2019, Gardens of the World, Uncategorized

Armchair Travellers’ Gardens: The Vatican

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The retirement of the former Pope and his new lodgings in the Vatican Gardens had more meaning to me than it might have had a few years ago. In the summer of 2011, I was lucky enough to have been given a tour of the Vatican Gardens, and it is certainly a lovely place in which to retire.

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     Dating back to Medieval times, the gardens encompass 57 acres of Vatican City. They were enclosed by walls in 1279, and some of those walls still stand today, although the majority have been replaced in the intervening 800 years. You can see the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica from almost everywhere in the garden, except, perhaps, from the wood, a quiet, peaceful retreat peppered with statues and fountains and places to sit, some fairly modern, others very old. The walls tend to keep out the majority of  four legged marauders; wildlife seemed to be represented mainly by green parrots, which were noisily chattering overhead most of the time I was there. Their huge nests hung in the trees; “parrot condos”, as parrots apparently have family nests, rather than one nest for each couple. 

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     Apart from the wood, there were formal gardens made up of patterns of boxwood, small private gardens, grand allées and 100 year old olive trees in terra cotta pots. Not far from the largest “olive tree in a pot” that I had ever seen, was the Pope’s helicopter pad, which still managed to look like it is an inevitable part of the garden, despite its modernity. Further along the road, there were loggias, fountains, grottoes, and although there were not as many flowers as one might expect, the bourganvillia, wisteria, and trumpet vines (some 50 feet tall!) more than made up for it. The air was heavily perfumed with bay and boxwood. One could imagine the Pope walking in the gardens, getting some peace from the mob in St. Peter’s Square, and though I am not Catholic, I was in no way immune to the power of that place.

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     Although it was a blisteringly hot day, Vatican dress code  still requires covered shoulders and knees, so the many fountains provided a welcome relief. Some of the older ones were encrusted with calcium deposits and sported beards of moss, the result of which was visually cooling, and the occasional spray from an over exuberant jet was not unwelcome. 

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Trumpet Vine

 

    I imagine that there must be times at which the Pope feels something of a prisoner given his celebrity, but what a jail..

2019, Design ideas, Garden ramblings, What to do in the garden

Garden filmography

No, I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth. It’s been a crazy winter and an even  crazier spring, so I haven’t been writing as much. However, this weekend I’m out in my garden for the first time this season, taking stock of things, and what I’m finding has motivated me to write.

It was a tough winter and spring for plants. The early freeze last fall damaged a lot of Rhododendrons, and the deer got at many of the rest. On NH’s Seacoast, there was precious little snow cover, so the plants didn’t get insulated from the freeze-thaw cycles that followed, and then the spring was so wet that things rotted. The deer, who will usually stay away from certain plants, munched away indiscriminately, despite the fact that without the snow, much more food was available and they could have been choosy. It was the worst winter for deer damage that many have ever seen.

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In my garden, I’m noticing gaps where things are missing. My Shasta daisies, which we usually refer to as “cockroaches” because they will survive anything, are shadows of their former selves, if they are there at all. The Lavender is history. My Nepeta is mostly gone-  Nepeta! Another cockroach! It boggles the imagination. Weirdly, the roses are looking lovely, and the ferns have gone bezerk, perhaps because they enjoy the moist “English” weather. The irises are everywhere, now.

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The Tree Peonies are having a banner year.

 

Professionally, clients are confused. Some are upset, understandably, that their investment has been eaten, or rotted, or just not come back as healthily as we all would have liked. I feel their pain. Unfortunately, neither landscape designers nor landscapers can predict what sort of unusual weather will come next these days, or what the deer will eat or not eat. I used to feel that I could put plants in a garden that would reliably be left alone by the deer; not any more.  The landscape, quite literally, is changing.

So what is a homeowner to do? Well, I would politely ask that first and foremost, they not blame their landscaper or landscape designer. While we can certainly be blamed for bad planting decisions like placing  a hosta in full sun, we can’t control weather or animals, and are always struggling to contend with both. However, we can be your best source of information when it comes to keeping up with the changing times. We read articles. We talk with colleagues and friends about what has and hasn’t worked in the garden. We discuss this A LOT. And most importantly, we are in gardens, either our clients’ or our own, each and every day and we see what is going on from all different perspectives. We see that Mrs. Smith’s catawbiense Rhododendron got eaten by deer, but Mrs. Jones’ yakushimanum Rhododendron didn’t. We will notice that boxwoods did well in one spot but not another. And we know about plants and their needs and are able to draw conclusions from these observations, and adapt accordingly. So while we aren’t able to guarantee the success of replacement plants with respect to animal damage and extreme weather, we can certainly help with choices that will have the best chance of doing well. We are your best front line of defense.

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In my own garden, while I’m sorry to see plants go, I consider every death an opportunity. The loss of a large stand of Shasta Daisies allowed me to plant a funky evergreen called Thuja ‘Whipcord’, a funny looking, dreadlock-covered shrub that looks like it’s about to scuttle across the garden muttering darkly to itself. It makes me happy in ways that the Shasta Daisies never would have. And while there is all that space devoid of plants, I’m taking the opportunity to lay down cardboard to smother the Goutweed which thought the winter was just fine, thank you very much, and is making an enthusiastic bid to take over the world.

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I’m letting the buttercups flower this year. They are pretty, and I can deal with their invasiveness later. In the mean time, they are filling the gap left by the Nepeta. I keep reminding myself, and others, that gardening is a film, not a still picture. Weather patterns change. Gardens become more or less shady, and so the growing conditions can cause one plant to die out while another thrives. This transience is one of the reasons I love gardening and designing gardens, because there is always a chance to try something new. So don’t worry, it will be all right. Go with the flow, ask the advice of experts, and don’t forget to enjoy the movie!

(PS. There’s a lovely Iris called “Buttered Popcorn” that you can even have with it.)

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Lots of gaps, lots of opportunities.
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Happy Pulmonaria, even with the obligatory Goutweed photo-bomb.
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Nothing seems to faze Bleeding Heart.