Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Bloom Day at Grey Towers

Located near my home in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, Grey Towers National Historic Site is a wonderful mansion to visit at any time of the year, but today it is abloom with beautiful holiday decorations. The mansion was the home of Gifford Pinchot and his wife Cornelia. Gifford was the first Chief of the US Forest Service and two-terms PA governor. His father built Grey Towers, designed by Richard Morris Hunt, in the style of a medieval French chateau to reflect the French heritage of the family. The mansion was originally intended as a summer home and was completed in 1886. It is named for the towers on three corners of the L-shaped mansion.

As a gardener, I am very drawn to Gifford Pinchot, not only because of his magnificent 102 forested acres at Grey Towers, but because Gifford implemented the groundbreaking concept of conservation, or sustainable use of our national resources. Therefore, I was very honored to be asked to speak at this year's annual Gifford Pinchot Audubon Society's holiday tea held at the mansion. The society requested a program on 'sustainable gardening practices that attract pollinators in light of the bee decline' ... a subject very dear to my heart. I loved presenting this program in such a beautiful, and appropriate, setting.

Now, I have a confession to make. Although this wondrous place is little more than one hour from my home, this was my first visit! Oh, dear, why is it that we travel so very far to see the wonders of the world and miss those on our very doorstep? Now I cannot wait to return in the spring and summer to see the gardens in bloom. However, this first visit was very special as I toured the magnificent rooms, enjoyed the holiday decorations, ate delicious cookies and drank hot chocolate, and made new like-minded (as in gardening) friends!

This is my favorite Christmas tree in the mansion. It was decorated with home-made, beautifully crafted ornaments.

There are 15 fireplaces at Grey Towers. The most magnificent one is in the drawing room.

Drawing Room Fireplace
Drawing Room Painting

I think many of you who know me will understand why the library is my favorite room at Grey Towers. Like all the other rooms, it was very tastefully decorated. One thing I like about the holiday decorations at Grey Towers is that they are not 'over the top'.

Library Fireplace

The Library
Gifford would rough it when he camped in the forest. Apparently, he also roughed it in his own bedroom as you can see from its austerity.

Gifford Pichot's Bedroom
Many of the windows in the mansion afford wonderful views of the grounds.

View from a second floor window
Outside, the stone walls surrounding the terraces are graced with elegant stone urns. Today, the urns are filled with evergreens. I feel I want to cut down branches on my return home and start decorating my house and garden (no it isn't done yet) in a similar fashion.

A casual mix of winter evergreens.
I was surprised there is no dining room in the mansion, until I discovered why. The Pinchot family used the house for a summer home, so they usually ate outdoors. Cornelia designed a fascinating dining room in a courtyard. Chairs are arranged around a pool, under a stone arch and pergola. Guests use wooden dishes to float the food across the pool to each other. I can't wait to return in warm weather to witness this phenomenon! Incidentally, there is a magnificent wisteria covering the 'dining room'. I learned that a great deal of work goes into keeping it under control, but I would hazard a guess that the effort is worth it.

The Finger Bowl: Outdoor Dining Room.
One of the buildings in the grounds is a cute stone playhouse. The materials used to construct the mansion and out building were mostly from the local area.

The Tinderbox. A playhouse built for Gifford and Cornelius' s son.
The little courtyard in front of the playhouse has elliptical windows affording wonderful views. The one below frames Grey Towers' most popular tree, the European copper beech. Gifford planted nine of them in the 1920's.

European Copper Beech Fagus sylvatica 'Atropurpurea'
I am so happy I visited Grey Towers at last. I am grateful to Lori McKean of the USDA Forest Service for coordinating my visit. Thank you, Lori. It won't be my last!

This is my entry for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. I hope Carol will forgive me, but I assure you Grey Towers is much more interesting than my garden right now! Next time I visit the mansion I will have pictures of real blooms, I promise!

I am hoping to do another posting before Christmas, but in case I don't get to it, I wish all my wonderful garden blogging friends Peace, Joy and Love this holiday season!

Pamela x
Woodcarving of Grey Towers by W. Dauer, US Forest Service

~~ I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!
I look forward to visiting your blog in return.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Winterizing the Fish Pond

I wrote at length about our new fish pond that was installed this summer. Before I left for my trip to England, H.H. and I began preparing the pond for winter. I need to document the procedure so I remember what to do next year.  A good rule of thumb is to complete this job between Halloween and Thanksgiving, depending upon the temperature of the water. The water temperature in our pond had dropped below 50 degrees and the fish had a diminished interest in food, so we stopped feeding them and began the winterizing process. The goal was to have a clean pond before the more extreme winter weather began.

I cut back the plants, discarding the floaters -- they are like the annuals in your garden. I do not yet have any tropical plants, but this would have been the time to remove them and store them indoors with a dish of water and strong light. I cut back the hardy water plants to two inches from the top of the pots. We removed some of  the accumulation of debris from the water that occurred over the summer and placed a polycover over the pond to catch the falling leaves.

On my return from England, I found that H.H. had continued the winterizing process. He had switched off the waterfall and replaced it with a small 'bubbler' .

The waterfall was switched off so it doesn't freeze.
If the waterfall is left running it will stir the water up too much. This is not good for the fish ... they need still water in winter so as not to burn body fat. H.H. removed and checked the water pump. He stored it in a bucket of water and placed it in the basement where it will not freeze. The filter was drained and flushed out, and  the filter pads stored in a plastic bag. If you have a ultra-violet sterilizer, it also should be removed from the pond and stored, after cleaning, of course.

The 'bubbler' is a small pump placed in a bucket on the bottom of the pond.
As this was all new to us, we were not sure what to do next, or if what we had done was correct. So I called in an expert to complete the winterizing process. Steve Albanese from Albanese Garden Center has been installing and servicing ponds and water features for many years. He arrived yesterday and the first thing he did was to pump some water from the bottom of the pond to remove minerals that had accumulated there. He used a net to remove organic matter. Then Steve replaced the water he had removed with fresh water.

If winterizing was done earlier, one-third of the pond water would have been removed.

Fresh water was splashed in from the top.
Steve used a net to remove debris
As you can see from the picture of the fish at the top, we installed river rock in the bottom of the pond, because we liked the way it looked. That was an obvious mistake as it was impossible to clean the bottom adequately and will be even more difficult as the fish get bigger. So Steve removed the river rock in order to complete the cleaning process.

With the river rock,  a 'sleeping' frog was brought to the surface. He looked like a shiny, rubber, toy frog. Frogs can freeze almost solid and still survive.

Steve took out all the remaining plants, placed them in a crate, and dropped them to at least 18 inches below the level of the pond water. First, he placed the dormant frog in one of the plant pots.

Steve used a crate with big holes for the fish to swim through
The fish need oxygen in the winter, but as I said, they require still water so as not to burn body fat. Therefore a small pump, with a short stem attached to it, is best placed in a bucket on the bottom of the pond. The top of the stem should be just under the surface of the water. Hopefully, this will stop an area of the pond from freezing while oxygenating the water. If the pond should freeze, Steve told us to lower a kettle of boiling water on the ice to melt a hole through it. He inspected the pump that H.H. had installed. He cut the stem a little shorter and placed the pump back in the pond to 'bubble'.

Lava rocks were placed on top of the pump
Steve placed some old clay pipes in the bottom of the pond for the fish to hide in. Actually, they are sewer pipes that were used at this house many, many years ago by H.H.'s father. In the spring I plant annuals in these pots.

Steve put the net back over the pond to prevent more debris from entering, and to protect the fish from herons and other predators. Planks of wood (we use bamboo poles) placed across the pond, under the net, prevent it from sagging into the water.  It is important that the net is raised above the 'bubbler' and Steve used cinder blocks to raise the net up at this point.

To complete the winterizing procedure, Steve added some salt to the water to promote healthy fish. Three cups of salt per one thousand gallons is the amount to use. He also added bacteria and a treatment for heavy metals as we have well water. Add a treatment for chlorine if you have city water.

(Note to me: Next year, we must start much earlier and begin by removing one-third of the water, before the water temperature drops below 50 degrees. We will use our small pump and a garden hose attached to it with a hose adapter, as Steve did. Then we will let the pond stand for a week and if it is still yellow from organic matter we will need to remove another one-third of water. This second one-third must be replaced with fresh water splashed from the top to add oxygen. Then proceed as above.)

This morning I looked at the pond through the den window. I saw it was snowing. Obviously, Steve had come to our rescue just in time. There was a layer of ice on the top half of the pond.

 We learned so much from Steve and we are grateful to him for sharing his expertise. Now I can relax by the fire dreaming of spring and the pleasure my lovely fishpond will give once more.

Happy gardening thoughts!
Pamela x

~~ I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!
I look forward to visiting your blog in return.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Search of an Angel

On my recent visit to England I went to Lichfield Cathedral in search of a very special angel ...  a limestone carving of Gabriel. If you wonder what connection this has with gardening, you may remember I made David Austine's rose 'Lichfield Angel' the focal point of my new rose garden.

I chose this particular rose for it's name which brings back happy memories. I attended high school in this beautiful city ...  Lichfield Friary High School for Girls  (that's right, there were no boys).  And my maternal grandmother was born in Lichfield. I have loved Lichfield Cathedral since during my high school years we frequently went there to worship. Back then the limestone angel was not to be seen. It was broken and buried for centuries - until, during excavation work in 2003, three pieces forming the 'Lichfield Angel' were found under the cathedral floor.

The city of Lichfield is dominated by the medieval Cathedral's three spires. (There is only one other cathedral with three spires. It is in France.)  The day I visited was cold but dry. I did not enter immediately, but stood admiring the extravagant statues and carvings on the outside walls. There are over one hundred life-size statues on the west front alone.

The elaborately decorated west front.
I was able to pick out the Saxon king, Wulfrun, who ruled Mercia before England was called England. I know him because I belonged to Wulfrun House in school.

King Wulfrun sits on his throne in a line of other Saxon kings above the west door.
Outside and inside, the medieval masons built innumerable Gothic arches. Once inside, I was directed to the Chapter House, the entrance to which was through another beautiful archway.

The Chapter House
Inside the Chapter House, visitors gaze in awe at a medieval painting of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.

The Chad Gospels also adorn the Capter House. This manuscript has remained in Lichfield for 1,000 years, a few years older than the Book of Kells in Ireland. But I was in search of the angel, Gabriel. The Saxon limestone carving is thought to be from the original tomb of St Chad. St. Chad was the first bishop of Lichfield in 669 AD. Then I saw it ...

The 'Lichfield Angel'
I was not disappointed with the plaque's beauty. I was in awe of its antiquity. I can understand why David Austin chose to name a creamy-white rose for this limestone carving. I am glad he did and I am so glad I saw it.  I now feel I have a little bit of England and of my heritage in my Pennsylvania garden.

Pamela x

~~ I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!
I look forward to visiting your blog in return.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Leaf Peeking: One Of Ten Things I Like To Do

Autumn in Pennsylvania is stunning! Even this year, following a long, summer drought, the leaves are not disappointing. H.H. suggested we go for a car ride - 'leaf peeking' as the locals and tourists call it. I readily agreed, grabbing the camera, of course.  Laura invited me to play the blogging game of listing '10 things I like to do' and as a fall drive is something I love, I decided it would be first on my list. As we toured the immediate countryside, I snapped a few pictures (all the pictures in this post were taken that day) while considering nine more 'likes' I would include. I realized I really enjoyed photography, which surprised me. I started taking pictures just to record the events in my garden. With the advent of my blog, I tried to improve picture quality as I acquired an audience. Although I don't have a top-of-the-line camera (only a point and shoot), I am often rather pleased with the results.

So the ten things on my list are:

1. Fall leaf-peeking in Pennsylvania.
2. Photography.
3. Giving gardening programs, for example at garden clubs and my local university. I use Power Point or Apple Keynote for my slide shows and I like preparing the programs just as much as presenting them. This is linked to my enjoyment of photography, as the pictures I use are all my own.

4. Visiting my homeland, England. Much as I love my adopted country, there is no place like home. As I write this, I am 'across the pond' visiting my mother. Yes, I still think of this as home and get homesick when I am away too long. But paradoxically, when I am here for a while, I start feeling homesick for America!

Our neighbor, Roger, was taking a fall drive, also.
5. When I am in England I love to go to garden centers with my dear friend, Carole. English garden centers are so different from those in America because they have coffee shops! Or maybe they are tea rooms, but they serve coffee. When I am here, I so miss the coffee I have become accustomed to in the United States. My mother serves instant coffee, ugh! So at the garden center I can get my coffee 'fix' and catch up with my friend's news, while surrounded by flowers. Lovely!

Dude and Billy greet us on our return from leaf peeking
6. I like spending time with my miniature horse, Dude. He likes spending time with his best buddy, Billy Goat. Animals give such unconditional love to us.

A glimpse of the upper field on our farm after the corn was cut.
7.  Every year, usually in June or July, I enjoy giving tea parties in my garden. I usually give two or three each year. One is our annual church garden party and another is a get-together with the master gardeners with whom I graduated.  I look forward to these events enormously. I also do small tea parties for close friends. It's my way of showing off my garden and at the same time practicing a beloved English tradition. I make scones, tea sandwiches, and trifles. Not very nutritious, but delicious!

8. I love watching old films on the television's classic movie channel. I can watch some of them over and over again. My favorite is Casablanca; and I like anything with Katharine Hepburn. A great way to relax after an exhausting day gardening!

I live on this road which bears the name of our farm. The barn has been here for longer than our house

We found these heart-shaped mushrooms near the old barn.

Milkweed. I'm hoping for lots of monarchs next year.
9. Grandchildren coming for a weekend with Nana and Pappy is such a joy! At our house they have their own bedroom, furnished especially for them. The rest of the house tends to be English-country style, but the boys' room is strictly Americana. It was a fun room to decorate and it is double fun when occupied by lively young boys.

10. I really enjoy seeing my children and grandchildren sitting around my dining table at Christmas! It does not happen every year as they are scattered around the country. My son and his family live in Phoenix now, and I don't think they will want to come east to our chilly climate - their weather is so pleasant at that time of year. But I have lovely memories of family Christmases and look forward to many more.

Well, as I read through my ten 'likes' they seem to be centered around gardens, food, and family ... with an emphasis on food! Oh dear, now you know a little more about me, you can draw your own conclusions. 

I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed writing it. I am honored that Laura chose me. Thank you, Laura. In return, I should ask ten bloggers to list their ten favorite things to do. I hope you will forgive me, but I am just going to give an open invitation, dear gardening friends. Let me know if you decide to take the challenge.

Happy Gardening!
Pamela x

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Grand Dame of Flowers: Roses for My Monthly Garden Bouquet

Noelle who hosts 'Monthly Garden Bouquet' at Ramblings from a Desert Garden suggests we might want to make a bouquet of autumn colors this month. That was my intention as I headed outside to check out what was in bloom.  However, my roses caught my attention and it occurred to me this may be the last chance to show them off. Now, flower arranging is not my forte, so I just stuck them in a vase and let them speak for themselves...

I thought the rose petals on the table were a nice touch.

Roses at tea-time are always appropriate ...

I picked these blooms from the new flower bed. The main purpose of my blog is to make a record of what I accomplish in the garden each year. So if you will indulge me, I would like to document the construction of this bed.

Regular followers may remember we had two large catalpa trees removed from the back of the house last year.  I had fun planning what to do with the new spaces. We decided on a patio tree where one catalpa stood and this will be planted next spring. I wanted to grow more roses, so a new bed would go where the other tree was removed. I thought a vertical element was needed, and when my daughter gave me a very tall wrought iron trellis, I knew this would serve the purpose.

I marked out the bed and H.H. prepared the soil. This was no easy task as there were tree roots from the old catalpa to contend with. However, he was able to dig quite deeply and then he amended with compost, horse manure, and peat moss.

If you look carefully at the above picture you will see the trellis leaning against the pasture fence near the goat. I was hoping to detract from the ugliness of the pasture fence with the trellis and judicious plantings.

Following a rough sketch I had made, and with the trellis in place, I happily began planting. I put golden biota, Platycladus cupressaceae, on each side of the trellis to ground it. A climbing rose was placed at the foot of the trellis with a clematis. I relocated some garden ornaments to fill the gaps.

Rosa Cl. 'Iceberg' by Weeks Roses

Clematis x jackmanii 'Mrs. Cholmondeley'
At the back of the trellis I added a sweet autumn clematis for Dude (mini horse) and Billy (goat) to enjoy as they passed the hours in their pasture. But if you look at them in the picture above, you can see they weren't really interested - ungrateful beasts. Sweet autumn clematis is a very vigorous grower, so I expect it to reach the top of the tall trellis eventually.

Sweet Autumn Clematis
The focal point of this garden was to be my first David Austin rose, 'Lichfield Angel', which I have talked about a lot this summer, so I wont elaborate further. I added two Knockout roses for easy care, Russian sage, lupines, perennial geranium, and crocosmia. I did not want this to be a rose garden per se, but a garden with roses.

David Austin Rosa 'Lichfield Angel'

Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia

Lupine Lupinus polyphyllus mix

Crocosmia 'Lucifer'
Finally, around the edge of the bed, I planted miniature roses.

Miniature rose Rosa "Rise 'N' Shine"
I installed a soaker hose and added mulch. We found the perfect birdbath to complete the picture.

I was happy with the result. And when we added the fish pond to the area, the new flower bed seemed perfectly placed and really came into its own.

So today I celebrate the Grand Dame of flowers, the rose. Now let's go over to Noelle's blog to see what bouquets other gardeners have made today.

Happy October gardening,
Pamela x

~~ I love reading your comments. I hope you leave one so I’ll know you visited!
I look forward to visiting your blog in return.