Monday, March 24, 2014

Sagebrush Verses Lavender--Really???

Lavender cuttings now taking up residence in my family room since there is no more room in the greenhouse!--Oh, spring where for art thou???
Last Friday afternoon, a delivery man dropped a package off at the house while I was outside transplanting small lavender cuttings into larger pots and getting ready for our opening on April 3.  It was a cloudy, gray day, the kind of day we have all gotten a little too comfortable with since winter refuses to let go, here in Northern Virginia. As he was handing off the package to me, he looked out into the backyard and the very stark-looking lavender field and asked hesitently, "Are you growing sagebrush out there?"

Really?! "No," I chuckled.  I've had a lot of people ask me what I'm growing out there--everything from marijuana to a new variety of zinnia and all of the way to just plain, "What is this stuff, anyway?"  All of them have taken me quite by surprise and, when I was asked if it was marijuana, I thought that man was just looking for some kind of shock value response.  In fact, I kept looking around for the hidden camera.

Sagebrush growing in the Northwestern U.S.  Photo from Wikipedia.
Blooming Hill lavender field before pruning this past weekend.
However, sagebrush is another first and, I must say, the delivery man was quite sincere and interested.  He told me he grew up in Wyoming and said that those lavender plants looked a lot like sagebrush.  He said that sagebrush is very fragrant and beautiful, growing wild and free, in the Wyoming countryside. Then, he happily drove off, down the driveway and up the road, I suppose, to deliver more packages and inquire what is growing on other people's property.

A picture of sagebrush fom Wikipedia.  It looks similar to a lavender bush, at least in this picture.
Look at that! Somewhere in America, they actually DO plant sagebrush in straight rows! Photo from Wikipedia.
Well, I immediately dropped what I was doing and looked up just exactly what a sagebrush bush looks like and, don't you know it?!--At least at this time of the year, after a particularly harsh winter and a bitter beginning to spring, I hate to say it, but the lavender plants do resemble sagebrush!  Only my lavender bushes are planted in straight rows and tidy, edged beds unlike, I'm fairly certain, wild sagebrush. This, to me, should have been a clue to the delivery man that it was not sagebrush--indeed!  

Can sagebrush produce this, I ask you?!?!
However, sagebrush is a common name applied generally to several woody and herbaceous species of plants in the genus Artemisia, like wormwood and mugwort.  So to be fair, that also fairly accurately describes a lavender, except that lavender is a member of the genus, Lavandula and displays other obvious and differentiating characteristics, especially when it comes to aroma. Also, in the language of flowers, sagebrush has ties to chastity, childbirth and hunting while lavender means acknowledgement, devotion, constant personal attention and loyalty.

The weekend grounds crew; P. Lorenz and the prodigal son.
Yes.  I do more than just take pictures!
In any case, after my conversation with the delivery man, I decided it was time to mobilize the troops and get out there this past Saturday and prune the sagebrush, I mean lavender. No more waiting for spring to happen and another sagebrush inquiry to come my way.  It's time to neaten up the place and tell those devil deer to move along--to Wyoming, maybe?  Although I sure Wyoming has it's fair share of devil deer as well!  And, while I'm sure wild and free sagebrush is quite a beautiful plant to behold in the more arid regions of our country, I'll take the fussy and persnickety lavender, in my backyard, any time of the year, no matter what it looks like.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Weekend Prelude to Spring

 Night Blooming Ladies talking soap.
Kim, the resident herbal, and on this particular evening, rose-scented soap expert.
Less than a month to go before Blooming Hill Gardens and Gift Shop opens for the new spring season and I've spent the last three days tripping the light fantastic! Well, when duty calls, I must answer and so it all began with last Thursday evening when several members of my garden club, the Night Bloomers, gathered at my home for our monthly meeting and to discuss and learn the craft of making artisan herbal soaps. The kitchen smelled like a rose garden on a warm summer evening as our resident expert, Kim mixed the essential oils soapy ingredients while the rest of us took copious notes.

The sign, sans my face peeking through, that greeted visitors ready for a photo-op at the Philly Flower Show, this past weekend.
A plethora of Pantone color courtesy of Mother Nature and the garden designer who created this springtime vignette, complete with a reflection pool.
Light, airy and sunny garden sculpture almost floating away.
 A bridge to that could possibly lead to "The Shire" hidden deep in middle earth.
Vibrant orchid toned down to cool lavender.
Then, bright and early Friday morning, Peter and I were off to the Philadelphia Flower Show to enjoy this annual homage to fabulous floral design and landscape architecture.  This year, the theme of the show was "Articulture, Where Art Meets Horticulture" and the colors and textures of the garden came alive for thousands of visitors inside the Philadelphia Convention Center once more.

Cool retro meets sleek modern.
The vibrant purple-blue-grey shades of this year's Pantone top color picks became even more animated in the pink, lavender and chartreuse trees, blooms and grasses coupled with garden sculpture highlights reflected in peaceful ponds and the simulated evening sky. And, the marketplace, where you can buy almost anything from any type of garden vendor imaginable, was not bad either.

 Well if I can't live with Lord and Lady Crawley, at least I can visit them at Winterthur.

Notice all of the bells assigned to servants in the background?  Never a dull moment nor rest for the weary!  They were always at the beck and call of the family. 
 Garden party dresses worn by the Crawley sisters.
Finally, Saturday brought us to the lovely mansion and gardens of Winterthur, the du Pont Country Estate, and since 1951, a museum, located in a particularly picturesque corner of Delaware. We took a tram through the naturalistic garden property and toured the mansion, thoroughly enjoying ourselves, especially at the "Costumes of Downton Abbey" Seasons 1-4 Exhibit, now on display there throughout this year.  Dare I say, it was my favorite part of the entire weekend.

 Look closely and see the 9-story mansion of  Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969).  The palacious museum, almost hidden atop the tree filled slope, boasts an extensive collection of over 100 thousand items and about 80% of them are always on display. du Pont's favorite hobbies included collecting art and antiques, gardening and farming.  When he donated the 82-room Winterthur Mansion to the public and then moved to a smaller 52-room "cottage" on the property, he said, "I may no longer live here, but I will always be the head gardener."
And, did I mention that we also took a side trip to one of my favorite retail garden center hot spots (aside from Blooming Hill, of course), Terrain, just a hop, skip and a jump down the road from Winterthur and, if you really have time on your hands to kill, Terrain is even closer to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania.  Alas, for Peter and me, Longwood would have to wait until another day.

A last glimpse of the brightly decorated opening stage at the Philly Flower Show.
I love this little potting shed.
All in all, it was a whirlwind weekend worth the fun, games and detours that simply swept me off of my feet and carried me away, if only briefly, down a lovely and winding garden path to the promise of spring, soon to be full of color and beauty.
 One of Peter's favorites at the Philly Flower Show--a garden style man cave designed and sponsored by the Men's Garden Club of Pennsylvania.  When you looked inside, there was a painting easel, fishing rods and lots and lots of shiny and new gardening tools, but not a flat screen TV with remote anywhere in site--go figure!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Thinking Spring!

Garden seeds are among my very favorite spring things!
It seems as though I keep ranting about this but, like everyone else, I'm thinking spring and I'm more than ready for it!  I'm ready to sink my hands into the soil and even pull weeds.  I'm ready to sprinkle seeds in straight, neat rows and watch lettuce, spinach and parsley sprout up and flourish, almost in a matter of days, into deep leafy greens.  I'm ready for those devil deer to forage anywhere else but in my yard.  I'm ready to put winter away and all of the paraphernalia that goes along with it--the big shovels, snow boots, heavy coats, thick gloves and hats with fold-down ear flaps.

And the devil deer...!
March is upon us.  The weather forecasters typically call this time the beginning of meteorological spring.  Adding to that, lent is starting this week.  Sweat peas should be planted in less than two weeks on St Patty's Day and lavenders need pruning, now, not to mention that the actual spring equinox is set for March 20th!  Did anyone think to tell dear old Mother Nature???  Certainly the deer aren't going to mention it.  They are enjoying feasting on the trees and bushes in my yard far too much.  

End of winter repose and draped in snow.
Today, while shoveling the front path and steps, I noticed that the leaves of hyacinth, daffodils and even early blooming tulips are peaking through the earth with their little green fingers clawing at the icy, white froth that covers everything, yet again.  They must be wondering, "What happened to spring?! Where did it go?  Why isn't it here?" Even the robins were back weeks ago. Winter is stubborn this year, refusing to let go and to face the fact that we left February back at the bend in the road.  The door to March has been opened and, as unpredictable as this month can be, she will clear the way for the hellebore's and forsythia, rhododendrons and azaleas--have faith!  Before we know it, all of this frustrating white stuff will be a distant memory, and all of the moisture this harsh winter brought to the mid-Atlantic region, this year, will help feed the spring blossoms and sustain the summertime blooms.

See?  I told you!  The sun always shines at Blooming Hill--especially after an early March snowstorm.
Of course,  we can't properly welcome March and this sluggish beginning to spring without a bit of 19th Century poetry, and all of it's wisdom so, here it goes--"O, March, slayer of winter, art thou here again?  O, welcome, thou that brings the summer nigh." Keep this in mind. It may help make the wait a little more bearable.

Snow-dusted watering cans wait on the back porch.
 Perhaps, if we all think spring together, perhaps we can will it to come as we all have no choice but to hang in there a little while longer, but hopefully not for too long. I'm ready for spring! And by the way--Blooming Hill Garden and Gift Shop opens in less than one month. (Oh, me! Oh, my!) Just in time to greet April and see spring, with or without snow!