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

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

Lincoln Memorial

…to the sobering Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall nearby….

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

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

World War II Memorial

…past the towering Washington Monument….

Washington Monument

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

White House

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

United States Capitol

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

National Mall-Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

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

Mary Livingston Ripley & Dillon Ripley

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

Janet Draper-Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

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

Jacobinia chrysostephana & finial- Ripley Garden

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

Raised bed north-Ripley Garden

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

Carex & Gomphrena-Ripley Garden

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

Perovskia & Callirhoe-Ripley Garden

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

Nepeta 'Junior Walker' & Alstroemeria-Ripley Garden

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

Yucca rostrata-Ripley Garden

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

Anthemis 'Susanna Mitchell' & Lavender-Ripley Garden

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

Dianthus 'Green Ball'

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

Emilia coccinea

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

Plant labels-Ripley Garden

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

Allium 'Millenium'-Ripley Garden

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

Tuscan kale & Anise hyssop-Ripley Garden

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

Solanum quitoense-Naranjilla-Ripley Garden

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

Aristolochia gigantea

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

Pipevine swallowtail on Zinnia-Ripley Garden

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

Bombus auricomus-Black and Gold bumblebee on Agastache

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

Bombus auricomus-Black and Gold bumblebee- on Hypericum frondosum

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

Bee hotel-Ripley Garden

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

Achillea 'Oertel's Rose'-Ripley Garden

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

Urn of succulents-Ripley Garden

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

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Alice'-Ripley Garden

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

Brick retaining wall & Path-Ripley Garden

Walking toward the shady end of the garden….

Border & Path-Ripley Garden

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

Living Wall-Ripley Garden

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

Benches & Obelisks- Ripley Garden

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

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

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

Shade border-Ripley Garden

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

American elms &-path-Ripley Garden

Allan Gardens – Christmas 2017

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

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock-Christmas 2017

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

Allan Gardens-Palm House-banana

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

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock neck-Christmas 2017

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

Allan Gardens-Succulent Peacock-kalanchoe and echeveria eyes

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

Allan Gardens-Succulent Tree-Christmas 2017

Look at the detailed work here…..

Allan Gardens-Succulent Tree-echeveries and kalanchoes

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

Mikkel Schafer-Allan Gardens-Topiary Moose

This mossy tree in the Temperate house…..

Allan-Gardens-Mossy-Tree-Ch

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

Allan Gardens-Lambs Ears Christmas ornament

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

Allan Gardens-Rudbeckia seedhead Christmas ornament

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

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

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

Allan Gardens-Pool & Fountain

Head down into the Tropical Landscape House where…..

Tropical Lanscape House-Allan Gardens

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

Hibiscus-Allan Gardens

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

Allan-Gardens-Tropical

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

Allan Gardens-Arid House-Christmastime

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

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

Allan Gardens- Christmas Wreath-2017

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

Allan Gardens-Tropical Array

In the Garden with Barbara & Howard Katz

Barbara Katz and I became Facebook friends a few years back, drawn to each other by our mutual love of colour combinations in plant design and also our great admiration for Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. In fact, it was on Barbara’s recommendation and with her introduction that Piet was commissioned to design a meadow garden for Delaware Botanic Gardens, being planted this fall. So it was with great anticipation that I made plans to attend the 2017 Garden Bloggers’ Fling in the Washington DC Capitol Region, a 3-day event that included a tour of Barbara & Howard Katz’s Bethesda, Maryland garden. We even decided to have dinner in a Washington restaurant before the tour, meeting face to face for the first time. (Our husbands got along famously too!)  And when our bus pulled up on Barbara’s street a few days later, it was easy to see which house was theirs for Barbara and Howard, an architect, were there waiting to welcome us.

Barbara & Howard Katz-Bethesda

But even if they hadn’t been out front, we would have known the house. Their luscious front garden (below) presented a welcome right at the street with a generous bed of summer perennials, carex grasses and succulents arrayed around an old ‘Halka’ honeylocust tree. Barbara, who has 30 years experience in garden design with her company London Lanscapes LLC, said that this bed, installed in mid-April while creating a new flagstone path, gave the front a needed facelift and some interest and pleasure for passersby. It was also a way to reduce the amount of front lawn and provide a buffer against dogs and snow.  But most important, as a plantswoman: “I needed MORE space to play with plants.”  Not surprisingly for a designer who knows how to use colour, there is a clever and subtle use of red flowers in this garden – the gaillardia at front and the echinacea in the rear – that carries the eye up and back toward the red chairs on the porch, the oxblood-red door, the red window shutters and even the Japanese maple.

Barbara Katz-Street Garden & House

Barbara worked the soil in the street garden to make it free-draining. “It gets baked in the afternoon,” she said, “So now I can use plants I hadn’t been able to before” (like the yuccas, below).

Sun-loving plants-Barbara Katz

I adored the beautiful iron scroll edging – staking out the property line with airy elegance. Barbara found it online at Wayfair

Gaillardia-Barbara Katz

The ‘Blue Boa’ anise hyssop (Agastache hybrid) was attracting lots of bumble bees.

Bumble bee-Agastache 'Blue Boa'

The veranda, below, is everything a good front porch should be: an attractive welcome for visitors, a well-appointed anteroom to the house itself and a place to relax comfortably with a view of the garden and street. Too often we restrict our seating areas to the privacy of a back yard where none of the neighbours can spot us reading a newspaper or sipping a glass of wine. But why?  A covered veranda is a sanctuary in the rain and obviously has a completely different outlook on life (and the neighbourhood) than the sitting areas we create out of view. Let’s tote up the good things about Howard’s and Barbara’s version. But first of all, a little background. When Barbara first saw this house, it was as a designer for the owner, who would have her redo the entire garden, including the complex topographical challenge at the back (more on that later). The year was 1995; the garden was installed in 1996. Fast forward six years and the house was for sale and Barbara and Howard bought it, including the garden she’d designed, worked with over the years, and come to love. As for the veranda, it was bigger then, with small wooden posts and railing, and a concrete bases and steps. Howard needed an office, so they took half the veranda and incorporated it into the house; removed the railing; used Azek (a plastic-wood product) to make the posts chunkier; rebuilt the steps to give them generous 18-inch treads with stone risers; then refaced everything with stone veneer. Add some Arts & Crafts lights, pots of easy-care succulents (can we get a cheer for iron plant stands?), a few handsome pieces of sculpture; and comfy chairs and it’s one of the prettiest makeovers ever.

Veranda-Barbara & Howard Katz

All the succulent containers, by the way, are Howard’s creations. He was born in South Africa where many succulents are native; they add their own textural note to Barbara’s herbaceous side of the ledger.

Succulents-Howard Katz-3

Wouldn’t you like to fall asleep in one of these Adirondack rockers? And another little colour tip, courtesy of the glazed green pots (as devotees of the artist’s colour wheel know): red and green are complementary contrasts and they always combine nicely with each other. I can only imagine how beautiful this foundation planting must look as the Japanese maples turn colour in autumn!

Adirondack Rocker-Barbara Katz

Let’s head around to the back, passing a little treasure trove of Howard’s succulents as we go.

Succulent collection-Howard Katz

The back garden is where the challenge lay for Barbara when she first saw it more than two decades ago. With a 12-foot elevation change from the back door up to the property line, it called for creative terracing. In the photo below, (when I got home, I realized I didn’t have a workable shot of the slope and asked Barbara to take a photo, which shows one side), you can see how beautifully the rich tapestry of perennials and low evergreens creates a frame for the cascading water feature.

Slope-Barbara Katz

In my experience, a designer who loves plants and knows how to combine them while also mastering the art of hardscaping is a rare individual. Barbara is skilled at both. Plants with purple, white and orange flowers and leaves are on one side….

Slope-Plantings-Barbara Katz

…including this butterscotch combination of carex and heuchera with peach echinacea and anise hyssop….

Heuchera & Carex-Barbara Katz

….while blues, yellows, pinks and maroons (below) are on the other side….

Echinacea & Coleus-Barbara Katz

…. along with a cool-green pairing of heuchera and euphorbia….

Euphorbia & Heuchera-Barbara Katz

But it’s the stone workmanship on the hillside that really impresses me. Let’s climb up the stairs, which have an excellent tread:riser ratio that makes navigating the slope easy…

Stairs-tread to riser ratio-Barbara Katz

We’ll pass some more of Howard’s delectable succulent confections on the way, like this one…

Succulents-Howard Katz-2

….and this one….

Succulents-Howard Katz-1

…. as well as a more traditional container, below.

Pot-Brugmansia-Barbara Katz

Halfway up, we’ll stop on the cool little grassed terrace, the only lawn in the back garden, with a sophisticated edging of boxwood and….. .

Lawn Terrace-Barbara Katz

…shade-tolerant plants above and below the sinuous retaining wall that supports the top terrace. The wall is impressive, and features little plants tucked into the crevices.

Retaining Wall-Barbara Katz

Even Howard’s succulent container is green.

Jade Plant-Katz

Reach the top, enter past the tall plume poppy (Macleaya cordata), and you’re rewarded with a cool rest in the gazebo with its green mosaic-tile-topped table, green mosaic candle-holder and green-cushioned chairs.

Gazebo-Barbara Katz

The woman knows colour!

Barbara Katz-Mosaic table

I’m not sure how many people would take note of this small detail, but for me it stood out as a superb way of disguising the necessary nuts-and-bolts of slope retention. The concrete block wall between the Katz property and the one behind them has been stained dark green – and presto! it vanishes. Well, except for the sweet little plaque to pretty it up. That airy iron trellis above it is Howard Katz’s effort to keep leaf-munching deer from leaping from the neighbour’s garden into theirs.

Stained Concrete Block Wall-Barbara Katz

There are lovely little touches of art in the garden, like this ‘bluebottle fly’….

Bluebottle Fly Art-Barbara Katz

And a wire grasshopper, among many other pieces.

Grasshopper Art-Barbara Katz

But the big focal point in the back garden is the terraced water feature. From the stone patio behind the house, this is what it looks like gazing up the slope.

Waterfall-lower-Barbara Katz

There are tropical waterlilies in the pool at the bottom, and goldfish.

Waterlily & goldfish-Barbara Katz

Climb back up those stairs a little, and you see how it courses down the rocks, mimicking a natural waterfall….

Waterfall-upper-Barbara Katz

…with a bubbling fountain in the very highest pool, below. Barbara wanted the effect of a series of birdbaths down the slope and it worked perfectly, since the Katz garden is now on the migration route of myriad birds, both spring and fall.

Fountain-Barbara Katz

I would have loved to linger a little, perhaps in the comfy seating near the house. Doesn’t the soft kiwi green look gorgeous with the sage green of the wall?

Sitting area-Barbara Katz

But it was time to get on the bus and head to our next garden.  Thank you Barbara and Howard, for your generosity and creativity. You are both inspiring!

Silver Belles

A little holiday song, for those who’ve stuck it out through my Twelve Months of Colour blogs in 2016:

Silver belles, silver belles,
It’s Christmas time in the city.

Ding-a-ling?? No, they don’t ring,

My “Silver Belles” just look pretty.

Row 1:‘Pictum’ Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum); ‘King’s Ransom’ Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla); ‘Miss Wilmott’s Ghost’ giant sea holly (Eryngium giganteum); Agave parryi; Row 2: Hosta ‘Ultramarine‘; ‘Bascour Zilver’ hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum tectorum); ‘Blue Glow’ fescue (Festuca glauca); Heuchera ‘Rave On’; Row 3: ‘Montgomery’ blue spruce (Picea glauca); ‘Silver Carpet’ lamb’s-ear (Stachys byzantina); ‘Blue Star’ juniper (Juniperus squamata); ‘Sapphire Skies’ yucca (Y.rostrata)

Yes, we’re finally in December, and as befits the tinsel month in my year-long celebration of monthly colour themes, I’ve pulled together a treasure box filled with pieces of silver (and some nice blue-greys) for your garden. You should know that I’m a big fan of grey, especially mixed with that little dash of brown that tips it into ‘taupe’. In fact, my house is painted that colour, and my deck and fence are stained a darker shade of stone-grey. It is a beautiful background for all plants.

janet-davis-deck-house

If you add a little blue-green to silvery-gray, you get a colour we often describe as “glaucous”. That word has travelled a long way since it was first used by the Greeks, including Homer, as glaukos to mean “gleaming, silvery”. In Latin, it  took on the meaning “bluish-green”, and in the 15h century, the Middle English word glauk meant “bluish-green, gray”.  That fits the color of luscious Tuscan kale, below.

brassica-nero-di-toscana-montreal-botanical-garden

So we’ll look at some lovely plants with glaucous foliage as well.

Shrubs & Trees

Let’s begin with a few trees and shrubs.  Weeping willowleaf pear (Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula’) is a pretty little (20 ft – 7 m) tree with silvery-grey foliage. Here it is at Victoria’s Horticulture Centre of the Pacific, underplanted with Allium ‘Purple Sensation’.

pyrus-salicifolia-pendula-horticulture-centre-of-the-pacific

Then we have a true willow, dwarf blue Arctic willow (Salix purpurea ‘Nana’). This is a very hardy, useful shrub, standing about 5 feet (1.5 m) tall and wide, that will lend its soft greyish texture to a variety of applications, including as hedging or a filler.

salix-purpurea-nana

As for conifers, there are lots of blue junipers and silver firs, and of course, blue spruces. For a big silvery tree, perhaps none is as stately as the concolor or white fir (Abies concolor ‘Candicans’).

abies-concolor-candicans

If you want a cool blue-grey spruce at garden level, consider Picea pungens ‘Glauca Procumbens’.

picea-pungens-glauca-procumbens

And I love the look of Juniperus conferta ‘Blue Pacific’, especially as it takes on mauve hues in winter, below, along with Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’.

juniperus-conferta-blue-pacific

Speaking of winter, there’s even a shrub with silvery fruit that persists into winter: Northern bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica).

myrica-pensylvanica-fruit-northern-bayberry

Though we often think of lavender as perennial, it is actually a sub-shrub. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) has greyish-blue foliage, and even the commonly available cultivars like ‘Hidcote’ and ‘Munstead’ will provide a good colour contrast, as they do edging this beautiful potager.

louise-kappus-potager-lavender

But if you want a really silvery, hardy lavender, try ‘Silver Mist’, shown below contrasting with a bronze carex.

lavandula-angustifolia-silver-mist

And if you are in a climate where you can grow the more tender Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), there’s a gorgeous silver-leaved cultivar called ‘Anouk’.

lavandula-stoechas-silver-anouk

Perennials

Who hasn’t seen lamb’s-ears in a perennial border? And who hasn’t questioned whether the plant’s name should be a single lamb or a flock? Kidding aside, using hardy lamb’s-ears (Stachys byzantina)  is one of the easiest ways to inject a note of silver into the garden. Here it is with lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) at Burlington, Ontario’s Royal Botanical Gardens …..

Stachys byzantina with Alchemilla mollis

… and fronting a June border at Vancouver’s Van Dusen Botanical Garden.

stachys-byzantina-van-dusen-botanical-garden

I love the way my pal Marnie White intersperses her lamb’s-ears with pink portulaca.

stachys-byzantina-portulaca-marnie-white-garden

Sea holly has a few beautiful silver forms; this is Eryngium giganteum ‘Miss Willmott’s Ghost’ with liatris and switch grass (Panicum virgatum) at the Toronto Botanical Garden.

eryngium-mrs-willmotts-ghost-liatris-panicum

Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) has several cultivars with lovely silvery variegation. This is ‘Jack Frost’.

brunnera-macrophylla-jack-frost

Artemisias are invaluable silver foliage plants. This is Artemisia ludoviciana ‘Silver King’ with liatris.

artemisia-silver-king-liatris-spicata

And this is Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’ creating a silvery pool at the edge of a border.

artemisia-powis-castle

In the fern world, luscious Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) is literally ‘painted’ with silver variegation. The stunning cultivar below is ‘Pewter Lace’.

athyrium-niponicum-pewter-lace

Though they don’t come in pure silver, there are many blue-grey hostas to add texture to a shaded or semi-shaded place. At the Toronto Botanical Garden, I love the juxtaposition of Hosta ‘Blue Angel’ with the silvery-blue glass screen behind it.

hosta-blue-angel-toronto-botanical-garden

Here is an assortment of blue-grey hostas.

1 - Ultramarine; 2 – First Frost; 3 – Fragrant Blue; 4 – Earth Angel; 5 – Paradise Joyce; 6 - Halcyon.

1 – Ultramarine; 2 – First Frost; 3 – Fragrant Blue; 4 – Earth Angel; 5 – Paradise Joyce; 6 – Halcyon.

With their rainbow foliage colour and myriad leaf markings, heucheras have become a plant breeder’s bonanza in the past few decades. Below are ‘Rave On’ (left) and ‘Silver Scrolls’ (right).

heucheras

Euphorbias also offer delectable silver makings. Though it’s borderline-hardy where I garden in Toronto, I do love Euphorbia characias ‘Tasmanian Tiger’.

euphorbia-characias-tasmanian-tiger

The silvery foliage of Scotch thistle (Onopordum acanthium) can be quite stunning, but careful it doesn’t escape – clip those flowers before they go to seed.

onopordum-acanthium-cotton-thistle

Grasses

Blue-grey grasses abound. Here’s  Festuca glauca ‘Blue Glow’ with berried cotoneaster and silvery Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) behind.

festuca-glauca-blue-glow

This is ‘Heavy Metal’ switch grass (Panicum virgatum) – one of my favourites.

panicum-virgatum-heavy-metal

Little bluestem is a wonderful native prairie grass, and ‘Prairie Blues’ has a more pronounced silvery-blue hue.

schizachyrium-scoparium-prairie-blues

‘Wind Dancer’ love grass (Eragrostis elliotii)  is hardy only to USDA Zone 6, but I’ve seen it used as an annual grass to lovely effect.

eragrostis-elliottii-wind-dancer

Annuals & Tropicals

Montreal Botanical Garden knows how to create wonderful knots and parterres with silvery plants. This is the tender grass Melinis nerviglumis ‘Savannah’ (ruby grass – USDA Zone 8-10) with Angelonia ‘Serena Purple’.

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…. and this is Cerastium ‘Columnae Silberteppich’ with lantana.

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Montreal Botanical’s Herb Garden has also used silvery herbs in formal design schemes over the years. The tapestry-like knot garden below features the sages (Salvia officinalis) ‘Berrgarten’ and variegated ‘Icterina’ in the circle, along with hedge germander (Teucrium chamaedrys) with the pink flowers; clipped lavender and santolina are in the background.

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Here’s a closer look at santolina or cotton thistle (Santolina chamacyparissus) in flower. Its ease of shearing makes it a prime candidate for parterres and knots, but it is only hardy to USDA Zone 6.

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There are several Mediterranean plants that fit our silvery-blue theme.   A tender perennial (USDA Zone 8) with silver foliage that can be used as a drought-tolerant annual is Greek mountain tea (Sideritis syriaca).

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And Senecio viravira or silver groundsel has textural foliage.

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Isn’t this combination at the Niagara Botanical Gardens beautiful? The big, felted silver leaves of Salvia argentea with Tradescantia spathacea ‘Tricolor’ seem made for each other.

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Also at Niagara Botanical one summer, I loved this juxtaposition of blue-grey cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) with the cascading silvery Dichondra argentea in the hanging baskets behind.

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Speaking of dichondra, here it is at the Toronto Botanical Garden paired with Centaurea gymnocarpa ‘Colchester White’. This, of course, is the work of the TBG’s container wizard Paul Zammit.

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Dusty miller (Centaurea cineraria) is an old-fashioned annual that’s easy to source and offers a lovely hit of silver, as with this rich autumn combination of dusty miller and ornamental cabbages.

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We mustn’t forget the spectacular leaves of the newer Rex begonias like ‘Escargot’, below, many of which have silver markings.

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There are loads of silvery succulents available, because being silver-grey (reflecting the sun) and being succulent (storing your own water in your leaves) are both adaptations to plants growing in extreme hot and dry environments. I loved this combination of Kalanchoe pumila ‘Quicksilver’ and Senecio serpens at Eye of the Day Garden Center in Carpinteria, California.

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This pairing of blue sticks (Senecio mandraliscae) with Scaevola aemula at the Montreal Botanical Garden was simple, yet dramatic.

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And the gorgeous container below was in the former Vancouver garden of garden guru Tom Hobbs and Brent Beattie, owners of Vancouver’s Southlands Nursery.  It features Echeveria elegans, salmon-red Sedum rubrotinctum and silvery parrot feather (Tanacetum densum), along with astelia in the centre.

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Succulents have been used extensively over the years by Paul Zammit at the Toronto Botanical Garden. Check out this silvery monochrome masterpiece.

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And finally, this gorgeous windowbox from the TBG, with its luscious mix of silver echeverias, aptenias, kalanchoes, senecios, rhipsalis and more, all enhanced by the dwarf Arctic willow hedging around it.

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With that, I finish my monthly 2016 exploration of the garden paintbox. But not to worry!  2017 is a whole new ballgame, and there will be garden colour galore (plus the odd travel journal and personal reminiscence) throughout the coming year.

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!)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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!)

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

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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?

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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. .

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

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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).

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

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

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

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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!

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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!

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Another section of the pergola.

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And lookng towards Wave Hill House along the pergola.

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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!

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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.

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

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…. with its late summer profusion of aromatic herbs.

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The second is the Dry Garden.

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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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