The Real Dirt On The Presidents — Part 1


presidential_podium 2

The next presidential election is still years away — and wannabe candidates, strategists, pundits, and newscasters are already weighing in on who will run, what the issues are, and how Americans will vote.

Lately, though, I find myself less concerned with taxes, Obamacare, and the economy and more curious about how the future POTUS will put his — or her — stamp on the White House gardens — and that’s all because of an amazing book, Presidents’ Gardens, by Linda Holden Hoyt.

Utilizing her passion for gardening and history, as well as her experience in the Reagan White House, Ms. Hoyt has delivered a book that is educational, fascinating, and entertaining.  Well researched and filled with photos, illustrations, and anecdotes, her work opens the garden gate on a world most of us will otherwise never have had the chance to enter.

Recently, Ms. Hoyt kindly agreed to answer the questions of a very excited gardener and history buff.  It seemed that with each response, I had more questions — resulting in a post so long that it needed two parts.  Part 2 will appear on Monday — and that’s also when the rules of the giveaway will be revealed.

And so, without further delay, I’d like to introduce you to Linda Holden Hoyt.

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Q & A: Down And Dirty With Dante


Dante 1With a name like Dante the Comic, it’s pretty obvious that he’s a funny guy.  The name, though, barely scratches the surface of all that he does on screen, behind the scenes, and in his yard.

Dante first came to national attention on season five of NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” where he received each audience favorite award and a standing ovation in the semi-finals.  Ever since, awards and honors have continued to roll in, including the grand prize on ABC’s “America’s Funniest People,” the most comedy awards ever presented by BET, and performing for more US troops than anyone since Bob Hope.  And if this isn’t enough, he also writes for E Network’s “Fashion Police,” with Joan Rivers, and hosts a podcast, “Stimulus Package,” which is available through iTunes.

Dante’s newest project is co-starring in the film The InAPPropriate Comedy, slated for a March 22 nationwide release.  Directed by Vince Offer, the Sham Wow guy, this sketch-comedy movie follows the mayhem of a tablet computer fully loaded with offensively funny apps.  Taking part in the irreverent and raunchy humor is Academy Award-winner Adrien Brody, Lindsay Lohan, Michelle Rodriguez, Rob Schneider, and Dante’s girlfriend, Rebekah Kochan, an actress/comedian with her own loyal following.

For gardeners, though, the most impressive piece of Dante’s resume is the work he does in his yard. Dante the Comic, you see, is also Dante the Gardener.

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Wish I Was There . . . Again (Part 2)


Alhambra, Granada

A few posts ago, I shared some garden travel photos that I had found in a box in the attic.  They were from a time when photos were developed on film, the sort of pictures you could touch and flip through to relive the moments caught.

Today, however, I’m doing some digital cleaning.  There may not be any flipping through pictures, but there is clicking through snapshots of vacations gone by.

While I certainly love the hefty feel of an open photo album across my lap, any kind of photo can re-ignite the senses from a captured piece of time.  A picture is worth a thousand words, but so too is a pixel.

Like the photo above, for example, which was taken at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain.  Each time I see this photo, I can imagine trysts and stolen kisses, plots and deceit — all hidden from view by the thick greenery . . .

But I’m jumping ahead.  I wanted to save the Spain photos for the end of this post.

Our first stop, then, is a brief stop in the southern United States.

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The Giveaway Goes To . . .


The Backyard Parables

At last, we have arrived at the big reveal — the announcement of the winner of Margaret Roach’s most excellent book, The Backyard Parables.  So without any further delay, the book goes to . . .

Now did you really think I would jump right in with the winner’s name?  Not only am I nitty and gritty, I’m also wordy — and a post just wouldn’t be complete unless I added a few hundred words of my own (as well as a few photos, each one dedicated to a season in my garden in honor of the chapters in Parables).

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Wish I Was There . . . Again (Part 1)


SicilyThere was a time when cameras used film, and that film had to be brought to a photo developing retail outlet, and that outlet would print your photos and supply a free second set.  One set for the photo album; another set for . . . well, I guess, a box.

That’s the box I recently came across while in the attic — for Joe and me, that’s 25 years of negatives and photos of vacations gone by, and so many “ahhhhh” moments captured — the sort of moments that begin with a single picture and then goes something like this, “Remember when we. . . and that’s when . . . and we saw . . . “

Soon, the moments are stitched together, like a verbal photo album.

In the photo above, Joe and I were driving through the heart of Sicily in search of the village from where my maternal great-grandfather began his journey to America.  At one point, there was a curve in the road and a view of the valley, orderly rows of olive trees caught in a game of hide-and-seek sunlight.

Join me as I take a walk down memory lane, or, rather, down the global garden path . . .

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A Hummer Of A Summer Day


Photo courtesy of The Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary

I don’t think I’m too far off when I say that most people are fascinated by hummingbirds.  Delicate yet swift, they confound gardeners, bird watchers, and photographers alike – all of whom wait patiently for one to appear.  And when one does, an excited whisper passes through the crowd, as if Beyonce has just walked up to the feeder.

“Oh, there she is.  She’s right there.  Oh, look at her . . .” Then, as quickly as a hummingbird appears, it zips away.

I haven’t seen a hummingbird since I was a child, but that certainly hasn’t dampened my fascination.  So when my friend Michele suggested a field trip to the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, I jumped at the chance.  Would I see one?  Would I even be able to snap a picture?

Located on a bluff overlooking Long Island Sound, the Sanctuary is more than a labor of love for its founder, Paul Adams.  It is a passion.  His three-and-a-half acre garden is, at first glance, in a natural state – filled with native trees that provide perches and nest building materials for his guests of honor, hummingbirds that migrate from Mexico and Central America.

Then, all around, are splashes of sweet nectar and color, thanks to butterfly bushes, salvias, cardinal flowers, trumpet vines, honeysuckle, and a selection of tropical flowers to make the hummingbirds feel more at home.

There is a small, tree-shaded area for parking and, fortunately, I listened to Michele about wearing a good pair of walking shoes.  The ground is uneven, and there are some crudely built steps to help visitors negotiate the ups and downs of the garden.  And be sure to mind the hand-painted signs – all of which are there to help you safely explore.

The first stop for Michele, me, and two other friends, Jeannie and James, was a hollow, accessible by a tighly packed dirt steps.

At the bottom, a large sign reminded us to be quiet – and it was like entering a church.  We were dwarfed by walls of butterfly bushes, accented with the stained glass hues of butterfly wings.

We then strolled under a canopy of wild cherry, oak, and beech trees, all the time keeping our eyes glued to the various feeders, hoping to catch a glimpse of a hummingbird.  My hands gripped the camera.

Eventually, we made it to the cottages, one of the most peaceful locations on the property.  Here, visitors sat patiently in Adirondack chairs, cameras in hand, waiting for a hummingbird to arrive by a feeder or to enjoy the nectar from any of their favorite flowers.

Behind the cottage closest to the bluff, there was an amazing view of Long Island Sound and the steady buzz of bees.  A hummingbird made a quick appearance, but then flew away faster than I could say, “Hum.”

We ultimately returned to the garden between the two cottages, one of which is where Mr. Adams spends his summer months.  The rest of the year, he’s a professor of neuroscience at Stony Brook University, on Long Island.  On this visit, we were his pupils, as he taught us about the life and habits of hummingbirds.  Then, in midsentence, he said, “There’s one at the feeder now.”

Every head turned and there was the collective whisper of awe.  Instinctively, I snapped a photo.  There was no time to zoom and I hoped the digital camera would be able to focus faster than a hummingbird’s wings.

At some point, I began to wonder if the hummingbirds were playing with all of us.  It’s as if they knew we were waiting to capture their image, and when they saw all of the cameras take aim, off they flew.  One even hovered above the deck where Mr. Adams was speaking to us, but as the cameras were lifted, so too did the hummingbird.  Gone.

Just as I was about to pack up the camera, one hummingbird seemed to feel sorry for us and sat on a branch, preening and posing itself.

And I had my close up.  At last.

Not only is it remarkable to have seen a hummingbird in the wild, it’s an inspiration to meet a man so passionate about his love that he is willing to share it with the public for free.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The Sanctuary has no admission fee.  In fact, Mr. Adams will not even accept a monetary donation (his website encourages donations to other specified organizations), although sturdy old chairs and plants are always welcome.

The Sanctuary is only open in August.  For more information about the species, the Sanctuary, the battle to protect it from development, starting your own hummingbird-friendly garden, as well as days and hours of operation, please visit either the website or blog.

Bloomin’ Update 32: Lost In The Planting Fields


Anthurium

Gardening is a gift that keeps on giving – and this is especially true of the Planting Fields Arboretum, a jewel of a gift on Long Island’s Gold Coast.

William Robertson Coe, who made his fortune in marine insurance, built the mansion in 1921 in the style of a 16th century Elizabethan country home – but it’s the park-like 409-acre estate, designed by the Olmsted brothers, that brings gardening enthusiasts, walkers, brides, and myself back in time.

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