Thursday, May 24, 2012

Great Gardening Towns and Destinations

Canada Gardening

Some places just seem to have a special penchant for gardening, horticulture, and civic beautification.  When I say special, I mean really special.  And sometimes really special is more like truly spectacular.

In the spirit of Memorial Day and the beginning of summer, I thought it would be fun to write about some of the very best "gardening towns" in the US and Canada.  For anyone with a special interest in community beautification, these are must-visit destinations.  I have been fortunate to visit a few of them, and look forward to experiencing more in the future.

So please enjoy the pictures and the descriptions!  They are in no particular order and I have tried to include a good mix of East, West, North, and South.  To me, being an armchair tourist is somewhat addicting!  If you have been to any of these places--or have another "great gardening town" nomination(s), please feel free to comment below!  Happy Memorial Day, Happy Summer, and as always, Happy Gardening!

Gardening on lake Niagara

1) Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
Sometimes called "The Prettiest Town in Canada," the above pictures definitely suggest a hefty degree of prettiness.  Hefty indeed.  Situated on Lake Ontario, quite near to Niagara Falls, this beautifully landscaped town is a true gardening community if there ever was one.  Beautiful Victorian, Queen Anne, Colonial, and newer styles of architecture makes this an attractive town regardless of what's blooming out front.  Unfortunately, I have yet to visit Niagara-on-the-Lake but a few of my family members have been and they continue to rave about its unique charm and show-stopping beauty.  If you are ever bored and cannot make it to Ontario personally, go ahead and explore this little lakefront village via Google Street-View for some great landscaping inspiration.  You will be amazed at the number of high-quality gardens at houses, businesses, and public spaces.  

2)  Buffalo, New York
That's right, Buffalo--a gardening town.  Who would have ever guessed?  A grassroots movement called Garden Walk Buffalo is in the process of transforming this once-rusty lakefront city into a haven for amateur gardeners, and is catching the attention of the entire American gardening community in the process.  The movement has become so large that an entire event of the same name (Garden Walk Buffalo) is dedicated to it.  For more information about this tantalizing community-based effort, visit

3)  Brooklyn, New York
Surprised?  Yes, Brooklyn is a surprisingly beautiful borough despite its overly popularized, relatively false image.  Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of friendly competition to get us East Coasters riled up.  In Brooklyn, a program sponsored by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (a magnificent place, by the way) called "Greenest Block" aims to identify the most-extensively landscaped block each summer.  After several years of the program, the competition has become quite fierce.  If you are visiting The City and are interested in checking out some of these small yet powerful gardens, some of the best are clustered in Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Flatbush, and believe it or not, Bed-Stuy.  For more information, visit

Free Stanton Hall Natchez Mississippi Wallpaper


4)  Natchez, Mississippi
If you like azaleas, you will like Natchez.  Every year in April, the gorgeously well-preserved antebellum city of Natchez is ablaze in azalea blooms--as well evidenced by the above pictures.  Along the so-called "Azalea Trail," one can observe stunning plantings of azaleas at beautiful, historic houses in a charming, friendly community.  The attraction is so large, it has come to be known as the "Spring Pilgrimage" and coincides with numerous other events such as concerts, presentations, and performances.

5)  Vernal, Utah
It has been said that Vernal has America's most beautiful Main Street.  The above picture literally has flower planters fading into the horizon.  This project is part of the fast-growing, much-acclaimed America in Bloom program which encourages towns across the country to beautify their communities by way of civic landscaping.  What a concept.  While you are in Vernal, go ahead and visit Dinosaur Land!

I could go on and on--there is no shortage of "gardening towns" in North America, but I will save them for another blog post later this summer when I have more time to write.  If you just cannot wait, you can go ahead and do some of your own investigation for some of the places below:

--Quebec City, Quebec
--Beacon Hill, Boston, Massachusetts
--Nantucket, Massachusetts including the rose-covered village of Siasconset (simply called 'Sconset)
--Vermilion, Ohio
--Shipshewana, Indiana
--Mobile, Alabama
--Charleston, South Carolina
--Savannah, Georgia
--Mendocino, California
--And more!

Monday, May 21, 2012

What's been blooming lately?

As they say, April showers bring May flowers.  The age-old saying has never been so true as in the case of May 2012 which has seen a near-perfect mix of precipitation, sunshine, favorable temperatures, and no late frost!  Entering the last week of May, us here in SW Ohio have recently witnessed the "seasons" of roses, iris, columbine, & azalea/rhododendron and are currently witnessing the blossoms of viburnum, itea, dianthus, and truly magnificent displays of peonies.  While I am not a big fan of peonies (I have eliminated all but two peonies in my gardens), a man would have to be utterly blind not to recognize the truly dramatic peony blooms over the past two weeks.  To be honest, I cannot remember seeing a better peony season in my life!

Over the next two to three weeks, lower Midwest gardens will "bust out all over" in blooms of hydrangea, lily, daisy, lavender, spirea, coreopsis, and echinacea.  A handful of my hydrangeas either:  a) situated in hot spots or b) grown in pots and thus quicker to de-acclimate from the winter, are only about one week shy of "peaking" which is surpremely exciting.  Hydrangeas for Memorial Day!

Below are some pictures of my garden over the past three weeks, up to just yesterday evening!  Lots of roses and lots of hydrangeas soon to come!

Pink Knock Out rose

Columbine, unknown cultivar

Weigela 'Wine and Roses'

Rosa rugosa 'Crimson King'

Rosa rugosa 'Crimson King'

Sunny Knock Out rose

'Chicago Peace' rose

Spiderwort, unknown cultivar

'Chicago Peace' rose

'Chicago Peace' rose, which interestingly enough, smells like cheap beer in the a.m. hours

'Chicago Peace' rose

A container combination of which I am quite proud!  Back row, l to r:  pink coleus and wandflower; middle row:  eurphorbia and double pink impatiens; front:  licorice vine.  Some white impatiens are hidden in the back.

The intoxicatingly fragrant Rosa rugosa 'Moje Hammarberg'

These little beauties were not planted in our yard, but seem to be a post-digestion "present" from a squirrel or other small mammal!  At any rate, it doesn't matter--these little yellow irises are loaded with flowers each year.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nachitgall' -- "my plant"


Peony.  I think all flowers look extra attractive when they are cascading through a fence or over a wall or hillside.  These beautiful flowers greet you as you walk up to the front door.

Early blooms on Hydrangea macrophylla Endless Summer

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Nachtigall'

Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snow Queen' gearing up for a good show!  I am really happy with this plant and the direction in which the flowers are pointing--I think she will look really stunning once in bloom (probably for Memorial Day)!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Of robins and roses...

I have misplaced my camera's USB cord.  As such, I do not have any pictures to share--BUT, take my word for it:  the past two weeks have been beautiful at my house!  The roses have been relatively early but have not skimped on beauty or fragrance.  The relatively moist (but not wet) and cool (i.e. seasonable!!!) weather as of late has been quite kind to the rose blooms.  Getting out of bed early, taking a stroll outside when most of the world is fast asleep, and subsequently being greeted by singing robins and the perfumes of rose, honeysuckle, and peony is a special experience.  Over the years, gardening has taught me of the intrinsic beauty of this spectacular planet.  While something such as a Caribbean isle or Italian vineyard are obviously stunning, the world is beautiful seemingly everywhere:  you just have to slow down and notice.  Ya know, the simple things.  Like robins and roses.  Far too many people seem too busy in their too 21st century lives to notice robins and roses.  A wise person once said to my mom that "I have an old soul."  Thankfully.

Over the past few weeks, my garden has witnessed and/or is currently seeing the blooms of columbine, weigela, spiderwort, rose, magnolia, iris, peony, azalea, and strawberry.  Last week (and this weekend and next weekend) we have been planting our usual crop of annuals:  impatiens, marigolds, vinca, geraniums, petunias, and begonias plus some interesting oddities for containers and window boxes such as wandflower, double impatiens, white euphorbia, licorice vine, sweet potato vine, trailing vinca, and a gamut of coleus plants.  Again, when I find this wire I will show you what I am talking about.

The real show however...well, it is just around the corner.  Typically, our yard "peaks" around the summer solstice (third week of June) which coincides with the blooms of some of my all-time favorite plants such as hydrangea, oriental lily, liatris, Leucanthemum daisy, loosestrife, daylily, and echinacea.  This year however, I am expecting peak to occur right around June 1st.  As long as we get good amounts of rain through the month of June, these beautiful plants will hopefully still be chugging along by the Fourth of July which has always been one of my top landscaping goals since it is my favorite holiday.  The 2012 hydrangea crop is going to be strong for most of my 30+ hydrangeas, but especially so for my new oakleaf  'Snow Queen', my 12 specimens of Hydrangea arborescens 'Annabelle' and my Hydrangea macrophylla 'Peppermint' mophead and 'Nachtigall' lacecap:  all of which are showing signs of an above-average year for flowering.  Thank you mild winter!

So until I find my USB wire, I encourage you to do the following things:

1) buy hydrangeas, as always
2) buy more hydrangeas
3) buy Hydrangeas:  Cape Cod and the Islands which is my new #1 favorite book
           --buy the book and find my review here:
3) find the robins and roses in your life and take the time to heed their calls (and perfumes!)

It's been 11 months and I am READY...are you?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Gardening Books!

I am an avid reader of all sorts.  Generally speaking, my leisure time can usually be described by one of a few things:  gardening, swimming, sailing, running, driving my car on curving country roads, or reading--or maybe some combination thereof!  Minus the driving on winding roads.  That could prove dangerous while reading or swimming.  However, I have been known to take random trips around town to admire flowers, trees, etc. (especially in the spring and fall when nature is at it's most photogenic).  Anyway, I digress....

This post is about gardening-related books.  I have an ever-expanding library of books that is threatening to consume my bedroom, a portion of our living room, and one whole wall of our garage.  I am primarily a non-fiction, "real world" kind of guy and this is reflected in my endless bounty of books on the subjects of science and medicine, history, aviation, architecture, gardening, and travel (I especially enjoy "photographic essays" as souvenirs from vacations, visits, and also the places where I have lived or my family members have lived).  But when push comes to shove, few things are as enjoyable and uplifting on a dreary, cloudy day as reading a book about gardening!

What are some of your favorite gardening books?  My birthday is coming up in July and I usually put a few books on my wish list.  Hydrangeas:  Cape Cod and the Islands, which I have waited months for, is in the process of being shipped to my house as I pen this (the weekend cannot come fast enough).  I am fully expecting it to become one of my most cherished possessions.  Here are a few others I am hoping to acquire soon:

I love lavender.  What a great plant to grow and to use!  Lavender is somewhat of a new interest for me and I have become fascinated by its various uses around the house.  Like roses and tulips, lavender is one of the few plants capable of conjuring strong emotion in people who have never grown a single plant in their life.  Thankfully, I am not a member of that camp so I can say lavender conjures even stronger emotion for me since I actually grow it!!!  The fragrance of the plant is simply unequaled.  I stumbled across this book the other day in the library and decided that I must have it.  This book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others.  This is one of the pre-eminent lavender texts and should be easy to find.
Now this is quite the book.  In fact, this might be the most comprehensive and overwhelming gardening book I have ever held in my two hands (cough....struggled to hold in my hands--beware if you have weak arm muscles).  I have several varieties of roses, encompassing a few species, but I am not what one might call a "rosarian."  But I aspire to be. Therefore, Botanica's Encyclopedia of Roses makes my wish list.
Edible Landscaping
This is an area of growing interest for me.  Growing plants for food is one of life's finest pleasures, in my opinion.  Few experiences match the satisfaction of biting into a juicy tomato, strawberry, or watermelon that you grew from Day One.  The idea of integrating "edibles" into the overall landscaping presentation is a decidedly foreign-one here in the United States.  The stereotypical edible garden is one that is removed, hidden, and, to use a strong adjective,"sterilized" in its very own corner of the yard.  But the problem is that it isn't a stereotype.  It's an archetype.  One that should really change!  As the cover of this book so lusciously illustrates, a fruit-vegetable-herb garden can not only be highly useful, but also downright alluring from an aesthetic point-of-view.   

Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden: From the Archives of Country Life
Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and others.  Gertrude Jekyll is possibly the most acclaimed English garden designer of the post-Victorian era known today as the "Arts-and-Crafts" movement where houses (and landscapes!) took a turn away from ornate formality towards more "organic" and low-key manifestations.  Isn't that cover tantalizing?  I swear, after hydrangeas, climbing roses are my other Achilles heel.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

UC Garden Club @ Clifton Community Garden

I am the president of the University of Cincinnati Garden Club and I am truly thrilled to say now we have a place to call home and an asset that will be the pride of our club for years to come!  Just north of campus there is a small but exciting "neighborhood garden" called the Clifton Community Garden which is an affiliate of Cincinnati's esteemed Civic Garden Center.  After months of waiting and weeks of planning, the plants are finally in the ground!  Sunny, mid-80 degree weather and slightly moist, workable soil made it an enjoyable task for everyone involved.  Check out some of the pictures below--enjoy!

Pre-planting, post-weeding

Planting the edible bed

Planting the edible bed

Finished!  Tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, rosemary, cilantro, chives, and basil

Blue salvia, yellowleaf spirea, yellow French marigolds, and "The Original" red Knock Out rose

Ornamental bed along Dixmyth Avenue, Clifton, Cincinnati

View from behind


The pepper section

The tomato corner