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!

 

Muskoka Wild – Gardening in Cottage Country

Gardening in cottage country.  Ah, the whispering white pines, the towering red oaks and sugar maples, the lacy hemlocks, the shimmering trilliums… and the pee-gee hydrangeas?

It is a strange paradox that when people head to their summer retreats in Muskoka, Georgian Bay or the Kawartha Lakes (or any other wilderness area), they often feel the need to recreate the type of manicured city landscape they left behind – one that fails to capture the unique sense of place inherent in the spectacular, rugged terrain of cottage country.   After all, don’t we seek escape to a granite island or forested shoreline in order to appreciate nature in the wild, not to subdue it with our own sense of urban decorum?

Natural shoreline-Lake Muskoka-kayak

But when that decorum includes a Kentucky bluegrass lawn sweeping down to the lake’s edge, one that needs fertilizing to stay green and mowing and edging to stay neat, it seems to me that we have not only turned our backs on the notion of wildness, but threatened it as well.  We should all be aware by now that fertilizer runoff has a harmful effect on water quality, increasing the phosphorus levels, encouraging the growth of algae and adversely affecting the shoreline habitat for fish.  But apart from the environmental effect of a lakeside lawn, the idea of having to replicate the humdrum chores of an urban back yard at a place where you should be snoozing in a hammock,  reading the latest bestseller, and kicking off your summer sandals just seems wrong.

Book and hammock at Lake Muskoka

Of course, the ideal cottage landscape is the one that’s been altered the least, the one that retains the native low-bush blueberries, blackberry, black chokeberry, wild raspberry, bearberry and myrtleberry, below .

Myrtleberry-Gaylussacia baccata-Lake Muskoka

It’s the landscape that respects the bush honeysuckle, the creeping dogbane, white meadowsweet and common juniper, while rejoicing in the mayflower, wild strawberry, violet, Solomon’s seal, trout lily, trilliums and red columbine.

Aquilegia canadensis-eastern columbine

It appreciates the bracken and marginal shield ferns in the dry places, the cinnamon and royal ferns in the damp spots and the sensitive fern and lady fern in the shady forest.  It’s the one where children and grandchildren run down paths carpeted with pine needles; where the shore is edged with white turtlehead, blue flag iris and swamp milkweed, below.

Swamp Milkweed-Asclepias incarnata-Lake Muskoka

The place where wild goldenrod and an assortment of asters offer up an easy bouquet for the Thanksgiving table.  And it does all this under trees that grow in familiar communities – red maple, white pine, beech, red oak, paper birch, hemlock, moose maple, staghorn sumac and trembling aspen – while giving shelter to songbirds, chattering jays, chickadees, barred owls and woodpeckers.Woodpecker-staghorn sumac-Lake Muskoka

Gardening Between a Rock and a Hard Place

But what if leaving the cottage landscape au naturel is not an option?  Construction doesn’t always leave the land in pristine condition, and sometimes a cottage property has been “tamed” by the people who owned it before you came on the scene. What then? For me, it was necessary to come up with a fast landscape plan after we built our Lake Muskoka home in 2001-02, a construction project that left the sloping bedrock exposed and barren of vegetation. But perhaps I should back up a little here.

Davis Cottage-Lake Muskoka-Slope-2001

Our south-facing property was the driest, hottest patch of land on a little peninsula jutting out into a small bay on the southeast part of Lake Muskoka.  Except for a row of towering, white pines at the shore – survivors of a fire that razed parts of the peninsula ridge decades earlier – and some red oaks here and there, the vegetation was scrubby, its growth constrained by shallow, acidic, sandy soil formed from the granite and grey gneiss rock underlying much of the region.  Sloping on a moderate angle to the lake, it was a challenging site for construction of a four-season house big enough to accommodate children, friends and far-flung relatives for family reunions.  With no road access, all supplies arrived by barge, including the concrete truck that poured the foundation, massive steel beams, roof trusses, lumber, appliances and furniture.

Equipment on barge-Lake Muskoka

When all was finished, we were delighted with the cottage (that’s the rustic euphemism we assign to homes of any size on Lake Muskoka); the views were spectacular from all sides and a screened porch extended the hours we could be outdoors dining and reading.  But our ecological footprint had not been light.  Much of the bedrock on either side of the site had been scraped bare of vegetation by tractors and line-trenchers.  Worse, the front of the cottage dropped away sharply onto sloping granite, making exiting the doors on the lower level to reach the lake a treacherous exercise.

Lake Muskoka Cottage-before terracing-2002

My objective in landscaping was not simply to re-green the site, but to re-shape the contour of the land, adding a front plateau to let us safely access the hillside.  It would feature a new woodchip path to replace the path that meandered across the property long before we built there.  We would also need stairs leading to the lake and dock, and I played with various concepts, below, as we worked on the house.

Cottage-Lake Muskoka-Concept Sketch for stairs

But beyond the structural changes, I wanted to return our land to a richer, more complex diversity than it possessed before we began to build.  I knew that the pines and oaks would eventually re-colonize the property, along with blueberries, junipers and sumacs.  In the meantime, there would be years of vibrant sunshine to nourish whatever I chose for my palette.  And even as I transplanted tiny pine saplings, I began to dream about those wild, flower-spangled meadows I had grown up with as a child in Victoria,

White Pine Seedling-Lake Muskoka

It wasn’t just a desire to naturalize an already natural site that appealed to me.  I was also pushing back against the way I’d been gardening in the city, rebelling against the need for constraint and order that comes with beds and borders and neatly-mown lawns.  It made no sense to think that way about a cottage landscape; not only would it be out-of-step with the natural environment, it would be out-of-synch with how I had changed, physically and philosophically, as a gardener.  More and more, I wanted a landscape that was not just for me and my kind, but one that would appeal to other species:  the bees, katydids, butterflies, birds and chipmunks that would soon call the meadows home.  I also wanted that sense of aesthetic pleasure that comes from observing a truly changing canvas with a roster of plants to provide a shifting tapestry from April to October.  Most of all, I wanted my meadows to be low-maintenance.  

Katydid on Rudbeckia hirta-blackeyed susan

After the last of the construction equipment was removed from the site, a barge arrived loaded with a tractor and different kinds of soil.  For the most conventional garden beds – the spaces between the four doors on the lower level – rich triple-mix consisting of equal parts of loam, peat and manure was chosen.  For the open meadows on either side of the cottage and the sunny hillsides in front of them, we settled for a local, low-grade, sandy soil, emulating the environment found in natural sand prairies.  On the steep bank dropping from the newly-shaped path under the old white pines in front of the cottage, we elected to spread a locally-sourced forest soil called “trimmings” that contained the roots and seeds of whatever might be found naturally growing in similar conditions nearby. 

Lake Muskoka-Cottage Landscaping-2002

My objective that first summer was to prevent the new soil from washing down the slope in rainstorms.  As a fast-germinating cover crop, I seeded the meadows and hillsides with a combination of creeping red fescue grass (Festuca rubra) and black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta), mixing about 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of the wildflowers into 4.5 kilos (10 pounds) of grass seed.  A few weeks and many hours of hand-watering later…..

Lake Muskoka Cottage-watering seeds-Summer-2002

….the first blades of grass emerged, followed closely by the first tiny leaves of countless blackeyed susans.

Lake Muskoka Cottage-Blackeyed Susans-2003

A biennial, it makes a rosette of foliage in its first season and sends up flower stems the following summer, before setting seed and dying.  I still laugh at the photos taken of me in year two standing amidst thousands of cheerful black-eyed susans.

Janet-in-blackeyed-susans

Into the rich soil of the doorway garden beds went big golden yarrow (Achillea filipendulina ‘Gold Plate’), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum).  This is how the path and a doorway bed looked a few years later.

Lake Muskoka-Cottage Path & Bed-2007

At the base of the richest meadow, I planted an assortment of prairie grasses, including big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium),Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switch grass (Panicum virgatum), below.  And over the next few years, I did an autumn sowing of seeds of a roster of tallgrass prairie perennials that would become the flowery backbone of the meadows: foxglove penstemon, heliopsis, monarda, gaillardia, sweet blackeyed susan, gray-headed coneflower, asters and showy goldenrod to add to goldenrods already on the property.  That plants were native was not as important to me as their drought-tolerance, a vital attribute for a landscape that would rely on rainwater — while acknowledging that dry summers would take their toll on plants growing in shallow soil.

Panicum virgatum-switch grass-Lake Muskoka

The Meadows Mature

Now, fifteen years later, my meadows and garden beds provide a bounty of flowers (and beautiful bouquets). There is something in bloom from the first daffodils of April…..

Daffodils-Cottage-Lake Muskoka

….  to the last goldenrod and asters of autumn. This is showy goldenrod (Solidago speciosa), down by the lake in late September.

Solidago speciosa-showy goldenrod-Lake Muskoka

Monarch butterflies lay eggs on the butterfly milkweed….

Monarch ovipositing on Asclepias tuberosa-butterfly milkweed

….producing beautiful caterpillars and a new generation of the iconic butterfly…..

Monarch caterpillar on butterfly milkweed-Asclepias tuberosa

….which, when it prepares to fly south to Mexico in early September, sometimes stops on our dock to soak up a little salt from the feet of sunbathers.

Monarch butterfly eating salt on toe-Lake Muskoka

Myriad pollinating insects and hummingbirds visit the flowers, like this ruby-throated female on my crocosmia flowers (which, amazingly, have overwintered for years)….

Ruby-throated hummingbird on crocosmia-Lake Muskoka

…while goldfinches enjoy the monarda seeds….

Goldfinch eating monarda seed-Lake Muskoka

…..and ruffed grouse are regularly spotted in late summer wandering through my meadows.

Ruffed grouse-Lake Muskoka

Though there are a few deer on our peninsula, they seem to prefer the young sumac shoots to my perennials….

Deer-Lake Muskoka

….. but groundhogs enjoy purple coneflower and coreopsis from time to time.

Groundhog-eating coreopsis-Lake Muskoka

In truth, the meadows are so profuse that I am happy to share a few plants.  Yes, there are exotics some might call “weeds”, e.g. oxeye daisies, buttercups. birdsfoot trefoil, musk mallow, cow vetch, hawkweed and quackgrass, but they are kept in check by the vigorous prairie plants.

Weedy wildflowers-Lake Muskoka

The only work required is to use a trimmer twice each season to keep the path across the property clear.

Path-cutting-meadow-Lake Muskoka

In November, I need to cut down the meadow grasses to reduce the thatch that builds up and to keep things neat for the daffodils that emerge each April.   And, of course, to prevent the meadow from transitioning naturally to bush, it’s necessary to keep out any blackberries and sumacs that might want to jump the path from the steep slope to the lake.

Autumn cleanup-Lake Muskoka-meadow grasses

My cottage neighbours know where to find a bouquet of fragrant daffodils in springtime.

Daffodils-Lake MuskokaThe bumble bees know where to find beebalm with sweet nectar.

Bombus-impatiens-on-Monarda

And I know where to find photographic inspiration and beauty all season long, like this single day, July 7, 2013, when I collected all these flowers at the cottage.

July flowers at the cottage-Lake Muskoka

Let’s take a little tour of the property.

A Tour of My Muskoka Garden Today

Coming down the stairs from the cottage, we see the little patch of wildness I call the “east meadow”. The soil here is shallow and the plants — tall cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) at the bottom of the stairs and beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) and false oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides) in the meadows — tend to suffer in a dry summer.  On this side of the stairs is a large stand of Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’ and other plants.

Janet Davis cottage-Lake Muskoka-East Meadow-2017

Here’s the view of the cottage through the beebalm and heliopsis in the east meadow.

Cottage-August-2017

Here’s the stairway to the lake, below, with a little viewing deck part-way down. The slope, composed of soil called ‘trimmings’, features plants native to Muskoka, including sumac (Rhus typhina), meadowsweet (Spiraea latifolia), common juniper (Juniperus communis) and wild blackberry (Rubus allegheniensis). Oaks and maples sprout on the slope as well; some are encouraged but it’s necessary to thin the forest a little here.

Slope to Lake Muskoka-Janet Davis cottage

In early summer, that little section below the bench is a lovely confection of foxglove penstemon (P. digitalis) and lanceleaf coreopsis (C. lanceolata). Both of these native perennials share a love of dry, gravelly soil.

Pentemon digitalis & Coreopsis lanceolata

Here’s a short video of foxglove penstemon at the lake shore.

On a grassy part of the slope to the lake, I combine butterfly milkweed with blackeyed susans.

Rudbeckia hirta & Asclepias tuberosa-Lake Muskoka

Looking west down the path past the scented ‘Conca d’Or’ lily (one of the strongest Orienpet or Oriental x Trumpet hybrids), it’s amazing to me that this flat terrace was created from a once steep and treacherous slope.

Llium 'Conca d'Or'-Path

Moving along the path, the bed (using the word ‘bed’ very loosely) at the eastern end of the cottage is filled with more fragrant Orienpet lilies.  Over the years, I’ve discovered that certain perennials exhibit good drought-tolerance, like Veronica spicata ‘Darwin’s Blue’, just finishing below. This bed also contains English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), ‘Walker’s Low’ catmint (Nepeta racemosa) and ‘May Night’ meadow sage (Salvia nemorosa).

East garden bed-Lake Muskoka

The most satisfying garden section at the cottage has been the small, sloping west meadow, aka the ‘monarda meadow’ for its predominant wild beebalm, Monarda fistulosa. This is how it looks today,as the large prairie grasses at right are just beginning to fountain.

East Meadow-path-Lake Muskoka

In early August the west meadow features some good perennial partners with the monarda, including ‘Gold Plate’ yarrow (Achillea filipendulina)….

Monarda fistulosa & 'Gold Plate' Yarrow-Lake Muskoka

…. gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata)….

Monarda fisulosa & Ratibida pinnata

…. and false oxyeye (Heliopsis helianthoides)…..

Monarda fistulosa & Heliopsis helianthoides

In June, the monarda meadow features the odd wild lupine (Lupinus perennis), now less populous than they were a few years ago, when their blue candles glowed in the grasses.

West Meadow-Lupinus perennis1

I made a little time capsule video to remember my meadows this week, in a summer when rain was plentiful (to say the least) and the flowers all reached for the sky.

Bouquets from the Meadows

The cottage beds and meadows have yielded lovely bouquets for the table, whether in June with the lupines, false indigo (Baptisia australis), oxyeye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) and large-flowered penstemon (P. grandiflorus)…

Bouquet-Lupines-June-Lake Muskoka

….or later in summer, with cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum), gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), blue Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), purple blazing star (Liatris spicata) and the many goldenrods (Solidago sp.) that flower at the cottage.

Bouquet2-Midsummer (2)

Sometimes I add stems of Allegheny blackberry (Rubus allegeniensis) and nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) to the summer wildflowers, like the little nosegays below.

August meadow flowers

20 Great Cottage Perennials for Bees & Butterflies

Except for the fragrant lilies, which are just for me, my criterion for including plants to the cottage beds and meadows is that they must be useful to foraging insects and birds. Here are twenty of the best:

1. Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) – Ironclad, low-maintenance native perennial attracts bumble bees at a critical time in late spring when bumble bees are provisioning their nests.

Bombus-on-baptisia-(6)

2, Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) – Bumble bees are the pollinators for this native perennial, which flowers in June.

Bombus on Lupine perennis-Lake Muskoka

3. Blackeyed susanRudbeckia hirta – Lots of small native bees and butterflies enjoy foraging on biennial blackeyed susans.

Rudbeckia-hirta-with-native

4. Blanket flowerGaillardia x grandiflora – Provided it’s regularly deadheaded, blanket flower will bloom until autumn, attracting myriad bees.

Bombus griseocollis on Gaillardia x grandiflora

5. CatmintNepeta racemosa ‘Walker’s Low’ – Long-flowering and a bee magnet, catmint has aromatic foliage that discourages deer.

Bombus on Nepeta racemosa 'Walker's Low'

6. Lanceleaf coreopsis (C. lanceolata) – One of the easiest, most drought-tolerant perennials for early summer, this coreopsis attracts lots of bees and its seeds attract hungry goldfinches.

Bombus on Coreopsis lanceolata-Lake Muskoka

7. Foxglove penstemon (P. digitalis) – Another easy, adaptable native perennial, this penstemon flowers at the same time as coreopsis, above, and enjoys the same rugged conditions – dry, gravelly soil.  Bumble bees forage on it extensively.

Bombus on Penstemon digitalis

8. Hoary vervain (Verbena stricta) – This vervain epitomizes “hardy and drought-tolerant” and is the most foolproof perennial in my dry meadows. Guaranteed to bloom and attract bumble bees.

Bombus on Verbena stricta-Lake Muskoka

9. False oxeye (Heliopsis helianthoides) – In the ‘be careful what you wish for’ category, this one is easy from seed and likes to take over the meadow. A negative is its attraction to rosy-apple (red) aphids, but lots of native pollinators enjoy the flowers, including the wasp below.

Wasp on Heliopsis helianthoides-Lake Muskoka

10. Wild beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) – Easily the most valuable perennial in my meadows, attracting bumble bees, hummingbirds and the lovely clearwing hummingbird moth, below.

Hummingbird clearwing moth on Monarda fistulosa-Lake Muskoka

Bumble bees are plentiful in my meadows during the blooming period of the wild beebalm. This is my west meadow today, August 7, 2017.

11. Butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) – I have blogged at length about this plant, named the Perennial Plant Association’s 2017 Plant of the Year. It attracts many types of pollinators, including the monarch butterfly, which lays its eggs on the plant to be foraged by the developing caterpillar.

Asclepias-tuberosa-Monarch-butterfly

Butterfly milkweed is also very popular with bumble bees of all kinds. Here’s a video I made of a bumble bee nectaring while a red squirrel scolds and a Swainson’s thrush sings in the background.

12. Gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) – With its willowy stems, this perennial is the most graceful in my meadows, and attracts small native bees.

Native bees on Ratibida pinnata

13. Cup plant (Silphium perfoliatum) – The tallest of my meadow perennials, this one is a colonizer, but so popular with bumble bees that it can be forgiven for laying claim to as much territory as it can.

Bombus on Silphium perfoliatum-Lake Muskoka

I was surprised one year to see which animal was snacking on the 8-foot tall seedheads of my cup plant. Not a deer, but a…….

14. Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) – Hardy with aromatic leaves that repel deer, this sub-shrub is an excellent companion for big golden yarrow. Bumble bees and honey bees adore the tiny, lavender-purple flowers.

Bee on Perovskia atriplicifolia

15. Blazing Star or Gayfeather (Liatris – many species, esp. L. ligulistylis, below, and L. spicata) – I adore all the blazing stars, and so do the butterflies. Rocky Mountain blazing star, below, is particularly popular with monarch butterflies and with the great spangled fritillary shown.

Great Spangled Fritillary-on Liatris ligulistylis-Lake Muskoka

16. Culver’s root (Veronicastrum virginicum) – Preferring more moisture than many of the prairie natives, this tall perennial (the one below is the cultivar ‘Fascination’) is a magnet for bees and butterflies.

Painted Lady on Veronicastrum virginicum 'Fascination'-Lake Muskoka

17. New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) – Wherever there’s an extra bit of moisture, this tall ironweed thrives in late summer. It attracts bees and many types of butterfly, including the painted lady, below.

Painted Lady on Vernonia noveboracensis-Lake Muskoka

18. Sweet blackeyed susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa) – A tall, easy-going perennial – and my favourite of the rudbeckia clan, this late-summer beauty attracts its share of native bees and wasps.

Native wasp on Rudbeckia subtomentosa

19. Goldenrod (Solidago sp.) – There are at least a half-dozen species of goldenrod that thrive on our property. Some are invasive enough to be nuisances, like Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis). Others are rare enough to be prized, like Solidago nemoralis. But my favourite is one I seeded myself, showy goldenrod, Solidago speciosa, below.  One of the latest-blooming perennials, it is often in flower well into October, nourishing the last of the bumble bees before our long Muskoka winter.

Bombus on Solidago speciosa-showy goldenrod

20. New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) – At the very end of the season, around Thanksgiving time in Canada, the various asters provide a late, vital source of nectar for all the bees.

Agapostemon virescens on Symphyorichum novae-angliae-Lake Muskoka

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

Adapted from a story that appeared originally in Trellis, the magazine of the Toronto Botanical Garden

Touring Casa Mariposa with Tammy Schmitt

Tammy Schmitt is one of the most positive, open-spirited people I’ve ever met. A grade school teacher by profession and a funny blogger on the side, her generosity and can-do nature is on display beside her home for her entire Bristow, Virginia neighbourhood to see.

Sign-Garden Sign-Tammy Schmitt

But then Tammy’s garden is a little different than most in her subdivision. Not only is Casa Mariposa an invitation to any and all pollinators that might be feeling a little thirsty in a desert of nearby lawns…..

House Front-Casa Mariposa-Tamy Schmitt

…. it’s also home to her family and a posse of rescue dogs, including the one posing with mama below.

Tammy Schmitt

Tammy took the lead in organizing the Garden Blogger’s Fling that I enjoyed this June in the Capital Region, and she and her committee did a fabulous job of finding us wonderful private and public gardens to tour. One of them was her own, which she was overly modest in describing to us. For though it’s the kind of suburban property many of us have, Tammy has turned hers into a flowery oasis filled with plants (many native) to lure pollinators and songbirds.  Let’s walk under her funky arch and take a little tour of some of those plants.

Garden arch-Tammy Schmitt

I love garden with birdhouses and Tammy’s got ‘em in spades.

Birdhouse & daylily-Tammy Schmitt

Aren’t these sweet?  One of Tammy’s houses actually hosts a lovely wren.

Birdhouses-Tammy Schmitt

As a bee photographer, I adore gardens filled with the buzz of bumble bees, like this one foraging on Tammy’s lavender beside echinacea, also a great bee and butterfly plant.

Echinacea & Lavandula-Tammy Schmitt

…. and honey bees, which love her drumstick alliums (A. sphaerocephalon)……

Bee on Allium sphaerocephalon-Tammy Schmitt

…. and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), below with a light-pink Knautia macedonica.

Asclepias & Knautia-Tammy Schmitt

There were hover flies on the blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta).

Hover fly-Rudbeckia hirta

Speaking of blackeyed susans… isn’t the one below beautiful? The gorgeous selections of this native are called gloriosa daisies – this one looks like ‘Denver Daisy’..

Rudbeckia hirta-Gloriosa daisy

This is a classic combination: blackeyed susans and beebalm.

Monarda & Rudbeckia-Tammy Schmitt

A self-admitted pot addict, Tammy cures herself by… buying more and more…..

Containers-Tammy Schmitt

Arraying them up the paver steps to her house…..

Pots-Tammy Schmitt

I was taken with Tammy’s choice of natives, including this fabulous royal catchfly (Silene regia).

Silene regia-Tammy Schmitt

The garden was packed with bloggers and it was much too short a visit. After a filmed demo and interview with one of Tammy’s favourite products, John & Bob’s Smart Soil Solutions, who were generous sponsors of the Bloggers’ Fling, it was time to say goodbye. And just on cue, Tammy’s little wren popped out to sing farewell.

Wren-Tammy Schmitt

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

In 1768, when the young lawyer Thomas Jefferson began building his home atop the “little mountain” (literally monticello, in Italian) that he had inherited from his father, there were no gardens. The land was rich red soil – known as “Davidson Clay” – overlooking Virginia’s Piedmont and the Blue Ridge Mountains – a tobacco plantation, part of 5000 acres he had inherited from his father. In time, however, Jefferson would establish gardens here where he could experiment with all manner of plants, both edible and ornamental, and the meticulous garden records that he would make contribute to our current understanding of American “heritage plants”.

Monticello-house

Born in 1743 in Shadwell VA, just down the road (now the expressway) from Charlottesville, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson was one of six children born to the cartographer Peter Jefferson, who mapped the route through the Appalachian Valley that would become the ‘Great Waggon Road’ connecting Philadelphia to the colonies of the American South.  Home tutored at first, he then attended school where he learned several languages. He attended William & Mary University in Williamsburg, VA in 1760, studying philosophy for two years. While there, he was greatly influenced by one teacher. “It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life that Dr. William Small of Scotland was then professor of mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct & gentlemanly manners, and an enlarged & liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me & made me his daily companion when not engaged in school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science & of the system of things in which we are placed.”  He then read law for five years, and was was called to the Virginia bar in 1767; he practised circuit law for five years.

In 1772 he married his 3rd cousin Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, and brought her to his new home at Monticello, where they spent 10 years together and had 6 children, only two of whom survived childhood. When her father John Wayles died in 1773, Martha Jefferson inherited his slaves, among them a woman named Betty Hemings and her six children, all of whom were half-siblings of Martha’s, since they were fathered by her own father. Betty’s youngest child was Sally Hemings. (More on Sally later.)

In 1775, Thomas Jefferson was a Virginia delegate to the second Continental Congrass, and distinguished himself by publishing his paper A Summary View of the Rights of British North America.  The achievement for which he is most renowned, of course, is the Declaration of Independence, America’s founding document. In the 1818 painting by John Trumbull, below, 33-year old Thomas Jefferson – at 6-feet 2-½ inches – is depicted as the tallest of the “Committee of Five”, i.e. the five men in the drafting committee, seen standing below as they present their draft to Congress on July 4, 1776.  From left, they are John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin.

Declaration of Independence-John Trumbull-1818

In 1779-81, Thomas Jefferson was Governor of Virginia. In 1782, four months after the birth of their sixth child, Martha Jefferson died. Jefferson was devastated and spent weeks isolated from his family. As his eldest daughter recalled later: “When at last he left his room he rode out and from that time he was incessantly on horseback rambling about the mountain in the least frequented roads and just as often through the woods; in those melancholy rambles I was his constant companion, a solitary witness to many violent bursts of grief.”  Jefferson had promised Martha that he would never remarry.

From 1784 to 1789, Jefferson served as U.S. Minister to France under President John Adams. It was during this appointment that he developed a deep love of art and music and toured many English pleasure gardens, nurturing a taste for landscape designs based on the picturesque style of 18th century landscape painters and also the ornamental farm (ferme ornée).  It was while he was in Paris that he began an intimate relationship with the teenaged slave Sally Hemings, (his late wife’s half-sister) who accompanied Jefferson’s 9-year old daughter Polly to France when her sister died of whooping cough.

Mather Brown-Thomas Jefferson-1786

Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States after George Washington and John Adams, serving two terms between 1801 and 1809. At the time, the journey by carriage from Monticello to the White House took 4 days and 3 nights. (We make this journey by car in 2-1/2 hours). Jefferson’s most significant achievement occurred during his first term when he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with France, acquiring a vast swathe of the middle of North America (827,000 square miles) from the French, for a total of $15M (US).  In 1803, he commissioned the Lewis & Clark expedition (1804-06) to the American west, a journey that became the source of many Indian artifacts originally displayed in the house, but later lost. It also provided the president with new Western native plants to be grown at Monticello, such as narrow-leaved coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), below.

Echinacea angustifolia-Lewis & Clark Expedition-Monticello

Visiting Monticello, a United Nations World Heritage Site, in June 2017, we begin our tour in the house. Close to its end, a sudden thunderstorm means we must take shelter in the basement, along with several other tour groups. Here we find ourselves huddled outside Thomas Jefferson’s wine cellar. When we are finally able to leave the shelter of the house, we head out under the dripping willow oaks (Quercus phellos) and begin our tour of the flower garden.

Willow oak-Quercus phellos

But it is not possible to talk about the gardens at Monticello without prefacing my tour with a look at how this Virginia plantation functioned under Thomas Jefferson.

SLAVERY

That slavery runs through the story of Thomas Jefferson and Monticello is part of the paradox of this man, who began his law practice defending seven slaves and later attempted to use his co-authorship of American’s founding document to legislate against the practice. According to the Library of Congress: “Thomas Jefferson first tried to condemn slavery in America with the Declaration of Independence. Although his original draft of the Declaration contained a condemnation of slavery, the southern states were adamantly opposed to the idea, and the clause was dropped from the final document. In 1784, he again tried to limit slavery, suggesting in a report on America’s new western territory that “after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States..’ Again, due largely to the resistance of the southern states, the proposal was rejected. In frustration, the Virginian later commented: “South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia voted against it…The voice of a single individual of the State which was divided, or of one of those which were of the negative, would have prevented this abominable crime from spreading itself over the new country…[I]t is to be hoped…that the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail.’ “

It was Madison Hemings, listed by Thomas Jefferson as Sally Hemings’s 5-year old in the 1810 Slave Roll below, (middle, first column) who helped uncover the true story of Jefferson’s relationship with his mother, something that had been whispered loudly by the president’s political enemies, but denied by the Jefferson family for more than a century.

Slave Roll-1810-Sally Hemings-Monticello

In 1873, in a series entitled “Life Among the Lowly” in the Pike County Republican, (parts of which are shown below), Madison Hemings, by then a freed slave living in Ross County in the free state of Ohio, wrote that his mother Sally, who was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson and a household slave of Thomas Jefferson, gave birth to five* children by him.  Their relationship began in Paris, when Sally travelled there with Polly, Jefferson’s youngest daughter, after her sister died of whooping cough. Madison Hemings’s memoir was part of a PBS documentary.But during that time my mother became Mr. Jefferson’s concubine, and when he was called back home she was enceinte by him. He desired to bring my mother back to Virginia with him but she demurred. She was just beginning to understand the French language well, and in France she was free, while if she returned to Virginia she would be re-enslaved. So she refused to return with him. To induce her to do so he promised her extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn pledge that her children should be freed at the age of twenty-one years. In consequence of his promise, on which she implicitly relied, she returned with him to Virginia. Soon after their arrival, she gave birth to a child, of whom Thomas Jefferson was the father. It lived but a short time. She gave birth to four others, and Jefferson was the father of all of them. Their names were Beverly, Harriet, Madison (myself), and Eston–three sons and one daughter. We all became free agreeably to the treaty entered into by our parents before we were born. We all married and have raised families”.  Madison said he had been named by Dolly Madison, who was visiting Monticello with her husband and Thomas Jefferson’s good friend, President James Madison, at the time the baby was born. It would take a 1998 DNA test to prove that what Madison Hemings had written was accurate: he and siblings were Thomas Jefferson’s children. In 2000, following their own scholarly investigation, the Monticello/ Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc, issued this statement: “The best evidence available suggests the strong likelihood that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had a relationship over time that led to the birth of one, and perhaps all, of the known children of Sally Hemings.” (*most sources say 6 children, but their first child died soon after birth)

Madison Hemings-references to Thomas Jefferson-1873-Pike County Republican-text

You can read about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson in this Washington Post article, which describes Monticello’s recent efforts to situate the reality of Monticello’s enslaved people within the heroic history of Thomas Jefferson. It’s part of The Mountaintop Project, the current thrust at Monticello to tell the stories of its people, including the slaves, as described in the interpretive sign below.

Interpretive Sign-Mountaintop Project-Monticello

Yet while they have included the “Hemings Family tour” in their ticket lineup, Monticello still seems reluctant to clearly state the nature of the Hemings-Jefferson relationship in the description.

And I loved this touching NPR story, featuring modern-day descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s slave children, concerning the formation of Monticello Community for “all the descendants of workmen, artisans and slave, free, family, whatever, at Monticello”.

Though we like to view history through the prism of our enlightened moral standards, (and there was spirited defence of Jefferson by scholars before the DNA test results were announced), it is worth noting that 12 of the first 18 presidents owned slaves, including George Washington. It would be the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who would finally succeed in ending slavery through the 13th Amendment, though it would take a bloody civil war and 620,000 deaths to accomplish that end. These are the words we saw just two days before visiting Monticello, on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial on Washington’s National Mall. They form part of Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address in 1865:

Abraham Lincoln-2nd Inaugural Address-Slavery

So, acknowledging that today’s Monticello owes its place in history thanks as much to the labour of its enslaved residents as to the creative scientific genius of Thomas Jefferson, let’s begin our tour just outside the main house in the flower garden.

THE FLOWER GARDEN

Jefferson maintained meticulous records of all his biological observations. He kept a Weather Memorandum Book, in which he recorded precipitation, wind, temperature. And he noted details of his garden purchases and plans in his garden diary, printed as Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book in 1944. Below is his page from 1794, a century-and-a-half earlier; showing his painstaking attention to detail (presumably his shopping list for the season): peas, beans, spinach, curly endive, Jerusalem artichoke, ‘garlick’, white mustard, ‘camomile’, lavender, wormwood, mint, thyme, balm, rosemary, marsh mallow, strawberries, gooseberries, figs, hops, lilac, red maple, Kentucky coffee tree, Lombardy poplar, weeping willow, willow oak, among many others. As the authors say in Thomas Jefferson’s Flower Garden at Monticello (1986, 3rd edition), “No early American gardens were as well documented as those at Monticello, which became an experimental station, a botanic garden of new and unusual plants from around the world.”

Thomas Jefferson Garden List-1794

In 1808, around the main house, Jefferson built a series of flower gardens as well as a “winding walk”, its borders planted in 10-foot sections with an assortment of exotic and native flowers. As he wrote to his 16-year-old granddaughter Ann Carey Randolph in 1807, “I find that the limited number of our flower beds will too much restrain the variety of flowers in which we might wish to indulge, & therefore I have resumed an idea … of a winding walk … with a narrow border of flowers on each side. this would give us abundant room for a great variety”. But after his death, the flower gardens fell to ruin. In 1939-41, the Garden Club of Virginia….

Winding Walk-Garden Club of Virginia-Monticello-1940

….restored the walk and fish pond as a gift to Monticello. In order to determine the walk’s original shape, researchers parked their cars on the West Lawn and shone their headlights over it. The old outline appeared.  Here we see lavender and sweet william (Dianthus barbatus), both plants recorded by Jefferson.

Winding Walk flower garden-Monticello

Here we are outside the main house, looking back through night-scented tobacco (Nicotiana). Jefferson preferred to have fragrant plants along the winding walk.

Monticello-Nicotiana

We see plants that were grown by him, including common mallow (Malva sylvestris).

Malva sylvestris-Monticello

Jefferson was proud of the native plants of Virginia – in fact 25 percent of his plants at Monticello were native – so it’s not a surprise to see butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta) mixed in with blue cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) and rose campion (Lychnis coronaria).

Mixed flowers-Monticello

THE VEGETABLE GARDEN & FRUITERY

When Jefferson spoke about his ‘garden’, he was referring to his vegetable garden. As he noted in 1819: “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that … as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet.” After the decision was made in the late 1970s to recreate Monticello’s 1000-foot long by 80-foot wide, 2-acre vegetable garden….

Vegetable Garden-Monticello

…the process began in 1979 with a 2-year archaeological dig to corroborate the written history.  The dig turned up parts of the garden’s stone wall and the foundation of the pretty garden pavilion seen below, which was a favourite place for Thomas Jefferson to read.

Garden Pavilion2-Monticello

As the story goes, the garden pavilion – framed here by mulberry leaves — fell over soon after Jefferson’s died in 1826. It was restored in 1984.

Mulberry & Garden Pavilion-Monticello

Those mulberry leaves tell their own story, for they are part of Mulberry Row, the plantation lane at Monticello with 20 dwellings that formed the “center of work and domestic life for dozens of people – free whites, indentured servants, and enslaved people.” Here were the blacksmiths, carpenters, house joiners, stablemen, tinsmiths, weavers and spinners and domestic servants.

Mulberry Row2-Monticello

Parts of Mulberry Row have been restored, including this blacksmith & iron shop. Jefferson launched a nailery at Monticello, hoping to make it a thriving commercial enterprise. Young boys were destined to be nailers, as he wrote in his farm book: “Children till 10. years old to serve as nurses. From 10. to 16. the boys make nails, the girls spin. At 16. go into the ground or learn trades.”

Forge-Monticello

This is a slave cabin on Mulberry Row.

Mulberry Row-Slave House-Monticello

I’m delighted to see bluebirds flying and perching along Mulberry Row. My first ever bluebird!

Bluebird-Monticello

Going down the stairs to the vegetable garden, we begin our tour at the far end where a healthy crop of wheat is planted with sunflowers. When Jefferson inherited the plantation from his father, it was planted in tobacco. Following the American Revolution, Virginia ceased to be the dominant player in tobacco trade and the Napoleonic wars had also shifted the balance of agriculture in Europe. Tobacco cultivation also depleted the soil significantly. So when Jefferson returned to Monticello in 1793, he switched tobacco for wheat.

Wheat & Sunflowers-Monticello

Corn is just ripening. Jefferson grew Indian corn in his garden in Paris when he served in the French legation.

Corn-Monticello

This ‘Tennis Ball’ lettuce (Latuca sativa) is bolting, as it must when heritage seed is being saved. Thomas Jefferson said of this variety, which is one of the parents of buttery Boston lettuce: “it does not require so much care and attention.”

Tennis Ball Lettuce-Monticello

Leeks (Allium ameloprasum) are looking lovely – and are possibly the same Musselburgh leeks that Jefferson grew.

Leeks-1812-Monticello

Jefferson loved sea kale (Crambe maritima) and blanched it under special terracotta cloches to produce tender leaves. According to Monticello, “Jefferson was probably inspired to grow sea kale after reading Bernard McMahon’s The American Gardener’s Calendar, 1806, sometimes called his “Bible” of horticulture.” 

Crambe maritima-sea kale-Monticello

Peanuts catch my eye. In Andrew Smith’s book Peanuts: The Illustrious History of the Goober Pea, the author wrote “In his ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’, Thomas Jefferson wrote that peanuts grew in Virginia in 1781. Subsequently Jefferson planted sixty-five hills of ‘peendars’ which yielded 16-1/2 pounds ‘weighted green out of the ground which is ¼ pound each.’ While president, he reported that peanuts were very sweet.”

Peanuts-Arachis hypogaea-Monticello

Here is chamomile (Anthemis nobilis).

Chamomile-1794-Monticello

Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) were one of the first vegetables Jefferson grew in his garden at Monticello in 1770, and successfully harvested in 13 of 22 years. “Artichoke” was also the keyword in the secret cipher code used in his communications with Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.Artichoke-1808-Monticello

Though they were still a somewhat new fashion in Virginia, Jefferson enjoyed his “tomatas”, the planting of which he recorded in his garden book from 1809 to 1824.

Tomatoes-Monticello

From the vegetable garden, I look down on the south orchard, where Jefferson once planted 1,031 fruit trees.

Monticello Orchard

I see peaches ripening here. This succulent fruit was perhaps Jefferson’s most prized crop, and in 1794 he even grew 900 peach trees as field dividers at Monticello and another farm. He wrote to a friend: “I am endeavoring to make a collection of the choicest kinds of peaches for Monticello“. Of the 38 varieties he grew, he purchased many from American nurseries and was given Italian introductions by his Tuscan–born friend Philip Mazzei, whom he’d met in London and encouraged to emigrate to Virginia in 1755.

Peaches-Monticello Fruitery

There’s a recreation of the Old Fruit Nursery here as well…..

Old Nursery-Monticello

… and the vineyards, below, all of which were part of what Jefferson called his “fruitery”.

Grape Vines-2Monticello

In the distance, we see Montalto (the “high mountain”). It’s on this mountain where the descendants of Philip Mazzei will soon be harvesting grapes to make fine wine in a joint project with Monticello….

Montalto

…under the guidance of longtime Virginia winemaker, Gabriele Rausse – whose vintage we pick up in the gift shop later.

Gabriele Rause Wine-Monticello Gift Shop

I walk through the bean arbor, the scarlet runners just getting started, and head out of Monticello’s garden. It’s time to go down the mountain.

Bean Pergola-Monticello

CEMETERY, WOODS AND VISITOR CENTER

Near the top is the family graveyard where Thomas Jefferson and his descendants (except for those of Sally Hemings) are buried.

Graveyard-Monticello2-Thomas Jefferson Tombstone

The woods on the slope are cool and beautiful; trees tall and towering, the understory filled with redbuds (Cercis canadensis). A notable lover of trees, Jefferson allegedly once said:  “I wish I was a despot that I might save the noble, beautiful trees that are daily falling sacrifice to the cupidity of their owners, or the necessity of the poor. . . .The unnecessary felling of a tree, perhaps the growth of centuries, seems to me a crime little short of murder.” 

Monticello-Woodland

I’m enchanted by the birdsong echoing in the trees and make a short video. Have a listen….

We arrive back at the Visitor Center where we lunched earlier.  The grounds are nicely landscaped…..

Monticello Visitor Center

…… and the gift shop with its garden center is fabulous!

Garden Center-Monticello

I say my farewell to Thomas Jefferson, noting the 10-1/2 inch difference in our heights. I thank him for his enterprising spirit, his love of nature, his gardens. He says nothing.

Thomas Jefferson & Janet

THE CENTER FOR HISTORIC PLANTS

Though it’s not open to the public except by appointment or for special posted events through the year, the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants (CHP) is a fundamental part of Monticello, maintaining many of the historic plants and providing them for the gift shop . It’s located below Monticello at Tufton Farm, part of the original Monticello estate – and a short distance down the road from our own Arcady Vineyard Bed & Breakfast, also part of the original Monticello estate.  I make a phone call, explain that I’m in Virginia to begin a Blogger’s Fling in a few days, and would love to visit. A short time later, I’m met by Jessica Bryars, acting manager at CHP (whose other job is to manage the fruitery at Monticello).

Jessica Bryars-Monticello Center for Historic Plants

We tour the farm, beginning in the nursery filled with young herbaceous plants.

Center for Historic Plants-Monticello-Greenhouse

Shrubs and roses are in hoop beds outside.

Shrub beds-Center for Historic Plants-Monticello

There are many beehives here, protected from honey-loving black bears by electric fences.

Center for Historic Plants-Monticello-Bee Hives

The garden, its grass pathway flanked by flower borders is lovely. Though most of the plants are historic, a few, like annual purple Verbena bonariensis are included…..

Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants-Borders

….making the pipevine swallowtail happy.

Pipevine Swallowtail-Battus philenor-Verbena bonariensis-CHP-Monticello

I spot Lilium superbum, the lovely native Turks-cap lily.

Center for Historic Plants-Monticello-Lilium superbum

Here’s a little taste of a pretty corner at CHP (and yes, there are hummingbirds as well as bluebirds at Monticello).

Monticello’s future contains plans for a ‘21st century farm’ on the Tufton farm site, a notion that I think would bring a great deal of young tourism to this part of Virginia, including people who aren’t much drawn to historic recreations of 200-year old presidential gardens.  And I suspect the great experimenter Thomas Jefferson, whose own namesake plant twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) grows here and flowers in spring, would agree.

Jeffersonia diphylla-Monticello Center for Historic Plants

UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

In order to round out our understanding of Thomas Jefferson’s influence on the region, we visit the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which is most definitely a ‘university town’. As the historic plaque below says, it was founded by Jefferson in 1817 in the presence of his two good friends, James Madison and sitting president James Monroe.

UVA-historic sign

Jefferson designed UVA as an ‘Academical Village’, with a beautiful rotunda at one end of ‘The Lawn’ flanked by pavilons containing lecture halls and undergraduate and faculty apartments. This is an 1826 Peter Maverick engraving of Jefferson’s original plan.

University of Virginia Maverick Engraving

Jeffferson’s rotunda was Palladian in design, similar to that of his home at Monticello.  It was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and housed a library, rather than a church, as was then common in universities.  This reflected Thomas Jefferson’s personal secular beliefs, which were moral without being religious. (In 1820, he reworked his own bible, carefully cutting out all the parts he disdained and leaving in an 80-page version he published as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.)   Sadly, Jefferson’s rotunda burned down in 1895.

UVA-Rotunda Fire

Today’s rotunda is an historically-correct modification of the Stanford White recreation.

UVA-Rotunda

The beautiful pavilions below are original. This is what Jefferson wrote in 1817 to William Thornton, the architect of the U.S. Capitol, as he was researching his design.  “What we wish is that these pavilions, as they will show themselves above the dormitories, shall be models of taste and good architecture, and of a variety of appearance, no two alike, so as to serve as specimens for the architectural lecturer. Will you set your imagination to work, and sketch some designs for us, no matter how loosely with the pen, without the trouble of referring to scale or rule, for we want nothing but the outline of the architecture, as the internal must be arranged according to local convenience? A few sketches, such as may not take you a minute, will greatly oblige us.

UVA-Lawn

As we stroll the campus in the heat of a June afternoon, we listen to UVA undergrads addressing small groups of high school students and their parents on their pre-college selection tours. In the shade of tall trees on The Lawn, one co-ed laughingly tells her group about Halloween dress-up traditions on campus. Near Cabell Hall, another warns the students that the UVA basketball team is so popular and the stadium so small, a lottery system has been devised to distribute tickets equitably.  One can only imagine Thomas Jefferson standing nearby listening, perhaps striding forward to join the young people. Perhaps offering this …. “Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing.” 

Thomas Jefferson-Rembrandt Peale

Indeed, it is wonderful how much can be done.

Siri Luckow: The Garden as Wildlife Sanctuary

Siri Luckow’s  garden won first place in the Environmental category in a city-wide garden contest, and on her street in the northern part of Toronto it stands out as a beacon of hope in a desert of lawns.  Look at this, in late spring.  It’s hardly a sacrifice in the name of the environment, is it?

Siri Luckow-Front garden

She proudly proclaims her intention with this beautiful garden right out front, where passersby can be inspired.

Backyard habitat sign-Siri Luckow

I visited Siri’s garden first in 2015 with a group of garden bloggers, and she was a delightful host.

Siri Luckow-Toronto

I then asked to return the following year to absorb a little more of what can be done on a small property, like the drainage made possible by a dry stream bed.

Dry stream-Siri Luckow

In her front yard, Siri mixes lots of natives, like the dwarf chinkapin oak (Quercus prinoides)….

Siri Luckow-Quercus prinoides-dwarf chinkapin oak

….with old-fashioned non-native favourites like tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa).

Paeonia-Siri Luckow

But it’s not all ‘native this’ and ‘non-native’ that. Siri’s garden contains loads of edibles as well, front and back. In her front garden, she mixes shrubs like gooseberries….

Gooseberries

….and blueberries with the ornamentals….

Blueberries-Siri Luckow

…. and she includes leafy crops in her containers, too. Here’s kale with pansies.

Kale & Pansies-Siri Luckow

Moving around to the back, you’re greeted with a lovely flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) underplanted with sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum).

Cornus florida-Flowering dogwood

Nearby in a sunny spot is the vegetable garden.

Vegetables-Siri Luckow

In her shade garden, Siri grows ostrich ferns and white bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis ‘Albus’)….

Shady garden-Siri Luckow

…. and spring natives like (Geranium maculatum)….

Geranium maculatum-wild geranium

…. and this uncommon white form of Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica f. alba).

Mertensia virginica f. alba-White Virginia bluebells

There are beautiful painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum), paired here with the foliage of early-flowering native bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).

Japanese painted fern & bloodroot

Siri’s garden art tends to be organic and ecological, like this rotting tree section melting into cranesbills (Geranium sp.)….

Geranium & tree trunk-Siri Luckow

…. and this vine sphere…..

Vine sculpture-Siri Luckow

…. and this dead branch cradling a smooth rock.

Stone sculpture-Siri Luckow

There’s a bit of lawn in the sunny part, and behind it a wonderful mini-woodland that acts as ‘edge’ habitat, bringing many birds.

Back garden-Siri Luckow

Chickadees nest in a house Siri set up here…

Chickadee nesting box-Siri Luckow

….and birds are able to secure nesting material in the wool holder or nesting ball that hangs in the garden.

Bird-nesting wool-Siri Luckow

There are always birds feeding here. Here’s a male northern cardinal eating from a simple plastic plant pot feeder,

Cardinal male-flowerpot birdfeeder-Siri Luckow

…and the female eating a sunflower seed, too.

Cardinal female

Hidden away in the trees is a brush pile for birds and other wildlife – the value of which too few gardeners understand.

Brush pile habitat

It’s easy to plant some pussytoes (Antennaria sp.)……

Antennaria flowers

…. and wait for the painted lady butterfly to lay its eggs on the leaves, which then become the larval caterpillar’s diet.

Painted Lady Caterpillar on Antennaria

Siri’s sunny woodland front features native shrubs like Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus)…

Calycanthus floridus-Carolina allspice

…. and native trees like the paw paw (Asimina triloba), with its dusky maroon flowers…..

Asimina triloba-Paw paw flower

…. and native perennials like prairie smoke (Geum triflorum).

Geum triflorum-Prairie smoke

But she’s a plant collector, too – so there are a few rarities like Syringa afghanica.

Syringa afghanica-Siri Luckow

During the Garden Bloggers’ Fling in 2015, we were invited to climb the ladder to look at the Luckows’ Green Roof. Here’s Toronto garden designer Sara Katz taking a photo under tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipfera)….

Green roof-Siri Luckow-Sara Katz photographing

… and here’s my photograph of the top of the roof.

Green roof-Siri Luckow

Thank you Siri (belatedly) for opening up your garden to gardeners – and to the rest of the wild creatures you welcome daily.