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Garden Trips for Intrepid Gardeners

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Photo credit Sue West Nature Photography

We here in Connecticut are surrounded by possibilities for lovely garden day trips. Whether you long to admire an historical garden, stroll an innovative native planting, experience an old-fashioned cottage theme, or choose one of many other options, there’s a garden for every wish. So when the weeds and the heat in your own plot get to you, jump in the car and jaunt off for a few hours to gardening nirvana.

Here are a few of my favorite destinations:


The Mount, Lenox, MA

 Edith Wharton, the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, built her “first true home” in Lenox, MA in the early 1900’s. A devotee of art and architecture, she designed, constructed and furnished The Mount , which commands a rise overlooking lush countryside. Beautifully restored, the 42-room Georgian Revival house with its gracious air and historical importance is certainly of interest, but the landscape was what called to me.  Edith configured her three acres of formal gardens with an Italianate walled garden planted with hundreds of white astilbe and draped in wisteria; a rock garden with grass steps (very unusual in America) accompanied by a bounty of fern and hydrangea; a lime walk, kitchen garden and a foursquare flower border with thousands of perennials and  annuals. The Mount offers a light menu on the terrace and all in all, a visit to this showplace makes for a memorable day.  The Mount is a cultural, horticultural and literary center and is one of only five percent of our National Historic Landmarks dedicated to women.  Administered by Edith Wharton Restoration, adult admission is $16.00.



The High Line, NYC

Talk about adaptive reuse!  The High Line ( in lower Manhattan exemplifies recycling on a spectacular scale. A mile and a half a mile long, the elevated park (the only one in America) served as an industrial rail line in Manhattan’s Meatpacking district from 1934 to 1980.  Saved from demolition in the 1990’s by newly-formed Friends of the High Line, it is now a public park, given to the city by CSX Transportation, Inc. and administered by the Department of Parks and Recreation.  It has been renovated into a wide ribbon garden emphasizing thousands of native perennials such as heuchera, coneflower and butterfly weed; grasses such as panicum and molinia; and small trees such as vitex and sumac, with a plethora of other material. The park runs from Gansevoort to West 34th street, is accessed by stairways and elevators at various points along the route, and is wheelchair-friendly. Benches for the weary abound and art installations change with the seasons.

Walking the high line stories above the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, watching both the people and the butterflies is an excursion this long-time garden traveler will never forget



Harkness Memorial State Park, Waterford, CT

In 1908 Edward Harkness was the 6th richest man in America. Heir to a portion of the Standard Oil fortune, he and wife Mary spent much of their lives giving away wealth. Among the largess was their summer home, Eolia, at Goshen Point in Waterford,  which was bequeathed to the State of Connecticut in 1950   The 153 acres of land on Long Island Sound, with its sumptuous gardens and stately manor house is now known as Harkness Memorial State Park and is open to the public daily.

Shortly after Edward and Mary acquired the property, they had the existing gardens redesigned and enlarged by Beatrix Farrand, America’s first female landscape architect. Restored and lovingly maintained by the DEP, visitors to Eolia today are enchanted by the various gardens, spectacular view out to the water, and an amazing array of flowers, shrubs and garden architecture. The mansion is open only for weekend tours and weddings, but the grounds and gardens are open year around.


For gardening ventures closer to home, don’t miss the 10th annual Gardening Fair  at the Fairfield County Extension Office in Bethel, sponsored by the UCONN Fairfield County Master Gardener Program. This year’s event will be held on Sunday, August 12th from 12:30 to 5.




Queen of the Summer Garden

Friday, July 13th, 2012marketing

July 13th, 2012

Phlox and coneflower by the pond

The summer of 2012 has so far been brutal on some parts of  the ornamental garden; the high temperatures and lack of rain here in Connecticut are challenging to fussy perennials and thirsty annuals. Isn’t there an easier way to have a pretty flower garden in the dog days of summer? You betcha! Stick with long-flowering, old-fashioned colorful stalwarts such as coneflower and phlox paniculata.

Tall garden phlox is different from her spring-blooming cousins: subulata, divaricata and stolonifera. This summer bloomer is considered the queen of the July and August perennial patch. Our grandmothers grew phlox and the hybridizers have had a field day with it since then. The flowers now vary from purple to red to orange and pale pink and through to pure white, and are often fragrant. The sizes range from a dwarf 12 inches to a statuesque four feet. Its strong stems remain upright even in the face of wind and rain, and it multiplies every year.

Every garden should contain at least a stand of ‘David’, the pure glowing white cultivar which won the Perennial Plant of the Year award in ’01.  Or ‘Laura’, with her winsome white eye in a deep pink flower head. Or ‘Robert Poore’, a strong, regal purple.

Phlox is ridiculously easy to grow, requiring only sun, room for wingspread, and average moisture. It’ll flourish in any good compost-amended garden soil, but do it a favor and apply a helping of Plant-tone in spring. Phlox is simple to divide when the bounty overruns the boundaries; just plunge a spade in the ground and hoist up a chunk.

No plant is perfect, however; and there are several factors of which to be aware with phlox. Watch for and rogue out seedlings. A vigorous cross breeder, phlox will set seed with abandon, resulting eventually in stands of magenta flowers across the garden.

If you have Bambi in your neighborhood you’ll have to apply repellent regularly. Deer, which are attracted to the scent of the flowers, (just as are people), will devour phlox especially in the spring, when tender new growth emerges, and when in bud later in the season.

Powdery mildew is an occasional, unsightly fungal nuisance which starts on the lower leaves and works its way up the stems. It’s best counteracted by growing resistant cultivars, such as the ones mentioned above, and by judicious thinning of the stalks early in the season. Mildew needs stagnant air to flourish; thinning promotes ventilation and thereby thwarts disease.  And be sure to practice good garden sanitation. This means cleaning up every last dropped leaf come autumn, and discarding, not composting, the spent plants.

A couple of other tips to growing glorious phlox. In June, whack off the top 1/3 of the plant. Doing so postphones bloom but doesn’t affect anything else. Unattended, phlox will burst into glorious color in July, but when delayed, bloom will occur 3 or 4 weeks later, still with the same full, colorful show. We need color in late August more than in July.

Remember to deadhead faithfully. As you gather armloads of flowers for your tall vases, (and I hope you will) clip off spent flower heads. This will keep the side shoots coming, giving you garden color well into September.

Phlox, that favorite of our forebears, needs to keep its rightful place in our hearts and our yards. Let’s welcome her back!




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