Under the Grand Tetons

I’m making one of my frequent diversions from colour (yes, this is my orange/apricot/peach month according to my 2016 resolution, and it’s coming up soon!) to create a photographic travel journal for a trip we made last month. Why? Because that’s how I derive added value from a journey long after it’s over. Life has become so full, it’s sometimes tempting to unpack the suitcase and unpack the memories from our brain. A journal lets me store those memories

Prior to travelling to Sun Valley, Idaho to hang out with a group of old friends, we did what some 305 million people do in the United States each year: we visited a national park. Actually TWO national parks!  We were very lucky to find a tour company with cancellations, because staying overnight in either Teton or Yellowstone National Park is not a last-minute decision, given the fact that the park hotels (all owned by the National Park System) are fully booked a year in advance. But by going on a wait-list at Tauck Tours, then lucking out on cancellations, we scored our opportunity to visit these two iconic western parks in September, arguably the most beautiful sightseeing month of the year there (still crowded, but not summer-busy).  And 2016 just happens to be the 100th anniversary year of the U.S. National Parks system!


Thus our excitement as we arrived at Jackson Hole Airport in the far west of Wyoming on Labour Day Monday.  Fortunately, we’d read the weather forecast and left our summer clothes behind in the east, unlike some people arriving that day to bracing mountain temperatures.


There are pros and cons to doing a bus tour, as those of us who enjoy our freedom on the road know very well. We might have tried to drive the parks ourselves on our own schedule had we thought about going earlier, but the main advantage, as I noted above, is that the lodging bookings have already been made.  And a respected tour company like Tauck has excellent guides, so we learned so much more with our guide Murray Rose than we would have on our own. And if you’ve juggled flights, border hassles,  baggage, rental car logistics and maps, you’ll know how satisfying it was for us to see that man with the sign who grabbed our suitcases and led us out to the comfy SUV in front of the small terminal. His name was Kirby, and like most of the people employed in Jackson Hole (the name of the valley in which the town of Jackson is located), he lives a long (50 mile) commute away, the issue being a shortage of affordable housing for workers in this winter playground of the very rich. We set out on Highway 191 for the 45-minute drive to Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park.


Though its summit was shrouded in clouds, Kirby pointed out the permanent (but melting fast) glacier on Grand Teton. (I’ll talk about the mountain range later in this blog – when the weather clears!)


By the time  we headed through the Moran Entrance Station into Grand Teton National Park, we’d already seen our first herd of bison in the distance.


Now we were driving the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Parkway. A few miles in, we got a good look at the Oxbow bend of the Snake River on its meandering journey from its headwaters just beyond Jackson Lake in Yellowstone Park. At 1,078 miles (1,735 k) long, the Snake is the 13th largest river in the United States and the largest tributary of the Columbia River, which in turn is the largest North American river and empties in the Pacific Ocean.  Tomorrow (further down this page), we will raft 10 miles of its winding 50 mile (80 k) course through Jackson Hole.


We arrived at the Jackson Lake Lodge, checked in, dumped our suitcases in the corner of our little cottage and crawled into bed. These days, a 6 am flight to Chicago means a 3 a.m. alarm clock call. Time for a nap!  A few hours later, much refreshed, we explored the lobby of the lodge…..


….before sitting down in the bar overlooking the Grand Tetons. We ordered their special cocktail – a drink with a 2-word name, neither of which should be in the same phrase with each other. Huckleberry. Margarita. Don’t. Ever. And I love margaritas, but sorry, huckleberries are for muffins or pancakes. (These were the sourest berries I’ve ever had.)


Sour cocktails aside, the view as twilight descended was truly spectacular, with a new moon rising above the Tetons.


The next morning, there was a frost on the lawn in front of the lodge…


…and frost on the silky lupine (Lupinus sericeus) leaves beside the hillside trail nearby.


But the Tetons were looking gorgeous as early mist floated above Jackson Lake.


The boggy area stretching from the lodge out to Jackson Lake is called Willow Flats. The sign says that “these grassy openings, small ponds and clumps of willows provide important food and cover for sandhill cranes, beaver, moose and many other wetland species.”

12-Willow Flats - Jackson Lake Lodge

The air was still cold when we were picked up early for our morning raft trip down the Snake River. After a short drive from the lodge, we launched from Deadman’s Bar (so-called because of a notorious triple-murder at a campsite here back in the Gold Rush days). Our Grand Teton Lodge Company able raft guide was Spencer, and he showed us how to swivel our bodies into the raft from the shore without getting wet.


With five in the front of the raft and five in the back, we set out on our swift float down the Snake towards Moose Landing.  This part of the river doesn’t have any technical whitewater, but is still considered advanced for amateurs. The previous summer, rangers posted a warning after several do-it-yourself boaters capsized.  You need to know how to work those oars against the current, and our Spencer did!


The splendour of the Snake is that you are always within view of the Grand Tetons. In fact……


….this iconic vista of the Snake River was made by photographer Ansel Adams in 1942, when he worked for the U.S. Department of the Interior to photograph national parks for mural-sized prints for the Department’s new building (the Mural Project). Because the image is the property of the U.S. Government, it is considered public domain.


Lucky for us that the weather was clear and our view of the Tetons was magnificent.


Notwithstanding our raft’s speed and bouncing rhythm on the waves, I was able to zoom my little Canon telephoto lens to the summit of Grand Teton.  At 13,775 feet, it’s the 78th highest mountain in North America, with Denali (Mount McKinley) the highest at 20,310 feet. It is the highest pinnacle in the Tetons, a fault block range which is the youngest chain of the Rocky Mountain ranges, having been formed quite suddenly less than 10 million years ago by an uplift along a fault that is still visible in places at the base of the range (more on that later). It continues to move, averaging 1 foot of displacement every 300-400 years. For climbers, Grand Teton is considered challenging; climbing diagrams show it criss-crossed with routes named for those who climbed it, including the first documented ascent by surveyor William Owen and Episcopal bishop Franklin Spalding with two others in 1898.


With eyes back on the river, we saw a bald eagle sitting in a tree.


A little further, (with the help of a comment from Spencer), I managed to snap a photo of a very strange scene: two turkey vultures perched on rocks near the carcass of an elk or deer that had drowned, its body upside down and its leg sticking out of the dead tree.


Just beyond, a fishing party worked the shallows, hoping perhaps to catch (and release) the iconic Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout, or at least a non-native rainbow trout that they can keep.


The upper Snake River features braided channels, sandbars and shifting logjams. As a gardener, I looked longingly at all the smooth river rocks on shore.


And we posed for the travel journal photo album.


Spencer must have wondered why I was focusing on his face so much, but it’s always a fun challenge for me to capture a good scene in someone’s sunglasses.


Since it’s difficult to visualize the journey down the Snake from still photos, I’m including a little video to give you more of a rafting feeling….

As we approached the end of our raft trip in Moose, we glimpsed a few buildings on the shore. This one is part of the Murie Ranch Historic District, now a National Historic Landmark and site of the Murie Center of Teton National Science School.  The ranch was home to conservationists Olaus and Mardy Murie and brother Adolph Murie, a scientist, and his wife Louise. As the first president of the Wilderness Society in 1945, it was Olaus Murie (along with the entire Murie family) who advocated for the preservation of wild lands as entire ecosystems, a visionary quest that helped to bring about the passing of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which now protects 109 million acres in the U.S.


A little further on, we passed the replica of another historic Snake River site, Menor’s Ferry. When Bill Menor homesteaded here in 1892, he realized that this single channel section of the river was perfect for a pontoon cable ferry, which worked with the current on the river to transport people across. He sold his property and the ferry operation to Philadelphian Maud Noble in 1918.  Maud Noble’s cabin on the site is renowned for the July 1923 meeting held there between the Yellowstone Park superintendent and local ranchers, when the decision was made to create Grand Teton National Park. Six years later, the property was bought by John D. Rockefeller Jr., who restored the ferry and buildings; in 1953 he donated it to the National Park Service.


Our raft trip finished, we headed into the town of Jackson (pop. around 10,000) with time on our own for lunch and shopping. Given that small population, you might be interested to learn that, according to 2014 tax data from the IRS, Teton County tops the list of highest-income counties in the U.S. with an average income of almost $300,000. Perhaps that isn’t surprising, given that one of the Wal-Mart Waltons resides there. (Wyoming itself is the tenth largest state and the least populous in the U.S., with a total population of around 590,000). Jackson’s town square is known for its four arches made up of elk antlers (they’re shed each winter, so nothing sinister, just found objects).


After lunch, we made a stop at Mormon Row.  This lonely spot beneath the Tetons was settled in the 1890s by Mormon homesteaders, who called their community Gros Ventre after the mountain range and river nearby (though the U.S. Postal Service called it Grovont).  The pink house below was part of the John Moulton ranch.


On the drive back to Jackson Lake Lodge, we got a good look at the vertical line running down Middle Teton, the second highest mountain in the range. It’s difficult to imagine the monumental time scale that places the geologic event that produced this feature – called a ‘black diabase dike intrusion’ – some 775 million years ago. That’s when magma from the earth’s mantle intruded through an east-west fracture into the surrounding Precambrian rock.  When Middle Teton was upthrust around 10 million years ago, the 20-40 foot thick black dike went up with it. And as the diabase eroded over millennia, the mountain around it eroded less quickly, producing the ditch effect (unlike Mount Moran, later in this post).


The next morning, it was our luck to be assigned the front seat on the bus (yes, bus tours these days circulate passengers so everyone serves their time at the back), which gave us a picture postcard view of the Tetons as we left Jackson Hole for Yellowstone Park. Isn’t this fabulous?


Our first top was at the Cathedral Group Turnout on the way to Jenny Lake to snap our last photos of the Tetons (and us, of course!)


This was our wonderful Tauck tour guide, Murray Rose, below.  He was a font of knowledge about history, geology, geography, wildlife – and had a pretty funny shtick to go along with it.


The sign refers to the Cathedral Group: Grand Teton, Mount Owen, Teewinot, Middle Teton & South Teton. But the name of the range was uttered first by 19th century French explorers, who looked up at the three most prominent peaks and called them, for obvious reasons, les trois tétons, meaning three breasts. Idaho’s Teton Valley is on the other side.


This is Mount Moran, below. It has a black diabase dike intrusion at the top middle but, unlike Middle Teton, whose rock is more resilient to erosion than the diabase, Mount Moran’s rock is more subject to erosion, leaving the dike higher than the surrounding rock. In November 1950, a C-47 aircraft flying from Chico, California to Billings, Montana crashed in snow and fog 12,000 feet up the side of Mount Moran (12,605 feet), killing all 21 people aboard. Though a service was held at the site the following year, it was too dangerous to retrieve the bodies and they remain on Moran to this date.


A little more mountain geology: as I wrote above, the Tetons formed quite suddenly 9-10 million years ago when a series of huge earthquakes triggered movement of the Teton fault, resulting in the bedrock on the west side of the fault rotating up to form the mountains, and the block on the eastern side of the fault sinking down to form the valley known as Jackson Hole.  Geologists get really excited about the Teton Fault!


The place where the blocks displace each other can produce a cliff-like step, called a “fault scarp”. On the Tetons, the post-glacial fault scarp extends for 35 miles, but is clearly visible hear the base of Mount Saint John, below.


Here’s a closer look at the fault scarp.


Next, we headed to nearby Jenny Lake. Named after the Shoshone Indian wife of an English trapper (Jenny Leigh and the couple’s six children all died of smallpox during an epidemic in 1876), the lake was formed by glaciers pushing rock debris at the base of Tetons, carving out a canyon and forming a terminal moraine (great piles of soil and rock) that blocks up the lake.  Jenny Lake is the starting point for much of the mountain-climbing and hiking in the park.


Our last stop in Grand Teton Park was Colter Bay Village on Jackson Lake, below. (Both Jenny and Jackson Lakes allow motorboats with a maximum of 10 hp, unlike the other park lakes where only ‘human-powered’ boating is allowed.)  Colter Bay is named for John Colter (1774-1812), who was part of the Lewis-Clark Expedition (1804-06), the first American expedition to cross the western U.S. as far as the Pacific Ocean. (Colter did not accompany the expedition to its finish.) In 1807, Colter made his own journey of discovery, becoming the first European to enter the area now known as Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. (It should be noted, however, that the region had been home to Native Americans for thousands of years prior to Colter coming over the mountains. Yellowstone tribes included the Kiowa, Blackfeet, Cayuse, Coeur d’Alene, Bannock, Nez Perce, Shoshone and Umatilla, among others.)  When John Colter returned to Fort Raymond, in what is now Montana, after spending the winter of 1807-08 alone in what is now Yellowstone Park, he was ridiculed for his reports of bubbling springs and geysers.

37-Colter Bay - Jackson Lake

Walking around the marina at Colter Bay, I noticed a poster about a forest fire, the Berry Fire, that had been caused by lightning on July 26th.  The forest service chose to manage the fire for ecological purposes – as is the norm these days – but on August 22nd, high winds and dry conditions saw it jump Jackson Lake and burn into the Teton Wilderness. As of September 7th, when we were leaving Teton National Park for Yellowstone, the fire was being managed safely and it was speculated that it might continue to burn until autumn rains or snowfall extinguished it.


But what we didn’t know as we drove past the freshly-burned lodgepole pine forest on the Rockefeller Parkway on our way to the south entrance of Yellowstone Park was that, a mere 4 days later, the fire would close the highway and the south entrance. And it would remain closed for some time.


Lucky us!  Because we were now heading into the iconic park that I’d dreamed of visiting for years. And it would not disappoint. To be continued…..



Lilies in Meadows

I spent an hour on Thanksgiving weekend planting a dozen Orienpet lily bulbs in my meadow gardens at the cottage on Lake Muskoka. A deservedly popular group resulting from complex hybridizing of Oriental and Trumpet lilies, they came from the Lily Nook in Neepawa, Manitoba, which has been in the lily-breeding business for more than 30 years. The Lily Nook also sells popular lilies outside their own registry, offering 150 varieties through their catalogue.  I’ve always been impressed with their service and the quality of their bulbs.


When I say I planted the bulbs in “meadow gardens”, I mean either one of two small fields on either side of the cottage, below, but also in….


..garden beds that I originally intended to keep somewhat tame, which have now been invaded by their wild meadow brethren.  This is ‘Conca d’Or’ – my favourite Orienpet, with blue Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and ‘Gold Plate’ yarrow (Achillea filipenulina)….


Planting lilies is easy, and much like planting spring bulbs such as tulips or daffodils. The difference is that lilies can be planted in either fall or spring, unlike spring-flowering bulbs which must be planted in autumn. Fall planting works well when autumns are long and relatively mild, allowing the bulbs to root nicely before freeze-up. In my case, there is no beautiful, rich soil to work; it is truly a mess of wild grass and wildflower or perennial roots and granite bed rock. I shifted my spade around to find 10-12 inches of clear soil, then dug out any roots I could and sifted the soil a little with my hands. I had a very small amount of seed-starting mix that I added to the hole (I would recommend a better soil, if you have it, to give a good start), then plunked the fat, scaled lily bulb on top.  Lilies prefer rich, free-draining but reasonably moist soil.


I gathered a pail of pine needles, and after backfilling the hole with the bulb, I mulched the soil with the needles and watered everything well. Experts recommend mulching Orienpets in cold regions, but apart from the pine needles, I’ve relied on our generally guaranteed deep snow cover to get them through winter. The pine needle mulch at least guarantees a short time for the bulb to emerge in spring without encroachment by other plants.


And when I say encroachment, in meadow gardening it’s a given that life is cheek-to-jowl and plants must be able to survive in those conditions. Here’s the Asiatic lily ‘Pearl Justien’ with wild sweet pea (Lathyrus latifolius).


This year, I bought 3 bulbs each of pink ‘Tabledance’ (who makes these names up?) and ‘Esta Bonita’, three of ‘Northern Delight’ (soft melon orange) and three more of my fave: pale-yellow ‘Conca d’Or’.  The Lily Nook always adds a free bonus bulb, usually an Asiatic. While they are lovely in my city garden, they don’t seem to take as well to the meadows at the lake.  The one below faded away after a few years of rough living.


Orienpets have inherited the spicy fragrance of their pink and white Oriental parents and the swoony scent of the orange and yellow Trumpets. So I’m careful to site my lilies where their exquisite perfume can be enjoyed up close. That means near a sitting area, as with ‘Conca d’Or’, below…


…. or along a grassy path where walkers can enjoy inhaling.  That’s peachy ‘Visa-Versa’ at the front, and the orange Asiatic ‘Pearl Justien’ in the rear.


…. or beside the stairs to the dock….



They are not immune to disease (especially after a rainy spring, when the stems and leaves can develop a blight) and certain little critters love them, especially red lily beetle (I don’t have many of these) and grasshoppers, like the ones below noshing on ‘Robina’ (I have thousands of these!)


This one reminded me of Dr. Strangelove riding the bomb.


Deer will take the odd chomp off the top – and that, of course means the end of the flower.  But when they are happy(ish), they are my guilty pleasure – since everything else in my meadows is grown for wildlife and pollinator attraction. The liies are just for me, a little hit of luscious intermingled with the do-gooders. Let them keep company with the red ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia as it brings in the hummingbirds to sup….


…. and with the orange butterfly milkweed, as it attracts bumble bees and monarch butterflies.


Let them hang out with the bee-friendly veronica (V. spicata ‘Darwin’s Blue’)….


…. and the pink wild beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) with its hordes of bumble bees.


Here’s a tiny video of ‘Conca d’Or’, (above) playing partner to beebalm.

Yes, my meadows are big enough for a few pinup gals, like ‘Visa-Versa’, below.


And the garden beds look all the lovelier for a ravishing beauty among the humble blackeyed susans.



Beguilingly Brown in the Garden

“Brown in the garden”. Remember my January resolution to blog about every colour for all of 2016? Well, it’s September and I’ve delayed writing about brown as long as I could….

Brown Flowers & Leaves-ThePaintboxGarden

No, “brown in the garden” is not a phrase you often hear, unless it’s wondering what to do with those Japanese maple leaves that are curling up and turning brown in summer (uh-oh).  Or the white pine needles that are turning brown in October (they’re getting ready to fall silly… no evergreen is truly ever-green.)

In the winter, you might notice bronze oak leaves remaining on trees, even through the snowiest and coldest weather.  That is a function of tannins that remain in the leaves once chlorophyll breaks down, protecting and preserving them in the same way an old-fashioned ‘tanner’ would use these substances to turn animal hides into leather.  This tendency to hang onto the twig as a brown leaf after most deciduous trees have lost their leaves is called marcescence.  Beeches, below, also exhibit marcescence, and their winter leaves can be quite fetching in the garden..


I love this winter combination of columnar beeches (Fagus sylvatica ‘Atropurpurea’) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum) at the Toronto Botanical Garden.


Many warm-season grasses also retain tannins in the leaf and enough structural integrity to stand upright through winter weather. Shown below in snow is switch grass (Panicum virgatum), but you may note this strong winter presence in maiden grass (Miscanthus), feather reed grass (Calamagrostis), fountain grass (Pennisetum) and northern sea oats (Chasmanthium) as well.


Toronto’s Music Garden relies on ornamental grasses to provide much of its interest for the long winter months.


Brown seedheads also have their own charm, and many look beautiful against snow. This is anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum ‘Blue Fortune’) consorting with a grass in winter.


Purple coneflower seedheads (Echinacea purpurea) persist very well through winter, and feed hungry birds as well.


Even in the gardening season, flowers that turn brown add a textural note to plantings.  In my own cottage meadows, I love the September shaving-brush seedheads of New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis).


These are the seedheads of Phlomis tuberosa ‘Amazone’, with the fading flowers of echinacea. Not surprisingly, this duo is in the Entry Border of the Toronto Botanical Garden – a border designed by Piet Oudolf, whose philosophy is to create a meadow-like tapestry of plants that lend beauty even when out of bloom.


And look at these giant alliums, also in the entry border at the TBG. Of course they were beautiful when they were rich violet-purple, but I do love them as brown seedheads consorting with the rest of the plants a few weeks later.


Speaking of the Toronto Botanical Garden, I spend so much time there, chronicling the changes in the various gardens, but especially in Piet Oudolf’s Entry Border, that I’ve come to appreciate the plants that persist beyond their starring roles. So I’ve made a video to show the function that “brown” fulfills as a substantive colour in autumn and winter, after the colourful flowers have faded. There are many plants shown in these images, but especially good for persistence of seedheads are Liatris, Echinacea, Achillea, Stachys, Astilbe and, of course, all the ornamental grasses. Have a look……

Piet Oudolf also designed the plantings at the High Line, where brown is a colour, too. Below is a pink astilbe in the process of turning bronze, then buff, making it the perfect colour companion for the blackeyed susans.


Lovely as they are in the winter garden, many grasses also have spectacular brown flowers that create lovely colour combinations in the summer garden, too, like this fluffy brown cloud of (Deschampsia caespitosa) with airy sea lavender (Limonium latifolium), also in the border designed by Piet Oudolf.


And here it is softening purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) at the Royal Botanical Garden in Burlington, Ontario.  Doesn’t that little cloud of brown add a grace note to that scene?


This is feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) with blue Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) – demonstrating that blue and (golden) brown make lovely dance partners.


Speaking of blue and brown, this is a very good combination:  Amsonia ‘Blue Ice’ with Heuchera ‘Caramel’.


Heucheras, of course, have been bred over the past few decades to produce a fabulous range of colours, many of which veer towards brown. I love the rich tones of ‘Mahogany’, below.


Even some evergreens can be called brown, like this weird little arborvitae, Thuja occientalis ‘Golden Tuffet’ (which isn’t even dead!)


Many tropical plants seem to exhibit brownish tones. For example, luscious Canna ‘Intrigue’, here with coleus at the Toronto Botanical Garden….


…. and that strange multi-colored tropical shrub copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana), with its patchwork peach & brown leaves. Though you sometimes see this as the cultivar ‘Mosaica’, the reddish-olive-brown shows up in varying degrees in a few forms of that species. ‘Haleakala’ has a completely brown leaf.


I love Cordyline ‘Red Star’, which is the centrepiece of this fabulous urn by the Toronto Botanical Garden’s gifted horticulturist Paul Zammit. Though it often looks more burgundy, here it reads as rich brown, especially with the matching heucheras.


Phormiums or New Zealand flax have been a big part of the tropical gardener’s arsenal, and many are bronze- or olive-brown. This is lovely ‘Dusky Chief’.


And where would gardeners be with annual sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas)? One of the richest is mocha-coloured ‘Sweet Caroline Bronze’, shown below with Pelargonium ‘Indian Dunes’.


There are countless cultivars of the annual foliage plant coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides), and a few hit the brown jackpot, like ‘Velvet Mocha’ below.


Pineapple lily (Eucomis comosa) ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ has olive-brown foliage that really adds depth to a garden, like the Ladies’ Bed at the New York Botanical Garden.


Brown-flowered perennial plants are, admittedly, in short supply (many gardeners likely wondering why you’d even want a brown flower) but there are strange and lovely bearded irises that come in copper and cinnamon shades, like ‘Hot Spice’, below.


And we simply cannot leave a discussion of brown in the plant world without talking about the genus Carex.  Whether it’s Carex testacea, like this fun bronze-headed sculpture in Marietta & Ernie O’Byrne’s Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene, Oregon……


….. or Carex buchananii in my very own sundeck pots a few years back.


I loved the way the Toronto Botanical Garden’s Paul Zammit used Carex buchananii in this spectacular run of windowboxes, along with orange calibracoa, the golden grass Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, golden cypress and kitchen herbs.


And, yes, C. buchananii can be counted on throughout the snows of winter. (Whether it reappears in spring depends on how cold winter got!)


BUT….. gardeners do not live by plants alone. There are furnishings! And they can be brown & beautiful, like these cool, dark-brown metallic planters at Chanticleer Garden, in Wayne PA.  (Check out the carex inside.)


Speaking of Chanticleer, I loved this rugged brown wood-and-COR-TEN steel bench and pergola in their Tennis Garden – and look how lovely brown furnishings are with brilliant chartreuse foliage.


Weathered COR-TEN steel is all the rage these days, being a stable, rusty finish that needs no upkeep. It was used to spectacular effect to make this canoe-like planter at New York’s High Line, holding interesting, moisture-loving plants flanking the garden’s water feature.


Water features are another way to bring a shot of brown into the garden. Have a look at the drilled ceramic urn fountain, below, which I photographed at Seaside Nursery in Carpinteria, California.


Let me finish up with a few sculptural details in shades of brown. Let’s start with whimsy – and a little Pythagorean creation from Suzann Partridge’s annual Artful Garden show.  Isn’t she sweet?


And then let’s move to elegance: a handsome, rusty obelisk perfectly placed within a flowery border at Northwest Garden Nursery in Eugene.


Finally, I’ll sign off with a little farewell to summer: a September bouquet filled with brown prairie seedheads and grasses, from my Lake Muskoka meadow to you. And a reminder to remember that brown is a colour too!



Wonderful Wave Hill

One of my ‘must-do’ gardens when I have a few days in New York (apart from New York Botanical and the Conservatory Garden at Central Park and the High Line) is fabulous Wave Hill, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. And so it was that in mid-August, I caught the Metro North ‘Hudson Line’ train at Grand Central Station and took my comfy window seat for the scenic ride along the Hudson River.  (Excuse the dirty windows, please – not my fault!)


When you get off at Riverdale-Wave Hill, you really should wait for the shuttle, which meets northbound trains at 9:50am, 10:50am, 11:50am, 12:50pm, 1:50pm, 2:50pm and 3:50pm.  (Return shuttles for southbound trains leave Wave Hill’s front gate at 20 minutes past the hour, from 12:20pm through 5:20pm).  But I was feeling energetic – and had forgotten how steep the hill is and how long the walk from the station up towards the garden, set in a lovely, leafy Bronx neighbourhood. So I walked.


Wave Hill, overlooking the Hudson River and the towering Palisades on the New Jersey shore, was built by lawyer William Morris in 1843 to serve as his country home. It was enlarged by publishing scion William Appleton in the late 1800s, and played host to visiting notables such as Thomas Huxley. Teddy Roosevelt wasn’t yet in his teens when his parents rented the estate in the summers of 1870 and ’71, and likely helped to foster in him the love of nature that propelled him to protect America’s wild lands as national parks. Perhaps its most famous resident was Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), who leased Wave Hill from 1901 to ’03, and entertained guests in a tree house on the back lawn. Later residents included conductor Arturo Toscanini (1942-45).  In 1960, Wave Hill’s last private owners, the Perkins-Freeman family, deeded the estate to the city of New York and it was incorporated as a non-profit, one of 33 city-owned cultural institutions and specializing in programs of horticulture, environmental education, woodland management and presentations of the visual and performing arts. while seeking to “foster connections between people and nature”.  (Sources: Wikipedia & Wave Hill)  Wave Hill House underwent a two-year $9.8 million renovation and was reopened in 2013. When I visited the following June, I was impressed with the gleaming woodwork – not to mention the stunning bouquet of delphiniums in just the right shade of blue to enhance the walls.


As I headed into the garden this August, I was greeted by some lovely new touches to the Perennial Flower Garden, which I had last seen in 2014, including the beautiful, sky-blue tuteurs in each of the central four sections.


The flower garden, overseen by gardener Harneck Singh, consists of eight plots arranged in cruciform quadrants, each loosely colour-themed. And there’s always something big and beautiful from the greenhouses in the centre; this summer it was a luscious, variegated agave.


Those blue tuteurs add to the elegance quotient in the flower garden. Here’s how it looked in June 2014. below.  Not nearly as dramatic.


There were a lot of silver-spotted skippers flying about, including this one on Clematis heracleifolia.


I enjoyed seeing Clematis crispa climbing the rose bower in the flower garden.


Speaking of rose bowers, I fondly recalled making former director of horticulture Marco Polo Stufano pose for me in one of the bowers, when I was there in 1994.  Though it was terribly sunny and not great light for a portrait (especially with my limited photography skills more than 20 years ago), I do enjoy having this reminder of a very talented man who lent his expertise to the garden. Today, Louis Bauer is horticulture director and is putting his own creative mark on Wave Hill’s gardens.


My 1994 visit was seven years after Marco Polo Stufano was featured on the cover of the November 1987 issue of Horticulture magazine. (Photo by Allen Rokach)  And yes, I am a packrat, and I really should clean out the mags in my office!


The story inside the magazine was about the flower garden, as redesigned by then curator of gardens John Nally. His name is now memorialized in Wave Hill’s practice of hiring interns – called Nallies – to work in the garden. I had a little chat with one of Wave Hill’s 2016 Nallies, Gabe Santoriello, who was carefully deadheading flowers in the red garden. He made me chuckle when I called out ‘Gabe’, to ask him about a plant. “You know, I had my earphones in,” he said, “but you sounded just like my mom when you called me.” (I’ve had some family experience calling out to young men!)


Being late summer, grasses were good-looking, like this Calamagrostis acutiflora with Helenium autumnale.


I loved the duo below in the red garden, when I visited in June 2014:  ‘Heart Attack’ sweet william (Dianthus barbatus)  and the airy seedheads of Allum schubertii.  Isn’t this cool?


Walking into the entrance to the tropical and desert greenhouses, I saw that Marco Polo Stufano has also been honoured with his name on the conservatory, a gift of Frank and Anne Cabot, who also founded The Garden Conservancy. .


Lovers of tropical plants should be prepared to spend a lot of time exploring the jewels in the tropical house.


What a fascinating plant: Strophanthus preussii.  I had a discussion with plant nerd friends on Facebook about the evolutionary significance of the long, red corolla threads. We couldn’t come to an agreement about why nature gave this African liana such decorative accents (but nature rarely creates adaptations for the fun of it).


I loved seeing this little arrangement of air plants (Tilliandsia ionantha).


This is what greeted me in the tropical house in June 2014: can you say Indian clock vine (Thunbergia mysorensis)?


Crossing into the desert house, I paused to take in the stunning variety of small succulents and cacti.


Walking back into the garden through the blue conservatory doors (matching those tuteurs), I was reminded how effective a little paint is at drawing landscape elements together – and how complex the textural plantings in those containers just outside the doors were!


I never visit Wave Hill without heading down to the long pergola overlooking the Hudson River and the Palisades on the New Jersey shore.  Apart from the stunning view, there are loads of wonderful plants displayed there!


Another section of the pergola.


And lookng towards Wave Hill House along the pergola.


That cascading, yellow-flowered vine intrigued me, but I had no idea what it was. So I cornered Wave Hill gardener Coralie Thomas who carefully dug out the label to show me: Petraeovitex bambusetorum, or Nong Noch vine, a Vietnam native. Thank you Coralie!


Then it was time to move on to some of the other wonderful gardens, but I stopped to take a quick shot of the happy confection of flowers (gomphrena ‘Fireworks’ & yellow strawflower) in the Paisley Garden across from the Visitor Centre.


Immediately behind the conservatory on a rise of land are two long gardens. The first is the Herb Garden…


…. with its late summer profusion of aromatic herbs.


The second is the Dry Garden.


There are always interesting surprises dotted about here and there, like this Boophane disticha on the steps. boophane-disticha-wave-hill.

Behind these is a lovely display of bonsai plants.


Beyond is the Alpine House, which is not open to the public but easily observed through the glass.


Head back out to the path and circle around behind the Alpine House and you’ll come to the Wild Garden.


This is a tough theme to pull off without attracting loads of weeds, but the August display was beautiful – naturalistic, yet reasonably controlled.


I liked the contrast of the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) with the bronze colour of the upright spurge (Euphorbia stricta).


One of my favourite spots to spend a little time sitting is the Aquatic Garden. I loved how it had filled out from June….


….to August, when the big lotuses (Nelumbo nucifera) are at their sumptuous best.


Adjacent is the Monocot Garden, with its luscious grasses, lilies and bromeliads, among many other plants.


With a date on Manhattan’s High Line in late afternoon, it was time for me to pick up a lunch at Wave Hill’s lovely restaurant and make my way to the shuttle for the drive to the Riverdale train station. As I looked around at all the spectacular but residential-scale gardens here (there are others besides those I’ve written about), I thought of a sentence from that Horticulture magazine story 29 years ago, Though it described the redesign of the Perennial Flower Garden, it could be applied to all the gardens at Wave Hill: “…its style would be in keeping with Wave Hill’s history as a private estate.”   Indeed, this garden is sheer inspiration for those who create modest gardens around their own homes. It is truly a garden for people.   But as I walked down the path beside a scrambling maypop vine (Passiflora incarnata) and watched the carpenter bees and honey bees nectaring madly on the August blossoms, I was reminded that it’s also a garden that nourishes and sustains nature’s myriad other creatures.


A Visit (or Two) to New York Botanical Garden

World-class is an overused term, but it is not an exaggeration when describing what I consider to be the finest public garden in the United States: New York Botanical Garden.  In my two decades of visiting NYBG, I have seen it change its focus somewhat to become more ecologically attuned, as befits any modern botanical garden, but it has not lost its charm no matter what the season. And 2016 marks its 125th anniversary, a milestone to celebrate. So let’s celebrate with a photo  tour of some of the gardens on its 250 acres (100 hectares). Whenever I visit (via the Metro North Railroad from Grand Central Station, Botanical Garden stop), I head immediately to the Seasonal Border, designed by Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf.  When i visited this August, I noticed a new sign dedicating the garden to Marjorie G. Rosen, who chairs the Horticulture Committee and is Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors.

NYBG-Seasonal Border-August 2016

I love this border in all seasonal guises, for its inspiration for those thinking about making a naturalistic meadow-style planting. Here it is, below, in July 2011 with ‘Green Jewel’ coneflowers (Echinacea) front and centre.

NYBG-Seasonal Border-July 2011

I was especially fond of this combination of Lilium henryi and Scutellaria incana.

NYBG-Seasonal Border-Lilium henry & Scutellaria incana

This is how it looked in spring 2012. The bulb plantings were designed by Jacqueline van der Kloet.

NYBG-Seasonal Border-Spring 2012

They’ve even gone to the trouble of making a sign showing Piet Oudolf’s hand-painted plan for the garden.

NYBG-Piet Oudolf Seasonal Border Plan

It’s a short walk from the Seasonal Border to the Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden. This is what it looked like in August.

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-August 2016

I loved these combinations: Colocasia esculenta ‘Blue Hawaii’ with zingy Gomphrena globosa ‘Strawberry Fields’….

NYBG-Salvia-Gomphrena-Colocasia-Perennial Garden

… and a more romantic look with Salvia guaranitica and a lovely pink rose.

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-Rose & Salvia guaranitica

I spent a lot of time watching butterflies and bees nectaring on Phlox paniculata ‘Jeana’, a late summer mainstay at NYBG.

NYBG-Black Swallowtail on Phlox paniculata 'Jeana'

This garden also offers lots of design ideas, whether you visit in spring (this was 2012)….

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-Spring

…. or summer (2011).  If you sit on this bench with that gorgeous lily within sniff range, you’ll understand why designers recommend planting perfumed plants where you’re going to be walking or sitting.

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-July 2011

I love the use of gold/chartreuse foliage in this part of the perennial garden.

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-Chartreuse

The Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden and the adjacent Ladies’ Border were designed by New York’s champion of public gardens, the venerable Lynden Miller, below, right. When I was there in 2012, she and NYBG’s vice-president of outdoor gardens, Kristin Schleiter…..

NYBG- Kristin Schleiter & Lynden Miller-Spring 2012

…. conducted a tour of NYBG’s then brand-new Azalea Garden, below, with azalaes and rhododendrons arranged throughout the garden’s natural rock outcrops and underplanted with natives like white foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia). If you visit in late April or  May, this part of the garden is a must-see!

NYBG-Azaleas & Tiarella

I loved this spectacular pink cloud of azaleas!

NYBG-Azalea Garden

Speaking of spring, it was sometime in the late 1990s when I visited New York in Japanese cherry season. At NYBG, that means a stroll to Cherry Hill, where you’ll see pink and white clouds of beautiful “sakura” trees.  And there’s a daffodil festival bolstered this spring by a huge planting commemorating the 125th birthday.

NYBG-Cherry Hill

But back to the perennial garden area. Adjoining it is the Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden, a formal knot garden.  This year, the parterres were filled wtih artichokes….

NYBG-Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden-2016

…. but a few years ago, there was a charming planting of clary sage (Salvia horminum).

NYBG-Nancy Bryan Luce Herb Garden-2014

The perennial garden also sits in the shadow of the spectacular and historic Enid Haupt Conservatory.

NYBG-Jane Watson Irwin Perennial Garden-Sign

Here is how that magnificent dome looks from the perennial garden.

NYBG-Enid Haupt Conservatory Dome

I always make a point of visiting the conservatory in order to see the season’s themed show, as designed by Francisca Coelho (they run from mid-May to mid-September). This year, it was all about American Impressionism, and the long gallery in the conservatory featured plants that represented that art movement, such as Celia Thaxter’s Garden.  Here’s what it looked like from the entrance….

NYBG-Impressionist Garden Plants 2016-Francisca Coelho design (2)

…. and from the far end of the gallery.

NYBG-Impressionist Garden Plants 2016-Francisca Coelho design (1)

I loved the 2014 show, which was titled “Groundbreakers: Great American Gardens and the Women Who Designed Them”. The conservatory show was titled ‘Mrs. Rockefeller’s Garden’, and was a nod to Eyrie, the Maine garden designed for Abby Aldrich Rockefeller in 1926 by Beatrix Farrand.

NYBG-2014-Mrs Rockefeller's Garden


But my favourite was 2008’s “Charles Darwin’s Garden”.

NYBG-Darwins Garden1-2008

They even created a little study for him, complete with desk and rocking chair.

NYBG-Darwins Study-2008

Adjoining glasshouses contain stunning displays of tropicals…..


…..and another has cacti and succulents.


Behind the conservatory is the wonderful courtyard pool.


Here you see sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera)….

NYBG-Nelumbo nucifera

…sometimes with resting dragonflies….


…and luscious waterlilies, like Nymphaea ‘Pink Grapefruit’, below.

NYBG-Nymphaea 'Pink Grapefruit'

Walking through the garden (or you can take a tram), you’ll come to one of my new favourite places: the Native Plant Garden.  On August 16th, despite the lack of rain in the northeast this summer, the meadow portion was a symphony of prairie grasses, goldenrods and flowering spurge (Euphorbia corollata), among other late season plants….

NYBG-Native Plant Garden-Outcrop

….. and buzzing with pollinators, as promised in the interpretive signage for the garden.

NYBG-Native Plants-Signage

Have you ever seen a glacial erratic? This is what happened in this very spot when the glaciers retreated from Manhattan thousands of years ago, leaving this massive boulder behind. Geologists identify these behemoths as erratics when they do not fit the mineral profile of the underlying rocks.

NYBG-Glacial Erratic-Native Plant Garden

The meadows are beautiful, but the new native wetland is also a revelation. Imagine, coming down this boardwalk…..

NYBG-Native Plant Wetland

….. and looking over the edge to see a huge collection of carnivorous pitcher plants (Sarracenia species and hybrids), along with orchids.


Keep walking and you’ll find a bench where you can contemplate the waterfall.

NYBG-Wetland-Lobelia cardinalis

All around you are native plants that are fond of damp conditions, including cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) and New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis).

NYBG-Native Plant Garden-Cardinal Flower & Ironweed

We’re not finished touring, so rest your legs until you’re ready to cast a glance over the rosy cloud of Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium) before heading back up the slope to the meadows.

NYBG-Wetland-Joe Pye Weed

Keep walking – you’re almost at the best place in New York to see roses: the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden. In June, there’s even a festival – and it’s worth the extra cost to add it to your general admission.

NYBG-Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden

There are many other gardens, of course, including deep botanical collections of trees and shrubs. I usually pay a short visit to the Louise Loeb Vegetable Garden.

NYBG-Louise Loeb Vegetable Garden

And I sometimes pop by the Pauline Gillespie Plant Trials Garden to see how the new plants are faring.

NYBG-Pauline Gillespie Gosset Plant Trials Garden

But I never visit New York without making my way to the front gate of the New York Botanical Garden!  Happy 125th birthday, NYBG. Still humming along after all these years!

NYBG-Hummingbird-Ladies' Border