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Clematis for Sun

June 4, 2011

I wouldn’t dream of presenting myself as a clematis expert. I know enough about their culture to know that some of them are “wilt magnets,” as a Completely Clematis employee once put it, and to have discovered that my neighborhood deer seem to love my ‘General Sigorski’ cultivar which annually threads its way up my shaky cedar arbor unless the lawnmowing crew damages its stems with their weedeater. It’s just happened again this year, unfortunately. But here’s a more vigorous and better protected specimen of this beautiful clematis blooming at Brookside Gardens.

Clematis 'General Sigorski', Brookside Gardens, clematis

'General Sigorski' in bloom at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland

Another favorite blue clematis of mine is ‘D.H. Young.’

Clematis D.H. Young, blue clematis, allium

'D.H. Young' clematis blooming with Allium 'Purple Sensation' in a client's garden.

Moving onto the pinks, I think the first clematis that ever inspired me as a photographer was one I saw at Old Whyly on my English gardens tour so many years ago. I think it was ‘Hagley Hybrid.’

Clematis 'Hagley Hybrid,' Old Whyly, pink clematis

A gorgeous pink clematis seen in bloom at the Old Whyly bed and breakfast in England. I think it's 'Hagley Hybrid.'

The only pink clematis I grow in my own garden is a small variety that would work well in a container, called ‘Piiluu.’

Clematis 'Piiluu', pink clematis, container-sized clematis

'Piiluu' in bloom.

Note how it resembles Clematis ‘Nelly Moser,’ a larger cultivar shown here in a client’s garden in Bethesda.

Clematis 'Nelly Moser,' Allium

Clematis 'Nelly Moser' in a cutting garden with Allium 'Purple Sensation'

Yes, all of these are pink or blue. Next week I will finish off with some darker colors (primarily reds) and photographs of clematis with companion plants with which they seem to work well. In the meantime, hope these inspire you to think about adding some to your own garden!

Churchill’s Garden at Chartwell

March 19, 2011

While I wait for spring to arrive, I’ve been spending some time looking at my photos from my trip to English gardens in 2002 (or thereabouts, my mind is like Swiss cheese these days). One of the gardens/historic sites we visited was Churchill’s home in Chartwell (in Kent). I remember thinking at the time this destination was announced that it couldn’t be a serious garden – unless his wife had been a devoted gardener. While I have only a few images from that day, they do bring back memories of stunning vistas from the terraces behind the house and delightful surprises, both anecdotal and visual.

Chartwell Garden, Winston Churchill

Valerian and red clematis on a stone arch on one of Chartwell's upper terraces.

According to what seems to be the official Churchill website, Winston Churchill bought Chartwell in 1924 for its impressive views. Over the next 15 years, he spent considerable amounts of money on both the house and garden. There is a walled garden, generously planted in the cottage style, whose brick walls he apparently helped build himself.

Chartwell Garden, Winston Churchill

Exuberant cottage-style plantings in a section of Chartwell's gardens.

One of the most famous parts of the garden is the Golden Rose Walk, a gift from Churchill’s children to him and his wife Clementine on the occasion of their golden wedding anniversary in 1958.

Chartwell Garden, Golden Rose Walk, Winston Churchill

A view from above of the Golden Rose Walk in June.

According to the website, there are over 1000 rose bushes at Chartwell. Lady Churchill loved having cut flowers in the house, and we saw plenty of roses, as well as other flowers, in the arrangements inside the house – as well as out in the gardens.

In 1945, the expense of maintaining Chartwell was troubling Churchill. A group of wealthy friends arranged to purchase the property and donate it to the National Trust (which maintains it today), with the stipulation that he be allowed to live in it at a nominal rent until his death. In 1966, one year after his death, Chartwell opened to the public and remains open to visitors today. Visit it if you can.

The Gotelli Collection – Hidden Treasures at the National Arboretum

January 15, 2011

Years ago, while enrolled in a landscape design program, the first set of courses I was required to take involved learning about 300 trees and shrubs that are well-suited to planting in the mid-Atlantic area. The courses were called (innovatively enough), Fall I, Fall II, Spring I, Spring II, and Summer.  They were taught primarily at the National Arboretum on weekday mornings, rain or shine. When “Spring I” rolled around, it was January. What in the world, I wondered, would we be shown that could possibly be interesting? How many hollies could the world hold? Would winter’s cold be the only thing keeping me awake for three hours each Friday morning?

Then I visited the Gotelli Collection of Dwarf and Slow-Growing Conifers at the Arboretum, and my ideas about evergreen plants changed forever. The variety of colors (greens, blue-greens, variegated-tipped species, and every shade in between the basics) and textures was overwhelming. Many trees and shrubs were unusually shaped – spreading,  stubby, rounded. Planted with grasses, crape myrtles, Japanese maples, star magnolias and other deciduous plants, they created gorgeous contrasts for the eye. In snow, they were even more arresting.

National Arboretum, Gotelli Collection

View of part of the Gotelli Collection from the gazebo, at the National Arboretum

Since then, I have returned many times – for design inspiration, to take photographs, and to see the collection in every season. I’ve also learned a little bit about how the Collection came into being. In 1962, a New Jersey businessman, William T. Gotelli, donated his personal collection of conifers to the Arboretum so that it would not be dispersed. It consisted of over 800 varieties of conifers, 600 varieties of rhododendrons and many Japanese maples. At the time, Mr. Gotelli estimated the collection’s worth at over half a million dollars. The USNA’s acquisition of the collection led to its staff developing a deeper interest in the area of dwarf and slow-growing conifers.

The Collection is now recognized as one of the finest of its kind in the world. According to the Arboretum’s website, the climate there allows it to grow conifers from widely varying climates, including some that are native to areas near the Arctic Circle and others that are almost subtropical. In my program, we tended to study the less exotic species, but even those can be breathtaking when grown to full size (a cautionary lesson for a garden designer).

Cedrus atlantica glauca 'Pendula,' weeping atlas cedar

A mature weeping blue atlas cedar in the Gotelli Collection. Not for the typical suburban front yard - give these babies room to grow!

If you visit the Gotelli Collection on your own, allow for plenty of time if you want to see it all, as it is spread out over a large area on the New York Avenue side of the Arboretum. There are grass paths between the beds that allow for easy wandering, and at the far end of the collection is a small pond with one of the highlights of the Collection – a bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) with knobby “knees” peeking out of the water’s surface. (Like the dawn redwood, or Metasequoia glyptostroboides, shown below, bald cypress is one of the very few conifers that sheds its needles during the winter.)

Metasequoia glyptostroboides, dawn redwood, National Arboretum

Near the Gotelli Collection, one can find a grove of dawn redwood trees grown from seedlings discovered in China in 1942, at a time when the species had been assumed extinct for many years. Note the color of the needles, about to drop as fall advances.

National Arboretum, Gotelli Collection

Another part of the Gotelli Garden, in late summer.

For additional information about the Gotelli Collection, visit the Arboretum’s website ( or see Dwarf & Unusual Conifers Coming of Age: A Guide to Mature Garden Conifers, by Sandra Cutler (Barton-Bradley Crossroads Publishing Co., 1997)

Staying Power in the Fall Garden

October 23, 2010

As fall sets in, grasses and built elements, like this armillary, continue to provide strong interest in the garden

Next week, I leave for eight days in Mexico, and I should be upstairs reviewing my packing list(s). What lenses to take, which to leave behind? Backup external hard drive or my Epson P2000 storage device? What if my tripod goes astray because I have to check it (along with most of my clothes)?

In Mexico, it will be in the 80’s, although cool in the mornings and evenings. But here, it’s truly fall. Most of the gardens I work in (including my own), are starting to pack it in for the season. Ornamental grasses and built elements look as good as ever, but many perennials are fading. Nonetheless, there are two shrubs I’ve seen recently that are either still going strong or just coming into their own. The first is Callicarpa dichotoma, or beautyberry. It looks rather nondescript during most of the growing season, with average-green leaves on arching stems. But just about now, it develops fabulous purple berries all along the branches. They’re spectacular. This is a “cut-back” shrub that will work in either sun or shade, but which produces more fruit the more sun it gets.

Callicarpa 'Issai', beautyberry

Callicarpa's purple fruits are most profuse in sunny sites.

The second late-blooming shrub I can recommend for the fall garden is Lespedeza thunbergii, or bush clover. Like beautyberry, its stems arch over as it starts to bloom in the fall. Here’s ‘Gibraltar,’ planted in a client’s garden simply to soften the edge of an unattractive wooden retaining wall. Give this plant plenty of room! It can grow up to 10′ high in a good site. This one, unlike the beautyberry, won’t work in a shady site. There is a white version (‘Alba’) and a few other cultivars, like ‘Spilt Milk’ (variegated leaves). But at this point in the year, give me color!

Lespedeza 'Gibraltar' in bloom, in late October.

Lespedeza thunbergii

Seen up close, the blooms of Lespedeza reveal this shrub's relationship to the sweet pea family.

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