Friday, September 11, 2009

What I did on my summer vacation

The history of Willowwood Arboretum in Chester, New Jersey occupied much of my time. This meant more time in libraries and archives than outside in its intimate gardens and wide meadows.

Wednesday mornings found me volunteering at the Cross Estate Gardens in Bernardsville:

We traveled to New England for a talk for Historic New England. Staying with friends in Southport, one morning Cathy took me to the Coastal Maine Botanic Garden. They make wonderful use of stone. Here is Cathy sitting in the meditation garden.

Kirke and I especially enjoyed a trip to Celia Thaxter's garden on Appledore Island, one of the Isles of Shoals off of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Celia Thaxter is famous for An Island Garden, published in 1894 with illustrations by Childe Hassam.

In town, I sold tomato plants to benefit the Farmers' Market and answered questions with fellow master gardeners. I am working with the Environmental Commission trying to get a community garden started. That has been an education!

And at 29 Pine, there be tigers...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dump Run

Chatham Township has a dump.  It's mainly a recycling center, but there is also a big compost area for grass clippings, leaves and branches.  As I'm getting my garden ready for a visit from the Morris County Master Gardeners next week, I have been doing the pruning jobs that should have been done in spring.  

All this was an excuse to ask my friend Sarah if she'd come over with her truck to take me and a load of branches to the dump.  Sarah has a truck.  Not just any truck.  A 1931 Model A Ford pickup.

As loaded up the back, I whined, "Do you want to wrap them in a tarp?  Won't we scratch it?" Sarah laughed. "Oh, no, she's a working truck."

We hopped in and started her up.  The controls are wild.  Clutches and chokes with a beautiful sleek design.  Henry Ford was a minimalist.

So off we went.  You get wonderful reactions in an antique truck:  drivers wave, walkers smile, mothers point you out their children. 

The dump. It is along the power lines with an inviting dirt road leading into it. There are great piles of organic matter and a savory smell of rotting vegetation, if you like that sort of thing as I do.

Here are Sarah and her truck.

The truck's name is Emma.

Oh what fun it was to ride in a 1931 Model A Ford, on a sunny summer morning.  Dashing to the dump.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Many gardeners have been bemoaned New Jersey's record precipitation this month.  But shame on them, those dogs in the manger.

It is true that the roses need frequent deadheading, but their lax ways add to their charm.

Burgundy foliage and flowers shimmer on the smokebush (Cotinus coggyria 'Purple Smoke'). Though perhaps we should rename it "fogbush" or "drizzlebush."

A frilly opium poppy (Papaver somniferum) nods her head.

Miniature Hosta 'Pandora's Box' is happy as a clam, in spite of being halved for the Cross Estate plant sale.  Rocks do look splendid when they are wet.

Is this fern weather?  Totally.

Happiness is a big rainfall.  Picture Burt Lancaster in the 1957 film The Rainmaker, finally breaking the drought. Lancaster plays Starbuck, a sort of meteorological Music Man.  The movie's climax has him out in the long-awaited downpour.  (You can see the love scene with co-star Katharine Hepburn at
but do try to see the whole film one of these days.

So just call me the princess of precipitation.  And now the sun is shining.  Ho hum.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Garden Changes Her June Tune

She plays a trio for the Viola tricolor.

She rings the foxglove chimes. 

She whistles in yellow.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Third Floor Walk Up, Rent Free

Welcome to New York City's newest park, the High Line.

Running from Gansevoort Street to 20th Street, an old elevated railway is converted into a contemporary aerial park.

The views of the city are bird's eye, if a low-flying bird.  

Built for industrial freight in the 1930s, it is fitting that the new High Line has splendid views of transportation. Roadways...

And waterways.

It still has some grittiness.

Hold on to your hats urban archaeology fans, the developers are coming!

The original High Line was an infrastructure project from the First Great Depression. So it is, perhaps, appropriate that its new life ushers in faster change for the Meat Packing District.

A clever sign, if slightly contradictory, says, "Keep it Wild. Stay on the Paths."

The plantings evoke a wild landscape, weeds growing out of the rails, with grasses, forbs and native plants.  Bloom and texture among the salvaged tracks with a gravel topdressing.

The benches play off the shape and color of the tracks.

Come up for a stroll. Soon.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Other People's Gardens

It is garden tour season, and this year I've indulged in several.  Opening a garden to scads of visitors is a terrifying experience, but visiting is a sweet pleasure.  Someone else has done the weeding, planted the containers, deadheaded the roses.  It is vaguely decadent, balanced on the tightrope between inquisitive and nosy.

Come, let's peek...

A formal garden with lettuce used as an edging plant. The edible landscape goes high end.

An undulating line for a flagstone walk and boxwood hedge. Simple but so effective.

A massing of boxwood and alchemilla makes a statement for a formal entrance.

Where do they put the banana trees in the winter?

A stunning long view.

Punctuated by a perfect pot of sempervivum (hens and chicks).

My favorite herb garden, on a sunny front stoop.

But it's hard to beat a mature stand of specimen trees. If you look closely, you can see the Dove Tree (Davidia involucrata) in bloom.

Time for tea.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Real Gardeners of New Jersey

Last night Bravo premiered Real Housewives of New Jersey, a reality TV series featuring big hair, bigger boobs and biggest houses.  Shall we subtitle it, "Channelling Carmella Soprano"? As an alternate take on the Garden State, allow me to offer some real gardeners:

Cheryl weeding at the Cross Estate Garden.

Mary and Frank helping at the Watnong Plant Sale.

Kay visiting Leonard J. Buck Garden.

Jonne promoting "Trash into Treasures" at Van Vleck House & Gardens' Springfest.

The Garden Club of Morristown in front of the restoration of Miss Caroline Foster's Cottage Garden at Fosterfields Living Historical Farm, which they helped to fund (and I designed and, with lots of assistance, planted.)

And yours truly, in Yolanda's photo of the plant sale which she titled, "Old McDowell Had a Farm."  Dad McDowell would have said "Grinnin' like a mule eatin' briars."

And what have Jersey gardeners been doing this season? This one has been teaching, doing designs for clients, madly working on various projects, and, as Mom McDowell would have said, "Burning the candle at both ends."  Lucky the days are getting longer!  In my own garden I have been growing on heirloom tomato seedlings. (They've now graduated to gallon pots on the patio.) Surely you've heard of Jersey tomatoes...

Capturing a few early bulbs for the kitchen table.

Inhaling the scent of Narcissus 'Geranium.'

Enjoying the bubbling over of Spring, including the first bloom of Epimedium x warleyense 'Orange Queen' tucked next to a piece of Jersey's own red sandstone.

And already thinking about the daffodils to order for the fall, a hazard of volunteering at the Regional Daffodil Show at Frelinghuysen Arboretum.

Real gardeners of New Jersey may have too many plants, but they never have enough.

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin