Archive for November 2010

Ginkgos for All

November 20, 2010

On my way to work most mornings, I pass by a daringly planted stand of ginkgo trees, starkly silhouetted against a building with black glass walls. It is only this time of year, however, that I am tempted to stop (as I finally did this morning) and try to grab a shot of them.

Gingko biloba, gingko trees

Ginkgo biloba trees along the front of a curved office building in suburban Chevy Chase, MD

That’s because that – remarkable as this tree is – this is the time of year when it really shines its brightest. Its fall color is a stunningly bright golden yellow, a color to which it turns gradually, with its leaves edged in green initially as the color widens out.

Gingko biloba

Ginkgo leaves that have almost turned completely yellow-gold

The leaves are fan-shaped.

Gingko biloba

Ginkgo biloba leaves on a 'Princeton Sentry' cultivar

When I studied “woody plants” as part of my training as a landscape designer, I learned that the Ginkgo has been on earth for approximately 150 million years. It’s often chosen as an urban (street) tree because of its ability to withstand drought, pollution, and other stressful aspects of city life. As a young tree, its habit (as is evident from the opening photo) is somewhat gaunt and open. But with maturity (as with us?) it becomes full and dense, a beautiful specimen.

Gingko biloba

A mature ginkgo planted as a street tree in a suburban neighborhood near me.

If you are thinking of adding one to your landscape, choose carefully. As I said, these make great street trees and can look wonderful even in a garden as long as you site them carefully and give them enough room to grow. (At maturity they can be 50-80′ high, with a variable spread.)

Gingko biloba

A ginkgo tree in the front yard garden of landscape designer Corinna Posner in Washington, DC. Note its placement at the edge towards the edge of the garden, making it useful as a screen.

Gingko biloba

This ginkgo may eventually outgrow its place in the garden.

If you have less space in your garden, consider ‘Princeton Sentry,’ a fastigiate (narrow) cultivar. I first encountered this variety at Innisfree, in New York, on my Hudson River Valley trip, and have since planted it in a few client’s gardens.

Gingko biloba Princeton Sentry, Innisfree

Two 'Princeton Sentry' gingkos at Innisfree.

One final word of advice: male varieties (which includes ‘Princeton Sentry’) are preferable to female ones, because the latter drop bad-smelling seeds. Instead, go for the gold with ‘Princeton Sentry’ or ‘Autumn Gold’ if you have a larger space to fill. Then stand back and watch for that cold snap in the fall, when all the leaves may drop at once, creating large golden sheets underneath the tree – until next year.

Please Note: Garden Shoots will be taking a break over Thanksgiving Weekend  so the next post will be in early December!

Not Just for Sissies

November 13, 2010

Recently I came across a post from one of my favorite garden photographers, David Perry. Entitled “Flowers Aren’t Just for Sissies,” it immediately brought to mind the scenes I witnessed during my trip to Mexico earlier this month during the Day of the Dead celebration. Perry’s message, aimed at “tough guy” types, includes the point that it’s OK to put cut flowers in something other than a delicate crystal vase.

Like, for example, these lovingly arranged flowers in metal cans – or other humble containers – that I saw repeatedly in the old cemetery in San Miguel de Allende on the Day of the Dead while we were there.

Day of the Dead, San Miguel de Allende, flower offerings

Flowers in a metal can, painted purple, in a cemetery niche in San Miguel on the Day of the Dead

San Miguel de Allende, Day of the Dead, cemetery, flower offerings

Carnations, marigolds, and even artificial flowers in a variety of containers

San Miguel de Allende, Day of the Dead, flower offerings, cemetery

Another painted metal can with marigolds and coxcomb flowers is the central offering in this cemetery memorial niche.

The cemetery was filled with families, including plenty of men, who were celebrating the lives of their beloved but departed family members by freshening graves (including piling newly dug soil on top of tombstones) and painting memorial niches.

Day of the Dead, San Miguel de Allende cemetery

A family member repaints the back of a memorial niche before placing flowers as an offering on the Day of the Dead.

Were there more elaborate memorials with formally arranged flowers? Absolutely.

Day of the Dead, cemetery, San Miguel de Allende

An angel stands guard over a tomb on the Day of the Dead, splendidly bedecked in garlands and with beautifully filled urns at her feet.

What stays with me the most clearly, however, are the more humble offerings – and their simple, unassuming containers – that I saw at most of the graves or memorials. Flower offerings, whether for yourself, a friend, or the table, don’t have to be elaborately displayed. After all, it’s the flowers that are taking center stage and which you choose for your message.


Casa Luna – An Oasis in San Miguel de Allende

November 6, 2010
Casa Luna Quebrada, San Miguel de Allenda

The outer courtyard at Casa Luna

This is my new screensaver since returning home from my photo workshop in Mexico earlier this week. After three days in Guanajuato, we were taken in a van to San Miguel de Allende,  lovingly described in its pre-American-expat discovery days by Tony Cohan in On Mexican Time. The streets of San Miguel are narrow and hard on your feet because they are paved in cobblestones. But as soon as we entered the doors of Casa Luna Quebrada, I forgot my aching feet and just stood with my mouth hanging open.

You don’t have to be a gardener or photographer to love this hotel (or technically, bed and breakfast inn), but it doesn’t hurt. From the street, all you can see is a beautiful door in a reddish wall (complete with a fantastic polished knocker and handle). Greenery drapes down from above.

Casa Luna Quebrada, San Miguel de Allende

Casa Luna, at 117 Quebrada in San Miguel

Casa Luna Quebrada, San Miguel de Allende, door knocker

Door knocker and handle

The rest of the property is visually rich and equally beautiful. I couldn’t decide where to look – at the fantastic inner courtyard with its lush plantings and beautiful stone pots on upper ledges,

Casa Luna Quebrada, San Miguel de Allende

Large stone pots onthe ledge of the second floor at Casa Luna, around one of the interior courtyards

or at the fountain that draws your eye to the end of the walk from the front entry,

Casa Luna Quebrada, San Miguel de Allende

Fountain with hibiscus flowers

or the hallways, adorned with framed local costumes and lit by fantastic metalwork lanterns.

Casa Luna Quebrada, San Miguel de Allende

View from the inner hallway to the outer courtyard

Casa Luna Quebrada, San Miguel de Allende

Stained-glass window and beaded costume

The rooms are lovely (and reasonably priced), the breakfasts delicious (our workshop leader kept saying he wanted to take the cook home with him, and we all shared his admiration of her talents), and the afternoon margaritas and guacamole outstanding. San Miguel, in central Mexico, is a safe, lovely and picturesque town to which I would return in a heartbeat. So many more photographs to take! (And I haven’t begun to share the best with you). Whenever I can manage to return, I will. And I know where I’ll stay – Casa Luna.

For information on Casa Luna’s facilities and rates and its sister establishment, Rancho Casa Luna, visit their website.

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