Tuesday, September 25, 2018

John and Ted's Excellent Conifer Adventure

John Auditore and Ted Williams purchased their north Arlington home in 1989. It is sited on a small, sharply sloped lot in a hilly area of suburban Arlington, Virginia.  When they bought the property,  the home's surrounding landscape was nothing more than trim grass, hydrangea, azaleas and irises.

John Auditore and Ted Williams
As a child growing up in coastal Massachusetts, John had an strong interest in plants and gardening. He helped his mother tend her garden.  His grandfather was a golf course groundskeeper.  Ted grew up in Ohio. From his paternal side, Ted descended from farmer stock. His maternal grandfather was a tree surgeon and his mother’s family always grew their own food. Throughout his childhood, Ted did all the gardening around the house. While in college, he landed a summer job on the landscaping crew at Ohio State University. John and Ted’s garden has always been a joint effort based on combined experiences.
Before: Their well-planned 'cottage style' garden
You can see the steep sloping as it rises
Their original 'cottage style' garden featured vegetables, annuals, perennials, roses, peonies, iris, lilies, spring bulbs, alliums, and ornamental grasses.  Early on, John developed an interest in collections and propagating plants. While he had no hesitation propagating plants from inexpensive ones from big box stores, his bulbs were always from New England.  His special collections, over many years, have included lilies, peonies, hostas and an array of spring bulbs.

Ivory Zinnia 'Dreamland'
Over time, though, John developed a keen interest in conifers. Conifers are a division of vascular land plants containing a single extant class, Pinopsida. They are gymnosperms, cone-bearing seed plants. All extant conifers are perennial woody plants with secondary growth. The great majority are trees, though a few are shrubs. Examples include cedars, Douglas firs, cypresses, firs, junipers, kauri, larches, pines, hemlocks, redwoods, spruces, and yews.[1] As of 1998, the division Pinophyta was estimated to contain eight families, 68 genera, and 629 living species. (see Wikipedia link here for more information).  For their garden, conifers added definition to the architecture of the landscape. The plants have many varied shapes, textures and colors. Some conifers even change color with the seasons.

3 year grafted Abies koreana 'Child's #1'
What John didn't recognize at first was that he was navigating toward a serious conifer garden. He and Ted began searching online for conifer specimens and discovered Conifer Kingdom                       ( Coniferkingdom.com ) in Oregon. They also travel regionally to Susanna Farm Nursery in Boyds, Maryland ( susannafarmnursery.com ) and Conestoga Nursery in East Earl, Pennsylvania. John prefers miniature and dwarf varieties in their garden beds, and with larger specimens bordering their property lines.
Chamaecyparis Nootkatensis Pendula "Weeping Alaskan Cedar'
Cedrus deodara (Himalayan cedar) 'Robusta Glauca'
To set off many of the garden beds, Ted built stone walls including one for a rock garden. Later in the rock garden he added an eye catching dry creek bed. This added depth and redirected water. The rock garden beds are mounded about three feet above the original lawn. As the garden evolved, Ted removed some of the stone and gravel paths he built that meandered through the garden and replaced them with grass. This was for safety reasons.

Miniature Thuja occidentalis Primo* ('IslPrim'); Hosta 'Lovely Rita" 

top left: Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Butter Ball'  center right: Chamecyparis pisifera 'Tsukumo'
bottom left: Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Nymph' Dwarf Blue
Ted estimates that over the years through using mulch and composted materials,  they added sixteen or more inches of rich, black soil to their garden beds. As John has gotten older, he finds the Conifer garden easier to maintain than their cottage-style one. The Conifer garden”s neatness appeals to his sensibilities.
 Upper rear: Pinus strobus 'Diggy'; bottom front: Abies pinsapo 'Horstmann'
left: Metasequoia glyptostroboides 'Ogon' Dawn Redwood in container,
surrounded by a collection of Caudiciform plants (which winter indoors)
bottom front: Daphne xburkwoodii "Carol Mackie'; 
Taxodium distchum 'Peve Minaret' dwarf bald cyprus 
In blue pot (accented with thyme): top right: Abies nordmanniana 'Dobrichovice' ;
upper left: Taxus cuspidata 'Nana Aurescens'; bottom left: Cedrus Deodara 'Golden Horizon' 
Their joint efforts have resulted in an eclectic, urban conifer garden that is serene yet full of surprises.  The array of conifers is amazing and probably includes about 150 specimens.

An array of John and Ted's collection. left: Raywood's Weeping Arizona Cypress;
front bottom: Taxus baccata 'Fastgiata Micro'
This garden shows well in all seasons. John especially loves it in winter when the negative spaces highlights the garden's structure, from the stone work to the shape of the conifers.

They have incorporated garden accents that create a unique mix of Asian and New England. Their garden attracts birds and beneficial insects. Morning coffee includes birdwatching and looking at the continual rippling changes in colors.
Acer palmatum 'Sango-Kaku' Coral Bark Maple  
Many of their flowering plants and bulbs have migrated to friends and fellow garden club members. Still, there are plenty of flowering bulbs, annuals and perennials around. Tucked into their coniferous landscape, they also have sixteen Japanese maples and gorgeous camellias. They also have space allocated for native pollinator plants that attract bees and humming birds. John also has an amazing succulent collection. He and Ted use container plants, many of which hold his some of impressive succulents. The containers  serve as accents throughout the garden.

Pinus parviflora "Tani Mano Uki' Japanese White Pine
Before John joined the Club, John and Ted won the Rock Spring Garden Club's Garden of the Year award in 2013. John is a resource and respected member,  earning several horticulture blue ribbons in a recent flower show for his specimens.  John and Ted are also members of the American Conifer Society. They enjoy attending the Society’s conferences and contributing articles to its newsletter. 

Any conifer questions? Leave a comment and we will respond.

Thea McGinnis is blogmistress for National Capital Area's website blog. She is a member of NCAGC District III's Rock Spring Garden Club.  

Photography by Thea McGinnis, John Auditore

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Dreams of a Cutting Garden - book reviews by Thea McGinnis

A cutting garden seems rather idyllic - picture a field with sunlight filtering through the morning mist, me wearing a gauzy, flowy dress, a large brimmed hat, a woven basket on my arm and a good pair of shears in my hand.  I'm barefoot, of course, and accompanied by my trusty pup who never strays off the path to crush any buds.  Ahhh, sounds pretty, pretty good.

This summer I've been reading like mad.  Okay, I read like mad all the time, but late summer is the perfect time to slack off with a good gardening book and read a hot and humid day away -- and perhaps dream of incorporating something new in next year's garden.  My friend, Jenny, dreams of a cutting garden (see her blog about it here) and recognizes the process involved. We can't simply snap our fingers and viola! a full grown cutting garden appears. There is work involved.  Two books I highly recommend if you're interested in adding a cutting garden are written by two women who are in the business of cut flowers - on opposite sides of our country.

Lisa Mason Ziegler hails from Newport News, Virginia (near Colonial Williamsburg), where she operates The Gardener's Workshop, a private, urban wholesale cut flower farm. The family farm she happily married into is one of the only farms left inside the city limits, I believe.  Her business of cut flowers has expanded into public speaking, seeds, garden supplies, and workshops. I had the pleasure of meeting her when she came to speak at my garden club. And I sort of lost my dreaming mind shopping at her pop up garden store (see paragraph one). (I highly recommend having Lisa as part of your garden speaker program during the winter months.)

Lisa and her beautiful golden

Lisa's latest book is Vegetables Love Flowers : Companion Planting for Beauty and Bounty.  I pre-ordered an autographed copy last year and it is jam packed with information on not only cut flowers but vegetable and flower companion planting.

When I lived on Humblebee Farm some years back, my husband put in a vegetable garden for us, all fenced in with lovely raised rows.  What I found out after the first year is that I didn't need to plant more than one or two zucchini plants as after awhile, I couldn't eat or give away all the zucchini I grew that year.  The same went for squash. Anyway, the next year, I decided to dedicate a row for some flowers into my vegetable garden. My husband wondered if I was wasting good vegetable growing space. If only I'd had this book back then! I would have planted that garden so differently.

I must say there is an abundance of tried and true practical garden information in Lisa's wonderful book. It's full of ideas you can incorporate into your gardens now and into the future. It's loaded with tips and techniques. I really do love this book. Lisa also has a great Facebook page and offers a free newsletter.  Lisa dedicated her book to her sister, Suzanne, with whom she works closely. Her book is available through her website here or through Amazon here .

Me. Pike Place Market.  Flowers! It was hard to choose, obviously. If you've ever been to the Seattle's Pike Place Market, you know how spectacular the locally grown flowers sold there are. 

I discovered Floret Farms and Erin Benzakein through Facebook.  I post quite a bit about gardening and through the mysteries of those good algorithms on FB, the Floret Farms page came up as a suggestion. Erin and her husband are in Washington State and began their cut flower farm in a region I believe the Universe has blessed with a prime environment for growing flowers.

Erin's book, Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden with it's gorgeous photography, is all about their journey from first house to first farm to a bigger farm as they began their cut flower farm business.  (And as an aside, Erin, too, learning gardening at her grandma's knee - a familiar history for many of our garden club members. Her book is dedicated to her Grammy.)  Not only is Erin a wife, mother, daughter, farmer and gardener, she creates exquisite floral designs.

This book showcases all her talents and hard work and how she's expanded her wholesale cut flower business to include workshops, an online shop and seed business. This book gives you seasonal step-by-step information for plant/grow/cut/arrange for all sort of flower types and a host of good (business) practices for keeping your garden.

For more information about Erin's work, visit her website here , Her book is sold on her website and is also available on Amazon here

What I love most about both Lisa's and Erin's books is you get to see some one's gardening dream come true, without hiding the mud, sweat and tears.  And how willing they are to share their vision with us. And they blog, too! So they themselves are a continuous source of news and information about the love and business of cut flower gardening from either coast.