Monday, September 25, 2017

Early Autumn Glory - Dahlias !

You've probably heard about Fibonacci numbers - Golden Spirals, Golden Ratios - and that they occur in nature. And reoccur - especially in flowers like dahlias, zinnias, and sunflowers. Dahlias are the perfect flower for illustrating this amazing repetition in nature.  (For more information, here's a link about  Fibonacci in Nature - click here).

The National Capital Dahlia Society hosted their 2017 Annual Dahlia Show at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD. this past weekend. Part of the exhibition included a delightful flower show. Check out these whimsical floral designs that were part of their Wizard of Oz show – using gorgeous dahlias!

Thanks for garden club member Kate Abrahams for her photographs. For more information about the National Capital Dahlia Society, click here National Capital Dahlia Society

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dreams of a Cutting Garden - A guest post by Jenny Sullivan

“SUMMER ends now; now, barbarous in beauty.” So begins G. Manley Hopkins’ poem, “Hurrahing in the Harvest.” And isn’t that the charm of autumn, its ruggedness? The air is chillier, the sunlight is deeper, the leaves are aflame, the asters and the marigolds flourish, and the turnips and dark leafy greens have their day. But I am harvesting flowers seeds, hurrahing in my harvest in preparation for establishing a cutting garden for next spring.

I have belatedly come to understand that I need a cutting garden. I need one because I am so unwilling to cut flowers from my beds. They look too pretty. The color or composition will be “off” if I take those bachelor buttons or deprive that bed of a single bee balm. I cannot imagine actually ever cutting a lily! So I run to Safeway and grab a bunch of carnations or alstroemeria for my centerpiece and then go stand in my doorway admiring the unravished beds.

Visiting some of the famous gardens in our area, I have developed a thoroughgoing appreciation for cutting gardens.  When my garden club friend Joan took me for my first visit to Hillwood, the estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post, two things wowed me: the cutting garden and the elaborate arrangements of flowers from that garden that were positioned all over the house. My talented friend, who volunteers at Hillwood, is responsible for some of those incredible arrangements. The flowers grow in the cutting garden like rows of corn or soybeans but are crops of poppies, daisies, lilies, and ranunculus. They are lined up like soldiers in their uniforms one after the other after the other, at attention and ready for inspection—and cutting.

I have seen the cutting garden at Dumbarton Oaks only from the distance. As I stood on a rise and listened to the docent tell me what was so magnificent about the spot that I occupied, my attention was drawn instead to the cutting garden off to the side, way down a slope in a sunny clearing fifty yards away. Of course that bed is not technically designed for beauty, but the rows and rows of blooming flowers and the rows and rows of budding flowers were somehow more exciting to me than any of the magnificent gardens I saw on the tour. And they are magnificent.

So I decided I need a cutting garden. And now, in the autumn that comes before the spring when I want my garden to bloom, the planning and preparation must begin. First come the essentials of planning. I knew that I needed an area of my yard that met three criteria: (1) it had to be sunny, (2) it had to out of my line of vision from my doorway or my patio, and (3) it had to be somewhere as yet unused as a garden bed.

Here’s why. (1) Being sunny needs little explanation. Most flowers need lots of sunshine to grow well, certainly the ones I will choose to plant. (2) If I can see the cutting garden from my doorway or the patio, I will fall in love with it just as I fell in love with the cutting gardens at Hillwood and Dumbarton, and I will never cut a single flower. (3) The bed must be empty because I cannot uproot existing plants any more than I could throw out my cat because I want a parakeet. So here is the place I selected.

It (1) is definitely sunny with no trees in sight. The one you see in the upper right is in the front yard, so it poses no problem. (2) To the left, past the reubeckia, you can see my patio and my door, but I cannot see this scrubby little bed from either. And (3) I do not have anything planted there.  Why would I? The steps at the railing lead down to my basement. The cement slab holds my AC unit and my metal compost bin. Leftover patio slate tiles and splash pans complete the look of this part of my yard. It is not where I bring guests for lemonade in the summer. But most importantly, the bed is not already planted. The sad Japanese holly is on its last leg (or should I say limb, ha ha). I will cut it way back to give all the surface of the bed more sunshine. The orange flags are protecting a 3 inch redbud seedling from my garden club friend Lynda, and it is slated for transplanting somewhere else anyway.

So this fall, I have two duties. First, I must improve the soil. I will amend it for better texture and drainage and feed it a bit. Then I must harvest seeds from my favorite flowers in other beds around the property. I will also start thinking about what seeds and seedlings I will buy in the spring. Here is what I expect it to look next summer.

You laugh now, but just you wait and see.

Jenny N. Sullivan is a gardener, author and garden club member in Northern Virginia. Her first novel, From My Father's House., was published in 2015.  Her latest book is an illustrated children's book, The Purpose-Driven Alphabet, available now on Amazon. Sullivan grew up in Norfolk, Virginia, enjoyed a long teaching career in the Virginia Community College System in the Tidewater area and in Northern Virginia.