What To Do If Your Spring Bulbs Come Up Too Early

(Last week it was 70 degrees, now it’s 20)

Let’s face it. It’s hard not to stress when your daffodils start coming up mid-winter during a warm spell. With all the erratic weather patterns we’ve been experiencing lately, early growth is becoming more and more common in spring bulbs. Not to worry, though. Your plants have seen it all before. And they’re built to handle a few temperature swings.

 

The underground world of bulbs

To understand why spring bulbs can withstand a little early growth, it helps to take a peek underground.

Just like a seed, a single bulb contains the entire life cycle of a plant, including roots, food storage “leaves” and a flowering shoot. As soon as you plant them in the fall, spring bulbs start growing.

The action begins in the bottom part of the bulb known as the basal stem. During the winter months, roots begin emerging from the underside of this base. As they penetrate the surrounding soil, they absorb water and other nutrients, which they store in the fleshy leaves of the bulb called scales.

In some flower species (think allium), a thin papery covering called the tunic protects the bulb’s scales from damage and drying out.

Papery thin tunic keeps bulbs from drying out

The scales provide food and protection to the flowering shoot, which contains the above-ground parts of the plant, including stems, leaves and flowers. During the winter months, the shoot grows slowly upwards within the bulb. Once warmer temperatures hit, the leaves break first through the soil where they begin converting sunlight into energy. Weeks later, the flowering stems begin to emerge.

The key thing to remember is: Leaf development occurs independently of flower development. The leaves might jump the gun, but flowering shoots need an extended period of time (between 5 and 7 weeks) before they begin sending their stems up out of the bulb and towards the surface. Before that happens, the bulb has most likely weathered the warm spell and resumed dormancy.

Strategies for protecting early growth

If you see foliage poking up out of the ground too early, don’t worry. A cold snap may cause its leaves to yellow and die back, but your bulb will wait things out and send up new growth once temperatures warm up again.

There are a few strategies, though, you can undertake now to slow things down while adding an extra layer of protection to the flower shoot.

1. Cover your plant

Covering the soil around your spring bulbs will provide insulation against frigid temperatures and drying winter winds. Try mulch, straw, bark chips, leaves or pine needles.

Or, if the plant is budding too early, try draping a cloth over it (securing it above the plant with stakes.) Remove the drape during the day so the foliage can absorb sunlight to warm back up.

 

2. Water

Bulbs will rot with too much water, but if there’s been a dry period for a long period of time, providing them with a little extra water during the day helps the bulb expand and grow. Make sure your soil has good drainage, though.

 

3. What to do if flowers start to appear 

If the weather continues to stay unseasonably warm, your spring bulbs may start to produce flowers. Don’t worry. Even if frost kills off some of the initial buds, it usually doesn’t affect flowering in the coming months.

 

4. Plant bulbs late in the fall

The later you plant in the fall, the longer the bulb will take to sprout in the spring. Wait until the temperature is cool enough (40s or below at night) to plant your spring bulbs. I plant mine in early December.

And make sure to plant bulbs at three times their height in depth with base down and bud up. Planting bulbs too shallow can cause premature growth.

 

 

The Case for Living Large With Russian-Cut Roses

Russian-cut roses

I grow roses in my garden and would never think of cutting one before its prime. However, when it comes to buying roses locally, I opt for blooms that are still tight in the bud. Why the disconnect? It’s mainly habit, I suppose, and the fact that we Americans are only beginning to discover the perks of Russian-cut roses.

 

 

Russian-cut roses are not actually grown in Russia

Russian-cut roses are a common cut in Europe, but contrary to what their name implies, they were not grown in Russia. Rather, the term refers to roses that were harvested at the peak of their development; a time when their petals are more mature as opposed to the more common practice of cutting them when their buds are still tight. This makes for a rose with larger, more open blooms, longer stems and improved performance.

 

Why are they called Russian?

The term Russian-cut comes from the Russian tradition of giving a single, spectacular bloom as a token of appreciation. As an old Russian saying* goes,

“A saying is a flower, a proverb is a berry.”

 Angelica Privalihin “My Red Rose”

Of course this differs substantially from the American tradition of giving one-dozen roses. (By the way, in Russia giving a bouquet of flowers in even numbers is considered very bad luck and a major faux-pas.)

 

Why this method works

Evidence shows that roses that are left longer on the stem develop brighter colors and larger, more spectacular blooms than roses harvested in the tight-bud stage. This takes some patience to achieve. Growers must wait one to two weeks longer than normal before harvesting their roses. Doing this enables them to reap big rewards: the blooms typically average 50 % larger, and they last just as long or even longer than traditional, tight-cut flowers.

Why is this so? Because extending the growth period allows the flowers to absorb more nutrients that in turn allow them to continue to grow and develop. Longer nutrition and exposure to sunlight provides more sugars to the stems and leaves of the plant. The rose then uses this extra energy to produce bigger blossoms.

Nowadays these spectacular roses, which can feature 3 foot stems and blooms measuring 3.5 to 4 inches across are mostly grown high in the Andes in Ecuador and Colombia.

Rose harvest in Ecuador

Of course it costs growers more to wait the extra week and then package and ship larger flowers. There’s a premium for these larger blooms. But if you’re looking to make a big impact, you can’t do better.

So far, in the United States where Russian-cut roses are also known as European or Designer-cut, buyers are not entirely convinced, still holding on to the belief that normal, tight cut roses will last longer in the vase. They’re not entirely willing to pay the higher price for Russian cut roses, either. I’m guessing the exception to the rule is weddings, where a big impact is usually the goal. Perhaps we should begin applying that thinking to our everyday flower purchases.

*Mertvago, P. (1996). The comparative russian-english dictionary of russian proverbs & sayings. New York, NY: Hippocrene Books.

s ISBN: 0-7818-9424-8

 

 

Valentines Day Begins at the Dutch Flower Auctions

Flower staging at Aalsmeer FloraHolland in Amsterdam

Today is Valentines Day, the annual festival of romantic love when many of us will be sending flowers. And even though we’ll be buying them locally, most of the blooms will have only just arrived from abroad. Ever wonder how flowers cut fresh in Europe, Africa and Israel can wind up for sale in America the very next day? The answer lies in the wonders of the Dutch Flower Auction.

A TRADING PLATFORM BUILT FOR SPEED

Over the past century, the Dutch have perfected a trading platform that can rapidly move millions of cut flowers around the world, making what until recently seemed impossible – delivery to North America within 24-hours from overseas.
How have they done this? By creating supply chains built for speed (to accommodate flowers’ perishability) and by establishing central distribution points for trade. The Dutch flower auction eliminates the middleman so buyers and sellers can deal directly.

shutterstock_240912793The story begins with the arrival each day of millions of flowers to FloraHolland, a superpower in the floricultural world. The company runs six auction houses throughout the Netherlands and accounts for 90 percent of the Dutch floral trade. According to the latest statistics, in 2015 the Netherlands ranked first in the world in total flower bouquet exports by country, accounting for roughly 40 % of total flower bouquet exports worldwide.

With daily sales of well over 20 million plants and flowers, FloraHolland’s auction houses together comprise the largest flower auction in the world. In addition to the Netherlands (which is itself a major producer of cut flowers), more than 10 countries, including Europe, Ecuador, Colombia, Israel, Ethiopia and Kenya all use the Dutch auction as a gateway to distributing their plants and flowers to other parts of the world.

HOW THEY DO IT

When your business is moving millions of cut flowers daily, keeping the product fresh is the primary concern. To meet the challenge, the Dutch have created lightening-fast logistics. The whole process begins with a collaborative effort undertaken by Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, ground shipping companies and the Dutch government.

Workers moving flowers on trolleys at Aalsmeer Auction

Workers loading trolleys at Aalsmeer Auction House

Nicknamed Hub Ways, the approach works to improve traffic flow both to and from the airport and between the six FloraHolland auction sites. It’s a serious business. When deemed necessary, Hub Ways has even gone so far as to widen country roads just to make the flowers’ delivery more efficient.

The largest and most famous of the six Dutch flower auctions is the Aalsmeer Flower Auction. Often referred to as ‘the New York Stock Exchange for Flowers’ it occupies a massive building measuring an astonishing 10.6 million square feet (243 acres, or roughly two football fields). It is the largest flower trade center in the world.

Photo credit: www.hollandfoto.net / Shutterstock, Inc.

On a busy day, the Aalsmeer Flower Auction Hall sells millions of cut flowers to around 2,800 wholesalers and exporters. The buyers arrive at 6 am (midnight EDT) in the morning to bid.

RACING AGAINST THE CLOCK

While the supply chain makes sure the flowers arrive quickly, the Dutch Auction Method speeds the transactions at the points of sale. To accommodate their products’ perishability, Dutch flower auctions run on a system that is the flip side of traditional auctions (in which bidders push prices up from below.)  Also known as clock auctions, the unusual format is designed to ensure the highest transaction speed.

FloraHolland auction room, FloraHolland.com

FloraHolland auction room, FloraHolland.com

These days there is no longer an actual clock, but instead a digital circle operated individually by an auctioneer.  Buyers connect to the clock of their choice by means of a headset. All bidding is done electronically.

Dutch auction clock/ Click here to see how it works

The auction begins with the auctioneer setting a high price on the ‘clock.’ The price is then rapidly lowered by increments as indicated by a moving red dot on the circle. The first buyer to press the button and stop the clock is the highest bidder. The whole process can take under five seconds.

Flowers ready for auction

Adrienne Lansbergen, spokeswoman for Bloemenveiling Aalsmeeran, describes the process this way:

“It is really stressful. If you wait too long, as the flowers are passing by, they may be bought by your competitor. If you push the button too quickly, you may pay too high a price.”

Clearly speed is the king of the auction.

Once the transactions are made, the flowers are electronically labeled and placed in buckets, then hurried away on electric carts to the distribution center. Here, employees in mini electric trucks pull the buckets of flowers from the rail and redistribute them to new trolleys. Then the flowers proceed onwards to their new owners’ processing areas.

Flowers heading to the distribution hall at Aalsmeer

Depending on the species and where they are going, the flowers are assigned different packaging to keep them fresh as they travel.  This may include insulated cardboard boxes (designed for durability), ice packs to provide cooling, and/or flower mats, which absorb humidity and prevent mildew growth. Finally, the flowers are sped by truck back to Schiphol airport, where they are quickly loaded back onto planes for delivery overnight.

FloraHolland estimates that around Valentines Day, they trade over 300 million flowers. Of these, roses, tulips and chrysanthemums are the three top selling blooms. Nowadays, most of the roses come from Kenya. Such a long race to get here — something  to think about when placing your Valentine’s Day blooms in the vase this year.

 

Iguazú Falls: Sustaining Life In An Ancient Jungle Garden

Iguazu Falls

Do waterfalls count as gardens? They certainly make life possible for tens of thousands of species of flora and fauna. I thought I had seen waterfalls until I visited Iguazú, Argentina. Nothing could have prepared me for the staggering beauty of these falls that hold the distinction of being one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

Iguazú is located an easy 1 ½ hour plane ride from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’d consider it a great way to go, not only for the brevity of the trip but the fact that your first view of the falls is from the air. As we neared the airport our pilot signaled to us to look out our windows as he tipped the plane one way then the other to give us all a bird’s eye view of this astonishing interface between land and water.

View of the falls from plane window

And what a view it was! As if cut with a jagged knife out of the emerald green plateau, the falls appeared bright white against mahogany-colored rocks arranged in a crescent-like shape, much like a Roman amphitheater. As we gawked out our windows, we could almost sense the water roaring over the reddish-brown cliffs. Here and there, fingers of spray drifted up from the crevice, giving the illusion of wispy clouds escaping up from amidst the dense tropical jungle.

We could barely wait to start our day.

THE WIDEST FALLS IN THE WORLD

So what makes these falls so special that they lay claim to being one of the seven natural wonders of the world? The main reason is their incredible width, which is the largest in the world. Composed of 275 individual drops, the Iguazú Falls span an astonishing distance of 27 meters (or roughly 1.7 miles). Compare this to Victoria Falls’ width of 1708 meters (roughly one mile) and Niagara’s length of brink that measures 1203 meters (roughly 0.7 miles.)

No wonder that upon seeing Iguazú Falls, the United States First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt reportedly exclaimed,

Poor Niagara!

Of course this also makes the falls nearly impossible to capture, but you get the picture.

 

ONE RIVER, BIG FALLS

Spanning the border between Argentina and Brazil, the Iguazú Falls form a line along a deep chasm carved from layers of ancient sandstone and dark, fine-grained volcanic rock. The falls are shared by both countries and serve as the official international border. There is an ongoing dispute as to whose side is better.

Brazil on the left, Argentina on the right

The source of the falls, the Iguazú River, is located in Brazil. As it crosses the plateau, the river joins up with other tributary streams, traveling across 1,200 km (roughly 746 miles) until it reaches a series of faults formed in the rock. There, it pauses before thundering over the brink and tumbling down into a canyon that drains into the Paraná River.

Falls tumble down into the Paraná River

At its highest point, the Iguazú River drops vertically some 80 meters in a series of cataracts called the Devil’s Throat. About half of the river flows into this long and narrow chasm. This makes for an enormous amount of water, accompanied by a deafening roar and soaking sprays of water. As the roiling river tumbles over the brink, perspective turns upside down as rainbows appear below clouds deep in the canyon.

Devil’s Throat

 

JUNGLE GARDEN

The enormous quantities of tumbling water and soaking humidity have spawned a highly specialized ecosystem full of life in the surrounding Misiones Jungle. More than 2,000 species of plants and animals call this lush rain forest home including giant anteaters, caoties with their ringed tails, howler monkeys, jaguars and the giant rodent known as the capybara. There 4000 bird species, including rainbow-colored toucans and parrots. And there are also 80 known tree species, making for a diverse tapestry of vegetation.

Caotie

Ferns and wild impatiens growing on canyon floor

Together with the Iguazú National Park in Brazil, the Argentinian park constitutes one of the most significant remnants of the interior Atlantic Forest, over 85 percent of the original area of which has been deforested since its discovery over 500 years ago.

In Iguazú, life is multi-layered. Plants grow one on top of one another from the canyon floor on up to the giant palms anchored to the waterfalls’ lip. Ferns grow on moss, lichen grows on rocks, and air plants and orchids can be seen sprouting from tree branches. The falls teem with fertility.

Bright green lichen, moss and ferns that cling to the rock even as the roaring waters flow around them.

To view the falls, visitors have the option of taking an upper or lower walkway, which give them different perspectives on the falls.  An open-air train loops around the outer edge of the park to the trail leading to Devil’s Throat. The walkways are mostly raised steel walkways that hover over the jungle. Along the way, numerous look-outs provide dizzying views of the cascading water.

Look-outs provide bird’s eye views of the falls

For the truly adventurous, there are zodiac rides that take you under the falls to experience the power of all that water. The 12-minute adventure involves plowing headfirst into the waterfalls while a guide films you drowning in white water. I can attest that this is an unbelievable experience, especially on a 95 degree day in the jungle.

For more on Iguazú Falls click here for the official website. The name Iguazú comes from the area’s indigenous people who named the falls ‘great water’. The first European to “discover” the falls was Spanish Conquistador Cabeza de Vaca in 1541.

 

A Little Taste of Japan In the Heart Of Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires’ lovely Jardin Japonés

There are so many beautiful, themed gardens in Buenos Aires I’ve almost lost count. But, there’s one last gem I’ll profile before we return next week to the United States. Located in the city’s Palermo neighborhood, it’s the zen-like Jardín Japonés. Think acres of green foliage, a shimmering lake spanned by lipstick red bridges and colorful clusters of over-sized koi, and you’ve got the picture.

We happened upon the Jardín Japonés on a sizzling hot day when most of the other public gardens were closed. Spying some Asian-style buildings amidst the trees in the distance, we made a beeline across a park towards the sloped-roofed structures. Along the way, we passed the customary assortment of cheerful dogs and professional dog walkers.

A professional dog walker (paseaperro) in Plaza Allemania

Located behind a tall wall and bordered on all sides by traffic-congested avenues, the Jardín Japonés proved to be a quiet oasis in the heart of a boisterous city. Originally given as a gift to Buenos Aires from the Association of Japanese Immigrants, it was constructed in 1967 to celebrate the visit to Argentina by Japan’s Prince Akihito and his wife in May of that year. The future royals’ visit was a big deal for Buenos Aires and the garden was to receive other similar official visits over the ensuing decades.

Entrance to the Jardín Japonés

Today’s 6-acre garden, however, is mainly the work of a Japanese born landscape architect named Yasuo Inomata. The city of Buenos Aires hired Inomata in the mid 70’s to redesign and enlarge the Jardín Japonés to look more like a traditional Japanese garden. Inomata modeled his design after a zen garden, focusing heavily on the critical elements of harmony and equilibrium. The renovation, which was completed in 1979, has since become a bridge for the city’s residents and its visitors to understanding the Japanese culture.

The first thing you notice when you enter the Jardín Japonés is a large artificial lake spanned by three traditional-style Japanese bridges. Painted a distinctive deep red, the bridges each take different forms and carry different symbolic meanings. The largest of the three is the Puente Okayama, also known as Puente Zig Zag Okayama. The flat bridge skims just above the water and meanders back and forth across the northern end of the lake.

Puente Okayama (the zig zag bridge)

The second bridge, called Puente Yamagata, takes the traditional arced form. Also painted red, it is a standout in the middle of the lake. (Also perpetually clogged with tourists, so a clean photo is pretty much out of the question.)

Puente Yamagata

The third bridge, el Puente Plan Ibaraki, is made from rough-hewn planks in a burnished red. The site plan shows it traversing a small cove at the opposite end of the lake. During our visit, however, we observed only two piers facing each other across the water. I loved how the open space between the two piers raised questions as to whether they were meant to connect or simply observe each other. Whether or not this was purposeful, it was one of the most memorable spots for me in the garden.

Puente Plan Ibaraki

At the far end of the park is a large Japanese building housing a restaurant, library and cultural center. There is also a traditional-style Japanese tea house. But what really caught my eye was this checkerboard lawn to the right. Crafted from bright white paving stones and lime green grass, it made me feel like we had popped in on Alice in Wonderland.

Checkerboard lawn

Directly behind the checkerboard lawn and adjacent to the center is a shop selling traditional Japanese plants such as bonsai, orchids and azaleas as well as other native flowering plants.

Plant store

And on the other side of the tea house is a rose garden.

Rose garden

A big draw for children is the giant koi and carp that live and feed in the garden. They swim in colorful clusters along the fringes of the lake and under the bridges where visitors are encouraged to feed them. Their open mouths can be seen bobbing above the surface.

We stopped for a fruit smoothie at the Salon Mie next to a large bell dedicated to immigrants. Its big gong-like sound resonated across the park and sent powerful ripples through our bodies. It was the perfect accompaniment to the next small patio, the Patio Hiroshima, which displays three numbered trees that are descendants of larger trees that survived the bombing of Hiroshima.

The sign reads that the surviving trees were located within a 2000 meter radius of the center of Hiroshima and that the city has registered 170 trees ‘a-bombardeados’ for which they have been given a plaque and a special name. That name is:

HIBAKUJYUMOKU (TREE SURVIVING THE ATOMIC BOMB)

In addition to these highly symbolic areas, the garden boasts more than 150 species of trees and a huge variety of plants representing a combination of Japanese and native Argentinian species. There are acres of white and pink azaleas, Japanese Matsumae-fuki cherry trees. mugo pines, magnolias and Japanese maples as well as native oaks, cedars, tipas and Pal Borracho trees. There are also beautiful mini waterfalls.

And carefully composed arrangements of stones.

The many different elements appear to have happened there naturally, although in the architect’s own words, this is a deliberate misconception.

Inomata said:

Japanese gardens that I create express an element of Buddhism called gokuraku (pure land). In these gardens, the trees and flowers are not arranged in a structured manner so that they can imitate what is found in nature [  ]. At first glance, they may appear disorganized, but in reality they follow an order.

Unlike most other public gardens in Buenos Aires, the Jardín Japonés costs money, with all proceeds going to its maintenance, which is administered by the Fundación Cultural Argentino Japonesa. The garden is also home to festivals and other cultural activities promoting Japanese culture within the city.

For more information on the garden, its location, hours and scheduled activities click here for the official website.

Buenos Aires’ El Rosedal: Taking Time To Smell The Roses

‘A collection of old roses gives a great and increasing pleasure.’

–Vita Sackville-West

There are rose gardens and then there are rose gardens. It’s not every day you come across a rose garden covering nearly 10 acres. But Buenos Aires’ El Rosedal, commonly known as the Jardin de las Rosas (Rose Garden), is just such a place. And the magnificent space is immaculately maintained and surprisingly, free to the public. Continue reading

Buenos Aires’ Jardín Botánico: French Twist On A Spanish Garden

To my readers: I am in Argentina for the month where I’ll be writing about gardens.)

Buenos Aires Jardin Botanico

There’s a reason why people often refer to Buenos Aires as a little Paris in South America. The city is chock full of French-style architecture, grand tree-lined avenues and a wide variety of public gardens. It wasn’t always this way, though. Up until the 19th century the city didn’t have many green spaces at all. That all changed with the arrival of a French landscape architect named Carlos Thays.

Carlos (né Jules Charles) Thays was to transform the city of Buenos Aires into the lush green metropolis it is today. Born in Paris in 1849, Thays was the disciple of one of the leading architects of the day, the French landscape architect Edouard André. Together with André, he helped design some of the most famous public and private gardens in Europe.

Thays came to Argentina in 1889 as part of a contract to help create what was to become his first major work in the country – the Parque Sarmiento, the largest park in the city of Córdoba. After the park was completed, his intention was to go back to France. However, Thays ended up in Buenos Aires, where in 1891 he was named the city’s Director of Parks and Walkways.

Monument to Carlos Thays in Buenos Aires’ Jardín Botánico

The title of Parks Director gave Thays a lot of leeway to influence the character of Buenos Aires, especially where it came to panoramic views of the city. With the exception of Parque Tres de Febrero, an older park opened in 1876, the city had no public green spaces. Thays began major tree planting projects, lining the grand avenues and neighborhood streets with large shade trees including purple-flowering jacaranda, yellow-flowering tipas (also known as rosewood) and ombús, a massive evergreen native to the lowlands of South America.

One of the many Jacaranda trees in Buenos Aires

Thays also got to work remodeling the aging Parque Tres de Febrero while designing and constructing 69 new parks, gardens and plazas. His French heritage was reflected in many of his designs.

Jardin Botanico

One of the most famous of all of Thay’s projects is located in the urban neighborhood of Palermo where it takes up an entire city block. Completed in 1898, the Buenos Aires Botanical Garden is considered one of Thay’s biggest achievements. Today it bears his name (Jardín Botánico Carlos Thays) and is home to more than 6,000 species of plants.

The walled park includes rare trees and native and exotic plants hailing from all parts of the world. And in keeping with French style, the garden is also home to 33 classical sculptures, fountains and monuments that figure prominently throughout the garden.

Canto de la Cosechadora

La Loba Romana, one of the garden’s many works of art

In order to best display his collection of plants and landscape styles, Thays designed the Jardín Botánico in sections. There are three main gardens: a Roman Garden planted with huge cypresses, alamos (a variety of cottonwood) and laurel trees, a French Garden built around a classic symmetrical design and an Oriental-style Garden featuring species indigenous to Asia.

One of the many enormous cypress trees in the Roman Garden

While working on the construction and planting of the garden, Thays and his family lived in a large brick Gothic Revival style house that still occupies a central place in the garden. Today it is home to the city’s Garden School and also features a revolving art collection and library.

Thays’ home during construction of the garden

One of the most important features of the Jardín Botánico are five greenhouses that house a wide variety of native and exotic plants. The largest of them, a Beaux-arts style formal building was first erected at the Paris Exposition of 1889 and brought back to Buenos Aires to be reassembled in the garden. Measuring 35 meters long, it is now home to a couple thousand bromeliads and orchids.

The largest of the greenhouses

View inside the large greenhouse

View inside the bulb greenhouse

In addition to the main garden sections, there are also a number of specialty gardens including a cactus garden and butterfly garden. The cactus garden features many unusual varieties of aloe.

Cactus garden walkway

Aloe marlothii from Africa

In January, the lovely African agapanthus plant is flowering all over the garden.

There are hundreds of flowering shrubs

Jardin Botanico in Buenos Aires

And there are huge stands of sky blue plumbago.

Thays died in Buenos Aires in 1934, but his public works live on for the whole city to enjoy. For more information on the Jardin Botanico, click here for the official website.

Stay tuned for my next post on the thousands of roses on display at the Parque Tres de Febrero.

 

Planting the Seeds For A Happy New Year

‘Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.’ – Alfred Austin

My first adventure with gardening of sorts involved a decrepit white begonia in a cast iron pot belonging to my mother. Frail and anemic and sporting only one bloom, it languished, (but never died!) in its water logged container. I decided to give it a haircut to see what would happen.

I was very young and my first cut was rather severe. My mom and I waited anxiously for the plant to recover. But over time it did, and as I began experimenting more and more with the forlorn little specimen, I eventually discovered that by careful pruning I could coax the plant into a more uniform shape.

I also found that by playing with the plant’s watering schedule, the begonia gradually lost its yellow-green color and formed deep green healthy stems. Finally one day, I was rewarded with a few tentative white blooms.

Gardening has taught me a lot over the years. I’ve learned to anticipate the needs of my plants and to sense when they’re thirsty or feeling poorly. I don’t love weeding, but I know that it is an essential chore to help my plants thrive. I’ve become sensitive to the slightest shift in the sound of the wind rustling through leaves, the particular calls of my neighborhood birds and the stillness that envelops the garden with the approach of a storm.

These things and more, await even the most amateur of gardeners (and we are all gardeners.)

So as a new year begins, I ’d like to share a few things I’ve learned from a life taking care of plants in the garden. These are not resolutions so much as ways of looking at things. (You don’t need to be a gardener to ‘get’ them.) Here goes:

 

No matter how long the winter, spring always arrives.

Following the particularly rocky year we’ve all experienced in America and abroad, this comes as a reminder that things never stay the same and that life can spring forth from even the darkest of times.

 

Perennials may look like they’ve died, but they’re only resting beneath the surface.

And not only are they resting, they are gathering strength for the coming spring.

 

A little TLC can make almost anything look good.

This goes beyond a good haircut. All living things respond well to a little personal attention. And practicing tender love and care benefits the giver, too.

 

It’s important to periodically clear the weeds.

When weeds become invasive they can have a devastating effect on life’s quality. Taking the time to remove them benefits everyone.

 

Nursing a sick plant back to health produces a really good feeling.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of bringing a sick plant back to health and being rewarded with new foliage and blooms.

 

Life springs eternal

Ok, so maybe this sounds a little hokey, but all gardeners know that new life is always waiting just below the surface. May 2017 be the year that we all strive to tend our own gardens by pulling the weeds, extending a hand to those who need it and appreciating those cycles of life that are so essential to our well being. Wishing you all a very Happy New Year.

Jardin Botanico in Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires’ lovely Jardín Botánico

 

Longwood Gardens Gets Dressed Up For The Holidays

Longwood Gardens 2016 Photo credit: Here By Design

For a long time, Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens has been my go-to destination for the holidays. The magnificent property features over 1,077 acres of formal gardens, woodlands and meadows that change with each new season. Located at the heart of the gardens is one of my favorite places, the huge glass and steel Orangery. It is here, in this 1920’s-era greenhouse, that my holidays come alive in the horticultural extravaganza known as A Longwood Christmas.

When it comes to inspiring, it doesn’t get much better than Longwood Gardens. From late November to just after the New Year, the Orangery is filled with holiday-themed displays, including hundreds of decorated trees, rare plants and miles of seasonal flowers. Covering nearly four acres of greenhouses, the colorful blooms and exotic specimens are all embellished with millions of twinkling lights.

At my most recent visit, each turn of the corner revealed a new color scheme, plant display and fragrance; a heady combination that made for a constantly changing experience.

This year’s display showcases over 6,000 seasonal plants.

 

THE TOUR

To begin their tour of the Orangery, visitors enter through the majestic East Conservatory. In this huge, vaulted space the predominantly red, white and silver horticultural displays are punctuated by gurgling fountains and tiered pools all linked by rushing streams of water. A warm, earthy aroma mixed with flower fragrances permeates the space.

This year’s exhibit in the East Conservatory features formal flower beds and manicured pathways fringed by generous drifts of fragrant paper white narcissus, euphorbia ‘Diamond Frost’, miniature arborvitae, ferns and snow white cyclamen. A permanent display of giant palms and other tropical plants provides the backdrop for the seasonal flowers.

A number of beautiful Christmas trees are situated within the beds and along the walkways.

Close-up of some of the stunning detail on each of the trees.

At the end of the East Conservatory is the largest tree of the exhibit, an 18-foot Douglas fir. The giant tree is encircled by bright green ferns that point up the tree’s deep red ribbons and other natural decorations.

Behind the East Conservatory is the Main Conservatory exhibit. The dramatic space consists of a pair of manicured lawns encircled by seasonal plantings and massive stone columns wreathed in ivy. Giant hanging baskets of scarlet poinsettias are suspended high above the display.

Lawn in the Main Conservatory

On a bright winter day at Longwood Gardens, sunlight filters down through the vaulted iron and glass ceiling and traces a path across the lush borders of this iconic space.

I’ve always loved how, in the far corner of the Conservatory, the color palette shifts from traditional reds and greens to vibrant yellows and blues. This year’s exhibit includes a healthy dose of bright yellow twig dogwoods, orange birds of paradise, miniature lace-cap hydrangeas, soft pink poinsettias and spiky blue coleus.

Directly behind the East Conservatory is Longwood Gardens’ Exhibition Hall. Small jets of water spout from a sunken area in which ‘floats’ a grand central tree decorated in bright red poinsettias and snow white orchids.

The soft purple blooms of bougainvillea growing along the Conservatory’s rafters set up a strong color contrast with the bright red poinsettias.

After the brilliant colors of the main Conservatory, the minty green Acacia Passage provides a cool refuge. It is best known for the lacy tendrils of cinnamon wattle trees that travel up its walls and cascade down from the ceiling. Potted white hydrangeas underplanted with trailing ivy lead the eye down through the narrow space.

Located at the far end of the Acacia Passage, the Orchid Room (part of Longwood Gardens’ permanent display) features over 500 fragrant orchid varieties. An orchid grower replaces plants three times a week to ensure a continuous colorful exhibit.

Orchid vanda ‘Sansai Blue’ hangs in the Orchid Room

A right turn takes you to the  Mediterranean Garden, which showcases plants from regions around the world with Mediterranean-like climates. The central tree is decorated in bright-colored balls that echo the warm-climate plantings.

Kniphofia uvaria, commonly known as Red Hot Poker

In the Bonsai Hall, a dramatic red and green wreath hangs in stark relief against the pale grey wall.

At the far end of the Mediterranean Garden is the Palm House, which is designed to resemble a tropical rain forest. The three-layered garden showcases Longwood Gardens’ wide variety of palms, cycads and tropical groundcovers. This tropical tree displays Aglaonema ‘Osaka’ (a variety of Chinese evergreen) on a custom-made form topped with flower heads pulled from Longwood’s palm collection.

Close-up of the Palm House tree

One of the most dramatic trees of all is housed in the Xeriscape garden, a stunning mix of grey, white, silver and red drought-tolerant plants.

Close-up of the succulent tree

At Longwood Gardens, even the mini pitcher plants are decorated for the holidays.

For more information on the exhibit, go to A Longwood Christmas.  The display is open from now until early January.

 

U.S. Botanic Garden Presents DC Landmarks Made From Plants

U.S. Capitol made from plant-based materials at the U.S. Botanic Garden's annual holiday display

Plant-based replica of the United States Capitol

Those of us who live near Washington, DC seldom fail to be moved by the majestic buildings and monuments that comprise our capital city. And the United States Botanic Garden, one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America, is one of them. Now at holiday time comes a special treat: the Garden’s annual tribute to the city’s most famous landmarks constructed from, you guessed it, plants and other plant-based materials.

The eye-catching display is part of the U.S. Botanic Garden’s “Season’s Greenings” holiday exhibit that also features seasonal flowers and shrubs, a garden railway with model trains and a top-notch collection of unusual poinsettias. It was created by Paul Busse (most famous for the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show) and his Kentucky-based firm, Applied Imagination. A team of horticulturalists, botanical architects and landscape designers used over 70 different plant materials to build their sculptures.

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Model train passes through a botanical Grand Canyon

Botanical Landmarks On A Mini Mall

At the heart of any trip to Washington, DC is a trip to the National Mall. And the botanical replicas, positioned as they are along the broad walkways and twin pools of the Garden Court, echo the actual ones just a stone’s throw away outside. Each architectural gem is sited high on a mound from which it surveys its own pint-sized garden vista.

The crown jewel of the collection, the U.S. Capitol, is located to the left of the Court.The seven-foot-long structure, which is formed of sycamore leaves, willow sticks, acorns and other natural materials, took over 600 hours to complete. A peek inside reveals the Statue of Freedom and other figures fashioned from beech nuts, corn husks, acorns and pinecone scales.

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U.S. Capitol

Facing the U.S. Capitol on the opposite side of the Garden Court is the Washington Monument constructed from sycamore leaves, sea grape leaves and moss. The Garden’s blue-tiled ornamental pool (one of a pair) stretches behind it.

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Washington Monument

A gourd forms the dome of the Jefferson Memorial. While inside presides a mini President Jefferson with hair made out of lichens.

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Jefferson Memorial

Occupying the far end of the pool from the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial features an exterior of sea grape leaves and architectural details made from kangaroo pods, sisal rope and grape tendrils among other materials.

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The Library of Congress shines amidst its lush green landscape. Its facade is crafted from elm and locust bark. Sea grape leaves make up the terrace.

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Library of Congress

The U.S. Botanic Garden conservatory has a facade made from horse chestnut bark and willow sticks.

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U.S. Botanic Garden

Located on the opposite side of the pool from the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court building features a frieze made from beech nuts, acorns and silver birch buds.

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U.S. Supreme Court

The White House is surrounded by a fence made from screw pod rails and cinnamon tops. while bas-relief columns in palm frond stems and cinnamon curls. There’s a swing-set in front.

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For more information on this fun exhibit as well as the garden railway (which run through January 3, 2017), click here for the official U.S. Botanic Garden website. It’s entirely worth the visit.