Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Are you cruel enough to be a gardener?

For the past four years, I have kept a close eye on Miss Lawrence's Camellia sasanqua hedge at the sidewalk. It was not uncommon to see evidence of scale in the hedge, which had been kept sheared. Scale is an insect pest that feeds on plants by piercing plant tissue and sucking sap... literally sucking the life out of a plant. All kinds of scale like close, dark, humid quarters. In an effort to create a less hospitable environment for it, I thinned out some of the densest parts of the hedge last year. The intention was to increase air circulation and light.  While performing an annual plant assessment this winter, I realized that the scale infestation was quite severe. This was confirmed by local experts and members of my garden committee, as well as my gardening colleagues, Ben, Damou, and Danny, who have been battling scale on the oldest camellias in the Clarkson Garden.

During the process of educating myself on these nasty little vampiric creatures, I learned that there are several different species - most of which were attacking the hedge. Most were on the undersides of the leaves, but a lot were also on the limbs. Not good. Some species of scale are "easier" to control than others, but none are exactly "easy" to completely eradicate. So what does one do in a case like this?
Scale on the undersides of the leaves...
...and on the limbs.  Yuck.
The most important thing: do whatever I can to keep existing plants happy and healthy.  I weighed all of my options, keeping firmly in mind that many of the plants in the hedge are nearly 70 years old. Behind door number one, the less radical treatment - a regimen of chemical drenches, periodic spraying and pruning - over the course of years - which may or may not be completely effective in the end. (Ugh) Behind door number two, the more radical approach - renovate the hedge by pruning it way back, giving it a chance to regenerate with clean, healthy foliage that can be strategically pruned as it grows. (Seems drastic) And finally, behind door number three, the most radical approach - completely remove the existing hedge and start over. (Can you say "last resort"?)

It wasn't an easy decision, but the best option - and definitely most environmentally-friendly - was behind door number two: rejuvenation pruning... or, as I like to think of it, pressing the "reset" button.  Older plants usually respond better to hard pruning; they have well-established root systems that enable quicker regeneration. Plant maturity is definitely on my side for this one!

So Ben, Damou, Danny and I set to work, and in one afternoon, completed the first pass.  It's best to start off a pruning project like this by being a bit conservative with your cuts... you can always prune off more later. And I did.

After the first pass of rejuvenation pruning
Rejuvenation pruning complete!
Sometimes older gardens present difficult situations.  Hard decisions must be made.  Such was the case with the sudden death of most of Miss Lawrence's witch hazel, Hamamelis intermedia 'Jelena', which required the same type of severe pruning.  Thankfully, that turned out to be a success story.  I remain ever-hopeful (crossing my fingers, toes, and nose hairs) that rejuvenating Miss Lawrence's Camellia sasanqua hedge will reap similar results.  I suppose I am, after all, cruel enough to be a gardener.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Wing Haven's Top Ten Checklist

Get your garden ready for spring with Wing Haven’s helpful top ten checklist

1. Survey the Yard

Make note of tree limbs that should be removed or cabled, especially those that overhang structures. Hire an arborist to maintain large trees. Cut down last year's perennial foliage, and toss it into the compost pile. Rake mulch from beds planted with bulbs before foliage appears, and refresh mulch in other planting areas after soil warms. Check fences, steps, and pathways for disrepair caused by freezing and thawing.

2. Order Tools and Plants

Clean and sharpen your tools so everything is ready when things start growing. Make note of what is missing, and purchase tools for the new growing season. Choose new plants for the garden; order perennials, trees, and shrubs for spring planting.

3. Get Ready to Mow

Send the mower and leaf blower for servicing, or if you have the right tools, sharpen the mower blades yourself. Change the oil in your mower with oil, install fresh spark plugs, and lubricate moving parts if necessary. Clear the lawn of winter debris, and look for areas that need reseeding before mowing. Also, run through your irrigation system and inspect for potential winter damage.

4. Prune Trees and Shrubs

Remove dead, damaged, and diseased branches from woody plants. Thin and trim summer blooming shrubs such as butterfly bush, hydrangea, and most roses (except for old fashioned once bloomers). Prune cold damaged wood after plants resume spring growth. Prune spring blooming shrubs and trees after flowering.

5. Take a Soil Test

Check soil pH with a home soil test kit or send it off for more detailed analysis. Be sure to take several samples from different planting areas for an accurate reading. Enrich soil as necessary: Add dolomitic lime to raise the pH or elemental sulfur to lower the pH.

6. Prepare New Beds

Clear the planting area as soon as soil can be worked, removing turf, weeds, and debris. Spread a 4 inch layer of compost or well rotted
manure and any amendments over soil, and cultivate it to a depth of 10 to 12 inches with a spading

7. Plant

Install bare root trees, shrubs, and perennials such as hostas and day lilies by early spring. Choose a cool, cloudy day if possible. Plant containergrown
items anytime during the growing season except midsummer; be sure to water them thoroughly and frequently! Sow seeds of cool season flowers like sweet peas, poppies, and calendula, and vegetables such as lettuce, parsley, and spinach.

8. Fertilize

Apply balanced fertilizer (666 or 888),fish emulsion, or other soil amendments recommended by soil test results around trees and shrubs when new growth appears. Spread high acid fertilizer and pine needle mulch around acid loving shrubs like azaleas and camellias. Begin fertilizing perennials when active growth resumes.

9. Start a Compost Pile 

Start a compost pile, or use a compost bin, if you don't have one already. Begin by collecting plant debris and leaves raked up from the garden. Chop these up first to speed decomposition. Add equal amounts "brown" (carbon rich) materials like dried leaves and straw and "green" (nitrogenrich) materials like grass clippings and weeds in even layers with water and a compost bio activator. Turn regularly. Continue adding to the pile throughout the season for rich, homemade compost next spring.

10. Clean Bird Feeders and Baths

Disinfect the feeders by scrubbing with weak vinegar solution (1/4 cup vinegar: 2 gallons warm water). Rinse and dry the feeders thoroughly before refilling them. Scrub birdbaths with solution, then rinse them thoroughly and refill, changing water weekly. Clean bird baths and feeders regularly throughout the season.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

It's a Blooming Winter!

"It seems to me that there is never a time when some living thing is not pushing up from the ground, and that at the beginning of the year there is a more vital stirring."
- Elizabeth Lawrence, Gardens in Winter

There are many wonderful winter blooms in Miss Lawrence's Garden right now. A few that she loved have become ones I, too, most cherish.  I thought I'd better capture their images today - before the rain and colder temperatures set in tomorrow.

Amur Adonis (Adonis amurensis 'Fuku Jukai')  Rare, nearly impossible to establish, this is not a plant for the faint of heart. The blooms remain perfect for weeks on end, come rain, snow, or below freezing temps. Every year that it begins to bloom tells me I haven't killed it, yet. Pshew!

Snowdrops (Galanthus sp.)  These easily-cultivated woodland charmers are a pristine delight no matter the weather, and, as with many little bulbs, are best planted en masse.  I can't talk enough about how awesome these are!

Roman Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis)  These are not your run-of-the-mill hyacinths; these are the true original white hyacinths still blooming early every year in old southern gardens.  They come close to blooming on New Year's Day.  And the fragrance... oh, such sweet aroma!  They are the first hyacinths to bloom in Miss Lawrence's Garden.

Chinese Witchhazel (Hamamelis mollis 'Wisley Supreme')  A feast to the nose and the eye, this witchhazel greets me near the front door of Miss Lawrence's house with the cheeriest yellow blooms, and a delicate clean scent.  It's a great way to start the work day.  This was one of Elizabeth Lawrence's favorite winter blooming plants.

Come by soon to see what else is blooming; contrary to popular opinion, winter is a fantastic time to see flowers in Miss Lawrence's Garden.  (It's so great, she even wrote a whole book about Gardens in Winter.  It's my favorite of her manuscripts.  Grab a copy if you find one; it's out of print.)

Yours in Dirt,

Friday, January 02, 2015

A Month in Pictures

In more ways than one, it is so much easier to be in Elizabeth Lawrence's garden than it is to be on the computer.  When I'm on the computer, my ADD kicks into high gear.  I head into "Wonderland" with one focus: search for sources of different new (and old) plant material to test in the garden.  Before I know it, I've perused no fewer than 10 blogs, 15 nursery websites, 4 public garden databases, 6 flickr image galleries, 8 gardening forums ... and the list goes on.  At the end of it all, I've spent two hours inside, nearly feeling as if I've wasted time but all the while reminding myself this is part of researching plant material.

Don't get me wrong: I have found some GREAT plants this way.  Lots of great plants, actually.  And I have learned a ton of great information... about most of which I remain somewhat skeptical because it is, after all, the internet.  I also gain a lot of inspiration, which is a wonderful thing that keeps me engaged on so many levels.  But at the end of it, I am a bit exhausted.  A bit spent.  A bit in need of serenity.

When I'm in the garden, time seems to stand still.  Nothing else matters except that visceral connection I feel to Elizabeth and her world.  I take time to really study the garden.  I get down on the ground to appreciate a new perspective.  I hold a bruised leaf to my nose to see if I can discern any fragrance.  I weed an area - always carefully - searching for freshly uncovered bulbs emerging from dormancy.  I have found SO much in this garden.  Countless discoveries have come above the ground, but equally as many beneath the soil... partially rusted plant tags still boasting Elizabeth's handwritten identification, gnarled plant stakes, stone edging long covered over with layers of soil, mulch and leaf litter.  Even bulbs that hadn't seen the light of day in years.  There's always cool stuff to see here.  And the best way to see it, if you're not sitting on my shoulder while I'm digging around in the garden, is through a camera lens.

I take a LOT of pictures.  Since November 2010, I have taken 3,307 in this garden.  All of those pictures do no one but myself any good if I don't share.  But don't expect the garden to look the same when you come to visit.  Elizabeth was fond of saying, "You have not seen my garden.  You have only seen it TODAY."

So here is a month in pictures in the Elizabeth Lawrence Garden.  Enjoy.

Yours in Dirt,
Andrea Sprott

The original door knocker, adorned with holiday greenery, welcomes me to work every day.
December 3
This Camellia sasanqua has been blooming since September.
The feathery texture of the foliage of Spiraea x arguta (garland spirea) still original to Miss Lawrence
I wish you could smell this Chimonanthus praecox - winter sweet.  Intoxicatingly wonderful fragrance!
Illicium anisatum - Japanese anise
This one blooms more than 6 months of the year!
A camellia seedling I want to register with the American Camellia Society as Camellia 'Lindie Wilson',
in honor of the woman who saved this garden and loved it for 23 years.
Helleborus torquatus (species Hellebore) generously donated to the garden by Pine Knot Farms. 
A fun plant combination: Acorus gramineus 'Ogon', Lychnis coronaria, and Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum'
My very favorite species camellia, Camellia saluenensis, still original to Miss Lawrence.
The path is bordered by Camellia saluenensis blooms. This camellia blooms from late October through March.
Physostegia virginiana 'Vivid' (obedient plant) still strutting her stuff in December.
Gentiana andrewsii (bottle gentian)
December 31A recently transplanted clump of Adonis amurensis 'Fuku Jukai' is preparing to say "Hello Winter!"
Helleborus niger 'HGC' (Christmas Rose)
It's snowdrops season!
I've been working to beef up this mass of Galanthus elwesii, and it's paying off.
Groups of cyclamen and the "Lindie Wilson" camellia to the left, snowdrops to the right
A fun discovery: a reverse-variegated Alstroemeria psittacina (peruvian lily)
A bloom of Camellia japonica 'White Empress' that escaped the frost.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Seeing the Garden Through Elizabeth's Eyes

This past Saturday afternoon, I tackled a project with April Ryan (see my 12/11/12 post).  For a garden curator of an historic property, it's important to see the garden as much as possible through the eyes of its original creator.  In order to do that, the original design must be restored where time, plants, or new ownership has changed it - purposefully or not.

I spend a lot of time studying photographs of the garden structure.  There is always something new to discover in Miss Lawrence's garden, even in a literal snapshot.  Relatively speaking, we have very few photos of the garden during Miss Lawrence's tenure.  (If you have, or someone you know has, any photographs of the garden, I would very much love to have a copy - for reference more than anything else.  Contact me!)  The photos we do have offer up a bit of pixelated revelation.  Take, for example, this series of photos of the front of Miss Lawrence's house:
This photo was taken in the early 1980s - probably 1984, the year Elizabeth sold her house and moved to Maryland.
Notice the gentle curve of the front right bed line.
Wing Haven owned the property when this photo was taken in October 2009.  Again, that front right bed line has its gentle curve.  Very much worth mentioning here is that Elizabeth Lawrence Garden savior and gardening goddess, Lindie Wilson lived and gardened here for the previous 23 years... saving all elements of Elizabeth's original design.  Thank you, Lindie!!!
Now here's that same area in April 2010:
So there obviously was a design change made, probably to maximize planting area.  While it's certainly not offensive, it is not true to Elizabeth's original design.  And frankly, that just makes my teeth itch.

So, as I said earlier, I tackled a project:
I have been surprised by how much better this area looks and feels.  It just feels right now... as it should be.  And thankfully, my teeth have stopped itching.

Yours in Dirt,
Andrea Sprott