Category Archives: Garden

Spring tonic

What better antidote to snow and rain than a visit to a greenhouse! I was smart and left my money at home and just wandered around enjoying the moist warm air and the colorful flowers. I was very tempted by these *designer* baskets (with price tags to match), but think I could put together something just as nice with things I already have once I find some little pansies that need a home. I feel a little silly taking photos in a public place, but find them useful later when I’m looking for ideas and inspiration for container plantings.

Late winter

If we’re lucky enough(?) to live in a place that has four seasons to the year, then I think it must be inevitable to be anxious for each seasonal change. I’d guess the anticipation of spring is most common; however I find myself anticipating the end of summer and heat more than I do the return to that type of weather. Yet, as much as I love the cold of fall and winter, I do get to missing the garden. March is a funny month; with the equinox we think of it as the first month of spring, but here in NJ at least, the weather is anything but spring-like most days, and the garden has to wait.

Whatever else it may be, I think of March as a month of anticipation. There are good things to come, but also much to appreciate at this in-between time of year. Maybe just to convince myself to be happy at this week’s return to below freezing temps, I made a list of some of the things that, as a gardener, I enjoy about late winter. Maybe you’d like to add to it?

  • Catalogs, of course! I love to spend a weekend afternoon dreaming about what my garden might be this year and marking up the pages of my favorite catalogs with yellow sticky notes on the photos of the most colorful and unusual plants. At some point reality sets in and I order only a third of what I would really like and still don’t have a permanent place for most of it.
  • Anticipating the first weekend of spring cleanup and that first sweet smell of the earth warming up. The restlessness of spring-fever and the urge to be out of the house.
  • Winter bouquets: acorns and pinecones, red osier dogwood twigs, witch hazel, pussy willows, forsythia…
  • Freedom from weeding and mowing and plant pests.
  • Anything is possible now; everything a promise.

“Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle… a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a bud straining to unfurl. And the anticipation nurtures our dreams.” –Barbara Winkler


This Canada Hemlock, like all the tallest trees in Peirce’s Park at Longwood Gardens, had a narrow green wire extending from somewhere in the crown of the tree beyond our sight down the full length of the trunk and into the ground. The wires were inconspicuous unless you were really looking at the trees, like my husband and I were. We wandered around enjoying the towering lindens and tulip-trees and especially the hemlocks. Some of the oldest trees here are thought to be more than 200 years old and were thoughtfully labeled for those of us who are still learning to identify them. 😉

We assume the trees are wired to protect them from lightning, as a strike would be life-threatening for the tree. Trees are often the tallest objects in a landscape and their deep roots and water/sap content make them a great lightning rod. From what I’ve read, properly protecting a tree from lightning can cost as much as $1,000 per tree and involves running copper cables down opposite sides of the trunk as well as along the main branches. These cables are then grounded well outside of the dropline of the tree to prevent root damage.

Lightning is nature’s way of eliminating old or sick trees, but it would be a shame to lose such beauties as those at Longwood. This was the first time either my husband or I had seen such a thing and I wonder how common it may be. Any fellow tree-huggers know more about this?


I really enjoyed the bonsai at Longwood Gardens. The simplicity in this display was quite refreshing after all the dazzling Christmas colors in the other areas of the conservatory. My eyes were glad for a rest.

Each of the 15 or so specimens is displayed on a simple wooden bench that runs the length of the space. The collection is kept behind glass which made photography difficult, but I’ve tried to crop out as much of the reflections as possible. I was puzzled by the glass and my husband and I both assumed it was meant to protect the trees from too much fondling by passerby or to perhaps keep them from being stolen. The outdoor bonsai display at my local horticultural park is kept chained for this very reason. After reading a bit of the history of Longwood Gardens I found out that the collection is kept behind glass so that it’s visible during the winter months while allowing the plants to be kept cool and dormant. The glass panes are removed during the more temperate months, I assume.

The grouping of trees in the pic above was my favorite, but of course I didn’t include the botanical label in my photo so their name is a mystery to me now. I want to guess that they’re some variety of Sycamore because of that bark, but the collection, of course, is heavily biased with Japenese trees so who knows.

Another interesting plant is this Japense Zelkova pictured at right. I’d never heard of them before, but my husband has been saying lately that he likes them. He’s seeing that a lot of towns are using them as street trees to replace the ornamental pears that are such popular but weak trees. Zelkovas are in the Elm family (according to the label) and this particular specimen has been *in training* since 1909.

I think it’s easy to forget the amount of work and foresight that must go into training a tree for nearly a hundred years so that it will look this way. The gardener has to prune the roots and branches to prevent it from outgrowing its container while also maintaining the tree’s natural shape by wiring and bending the branches. Very cool, but not something I’m prepared to try anytime soon!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A gentle reminder to anyone who means to submit photos for this week’s Good Planets on Saturday. Please email them to me at lc-hardy AT comcast DOT net by sometime on Friday. Please don’t be shy about sharing the beauty around you with others via this carnival.

A Longwood Christmas

Comparing the conservatory at Longwood Gardens to a greenhouse gives the wrong impression. When I think of a greenhouse, I think hoses and dirt and uncomfortable heat. The conservatory at Longwood is a 4 acre garden that just happens to live under glass. You stroll from garden to garden hardly aware that you’re inside at all, except for the occasional temperature change when entering one of the areas with plants that have special needs.
The only other *famous* garden I’ve visited is the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, so I don’t have much to compare it with, but I was very impressed. Everywhere I looked there was something beautiful and absolutely no sign of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into caring for a garden of this magnitude. I did not see a single insect and every plant, every leaf was in perfect condition. How do they do that with more than 200,000 visitors during the Christmas season?
The photos I’m sharing today were taken in the main holiday display areas – the Orangery, the East Conservatory, and the Exhibition Hall. The other areas also had holiday displays, but they were more subtle and in keeping with each garden’s theme. The pic above is the 25 foot Douglas Fir decorated with a living garland. Of course I didn’t write down the name of the plant and can’t remember what it was, but it reminds me of an artemesia.
Poinsettias were everywhere, of course, and while I don’t much like this plant, I do have to say that they looked very pretty. Narcissus, amaryllis, primroses, and lilies were heavily used. I liked all but the lilies; too strongly-scented and associated with Easter (and funeral homes) in my mind to enjoy them.
Here’s a plant combination you’d never see together but under glass – tulips in the foreground and winterberry holly in the background. The holly was used in most all of the displays and was striking! Does anyone know if winterberry holly is deciduous? I don’t grow it, but my husband was surprised to see a holly without any leaves and I wonder if they weren’t removed just for effect. Will have to look that up in one of my garden books.

I bought a few of the books for sale in the gift shop that describe the history of the gardens and have pictures from all seasons. Were my first visit in the spring or summer I don’t know that I would have even bothered to go into the conservatory – the outdoor gardens and fountains are so beautiful in the photos. I plan to visit again and see it at all seasons.

Longwood Gardens at Christmas

I’ve always wanted to visit Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA. This is their centennial year and my husband and I have the week off, so we decided to take the trip today and see their Christmas display. Of course this week after Christmas is their busiest and neither of us do well with crowds, most certainly not after 2+ hours in the car, but the crowds weren’t bad until we were ready to leave.

We spent a few hours wandering around the indoor conservatory and then walked the grounds for an hour or so at dusk and left just as the outdoor lights were looking their best. I had to do a lot of experimenting with the camera to be able to get decent pics of the gorgeous light festival, but I managed a few to share. This first pic is a favorite from the Beech Allée; at the end of a dozen or more Beech trees was a display of snowflakes and stars that seemed to be falling from the sky.

This blue spruce at right was gorgeous decked out in frosty blue lights and icicles. This is the main tree in the fountain garden which is done all in blue lights – really beautiful.

There was a lot that we didn’t take the time to see in our hurry to be on our way home, like the ice-skating performance and lighted fountain show. I enjoyed just wandering along and seeing the way each tree was lighted to its best advantage. Many of the light displays had a garden theme – daffodils, crocuses, lilacs and wisteria formed from lights were blooming in the garden beds along the pathways – very unique and beautiful, but hard to photograph in the dark.

Tomorrow I hope to share some pics from the conservatory.

Festive frog

This frog perched pondside is the extent of our outdoor decorating this year – I like it, but worry that it might be keeping the fish awake! My husband loves outdoor decorations and would have the yard filled with obnoxious stuff if I let him have his way. He came home with this gem following an unsupervised shopping excursion with his brother a few weeks ago. It makes me laugh when I see it there in the middle of the dark yard, so it can stay.

We’re just about ready for company tomorrow; the house is mostly clean, the gifts are wrapped and under the tree, and my husband is out doing the traditional *cookie run* to our friends. In good years we bake; the last few we’ve bought delicious trays of the best Italian cookies we can find to give as gifts for neighbors and coworkers. I have some cooking to do still and then plan to spend the rest of the night staring at our pretty tree from the couch.

Winter refugees

During the summer months my houseplants live outside on the screened patio; with the threatened frost this past weekend I brought them inside from their fair weather sojourn. The problem now is where to put them all. For the moment I’m keeping most of them in my office where they’ll be safe from marauding bunnies and clumsy dog tails. They’re crowded together on this little plant stand in front of the sort-of-south-facing window, up high enough that Peeper can’t reach them without really trying. I’ve found her once or twice atop my desk, so it’s possible.

The Asparagus Fern in the back is my longest lived houseplant; I think I’ve had it for 3 or 4 summers now. I like to keep it out on the sunporch with the big bunnies, but it has grown considerably this summer and I found Boomer and Cricket doing some inspired pruning when I first brought it in and put it back in its usual spot. I have fairly good luck with Peace Lilies, so I keep quite a few. I can’t manage to make them bloom ever, but the foliage is pretty enough without flowers. They aren’t so happy spending the summers outside, as I can never seem to keep enough water on them. My jade plants do terrific out on the patio, though. Last year I took a few cuttings and was able to *trade* them with friends (I read that it’s bad luck to give Jades as gifts, so I only trade them for cuttings of other plants. lol!)

The orchid that I bought back in April is still alive and is sending out these funny things (pictured at right) that I’m not sure are roots or stalks that will bloom. I’m not sure what to do with them. Ideas anyone?

I like to have my houseplants back inside because it’s so much easier to care for them, but they do seem to suffer with the darker days and dry conditions inside the house.