Lilies of the Morning


THE FALL BULB CATALOGUES have started to arrive, and with them a certain annoyance, as in ‘Who wants to think about summer ending already?’ Still, they are seductive, and paging through them is a pleasant way to spend a July evening.

Sadly, John Scheepers list of deer-proof naturalizers (bulbs that spread year after year) is short, consisting mostly of small early bulbs like snowdrops (of which I have plenty, thanks to some long-ago gardener) and Siberian squill. Anyway, my experience hasn’t borne out their suggestions. My deer did gobble up the muscari (grape hyacinths) and the Spanish bluebell foliage.

But waking up to a few new Turk’s Cap lilies, top, as I did yesterday, makes up for a lot. These are by my front door, and I have kept a spritz bottle of Deer-Out handy these past two weeks,  practically spraying each bud individually to insure their safe passage into bloom.

I’ll probably order some more bulbs. Alliums, surely, and a few other things I have circled…because hope springs eternal.


Above, a new hanging basket: ‘Saturn’ coleus, Lysimachia ‘Outback Sunset,’ and, in back, some purple-leaved wandering Jew.

Garden Heirlooms for Historic Houses


THIS FROM Fine Gardening magazine’s website…I’m going to Montauk to eat lobster. Happy 4th, everyone.

Q: I just moved into a house built in 1740 and was hoping to put in some annual and perennial beds that reflect that era. Could you recommend some historical plants that would fit with the character of the house? 

A: Dr. Denise Adams, a landscape historian and horticulturist in Dillwyn, Virginia, responds: A 1740s garden in Connecticut would have emphasized plants of a utilitarian nature, as opposed to strictly ornamental flowers. Herbs with decorative flowers or foliage performed both functions, such as chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), valerian (Valeriana officinalis), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparissus), and thyme (Thymus vulgaris).

Discussing the vagaries of New England weather 80 years earlier, John Josselyn reported that “lavender is not for the climate.” Roses were also grown. Some very early varieties include the sweetbrier rose (Rosa eglanteria), Rosa ‘York and Lancaster’, and the Four Seasons rose (Rosa ‘Quatre Saisons’).

Among perennials and annuals for mid-18th-century New England gardens, you might use single hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), money plant or honesty (Lunaria annua), gillyflowers or pinks (Dianthus plumarius), double balsam (Impatiens balsamina), native columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), gasplant (Dictamnus albus), fleur-de-lis (Iris pseudacorus), sweet iris (Iris pallida), Maltese cross (Lychnis chalcedonica), white lily (Lilium candidum), and lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis).

For spring beauty, American colonists relied on bulbs, as we do today. Eighteenth-century selections include the diminutive hoop-petticoat daffodil (Narcissus bulbocodium), poet’s narcissus (N. poeticus), Van Sion daffodil (N. ‘Van Sion’), “muscary” or grape hyacinth (Muscari botryoides), crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), and snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis).


Old House Gardens – Heirloom Bulbs
536 Third St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

The Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants
PO Box 316
Charlottesville, VA 22902-0316

Perennial Pleasures Nursery
PO Box 147
63 Brickhouse Rd.
East Hardwick, VT 05836

Select Seeds – Antique Flowers
180 Stickney Hill Rd.
Union, CT 06076-4617

Pickering Nurseries, Inc.
670 Kingston Rd.
Pickering, Ontario, Canada L1V 1A6

Illlustration: Jennifer Blume

My Favorite Community Garden



NOT THAT I’VE MADE a comprehensive study of them, but I particularly enjoy peeking into the ‘Backyard’ Community Garden at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Van Brunt Street in Red Hook.


About half the good-sized lot consists of wood-trimmed vegetable planting beds in various geometric shapes. The other half is a rolling mini-landscape of lush but tidy shade plantings and bulbs under white birch trees – very romantic for such an industrial setting, right by the container port.


The terracotta culvert, covered with salvaged brick and stone, is a brilliant stoke, adding architectural interest to a formerly featureless lot.




Next time you go to the Gowanus Nursery on Summit Street, a boutique operation with out-of-the-ordinary plant offerings, or are on your way to Fairway or IKEA, pull over and take a look.

A Host of Brooklyn Daffodils

THE SCENE last week in my friend Nancy’s Boerum Hill backyard…

This is what comes of twenty years of throwing bulbs into the ground and letting them do their thing: April abundance!

Lots of daffs, leucojum (they look like tall lilies of the valley), and a glossy, large-leaved yellow flowering thing we don’t remember the name of. Anyone?




To come: blue-purple wood hyacinths and a wonderful tree peony, which blooms reliably in mid-May.

A Bed for All Seasons

Sedum in close-upONE OF MY FAVORITE FLOWER BEDS upstate is a 4’x4′ square outlined in cinderblock, with foot-high boxwoods in each corner and a concrete birdbath bought for $40 in the center. I think the term is “pocket garden.”Crocus time

Self-contained and visible from the house, this micro-garden is ever-changing and very satisfying. You can stuff all kinds of things into it: bulbs, herbs, annuals, perennials. It’s different from year to year, season to season.

Right: Early days: boxwoods in each corner, wooly thyme, crocuses in April

april1Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s gaudy. For a few years, I filled the birdbath ——————————————– —————- frequently with clean water, but the birds never seemed that excited about it. So I put a bit of soil and some pea gravel in it and planted it up with various types of sedum.

Left: Daffodils leave a whole lot of browning foliage to deal with – not the best idea in so small a space.

Below: Easy-to-grow annual cleomes (spider flowers) are a new discovery for me. Blue lobelia, an annual, is beneath. I love the delicacy of this look.

June with cleomes

Bottom: Flamboyance in August, with perennial globe thistles and annual cockscomb and marigolds, bought as starters from a local farm stand.