Too hot to garden? Stream these movies and virtual tours.

Note: This was sent out as a weekly Love Notes From the Garden email in August 2021. 

I get it – you think it is too hot and too buggy to go into the garden. Well, it IS August. The only pleasant time in the garden is early morning. That is inconvenient if you are not a morning person or have other commitments (like, um, a job.)

I have rescheduled my calendar to spend tomorrow morning in the garden pulling weeds. Yesterday’s generous rain has softened the Georgia clay brick and done most of the watering for me. Over three hours last week was spent hand watering, that much again harvesting figs. So the mornings last week were not even weeding, mulching, pruning or planting, but keeping my garden watered and harvested. Well, it IS August.

Do find time to water, fill bird feeders and birdbaths and apply deer spray. Then go inside if you want. Forget daytime TV, forget Netflix, take a look at some gardening that can stream into your air-conditioned home:

  • Have you heard of Heygo? These are live virtual tours around the world. Feel free to ask questions as you are watching. They are free, just tip through Apple Pay or Paypal or a credit card. That is how your tour guide earns money. During August they are concentrating on garden tours – how fun is that?
  • Public gardens worldwide are still streaming classes and talks. I have added a few events on my online calendar, so keep an eye on that for ideas.
  • Here are a few of my favorite websites to find online classes and virtual tours. If any truly speak to you, sign up for their newsletter and follow on social media.
    • Facebook events may be awkward at first, but it won’t take long for them to figure out which events would interest you.
    • The Garden Conservancy has had so many great talks this past year that I bought a membership to support them and get a discount on talks. Their summers are filled with in-person garden tours, but I expect the amazing virtual talks will return in the fall. There is a four-part Gardens for a Changing World series from 2020 available to view.
    • England’s National Garden Scheme offers virtual garden tours.
    • Eventbrite, where I follow organizations (The National Trust) and use hashtags (#garden_history, #gardening) This is a great rabbit hole to find interesting online programs but beware of: (1) the time zone in which the event happens (I have watched some at 5 a.m. EST), (2) if recordings will be available or must be watched at a certain time, (3) the organizer, not Eventbrite)  sends out information on how to watch and that can end up in my Gmail trash folder, so give yourself time to log on.
    • OK, do Netflix or Amazon Prime or whatever. Some recommendations:
      • Netflix – The Big Flower Fight
      • Amazon Prime – The Great Gardens of England, Churchill’s Secret (set in Chartwell, his wonderful home, garden, art studio – and it is a good movie), The Gardener (2018, Frank Cabot), Dare to Be Wild (about garden designer Mary Reynolds)
      • Amazon Prime (OK, I have not seen these yet, but they are were added to my list as I was researching this) – Beatrix Farrand’s American Landscapes, Hummingbirds with David Attenborough, Intelligent Trees
      • Britbox – I have not subscribed yet, but friends say this is rich in British gardening shows and coverage of last month’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show.
      • Growing Floret, a new reality show on the Magnolia Network via discovery+. I enjoyed this interview with Erin Benzakein of Floret Flower Farm
      • YouTube is full of interesting films. Crazy about a certain garden, garden nursery, garden magazine, or garden personality? – just enter those names in the search bar to find videos you love, like Christopher Lloyd and Rosemary Very strolling through Great Dixter. The New York Botanical Garden not only has great lectures, but children’s storytimes and backyard botany. Browsing National Trust videos is always wonderful.

Or plan a tea party. England’s National Garden Scheme is launching The Great British Garden Party. During the week of 14th – 20th September, the charity is inviting everyone to host an event in their garden. Invite a few friends over, ask them to make a donation and send the money to NGS. They are raising funds for nursing, including a way for people to put on virtual reality goggles and stroll through gardens from a wheelchair or nursing home bed.

Sorry, I did get lost in this Love Note to you. If you made it this far I am flattered. I hope you stay cool, enjoy your garden, and get something from this list (but not an addiction to YouTube – nobody needs that).

Thank you for subscribing to and reading Love Notes From the Garden.

Love, Connie

Discovering downtown Melbourne, Florida, on the Space Coast

Discovering Melbourne was a surprise benefit of helping my aunt move in Florida. So was a glass of wine and conversation with her on a hotel balcony overlooking Melbourne Beach to celebrate accomplishing our goals. We deserved a toast!

The week-long trip started with outdoor dining on a breezy summer evening and a fresh salad with fried goat cheese and a ginger dressing – lovely start after an eight-hour drive. I happened upon Matt’s Casbah across the street from Hotel Melby after checking in.  I keep having a fantasy of sketching outside in a downtown café while traveling and here I was – doing just that. I sketched Hotel Melby from my table as I sipped a cocktail and waited on my salad – not a great sketch, but literally living a fantasy.

Two of the seven nights were in a hotel on the beach, but saved a lot of money by spending most of my week at the new Hotel Melby in downtown Melbourne. Both Hotel Melby stays included fun views, spacious rooms with high ceilings and (as a Hilton Gold member) continental breakfast on the rooftop – a charming way to start the mornings. For night owls, the rooftop is a popular bar with a breeze and a view. My room’s waterfront view included a view of the Melbourne Harbor and frequent trains going through downtown. The sound of a train whistle brought me to the window every time, delighting my inner five-year-old.

Early morning walks in downtown Melbourne, FL, can take you to vibrant murals, window shopping (so budget friendly before the stores open at 10 a.m.!), a waterfront promenade where manatees may swim by, a yacht harbor and public parks (where you can find benches under oaks or with a water view, a dock, shore birds out for a stroll, even a yoga class). My aunt and I enjoyed a Sunday brunch with a water view and 99 cent mimosas at The Chart House near the Melbourne Harbor.

My three favorite downtown shops were all in a row and conveniently right within a block of Hotel Melby – in the 700 block of E. New Haven Avenue.

My three favorite downtown shops were all in a row and conveniently right within a block of Hotel Melby – in the 700 block of E. New Haven Avenue.

My favorite shop has to be Let’s Plant It! – described as an interactive plant store (and you know I love interacting with plants). It is a clever tropical plant store with several potting benches where you can fill a planter or terrarium with your plant selections. The staff is happy to help and, bless them, patient as Mike and I browsed the entire shop via FaceTime. He was speaking in Latin plant names as I handed off plants to go home with me, including a dwarf zizi, a string of hearts, and a philodendron with huge Swiss-cheese holes in each leaf. I returned after he reviewed a photo that I had texted him and implored that I “must go back” for one more plant.

Beside it was Karen & Friends Bead and Craft Boutique. The owner does metalwork and design and cuts some of the stone beads. The store is large and includes many pieces of affordable, unique jewelry as well as beads and supplies. I bought three pair of earrings plus supplies to make earrings and necklaces at home.

The third is the Molly Mutt II thrift shop, raising funds for a local humane society. I walked out with a stack of 25 cent cooking magazines, but could see that every future visit could hold unique treasures.

I must admit, as much as I love a morning walk on the beach and listening to the ocean from a balcony, I was excited to return downtown for one night more before returning home. Hotel Melby is my new go-to for future visits with my aunt on the Space Coast.

Note: This was a non-hosted trip in June 2021. 

Dividing Solomon’s Seal

It all started with an email from Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. in Raleigh, N.C., listing Tony Avent’s favorite plants. One of the plants highlighted was Gigantic Hybrid Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum x hybridum ‘Giganteum’.) Honestly, I am not sure if this 30” high plant is the plant I bought when I visited this nursery in 2009 or if my plant is the 36” high Polygonatum infundiflorum ‘Lemon Seoul’. Both are dramatic, deer-resistant shade plants around hip to waist high. Mine now covers a 3’x4’ area under the pecan tree. Of course, Solomon’s Seal is dormant in January, so that area looks like brown mulch now.

That email also linked to a video that showed how to divide Solomon’s Seal. Easy-peasy. If you plant a root piece with a bud, foliage will emerge next year; if you plant a piece of the root without a bud, give it until next year to see foliage. It took an hour to run outside with a shovel and some labeled plant tags (I am better about labeling my plants now, but still blame the years with plant-tag-flinging, free-range, but so endearing chickens for losing precious information.) Soon I had four of these very handy containers planted and set on the tailgate of my little red truck for friends to pick up.

Many gardeners grow the easier-to-find Variegated Solomon’s Seal, about half the height but with white splashes on the green leaves that brighten a shade garden. I also have a petite Solomon’s Seal that is about 3” tall in my garden and Plant Delights offers one that is 60” tall. Plant Delights also offers this 22-minute video that talks about different Solomon’s Seals. Warning: may cause one to become a collector.

Pretty good movie but – oh my! – that iconic garden!

 Note: This is an edited reprint of a newspaper article I wrote in Nov. 2006, shortly after this movie was released. 

Landscape history can be seen on the big screen

My husband and I went to see “Marie Antoinette” last weekend. The movie had exquisite costumes and an engaging story but also was rich in period landscapes – or at least one landscape: Versailles. I have not been to Versailles, but I have read quite a bit about the iconic gardens. I thought I’d share some of the trivia that makes watching this movie (and these beautiful gardens) more interesting. Most of the garden scenes are in the last part of the movie.

In 1661, France’s financial secretary held a lavish celebration at his chateau and gardens at Vaux-le-Vicomte. Among the guests enjoying feasts, a play, fireworks and music was 23-year-old King Louis XIV. At this time, gardens were seen as pleasure grounds and places to entertain guests. One garden historian also said this was when “garden design in France discovered a style of its own.” This formal French garden design consisted of strong geometry, elaborate parterres of pruned hedges, broad walkways, statues, elaborate fountains and woodlands. The story goes that Louis was furious that an ostentatious finance minister upstaged him with a chateau and gardens better than anything he had. Records state that the minister was arrested within three weeks and stayed imprisoned for the rest of his life.

The king then had the designer of the gardens, Andre LeNotre, start work on transforming the grounds of his modest hunting lodge at Versailles into the elaborate gardens shown in “Marie Antoinette”. This project took six years to design and the remaining five decades of LeNotre’s life to fine-tune.

One of LeNotre’s interests was hydraulics. It may seem the fountains are just turned each morning, but remember the electric pump had not been invented. First, waterwheels and pumps brought water uphill from the River Seine to aqueducts, then into tanks and reservoirs miles away. Water was released, run through pipes by gravity, then constricted into smaller pipes to create pressure. The shape of the spout determined the direction and effects of water displays. Thirty-two of Versailles’ pools include hydraulic effects. When the King was coming down the road, fountain guards would whistle so servants could release the water and get the fountains running. The French, who lived in relatively flat terrain, had to work hard to create great fountains. Nobody could have them run all day, every day. So the fountains were also designed as great sculptural elements that looked good even when the water wasn’t running.

When the fountains did run, Louis XIV wanted drama. The Neptune fountain has 58 spouts. Much of the water ended up in a cross-shaped canal, one mile long and two-thirds of a mile wide. To the visitor it appeared endless, a symbol of the immense power of Louis XIV.

Louis XIV was so involved in the gardens that he wrote a guidebook on how they should be viewed. And viewed they were: From 3,000 to 10,000 people may have been in Versailles on any day. Although photos of Versailles usually show one huge chateau behind dramatic gardens, it actually was a city in itself, with quarters for guests, staff and horses, plus areas to raise food to feed everyone. Hunts would take place in the surrounding woods of the 15,000-acre estate.

After Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are crowned in the film (after 59 years of Louis XV’s reign), they walk outside, where wooden ships fire cannons in a mock battle. No, the French Royal Navy has not sailed in to help celebrate; these ships are in the canal for the sole purpose of creating amusing mock battles. A 1710 illustration in one of my books shows four sailing ships. Talk about a pricey water feature.

Note: When I watched this again in 2020, I remembered this sketch that I had seen in the Richard Russell Library on the UGA Campus. Marie Antoinette wears this or a similar headpiece in the movie. 

Another scene shows Louis XVI with an elephant. The Menagerie was started in one of the earliest stages of Versailles’ redevelopment, perhaps as early as 1662. It was a working farm that provided butter, etc., designed to also serve as a place to view country life and animals. At first it contained mainly farm animals, with some fish and exotic birds. A central plaza was lined with gates into several animal enclosures. When the Grand Canal was created a few years later, boat rides to the Menagerie became popular with guests. Exotic animals, such as an elephant and rhinoceros, were added in the early 18th century.

In the 1780s Louis XVI did build a “little” getaway for Marie Antoinette, a bucolic lakeside village in a Normandy style that previewed a future landscape style mimicking romantic country scenes.

It’s hard to imagine the magnitude of these gardens and life under the reign of people who ruled nations in their early 20s. We have a better supply of food, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, lots more books and much more comfortable clothing. I think I’d rather stay in this century.

Four reasons knitters grow lavender in their garden

1- To repel pests from the yarn stash.
2- To make charming homemade sachets that add to a hand-knit gift and make it smell so wonderful when it is opened.
3- To add to lemonade served to friends when they come over to knit.
4- Because it is so lovely growing in the garden – even for people like me, who actually see old licence plates as decor.
The trick to growing lavender in the humidity and clay soils of Georgia is to find a variety that does well here, keep it pretty dry and provide sun, excellent drainage and air circulation. A raised bed or container would work well for lavender; just combine it with plants that also can take it dry, like lantana, verbena, sedum and daylilies. In the ground, add gravel and maybe a little lime to provide the conditions it prefers. It will not fare well with our humid summers planted in a crowded, irrigated flower border. Provence and Spanish lavender are two that seem to do well in this area.

Georgia Asters are blooming!

GA Aster in GA Gardening mag 2014 001

Oakleaf Hydrangeas are Proving Themselves

Once again, the promise of rain (60%) was an empty one. I let the hydrangeas droop, sure that Mother Nature would give them much needed water, but she did not. The look sad, weeping and drooping, except for my oakleaf hydrangeas, native to the Southeast. They have been untouched by drought and deer. As good as they look now, they will look even better when donned with red foliage this fall, then showing off peeling bark this winter.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Years! I hope there will be more time for you in your garden in 2014. Not just on your knees weeding, but cutting flowers for your home, harvesting herbs and veggies, noticing a bright planter greeting you when you drive up, watching birds enjoying the feeders and berries, and inviting friends to enjoy the pool or a meal outside (maybe when it warms up!)
As the year begins, may I suggest a garden journal? It could be a pretty journal, a spiral notebook, or one of those planning calendars on sale now that has a section for notes in back. You can note when you planted and pruned, dreams for the future, plant wish lists, garden tips, seed orders, notes from garden talks, photos of your garden throughout the seasons, and more. If you are using a garden calendar, then note when garden chores should be done and the reminder will be there waiting for you.
A garden journal can be a very useful tool and record for you.

Large Containers

Hey! – I wrote a guest blog on the Gardeners Confidence website about container gardening.

Freshen and Protect your Plantings with Mulch

I’m so lucky to have a long asphalt drive under mature pines, because whenever the pine needles fall I can run out with my rake, scoop up fresh mulch and remulch the front beds. Extra mulch is piled up for later use (and becomes the favorite cat napping spot).

Weeding the ground and mulching your plants for winter has oh-so-many benefits. First, just the action of getting beside each plant long enough to weed (and it doesn’t take that much time) gives you the opportunity to notice what is going on with your plants. Are they ready to divide? In Georgia, now would be a fine time to divide perennials. Would cutting off the spent flowers make it more attractive? Would moving this plant to a different spot be wise?

Second, it looks good – really good. If you want your home looking great for a party or the holidays or, even more important, to make you happy, then a fresh layer of mulch is a quick fix. It unifies the landscape, makes a clear definition between lawn and beds and freshens the whole garden. That and a couple flats of annuals can work wonders.

But mulch can also keep your garden healthy. It’s like putting down the winter blanket for your plants, keeping soil temperatures constant for plant roots (which grow year-round in Georgia). Mulch also stops rain from splashing soil onto the plants, eroding soil, or creating that hard crust that can form on top of soil. It discourages weeds from growing and makes them easier to pull when they do grow.