Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas from Astolat Farm

I love Christmas: decorating the house, visiting with good friends, entertaining, and planning the Boxing Day dinner for our family. This year, as an extra bit of fun, I dressed up our goats and made the picture into a Christmas card. Some were surprised that I did it, but all agreed that Doodles is the cutest baby goat ever. So I'm sharing the picture with all of you, as I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from everyone at Astolat Farm, including Doodles and Billy Goat. 

Here is a little tour of the house in its holiday finery:

The main tree is in the den
As always, we chose a Frasier fir from Old Homestead Tree Farm
A smaller (artificial) tree in the Garden Room is new this year
I brought the angel topper with me from England 40 years ago
A collection of school houses on the TV cabinet
Jon made a parade of English soldiers through the schoolhouse village
He arranged my large collection of santas on the hutch

The dining room is beginning to look festive:

Love the seasonal flowers on my teacup collection
Winter rose poinsettia
I'm so happy that many people still send cards

Wishing you a blessed holiday season and happy gardening in 2019!



Christmas crackers are part of our tradition

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.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Gifts for Gardeners

My annual "Gifts that Grow" article was published in the Pocono Record newspaper last weekend. If you didn't see it and, like me, you still haven't finished your holiday shopping, here are some ideas for your green-thumb friends. The prices range from $10 and up.

Seasonal Plant: Amaryllis kits are readily available online and in stores. My favorite seasonal plant this year, however, is winter rose poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima 'Winter rose').

Amaryllis 'Picotee' and Amaryllis 'Clown'
Winter rose poinsettia in one of my Christmas displays

Garden Art: If your gardener has a theme or collects particular objects, such as frogs for example, consider adding to the set. (First picture, above, taken at Northview Gardens, Jenny Rose Carey's beautiful property.) Very popular today are swimming koi sculptures. I first saw them at the Philadelphia Flower Show and they have been on my wish list ever since. They are ceramic fishes with fluid curved shapes. Each fish has a stake and when placed in the garden they seem to flow through the plants. A group of three is perfect to create the impression of movement. Artist Tyson M. Weiss makes them by hand in Maine.

I love statues and have several in my gardens including this pensive lady.

Tools, Gloves, Tote, or Tool Caddy: Gardeners always appreciate new hand tools, but what about organizing and carrying them around? A good garden tote will eliminate those annoying trips back to the shed for forgotten supplies. Other options are a tool belt, an apron with many pockets, or a bucket with a tool caddy that fits inside.

Gardeners always appreciate tools and gloves.

Books and Calendars: If you are shopping for someone who gardens in a small space, Jessica Walliser's Container Gardening Complete has step-by-step instructions, photographs, and information on more than 125 plants. A must for all gardeners who care about the environmenrt is Douglas Tallamy's Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. Any gardener who has visited or would like to visit Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, PA will enjoy The Art of Gardening, illustrated with beautiful photographs by Rob Cardillo.  For more titles, read my newspaper article HERE. The Penn State Master Gardener program has produced its first state-wide calendar, an excellent gift for any gardener. Available at your Extension office for $10.

For the Bird Lover: While bird lovers will appreciate one of the many birdhouse designs on the market, consider a birdhouse planter. Dual-purpose gifts are always a plus. I find that succulents work very well in mine as they are drought tolerant and need little care. The birds seem to enjoy having a green roof, too.

One of the many styles of birdhouse in my garden.
My latest birdhouse planter (I have two) with succulents.

Gifts That Attract Pollinators: All gardeners like to see beneficial insects in the garden. I love to attract the peaceful, non-stinging mason bees. The bamboo tubes provide a nesting place for these native pollinators.

Mason Bee House

Gift Certificate to the Philadelphia Flower Show: Who wouldn't like tickets to the Philadelphia Flower Show, or any flower show in your area? I have mine for next March already. The theme is 'Flower Power' -- the Fifties are my era. Can't wait!

The Philadelphia Flower Show in 2017 was my favorite so far

A Windowsill Herb Kit: When it is too cold to garden, the avid gardener in your life is probably longing to get soil under their nails. A windowsill herb kit will help them indulge their gardening passion while providing some fresh, homegrown food. You can easily purchase the items separately or you can buy a premade kit. 

Herbs on my windowsill

Gifts From Your Garden: Give homemade food gifts, such as jams, jellies, and salsas if you have canned produce from your garden. Cover the lids with a circle of Christmas fabric for a special touch.

My pickled beets

Finally, my favorite gift last year was the Garden Lady ornament that my husband gave me:

A tree ornament for the gardener

When searching for the perfect gift for gardeners, the possibilities are almost endless.
I hope you receive everything on your wish list this holiday season, dear gardening friend.

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.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Tree Reimagined

The theme for A Longwood Christmas this holiday season is the Tree Reimagined. The day after Thanksgiving, my family gathered at Longwood Gardens to see silvery firs suspended over a pool (above), outdoor trees covered in half a million lights, and in the library a tannenbaum made of books, to name a few of the imaginative displays. This is the second year in succession we have traveled from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Arizona to this venue as part of our Thanksgiving celebration. It's becoming a tradition.  A double joy for me: my children and grandchildren together in one place PLUS beautiful gardens.

A stunning combination of reds, silvers, and greens.

I wish we had returned to the Exhibition Hall in the conservatory after dark to see the suspended Christmas trees reflected in the pool. I think that is when the arrangement is most showy. I must say, last year's Parterre Garden display was more dramatic -- click HERE.

Suspended Christmas trees

While the trees were the focal point, we didn't see all of them because it was just too crowded to get around. I would have preferred a less busy day, but my son and his family were flying back to Arizona the next morning. Here is just a taste of Longwood's Christmas trees this year:

Four very differently decorated trees -- the one at top right is made of books
A carpet of sweet yellow begonias accentuate a tree covered with poinsettias.
My favorite color combination

The Peirce du Pont House contains the tree made of books, shown above, and more traditional-style decorations ...

Traditional decorations make a pleasing display

Of course, there are more than Christmas trees at this year's A Longwood Christmas:

Plants from the 'ordinary' to the exotic
My son-in-law, Scott, photographed these colorful specimens.
I love this Pascuito (Euphorbia leucocephala)
Thomas makes an appearance in the train garden

There are always numerous poinsettias at this event. Read about them on Longwood's blog. I have a new favorite, one I hadn't noticed previously: Winter Rose™ Early Red (Euphoria pulcherrima) displayed at Longwood with a striking Elephant's-ear plant (Alocasia x amazonica 'Polly'.)

Elephant's ear and my new favorite poinsettia

 A few days after our Longwood Gardens' trip, my husband and I traveled to Cape May, NJ for a mini vacation. Most of the town is already decorated for Christmas. Our favorite B&B is using the Winter Rose poinsetta in its displays. The owner, Anna Marie, told me a poinsettia story and gave me a useful watering tip. She said the first time she used poinsettias in Christmas displays at the hotel, she mixed live plants with artificial ones. She assigned the task of watering to one person who didn't realize that some were not real plants, and liberally watered every pot. As a result, at the end of the season they needed to replace a ruined floor. Now she uses only live plants and has learned to water them by placing ice cubes on the soil in the pot. As the ice melts, it provides the slow-release watering method that poinsettia prefers. I'm going to try this with the two Winter Rose poinsettas that I brought home. 

Winter rose poinsettias at the Queen Victoria Bed and Breakast

I returned from Longwood and Cape May motivated to begin decorating my own house. Last weekend, grandson Jon and I made the plum pudding, traditional English fruit cake, and mincemeat for the pies. Next week we will go to the tree farm and choose a large tree for the den, a small one for the garden room, and various wreaths. Let the festivities begin ...

Pamela x

Mantel decor ideas at Longwood

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.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Four Plants I Love to Hate

I wrote an article for the Pocono Record about invasive plant species back in June of 2015. (Yes, the newspaper has published my monthly gardening feature for nearly four years now.) You can read that piece HERE. I explain how 'invasive' and 'aggressive' are not the same.  Aggressive plants grow fast and spread, but don't outgrow and overcome other plants as invaders do. I planted some when I started my gardens because I knew they would spread quickly; I'm embarrassed to admit that I wanted instant gratification. They say that with age comes wisdom, but it's a bit late now; I'm having difficulty eradicating some of these aggressive types. While I may love them, I find their bullying attitude extremely annoying.  Here are four in particular with which I have a love/hate relationship:

The first garden I made at Astolat, in 2005, is the one that I call 'Serenity.' Back then, it was in a great deal of shade. I read that lamium, a tough yet showy perennial groundcover,  was one of the best choices for shady areas. It has green and cream leaves and pretty pink or purple flowers that bloom in spring. The three or four plants that I put in that area quickly spread and became the expanded carpet you can see in the picture at the beginning of this posting.

The common name is deadnettle; I prefer Lamium
Lamium maculatum 'Shell pink'
Lamium with purple blooms in the Horseshoe Garden

The stems of lamium root in the ground where they touch. It is not difficult to pull them out, however, and new plants can be moved easily. I often add them to planters -- a great money-saver. At the end of the season I reduce the number of plants in each bed quite drastically; I cut back the remaining ones in the spring. I remove any that are encroaching on other perennials throughout the season. As I said, they are annoying thugs.

I often add lamium to container plantings

Gooseneck Loosestrife
I fell in love with gooseneck loosestrife when vising a homeowner's garden while on an open-gate garden tour. I especially loved how it attracted pollinators. I purchased just two plants: one for the cottage garden and one for the circular bed that later became the Horseshoe Garden. The two plants spread rapidly by underground roots, particularly in the round garden that was constructed with layers of organic matter in the lasagna method. Eventually, I had the plants removed, with great difficulty, from that bed. You can read how this task was accomplished HERE. I kept the stand of gooseneck loosestrife in the cottage garden, being careful not to encourage its growth by adding compost.

Gooseneck loosestrife, Lysimachia clethroides, is adored by bees

I enjoy the mass of white flowers in the summer. They provide rest for the eyes from the colors of the traditional cottage garden plants. I spend time, however, pulling out those that invade the space of others.

Gooseneck loosestrife and phlox 'Bright eyes'

Morning Glory
Morning glory is a beautiful annual vine that will rapidly cover a trellis with its heart-shaped leaves and pretty, trumpet-like flowers. Gardeners who grow this plant know that it will freely seed all over your garden if allowed. As a result, one of the most time-consuming tasks is deadheading. When the flowers close in the afternoon, if not removed, they are replaced by berries filled with seeds. The mature berries fall to the ground where the seeds take root. I've found, to my cost, that as a result morning glory vines can take over the garden if left to reproduce at will.

Morning glory Ipomoea purpurea
A morning glory vine even twined around my potentilla shrub

This season I neglected the deadheading task due to travel and weather. I know this means that next spring I will need to look for the numerous seedlings that will pop up, and must pull out as many as possible.  More work than I want.

But morning glory vines are beautiful ...

Vinca Vine
I'm not so enamored with vinca vine although it is a  classy-looking evergreen groundcover with sweet blue flowers that bloom in spring.  Vinca minor and vinca major should not be confused with annual vinca that is not a vine. This last season, because of favorable weather, I think, my vinca vine spread more rapidly than usual and began to effect other flowers in the border. It began to crowd-out my beautiful hyssop and some miniature roses, greatly reducing them. When I tried to pull some of the vinca out, I found the roots too firmly attached. (It doesn't help that I am losing upper-body strength as I age.)

Periwinkle, Vinca minor
Hyssop with vinca vine around its base
A well-established and difficult-to-remove groundcover

I feel guilty for wanting to remove this thug because it was planted by my mother-in-law before the garden was mine. She loved her 'periwinkle' and wouldn't understand me trying to eradicate it. As an organic gardener, I wont use chemicals. I'm considering using the solarization method next year.  I'll let you know how that works out.

I wouldn't recommend any of these four plants to new gardeners. I planted the first three many years ago before I knew anything about gardening in America. There are better behaved alternatives, requiring less upkeep, that I will be glad to suggest to anyone who would like to know.

Do you have a love/hate relationship with any of your plants?

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.