Linked To Gardens Past

beverley nichols

First, I was reading a book called “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert (my friend Jane said “You should read it! it’s all about moss!”). It sort of is, it’s about a woman who is a botanist in the early 19th century. A few days later,  I was reading Botany Photo of the Day, with an entry about a plant named for a woman, Jeanne Baret (1740-1807). Baret disguised herself as a man to go on a botanizing expedition in the 1760s, on a voyage to South America, Mauritius, and Madagascar. A commenter on the BPoD post mentioned (along with names of many women botanists, who I had great fun looking up) a  book titled “Merry Hall” by Beverley Nichols. The commenter said that in the book Nichols tells the story of Jeanne Baret.  So then I decided to read that book. Well, it turns out that he briefly mentions the story rather than fully telling it. I read it anyway. “Merry Hall” is a gardening book in a very old-fashioned sense –Beverley Nichols bought an English estate, and hired gardeners and laborers to create his vision of  the surrounding gardens. But here’s what I am getting to: Despite being written over sixty years ago,  how he felt about his garden sounds remarkably like how I feel about my gardens, and perhaps how you feel about yours. Listen….

“…an important truth about the gardener’s life as opposed to the lives of other people – the fact that each new year is more startling and more rich in beauty than the one that preceded it.”

“An encore in the garden, unlike an encore in a concert hall, is almost always more exciting than the original performance; to do something for the second time in a garden is always better than doing it for the first, and the third time is better still, and the fourth and fifth, ad infinitum. Every time you push aside the damp frosty leaves…to greet the first snowdrops, the flowers seem to gleam with a purer white; and time cannot wither, nor custom stale, the beauty of (the) line about the snowdrop… ‘And hails far summer with a lifted spear’ .”

About spraying insecticides:  “…perhaps there may be, somewhere in the world, somebody who is as silly as I am on these matters, someone who worries beyond all reason about the trials and tribulations of very small- -and often unalluring – creatures who are regarded by ‘normal’ people as only fit to be trodden underfoot. Though few insects are less alluring, though they are an infernal nuisance and probably a mass of germs, that is not the point. However unpleasant they maybe, God made them that way, and somehow I feel that it is all wrong to assume this role of mass torturer.”

“I believe ..if it were possible to take…a psychic photograph of a gardener, you would find that there would be  ghostly tendrils growing from the tips of his fingers, and shadowy roots about his feet, and a pattern of ectoplasmic lines that linked him in a natural rhythm with the curve and sway of the branches about him. And..if this same picture were taken when he was removed from his natural environment…tendrils and roots would be starved and stunted, the rhythm broken. ‘Green fingers’… is a fact in physiology.”

“When I begin to write about flowers I lose all sense of restraint, and it is far, far too late to do anything about it. You cannot say you have not been warned.”

I would love to hear about your favorite garden writing, old or new!

halesia carolina


News from Yesterday

First I went into the greenhouse and took pictures of the seedlings coming up, because they make me happy.

scallion seedlingstomato seedlingsSome are mine, for the Garden and the Plant Sale, and some are Andy’s, for Agronomy.

pepper seedlings

parsley seedlingsThen I looked out the window and saw Louis taking the cover off the overwintered perennials, so I went outside. I was glad to see that not only are the plants alive (I’m a worrier), but have even been thriving out there, under the blanket (which is now off).

pulmonarialeopard's baneOnce I was outside, an advance scout for Spring caught my eye. Hands freezing, eyes tearing from the cold, I walked around the Garden. I found just a little bit of color to share with you.




Springtime, by the Calendar

Today is the Spring Equinox, Happy Spring!  (just a few minutes ago, on March 20 2014 at 12:57 pm for latitude 41.47.)  It IS warmer today, but the advancing signs of Spring are not where we usually find them on March 20th. OK, no more complaining about the long cold winter. Since the usual flowers are not blooming yet, barely poking their noses out of the still frozen soil, I will show you pictures from other years.


Snowdrops, March 13, 2013

Iris, aconite

Dwarf Iris, Winter Aconite, March 15, 2012

Blue Squill

Scilla, March 22 2011


Hellebore, March 17 2010

You can see that we have a lot to look forward to! As soon as there is something besides grey and brown out there, I will let you know. In the meantime, I marked the Spring Equinox this morning by balancing an egg on its end.  What are you doing to celebrate Spring?

Featured Plant: Justicia brandegeeana

Here is the “Shrimp Plant”, Justicia brandegeeana, blooming in the Conservatory. I’ve never seen it looking so good!Justicia brandegeeanaThis Justicia is native to Mexico. It likes soil with lots of organic matter, lots of moisture, and partial shade. It tends to be leggy and brittle but responds very well to pruning to keep it in shape.  As an added bonus, the pruned cuttings are easy to root.

Justicia brandegeeanaThe flowers are the thin white petals with maroon speckles which you can see hanging from the very showy bracts.  (Clearly the bracts are what gives it the name Shrimp Plant!) The Shrimp Plant will bloom on and off all year round. It is not hardy here in Rhode Island but  makes a good houseplant since it does not need full sun and tolerates a bit of neglect. It will also grow well outside in a large container, where it will attract hummingbirds.

Justicia brandegeeanaThe Shrimp Plant is in the Acanthaceae family. The genus Justicia is named for James Justice, an 18th Century Scottish horticulturist. The species honors the American botanist Townsend Brandegee, who lived from 1843 to 1925.

Featured Plant: Venus Flytrap

Dionaea muscipula

A while back I wrote about our Bog full of carnivorous plants, including the strange little Venus Flytrap, in  ” Creatures-from-the-Black-Lagoon/ “.

Last week my favorite blog, Botany Photo of the Day from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, featured the Venus Flytrap. It linked to a video of an insect being captured by the plant. I have spent plenty of time staring at Venus Flytraps but I don’t think I ever saw one in action. It’s really fast!

Technical ridiculousness prevents me from actually getting the video up, so here is the BPotD writeup, with the link:

“Today we have an image of Dionaea muscipula, by Anne Elliott (aka annkelliott@Flickr), who also provided the photo of the Oxalis for the series. A photograph of this species showing its completed nastic movement is available via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool: see Rob Co’s photograph of Dionaea muscipula. Thank you Anne and Rob for sharing your great shots!

To finish off the series on nastic movements, I couldn’t resist including Dionaea muscipula or the Venus flytrap. This species exhibits seismonasty or thigmonasty, which is the nastic movement due to a touch stimulus (see a video: Venus flytrap capturing prey). This type of nastic movement was also highlighted in the first entry of the series on Mimosa pudica.

Dionaea muscipula is native to North Carolina and South Carolina in the USA. Populations of plants recorded in New Jersey and Florida are often considered to be exotic introductions. Due to its special qualities, Venus flytrap is also a popular houseplant.

As noted above, Venus flytrap is a carnivorous species that traps and digests insects for a source of nitrogen. The modified leaves of this species consist of an upper and lower portion. The lower portion, a flat stalk, terminates with the two-lobed upper portion (with the lobes joined by the midrib). Each lobe is lined with comb-like bristles. The red-coloured centre of the trap contains three sensitive trigger hairs (seen clearly in Anne’s image). When stimulated by touch, the trap shuts by means of electrochemical signals. The trap may take several minutes to close fully. Once closed, it will remain so for 5-7 days in order for the plant to secrete enzymes and digest the insect (see: Volkov, AG et al. 2008. Kinetics and Mechanisms of Dionaea muscipula Trap Closing. Plant Physiology. 146(2):694-702).”

There are a number of Venus Flytrap videos on youtube but the one linked above ( Venus flytrap capturing prey ) on Wikipedia is by far the best one I’ve seen.

Dionaea muscipulaDionaea muscipulaVenus Flytraps are easy to grow at home. There are just a few things to remember since they do not grow like your average houseplant.

1.They like full sun.

2. Pot them up in sphagnum moss and sit the pot in a saucer of water. They need to be that wet, after all, they are bog plants. Don’t let them dry out. Change the water occasionally so it stays somewhat clean.

3. Don’t fertilize! A bog is a low fertility environment; that’s why the flytraps eat insects: to supplement their diet. Fertilizer will kill them!

4. Don’t feed them –they have evolved to feed themselves. Feeding will kill them.

5. Opening and closing takes a large amount of energy for the plant. If you touch it to make it close repeatedly, it will become weak and die.

6. From the Logee’s Greenhouse website: “Maintain a minimum temperature of 30°F . They prefer cool night temperatures for two months during the winter to induce a dormant period. Night temperatures in the high 30’s to low 40’s are ideal. A cool, neglected windowsill is perfect. During active growth, we keep them warm, above 60°, which speeds up growth.”

So, this is a houseplant that does well being left alone (except for water). If you are curious about other carnivorous plants or would like more information about the Flytraps, the International Carnivorous Plant Society  can tell you everything you need to know, and more.

Snow Days

Today’s weather is the most dreary mix of snow, sleet, and freezing rain. Monday was an unexpected six inches of snow (no forecast, no hype, sort of refreshing!) But in between was a little gift of a bright sunny mild day with a beautiful layer of fresh snow on the ground.

ericaceous garden in snowbranches with snowtwigs with snowsnow face