28 January 2023
Saturday morning and I’m sitting in the yellow chair I was sitting in when you annoyed me so badly with that Horticulture snark column on British garden writers a few years ago. And I’m wondering why that memory flitted though my head and sparked me to drop my book and grab my laptop, and begin another letter.
To be fair, it’s my favorite chair so there’s nothing of significance in the color or the day — only that I was sitting at the time, and reading, which I’m not doing nearly enough lately. I remember launching out of the chair in bizarre righteous fury straight upstairs to my desk and professional grade thesaurus that morning. I suppose it’s more of a commentary on how odd it is that time goes by and now we are good friends and share a correspondence and commiseration and conferences, and hopefully not too many grandchildren photos on your end.
Much came of that silly column. A column into which I bet you put a very small amount of effort, thinking you had a captive audience big-gulping your rebellious Americentric words with extra cherry syrup.
My subsequent efforts to defend the idea of inspiring yourself globally while gardening regionally caught Anne Wareham’s attention, which led to her excellent website thinkingardens catching mine; and, eventually, her agreeing to join her American tribe here at GardenRant.
And for that matter, it was responsible for me moving from occasional GuestRanter to Ranter and officially joining this wonderful motley crew of gardeners who look at the industry through a delightfully critical lens. It’s more than amusing to me that your anti-British stance gained you a Brit and a half-Brit as writing partners. And they say there is no God.
With this weekend January is now behind us. Snowdrops are emerged and emerging, new witchhazels are opening, and the hellebores are budding – which is so two-three-four weeks ago for many. But I, like Anne and Charles in Wales, have a large ridge to the south, which severely cuts down on the raking winter sun and which may be responsible some day for us dropping everything and moving to the top of a Mediterranean hillside to exchange Carex for Lomandra, and Cabernet Franc for Chianti. We are consequently behind neighboring gardeners in our bloom schedules.
Some mornings I watch the early morning sun lighting up my neighbor’s vineyard in pink and orange, and I admit it, I’m jealous. Not of the vineyard – I know too much of the work involved — but of that glorious sunshine that bathes the naked vines and wakes the spirit. In August we are a full ten degrees Fahrenheit cooler in this valley than in the sunny subdivisions of friends ten minutes away, so I cannot complain too heartily. And the fern and moss life here cannot be had for love nor money in those asphalt jungles. But there are cold mornings Scott when watching the early sunrise or late sunset on that hillside is like watching your spouse eat a Montecristo sandwich when you’re on the Atkins plan.
This shady state of affairs is greatly responsible for the enormous amount of chartreuse, yellow and variegated foliage I work with here – temperate or tropical. It’s an attempt, I think, to bring light to the darker, quieter corners of this valley. Hell, one of my favorite shrubs is literally ‘Sunshine’ – the sterile golden privet from Southern Living Plants Collection, (who by the way are also responsible for my Lomandra longing).
Yellow thrills me. And the garden. I have to admit that as much as I love the orange marmalade blossoms of ‘Jelena’ and ‘Rochester’ hamamelis, they are not shown to best advantage against a tawny landscape in a partially shaded valley, whereas ‘Pallida’ and ‘Wisley Gold’ stand out like bright sparks. Yellow is, after all (and according to Oscar Wilde) “the color of joy.”
But I will also admit that in hindsight, I have gone too far and must now add back the deeper greens I once walked past contemptuously as too pedestrian. What is color without contrast? One of the broad leaf evergreens I have employed in that endeavor has surprised me by surviving, and thriving in shady 6b. Viburnum awabuki ‘Chindo’. I originally saw it in the back of Lindie Wilson’s garden in Charlotte, and was impressed by its pyramidal shape and glossy leaves in a shady location. It took a long while to establish here – and a move to a better location – but it now holds a corner by the patio and masks the awkwardness of a tall 6×6 deck support in all four seasons. I can’t find a good summer shot of it, so you’ll just need to imagine, because I’m in my slippers and not inclined to go snap one.
And Fatsia japonica – not hardy for you, and I didn’t think it would be here either, but there it is in a forgotten, but passed by, shady corner of the covered patio against a stone chimney. It blooms beautifully in autumn and has done so well I am considering trying out the variegated ‘Spider’s Web’ near it. That’s a cultivar that I used to refer to as ‘Spider Mite’ – as every time I would see its stippled leaves anywhere other than the trade shows, it looked like it was under attack. But my opinion was rocked when Kevin McIntosh, a gardener-friend and fellow tropical enthusiast in Ellicott City, MD (6b-7a!), took me ’round the shady back of his house (no that’s not a euphemism) and showed off a well-established, good-looking specimen. Good to have one’s prejudices challenged – keeps you supple.
Speaking of tradeshows, great to see you at MANTS – and everyone really. Susan did a great job of summing up the festivities and some top features, as did Kathy Jentz on her DC Gardens podcast. I am still smiling thinking of Leslie Harris interviewing us ‘Between Two Boxwoods’ á la Zach Galifianakis on that obscenely enormous divan in the Lord Baltimore Hotel mezzanine.
Laughing is my favorite.
Just back from a crazy-good trip to Tampa for the Tropical Plants International Expo, and down to Naples to be extensively toured round The Naples Botanical Gardens with Dan Benarcik and Jeff Lynch from Chanticleer. With Chad Washburn at the helm, they are doing incredible things at NBG with an ambitious master plan for conservation, education, and outreach that I hope will be nurtured by some of the citizens I saw parking million dollar Ferarris at the local farmer’s market. If I admit that my favorite part of the tour was walking the uplands and the wetlands in late afternoon, does that mean I have to hand in my ornamental gardener’s license?
Fascinating all round – the Frida exhibit was colorful and very well done – and I saw cochineal scale for the very first time, attached to the underside of Opuntia paddles, and just as bright carmine as you have ever seen. Of course you had to crush them first, but then I’m not a Buddist and I have never seen a scale insect that I didn’t want to instinctively crush. Just finished divesting one of my young saucer magnolias of scale that sadly, no one is going to pay $80 a pound for.
And the ficus down there! Between the banyans and the Moreton Bay figs, it was hard to look at anything else.
Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla) at Marie Selby Botanical Garden – another stop on the trip.
Hope you’ve got your Bad Ass Trees for Piss Poor Places talk ready for action next week at iLandscape. I’m going to try to convince Midwestern designers and nursery folks that the secret to life, the universe, and an energized clientele is a bit of tropical fusion.
P.S. Glad to see at MANTS that you have eschewed vodka for the infinite superiority of a gin and tonic. Welcome to real alcohol. You’re welcome.