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Sunday, August 26, 2012

The James Bond Garden Tour

I recently popped over to Plant Postings to read about the amazing garden tour of Italy Beth is planning for herself and other bloggers. I just returned from a garden tour to England and eagerly wish I could join Beth's group.

As with most things I do, my tour was a bit unconventional. I could have chosen as my guide a famed landscape designer or horticulturalist but I wanted a different perspective. By hiring James Bond I never had to wait in line for anything and was able to travel by jet pack and Aston Martin. Since Bond is an expert on almost everything, it came as no surprise that he is an excellent gardener, too.

Are there any plants in this picture? I hadn't noticed.

Our first stop was at Barnsley House Gardens in the Cotswolds. Created to be a personal garden by a world renowned horticulturalist, this lush garden covers three acres and includes a knot garden and potager. I swooned over the fullness of the plantings and lounged around the beautiful pond.

As it neared time to leave, I noticed Bond was nowhere to be seen. I snuck quietly around corners and looked behind bushes to see if I could find him. Worried about how I was going to get a martini and a ride to the next garden, I finally found him standing by the cabbages. His sleeves rolled up and dirt smudging his handmade Italian suit, a small razor edged cultivator poked from the tips of his expensive shoes. Digging the cultivator into the weeds surrounding the vegetables, he ripped the roots from the soil, retracted the cultivator, and walked coolly by. 

Cerney House Garden

Our next stop was the Cerney House gardens, also in the Cotswolds. Described by an English gardening magazine as "not for those who like everything tickety-boo", I worried that James might not love the garden as much as I did. "James, " I ventured, "Aren't you coming or do you like everything tickety-boo? Is the garden a bit too exuberant for you?" He stared off into the distance while slowly unscrewing the headlight from his Aston Martin. A long narrow headed spade emerged from behind the light, a pair of gardening gloves tied tightly around the handle. Slipping the headlight back into place, he walked slowly toward me, and whispered in my ear, "I love it when you say tickety-boo."

A large organic garden, Cerney House features a meadow, orchard, and a walled garden surrounded by mature trees. Richly layered elongated plantings tumble over each other to create a relaxed garden paradise.

Our last stop before I jetted back to the States, was a stop at Beatrix Potters Lake district home. Long an admirer of her brilliant children's stories, I'd wanted to visit her home and garden for years. Tempted to cozy up to Bond whispering "tickety-boo", I restrained myself and wandered her vegetable patch. Once again he disappeared as I watched for naughty rabbits and talkative mice. Alone in the garden, I took photos and hummed to myself. As I bent to take a closer shot, a grizzled hand thrust suddenly into view, a small rabbit dangling from its grip.

"Drop the rabbit, McGregor". James stood behind the old man, a saber protruding from the handle of a metal rake. "He's been eating my garden! I want rabbit stew for dinner tonight.", the man complained as he loosened his fingers. "I wouldn't recommend it", James responded, his voice detached and icy. "Why?" McGregor asked. "How do you like your rabbits?" "Shaken but not stirred," replied James. "No one eats Peter."  He lowered the saber as the rabbit ran under the melons, the old man cursing and kicking, clay pottery in chunks at his feet. I stood to the side, in shock. Where had he been hiding the saber rake and where could I get one? Doubtful I be able to get a shoe cultivator, headlight shovel or saber rake past airport security, I made a mental to note to ask him if the British government could ship them to me.

The visit over, I headed back to the car. Pausing by the hedge that ran along the side of the garden, I noticed James up to his elbows in an overgrown shrub. Grasping the severed limbs, he thrust his pruners up his sleeve, and threw the branches to the ground. He tucked in his shirt and sighed deeply, "Gardening is so therapeutic."

Pruned by James Bond

James Bond - Master Gardener

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Garden Karma: Flaming Tomato Bombs and Parsley Seeds

In celebration of summer tomatoes and naughty children going back to school to torture their teachers (me!), I've decided to repost one of my favorites from February.


When I was a kid my neighbors had a huge vegetable patch that ran the length their backyard. Aside from tomatoes, I'm not sure what they grew. My brother and I would peek through the fence slats as the woman watered and weeded. Her tomato plants climbed six foot support frames, heavy fruit hanging from their branches like giant rubies. But we didn't like our neighbors and, therefore, didn't like their tomatoes.

Caterpillar queue

Constantly deployed or on lengthy remote assignments, our father was rarely           home, leaving our exhausted mom, who worked part time while going to school full time, to care for us alone. We should have understood or at least have been on our best behavior, but we weren't. Bored, creative, and unsupervised to the point of becoming slightly feral, we took to fending for ourselves. In an attempt to reign in our free time, we were given chores and my brother was asked to babysit me. He was 10 and I was five or six. Despite being ensconced in the relative safety of a military base, asking my brother to supervise me was like giving an arsonist keys to a match factory. We began to create our own fun by inventing games like Knife Fight, Food Fight (green bean aren't as worthy a projectile as wads of peanut butter), and Road Flare. Road Flare resulted in a couch fire while Knife Fight gave my brother a permanent scar. But our favorite game was Flaming Tomato Bombs.

When we tired of chasing each other with sharp objects or swinging from shower curtain rods, we blew things up. Our favorite target was our neighbors tomato patch. Layers of Kleenex would be wrapped around a cotton ball, tied with string, and soaked in my mom's cheap perfume. We'd run into the backyard, set them on fire, and launch them over the fence. The massive explosions we dreamed about never happened, but the nauseating odor of scorched tomatoes and perfume would fill the air. The woman would burst from her house while we ran for ours. Once inside, we laughed til we nearly peed our pants, and made plans to do it again. 

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar eating curly parsley

A few phone calls later, our dad came home, our mom changed her schedule, and the party was over. Our dad was assigned to a new base and much to our neighbors relief, we quickly moved. I wonder sometimes how much good I have to create in my garden to erase the torture we inflicted on our neighbors. If I met them now, I'd apologize.

I'm sowing curly parsley seeds this weekend to help nourish the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars that are born in my garden. They always germinate but I wonder sometimes if they didn't if a Flaming Tomato Bomb would be to blame.

Swalllowtail butterfly on the 'Laura' phlox

Sunday, August 19, 2012


It's always interesting to me to discover what fuels a persons passion. One small bed in my garden is a complete wreck and needs to be redesigned again, despite having been redesigned last fall. A dry miserable clematis clings to the fence under a giant laurel oak, while a slightly irritated 'Sun Queen' veronica, overly shaded and thirsty, reminds me daily of my penchant for misguided design. Dwarf lespedeza, if only they could walk, would scramble over the knautia to settle in deeply to the shade the veronica ache to leave. I stare at this bed constantly, mentally replacing the pathetic plants with sea oats, linaria, kalimeris, and amsonia, all champions of dry shade. I could throw in the towel, curse my mistakes, and head into nearby DC to lounge in the beauty of several  professionally designed public gardens but I don't.

Mystery bug on the 'Sun Queen' veronica. 'Sun Queen' is headed to a slightly moister, sunnier spot this fall.

Northern sea oats thrive in dry shade. Variegated Solomon's Seal grows at their base.

I have two types of kalimeris. 'Daisy Mae' has white flowers while 'Blue Star' has pale blue. Both thrive in dry shade and self-seed readily, giving me a steady supply of seedlings to use around the garden or give away to friends.

As beautiful as these properties are, I rarely find them inspiring. If you peel away the landscape architects, designers, professional gardeners, and big budgets, I wonder what you would have? While I have a great amount of respect for the individuals who have the talent to create such amazing spaces, when I sit on my patio and mentally redesign my garden, it's not big public gardens that inspire me, but rather the little pockets of flowers and shrubs that fall into my lap through garden blogs each week.

The dwarf heliposis 'Tuscan Sun' was pruned heavily by the bunnies but has rebounded beautifully.

Your photos flip through my mind like a visual Rolodex and I find myself going back to your blogs to study and analyze how you've created such beauty. It doesn't matter to me that your garden isn't perfect or that you've forgotten the Latin name of the plant in the photo. I don't care if the garden path pavers don't match or if the shrubs need pruning. I find inspiration simply in the fact that you have a garden, created in the small slips of time leftover from the rest of our daily lives. I'm not inspired by the National Arboretum or the Botanic Gardens. I'm inspired by you.

'Deam's' rudbeckia has much smaller flowers and leaves than 'Goldsturm' but is also much tougher. I like the darker gold shading close to the brown seed head.

I grow carrots for carrot cake and for the swallowtail caterpillars.

This dwarf agastache was just a tiny stump when I planted it this spring.

It's become one of my favorite plants.

Sceptre d'Isle rose (David Austin) grows in a bit of shade near the massive Rose of Sharon.

Hummingbirds love this feeder but disappear whenever I attempt to take a picture. I think they're on to me.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Morning Ramble

I'm a slow morning person. There is no hopping, popping, or jumping out of bed for me but a gradual ascent into wakefulness met with total denial that my sleep is over. My garden eyed me humorously this morning as I stumbled about with my camera. They'd been awake for hours and I was late to the party.  

'Abraham Darby' rose is thriving in a giant pot. Old fashioned multi-petaled roses are my favorite.

This unnamed phlox seedling is the result of some botanical baby-making. I love it's jagged edges. I think 'David' is the father but no one's talking.

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm' in the Founding Flowers garden
All of the flowers that were put into this bed last fall were transplanted from different areas of the garden. Most are original to the garden. The phlox in the background are all seedlings, which is why they're so small. 

'Delta Snow' phlox grows to about 4 feet tall and blooms for over a month. 

'Deam's' rudbeckia has much smaller flowers than 'Goldsturm' and can tolerate a bit of dry shade.

Variegated water celery spills out from the frog pond to meet and mingle with the rest of the garden.

'Night Owl' climbing rose and 'Blue Fortune' agastache 

'Piglet' pennisetum and cone flower seedlings in the rain garden

After losing the last bunch of tomatoes to a squirrel, a storm, and a klutzy kid, I'm excited to have more to harvest. This variety is Heatmaster.

The sweet potato vines are taking over but no one minds, except for the tomato. I heard a bit of grumbling back there.

A cantaloupe vine, gifted by the Compost Angels, grows between the variegated abelia and the loropetalum in my front garden. The loropetalum were planted this spring and are still quite small. 

The vine is covered with flowers! I hope I get to eat more cantaloupe than the bunny.

Annual vinca and lantana grow in the hell strip next to my walkway.

They're being replaced with a perennial butterfly garden this fall.

I added orange milkweed to this bed last fall when I had no where else to put them. They've thrived so much, I've decided to turn this entire hot, dry section into a butterfly garden. I'm adding more milkweed, salvia, and coreopsis. Dalea also grows well between the milkweed and vinca.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Garden Like a Beast

Like most of the world, I've been watching the Olympics this week. Badminton scandals, stressed out gymnasts, and superhuman swimmers have dominated daily conversation. If gardening were an Olympic sport, I wouldn't even make the preliminary cuts, but I'm okay with that. I'm comfortable in the PeeWee League. Friday's Washington Post  featured a front page article about gymnast Gabby Douglas, a tiny dynamo from Virginia whose gravity defying routines left me glued to the TV, my mouth agape in wonder. Described by the media as fearless, she's quoted as saying, "You just have to go out there and be a beast."

Cone flowers in the rain garden

One bed I redesigned last year is still a mess and will need to be redesigned again this fall. Several beds need to be tweaked and one section of my Founding Flowers garden needs a dozen cone flowers taken out, the soil raised by 6 inches, and all the cone flowers replanted. Half of the Yuck side needs to be completely relandscaped and my last dahlia blew over in a wind gust today, breaking the stem. My garden is thirsty, my water bills outrageous, and I have a weird spot on my first almost ripe tomato. It's easy by mid-summer to fixate on all our mistakes, curse Mother Nature, and blame ourselves for, yet again, putting the wrong plant in the wrong place. But I refuse to give up. My garden will never win a medal but I'm going to garden like a beast, anyway. I have nothing to lose by being fearless.

I added this rain garden over Spring Break in April. 

Several of the plants I used for this bed were seedlings from other parts of the garden. This fall, I'm replacing the sedum seedlings near the birdbath with 'Purple Emperor' sedum. I think the purple leaves will look sharp near the silvery yarrow foliage.

Pennisetum 'Piglet' has thrived and is starting to grow long fuzzy flowerheads. Dwarf gaura 'Crimson Butterflies' grows nearby.

Sedum 'Voodoo' grows near the pennisetum but needs to be moved to a sunnier spot. I didn't expect the fountain grass to grow so much this year!

This gaura is much smaller and less floppy than most.

Yellow and white lantana near a broken pot turned into a toad house.

Linum 'Appar' is commonly known as flax.


A trumpet creeper vine grows along the fence, constantly sending shoots up through the plants. Pulling these up is a weekly job. Prairie dropseed grass grows near the fence.

Dwarf agastache 'Acapulco Orange' is thriving in well drained, compost enriched soil.

It's growing next to a very happy patch of 'Pink Grapefruit' yarrow that has tripled in size in just a few months. The flowers are bright pink. These had been on the plant for a long time and were very faded.

A climbing 'Graham Thomas' rose grows along the fence.

This has also doubled in size since I planted it. I love the soft yellow roses.

I originally planted three 'Peter's Purple' monarda but one was eaten by bunnies. This monarda is much more xeric than older varieties and has done very well. I need to selectively prune away a few trumpet creeper branches to give it more sun.