Bloomin’ Update 61: Seeing Red, White, Purple, & “Green”

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the arrival of spring than with a display of vibrant colors, a site for eyes sore from the dreary grays of winter. Even South Florida, often accused of not actually having a change of seasons, wants to get in on the spring act.

Perhaps I’ve been here long enough to notice the subtle changes as winter slips into spring. Perhaps I’ve been here long enough to feel that 83 degrees in spring is warmer than 83 degrees in winter and cooler than 83 degrees in summer.  Whatever it is, though, there is something definitely in the air. Orchids and flowering subtropical shrubs and a book that’s perfect for all seasons are all putting on a show.

Since moving to Florida, I’ve noticed other gardens where orchids were tied to trees, their colorful, showy flowers cascading downward. This past year, I gave it a try.

The first step was to choose orchids not in flower. I selected plants given to me by friends or the ones I found after raiding the clearance racks in the garden center of the box store where I worked.

I used floral tape to secure an orchid to the tree, packing some moss around the roots of the plant and making sure the plant would not be in direct sunlight. Then, I had to be patient.

If the orchid is happy, its roots eventually take hold of the trunk — creeping downward and around, absorbing moisture from the air and rain.

This spring, I was rewarded when one of the plants bloomed.

In a nearby tree, another flower spike appeared and a white orchid opened.

On a shepherd’s hook, an epidendrum orchid also decided to send up a flower cluster of miniature flowers.

Orchids, though, were not the only plants putting on a show for spring. In a recent post about my aging green thumbs, I mentioned that I’m using dwarf varieties of flowering shrubs.

Dwarf Jatropha.

Dwarf Chenille.

Dwarf Powderpuff.

And the gout plant also decided to share its waxy cluster of flowers.

Pineapples — both ornamental and edible — all seemed to have the same idea this spring.

Ornamental Pineapple.

Edible Pineapple.

Perhaps the biggest news I have for this first full day of spring is that I have self-published a book of some of my most favorite blog posts and photos, Seeing Green: Life Learned In The Potting Shed

When I first thought about compiling blog posts into book format, my hope was to create a book that I would like to read. I wanted something that could carry a gardener through the frozen days of winter and the sultry days of summer. I wanted a book that could inspire, a book that could make readers laugh and nod along — and I wanted it to have pictures.

For self-publishing, I decided to go with Blurb, a format known for photo books. The quality of Blurb’s print-on-demand service is clearly evident on the 144 pages. The pictures are clear and colorful, and the words are easy on the eyes — and in the end, I think I accomplished what I set out to do.

Now for the fun stuff — the nitty gritty, if you will. There are two ways to get your own copy of Seeing Green, which is available in hardcover and softcover.

To win a copy of Seeing Green, just leave a comment about spring. What do you love about it? What are you looking forward to doing? How do you prep your garden? Do you have a spring gardening hack you would like to share? What is your favorite spring memory? If it’s about spring, just let me know — and you have until April 16 to do it. A winner will be randomly selected.

To purchase a copy (or more) of Seeing Green, please visit my Blurb store.

Thank you for your support and encouragement, your wisdom and comments — and thank you for following me in my New York garden and for joining me on my new adventures in Florida.

A Tale Of Two Women (And A Book Giveaway Treat)

This story of two women begins in 1961. That was the year Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, the daughter of the founder of Warner-Lambert and the Gillette Safety Razor Company and wife of banking heir Paul Mellon, hosted an August picnic for some close friends at her home on Cape Cod. Two of the guests were President and Mrs. Kennedy.

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History, Herstory, Our Story — And Giveaway!

Enjoy the interview with the author, and see below for giveaway details.

Enjoy the interview with the author, and see below for giveaway details.

Very often, when gardeners walk through the well-tended garden of another gardener, the first impulse is to notice the plants, the textures, the play of color from one bed to the next. Quickly behind that assessment is the acknowledgement — and admiration — for the work and thought that went into creating their garden paradise.

It’s that thought which makes The Victorian Gardener (Shire Publications), by Caroline Ikin, such a fascinating book. Written with Ikin’s keen eye for detail and passion for all things Victorian, the book is a tribute in both words and photos to the men — and eventually the women — who made gardening their life’s work, who tended some of the most famous estate gardens in the world, and who did much of the work with their hands, muscles, and brains.

I recently had the chance to speak with Ms. Ikin, whose previous book, The Victorian Garden, was also featured on this blog.

The garden staff propagated and potted thousands of bedding plants each year. Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

The garden staff propagated and potted thousands of bedding plants each year.
Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

NGDM: This is very exciting for me, since you mentioned you were working on this book in our earlier interview promoting The Victorian Garden. In that interview, you mentioned how drawn you were to the Victorian time period — the people, the technology, the role of women. Did anything surprise you in your research for The Victorian Gardener?

CI: It is astounding just how dedicated these young men were in the pursuit of their chosen career. To become a gardener they had to work their way up through the ranks of the profession, moving from garden to garden to gain experience and often living in very basic accommodations. They were expected to study in the evening, keep detailed journals of their progress, learn Latin, bookkeeping and geometry, and never really had any time off as the glasshouse vents had to be opened whether it was a weekday or a weekend.

It was inspiring to research the lives of the pioneering women gardeners who enrolled in training courses and overcame prejudice to gain employment as gardeners alongside men. However, my admiration of this achievement was tempered by the fact that many of these women abandoned their fledgling careers after a year or two to get married, forsaking their hard-won vocation so rapidly.

Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

NGDM: At first glance, The Victorian Gardener appears to be a history book — or a tribute — to Victorian gardeners and their contributions to gardening today. I must tell you, though, that as I read your book I felt I was reading more of a family tree than a history book. I felt a very strong connection to the men — and eventually the women — who toiled in the garden. Was that your goal when you set out to write this book?

CI: There has been a lot written about gardening and garden design, but very little about the history of the gardening profession. I wanted to research the lives of the people who toiled behind the scenes to create such spectacular gardens for their employers and learn how they accomplished so much with the resources available to them at the time. It took a lot of dedication to become a gardener in the Victorian Era and there was opportunity to be grasped by the most ambitious young men. The faces looking poignantly out of the old photographs hint at untold stories and it was this history I wanted to explore.

Female students learn the art of pruning at Studley College, 1910. Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

Female students learn the art of pruning at Studley College, 1910.
Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

NGDM: In our previous interview, you mentioned that the class structure and social conventions of the Victorian Era would prove too limiting for you. For many Victorian women who gardened, that seemed to be true as well — but as a male reader, I must say I was very impressed with the dedication that these gardeners displayed for their craft.   What do you think they could teach us about gardening? What do you think they would think of gardening today?

Apprentices and experienced gardeners are pictured together. Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

Apprentices and experienced gardeners are pictured together.
Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

CI: The Victorians recognised the value of apprenticeship where experienced gardeners would pass on their skills to the next generation. Their methods were based on trial and error, learning from experience and working with nature. Victorian gardeners did not always understand why their techniques worked; they just knew that they did.

When scientific discoveries demystified the nature of botany and processes such as photosynthesis were understood, the gardening profession was elevated to a new level and training courses were established to teach gardeners not only the practical skills necessary to grow plants, but also the science behind the practice.

A multi-bladed shears advertisement from Gardening Illustrated, 1879. Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

A multi-bladed shears advertisement from Gardening Illustrated, 1879.
Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

Just as we do today, Victorian gardeners had to embrace new technology and innovative gadgetry, and experienced gardeners seemed remarkably adept at distinguishing the useful from the worthless. It is no surprise that basic tools such as the trowel and the rake have been in use for centuries with no change to their design.

Although the working conditions of gardeners have improved since Victorian times, it is still a profession where you have to start at the bottom and work your way up, learning all the time from other gardeners, studying books on botany and plant propagation, gaining experience in gardens with different types of soil and climate, working long hours and on weekends.

I think a Victorian gardener time-travelling to a garden in the twenty-first century would recognise a lot of what he saw, and would be disappointed to see that, despite advances in science and technology, there was still no effective way of getting rid of slugs, that weeding was still done by hand, and that water was carried around in a watering-can.

Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

NGDM: As in your previous book, the artwork and collection of photos is astounding! When it comes to putting it all together, how difficult is it for you to narrow down your selection?

CI: I was very fortunate, as I was with my last book, to have access to the extensive collection of archive images at The Garden Museum in London. Although there are many group photographs of Victorian gardeners posing with the tools of their trade, it was quite tricky to find portraits of named gardeners, as few were recorded for posterity in this way, which reflects their status in society. It was also very difficult to find enough colour images to satisfy the publishers – all these remarkable photographs are, of course, in black and white.

Musical comedy star Marie Studholme, 1903. Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

Musical comedy star Marie Studholme, 1903.
Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

NGDM: Two photos in the book jumped out at me — and they’re both of women. One has a woman in full Victorian attire — as if she were going to a garden party — while pushing a lawn mower. The other features a trio of women in men’s clothing. When you’re in your own garden, what’s most comfortable for you to wear?

CI: I love that photograph of the women gardeners at Kew, looking rather defensive in their breeches and boots. The staff at Kew were put in a tricky position when they took on these first women gardeners as there was no precedent for female gardening attire – women would not dare to show their ankles, let alone don a pair of trousers! The voluminous skirts of Victorian fashion were liable to squash the plants, and frills and lace were hardly practical for digging, barrowing and muck-spreading. The decision to allow women to wear the same clothes as men may seem like a radical act of equality, but I suspect it was made out of necessity and a lack of other options.

The idea of wearing a shirt and tie and a three-piece suit for gardening does strike me as uncommonly impractical, not to mention uncomfortable – I prefer jeans and a T-shirt and a sunhat (I’m very much a fair weather gardener, I’m afraid).

Breeches, boots, and aprons on the female students at Glynde School, 1910. Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

Breeches, boots, and aprons on the female students at Glynde School, 1910.
Photo courtesy of The Garden Museum/London.

The Giveaway:

What gardening clothing or garden tool could you not live without?

If you would like to win your own copy of Caroline Ikin’s The Victorian Gardener, please leave a comment about the garden clothing or garden tool you could not live without. For a second chance to win, please visit the Nitty Gritty Dirt Man Facebook page, and answer the same question there.

Entries should be received by Friday, May 16.  A winner will be announced on Sunday, May 18.

Thanks for participating — and Happy Mother’s Day!

I’ve Got A “Secret Garden” Winner!

Secret Garden

Wow!  What a week it’s been.  Comments from all over the world arrived on both this site and my Facebook page.  Not only did I appreciate your interaction with the post, but after reading each comment I learned so much about all of you.

The one thing you all had in common is that you are a very creative group!  It was refreshing and impressive to see how many of you are not deterred by age, proudly holding onto crayons and colored pencils to use in all sorts of coloring books.

To select a winner, I created a spreadsheet of commenters, each one receiving a number.  I then went to, where I inputted the number range  in the “True Random Number Generator.”  The next step was to hit the “generate” button . . .

And the winner is . . .

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How To Have Your Own “Secret Garden”

Secret Garden

This post begins and ends with a gift.

Just prior to the Christmas holiday, a very dear coworker of mine, Lorraine, presented me with a silver-wrapped package tied with a string of sparkling stars.  She explained that when she saw this item, she thought of me.  It was whimsical, she said, and she thought — or at least hoped — that I would understand.

Her only instruction was to open it on Christmas morning.

And so I brought the present home and placed it under the tree and stared at it, wondering what sort of whimsy was hidden beneath the silver foil paper.

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Victor Victorian: Garden Style Fit For A Queen

At this time of year, as the garden tumbles into autumn colors in preparation for its winter sleep, it’s difficult to not search out garden photos — whether of my own garden, the gardens of other bloggers, or especially gardens of the past.

It’s in those old photos, the kind that give a peek into a moment in time, that the questions start to swirl.  What plants did they select and why?  Where was the best spot to view the garden?  What were the scents and aromas?  The sounds?  Who tended the beds?  What tools did they use?

The Victorian Garden

Enter The Victorian Garden (Shire Publications), a fact-filled and image-rich book by Caroline Ikin.  Beautifully crafted, the book not only offers a clear explanation of Victorian garden style and history, it also celebrates the Victorian gardeners and their innovations — accomplished through Ikin’s skill at bringing readers along as she steps through the garden gate.

Recently, I had the chance to ask Caroline Ikin about her book, the Victorians, and life in her own garden.

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The Real Dirt On The Presidents — Part 2

presidential_podium 2

Some conversations are too big to fit into a single post.  That’s how it was when I communicated with Linda Holden Hoyt, author of the very fascinating Presidents’ Gardens.  Just like the book, the interview was filled with anecdotes and historical tidbits, as well as Ms. Hoyt’s warm recollections of her experience in the White House gardens.  

The author during the Reagan Administration.  Photo courtesy of Linda Holden Hoyt.

The author during the Reagan years.
Photo courtesy of Linda Holden Hoyt.

NGDM:  What was your role in the Reagan administration?

LHH:  I worked on President Reagan’s staff and had an office in the West Wing, so I enjoyed a beautiful view of the ever-changing White House grounds and I pinched myself in the morning when I walked through the gates on the way to work and again in the evening when I left for home.

NGDM:  When you were a young girl visiting Presidential gardens, did you ever dream that someday you would be working in the White House?

LHH:  No, but as a child I spent a lot of time cutting and pasting pictures of the White House and the presidents into a scrapbook.  I’d flip through magazines like Life and Calling All Girls, collected from my grandmother and piano teacher.  When visiting the White House, I remember wanting to run up the stairs to see what was up there!  In my teen years, I read Backstairs at the White House, Upstairs at the White House and anything like it I could get my hands on.   History is really important to me — especially the “story” part — I love the stories of the people who impacted history.

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