• Great Summer Reads for Gardeners

    May 22, 2015

    Great summer reads are a must!
    It doesn’t matter if you’re the kind of reader who can lounge away the summer at the beach or tour historical gardens near and far, or you’re only able to grab few minutes each day to lose yourself in the folds of a fantastic paperback – I’ve got you covered with educational history, future-now fantasies, and (of course) a few fun novels. So, before you pick up just any old book as you hop on a plane to paradise or collapse into your lawn chair after a long day weeding and watering, consider these horty-good books.

    Annie DuPont gardens at Montpelier

    The main path through the Annie DuPont formal gardens at Montpelier

    Historical Fiction Favorite:
    I love losing myself in a period piece, especially one about botanical exploration. My current favorite in this category is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. This tale of adventure maps the journey of two generations of plant explorers, giving us both a hero and a heroine to follow, envy, despise and admire. Gilbert’s storytelling is “can’t put it down” compelling. If you’re only able to read one novel this summer, make this your summer read of choice!

    (You can support this blog by buying through our links. Purchases made through the affiliate links on this page and others on this site pay a small percentage to Garden Mentors. Thank you for buying and helping support us!)
    Future-now Fantasy:
    You’re probably familiar with Amy Stewart’s many horticultural titles. She’s written about dangerous and deadly plants, earthworms, the international flower trade, cocktail botanicals and much more. But, did you know she’s written a fantastic novel only available for e-readers entitled The Last Bookstore in America? Yes, the irony of e-reader meets “last bookstore” won’t be lost on you. Too, her plot weaves in tobacco industrialists, conspiracy theory and a bit of reefer madness to make for one helluva good (and inexpensive) read.

    Truth as Compelling as Fiction:
    Several years ago I was gifted tickets to a lecture by author Andrea Wulf. She was touring her book Founding Gardeners, which I’d heard reviewed on the radio. Despite having just arrived from a journey half way around the world, Wulf managed to share some wonderful excerpts from this title and its predecessor The Brother Gardeners. Both books are the culmination of meticulous research into the history of worldwide plant trade, expansionism, gardening, plant nomenclature, politics, slavery and so much more from around the 1600s through the early years of the United States.


    Following her lecture, I purchased both titles, and I began reading each intermittently, until recently. Once I dove into The Brother Gardeners, I found I couldn’t put it down. You can’t make this stuff up! Now that I’ve completed it, I’m working my way through Founding Gardeners. So far, I’m still in the early pages discussing George Washington as horticulturist.

    Having recently visited James Madison’s Montpelier and having been to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello many times, I can’t wait to read each of their chapters soon. (These books are so good, I may select one or the other for our next book club title ’cause I get to pick next!)

    Speaking of Book Club Titles… (more…)

  • Plant Botanical Names Matter

    May 15, 2015

    Again and again, I find myself explaining why plant botanical names matter. In some cases, the conversation begins so clients buy exactly the plant name I’ve specified for them. In other situations, I’m met with a client who wants me to tell them if a plant they call by some obscure common name or a partial or guestimated botanical name will work for them.

    Ling Ling plants

    Order a ‘panda plant’ or a ‘Ling Ling’ plant & you could end up with either of these two.

    It’s hard enough to navigate my way through the world of various pronunciations of words like Clematis or Heuchera or Astilbe or Cotoneaster. But, when someone whips out: “I think it’s called a panda plant” I know I’m in trouble. Often I can play Q&A with the client until we find enough common ground to help me come up with an answer, but it isn’t uncommon for me to end up saying, “Take a picture of it and send it to me next time you see this panda, and I’ll probably be able to help you more.”

    Common names are just that: common. They may be derived from the plant botanical name, created by Carl Linneaus and his cohorts and successors. But, many common names are regionally made up descriptors, which are completely unknown in other languages or other areas. They may seem easier to remember than a scientific name, but that “easy” name may not get you very far when you try to find the plant later.

    Fragaria chiloensis in pink

    If you want a pink flowering ornamental strawberry, know the full name. This is likely Fragaria chiloensis ‘Lipstick’. For a paler pink, ask for Fragaria chiloensis ‘Pink Panda’

    Botanical names, or scientific names, are ones that define a plant around the world. These are the names that matter if you really want that very specific and very special panda for your own garden. And, ideally, you want to know the full name of that panda – not just part of the name. Botanical names, for the most part, are made up of at least two words always in this order: Genus species. And, they may be followed by a third word either in single quotation marks or without those marks. The ones in the single quotes are cultivated varieties that have been developed to always express specific qualities; they aren’t genetically engineered necessarily. The plants with three words in the botanical name with none of the words in quotes are naturally occurring varieties that may outgrow that variation, which may make them a riskier buy than cultivars. And, of course, there are more ways these naming conventions can differ, but I won’t get into that here.

    Thoroughly confused yet?

    Let’s take a look at two very different panda plants by name and photographically, and maybe it’ll make more sense. (more…)

  • Southern Garden Tours Teaser

    May 08, 2015

    In the last week, I’ve enjoyed a number of fantastic garden tours from Charlotte, North Carolina to Richmond, Virginia. (And, in between, I watched forests, farms, rivers and swamps pass by from my seat on a train.) Rather than spend a lot of time writing behind the computer, I’m savoring my vacation days soaking up fantastic spaces. The following shots share moments of the many small and large, famous and unknown garden tours I’ve taken over the past few days.

    If one garden, plant, idea or other image that follows is particularly intriguing to you, chime in. Later, I’ll be happy to share much more about each of these very special southern gardens that you’ll undoubtedly enjoy strolling – even if you’re only able to take a tour from the comfort of your computer chair.

    Butterfly in Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens Conservatory

    Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens in Richmond, VA is considered by many to be one of the top botanical gardens anywhere. After spending hours touring the grounds, I wrapped up the day in the conservatory where tropical butterflies like this sparkle like emerald jewels on the many blooms. I’ve enjoyed garden tours at Lewis Ginter in winter & spring now – yay!

    Wing Haven garden

    Decades ago, Elizabeth Clarkson developed her gardens primarily for songbird habitat. Today her Charlotte, North Carolina poetic pathways continue to offer wildlife refuge. And, her garden, Wing Haven, is part of the Preservation Project of The Garden Conservancy. It is open for tours many days of the year, and birds continue to thrive in this living legacy.

    Elizabeth Lawrence house and garden

    Just a few houses away from Wing Haven is the Elizabeth Lawrence House & Garden, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Lawrence’s garden was a garden of experimentation where she studied in order to write her numerous gardening books. She designed her small, practical home with an office and writing space overlooking her living courtyard laboratory. Here you get two garden tours for the price of one admission!

    Reblooming iris

    Love irises? How about irises that repeat bloom during the flowering season. I toured a cultivation field filled with specimens yet to come to market. Are you ready?!?

    Moss Lady garden tour

    My dear friend Norie is well known for her woodland moss garden habitat. As she toured me through the garden, she took a moment to photograph a special spotlight moment in her mossy wonderland. Years ago I toured Norie’s moss garden & wrote about it here. Norie’s garden is open for tours and trainings by appointment. A week ago 300+ visited in one day!

    Vaccinum stamineum in flower

    Love blueberries? Adore native plants? The N. American native Vaccinium stamineum blooms beautifully in my mother’s woodland Virginia garden in spring. Berries to come! Happy Birthday Mom! I’m so happy to share your garden with you on this special day – xoxo!

  • May Day Posies

    May 01, 2015

    Wondering what to grow for homegrown posies to give on May Day? Here’s a virtual posy of some of our favorites that are in full bloom, beginning to bloom or just wrapping up their bloom season by May 1st. Some of these beauties are native trees. Others are gorgeous shrubs. And, a number are naturalizing bulbs to plant (mostly) in fall and enjoy for many years to come. If you aren’t already celebrating the tradition of harvesting a few flowers to bundle in a posy & give to your friends and neighbors as a surprise celebration of spring flora, now’s the time to dive in and become a gardening fan who grows loads of blooms for garden eye candy, pollinator forage and May Day gifts! If you are growing fun blooms this time of year and don’t see your favorites here, please tell us what you love most.

    Species tulip in bloom for May Day

    Add late flowering species tulips for apricot-pink cups of beauty on May Day.

    Jonquil in bloom for May Day

    Plant fragrant jonquils in fall and enjoy blooms like this for May Day.

    Cranberry viburnum blooming for May Day

    Cranberry viburnum & many other viburnums bloom throughout spring & other times too!

    Rhododendron blooming for May Day

    Rhododendrons open throughout spring. There’s bound to be one blooming May 1st for you!

    Cornus florida blooming for May Day

    Native Cornus florida blooms beautifully in the mountains of Virginia in early May.

    Tree peony blooming for May Day

    Tree and herbaceous peonies often open this time of year. Perfect for bouquets!

    Enkianthus in bloom for May Day.

    Lovely bells on Enkianthus brighten the May garden.

    We pretty much expect someone will chime in with their love of lilacs, right?!

  • Best Tomatoes to Grow

    April 24, 2015

    Looking for the best tomatoes to grow? If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, consider our short list of great tomatoes to grow. We’ve included some sugary cherries, succulent slicers, all-purpose all-stars, container performers and pastes with aplomb.

    best paste tomatoes to grow

    Red, ripe & meaty paste tomatoes are ideal for cooking & preserving.

    These are what we believe to be the best tomatoes to grow in the Pacific Northwest, based on years of growing many types of tomato in the cool, short Seattle growing season. Let us help you take the guess-work out choosing which tomatoes to attempt!

    Cherries: If you don’t have much time or experience growing tomatoes, cherries may be your best bet for your first foray. (more…)

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