HORT travels

Exploring the horticultural beauty in every adventure.


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Closed Gentian

Flower colors can range from pale purple to deep sapphire depending on age, light, time of day.

Flower colors can range from pale purple to deep sapphire depending on age, light, time of day.

It’s hard enough for me to get my kayak down a whitewater river upright without being distracted by flowers along the way. I am happy to say on my latest voyage, it was not the blooms that tripped me up but my own inexperience. (I’m still learning the basics when it comes to whitewater kayaking and as the two River Zen Masters in my life constantly remind me “Kayaking is what you do between swims”… it is my own mantra now.)

Paddling with other horticulturally-minded people means extra time on the water, paddling back upstream to get a closer look at the flowers along the bank. This trip was no exception. Today’s distraction – Closed Gentians. I don’t know if it is the seeming simplicity of these flowers, the intense color or their apparent rarity that makes me stop (or paddle back upstream) to look at them, closely, and for a while, every time I see them. This day these were blooming along with White Turtleheads (Chelone glabra), and Red Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinals).

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Yellow Late-Summer Blooms

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Yellow False Foxglove Flowers

Yellow False Foxglove Flowers

Moving to a new state, even just across one big river, can lead to interesting new discoveries.  Two horticultural discoveries have intrigued me since I have moved here. These are two late summer blooming flowers I was unfamiliar with until I started exploring the natural areas around the place I now call home.

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Sumac

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Smooth Sumac Fruit (c) Kathleen V Salisbury

The fruit cluster, or Bob, of Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) along a Rail Trail in Southeastern PA

 

My dad looks at me dubiously over the dining room table all decked out for Thanksgiving. I recognize the look, because I have inherited it. If I feel someone is feeding me a line of crap you can read it all over my face, and that is what I am seeing here, across the table. Why the look? I have just told my dad the contents of the flower arrangement nestled among the good china, newly shined silver and gold rimmed wine glasses. I have always loved to go outside and gather what’s interesting from the yard to create seasonally representative flower arrangements. I enjoy doing this anytime but always create something for the big holidays. To me, it is fun to explore the yard in a different way, looking at plants and their parts as components of a floral design instead of a landscape design or plant community.

My dad has every right to be a little doubtful about this creation. My penchant for bringing nature onto the holiday table has certainly resulted in our fair share of spiders, caterpillars, moths and other insects venturing out from their botanical hiding place and onto the crystal butter dish.  This is not lost on him. Family and friends at these dinners have always taken these visitors with good humor, laughing as, red-faced, I capture the critter and release it back into the wild. This late afternoon, the guests have not yet arrived, the table is still being set and I just placed an offending flower arrangement in the center of the table.

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Textures

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Marsh Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Marsh Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos)

Of course a garden is more than flowers. There’s weeds and bugs too! The nice thing about gardening in this region – the mid-atlantic – is that we can create a garden that has flowers blooming nearly 12 months of the year. Sure those late fall and winter flowers may not be the showstopper the Hibiscus pictured above is, but they are flowers nonetheless. Summer is the time when flowers abound, annuals like impatiens, begonias and marigolds brighten up gardens throughout the warmer months, only succumbing when the first frost hits, turning them into mushy piles of petals. For those of us more inclined towards the perennial persuasion of plants, having blooms throughout the growing season means developing a diversity in the garden that ensures multiple seasons of blooms. It is not as simple as planting rows of impatiens we know will keep blooming through the summer. We have to plan a sequence of flowering to ensure something’s in bloom whenever we gaze into the garden. I love this challenge. When I worked in an urban educational garden, I challenged myself to create a garden with 4 seasons of blooms. Not just four seasons of interest, which we had, but I wanted visitors to see flowers in the city whenever they visited. Through careful selection and combination of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs flowers could be found 12 months of the year, much to my delight and to the delight of the visitors.

But there’s so much more to a garden than flowers. I always tell my students while flowers may be present for just a short time, foliage is there a lot longer and you should always consider the foliage when you are planning to add a plant to the garden. When considering interest in the garden and bloom times, don’t forget about the foliage!

This was cemented in my brain after a trip to Costa Rica. I had never been there before and it was pre-google (& pre-digital camera – 23 rolls of film later!). I was expecting orchids dripping off the trees, practically slapping me in the face everywhere I went. I expected carpets of tropical flowers lining every road and trail. What I didn’t expect was green. Lots of green, everywhere green and not many flowers to speak of (well, at least compared to what my vivid imagination conjured). During a canopy tour, I peered over the swinging bridge railing into the top of the rain forest and noticed how different all the green was. There were countless shades of green and the textures ranged from the coarse Monstera speciosa or Swiss Cheese Plant to the lacy Tree Fern. It was fantastically beautiful. From then on I had an appreciation for how beautiful and interesting foliage can be.

Costa Rica from above

Costa Rica from above

My recent visit to the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College really solidified for me what one can do in a garden by simply taking a considered look at foliage.

Scott Arboretum

Just a small portion of the Terry Shane Teaching Garden at Scott Arboretum

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Blueberries

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Many Stages of Blueberry Fruit

Many Stages of Blueberry Fruit

“Girls, can you run outside and pick some blueberries for the pancakes?”

was a question common in our house each June and July Sunday. We would grab a cup and head out to the woods, not the garden, the woods, to pick as many blueberries as the cups would hold, presenting them proudly to mom and dad who were in the kitchen whipping up pancake batter while we stalked the wild berries. If I remember correctly, it was “2 for the cup one for me”, or maybe the other way around. I think about this during a recent visit to western Maine as I squat down to examine small blueberry bushes, with diminutive fruit on them. These are similar to those we harvested beneath the oaks and pines in NJ but are a far cry from the behemoth berries I picked a week ago from a friends farm in Northern NJ.

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Viper’s Bugloss at 60MPH

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Viper's Bugloss

Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Wait…what was that?!

Frequently my lead foot (it’s genetic I swear!) and my want to enjoy every plant around me are at odds.  At my speeds, you have to have a pretty impressive display to catch my eye! Such was the case with this stunner.  I zoomed past it, noticing a flash of blue as I hurried down the back road I had opted for over highway travel.  I know, what’s the point of taking back roads if I am just going to fly past all the scenery at warp speed? I don’t have an answer for you.

I continued on a little ways but that blue flash was really nagging me. I slowed down, because at Mach 10, you can’t stop on a dime in case you see another batch of beauty, planning to stop at the next patch I saw. But I only saw one plant here and one there, nothing like the spot of blue that managed to pierce the blur of trees and shrubs that was my adventure home. As is often the case with us speeders, U-Turn it is! I swung around, backtracking, more slowly this time, to get a closer look at this mystery flower.

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Oakleaf Hydrangea

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Oakleaf Hydrangea Flowers

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) Flowers

One of my favorite plants is flowering in my yard right now. I love this plant. It is bold, in your face and it passes the multiple seasons of interest test.  Every time I see this bloom I am taken back to a forest in Mississippi. My sister and I were on our way back from a road trip to Louisiana, camping the whole time. We stopped in a state park along the Natchez Trace Parkway to take in the sights and stretch our legs following a short hiking trail that seemed made for just such a purpose. We stuck our heads through holes in large trees taking ‘selfies’ before it was the thing to do, watched new-to-us very large spiders make their way along handrails we dared not touch. Suddenly I stop and utter a “do you see that?!” from under the hand clasped over my mouth. I am that person. I get so excited when I see plants I have only known in landscapes thriving in the wild, where they have not been planted where they just ARE because they belong there. Sort of like the experience I had in Greece with the Bear’s Breeches.

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