Hidden Gardens of Munjoy Hill

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The organizers of the Munjoy Hill garden tour couldn’t have wished for a more perfect day – clear skies and comfortable temps with a nice breeze – for taking in the eleven gardens on this tour.

Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization

The neighborly feel on Munjoy Hill is palpable.  At every garden, people obviously knew each other and were catching up on the latest happenings in their lives.  The community activities as well as the various entertainment venues, such as the North Star Music Cafe, restaurants, and cafes bring neighbors together regularly.

Many residents are involved with the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, started in 1979, that offers a wide array of social services and activities to improve the quality of life on Munjoy Hill.  These services and activities, staffed by many volunteers, include publishing a neighborhood monthly newspaper, offering food and employment programs to those in need, as well as executing other projects such as community policing, spring clean up, flower boxes on Congress Street, and promoting economic and community development.

The annual Munjoy Hill garden tour was started in 2005 by Pauli Daniels as a way to raise funds for a community cause.  After two years, the garden tour group joined forces with the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, which hires a manager each year to oversee the organizational details of the garden tour.  And Solange Kellerman did a fine job of seeing that the tour ran seamlessly from advertising, finding sponsors, putting together an interesting mix of gardens, publishing the brochure, selling tickets, to putting signs at each garden and staffing them with knowledgeable volunteers.

Munjoy Homes and Gardens

The homes on Munjoy Hill are a mix of single and multi-family dwellings.  The lots are small (up to 200 to 300 sq. ft.) so the owners have to be creative to get the most out of each square foot.  It helps to know how you want to use the space – for a wonderful floral display, a vegetable and herb garden, a sitting area for after dinner, a place to enjoy the view, or all of the above.

I was impressed with just how much you can do with a small space especially given limitations, such as having all shade. Several owners hired designers to make the most of their space and with good reason.  You want someone who not only has expertise about plants but can design features such as low stone enclosures, walkways, and sitting areas, and incorporate the right plants into what is an outdoor living space.

Designing this area is not unlike the concept of the Colonial Revival garden popular in the early 20th century.  The Colonial Revival garden was meant to connect the indoors with the out through a series of “rooms” that extended from the house onwards connected by paths.  In the case of Munjoy Hill, it would only be the one room, of course, but most definitely one that allows you to enjoy the outdoors as an extension of the house.

Munjoy Hill – The Lay of the Land

Once a working class enclave for the Irish American community, Munjoy Hill is now home to a more well heeled population, in general, given that the real estate is more coveted.  While it’s part of the city, it is a quiet, residential area on the northeastern part of the peninsula, overlooking the downtown and harbor to the south, Casco Bay and islands to the east and south, and Back Cove to the west.

The Eastern Promenade, which follows the shoreline, was designed by the Olmstead Brothers.  It offers views of two lighthouses, a small power plant (okay, maybe not a desirable view!), and Fort Gorges battlement.  It offers something for everyone including trails for walking, cycling, or running, public gardens, ball fields, playgrounds, a boat launch, and a beach.  There’s also a museum featuring steam and diesel tourist trains along the Casco Bay shore.

Congress Street is the main drag in the neighborhood and home to the Portland Observatory and an arts center with its resident company Good Theater that stages shows, concerts, and the like.  Munjoy Hill has several cafes and restaurants as well as a variety of eclectic shops.  The people here are big on shopping locally, so no Starbucks here!

Hidden Gardens of Munjoy Hill 2012

Each of the gardens offered something unique.  Some that stood out for me were:

Garden #1 on Morning Street featured a variety of vegetables and herbs in raised beds with trellises, bordered by perennials. It truly made the most of every square inch along with a sitting area on the deck to enjoy an ocean view and scents from the garden.  Interesting stone fountains sprinkled throughout the garden provided added interest throughout.

Garden #2 on Eastern Promenade had as its centerpiece a formal raised bed herb garden.  It was divided into four curved side sections that formed a circle around an armillary sphere made in England. (Armillary spheres have the earth positioned inside a mesh of bronze hoops, symbolizing the course of the planets as known at the time.)  A salad table offered an attractive, easy-on-the-back way to grow greens.  An adjacent space was a sitting room area bordered by perennials featuring daylilies from the owners former home.

Garden #3 on Eastern Promenade you were greeted by a Roman-like statuary stone planter overflowing with plants on a white wrought iron table.  A border of hostas and other perennials led you to the back where a lovely teak wood patio set was backed by a low stone wall bed filled with a variety of perennials and shrubs, such as mountain laurel, hydrangeas, a Chinese dogwood, roses, peonies, and clematis.  A stone bench with a colorful mosaic decorating the seat added an interesting focal  point to the array of plants.

Garden #7 on  Melbourne Street the front gate opened to a path lined with evergreens, such as holly and pieris (also known as andromedas or fetterbushes that bloom in the spring), on one side and a low stone wall bed filled shade-loving perennials opposite.  This led you to the back with a sunny garden of viburnum, dogwood, crabapple, peonies, hydrangea, and perennials that offer color from spring through winter.  The driftwood sculpture of a seagull on the wooden fence added visual interest.

While these stood out for me, the truth is each garden caught my interest in some way.  Garden #6 on Waterville Street is one to keep an eye on for future tours as it was installed only last summer.  The owners are creating an organic garden of fruits and vegetables alongside perennial beds of flowering plants and shrubs that attract hummingbirds and bees.

My husband and I truly enjoyed visiting this neighborhood.  We had breakfast at the Front Room, which was packed on this Sunday morning.  But the service was swift and the food terrific.  We look forward to walking the Eastern Promenade with its glorious ocean views and perhaps taking in a performance at the Good Theater or the North Star Music Cafe.  So if you’re in Portland, visit Munjoy Hill and, if you can, stop and enjoy its sites, restaurants, and shops, and, of course, keep an eye out for next year’s tour.  You won’t be disappointed!

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Gardening with Tasha Tudor – June 9, 2012

Winslow Tudor’s talk on Saturday, June 9th, about his grandmother provided a gentle, thoughtful introduction to her unique, artistic, and unconventional life. And aptly so. She was a very private person even though she was an accomplished illustrator, primarily of children’s books, widely recognized and respected with numerous awards to her name, such as the Caldecott Honors award and the Regina Medal for her contribution to children’s literature over a lifetime. Her career spanned a remarkable seventy years; she published her last book in 2003 at the age of 88.

Winslow presented slides of his grandmother’s home and animals in a thoughtful and understated manner, providing a glimpse of her quiet, deliberate life. As the talk went on so calmly and quietly, it was clear that intrusive questions about her life would not be fitting, but Winslow was open to questions. I would have enjoyed hearing more stories about her, particularly his memories, but that was not forthcoming. He lived next door to his grandmother growing up, whom he saw almost daily. So it’s natural that there may not be outstanding specific memories or that they may be too personal and close to the heart. His life and that of his family were closely woven into the daily routine of her life and perhaps it is not something you can easily extricate into stories for the entertainment of others.

The slide show reflected that in her life “she created beautiful images on paper and in the garden. She drew from life around her,” said Winslow. The change of seasons was very important to her. She would create her art in the winter and then spend the summer in the garden.

She only got electricity around 1976, about four years after moving to her home in Marlboro, Vermont for the comfort of visitors. The only technology in the house was her cordless phone.

Her Garden

Her garden is a few acres with a southern exposure surrounded by a hundred acres of land. When she moved here, the soil was very thin. So every year she built up the soil by adding a few inches of rotting compost to it that she called “black gold.”

Her garden was abundant with all manner of flowering plants, trees, shrubs. Ones that Winslow highlighted in his presentation were:

  • Pulmonaria, a perennial lungwort with rosette blossoms that can be reddish to blue, which she loved. She brought it with her from Connecticut, then to New Hampshire, and finally Vermont. It was in her wedding bouquet.
  • Fritillaria, a bulbous plant with nodding bell shaped flowers that have a disagreeable scent that keeps away voles and chipmunks.
  • Thirty kinds of daffodils, as well as snow drops, the dwarf iris cristata, and, of course, other spring bulbs such as tulips.
  • She loved peonies, pale pink poppies, dahlias, scarlet bee balm, asters (particularly New England purple asters) with foxgloves fringing the garden.
  • Sweet rocket was seeded liberally throughout the garden and there was Joe pye weed to attract butterflies.
  • She was particularly fond of phlox divaricata, or woodland phlox “Bright Eyes”
  • She liked plants with daisy-like blossoms such Feverfew, as well as sunflowers, and yellow Jerusalem Artichoke flowers
  • Plants would often hybridize to create their own species.
  • She didn’t always weed out such things as goldenrod or milkweed because the butterflies like them. Nor did she pull out the mullein plant – tall biennial weed with yellow blossoms that provide shelter for insects in winter and provide food for some birds.
  • She planted autumn crocus, or meadow saffron, providing a last burst of purple color before the winter.
  • She always had flowers in the house.

Winslow said that she let the garden do what it wanted. But that does not mean that chaos reigned. In spring, she would buy plants and knew exactly where they would go. She said the garden was never done. “So there was an idea of order and design even if in a more wild, romantic way,” Winslow added.

She loved her pets and animals who were the source of inspiration for many of her stories and illustrations. She had a pet bantam rooster she named Chickahominy that she had rescued when its mother deserted the nest. She nurtured it over a double boiler on the stove as a chick and it went everywhere with her.

Tasha Tudor was a very strong, determined, creative, talented individual whose unique upbringing laid the foundation for a life that realized her talents and offered a view of a person who could bring a uniqueness to the world that no one else could. From a very early age, she knew what she wanted to do, but more importantly had she had an uncompromising and committed vision of the life she wanted to create and live fully. Her life was her art and it in turn her art was inspired and fed by it.

Here’s a brief history of her life with information I found in books about her and on the internet.

Her Early Years

It helps that she was born to well-to-do, accomplished, non-conformist parents who encouraged her creativity from birth. She was born in 1915 to Rosamund Tudor, a noted portrait artist, and William Sterling Burgess, a naval architect and renowned yacht designer. They both came from a long line of well-to-do New England families and were friends and acquaintances with 19th century authors such as Emerson, the Alcotts, Thoreau, and Mark Twain. By the time Tasha was born, the wealth was gone, but they were comfortable nonetheless.

When her parents divorced at age nine and her mother went to live in Greenwich Village to pursue her art, Tasha went to live with friends of her parents, namely “Aunt Gwen”, in Redding, Connecticut, who allowed her free reign to explore and enjoy the countryside. She was surrounded by many loving relations and friends. Coming from the reserved, stifled environment in Boston, she felt exhilarated to “run wild in a state of utter relaxation from discipline.” Tudor credits her aunt with fostering her creativity.

She also became interested in theater. She loved to dress up in antique clothing and costumes and put on skits written by Aunt Gwen. Love of dance, nature, and country living held endless fascination for her. Tasha was particularly enthralled with the era of the 1830′s and spent her life incorporating that lifestyle and its ideals into her own life and into those closest to her.

In her teenage years, she went back to live with her mother who had bought a farm in Redding, and saved money from starting a nursery school to buy a cow and chickens. Under her mother’s tutelage and while attending classes at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, she developed her art and in her late teens decided to become an illustrator. Although not fond of writing, she wrote stories for children so she would have something to illustrate and created her first story about a farm girl at age nineteen.

Marriage and Start of Her Career

In 1938, she married Thomas Leighton McCready, Jr. who had been raised in New York City, but lived in Redding. Although he was a suburbanite at heart, he supported her dream of farming. He also helped her find a publisher for a book, Pumpkin Moonshine, that she had originally created for her English niece Sylvie Ann as a gift and is the story’s main character. It was rejected by many New York publishers, but finally was accepted by Oxford University Press, which subsequently published several of other her works as well. Pumpkin Moonshine was still in print after more than fifty years.

During the 1940′s, Tudor found time to write and illustrate books to support the family as well as continue with farm duties and raise two children. The family moved to a more rustic locale in Webster, New Hampshire and the royalties from illustrating a 1944 version of Mother Goose helped pay for the home that needed restoration. She had two more children and all were trained to run aspects of the farm without the benefit of running water and electricity. She filled their home with antique furnishings, many inherited, and they lived as one would in the 19th century. Tudor washed clothes by hand, could spin and weave flax, make bread from scratch, make candles, sewed her children’s clothing, and planted a big garden of vegetables and flowers.

The family also kept a vast menagerie of farm animals and pets including cows, geese, ducks, chickens, horses, cats, and her beloved Corgis (something she and Queen Elizabeth have in common!). Her pets were part of family activities such as picnics and figured largely in her books.

Inspiration from Family Life

Tudor also drew pictures of her children in period clothing and they were allowed to play in them afterwards. They felt so much a part of the world of old fairy tales and stories that Tudor shared with them. She illustrated real-life events in her book such as her daughter Bethany’s birthday party in the book Becky’s Birthday, and the family custom of decorating an Easter egg tree in A Time to Keep.

Inspired by her Aunt Gwen, she passed on her love of acting out plays and playing with dolls. She and her children created activities for their dolls such as holding fairs, parties, plays, making miniature Christmas presents, and sending letters and parcels through their own special Sparrow post. The dolls were central characters in her books The Dolls’ Christmas and A is for Annabelle. She also staged elaborate marionette shows with figures that she and her children expertly crafted.

Her unusual lifestyle and artistic expression permeated everything she wrote and illustrated to great acclaim. Notable award winning books include A Tale for Easter and 1 is One, which was named a Caldecott Honor book and teaches children to count.

Her Love of Corgis

Her beloved Corgis, a short-legged Welsh herding dog, also inspired a number of books. Her fascination and love of the breed began with a trip to England with her son Thomas, who bought one of the dogs before attending boarding school. Tudor had the dog shipped to her home and since then she has owned as many as thirteen or fourteen at a time! In 1971, she published Corgiville Fair, which she said was her favorite book. She went on to add sequels, The Great Corgiville Kidnapping and her last book, The Corgiville Christmas in 2003.

She also illustrated other books to great acclaim such Mother Goose (a Caldecott Honor book), The Night Before Christmas, Child’s Garden of Verses, as well as other fairy tales, Christmas stories, biblical verses, and bedtime stories. And she’s also illustrated texts by family members.

Move to Vermont

All of this success allowed her to realize another dream of living in Vermont. In the 1970′s, she bought a lot next door to her son Seth, who built her a home modeled on a 1740 farmhouse that she had admired in Concord, New Hampshire. It ideally captured how life would be in the 1830′s with a weathered farmhouse and outbuildings tucked into the hillside with vines, climbing roses, lilacs and a multitude of other bushes and trees to soften the landscape. It is aptly known as Corgi Cottage to friends and fans. And of course, the yard had grazing goats, doves on the roof ridge, and flocks of chickens squabbling and scratching in the dirt. This period in her fifties, free from marriage (she divorced McCready in 1961) and her children grown, allowed her to realize a height of creative expression in the way that she wanted.

In 1989, she partnered with Mrs. David Mathers in the Indiana-based publisher Jenny Wren Press. In her 70′s and 80′s, she continued to be active creatively, running her cottage industry of crafts and illustrations, and giving lectures at libraries, colleges, and museums.

In 1996, the folk center in Williamsburg, Virginia hosted a landmark exhibition of her life and work including her paintings as well as clothing, furniture, dolls, toys, and kitchen implements to great acclaim.

On June 18, 2008, she died in Marlboro, Vermont at age 92.

Tasha Tudor illustrated more than a hundred books, fourteen of which she both wrote and illustrated. Over her lifetime, she received many awards and honors including Caldecott Honors for Mother Goose in 1945 and 1 is for One in 1957. In 1971, she received the Regina Medal for her contributions to children’s literature. But more than this, she created a lasting legacy of a rich, artistic, disciplined, but simple life from which others can continue to draw inspiration especially in the times we live in that are so topsy-turvy, complicated, and full of constant change that is sometimes overwhelming.

The woman’s life was a work of art and was a true reflection of all she believed in and held dear. She drew inspiration for her art from her life and her life was fed and nourished by her artistic passion. Her self-actualized life, which few in this world attain, required an unflinching vision and an indomitable spirit. She was true to herself to the core.

Books About Tasha Tudor, Her Life and Art

To learn more about Tasha Tudor, I read these books, which I highly recommend if you are interested in learning more about this remarkable woman. I will complete the summaries in a future blog.

Drawn from New England: Tasha Tudor, A Portrait in Words and Pictures by Bethany Tudor, 1979

The Private World of Tasha Tudor by Tasha Tudor and Richard Brown, 1992

The Tasha Tudor Cookbook: Recipes and Reminiscences from Corgi Cottage, Tasha Tudor, 1993

Tasha Tudor’s Garden, Tovah Martin and Richard Brown, 1994

Tasha Tudor’s Heirloom Crafts by Tovah Martin and Richard Brown, 1995

Tasha Tudor’s Dollhouse : A Lifetime in Miniature, Harry Davis, 1999

The Art of Tasha Tudor by Harry Davis, 2000

Harry Davis is Tasha Tudor’s nephew who studied art and became her business partner in the 1980′s. He provides a more detailed picture of her life from childhood to adulthood, including her marriage to William McCready and her family of four children. This personal background gives the reader a better understanding of not only the spirit at the core of her being, but also the challenges that life brought her and how she met them. As he is an artist also, he gave an insightful overview of her artistic development from her early art education to her career as an illustrator and author. At the same time, he describes her life in the 1940′s that she led with her family, which inspired so many of her works, and then the life after children in the 1960′s and in Vermont from the 1970′s onwards, with her love of her animals, particularly the Corgis, that permeated her later works.

Forever Christmas by Harry Davis, 2000

Although this book was not sanctioned by Tudor because of an acrimonious parting with Harry Davis, it nonetheless offers a view of Christmases celebrated by Tasha Tudor and her family.


Take Joy – The Magical World of Tasha Tudor [VHS], 1998

Take Peace – A Corgi Cottage Christmas with Tasha Tudor [VHS], 1998

Children’s Books

Of course, you’ll want to read and, better still, share with a child her many books, particularly The Corgiville Fair, her favorite, The Great Corgiville Kidnapping, and Corgiville Christmas. Also, A Time To Keep, Around the Year, A is for Annabelle: A Dolls Alphabet, 1 is One, The Dolls Christmas, and many, many more.

Tasha Tudor Museum

Located: on the second floor of the Jeremiah Beal House, 974 Western Ave, Brattleboro VT 05301.
Regular Hours: May 5, 2012 through October 20, 2012 Wednesday through Saturday 11-4pm Closed Wednesday, July 4th
Admission fee: Adults: $5, Seniors over 65 and Children 6-12: $3, Children 5 and under: Free ~Charter Members and Tasha Tudor Museum Society Members: Free (Upon presenting your Membership card.) New England Museum Association (NEMA) Members: Free admission with NEMA membership card or Institutional confirmation email.
Directions: From I-91 North or South take Exit 2. Drive west on Route 9/Western Avenue for 1.1 miles until you see the sign for the Jeremiah Beal House on the left hand side. It is one of only two old brick buildings in the area. The Baptist Church is the other and it is across the street. If you see the 7-11, you’ve just passed the Museum.




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Mother’s Day at Tower Hill Botanical Garden – May 13, 2012

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I think it was a record turnout for Mother’s Day at Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, Massachusetts. The traffic was backed up at the entrance by one o’clock. But it was well worth the wait given the glorious weather.

Tower Hill was started in 1986 by the Worcester County Horticultural Society, the third oldest active horticultural society in the United States, after the Pennsylvania and Massachusetts Horticultural Societies. For 150 years, the Worcester County Horticultural Society, which was started in 1842, held its flower shows and educational programs in downtown Worcester.

Then in the 1980′s, John Trexler looked at over twenty sites to find a new home for the society and found it at the Carter estate, whose owners wanted it to remain in its natural state, free from development. The society purchased the 132-acre property for $675,000 and moved to the site in 1987.

It’s now halfway through its fifty year development plan having completed its education and visitor center, various garden areas, and buildings that house plants over the winter: the Orangerie and the Limonaia. With its bucolic setting and views of Mount Wachusett and the Wachusett Resevoir, Tower Hill is a popular venue for weddings and other special events.

Lawn Garden

Displaying over 350 varieties of trees and shrubs, the two-acre lawn garden blends into the hillside and creates a natural privacy. For special events, it can accommodate up to 1200 people. When we visited, many of its 6,000 spring bulbs were in bloom.

Some of the garden’s distinctive trees include witch hazel trees that provide color in January and February with their pink or white blooms. There’s the ginkgo tree that is the oldest cultivar in the U.S. The seven son flower tree is a Cary Award winner that features fragrant white blossoms in August and leaves that turn purple for the fall.

The Cary Award commemorates the work of Edward A. Cary, a nurseryman who was known for his unusual collection of plants that most people believed could not survive the harsh New England winters. When he died in 1987, he left his estate in Shrewsbury to the Worcester Horticultural Society. Ten years later, the Society created the Cary Award for Distinctive Plants in New England to promote the cultivation of under used plants that Edward Cary admired.

Like any other garden, Tower Hill has its pests to contend with. When the deer began feasting on their Weeping Alaskan Cedar trees, the staff sprayed the branches with garlic water as well as hanging tubes of garlic water from the branches. It seems to have worked.

Secret Garden

The brick walkway leads to two pergolas at the southern end of the lawn garden, overlooking the Secret Garden below. Meant to titillate the senses, this sunken garden laid out in semi-circle form has statues representing the four seasons, a ram’s head fountain spewing water into a pool, a variety of fragrant and colorful herbaceous plants across the seasons, and stone benches on which to sit and take it all in.

Down the hill from here is an apple orchard with 119 varieties of trees, some of the oldest being the Benoni apple tree from 1832 as well as the Pumpkin Russet. You can taste many of these rare varieties at Tower Hill’s harvest festival in October.

Leaving the Secret Garden and walking up the east side of the lawn garden, you come upon the vegetable garden managed by Dawn Davies who offers visitors a complete list of vegetables grown here. In summer, the archway is covered by two prolific Isis cherry tomato plants producing more than 6,000 tomatoes!

Limonaia, Winter Garden, and Orangerie

A path from the vegetable garden brings you to the Limonaia or Lemon House, an indoor garden with a greeting over the doorway, “Festina Lente” – or make haste slowly, which was a popular refrain of John Trexler’s. The exolite glazing covering the arched wooden beams controls the amount of heat and light that enters the building. The Limonaia, whose plants adorn the Winter Garden courtyard during the warm weather, is also an area for social functions.

Exiting the Limonaia, you enter the Winter Garden, which is reminiscent of an Italian garden with twin bronze turtle fountains spouting water into the rectangular pool. The turtles were specially created for Tower Hill by the New York City sculptor Priscilla Deichmann. In winter, this protected garden area showcases trees and shrubs that thrive in winter and are joined by warm weather plants from the Limonaia and Orangerie in summer. A semi-circle of Knock Out rose bushes form the western boundary of this garden. Future plans for the west side of this garden include a restaurant overlooking gardens and orchards.

The Orangerie, which forms the north boundary of the winter garden, greets you with a Latin saying meaning “If there is heaven on earth , this is it.” Need one say more about this 18th century style greenhouse that must be a glorious respite in winter.
On leaving the Orangerie, children delight in the porous volcanic-like stone fountain that sprays a light mist on those nearby and is home to many mosses that like the moist environment. It’s actually Castilia Stone, a sedimentary rock from farm fields once part of Lake Erie in Sandusky County, Ohio.

Systematic Garden and Pliny’s Allee

This fountain overlooks the Systematic Garden featuring 26 plant families with each bed showing specimens from the oldest in New England to the newest. Did you know that the Rosaceae family includes strawberries and raspberries as well as roses?
Protecting the Systematic Garden on the east side is Pliny’s Allee, a grassy avenue flanked by trees, planted in memory of a sergeant killed in World War II. This allee leads to a fountain as well as the Belvadere Overlook where you can enjoy views of Mount Wachusett and the Wachusett Reservoir.

That was enough for me to enjoy this day, but other areas to explore on future visits include the Wildlife Garden and a 1 mile-long Loop Trail that leads you to the Inner Park and Wildlife Refuge Pond as well as the Folly and The Moss Steps. I also plan to attend some of the many events and workshops that are offered here year round.

And many thanks to my husband and son for treating me to this lovely day!

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Traffic Stopping Container Gardens – April 28, 2012

At Weston Nurseries in Chelmsford, Massachusetts this past Saturday, Deborah Trickett, owner of The Captured Garden, presented ways to create unusual and eye-catching container gardens. With suggestions from plant containers to a wide variety of plants to use, Deborah stretched our conventional ideas about container gardens.

Having done container gardens for my house as well as for our main street here in Wilton, New Hampshire, I know how easy it is to fall back on what’s been done before – the usual geraniums, impatiens, petunias…. well you know. There are many books now on container gardening, but each container garden designer contributes unique ideas that make container gardens an exciting, affordable forum for displaying plants in any setting. Deborah shared with us some of her container garden design ideas.


For containers, Deborah says basically anything that will hold dirt is a candidate as long as you can provide drainage. Scope out hardware, antique, and consignment stores and let your imagination loose. Possibilities can be in your garden shed or basement, such as garden trugs and kid’s sand pails in a rainbow of colors. Tin cans in various sizes with interesting labels make novel containers. Even wooden wine boxes can be used to grow herbs; since they’re not water tight, they don’t need drainage holes. While large ceramic and sandstone pots are often beautiful, there are now lightweight pots made to resemble the heavier pots and are much easier to move.

Of course, soil is very important – it’s food for the plants. Use a high-quality soil designed for use in containers. Also:

  • When filling the container with soil, keep the soil level two to three inches below the rim.
  • If the plants are root bound, scratch the roots to free them up before putting them in the soil.
  • To prevent soil from leaking out of the bottom of the container, place coffee filters or landscape fabric over the drainage holes.
  • Be sure to fertilize container gardens regularly with a slow-release liquid fertilizer at half-strength every other week.

If you have a large container, you don’t have to fill it completely with soil. Instead, fill the bottom with empty soda bottles or small plastic plant pots and cover with newspapers before adding soil. You can also coil nylon stockings filled with styrofoam packing peanuts on the bottom; loose peanuts can be a bit unruly to handle.


If watering is an issue, consider adding pellets to the soil for moisture retention; just be careful how much you use. There’s also a wide variety of self-watering containers now that allow more flexibility in watering. If you have an irrigation system in your lawn or garden, you can have a line go through the bottom of large containers so you don’t have to have someone water them while you’re away.

Plant Choices

When planning a container garden ask yourself two questions: Where’s the container garden going? What’s its purpose?

If the container is in the front of your house near a busy road, you want the container garden to be bold so it can be noticed by those driving by. Use large containers and bold colors. For eye-catching arrangements, use plants in contrasting colors; refer to the color wheel as a guide. For example, mix plants with the contrasting colors of purple and orange and, in the same color range, lavender and peach plants. You could add a white flower plant to set them off.

Here are some additional tips for putting together a container garden:

  • If the design of the container is busy, then use a simple arrangement of plants. Likewise, for an arrangement that requires plants of different colors, sizes, and textures, then use a simple, low-key pot.
  • Make sure your plants are compatible in terms of what they need for sun or shade, watering, and soil quality (loamy or sandy).
  • In general, stick to a color scheme of two or three colors.
  • Include a contrast of leaf shapes, such as round-shaped with heart-shaped, and a contrast of textures, such as shiny leaves with matted leaves.
  • When it comes to container gardens, fewer is sometimes better in terms of the number of different plants. So three or four different plants will have a bigger impact than six or eight.

Also, try to get multiple uses out of the plants as the season progresses. For example, tropical plants can be overwintered when the season is over. You can get double duty from houseplants by using them in arrangements or by themselves when the weather is warm enough. Herbs can go from spring to fall and then come inside for the winter.

You don’t have to have color for a container to be interesting. It can contain an assortment of foliage plants with contrasting leaf shapes, textures, and patterns. Also, you can accessorize an arrangement to add interest with such items as a dragonfly stem, a moss ball, a bird’s nest with eggs, feathers, even a birdhouse.

And for goodness sake – no silk flowers, please! If it’s too cold for plants, use pussy willows, pinecones, evergreen boughs, and other natural materials to fill containers or window boxes.


The arrangement Deborah assembled for her demonstration started with:

  • An evergreen called chamaecyparis. This is a large plant, so in a few years you’ll want to prune the roots and place it in fresh soil.
  • Next, she added a large, dark purple heuchera with its slightly ruffled leaves.
  • Then, to add some color she chose a coleus with green framed burgundy leaves.
  • More texture came in the unexpected form of large swiss chard and small red and green lettuces – I would never think to add vegetable plants to an otherwise decorative mix, but it works!
  • To brighten things up, she added orange gerbera daisies.
  • Next came alternanthera ficoidea ‘Red Threads’, or Joseph’s coat as it is commonly known, to trail over the side of the pot.
  • For a bright contrast, the chartreuse sweet potato vine ‘Marguerite’ could also be added.

It was a beautiful, eye-catching arrangement that would certainly have people looking twice at its novelty.

Besides owning The Captured Garden, Deborah is a Massachusetts Certified Horticulturalist whose work has been featured in The Boston Globe, the magazines Garden Gate and New England Home, and on the TV show “New England Dream Home”. She lectures on container gardening at the Boston Flower & Garden Show and the Philadelphia International Flower Show, as well as teaching at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston.

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Daffodil Days and Afternoon Tea at Blithewold – April 13, 2012

Photo gallery
It may have been Friday the 13th, but the clear, sunny day only foreshadowed the wonderful day to come at Blithewold Mansion in Bristol, Rhode Island. Driving through the downtown as we approached the mansion, one can see that the seaside town of Bristol must be very popular in the summer months with its eclectic mix of shops, cafes, and restaurants.


I’m sure it was the ever-present view of the sea that drew Bessie and her first husband Augustus Van Wickle, a Pennsylvania coal magnate, to Bristol in 1896 to build their summer estate. Tragically, in 1898, Augustus was killed in a shooting accident, leaving Bessie with two young children. A few years later, she married Boston businessman William Mckee and continued to spend summers at the Queen Anne style mansion at Blithewold, hosting many parties. When the mansion burned down in 1906, they built the English Country style manor that you see today.

During the month of April, the grounds at Blithewold are awash in daffodils. It celebrates Daffodil Days with various events including afternoon teas, which my husband and I came to enjoy along with touring the house and gardens. While we were waiting to be seated, we watched home movies taken in the 1920s of the family and their friends enjoying a glorious summer day on the vast estate facing the sea. It was like a scene out of “The Great Gatsby” – everyone in their best summer finery with the young women in white lace-edged dresses skimming their calves in the new flapper style and the men sporting straw boat hats and wool flannel knickers (short knee pants). Like parents of any era, they adored their children as evidenced by a scene lasting several minutes of a six year old (a little bored with having to sit still for the camera) seated with two young toddlers dressed in white dresses with wide brimmed bonnets.

It was clear that this family not only had many friends and relations whose company they enjoyed, but that they were well looked after. As my husband and I were enjoying our tea of savories and sweets (delicious, by the way), we wondered how much staff would be needed to cook, clean, and care for the family as well as maintain the grounds and the mansion. I’m sure that between Blithewold, the neighboring estates, and other grand houses that a fair portion of the local community was gainfully employed in the upkeep of these residences and the care of its families.

Nowadays, if these estates are open to the public, they are maintained by a small staff supported with the help of many volunteers. In fact, it’s volunteers who are serving guests for this month’s afternoon teas at Blithewold.


After tea, we went on a self-guided tour of the rooms that are open to the public, which include several bedrooms, the living room, and dining areas. While this house is indeed grand with its fine furnishings, decorations, and features such as the fireplace brought over from the Duke of Cambridge’s house in England, it is very much a home. It was a house to be lived in and enjoyed by the family; a place to entertain graciously but not to be ostentatious.


Bessie’s passion for horticulture is reflected in the gardens and arboretum that she developed with the help of landscape architect John DeWolfe. The estate boasts over 2000 trees encompassing 50 species, including the Franklin Tree with its showy camelia-like white flowers in late summer, an impressive giant sequoia 90 feet high, and a large golden weeping willow that was in bloom on our visit.

North Garden

After leaving the house, the first garden we came upon was the North Garden originally designed as a formal parterre garden edged with boxwood. The boxwood suffered during storms in the early 1900s and low stone walls were built to define the garden, which cut down on maintenance. The beds, which border a groomed lawn, contain plants and shrubs that offer continuous color from late spring onwards. This garden is the setting for the many weddings that Blithewold hosts from May to October.


A gravel path turning to slate stone and then to white tile leads to a marble fountain whose cherub pours water into the surrounding small pool. This marks the entrance to the Bosquet, an airy forest of rhododendrons, ferns, myrtle, and other shade loving plants such as trillium. While the beds in the North Garden are for late spring and summer blooms, the beds surrounding the fountain and in the bosquet display a dazzling array of daffodils complemented with blue periwinkle. From the outset, John DeWolfe incorporated this area into the initial landscape plans for Blithewold given that it already was filled with trees such as ash, maple, and lindens. This bosquet was also used as a pet cemetery. A few of the trees have plaques commemorating Irish Terriers belonging to Marjorie Lyon, Bessie’s eldest daughter.

Lord & Burnham Greenhouse and Display Gardens

Continuing through the bosquet, we came upon the 1901 Lord & Burnham Greenhouse that was restored in 2005. We were greeted by a large camellia with the most perfect dark pink blooms. Other plants of interest were Clivia Miniata with its exotic orange blossoms, the 40-year old Calamondin orange tree, and the American Wonder Lemon with huge fruit and blossoms that smelled as sweet as frangipani. There was also an intriguing collection of succulent and cactus plants as well as a beautiful pitcher plant.

Just outside the greenhouse are the Display Gardens in which tulips were in bloom. It has a wide variety of perennials and annuals in interesting combinations that bloom throughout the season.

Water Garden and Rock Garden

A walk through a bamboo grove leads the Water Garden, created in 1909. It features an arched stone bridge connecting two small ponds. In the midst of this Japanese style garden, is an island with a Japanese Maple and an ornamental pagoda. The garden also has Japanese cherry trees, in glorious bloom when we were there, as well as a golden weeping willow.

Adjacent is the Rock Garden, which Bessie created in the 1920s by having rocks brought up from the shore by oxen. There’s a constant bloom of low-growing plants that thrive next to the sea such as sea pink, corydalis, hosta, and geraniums; the white mountain rock cress and purple pasque flowers were in bloom during our visit.

Back at the Visitor’s Center at the entrance is the Rose Garden whose stone moon gate arch echoes that of the bridge in the Water Garden. We’d have to return in a few months to appreciate the pale pink blossoms of the centenarian Chestnut Rose that dominates this garden.

It was a spectacular day in all, walking in the footsteps of the Van Wickle-McKee family and experiencing the paradise they created. If you can, come to Blithewold for the Daffodil Days and enjoy an afternoon tea.

Also, be sure to check out the website www.blithewold.org for a complete description of the gardens, arboretum, house, and history as well as events offered throughout the year.

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Rich Pomerantz: Relax It’s Only Garden Photography

On April 5th at a meeting of the Amherst Garden Club in New Hampshire, Rich Pomerantz gave a lively overview of how anyone can take great garden photographs. With digital cameras, it’s easy to rely just on auto mode to take pictures – I’m guilty of this even when I know if I made a few adjustments my pictures would often be so much better. By paying attention to lighting and composition as well as camera settings, Rich showed us the difference between so-so pictures and ones that can make an audience gasp with delight.

Rich Pomerantz’s major focus in photography centers on his interests in gardens and farms, and often extends to include people and their lives. He has published books, such as Great Gardens of the Berkshires, and his photos have appeared in several magazines including Garden Design, Yankee Magazine, and National Geographic. He also offers workshops on photography in New York City and in New England.

A very down-to-earth person, Rich has a keen eye for beauty in sometimes unexpected places and a talent for capturing that beauty in photography. It’s often a matter of finding the right combination of light and view point for a particular moment and tweaking your camera settings to capture that moment most effectively.
Here are some of the valuable pointers he gave us to improve our pictures:

  • Know how your camera works – the use of the aperture setting and shutter speed

    One of the most important settings is the depth of field – what will be in focus in the photograph. This is controlled by the aperture or f-stop setting. The aperture is the opening in the lens through which light passes. The higher the f-stop setting, the smaller the aperture (and less light), and the deeper the depth of field. So with an f-stop setting of f/22, everything will be sharp and in focus.

    But sometimes you want to focus on a particular feature such as dew drops on a leaf. In this case, you want a lower f-stop to a setting such as f/2.8, thus a larger aperture (and more light), and a shallower depth of field.

    Shutter Speed
    When you have a smaller aperture such as f/22, less light is coming through to the camera. So the camera or the photographer has to compensate by using a longer shutter speed to get the light needed to capture a picture. If the shutter speed is 1/30 of a second or slower, you will need to use a tripod to prevent a blurry photo.

    With a lower f-stop such as f/2.8, the camera is getting plenty of light, so it will use a faster shutter speed such as 1/250 of a second.

  • Select the right light or make the best use of the light available. Light has intensity, color, and direction.

    In general, soft, overcast days are best for photos because the light is diffuse and has a low intensity, offering a broader range of tonality. So in close-ups of a flower, you will see more detail.

    On a bright, sunny day, the light is more intense and hard. There’s more contrast between the lightest and darkest areas of the picture; therefore, you will see less detail. You can use this light to create a cartoon-like effect in the photo where the color range is very limited.

    In terms of color, you want to seek the “magic light”, which is generally at sunrise and sunset, when the sun is further away and shining at an angle creating a light that is warm and soft. By 11:00, the sun is overhead and the light is more direct making the colors harsher. You can see the difference in photos taken in the morning versus high noon in the reds, purples, and blues.

    In general, you don’t want to shoot into the light because the light hitting the lens can create artifacts such as a halo that you might not want. In this case, you can use a lens shade or your hand to shield the lens. However, you can make the best of bright light by having the light behind a subject, such as a sunflower or fall foliage, to create a translucent or silhouette effect.

    You can also use a reflector to lighten the part of the subject that is not getting direct light. I think we’ve all had that family photo where the light in back is so bright that we can’t make out anyone’s faces because it’s so dark in front. In this case, you can place a reflector is front of them so the light behind them will bounce off of the reflector and fill the front with light.

    These reflectors come in various shapes and sizes. They are easily folded and come in white, silver, or gold. You can also use what you have available at the time such as a white shirt or page of a newspaper or even a white car.

  • Compose your picture

    Rich says the best way to improve your photos is through composition. Really pay attention to what is in your viewfinder. Very often, just by getting closer to your subject or scene, you create a better picture. Also, turning your camera vertically can help you create better compositions.

    Use leading lines, such as fences and pathways, to lead the viewer into your photo, starting with a focal point such as a statue in the corner.

    You can frame a subject by shooting through a doorway or creating a frame with the branches of a tree.

    There’s also the well-known rule of thirds when composing your picture. Adjust your camera so you can see three equal areas of your photo through the viewfinder, both horizontally and vertically. Place your subject at the intersection of two of these areas.

    Look for patterns, shapes, and silhouettes to create interest.

Like with any endeavor, photography requires concentration or focused attention to get results that are a notch or two above the ordinary. So grab your camera and shoot for the extraordinary!

And if you would like to take a workshop with Rich, see his list of workshops at www.richpomerantz.com/workshops.

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Introducing a New Section to Garden Tours New England: Public Gardens

Tarbin GardensI’m happy to introduce you to a new section of this website – Public Gardens in New England. Until I started researching this topic, I never realized just how many gardens are open to the public in the New England area. It could easily take someone several years to see them all.

We are truly blessed with a wide variety of superb gardens that range from the large estates, such as Blithewold in Rhode Island, to botanical gardens, such as Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, to smaller delightful gardens, such as Tarbin Gardens in New Hampshire. Stockbridge in western Massachusetts is chock full of gardens including the Berkshire Botanical Gardens as well as those at the estates of Naumkeag and Chesterwood. Connecticut is a mecca for historic gardens, such as those at the Bellamy-Ferriday House and the Glebe House, and a destination for spectacular gardens, such as the one at the Hollister House. In Vermont, Goddard College has restored their Greatwood Gardens that were started in 1918 and opened them to the public.

To get this section underway, I’ve started with several gardens for each state, providing a brief description for each one. As with the garden tours and events that we list, we have provided a map to see where all the public gardens are located. Some of these gardens I’ve visited in the past and have provided a link to either my photo gallery or blog for further information. I hope to visit many more of them in the coming months and will add more information and photos as I visit them.

I will also be adding to the list of gardens each month as time allows and hope this section will encourage people to visit these gardens, many of which are on our doorstep! Also, write to me with additional information for the gardens listed or suggestions on gardens to add based on your experiences. I would love to hear from you!

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Worcester Flower & Patio Show – March 4, 2012

Sunday, March 4th was a fine day for driving down to see the Worcester Flower & Patio Show after a week of snowy weather. At the entrance were the winning flower arrangements of the show’s competition as well as this wonderful Cinderella carriage.



The focus of the displays inside was on patios and all that you can do with that space. Patios certainly have come a long way from when I was growing up.





Now you can have fireplaces, grills, hot tubs, comfortable dining areas as well as waterfalls and ponds.
Surrounding these are tastefully landscaped areas with shrubs, trees, perennials, and spring bulbs.

There’s no doubt these can add a great deal of value to a home if you can afford it.


The focus of the talks, however, was more on gardens and flower arranging, which were more my interest for attending.

Lecture: Top Perennial Picks by Season – Kerry Mendez
Kerry Mendez, who lives in Ballston Spa, New York, specializes in creating organic, low maintenance gardens (www.pyours.com). Her garden at home covers a quarter of an acre and she makes the most of that space by having plants that offer not just color in spring, summer, or fall but also display interesting foliage when they’re not in bloom or provide groundcover to suppress weeds.

She gave us a list of 54 perennials that pack a punch for a garden, large or small, and generally can be found at your local nursery. She managed to present more than half of these in the time allotted. Here are ten that I thought were interesting:

Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’); part shade/shade; spring bloomer; 12” tall; deer resistant; Zones 3. This is the 2012 Perennial of the Year. It has blue flowers and leaves that resemble hosta, which last through the fall.



Fern-Leaved Bleeding Heart (Dicentra ‘King of Hearts’); part sun/shade; spring bloomer; 8-10” tall; deer resistant; Zone 5. This actually blooms through the fall and is deer resistant. It has frosty blue leaves and looks good with hosta and Japanese Forest Grass.

Intersectional Peony (Paeonia ‘Bartzella’); sun/part sun; spring bloomer; 30-36” tall; deer resistant; Zone 4. A hybrid of a tree peony with a traditional peony, this is easier to grow than a tree peony. Its flowers are the colors of those found in tree peonies, but holds up better in the snow than a tree peony.

Woods Phlox (Phlox divaricata ‘Louisiana Blue’); sun/part shade; spring bloomer; 12” tall; deer resistant; Zone 3. This is a highly fragrant plant that when it is done blooming, the thick and overlapping leaves suppress weeds.





Purple Poppymallow (Callirhoe involucrata); sun; summer bloomer; 6-12” tall; Zone 4. This plant, which is drought tolerant, has a carrot tap root that sends out three long stems with mallow-like flowers. Because it is also heat resistant, it can easily cascade over retaining walls, stone walls, and paving stone in full sun. It can also be used in window boxes and hanging planters.


Coneflower (,Echincea ‘Tiki Torch’ ‘Sunrise’, ‘Fatal Attraction’); sun/part sun; summer bloomer; 26-36” tall; deer resistant; Zone 4. These varieties are top for hardiness and branching, and bloom into the fall. While most coneflowers don’t overwinter well, these do. Other varieties are ‘Green Jewel’, which is better than ‘Green Envy’, and ‘Milkshake’, which is white.



Fleeceflower (Persicaria ‘Firetail’); sun/part sun; summer-fall bloomer; 36-48” tall; Zone 4. This is a very popular plant with bright pink flowers. It blooms from July to early November and requires no deadheading! The green leaves turn to yellow in the fall. It is good for pollinators, especially bees. Pair with coneflowers and the geranium ‘Rozanne.’


Speedwell (Veronica ‘Eveline’); sun; summer bloomer; 20” tall; deer resistant; Zone 4. Its flowerheads, which go from a white tint to purple as it grows, are larger than those of other speedwell varieties. It is good for viewing from a distance. Deadhead to prolong blooming.


Daylily (Hemerocallis ‘Going Bananas’); sun/part sun; 19-22” tall; summer-fall bloomer; Zone 3. This is an improved variety of ‘Happy Returns’ and is the best repeat bloomer. It has more flowers per stem than other varieties.



Yarrow (Achillea ‘Pomegranate’); sun; 24” tall; summer bloomer; deer resistant; Zone 3. This has top rating for the best red flowers and stiff stems. It is tightly mounded and has repeat blooms into the fall.


Kerry has written two books:
· The Ultimate Flower Gardener’s Top Ten Lists – 70 Garden-Transforming Lists, Money Saving Shortcuts, Design Tips & Smart Plant Picks for Zones 3-7
· Top Tens for Beautiful Shade Gardens – 52 Garden-Transforming Lists for Smart Plant Picks, Design Tips & Garden Shortcuts.
Both these are available at her website and on other bookseller sites, such as Amazon.
I also covered Kerry’s presentation at the Boston Flower Show last year in my blog.

Lecture: How to Build a Pond and Waterfall – Mark Packard
Mark Packard, of Sterling Greenery in Sterling, Massachusetts, is the number one supplier of ponds in New England. He started the presentation by answering common concerns about having a pond or waterfall on your property.

What about mosquitoes?
Mosquitoes only lay eggs in stagnant water. With Mark’s ponds the surface is always moving because of the filtration system. Also, if you have fish, they eat the larvae. Waterfalls attract natural wildlife and predators of mosquitoes, such as hummingbirds and dragonflies.


How deep should it be so it doesn’t completely freeze?
Two feet; the ground at two feet is 48 degrees. With two feet of water there will be 8” of ice.

What happens to the fish in winter?
Fish stay in the pond all winter and go into hibernation – they don’t eat.

How much electricity will it use?
For a waterfall, $10-12 per month.

How big should it be?
Make it as large as possible because more than half of the owners with ponds wish they had made it larger.

Ponds used to be made with preformed liners with pumps at the bottom. These were high maintenance and were artificial looking. The pump would get clogged and then be covered with algae so it had to be cleaned constantly.

Ponds and waterfalls are now made with 45 mil. flexible liners and a filtration system that is designed not to clog. The cost of running the filtration system is about $15 per month at 2000 GPH (gallons per hour).

You want to create a pond and/or waterfall that is part of a balanced ecosystem – be low maintenance and work with nature. The fish eat algae then the fish waste turns into nitrates that feed the plants. The plants should cover no more than 30% of the pond.

In terms of maintenance, a pondless waterfall only requires an hour per year. An 11′ x 16′ pond requires about ten hours per year of maintenance.

Mark offers a workshop for customers to show them how they can install the pond and waterfall themselves rather than pay for installation. He says homeowners can often complete the installation of an 8′ x 11′ pond with waterfall in half a day.

Also, I discovered when I visited his website that he is offering a pond and garden tour on June 23rd. See his website www.sterlinggreenery.com for more details.

Lecture: Tips to be Successful With Your Own Flower Arrangements – Sally Jablonski
Sally Jablonski, of Herbert Berg Florists in Worcester, Massachusetts, created three flower arrangements while sharing tips for assembling and caring for the final product. Some of these tips included:

  • Make sure the oasis foam has holes so the water travels to the stems faster
  • Cut stems at an angle – this makes them more secure in the foam and the water travels faster through the stem
  • Place an inch of stem in the foam making sure you have removed leaves
  • Tropical stems last three weeks to a month
  • You can grow curly willow in your yard and use the branches in arrangements
  • To customize a container, you can wrap some ribbon around it, attaching it to the container with sticky dots
  • For a dramatic effect, place submersible colored lights in the container with the stems. These lights can last up to 14 hours and more.
  • A new way to add color to an arrangement is to insert colored wire in the foam with the stems
  • To keep an arrangement fresh, change the water everyday and recut stems.

Lecture: Organic Fertilizers – Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardson is one of the managing members of a product called Organic Plant Magic, which is an organic plant food and fertilizer. What I found interesting in Kevin’s lecture is that it is not enough to put nutrients into the soil such as dried blood or bone meal. The soil needs microorganisms that will eat and digest the nutrients. The microorganisms produce waste that is in a form that is more useful to plants not only to nourish them but to protect them from pests. See their website for more information on how to use what promises to be an amazing product.

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Lyman Estate Greenhouses: Camellias in Bloom

Photo gallery
Eager to enjoy flowers other than what’s in the supermarkets, I visited the Lyman Estate Greenhouses in Waltham, Massachusetts to see their camellias that are now in full bloom. Amazingly, the camellia house dates back to 1820 when Boston’s elite could afford to enjoy floral blooms in the middle of winter. It is not a large collection with just over a dozen camellias. However, some of the camellias are over a hundred years old, which makes them quite special.

In addition to the camellia house, there are other plants in bloom, such as brilliant fuschia bougainvillea and azaleas, in the three grape houses and the orchid house. Beautiful and unusual orchids are also sprinkled liberally throughout the greenhouses.





As I was leaving, I noticed a flowering cactus called the Crown Thorn, which I had never seen before. Apparently, it is the most commonly grown succulent known as Euphorbia milii, or Christ plant, and is a native of Madagascar. The one I saw was at least two feet tall and can grow to three feet in height. Its sharp spines are an inch long. However, it’s most captivating feature, I think, are its glorious clusters of pink blossoms, known as bracts.

The greenhouse also has a shop with plants for sale as well as books, gardening supplies and decorations. Overall, the visit took about a half hour. It is worth stopping by if you are in the Waltham area. However, if you are coming from a distance, it would be better to try to arrange a tour of the Lyman mansion as well.

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Worcester Art Museum – Floral Demonstration

This year marked the tenth anniversary of the Flora in Winter event at the Worcester Art Museum. As part of this event, several special festivities and lectures were offered to the public. One of these events was a floral demonstration by Ann McDevitt, a Scottish floral designer who owns and operates her own business Flowers from the Heart in Sutton, Massachusetts.

From the start, Ann regaled and delighted her audience with her Scottish humor and stories of her adventures as a floral designer over the past twenty years. She came to floral design later in life, taking night classes in her native Scotland. She has competed in many competitions and flower shows across Britain, winning several first, second, and third place prizes. Most notably, she has designed flower arrangements for Queen Elizabeth II and the late Princess Diana. These experiences led to invitations to give workshops across Britain, Europe, and the United States.

In her demonstration at the Worcester Art Museum, Ann took us on a tour of Ireland, Spain, Russia, and Tunisia through her floral arrangements. Although Ann is Scottish, her mother was from Ireland and she took Ann and her siblings to Ireland to visit when they were children. As Ann told us about these trips, she put together an asymetrical arrangement of myrtle, Bells of Ireland, green tea roses, and white mums evoking the feeling of Ireland.

Ann explained that one of the differences between the floral competitions in Great Britain and the United States is that in Britain there are twenty entries per class whereas in the U.S. there are four.

At one of the competitions, she met Julia Clements, also known as Lady Seton, who is considered the founder of floral arranging. Lady Seton, who died last year at the age of 104, was a writer and public speaker who promoted floral arranging to the women of Britain after World War II as a way to lift their spriits and bring beauty into their homes during a time of austerity and rationing. Amazingly, she had had no previous experience other than a memory of floral arrangements she had seen on a visit to the States.
In the early 1990′s, Ann also met Nina Losolivia, the President of the Russian Flower Arranging Clubs, at a national competition and was subsequently invited to come to Russia to give workshops. After the bleakness of daily life in the Soviet Union, the Russian women were enthusiastic about flower arranging and eager to learn as much as they could from Ann. As a thank you gift, Ann was presented with a samovar, which is a Russian tea urn.
Using this samovar, she created her next arrangement with a Russian theme in a Hogarth’s Curve design, which is “S” shaped. This arrangement consisted of myrtle, red and pink roses, and orchids.
Next, Ann took us to Spain. The horizontal arrangement of oranges, yellows, greens, and purples was created with dressina, ming fern, leucadendron, calla lillies, delphiniums, and spectacular orange roses known as “Voodoo”.

Then we were off to Tunisia, which Ann visited on a vacation. She went to a souk, or marketplace, where she came across some birdcages that she knew she could use in a floral arrangement. They were too expensive for her budget, but the woman merchant made a deal with Ann by looking in Ann’s purse and taking her cosmetics as payment! For the floral arrangement, Ann attached the flowers to the top of the birdcage. A combination of purple singapore, white narcissus called entropia, and pink stephanotis nicely draped over the side of the birdcage.

The two-hour demonstration ended with a show-stopping traditional triangle arrangement. Easily three feet high, the arrangement included esperance roses (pink and cream combination), purple stock, pink carnations, and purple delphiniums. An arrangement fit for a queen! While assembling this arrangement, Ann talked about meeting Queen Elizabeth, who she says is barely over five feet tall, quite small for someone with such an imposing presence. She said that when the queen or Princess Diana wanted flowers from her, it would be one of the ladies in waiting who would call. She did receive wonderful handwritten thank you letters from Princess Diana who Ann said was a truly warm human being.

I was so impressed with the time and energy Ann put into this demonstration. She had spent the better part of the previous week going to the market in Boston to buy flowers, preparing and preserving the flowers for each arrangement, and then setting up for the demonstration. Ann is in her seventies, but she could easily outdo many half her age in energy and vitality. She donated her time to the museum for this event and we were the richer for it . If you ever get the chance to see Ann giving a demonstration, I encourage you to go – you’ll have a great time!

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