Thursday, January 27, 2011

Acanthus - Bear's Breeches

Acanthus hungaricus in full bloom

Next in the Kate Greenway "Language of Flowers," listing is: Acanthus.  Ancanthus suggests "the fine arts. Artifice."

The common name for Acanthus is Bear's Breeches.  I use this plant quite often in perennial garden borders.  I love the connection to the fine arts too! Acanthus has beautiful color, erect, tall structure for back of the border composition and balance.

If you want to grow Acanthus, plant in the autumn or after the last frost of spring.  I know, I know, with all the snow here on the east coast, you think that will never come, but it will soon enough.
Bear's Breeches does best in full sunlight as well as part shade.
Don't plant Acanthus too deep. Crown is not to be below ground.
I love pairing Bear's Breeches with yellow plants including Lady's Mantle, another perennial, and marigolds, an annual for us in zone 7.

(Photo is from The Copper Leaf)

According to Garden Guides: Acanthus plants are striking in the garden with their tall stalks, dark green spiky leaves and beautiful purple and white flowers. They make a wonderful back border or walkway plant. You may know the Acanthus as Bear's breeches, which is their common name. They are easy to grow in gardening zones 6 to 10 and they will spread by themselves. These beautiful flowers will go dormant in the heat of the summer and come back in the fall, so you should plan for this and plant a summer flower to take it's place.

Read more: How to Grow Acanthus | Garden Guides

For more information on planting and tending a perennial garden, you must read and refer to Tracy DiSabato Aust: The Well-Tended Perennial Garden.  I have attended her garden lectures and often refer to her books. Tracy is a rock star of garden design. And the real deal.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Garden Graphemes: The Language of Flowers

I am a writer. I love words. I love art and garden art. I am a gardener and a garden designer.  I love flowers.

So when one of my favorite garden design clients gave me a 1978 copy of the 1885 Kate Greenway's "Language of Flowers," I swooned.

I adore the book.

With two garden maidens -- garden baskets dripping with roses -- and draped hypnotically across the title "fence" on the book's cover jacket where it says Kate's artwork "in illustrated books, greeting cards, and paintings" are charming. A "fantasy of simpler times" and it noted her drawing of flowers have been compared to Botticelli."

Rather than keep it to myself, I thought gardeners love to share.
The "'Language of Flowers' recreates for the modern reader a Victorian tradition when the use of flowers and plants was used to express feelings in a ... subtle manner. "
"Each flower represents a specific mood or emotion."

Victorians had their nuanced Twitter code of communicating... They called it Floriographies - or the language of flowers.
Wouldn't you love to be a linguist or translator of this special language?

So I will attempt to share some of the Flower meanings here - gulp- every day!  Hopefully, the flower's messages will bring joy and peace -- and more than a little romance...
How about the flirty Lemon Geranium that means Unexpected Meeting?
Or the White Dittany of Crete that says Passion?!
Or the Heliotrope that conveys Devotion and Faithfulness.
ahhh, I love this language... I have great curiosity and love of learning so I thought this will be fun and enriching...

The more than 500 entries are served up in alphabetical order.
Kate got off to a rather bad start I'm afraid.  Abecedary is the first listing and it means Volubility.

However, when I researched the abecedary flower because I never heard of it.  The web site Library ad Infinitum said the "non-floral use of the word abecedary in connection with alphabets written out or printed and illustrated for children, a usage which dates back to the Middle Ages.  The floral meaning of abecedary isn't documented by the Oxford English dictionary... and Kate Greenway didn't illustrate the flower."
They speculate, and I think accurately, that the fullest explanation "appears in the The Language of Flowers (1835): Volubility, Abecedary. This plant is a native of the island of Fernalus; when you chew its head, or roots, the tongue feels a stimulating sensastion, that gives it a singular fluency. This plant is employed in looseing children's tongues, (WHY oh Why would anyone need to do that?!) "whence comes its name abecedary, or children's grass."

Yet, I think the publisher may have started the book as an abecedary and the printer thought it was the first flower.  Ah, the mysteries of circumstance make for fascinating pursuits.

Technically, the First Garden Grapheme is Abecedary.
But the controversy about that entry compels me to skip to the second entry: Abatina and its message of Fickleness.
As it turns out, research indicates Abatina may or not be a flower either!

(I wish my editor and publisher were so forgiving....)

Next up is Acacia. At this rate we'll be through to the C's in no time!
I KNOW this flower, Acacia.  And it means Friendship. And that's as good a place as any to start.
The image is from World Wide Wattle.  And I learned from them that the acacia pycnantha was officially proclaimed as Australia's National Floral Emblem in 1988.
Good choice, Mates!  We can enjoy our Aussie Friends all the more.

And here is the inspiring, delightful Kate Greenway book:

Thursday, January 13, 2011

He likes Plants He Can Play With

Metro Hort First Meeting of the New Year Featured Plantsman, Michael Ruggiero
Plants and Gardens from the Sublime to the Lubricious

Metro Hort, “An association of Horticultural Professionals in the New York City and Tri-State Region” held its first general meeting of 2011 at the Arsenal, which is perched on the cusp of Central Park at 64th St. Every time I approach the fanciful building nestled among the trees, the architecture conjures a fairy-tale where I half expect fairies and dragons to be peeking from a window.
This time of year it is glowing with holiday lights animating the sense that a Merlin will be swooshing to greet you. 

A 2007 New York Times article described the holiday lighting:
Beginning in 2005, the department began an unusual program of holiday lighting, designed by James Conti. Instead of the usual horizontal strings, Mr. Conti draped the building in roof-to-ground strands of closely spaced lights, generally blue and purple. Viewed through the screen of trees, it is a moody, evocative sight, like the bass line of a slow jazz tune.
Very sexy, no?

I researched the history of the Arsenal and found it not only housed 19th Century ammunition, but at one time it was the American Museum of Natural History and a zoo.  Now it is the headquarters for New York City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Holding the door open for me as I made my way up the steep stairs was not a Merlin or a gremlin, but a courteous Parks staffer.
Upstairs it was all horticulture humming as the audience was settling down. Greetings were underway by Metro Hort Secretary, Charles Yurgalevitch, who introduced the speaker, Mike Ruggiero.  Charles is also Director, School of Professional Horticulture, NYBG.

Mike is a stuffed-animal, cuddly walrus of a garden giant and an excellent horticulturist.  
He was one of my instructors at NYBG when I took classes for my Landscape Design certificate. 

The Metro Hort bio for Mike formally notes:
In his inimitable and engaging manner, Mike shares stories and comments about the many wonderful, unusual, or just plain strange plants and gardens he's come across over the course of the past fifty years in horticulture. 

Michael A. Ruggiero has had a stellar career in horticulture, most recently as horticulturist and all-around plant and garden expert at Matterhorn Nursery in Spring Valley, New York. He came to Matterhorn after nearly forty years as Senior Curator for Horticulture at The New York Botanical Garden where he was responsible for the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden and many of the other collections. A renowned expert in roses and all perennials, Mike continues to teach and lecture on a variety of horticulture topics. He also serves as an instructor at New York Botanical Garden's School of Horticulture.
Like a kid hitting the roll of toy gun caps, Mike presented a rapid-fire series of garden photos while sharing funny stories about the garden and plants. Gardeners like nothing better than to look at garden images… Truth be told, it’s almost as good as working in the garden. And this time of year?  Nothing is better. We could see all those stacked slide carousels and were as giddy as kids hearing it’s a snow day!
Mike says he likes plants he can play with and his mirthful, down to earth (can’t resist the pun) demeanor underscores his commitment.
There is the cedrus pendula he used at NYBG to keep the kids off the rocks.
The Himalayan Pine that looks like zebra grass. I have used these Suessical-like conifers in my clients’ gardens and we love them too.
There is the blue spruce used as a hanging fence wall.  

A guy who painted his glorious coral bark tree a sharper shade of red – and another one purple! 
Here is a Leaning Tower of Taxus he saw in the Pacific Northwest:    
He had everyone laughing too hard with his whimsically “favorite:” the “communicatos verizonis”  (It's a cellular telephone pole!)

Not all was goofy, though. He pointed out that Japanese Maples do best in rock gardens and shade – but notes that many people do put them in sun.   They will do well there but are best in low light.  
He loves cornus Kousa and had one that flowered in the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden right through August.  

He joked that there were two questions he was invariably asked when he was the curator there:  “Where is the restroom, “ and “WHAT is that flowering tree??”  (Never mind there were in one of the world’s premiere rose gardens!)
He’s not sure about glass in the garden. He swears this Chihuly glass creation is following him! 

He made us all laugh with the garden "bed." 
I got a gift not too long ago that was a framed card that reads, "Gardeners get to stay in their beds all day."  Cute. It has a nice spot in my garden room.
The Good Gardens segment started with his all-time favorite:  Lynden Miller’s.  

He showed a number of seasonal photos of the perennial bed. 
And why not?  It's heart-stoppingly beautiful.  "I love that bed," he sighed as he reluctantly changed the slide. 
He also remarked he loves her Perennial Gardens and design at NYBG.  Naturally.  Who doesn't it? 
He also loves Sissinghurst.  He showed a unique perspective – from on top of the roof. From this perch one can see and appreciate all the different garden “rooms.” Mike noted that just walking from garden room to garden room, you can’t a real sense of the design.  Good point. 

In turn, the White Garden at Sissinghurst was his inspiration for a Macy’s Flower Show design.   

Crayola-like primary colors had been the norm for the retail legend but with Matterhorn Nurseries, Mike does the garden work for the annual flower show, and together convinced Macys to try white.  Here is their white unicorn in a white garden display.  

He also likes tropicals.  For these tender perennials and true annuals, he recommends lots of fertilizer.  “Feed them like crazy,” he said.  He starts with Flowertone in May, then Osmocote (14-14-14) in June when that begins to work. Overall, he feeds the plants every two weeks.   He likes the beds and window boxes to look like they are on steroids! 

He likes topiaries and standards too, and showed a number of plants including New Guinea Impatiens 

He notes New Guinea impatiens was developed by Longwood Gardens! 
How could we ever have thought the plant was from the country of New Guinea.  Silly.
He loves unique planting vehicles: golf shoes seemed to star and he showed a few 

It was an amusing and fun night to learn about plants. 
Here is Mike with garden artist Lynn Torgerson.  Xx She is adorable – well so are you , Mike, but in a different way…  J

Lynn told me she is working on a new rooftop garden design. I can’t wait to write about it.  Last year, I wrote about her sexy garden on top of Gramercy Hotel.
Next Metro Hort meeting, February 16th, will feature Stephen Morrell who will talk about Zen and the Japanese Garden Aesthetic.  He is the expert.  He is the director of the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Mill Neck, New York.  It is a jewel of a garden.
For a complete listing of Metro Hort meetings: