Heirloom Annuals

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Bachelors Buttons are an old favorite with the most intense blue color

Old timey annuals are back in! Pushed to the side for many years in favor of newer, supposedly better cultivars, I always remember growing these as a child and seeing them in my parents garden. I couldn’t wait to squeeze the snapdragon flowers to make the “mouth” open like a dragon when I was little. Or being fascinated by the pansy faces that I grew and pressing them between the pages of a phone book.

Pansy flower

Violas in a container

With all the new intros of flowers, people forget the old-fashioned flowers that our grandmothers grew and enjoyed. ‘Flowers with a past’, or ‘flowers with history’ intrigue me even in the face of the slant in favor of perennials in recent years. So many people when they hear that a plant is an annual dismiss it as not worth the time and money to plant. But even in a garden of plant snobs, there is room for a diverse choice of antique flowers.

Rarely seen anymore, Balsam flower is extremely easy to grow

Rarely seen anymore, Balsam flower is extremely easy to grow

Never having given up on clarkia, cleome, calendula, cornflower, and cosmos, I have never stopped growing these neglected blooms and invite other flower lovers embrace them as well. Neglected but not forgotten, all these flowers should be planted and enjoyed by another generation.

Edible Nasturtiums are easy to grow

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums

Heirloom annuals are plants that have been cultivated for at least one hundred years, and some for much longer. Unimproved flowers that hybridizers haven’t got their hands on, antique annuals bloom profusely all season long and set seed so that you can collect them to flower for another year. Even better, many reseed to continue growing for the next season. Many are tall and graceful, not short and stocky hybrids that fit into containers and smaller gardens that are more prevalent today.

Sticky cleome is native to South America and looks spidery, hence its common name, Spider Flower

Sticky Cleome is native to South America and looks spidery, hence its common name, Spider Flower

Difficult to have something in bloom all season long, a perennial border is just shouting out to have annuals inserted in empty spots so you can have a constant parade of blooms.

Cosmos at Falkland Place in Scotland

Beautiful ruffled Cosmos at Falkland Place in Scotland

Sweet Peas at Falkland Palace in Scotland

Sweet Peas at Falkland Palace in Scotland

Closeup of Sweet Pea

Closeup of Sweet Pea

Perennial purists who will not allow an annual to cross through their garden gate are missing out on the dizzying palette of flowers that flower and die in one season. Perennial is a term that can be interpreted several ways. I have some short-lived perennials that only last two or three seasons, like lavender. The drainage issue always does this picky perennial in. So, the term perennial could mean – lasts for many seasons, like a peony… or perennial for a few seasons, like some of the new Echinaceas. Echinaceas don’t seem to last very long at all and yet they are called perennials.

I love all the new Echinaceas, but they seem to last only a couple of seasons

Poppies are one of my favorite annuals

Poppies are one of my favorite old fashioned annuals

Blue poppy

Blue Poppy

When most perennials are on their last gasp in late summer, many annuals are still running strong with little care. A bit of dead heading, sometimes staking, and an infusion of fertilizer is enough to keep them in good form all summer. Some annuals like Poppies, Love in a Mist, Bells of Ireland, Clarkia, and Larkspur are definitely cool weather plants finished by June. See my post on Cool Season Annuals.

Purple Larkspur makes a fine foil for pink Poppies

Cool season Bells of Ireland

Cool season Bells of Ireland

Unusual on the east coast, Clarkia is an annual that does better on the west coast

Love in a Mist is aptly named

Dried seed pods of Nigella or Love in a Mist

Cultivated for thousands of years in the Americas, Zinnias are a true antique classic. According to Burpee’s website, “Zinnias are undemanding annuals that simply need full sun, warmth, and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. If soil is poor, incorporate lots of compost or leaf mold”. Like many old-fashioned annuals, Zinnias do better sown directly into the garden instead of being transplanted.

Zinnias draw butterflies

Plumed Celosias are bursting with new cultivars but I really like to grow the unique Crested Celosia. I love the brain-like texture of the velvety bloom and it dries beautifully.

Good for drying, crested celosia has a fascinating bloom

Good for drying, Crested Celosia has a fascinating bloom

Blue Lace Flower

Blue Lace Flower

Blue Lace Flower, Trachymeme coerulea, resembles a purple Queen Anne’s Lace and would look good in a cottage style garden border. Coming from Australia in 1828, you can find this plant reseeding year after year into beds without any special care. Great for cutting and bringing into the house like many heirlooms, arranging with any of these long-stemmed flowers is a delight.

Larkspur and snapdragons from the garden make a fine arrangement

Larkspur and snapdragons from the garden make a fine arrangement

Annie's Annuals is a nursery that specializes in Heirloom annuals; this is one of their demo gardens

Annie’s Annuals in San Francisco is a nursery that specializes in Heirloom annuals; this is one of their demo gardens

All of these heirlooms draw pollinators in droves to their open faced flowers, with easily available pollen and nectar. To see more plants and flowers that attract pollinators, go to Plant These For Bees.

Plant These For The Bees poster available on Etsy

Mexican Sunflower is a butterfly magnet and easy for butterflies to nectar from

False Queen Anne’s Lace or Ammi majus is a great filler flower for arrangements

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A great cottage border of heirlooms Zinnias and Verbena

Love Lies Bleeding or Amaranthus

An arrangement with Bells of Ireland and Love Lies Bleeding

Heirloom Annuals

False Queen Anne’s Lace, Ammi majus

Hollyhock, Alcea rosea

Clarkia

Love Lies Bleeding, Amaranthus

Spider Flower,  Cleome

Snapdragon, Antirrhinum

Larkspur, Consolida

Cosmos

Sunflower, Helianthus

Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena

Heliotrope

Balsam, Impatiens balsamina

Sweet Pea, Lathyrus

Four O’Clock, Mirabilis

Pansy and Viola

Lobelia

Flowering Tobacco, Nictotiana

Love in a Mist, Nigella

Poppy, Papaver

Dusty Miller, Senecio

Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia

Blue Lace Flower, Trachymene coerulea

Zinnia

Verbena, Verbena bonariensis

Calendula, Pot Marigold

Petunias

 

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Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial

A well kept secret of garden enthusiasts, Hellebores should be more widely known to serious and not so serious gardeners alike; this is a plant that is worth seeking out.

Source: Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial

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Hellebores-Deer Resistant, Low Maintenance, Shade Loving Perennial

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Gardeners and Hellebores

Ok, drumroll here….I think I can say that Hellebores are my favorite perennial plant. A well-kept secret of garden enthusiasts, Hellebores should be more widely known to serious and not so serious gardeners alike; this is a plant that is worth seeking out. What other plant resists deer, neglect, likes shade-even deep shade, is evergreen, arranges beautifully, and has stunning flowers?  Did I mention that it blooms for 3 – 4 months of the year?  That was not a typo- Hellebores bloom for at least 3 months, sometimes longer, starting in mid February for me in the mid-Atlantic region, and soldiering on until at least April or May. Increasingly, I have seen them for sale at Trader Joe’s and other unlikely places, so I think finally people are waking up to the value of this flower. Poisonous, deer turn up their nose at these beautiful plants.

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So, why isn’t this plant in more gardens? Several reasons…First they are pricey.  Retail prices can range from $15 to $30 a piece. Second, when most people are browsing the garden centers in May, the plants have mostly finished their blooming show and people move on to fresher blooming plants. Third, Hellebore flower colors are usually subtle greens, pinks, and whites, and many gardeners want something brighter and flashier. But hybridizers are working on that with increasingly colorful flowers being released every year.

 Double hellebore, not sure of the variety


Double hellebore, not sure of the variety

 

Nearly black Hellebore

Nearly black Hellebore

'Ivory Prince' is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers

‘Ivory Prince’ is a beautiful variety with outward facing creamy flowers

For bee and nature lovers, this plant is extra important because it is an early nectar source for pollinators. There isn’t much blooming when they are in their glory in the late winter and I am sure to see the flowers filled with bees on a warmer day.

One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore

One of my honeybees visiting a hellebore

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

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Float your blooms in a bowl and they last for a couple of weeks

Another drawback other than their high price, and I warn my clients about this when I include them in a garden design; they take a while to establish. To get a nice size blooming clump, it will take about 5 years if you start with a quart size plant. So, in this day and age of instant gratification, this can be a deal stopper for some people.

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Very few perennial plants can tolerate the winter snow and wind that nature throws at them in January and February, but Hellebores emerge in late February with a welcome spring show. Some of the evergreen foliage might get burned on the edges and get tattered but you can quickly nip off those leaves for fresh to emerge.

'Wedding Party' has beautiful double flowers

‘Wedding Party’ has beautiful double flowers

The most popular varieties are the Oriental hybrid hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus ) which grow in the USDA zones 6-9.

Lenten Rose

The common name for Hellebores is Lenten Rose, because they bloom around the season of Lent. Hybridizers have latched onto Hellebores and specialized in creating a rainbow of colors, such as yellow, burgundy, spotted, black, pinks, and picotees. And the names!….Honeyhill Joy, Ivory Prince, Amber Gem, Berry Swirl, Cotton Candy, Black Diamond, Golden Lotus, Onyx Odyssey, Rose Quartz, Peppermint Ice, are just the tip of the iceberg. They sound like paint colors on a paint swatch.

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The downward facing flowers have been bred to tilt outward instead of downward facing so that you can easily see the flower show. Hybridizers have also turned their attention to the foliage, breeding for variegation, burgundy flushed stems, and silvery sheens. All these efforts must have paid off as they are flooding the nurseries and the prices are top dollar.  I have seen Hellebores for more than $50 a piece.  They are getting as expensive as some hybridized peonies!

This hellebore has variegated foliage

This hellebore has variegated foliage

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Culture

The culture of Hellebores is so easy that if you just plant them in a shady or partly shady spot, you’re done! I have some in sunny locations here in Maryland, but in more southern states, like Florida, plant them in full shade. In particular, Lenten Rose is a valuable player for dry shade, the nemesis of many gardeners. I use them as a ground cover under large trees where deer are prone to browse. For more shady ground cover choices, go to Made for the Shade.

A flock of Hellebores!

A flock of Hellebores!

Hellebores will set seed all around the plant and when the seedlings appear, dig them up and scatter them around. You will have large clumps in no time that last for years and years.

Seedlings surround the mother plant

Seedlings surround the mother plant

As I noted earlier, if you nip the older outer leaves in late winter, so the new stems and leaves can come up in the center.  That is it for maintenance!

A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed

A large clump of Hellebores in late February that needs to be trimmed

Clump transformed and showing flowers better once trimmed

Same clump transformed and displaying flowers better once trimmed

 

My advice for buying these beauties is to buy them in bloom so you know what you are getting as the colors can vary widely. Take a nursery shopping trip in late February and early March to get the best pick. For people who live near me in Central Maryland, go to Happy Hollow Nursery off of Padonia Rd in Cockeysville, at 410-252-4026. Tell them TheGardenDiaries sent you!

Hellebores covering a bank

So, gardeners of the world-Are you listening?  Tell all your friends and neighbors about this plant. It should not be a secret any longer.

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The Great Backyard Bird Count

Blue bird perching in my Sycamore tree observing my bird feeder

Blue bird perching in my Sycamore tree observing my bird feeder

The 20th annual Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) starts Friday, February 17, through Monday, February 20, 2017. Visit the official website at birdcount.org for more information but continue here for the events highlights:

I love feeding and observing what happens right outside my window

I love feeding and observing what happens right outside my window

A citizen science event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations, the GBBC is a great activity for kids and adults. Participants are asked to count birds for as little as 15 minutes (or as long as they wish) on one or more days of the four-day event and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Anyone can take part in the Great Backyard Bird Count, from beginning bird watchers to experts, and you can participate from your backyard, or anywhere in the world. Sounds easy… and no stress? Just count your bird sightings for 15 minutes and you have contributed to the backyard bird statistics that scientist use for their research.

Falcon

Falcon

Citizen Science is trendy now for good reason. People feel empowered when they can contribute to the data base that scientists from all over the world can use in their studies of bird migrations. And what better research than backyard bird behaviors and numbers? This part of the natural world is very visible and of interest to many people.

Bird feeding in winter

Bird feeding in winter

Observe Birds that Visit Your Feeders

We are a nation of “bird feeders”! More than 52 million Americans feed wild birds or other wildlife around their homes according to The Bird Watching Daily.  Some statistics:  “Two-thirds are women, and nearly 60 percent were between the ages of 45 and 64. On average, participants had been feeding birds for 18 years”. Wanting to bring nature, therapy, education, and beauty to their backyard, many bird feeders are passionate about birds and spend big bucks on this multi-million industry. Suet, nectar feeding, bird feeders, houses, and baths can be added to this list along with the more mundane birdseed.

Red headed woodpecker in my bird feeder

Red Bellied Woodpecker in my bird feeder

Another important fact on The Bird Watching Daily: “Participation in the wild-bird-feeding hobby” they write, “may be an excellent catalyst for engagement in greater levels of outdoor recreation and greater stewardship of the natural world.” Amen! We need more outdoor appreciation and engagement of our natural world in this digital age.

You might be luck enough to spot a snowy owl!

You might be lucky enough to spot a snowy owl!

How to Count The Birds

  • Count birds anywhere you want. Inside observing your bird feeder, or outside on a hike for at least 15 minutes. Keep track of the numbers and species and the time length.

  • Make an estimate of how many birds you saw of each species. Flocks of birds are tough, but use your best guess.

  • Enter your list online at BirdCount.0rg, after first establishing an account. You can start recording your bird sightings at midnight local time on the first day of the count from anywhere in the world.

Turkey vultures are the ugly but necessary scavengers of the animal world

Turkey vultures are the ugly but necessary scavengers of the animal world

  • When you enter your information, you will see a list of birds that could be in your area in February. If the bird you see is unusual, there is a checklist of “rare species” that you can use. Compiled by local bird experts, bird lists should be comprehensive. But if you enter a species of an unusual bird, you get a message asking you to confirm the report and another check box will come up.

    Ducks count too!

    Ducks count too!

    All of these unusual sightings go to a volunteer in the area who reviews these reports and who might even contact you to get more details. Adding photos is especially important for unusual species.

Cardinal

Cardinal

Why?

Bird populations are always shifting and changing and in 2014, Snowy Owl sightings spiked in the northeast and mid-Atlantic, which were recorded on the GBBC. Like a bellwether, climate changes such as warming weather also shows up in these bird counts. More southerly birds are migrating further north, or birds are changing their routes, shortening or completely cancelling their journey as a result of changing temperatures.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Some birds, such as winter finches, appear in large numbers during some years but not other species. Scientists can learn from the different patterns exhibited from year to year.

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

An estimated 163,763 bird watchers from more than 130 countries participated in the GBBC in 2016, with the U.S. the top participant followed by Canada and India. To see the summary of results for 2016, go to GBBC Summary for 2016 and see the top sighted birds. Even if you can’t identify all your birds that you have observed, if you look at these lists and photos, you are sure to spot your birds.

Not seen in February in my state of Maryland, the ruby throated hummingbird could be seen in California

Not seen in February in my state of Maryland, the ruby-throated hummingbird could be seen in California at this time of year

I love observing and photographing Peacocks, but like chickens, they are a domesticated bird

I love observing and photographing Peacocks, but like chickens, they are a domesticated bird

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Knives, Trugs, and Gloves: Tools of the Trade

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Meredith, a professional gardener at Ladew Topiary Gardens, sporting practical and stylish garden fashion

Visiting gardens around the country is a passion of mine and I always look for the gardeners who maintain these places. Gardening full-time, these garden warriors have tried many things over the years and come up with practical and winning solutions for gardening in comfort.

Women in particular are inventive and sew up some innovative accessories like the apron above. Meredith, who is a professional gardener at Ladew Topiary Gardens, in Monkton, Maryland, sewed her tough utilitarian apron out of upholstery fabric from an apron pattern that she modified to have deep pockets. How many times are you in the garden and you pick up something and have nowhere to place it? Or maybe to stuff gardeners twine into? Or a nifty pouch to hold your phone?

Soil Knife

A gardener at Chanticleer is using a soil knife like a pick ax to make divots

A gardener at Chanticleer is using a soil knife like a pick ax to make divots

A requirement for every gardener in the field is a utilitarian sharp-pointed soil knife with a cutting serrated edge which Meredith holds in her hand. Replacing the old-fashioned trowel, the soil knife slices through soil and saws right through tough roots.

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Some old-fashioned trowels

 

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Variety of tools includes a soil knife – my indispensable tool

Using a soil knife like a miniature pickax, a gardener can make small divots in the ground to plant plugs or small bulbs quickly. It slices and dices and has become my most useful implement in the tool shed.

Using a soil knife, I can cut through old roots in containers

Using a soil knife, I can cut through old roots in containers

Trugs and Gloves

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My friend Gretchen is using an old plant container from a nursery for a trug-sturdy and with handles; her gloves are inexpensive nitrile rubber-coated gloves

Trugs galore

Trugs galore

My set up in a rolling cart; red West County gloves, trug and soil knife

My set up in a rolling cart; red West County gloves, Felcos, trug and soil knife

Why spend a lot on trugs and gloves? There are tons of fancy and expensive gloves specifically made for gardeners. You could drop a lot of cash on these necessities in the garden but there are too many high-priced gloves that don’t last long. I usually won’t spend more than $5 to $8 per pair as I like to rotate what I am using and I go through them fast as the fingers always wear out on my right hand. If I could buy just ‘right hand’ gloves, that would be perfect!

My West County gloves are a couple years old

My West County gloves are a couple years old

Cheap gloves that are coated in the nitrile rubber coating work just fine. I do break down and buy  some very good pairs that I might spend $20 on –  namely ‘West County Gloves’. Using them for cold wet weather, the West County gloves are tough and hold up to lots of abuse. I have had some for several years that are still wearable.

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I like utilitarian gloves for a variety of purposes

Washing them is important once in a while but this seems to shorten the life so I try to do it infrequently.

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Mesh back gloves are good for hot weather

 

Handled trugs are essential equipmentl

Handled trugs are essential equipment

Hoses

High on my list is a good garden hose. I am really tough on my tools and need something nearly indestructible. Dramm makes the ColorStorm series and it is crackless, resistant to kinking and extremely tough. Plus, it comes in an array of colors! I really appreciate when my equipment looks as good as it is useful.

Dramm makes hoses in a rainbow of colors

Dramm makes hoses in a rainbow of colors

The most hated job on my gardening list is wrangling cumbersome hoses that tangle and kink. And I always used to run over my hose end with my car and end up with a flattened fitting. No longer with the Dramm hose –  it won’t crush under the weight of my car. Plus there is a lifetime guarantee. Made in the U.S.A, this is the only hose I use now.

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The blue Dramm hose is my favorite

 

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Gardening Trends 2017

New 'Autumn Fire' encore Azalea

New ‘Autumn Fire’ encore Azalea; blooms twice a season

Attending the Mid Atlantic Nurseryman’s Show in Baltimore (MANTS) this past January is an intense glimpse into what is up and coming with the gardening industry. I took lots of pictures, trolled the aisles for new products, talked to people, and used my gardening savvy to figure out what is really brand new or recycled.

Chatting with Stephanie Cohen (left) and my Mants partner Gretchen Schmidl (right) at Walters Gardens

Chatting with Stephanie Cohen and my Mants partner Gretchen Schmidl at Walters Gardens at the MANTS show

Talking with Stephanie Cohen(The Perennial Diva!) she suggested to gardeners that they buy one or two of the plants that they want to try in their garden, before buying 50 of the same variety to cover an area. Only after making sure your choice of perennials are thriving, then feel free to plonk down money for more. I thoroughly agree with her! Garden conditions- drainage, soil, climate, location- are so variable that it doesn’t make sense to buy an untried perennial or shrub for your garden without first giving it a trial run. It is so easy to waste money in the nursery trade without first doing your homework and making sure that it is “right plant-right place”. There are just too many choices out there vying for your gardening dollar.

I loved this Super Bells 'Tropical Sunrise'

I loved this SuperBells ‘Tropical Sunrise’

Gardening trends ebb and flow like fashion crazes. “There is nothing new under the sun” could be applied to the gardening world but practices and products often are packaged and marketed differently to look new. Here are some movements that I see in the industry.

Greenery-Pantone Color of the Year

Doesn't this container scream "Greenery"?

Doesn’t this container scream “Greenery”? No flowers needed

Pantone’s color of the year sets the tone for 2017-  “Greenery”. It wasn’t that long ago (2013) that “Emerald” was the color of the year, so green has been trendy before. Pantone’s “Greenery” looks like a lime green to me and if that doesn’t convince you that the plant world is up and coming, nothing will. Think kale smoothies, retro metal gliders, or lime green crocs that are sitting in your closet- and you have the right color in mind. Our desire to reconnect with nature? Or a symbol of revitalization? Read whatever you want into that color, I think of shimmering foliage shades for a restful experience.

Hakone Grass 'All Gold' is the Pantone color of the year

Hakone Grass ‘All Gold’ shows the Pantone color of the year

Pantone colored chairs match perfectly

Pantone ‘Greenery’ colored chairs match perfectly

Using dental floss to hang a chrysalis

Monarch chrysalis is the Pantone color of the year!

As Good as Gold

Gold has always been one of my favorite colors to design with and I see an uptick in golden introductions, like the one below called ‘Sunshine’. The Ligustrum leans toward the yellow end of the spectrum, the following Coral Bells are pure gold.

I admired this Proven Winners plant Ligustrum

I admired this Proven Winners plant Ligustrum

'Caramel' Heuchera is a villosa hybrid which performs like gangbusters for me

‘Caramel’ Heuchera is a villosa hybrid which performs like gangbusters for me, from Walters Garden

Heucherella 'Buttered Rum'

Heucherella ‘Buttered Rum’, a Terra Nova intro is a new one that I am trying this year

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‘Golden Balcony’ Begonia from Longfield Gardens

New Plant Intros

The pace of new plant introductions has been increasing in the past five years at an exponential rate as more and more people are gardening and want more choices- namely dwarf plants. Virtually every full size plant has a newer dwarf variety that is at least half the size with as many or more flowers than the full size version. Neat and tidy is the name of the game and with so many dwarf introductions, it is hard to keep track of them. The plant industry is working hard on plants that fit into our downsized lifestyle and gardens. Plus, plants that normally bloom only once-like Azaleas, are reworked to bloom again and again so that we get a longer season of enjoyment.

Proven Winners Supertunia 'Bubblegum'

Proven Winners Supertunia ‘Vista Bubblegum’

I was glad to see Proven Winner’s ‘Vista Bubblegum’ receive the accolade of Annual of the Year for 2017. Using this plant for at least 10 years and marveling at the toughness and beautiful form and color, I thought I was the only one who noticed! This is one plant that I make sure I buy enough for my containers and window boxes, as well as the landscape and can’t get enough of. A deserved recognition, I hope that it will now be easier to find.

Dwarf Hibiscus with full size flowers

Dwarf Hibiscus with full size flowers

Eat Your Spinach

Greens,beautiful greens! Dinosaur kale, collards, swiss chard, lettuce, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, carrot tops; you name it, someone is eating it and/or growing it! Chock full of good nutrients and easy to grow in the garden or in containers, greens are here to stay.

Having your greens ready to pick outside your doorstep

Having your greens ready to pick outside your doorstep

Ruffled kale grown in my garden

Ruffled kale grown in my garden

Spotted heirloom lettuce

Spotted heirloom lettuce

And not just greens. Veganism is mainstream. No longer a niche group, vegan consumers desire a cleaner product, want to lose weight, and are environmentally conscious. Even if you aren’t a total vegan, people are incorporating more vegetables in their diet. My last trend report for 2016, Top 10 Garden Trends for 2016, included the cauliflower as the trendiest vegetable in the garden. I see it at the supermarket in pizza crusts, brownies, salads, and as a rice. As easy to grow as tomatoes, but more prone to pests, here is a guide to growing – Growing Cauliflower in Containers.

Cauliflower is being grown in home gardens because of its versatility in cooking

Cauliflower is being grown in home gardens because of its versatility in cooking

Home Grown Berries

Millennials especially are embracing this trend of eating and growing healthy in portable containers. Berry bushes, like the new Bushel and Berry series of berry bushes- dwarf blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are appearing on decks and patios. As one of the Superfoods that everyone should include in your diet, people are incorporating these dwarf heavy bearing shrubs into their gardens and containers. I am trialing ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ Raspberry and looking for the ‘Perpetua’ Blueberry (2 harvests a year!) and Blackberry ‘Baby Cakes’ and will be reporting on how well they do this year.

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Black Goes With Everything

Again, black or dark foliaged plants are in the forefront and they contrast nicely with the limey green ‘Greenery’. Check out my post Black Goes With Everything. Heucheras or Coral Bells come in an array of dark hues, like the ones below called ‘Silver Gumdrop’ and ‘Black Pearl’ from Walters Gardens.

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‘Black Pearl’ Coral Bells, image from Walters Gardens

'Silver Gumdrop' Coral Bells, image from Walters Gardens

‘Silver Gumdrop’ Coral Bells, image from Walters Gardens

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A sweet potato vine that is jet black

Jungle Redux-Invasion of the Houseplants

Remember the tired looked Shefflarias and Spider Plants from the 70’s? If you look at pictures from that era, houseplants were everywhere, perched on harvest gold counter tops or dangling from macrame hangers. The nostalgia and the plants are back! But instead, clustering succulents in a retro glass container or air plants being thrown together in a wooden trough with glass balls are appearing. Orchids, especially Vandas are mainstream and hanging from the ceiling of your sun room. Bromeliads are coming back with some crazy colors.

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Bromelliads are long lasting tropicals that I use in shady containers

Bromeliads are long-lasting tropicals that I use in shade containers

Another current use of house plants is to counter indoor pollution, one more way that Millenials are trying to control their environment for healthy living.

Vanda Orchid

Vanda Orchid

Vandas come in incredible colors

Vandas come in incredible colors

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Air plants used as hair jewelry

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Bromeliad flowers are beautiful also

Succulent/Cactus Craze

Succulents are still huge trend setters with their jewel like rosettes of beautiful foliage. Cacti are joining right in.Easy care plants that are small and portable and take neglect, you see them in hanging baskets, wreaths, trees, and, wedding bouquets, and containers. A crafty plant, go to my post Succulents For the Fall or Deck the Halls-A Succulent Christmas.048-2

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Succulents filling a hanging basket at Disney World’s greenhouse

Succulents come in all colors

Succulents come in all colors

 

Cactus are trendy;unfortunately these have been dyed

Cactus are trendy;unfortunately these are dyed

Cool Nurseries 

Destination nurseries are getting more numerous and more sophisticated than ever. Prolific on the west coast and the United Kingdom, they are trickling into the rest of the country. After my recent trip to Scotland when I visited several garden centers, I realized that the U.S. has some catching up to do. Dobbies is a destination garden center/nursery that has its headquarters outside Edinburgh and bills itself as a leisure destination for all the family. I have posted about a few destination garden centers, namely Surreybrook-A Destination Garden Center  located in Maryland, Annie’s Annuals in Richmond, California, and Grubb Heaven in San Francisco. Including restaurants and lifestyle products, these destination garden centers are more than just a place to shop for plants. Marketing of plants has hit big time.

Flora Grubb's has unique containers

Flora Grubb’s has unique containers

Me posing at Annies Annuals which has funky gardening stuff

Me posing at Annies Annuals which has funky gardening stuff

 

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Annie's has demo gardens scattered around so you can see plants other that in pots

Annie’s has demo gardens scattered around so you can see plants other that in pots

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Amaryllis For Years to Come

'Red Lion' Amaryllis is a common Christmas gift

‘Red Lion’ Amaryllis is a common Christmas gift

 

Red Lion, Apple Blossom, and Minerva- a great trip of Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens

‘Red Lion’, ‘Apple Blossom’, and ‘Minerva’- a great trio of Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens

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Great used as a cut flower, Amaryllis ‘Splash’, from Longfield Gardens

Someone gave you an Amaryllis gift box for Christmas? Or you have an old one that you want to re-bloom? Christmas indoor plants give us a breath of a living, blooming plant that we are missing at this time of year and I always buy several Amaryllis bulbs for starting and try to entice my old ones to burst forth with a flower stalk.

Amaryllis 'Minerva' at Longwood Gardens

Amaryllis ‘Minerva’ at Longwood Gardens

These bulbs are native to warm climates, so they don’t require a cooling period to trigger blooms. Amaryllis and paper white narcissus both belong in this category. For forcing other types of bulbs that require a chilling period such as Hyacinths and Daffodils, go to Bringing Spring In.

An unusual Amaryllis bloom

An unusual Amaryllis bloom

Amaryllis Facts

Of all flowering bulbs, Amaryllis is one of the easiest to force into bloom. Packaged in a single bulb, a flower embryo is waiting –  ready to burst into bloom with a bit of encouragement. The Amaryllis, Hippeastrum, originated in South America’s tropical regions and comes in many beautiful varieties including reds, white, pink, salmon, and orange. There are also many striped and multicolored varieties, usually combining shades of pink or red with white. Doubles, miniatures, and some very exotic ones that look like butterflies are also available.  The large flowers and ease with which bloom, make Amaryllis extremely popular. The blooms brighten a gloomy winter day and are a snap to grow.

Loose Amaryllis bulbs blooming at the nursery

Loose Amaryllis bulbs blooming at a local nursery

Choosing the Best Bulb

Always pick out the largest plumpest bulb that you can find – the jumbo size. Bulbs are storage vessels and the more storage-think larger bulb!- more flowers. If you buy one at a big box store that is already planted in a pot, you usually get a plant with only 1 stem – a 26 to 30 cm bulb. You are paying a premium for the convenience of an already potted bulb, but with smaller and fewer flowers. Choosing larger single bulbs at a good nursery or ordering on-line will get you a better quality and a larger, older bulb. The larger bulbs, 34 cm + are a full year older than the smaller bulbs, so you are paying a bit more. I prefer paying extra to get a loose larger bulb with more flowers that last longer, than for a smaller potted up bulb.

A range of sizes of bulbs will give you various bloom sizes and numbers

A range of sizes of bulbs will give you various bloom sizes and numbers

A jumbo Amaryllis is about

A jumbo Amaryllis is 34 -36 cm per bulb

In addition, look for an emerging flower bud coming out of the bulb. Choosing one an existing flower bud  means that the bulb is ready to go and can bloom within 5-7 weeks.

26/28 cm – 1 stem (occasionally 2) with 3 to 4 flowers

28/30 cm – 2 stems with 3-4 flowers per stem

30/32 cm – 2-3 stems with 3-4 flowers per stem

32/34 cm – 2-3 stems with 4-5 flowers per stem

34/36 cm – 3 stems with 4-5 flowers per stem

Bud full of promise

Bud full of promise

Double-flowered ones are my favorite

Double-flowered ones are my favorite

Quick Planting Tips:

  • Planting Period:                  October  to April

  • Flowering Period:               Late December until the end of May

  • Flowering time:                    7-10 weeks

  • Larger bulbs:                        Produce more flowers

  • Always store:                        Un-planted bulbs in a cool place between 40-50 deg. 

  • Flower Production:             2 to 3 stems per bulb

  • More Impact:                       Try planting 2 or 3 bulbs per pot

    Pre-potted bulbs are usually smaller in size and less flower buds

    Pre-potted bulbs are usually smaller and less flower buds

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    Preparation for Planting

    To get a head start soak the bulbs for an hour in warm water to hydrate the roots

    To get a head start soak the Amaryllis bulbs for an hour in warm water to hydrate the roots

    Place the bulb into lukewarm water for a few hours to jump-start emergence. I received my bulbs from Longfield Gardens with a heat-pack giving off warmth so the bulbs wouldn’t freeze in transit.

    Ordering my Amaryllis bulbs from Longfield Gardens in January means that I receive a heat pack that keeps the bulbs from freezing

    Ordering my Amaryllis bulbs from Longfield Gardens in January means that I receive a heat pack that keeps the bulbs from freezing!

    If you cannot plant the bulbs immediately after receiving them, store them at a cool temperature between 40-50 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature keeps them from blooming before you are ready.

    White Nymph Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens

    ‘White Nymph’ Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens

     Planting 101

    • Pick out a container that the bulb will fit into snugly, maybe an inch or two larger than the circumference of the bulb

    • A ceramic container is preferable to a plastic one because the weight of a flower, stalk, and leaves in full flush, will topple over the whole plant

    • Pot the bulb with good quality potting soil, leaving 1/3 of the top of the bulb or the ‘shoulders’ exposed; Water until you see moisture coming out of the bottom of the pot

    • If you want to accelerate the growth of the flower stalk and flower, place the pot on a heating pad

      Bottom heat will accelerate blooming

      Bottom heat will accelerate blooming

    • Keep in a sunny spot and keep moist and you will be surprised how fast the flower will appear

    • Once flowers appear, if you want the flowers to last longer, keep in a cooler spot

    •  Each year that you keep your Amaryllis alive, it will get larger and produce offsets (tiny bulbs that will get larger)

      Leave about 1/3 of the top of the bulb uncovered

      Leave about 1/3 of the top of the bulb uncovered

      Fill in with fresh moss for a finished look

      Fill in with fresh moss for a finished look

      Tying and staking a 'Red Lion' Amaryllis keeps the flower stalk from flopping

      Tying and staking a ‘Red Lion’ Amaryllis keeps the flower stalk from flopping

Amaryllis bulbs can also be planted in mixed containers to make the naked bulb more interesting

Amaryllis bulbs can also be planted in mixed containers to make the growing bulb more interesting  Amaryllis Containers

This container has a very old Amaryllis that keeps on getting larger and larger every year

This container has a very old Amaryllis that keeps on getting larger and larger every year

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Amaryllis used as a cut flower in a vase, from Longfield Gardens

 Waxed Bulbs

Waxed bulbs are a new wrinkle on Amaryllis. Throwaway bulbs is my term for them! Once it blooms, waxed bulbs should be discarded and can’t be saved to re-bloom another year because of the waxed covering. Popular in the Netherlands, I have had trouble with stunted growth from the ones that I started which is due to improper temperature storage of the bulb (before I bought it).

A waxed bulb seen at Lowes

A waxed bulb seen at Lowes

Stunted flowers are blooming right at the neck of a waxed bulb

Stunted flowers are blooming right at the neck of a waxed bulb

From my experience with waxed bulbs, I won’t be buying these again!

Re-Blooming & After Bloom Care

  • Cut-Back- After the Amaryllis has stopped flowering, Don’t throw it away (unless you have a waxed bulb)! Possible to force again, you need to follow a few simple directions.  Cut the old flowers from the stem after flowering, and when the leaves start to sag and turn yellow, cut it back to the top of the bulb.

  • Leaf Growth and development Continue to water and fertilize as normal all summer, or at least 5-6 months, allowing the leaves to fully develop and grow.  I simply take all my pots outside and set them in an out-of-the-way place and never look at them all summer.  Let the rain water them.  When the leaves begin to yellow, which normally occurs in the early fall when the days get cooler, cut the leaves back to about 2 inches from the top of the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil.

  • Bulb Storage- Clean the bulb, removing and rinsing off all soil, and place it in a cool (40-50 deg. F), dark place such as the crisper of your refrigerator for at least 6 weeks. Caution: Do not store Amaryllis bulbs  in a refrigerator that contains apples  – this will sterilize the bulbs.  Store the bulbs for a minimum of 6 weeks. I usually place the bulbs in a dark cool corner of my basement as I don’t have room in my refrigerator. Alternatively, you can leave the bulbs in the pots in a cool dark space. After about 6 weeks, you can pot them up.

    Removal from Storage- Once your cooling period is up, replant your bulbs as if it was a newly purchased one. Be sure to fertilize the bulbs with dilute plant food as the original bulb has used up all the food stores. For more impact, I like to pot three bulbs to a container.

    Apple Blossom has been potted up with 3 bulbs to the container for bigger impact, from Longfield Gardens

    Potted up with 3 bulbs, Apple Blossom makes a good show, from Longfield Gardens

    You can safely start Amaryllis until April, so there is no rush for these to bloom!

    Evergreen Amaryllis from Longfield gardens

    Evergreen Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens

     

One thing you have to know is that Amaryllis normally bloom in spring, not in December. The ones that bloom for Christmas are grown in greenhouses to get them to behave that way. For more information on Amaryllis re-blooming tips, go to National Arboretum.

'Rosy Star' Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens

‘Rosy Star’ Amaryllis from Longfield Gardens

 

Furnished by Longfield Gardens, all bulbs were of the best quality and size.

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Illuminating The Season in Colonial Williamsburg

Holiday wreath made with dried flowers at Williamsburg

Holiday wreath made with dried flowers at Williamsburg

Ah… a Williamsburg Christmas!

Doesn’t that bring to mind fruit fans and apple cones and pineapple motifs? A hot toddy sitting by Christiana Campbell’s Tavern giant fireplace? And horses clopping down the Duke of Gloucester street adorned with boughs of holly and candlelit windows?

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Governors Palace at night

Visiting the historic area of Williamsburg during the Christmas season for the purpose of admiring the door decorations, you think that the colonial people started a great tradition and were extremely creative.

Okra pods, the pointy pods outlining the wreath were used a lot in the decorations

Okra pods, the pointy pods outlining the wreath, are used a lot in the decorations

Contemporary Tradition

But contrary to popular thought, the tradition of hanging fruits, pods, oyster shells, veggies, and other kinds of plant life on your front door started in the mid part of the twentieth century – not in colonial times. Anyone in the colonial period who would waste perfectly good fruit and place it outside to be eaten by deer or squirrels would be committed into the “Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds”! But in the early Twentieth century, Christmas was growing in significance and there was a Colonial Revival going on.

A simple fan of Magnolia leaves and wheat

A simple fan of Magnolia leaves, cotton burrs, chili peppers, yarrow, and wheat

Decoration Birthplace-Au Naturel

Starting in 1936, the decorations were  simply a few plain wreaths and roping to decorate the Governor’s Palace and Raleigh’s Tavern. Mrs Louise Fisher, placed in charge of flowers and Christmas decorations, went to the library where she turned up examples of period examples from English and American sources that she could imitate- like Grinling Gibbons, master carver to George I in England. Gibbons carved festoons of fruit, flowers, and other bits of nature in borders that decorated Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. By 1939, her “Della Robbia” look was attracting attention and the “Williamsburg Christmas” look was born. It became so popular that in 1969, the Christmas decorations tour began and became hugely popular. Instruction courses, books, article, and how-to workshops followed.

Bird nibbling on berries in a swag

Bird nibbling on berries in a swag

Every Christmas, the exhibition buildings, homes and shops of Colonial Williamsburg are decorated with wreaths and garlands of natural materials for the holiday season. The arrangements go up right after Thanksgiving and remain to January 6th and are hand-made by the employees of Williamsburg on houses in the Historic Area. The flower arranging staff of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is responsible for the whimsical and imaginative work for all the buildings in the Historic Area that are open to the public.

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Hops, pine cones, and oranges

Decorating the millinery shop

Decorating the millinery shop

Wreath with drummer boy was made for the William Pitt shop which sells a lot of toys

Made for  the William Pitt shop which sells a lot of toys, this drummer boy wreath is unusual

Apples are used extensively in wreaths

Used extensively in wreaths, apples, berries, and boxwood, are a tradition

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Private residences in the Historic Area are decorated by the occupants.

You can buy your own authentic Williamsburg wreath in the Historic Area

You can buy your own authentic Williamsburg wreath in the Historic Area

Contests

There is a hotly contested competition for best and most creative arrangements. The rules are: Everything must be ALL natural, and only items that would have been in Virginia in the 1700’s can be part of the arrangement. That meant no ribbons, bows, fake fruit, Poinsettia, pepper berries, and eucalyptus.

Outside Chownings Tavern is a wreath constructed with oyster shells

Outside Chownings Tavern is a wreath constructed with scallop shells and drinking mugs

Oyster shells play the starring role in this wreath

Oyster shells play the starring role in this wreath, along with quince, pomegranates, artichokes, cinnamon, and sumac

Judged by categories, the arrangements are one of the following: professionally made, hand-made by an amateur, and made by Williamsburg employee in the floral department. Checked daily, the arrangements are refreshed for anything that might have wilted or been consumed by wildlife!

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Entrance to Governors Palace

Festive entrance to Governors Palace

You can purchase your own accessories for decorating your house

You can purchase your own accessories for decorating your house

The appeal of these decorations are that they are hand made of natural materials, things that you have cut or collected from your yard, woodland, or beach. Bucking the trend of plastic trees and artificial reindeer, the naturalness is what makes these designs endure. Having the decorations up for up to six weeks, means that you have to use durable dried materials and replenish them if they disintegrate. “Floral cages”, a container that holds wet floral foam to keep things fresh, are popular for this reason.

Fresh pears, strawflowers, and wheat

Fresh pears, straw flowers, and wheat

Osage oranges, dried okra, and cockscomb

Osage oranges, dried okra, dusty miller, and cockscomb

Pineapple Motif

No one knows for certain exactly how the pineapple became an essential element in the Christmas decorations of Colonial Williamsburg, but a look at the history of this common 21st century fruit reveals some clues. Because the exterior of the fruit resembled the pine cone, and the sweet fruit was similar to the texture and taste of an apple, the name changed from its original “anana” to pineapple. A sought-after delicacy in colonial America, the pineapple was considered a sign of the highest form of hospitality because of its rarity and sweet taste.

p1110975By the 1930s, the pineapple was already a well established design element in architecture, ceramics, and art. It only stands to reason, then, that beautiful fresh pineapples would become the centerpiece for the creative decorations for which Colonial Williamsburg is known today.

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Green lotus pods make this wreath stand out

Green lotus pods make this wreath stand out

To read more about the history and see more pictures of decorations over the years, see Christmas in Colonial America.

All pictures are courtesy of Amy Sparwasser.

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Decorating the White House- Past and Present

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I decorated the Blue Room Christmas tree in 2015; the garland had messages  inscribed to members of the armed forces from their family

The Blue Room tree had sayings from the Constitution on the garland, picture from Linda Foley Vodney

The Blue Room tree in 2016 had a “We The People” theme on the garland, picture from Linda Vodney

Volunteering at the White House for Christmas is a bucket list item for many people, and I have posted on this blog about how to apply and the best way to get accepted at Decorating the White House 2015. I have participated twice, in 2011 and 2015, and to my delight discovered others have applied after reading about my experiences and been accepted.

Mandy Barkley did all the mantels of the White House this year

Mandy Barkley did all the mantels of the White House this year, picture from Mandy Barkley

Linda Foley Vodney was accepted after reading how to apply from my blog

Linda Vodney was accepted in 2016 after reading how to apply from my blog, picture from Linda Vodney

Gold and silver tree in Cross Hall, picture Linda Foley Vodney

Gold/silver tree in Cross Hall 2016, picture Linda Vodney

How to Apply to The White House

Work on the White House decorations starts at least six months in advance by designers at Rafanelli Events and consulting with Michelle Obama via sketches and concepts for each room. During the preceding summer volunteers can apply online from April to August to decorate the White House by going to WhiteHouse.gov. Learning if you make the cut in October, there are about 85 to 90 people across the country selected to take part. Explaining why you want to volunteer in a short essay and sending pictures of your work are requirements on the application.

Waiting in line with other volunteers for the reception

Waiting in line with other volunteers for the reception in 2015

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I am posing on the left with other volunteers in 2015

As a volunteer you do not receive any compensation and you pay your hotel, transportation, and most meal costs for a week after Thanksgiving, so this isn’t an inexpensive proposition. But the experience of working at The White House is exhilarating and so much fun, that everyone is really excited, even if you are just wiring up ornaments and moving boxes!

Michelle Obama greets and thanks all the volunteers at the volunteer recepetion

Michelle Obama greets and thanks all the volunteers at the volunteer reception in 2016, picture from Linda Vodney

I have applied every year since 2010, and been accepted twice in that time and each time I decorated has been different. It seems that each year, the decorations get glittzier and more elaborate. But I see many ornaments and props being reused and only ten percent are new this year. Even re-purposed things like the snowmen that sat outside in 2015 are lining the Lower Cross Hall this year.

Snowmen that were placed in the Kennedy Garden outside are inside this year

Snowmen that were placed in the Kennedy Garden in 2015 outside are inside this year

Green Room mantel done by Mandy Barkley, picture by Mandy Barkley

Green Room mantel done by Mandy Barkley in 2016, picture by Mandy Barkley

Since I was not accepted this year, some of my pictures are from Mandy Barkley who worked at The White House last year and did all the mantels this year, and Linda Vodney who was accepted for the first time and decorated the Cross Hall of the White House this year.

Cross Hall tree

Cross Hall tree 2016, picture from Linda Vodney

Cross Hall tree in 2015

Cross Hall tree in 2015

For a great article and more pictures of this last Christmas for the Obamas, themed “The Gift of the Holidays”, go to Daily Mail.

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Vermeil Room in 2011

The mantel below in the Vermeil Room, which has seven First Lady portraits on the soft yellow walls and features a collection of “vermeil”, which are gilded silver items or “dipped in gold”, glows with pinks and yellows and a ballerina theme. The colors complement the beauty of the Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson portraits that are among the First Lady’s portraits in the room.

The Vermeil Room with Lady Bird Johnson portrait was decorated with a teddy bear theme in 2015

The Vermeil Room with Lady Bird Johnson portrait was decorated with a teddy bear theme in 2015

 

A mantel decorated by Mandy Barker in the Vermeil Room

A mantel decorated by Mandy Barker in the Vermeil Room in 2016, picture from Mandy Barkley

Close up of the mantle of the Vermeil room

Close up of the mantel of the Vermeil room in 2016, picture from Mandy Barkley

Volunteers with a love of decorating are accepted every year, but it helps if you have floral/interior design experience or people-centered work, like volunteering, teaching or nursing. I have worked with lots of people at the White House who were teachers or people in the education field and Gold Star mothers. Regardless, you work with a cross-section of people from all walks of life and all age ranges.

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The Gold Star tree was hung with mementos in 2011

 I was in charge of a team that made these cedar gold stars that hung in the East Wing in 2011


I was in charge of a team that made a dozen cedar gold stars that hung in the East Wing in 2011

A Little History

Working in the White House which is a “living museum”, is so interesting that you realize the tremendous stories and history of the place. Just glancing around, you are surrounded by hints of what took place in the past. When I spotted the gorgeous full length portrait of Grace Coolidge, I was intrigued and was inspired to find out more about this remarkable woman. The wife of Calvin Coolidge, President from 1923-29, she was voted as one of the 12 most remarkable living women of 1931. One of the most popular hostesses of the White House, she adored her white collies and Rob Roy was the first dog that appeared in an official White House portrait. She even kept a pet raccoon at the White House briefly!

Grace Coolidge with her beloved white collie, Rob Roy

Grace Coolidge with her beloved white collie, Rob Roy in the China Room painted by the famous illustrator of the era, Howard Chandler Christy

Tragically on June 30, 1924, sixteen-year old Cal, one of Grace’s boys, played tennis on the White House courts, and developed a blister on his toe which became infected. Blood poisoning set in. In a day before antibiotics would have cleared his system of the spreading infection, Cal died at Walter Reed within a week.

Another nugget that I uncovered about Grace, was her famous meeting with Helen Keller and companion Anne Sullivan in a silent newsreel clip. Fascinating stuff from looking at a White House portrait!

Gingerbread House

Constructed by the White House pastry chef, the gingerbread house is always my favorite decoration. A tradition started in 1969, it seems that each year, it becomes more elaborate and detailed.

Gingerbread house 2016, picture from Linda Foley Vodney

Gingerbread house 2016, picture from Linda Vodney

The gingerbread house in 2015 was again modeled after the White House and designed by Executive Pastry Chef Susan Morrison, and made with 250 pounds of gingerbread, 150 pounds of chocolate and another 75 pounds of sugar and gum paste. Covered with dark chocolate, this whopper weighed in at almost 500 pounds! This 2016 season’s house, created also by Pastry Chef Susan Morrison, is made of 150 pounds of gingerbread, 100 pounds of bread dough, 20 pounds of gum paste, 20 pounds of icing, and 20 pounds of sculpted sugar pieces.

Gingerbread house in 2015

Gingerbread house in 2015

Detail of the gum paste nutcracker on gingerbread house

Detail of the gum paste nutcracker on gingerbread house

This year’s theme, ‘The Gift of the Holidays,’ was chosen to reflect the joy of giving and receiving, along with such gifts as service, friends, family, education and good health. For the official White House tour book for an explanation of each decorated room, go to 2016 White House Tourbook which everyone gets a copy of when touring the White House.

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I decorated the Red Room in 2011

Closeup of the Rded Room mantel in 2016 done by Mandy Barkley

Closeup of the Red Room mantel in 2016 done by Mandy Barkley, picture by Mandy Barkley

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East Room mantel decorated with a giant ferris wheel in 2016, picture by Mandy Barkley

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East Room mantel decorated in 2015 with reindeer

I help create these gardens in the East Room that had moss, hellebores, and boulders

I help create these gardens in the East Room that had moss, white hellebores, and boulders in 2011

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A pom pom Bo greeted people as they entered the East Wing in 2011

This Bo in 2011 was made out of trash bags!

Bo in the Library in 2011 was made out of trash bags!

Lego houses decorated the trees in the Dining Room

Gingerbread houses decorated the trees in the Dining Room representing the 50 states and 6 territories in 2016, picture by Linda Vodney

Volunteer Reception

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Giant nutcracker at the volunteer reception in 2016, picture by Linda Vodney

Myself and my daughter at the White House reception in 2015

Myself and my daughter at the White House reception in 2015

A volunteer reception is held at the conclusion of all your decorating efforts on the last evening and you get a formal invitation from the First Lady, Michelle Obama. Allowed to bring one person with you to see the “big reveal”, which is the culmination of all the decorators hard work in its full glory at night is a huge treat.

Invitation to the volunteer reception

Invitation to the volunteer reception

the volunteer reception in 2015

Volunteer reception in 2015

The variety of iced cookies is staggering!

The variety of iced cookies is staggering!

Cheese tray at reception in 2015

Cheese tray at reception in 2015

I am in front of the Blue Room tree with my daughter which took 3 days to decorate in 2015

I am in front of the Blue Room tree with my daughter which took 3 days to decorate in 2015

The East Colonnade was decorated with snowflakes from all 5o states and 6 Pretecorates

The East Colonnade in 2015 was decorated with snowflakes from all 50 states and 6 territories to create a winter wonderland

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Group picture of all the volunteers in 2015

Next year I will apply again with the new administration. It will be interesting to see what happens!

Posted in Floral Arranging, White House Christmas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Holly Love-The Art of Wreath Making at McLean Nursery

McLean Nurseries workshop

McLean Nurseries workshop

Boxwood trees ready for sale

Boxwood trees ready for sale

Decking the halls with boughs of holly is a Christmas tradition that goes back centuries, rooted in Pagan times and plays a pivotal role in Christianity. The prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore at his crucifixion and the berries are the drops of blood shed by Jesus. Celtic people of pre-Christian Ireland and England used holly extensively, decorating their homes throughout the Winter Solstice, and Druids thought hollies had mystical powers. Seen as a powerful fertility symbol and a charm to ward off witches and ill-fortune, holly was often planted near homes for this reason. McLean Nurseries in Parkville, Maryland has a plethora of different varieties of holly planted around the property, so they must have only good luck there!

The nine acres of the nursery are widely planted with evergreen and deciduous hollies and magnolias

Nine acres of the nursery are widely planted with evergreen and deciduous hollies, and magnolias

Deciduous hollies are fenced because of deer

Deciduous hollies are fenced because of deer

The genus Ilex is a popular winter evergreen in gardens, and is easy to grow on any well-drained soil. Grown as a free-standing small specimen tree is common, but it’s ability to resprout from cut stems makes it an ideal hedge plant. The berries are a key part of the holly’s charm, and can come in a range of colors, like yellow, orange and different shades of red. Deciduous hollies, Ilex verticillata, lose their leaves in the fall to display tightly packed berries clothing the stems.  

A peach colored deciduous holly

A peach colored deciduous holly

McLean Nurseries has grown hollies on their nine acres for over 70 years. Many Ilex introductions originated here with the best known one Ilex opaca, ‘Satyr Hill’, named for the street the nursery is on. I planted a hedge of ‘Satyr Hill’ three years ago to create a wind break at the back of my property and I love this variety for its toughness, beauty, and ease of growth. Bill Kuhl, the owner of McLean, grows more than 100 cultivars of Holly and lots of varieties of the deciduous ones, Ilex verticilatta. Other shrubs like Boxwood, Hydrangea, Viburnum, and native perennials are sold at McLean and garden clubs are welcome to tour the nursery.

An array of cut greens and berries for sale

An array of cut greens and berries for sale

Propagating cuttings in cold frames, many thousands of hollies are grown and sold every year at McLean. The busiest time of year at McLean is Christmas, with the business of decorating hundreds of Balsam Fir wreaths for the public and churches. Visiting McLean recently to see the beautifully designed wreaths that will end up far and wide in the Baltimore area, I love to see the varieties of holly and greens that create a Tapestry of Holly. A great nursery that keeps a low profile, McLean has introduced many new cultivars to the trade that are widely used today and have attained ‘Holly of the Year’ status.

A beautiful variegated holly

A beautiful variegated holly

If you want to decorate your house, McLean Nurseries has many fresh cut greens

If you want to decorate your house, McLean Nurseries has many fresh-cut greens, like this Magnolia

Greens are weighed and priced by the pound

Greens are weighed and priced by the pound

Wreath Making Process

Wreath making is serious business at McLean. Starting with a base of Balsam Fir, different varieties of greens, including the much-loved holly are layered in to make a lush looking wreath. Inserting picked greens into the base allows you to mix and match all different colors and textures into a wreath. No glue is used. Handwork which is very labor intensive makes the McLean wreaths both beautiful and special, but are resonably priced.

Tips of berry full holly branches are cut and wrapped with a metal pick maker to add to the wreath base

Tips of berry full holly branches are cut and wrapped with a metal pick maker to add to the wreath base

Workers at McLean use an old-fashioned pick machine which attaches a metal pin around a flower stem making it easier to insert into the balsam fir base. I have one of these hard to find contraptions and it is ingenious in making mixed picks of florals quickly and efficiently.

A Steelpix pick machine attaches metal picks to your greens by pressing down on a lever

A Steelpix pick machine attaches metal picks to your greens by pressing down on a lever

A pick ready to be inserted into a wreath

A pick ready to be inserted into a wreath

A wreath stand that acts like an easel to hold up the wreath

A wreath stand that acts like an easel to hold up the wreath

 

Wreath stand with Balsam Fir base ready to be decorated

Wreath stand with Balsam Fir base ready for decorating

Wreaths are all hand crafted and range in size from 14″ to a huge wreath that can measure 36″ in size for large areas. Green holly, variegated holly, winterberries, incense cedar, blue-berried juniper, magnolia, andromeda, boxwood, and false cypress are inserted using picks. Next pine cones, fruits, and other pods are added. Space for a gorgeous bow is left on the wreath, with the bow wired on as the final touch.

Sugar Pine cones are cut into thirds to make these "flower" like decorations

Sugar Pine cones are cut into thirds to make these “flower” like decorations

Made to order for people who visit every year to pick up their special wreath, each one is unique.

Miriam, the chief wreath maker, stand proudly next to a special ordered wreath

Miriam, the chief wreath maker, stands proudly next to a special ordered wreath

Red ribbon and berries make this wreath pop

Red ribbon and berries make this wreath pop

Closeup of cones, balls, and sugared fruit

Closeup of cones, balls, and sugared fruit

Variegated boxwood stands out on this wreath

Variegated boxwood stands out on this wreath

Ribbon

Ribbon is like icing on the cake. Wired, wide ribbon with big loopy bows and lavish tails is essential to make a wreath stand out from the crowd. Red is a favorite, but gold is right up there in popularity.

Variety of ribbons

Variety of ribbons ready to be made into bows

I call this "Winterberry" ribbon. I love the red and white contrast.

I call this “Winterberry” ribbon with the red and white contrast

The plaid ribbon give this wreath a down home look

Plaid ribbon gives this wreath an elegant down home look

Making picks that will go into wreaths, Bill Kuhl, the owner is on the right

Helpers making picks that will go into wreaths; Bill Kuhl, the owner is on the right taking a break

If you want to order your own hand-made wreath or deck your halls with fresh greens, drive over to 9000 Satyr Hill Rd, in Parkville, Maryland before Christmas. Wreaths, swags, boxwood trees, centerpieces, and greens are reasonably priced and guaranteed to create an instant festive touch to your home.

I love the red and white scheme of this wreath

‘Winterberry’ ribbon on wreath

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Turnips used in a wreath

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