Sunday, October 31, 2010

Done? Not Quite.

Done with your garden chores?  You may not be if you enjoy cannas in the summer and tulips in the spring.  

It's time for most of us to dig up our canna, dahlia, gladiolus and others if you want to save them for next year.  Many (often me) just don't.  This year, I'm trying to be more frugal and plan to dig-dig-dig.  At best, saving these tender bulbs is a gamble and I'm not one to take a chance if it means loads of messy work at a time when I want to be inside with a hot cup of coffee.   

I've bought several packages of mixed tulips and daffodils and it's finally time to plant-plant-plant.  Are you like me?  Full of plans and enthusiasm when you buy the bulbs, then, not wanting to dig another thing, wash another tool, and get cold when it's planting time?  I must admit, in the spring, I NEVER regret having planted spring flowering bulbs.  In the fall, it's another story altogether.  

The following care instructions are (in part) from one of my favorite sites   Old House Gardens talks garden reality better than most other sites that are selling something and the selection of heirloom plants is top notch.  If you want something pretty or if you are enhancing the heirloom design around an old house, they are a great resource.

WINTER CARE for bulbs and rhizomes which are tender in Zones that have deep freezes 

After frost “blackens” the leaves in the fall. cut the stalks off a few inches above the ground and dig the rhizomes. There’s no rush; the ground will protect them from freezing, usually for weeks. You can then either (1) leave the rhizomes in clumps with soil intact, pile them up someplace that’s cool but not freezing, and cover with plastic, or (2) wash the rhizomes, divide them, let them air dry for a day or two, maybe give them a dusting of garden sulfur (a low-toxicity fungicide), and then store them with some peat moss, perlite, or coarse vermiculite in plastic grocery bags or covered plastic storage boxes to keep them from drying out. A temperature of 40-55° F is best; do not allow them to freeze. Check every now and then and either allow excess moisture (look for condensation) to escape or if they seem to be shriveling sprinkle some water on the rhizomes. You will probably need to experiment to find what works best with your conditions.

(In zones 8-11 (with lows to 10°F) – and often in zone 7 – cannas can be left in the ground all winter. Leave the stalks intact and mulch with 6-12 inches of leaves, straw, etc. Thin clumps every few years for best performance.)

Fall Planting for spring flowering bulbs in Zones that have deep winter freezes:

You can plant most bulbs in the fall when soil temperatures in your area drop to about 60ºF. You can also keep planting, as necessary, LONG after the first frost, as long as the soil remains workable. This is much later than many people realize, requiring many nights below freezing.

However, since small bulbs dry out in storage more easily and their shallow planting depths subject them to earlier freezing, they should be planted in most zones IMMEDIATELY. This is also true of all lilies, Fritillaria, Hyacinthoides, and Camassia.

Hyacinths root better in not-too-cool soil, so plant them next, then narcissus, and finally tulips, which prefer the coolest soil. Don’t wait too late, though, because if the soil freezes down to the bulbs before they root well, health and performance will be impaired. To keep soil warmer longer, apply a thick, light winter mulch such as straw or pine needles — but not if you have bulb-eating voles.

Small or fleshy bulbs are very perishable and should be planted IMMEDIATELY! Others may be stored briefly in a cool (40-50ºF is ideal), dry, relatively dark place. Leave bags loosely open to allow some air circulation. Temperatures over 70ºF can cause problems, especially for tulips. So can gasses from ripening fruit and vegetables and automobile exhaust fumes.

Interesting on the "automobile exhaust fumes" since I generally toss my bag of bulbs on the garage work bench until I can get them in the ground.  Heaven only knows how many bags of bulbs have been exposed to dry weather, exhaust fumes and other less than ideal or even killer conditions even prior to being purchased. 

Remember:  Don't plant spring flowering bulbs where you simply have to mow them off before the leaves die back of their own accord.  They take in nutrients from the leaves long after the flower is gone. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Last of the Gushing

This is the inside of the Biltmore Conservatory.  Originally built to grow all the flowers and plants needed to decorate the home and events, it has been restored and is again housing many beautiful plants. 

These flowers are all orchids and are but a small portion of the plants growing today in the Conservatory.  The basement of the conservatory has the original watering and fertilizing equipment to maintain flowers, plants and landscape.  Today, the majority of the plants in the Conservatory are simply for decorating both this building and the main house.  At one time, most of the annuals and perennial starts were grown here by the gardeners.  Hundreds of thousands of trees, bushes and other plants were bought and brought to Biltmore when the original landscape design was implemented.   

The estate originally had it's own forester.  The third Chief Forester was Dr. Carl A. Schenck (my original family surname) and he was founder of America's first forestry school (funded by George Vanderbilt) - still in existence and and respected in the profession.  

The Conservatory is another example of "if you've got it - flaunt it".  Made of glass - which was very very expensive - it was designed to show the owner's vast fortune to his visitors.  As if to show you an example of just what it took, even in the late 1800's, the Biltmore landscaping cost well over One Million dollars.  Today of the 8,000 acres currently in the estate - 250 are landscaped.  I didn't find information on how much it cost to built the Conservatory.  Today the estate showcases America's largest privately held family home.  

And that folks, is the end of my gushing over Biltmore's gardens!

Mystery and Magic

This is a carpet of hardy mums in the area between Biltmore house and the conservatory.  It was impossible to take a complete photo without an ability to stand on something very tall.  One of the things about large well-funded gardens is the money to use perennials as if they were annuals. These mums are pulled and discarded once the Fall display is over.       

Another example of disposable perennials is this courtyard outside the side of the home.  The "tea room" in the background was something Frederick Law Olmsted insisted upon so the family and guests could take their afternoon tea while enjoying the beautiful Smoky Mountain views.  In August, this walled and elevated area has every square inch (now brown/gray gravel) planted to resemble one of the Vanderbilt's oriental rugs.  There are copyrighted photos of this on their web site.  This sight is used for public and private events. 
Upon a hill beyond the front of the home, is a statue of the goddess Diana.  Original to the property, it is now in front of a permanently installed huge tent that may be rented for weddings and other celebrations.  Another example how the Vanderbilt family has marketed the estate. 

This is a picture taken from in front of the statue Diana towards the front of the home.  Landscaping is designed to frame vistas in every direction.  Another example of how the home's architect, Richard Morris Hunt, and the landscape architect, Olmsted, cooperated in every detail. 

This area has been restored to look more like the original design.  Marble statues still grace the area and the entire garden has specific meaning reflecting the historical stories of the figures.  The home may be seen in the upper right corner.  The continuous mountain views may be seen in almost every home and landscaped view.

Originally almost 200,000 acres, all but 8,000 were sold to the government (now a US park) to help fund the estate after George Vanderbilt died.  Every walk and drive has been landscaped to provide "vistas" with each view, shrub, tree, and plant situated for a specific purpose. 

Another view of the mum garden.  This is the right mum garden - another, a mirror image, is beyond the covered walk on the left.

The drives have a frame with plantings that are short in front, medium sized in the middle and tall trees and mountain views in the rear. 
Inside the entry to the estate between the drive and views of private and city buildings is a huge stand of bamboo.  A landscape method to isolate all views from anything that might upset the design.   Bamboo would be terribly invasive in this mild climate but it is restrained by pavement on both sides.  Bamboo is an example of George Vanderbilt's love of Oriental and Asian culture.     

This wall is actually a series of gentle steps that lead from the front of the house to the statue Diana.  Walls are used to divide, to focus, to protect and to decorate.  Most every wall has multiple uses and most display water features.  Most of the landscaped estate is irrigated.  Water pipes and drains are housed in the original designed sub lawn and garden structures.  Even in the forest areas, a network of irrigation showered those plants needing extra moisture. 
This is a naturalized type landscape out the back of the home.  The home is a bit of a split level with many of the basement floors opening onto this vista.  Windows on this level open to allow the breeze to enter kitchens and other quarters for domestic employees and their duties. 

The estate was designed to be self supporting.  This included the farm, animals, laundry, food gardens, indoor plumbing & heating, recreation, hunting, domestic quarters/housing and so much more.  Today, self sustaining includes a motel, a winery, gift and restaurant shops, tours, exhibits, entertainment and farmyard experiences.  Sorry, if I sound as if I'm a paid PR person, I'm not.  I simply found it fun to experience the beauty of such a lavish and perfected landscape.  The creations of one of America's most famous landscape architects can be instructional to the rich and famous or the small backyard gardener. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Rose Is A Rose

Another stop on our vacation was at the Biltmore House in Asheville North Carolina.  They've recently refurbished the gardens, especially the rose garden.  At this time of the year, most of the bushes were not fully covered with roses.  The ones blooming were simply beautiful.

I didn't bother to write down the names of the varieties because what blooms in NC won't always survive Illinois harsh winters.  The beauty was well worth the photographs. 

Have you ever seen a picture of a rose and could actually smell the rose fragrance?  As I was looking at these, I could smell the most powerful rose fragrance in their garden - the Chrysler Imperial.  It was a pretty wide flat red on a tall bush.

I especially enjoy the David Austin roses and there were many on the property.  Also, hybrid teas plus many old varieties. 

I'll show other views of the Biltmore grounds in another article, but, today I just wanted to let you enjoy some of the many roses.  

It's no wonder poets have written so much about roses - they are in so many ways the perfect flower to view, smell and photograph.

My advice if you are a photographer, take a camera on your visit the Biltmore.  The number of people taking pictures of roses with a cell phone - well, I'm betting it's rather an incomplete idea of the beauty.   They don't allow photos to be taken inside the building but the grounds and gardens are open to any and all picture taking. 

The rose garden is enclosed by a tall stone fence which has an even taller earth berm around it - called the "Walled Garden".  At one end is the Conservatory.  A beautiful building with annuals, tropicals and orchids.  The walled effect is beautiful and frames the roses.  It serves the purpose of creating a perfect micro climate for roses. 

I did notice there may have been Black Spot on the roses and found that interesting since everything is so well tended.  Interesting in the fact that money (yes, huge quantities of money) doesn't necessarily mean a garden free of issues.

They had chosen to design the rose garden symmetrically.  It was formal, using brick walks to form the edges of the beds.  The surprising thing was inside each bed was an eight inch strip of grass up against the brick.  I fight grass in my beds and here they had purposely planted it in each rose bed.  Looked good, but seemed on the scale of putting pins in the end of your fingers because they sparkle...    
All the gardens and landscaped acres were designed by landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted.  Known as the father of American landscape architecture, he also designed New York's Central Park, the U.S. Capitol grounds, and many other gardens and parks.  He considered Biltmore his last great project.   

The gardens and landscaping was coordinated with the architect for the buildings, Richard Morris Hunt.  The expert way windows, doors, balconies and other features were placed to capture certain garden views is a testimony of their perfect coordination.

While the Vanderbilt family is a rags to riches, excesses and ingenuity, self indulgent and philanthropic, caring and self absorbed group - the home and grounds of George and Edith Vanderbilt is indeed something to behold.  Although it impresses visitors differently, I simply enjoyed the beauty of it all.  Had it been originally designed a public museum I doubt some people would find it as ostentatiously offensive.  The entire grounds is surreal and reminded me of Alice's garden:
"A large rose tree stood near the entrance of the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red.." 
From "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll, 1865     

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bridges of Parke County

Our vacation took us to Parke County Indiana to the Covered Bridge Festival.  Of the over thirty-three bridges still open to the public, we visited about fifteen.  Parke County calls itself the "Covered Bridge Capital of the World."  The cost of this Festival is a little gas in the car (unless you choose to ride bicycles).  There may be the cost, if you choose, for numerous (and I mean thousands upon thousands) of roadside stands selling everything from stuff to antiques to crafts to arts and foods.  But, be assured, they are selling in the friendliest of manner; willing to share history, directions, and a talk on the weather.     

Most covered bridges are over small streams, a few have been moved to other places so modern farm machinery could cross and some are on private land.

This part of Indiana has a large population of Amish, Mennonite and Quaker families.  Several times we met buggies and noticed quite a few vendors had plain folks tending the booths.  Stopping for their homemade noodles, cheese, pretzels and whoopie pies are just a few of the pleasures these folks bring to the country markets. The Old Order Amish do not want their faces evident in photos so I made sure I didn't insult their beliefs - hence this distant photo. 

This area of Southern Indiana is especially beautiful this time of the year and driving the back roads to get to bridges over creeks called Raccoon, Otter, Leatherwood and Sugar gave us many beautiful views. 

The starting point for the Covered Bridge Festival is Rockville IN and the area encompasses Turkey Run State Park, Shades State Park, Cecil M. Harden Lake and other historical sites.  For history buffs, it is close to Dana IN where there is an Ernie Pyle exhibit, many sites housing Quaker facilities and settlements and lots of very old, tiny and "quaint" villages.   

Most of the stream beds were nearly dry from the extensive drought this area has been experiencing but those hills around the bridges are still alive with native trees and plants.  The Sycamore "Platanus occidentalis L." , Tulip "Liriodendron tulipifera L.",  plus many varieties of oak, maple and birch still line the banks.  There is something beautiful and serene about the many colored leaves laying on the banks and grounds - highlighting the old bridge structures.  

This doesn't appear to be a wealthy part of the country which may be the reason it has been preserved from the wreaking ball of progress.  Another benefit for this Hoosier is I get to be re acclimated to the friendliness of Indiana residents.  It's just poor manners for anyone to pass another person and not pause to speak and politely inquire about your day.  In my day (seriously did I just say that???), you budgeted your time to allow those friendly conversations and nothing branded you an "outsider" more quickly than lack of eye contact and a failure to give a friendly how-dee-doo.  

I enjoy the fact the trees we saw were perhaps hundreds of years old and a reminder that what we plant today is an investment in the generations of the future.  One state park brochure stated each mature tree gives off fifty gallons of moisture every twenty-four hours.  Now that's a gift for the generations!

To see more about Parke County Indiana:

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Fall Foliage Drive

The above pictures are from our recent visit to Brown County State Park (Indiana).  There's a reason why this area is known and loved for it's Fall foliage.

Most places we visited on our trip East had experienced a pretty severe drought this past summer.  The Fall colors were not as bright as usual.  Some trees simply turned brown and lost their leaves.  I found the diversity of each area's native plant life allowed there to be beauty even when other trees are simply going to sleep for the winter.

The maples were especially beautiful in shades of yellow, gold, orange and red.  The oaks were usually a dark burgundy red.  There were quantities of acorns that will help the native wildlife during this coming winter.

It's a good reminder on several fronts:

  1. A diversified landscape will provide beauty and health even when nature is not cooperating with every plant. 
  2. Practice the ability to enjoy the plants that are beautiful at the moment.  For every person who was complaining about the lack of typical color - the majority were in "awe" looking at what was currently beautiful.  As you can see from the photos, this is still a wondrous place to visit in the fall.

Some facts about Brown County State Park:

  • Located in Southern Indiana near picturesque Nashville Indiana.  
  • It's an easy visit for everyone from children to seniors.  Admission cost is $7 for a car from out-of-state/$5 for in-state.
  • It is Indiana's largest State park - 16,000 acres.
  • There is camping, rental cabins, picnic areas, playgrounds, trails, pools, lakes, fishing, non-motorized boating, horses, biking and more.
  • The park is beautiful through all the seasons because of the diversity of plant and wildlife.  
  • Surrounding the park are little towns that play host to various lodging, vendors, crafts, arts, restaurants, entertainment, and the historical.
  • It's near Parke County where October hosts the "Covered Bridge Festival" - more on that later.      
  If you'd like a little more information:  or

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Putting A Garden To Bed

Maple leaves at Brown County Indiana State Park

On the Brown County State Park drive.

Maple leaves at Brown County Indiana State Park.

The spirit of the Midwest is dearest in the autumn. Even those folks who aren’t of the soil take a moment to look up at the deep blue skies, smell the smoke from some log fire and take satisfaction in a summer well done.

For the gardener, it’s a time to pick the one last rose and to marvel at the bounty of the land we call home. It’s taking the time to watch a “willy worm” and explain to a child the mystery of that furry little creature.

Farmers and gardeners may use the time to walk fields and beds, taking stock of what went right or wrong. A faintest gathering of plans for next year begins as the wonder of another harvest has blessed us again.

It’s this very time of the year when we see men standing with one foot on the fence, a piece of grass in the teeth and a faraway look on their face.

It’s the time of the year when poets extol the colors of harvest and wax sad at the ending of summer. As local poet, Carl Sandburg, knew so well, “Corn wind in the fall, come off the black lands, come off the whisper of the silk hangers, the lap of the flat spear leaves.”

Fall is the oil and watercolors of artists painting the golden fields of corn, the orange and red of turning leaves, and the purples of asters.

At night we may gaze at the deep blue sky and marvel that there must be more stars in the harvest skies than any other time of the year.

With a porch swing or a garden seat, it’s the time to take a cup of hot cider, an old quilt, and sit and contemplate. Contemplating is an old art whose time comes again in the fall of the year.

Autumn allows us to stop the responsibility of seeding, tending, and gathering and simply enjoy. It’s a brief rest between the work and enjoyments of summer and the efforts needed to keep us warm, provided and safe in the winter.

The summer tasks of preserving our garden bounties have almost come to an end. And although transportation and stores have made “laying in winter supplies” much a thing of the past, many of us still have the internal call to get all things ready.

Those that garden, farm, preserve food, hunt, and butcher understand the satisfaction we have at the end of the growing season knowing all is well.

For most of us, it’s being able to winterize our lawn mowers and tools, put them away, and know we will have months without those chores. No more weeds to pull, no more watering the pots, no trimming and picking. Putting summer to bed and knowing the seeds will lay cozy until spring when all awakens new again. God, in his wisdom, has given us autumn as a place to rest and enjoy. And if you can do it with a piece of fresh warm apple pie – well, so much the better!

(Photos are from the first part of our two week vacation.  Brown County Indiana is always beautiful this time of the year and famous for the fall foliage.  In addition to the drive through, we hiked the lake area and made many stops.  Simple and beautiful Midwest entertainment.  Visit: or text browncounty to 39649 )  

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

General Grant

We spent a few days in one of my favorite towns, Galena IL.  The weather was perfect for walking and walking we did!  Although many perennial flowers were no longer in bloom, there was an abundance of annuals in the gardens at the many beautiful homes.  This is a Dahlia that was almost dinner plate size.

Because we go to Galena several times a year, and the weather was so great, we decided we'd take our own self guided walking tours.  We both enjoy the grandeur, character, and beauty of old homes.  And, if old homes are your thing, nothing can give you so many that are so well preserved as in Galena.  This particular home is an example of the steps and hills that must be navigated to take a walking tour in Galena.  It appeared no house or fence was made that didn't include stone and iron - both plentiful.  Most homes and commercial buildings are either build into a hill or on top of a hill.  We decided Galena residents must be very healthy, have tremendous leg muscles and have extraordinary driving skills in the winter.   

Another large Dahlia seemly unaware fall had descended.

Galena in Latin means "iron".  This is one little fact that I gained while touring the Galena Historical Museum.  It was pretty awesome to see the period pieces, the iron mining history and photos and General Grant's things.  They actually have his boot - one he wore while in the war.  The above log cabin is an example of many in the area - some old and some new - this one is both.     

I noticed many of the old homes and top floors in the business district are apartments.  I suppose it's very difficult to own one of those beauties, keep it historically correct and in repair.  Plus, there isn't any really huge business aside from tourism.  With the fact that many people rent, it was even more surprising to see so many little cottage gardens and the quantity of annuals.

Often the large homes have been converted into Bed and Breakfast establishments.  We try to stay at a different one each time we're in Galena - along with the historic DeSoto House Hotel.  This year we stayed at the Farmer's Guest House and it was great.  Historic, immaculate, good food, friendly hosts, comfortable beds, and the other guest were especially enjoyable. 

Through a breakfast conversation, I found I was sitting next to another "daylily enthusiast".  This lovely couple was from another famous Illinois town, Metropolis.  It is so nice to visit with another gardener and find our differences and our common ground.  This little plot was the entire front yard of one historic downtown home.   

These are two of the large city buildings located overlooking the Galena River:  The top was a former school house and is now condos.  The trees were just beginning to turn and that will only get more beautiful as October marches to winter.  Galena is especially beautiful after Thanksgiving when they do Christmas decorating as only Victorians can.  I think next time we visit, we'll do a walking tour during daylily season since I saw many plants around the old homes. 

 As for the commercial aspect of Galena, the shops are mostly filled and seem to be thriving.  Food is everything from convenience, cafe', Italian, up-scale, to the VFW bar located downtown.  I mention the VFW because that's where I met the "generals".  They have members who do historical talks as the eight Galena Generals of the Civil War and they had stopped after one presentation for a short stout.  They told me their story as if they were still in character.  They do this as a way of preserving the history for the next generation.  Galena:  A good place to visit and a good place to live and apparently a good place to garden.   

Sunday, October 10, 2010

It's All In The Tilt Of The Chin

As numerous as flowers in a garden, there's at least that many opinions on what comprises a perfect garden-flower-outdoor photograph.

Professional:  A professional must produce photos which have subject matter and quality good enough for someone to pay money to possess/use them.
Cataloging:  The criteria is a photo only good enough to document either the location and/or the basic physical characteristics of a plant/flower.

Documenting:  This involves the ability to have close-ups and clear accurate color.  It is used to show how the plant/flower looks in different seasons, times of day, locations, weather, maturity, etc.

Hybridizing:  Photos for this process need the same as "documenting" plus often have date stamps and may need to be clear enough to record the markers associated with each plant.

Landscapes:  Composition must be in harmony with the entire photo, not simply focused on one particular plant or flower.  This often provides a more rounded look at beds and the layout you may wish to achieve.

Art:  This involves micro scenes or fractions of plants/flowers which may not necessarily show off the plant as the primary interest of the photo.  The colors may be edited as-well-as distorted.  There may be computer aided editing which may insert, delete or alter the scene.

Competition:  Photos taken for competitive shows must first follow the rules of entry.  Most can not be edited.

Backdrop:  The garden or flower/foliage is used as a backdrop for people, animals, or insect photos.  Placement of the individual is key to a good shot.  Distractions from the subject should be considered prior to the shot.

Weather:  The vegitation is used as a frame or as perspective for the sky and weather.  Having the capability to photograph with low light allows a greater range of events to be used.    

Personal Enjoyment:  These photos can be a varied as the photographers.  A good camera is a must, but, not necessarily the best or most expensive. The ability to zoom or have additional magnification lens.  They may also include photos from other people's gardens, public places, and vacations.  The camera needs to be light enough to not be a burden, produce quality photos, and I prefer digital.  A computer and program that allows you to download and store to an external source.  A software program that allows editing is nice as you take more photos and use them in more ways.

For an enjoyable day improving your photography skills:  The Galva Arts Council, P.O. Box 29, Galva IL 61434 will be sponsoring a photography class on Nov. 6, 2010 (Sat.) from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.  Taught by Trent Foltz, Geneseo professional commercial and Midwest landscape photographer.  Bring camera and be prepared to be out doors photographing barns.  $20 registration fee must be received by Nov. 1st to attend.  Call Roger Luft at 309-337-8559 for more information.  All levels of expertise welcome.  Lunch will be on your own.

This is a distorted shot of New Improved Blaze Rose

 Landscape photo of a hare frost.
 Documentation of the characteristics of the daylily.
       Foliage used as a backdrop.

And in the end, this says it well, "There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs."  ~Ansel Adams (American Photographer 1902-1984)