THE SARTORIALLY CORRECT GARDENER



Homemade garden smock.

Dante Gabriel Rosseti’s take on the gardening smock.

A small sample of homegrown snow peas and strawberries.

The translucent petals of a trumpet lily glow in the light of a late summer afternoon.

THE SARTORIALLY CORRECT GARDENER
It is neither Pierre Deux, Souleiado, Anthropologie or Smith and Hawkens. It is just a homemade gardening smock made from cotton fabric bought at a factory outlet. Total cost of the fabric was something like five dollars and the ribbon used for the straps cost twenty five cents. Wearing it does not transform one into neither Vita-Sackville West nor Tasha Tudor. At the most, it bears an unintentional resemblance to a servant’s smock in in a painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
By unintentional I mean that I did not use a pattern. Not using the pattern means that I ended up with armholes that were considerably larger than what I had in mind, originally.
No matter. The correct attire for a gardener is a matter of taste. Cotton denim and corduroy make good trousers and aprons. The lighter muslin and chambray are good choices for summer shirts and dresses. My homemade smoke is a bit frivolous. After two hours weeding a muddy border will reduce it to a rag suitable for floor mopping. The ribbon is a mistake. It should be sturdy grosgrain, but all I had on hand was this shiny satiny length. That can be corrected later.
For the moment my job is to harvest lilies–a very PreRaphaelite activity–berries and peas. It is way too hot to fight creeping charlie, lamb’s quarters and the dratted trees of heaven.
The yellow boots are excessive. There has been no rain for at least a week and the rain barrel is nearly empty. Plain old clogs work just fine in this dry weather.
Hats are a necessity. No question about that. My heart lusts for Borsalino’s Pantropic Montecristi Optimo, but a hat like that requires that one hire a servant to tend it, as the Roman pedisequi tended the sandals of their masters during a banquet. No, this smock calls for something a bit more egalitarian–the conical Vietnamese Non La the Infanta bought at Washington DC’s Chinatown, for example. A small Souleiado scarf is permitted , but dollar fifty bandannas from the discount store are best. Gardening is not an activity that calls for status symbols unless your are a disgustingly wealthy type, in which case, I I intend to come to your garden and sing Ca Ira at the top of my lungs. make your own dress, though, and all is forgiven.

ROMAN SPICE BOY



The spice barrel at Traveller’s Rest contains no aphrodisiacs so far.

“Canius, Cerialis, Flaccus–will you come? My dining couch holds seven–there are six of us–add Lupus. The housekeeper from my farm has brought me laxative mallows and the various resources the garden affords amongst which are lettuce which sits close to the ground and leeks for cutting. Burping mint will not be absent nor the aphrodisiac herb. ” Martial




Google artichokes and you get an outpouring of conflicting information. Several sources claim that it originated in Sicily while others, perhaps more accurately, place it in the Maghreb–Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Some say the ancient Romans brought it home from North Africa and others say that it was the Moors who introduced it to Europe when they invaded Spain. Given that Iberia and Sicily were once considered part of the Maghreb–meaning “place of sunset” or “western” in Arabic, the origin of this homely thistle is up for grabs.
Although in the dinner invitation quoted above, Marcus Valerius Martialis, ( Martial), the author of Epigrams and self-described Celt-Iberian, does not specify the aphrodisiac herb he will be serving to his guests I would be willing to bet that it was artichoke, a popular veggie during the Domitian era. Since ancient Romans were deeply concerned with the effect certain herbs had on their physical well being, it is tempting to hypothesize that Martial hopes to minister to needs of guests in need of ancient Rome’s horticultural equivalent of Viagra. That shall remain a mystery.
Martial’s bio is full of gaps. No one seems to know what he did in his native Calatayud, Spain, prior to perambulations through Rome and Gaul. There seems to be about his status as a a Roman citizen. We do know from his books and those of his contemporaries, that while living in Rome he owned a a little farm at Nomentum. That is where he got the green ingredients for his dinner parties. He mentions lettuce, leeks and rue in another invitation and elsewhere he makes reference to arugula and catmint. The latter is still in use as an aromatic in parts of Iberia,
Prima tibi dabitur ventri lactuca movendo
utilis, et porris fila resecta suis mox vetus et tenui major cordyla lacerto,
sed quam cum rutae frondibus ova tegant

ed quam cum rutae frondibus ova tegant;

First, there will be given you lettuce useful for relaxing the stomach, and shoots cut from their parent leeks; then tunny salted and bigger than a small lizard-fish, and one too which eggs will garnish in leaves of rue.”
Artichoke Cynara cardunculum, is not technically an herb. It is a thistle whose long history dates as a delicacy is goes all the way back to Roman Egypt. In Sixteenth Century France it was served in syrup to those whose libido was not quite what they wished it to be. I wonder what my male guests would think if I were to invite them to a Roman cena–in keeping with Roman tradition it would follow start at 4 P.M., following a visit to the baths. If I get an early start, by next year I should have the beginnings of a Roman micro garden. I already have lettuces, mint, arugula and catmint. All I need is leeks and artichokes.



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TOADLY GREEN


“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Aldo Leopold

Poet’s jasmine,



Toad at his best and highest, Toad the terror, the traffic-queller, the lord of the lone trail, before whom all must give way or be smitten into nothingness and everlasting night.” Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows. Illustration by Charles van Sandwick.






































































































































































First there were tadpoles–dozens of them, swimming swiftly in the brackish water of the lily pond. Occasionally, an eastern box turtle shared their aquatic world without interrupting their frantic exercise. Then, in late June, as the roses faded and the trumpet lilies and poet’s jasmine began to bloom, they morphed into toads, oh, frabjous day! Toads are a sure sign that the garden fosters biodiversity. It offers everything a toad needs–an environment free of chemicals, lush vegetation, plenty of water and a reasonably well stocked snack bar. The slug, that dreaded enemies of my hostas, happens to be one the toad’s favorite treat. Alas, toad is one of the favorite treats of the hog nose snake, another frequenter of my lily pond. Toad is not without defenses. Even as a tadpole he poisons the fish that dare eat him–that might explain the disappearance of the Mossadnik, the Israeli fish meant to instill terror into the insect population. As an adult, he secretes a toxin in the paratoid glands behind his eyes. He does not hesitate to express the toxin when threatened by predators and he can inflate his body to appear more menacing than the toothless creature he really is. I envision him lurking in the greenery, long sticky tongue extended, ready to snap up his quota of slugs. The thought comforts me as much as it ought to strike terror into the hearts of the invertebrates that wreak havoc on my borders.
Celia Thaxter, author of The Island Garden, observed with uncharacteristic acidity that the slug, “He is beyond description repulsive, a mass of sooty, shapeless slime and he devours everything.” Having deployed all the chemicals weapons against “the worst of plagues, the snail without a shell” Thaxter dispatched a note to a friend,
“In the name of the Prophet, Toads!”

American Impressionist Childe Hassam, whose lyrical watercolors enrich Thaxter’s text, might have been the friend to whom she appealed. He was one of the artists who summered in Appledore Island where Thaxter gardened. If so, he does not seem to have found the toad painterly. That surprises me. Toad is graphically gorgeous as the above illustration by Charles van Sandwick attests. Beatrix Potter’s Jeremy Fisher is certainly a handsome fellow and so is the toad portrayed by Hokusai. In Kunioshy’s painting of adventurer and writer Tenjiku Tokubei riding a giant toad, the toad is decidedly the most impressive of the two.

The toad, slugg and snake triad is something cultures older than ours have incorporated it into mythology. In Japan, for example, this triad is known as san sukumi, three that fascinate each other or three deadlocked enemies, thre frozen in time. This is tension with which I must not tamper–unlike Thaxter’s my toad is is not an import. He is as homegrown as the snake and slug–lest the ghost of Aldo Leopold smite me with a bolt of lightning. A gardener of my ilk is a guest in her own garden, an observer more than a participant. All around me there are gardeners groomed within an inch of their lives. The glorious stand of jonquils that used to grace a nearby garden succumbed to the untender mercies of a fellow whose job is to keep lawns pristine. Lawn lovers rejoice at his chemical array because gardening, for many of us is indeed an effort to bring order to chaos. Mine is a chaotic garden. To see its loveliness one must love chaos or learn to look selectively. There is a certain elegance in the lacy petal of a Hermosa rose rendered into lace by a hungry slug. As long as the rosebush can withstand the slug’s attention, I will continue my laissez-faire policy. More than that is the work of toad.


GARDENING FOR POLLINATORS


Plan for a 10×12 feet butterfly garden from Better homes and Gardens, www.bhg.com



PLANT LIST
Star flower (Pentas lanceolata): Zones 9–10; annual elsewhere
Creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia procumbens ‘Sunbini’): Annual
Mealycup sage (Salvia farinacea ‘Victoria’): Zones 7–11 ; annual elsewhere
Sulfur flower (Cosmos sulfureus ‘Little Ladybird’): Annual
Spider flower (Cleome hasslerana ‘Rose Queen’): Annual
Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia ‘Torch’): Annual
Zinnia elegans ‘Cut and Come Again’: Annual
Zinnia Profusion Series: Annual
French marigold (Tagetes patula ‘Yellow Boy’): Annual



A bee in prepares to sip nectar in my garden.

A zebra swallowtail butterfly feasts on phlox in a sunny border.
The Sierra Club and National Wildlife Federation have me in their thrall. Not only have a signed up to make my garden a wildlife habitat, I may take the steps recommended to improve conditions for butterflies and bees. I already participate in the Save the Boxies project, designed to stop the deforestation of the eastern Box Turtle habitat in my neighborhood. Our latest victory was to persuade the mayor to change the town crew’s schedule so that no mowing will be done when the boxies are most likely to be on the path of lawn mowers. Next we might try to have the speed limit lowered in our couple of blocks and if we want to be become the most hated people in the corporation we will petition to have all car traffic banned at the local park.
This, from the Wildlife Federation, www.nwf.org

Did you know that one out of every third bite of food comes to us
thanks to pollinators? From beautiful butterflies to busy bees, it’s
clear that pollinators are essential to life on our planet.

But, declines in pollinators in North America and around the world
pose what could be a significant threat to biodiversity, global food
webs and human health.

Help pollinators in your neighborhood during National
Pollinator Week (June 22-28) by taking one or more of
these five simple actions:

Cone flower 1. Use Native Plants
Hummingbird 2. Hang Hummingbird Feeders
Bee 3.Build a Bee House
Butterfly 4. Plant a Butterfly Garden
Certified Wildlife Habitat(tm) sign 5.CertifyYour Yard with National Wildlife Federation

Barbara Damrosch included a plan for a butterfly garden in her delightful book, Theme Gardens. Her instructions are useful to experienced gardens and a must for novices. I intend to discuss her garden plans in detail in future posts.

CORNELL UNIVERSITY’S URBAN BIRD PROJECT


Bluebirds, robins, cardinals, cedar waxwings, wood thrushes, carolina wrens, crows, owls, herons, kingfishers, bats, flicker, red bellied and pileated woodpeckers, Baltimore orioles, nuthatches, quail and the occasional pheasant, all frequent my neighbourhood in goodly number. Just how goodly is that number is a question scientists at Cornell University’s Bird Lab want to know. In order to get an accurate answer, they have sent me forms I am to fill after ten minutes of birdwatching.
Mine is not the only neighborhood where Cornell scientists want to hear about. Their urban bird project encompasses the whole of the United States. Anyone can participate. It costs nothing and as a bonus, applicants get a package of sunflower seeds. Check it out.


GARDEN ARCHAELOGY


Wooden recreation of an ancient Egyptian garden.

Pavillion at Qianglong gardens. Photo by Etti bonn-Muller.

Gardens are ephemeral. Few are handed down from generation t generation. In my own block, a three-generation garden had pretty vanished in less than ten years. A block away, the garden of a historical building has also disappeared. Lilacs, peonies, Rx, Doctor Huey, Dr, Van Fleet, Dorothy Perkins, and May Queen roses endure in cemeteries, at abandoned farmhouses and in a few gardens of West Virginia’s Tri-County–, Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan–where I live. That is a good thing. Gardening might have been one of the strongest links shared by the British, Irish, Italian and German, German-Jewish and African immigrants who first built homes in my community once the indigenous had been displaced. These long lived plants tell something of the people who founded Tri-County communities. They tell us that they did more than raise crops, build mills–there were once seventeen of them in my town–and make weapons.
Sure, it is not ancient Egypt or even the more recent mid-eighteenth century Qianlong. Yet, a knowledge of the gardens local folks created we might help us understand our past better. Kathryn Gleason, professor of landscape architecture at Cornell University and founder of http://www.gardenarchaeology.com put it more eloquently in Archaeology Magazine,
Gardens in most times and cultures are the most complex type of “artifact” that we can study. They are both “things” and environments that have been carefully designed to establish the owner’s–or in the case of public gardens, the patron’s–position in political, religious, and social life. Gardens were important to an illiterate audience in telling a visual story, often on many levels, and so were closely connected to ideas of theater. And, of course, gardens tell us a variety of things about people’s relationship to an idea about nature–from a king proving that he can control nature’s forces (often with the help of a specific god) to an individual creating gardens to interact with the natural forces in terms of religious ritual and daily life–the “spirit of a place” as we still say today.”
None of the old roses seen around the Tri-County are old enough to have been around in the colonial era. The Wichuraianas May Queen and Dorothy Perkins, Dr, Huey and Large the Flowering Climber Dr. Van Fleet all date date back to the early Twenthieth Century.
What of the ancient roses such as the Apothecary’s rose? How could they have vanished so utterly? Should they not have hybridized in the wild as they did in Europe and Asia? Old roses are not particularly tender. They are usually vulnerable to viruses. Why have they disappeared where the earlier varieties of lilac and peonies remained?
There seems to be little interest in garden archaeology in the Tri-County. That is understandable. Archaeology itself is hardly the hottest discipline around these parts. Tom Hulce, professor of Archaeology at Shepherdstown’s Shepherd University once said that digging local gardens indiscriminately was the equivalent of burning old books. I plead guilt to the charge. My garden yields clay marbles, fragments of Flow Blue china and rose he headed nails. I would it would yield clues to its horticultural history just as readily.

THE WAY TO BLISS


Rosa gallica versicolor, Rosa Mundi.

R. gallica var officinalis, Apothecary’s Rose.

A view of the Potomac River on a summer afternoon.

Writer Ira Glackens, son of painter William Glackens, was a conservationist before it became fashionable. He was an expert on heirloom apples, many varieties of which he planted at Labrador Farm, the Glackenses‘ country home, in New Hampshire. I remember chatting with him about Sheep’s Nose, Fameuse, Sops in Wine and Thomas Jefferson’s favorite, Spitzenburg. Unfortunaly, I had no great interest in apple trees, at the time. The tri-state (WV,MD, PA) area where I lived produced excellent apples and until recently one could buy Winter Banana, Grimes Golden, and Northern Spy at roadside fruit stands. One hardly needed an orchard unless one were Ira, who added a a dozen or so fruit trees to the back yard of the grist mill where he and his wife Nancy would spend their final couple of decades. That done, he went out and got himself a bright red Jeep so that he would have something sturdier than his Volvo and and vintage Jaguar to drive when he felt the urge to spray his pocket handkerchief orchard.
The fruit trees still remain where he planted them, thrity some years ago. Sadly, his heirloom roses and most of the the shrubs are gone. Gone, as well, is the Carolina sweetshrub, Calicanthus floridus he planted by the gate to the mill. Though lilies remain in some of the circular borders, the Rosa hugonis that leaned against a brick wall opposite the calicanthus shrub, has vanished. Nothing is left of the Gallicas officinalis, versicolor, and Tuscany Superb, the Albas Konigin von Danemark and Cuisse de Nymphe, the Bourbons Variegata di Bologna and Madame Isaac Pereira, Centifolias Chapeau de Napoleon, Fantin Latour and Rose des Peintres, and Tour de Malakoff, the Hybrid Perpetual Baronne Prevost and La Reine Victoria, the Moss Salet, the Damask Jacques Cartier.
One of the first roses he showed me was Rosa gallica var officinalis, the Apothecary’s Rose, also known as the Red Rose of Lancaster. I will never forget the silky delicacy of its red petals nestled against the pale ivory of his palm. Gallicas are ancient roses. Greeks and Romans cultivated it and later mediaeval gardeners planted it their physic gardens for medicinal use. Ira, who loved history, loved them less as flowers than as symbols of a time when the world had been a better place. As for me, the scent of Gallicas was the olphatory equivalent of Proust’s madeleines. It brought back the sun baked rose gardens of my Brazilian childhood, the cool, quiet courtyard and rose encircled fountain of a boarding school up in the verdant hills of that had once belonged to my Kariri ancestors.
I mentioned earlier that most of the roses of my childhood were French. How many of them carried parts of the genetic code of Gallicas is something I may never know. European immigrants often changed their own names when they reached the New World. They also changed the names of the plants they brought with them. My Brazilians ancestors retained the names of the Alba Amelia and the Hybrid Tea La France, . They changed Cecile Brunner to Rosa Menina and Black Prince to Principe Negro. I have yet to find out the true name of they renamed Sangue de Cristo. What they could not alter was the unforgettable fragrance of the Old Gardens Roses they brought from Europe. That I would rediscover it in the garden of an old grist mill in West Virginia is only one of the gifts that came my way through Ira.
In the years I lived near his house I knew Ira as painter, as a biographer, as a cook who baked bread and made a delicious moussaka, and as a gardener. Years after his death, when I had planted and lost more roses than he had at the mill house, I learnt that Ira had written a great number of articles on horticulture and that he had served as at chairman of the American Pomological Society. I regret enormously that I did not take the opportunity to learn more from him. In part, I wanted desperately to avoid giving the impression that I hoped to benefit from his wealth. As it was, he and Nancy gave a number of undeserved presents and in villages such as mine it takes great intestinal fortitude to compete for the affection of wealthy folks. I think that is a pity.
I think it eqyually sad that the garden and orchard Ira planted in West Virginia may be irretrievably lost. This year, I planted several of his roses in my own garden. This is my second or third attempt to grow them on a piece of land that was once a grazing meadow for the cattle belonging to the original owner of the grist mill Ira so lovingly restored. Unlike those I planted nearly a quarter of a century ago, these roses are cloned, not grafted. In West Virginia’s hot and humid climate, blackspot is practically a given. My organic garden, the cooling breezes wafting from the nearby Potomac river seem to be charged with fungi. Aphids and Japanese beetles thrive in this environment and all but the tougher roses languish. Through the years, most of my original planting, died down, leaving behind Dr. Huey rootstock, an unhandsome plant that produces an unhandsome, unscented red blossom. But gardeners know that the way to bliss is not through a feather bed. Planting roses is my bliss and my way of remebering Ira.