Garden Diary - August 2002

I travelled to The Netherlands in early August to speak the Internationale Stauden Union (that's the International Hardy Plant Union) conference. Held every other year, the meeting was attended by over 140 professional growers and nursey owners from The Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Germany, France, England, and the United States. As well as my lecture: "Consider the Leaf - Foliage for Garden Design" there were others on Wisley, the garden of the Royal Horticultural Society, and one on the gardens of Mien Rouse, a noted Dutch landscape designer. But the primary focus of this five day conference were tours of public gardens, production facilities, and other horticultural events. The whirlwind pace of the outings gave us only an afternoon at the Floriade. Held only every 10 years, and more than 6 years in development before its opening in April, this 65 hectare (over 160 acre) horticultural extravaganza is well worth a visit. In fact, I went on three different days. Open through October 20, the grounds then become a public park for the city of Harlemermeer. There are the expected display gardens from different countries, a fantastic perennial garden designed by Piet Oudolf and Jacqueline van der Kloet, water lilies in containers as well as a pond, and huge colorful displays of annuals, sweeps of bulbs such as lilies, tuberous begonias, calla lillies and more. It was the "more" that really, in my opinion, made the Floriade worth several visits.

The theme of this decade's Floriade is "Feel the Art of Nature." The leitmotif implies enjoying the beauty of nature while appreciating the need for sustainability and and quality of the natural environment, a strong focus on ecology and conservation. A very well done "green roof" exhibit had information as well as a display of this inovative planted roof technology. Demonstration roof gardens included a vegetable garden and a children's play space as well as more typical flowering plants in containers. One three-story structure had a a room walled with trailing green ivy. Windmills, not the traditional sturdy structures with wide sails but sleek white contemporary Savonius rotor generated electricity. I was to see these throughout Holland, especially notable was a lengthy row of them as we crossed the Isselmeer Dyke. But that was later. The Floriade is located not far from Amsterdam and Schipol Airport, there is even a convenient bus route between the city, airport, and the North and South entrances. The bus fare is included in the 17 Euro entry fee. However once you exit the Floriade there is no re-entry.

Another favorite outing was to the Paleis Het Loo in Appeldorn. Built in the late 17th century for William of Orange and Mary, his Queen (they later became king and queen of England) the sturdy, foursquare brick hunting lodge holds room after room of fine furniture and art work. I confess that I did not look at any of that, racing madly around each floor and up the stairs for the roof. The day that the ISU was visiting happened to be one of the two Wednesdays in August that the roof was opened to visitors, providing a spectacular view of the elegantly laid out and immaculately maintained boxwood parterres. At ground level there were gilded statuary in spledid fountains, water features, and the gracefully curved colonade of the King's Garden. The special feature in the walled confines of the Queen's Garden is a berceau, a sheltered, cloistered walkway roofed and walled with pleached hornbeams to create a shaded green bower where the queen and ladies of her court could stroll, safe from the rays of the sun.

It is a good thing that the Dutch eat like Hobbits. Merry, with his first and second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tea, dinner and supper, would have been right at home. Breakfast at De Nachtegaal, our hotel in Lisse, featured the typical Dutch beakfast cold cuts and cheese as well as a hot buffet of scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, grilled tomatoes, and a chef making eggs sunny side up. In addition there was a big serving bowl of delicious natural yogurt to go with melon, fresh pineapple, sometimes tiny delicious strawberries. Fresh bread still warm from the oven, and warm croissants. And such a solid foundation, accompanied by the rich, strong Dutch coffee, was necessary to manage the hectic pace with a wake-up call at 5:30 a.m. and load the buses by 7:00 a.m. as we would head off for another day's outing. Though I do confess that by the third day, not to mention the fourth day, I began to flag. Such an early start with the bookend return to the hotel at 11:00 p.m. was fatiguing.

We were fortunate with warm and sunny weather. The hotel is in Lisse, heart of the bulb district, and August is the height of the bulb season. Fields of daffodils curing in the sun, and trucks filled with huge wooden crates of bulbs heading to the warehouse. On the Thursday our group visited DeVroomen Bulb Exporters there were 15 huge cargo containers being filled with bulbs going to the United States and elsewhere. It really makes you think about it. gardeners are happy to plant bulbs by the tens, and here were millions!

One day I walked into Lisse and serendipitously came across Museum de Zwarte Tulp, a charming small museum that focuses on the cultivation of bulbs and their use as artistic subjects. There are permanent exhibits of how bulbs are grown, of the geography of the region, historical bulb harvesting equiptment, and more. As well, there are beautiful tiles and vases, paintings and woodcuts. There is also an exhibit that changes with the seasons. Located on Grachtweg 2a, the museum is open in the afternoon on Tuesday through Sunday.

Along the lines of a busman's holiday, the ISU conference visited a number of nurseries and display gardens. Especially notable was De Tuinen van Appeltern, over 150 display gardens offering landscaping ideas to homeowners - perennial borders, terrace designs, attractive garden shelters suitable for enjoying the garden on a golden afternoon, paving options, water features, containers and more. I could have stayed for days rather than the all too brief morning that was allowed. Ideas are easy to bring back, as memories, in pictures, or written down in a notebook. Plants are more difficult.

So perhaps I should not even suggest that you visit De Hessenhof, in Ede. But oh, what plants! Walk down the driveway past hedges where the shrubs support clematis after clematis. There are display borders for sun loving and shade tolerant plants. Perhaps it is merely the result of superb, well-grown plants but even the stock plants at this fabulous nursery have the elegant appeal of a well thought out perennial border. Phlox panniculata 'Utopia' with soft pink flowers with a tall eupatorium and Lythrum salicaria 'Blush' (do you suppose this soft pink cultivar is any less obnoxious than its thuggish purple parent?) The elegantly black fern-like foliage of Cimicifuga 'Brunette' as a backdrop to the deep rosy pink flowers of Echinacea purpurea 'Rubinstern', a select seed strain of our native prairie cone flower. Scribble, scribble, scribble - it seemed that everyone in the group was busy making notes.

We must have gotten in the habit of early morning starts and long days on the road. For after the conference itself was over, I joined several friends on a final road trip. Our five car convoy went to Kwekerij Oudolf, the nursery of Piet Oudolf in Hummelo. As well as the nursery itself, featuring perennial plants and ornamental grasses, there is a display garden which may be visited for a 2 Euro 50 entry fee. Layers of hedging at the back are clipped along the top into undulating waves, while casual groupings of tall perennials made a lavish end-of-summer display. It is interesting to see how many native American plants from the great grasslands of the mid-West are popular perennials when they cross the ocean: asters, baptisia, coreopsis, echinacea, eupatorium, gaura, gillenia, helenium, liatris, monarda, penstemon, phlox, rudbeckia, and solidago. Even a few native grasses such as Sporobolus heterolepsis transmogrify from "native wildflower" to "herbaceous perennial." True, we see them in our own gardens, but not with the same wide range of cultivars. The nursery is open from March 1st through November 15th, Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.

Our second stop was at the nursery of Coen Jansen in Ankummer. It was not that the two were conveniently near each other, rather the opposite. It was just that these were two places we really wanted to get to. Some overlap of available plants of course, but a superb selection of hardy geraniums, a goodly number of salvia, more sanguisorba than I knew existed, and even Verbena hastata 'Rosea', a soft pink form of our typically pale blue meadow weed. But then, you must know the saying, "May all your weeds be wildflowers." The nursery is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. In the summer, June through August, it is also open on Tuesday. While I bought catalogs at both nurseries they are, naturally enough, in Dutch. So I look at the Latin names, convert height in centimeters into inches, puzzle over colors and bloom times, and sigh, with lust in my heart for some of these plants that I wish I could enjoy in my own garden. Ideas, as I said, are easy to bring back. It is more and more difficult to return to the United States from abroad with plants. To begin with, an import permit necessary. This is available through the United States department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, 4700 River Road, Riverdale, MD 20737. Since January 2002, a phytosanitary certificate, or plant health document, is also necessary for everything, even seeds of commercial origin. The latter must be obtained prior to your return, while still abroad.

While the travel abroad was delightful - the Dutch are friendly, it seems as if everyone speaks English, the food is delicious and their beer is excellent - this has been a summer of discontent re the weather. After generous (well, generous by comparison to what came after) spring rains the tap was abruptly turned off , bring all my plans and planting to a precarious halt. Not that things were any different elsewhere. It is likely that (at least in the United States) the summer of 2002 will go down in history as the most widespread drought. New Jersey was not alone in imposing watering restrictions as the rains of March, April, and May were insufficient to compensate for the dry winter that preceeded and drought-stricken summer which followed these "normal" months. They paid some interest but did not address the principal dearth of water, which totals 15 to 18 inches below normal precipitation. Trees cut their losses by dropping their leaves, lawns turned to brown stubble, and parched local cornfields withered. This season rather than just talking about it, I finally got around to installing rain barrels.

A friend mentioned a source of 54-gallon plastic barrels, priced at a modest $10 apiece. The story is that these were used as shipping containers for some powdered pharmaceutical, protecting the contents which were in a large plastic bag. Ideal for rain barrels, they are made of a translucent white plastic. Four clamps hold down a sturdy lid. With my usual "Let's everybody get involved." (or should that be "Let's get everybody involved."?) there was a three-vehicle convoy consisting of my Taurus station wagon, a neighbor with his pick-up, and his daughter with a Volvo station wagon. We managed to load up with 13 barrels, of which I kept three.

The figure I'd seen bandied about was that 100 square feet of roof will collect 64 gallons from a 1-inch rainfall. My tool shed is 10 foot wide by 18 feet long with an even span roof, so I have a collection area of 90 square feet. A visit to Home Depot with a lengthy shopping list sent me home with gutters, down spout, elbows, clips, clamps and more - such an array of bits and pieces that I followed the list faithfully. Even if I found the 9th item while looking for the 5th one, I ignored it until its turn came up, concerned that I'd overlook something if I skipped around. It took Paul a couple of days to get the system set up. And amazingly enough in the drought of 2002, the barrels have managed to provide sufficient water for my potted plants. One side benefit is that the water is at ambient temperature rather than chilly from a hose. And rain water is especially suitable for carnivorous plants which fail to thrive on municipal, i.e. treated water, and can even be set back by well water depending on which/ what chemicals - calcium etc. - are present.

The rest of the garden suffered. Several of the Ilex glabra I planted last year lost leaves, while Leucothoe axillaris planted this spring suffered branch die-back of up to half the shrub or even more in some instances. Perennials that are typically drought-tolerant such as lungwort, Pulmonaria cultivars, showed severe stress. I'd planted several 'David Ward', a lovely form of P. rubra with grayed green leaves edged in white. In anticipation of the drought I used used Terra-sorb, polyacrylamide crystals that hold water in encapsulated form. Other brand names are Hydro-gel and Soil-moist. The plants grew vigorously in spring, filling in nicely, flowering well, and looking elegant. In addition to using the water-holding crystals the area was kept weeded in order to reduce competition for the limited moisture, and mulched to retain what was available. That wasn't good enough. At the end of August, after the months of drought, I have only three of the original ten that are still alive.

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