Perennials: A Picturesque Portrait

Breathes there anyone with a soul so dead,

Who would not admire a perennial bed?

Most of us start gardening too late in life. When we are young and sprightly, we have too many other interests. The middle years are taken up with furthering our careers and/or raising families, so that by the time we should be hitting our stride, our stride has turned into a totter; bones are creaking and backs are aching. The spirit might be willing, but the knees are weak. However, it’s never too late to start. Procrastinating about doing a project is like looking at a wheelbarrow; nothing will happen until we start pushing.

Planning a Large New Border:

Study the photos in gardening books then choose the layout and the plants you most admire within them. Like Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, we must use the “little grey cells” in order to choose the best plants. Picture this large border as a stage and like Cecil B. de Mille you’ll soon be directing a cast of hundreds.

Digging:

Roses are reddish,

Violets are bluish,

But they won’t grow in soil that’s glueish!

Gardening is 10% preparation and 90% perspiration; most of the latter comes from digging.

  1. Make sure the soil is soaked but not soggy.
  2. The tines of the fork should go in the full length. Large clumps should be broken up with the back of the fork or spade.
  3. Spread large amounts of compost, peat, and manure then dig again. The soil will become friable. (For a vivid example of this, read page 39 of Too Late for Regrets.)

Planting:

Place the plants in the area where the holes are to be dug. Move them around until you’re happy with the result. Container plants bought from the nursery might have become rootbound; tease out some of the roots and spread them out before planting. Water thoroughly, and make sure that any weeds appearing are eradicated promptly.

Sun-Loving Perennials

  • Aurinia (Basket of Gold) – low growing, mid-spring
  • Rock Cress (Arabis) – showy racemes of pure white, late spring. Ideal for rock gardens.
  • Centranthus Ruber (Jupiter’s Beard) – has upright stems bearing fluffy clusters of pink flowers. 2 feet, needs staking.
  • Rudbeckia (Goldsturm) – Black-eyed Susan. Stunning orange flowers with a black center. Shasta daisy makes a spectacular splash of white, mid-summer.
  • Coreopsis (Tickseed) – “Early Sunrise,” “Sunray,” charming yellow flowers at the end of wiry stems, 1-2 feet
  • Heliopsis (Helianthus) – False sunflower, long blooming, 2-3 feet. Plant at rear.
  • Phlox Paniculata (Garden Phlox) – “Eva Cullum,” exquisite clusters of deep pink flowers on sturdy stems, stake. 2 feet, mid-late summer.
  • Aster Frikartii – lilac daisy-like flowers, late summer
Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)

Kniphofia (Red Hot Poker)

Stacys 1.5 Feet, Upright Stems

Stacys 1.5 Feet, Upright Stems

Achillea (Yarrow) "Paprika"

Achillea (Yarrow) “Paprika”

Aster Novae-Angliae

Aster Novae-Angliae

Sandwort, Early Summer, Low Growing

Sandwort, Early Summer, Low Growing

A Well-Planned Perennial Bed

A Well-Planned Perennial Bed

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)

Water Features

The human fascination with water features in the garden goes back thousands of years. A shared reverence of nature inspired the Chinese and later the Japanese to become masters of the art of using water and rock. Experts in the management of water, the Romans built aqueducts and fountains, some still in use today. Islamic gardens always included water to counter the fierce heat. Their influence spread to Southern Spain. The most notable of these designs exists today at the palace of the Alhambra, with its formal canals, rills, and fountains. Gardens today can be improved by including some part of water feature.

There once was a heron–a fairly large bird,

He came quite early before we had stirred,

He ate my prize fish, almost every one,

Then he gobbled the last one just for fun.

Boxwood encloses this fountain.

Boxwood encloses this fountain.

A lion's head fountain.

A lion’s head fountain.

A tranquil scene.

A tranquil scene.

Lily pads float on surface.

Lily pads float on surface.

Water cascades down huge rocks. See "Too Late for Regrets" page 251 for a description of Timothy's water feature.

Water cascades down huge rocks. See “Too Late for Regrets” page 251 for a description of Timothy’s water feature.

Water trickles into pond.

Water trickles into pond.

Tulips surround fountain.

Tulips surround fountain.

Host Your Own Afternoon Tea and High Tea

History of Tea and Tea Gatherings

Tea for Two

Tea for two.

One of the traditions inherited from the British Empire is afternoon tea. During the Victorian and Edwardian periods, the aristocracy gathered in the drawing room for this elegant ritual. Up until the First World War, ladies changed into fashionable tea gowns. The middle classes soon adopted this custom (though without the tea gowns). It was a civilized way to entertain friends. In the Regency and Victorian periods, exquisite sterling tea services were wrought by fine silversmiths in Britain. Plated silver soon followed, allowing those of more modest means to enjoy the same elegance. In nineteenth-century England, the pottery firm of Spode was the first to discover the formula for bone china–a mixture of bone ash and clay.

Pink tablecloth and tea set

Pink tablecloth and tea set.

High tea is not to be confused with afternoon tea. High tea was the working man’s early supper. The men worked long hours in the factories and mines, and when they came home they expected an early, substantial meal accompanied by their favorite brew-tea. This early supper consisted of some of the following items: shepherd’s pie, sausages, steak and kidney pie, hard boiled eggs, as well as thick slices of homemade bread. Fruit tarts rounded off the meal with a final “cuppa.” The mother presided over the teapot, which was replenished many times.

Tea in the Garden

Tea in the Garden.

The difference in the varieties of tea is determined by the region in which it is grown. At higher altitudes, the quality of the tea is superior because the cooler air matures the leaves more slowly. Below are some of my favorite teas and their corresponding regions:

  • Black fermented teas are grown in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and in Darjeeling, India.
  • Early Grey tea was named for the second Earl. It is a blend of Darjeeling and China teas, scented with oil of bergamot (a citrus fruit). This is the tea mentioned on Page 61 of my novel, Too Late for Regrets.
  • Ooling teas are a blend of black and green teas.
  • Green teas are unfermented and are the most delicate of all. They are never served with milk.

Great fortunes were made by firms importing teas. The most famous of these is Twinings, whose history goes back centuries.

Are you planning on hosting your own tea party? If so, it’s important to know the following:

Tea on the patio.

Tea on the patio.

  • The host always makes and pours the tea for guests and should ask beforehand whether milk or lemon is preferred. A teaspoon of sugar further enhances the flavor.
  • Small children love tea parties. Dressed in their best clothes, the children’s manners are usually impeccable; even the youngest are somehow aware that they are participating in a special formal occasion.

    A lace tablecloth.

    A lace tablecloth.

As for the menu…

  • The sandwich, named for the Earl of Sandwich in the nineteenth century, is made from thinly sliced bread spread with a salmon or vegetable spread, then layered with thinly cut cucumbers. It is a staple of tea parties. The crusts should be removed and the sandwich cut into squares or triangles. Scones with jam and cream follow. A pound cake, meringues, or trifle can be added.
  • Pastries bought from a good bakery are perfectly acceptable, especially if they are arranged on a lovely plate.
  • All that is needed for a tea party is a table covered with a crisp linen, a simple arrangement of flowers, good china, and gleaming silverware.

What could be more pleasant than a tea party in the garden? Have you hosted your own garden party? What are some of your favorite tea party rituals? Comment below!

“Potager” or Vegetable Garden

I spy with my little eye,

A hungry rabbit two feet high.

He ate my carrots for his lunch, 

Not one or two, but the whole damn bunch.

The French word potager translates to “kitchen garden”–a combination of vegetables and flowers. In medieval times, crops were grown for the table and successful crops were a matter of survival for families.

It was in the great gardens of the aristocrats of continental Europe and England that the idea of a potager evolved. The vegetables were interspersed with perennials, while a separate herb garden was always included.

A combination of flowers and vegetables satisfies the soul as well as the appetite. With the renewed widespread enthusiasm about organic and homegrown food, you might be seeing more and more potagers springing up in your neighborhood.

If you could grow any fruit or vegetable in your backyard, which would it be? Comment below!

It's not a dog's life if you're surrounded by vegetables and flowers.

It’s not a dog’s life if you’re surrounded by vegetables and flowers.

Yellow squash and petunias.

Yellow squash and petunias.

Dahlias "H.G. Hemrick," larksour "Carmine," yellow squash, beans "Derby," and oriental cabbage "Joi Choi"

Dahlias “H.G. Hemrick,” larksour “Carmine,” yellow squash, beans “Derby,” and oriental cabbage “Joi Choi”

Great Romances – A Memorable Love Affair

Moon tiger is a green coil which is placed in a saucer; when it is lit, the smoke repels mosquitoes. Moon Tiger is also the name of the 1987 novel by Penelope Lively; winner of the Booker Prize in the U.K. For those of you looking for an epic love story to read after finishing Too Late for Regrets, here is the first part of my Moon Tiger review.

An elderly woman lies dying. The story of her long life is told through her memories. The central section of the book is her heartbreaking love affair with Captain Tom Southern, a tank Commander.

The Time: 1941-1942

The Place: The Libyan desert where tank battles are being waged. The British tanks are pitted against those of the Germans under the command of the Desert Fox, Rommel.

Claudia Hampton is a journalist; she is beautiful, independent, and willful. She wangles a ride in a truck which is traveling through the desert to headquarters where she is to interview some of the top brass.

The truck becomes bogged down in the sand. Through the murk of a sandstorm, a jeep appears. The driver is Captain Tom Southern who offers to take her to headquarters. Sitting next to him and dazed from lack of sleep, Claudia naps. Through half-closed eyes, she observes his hands on the steering wheel.

Forty years later, as she lies dying, she can recall with clarity those hands. The author’s description of the carnage Claudia sees as the jeep ravels through the desert is vivid and unforgettable.

To Be Continued Next Week…