THE QUITE CONTRARY GARDENER

The beautiful flora of Vieques, Puerto Rico.  The ceiba tree at the bottom is 300 year sold. The colors of the bouganvilla are so vibrant there, and the orchids grow along parking lots and in cracks in the sidewalks. The fauna are coming soon. 

Flora of Virginia

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I could not be more excited about a new book out giving a comprehensive look at the diverse vegetation of Virginia. My mother is a proud Virginian so I grew up spending summers and vacations there, and still make regular pilgrimages to Monticello and elsewhere. This book replaces the 250-year-old Flora Virginica, the last comprehensive look at the area’s plants. The project took over a decade, and seems to have been well worth the weight - the book weighs seven pounds and As for the cover image, Adrian Higgins explains in a column on the book:

"The authors had many emblematic Virginia plants to choose from: perhaps the state’s official bloom, the flowering dogwood, or the Virginia bluebell, or the twinleaf, a wildflower whose Latin name honors Thomas Jefferson. The winner was the delicate Eastern spring beauty, Claytonia virginica. It is named for John Clayton, an 18th-century Virginia botanist whose 1737 manuscript became the basis of ‘Flora Virginica.’

The book also promises to include some great pen-and-ink botanical illustrations by Lara Call Gastinger, Michael Terry, and Roy Fuller. It’s not exactly a coffee table book, but looks like a wonderful gift for anyone with a deep appreciation for Virginia’s natural beauty. 

I headed up to Stone Barns in Tarrytown, N.Y. for New Year’s, and as always it was fascinating and beautiful. Their greenhouse is a marvel — the moveable roof was firmly in place, of course, but the shoots just coming up in the propagation room were looking strong, and the heartier crops like chard and kale were going strong. They also told me they’re working on designing a mid-sized tractor, appropriate for use on a small-ish farm that wouldn’t need a full-sized model. I’d love to see that!

The separation of art and science is a human construct that allows us to try to comprehend the complexity of our world. A big part of the joy of the garden, though, is the idea that these two disparate regimens join together.

The Early American Gardens blog has a fascinating post on the garden journal of William Faris, an 18th century resident of Annapolis who kept a detailed account of his plants, garden design, and local gossip (the diary is owned by the Maryland Historical Society). The journal paints an incredibly detailed sense of the aesthetic and practical considerations of a craftsman’s garden (as opposed to the more common accounts of aristocratic gardens from the era). As the post recounts, sometimes a tulip is not just a tulip:


Tulips were not the only bulb flower that caught his fancy; in 1798, he planted 4000 narcissus bulbs, bought from a neighbor. This tireless gardener’s greatest pleasure was creating new varieties of tulips in nursery beds at the back of his property, where he also hybridized roses. Faris saw his tulips as symbols of the new nation as well as reflections of classical republican ideals. On the eve on July 4, 1801, exactly 25 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Faris listed in his journal his tulip varieties by name. Namesakes included Presidents Washington and Madison and classical heroes such as Cincinnatus.


Apparently there are more diary entries to come - I definitely plan on reading more about Faris in the new year. 

The Early American Gardens blog has a fascinating post on the garden journal of William Faris, an 18th century resident of Annapolis who kept a detailed account of his plants, garden design, and local gossip (the diary is owned by the Maryland Historical Society). The journal paints an incredibly detailed sense of the aesthetic and practical considerations of a craftsman’s garden (as opposed to the more common accounts of aristocratic gardens from the era). As the post recounts, sometimes a tulip is not just a tulip:

Tulips were not the only bulb flower that caught his fancy; in 1798, he planted 4000 narcissus bulbs, bought from a neighbor. This tireless gardener’s greatest pleasure was creating new varieties of tulips in nursery beds at the back of his property, where he also hybridized roses.

Faris saw his tulips as symbols of the new nation as well as reflections of classical republican ideals. On the eve on July 4, 1801, exactly 25 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Faris listed in his journal his tulip varieties by name. Namesakes included Presidents Washington and Madison and classical heroes such as Cincinnatus.

Apparently there are more diary entries to come - I definitely plan on reading more about Faris in the new year. 

A visit to the beautiful Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Until the 20th century, botanic was more common than botanical, and the garden, which was founded in 1910, still goes by that name (as does the U.S. Botanic Garden in DC). 

These pictures are from the gardens of the National Cathedral, where even on a recent chilly day a surprising number of blooms were still out and the fall colors were putting on quite the display. The intimate Bishop’s Garden was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr - his famous father designed Central and Prospect Parks, among others - and his winding paths and cozy sitting areas make the massive cathedral seem more human-scale.

Seedpod Sightings

As the flowers recede, seedpods, some of them as lovely as the blooms, come forward. The moonflower vine puts out fat, purple pods. That means that soon you can begin harvesting seeds for the next year. 

Once the seedpod is dried on the vine — it will look brown and desiccated, and you’ll hear the seeds rattling inside — you can gently pop them open with your fingers. 

Inside will be one or more little seeds that look like something between a chickpea and a yogurt-covered raisin. 

You can put the seeds in an envelope inside a plastic bag or jar in the bottom of your refrigerator and germinate them in the spring.