Flower Show Fever

By late February, most gardeners are just itching to be surrounded by green foliage and fragrant flowers. Seed trays beckon at Home Depot, though it's way too early to start most seeds indoors. You can feel the magnetic pull of primroses at the grocery store. You visit nurseries with greenhouses just to be around plants. Even though it's been a mild winter, cabin fever is rampant.

It's no wonder that flower shows are thronged in late February and March. This year I squeezed in both the Rhode Island and Connecticut flower shows into a two-day flower show marathon. Both shows are held during the same weekend every year, which coincides with the end of February school vacation. Both are smaller than the Boston Flower Show, but feature landscape displays, floral arranging competitions, horticulture exhibits, lectures and vendors. 

This year's theme of the Rhode Island show was "Spring Fling" - delighting all the senses. Visitors could "see" and "smell" the flowers, "touch" spring's bounty through interactive exhibits, "hear" a variety of live musical performances, and "taste" goodies prepared by local chefs through a new "Garden to Table" culinary series. One of our favorite exhibits was this "She-Shed" pictured above - everyone needs one of those!

We heard several entertaining and informative talks, including one on the garden design process, Roger Swain's "Vegetables for All", rose gardening in New England, and how to adorn the garden with trees, art and stonework.

Both the Rhode Island and Connecticut shows are held in large convention centers with attached parking garages, and are easy to access from the interstates. They both offer refreshments and lots of shopping options. The Rhode Island show was heavier on jewelry and home improvement vendors, and we were accosted by gutter guard salesmen at least 3 times.

The Connecticut Show was located in a larger hall, and as a result the landscape exhibits were larger in scale and complexity. 

Several exhibits were geared toward children, such as this whimsical garden tea party.

Others illustrated beautiful use of stone, water and decorative objects. The Connecticut Show had three lecture halls with simultaneous seminars all day, so there was more content to choose from. I learned more about roses and was entertained by the headliner Mar Jennings, a self-described "America's top lifestyle expert" and TV host who illustrated "Casual Luxury" in the garden.

The best feature of the Connecticut Show were the 300+ exhibitors, many of whom actually sold PLANTS, garden tools, and garden decorations. Needless to say, I saw no one departing empty handed. So mark your calendars for the third weekend in February 2017 and look forward to this respite from winter!

Hampton Court's Romantic Gardens

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The sixty acres of gardens and grounds surrounding Henry VIII's Hampton Court Palace in Britain are majestic and inspiring. 

The earliest gardens, relatively modest gardens, were created for Cardinal Wolsey, but it was under the auspices of Henry VIII that today's ground plan largely took shape. Henry VIII was not much interested in beautiful flowers - he was more keen on the sport that took place in the Deer Park and Tiltyard, the scene of jousting competitions.

The gardens were formalized in the baroque manner under William and Mary and subsequent changes were made as 500 years of royals gardened on the property. Today's gardens may not be true to one particular era, but they are stately and awe inspiring. Even if your own garden is a small plot, you can learn from the lovely plant combinations, the cultural practices in the vegetable and herb garden, and appreciate the beauty and pageantry of the garden and palace.

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The walled formal rose garden is punctuated with beautiful statuary and was in full bloom in September.

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The herb garden's formal layout is reminiscent of Victorian-era bedding gardens.

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The Kitchen Garden grew all of the produce and fruit for Henry VIII's court.

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The ornamental bed decorated the river gateway to the palace grounds.

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Ornate Victorian-style bedding gardens decorate the Fountain Garden, a strolling garden that original showcased 13 magnificent fountains and clipped yews.

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The Orangery Garden (above) shows Queen Mary II's passion for rare and exotic plants. She had an orangery built to house her orange and lemon trees and cactuses.

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The Privy Garden (above) has existed on the south side of the palace since it was first created by Henry VIII in 1533. The recreation that is seen today has all of the original plant varieties, statues and hedges that were installed by William III.

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The Knot Garden (above) was laid out in 1924 to show the type of garden that Henry VIII may have had at the palace.

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These sunken gardens (above and below) were originally ponds used to hold freshwater fish such as carp, to feed Henry VIII and his court.

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Hampton Court is easily accessible from London by train. You can also visit the palace by Thames riverboat - just like the court members and royalty of centuries past.

September in Kew Gardens

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Thanks to my daughter's decision to spend a Semester Abroad in London, I was able to visit several wonderful English gardens in September. The first was the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew - regarded as the world's number one botanical garden with the largest and most comprehensive plant collection. What began as a "physic garden" of 9 acres in 1759 is now a 300 acre property with an arboretum, woodland, rock garden, Holly Walk, Winter Garden, numerous perennial beds and formal display gardens.

In addition to the plants, the garden is home to beautiful conservatories, museums, palm houses, Kew Palace and several temples. Since we had only one afternoon to spend there, we focused on the horticulture. Below are some views of the fabulous garden in September.

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Kew's arboretum is a living library of trees that stretches over the majority of the Gardens and is a wonderful place to see many different species of trees including rare and ancient varieties.

This specimen monkey puzzle tree was planted in 1978. The first monkey puzzle trees were brought to the UK in 1795 from chile.

This specimen monkey puzzle tree was planted in 1978. The first monkey puzzle trees were brought to the UK in 1795 from chile.

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There are more than 2,000 species of trees in the vast arboretum including a collection of "Old Lions". These magnificent trees are the oldest trees with known dates in the Gardens, dating back to 1762.

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Grasses and perovskia sway in the breeze and create a soft foreground for the collection of trees and shrubs.

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The Duke's Garden showcases perennials with beautiful foliage such as the bergenia and heuchera above.

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The large rock garden displays a range of mountain plants, Mediterranean plants, and moisture-loving species from around the world.

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The beautiful Japanese Garden is comprised of three areas. Above we see the Garden of Peace, reminiscent of a traditional Japanese Tea Garden with stone lanterns and a dripping water basin.

Below, is a glimpse of the Garden of Activity, symbolizing the elements of the natural world such as waterfalls, mountains and the sea. The raked gravel and large rocks represent the motion of water as it swirls and tumbles.

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Bunny Williams' Garden Style

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting Bunny Williams' Litchfield County garden during one of the Garden Conservancy's Open Garden days. Bunny is a renowned interior designer and author of several books that I have enjoyed, including "An Affair with a House" and "On Garden Style". Her garden was at the top of my tour list for the day, and I was not disappointed. There was plenty of inspiration for anyone interested in plants, garden design, antiques and interior decor.

Bunny's fifteen-acre estate surrounds an eighteenth century New England manor house in Falls Village, Connecticut. A long gravel drive lined with gracious old trees brings visitors to the front door.

A rustic patio on the side of the house is welcomes guests from the parking court.

The back lawn is bordered by a whimsical yew hedge.

A small fishpond is the centerpiece of a sunken perennial garden.

Arborvitae line an alle to the upper garden.

The guest house with its adjoining conservatory looks out over this formal parterre.

A working greenhouse and elegant service barn border a beautiful vegetable/herb garden decorated with potted figs.

A cutting garden for house bouquets is included among the veggies.

An aviary with unusual chickens and fantail doves provides fresh eggs for the household.

Meandering paths lined with hundreds of mayapples, trilliums, ferns, solomon seal, tiarella and epimedium bring you to a large pond with a waterfall in the woodland garden.

Wandering uphill through an apple orchard of mature trees brings you to a swimming pool with eighteenth-century French coping.

A rustic Greek Revival-style pool house "folly", built to the exact proportions of a classical Greek temple, features a dining and lounging area for people and pets, and a small kitchen.

Private gardens such as this one are a treat to visit through the Open Garden Days program. For more information and a schedule, see the Garden Conservancy.

“Buy Local” for Your Garden

May is a prime time to buy plants for the garden, and local plant sales offer hardy stock, reasonable prices, and sometimes plants that you cannot purchase commercially. Years of gardening have taught me that the plants that thrive best in my garden are grown close to home. Commercially produced plants are propagated and grown in highly controlled conditions, in greenhouses hundreds of miles away, and forced for early bloom. They are often pot-bound, with roots compacted in a soilless mix that dries out quickly and is difficult to rehydrate. I have had the best success with perennials, trees and shrubs that are grown locally in a climate and soil that is similar to my own. These plants are generally hardy, reliable, and quickly adjust to their new home in my garden.

I try to attend several horticultural society and garden club sales every year, and am always pleased with my new finds. So mark your calendars and make some room in your beds!

The Massachusetts Horticultural Society is hosting its annual Gardeners’ Fair on Sunday, May 16 from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm at Elm Bank in Wellesley. The “Society Row Sale” features plants sold by fifteen local plant society chapters including the Daylily, Hosta, Conifer, Rose, Herb, Lilac and Cactus societies. Dozens of heirloom and hybrid tomato varieties will also be available for purchase from Allendale Farm. www.masshort.org.

The American Rhododendron Society will be participating  in the Gardener’s Fair with its plants for sale from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm. You can admire the wide array of beautiful rhododendron blooms at the Society’s truss show, which opens after completion of judging at about 11:00 am.

Thousands of outstanding plants of all kinds are offered by Tower Hill, premier vendors and plant societies at the Tower Hill Plant & Garden Accessory Sale. Saturday, May 30, open to members 9:00 -11:00 am, opens to the public at 11:00. 11 French Drive, Boylston, MA. www.towerhillbg.org

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Gardeners looking to expand their epimedium collection can visit Garden Vision Epimediums in Phillipston on two May weekends in 2015: May 8-10, and May 15-17, 10:00 am – 4:00 pm, rain or shine. Garden Vision is primarily a mail order nursery, normally closed to the public except for the May sale weekends. On Saturday, May 16, nursery founder and epimedium expert Darrell Probst will be on hand at the nursery to answer your plant questions. Many of the hybrids are his introductions, and many of the plants sold at the nursery are clones of wild plants collected by him in China, Japan and Korea. www.epimediums.com

Native plants can be found at New England Wildflower Society’s Garden in the Woods in Framingham, which offers the largest selection of native trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, ferns, and perennials in New England. Garden in the Woods is open daily, and plants are available for sale throughout the season. www.newfs.org

For four days only, Sister Plants, a collaborative of passionate perennial growers, holds its yearly spring plant sale in Reading, Massachusetts. New England plant lovers can choose from hundreds of varieties of lovingly nurtured perennials, shrubs, trees, and herbs. The majority of the plants are grown in local garden plots and are sold at a fraction of catalog and garden center prices, starting at just $3. May 16-17, Reading, MA, www.sisterplants.com

Most garden clubs hold plant sales in May to fund their operations. Below is a partial listing, and others may be found on the Garden Club Federation of Mass. website calendar pages (gcfm.org)

Holliston Garden Club, Saturday, May 16, 9:00 – 12:00, Congregational Church Green, Holliston, www.hollistongardenclub.org

Ashland Garden Club, Saturday, May 9, 9:00 – 12:00, Montenegro Square, Front St., Ashland, www.ashlandgardenclub.org

Hopkinton Garden Club, Saturday, May 16, 8:00 – 11:00 am, Hopkinton Town Common, www.hopkintongardenclub.org

Framingham Garden Club, Saturday, May 18, 9:00 – 12:00, Cushing Park, Winter Street, Framingham, www.framinghamgardenclub.com.

Fairbanks Garden Club, Saturday, May 16, 9:00 – 12:00, historic Fairbanks House, 511 East St, Dedham

Greenleaf Garden Club of Milford, Saturday, May 16 8:00 – 12:00, Louisa Lake parking lot, Dilla St., Milford

Groton Garden Club, Saturday May 9, 8:30 – 12:00, Main Street (Rt. 119), in front of Town Hall

Foxboro Garden Club, Saturday, May 16, 9:00 – 12:00, Foxboro Common

Hortulus Farm – Where History and Horticulture Meet

I discovered Hortulus Farm quite by accident, browsing the internet for interesting places to visit on my way home from Philadelphia. It turned out to be a terrific discovery, truly “off the beaten path” - a place I will return to on future trips to the area.

Located in beautiful Bucks County, Hortulus Farm is a historic homestead with beautiful gardens and a large nursery. The heart of Hortulus Farm is the Isaiah Warner house, a classic Pennsylvania stone house built in the mid 1700s. It is surrounded by two immense dairy barns and other outbuildings that were added in the mid 1800s when the farm operated as a large dairy. The current owners, author Jack Straub and garden designer Renny Reynolds, acquired the property in 1980. and set about the restoring the buildings and creating the present garden.

Hortulus Farm’s 100 acres of gardens are based in part on English models, but American in personality. They take their inspiration from American architecture as well as our native woodlands that surround the more formal gardens close to the house. Meandering paths and gracious alles pass between ponds and over bridges, connecting more than 20 individual gardens that surround the “village” of buildings at the center of the property. These include a breathtaking woodland walk, lush flower borders, a raised-bed potager, herb gardens and a stunning pool garden, all enhanced with hedges, topiary, statuary, follies and water features.

When you visit Hortulus Farm, you are immediately impressed by the pastoral beauty of the landscape, the gracious layout of the gardens, and the animals that call the farm “home”. Set amongst the formal gardens are dovecotes, an elegant cage with three peacocks, an chicken coop with a wisteria arbor, and horses grazing in the surrounding pastures. A large pond is home to ducks, swans and a resident blue heron. Unlike other “public” gardens, Hortulus is teaming with life.

I look forward to seeing the garden in other seasons – when the hundreds of daffodils and woodland perennials bloom in the spring, or when the vast peony alle is in full bloom (the owners supply cut peonies to the New York flower markets). Hortulus Farm can be toured from May to October, along with its museum and large nursery, which offers unusual tropical, topiaries, perennials, shrubs and preplanted containers.

To learn more about Hortulus Farm, visit www.hortulusfarm.com

Longwood’s Lovely Waterlilies

The metropolitan Philadelphia area is a gardening mecca, and I always squeeze in a few garden tours when visiting my daughter at school. So when Parent’s Weekend concluded last week, I headed off to a wonderful afternoon at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA.

 Late September is a great time to visit many public gardens, and I was overwhelmed with the beautiful borders of cannas, dahlias and grasses, a Dahlia Society show, and the stunning greenhouses. But the most awesome spectacle at this time of year are the water gardens of Longwood, whose peak bloom time is from late July through September.

Tucked into a protected courtyard within the Main Conservatory, five pools feature more than 100 types of day and night-blooming tropical waterlilies, hardy waterlilies, lotuses, giant water platters and other aquatic and bog plants, such as papyrus and rice plants.

The waterlilies bloom in hues ranging from blues to whites, yellows, reds, and oranges. Some have striking foliage streaked with maroon. I was duly inspired to try my hand at growing waterlilies in my humble home pond next year. But the most dramatic plant at Longwood defies home use, and is cited as one of the wonders of the plant kingdom: the giant waterlily ‘Victoria’.

This Amazonian wonder (below) features leaf pads that grow to a diameter of 6-10 feet, and each lily may have 10 pads at one time, consuming an area 30 feet across. The leaves emerge as prickly shells and then unfurl at a rate of as much as two feet per day. Fully open, they can support the weight of a grown man, and the undersides are covered in spines, apparently to protect the plants from fish and manatees.

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Victoria's flowers are enormous and a little bizarre. As full buds, they begin to generate their own heat, and then open to attract pollinating beetles with a tropical perfume reminiscent of pineapple, oranges and jasmine. The lilies start out as female flowers but develop into male flowers on their second night, at which point they have changed in color from white to a rose pink. On their third day, pollinated, they sink to the river bottom to grow seeds that, when mature, float.

Since the Victorias crave the heat and humidity of the tropics, they are difficult to grow in our northern climates. At Longwood, these giants are started from seed in late winter and planted in submerged planters at the end of May. They grow rapidly in Longwood’s heated pools where the water is maintained at a constant 86 degrees. In an unheated pond, you would see them run out of steam in September with cooling temperatures, but at Longwood, the heating system allows robust displays as late as November.

Victoria water lilies were first observed in Bolivia by the Bohemian botanist Thaddaeus Haenke in 1801, and brought to Europe in the early 1800s. They were named in honor of Queen Victoria, who visited the first flowering plant at Kew in 1852. The two original species of Victoria (amazonica and cruziana) were brought to Longwood in the 1950s. Longwood’s aquatic plant expert, Patrick Nutt, succeeded in crossing the two species to produce a third Victoria lily, Longwood Hybrid, that is even more vigorous than its parents and produces a pad that is larger, with a pronounced and colorful rim. This fantastic waterlily draws throngs of visitors to Longwood every summer, and spurred the publication of Victoria: The Seductress by Dr. Tomasz Aniśko, curator of plants at Longwood Gardens, who oversees the proper naming and identification of plants, coordinates plant trials, and leads plant exploration efforts.

To see a time-lapse video of Victoria blooming at Longwood, visit http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/03/night-gardens/time-lapse-video

Garden of Artistic Delights

One of the highlights of the gardening season for me is the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program, and yesterday’s marathon tour of nine gardens in West Roxbury and Milton, MA did not disappoint! I came home exhausted and exhilarated, my head swimming with tips from garden owners, snippets of conversations with fellow visitors, and a plethora of the new design ideas, horticultural finds and plant combinations that I had seen throughout the day.

Although all the gardens were beautiful and interesting in their own ways, there is always one garden that really captures my fancy. Yesterday it was the West Roxbury garden of Christie Dustman, a professional garden designer, and Patti Ryan, a professional furniture maker. 

Their small garden, surrounding a historic home boldly trimmed in teal and purple, was packed to the brim with artistry, unusual specimens and fantastic plant combinations. The owners’ zeal for conifers (they are members of the Conifer Society) was evident in a collection of more than fifty unusual trees and shrubs, from towering weeping cedars to miniature yews.

But it was the whimsical use of cast-off items, like basketball hoops and organ pipes, that elicited the most “oohs and ahhs”.

The garden was a complex array of vignettes created from repurposed salvage store finds and hand-built creations masterfully laid out in a small space – a delight for the artist, designer and plant collector alike! If you have a chance to see this garden next year, don’t hesitate!

I am happy to support the Garden Conservancy as a member as well as a garden visitor. The Garden Conservancy was founded in 1989 to preserve exceptional American gardens for the education and enjoyment of the public.

The Conservancy partners with gardeners, horticulturists, landscape designers, historians, preservationists, and local organizations to preserve gardens; to share magnificent spaces and gardening ideas with the public through Open Days and other educational programs; and to raise public awareness of the important role gardens play in America’s cultural and natural heritage.

Since 1995, the Open Days program has spread the garden preservation message by providing access to some of America’s finest private gardens. Each year, hundreds of garden owners from coast to coast open their magnificent spaces to more than 75,000 visitors.

Next weekend I will tour the Open Day gardens in Hartford, Conn. and the Rose Garden in Elizabeth Park. Hope to see some of you there!

A Dozen Dazzling Spring Containers

(Poppies, lettuce and pansies grace a terrace at Longwood Gardens)

(Poppies, lettuce and pansies grace a terrace at Longwood Gardens)

I recently came across a wonderful description of "pot gardening" by landscape architect Thomas Rainer, who writes a thought-provoking gardening blog called "Grounded Design":

"Pots are perhaps the purest expression of planting design. Composing a pot is like a chef creating a salad—all of the rules of design get stripped down to their essence. In a larger landscape, the hand of the designer can be lost, but with a pot, the artificial environment is a pure display of horticultural skill."

I saw a fabulous display of this horticultural skill during my recent visit to Longwood Gardens and Chanticleer. Need inspiration for your spring pots? See the beauties below.

Spring Containers at Longwood Gardens

Pitcher plants and ferns are an unusual choice for this bowl in part-sun!

Pitcher plants and ferns are an unusual choice for this bowl in part-sun!

A grand display creates a focal point in a long walkway.

A grand display creates a focal point in a long walkway.

Small redbud trees and dark pink foxgloves add drama.

Small redbud trees and dark pink foxgloves add drama.

A pot of wallflowers and burgundy heuchera is simple yet stunning.

A pot of wallflowers and burgundy heuchera is simple yet stunning.

Nothing says spring like English daisies, ranunculus, pansies, willows

Nothing says spring like English daisies, ranunculus, pansies, willows

Spring pots at Chanticleer

a formal urn of purple, orange, chartreuse and silver welcomes visitors.

a formal urn of purple, orange, chartreuse and silver welcomes visitors.

The simple repetition of deep purple-black pansies accentuates the pink and purple tulips.

The simple repetition of deep purple-black pansies accentuates the pink and purple tulips.

A large pot of edibles and flowers in the courtyard.

A large pot of edibles and flowers in the courtyard.

Blue fescue grass sets off the white poppies in a courtyard of raked sand.

Blue fescue grass sets off the white poppies in a courtyard of raked sand.

The colorful branches of red-twig dogwood 'Midwinter Fire' combine beautifully with orange poppies, bronze fennel and golden creeping jenny.

The colorful branches of red-twig dogwood 'Midwinter Fire' combine beautifully with orange poppies, bronze fennel and golden creeping jenny.

Feel inspired? I sure did!

Chanticleer's Fabulous Fall Containers

I discovered Chanticleer Gardens last spring, and now that my daughter attends school nearby, I plan to visit this fabulous garden as often as I can. Last weekend I was once again inspired by the dozens of fabulous containers found throughout the garden. Each pot is a spectacular blend of foliage, color and texture, and most do not use flowers at all!

Many of these beautiful arrangements are made of tender tropicals - or houseplants for those of us in the Northeast. Now that I will be moving all of my houseplants back inside for the winter, I am thinking about creating a few Chanticleer-like pots to decorate the inside of my house!

A grouping of containers surrounds a cozy seating nook tucked in at the side of the house.

A grouping of containers surrounds a cozy seating nook tucked in at the side of the house.

Pepperonia and a variegated agave are beautiful in a bronze urn.

Pepperonia and a variegated agave are beautiful in a bronze urn.

A miniature container garden in a cement leaf.

A miniature container garden in a cement leaf.

A grand display on the mantel of a porch fireplace!

A grand display on the mantel of a porch fireplace!

A banana tree creates a towering centerpiece in the garden!

A banana tree creates a towering centerpiece in the garden!

A second outdoor fireplace is festooned with succulents.

A second outdoor fireplace is festooned with succulents.

Last but not least, a chain of small succulent pots adorns a rustic column.

Last but not least, a chain of small succulent pots adorns a rustic column.

Wakefield Estate Featured in Open Days Program

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In the effort to increase public knowledge about the importance of historic landscapes, hundreds of exceptional gardens nationwide are selected to participate in The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. This year, the Mary M. B. Wakefield Charitable Trust has partnered with the Conservancy to organize “the Greater Boston Area Open Days” on Saturday, June 8, from 10:00am – 4:00pm. Five distinct Milton gardens will be showcased, offering visitors a diverse range of designed landscapes. 

The Wakefield Estate is the former home of Mary “Polly” Wakefield (1914-2004), a trained horticulturist, landscape designer, plant propagator and collector, and an advocate and leader on many environmental issues of her day. Her vision for the purpose of the Wakefield Estate was to “organize to re-establish the contact between the land and the people.” An active member and trustee of many garden and volunteer organizations, Polly was especially passionate about the revival of the Public Garden in Boston. As a founding member of the Friends of the Public Garden, Polly was instrumental in restoring one of Boston’s most beautiful landmarks to its original glory.

One of the strong themes in Polly’s life was her avid interest in science and nature, both observing and studying it. Polly continually augmented her knowledge, accumulating a broad understanding of arboriculture and propagation methods, ultimately leading to her development, selection and naming of eight patented dogwood cultivars, including “Greensleeves” and “Fanfare”, two of the most highly praised dogwood cultivars today. She strived to create a formal garden that defied formality and convention, tested nature’s limits and embraced whimsy and a bit of the wild. An innovator when it came to sustainable gardening methods, she deliberately “crowded” her plants, remarking that “nature prefers it this way,” adding that “it eliminates much weeding … while giving it a more natural appearance and retaining a more even degree of natural moisture.”

The Open Days program coincides with the kick-off of the Wakefield Estate’s annual “Dogwood Days” – a week-long celebration of the estate’s hundreds of flowering kousa dogwood trees. Dogwood Days, which runs from June 8–14, 10am – 4pm daily, features tours, open gardens, and a tree and plant sale including kousa dogwoods, Japanese maples, river birches, eastern red buds, paper bark maples, metasequoias, and larches. New this year is “Dogs and Dogwoods,” a day to bring your canine friend to the estate for dog-friendly events, including a fun and informal dog show.  “Dogs and Dogwoods” is scheduled for Sunday, June 9th, from 10am-4pm.  The dog show will start at 1:00pm.  Dogs must be leashed. 

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The Wakefield Estate in located at 1465 Brush Hill Road in Milton. For more information visit www.wakefieldtrust.org or call 617-333-0924. To see a list of the Open Days selected gardens and directions, see The Garden Conservancy’s website: www.gardenconservancy.org.

Guest Post by Erica Max
Program Director, Mary M.B. Wakefield Charitable Trust

Inspiring Containers from Chanticleer

I was astounded by the beauty of the container plantings at Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Penn.  Although it was only mid-April, there were dozens of richly planted pots throughout the garden. The containers themselves ranged from formal urns to terracotta, glazed ceramics and modern metals. Many were grouped or strategically placed to enhance the garden's design. I hope that you will be inspired to create your own artistic contained gardens!

Orange tulips, red lettuce and herbs complement the terracota pots in this courtyard garden.

Red tulips, red-twig dogwood, heuchera and euphorbia in a classic cement urn.

Grape hyacinths steal the show in this pot!

A grouping of potted shrubs, perennials and annuals in different pots that complement each other!

A quiet container water garden on the stone patio.

A vegetable garden with climbing peas on the terrace!

Another interesting grouping of potted shrubs, succulents and spring bulbs.

Pansies soften the spiky form of an agave.

Potted daffodils and tulips complement the Italian accent tiles with their lemon design.

Ranunculus, pansies, and yellow-twig dogwood in an indigo blue pot!

A small centerpiece bowl of greens, herbs and flowers adorns the terrace dining table.

The Spring Glory of Chanticleer

To my family's chagrin, I always manage to find a nursery or public garden wherever our travels take us. So last week, when my daughter's college visit took us to the suburbs of Philadelphia, I was delighted to find that we were in the vicinity of the famous Chanticleer garden in Wayne, PA.

Chanticleer has been called the most romantic, imaginative and exciting public garden in America, and seeing it in its spring glory, I heartily agree with this description. The estate, with its 1913 mansion and themed gardens was once the country retreat of the Rosengarten family, whose Philadelphia-based pharmaceutical firm became part of Merck. The landscape was originally designed by Thomas Sears, and the 35 acres that are open to the public are now maintained by a staff of 12 gardeners and groundskeepers.

The terraces surrounding the main house are formally planted with thousands of spring-flowering bulbs.

The Teacup Garden's formal parterre gardens were a colorful tapestry of vegetables, herbs and flowers.

Dozens of lushly planted containers adorned the gardens around the home.

The estate's impressive lawns and trees were blooming with hundreds of daffodils. The saucer magnolias and cherries were magnificent.

The shady gardens of Bell's Woodland were massed with epimediums, ferns, hellebores, trilliums and spring bulbs.

The Gravel Gardens were ablaze with tiny species tulips, miniature daffodils and grape hyacinths.

Naturalized frittilarias adorned a remote, quiet part of the garden.

Chanticleer is open to the public from April through October, and more information can be obtained at www.chanticleergarden.org. It is well worth a visit, and I cannot wait to return someday!

Gardens Under Glass

January and February are the toughest months for gardeners with snow, ice and bitter, cold winds making forays into the garden unpleasant. An afternoon spent in a warm, lushly planted greenhouse is a welcome respite from our New England winter. So call one of your gardening friends and make a date to visit one of our local gardens under glass:

The Margaret C. Ferguson Greenhouses at Wellesley College are open every day of the year and feature the most diverse collection of plants under glass in the greater Boston area. Designed by Professor Ferguson who taught at Wellesley for 37 years and served as the first woman president of the Botanical Society of America, the greenhouse complex comprises 7,200 square feet of indoor gardens. The maze of sixteen interconnected greenhouses includes a Tropic House of palms, cycads and banana trees; a Dessert House of cacti and succulents; a Hydrophyte House of aerated pools filled with aquatic plants, papyrus and mangroves; a Fern House, and a carnivorous plant collection. It is a wonderful place to get lost on a Sunday afternoon. (www.wellesley.edu/wcbg)

Tower Hill Botanic Gardens Orangerie and Limonaia conservatories showcase beautiful collections of subtropical plants, camellias, and citrus trees. The Orangerie is a charming 18th century style greenhouse with potted plants arranged in artful combinations of complementary foliage color, texture and bloom. Statuary, seating nooks, fountains with trickling water and the scents of many blossoms add to its magical charm. The recently added Limonaia Italian for Lemon House features lemon trees with fruits in many forms and colors, from the school-bus yellow Meyer lemons to the soft-ball sized Ponderosas. Mingling with the lemon trees are camellias, ferns, bougainvillea and forced narcissus. Its a feast for the senses. (www.towerhillbg.org)

The exquisite courtyard garden of Bostons Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum complements the architecture and artwork of this grand historic mansion. Known for its summer nasturtium display, this indoor city garden is a haven in all seasons. From January to February, masses of tropical plants fill the courtyard with many of shades of green, complemented by clouds of white blossoms on mature jade plants. Norfolk Island pines, tree ferns, begonias and a variety of palms create a green tapestry, while orange and yellow bromeliads, striped Draceaena and colorful crotons provide splashes of color. In late February through March, the courtyard overflows with weeping yellow jasmines and dozens of orchids: ladys slippers, Moth Orchids, Cattleya, Oncidius, and Cymbidiums. (www.gardnermuseum.org)

Orchid and camellia lovers should also visit the Lyman Estate in Waltham, which features one of the oldest surviving greenhouse complexes in the country.  A grape house dates back to 1804, a camellia house to 1820, and an orchid house to 1840. The 100 year-old camellia trees are the stars of the Lyman Estate. Related to Camellia sinensis, which is the plant that tea comes from, Camellia japonica is a small ornamental tree valued for its beautiful, rose-like flowers. There are more than 2,000 varieties of Camellia japonica in existence, with colors ranging from white to pale pink to red, and blossoms that may be striped or speckled, and single or double in form. Visit the Lyman Estate and celebrate their camellia blooming season from February 6 to March 6. (www.historicnewengland.org)

A listing of gardens under glass would not be complete without mentioning Logees Greenhouses, a destination greenhouse for avid gardeners in Danielson, Conn. In 1900, founder William D. Logee bought a small Ponderosa Lemon tree from a grower in Philadelphia. It was know as the American Wonder Lemon because the fruit could get as large as five pounds. Planted in the original greenhouse on the property, the same tree still stands today and is reliably producing five-pound lemons every year. Thousands of lemon trees have been propagated from this original plant. Logee's Greenhouses is renowned for its collection of tropical and exotic plants including a large selection of passion flowers, Angels Trumpets, orchids, begonias, jasmines, and of course, citrus trees. (www.logees.com)

A visit to one of these wonderful greenhouses will lift your spirits, fuel your creativity and make the winter seem a little shorter.

Hollister House Garden, Washington, CT

recent Garden Conservancy Tour brought me to Hollister House Garden, overlooking the rolling hills of Litchfield County in northwestern Connecticut. The garden surrounds a rambling 18th century house set on 25 acres of beautiful wooded countryside with a winding brook and large pond. The garden itself is modeled after such classic English gardens as Sissinghurst , Great Dixter and Hidcote—formal in its structure, but informal and a little wild in its style of planting. Its pathways lead you through a series terraced garden rooms surrounded by tall walls and hedges which offer inviting glimpses of the landscape beyond.

Hollister House Garden is a 30-year labor of love by antiques dealer George Schoellkopf. George ran a gallery of 18th and 19th century antiques and folk art in New York City, so the garden was a weekend hobby for many years. He collected old stone, brick, wood and other man-made materials to complement his historic house, barns and outbuildings. 100-year old granite curbing, salvaged from Hartford road renovation projects, forms terraces, wide stairs and pathways that lead the visitor from one garden room to the next.

 The garden at Hollister House is abundant with both common and exotic plants, arranged in captivating combinations. Highlights of the garden in May include extensive plantings of tulips, iris and forget-me-nots, followed by old-fashioned roses and hybrid peonies in June, a magnificent 60-foot-tall Stewartia pseudocamellia covered in white blossoms in July, and unusual daylilies and true lilies in August. During my visit in late August, I was treated to towering dahlias, hydrangeas, Joe Pye Weed and stands of phlox.

Hollister House Garden is located in Washington, CT, and open to the public on Saturdays from late April to late September. It can be combined with a trip to White Flower Farm in neighboring Litchfield and Cricket Hill Nursery (specializing in peonies) in nearby Thomaston. For more information about visiting Hollister House, see hollisterhousegarden.org. The garden was featured on the Martha Stewart Show in 2010, and a video tour of the garden is available at www.marthastewart.com/251662/hollister-house-english-garden. Treat yourself to a visit to this garden destination!

Rhododendron Days

For the past few years, my college roommate has visited from her home in the Hudson River valley for a weekend of plant swapping, plant shopping and touring local gardens for inspiration. We were art students together in college, and have become passionate gardeners who use the garden as our canvas. This May weekend had a strong rhododendron theme, coinciding with the Mass. Rhododendron Society’s plant sale at Weston Nurseries, followed by a viewing of Boulderwoods Nursery, the awe-inspiring Hopkinton garden of hybridizer Joe Bruso. Rhododendrons are exceptionally floriferous this year, so it was an excellent time to round out the weekend with a trip to Cape Cod to visit the Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich.

 Established in 1969 by Josiah K. Lilly III, Heritage Museums and Gardens is a garden oasis with outstanding collections of rhododendrons, hollies, hostas, hydrangeas and over 1,000 daylilies which light up the garden in July and August. The 100-acre grounds feature thousands of rhododendron shrubs that burst into pink, red, and cream-hued bloom in late May. These plants are the legacy of two rhododendron-obsessed men. Charles Owen Dexter, a man of varied interests who became famous for hybridizing and propagating rhododendrons, lived on the property between 1921 and 1943. His plant breeding goals were hardiness, clear bright colors, fragrance, and large, showy blossoms, and the most well known of his hybrids today is ‘Scintillation.’ Other unique rhododendron cultivars in the Heritage gardens are the work of horticulturist Jack Cowles, who lived and worked on the estate from 1957 to 1967.

 Heritage Museums and Gardens exceeded our expectations. The rolling landscape was covered with a tapestry of rhododendrons, some 20 feet in height, most in bloom. Instead of the mauvy pinks, purples and whites that are commonly found in local nurseries, there were soft creams, pinkish apricots, rosy pinks and soft reds. To my surprise, many of the rhododendrons were wonderfully scented, and I quickly chose two favorites: ‘Dexter’s Spice,’ with its huge frilly, funnel-shaped white flowers and intoxicating fragrance, and ‘Dexter’s Honeydew’, another fragrant variety with pink buds that open into creamy apricot-tinged blossoms.

 In addition to the other plant collections, which I plan to come see when they are blooming in July, Heritage Gardens features a labyrinth, children’s garden, flume water feature, classical herb garden and an arboretum of beautiful mature trees, including umbrella pine, enkianthus, halesia, stewartia and many more. An unusual maze constructed of metal frames supports dozens of climbing vines, including climbing hydrangea, clematis, hops, akebia, and wisteria.

 Heritage is currently celebrating “Rhododendron Days” through May 30 with daily special events and an on-going plant sale of some of their hydrangea and rhododendron cultivars. (I am only sorry that I did not purchase the ‘Dexter’s Honeydew’, as it is almost impossible to find anywhere else.) The property also includes several excellent museums featuring antique cars, folk art, history and a lovely old carousel. (heritagemuseumsandgardens.org). A perfect way to top off a visit to Heritage Museums is to stop for Afternoon English tea at the Dunbar Tea Room, less than a mile away in Sandwich (dunbarteashop.com)