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.