Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Elizabethan Gardens - Like A Step Back In Time

Statue of Elizabeth I by Jon Hair, The Elizabethan Gardens
Entering the Great Gate of The Elizabethan Gardens, Manteo, NC, is like stepping back in time. The Elizabethan Gardens, on the north end of Roanoke Island, is very near the site of Fort Raleigh, known as "England's First Home in the New World."

In the late 16th century, Sir Walter Raleigh (1554-1618) tried to establish an English colony by charter of Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603) on Roanoke Island. Though he organized and financed the project, Sir Walter Raleigh never visited North America himself. After one failed effort, a group of 150 colonists under Governor John White (1540-1593) was dispatched to the Chesapeake Bay, but stopped at Roanoke Island to gather the remaining men. None were found. White, a friend of Raleigh's and an able artist, attempted to proceed to Chesapeake Bay, but the fleet's Portuguese commander and part-time pirate, Simon Fernandez (1538-1590), nicknamed "The Swine" by his men, inexplicably refused to allow the colonists to re-board ship, insisting they stay to establish the Roanoke colony. (Fernandez's despicable reputation is doubted by some.) White and colonists, including his daughter and son-in-law, had to make the best of it.

Bad relations with the Indians had begun a few years earlier over an alleged theft of a silver cup. In retaliation, the Indian village had been burned. The incident was not forgotten. August 8, 1587, a subsequent, mistaken attack upon friendly Indians worsened the situation.  "We were deceaved", wrote White in his journal, "the savages were our friendes".  The colonists' situation became desperate. White's granddaughter, Virginia Dare, was born August 18, 1587. The first English person born on North American soil, Virginia was baptised the following Sunday.

The colonists urged Governor White to return to England appealing for aid. His return to Roanoke was delayed for three years by unfortunate circumstances, not least of which was England's war with Spain. All worthy ships were enlisted to repel the Spanish Armada. When White, after a harrowing voyage, did make it back on Virginia's third birthday, he found the settlement long-deserted. The only traces were cryptic carvings, CROATOAN and CRO, on a post and tree. The colonists' fate remains a mystery.

The Elizabethan Gardens was conceived in 1950 by Mrs. Charles Cannon (1891-1965), wife of the North Carolina industrialist/philanthropist Charles A. Cannon (1892-1971); Inglis Fletcher (1879-1969), noted North Carolinian, historian and author; Sir John Evelyn Leslie Wrench (1882–1966), Founder of the English Speaking Union, and Lady Wrench, aka Hylda Henrietta Brooke (1879-1955), when they were visiting Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and The Lost Colony outdoor drama on Roanoke Island. The following year, the idea was presented to The Garden Club of North Carolina, which voted to build the garden on property leased from the Roanoke Island Historical Association.

As plans were being made, objects to furnish the gardens were being acquired. Mr. E. W. Reinecke, a North Carolina construction contractor, informed the Garden Club that he was removing some valuable statuary from the Greenwood Plantation of The Honorable John Hay "Jock" Whitney (1904-1892) in Thomasville, Georgia. The statuary seemed to be headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He also suggested that Innocenti and Webel, the noted landscape architect firm headed by Umberto Innocenti (1895-1968) and; Richard Webel (1900-2000), be retained. The Garden Club took Reinecke's advice.

Construction began on June 2, 1953, the coronation date of Queen Elizabeth II, and formally opened August 18, 1960, the 373rd anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare.

The impressive iron gates at the entrance to The Elizabethan Gardens, a gift of The Honorable C. Douglas Dillon (1909-2003), Ambassador to France, Undersecretary of State and later United States Treasurer, once hung at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. Dillon, who had a knack for acquiring things, was also a long-time trustee of The Metropolitan Museum, and later its President.

The Great Gate and Gatehouse certainly gave the feeling that we were entering 16th century England. A formal box garden and Shakespeare's Herb Garden contributed to the effect. A couple dozen of the herbs are documented in a booklet, Shakespeare’s Herbs in the Elizabethan Gardens. Written by Huntington Cairns, former secretary of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the booklet may be purchased in the gift shop.

If there's anything like being trapped in time at The Elizabethan Gardens, it's entering the gift shop. We found an intriguing display of lovely objects and interesting literature I never knew we wanted before. I don't like entrapment, so I tried to hurry us into the gardens as soon as we'd paid our admissions fee.

A solidified gravel walk led through the Rhododendron Walk, the Fragrance Walk, and into The Queen's Rose Garden. Since we were visiting in March, none offered the flowers or fragrances of other seasons. However, seasonal plantings of bulbs and spring annuals were enchanting.

Tulips and viola, The Elizabethan Gardens, Manteo, NC

Then we came face-to-face with the statue of Elizabeth I, Good Bess, the Virgin Queen. The sculpture, by Jon D. Hair, is monumental, yet meticulous in detail even to the lace of her gown.

From Good Bess, we strolled to The Mount and Well Head. The well head, carved of porphyry, is one of the items donated by Whitney. The elevation provided good views to the west of The Sunken Garden, and The Virginia Dare Statue to the east.

The Virginia Dare Statue was carved circa 1859 from Carrara marble in Rome, Italy by Maria Louisa Lander (1826-1923). But Virginia Dare, undoubtedly named for the virgin queen, apparently died before the age of three. So the voluptuous figure of a tempting, barely draped woman with really fine legs, said to be "the sculptor’s idealized version of what Virginia Dare would have looked like had she grown to womanhood", doesn't actually represent Virginia or any respectable American Englishwoman of purity and refinement. Perhaps Miss Lander dared to reveal more of herself.

North of the Well Head, I could glimpse Roanoke Sound. The views from The Water Gate and from The Gazebo were very pleasant. The Gazebo is constructed of hewn beams and roofed with thatch in traditional English style, giving somewhat the sense of a colonist's hovel.

Behind The Gazebo, a small terrace garden charmed, and The Overlook Terrace impressed us with views into the Sunken Garden. An ancient Italian Renaissance fountain framed by well-pollarded crapemyrtles and a nearby walk flanked by hornbeams perfected the scene.

As I mentioned earlier, we visited in March, so camellias and Magnolia x soulangiana were in full bloom. The woodland was carpeted with flowers.

Near an ancient Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) probably pre-dating the colonists' arrival, the marble Lion Couchant Bird Bath surrounded by benches provided a fine place to rest and enjoy scenes of The Great Lawn.

The Elizabethan Gardens is a member of the American Horticultural Society's Reciprocal Admissions Program. The AHS RAP allows members of one participating botanical garden to enjoy special privileges at others. At the time, we were members of The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA. You'd think that membership in The Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden and The Elizabethan Gardens being part of the RAP program, The Elizabethan Gardens would allow free entrance. But that's not the case. For us and the admissions attendant, it was a matter of confusion and disappointment. The attendant's supervisor advised we were allowed free parking and 10% off any gift shop purchase. Parking was already free, and I was determined to avoid entrapment in the gift shop. We paid full admission and enjoyed the garden.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Questions about English Ivy in south Florida

Q. I want to cover about 150' long concrete  wall about 10' high on the side of my property with English ivy. I live in West Palm Beach, Florida.Will it thrive in our climate? Will this cling to the concrete wall? If so how many plants do you suggest? Also is it evergreen? 

A. I think it will thrive in your area. English ivy is known to do well into USDA climate zone 9b. West Palm Beach used to be in 9b, but with the recent changes to the USDA climate zone map, your area is now in 10a. I saw this morning that someone reported it doing well in Haverhill, FL, to the west of you.

It will cling to the concrete wall.

English ivy is evergreen. Here is an article I wrote for my blog about English ivy.

Here is an article about planting distance that I wrote for my blog. It was a question from a shopper about English ivy. I hope it helps.

You might also consider Ficus pumila (creeping fig) for your wall.

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Saturday, July 7, 2012

All America Selections Announces Its First Two Winners for 2013

The stated mission of All-America Selections is "To promote new garden seed varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America."

All-America Selections has announced the first two winners for the 2013 growing season.

Canna 'South Pacific Scarlet'
The first is Canna 'South Pacific Scarlet', AAS Flower Award Winner. It can be started from seed. 'South Pacific Scarlet' grows up to 5 feet tall and sports showy 4 inch scarlet flowers that bloom all summer. Foliage is green. It's very robust, producing 6 to 7 stems per plant. Perfect for a mass specimen planting, or for use at the back of mixed flower borders.

Canna 'South Pacific Scarlet' tolerates wet soil, so it can be used beside water features such as ponds and streams, bog gardens and rain gardens. It also tolerates light frost, so you can enjoy the blooms longer.

Cannas are perennial in southern gardens (USDA climate zones 7 to 10), annual in northern gardens. But the rhizomes can be dug before frost and stored for replanting the next season.

Plant in full sun 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Flowers are produced 11 or 12 weeks after seeds are sown.

The second AAS Flower Award Winner is Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit'. It's a hybrid that produces a blanket of vivid colors in purple, red, pink, orange, yellow and cream tones, and white. One great thing about perennial 'Cheyenne Spirit' is that it blooms the first year from mid-summer through fall.

Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit'
It's compact and sturdy, so won't fall over in wind and rain like taller coneflowers do. 'Cheyenne Spirit' is drought-tolerant and maintenance free. There's no need to deadhead spent flowers to provide beauty all summer long.

Dazzling flowers are 3 inches to 3-1/2 inches across. Plant height is 26 inches to 32 inches. Width is 25 inches to 30 inches.

Plant in full sun. Space plants 24 inches apart. Seeds sown in January will produce mature flowering plants in 23 to 24 weeks.

Look for seeds of Canna 'South Pacific Scarlet' and Echinacea 'Cheyenne Spirit' in seed catalogs this fall, and as young plants in lawn and garden retail stores in spring 2013.

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Friday, July 6, 2012

Antennaria - Like Velvet Pussy-toes

Spring tiptoes in
    on grey, velvet pussy-toes

Allegro from Through the Window of My Car: A Poem in Four Seasons by Elle Fredine.

Pussy-toes are like that - discreet and unassuming. Have you ever heard of Pussy-toes? No? Well, according to the USDA PLANTS Database, they're present in every state and province of the United States and Canada. See what I mean? They're almost everywhere, but discreet and unassuming.

Pussy-toes belong to the genus, Antennaria (pronounced an-ten-AR-ee-uh). The word means something like, "lots of antennae", and it's thought that the name was bestowed because the anthers of some species resemble insect antennae. It's interesting, eh, that taxonomists imagined antennae rather than cats' toes.

There are about 40 to 45 species of Antennaria. Most occur in North America. Some also occur in Europe. One species, Antennaria chilensis, is native to South America. Sizes vary from 4 inches to 20 inches.

A few species and cultivars are available commercially, though they tend to be hard to find.

Antennaria carpatica is also known as Carpathian Cat's-foot or Pussy-toes. An Illustrated Flora of the northern United States, by Nathaniel Lord Britton and The Honorable Addison Brown, says it's native to the U.S., Canada and Europe. According to The International Plant Names Index, synonyms include Antennaria carpatica var. pulcherrima and Antennaria pulcherrima. According to Flora Europaea, synonyms include Antennaria lanata and Antennaria helvetica. Gray-green foliage is evergreen. Low tufts of fluffy-white flowers appear spring to mid-summer. It grows quickly and thrives in full sun to partial shade. Mature height is up to 2 inches, and spreads up to 12 inches. Carpathian Cat's-foot is drought tolerant, deer resistant and tolerates foot traffic. It thrives in USDA climate zones 2 or 3 to 9, preferring normal to sandy soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.8.

Antennaria carpatica 'Rubrum'
Antennaria carpatica 'Rubrum' is also known as Pink Carpathian Cat's-foot or Pink Pussy-toes. Low tufts of pink and white flowers appear spring to mid-summer. Otherwise it's the same as the species in every respect.

Antennaria dioica is commonly named Pearly Everlasting. It grows to about 6 inches in height, and spreads to 12 inches. Antennaria dioica 'Rubra' produces pink pussy-toe flowers. Foliage is fuzzy, silvery-grey and evergreen. It's hardy in USDA climate zones 4 or 5 to 9. 

Antennaria plantaginifolia
Antennaria plantaginifolia is known as Plantain-leaf Pussy-Toes and Old Woman's Tobacco. It's native to the eastern United States from Maine to Florida, west to Minnesota and south to Louisiana. Compact white flowers appear from mid-spring to early summer. Semi-evergreen foliage is broad, fuzzy, silvery grey-green. Height is up to 6 inches. It makes a very attractive ground cover. Antennaria plantaginifolia is hardy in USDA climate 3 to 9. 

Antennaria rosea forms a dense, silvery mat. Foliage is evergreen. Pink pussy-toe flowers appear on short stems in spring. Mature size is 2 inches high x 15 inches across. It's native to the American Northwest.

Before planting, you'll need to know the pH level of your soil. Pussy-toes prefer normal to sandy soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.8. Take a sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. The fee is nominal.

Pussy-toes are great for container gardens, rock gardens, edging, ground cover, green roof, lawn substitute, hanging baskets. Pussy-toes attract butterflies, so their perfect for butterfly gardens, too.

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chrysogonum - Golden Stars - in Vail, CO

 Chrysogonum virginianum - Golden Stars
A friend of mine (Robert B.) in Vail, CO called today to report on the Golden Stars growing (Chrysogonum virginianum) at his feet. After two years, they are doing well.

He began experimenting with a couple dozen plants. He is in USDA climate zone 4b. During one cold winter season without the benefit of snow cover protection, he thought they'd die. They didn't. He bought a dozen more the next year. They're coming along very well. He bought a dozen more today.

The weather has been very hot recently. We'll ship them out when the weather cools.

I love learning. This is the information I want to hear. If something works for you, or doesn't, I want to know so we can pass it on to others. It's very easy to contact me at

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American Orchid Society Transitioning To The Fairchild Botanical Garden

Photo by Hiếu Hoàng from Pexels

The American Orchid Society (AOS) has transitioned to its new home at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida. Their agreement was announced in November, 2011. It's a perfect marriage.

The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is unique in its beauty, diversity and emphasis. The AOS, with over 16,000 members world-wide, is THE resource for all things pertaining to orchids. Its incomparable collection of rare orchids will be on display at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, giving us yet another reason to visit.

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Meehan's Mint - A Charming Fragrant Ground Cover

Meehania cordata foliage
Meehan's Mint is a charming plant that is easily over-looked for it creeps low on the forest floor like a fragrant green mat. Lavender, hooded flowers in late spring to early summer will attract more than a glance if you're watching where you walk.

Meehania cordata flower
Meehan's Mint is named for Thomas Meehan (1826-1901), a British-born botanist who made America his home. He was a nurseryman and author who contributed greatly to the world of horticulture. In fact, it was his passion. In a letter to George Englemann (1809-1884), another pioneering botanist and a physician, Meehan wrote, "I begin to feel more strongly everyday that life is not worth living unless we can add some little to human knowledge with every day that goes over us" (26 January, 1883).

The genus, Meehania, was actually named by Nathaniel Lord Britton (1859-1934), a leading taxonomist of his day and founder of the New York Botanical Garden. Of the few known species, one, Meehania cordata, is native to the United States. The others are native to China and Japan.

Speaking of adding to human knowledge, an article, New phenolic compounds from Meehania urticifolia, by Murata, Miyase and Yoshizaki, was recently published in the Journal of Natural Medicines, Vol. 65, Number 2 (2011). It seems they might have potential in cancer prevention.

Meehania species are not widely available for purchase, but probably will be when gardeners discover how desirable they are. Meehania cordata, because it's native to the U.S., should be the first to become popular in North America.

Meehania cordata (pronounced mee-HAN-ee-uh cor-DAY-tuh) is a perfect choice for ground cover in the shade garden. Foliage is herbaceous, meaning that it usually dies back in winter. The specific name, cordata, refers to its heart shape. Plant height with flowers is about 4 inches to 6 inches.  Meehan's Mint spreads slowly by runners to 15 inches across.

It thrives in partial shade to full shade in USDA climate zones 3 through 9 in slightly moist, well-drained, humusy soils with slightly acid pH, 6.1 to 7.5. It likes consistent moisture, though Meehan's Mint is also somewhat drought-tolerant.

Before planting, you'll need to know the pH level of your soil. Take a sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. The fee is nominal.

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds.  If the soil is high in organic matter and friable, it may not require cultivation.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil, if necessary.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants. 

Space the plants 12 inches to 15 inches apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Meehania cordata is native from Pennsylvania, westward to Illinois, and southward to North Carolina and Tennessee. However, you mustn't collect plants from the wild to transplant to your garden. It is listed as Endangered in Pennsylvania and Threatened in Tennessee. Buy container-grown plant material.

Meehan's Mint is a superb plant for naturalizing in shady corners in the garden. It would also be a fine addition to native plant collections, medicinal plant collections and herb gardens. Ajuga makes a fine companion plant.  It also combines well with such natives as Chrysogonum, violets (Viola spp.), and ferns.

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