I know its getting to be June because the Crimson Alabama Honeysuckle is fit to burst. I brought some home and put them into this odd flea market vase I have where someone has hand painted roses onto the surface- it's eroded badly in parts which is what makes me think it was added later but that only adds to its appeal. Looking at the photos after, the words honeysuckle and rose connect and Fats Waller's sultry classic cranks up in my head.
Its a fitting soundtrack for the moment as a warmer summery feeling has drifted in over the last few days, the light is different, the windows are all open. I'm also cognizant of this having just read E.A.Bowles remark in his book My Garden in Spring about these last days of May.
If offered three wishes, one would be "to have the clock stopped for six months on a fine morning towards the end of May. Then, perhaps I would have time to enjoy the supreme moment of the garden". I totally get that, there's something wonderful about this time but those warm sunny days of June coming up ahead aren't too shabby either.
I had a great stand of foxgloves in my London garden. They were gorgeous I loved how they looked and the great thing about them is that they create such height and volume - quickly. Despite this I've purposefully avoided putting foxgloves in the Mamaroneck garden.
One small reason is that they are a little classic cottage garden fare and I wanted to try some new things. Yes, they're toxic and there are children and dogs that frequent the garden to think about- but they would be somewhat safer contained in raised dry wall beds. No, the real reason I've avoided them is because they're poisonous - symbolically, or maybe that should be psychically.
This all started a few years ago when I attended a Feng Shui Weekend Workshop with Stephen Post when he revealed an interesting point about apartment feng shui - its not about the angles and corners and details and the myriad possibilities of solutions to counteract all these challenges. The single most important determinant of your fate in your soon to be new apartment is the fate of the previous tenants.
Whatever drama played out in that space previously - divorce, debt, or bliss - that's what you inherit. It's therefore top of the list to find out what happened at that apartment previously, also check if it happened more than once with the tenants previous to the previous tenants- and here's the kicker- what karmic force attracted you to this apartment and the possibility of it playing out again but this time with you in it.
This forever altered how I approached choices and getting back to foxgloves, found me questioning why I would be attracted to something poisonous in the first place and maybe I should avoid them along with Monkshood and Delphiniums- two others that I also love the look of and also on the poisonous list (there's actually plenty more- I'm loathe to look at a true list of them ).
A Geomancer, Richard Creightmore also suggests that foxgloves along with Ivy, bindweed, nettles, docks, thistles, ferns and nightshades are attracted to places with 'geopathic stress' which are places of "earthly suffering". Do I believe unquestionably in all this, not necessarily but, I take notes, I proceed with caution and Foxgloves remain on the do not plant list, for now.
This is our new Broom. Cystisus Scoparius 'Burkwoodii', which according to this is named after Albert & Arthur Burkwood, famed plant developers in England in the early 20th Century. The flower color is extremely interesting, with yellows and reds but it registers as s deep rose.
We needed something to fill a largish space at the base of of the climbing rose which has stood empty for awhile waiting for the right tenant. The blossom reminds me of pea flowers and the twisting lines of the foliage are a great addition to that North West bed.
Usually chive flowers get eaten here- either when they are just in bud or in full bloom (good in salads or omelettes). I don't think I've ever left them in a vase long enough to see what happens- which I've now discovered is that the color leaches out from all mauve to almost white with a mauve center. They're starting to look like dandelions.
Why not just stay in the perfect spot I've picked for you? What restless itinerent spirit drives you to set roots in dry soiless cracks and live awkwardly among a colony of strange folk. Like this lone euphorbia that found itself in the middle of a drift of candytuft. I don't quite have the heart to pull the other one out of the crack in the paving- because I understand that gypsy yearning to move on, to try another place that might end up being the one you call home. There's one more, thriving in the shade of the clematis- who knew that's where it likes it best.
I'm not quite so in tune with the Meadow Rue that towered so high above the others in its first year then plagued me after in its determination to spread itself in every single one of the beds. I've been weeding it out every year since. My expectations lower each year for the ones that remain- they've never had the same glorious vigor of that first one. But they've become familiar faces and every year they suggest another place that might work for them and I say, sure, lets try that.
My relationship with the Red Veined Dock is a little more testy. I don't like its choices and it refuses to co operate when I move them. It sulks literally to death. This year they are growing in the middle of irises, stealing spaces that don't belong to them. This isn't cricket. They can apparently be eaten if harvested in spring. Cue sound of knives being sharpened.
I can't tell you how psyched I was to see these flower buds. Black Barlow has returned. We found this Aquilegia last year outside a supermarket on sale so it was a bargain in the first place. I was a little doubtful about it's return. I had read somewhere that it might be temperamental and was half resigned to it not showing up again. But here it is and its reawakening my fascination with black flowers or I should say very dark colored flowers.
It's also reminded me that when I was last at the Brooklyn Botanic garden I bought a few packets of seeds that I completely forgot about and I'm hoping I'm not too late to do anything with- Viola Black Bowles, Centaurea Black Ball and Nasturtium Tom Thumb Black Velvet. Must remember get them out of the drawer to bring them with me this week.
Every stage that the False Indigo goes through is visually compelling, from its triffid like emergence to its spectacular display of flower (see this from last year ) to the showy seed pods after its flowered. The stage I like best however is when its is in bud - the color is a deep rich indigo like nothing else I know. I've also found that regularly trimming off the outermost stalks keeps the plant upright where its prone to flop somewhat after flowering. This way it keeps its striking shape through much of the summer.
I love the phrase 'arching habit'- great name for a novel or a band. In describing Physocarpus Opulifolius that phrase is usually preceded by 'graceful'. All three words popped into my head looking at a swaying branch of this shrub against a pale wall. Its 'Diablo'- an inky black burgundy green. One more thought - it would look really interesting as an ink painting - pictured above is a digital version of one- photographs of the branch yielded an outline that I filled with many layers of scanned washes in burgundy, green and black until I felt it captured what I saw.
We spotted this coral colored annual on the way out at Tony's nursery. It was in the trolley of the lady in front of us. 'I found it over there' she said pointing to a stack just to the right of us. It was meant to be, I went over and grabbed a couple. Its a Diascia, also called Twinspur- never heard of it, apparently fairly new from South Africa and related to the snapdragon.
I like this Jamaican phrase - soon come. Its suggests that you need to add a little detachment to the wait. Its a good phrase for what's going on in the garden right now. On my visit today I found a lot of things poised to go into bloom, like these peony buds in the picture.
The detachment aspect is particularly meaningful for me as I only go up to Mamoroneck once a week at best. Last year I missed a week and completely missed the Peonies. The year before the timing was perfect, I brought back a perfect bunch back to the city that perfumed the apartment and looked sensuosly beautiful. I go back next Thursday. I'm detached, but I can't wait.
My Geranium is blooming again. I've had her for years and it amazes me how resilient she is. I've also assigned a gender to her and I'm not really sure why. It may be because she is red and the color does have some immediate associations for me. My first job in NYC was with the men's design team at Liz Claiborne and there was a red that was always preferred throughout all the divisions- Liz Claiborne red- used over and over, almost a branded red. The source was a leather glove that Liz actually owned. Its framed with chunks chopped off for color standards over the years. I wonder what the new creative director there makes of this color.
But its not the red of this geranium. It was a bluer cast red. This geranium red casts more orange and makes me think of yet another female icon- Diana Vreeland and her famously red living room- the image is from Billy Baldwin Remembers which she dubbed "a garden in hell". I certainly took Diana's thought process from her Bazaar days when she ran her "why don't you?" series when I saw this bloom on a gangly stalk.
"Why don't you cut that off and put it in a tiny little vase?" I thought to myself. Not quite the grandiose why don't you's Diana used to suggest, like "Why don't you wash your child's hair in champagne?" but nevertheless it made a bright impetuous start to the day.
The Oak tree outside my bedroom window wears a spring coat of pale green leaves. I woke up early yesterday morning and the light was particulary beautiful. I looked out the window to see the leaves lit by the morning sun, bright gold against the cold gray landscape of concrete and tarmac.
I cranked up the colors in the image to reflect how I felt on seeing this. This is what it was like a for the longest time. And then it just seemd to be forever in bud before the leaves arrived suddenly, awkwardly, overnight it seemed. So the scene did seem almost magical, more like a real beginning. Of course today its been miserably gray and rainy but that image has really stirred the notion that a new season is here and there's no turning round.
How about that for some eyepopping color. Spotted this superb combination at the New York Botanical Gardens. Its Hakonechloa Macra 'All Gold' with Euphorbia Amygdaloids 'Golden Glory'. The knockout feauture for me is the dark almost burgundy stems. That with the dark foliage really pops the lime bracts that float above the grass.
Let's start at the very beginning. The very first produce of the season from the kitchen garden is a large bunch of chives or Allium Schoenoprasum including plump flower buds. How perfect that it should be alphabetically appropriate. The buds get chopped up like the leaves but I also add them whole as an interesting addition to a stir fry with tofu.
The clump reliably returns every year bigger than ever, I'll dig up a section to pot up and bring back to my Harlem windowsill. Soon there will be flowers and too much of it altogether. In the Vintage book I just uploaded- see below- it suggests to use it as an edging- which might be a really good idea to do next year. We do have a problem with rabbits eating the leafy vegetables, maybe this might thwart them.
I missed this last year the Phlox Subulata in bloom and its really quite something. In fact after researching this a little, this is probably why I don't really love it the rest of the time- it apparently needs to be pruned hard right after it flowers. I usually prune it back but only because its gets so dried out and raggedy. I'll be sure to be more timely about it this year. But now, tumbling over the stone wall in three large patches its the star turn in the beds.
Last summer the Spiraea Thunbergii "Ogon" (Mellow Yellow) played a dramatic role as backdrop to the delicate surly Aquilegia Black Barlow. This without missing a beat as an important architectural shape in the border subtly greening through the season away from its sharp lemon spring hue.
The Berberis thunbergii 'Rose Glow' was a little awkward last year, like a gangly teen. This spring it has thickened and darkened- I love its color next to the emerging blue green sedum clump next to it. I must find the same or similar dark Purple Nicotiana that it paired with last year to add back to this.
Currently both are flowering, white flowers on the spirea, little yellow ones on the Berberis. Its almost surprising to see the blooms- it softens what you normally notice about them which is their foliage - a reminder of how important they are for shape and color through the season.
It was gray and miserable on Saturday morning with a forecast of rain in the afternoon. I reluctantly called Heidi to cancel my plans to go up there. My kickoff to the gardening year in Mamaroneck was postponed to Monday which the weatherman promised to be sunny and indeed it was. Our seedlings had all miraculously sprouted, clearly just leaving them on the window ledge in the potting shed works. Sadly, a spate of distractions- and there are many up there as the construction/refurbishment is into the final stages struck a sad unwatered blow to this surge in self sufficiency. "They're dead" she confessed on the phone. "I can't believe they actually sprouted" I said. "Next year" we both said.
I ran down to the farmers market before catching the train and picked up a few plants, when I got there we went straight to Tony's nursery and got some more. The seedlings weren't all dead - there were some seedlings that responded to the rescue waterings- some chinese cabbages, some beets,a few arugula and a couple of pots of basil. The Oregano had survived the winter as had the parsley but it didn't survive my misstep as I crushed the tender leaves underfoot. The chives were fatter than they were last year, as they always are and full of flower buds.
We usually just leave everything in the beds as is over winter a la Piet Oudolf so come this time every year, the day ends with a mountain of seed heads and dead stalks. I pulled up fat plump dandelions and seriously considered bringing them home to eat but the leaves wilted to an unappetizing mess so they got tossed onto the giant pile. I weeded, swept, dug, planted, watered. My hands, shoes, jeans got caked with dirt. I have a throbbing splinter at the base of my thumb. I froze waiting for the train with my plastic bag of garden swag- a bunch of chive flower buds, one peat pot with sprouting basil and one purchased oregano plant that wasn't needed.
What a fantastic day.
For a short while I lived where there was a Lilac tree outside my bedroom window. When it bloomed its scent would actually wake me in the morning. I was reminded of this the other day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden where there is a huge stand of Lilacs in all different shades, all in bloom. The scent is heady and the visual impact is stunning as they have them underplanted with masses of Grape Hyacinths.
I've totally messed with the images to try and render that powerful memory of the bedroom, the window, that Lilac tree. Like yesterday. Of course its the scent that does that, and probably the fact that I was sleeping or waking from sleep. This is all very timely as I've been thinking lately about a scent garden. On my last trip up to Mamaroneck, I saw the new octagonal that's being completed as part of the refurbishment- it will be a dining area with windows that have a great view of the flower beds. I thought how great to have all those windows open up to a range of different scents. I wondered if the combination of those Grape Hyacinths, which have a slight musk to their odor, broadened the scent of those Lilacs. What if we added roses outside and pots of scented geraniums inside? I'm going up tomorrow to ponder more on this.
Because I actually wanted to remember what some of those Lilacs were I took a whole slew of photos, even remembering to take a note of their names. So along with some minor design tidy ups that you can see (a new navigation bar at the top and random reads at the bottom ), this has instigated a new section called albums where I will be building a collection of plant and flower images.
Hurry. The Cherry Blooms, still, at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden - the Sakura Matsuri is on this weekend to mark its end. Housman's poem captures the bittersweet experience of witnessing such extravagant but temporal beauty. Hard to describe the opposing sensations of melancholy and joy one feels, especially here at the BBG where they have the largest collection of flowering cherries outside Japan. So much color under its canopy and when the breeze picks up and the petals snow, time seems to stand still but of course you realize at the same instant its the very thing thats slipping surely away.
Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.
Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.
A E Housman
Soundtrack: Garden Meeting from Memoirs of a Geisha