulcers.

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Comfrey, also known as Knitbone

Here was a surprise. Although I am aware that Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis, can be somewhat toxic, I didn’t know it can also kill rats.

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Lenten Rose

Finally, I certainly didn’t know that Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) can be used topically for wounds, cuts and abrasions and is also good for allergic mucus problems including hay fever. I may try it out!

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Yarrow

These are just a very few of the many interesting and beautiful flowering herbs to be found at the NLM Herb Garden. The garden is maintained by the Montgomery County Master Gardeners and the Potomac Chapter of the Herb Society of America. For more information on the garden and how to get there, click here for the website.

 

Scientists Uncover Why Young Sunflowers Follow The Sun

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A young sunflower

Sunflowers are known for their unique tracking ability. As they grow, young sunflowers follow the sun’s motion from east to west across the summer sky from sunup to sundown. Come nightfall, the flowers swing from west to east, only to begin their rotation all over again when the sun rises. Scientists have observed this behavior as far back as 1898. But until now, no one knew how the flowers did it.

Now comes a new study published this week in the journal Science that suggests that young sunflowers, just like people, are guided by circadian rhythms. These internal ‘body clocks’, which help regulate the plant’s growth, are set to respond to environmental cues. And they are the chief mechanism behind the plant’s unique tracking behavior.

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“It’s the first example of a plant’s clock modulating growth in a natural environment, and having real repercussions for the plant,” said Stacey Harmer, professor of plant biology at University of California-Davis, and senior author of the paper reporting the discovery.

And that’s only half the story. It turns out that young sunflowers are not only attuned to the positional changes of the sun, they can even anticipate the seasonal shift between long and short days and adjust their behavior accordingly.

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According to Harmer, scientists uncovered this astonishing fact by using a time-lapse video to observe how the plants moved during different times of the year. They discovered that during long summer days the sunflowers rotated more slowly, but quickly repositioned themselves at night to face east before dawn. In September when the days grew shorter, however, the flowers took longer to reorient themselves, indicating that they knew when the sun was coming up.

(Harmer notes that the research applies to young flowers only, which are the only ones that follow this circadian rhythm. Once flowers are mature, or the yellow petals have unfurled, the flowers remain in place.)
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They tricked the plants

To determine what made young sunflowers follow this circadian rhythm, scientists conducted a series of experiments using plants in the field, in pots outdoors and in indoor growth chambers. In the field, they purposely turned potted plants to face west in the morning to disrupt the sunflower’s tracking ability.

Scientists discovered that those plants that were deliberately faced westward still rotated to follow the sun (in reverse), but they grew more slowly than the other sunflowers, eventually developing into smaller plants, with smaller leaves and about 10 % less biomass.

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Young sunflower in the field

In a second series of experiments, the scientists moved potted sunflowers into an indoor growth chamber with a fixed overhead light. For several days, the sunflowers continued their daily rotation which, according to Harmer, is behavior typical of a mechanism driven by an internal clock.

The sunflowers really started tracking “the sun” again when scientists created an artificial 24-hour day by turning adjacent lights on and off in an arc to replicate natural conditions. However, when the scientists stretched the artificial day to 30 hours, the plants could no longer reliably track the artificial sun’s movement.

 

The flower doesn’t rotate, the stem does

But what is the actual mechanism rotating the sunflower? It turns out that it isn’t the flower at all, but the stem.

By placing ink dots on the stems and filming them with a video camera, scientists found that as the plant turned to follow the sun, the east side of the stem grew more rapidly than the west side. At night the reverse was true; the west side grew more rapidly as the plant swung the other way. They concluded that this rhythmic tracking helped the sunflowers absorb as many photons from the sun as possible, which is essential in creating the organic molecules the sunflowers use as food.

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Once mature, sunflowers stay facing east

Finally, another series of experiments revealed that once the sunflower matures and the flower opens up, it finishes its tracking and remains in an east-facing position. This gives it a distinct advantage.

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In the morning, east-facing flowers heat up more quickly and studies show that given a choice, pollinators spend longer time on individual flowers if they are warm.

Fascinating to think about next time you see a field of sunflowers –

How To Deadhead Flowers And Maximize Blooms

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So the name doesn’t sound that appealing, but regular deadheading is an essential practice in the life of a garden. Not only does it keep flowers looking neat and attractive, it ensures a maximum amount of blooms over an extended period of time. I’ve come to appreciate the added work for the all the extra flowers it produces. There’s nothing like getting a plant to re-bloom that looks like it’s called it quits for the season. Continue reading

Bellagio’s Arcadia Garden Is A Sure Bet In Vegas

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Bellagio Hotel’s Conservatory

Most people go to Las Vegas to gamble, but recently when I found myself in the city for a few days, I went searching for a garden. I didn’t have to look far. At the heart of the Bellagio Hotel, I discovered a garden oasis known as the Conservatory. As befits such a colorful city, it was overflowing with thousands of bright-hued flowers, intense-smelling ornamental shrubs and large, floral-embellished ocean creatures; all part of the hotel’s summer exhibit titled Under The Sea. Continue reading

How To Add ‘Hot’ Colors To Your Summer Garden

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There’s nothing like a healthy dose of hot color to add sizzle to your summer garden. And come mid-July, after the initial flush of spring pastels, flower borders can start looking a little tired. This is the time of year when I like to inject some fiery reds, bright oranges and brilliant yellows into the mix of flowers in my garden. The key is to balance hot colors with cooler ones so that they don’t overpower the other plantings.

What are hot colors exactly? On the primary color wheel, red and yellow are the hot colors.

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Secondary colors result when two primary colors are mixed together. Among these blends, orange is also considered hot.116177736

And there are also tertiary colors, which are created by mixing a primary with a secondary color. Colors like red-orange, yellow-orange and all tints and shades of these hues are hot colors.

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HOW HOT COLORS WORK IN THE GARDEN

In the garden, red and orange glow more intensely than other colors, especially when the sun is low in the sky. Nature provides us with a perfect example of how the sun’s position affects colors’ intensity. As the sun sets on the horizon, the predominant colors we see are orange, yellow and red. And at sunset, the only remaining visible color is red.

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And in the summer garden, just like in nature, the primary color red forms the basis for hot color harmonies.

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Andrew Lawson, one of the world’s leading landscape photographers and author of one of my favorite garden books, The Gardener’s Book of Color, has this to say about adding hot colors to your garden:

“By putting together three of the brightest, most intense colors, you increase their vitality and encourage each to ‘sing out’ at full strength. Concentrate these colors together in the garden and sparks seem to fly.”

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Red-colored flowers can add fireworks to the summer garden.

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And by combining red flowers with yellow and orange and all of the tertiary colors in between,  you can infuse your summer garden with vitality and interest.

 

HOW TO BALANCE HOT COLORS WITH COOL ONES

While it’s clear that red, yellow and orange can be visually uplifting, in strict combination these colors can be anything but restful.

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Intense color harmonies can quickly become overpowering if not carefully combined and ‘cooled’ down by other, contrasting colors and foliage. Those contrasting, ‘cooling’ colors, can be found opposite the hot ones on the color spectrum.

In this hot-colored flower border at Cliveden, the color purple in the form of purple-blue salvia pokes its head above cascading drifts of Alchillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’ (Yarrow) and burnt orange Helenium ‘Wyndley’ (Sneezeweed) to create a stunning visual display.

Cliveden 'hot' border: flicker.com

If your summer border is composed mainly of hot colors, Lawson recommends surrounding your red, orange or yellow flowers with deep green hedges or other types of enclosures for maximum impact. The gardeners at Washington, DC’s Hillwood Museum & Gardens do this beautifully. Notice how the deep green hedge provides a solid backdrop to the hot-color flowers while the lighter green ferns and luxurious lawn have a ‘cooling’ effect.

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Or, choose dark-colored foliage to tone things down a bit. Great examples include the red-leaved varieties of the shrubs barberry and smoke bush as well as the dramatic purple-black foliage of canna lilies. In this photo I snapped at  Hillwood Gardens (below), the plant’s own burgundy-toned foliage provides a cooling contrast to its orange flower.

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Another way to offset all those vibrant reds, yellows and oranges in the summer garden is to incorporate purples and blues into your hot-color border. These ‘cool’ colors, found opposite their ‘hot’ cousins on the secondary color wheel, provide a classic color contrast that has been used in gardens for centuries. Spiky blue salvias and veronicas, dark purple delphiniums and lavender-blue perovskia (Russian sage) are just a few good options for setting up these kinds of color contrasts.

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The color pink is considered a ‘tint’ of red, or a color that has been lightened by adding white

 

THE MAGIC OF WHITE

The color white acts as a ‘light’ in the garden. In the hot-color border, small splashes of white can ‘lift’ the garden composition, while providing tonal contrast with other plants. Be careful not to use too much of it, though, or your eye will be attracted only to the white patch to the exclusion of your other hot colors.

In a section of my own hot-colored summer border (below), I use the re-blooming bearded iris ‘Immortality‘ to provide just such a contrast.

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Pure white plants like Phlox paniculata ‘David’ and Echinacea purpurea ‘Milkshake’, when used sparingly, can also provide great tonal contrast, while the softer-hued Artemisia lactiflora ’Guizhou’, Gypsophila (Baby’s Breath) and Boltonia asteroides ‘Snowbank’ deliver subtle lights to the garden.

 

GREAT HOT COLORED PLANTS FOR THE SUMMER BORDER

Ready to add some great, hot-colored flowers to your summer border? Here are some tried-and-true suggestions.

 

REDS

Purple-leaved Canna ‘Australia’, Chrysanthemum ‘Matchsticks’, Echinacea ‘Hot Papaya’, Gerbera ‘Drakensberg Scarlet’, Hibiscus ‘Fireball’, Lobelia ‘Cardinalis’, Malvaviscus drummondii (Turks’ Cap)and any red dahlia.

 

YELLOWS

Yarrow ‘Coronation Gold’, Daylily ‘Happy Returns’, Daylily ‘Stella d’Oro’, Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’, Oxeye ‘Tuscan Sun’, Coreopsis ‘Zagreb’ and Shasta Daisy ‘Banana Cream’.

 

ORANGES

Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Dahlia ‘David Howard’, Daylily ‘Primal Scream Orange’, Lantana ‘Southern Fried’ and Lilium ‘African Queen Group’.

 

COOL HOT COLORS DOWN WITH THESE PURPLES AND BLUES

Agapanthus ‘Elaine’, Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’, Buddleia ‘Ellen’s Blue’, Nepeta ‘Purple Haze’, Salvia ‘May Night’, ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ or ‘Victoria Blue’.

Finally, sprinkle in some white flowering plants and sit back and enjoy your hot-color summer border. Happy planting!

 

Wildflower Diaries: What’s Blooming In July On the Chesapeake Bay

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‘There are always flowers for those who want to see them’ – Henri Matisse

For most of my life, I’ve been more attracted to ornamentals than to wildflowers. Yes, I’ve noticed many beautiful native species in the landscape, but never really taken the time to observe them. You might say, I’ve been wildflower blind.

So, recently I decided to become acquainted with some of the plants in my area. I began by taking a walk near my home on the Chesapeake Bay and photographing every flower I saw blooming. Then, I set about trying to identify the various species using native plant databases. It was much harder than I thought it would be.

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It turns out that nature’s garden is far more complex than my own, with a seemingly infinite number of variations. And each species has a particular purpose, whether it’s to furnish pollinators with nectar, baby butterflies with food or grazing animals with forage.

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Bee on common milkweed

Learning the names and habits of the wildflowers in my home area has proved enormously rewarding. No longer anonymous, the tiny roadside flowers now have meaning. Their colorful stories have opened up a brand new world.

Where I once saw weeds, I now see a garden.

Here are a few of the standouts making waves on the Bay in early July. Most of these wildflowers can be found up and down the east coast and in many other parts of the country. See if you don’t run into some of them in your own area!

 

THE FLOWERS

Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)

A member of the buttercup family, thimbleweed has large, showy white sepals that resemble petals and a seed head that looks like a thimble. In my photo here, the seed head is still hidden by the yellow flowers.

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Thimbleweed

Common Milkweed

At the end of June on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, these striking wildflowers with paddle-shaped leaves can be found growing everywhere. Domed clusters of fragrant mauve flowers rise high atop stout stems and bloom well into summer. Common milkweed provides food and habitat for a wide range of insects, in particular the monarch butterfly.

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Common milkweed

Monarda didyma (Bee Balm)

There’s a beautiful stand of monarda didyma growing next door at our neighbor’s house. The deep red, tufted flowers with spiky hair hold their own on tall, sturdy stems in the toughest of ocean breezes. Lean in close and you can’t mistake the plant’s distinct minty smell, a favorite among bees.

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Monarda didyma

I’ve always loved monarda because it reminds me of one of the Muppets characters.

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Coastal Panic Grass

What’s not to love about the name of this native grass whose deep roots help stabilize the soil in our area? Grasses don’t have showy petals, but they do have flowers. The flowers, which are enclosed by scales, are called florets. The nodding, feathery blond flowers of coastal panic grass are a common sight along the roadsides in our area.

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Coastal panic grass

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

A low shrub with dense clusters of yellow flowers, St. John’s wort has been used for centuries for health purposes including treatment of wounds and mild cases of depression. The plant blooms in our area from July through September. St. John’s wort was apparently gathered and burned to ward off evil spirits on the eve of St. John’s Day (an ancient feast celebrating the birth of John the Baptist), which is how the wildflower got its name.

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St. John’s Wort

Cross Vine (Trumpet Flower)

A woody vine, cross vine gets its name from its tendency to grow in cross sections. Climbing by miniature claws to as high as 50 feet, it laces the branches of trees and shrubs while covering itself in showy, orange-red, trumpet-shaped flowers. The semi-evergreen leaves change from dark green in summer to reddish-purple in winter.

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Cross Vine

Daisy Fleabane

A member of the aster family, daisy fleabane gets its name from an old superstition that held that dried clusters of the plant could be used to rid homes of fleas. Although the plant hasn’t shown it can actually do that, it can be used as a diuretic and medicine for stomach ailments.

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Daisy Fleabane

Daisy fleabane has hairy stems and leaves. Its flower is composed of short, petal-like white rays and a large, bright yellow central eye.

 

Field Thistle

As its name implies, this short-lived perennial grows primarily in fields and wide open spaces. Its large purple flowers are cupped by a ring of green leaf-like structures called bracts. Field thistle is a favorite of American goldfinches, who eat its seeds.

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Goldfinches also use the thistle down to line their nests.

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Thistle down of field thistle

Common white yarrow

Common yarrow is a familiar sight along coastal roadsides during the summer where its flat-topped clusters of small white flowers bloom from April to October. Growing to just around 3 feet in height, its feathery, fern-like leaves emit a grassy, almost astringent, fragrance. The nectar of the flowers attracts many insects, especially flies and wasps.

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Common white yarrow

Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)

Introduced to North America in the mid-1800s as an ornamental plant, Japanese honeysuckle has since become an invasive species in most areas, spreading rapidly by long runners that take root wherever they touch moist ground. Japanese honeysuckle is often seen girdling young trees and shrubs, which cuts off the flow of water to those plants.

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Japanese Honeysuckle

On a good note, Japanese honeysuckle’s sweet-smelling, delicate white flowers come in pairs and turn a soft yellow with age. Their nectar is a favorite among hummingbirds, bees and other pollinators.

 

Queen Anne’s Lace

I never knew that this popular wildflower has a near-identical cousin, poison hemlock. Both Queen Anne’s Lace and poison hemlock have taproots that look a lot like carrots and their small white flowers and deeply cut leaves are similar. But poison hemlock (not to be confused with the hemlock tree) is highly poisonous to humans. If ingested, it causes a progressive paralysis, leading to respiratory distress and eventually death. Socrates was poisoned by hemlock juice.

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Queen Anne’s Lace

All to say that it’s important to be informed before cutting any of these lovely flowers to avoid any unnecessary complications. For more info on the differences between the two plants (as well as photos), check out this helpful guide at Hansen’s Northwest Native Plants Database.

 

Interested in learning more about your area wildflowers? One of the very best databases for wildflowers is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas. You’ll find many full color photos of each species as well as detailed information. Check it out. It will make your next afternoon walk infinitely more interesting!

The Inspiring Gardens of Annapolis’ William Paca House

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An impressive Georgian mansion and garden built in the 1760s, the William Paca House was the home of one of Maryland’s four signers of the Declaration of Independence and the state’s third Governor. In the 1960s, the property underwent a painstaking restoration to return the house and garden to their original colonial-era splendor. Today the William Paca Garden is a faithful representation of what the two-acre garden used to be, offering visitors a quiet respite from modern-day city life in the very heart of Annapolis’ bustling Historic District.

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RESTORATION OF THE GARDEN

The restoration of the William Paca garden was unusual in that it was aided by two unrelated events whose far-reaching effects at the time could not have been foreseen. Though separated by almost two centuries, the two events ended up providing important details about Paca’s garden and its buildings and plants, enabling historians and horticulturalists to recreate the original 18th-century landscape with near-perfect accuracy.

The first event took place in 1772 when Charles Willson Peale (1741-1847) painted a full-length portrait of the six-foot-four William Paca. In the background of the 7-foot painting lies Paca’s original garden. With uncanny precision, the painting ended up documenting key architectural details of Paca’s garden, including a red brick wall and bath house, a central pathway and most importantly, a two-story white summerhouse and Chippendale-style bridge.

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Portrait of William Paca by Charles Willson Peale

The second event took place over a century later in the early 1900s when the house was a hotel popular with visitors to the U.S. Naval Academy, which ended up filling in a portion of the garden to make room for new dormitory space. By happy accident, the filler acted as a cushion, preserving all of the brick foundations of Paca’s garden and outbuildings that might otherwise have been destroyed.

According to Joseph Sherren, an intern with the curatorial department,

“It was one of those happy accidents that come about once in a lifetime.”

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Main view into the William Paca Garden

The Peale portrait, combined with the excavated foundations, enabled researchers and historians to recreate the garden with a very good idea of its original proportion and decoration. Period garden manuals and plant lists yielded more clues as to the garden’s original make-up.

Today the garden is composed of a series of terraces enclosed by red brick walls characteristic of colonial gardens in the Chesapeake region. Four parterres, laid out in precise geometric shapes, make up the middle terrace of the garden. The third terrace of the garden slopes down toward a fish-shaped pond and the Wilderness Garden. The property’s focal point, the two-story white summerhouse, presides on a small hill at the end of the garden, just like it does in Peale’s painting.

 

THE TOUR

The tour begins on the uppermost terrace, which was designed to serve as a platform for entertaining and viewing the garden. It is the first view a visitor has of the garden.

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Descending the stairs to the second and third terraces, visitors discover the Rose Parterre on the left. Books and letters of the 18th century enabled researchers to identify the type of roses, perennial and annuals that would have been planted there during the colonial period, including many species of alba roses (whose antiquity goes back to Roman times). During my afternoon visit, I also saw flesh pink ‘Maiden’s Blush’, purple verbena, perennial foxglove and tropical-looking yellow canna lilies growing in large clay pots.

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Rose Parterre

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Close-up of purple verbena

Directly across from the Rose Parterre is the Flower Parterre, which was designed to provide three seasons of colorful blooms. At the time of my visit, there were daylilies in profusion, soft pink echinacea and purple liatris. Spiky blue veronica, golden lantana and lavender-pink Stokes’ asters rounded out the mix.

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On the other side of the Flower Parterre is the Kitchen Garden with its colonial-style shed and espaliers and cordons crafted from branches and string. I observed a lush crop of salad greens, snap peas and squash growing in raised planter boxes, a tiny shelf stacked with herbs in terra cotta pots and many heirloom varieties of apples, pears, plums, cherries and figs. (Products made from the fruits, herbs and vegetables grown in the garden are sold in the gift shop.)

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Kitchen Garden

On the second terrace, the Holly and Boxwood Parterres provide year-round interest with their carefully maintained structures.

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Boxwood Parterre

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Holly Parterre

The Summerhouse is the focal point of the garden. It lies in the wilderness area, which consists of a series of meandering paths through beds of mixed plantings. Reflecting the ‘picturesque’ style of gardening that was popular in colonial America during Paca’s time, the miniature, thumb-shaped building is reached by crossing a Chinese-style latticework bridge over a fish-shaped pond.

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The upper floor of the two-story building served as a viewing point for the garden during the summer while providing the Paca family with cool garden breezes from the Chesapeake Bay.

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Tail-end (literally) of the fish-shaped pond

 

THE ART OF DRAINAGE 

Paca was an innovator when it came to designing ways to channel the natural runoff across his property. He built a system of drains that diverted water into pleasing garden elements. At the lowest level of his garden, he constructed a brick canal to direct water into a spring house. It is a key architectural element in the lower terrace of the garden.

Today, the natural spring, which is still active in the spring house, feeds the pond. In Paca’s day, the water was also repurposed for household use.

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One of Paca’s brick canals used to drain water from the garden

 

The State of Maryland and Historic Annapolis bought the Paca mansion in 1965 to save it from demolition. They spent the following decade restoring the house and garden. In 1971, the site was recognized as a National Historic Landmark. For more on the house and gardens, click here for the website.

The property hosts the annual William Paca Garden Plant Sale on Mother’s Day weekend every year.

 

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