Gamble House’s Pollinator Garden

Gamble House’s pollinator garden

Today there is much interest in including a pollinator garden in every landscape.

Scientists tell us there is a shortage of bees and other insects to pollinate. Much of our food crop depends on such pollinators.

The USDA Forest Service encourages gardeners everywhere to include a pollinator garden.

A national program emerged recently called the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. Its lofty goal is to spread pollinator gardens across the country.

Gamble Garden

A wonderful California garden I recently visited now includes a pollinator garden.

In Palo Alto, California the grand Elizabeth F. Gamble Historic Home built in 1902 still stands. The house and garden are now open to the public.

The Edwardian revival Gamble House was built by Edwin Gamble, son of Proctor & Gamble founder James Gamble.

A sign that welcomes you to the property in a residential neighborhood.

I walked around quite a bit and found many beautiful, smaller garden areas, including this walkway edged in the short boxwood shrubs. [below]

Walkway at the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

The Palo Alto Garden Club offered a grant to install a new pollinator garden at the Gamble garden.

Here is the sign that greets the visitor to the new pollinator garden.

New Pollinator Garden at the Gamble House

The Elizabeth F. Gamble garden now serves as an example of the importance of encouraging pollinator gardens everywhere.

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When Annuals Lost Their Appeal

When annuals lost their appeal

From the mid nineteenth century England encouraged gardening with beds of annuals.

The arrival of glorious summer plants from warmer climates like Africa, Asia, and South America had encouraged that fashion.

In the 1870s however garden writer William Robinson criticized the practice. He advocated for perennials and native plants in the summer garden.

The cost of growing in the greenhouse the necessary dozens of annuals became expensive.

Another issue became  the maintenance to keep the annual beds weed-free and trimmed to the proper height and width.

Perennials would reward the gardener with bloom year after year, Robinson wrote.

Growing  native plants would also reduce the expense of the annuals since they are readily available in local fields, mountains, and woods.

Tom Carter in his book The Victorian Garden writes about the inevitability of the demise of the extensive growing and maintaining of beds of annuals.

William Robinson

Robinson himself had once been an advocate of annuals but no longer.

He wrote the book The Wild Garden in which he proposed plants other than annuals for the summer garden.

Carter says, “The movement away from the true Victorian style during the last decade of the century reflected in, and partly brought about by Robinson, … was inevitable.

 “It has been maintained that bedding, with its emphasis on annuals and a limited number of perennials, caused gardeners to disregard old-fashioned plants, bringing some of them close to extinction.”

Today we continue to preach the gospel of native plants. 

It’s not that we can’t grow annuals. It’s that we also have beautiful native plants.

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Squirrel Stashes Pignuts in My Garden Shed

Squirrel stashes pignuts in my garden shed –

I know of a squirrel that has been quite busy lately.

A few days ago I opened my garden shed and discovered a pile of pignuts.

The pointed mound measured almost two feet high in the center. A lot of pignuts.

The yellow pignut looks a great deal like a walnut. The large pile shocked me at first.

I thought to myself, “How could this amount of nuts accumulate in this one spot?”

I presented the issue to the Master Gardeners at our monthly meeting a couple of days later. As if in unison, they all agreed that it had to be a squirrel.

Pignuts [Courtesy of Illinois Wildflowers]

Carya glabra Tree

Pignuts  come from the Carya glabra or hickory tree.

The 1900 edition of Liberty H. Bailey’s Cyclopedia of Horticulture described the value of  the wood from this tree.

It said, “Most of the species [of Carya] have hard strong and tough wood, much valued for many purposes, especially for handles of tools, manufacture of carriages and wagons, also making baskets and for fuel.”

University of Georgia horticulturist Michael Dirr also gives a bit of history to the tree in his Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. He writes, “It is native from Maine to Ontario, south to Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. Introduced 1750.”

Here in New England it is considered a hardy native ornamental tree.

Nineteenth century Rochester, New York seed company owner James Vick (1818-1882) mentioned the Carya in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly. In 1880 he wrote that  the nut, “On account of its delicate flavor and excellent keeping qualities, is the most highly prized of our native nuts.”

Bailey too discussed the nut.

The COF said, “The species of some varieties of C. glabra are edible, and are sold in large quantities; mostly gathered from the woods though in later years orchards of improved varieties have been planted.”

Somewhere out there, scurrying around, is one industrious squirrel who has been quite busy carting these edible pignuts off to my garden shed.

Unfortunately he will have to find a new storage spot since I have sealed up the opening in the shed’s foundation.

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Plant Hunter Humboldt Became Early Environmentalist

Plant Hunter Humboldt Became Early Environmentalist

In reading garden history books, both old and new, I often came across the name Alexander Von Humboldt (1769-1859).

He was a nineteenth century German plant hunter, explorer, and scientist.

Humboldt became an early environmentalist. He saw plants, animals, rock, soil, and water as all connected.  We, as he often wrote, are one with the world around us.

When I found out one of my favorite garden authors Andrea Wulf had written a book about Von Humboldt, I searched the local library and found it.

The title of her book is The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World.

Humboldt gave us a new meaning for nature.

He journeyed to Latin America from 1799 to 1804 with French botanist Aime Bonpland. Together they climbed, walked, and just observed nature wherever they could.

In commenting on his travel, Wulf writes “as he describes how humankind was changing the climate, he unwittingly became the father of the environmental movement.”

As he was climbing Chimborgo Mountain in the Andes Humboldt “saw the whole of nature laid out before him.”

He had created a new vision of nature from his travels in Latin America.

As Wulf so clearly spells out in her book, Humboldt was not so much interested in finding isolated facts but in connecting them. As he said it, individual phenomena were only important ‘in their relation to the whole.’

Since I am interested in gardening and plants, whenever Andrea Wulf mentioned either of the two words I paid particular attention

She writes, “Instead of placing plants in their taxonomic categories, he saw vegetation through the lens of climate and location: a radically new idea that still shapes our understanding of ecosystems today.”

Today when we face so many issues about what to do about the state of the environment, Humboldt provides much insight for the direction we need to take.

We need to use our imagination, he wrote, to begin to address any solution.

 

 

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White House Featured Newest Garden Fashion

White House featured newest garden fashion.

Fashion drives much of the commercial world with gardening a prime example.

People want the newest tomato, the latest dahlia hybrid, and the popular shrub that everyone says is easy to maintain.

The White House landscape serves as an enduring example of how gardeners made decisions on what to plant and not to plant, depending on what was in style.

From the beginning White House gardeners followed the latest fashion.

Marta McDowell describes throughout her book All the Presidents’ Gardens how the White House became a beacon for the newest in garden style and fashion.

The West Wing we see today was once the site of several greenhouses.

The greenhouses were there for decades, keeping safe from winter’s chill among other plants the bay trees that decorated the porticoes and terraces in the summer,

In 1902 the greenhouses were demolished to make room for a Colonial Revival garden. The Washington Post wrote at the time, “Landscape gardeners have noticed the tendency to return to colonial flowers to harmonize with the colonial style of architecture which has become so popular.”

Solidago rugosa or golden rod became popular in the early 1900s in the White House garden.

The old-fashioned plant golden rod became one of the more desirable plants to include in the garden. “What has been termed ‘old-fashioned’ flowers will be given places of honor in the new gardens because of their beauty and hardy nature,'” wrote The Washington Post.

President Theodore Roosevelt and his family enjoyed this new Colonial Revival garden.

In 1913 a new First Lady Ellen Axson Wilson had more modern ideas for the garden.

She arranged for the American landscape gardener Beatrix Jones to design and install an Italianate garden. The garden was simple and symmetrical.

Inspiration from the Italian garden had become the latest in fashion.

In modern times we saw Michelle Obama plant a vegetable garden. Often children worked with her in the garden which people called a victory garden.

Her gardening inspired people around the country to grow their own vegetables.

It was no coincidence that the popular farm to table movement was happening at the same tine.

Growing your own vegetables had become the latest garden fashion. Everybody wanted to do it.

Thanks to McDowell’s book we see that we need go no further than the White House to encounter the newest garden style.

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Victorian England Treasured US Rhododendron

Victorian England treasured US rhododendron.

Right now you see rhododendrons in bloom everywhere.

The native rhododendron has fascinated me for many years. I always look forward to its late May and early June blooms.

Here’s a view of my garden right now. [below]

A scene in my garden with two rhododendrons that are blooming.

Our native rhododendron, however, played a greater part in the English garden in the nineteenth century than our own.  At that time they were more popular in England than here in America.

Philadelphia nurseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901) in his magazine Gardener’s Monthly in the June issue of 1870 lamented the fact that Americans did not appreciate the rhododendron.

He wrote, “It has often been a source of wonder, that the idea that the most beautiful of all American ornamental plants – the Rhododendron – could not be grown in its native country, should ever prevail; yet so universal is this belief, that though persistent efforts have been made by enthusiast nurserymen, like Parsons of Flushing, and Hovey of Boston, to introduce it to public notice, and to show that they can be as well grown as any other plant, only a few yet realize the fact; and thousands of our readers do not know what a rhododendron is.”

Today we acknowledge the battle between native and exotic plant choice for the garden.  The issue is certainly not new.

Native plants, according to the nineteenth century American seed and nursery catalogs, were not as popular as ornamental plants from countries like China and Japan.  But first these plants, including native US varieties, had to appear in the English garden.

The same happened to the rhododendron.

Eventually, it assumed an important role in American gardens.

Frederick Law Olmsted used the rhododendron extensively in 1895 for his landscape design at the Biltmore Estate in North Carolina.

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Public Relations Campaign Attacks Clover

Public relations campaign attacks clover.

The lawn has been a part of the home landscape since the eighteenth century.

Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both treasured the English lawn, the inspiration for all lawns American.

Clover in the lawn. [Courtesy of Today’s Homeowner]

Clover, the tiny four leafed plant we all love, has been a part of the lawn for decades as much as bluegrass.

Then in the 1950s a chemical company, to advance a weed killer, used a public relations campaign to declare white clover a weed.

Warren Schultz tells the story in his book The Chemical-Free Lawn. He writes that in the 1950s “a major producer of grass seed and chemicals launched a public relations campaign disparaging clover. Clover is a weed, the company declared. It doesn’t belong in the modern lawn.”

The goal of the campaign was to sell a chemical to kill lawn weeds, including clover.

Schultz says, “Its point of view carried the day, and now homeowners spend a lot of time and money trying to get rid of this once-popular plant, blind to its fine qualities.”

Clover has long been a part of lawn seed mixes. 

Rochester, New York seedsman James Vick (1818-1882) wrote about the value of clover in 1878 in his magazine Vick’s Illustrated Monthly.

Vick said, “Kentucky Blue Grass, with a little White Clover, about a pound to the acre, and a few ounces of Sweet Vernal Grass, will make a good lawn.”

In 1936 Taylor’s Encyclopedia of Gardening also noted the value of clover.

Under the name, white clover, or Trifolium repens, Taylor’s says, “It is the chief clover in grass mixtures and makes a valuable constituent of lawns.”

In the past garden books and magazines often said that clover was valuable for the lawn.

More recently in Pennsylvania the Lehigh Valley Master Gardeners wrote in their blog, “Clover is a legume, like soybeans, and it has the ability to fix nitrogen out of the atmosphere and convert it to a form readily available to plants, including the grass it shares soil with.  People liked clover for this reason and it lessened the need for fertilizing the lawn.”

The public relations campaign in the 1950s was succesful. Today it is common for companies selling herbicides to consider white clover a weed.

In this time of frequent draught and renewed interest in native plants, why not reconsider the case of the clover, and even, as many people are doing, welcome it as an integral component of the lawn?

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Early Wisconsin Gardeners Valued Native Plants

Early Wisconsin gardeners valued native plants.

Just read a wonderful story about native plants in Lee Somerville’s book, Vernacular Wisconsin Gardens: A History of Garden Making.

As it happened a homeowner cleared a beautiful little valley full of native plants to prepare it for landscaping. He then called in a landscape architect for advice on how he might improve the area. The owner was surprised when the architect advised the planting of the same kinds that the owner had so thoroughly removed.

Gardeners like Philadelphia’s John Bartram encouraged native plants in the eighteenth century.

Then in the nineteenth century as exotic plants arrived for American gardens from Asia, South America, and Africa, native plants took a back seat in the home landscape.

During that time Wisconsin garden opionion leaders, however, kept recommending native plants for the garden.

Somerville writes in her book that in the publications of the Wisconsin State Horticultural Society “The use of native plants was first suggested in the 1850s as an easy and economical way to improve the look of Wisconsin home grounds.”

In the early 1900s the movement called the midwest Prairie style of landscape design, launched in the midwest by designers Jens Jensen, O. C. Simonds, and Wilhelm Miller, encouraged the use of native plants in the home landscape.

Certainly Wisconsin gardeners knew about this new midwest style of gardening, particularly through the work of WSHS in its articles and lectures.

Somerville says, “In general the varieties of plants in the Wisconsin vernacular garden changed less than did the patterns in which they were planted [from beds to borders]. The exception is in the marked increase of native shrubs and plants after 1900.”

The book’s listing of native perennials, popular in Wisconsin gardens in 1915, includes the columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. [below]  This plant is still worthwhile in the garden.

Columbine Aquilegia canadensis, [courtesy Prairie Nursery, Westfield, Wisconsin.] 

Native plants have traveled a rocky road in American garden history. It is good to see this early emphasis on native plants for Wisconsin gardens.

 

 

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Coastal Wilderness Marks 1920s South Florida Garden

Coastal wilderness marks 1920s south Florida garden.

I recently went back in time along the coast of South Florida to visit an island garden from the 1920s.

In Fort Lauderdale Frederic Clay Barrett and his wife Helen built the house with its garden called Bonnet House on Birch Street. The street is named after Hugh Taylor Birch, Mrs. Barrett’s father who gave the thirty-five acres as a wedding gift.

Bonnet House is situated on a coastal barrier island with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and the Intracoastal Waterway to the west.

Barrier islands protect the mainland from the impact of the ocean tides and currents and also provide a habitat for many kinds of wildlife.

The gardens at the Bonnet House present a visitor with several areas of both desert and tropical plants.

Barrett planted a desert garden near the main house. The garden measures three-fourths’ of an acre and serves as a transition area for the natural barrier island habitat to the south and the main house to the north.

Main House

The house was built in southern plantation style. [below]

Main house at Bonnet House

A near-by lily pond features the bonnet lily, after which the house was named, and provides a respite for the visitor.

Mrs. Barrett collected orchids and housed them in the Orchid House, also not far from the main house.

An alley of palm trees [below] ends up at a fountain, designed and built by Barrett, who, along with his wife, was an artist.

An alley of trees

The beach path leads you right up to a black iron fence separating the property from the beach. Many trees and shrubs line the path, holding in the soil but also teaching a visitor what the land looked like before the commercial development in the area.

Near the house six tall Hibiscus shrubs have become a dense screen of green leaves with orange and red flowers which were in bloom during my visit. [below]

A group of Hibiscus shrubs near the house

Visiting this garden is a trip back in time. Bonnet House also lets you see what the Florida coast looked like before the many condos and hotels lined Fort Lauderdale’s beach.

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English Coveted American Plants

English coveted American plants.

Recently I read about a restored garden called Painshill near Cobham, Surrey, England.

What caught my attention was that its restoration includes a garden of American plants.

Painshill dates to the eighteenth century, the time of the birth of England’s landscape garden, which distinguished itself as more natural rather than symmetrical and formal in design. The Honourable Charles Hamilton (1704-1786) created this garden between 1738 and 1773.

He included all of the elements of the landscape garden of that time: lawn, vistas, a grotto, a lake, classic structures, and, of course, collections of the latest plants like American plant varieties.

Painshill image from Garden-Guide

Painshill [from Garden-Guide]

When Hamilton established the garden, there was a keen interest in cultivating American plants.

In the eighteenth century John Bartram (1699-1777) sent seeds of American plants from Philadelphia to his English admirers, coveting American plant varieties.

Hamilton was among that group.

In May 2006 Painshill was awarded full collection status for its John Bartram Heritage Collection, by the National Council for the Conservation of Plants and Gardens.

Today Painshill comprises 158 acres of the original more than 200 acres.

What I find so interesting in this story is the idea that the eighteenth century English aristocracy wanted American plants.

That in itself makes the Painshill restoration so important to me.

Usually it is the other way around: we Americans want everything English in the garden.

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