Sunday, December 25, 2011

And In Christmas News...

Early on this Christmas morning, while the family is still asleep, I thought I'd share a bit of the week's good news with all of you.  I want to thank each and every one of you for following along!  Gardener Cook (formerly Garden Notes) will officially reach 25,000 views before year's end!  This is no small feat and is thanks entirely to you.  No readers, no blog.  It's that simple.

As I have alluded to in many Facebook posts and the occasional blog post, I've been wanting to share some exciting news for several weeks, but was unable to until the official word came and I was 100% sure it was going to happen.  I didn't want to jinx it!  So today, I can tell you with a great sense of pride (and a certain amount of relief!) that my first book proposal has been accepted by Timber Press and that I will be spending much of 2012 writing and photographing for a new book tentatively titled In A Southern Garden--Lessons From 20 Years of Gardening in the South.  This is only a working title and may (will, likely) change, but you never know.  Regardless, the proposal has met with all levels of approval, has been officially signed off on and I will have a contract in hand the first week of January!

On the same day--almost at the same time, in fact--a second project that I had been approached about working on also came through.  If all of the stars align and we can work out any "conflict of interest" concerns, I may actually be working on two books in 2012!  The second would be a distinct departure from my gardening world, but an easy step into my second passion--food!  (There was some logic behind my changing up the blog earlier this year!)  I can't say much more than that for now, as many of the details still have to be worked out, but keep your fingers crossed and perhaps by year's end I'll have some further news on this exciting second project.

I hope this brief post finds all of you well this holiday season!  Regardless of which holiday you celebrate, I hope it brings you joy, happiness and peace.  From my garden to yours, Merry Christmas and I'll see you in 2012!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Not Your Grandmother's Amaryllis

Before we dive into the world of these stunning "new" amaryllis, let's talk for just a minute about names.  While I have used the word "amaryllis" in the title and again in the first sentence, it's because I'm writing for you, the gardening public, and not because it is necessarily accurate.  In fact, amaryllis has become the accepted common name for a group of bulbs technically called Hippeastrum.  These are the bulbs that we all know and love as the Christmas bloomers, often with giant red, pink, or white blooms (or multiple variations on that theme).  The truth is that Amaryllis (capital "A" and italicized) is the name of an entirely different genus (group) of plants and is not at all what it is sold in stores around the world at Christmas time.  That said, we all refer to these holiday beauties as "amaryllis", so in keeping with what we all understand, I'm using the same terminology.

The amaryllis I'd like to introduce you to are a newer group of bulbs with extremely unusual and exotic blooms with often spidery petals and an almost otherworldly appearance.  These unusual blooms come from a species known as Hippeastrum cybister, pictured below in a print made around the time of the species' discovery in South America.

In the past two decades, hybridizers have been working with Hippeastrum cybister and crossing it with other species and hybrids to create an entirely new group of bulbs known as the Cybister Group or Cybister Hybrids.  Some of the best include stunning new introductions such as:

Hippeastrum 'Evergreen':

Hippeastrum 'Rio Negro':

 Hippeastrum 'Merengue':

And one of the most unusual of all, Hippeastrum 'Double Merengue', a full double-flowered form of the variety pictured above.

So there you have it!  Some new, unusual and out-of-the-ordinary amaryllis to add to your Christmas collection.  You may not find these in every garden center you walk into, but they are becoming more widely available through various online retailers and a quick Google search should help you locate several nurseries and bulb suppliers who offer them for sale.  I hope this post finds everyone well and enjoying the holiday season and I wish you the very best in the coming year!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Winter Inspiration

It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving has already passed and December 1 is bearing down upon us.  And of course, the weather has taken a turn for the worse long before I (or the garden) was ready.  In fact, I'm sitting here writing to you now with a fire in the fireplace and snow--yes, SNOW!--bearing down on west Tennessee.  It remains to be seen whether it will make it all the way to the Nashville area, but indications are that we'll have at least a dusting and maybe as much as inch or so before it's said and done.  Some areas are expecting more!

Even with the weather turning sour, the garden still has some life in it.  In fact, this beautiful "Christmas rose", Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper' just started flowering this week and will continue, completely unfazed by the weather, until April!  It is my favorite of all of the recent hellebore introductions.  There are others, as well, but none that have the flower power of Josef.

Here is Josef Lemper last January with a bud pushing up through the snow!

Other winter favorites include the many witchhazels like Hamamelis 'Primavera', pictured below.  Flowering as early as January in warmer climates, its bright yellow petals are a bright spot in the winter garden and are completely unaffected by cold temperatures. 

A plant that often gets a bad rap for being "invasive"--another topic for another blog post--is Mahonia bealei, Leatherleaf Mahonia.  Its outstanding architectural form is a welcome presence year-round in the garden, but my favorite feature of mahonia is its winter blooms.  In fact, its one of the few nectar sources available to honeybees that emerge to scavenge for food on warm winter days.

 One last winter favorite, and yes, another of those that some gardeners consider "invasive" (remove the seedheads and they won't move an inch, and it's not that time consuming--you deadhead everything else...)  Arum italicum is an important denizen of my winter garden.  The foliage emerges in late October and early November, remaining completely evergreen throughout the winter, thumbing its nose at temperatures well below freezing.  If we dip down into the teens for an extended period, some leaves my suffer some frost damage, but those can simply be removed and with the warm days of spring, new foliage will appear.  Keep in mind that this is a plant that goes dormant in the summer, hiding underground during the hottest months of the year, so plan accordingly.   Its the perfect plant to mix in with hostas and other shade lovers that are dormant in winter.  The arum will be up all winter long and as it goes dormant in early summer, the hostas will take its place.  In autumn, the cycle will start over as the hostas go dormant and the arum emerges.

So just because winter is knocking at the door doesn't mean I have to let it in, and even on the coldest winter days the garden will remind me that spring will--eventually--return.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Fashionable Roses

Like so many of you, I work--a lot.  Between my design clients, traveling to speaking engagements, working on magazine articles, building a stock photography library and getting ready to launch a garden tour business--not to mention a few projects that I can't talk about quite yet--my days are fairly full.  To that end, sometimes it's nice to be able to mix some pleasure with my work.  Not that I don't find pleasure in all of my work.  If I didn't, I'd change careers.  But really, sometimes it's fun just to have fun and Friday was one of those days!

I've mentioned one of my favorite projects, the Nashville Music Garden, on the blog before.  This garden is a collection of all of the roses that have ever been named for one of Tennessee's great music artists, groups or songs and, as far as we know, it's the only garden like it in the world based solely on its plants having this kind of connection to the music world.  There are roses named for Barbara Mandrell, Lynn Anderson, Dolly Parton, Pam Tillis and many other artists.  There are also roses named for songs, like Rocky Top, Amazing Grace and Blue Suede Shoes.  We even have a rose, 'Crescendo', that was named by Jackson & Perkins to honor our Nashville Symphony--the first time ever a rose was named to honor a group like this--as well as The Grand Ole Opry, The Nashville Ballet and others!

On Friday, we added a new name to our list of honorees at the Nashville Music Garden--Manuel Cuevas.  Now, some of you may not know who Manuel is, but if you've ever seen a photo of someone like Marty Stuart or Dolly Parton, Dwight Yoakam or Little Jimmy Dickens--or any number of other artists--wearing one of those flashy rhinestoned and embroidered jackets, suits or shirts, then you know Manuel.  In fact, Manuel dressed "The King" himself and is the man who made Johnny Cash "The Man in Black".  So it was a true honor and privilege for this little ol' country boy from Kansas to be a part of the dedication of the new 'Manuel Cuevas' rose on Friday.  Manuel even loaned me a jacket to wear for the event and I couldn't have been prouder to wear it!

Pictured with me are Manuel (holding a picture of the rose that was named for him), legendary singer Lynn Anderson (she never promised you a rose garden!), Pat Bullard (my amazing friend who founded the Nashville Music Garden) and rose hybridizer Whit Wells of Wells Mid-South Roses (the creator of the 'Manuel Cuevas' rose and so many others).

By the way, the real rose that you see Lynn wearing on her shirt is the new 'Manuel Cuevas' rose--and the roses you see embroidered on Lynn's beautiful shirt are Manuel's own artistic interpretation of his new rose.  This shirt will be donated to the Nashville Music Garden for a special, online fundraising auction, details of which I'll announce here at a later date.

If you are interested in growing the 'Manuel Cuevas' rose or others that are part of the Nashville Music Garden collection, see Whit's website at  Also, be sure to visit the Nashville Music Garden's own website at and become their friend by "Liking" Nashville Music Garden on Facebook.  And if you're ever in Nashville, be sure to stop by the garden which is located directly across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Symphony in Hall of Fame Park between 4th and 5th Avenue, just south of Broadway.  You never know who you might catch a glimpse of!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Shades of Autumn

I am admittedly not a big fan of autumn.  I don't dislike the season itself and in fact, some of my favorite garden plants flower as the days grow shorter, temperatures drop and summer begins to lose its grip.  My problem with autumn is that it precedes winter, and of winter, I am not a fan.  In my book, winter is simply a necessary evil--the cold weather I must endure in order to love the plants I love the most.  Perennials, bulbs, flowering trees, shrubs--they all have to have winter in order to survive--and not just survive, but thrive--and bloom.  And so, I survive winter knowing that at it's end, all of my garden favorites will be back to woo me with their flowers, their foliage, their fragrance and so much more.

So, if I have to endure winter, I figure autumn ought to be as beautiful as I can possibly make it.  Here are a few stars that are shining now in my gardens and a couple of others that I have visited this week.  Below, Aster novae-angliae (now technically Symphiotrichum novae-angliae because the botanists have been playing again).  The straight species, not a hybrid, it marries beautifully with Colocasia 'Elena' in the background.

Below, Helianthus simulans flowering in the Color Garden at Cheekwood Botanical Garden.  If you're a Nashvillian (or visiting) be sure not to miss Cheekwood--55 acres of beautiful gardens and the Color Garden, in the very capable hands of my friend Phillipe Chadwick, is especially beautiful this time of year.

Part of the fun of gardening is discovering new plants--or new variations of old plants, as in the case below.  I found this seedling Arum italicum in a friend's garden a few years ago and though it had but one leaf at that time, I thought it looked as though it might have some potential.  I'm so glad I talked her out of it.  Stunning variegation and these beautiful leaves will remain standing all winter long!

Tricyrtis is another genus of fall-blooming favorites.  Tricyrtis hirta, with its amethys-speckled blooms, always makes me smile.  It's not rare or even that unusual, but it sure is fun!

And last, but certainly not least, one of the best flowering bulbs around, Colchicum autumnale.  They last but a few days, but are so much fun when they suddenly burst into bloom in late September and early October.  If you look closely you can see the "checkerboard" pattern (technically known as "tesselation") in the flower petals.  In some varieties, this pattern is especially pronounced and very unique.

I hope that autumn finds you well.  I've been photographing like crazy the past few weeks and have a big announcement coming your way soon, so stay tuned!  See you in the garden!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

30-Minute Bolognese

I posted some photos last night on Facebook of a "shortcut" version of traditional Bolognese that I was whipping up to use in a lasagna.  So many people asked for the details, I decided it would be easier to post it here, rather than taking up so much room on my Facebook page and only allowing my Facebook friends to have access to it.  Sorry that I don't have a good photo.  I was snapping with my phone as I went and the images really are inferior for posting here.  I'll do better next time!  At any rate, I can still tell you how you can make a really good Bolognese in 30-45 minutes and skip the traditional, all-day cooking.

Traditional Bolognese is a thick, meaty sauce with little or sometimes no tomato paste or sauce included.  The meat is the star.  The Americanized version is usually a thick, tomato-based sauce full of meat--what we typically would think of as a "meaty" spaghetti sauce.  This quick shortcut version falls somewhere in between and to me, gives you the best of both worlds.  Deep, rich, meaty flavor and a moist, silky, stick-to-the-pasta (and your ribs) texture.  And the time it saves!

What you'll need:

(This makes enough to make a BIG lasagna, 11 x 14, or would easily serve 8 if used with tagliatelle, fettuccine, or even spaghetti.)

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
3/4 c. finely chopped celery
3/4 c. finely chopped carrot
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds 93% lean ground beef
2 quarts of prepared spaghetti sauce (and you may actually need a 3rd quart, store-bought, I prefer the Classico brand Sweet Basil and Tomato, or Publix Premium Sweet Basil)
2-3 Tbsp. sugar, optional
3-4 Tbsp. fresh Basil, thinly sliced

On a day when I'm home all day, I'll make traditional Bolognese that takes several hours to do right, but when I'm in a hurry, this comes as close as you can get and takes 1/4 of the time.

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat.  You want it hot, but don't let it smoke.  The goal is to sweat the vegetables down and, after about 10 minutes of cooking, have them lightly golden brown.  Once the oil is hot, add the celery, carrot, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.  Saute, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables take on a nice golden color.

Add the ground beef all at once and use a spatula to break the meat up and completely incorporate it into the vegetables.  Open 1 jar of the sauce and add 1 cup of sauce to the meat mixture.  Keep working this mixture until the ground beef has broken up completely and there are no large chunks.  Simmer this mixture until all of the moisture has evaporated and the meat begins to look dry.  Add a second cup of sauce from the open jar and incorporate it thoroughly, simmering until the mixture "goes dry" again.  Repeat this action until the first jar of sauce is gone.  It doesn't take long, maybe 10-15 minutes, and your goal is a very rich, thick, brown meaty mixture when it's done.

Give a taste.  At this point, the mixture should taste very meaty with some tomato.  If it's too salty/tomato-y, this is where the sugar comes in to sweeten it up a bit.  Sugar is optional and to your personal taste.

Once the meat mixture is completely cooked, add the second jar of sauce all at once and simmer for about 5 minutes.  If the mixture is too dry for your liking, this is where the third jar (or part of the third jar) of pasta sauce may come in handy--to get the consistency right for your personal taste.  Keep in mind that good Bolognese should not "run" over the pasta, but actually stick to it.  During the last minute or two of simmering, add the fresh basil and incorporate thoroughly.  Your Bolognese is now ready to serve or use in another dish that needs further preparation, as I did last night with the lasagna.

This may sound like an involved process, but it's really quick, easy and a tasty shortcut to traditional Bolognese when you're in a pinch.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Cavolo Nero

In the states, we know this tough, cold-hardy cabbage cousin as "Dinosaur" kale, its name coming from the rough, leathery texture of its leaves.  We use it primarily as an ornamental for the fall and winter garden, combining it with pansies, violas and other cold-hardy winter growers where it provides a textural, architectural accent for its lower growing companions.  In Italy, however, Cavolo Nero, or black kale, is a staple of the fall and winter vegetable garden and its greatest claim to fame is the thick, rich tuscan soup called Ribollita.

On our trip to Italy last October, we sampled Ribollita in a variety of restaurants, from small town osterias to the finer establishments of Florence.  Each was slightly different in its makeup, but all were a hearty blend of kale, white beans and other vegetables.  Some had a touch of tomato, while others leaned most heavily on the Cavolo Nero itself.  In every case, the portion set before you was generous--and generously drizzled with the brightest green, fresh pressed olive oil available, some of it even having been pressed that very day.  Divine!

I stopped by the garden center on my way home on Friday and picked up some "Dinosaur" kale for my own garden.  I have yet to decide whether I'll plant it directly in the ground, where it would certainly attain its greatest size, or whether I'll opt to use it in a few pots up near the garden shed where I can protect them from the harshest winter weather and harvest kale until well after Christmas.  Given the current rabbit population, pots seem the most prudent way to go.  Either way, I'll be harvesting my own Cavolo Nero in a few weeks and Ribollita will be on the menu on more than one occasion this winter.  If you'd like to try some yourself, here is my favorite Ribollita recipe, shared from the most famous of all Italian cookbooks, The Silver Spoon.

Serves 4

1/4 cup very high quality olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
3 fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled
1 fresh thyme sprig
2 potatoes, coarsely diced
7 1/2 cups Cavolo Nero (black kale), shredded
1 cup fresh white beans, or 1/2 cup dried white beans, soaked in cold water overnight and drained
4 country-style bread slices
salt and pepper, to taste

This is soup is called ribollita (reboiled) because it was originally made using the previous day's leftover vegetable soup heated in an earthenware pot with thinly sliced onion, black pepper and olive oil sprinkled on the surface.  It was taken off the heat and served when the onion had turned golden brown.  Today, however, it is normally made as follows.

Heat the 1/4 cup olive oil in a heavy pan, add the carrot, onion and celery and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes until softened.  Add the tomatoes, thyme and potatoes and cook for a few minutes, then add the cavolo nero and beans.  Pour in 8 3/4 cups water and season with salt.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about 2 hours.  Preheat the oven to 350 F.  Place the bread on the base of a large earthenware casserole and ladle in the soup.  Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes.  Divide into 4 serving bowls, sprinkle with black pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Long Time Coming

After several months of revising and revamping, I'm proud to finally announce the re-launch of my old "Garden Notes" blog.  You'll notice that the title of the blog has changed, but don't fret.  I still plan to deliver all of the gardening information that was included in the blog before the changes--new and unusual plants, practical gardening tips, photos of gardens I have visited and more--but the new blog will also include another of my passions: food.

Food has been almost as important in my life as gardening has and it only made sense that at some point, the two would merge--my vocation and my avocation--and become one.  There are some exciting things happening that I can't discuss with you just yet, but stay tuned for future announcements about new career directions, more opportunities for one-on-one interaction, travel to visit some of the finest gardens and gastronomic destinations around the world and much, much more.

In the meantime, enjoy the new blog--GardenerCook--and watch your "In" Boxes for regular new posts about my two favorite topics.  Happy fall, and I'll see you in the garden!  Or maybe the kitchen!


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Welcome To Spring!

Spring has burst forth with a vengeance in Nashville this week!  Forsythia, daffodils, quince, hellebores and many other spring favorites are at their peak, so I thought I'd share a few shots from the garden this week.

Forsythia 'Lynwood Gold'.  One of the oldest and best known varieties of Forsythia on the market, this is the one that gets the long, whiplike stems that are so great for cutting and forcing indoors in late winter and early spring.  Many other varieties have been introduced over the years--later flowering, more cold hardy, shorter and more compact, even forms with variegated leaves--but none, in my opinion compare to the golden beauty of 'Lynwood Gold'.

A tremendous amount of hybridizing has been going on in the world of hellebores, or Lenten roses, over the past twenty years.  Some of the finest results are just now making their way to market and much work is still being done.  The range of flower colors and forms has exploded just in the past 5 years.  Some of the best work being done in the world of hellebore hybridizing is that of Ernie and Marietta O'Byrne at Northwest Garden Nursery.  Their Winter Jewels (TM) series is, in my opinion, second to none.  The one pictured above is Winter Jewels (TM) 'Golden Sunrise' and has been stunning for the past month.

I have a soft spot in my heart for quince.  It's one of the things that I remember from my grandmother's garden when I was a child.  This unusual variety, 'Atsuya Hamada', is a deep, velvety blood red and the flowers are much smaller than normal--only about 3/4" in diameter.  It's perfect for cutting!

Another quince that I have fallen in love with in the past couple of years is this new cultivar, 'Chojuraku'.  Its deep, apricot orange flowers light up the garden in early spring.  It is deeper in color and a larger, more robust plant than 'Cameo', which is also beautiful and has been on the market for many years.  The tall stems of 'Chojuraku' make it great for cutting, where the dwarf habit of 'Cameo' makes it difficult to cut and use indoors.

One of the most unsual of all daffodils and a variety that has been around for over 100 years, 'Van Sion', also known as 'Telamonius Plenus', is one of the most beautiful and one of the most frustrating varieties that I have grown.  Some years, it opens perfectly double flowers like the one shown above, while other years it opens as a shredded looking blossom that resembles a dandelion!  Some years, if the weather conditions are wet and rainy while it is trying to open, the buds may blast and rot on the plant without opening at all.  In the years when it at its very best, 'Van Sion' is showstopping and it's worth the wait for those perfect years!

I hope that spring is just as beautiful in your corner of the world and I'll be back again soon!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

And Spring Begins...

Don't get too comfortable in your shorts and flip-flops just yet, for winter will most assuredly return for another round or two or three.  But as I was out and about our fair city today, I couldn't help but notice that spring--just when I need it the most--has finally begun to peek slowly and cautiously out from under the blanket and that the landscape's long slumber is coming to an end.

The first sure sign of spring each year is this lawn full of crocus that flowers in mid- to late February--like clockwork--regardless of the weather, reminding me that spring, indeed, is but a few weeks away.  And while I know we'll have more cold temperatures, more of those infuriating late spring frosts that nip the buds of over zealous tender plants pushing through the soil too soon, and maybe even a little more snow (but I sure hope not), I know for sure that winter is losing a fighting battle and that spring will prevail.

The witchhazel also tells me that spring is on its way.  In my own garden, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' has chosen to unfurl it's blooms early this year.  It is usually the last of the witchhazels to flower, and this year, it's one of the first!  What's a gardener to do?

Another plant that helps get me through winter's blah and boring days is this beautiful "Christmas Rose"--which is about as closely related to a rose as you are to a dinosaur--therein the problem with common names.  But I digress...  Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper' has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is going to be a great garden plant.  I only planted it in August and it was not a huge plant to begin with, but it is now on it's third round of bloom since the first week of December and even had buds pushing up through the melting snow in January!

For a big, bright splash of color in the late winter landscape, I can always rely on this small patch of Iris reticulata.  Although its flowers last only about a week--maybe 10 days in a good year--it's just the right week every year.  The week when I need to be reminded that winter won't last forever!

And snowdrops.  All the rage in England for decades, American gardeners are now beginning to get interested in them beyond just the common species.  I snapped this photograph in a Nashville garden today.  It has been a damp, chilly day, and the light was terrible for photographing the crocus that I really wanted to shoot, but it was overcast enough that the white flowers didn't glare and "burn out", so all in all it turned out okay.  Back to photograph the crocus on Friday, if tomorrow's rain doesn't destroy them.  If it does, there's always next year and that's part of the beauty of the garden.

When I was headed downtown earlier, I decided to take a quick spin through Centennial Park and see what was flowering in the garden there on the north side of the Parthenon.  I'm sure glad I did.  Otherwise, I would have missed this beautiful witchhazel, Hamamelis mollis 'Pallida'.

Contrary to popular belief, the following photgraph is NOT forsythia!  It's too early!  And it's the wrong color, and it has 5 petals and not 4--and, and, and..... Oh, sorry.  You now know one of my biggest late winter and early spring pet peeves.  This graceful, beautiful, weeping, yellow-flowered, fragrant shrub is always confused with Forsythia when in actuality it is a jasmine.  Jasminum nudiflorum--winter jasmine--to be precise.  It makes a great groundcover or cascading shrub and while I was a mite irritated when I found that the landscape team at this particular establishment had begun shearing this row like a hedge (it used to cascade beautifully to the ground)--I have to admit that it's rather stunning in bloom, even sheared within an inch of its life.

And last, but certainly not least, a rather unusual and lesser known (by the gardening public, anyway) cousin of the witchhazel, Parrotia persica.  These flowers will "puff up" a bit, but what you see is basically what you get.  It's not really grown for its blooms and in fact, I watched at least 20 people walk right past this today and never look up.  But even if its blooms aren't showy, it has beautiful, smooth, silver-grey bark and its tapestry of fall color in shades of red, orange and gold is second to none.

So there you have it!  Spring is officially on its way.  Winter beware.  You might have a few good gusts left in you, but you're not going to win this fight and for this year, anyway, I say good riddance.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

We're Off and Traveling!

Exciting news this week!  We're off and traveling!  I am working with a local travel company even as I am writing this to you and it seems that in all likelihood my dream of taking gardeners and garden lovers like you on trips to some of the finest gardens in the world--both stateside and abroad--is finally going to come true!

We are still working on the details, but I hope that within the next few weeks we'll have an official itinerary and price for an incredible trip this fall to the Philadelphia area and the exquisite Brandywine Valley.  Destinations will include world-renowned Longwood Gardens (where yours truly was an intern 20--gasp!--years ago), Winterthur, Chanticleer and many of the other public and private gardens in the area.  We'll include some of the better garden centers and one-of-a-kind nurseries around Philadlephia, too, and trust me, I know how to pack and ship some plants.  We'll get them home, no matter where you live!

If you love gardens and you love to travel, stay tuned.  Lots more to come in the next few weeks!  In the meantime, here are a few photos from Longwood, Chanticleer and Winterthur from my last trip there in 2008 to whet your appetite.  You won't want to miss this!

The "mantel" in the Ruin at Chanticleer.

Chanticleer's incredible water garden.

Longwood's spectacular Italian water garden.

The gazebo by the pond at Longwood.  This photograph was actually part of a National Geographic Traveler spread which you can see here:

The oval staircase inside Winterthur, also in the National Geographic Traveler feature.

And the amazing "table" inside the ruin/follie at Chanticleer.

Itineraries to Scotland, England, Italy and France are also in the works for 2012 and beyond, so tell your frieinds and neighbors and...

Get your bags packed!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Plant of the Week: Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper'

I want you to meet my new favorite hellebore, Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper'.  I have never met a hellebore I didn't like and my garden is full of them, but I have to say that 'Josef Lemper' has quickly risen to the top of my list of favorites.

Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper'

Having only been in the ground since mid-summer, the first flower appeared shortly after Thanksgiving.  Two more opened prior to Christmas and last week, even under four inches of snow, the "little plant that could" kept right on flowering!  This week, with the snow finally gone, three more flowers have opened and I can see at least a half dozen more buds that will open over the next two to three weeks.  Not bad for a plant that has only been in the garden six months and was just a small, 1-gallon specimen to begin with.  I can't wait to see what it does in future years!

Helleborus Winter Jewels™ Golden Lotus
Helleborus x hybridus 'Golden Lotus', photo courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries

Other favorite hellebores include Helleborus x hybridus 'Golden Lotus', an exquisite double-flowered form with creamy yellow petals and Helleborus x ericsmithii 'Silver Moon' with black-green foliage traced with silvery veins and white flowers that have appeared as early as mid-January in some years.  This year, though, it looks like the big show is going to come in February.

Helleborus x ericsmithii 'Silver Moon'

Helleborus 'Ivory Prince' was up near the top of the list for a long time and it is second to none where flower power is concerned, but I lost all of my plants to crown rot last summer--and my garden is nowhere close to being wet, since I live on a dry ridge.  I'm going to try it again, but its propensity to succumb to crown rot has moved it down the list a little ways--at least for now.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Chasing Winter Away

It's Sunday afternoon and much of the South is bracing for yet another nasty swipe by Old Man Winter.  He has already taken a couple of good whacks at us this season and it looks as though tonight's snow and ice may extend as far south as Birmingham and perhaps even further!  To help chase away those winter blues, I've been culling through my photo files and trying to reduce the number of unwanted, unneeded and unusable photos that I just haven't gotten around to deleting yet.  Going through file after file helped me realize just how many photos I have of plants that help me get through the cold, gray days of winter in my garden and I thought I'd share a few favorites with you.

Edgeworthia chrysantha has long been one of my favorite winter-flowering shrubs.  In middle Tennessee, we can expect flowers by mid-February, but the plant needs to be sited in a protected location so that cold weather doesn't freeze the early blooms.  In just the right location, you can expect a 4 to 5-foot tall shrub with a 5 to 6-foot spread, but they often don't get quite that large.  A particularly cold winter may cause some stems to die back, but with careful pruning and shaping the plant will rebound quickly.  Morning sun with afternoon shade is the ideal location, preferably in rich, humusy, evenly moist soil with some protection from bitter winter winds.

The most serious of my plant collecting friends are really into this stunning relative of some of our most important commercial fruit crops--peaches, plums and cherries.  Prunus mume is a species of flowering apricot whose blooms appear in the dead of winter when planted in just the right climate.  In my garden, they frequently get frozen, but I don't mind.  The few days of incredible enjoyment they give me each year, sometimes as early as the end of January, make them worth whatever space they take up in the garden.  It helps that they are intoxicatingly fragrant!

Cornus officinalis is one of our earliest flowering dogwoods.  Dogwood?  Sure enough!  As early as February in a warm winter the golden yellow blooms burst open to brighten even the grayest days of winter.  Imagine the flower of the white flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) that most of us are familiar with and then think of that little green "puff" in the center of the bloom.  That "puff" is the little cluster of true flowers that are surrounded by the showy white bracts that we think of as being the flower, but the truth is, it's not.  Just like the Christmas poinsettia, the showy parts are actually bracts and not flowers at all.  In the case of Cornus officinalis, it's missing those showy bracts and it just has the little "puff"--and they happen to be brilliant, golden yellow!  A most welcome sight as winter begins to lose its grip and spring slowly emerges.

Late winter and early spring in my garden are defined by the flowering of the hellebores, or Lenten roses.  Known as the stinking hellebore (an absolutely horrendous common name, as there is nothing about it that stinks!), Helleborus foetidus is one of the earliest flowering of all the plants in my garden.  In fact, it's not uncommon for buds to begin appearing at the top of the plant as early (or late, depending on your perspective) as Thanksgiving!  Those buds will go through a tremendous amount of cold to begin opening their pale green petals the very minute the weather acts as though it is going to moderate!  Helleborus foetidus is almost always in full bloom by mid-February and will bloom for a full three months!

Also beginning in February, the witchhazels take center stage in the late winter and early spring garden.  Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise' is a little later, but is also one of the showiest of all of the witchhazels.  Usually in flower around the first week of March, it lights up the garden for about two weeks in early spring and again in fall, when its leaves turn golden yellow with touches of orange and red!

In years when we're lucky (I guess) enough to have a little snow on the ground in late February, the beautiful and diminutive Iris reticulata will actually push its blooms right up through the snow!  Growing from a small, underground bulb, you need to plant these in the autumn--at the same time you would be planting tulips and daffodils.  Perfect perennials, Iris reticulata likes a location in the garden where it can spend the summer hot and dry.  Given the proper conditions it will multiply rapidly and return year after year, putting on a bigger and better show each and every spring.

I noticed yesterday when I was getting out of the car that the 'February Gold' Narcissus that are planted next to the driveway are up about 2" and are already showing the tips of their flower buds!  'February Gold' is one of the earliest of all daffodils and with the reflected heat of the driveway, they are almost always in full bloom by the third week of February!  Spring can't be far off now!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Plant of the Week: Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Fenway Park'

In addition to a regular blog post each week, I thought I would start doing a "Plant of the Week" feature and introduce my readers to some of the unique, unusual and beautiful plants that I have known and grown over the years.  Here is the inaugural "Plant of the Week" post:

I love a good clinging, climbing vine.  Make it a bright golden yellow and it's truly a torrid affair!  'Fenway Park' was one of those have-to-have-it plants from the moment I first laid eyes on it--and it was HARD to find.  Even now, it's not a plant that everyone is familiar with and certainly not one that you'll walk into just any garden center and find.  And it's sloooooowww, so alot of growers don't want to take the time to produce it, but for me, being a slower grower is part of the beauty.  The fact that it won't climb three stories in as many weeks makes it a much more manageable plant for most of us to live with in the garden.  This doesn't mean that it won't eventually reach 30 feet, but it will take longer to get there and that gives us, the gardener, an opporunity to help direct and control its growth.

Botanical Name:  Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Fenway Park'
Common Name:  Fenway Park Boston Ivy
Hardiness:  USDA Zones 4-9
Exposure: Full sun in northern and central climates, morning sun in the deeper South
Habit:  Self-clinging vine
Size:  30-40 feet, depending on the size of the structure it has to climb on.  Because of its slower rate of growth, it is not difficult to maintain it at a smaller size.
Features:  Brilliant, golden chartreuse leaves throughout the summer and spectacular fall color in shades of red, orange and gold.  Deciduous, losing its leaves in winter.