Friday, September 26, 2008

God is in the details: Olana

Pamela and I just returned from a 3 day trip up the Hudson River ending in the town of Catskill. While there we visited the 19th century home of Frederick Church, just across the Rip Van Winkle Bridge from Catskill.
Frederick Church was one of the more prominent of the Hudson River School painters. One of his best known works was his 7 x 3 ft painting of Niagara Falls.

When Frederick began to work on the design of Olana after an extended family trip to the Middle East, his naturalistic style of painting was already losing popularity due to the emergence of Impressionism.

Whether motivated by this realization or not, Frederick poured heart and soul into every detail of his home and spent the last 3 decades of his life dedicated to it's creation. It is abundantly clear in the design of Olana how enamored he was with the Persian and Moorish art he had seen on his travels. He designed every internal and external decorative element including the mixing of every color used and worked with architect Calvert Vaux to make it a reality.

I could not take pictures inside the house but here are the best details I was able to capture of the outside. Do, if you can, pay a visit. But for those who can't go in person, I hope my photographs give you a glimpse of the extreme pleasure it is to visit Frederick Church's ultimate masterpiece, Olana.

Also remember to click on pictures to get even more of the details. And you never know, whom you will see since God is rumored to reside there.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The last Coca-Cola! or you never know anymore who will visit.

Went out on this Indian Summer day in September to check out the honeybee situation in my garden. Marta had pointed out the the sedums blooming in my garden where one of the last Coca-Colas available to the honeybees and that is why I had so many of them visiting. There are so many sometimes that Pamela and I become a bit wary walking by at times when activity is at peak.

I went out with my close-up lens in the hopes of getting a real good look at them and one that I could share. I was surprised to find a whole new flowering plant. On the tall side, about 4 ft. high, it was bursting out of my 'Dorothy Wycoff' andromeda which had protected it from weeding until now. (Not that it was in much danger.) It sports longish sprigs ( 8-12") of daisy-style flowers about a centimeter ( or 3/8") wide at their largest.

I'm focusing in to get a picture when I notice an unusual black, orange and white pattern on the sprig. I bring that into focus and there is another unknown creature feasting of the nectar of the newly discovered plant!

Notice in the close-ups how furry it seems. (Click on the picture to get a bigger one.) And you can definitely see the proboscis sucking up the nectar quite clearly.

So, please... any one who knows what either of these two are, let me know. And also if you know who the green iridescent fellow is feeding on and adjacent sprig.

And I did take a picture of the honeybees. I particularly like the one where it looks as if the bee has it's head buried in a field of pink posies. (Sedum 'Autumn Joy'). Marta taught me that honeybees are 'honey colored' and not as big or furry as the bumbles but still plumper than the yellow jackets. I pass this on for all you fellow bee novices.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

In Praise of Volunteers or The Kindness of Strangers

For me August is the month to look back over the garden and decide what worked and which gardening approaches and assumptions need revision. A gardener's equivalent of making your New Year's resolutions list.

Even though I work at home I have very little time for actual gardening. As a result the sunny areas in my garden are a bit weedy. I've realized I can only be unrelenting in eradicating garlic mustard. The myriad grasses that adore my patch of earth often are allowed to remain. As a result, by the end of summer I have a hybrid meadow-cottage garden affair in full swing.

There is a very definite upside to this approach however. Some of the most exciting gardening moments this year have come through the "kindness of strangers". As I desultorily pursue my weeding I come upon plants I do not quite remember having seen before. I tend to leave these alone since it could be I did plant something and simply forgot.

The most exciting of all were the 2 dianthus varieties or Sweet Williams that appeared out of nowhere. I had never seen one.

I knew something was up in early spring when I saw this rosette of leaves topped by a fluffy spiky tuft in an entirely different style. I left it alone hoping this augured good things.
A few weeks later I was rewarded by these bright magenta dots in the fluffy areas. And then to my added delight I saw I had another similar plant with paler pink dots about a foot away.
I called my friend Marta, gardener extraordinaire, to help identify my precious new plant. And she congratulated me and told me their names.

For next year I have ordered 3 more dianthus of a new variety patented by John Whetman of Deer Park Farm, Devon called 'Devon Yolande'! How could I resist a plant named in my honor.

Oh! a great thing about these sweet plants is that if you deadhead once the first blooms are spent they will rebloom all the way into September not as thickly but just as brightly.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Queen of the Meadows

This post is specifically so I can convince the world (and Katarina in Sweden in particular. See her Roses and Stuff blog listed in my Virtual Relatives list.) to include if at all possible the wild carrot or Queen Anne's lace in any meadow plans they (or she) might be entertaining.

On a trip 2 years ago to Vermont, Pamela and I visited the Alburg Dunes State Park on Lake Champlain near the Canadian border. There we were treated to the most stupendous close-up display of the Queen in all her stages. It was a floral fireworks display the likes of which I had never experienced.

(Remember a click on an image brings you closer to visual bliss.)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Since dragonflies seem to be so popular, I wanted to share this very detailed picture taken a few years ago on the asphalt driveway to my home. Actual size of this dragonfly is about 4 to 5 inches.  A perfect design for a brooch, don't you think. (Remember, clicking on any of the photos will get you a bigger version. Definitely worth the click.)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

By Chance — the fortuitous or incalculable element in existence

Since mid-July I've had many opportunities to ruminate on the concept of chance.

By chance, I refer specifically to that described in the Merrian-Webster as:

1 a: something that happens unpredictably without discernible human intention or observable cause b: the assumed impersonal purposeless determiner of unaccountable happenings : luck c: the fortuitous or incalculable element in existence : contingency

I find the the 1c definition particularly poetic... "the fortuitous or incalculable element in existence."

The first chance occurrence took place at a garden barbecue to celebrate the birthdays of Kirke (the father - 70 years old) and Jeff (the son - 40 years old).

Marta, Kirke's wife, writer and gardener extraordinaire, had invited Joan Ryder, former director of the Reeves-Reed arboretum. Joan walked into the party carrying a baby Wisteria 'Amethyst Falls'. I saw it from about 20 feet away and knew immediately that she had in her arms one of my latest botanical obsessions. (See the July 5th, Garden Dreaming Deep post.) My gasp of delight was immediately noticed and not soon afterwards I had the "baby" in my arms and I was being told I could take it home. Chance had decided, not I, that at last Pamela and I should have a wisteria to nurture of our very own. And amazingly the next day we found it the perfect spot for it to grow and thrive where we had not known there was room. A month later it has grown at least a foot and a half and starting to climb it's very own guardian tree.

The second chance encounter occurred last week. Pamela and I had decided to spend a day at Longwood Gardens and the next day spend it exploring the legendary quilting fabrics store of the Amish and Mennonite country nearby.

We went to Zook's, (so exciting to see 2 of my own lines at Zook's…of course I had to take pictures!) The Old Country Store and Museum both in Intercourse and Burkholders in Denver, PA.

At Burkholder's my attention was caught by a man with a shopping cart piled high with fabric bolts. That he was a man in a quilting store was noteworthy enough. But what was really endearing was that he also would stop once in a while and whisper soothingly in a soft gravelly voice to his Boston Terrier who was also inside the shopping cart lounging on her very own pillow. I asked him permission to take a snapshot and if he wished I would send him a copy. He graciously agreed.

To my surprise, when I began to type the email address he had given me the email program finished it for me correctly. His address was already in my database with full name information which he had not given me on the slip of paper. Small world that we live in... Dennis had subscribed to my fabric and quilting web site a few months before and — by chance — we had come to be at the same place, at the same time in what was for me a place I did not regularly frequent.

The third chance occurrence took place at my friend Joan Bachenko's farm. We had come the evening before to spend a relaxed evening on her horse farm incinerating hot dogs and watching the Olympics, sleep over and have a morning with her the next day.

As we were getting ready to leave in the morning, we drove our car up to where Joan was preparing Mackenzie, her horse, for the trip to the stables where she rides him.

I noticed that there was an unusual variety of wildflowers near where her horse trailer was parked along with an unusual variety of farm equipment. Enchantment took over when I realized I was standing in a chance wildflower and sculpture garden. I whipped out my camera, ever the flower paparazzo and began to shoot. And then someone walked over to stare at me. Chance personified (or horsified.)

Looking over the fence at me was the former carriage horse, Chance. Chance had had the good fortune to be rescued sight unseen by two NYC angels, Steve Nislick and Linda Marcus.

Steve and Linda have been boarding Chance at Joan's until they can find a good permanent home for her. The lot of carriage horses in NYC's Central Park is not a happy one. They are overworked and under appreciated to the point that if they get sick and cannot recover within a few weeks, they are sent for slaughter. Steve and Linda are actively working to find alternatives that will allow for the suspension of these abhorrent practices.

Looking at Chance you would never believe that she came so close to being killed because she could no longer work as a Central Park carriage horse. Her feet were deteriorating from a combination of exhausting hours pounding the pavements of the city as a tourist attraction and bad shoeing by unskilled attendants.

Thanks to Steve and Linda and the gentle care she receives on a daily basis from Joan, Chance is now a good-natured, happy, healthy pasture-munching horse. Her feet are healing well. She is impressively built and looks every bit the young seven-year old teenager that she was meant to be. Upon a recent veterinarian visit she received the ultimate compliment from him: she would be a good choice for a breeding mare. This would be fine by Chance who moons unfruitfully after handsome, Mackenzie, Joan's horse, who unfortunately has lost all interest in such matters.

And her feet are definitely on the mend. On a walk during our visit we discovered a pile of her very distinctive manure —distinctive because her piles tend to be twice the size of all the other horses' piles being part draft horse — in a place where only access was a not-easy jump over a rocky stream. Way to go, Chance!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Water Gardener

The energy and dedication it takes to maintain a public garden is Herculean, perhaps even Sisyphian in nature.
This was brought graphically home to me watching the water gardener at Longwood. I watched him in his chest-high Cabela waders as he walked about in the pools picking up the leaves and slapping them back down... I suppose to shake off accumulated debris. Once is a while he would surprise me by cutting off a lily bud that looked perfectly good to my eye. The swiftness with which he would pluck it off told of the depths of expertise behind the act.
It was a very hot, sunny day and neither Pamela nor I envied him his job. It cannot have been so wonderful inside those waders.
And his caretaking was the most visible of all, I assume because it did provide a bit of theater for the conservatory visitors. I imagine there is a small army of gardeners that must rise up at dawn every single day and on their hands and knees free the gardens of unsightlies before the visitors arrive.
To all of these caretakers whose job is strictly behind the scenes, I give my deepest thanks also.
The outdoor water lily display is a sight not to miss at Longwood Gardens. For the delight of photographers, the waters are tinted with an organic black dye. As a result, remarkable portraits of perfectly framed water lilies are possible. Actually, the dye is not for the likes of me. Rather, it is for the benefit of the plants themselves and simpler maintenance. It's presence in the water slows algae growth by reducing the amount of light. There are also small golden orange fish keeping the mosquito and other pesky insect populations down and the ponds healthy environments for both plants and humans to enjoy.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Cure for the Hungry Groundhog Blues

I 'm so grateful to my friend Marta for installing a deer fence all around her garden. And that she really is a neighbor. I could actually walk to her house in under an hour if necessary. These are important facts to consider these days.
At home there are bunnies nibbling Pamela's beloved athyrium ferns. Deer are rubbing themselves against one of the new willows and wreaking havoc to their lovely shapes. We won't even mention what Petunia has been up to except that he now greets visitors as they pull into our driveway.
So can you blame me for inviting myself and my camera over to M's when she let's it drop that the Nigella (Love-in-a-Mist) are blooming?
Here are just of few of her the blooms currently in her garden. No reason why only the bees, birds and butterflies should have the privilege of such views. In order of appearance: Bee Balm, Love-in-a-Mist closed, Love-in-a-Mist unfurled, Nicotiana (... and a blue-nosed watering can... sighted in a previous visit. Very lovely too.)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Garden Dreaming Deep

Took the Midtown Direct to Manhattan this week to see the strike-offs for my new fabric collection. It is due out in Houston for Fall International Quilt Market. I'm with a new manufacturer and very much enjoying the creative but quiet exhilaration of working again with a seasoned, talented design director.

When shown the strike-offs I realized I had before me another case of longing-driven design.

In my neighborhood there are two lovely wisterias whose flowering each spring is a source of recurrent pleasure for me. One grows over the roof of an old well. I'm sure when the original well was built, it was more central to the property it stands on. Conveniently for me it is now at curbside and I get to see it every spring in full bloom as I drive to the supermarket and back.

The other wisteria is a truly unruly one! It grows up a telephone pole and twists and drapes its way across the road on the phone wires. I keep my fingers crossed that the weight of the vine never becomes too heavy to cause a maintenance-crew-alert to chop it down and take it away.

Wisterias are sturdy and tough and can bring down undeserving support systems. This has made me wary of actually inviting it into my own garden. At least until I can figure out a suitable support for it AWAY from my own phone and internet connections or the side of my porch for that matter.

My admiration for it is deep and abiding however so until that day my passion will need to be satisfied with the varieties that can safely "grow" in anyone's fabric stash.

The first image is the repeat of the Wisteria pattern in my favorite colorway.
The second picture show the strike -offs of the 3 colorways with coordinates. The collection is called Dream Garden, by the way. If you click on the pictures you can see them bigger. (This goes for all of the pictures in my blog. )

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Butterfly Dreams

I have a serious love-hate relationship going on at the moment. It is to the point of being all-consuming as such passionate relationships tend to be. A groundhog, affectionately known as Petunia (last year that seemed to be his main diet), has moved right into the middle of my cottage garden. Petunia used to live in the area of our property known as Amazonia which we left purposely wild so he and others like him could find refuge. Perhaps underground family accommodations got tight and Petunia this year moved to the suburbs.

When Petunia lived in Amazonia, sure he would nibble occassionally in my perennial beds, but there was a respectful restrain to his munching. My coneflowers and bachelor buttons and Petunia all co-existed at the expense of a basket or 2 of petunias. And when I caught a glimpse through the kitchen window of Petunia sunning himself belly-up on the hot asphalt of the driveway, I could only smile.

I really miss my coneflowers and the visitors they attracted. I got to see some of the most beautiful butterflies because of their presence in my garden. I had no idea how much I missed them until this morning when I finally finished a textile design that has been pestering me to emerge. When I finally leaned back and took in what I had been working, I realized what was the nature of the longing that had fuel it.

I'm calling this fabric design "Butterfly Dreams" because that is precisely what it is. And I must thank Petunia also, I guess.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pasque Flower

In January 2008, I bought a 105mm micro-Nikkor lens for macro photography. Marta McDowell and I had embarked on a new exciting but what seems at times quixotic project: Orchidaceous. I do not live with many orchids. Not for lack of desire. Rather for lack of real estate and suitable conditions to nurture them. So when given the chance to be in the company of blooming orchids I was finding it imperative to have my photographic skills sharply honed.
This lens turned out to be quite challenging, more in the nature of point-and-reshoot-and-reshoot-and-reshoot. I'm by no means yet able to say in all honesty that I know how to use this lens but I'm a bit less baffled than 6 months ago.
And I have had a few delightful visual rewards along the way. Like today's close-up of the seed head of the pasque flower. The pasque is one of the earliest bloomers in my garden. In 2007 it even managed to have its' first bloom appear on Easter Sunday. (This year it gave no heed whatsoever to the liturgical calendar appearing a few weeks later than the Easter bonnets.)
So I find it fitting that it too will be the first to bloom (and seed!) in my newly planted garden blog.