Monthly Archives: July 2012

Planning for Wildflowers

Yes, I took a little hiatus the last week as I was traveling for vacation. One of my stops was a three-day visit to Glacier National Park in Montana. It was an extraordinary adventure of hiking, exploring, and oohing and aahing. As my husband and I left the park by train, we sat and discussed some of our respective highlights.

For me, this was easy. From the moment I first set foot off the train and looked across to the Glacier Park Lodge, I was wowed by the flora.

My first view in reverse; you can see the Glacier Park Lodge’s beautiful pathway of local flowers leading straight to the train station.

This early glimpse was enough to fall in love, but my amazement continued to grow. I  think the profusion of vivid color was partly so incredible for me because the snow we played with during our hikes seemed to say “nothing growing here.”

The snow throughout Glacier National Park seemed to decry the idea that there would be so much wild summer color.

Hardly the case. As you might guess, on every hike we saw wildflowers taking over the well-marked paths and growing out of the rock itself.

On every Glacier Park hike, I saw wildflowers taking over the well-marked paths and growing out of the rock itself.

And in many cases, perhaps because  of that short growing season, the flowers wildly grew taller than the hikers … or the bears …

The tall wildflowers evidently are a quick snack for bears, as the markings along this trail would reveal. Number one rule of hiking in Glacier National Park: make noise to warn the bears they’re not alone!

Beargrass’ white blooms top stalks as high as 4.5 feet.

Speaking of bears (and I’m happy to say I did see one and from within the very safe confines of a park shuttle), one of my favorite flowers covering the mountains this time of year is bear grass. Blueplanetbiomes.org notes that this member of the lily family flowers every five to seven years, and is found in open meadows and forests throughout the western United States. More interestingly, the sites states: “Bear grass is a fire-resistant species that is the first plant to grow after a fire. Beargrass, and many other native plants, need periodic burns to produce strong, new growth. After a fire, beargrass sprouts from its rhizomes which lie just under the surface. Light fires of short duration are best. Intense fires which linger in the same place for a long time will kill the rhizomes under the ground, and prevent the beargrass from growing back.” There was additional evidence of past fires throughout the park, but it never ceases to amaze me how cleverly nature works things out. “More light? Yay – more pretty flowers to fill in until the trees grow back!”

Beargrass is one of the first plants to grow after a forest fire in the western U.S., although it blooms only every five to seven years.

The trails were also crisscrossed with delicate streams that gave life to darkly green ferns and other rich greenery. I’m really coming to appreciate the beauty of monochromatic texture and hope to use leaves more in future arrangements.

Ferns sheltered streams created by snow runoff throughout the park.

After all those Westerns I’ve read, I finally know now that Indian paintbrush deserves its name!

The best souvenir of the trip, then, came when my husband spotted the bag of wildflower seeds for sale in the hotel gift shop. He grabbed a pack of 12 (and the separate pack of huckleberry seeds clutched tightly in my hands) and had the total rung up before you could say “Indian paintbrush!” Even knowing I will have to remember to water my seedlings in the spring, and the chance of seeing huckleberries blooming here in Virginia is next to nil, I’m so excited to try my hand at growing my own little Montana garden … although I can’t help but giggle at the idea of working so hard at something Mother Nature manages to create on her own just fine!

Glacier Park Lodge made me feel quite at home by rolling out the red (and blue, yellow and pink) carpet.

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Happy Independence Day!

I can’t really say I planned this as an Independence Day post, but I recently  toured a home (and this time remembered to take pictures) that gave me quite a bit of garden inspiration that seems fitting to mention today. George Washington’s birthplace in Westmoreland County, Va., is beautifully maintained by the National Park Service. Chris and I took a picnic lunch there and ate alongside Pope’s Creek, a tributary of the Potomac. After lunch, we wandered over the path that meanders along the river, admiring George’s view. My favorite spot was overlooking the creek where the land forms a little peninsula, although I was looking as much at the adorable wooden bench that I couldn’t help but picture in my own wooded backyard.

Who knew Mary Washington and I had similar taste? I jest of course, but love the rustic look of this riverside perch.

From the river we went over to the house and past several of the outbuildings. Just as my mom recalled from visits from my childhood, the park still maintains a beautiful hedge alongside the brick walkways – a hedge of fig trees. (Now, I’ve managed to kill two poor fig trees when I let them winter in pots  on my back porch. I still haven’t figured the perfect spot for this absolutely necessary, incredibly delicious, oh-so-beautiful fruit tree, and would welcome any suggestions.)

Next, we stopped at the herb garden, abloom and tall and filled with scents. Talk about inspiration. I could have stared at the perfect, round, gigantic cabbage all day, which perhaps says more about my mental state than I should reveal, but, man were they gorgeous. The lavender was an overrun bundle of intoxicating scent, just wonderful. Each plant was carefully marked with its name to guide visitors who may have been taking notes.

Deep in thought, I’m planning on how to replicate GW’s neat boxwood border in my future veggie garden.

I like the creative borders used in this colonial-themed garden. I believe vegetable gardens should be just as beautiful as they are functional, and this one, with its neat rows and lovely boxwood border, certainly pulls it off.

However, my favorite little takeaway came as we peered into some of the little outbuildings surrounding the main house. In what we surmised to be the cook’s house, I noticed a hook holding a bundle of dried herbs. I’ve always  envied the look of dried herbs hanging from a kitchen’s massive mantel or exposed beams, it never occurred to me a simple hook could be painted to blend in with the ceiling and easily do the trick. I’m wondering now how these herbs might hold up on my screened porch.

This bundle of herbs adds charm and lovely fragrance to the tiny colonial kitchen.

I hope your next vacation escape provides you with gardening inspiration! In the meantime, happy Fourth of July!

The Mystery of the Missing Arbor

Sorry I’m a little late with this post. A landscaping miracle happened the other day and I’m just not sure where to begin to explain it …

I suppose I began to explain it several posts ago, when I mentioned I wanted to move my beloved arbor to a different spot in the yard. This is the arbor that my dad built, very sturdily, for my backyard wedding. The arbor has sat next to my pond for the last year, not facing it, just adjoining it. The long-term plan is to ultimately build a pergola-covered patio adjacent to the pond, where we can entertain next to the sound of the waterfall. Given that, we knew keeping the arbor in that spot would eventually look crowded. And since I’ve been itching since day one to cover the arbor in gorgeous greenery, I knew it would be a good idea to move it sooner rather than later.

The white arbor looks so elegant by the pond … that we hope ultimately to expand it, by building a white pergola-covered patio next to the water feature.

This stately lady provided inspiration for my planned Japanese style garden.

Inspiration struck in a few small spurts, but the first was when I inherited a motley collection of Oriental statuary from my grandmother: a few bluish lanterns for tea lights and several lovely statues. The second burst came when riding the mower (naturally) and I began to suspect that a certain patch of ground in the back right of the yard was beginning to settle down, much like the spot that is now the pond. Chris and I began thinking that we should follow the same course as our last “sinkhole,” only this time, we were thinking dry creek bed: A little touch of whimsy that would tie in thematically to the pond on the opposite side of the yard. The third lightning bolt was courtesy of Akira. It was, quite simply, noticing how much she gravitates to the back right side of the yard, where the trees keep things cool and there are so many interesting smells just over the fence.

All of this amounted to the fact that the hubby and I very quickly decided we wanted to plan a Japanese garden-themed sanctuary around our arbor, once we had relocated this heavy-duty hardscaping item to the back right corner of the yard.

The where was easy. The how turned out to be a little more challenging.

In my last post about the arbor, I may have mentioned once or twice that my dad’s masterpiece is nothing if not sturdy. As a result, Chris and I began plotting back in February that we would  have to throw a party, with lots of free “motivational beverages,” in order to round up enough muscle to move the massive thing. We were thinking eight beefy firefighters ought to do the trick. Life, however, kept getting in the way, and the date for this work-disguised-as-fun event kept getting pushed back and pushed back.

Then last weekend we had an impromptu gathering, in which Chris’ best friend brought his two little boys over to “camp out” in our backyard. We all spent a lovely evening chasing lightning bugs and racing Akira for the soccer ball. After dark, I left the two little boys  snuggled in a tent and the two big boys talking by the flickering glow of the fire pit so I could curl up in my own warm bed.

The next morning, I woke early for work. I peeked out the bathroom window while I did my hair, as I usually do, admiring the glow of the early morning light along the pond. When I went to kiss Chris goodbye, he raised a sleepy grin to me and said, “Did you notice anything different about the backyard?”

I raised my eyebrows and went to peek out the window again.

“No…”

“No?” His eyebrows dipped low in puzzlement, as if he was wondering himself how much of last night was a dream. “Nothing big and white?”

I went downstairs, gathered the dog on my way to the porch, surveyed the landscape, and then returned upstairs more confused than ever. “There’s nothing big and white out there.”

And that, it seemed, was precisely the point. Somewhere in the wee hours of the morning, the two dunderheads had gotten it into their noggins that they should move the arbor. “Your dad built it so sturdily we could just roll it,” Chris said proudly (ah, wince!) as my jaw dropped.

Sure  enough, it was all in one piece – about two feet from its intended final resting place.

Someone somewhere knew a miracle had occurred and cast a perfect spotlight down on the relocated arbor.

Luckily, the second move didn’t take nearly as long as the first. While I worked that afternoon, Chris removed the leaves and debris from the corner, leveled the ground and put down a protective weed barrier. Two days later, his friend returned and the little boys and I cheered while the men moved the arbor, leveled it and assured us it was sturdy.

There is much landscaping yet to be done to fully beautify this elegant structure and its new space.

It’s everything I wanted. The arbor glows from the back corner, like a little mystery half covered by dogwoods. It creates a crisp triangle of white, from porch to shed to arbor, that I feel provides nice continuity. I’ll have several updates as I begin working on maintenance and then completing this project, but for now I’m just pleased as punch to have a new play area for plants!