Garden Diary - May 2022

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Gardens at Half Moon
Sunday, 15 May 2022

I was trying to identify a tree I'd seen flowering in Baptisttown, New Jersey. Ridge Goodwin is so knowledgeable about trees I asked for his help (turned out to be white dragon tree, Paulownia fortunei.)

And in the course of our e-mails back and forth he mentioned that, "My place will be on tour by the Conservancy on May the 15th. Maybe we'll see you! You may come as my guest, but I have to tell you the gardens have changed very little since last you were here!"

No matter. The Gardens at Half Moon are so splendid that if I came for a visit once a week it would be a special treat. And what with this, that, and covid-19 it has been years. So I was very much looking forward to this visit.

The 45 acre property was purchased 40 years ago. It included the stone farmhouse, a tenant house, and the stone foundation ruins of a large barn.


Almost completely devoid of any landscaping at that time, Ridge notes, adding that "Our gardens grew and evolved over the years and are now populated with those plants collected in my travels in combination with selections of other compatible trees and shrubs."

"There are a diversity of conifers, the result of
a long association with the Iseli Nursery in Oregon,"

"and includes quite a few 40-year-old specimens blended with newer additions. Rare and unusual plants are everywhere throughout the property and can pop up unexpectedly!

"Deer found the hostas last year (about 200 of them) that had gone unmolested for years.
This spring they were all replaced, changing that aspect of the garden considerably."
Their replacement is early flowering borage, Trachystemon orientalis,

which has quickly spread to form a dense groundcover. And so far, deer resistant.

Check in at the table where JoAnn Goodwin and a Garden Conservancy volunteer
are ready to greet today's visitors. Attention is immediately captivated by a wonderful

golden Japanese maple just ahead. Its leaves have that wonderful tender spring color.

There are other Japanese maples sited as accents among the conifers,

as this red leaf Japanese maple enhances a tapestry of conifers

or as specimens on their own, like this red cut leaf Japanese maple.

Ridge knows their names, all except one. It is a perfect mound, solidly branched all the way
down to the ground. The label is inside, and would require someone to slither on their belly
to find it. We agree that will not be either one of us. The tree knows itself, even if we don't.

Before Ridge and I set off on our peregrinations around and about the garden
I go to the right, around the wonderful stone walls of the old barn's foundation.

There is a wonderful variegated Zelkova that I remember,
and I'm eager to see it again. Bliss. Such a splendid tree.

Looking like a tree lit with red candles, this red buckeye, Aesculus pavia, is
native to the southern and eastern parts of the United States. Hardier than that
suggests, it has been successfully grown in the Arboretum Mustila in Finland.
And its other common name? Firecracker tree. Very appropriate, don't you agree.

I wonder, can one speak of a garden as something that has been "crafted" . . .
Surely it is more than a matter of just digging a hole and plunking in a plant,
then giving it time to grow. How do you think of what might be in 40 years.

A weeping spruce forms a grotto, with a lichen covered chair tucked away.
Serendipitous? More likely than planned when the tree was first planted here.

Then there are times when patience is needed because trees will grow as nature dictates.
"We have good soil." Ridge said to me with satisfaction. Which is certainly a helpful thing.

Even so, today's visitors are ever so fortunate because the Davidia involucrata,
dove tree, handkerchief tree, ghost tree, is flowering. It is for only the second time.

The header that describes the Gardens at Half Moon for the Garden Conservancy's Open Days directory makes notice of "Rare plants/plant collection, Garden structure/sculpture." I don't really remember any sculpture. That's because it wasn't here when I had previously been here. As we traverse the grounds on the ever so quiet electric golf cart, stopping and / or reversing direction as necessary so Ridge can answer questions and direct people where to see some special plants, he mentions that there had been an event, an arts festival.

Sculptures were placed in the garden, under the artist's direction.

And they were so wonderful, when Ridge saw them among the conifers,

that he fell in love and bought them.

It was the only thing he could do, to buy them

so they would forever remain among the trees.

A garden where the seasons turn. Conifers evergreen, maple leaves fall in autumn, snow blankets the ground, spring returns. The trees will be a little bigger. And perhaps next year will bring another Open Days to the Gardens at Half Moon.

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