Garden Visit–Naumkeag

A week ago I went with the Garden Writers to tour 3 gardens in Massachusetts. Two of them were places I had always wanted to go but had never managed to get to, despite living in a neighboring state. The third I had never heard of but it turned out to be quite a gem. I’ll take you “touring” with me in the next couple of posts.

If you wonder why you might care, lots of folks do foliage tours through New England every year. These gardens are located in the Berkshire mountain range, a lovely place in and of itself, but also a great way to get up to Vermont.

And there’s also lots of other things to do there, which is why I had never been to these gardens. But I will leave that to you all to plan your visits.


The first garden we visited was called Naumkeag. It was the summer home of a family from New York, the Choates. We heard lots of amusing anecdotes about them, as well as a few sad stories as well. It was the daughter of the family, Mabel, who was responsible for the collaboration with Fletcher Steele, the landscape architect who worked on the gardens for 30 years with her. You can read everything you might want to know about the property at the web site, here.

  1. 20160722_101358

Even for those of you who have never heard of this place, or Fletcher Steele, you will know one of his most famous installations in this garden, the Blue Steps. It solved a problem: a way to get from the house to a series of cutting gardens below. But what a magnificent way to do so!



To be honest, this was all I knew of this garden before I got here. But I left enchanted by lots of other things.


Being unmarried, Mabel had lots of time (and the resources) to travel. She traveled extensively in the far east and brought home lots of souvenirs. Her Chinese garden was designed, in part, to accommodate them.  This is the Moon Gate from the Chinese garden.



On the opposite side of the house, there is an Afternoon Garden that was designed to remind Choate of her travels to Venice. There are wooden poles painted like the poles in the famous canals, a low boxwood hedge knot garden, decorative chairs with colorful backs and colorful tropical plants in containers.


In another spot, a shady pavilion overlooks the house, a cooling fountain and the pasture and valley below. There are still cows in the field but they no longer belong to the property.


It’s a wonderful place to spend  a day. Bring a picnic or pick something up from the gift shop. The food is catered by the nearby Red Lion Inn.


Wordless Wednesday


I found this peculiar moth on my front door (which is why the photo is so strange–I was photographing the moth on the glass).

It took me 3 days to identify it, which is unusual for me. It’s called the Beautiful Wood Nymph. One of its host plants is Virginia creeper so it’s very clear why it’s at my house.

Many commenters remark that because the moth folds its wings when resting, it looks like bird poop. I think it looks just lovely!

The Good Guys

I said a week or so ago that it wasn’t really the Dog Days of summer at my house  but rather the “bug” days. So anything that helps me with bugs in the garden is a good thing by me.


20160722_104502This time of year, the spiders begin taking over everything.  And as much as I hate that (I used to have true arachnaphobia. Just the mere mention of spiders would be enough to give me goose bumps!), I am smart enough to know that these relatively small critters are my garden friends  (and no, we don’t generally have the  venomous type here. It’s  generally too cold ).


So I have learned to make my peace whenever I see spiders outside  and to even avoid watering their  webs. It doesn’t help–the webs generally are back the next day. Or in a few scary instances,  it drives the spiders inside.  Why would I want that, when they should be outside catching bugs?

I can even appreciate the difference between the orb weavers (the traditional spider webs), the sheet weavers, (spiders that make webs on grass or shrubs), the funnel web weavers (like a sheet weaver with a funnel). The ones that I am still not quite happy about are the ones that don’t make website and just jump on their prey. I mostly just stumble upon them in the garden,  and while they do their best to scurry away,  I still wish we hadn’t crossed paths to begin with.

Overall, I no longer scream when a spider and I cross paths although I might still jump. Thank goodness for both the spider and the neighbors.


Anatomy of a Hydrangea Blossom


Did you ever really look closely at a hydrangea blossom? What we think of as a “flower ” are really primarily bracts surrounding innocuous little florets in the center of the bloom repeated hundreds of times over and over to make up that lovely “flower head.”


It’s easy to see on this lace cap flower here at the bottom.  The actual “flowering”  particularly of the plant is in the center of the entire blossom,  surrounded by the sterile bracts.


Here’s on this smooth hydrangea,  almost all that’s visible are the bracts. The fertile flowers are just about hidden below them. You can just about see little white starbursts–those are the flowers.


On  this big leaf type hydrangea,  the flowers are located in the center of the bracts. None has matured to the point of being available to pollinators.

So that’s a brief overview of hydrangeas.  Despite the fact that they are not native,  pollinators in my yard enjoy them. But there are lots of natives to draw the pollinators to the yard and to keep them happy.

It’s Mid-July. What’s Blooming in Your Garden?


20160708_075830We are halfway through meteorological summer and halfway through the “Dog Days.” How does your garden look?

It’s okay if you said “tired,” “dry,” burned up”  or some such thing. Keeping a garden going all summer is a real challenge and an art. There have been hundreds if not thousands of books written about it.

What I don’t want to hear is “this is not my growing season,” (unless you live in the southern hemisphere.) Try telling that to the numerous Botanic Gardens all over the south. Do you expect they can get away with that? They have to have gardens that look good all summer long. There is plenty that looks good–and is water-wise–in Florida and Texas and New Mexico and Denver–in the heat of the summer. I know this from personal experience. I’ve been to most of those Botanic gardens in the heat. If you don’t know what those plants are, go to your local Botanic gardens. If you don’t like those plants, that’s a different story.

So now that we’ve established that folks can find out what grows in their region in mid-summer, how do you go about getting some of those plants into the garden in a sensible way?

The sensible way is not to go out and buy those plants and plant them when it’s 90-100 degrees, of course. Even I am trying to limit what I plant right now since we are in the middle of a drought advisory (although, since I do have a couple of shrubs still in pots, the sensible thing to do is to get them in the ground and water them sustainably rather than to continue to water them every day!)

The sensible thing is to try to find plants earlier in the season–when the heat is not at its worst–and to plant them then. That means doing your research now and planting next spring–or for those of you in the south with a longer growing season, planting this fall, if you can find the plants you want to add to the garden.

But don’t just settle for tired, burned up sad looking gardens in July. It doesn’t have to be that way. With a little research, you can have a vibrant, sustainable, lovely garden all summer long.

Oh, and about that photo above? It’s almost all native plants. That makes these blooms fairly drought resistant once they are established. And they are great for the wildlife as well (in fact, they are a little too great in my drought! A rabbit has been helping itself to the echinacea plants. That’s never happened before. Poor thing probably needs a little extra nourishment and moisture!)


Bug Magnets

If you go to the tab at the top of the blog header that says introduction, you can read a little bit about me. The second paragraph says that my first paying job in horticulture began at 11 years old when I was paid $1.00 a week to deadhead my neighbor’s yard full of petunias.

Mind you, this was in the days of the old-fashioned petunias–the kind that still had a scent, got you covered in sappy goo when you deadheaded–and in fact, still had to be deadheaded or they wouldn’t re-bloom.

Now, with all the fast growing new varieties like supertunia™ and of course the one everyone knows, the Wave™ petunia, deadheading is a thing of the past–unless of course, you are a sucker like me and still buy the old-fashioned,  scented petunias.


But every year I swear that “this year will be my last!” Because as much as I love them, for me, these lovely, scented petunias are bug magnets!

I mentioned this at a lecture this spring and I got a lot of blank stares. So I think this is a bit of a regional–or perhaps even local thing–at least here in Connecticut. Yet whenever I post about it, I get a lot of hits on the post. So I know a lot of you out there share my pain.


This year, I hadn’t even owned my pot for 2 weeks when it began to look like this! What are these things? At this point, they’re a little small to see, but there are caterpillars, pretty much the same color as the foliage of the plant, eating into the buds and pretty much ruining all the future flowers.

They go by the name petunia bud worm. And lest you think that’s all they affect, they also like geraniums (at which point, they become called geranium bud worms).

They are the larva of a nondescript moth, the tobacco moth. Apparently they also affect caibrachoa (million bells) which explains why my million bells are starting to show tiny holes and of course nicotiana (the flowering or ornamental tobacco) plants.

To get a better look at a more mature version of these critters, you can see my post from a few years ago here. But apparently, they are becoming pesticide resistant and once they are in the bud even Bt is not terribly effective.

My answer–rather than to load up annuals with a bunch of pesticides–is to just compost the plant. However, perhaps I should trash it instead. Maybe I am unwittingly maintaining the problem on my own property.

But, I think the answer is simpler than that: no more petunias or million bells for me. No plants means no bugs!