My Family HATES my Gnomes…

My family members are outspoken in their opinions about gardening and they’ve let me know they hate my tiny gnomes and want me to stop showing pictures of them in the garden blog. Why did I ever fork out money for the little gnome I found locally, then weaken when I found a similar little one in a  garden shop in Boston?  I can only believe I was under their spell or maybe it was all due to subliminal exposure of the Travelocity ads on television.

The last time I was in Richmond to dine with my family at a popular little downtown restaurant, my brother pulled his car up behind mine. He stepped out and said, “Open your trunk.”


“Just open it,” he said as he disappeared behind his car and popped his trunk.  I opened my trunk as he slowly approached with something quite heavy, cradling it like a baby. Why, it was a real gnome! An original antique gnome! A lovely aged big fella, a real Papa Gnome with a full beard and a long pipe.

“Now,” he said. “Get rid of those silly gnomes. This is the only gnome we want to see in your garden….”

So, beneath the birdbath in the middle of a bed of daisies stands the new-old gnome, once painted now faded with age. He seems wise, much wiser than my little Travelocity gnomes who have been banished far away. I’m sure this gnome will watch over the gardens and protect them. And we will need his protection and any garden assistance he can give us because  at the end of June smack in the middle of the yard will be a wedding reception for our youngest daughter. Papa Gnome arrived just in the nick of time.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

There’s no place like home…

It took more than clicking my heels together three times but we arrived back to our respective homes safe and sound. After seeing some of the most beautiful sights and spectacular gardens in several European cities, there is nothing to compare to being back home surrounded by plants that have been planted and nurtured by us. mister gardener held down the fort and was proud to show me his photographs taken in my absence. I missed the blooming of the snowbell trees (Strax japonica), one pink and two white. I missed them last year, too, but this year I have very nice photographs of the blooms at their peak. mister gardener’s roses have done beautifully and I have the proof in his pictures.

Vegetables are doing well. One of mister gardener’s tomato plants, all grown from seed, has produced a tomato the size of a tennis ball. On my side of the yard, chickweed has been replaced by crabgrass and biting Mayflies have been replaced by tiny mosquitoes that invade, bite and leave before you have a chance to swat.

My favorite photograph taken by mister gardener is this fabulous one of a young blue grosbeak at the pond. The colors puzzled me until a serious birder identified it as a 1st year male, born last year, that will receive full breeding plumage the second year after hatching. What a photograph! Click for a closeup view.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester


At this time of year, tourists in Florence, Italy, can easily outnumber the local population. For our three days of taking in art and history in this capital city of the Tuscany region, crowds were more than heavy. But we discovered they weren’t all here for the history. As we were leaving Florence, Snooki and her gang from MTV’s Jersey Shore were touching down at the airport. I’d like to call the TV series they are filming locally, “New Italian World Collides With Old Italian World.”

Florence is renowned for history, rich in architecture and home to perhaps the most important Renaissance art collection in the world. I discovered that at one time or another, the city has been the birthplace or home to Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Dante, Michelangelo, Donatello and many more famous artists. Museum admission is routinely sold out during the peak season.

When the city became too crowded for me, I found needed solitude in nature nearby. Crossing over the Arno River on the Ponte Vecchio (1345) with its shops selling gold and silver to hoards of pedestrians, my sister and I took a short walk to the Giardino di Boboli, a huge 11-acre park on a steep hillside behind the Pitti Palace, once the seat of the powerful Medici family.

The manicured gardens are spread over a steep hillside with an expansive view of central Florence below. Click on any photo to enlarge.

Florence from Boboli Gardens

Pathways led through a variety of formal and informal gardens dotted with a multitude of sculptures from Roman times to the Baroque period, plus one we found that was dated late twentieth century.

Boboli Hill overlooking the amphitheater and Piti Palace

Sunny formal gardens blended well with cool shaded pathways that led to lakes, grottos and caves, meadows, stone steps, hidden benches, fountains, and knot gardens.

Arbor paths led us gradually upward for more discoveries in this shaded area of the garden museum.

Before we knew it, we had meandered to the highest point of the garden, hardly passing more than a two dozen people the entire day.

As we were preparing to leave the gardens, a small resident appeared to keep a watchful eye on us from his oasis on a moss and fern covered wall.

The protected Italian Wall Lizard (Podarcis sicula)

This was his garden and he stood in defense of his territory. We knew we were as welcome here as MTV’s Snooki was welcome in the ancient city of Florence.  It was time to leave his gardens and make our way downhill and back to the crowded city.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Aerial Acrobatics Across Italy

European swallows have been a harbinger of spring since ancient times. Leaving their wintering grounds in South Africa in February each year, they arrive in Europe in April and May in search of insects and to mate and raise their young. Their arduous journey north takes them over the expanding Sahara Desert, across the Mediterranean Sea into parts of Europe.

The sweet and soft whistles of swallows have filled the early morning and the late afternoon skies as we travel across Italy. We are fortunate to be witness to large numbers of swallows that seem to be having a party high above our heads.  Sitting outside and watching the aerial antics as they twist and turn in pursuit of flying insects fills us with awe. Their maneuverability is amazing as they swoop and turn high in the sky and dive gracefully over our heads.

The males arrive first in their European breeding grounds followed by females about two weeks later. After establishing a mating bond, they will begin building a mud nest or repairing their old one under eaves or under the first row of tiles on roofs.

It is thought that swallows nesting on your property brings good luck. We just feel filled with luck to have experienced spring swallows across Italy.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Venice in Bloom

The sisters arrived in Venice on the heels of Pope Benedict XVI who paid a pastoral visit over the weekend. He began his visit with a gondola ride from St Mark’s Square to the Basilica della Salute Church, then presided over mass for 300,000 in San Guiliano de Mestre Park. Although much of the local crowds had dispersed in the area, excitement was still in the air upon our arrival in this seemingly stone city.

As many know, Venice covers an area of only 458 square miles with a population of approximately 310,000, where all of the transportation is by foot or by water. All of the buildings in Venice are supported on oak and pine piles that are driven deep into the ground. The piles are quite sturdy since they can not decay in the waterlogged soil without oxygen.

There are gardens in Venice. A number of the present day parks were once private gardens belonging to the city’s nobility. These precious green spaces can be tiny, some hard to find, some inaccessible, but those that can be accessed are interesting and peaceful. Close by San Marco, the Giardinetti Reali (Royal Gardens) was originally created by Napoleon in the 19th century. It  offers pathways, tall trees, flowers, and plenty of benches.

The gardens we loved best were the simple window gardens similar to those we saw in Paris. Geraniums seem to be the flower of choice for a window box. The bright red blooms complimented the colorful facade of the buildings along the calli (alleyways) as we admired a multitude of them from our gondola, quietly floating along the streets of Venice.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Micro-Gardening in Paris

With over two million citizens in Paris, space is at a premium when it comes to gardening. Yet Parisians have found a way to add color to windows and balconies of apartments throughout the city. Elaborate boxes, pots of flowers, or simple greens drew our eyes upward wherever we traversed across the city.

Cafes and shops on the ground floor must appreciate the color at windows above their place of business. Those businesses with flowers above certainly offered greater attraction for me and it was fun to swing a camera up to capture lovely micro-gardens high above our heads.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Arbres de Paris

Horsechestnut and Silver Linden Trees in the Notre Dame Garden

A quarter of the total area of Paris is dedicated to parks and gardens and woods of all shapes and sizes making the city the greenest in Europe. We were told there were over 450 green areas to explore within the city starting with large areas of woods just outside Paris, to the numerous ‘parcs’ found in every district, to lovely ‘jardins,’ and the smallest ‘squares’ of green in every neighborhood.

Paris is solidly committed to green for not only do trees cool the air during the heat of the summer, they help to reduce air pollution in the city. All of the green areas provide benches for rest; some provide play equipment, others encouraging sports while music can be found on the lawns of many parks.

Notre Dame Garden

All over the city, orderly rows of trees are common sights along promanades and boulevards. The Silver Linden tree (Tilia tomintosa), a tree tolerant of insect pests and pollution, forms dense foliage and is a popular tree to use in many parks. Silver undersides to the leaves gives the tree a pretty sheen in the light.

Silver Linden in the Notre Dame Garden

While crowds of people filled the plaza in front of the cathedral, photographing, lining up to tour Notre Dame, this quiet oasis on the opposite side invited visitors with cameras a perfect view of flying buttresses of Notre Dame over the silver Linden trees of the garden.Ann Hoheberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Les Fleurs de Paris

When 3 sisters called with a plan to meet in Paris at the flat of a generous friend, my hesitation was measured in fractions of a second. We’ve been on the ground for less than 24 hours and have spent hours walking through our small neighborhood, quaint and intimate yet hardly quiet… you see, we arrived on May Day, a national holiday similar to Labor Day in America. Falling on a weekend, our neighborhood was bursting with activity… crowds… couples, families, street music, foods, bicycles, roller blades, and flowers… lots and lots of flowers. Lily of the Valley is the traditional flower to present to friends and we saw plenty of bouquets being sold and being carried by kindred spirits. Yes, we were swept up in the excitement of the holiday and we purchased our own lily of the valley bouquet at a neighborhood florist.

As the day drew to a close, we saw the crowds thinning out, slowing down, resting and we took that as a good sign to head back to the flat and follow suit.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester