HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.


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Fiction-ish

The demure Scarlet Pimpernel

The demure Scarlet Pimpernel

Around here it is summer and the Scarlet Pimpernels (Anagallis arvensis) are blooming. To many the Scarlet Pimpernel is a novel set in the time of the French Revolution. To me the Scarlet Pimpernel is a sweet little orange flower that occurs in lawns and some have the nerve to call a weed.

The petite scarlet pimpernel is an European native that made its way here as an ornamental. Dainty orange flowers with red centers dot the square-stemmed plant in summer. Found in disturbed sites and waste areas, this plant thrives in poor soils. First named by English Botanist Richard Salisbury (No relation that I have found…yet – but I mean there MUST be right?) this annual is also known as Poor Man’s Weatherglass because of its tendency to close its flowers at the “approach of foul weather” (Manual of Cultivated Plants, L.H.Bailey 1949). The Reader’s Digest Field Guide to Wildflowers also notes that this botanical barometer closes at dusk, fails to open in gloomy weather and responds to rising humidity by closing its flowers.

Summer is also the time of book lists for beach reading. While I don’t generally go to the beach and read, I will have to add The Scarlet Pimpernel to my “to be read pile” (why is it that that pile never shrinks?) simply because it is named after a plant, not because it has anything to do with plants. There are some books out there I have come across and found even more enjoyable than I expected because of their unanticipated horticultural content.

As you may remember from previous posts, I am a Stephen King fan. When I was much younger my face was always stuck squarely in a Stephen King novel. At some point, as I grew older and picked my head up long enough to realize there are other authors and other genres out there, and as I became more and more interested in learning about the natural world around me, I decided to vary my reading selections. I decided I would read one non-fiction book for each fiction book I read. Naturally, I began my non-fiction reading with Stephen King’s On WritingThis memoir/guide to writing drew me into the non-fiction world and I am hooked. I used to think reading non-fiction was the equivalent of reading a textbook for fun, and really…textbooks for fun?

Scarlet Pimpernel Flower

Scarlet Pimpernel Flower

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Road Trip! Art, Plants and a Historic House: Hamilton NJ

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Seward Johnson's Sculpture "Down to Earth" Grounds for Sculpture

Seward Johnson’s Sculpture “Down to Earth” Grounds for Sculpture – Hamilton, NJ

Grounds for Sculpture and Sayen House and Gardens

One of my most favorite trees (and contrary to popular belief they are not ALL my favorites) is the Katsura Tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum). Typically I focus on native plants and their role in our ecosystem and place in plant communities. I like to explore faunal associations and examine their potential for ornamental use. This tree, native to Japan, captures all of my attention because of its fragrance. Katsuras don’t emit their perfume when flowering like most trees do. Katsura give off the most wonderfully sweet fragrance just before their leaves start to change into their apricot splendor of autumn. The scent is distinctive enough that you will smell it before you even see a Katsura and just know one is around, somewhere.

Fall is my favorite season. We are so lucky here in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic that we get to experience the changing of the seasons through riotous colors thrown together painting hillsides, roadways and mountaintops. As I look out my window Red Oak (Quercus rubra) leaves are just starting to show the crimson they are known for and the cat-faced shaped leaves of Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) are turning golden. The only thing that makes this show better is the addition of fragrance and that’s where Katsura comes in.

I, accidentally, timed my visit to Grounds for Sculpture just perfectly for a stunning sensory experience. The place is loaded with Katsura trees and they were all alerting their presence on the breeze. Sculptures you can get up close to and touch, ornamental gardens and Katsura perfume in the air. I was in heaven. A little early for fall color, but if there was fall color, there wouldn’t have been any perfume on the wind. Some compare the scent to cotton candy, others liken it to brown sugar or a cake baking. In fact, according to Michael Dosmann, curator of living collections at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, “Germans call this tree ‘kuchenbaum,’ which translates to ‘cake tree’.”

 

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