Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Tour of Montrose Gardens

Reaching Montrose Gardens in Hillsborough, North Carolina is a pleasant affair. The scenic road into these nationally-known gardens (now part of The Garden Conservancy) passes by charming caf├ęs, elegant shops and art galleries, not to mention 19th century homes perched majestically on lush green lawns.

The picturesque setting is what one would expect from such a historically important place as Hillsborough. Established in 1754, the town was a hub of political activity during the colonial and revolutionary years. But for garden lovers, it’s probably best known as the home of Montrose Gardens.

I happened to find myself in this lovely spot during a recent Garden Writers Association symposium tour. Unfortunately, I was fighting a cold at the time, and it was the last tour on a chilly autumn day.

It wasn’t until I returned home that I found myself continually thinking of my time at Montrose Gardens. Once I looked over my pictures, I saw why these gardens have won the hearts of so many over the years.

Montrose Garden's famous landscapes originated in the 19th century, when the 61 acre property first belonged to Governor and Mrs. William Alexander Graham.

Nancy Goodwin – a noted plantswoman and author – is most responsible, however, for the national recognition garnered by the gardens.

Goodwin and her husband bought the property in 1977. The couple then greatly expanded the gardens, and began operating the Montrose Nursery on the site in 1984.

Before long, The New York Times called the nursery “one of the best small mail-order sources of rare and unusual plants in the country.”

Montrose Nursery was later closed in 1993, and the house added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.

Today, the gardens are open to the public by appointment only. This ensures future generations will have the chance to enjoy these lovely themed gardens for many years to come.

Learn more about Montrose Gardens.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Harvest Time in the Garden

"In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning glory of the year,
bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil."
Rose G. Kingsley, The Autumn Garden, 1905

It's harvest time, a time when many gardens are loaded with late-season vegetables and fruit ripening to perfection. So, it seemed the right time to give you a quick tour of our kitchen garden this year.

Vegetables and flowers are close neighbors in my suburban garden. Above, 'Rosa Bianca' eggplants grow next to sages and other flowers and herbs.

'Rosa Bianca' is an Italian heirloom variety, which is prized by chefs because it rarely becomes bitter. We've grilled the eggplant with olive oil and herbs, as well as featured it in casseroles with feta cheese and other vegetables. This variety can take 70-85 days from transplanting to ripening, so start seeds inside in the spring and plant seedlings after the first frost.

'Fairy Tale' eggplant is a lovely variety of eggplant that really produces well in containers. As the variety only takes about 50 days to ripen, this eggplant is ideally suited for shorter growing seasons. We've sauteed them with olive oil and other vegetables for delicious side dishes.

'Packman' broccoli just keeps on giving. It starts with a single stalk early in the season. Once you harvest that central stalk the plant produces side stalks throughout the summer.

We planted broccoli seedlings in late-April and are still eating from these plants in late-September. If you look closely, you can see all the many side stalks developing into tasty vegetables for us to eat.

With more than 10 varieties of hot and sweet peppers around here, we've been drying them, grilling them, stuffing them, you name it... Above are some paprika, cayenne, hot Thai and jalapeno peppers just waiting to be picked. (Be sure to wash your hands, however, when you do. Hot peppers can burn your eyes if you aren't careful.)

Lipstick' sweet pepper is one of several pepper varieties we're growing, including 'Sweet Banana' and 'Giant Marconi.' With all this abundance, we're freezing peppers now so there will be plenty around for colder months.

Speaking of colder weather, earlier in the season we planted cool-season vegetables such as peas, radishes and beets. In the foreground are 'Forellenschuss' lettuces, which have become a family favorite. The speckled leaves of this delicious romaine-type lettuce are not only lovely, they also maintain their shape well and don't become limp and boring with salad dressings.

Once those cool-season vegetables were pulled out in the summer, we planted a bean teepee in one bed and sweet peppers in the other. Above is a photo taken last week. As you can see, with the right growing conditions, you can have beans later in the season than you may think.

The bean teepee is planted with 'Ideal Market' and 'Purple Pod' pole beans, which are starting to ripen now. The goal is to keep picking these vegetables as they ripen, so the plant keeps producing as long as possible.

But even as these warm-season vegetables ripen, the growing season is by no means over. There are still those cool-season vegetables to grow in fall, such as Brussels sprouts, kales, 'Tom Thumb' peas and more.

In other words, we may not yet be eating from our garden all year long, but we're working on it. Yep, we are definitely working on it...

Friday, September 18, 2009

Inside an Innovative Idaho Garden

Step onto this shady and serene back porch, and you might think you’d landed in Italy. Not Idaho.

A fountain bubbles in the background. ‘Niagara’ and ‘Suffolk’ red grapes hang from the pergula. Comfy chairs are scattered among green leafy plants, and the courtyard looks like it’s been there for generations.

That level of detail can be seen throughout this delightful suburban garden, which was designed and created by self-taught gardeners Kim and Victoria Williams of Boise, Idaho.

You may already know the Williams by their blog Our Life in Idaho. But what you might not know is that these two bloggers did all the work themselves in their quarter acre garden. Whether it was building various outdoor structures or collecting rocks to line the pond, the couple created a lovely garden with several themed areas.

Right off the Italian-inspired back porch is a small meditation garden with whimsical sculptures, grasses and sweet woodruff. A chair provides a quiet place to sit and drink a morning coffee.

In another area of the garden, a climbing 'White Dawn’ rose mingles with ‘Perle d’Azur’ clematis.

Birds of all types are welcome here. Cheerful shasta daises, Lychnis coronaria and 'Nicholas' daylilies add color and charm to a collection of birdhouses. In the background is a corkscrew willow (Salix matsudana).

The centerpiece of the garden is a large pond that meanders through the backyard. The pond is framed by an old tree stump, giant reed grass (Arundo donax), 'Black Lace' elderberry and calendula.

"The pond assembly only took a weekend," remembers Victoria. "Once we had collected all the rocks, the project went rather fast."

Colorful koi fish swim happily in the pond, surrounded by river rocks and a wooden deck built by the couple.

What looks like a pretty playhouse is actually a charming way to hide the pond's plumbing.

Thinking of building your own pond? The Williams offer these tips:

  • Make your pond bigger than you initially planned. It's hard to enlarge a pond later.
  • Attend several garden pond tours, so you can ask lots of questions.
  • Ask about filtration too. There are many options; you'll want one that works best for your size pond.

Every good garden needs a furry friend. Chelsea (pet dog extraordinare) Williams keeps watch in this yard.

From a shady porch in the back of the garden, the couple and their pup get a well-deserved rest.

If this garden hasn't impressed you enough, Victoria and Kim ripped out the turf in their front yard and planted a wildlife preserve that is only watered once a month during Idaho's hot summers. But that story will have to wait until another day.

Learn more about the Williams' experiences by visiting their blog at