Just south of the Mason-Dixon Line

Oh boy, was it fun to connect with my “roots” in Virginia for several days. My adorable niece was married last Saturday in Richmond.  mister gardener and I flew down for the lovely event and extended our stay to catch up with family (and plant life) just below the Mason-Dixon Line in the Piedmont area of Virginia.

The horizon was totally green under hazy skies as we descended for landing, trees fully leafed out, green, green, green, way ahead of the landscape in New Hampshire. That always amazes me. It’s just an hour and 20 minutes by plane.

Richmond VirginiaWe generally drop our luggage at the home of one of my brothers and wife in Richmond…. a couple who always make us feel right at home in their beautiful 19th century home that they have lovingly restored… all by themselves for the most part!

Richmond VA

Richmond

Edwards Virginia Ham

And first things first…. the most gracious Virginia hospitality includes what we have been craving…. Edwards Virginia Ham on warm buttered biscuits!

Edwards Ham is the salty type, a country ham that perhaps will seem too salty if one hasn’t grown up with it as a staple in the home. As for me, this wonderful ham has spoiled me for any ham I’ve tasted since.

Sadly, this unique Surry, Virginia ham company burned to the ground a year ago. While the insurance is being settled, the ham is being prepared and aged at other ham facilities across the country. Lucky for us!

Another priority in the south before you are unpacked and settled is a garden tour. This is a brother and wife who love and live just to be in the garden. I blogged about their gardens a few years ago. This is also the brother who saved the crow and that was quite an exciting story! Those blogs are two of my most read blogs and most ‘lifted’ photos from my blog… (that I willingly share if given credit for them).

The garden house my brother built from his own design (and where he hid from the attacking crow) always receives a lot of interest. For sure, he missed his calling as an architect. He is amazing and that’s no exaggeration from this sister!

The garden house looks great from any angle, even our bedroom window.

It’s fun on each visit to see what’s new in this fabulous garden. I told a blogging friend who photographed a door in another garden, that I knew a person with a garden door and this is the place! The fence and an old door were added to stop the deer from nibbling the azaleas. What a great garden accent! I love the RED.

Garden Door, Richmond VA

Everywhere you look there is nature looking back. I loved this sweet scene beneath the pergola he built last summer. It is covered with a lovely purple wisteria where wrens live in the house and robins are raising young practically on top of the wren house…. sort of condo style.

Wrens and Robins!

What will we look forward to on the next garden tour? They are planning another outhouse in the garden. This small one will be for the mower, weed eater, and blower. He’s already begun the foundation using discarded lumber from a neighbors deck. “What will it look like?” I asked. It will be a chip off the other garden house and he sketched it for me in a flash. The roof will be tin and atop the weathervane will be a copper bird dog, our family’s favorite pooch.

I can hardly wait for my next visit….

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There’s a New Garden Designer in Town

I consider myself somewhat of a gardener or maybe I’m just a kid at heart who likes to play in the dirt. The plants, the soil, and the animals that dine, live, or pass through these small gardens… animals with feathers, fur, scales, and those that hop, creep and crawl are all on my soft spot list. Mix that with a love of garden design and you’ve tapped into what makes me content in a small wildlife preserve.

It’s always stimulating to meet a garden designer and learn more about their style of landscaping. Last summer, I dropped a ticket in a box and won the opportunity to have a nice session with a newly established landscape designer at Wentworth Greenhouses in Rollinsford, NH. James Brewer is new to New Hampshire but not new to garden design. He and his wife, a native of this area, moved from England where his garden design business was booming.

James Brewer, Wentworth Greenhouse

I found him in his office surrounded by a greenhouse filled with summer annuals and accompanied by his ever friendly black lab, Billster, who slept at our feet (after a refreshing dunk in his wading pool) while James and I chatted about design, plants, and, of course….what led him to his life’s occupation.

James Brewer

James credits his folks for sparking his interest in gardening and design when he was a boy. He learned gardening, plants, and design through experience, slowly developing his skills, then began a small gardening business in the mid-90’s. From there it was all uphill, even twice interviewed on BBC live radio programs while he walked through finished projects and listeners phoned in with questions.

He took a look at my garden design sketch and said….. “You have a John Brooks feel to your design.”  Oh boy.  My garden is new, tiny, and FAR from being mellowed in….. quite removed from the large world of John Brooks, but I welcomed his suggestions and ideas for future growth.

James Brewer

Just glancing around the office and looking over some of the designs he was working on, I could tell that James has great talent. He certainly knows and loves landscape design. Being located in a large garden center benefits customers as trees, shrubs, perennials that he recommends can be seen onsite. We finished our chat about the time his ‘best friend’ was out the door to welcome new customers, both 2-footed and 4-footed…..

Since establishing himself with Wentworth, business is strong, he said. I do wish this young garden designer continued success. New England is such a nice place to put down “roots.”

For more information, visit James Brewer Garden Design

James Brewer

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Historic Garden Week: Behind the Scenes in Gloucester VA

Monticello

APRIL 2011. It’s that time of year when Garden Club of Virginia members across our great Commonwealth are connected to one another with a common purpose: Historic Garden Week in Virginia. Forty-seven garden clubs and more than 3,000 members under the umbrella of the Garden Club of Virginia issue invitations to “America’s Largest Open House,” April 16-23, 2011. More than 250 gardens, homes and historic landmarks in Virginia will be open for tours, programs, and events.

Event chairs have been working around the clock for a year or two organizing their individual tours including floral arrangements for the homes, hostesses to greet visitors in each room, parking, transportation, photography, publicity, programs, lunches and much more. The work of advance planning and logistics of each tour is staggering. It takes the cooperation of all members of the clubs and their communities at a very high level. Most of all, it takes the generosity and philanthropy of the remarkable homeowners to make all the tours possible. For a year or two, homeowners have been preparing their homes and gardens to be able to invite visitors inside some of the most lovely homes and the most beautiful gardens at the pinnacle of springtime color.

The mission of the Garden Club of Virginia is to inspire a love of gardening, conserve our natural resources and to educate our own members and the general public. These missions are accomplished through the tour and other programs throughout the year. Another important mission of the GCV is to restore historic gardens and landscapes in Virginia. The proceeds from Historic Garden Week are used to fund these restoration projects. To date over $14.5 million has been raised to restore more than 50 historic garden properties across the state.  Over the years, funds from Garden Week have restored notable historic gardens at the Pavilion Gardens of the University of Virginia, Woodlawn, Bacon’s Castle, Monticello, the Executive Mansion Capitol Square, and other historic Virginia sites. Click here for complete information on GCV historic garden restorations.

View of Millford Haven on Gywnn’s Island

The following tour took place in 2011: In the Tidewater counties of Gloucester and Mathews, the Garden Club of Gloucester is planning a most interesting tour on Saturday, April 16, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Four unique and lovely waterfront homes on four different and distinct bodies of water will roll out the red carpet for a multitude of visitors to explore two historic counties with over 350 combined miles of shoreline and where most roads lead to water. The view from each home site is unmatched. From vistas over the tranquil Severn Creek with historic Warner Hall Plantation as a backdrop, majestic cliff-side panoramic views of the Piankatank River, historic and bucolic Pepper Creek where eagles and osprey soar and nest, and white sandy beaches along Milford Haven, named by early Welsh settlers, that opens directly into the majestic Chesapeake Bay. Visitors will take note of lovely salt-tolerant gardens filled with ornamental grasses and blooming woody shrubs and colorful bulbs.

Windowsill Garden at “Sweetgrass”

You will see original garden art, a butterfly garden, a woodland walk with native plants, raised bed gardens, a rose garden and more.  With Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester to mentor our club and communities, we’re fortunate that this part of the state is known for its daffodils.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in April

Fields of yellow punctuated with vibrant tulips growing amongst vivid azaleas and beneath flowering dogwood will greet visitors in both counties.  A box lunch will be in Gloucester at Short Lane Ice Cream with a grand finale desert of the best homemade ice cream I’ve ever tasted. A sit-down lunch will take place at the White Dog Inn in Mathews County, an experience to remember. Come to visit us at the beach on April 16!  You can find all the details about our Gloucester-Mathews tour and advance discount tickets here.

Have I got your attention?  I hope so and I hope you will be persuaded be our guest in Virginia the third full week in April, 2011 and travel from community to community to visit in some of Virginia’s best homes and gardens.  Supporting the tour will give you the satisfaction that you have helped preserve historic Virginia gardens, all open to the public. For detailed schedule information on Historic Garden Week 2011, click here.

Stay tuned in the weeks to come for highlights on other HGW gardens across the state.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

They Did it Their Way

Through the garden gate

From the street in this west side Richmond neighborhood, you would never know that behind the dense growth of winter jasmine, tall bayberries, plump boxwood and red-tip photinia is a garden gate that opens to a compact, well-designed landscape. Soothing greens with varied textures and shapes entice you to enter through the gate and explore.  I always enjoy an invitation to this charming garden. There’s something magic and restorative about the cool spaces in the dappled light of tall trees.

The couple who lives on this lovely property designed the garden layout themselves and every bed was developed and planted by them. The space has been embellished through the years to become a lush tapestry of foliage punctuated by colorful treasures of flowering trees and perennials. It’s obvious that this garden is their retreat, a place to enjoy the outdoors and fulfill their passion for gardening. It’s great fun to stroll through the grounds with them for he showers her with credit for aspects of the garden and she returns the praise.

The rear of the home opens onto a terrace that flows into a small grassy lawn. Steps away are several garden paths that beckon. Birdbaths, benches, sculpture, bridges and lighted pagodas are focal points along the woodland journey. A clear stream winds through the shade providing interest and a home for many small visitors. Native plants and new cultivar discoveries pepper the landscape.

Following the brick walk along a natural rise, a border of  boxwood, variegated hostas and liriope edging become the nucleus of this garden. A hand crafted martin house beneath a golden rain tree is a reminder of the birding paradise the couple has created.

Exiting through the garden gate, we are not disappointed by what we encounter. A colonial garden house, designed and built by the owner, greets us in this space.  I’ll say no more. A photograph of this structure is worth a thousand words.

The newest feature in the landscape, the Charleston Garden, bids a welcome to enter and rest on one of the benches. High stucco walls, beautifully designed brick walks, statuary, a pool with splashing water and colorful fish, and cool green groundcover, invite you to linger. With a daughter living in Charleston, the couple made numerous visits, falling in love with the courtyard garden designs.

I’m sure readers will agree that the owners have created an Eden…. but I might be a bit biased. On an earlier blog entry, I whisked you away to California to visit my sister’s whimsical garden in San Diego. This time you left your stresses at the gate and toured the garden retreat of my brother and his wife who live in Richmond.

For another view of his garden house, click HERE.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Gardens, Gardens, Gardens in the Cotswolds!

The Cotswolds has some of the most beautiful gardens and landscapes anywhere and we were lucky enough to see four of them in a very short time. Our first stop was the nineteenth century landscape at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Over two thousand acres of park-like landscape with sweeping lawns surround the eighteenth century palace with lakes and bridges, a secret garden, a lovely rose garden and even a maze. ‘Capability’ Brown is credited with redesigning earlier formal landscaping into the more natural setting with clumps of trees, the 150-acre lake and meandering walkways.

Click photos to enlarge.

Nearby, the great Arts and Crafts style gardens of Hidcote Manor are the first to be fashioned as garden rooms. Designed by an American, Maj. Lawrence Johnston who eventually became a naturalized British citizen, the property was developed on high ground with planned vistas overlooking the Vale of Evesham. Johnston used strong separations with box hedges, yew, hornbeam, holly, beech, and stone walls to divide the garden rooms. The 10.5 acres of gardens include topiaries, a wonderful garden gazebo, numerous archways through a variety of materials both living and man-made, water gardens, herbaceous gardens and endless paths through formal and informal gardens.

Located very close to Hidcote Manor Gardens, the delightful gardens of Kiftsgate Court are built close to the edge of a deep embankment with commanding panoramic views of the half moon swimming pool below and beyond to the village of Mickleton.  An assortment of gentle paths lead down the Lower Gardens then back up through a woodland walk with fields of bluebells that are lovely beyond description. Other gardens fan out on high ground east of the manor house, separated by yew and copper beech hedges in colorful borders, a rose garden featuring the large Kiftsgate Rose (July blooming) and ending with the Water Garden.  Once containing the tennis courts, this pool is ornamented with a row of two dozen tall gilded metal stems and leaves that move in the wind and drip water every few minutes, a wonderful surprise garden for visitors and a perfect ending for our tour.

Our final garden visit was to the unique Arts and Crafts Rodmarton Manor Gardens. We were greeted by the owner who traveled with us through the Courtyard Garden, the Alpine Trough Garden, the Rockery Garden, beautiful herbaceous gardens and vegetable gardens, and the Topiary Garden, as well as beneath lime, birch, hornbeam, and numerous trees that were pollarded and pleached nearly a hundred years ago.

It’s been a dream trip through some of the loveliest gardens anywhere but now it’s time to get back to my own small garden and the Japanese Snowbell (Styrax japonica) trees that were loaded with flower buds at the time I left.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Keukenhof Gardens

It was cold, blustery and rainy when we visited the Keukenhof Gardens near Amsterdam but we were quite warmed by the breathtaking colors in the bulbs, the shrubs and perennials in the over 80-acre garden.  Open only from March to May, the garden receives approximately 800,000 visitors from all over the world during these few short weeks. Approximately 7,000,000 bulbs have been planted by hand each year since 1949 by growers all over the Netherlands to exhibit their hybrids.

We spent the entire day here with Brent and Becky exploring the ten miles of paths and seven inspirational gardens, indoor exhibits, art exhibits, gift shops, flower arrangements, lakes, fountains and so much more. Despite inclement weather, the garden was quite crowded.  We saw people of all ages braving cold temperatures and drenching rain from babes in strollers to the elderly.  We shared their enthusiasm.

Click to enlarge photos.

Water in the Garden

Who doesn’t love a water feature in the garden?  Whether your garden is large or small, water can provide a finishing touch and a focal point in the landscape.  With our small pond, hearing water trickling from a fountain, watching the fish, frogs, insects, the fun of learning aqua-gardening, all combine to provide a touch of magic in the garden.

Bossy bluebird monopolizes birdbath. Click photos to enlarge.

But another very simple water feature can make a garden magic and more inviting to friends and to a variety of wildlife, especially birds. It’s the birdbath and every garden needs at least one.  They are a lovely water feature and guaranteed to bring entertainment from the wide variety of birds that visit.

Birdbaths are made from an assortment of materials from stone, metal, concrete, to copper and ceramic.  They can be small, large, have bubbly fountains or be quiet reflecting pools of water.  Our fine-feathered friends will be most attracted to stone with its textured surface for traction, but because of that texture, they are a little more difficult to clean.

Female summer tanager shares a cool bath with goldfinches

Four birdbaths are in our gardens. Mister gardener has a modern copper one in the center of his vegetable garden, and I have a glazed terracotta and a bronze birdbath, but by far the birds prefer my hypertufa birdbath, an artificial stone basin made by a friend and neighbor.  It is surrounded by low evergreen dwarf pittosporum and sits in filtered light beneath the bough of our sycamore tree.

Here are some tips to keep in mind for adding a birdbath:

  • Place your birdbath close enough to your vantage point to be able to enjoy it.
  • Make sure the water level is 3” or less or birds may drown.
  • Add rocks if the surface is slippery.
  • Hummingbirds will bathe if there is a fountain.
  • Elevate the birdbath out of the reach of predators, such as cats.
  • Keep the birdbath and water clean to prevent avian diseases.
  • Place in semi-shade, if possible.

A simple birdbath will add great interest and delight to the garden and will provide birds an oasis for drinking and bathing.  If you are making plans for adding to your garden this spring, consider a birdbath.  Below you’ll find an appealing YouTube of Red Crossbills enjoying the cool water on a summer day.  Notice the hummingbird defending his territory when the video begins. The yellow crossbills are the females; the small brown striped bird at the end is a juvenile crossbill.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

What Makes A Good Garden Design?

Landscape architect Phillip Merritt, of Hertzler & George in Williamsburg, recently posted a video on his blog, howitgrows, showing his landscape design approach. Taking a house and garage on a small city lot, he has digitally transformed the outdoor property into a functional and pleasing extension of the indoor space.  We fly around the digital video viewing the property from all angles, including peeking through windows from inside the house.

I was intrigued with Phillip’s video.  I am guilty of using little restraint in my gardens. Instead of a firm design plan, I depend on my instinct with all its shortcomings.  Lovely plants from various nurseries catch my eye and they go home with me.  Right now I have perhaps 6 shrubs waiting for me to decide their fate in the garden. It would be great fun to have a digital wand to wave over this property to correct mistakes and provide symmetry, balance, and all the elements of good landscape design.  Instead, I am mentally reviewing my landscape with Phillip’s tips in mind.  I think I can see future rooms and lines of sight that are waiting to be developed.  Thanks for the garden design tutorial, Phillip!  I know I have a long way to go.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester