}

June 30, 2015

AROUND THE GARDEN, RANDOM JUNE TASKS AND EVENTS


It's just about lily season around here, and with this amazing lack of lily beetle, the lilies are looking fine, with no damaged foliage or buds, tall, healthy stems and a high quantity of buds - it should be another epic year for the true lilies. These pink beauties are my mystery lilies - I bought them on sale ( yes, I do that too, don't you?). They were in unmarked bags at a nursery near Boston, already all stretched out as they started to grow a few months early indoors. Last year I had them in a container, but last autumn, I transplanted them into the garden in front of the greenhouse.



 In just one year, they have divided, even producing a few offsets which had single flowers on them. They are down facing lilies, which are a particular favorite, but I am uncertain whether they are Oriental lilies or a cross ( I am guessing that they are a cross between a trumpet and an Oriental, commonly known as Orienpet's.). They lack any fragrance, which is ashamed, but other than that, they are rather perfect, even the color, which is a shade of pink that my friend Jess calls 'Meat' ( maybe imported Ham?) actually looks nice in the garden, but it is usually a color I never choose when picking out lily bulbs in the autumn.


ONE OF THE BABY BUNNIES WHO TEASE THE DOGS EVERY DAY, SO CUTE, AND THEY WOULD'NT DARE STEP PAST THE FENCE INTO THE MORE ORNAMENTAL GARDEN WHERE THE DOGS HAVE ACCESS, WHICH IS FINE WITH ME.


DIANTHUS CARYOPHYLLUS 'CHABAUD GIANTS' JUST SET OUT FOR THE SUMMER.

It may surprise you that with many things, I am not as fancy as you may think - for example, I love, love love Iceberg lettuce ( um…really) and I love, love, love Carnations (um... really). I know, right? So this year I am trying to grow some of the old fashioned annual selections, most are old fashioned,, vintage selections once popular in the late 1800's/ The strain 'Chabaud Giants' in particular is one which I have wanted to grow since I was a kid ( um….really), but they always just seemed fussy, and certainly not something one would be able to buy at a nursery - these must be sown from seed, and yes, they can be particular. A soil with a high pH ( 6.5 or higher) is necessary as with most dianthus, so horticultural powdered lime must be added to the bed liberally. For some reason, the seed I obtained this year germinated nicely, I think I am having luck because I sowed the seed later in spring ( April 15), while in the past, I started seeds too early, and they stretched out in the heat of the greenhouse - these are cool growers, and sown outdoors in early spring, they grew nicely.


A new gate was installed this weekend ( I even painted it late at night, before a party we hosted on Saturday).

Joe built a new gate this week ( Lydia, our female Irish Terrier tore the other one apart over some baby bunnies - see above). I am so happy that I found some vertical and horizontal wooded lathe board at Home Depot - something I've been searching for, for about 2 decades. This is a low cost solution for a nice looking fence, especially when painted a nice dark slate color, as above. The plastic or vinyl lathe is horrid ( and white), so paint does not hold well. We bought 20 panels, with the ambitious hope of installing a new fence along the dog yard by the end of summer.

The espaliered apples have set a nice crop of fruit this year. No sign of rust yet, which is a good sign. I am holding off on the summer pruning until later in July.

The citron 'Etrog' have set their fruit, probably with some help from the honey bees. These citron live in big, clay pots which spend the winter in the greenhouse. It's hard to imagine that this tiny, baby fruit will grow to be nearly a foot long.

The Meyer Lemons are loaded with flowers. I will have to thin some of the fruit out, so that there won't be too much per branch, but that's OK. It promises an excellent winter in the greenhouse for fresh lemons.

Other lilies are blooming now too, such as these very old Lilium regale, so, so fragrant - the porch door needs to be closed late at night, just to keep the intoxicating fragrance isolated from the kitchen.

Containers are starting to take off, with all of the rain and warmth. Well, it's been cool around here, so maybe it's just the rain! The jagged saw-like foliage of this Melianthus major, which survived our cold winter in the greenhouse - dormant underground in its pot, are emerging quickly and really beginning to tower over the other containers.

Daphne berries are poisonous, so I carefully fence off shrubs, such as this Daphne mezereum 'alba' which has tempting yellow berries ( the pink flowered form has red berries). These will soon drop, and germinate next spring near the base of the plant - a curious parenting trick, which allows me to dig and transplant dozens of this winter blooming shrub for other places around the garden every year.

In the vegetable garden, garlic scales have been removed from the heirloom garlic plants, to not only allow the plants to focus on forming larger bulbs, but they will make great pickles in the kitchen.

The Cuphea viscosissima is doing so well ( finally! After three tries, I think I am finally able to grow some of this fine, purple flowered annual). I am not sure if I should pinch it or not, so I am pinching half of the plants. These are growing near our new gravel walk, so I really want well branched plants, so that they are less likely to tumble into the walk.

I ordered this raised bed from Gardener's Supply in Vermont ( they are not a sponsor - this is purely my own venture - so free shout out to them!). I love the quality. Cedar, deep and ten feet long ( or eight, not sure now!). Still, it's massive, and the peppers seem to love it. Hey, I'm in my 50's now, and just starting to think about bending over less and less! I want more of these!

In a couple of weeks, most of the garden lilies will be in bloom. This yellow, out-facing  Asiatic is just about ready to pop open. Summer is really here - -really. I think any chance of snow is nearly over!

June 29, 2015

A CAMELLIA FOR THE NORTH? A STEWARTIA TREE COMES OH SO CLOSE

Our 20 year old Stewartia pseudocamellia  which oddly skipped blooming entirely last year, (but which has bloomed every year since I planted it), is, for some strange reason,  loaded with flowers. Cars are stopping to ask us about this tree which seems so out of place in the June garden.

With it's handsome, smooth muscular bark (I  know, sounds kinky, but the next time you see the tan and beige bark on a mature Stewartia - just try to find a better way to describe it). attractive buds and branching in the winter, spectacular fall foliage and then this - - clouds of white camellia-like blossoms in early summer, and one can see why the Stewartia tree is so treasured ( and yet, still rarely seen in most gardens).

I do need to prune some branches away from the service gate so that the gas man can get to the greenhouse, but that can wait, especially when it looks this nice.


A not-so-pretty view of the deck, but it does show you how big our tree has grown. Typcially, the Stewartia species are smaller trees - 35 feet max but ours is already that tall. Slow growing ( I planted this tree when I was 29 years old), and now I am appreciating it um…a couple of decades later.



I look forward to the very camellia-like blossoms every June and July, and why not, they look exactly like the big white Higo camellias we have in the greenhouse, but these come in clouds, and outdoors.


With seven species available in North America, the most commonly grown species is this one - S. pseudo camellia, hardy to USDA Zone 5, but check with the other species, as some are more tender, only hardly to USDA Zone 7 or so.
 I would push the zones a bit, as I told some friends of mine from Vermont this weekend, who were craving getting a tree for their Zone 4 garden. Might be worth trying, as I could say that mine experienced Zone 4 conditions in some winters, as we have had many winters which dipped into the -0º F down to -10º F so if you are a hearty soul, look for a micro climate ( our's is planted near the house away from the wind).

If there is one downside ( maybe two) they are that the blossoms drop in abundance, and need to be raked up every evening. I do like the sound of them tumbling down out of the tree just as the evening arrives, perhaps temperature changes or light levels signal the drop. The second negative might be the seed pods which drop later in the summer - very sharp, and can stab a bare foot ( Hey, I know, since I 've stepped on many!). Besides that, the tree is virtually flawless. Why not look for one at your local nursery?

June 24, 2015

DUCKS WITH TRUCKER HATS - PLAYFUL VISIT WITH ILLUSTRATOR JEN CORACE

Illustrator Jen Corace visited us yesterday, and some of our ducklings wanted to wear trucker hats - but why, you ask?

We can always count on our good friend designer Jess Rosenkranz to pop over with some silly reason, maybe she needs more leaves to press so that she can assemble more dried terrarium paintings (complete with miniature layered buffalos - RISD grads you know!), or to make wedding flowers as we did this past Saturday for her brothers wedding, and this evening, when Jess stopped by for homemade pizza with her friend and fellow illustrator Jen Corace.

Ducklings, you know - they just attract creative people.





Jess knew that Jen would not freak out with the mess around here, she has a garden, loves dogs and as an artist, would surely find things around our house quirky and interesting. Jen Corace's latest book project was illustrating TELEPHONE (Chronicle Books)  a and fellow RISD grad) she also is getting a lot of recognition for a children's book that she illustrated for author Mac Barnett, which is getting tons of praise by both the press and critics (A BuzzfFed Best Picture Book of 2014, and many more praises).

All sorts of sweet birds tell the story (a play off of the popular parlor game - telephone, where one passes along a secret phrase to the next person). In this story, a duck wears a trucker hat.

So naturally, Jess made trucker hats for our ducks to wear, if only for a few seconds. We sent her home with a car load of plants for being such a good sport. As for the ducklings? The got an extra hour in the pool on this gorgeous evening in June - why not, the fireflies are out, and summer vacation has begun.

Jen Corace discovered that some of the ducklings actually liked wearing the paper trucker hats.


WORDLESS WEDNESDAY - DUCKLINGS ARRIVE

INDIAN RUNNER DUCKLINGS


June 20, 2015

TEN IDEAS TO STEAL FROM THE GARDENS AT WAVE HILL

What to grow on a Tuteur
A stunning tower of old-work roses trained in a spiral around a tuteur adds drama and stature to the gardens at Wave Hill.


Last week's visit to Wave Hill Botanic Garden and Cultural Center just north of New York City in the Bronx inspired me so much, that I snapped rolls and rolls of film (well, more like a USB drive full). Now that I've had some time to digest and review all of the images in Adobe Bridge, I find myself getting inspired - ideas to steal (I mean 'inspiration')  seems to be everywhere in well designed gardens, so as a testament to the folks who are responsible for these beautiful plantings, here are a few of my favorite ideas to steal for my own garden. Maybe you'll find them equally as inspiring and 'Pinteresting'.

 1. It's back - the Tuteur (above image), but with a nice rose trained on it.

What really makes this tuteur perfect is the climbing old-world style rose which, if you notice, is carefully trained onto it as a spiral. Lovely. No idea what variety it is, perhaps a newer disease resistant hybrid such as a David Austin climbing rose? That's what I am going to get.

Teuteurs made a brief comeback in the 1990's thanks to Martha, but for whatever reason, they quickly fell out of fashion again. Maybe it was because we really didn't know what to do with them - treating them as garden sculpture and not as a practical device on which to train plants ( i.e. "tuteur", a guardian, to train or teach). Sure you can find them anywhere still, but we love to make them. Here is  ia great way to make a fine tuteur - click here:

When a tree such as a yellow-leaved Catalpa is cut-back annually to product large leaves and fast, water shoots, it's called coppicing. A lost art in North America, it might be worth revisiting.


2. Coppiced Catalpa in the Perennial Border

For some reason, we in the US rarely practice the art of coppiced trees, but in Europe the practice has, and still is used ( along with pollarding, which is often confused with coppicing.). the RHS website has a great tutorial here, but it really doesn't' take much work to get these results in your own garden. Why coppice? Well, it allows you to add a very interesting texture into mixed plantings of either shrubs or perennials. Traditionally, it's practiced with willow (salix) species, as a way to produce 'water shoots' or long, whips of twigs used for basket weaving, as well as for fences, garden stakes and other uses, but as an ornamental pruning method, coppicing can turn a tree into a statement - it works best with the traditional species, such as catalpa ( the fine yellow foliaged one above shows how magnificent it can be), as well as traditionally used on Smoke Bush (Cotinus), Limes (Tilia) and Foxglove Tree (Powlonia), which in our garden has produced enormous Jurassic Park - like leaves.


Essentially, you just cut the branches back to the back just above the ground every winter, and new shoots will emerge forming sort-of a bush, but with an effect which produces larger leaves, which some species produce when stimulated to produce juvenile foliage. I love the effect, and can see why it was used for centuries for both practical reasons ( weaving, nut trees, even to stimulate the growth of truffles) and as an ornamental treatment. Let's bring it back into style!

For 8 more ideas to steal, click below:

June 17, 2015

WORDLESS WEDNESDAY

Various flowering cacti in the greenhouse sand bed - Rebutia, Lobivia and Mammilaria species.

June 13, 2015

RAISING GREAT PEONIES - THREE GENERATIONS OF MEMORIES LIVE ON

The intersectional Itoh hybrid peonies are a cross between the traditional herbaceous type, and the tree peony. These sturdy and strong growers die back to the ground like perennial forms, but produce sturdier stems and large flowers, often in colors only found in tree peonies such as Yellow. This variety is 'Bartzella'.


I don't know if you've noticed this or not, but this seems that 2015 is the year of the peony - at least, in our gardens in the Northeast.
The reasons are unknown, but it could have been our awfully cold (or awesome?) winter, or just might be something to do with better varieties coming into the market and thus, into peoples gardens. I have received  so many questions about peonies lately - most seem to be about weak plants, or trying to get their peonies to bloom, and more than a few about when to transplant. I felt that it was worth a quick post (it's a little long, now that I look at it) on how I grow peonies, and some shared thoughts on these lovely yet sometimes difficult plants.

Ask gardeners who have peonies in their garden and they most likely will just exclaim that "they are easy", often adding that they do "little to nothing other than pick them each June", but to those of you who either struggle with peonies, or who are looking to plant some this year, there are a few tricks to know that may help you.



First, a brief primer about peonies -

Most experts divide peonies into about 5 distinct types

1. Herbaceous - these are your classic peonies. You know, Martha Stewart's peony garden, long rows of every shade of magenta, coral, pink, peach, salmon and white. The term herbaceous means that they will die completely to the ground come winter, and reemerge again in the spring.

2. Tree Peonies - These are peonies that form woody stems which do not die to the ground every winter (OK, sometimes they do, but generally speaking, in milder areas, they will form longer and longer woody stems, never as bushy as a shrub, but when they are in full leaf, they will have the stature of a shrub. The large foliage will still drop off in the winter, but with each year, the plants should get larger and more impressive in bloom.

3. Intersectional or Itoh Hybrids - these are the newest peonies on the block, and they are spectacular. A cross essentially between the above two types ( herbaceous and tree), they carry the best characteristics of both types - stronger stems, larger flowers in a broader range of colors, yet they die to the ground every autumn.

4. Rock Garden Peonies - These are generally higher elevation or smaller woodland species, great for rock gardens or alpine gardens, or for special places where their fantastic ferny foliage can be appreciated. I only call these out differently from the below 'species' category, as there are not some named varieties coming into the trade, and most catalogs categorize them separately as 'rock garden' types.

5. Species peonies - There are species, or wild peonies in all of the above categories except Intersectionals. Over the past couple of decades, a better selection of species have been introduced, most make terrific garden specimens given time, as most species take a painfully long time to mature int he garden. These are plants which our parents and grandparents only wished that they could grow, and once you see one full grown, you will want any one of them in your own garden.

Ten year old 'me', already a hopelessly obsessed plant boy.


My personal story with peonies goes way back to my childhood. Living now in the garden where not only I was raised, but my father and his brothers, I am fortunate to have old peonies which my grandmother raised. I never met my grandparents, since they lived here from around 1906 until 1945 or so ( my dad died a year ago last week at 100 - clearly, I was the 'accident'). Peonies played a role in my budding botanical interests as a child. My mother like to tell the story of how she and Elenore (the woman across the street who still lives here at age 90-  Hi Elenore!) dug and transplanted peonies from a neighbors 18th century home (Mrs. Hook), down the road. They planted them near our little concrete goldfish pond in the late 1940's, where roses once grew. These varieties, combined with my grandmothers became the foundation of the peony collection.

Most are lost now, but they were the annual highlight of the garden until I moved back to take over the property in the 1990's. When I decided to build the greenhouse in 2001, the only way to get a tractor into that side of the yard, was directly over the peony garden, which to be honest, by then was failing somewhat due to shade from trees which only have grown taller over the years. I was able to save a few, but most did not recover.

A couple of my mom's original peony varieties still in bloom this week, after a thundershower. They are weaker than most new selections, and fall over from the weight of their blossoms, even when not wet. But come on - they are like an annual visit from my mom, so they are priceless to me.

It may seem sad to lose these old varieties, but I think that I could replace most of them, with a simple visit to a good peony nursery. I am certain of a few of the varieties, which are most iconic such s 'Festiva Maxima' - a classic variety circa 1851, but with a smaller garden, I have to admit that I am enjoying the newer selections as they not only produce a better show when in bloom, they also have foliage which looks terrific for the rest of the summer.


I am smitten by the newer Itoh Hybrids, often yellow or in warmer shades - you may have seen them sold at your local nursery in 5 gallon Monrovia pots for anywhere from $60 to $200. Don't think that these are anything like your old fashioned peonies - they are superior, and although expensive, they are worth the investment, if you think of them as adding a shrub or a hydrangea to your garden.

Itoh Hybrid peonies are far superior to many of the older selections of herbaceous, but there are plenty of good herbaceous ones too.



The term 'new'  however, is a little misleading, as Dr. Itoh himself passed away in 1956, and ironically did most of his plant breeding in the 1930's and 1940's just as my parents were moving around all of those ancient, varieties from the 1800's in my garden.  They would never have known about these new crosses, as it took time to get them ready for market, most didn't appear on the scene until the late 1990's.



My tree peonies this year are loaded with blossoms, most every stem terminated with a large flower - best thing about tree peonies? They blossoms remain upward facing, and don't tip over in heavy rain or dew.


Although old-timer or heirloom havethe charm of antiquity which when it comes to peonies, can be a good  story indeed, as it is one of the auspicious Chinese plants cultivated hundreds of years ago - In Japan, I've visited peony garden planted for Emperors which had plants that we 300 years old - but in our home gardens, a better show can be had with a variety of old and new selections. When it comes to peonies, 'heirloom' doesn't always tranlate into 'better' - there are subjective points, such as fragrance or color, or even vigor, and there are good and bad peonies on both sides of the dateline, but newer breeders do cull out the underperfomers - point is, we demand more for a peony today, so newer peonies tend to be more vigorous and awesome.

Today, the genus offers so much more than just the floppy, weaker growing varieties which don't get me wrong, are still lovely, but pale in comparison to the displays produced by either the Itoh crosses, or many of the species forms. Each, unique and special, and surely once viewed in real life, will be added to your 'must get' list.

Tree peonies can be challenging for some people, but if there is a trick, it lies with providing winter protection in the late autumn - I use Styrofoam rose cones weighted down to minimize wind damage, others use straw or hay, but the best trick of all, may be to simple wait 5 years for your plants to settle in and mature.


As for species forms, briefly, as I doubt many average gardeners will want to either pay the prices or be patient enough to find one of the better species peonies ( 'species', as those peonies which grow in the wild such as Paeonia rockii and many others). Each will take some time to mature ( even more time than the Itoh inter sectionals), but once they do, you will have a true treasure.



When to plant peony plants

If you order via mail, autumn is the best time to plant peonies. It also is the best time to transplant peonies, but be careful here - autumn is recommended because the peony plant, as a whole, has completed it's growing cycle for the year ( it actually completed it by mid summer, but wait until cooler weather to move them).

Understanding how a peony grows, will help you understand why autumn is often suggested as the best, if not only time to move them. Peonies are essentially woodland plants - they form their buds in the previous year, just near the surface of the ground where the large, woody roots are showing.

You will see these buds by late summer, if you peek near the surface of the ground. This early prep is one reason why one is often told to not plant peony roots deeper than how they were planted originally, and why mulches which are heavy such as wood bark must be used carefully, or pulled away front eh crown of the plant. It's this intersection between what is above the ground and below the ground, which is important. One does not want buds forming too low under the ground, nor have their woody roots extending too much above the soil.

A yellow Itoh Hybrid blooming this week - standing proud after a severe thunderstom passes, just as the sun was setting. This one is 'Bartzella', which is available at many good garden centers, but be forewarned, it can be pricey.

In early spring, these buds begin to lengthen, and they are one of the first signs of spring in a perennial border or garden - often reddish in color, due to the cool air of April, these buds quickly lengthen and turn into stems with leaves, and if one is lucky, a marble sized or golfball sized knob of a bud appears at the apex of each stem.

By late May or early June, these flower buds mature, open and then shatter - all within a few days, and the floral display is over for the season. One should cut the seed pods off ( unless it is a species form, as you will want either the impressive seed pods, or the seed to start yourself - but if it's any other type of peony, it's best to cut the seed pods off, so that all of the plants energy can go back into those thick, woody roots, which will only make the plants more impressive next year.

If you see peonies now at the garden center, it's OK to plant them, as they have been raised in a container, and you can carefully slide the rootball into a prepared hole. These expensive Itoh hybrids for example will transplant perfectly fine during this current spring or summer, since they are large clumps in 5 gallon containers. Most of the problems I find come with inferior varieties from questionable sources - dollar stores, hardware stores where they came in a box with a poly bag, or mail order sources that were not of good quality.

Be smart with peonies - as you will get what you pay for. Order from a known peony specialist such as Peonies Envy (I have not tried them, but other people like their selection) and I highly recommend  Song Sparrow Nursery. Better yet-- visit the website of the American Peony Society for sources that they recommend. There are plenty of good sources which also happen to sell other good perennials such as Iris and Daylillies. I would avoid the larger trade nurseries - those color catalogs such as Spring Hill, van Bourgondoin, etc, as they will ship small roots which may even be bare root.

A few weeks ago I posted this tree peony blooming in front of the greenhouse. It stayed in bloom for nearly 3 weeks.


When to divide peony plants

Peonies can be divided - in autumn, if you have a large clump which is more than ten years old, or one which suddenly isn't performing as well as before. Dig the entire clump up with a deep root ball, and carefully wash off as much soil as you can. Be careful, as buds will have formed already near or just below the soil line. The soil may completely fall off the thick roots, as the clump may look more like a clump of brown parsnips than anything else. Try to be generous with your divisions, as smaller portions will take years to recover. Leaving 3 or 4 roots to a trio of bud might be ideal. Carefully set into a prepared hole, no deeper than how they were before, and water well.

As for the term 'prepared hole',  it depends on where you live, but Peonies enjoy a slightly acid soil, which might be one reason why they do so well for us here in New England. A pH of 6.0 -7.0 is ideal. Lime is rarely needed, as is heavy fertilizer. Some older books used to quote that same advice as for asparagus - well-rotted manure, deep hole, etc -- but come on, who has access to well rotted manure these days?

A sensible hole prepared as one could prepare for a shrub is all that is needed. I apply a granular balanced fertilizer once a year (a 10-20-20 is strong, but OK if time released or granular - or look for an analysis where the first number, which is nitrogen, is lower than the second two numbers - one wants strong roots and flower bud formation, more than foliar growth.). granular fertilizer should be scratched in around the crowns, being careful to not allow it to touch any growing parts.  I sometimes apply an annual application early of a granular super phosphate in March as well. More importantly, in fall when plantings, a kickstarter handful of 10-10-10 for each crown is a good baby-food insurance application of food, which can be helpful when first setting out new plants into your garden. It makes more sense to feed early in the plants life, as mature plants with adult roots do find without any additional food.

Aside from an annual clean-up of foliage after hard frost, and the removal of seed pods (dead-heading) peonies are carefree, as the foliage remains until late autumn. If you wait until spring to clean up herbaceous plants, be sure to cut the stems back to an inch or so above the ground. It's best to not leave these to die naturally through the winter, and don't try to pull them off of the plant in the spring, as they are stringy and can pull out or damage the roots or small buds - I learned the hard way.

Overall, Peonies are easy - once you get past the first 3-5 years of them 'settling in'. Remember, there are cemeteries and old gardens where there are peonies growing un-cared for, and they have been blooming for more than 50 years. They are truly long lived, once you get them established.  Just remember, plant then in fall ( not those 4 inch boxes of plants one sees in the spring at Home Depot, Lowes and Tesco - order yours from good retailers in late summer for fall delivery). Beyond that 50 year mark, they can even last a lifetime ( or even 2 or 3 lifetimes, as in my garden), which may be the finest reason of all to invest in the best plant that you can.

June 9, 2015

ART AND ALPINES BLOOM AT WAVE HILL - ABBIE ZABAR'S TEN YEARS OF FLOWERS

JESS ROZENKRANZ EXAMINES ONE OF ABBIE ZABAR'S PRECIOUS PAINTINGS OF THE FLOWER ARRANGEMENTS IN THE GREAT HALL OF THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART, IN HER SOLO EXHIBIT CURRENTLY ON DISPLAY AT THE WAVE HILL BOTANIC GARDEN AND CULTURAL CENTER, NY.

 I've never been to Wave Hill before, so when this opportunity to not only attend the opening of our dear friend Abbie Zabar in her exhibit entitled 'Abbie Zabar - Ten Years of Flowers' and a chance to visit this important American garden, we had little problem planning a quick one day trip to New York City - well, to be honest, we had a bit of a problem, as I was double booked having to miss a Tower Hill Botanic Garden committee meeting, but I'm sure everyone understands. At least I didn't have garden chore guilt due to Saturday's work fest with the walk, and we figured that we could stop by Terrain in Westport, CT on the way - since hey, we could always use a few more plants.




I couldn't think of a nicer venue for Abbie's small paintings of which ironically capture in miniature scale, what were once the most massive floral arrangements which used to be constructed in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I've admired about 8 of this series in Abbie's penthouse over the years, but I never imagined that she had painted so many - this a small, intimate exhibit, which makes the experience even better. What at first may seem repetitious, the experienced plant person, floral arranger or artist will eventually see all sorts of differences. Like a game of taxonomy, the floral works, often constructed in the same large urn, changes with light, season and plant material.

Abbie painted these on various papers, some of on craft paper, I even think she used a few paper shopping bags), while others were painted on the highest quality rag paper.  She also used all sorts of mediums, for Abbie is not one for following rules, if a more sensible option is handy ( white-out for opaque white, for example). In these works, one can see her fluid, lucid line work in pencil,  gauche, watercolor, colored pencils and yes, even White-out. The brush work is fast and immediate, one can appreciate the gestural quality yet nothing hit her canvas un-intentionally, the final work shows thoughtfulness even in it's restraint from being overworks, a skill few artists master.  Yet the subject  remains so clear and identifiable, that the accomplished plantsman can name the particular genus and species of the plant material used. Proof that Abbie herself is a consummate plants person as well.



The fact that this collection is neither fussy nor overworked, (just like Abbie herself), comes as no surprise to those of us who know and love her. They are just a composition of 'a touch of this, a bit of that", and then "enough, is enough". Knowing Abbie, I can only guess that she has shared these works with very few of her dearest and closest friends and the many collectors from whom loaned their works for this exhibition. Not surprising, as Abbie is not one to create works simply to fill a gallery, or to get a museum exhibit - she creates work with the mind of an true artist - for no other reason than because she love doing it. Add in the fact that she is a talented gardener and plantsperson, only then can one begin to appreciate her influences and spirit in these works, in a strange way, they feel very personal, as if one is peering into her most personal diary, and I suppose, in many ways, these works are indeed just that - a period of time, a diary, sequential, and somewhat documentary in nature.

This exhibit is on display at the Wave Hill House until October 4th, so if you find yourself in the New York City area, it's worth a trip up to the Bronx to see it, as well as then many gardens at Wave Hill.

A FEW OF ABBIE ZABAR'S PRECIOUS, PAINTINGS, SEASONAL, DETAILED AND JEWEL-LIKE, SPECIAL WHEN VIEWED SEQUENTIALLY, AS A SERIES OVER TIME.


THE ALPINE HOUSE AT WAVE HILL HAS REMOVABLE WINDOWS, SO THAT SUMMER RAINS CAN REACH SOME PLANTS. ALPINE HOUSES IN NORTH AMERICA ARE RARE, AS MOST DEMAND COOL, BUOYANT CLIMATES SUCH AS THAT FOUND IN THE UNITED KINGDOM. ONE THE LEFT, STONE TROUGHS HOUSE COLLECTIONS OF ALPINE TROUGH PLANTS.
VIEW OF AN ALPINE TROUGH WITH VARIOUS RARE BUN PLANTS, THOSE FROM THE HIGHEST OF ELEVATIONS. MOUNTAIN-TOP PLANTS THAT TODAY, DON"T RECEIVE THE ATTENTION THEY ONCE DID IN THE EARLY 20th CENTURY.
I found it interesting that Abbie Zabar exhibiting her tiny paintings at Wave Hill in June is rather ideal given the plant life, season and light, as Abbie in not only an active member of the North American Rock Garden Society, her rooftop garden in New York City also has many troughs and alpines. After the opening, Joe, Jess Rosenkranz and I spent a couple of hours touring the garden. Here are some images of the infamous alpine house and alpine troughs at Wave Hill.

A collection of alpine troughs well displayed at Wave Hill.


Helichrysum sessiloides grows here in an open trough. An iconic high elevation alpine, with tight growth so dense that it appears as if it is a rock - this plant demands brilliant, hot and dry sunshine. It's flowers are papery and white too, (for a daisy!).  Amazing.


Another Helichrysum , this one H. retortum grows in the hot and dry protection of the sand bed in the alpine house. It's flowers are just as papery as any strawflower.



Sisyrinchium biscutella - a 'blue'-eyed grass which is….well…biscuit-eyed, I guess. Contacts for flowers?




A small potted tree sits in the window of the alpine house. I loved the colors in this shot.


Pitcher Plants bloom ( and New York City is in the distance, just over the Hudson River).


Oh Turkey, your politics might be screwed up, but your alpine plants rock -  I mean, how many grey flowers do you grow?  Mathiola trojana is great in troughs and stony, sandy containers that are fast draining.. I just added it to my collection a couple of months ago. ( did I mention that it is also night fragrant!). You can get one here.

Any alpine that forms a dense, hard bun is gold to a rock gardener. Be it a Dianthus alpinus,  one of the Minuartia ( or Arenaria species which I think this is) or even  a Gypsophylla - which all form hard, tight buns, (and who doesn't want that?).


The sand bed in the alpine house still housed many treasures.


Love this pot of blooming Triteleia laxa - I could not reach the label, but it may be the variety 'Rudy'

And just when I was about to give up of growing the ground orchid Bletilla striata as it seems to not winter over for us here, I find these specimens thriving in pots on the shady side of the alpine house. Watch out for these on this blog next year - I can finally try this method which should work out well for me.


Abbie, in white, relaxes a bit at the end of the day. There is always time to go see some plants!

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