Sarasota’s Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

My last blog of the year is a botanical taste of early winter in a warm climate, specifically the climate of southwest Florida.  Come with me on a tour of the beautiful Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (MSBG) on Sarasota Bay, a garden I’ve been privileged to visit in December twice in the past few years. Ready? Let’s start on the Flower Walk outside the garden. That’s right, “outside the garden”. In the spirit of generosity and community-mindedness, there are beautiful plants and great design ideas everywhere on South Palm Avenue, including the parking lot exits – like this firespike (Odontonema sp.)….

Flower Walk-Odontonema-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….and a brilliant Aechmea representing Selby’s deep collection of bromeliads…..

FlowerWalk-Aechmea-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….and on the fence ouside the garden are a spectacular garlic vine (Cydista aequinoctialis)……..

Flower Walk-Cydista aequinoctialis-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….which deserves its own closeup….

Flower Walk-Cydista aequinoctialis (2)-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

…. and luscious chalice vine (Solandra longiflora)…..

Flower Walk-Chalice Vine-Solandra longiflora-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….and butterfly vine (Stigmaphyllon ciliatum) with a visiting hover fly.

Flower Walk-Stigmaphyllon ciliatum-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

I’m surprised on the flower walk to see so many honey bees nectaring on blossoms, including these ones on Bulbine frutescens, left, and nectar-robbing on Cape honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis), right.

Flower walk-Honey bees-Bulbine frutescens & Tecomaria capensis

But later, when I return to my car, I spot the feral beehive up in a live oak tree. Though it shows signs of having been plugged in the past, the clever bees have clearly overcome that obstacle.

Live oak-Feral beehive-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Marie Selby’s entrance is overhung by these native live oaks (Quercus virginiana) draped with epiphytic Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) – which is not a moss, but a flowering plant, a bromeliad. This familiar relationship of tree and epiphytic bromeliad is also emblematic of the botanical garden’s mandate to conserve, collect and display epiphytic plants, not just from Florida, but throughout the tropics.

Entrance-Live Oak-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The courtyard outside the entrance, with its traveller’s palms and little fountains, offers a lovely spot to rest – and a true enticement to enter.  For it’s on the wall near the entrance where a display of plants hints at the garden’s origins.

Entrance courtyard-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

All the plants mounted on the wall, below are epiphytes or “air plants”, for which the garden has enjoyed worldwide renown for more than 40 years.

Epiphyte Display-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

It isn’t long before visitors discover a little about Marie Selby (1885-1971), the Sarasota garden club member and widow of oilman Bill Selby (Selby Oil & Gas) who, through the family foundation, deeded her home and grounds as well as adjacent properties bounded by Sarasota Bay and Hudson Bayou to create a botanical garden “for the enjoyment of the general public.”  The dilemma for those charged with determining a theme for the garden back in the early 1970s was what kind of garden it should be. Fortunately, they were advised to specialize in a class of plants that no other public garden had focused on: epiphytes from the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Also known as “air plants” these species — mostly orchids, bromeliads and ferns — grow on a host, usually a tree, but occasionally a wall or fence or rooftop which affords them support and more sunlight than would be available to them at ground level in the rainforest.

Marie Selby Botanical Garden-Epiphyte Mandate

The part of the garden that hosts the lion’s share of epiphytes is just a stone’s throw from the entrance: the Tropical Conservatory. Here, visitors are treated to rarities collected by MSBG’s botanists since the garden’s inception.  Let’s go past the serene Buddha…..

Buddha-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

and take a stroll inside.

Tropical Conservatory-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

There is so much to see here, all to the soundtrack of jungle birds and dripping water. Below is the pendulous orchid Coelogyne rochussennii from Singapore and other parts of southeast Asia.

Conservatory-1

Orchids and bromeliads are put on display as they come into bloom, then moved into the garden’s greenhouses to rest. Below is Miltassia Shelob ‘Tolkien’.

Conservatory-Miltassia Shelob 'Tolkien'-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

There are rare carnivorous plants, like Nepenthes truncata, below….

Conservatory-Nepenthes truncata-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

…and more ordinary plants, like Cryptanthus ‘Pink Star’, below.

Conservatory-Cryptanthus 'Pink Star'-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

I loved this “São Paulo air plant”, Tillandsia araujei, named for the Arauje River in Brazil.

Tropical Conservatory-Tillandsia araujei-São Paulo Air plant-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the jewels of the conservatory is by taking a virtual tour via my little musical video, below.

Ready to head outside? Let’s go through the little bonsai exhibit.

Bonsai Garden-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

MSBG isn’t just about conserving and displaying epiphytes; there are several other groups of plants represented in strong collections here, such as cycads from all over the world. Apart from Florida’s common, native coontie (Zamia floridana), there are rare cycads like this endangered Microcycas calocoma from a small area in west Cuba…

Cycads-Microcycas calocoma-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

…..and a young Lepidozamia peroffskyana from eastern Australia. In time, this cycad will reach a height of 12 feet (4 metres) or more.

Cycads-Lepidozamia peroffskyana-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

If you have questions about plants in the garden, there are strategically-placed, knowledgeable volunteers to help answer them.

Volunteer-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The Fern Garden is a cool, shady oasis on a warm December day.

Fern garden-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

It contains majestic ferns, like Cyathea cooperi from New Zealand, above, and ferns that don’t really look like ferns, such as Doryopteris ludens from peninsular Malaysia.

Fern Garden-Doryopteris ludens-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

In the shadows of the fernery is bridal veil (Clerodendrum wallichii) from India.

Fern Garden-Clerodendrum wallichii-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

Moving clockwise through the garden, we come to the Bamboo Pavilion with its impressive, towering giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus), at right below – planted by Marie Selby herself.

Bamboo Pavilion-Dendrocalamus giganteus-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

Many other bamboos grow here, like the still uncommon Chinese Bambusa emeiensis ‘Flavidorivens”.

Bamboo Pavilion-Bambusa emeiensis 'Flavidorivens'-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

In December, the Koi Pond with its waterfall is decorated for the holidays.Overhanging the pool are trees draped with epiphytes.

Koi Pond-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

If you want to grab a snack before touring the rest of the garden, it’s a good time to visit the nearby Selby House Cafe. I love the decor, which features photos of the Selby Collection and antique botanical prints of rare orchids.

Selby House Cafe-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden aims to educate as it entertains young visitors.

Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden-Marie Selby BG

The Children’s Garden forms part of the Banyan Grove. Here kids are literally up in the treetops learning about the rainforest….

Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden

….playing on wonderful structures….

Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforests Garden-Play Structure-Marie Selby BG

….and being occupied with fun activities related to the environment.

Ann Goldstein Children's Rainforest Garden-Stamps-Marie Selby BG

If you visit in December, the Great Lawn will likely be dressed up for the Christmas Lights show with Florida reindeer (this year it’s December 21-30 from 6-9 pm).

Florida reindeer-Marie Selby Boatanical Gardens

The Cactus and Succulent Garden is not terribly big….

Cacti & Succulent Garden-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….but it features a few interesting Florida species, like Consolea corallicola.

Cacti & Succulent Garden-Consolea corallicola-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

As you walk south on the pathway through the garden towards Sarasota Bay, you can see the Hudson Bayou off to your left.

Hudson Bayou-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

When I was at MSBG three years ago, I photographed a large, native gumbo-limbo tree (Bursera simaruba).

Bursera simaruba-Gumbo limbo-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Sadly, for the tree, but luckily, for Marie Selby, it was the only casualty of Hurricane Irma this September.

Bursera simaruba-Hurricane Irma-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

The Steinwachs Famiy Mangrove Walkway brings visitors close to what makes Marie Selby Botanical Gardens so special: its location overlooking Sarasota Bay. That bridge is the John Ringling Causeway, named for Sarasota resident and Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus founder John Ringling (John and his wife Mable were as wealthy as their contemporaries, the Selbys) and it connects Sarasotans to the barrier islands St. Armand’s Key (with its high end shops) and Lido Key.

Mangrove Walk-Sarasota Bay & John Ringling Causeway-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

From the boardwalk, visitors walk through the natural mangrove swamps that form a vital ecosystem at Selby and along coastal areas in Florida. This is red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), with its distinctive prop roots; it is one of three species native to the area. Sadly, in many parts of Florida, mangrove swamps have been removed to make way for resorts.

Steinwachs Mangrove Walkway-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Walking under the Florida strangler fig (Ficus aurea) near the mangroves, we can look up and see spectacular, epiphytic birds nest ferns (Platycerium bifurcatum).

Platycerius bifurcatus-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The Palm Garden (Arecaceae) features another of Marie Selby BG’s deep collections….

Palms-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

…with palms from many parts of the world, but especially Florida palms like Acoelorrhaphe wrightii, which is native to the tip of Florida and the Everglades.

Palms-Acoelorrhaphe wrightii-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

For the most part, the garden’s collections are well labelled, and the warmth of the labels often attracts brown anoles (Anolis sagrei); this one lost its tail in a fight.  Cherry palm is in the MSBG’s Coastal Palm collection.

Palms-Anolis sagrei-no tail-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

As you continue along the path, you find many native plant in the next part of the garden, appropriately called Native Florida, including the lignum-vitae (Guaiacum sanctum) tree. Though I photographed the colourful fruit, its wood (lignum-vitae means wood of life) is considered the most dense of any species, and its hardness made it ideal historically for mortars-and-pestles and clock bearings.

Guaiacum sanctum-Lignum vitae-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Heading northwest, we come to the native shore plants along Sarasota Bay. Here we find shell mound or erect pricklypear (Opuntia stricta), which gets its name from its propensity to grow atop shell-laden dunes of coastal areas in the southeast U.S.

Coastal Natives-Opuntia stricta-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Planting saltmarsh cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) was a vital part of the 1997 shoreline restoration that occurred after MSBG acquired the Payne mansion, with its turfgrass lawn and exotic palm trees.  The idea is that the cordgrass gradually traps debris and silt, forming hummocks that become land that supports the spread of the cordgrass and shore outwards.

Spartina alterniflora-Saltmarsh cordgrass-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The Tidal Lagoon at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens is where the salty Atlantic ocean interacts with the shore.

Tidal Lagoon Sign-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Amongst the natives here is gulf muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris).

Muhlenbergia capillaris-Gulf muhly-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The brackish water of the lagoon has yielded a surprising colony of dotleaf waterlily (Nymphaea ampla), whose native territory seems to have migrated from Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

Tidal lagoon-Nymphaea ampla-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Here is an individual blossom.  If I magnify this, I can just see the black spots on the sepals that gives this species its common name.

Tidal Lagoon-Nymphaea ampla-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

Nearby is a representative sample of “Florida subtropical hardwood hammock”. For ecologically-minded visitors, this section and the adjacent lagoon will be the most interesting part of MSBG, for they represent the natural ecosystem of wild Florida, at a time when it was still untouched by rampaging land-clearing, agriculture and urban development of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Florida Hammock-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

Circling back towards the entrance, we come to the Christy Payne Mansion, featuring the Jean & Alfred Goldstein Exhibition Series. Though the guide tells me I’ve just missed a wonderful autumn orchid show, I’m delighted to see the display in the little gallery…..

Payne Mansion-Jean & Alfred Goldstein Exhibition Series-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

……for it contains a few vials from MCBG’s large spirit collection, the second largest in the world after Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in London. Here are orchids looking eerily beautiful in a window.

Spirit Collection-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

And as I’ve just finished reading Andrew Wulf’s fabulous biography The Invention of Nature – Alexander von Humboldt’s New World, I’m excited to see on the gallery wall an antique print of his Naturgemälde, the painting he made of volcanic Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, which he climbed in 1802 and whose vegetation he mapped according to elevation. He was the first to understand the topographic and geographic nature of plant communities, and his books were the basis of our understanding of ecology.

Alexander von Humboldt-Mount Chimborazo

Bromeliads, of course, are a huge focus at MSBG….

Bromeliad Garden-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

…..and this ‘plant fountain’ filled with them is enchanting.

Fountain & Bromeliads-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

The big leaves of this neoregelia are a favourite haunt for the anoles….

Bromeliads-Anolis sagrei-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….as are the bright-coloured flowers. This anole seems camouflaged in the aechmea.

Aechmea & Anolis sagrei-red-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

This is Portea alatisepala ‘Wally Berg’, named for the Sarasota collector who was renowned for passion for collecting bromeliads.

Bromeliads-Portea alatisepala 'Wally Berg'-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

This is Billbergia amoena.

Bromeliads-Billbergia amoena-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

We’ll take a fast run through the flower-filled Butterfly Garden…..

Butterfly Garden-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

….. where a monarch rests on native dayflower (Commelina erecta).

Monarch-Commelina erecta-Butterfly garden-Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

And, finally, the Tropical Fruit Garden gives Sarasotans creative ideas about which fruit trees and vines they can grow outdoors.  Here are just a few of the fruits & plant parts I photographed.

Fruit-Marie-Selby

#1 is banana; #2 is kumquat; #3 is starfruit; #4 is coffee; #5 is loquat; #6 is sugar cane; and #7 is ‘Purple Possum’ passion fruit.

My last stop on the way back to the parking lot is to knock on the door of the botanist’s office to say hello to my Facebook friend, MSBG botanist and ecologist Shawn McCourt. Originally from Northern Ireland, he is fortunate to be working at the garden as it launches a 10-year, $67-million upgrade that will move plants out of the flood zone, reorganize the 15-acre garden for better flow, transform the sprawling parking lot into green technology buildings and a 5-story parking garage featuring a living wall.

Shawn McCourt & Janet Davis-Marie Selby Botanical Garden

It is an exciting prospect for this wonderful tropical garden, and I hope to return some winter soon to see how things are proceeding!  In the meantime, may your Christmas be a merry one, and your new year filled with all things green!

**********************************

If you want to read more of my blogs on tropical and sub-tropical gardens, you might want to take a look at Lotusland in Montecito,California, Seaside Gardens in Carpinteria, CA and some wonderful gardens in South Africa: renowned Kirstenbosch, Durban Botanic Garden, lush Makaranga, the Harold Porter National Botanical Garden, and fabulous Babylonstoren.

A Plant-Lover’s Delight: The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

Way back in mid-June, before the annual Bloggers’ Fling (with its wonderful garden tours) had begun in the DC region, my husband and I toured Washington’s beautiful Dumbarton Oaks as well as the National Mall, before driving south to see Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville VA.  The National Mall on a steamingly hot Sunday was impressive for first-time visitors, all 1.9 miles (3 kilometres) of it. We walked from the spectacular Lincoln Memorial at its west end….

Lincoln Memorial

…to the sobering Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall nearby….

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

…and the World War II Memorial a little further on…..

World War II Memorial

…past the towering Washington Monument….

Washington Monument

….and the White House northwest of the Mall at this point….

White House

…all the way to the Capitol Building at the east end.

United States Capitol

In the last half of the Mall you find the Smithsonian Institution, which owns eleven museums and galleries on the National Mall, including many gardens, but my favourite by far was the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden nestled between the historic Arts and Industries Building and the Hirshorn Museum.  You can see it below in the context of the entire mall: my little red arrow points it out. (Click to open for the best view.)

National Mall-Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

As the Smithsonian explains on its website:  “The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden was the inspiration of Mrs. S. Dillon Ripley, lifelong plant scholar-collector, active gardener, and wife of the Smithsonian Institution’s eighth Secretary. (They are shown together in the photo below, while on a trip to India.) Mrs. Ripley conceived the idea for a “fragrant garden” on the eastern border of the Arts and Industries Building – a location that was designated to become a parking lot. In 1978 Mrs. Ripley persuaded the Women’s Committee of the Smithsonian Associates, which she had founded in 1966, to support the garden. In 1988 the Women’s Committee recognized their founder and friend by naming the garden after her. In 1994, Mrs. John Clifford Folger of Washington, DC, and Palm Beach, Florida, initiated an endowment fund for the support and care of the garden in order that it might be preserved as it was first conceived by Mrs. Ripley. This thoughtful gift was given with the hope that others might add to the fund so that visitors would be able to enjoy the garden into the 21st century.”

Mary Livingston Ripley & Dillon Ripley

So let’s take a tour of the Ripley. First of all, if I’d completed this blog back in the summer, as I intended to, I could not have introduced you to the new president of the Perennial Plant Association – and the woman who has been the Ripley Garden’s enthusiastic and education-focused gardener for almost 2 decades, Janet Draper. (And though I didn’t intentionally give her that poppy seedhead tiara, she is definitely royalty in the plant world of the northeast.)

Janet Draper-Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

That Janet is an obsessed plant geek becomes clear as soon as you enter the garden. Let’s start at the north entrance. See that elegant finial behind the orange flame flowers (Jacobinia chrystostephana), below? It reminded me of the Washington Monument down the mall, but Janet explained its provenance in  the Smithsonian blog, and it has to do with the recently-completed renovation of the Smithsonian’s historic 1881 Arts and Industries Building.

Jacobinia chrysostephana & finial- Ripley Garden

The garden with its curvilinear walkways was designed in 1988 by architect Hugh Newell Jacobson. It was originally intended to be a sensory garden that would be accessible even to people in wheelchairs, so there are several raised, brick beds that put the captivating plant combinations at eye level.  Behind, you can see the delightful Arts and Industries Building. Though its 12-year, $55 million renovation was completed in 2016, funding was not there to open it to the general public and it is currently only open for special events.

Raised bed north-Ripley Garden

I loved Janet’s creative plant combinations, from this bronze carex with annual red gomphrena…

Carex & Gomphrena-Ripley Garden

….to the pink poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata) peeking out through a cloud of Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)….

Perovskia & Callirhoe-Ripley Garden

….to a luscious combination of alstroemerias with catmint (Nepeta x faassenii ‘Junior Walker) and ornamental grass.

Nepeta 'Junior Walker' & Alstroemeria-Ripley Garden

Janet mixes desert species like spikey Yucca rostrata with tropicals, such as the big-leafed banana near the wall, and all grow happily in Washington’s long hot summer.

Yucca rostrata-Ripley Garden

She uses old-fashioned combinations, such as fragrant lavender with anthemis ‘Susanna Mitchell’, below….

Anthemis 'Susanna Mitchell' & Lavender-Ripley Garden

…. but also includes oddities like annual Dianthus ‘Green Ball’…..

Dianthus 'Green Ball'

……and unusual plants like scarlet tasseflower (Emilia coccinea), below.

Emilia coccinea

By the way, unlike a lot of beautiful display gardens, Janet makes sure her visitors are not only wowed by the plants, but have the opportunity to learn their names as well.

Plant labels-Ripley Garden

Fittingly, as the new PPA president, she grows the Perennial Plant Association’s 2018 Plant of the Year, below, Allium ‘Millenium’. I grow this little onion (hybridized by my Facebook pal and allium breeder Mark McDonough) in my pollinator garden, and can testify to its hardiness and rugged nature.

Allium 'Millenium'-Ripley Garden

There are little surprises like the Tuscan kale popping up in a sea of chartreuse anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum ‘Golden Jubilee’)…..

Tuscan kale & Anise hyssop-Ripley Garden

….and conversation starters like Solanum quitoense, or naranjilla, which definitely discourages sensory contact!

Solanum quitoense-Naranjilla-Ripley Garden

One of the showiest plants in the Ripley garden is the tropical pipevine from Brazil (Aristolochia gigantea) with its big carrion-scented blossoms. Janet loves this plant and enjoys talking to visitors about it. If you read her blog about it, you’ll understand its relationship to the American native pipevine (A. macrophylla), which is a massive vine – too big for the Ripley – but a larval plant of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly (the giant Brazilian plant is not).

Aristolochia gigantea

But after doing some sleuthing, Janet discovered another small pipevine, Aristolochia fimbriata, that does feed the larval butterflies, and she grows it now. Thus I was delighted to see a rather tattered, elderly pipevine swallowtail taking a break from egg-laying to nectar on zinnias in an orange-themed raised bed.

Pipevine swallowtail on Zinnia-Ripley Garden

Speaking of insects – and as a bumble bee photographer, – I was overjoyed to spot a local bee I’d never seen before, the black-and-gold bumble bee (Bombus auricomis) nectaring on anise hyssop (Agastache)…

Bombus auricomus-Black and Gold bumblebee on Agastache

….and cedarglade St. Johnswort (Hypericum frondosum).

Bombus auricomus-Black and Gold bumblebee- on Hypericum frondosum

Bumble bees make their own nests, of course, but there was also a lovely hotel for native bees in the garden.

Bee hotel-Ripley Garden

Incidentally, that bed in front of the bee structure perfectly illustrates Janet’s deft touch, not merely with plant collecting, but with lovely design, too. Look how all that pink Achillea ‘Oertel’s Rose’ draws the eye through the scene.

Achillea 'Oertel's Rose'-Ripley Garden

Though the garden has its share of hot, sunny sites perfect for succulents (and drowsy visitors)….

Urn of succulents-Ripley Garden

…it also has beautiful shady spots, too. That’s ‘Alice’ oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) way up on top.

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice'-Ripley Garden

Look at the subtle way the brick retaining wall becomes lower at this point, and how the use of the same bricks for path and wall creates a seamless journey.

Brick retaining wall & Path-Ripley Garden

Walking toward the shady end of the garden….

Border & Path-Ripley Garden

….you pass the beautifully textural living wall on the right. A miniature version of some of the building-sized living walls that have become popular in recent years, it is composed of plants whose texture and colours create a living painting. In this blog, Janet explains the nuts and bolts of her first attempt, and in a second blog three years later, she expands on the process with succulents and talks about other fun ideas with topiary.

Living Wall-Ripley Garden

If other visitors are anything like me, they’ll want to take a rest in the shade after walking the mall on a hot summer day. And how lovely is this resting spot, with its chartreuse obelisk-decked planters flanking it?

Benches & Obelisks- Ripley Garden

Once again, we see Janet’s plant combination skills, with this ‘Frosted Curls’ carex punctuating a bed of luscious Asarum splendens.

Carex comans-'Frosted Curls' & Asarum splendens-Ripley Garden

Look at this spectacular border: who said there aren’t a lot of plants for shady areas?

Shade border-Ripley Garden

Gazing back under the old American elms (they had been there for decades when Hugh Jacobson designed the raised beds around them), I felt that I could have spent hours in the Ripley Garden, marvelling at plant combinations and chatting with Janet Draper. But the United States Botanic Garden beckoned and it was still a good walk east towards the Capitol building. Reluctantly, I headed out into the heat and crowds of the National Mall.

American elms &-path-Ripley Garden

Allan Gardens – Christmas 2017

It’s beginning to look a lot like…..peacocks? That’s right. At Toronto’s Allan Gardens, it’s beginning to look a lot like a beautiful peacock feathered with colourful succulents will be ready to strut his stuff well in advance of the Christmas Season.  I was there yesterday and got a sneak peek from gardener Mikkel Schafer, who is the designer of this year’s feature topiary (see my video below)  Made of colourful flowers of Kalanchoe blossfeldiana and various echeverias…..

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock-Christmas 2017

…. the big bird is preening himself amongst the alocasias and bananas in the grand Palm House, the glass-domed centre of the five-glasshouse structure.

Allan Gardens-Palm House-banana

Mikkel was still working on the peacock’s neck, which is made from pine cone scales and leaves of silver dollar plant (Xerosicyos danguyi).

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock neck-Christmas 2017

I loved the kalanchoe ‘eyes’ in his tailfeathers, below.

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock-kalanchoe and echeveria eyes

In the Tropical House, below, the succulent Christmas tree was already finished and standing in its place of honour amidst the bromeliads. It will greet many visitors when this year’s edition of the Allan Gardens Christmas Flower show opens on Sunday December 3rd, with seasonal music from noon to 4 pm. The floral displays will be in place through the holiday season daily from 10 am to 5 pm until January 7, 2018.

Allan Gardens-Succulent Tree-Christmas 2017

Look at the detailed work here…..

Allan Gardens-Succulent Tree-echeveries and kalanchoes

Mikkel posed with his topiary moose in the Temperate House.  Its antlers are encrusted with mosses and lichens.

Mikkel Schafer-Allan Gardens-Topiary Moose

This mossy tree in the Temperate house…..

Allan-Gardens-Mossy-Tree-Ch

….is hung with decorations, like these cool silvery ornaments made from the velvety leaves of lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina).

Allan Gardens-Lambs Ears Christmas ornament

This one is fashioned from the dark seedheads of blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’).

Allan Gardens-Rudbeckia seedhead Christmas ornament

Spiced orange pomander balls deck this topiary tree made from the leaves of red oak (Quercus rubra).

Allan Gardens-Red oak leaf & spiced orange pomander ball topiary tree

The pool in the Temperate House is a favourite destination for many, especially little kids counting the goldfish. It’s edged with azaleas this week.

Allan Gardens-Pool & Fountain

Head down into the Tropical Landscape House where…..

Tropical Lanscape House-Allan Gardens

….. apart from the usual gorgeous blossoms like hibiscus….

Hibiscus-Allan Gardens

….. there is a trio of Cryptanthus-adorned topiary trees under the magnificent cycad.

Allan-Gardens-Tropical

The Arid House will look like a sparkly yuletide desert by early December, when the lights are in place amidst the spectacular collection of succulents and cacti. (This photo is from a previous Christmas).

Allan Gardens-Arid House-Christmastime

I made a short video to whet your appetite for a seasonal visit to Toronto’s wonderful Allan Gardens this holiday season.  Please note, the show runs from December 3 to January 7th.

But rest assured, if you miss seeing all the beautiful Christmas touches, like this lovely wreath in the Tropical House…..

Allan Gardens- Christmas Wreath-2017

…Allan Gardens Conservatory is a cozy, leafy oasis throughout Toronto’s long winter months when a parade of flowering bulbs, tropical blossoms and spring bulb flowers beckons. Do make a date to go!

Allan Gardens-Tropical Array

November Work: Cutting Down the Meadows

Last week, I performed what has become for me a ‘rite of November’: cutting down the meadows at our cottage on Lake Muskoka, a few hours north of Toronto. I have to admit, it isn’t my favourite chore of the year, though I acknowledge I don’t actually have a lot of “chores” up there, given the naturalistic way I garden. But it’s definitely the most labour-intensive – amidst the least pleasant weather conditions of autumn, as it usually turns out. This year it was blowing a gale as I assembled my wardrobe and tools:  hedge shears, rake, cart, bundling cloth and ropes, rubber boots, extra layers under my waterproof jacket and fleece band to keep my ears warm. I started out with the big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), the tallest of my prairie grasses, at 7 feet with its turkey-foot flowers. Considering it’s growing in shallow soil atop the ancient rock of the Canadian Precambrian shield, rather than the deep loam of the tallgrass prairie where its roots can extend far down, I think it’s rather happy at the cottage, and I took a selfie of us together before I chopped off its head!

Janet Davis-Lake Muskoka-Big bluestem in the meadow

Since my meadows and beds likely measure only about 1600 square feet or so, it’s not a lot to hand-cut with the hedge shears. People wonder why I don’t use a string trimmer, but I find that holding the weight of a trimmer just above ground is harder on my back than bending over and chopping the stems manually. I understand you can buy a harness for the trimmer, so that might be an improvement – but there’s something hypnotically satisfying about working with the shears.

Shears-cutting big bluestem-Lake Muskoka

As I work, I rake and pile the stems into windrows near the cart where I’ll eventually pack them up into bundles to carry by hand up the hill behind the cottage to a place out of sight where they can break down.

Cottage meadow-Lake Muskoka-November 15

If I don’t cut the meadows, the heavy snows of winter will soon bend down the grasses and forb stems, but the thatch that accumulates makes it less attractive for self-seeding wildflowers and daffodils emerging in spring. So if I want the scene below in mid-summer, it pays to prepare for it by cutting old growth.

Cottage meadow-Lake Muskoka-July 31st

And if I leave the switch grass (Panicum virgatum) standing after it turns colour in fall….

Switch grass-October-Lake Muskoka-fall colour

…. it will look like this in May.

Switch grass-May 15-Lake Muskoka-uncut

So I remove all the above ground growth in November.

Switch grass-November 15-Lake Muskoka-after cutting

And if I’m travelling during this late autumn window (as we have on a few occasions), the daffodils will still come up in the meadow the following spring, but it’s a bit of a struggle.

May 15-Big bluestem-Lake Muskoka-uncut-daffodils

In short, if I want this…..

Cottage bed & Orienpet Lily-July 31-Lake Muskoka

…I have to do this.

Cottage bed-November 15-Lake Muskoka

And if I want this…..

View of path-Lake Muskoka-July 31

….I have to do this.

View of path-Lake Muskoka-November15

I could hold off on the cutting until late winter or very early spring, when the ground is still frozen (as I do in my city meadow), but timing doesn’t always work that well up here and a fast thaw means I’m cutting on mucky soil. And since most of the seed-eating birds have flown south and those that remain seem adept at picking up seed from the ground, I’m happy to clear out this…..

Path through meadow-Lake Muskoka-November15

…. in order to enjoy this next summer.

Path through meadow-Lake Muskoka-July15

Beyond the chores of this month, I love the varied browns of November. I’ve even blogged about Beguiling Brown in the Garden. And I enjoy inspecting all the seedheads as the plants complete their life cycles. Plants like showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), its white panicled seedheads shown below alongside the charcoal autumn foliage of false indigo (Baptisia australis). (Incidentally, though these plants flower at the opposite ends of summer, they’re among the best for bumble bee foraging.)

Seedheads-Solidago speciosa & Baptisia australis-November

Here is the candelabra-like seedhead of culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) with the ubiquitous button-like seedheads of wild beebalm (Monarda fistulosa).

Seedheads-Veronicastrum virginicum & Monarda fistulosa-November

Those seedheads above, of course, are proof that the attractive summer flowers, shown below, attracted the pollination services of the appropriate wild bees.

Flowers-Veronicastrum virginicum & Monarda fistulosa-summer

And the late summer-autumn season has also allowed the various grasses to shine, below, including – apart from the big bluestem – Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum).

Big Bluestem & Indian grass-Lake Muskoka

November is the perfect time for dormant seeding native wildflowers, so as I’m chopping the stems, I also do some fast sowing into the meadows, using my boot toe to kick little bare spots into the soil, then grinding some of the seeds just below the surface, while leaving others exposed. I do this with New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis), below.

Fall seeding-New York Ironweed-Vernonia-Lake Muskoka

Chopping, raking, piling, carrying. Chopping, raking, piling, carrying. After a good day-and-a-half in blustery wind and intermittent cold rain, I manage to take 8 tied bundles of stems up the back hill to a spot on top of the pile of blast rock that was cleared when we built our home here on this waterbound peninsula 16 years ago. In time, the vegetation will decompose amidst the staghorn sumac pioneers and create a more complex meadow planting here.Compost pile-Lake Muskoka

Finally, as I finish washing out the cart, coiling the garden hoses, cleaning my tools, bringing everything indoors and preparing to drive back to the city in the waning light of the third day, I gather up a handful of the stems I’ve put aside in my cutting. Because apart from enjoying vases filled with summer flowers in July…..

Bouquet-July meadow flowers-Lake Muskoka

….. it feels virtuous, somehow, to accord these plants the same respect in November.

Bouquet-November meadow seedheads-Lake Muskoka

To capture a little of the atmosphere of what it’s like to perform this task in November, I’ve made a short video to enjoy here. (Please excuse the wind – it was impossible to find quiet moments.) The good news? My back and I are still on speaking terms!

 

Hiking With Friends

I’m heading off the beaten path in this blog with a personal memoir, a little gift to good friends – but you can come along too, if you like. A few weeks ago, we hiked at a favourite location, the Torrance Barrens in the Lake Muskoka region. It’s a place I visit regularly and blog about, too – and indeed, it’s a spot my hiking gang has visited a few times before, using our cottage as lodging. What’s significant, for me, is that this year’s walk represented the 25th year my husband and I set aside a weekend in autumn to hike with the group. For it was October 1993 when we were invited “in” and posed, below, near the famous Bruce Trail in Beaver Valley, Ontario – a suitable christening for a pair of novice hikers (I’m in the hat, he’s in the yellow jacket) as we slogged through forest and field in cold, pouring rain.

1993-Beaver Valley-hikers

The Bruce Trail has been our favourite hiking venue, and we’ve slowly bitten off chunks of its 890 kilometre (553 mile) length,

Bruce Trail

… all the way from the spectacular Lion’s Head Provincial Park up on the Bruce Peninsula overlooking Georgian Bay way back in 1994….

1994-Lion's Head Provincial Park

….where we took turns posing on the rugged Amabel dolostone (limestone) cliffs high above the water – capstone that was the bottom of a shallow limestone sea some 420 million years ago…

1994-Lion's Head-limestone cliffs

…..and ate our picnic lunch, as was our custom, on the rocks overlooking the water……

1994-Lions-Head-Lunch

…. to the Niagara Gorge at its south end, in 1995.

1995-The Niagara Gorge

In 1996, we ventured off the Bruce Trail and headed to Pelee Island for the weekend. Later, as Lake Erie waves crashed onto shore, we strolled the sand at Point Pelee, Canada’s most southerly point of land.

1996-Point Pelee-Hiking

1998 saw us head east to ‘the County’, i.e. Prince Edward County and Picton, Ontario – just emerging then as the choice destination it has become since then. There we found a particularly picturesque bed & breakfast called The Apple Basket Inn (sadly no longer there)….

1998-Apple Basket-Inn-Picton

…. and lovely scenery nearby, including actual apple baskets at Hughes’ Orchards!

1998-Hughes' Orchard-Picton

2004 was a special year, when we hiked the tropical hills of Mustique in the Caribbean, courtesy of John & Anne. This is the view of Britannia Bay….

2004-Mustique-Brittania Bay

….. and this is the view of Bryan Adam’s house!  (Honestly, we did hike….)

2004-Mustique-Bryan Adam's House

In 2006, we were back on the Bruce Trail over the forks of the Credit River in Caledon….

2006-Caledon-Forks of the Credit River

…. where the group posed for my camera.

2006-Hiking Group-Forks of Credit

The year 2007 saw us beginning our Saturday hike under a rainbow in Collingwood…..

2007-CollingwoodRainbow

….before hiking the Bruce Trail in the Owen Sound area.  It rained that year, as we slogged our way through a carpet of sugar maple leaves in Sydenham Forest.

2007-Sydenham Forest-hikers-Bruce Trail

The glacial potholes in the Sydenham forest were so fascinating, created from the action of glacial melt-water roughly 12,000 years ago, their damp walls home to maidenhair and provincially rare hart’s tongue ferns.

2007-Glacial Pothole-Sydenham forest-Bruce Trail

The most spectacular sight was Inglis Falls, which was the site of an 1840s grist mill.

2007-Inglis Falls-Bruce Trail

Looking back at our picnic lunch in the rain that day, I recall that we were not going to let the rigors of the hike derail our South Beach diet!

2007-SouthBeachPicnic

In 2008, we again hosted the hikers at Lake Muskoka where I’d asked Orillia naturalist and mycologist Bob Bowles (navy cap) to give us a walking seminar on mushrooms.

2008-Mushroom Lessons-Lake-Muskoka-Bob Bowles

Though the forest floor on our peninsula was laden with maple and beech leaves by that point in October, we were able to key 29 species of mushrooms.

2008-Lake Muskoka-Page's Point-Beech Bracket Fungus

We also hiked the Torrance Barrens that year, where the blueberry bushes were bright red and the paper birch skeletons shimmering white.

2008-Torrance Barrens-beaver pond

We eased into our 2009 hiking weekend in Prince Edward County with a wine-tasting personally conducted by Norman Hardie at his renowned vineyard.

2009-Norman Hardie-Wine-tasting

We all enjoyed a sip — best be prepared ahead of a hiking trip!

2009-Wine-Tasting-Norman Hardie Wines

The next day, when we hiked the soaring dunes of Sandbanks Provincial Park….

2009-Sandbanks Provincial Park

….. where some found time to wade in the waters of Lake Ontario…..

2009-Sandbanks Provincial Park-hikers

… I did a little botanizing, and  was thrilled to see fringed gentians (Gentianopsis crinita) in flower.

2009-Gentianopsis crinita-Fringed gentian-Sandbanks

In 2010, we headed back to Niagara, but this time we walked about 10 kilometres (6 miles) of the Niagara River Parkway…..

2010-Niagara River Parkway

….where the view of the river was spectacular…..

2010-Niagara River

….before getting into our cars (ah, the magic of the pre-parked cars!) and driving to Ravine Vineyard for lunch.

2010-Niagara Ravine Vineyard

In 2012, we hiked near Susan’s beautiful farm…..

2012-Farm

….. where we sat for a group photo (again, of most of us, but not quite all).

2012-Hikers

As with many of our hikes, we enjoyed brilliant fall colour – here of Susan’s gorgeous paper birch…..

2012-Paper Birch-Betula papyrifera-fall colour

In 2014, we bunked in at Anne and Bob’s in Collingwood, and headed out on the Kolapore trail, which Bob helps maintain.

2014-Kolapore sign

Though it sometimes feels like a dark cathedral of trees as we hike amidst thousands of slender trunks of sugar maple, beech and birch….

2014-Kolapore hiking

…. it’s good to look up occasionally, and see fall-coloured leaves fluttering against the autumn sky.

2014-Kolapore-maples

The trail that year was muddy in places – there was the odd little spill…..

2014-John-mud

The vegetation was wonderful: here are hart’s tongue ferns (Asplenium scolapendrium), quite rare in the region.

2014-harts-tongue ferns-Asplenium scolopendrium

Though non-native, it’s always a treat to see watercress (Nasturtium officinale) in a clean, moving stream.

2014-Watercress

In 2015, eight of us decided to pack our bags and head to a different kind of forest for our autumn hike: a rain forest. In Costa Rica!

2015-Beach Trail sign-El Remanso Lodge-Osa Peninsula-Costa Rica

And do you know how mother nature makes a rain forest? That’s right…….

Let’s just say our hiking attire was a little lighter than normal, given the almost total humidity and warm temperatures.

2015-Felix-Long Hike-El Remanso

Five of us did the zip-line through the jungle. I chickened out but served as the documentary photographer.

2015-Ziplining

(I wrote  a special blog about El Remanso Lodge on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, if you want to read a little more.)

In 2016, we hiked the Mad River Side Trail near Glen Huron, Ontario. The colours were spectacular.

2016-Glen-Huron-Fall-Colour

Here’s a video I made of that lovely hike along the Mad River.

When we arrived at the base of the Devil’s Glen Ski Club to have lunch, I made a group shot, (well, most of us and one guest – a few had wandered away) and just managed to get myself back into the frame before the shutter clicked.

2016-Hiking Group-Devils Glen

Heading back to our lodging, we stopped at an apple stand and stocked up on Northern Spy apples, my favourite for pies and crisps.

2016-Spy Apples-Glen Huron

Which brings me to this year, the 25th edition of our hike, when we once again met in Muskoka and walked the beautiful Torrance Barrens.  We marvelled at the fluffy white clouds reflected in Highland Pond….

2017-Highland-Pond-Clouds-Torrance Barrens

…and noted the tamaracks (Larix laricina) at the water’s edge.

2017-Pine-Sumac-Tamarack-Torrance Barrens

Bob pointed out aspects of geology, as in ‘this is gneiss, not pure granite’.

2017-Gneiss

We walked past my favourite paper birch….

2017-Paper birch-Torrance Barrens

…..and saw the fluffy cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum) flanking the bog.

2017-Cotton-grass-Eriophorum

The little bridge over the small pond is sinking in the middle and necessitated a ‘one-at-a-time’ rule.

2017-Bridge

It’s always fun to stop and look at the erratic boulder left behind when the ice retreated, and it appears that Alex Tilley, founder of Tilley Hats, agreed. This little interpretive sign was paid for by Tilley, whom I’ve seen hiking the Barrens.

2017-Erratic-Precambrian Shield-Torrance Barrens

With so much rain this summer and autumn, many parts of the path were waterlogged and Bob (the veteran trail groomer) pointed out drier spots to navigate.

2017-Water on trail-Torrance Barrensl

We crossed Southwood Road and finished our hike in the deeper soil of a forest….

2017-Hikers-in-oaks-Torrance Barrens

….featuring bracken ferns and beautiful red oaks.

2017-Red Oak-Torrance Barrens

A tiny red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) was on the path (it’s only my lens that makes it look huge) – one of many reptiles I’ve photographed in the Barrens over the years.

2017-Red-bellied snake-Torrance Barrens

And at the end of the trail, we posed for our traditional photo (minus four who couldn’t be with us this year).  Over a quarter-century, we’ve seen our children grow up, marry, change jobs, and have their own kids. We’ve talked about books, theatre, food, health and travel to faraway places. We’ve lost spouses or partners, and felt the comfort of the friends who knew them well. And we’ve welcomed new partners to the group and made them feel welcome and loved. It is a simple thing to do, walking a trail, and it reminds us that we need nature – and the company of friends – to live full lives.

2017-Hiking Group-Torrance Barrens

*****

In memory of Murray, Tim and Jim.