Snowbound thoughts, part II: garden stewardship

The center pool in Elizabeth Lawrence's garden

Do you ever wonder what will happen to your garden should you become ill or die?

I do.

None of us wants to think about the day when we no longer have the strength to keep up with the weeding, or our children must divvy up our earthly goods, but it will happen.  I belong to garden societies with many, wonderful, innovative gardeners now residing in nursing homes, or who have passed.  One of the best scenarios occurred when members of the hemerocallis society were asked if they wanted the plants from a deceased daylily hybridizer’s garden.  Pieces of her prized daylilies were given away and sold at the spring sale.  Her nephew had the foresight to ask before he sold the property.  Members were careful not to destroy the landscape as they liquidated her holdings.  I have pieces of her garden in mine today.

One of Wanda's garden beds in Oklahoma

What if you move? After living in the same home for over thirty-five years, my friend, Wanda, did, and I watched her agonize over potential buyers who came to see her home. She talked to me about buying her house, but . . . although the garden suited me, the house didn’t work for our family. When Wanda sold it, she left long lists of the plants and their necessary requirements. I’d love to tell you that the woman who bought the garden was up to the task, but she had surgery and a long rehabilitation. When I saw the garden last summer, it was in horrible shape. I don’t drive by there anymore.

Passalong blue iris

Flip the coin to the other side.  Let’s say you inherit a garden.  In much of England, gardening appears to be a way of life.  The United States is a young country, and Americans are young gardeners.  Oklahoma statehood is 102 years old, and only recently have people started thinking about the landscape surrounding their homes.  My grandparents from Missouri and Oklahoma gave little thought to flowers and the external aesthetic.  They were concerned with growing and preserving food.

My parents rarely gardened.  My mother is a wonder with African violets and houseplants, and my dad set out a tomato or two, but only rarely became enthused about growing things in the spring.

They’re not sure where I came from.

The bluebonnets at the LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center will continue to bloom because she and others had vision.
The bluebonnets will continue to bloom at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center because she and others had vision.

Over 200 years into our national history, many of us are now recipients of mature gardens created by others.  Then, there are gardeners like me, who have lived in the same home for a long time (over 20 years).  Our gardens are starting to mature, and some of the elements we planted or built when we first started no longer work.

When Tovah Martin speaks at the OKC Zoo’s education center on February 14, 2010, at 2:00 p.m., she is going to talk about garden stewardship.  Issues like structural elements, garden maturity, invasive plants and maintenance are all on the agenda.  She said she enjoys interactive talks, and she wants our participation.

I think you should come. The talk is free and open to the public. If you do decide to attend and happen to see me, stop by and say hi.  I’d love to meet you.

Part of my garden

In the meantime, if you have a garden, think about what you want to happen when you’re no longer able to tend it.  Is there someone in your family who likes plants?  Could you give some of your garden to them in the form of passalong plants or seeds?  What about the entire garden?  These are things to consider.  I’d hate for my garden to simply die off with me.  Bear says she’s going to take it, but we’ll see.  The Diva used to say that too, but it’s improbable since she doesn’t like to get her hands dirty.  No. One? ASW? ‘Er no.

Elizabeth Lawrence’s family was fortunate to find Mary Lindeman “Lindie” Wilson to buy Lawrence’s Charlotte, NC, property and legacy. Wilson wrote about owning the garden and put her personal stamp on it while being a good steward. I feel lucky I met her and had the opportunity to walk where Lawrence walked and worked the soil.  Because of Wilson’s twenty year commitment, and the Wing Haven Foundation’s current ownership, the garden is still available for tours.  It’s a small garden, but to many people, it means so much.

Grand gardens like the Biltmore will always have stewards, but what about yours? Further, what can we do to help the next generation of gardeners to love gardening as we do?  If we succeed, maybe they will want to care for our little plots of earth.  I can hope.

Snowbound thoughts: Part I, terrariums

The first snowdrop with more to follow

Well, most of the snow melted in yesterday’s rain, but more ice and snow are predicted for Sunday and again next week.  I’m beginning to understand why northern gardeners go stir crazy in winter.

However, as Cindy From My Corner of Katy (near Houston), wrote, “One step closer to spring, sweet Jesus.”

Isn’t that what we’re all thinking on this sixth day of February? January is gone, and twenty-two more days of February, all gray and foggy, loom ahead, but onward and upward we march.

My first terrarium since 1975

Instead of more obsessing on the weather, let’s talk instead of terrariums.  You read me right.  Terrariums. Doesn’t the word just take you back to the 1970s, elephant bells, and macrame?  Well, my friends, terrariums have grown out of their pimply teenage phase and moved on to a beautiful indoor elegance.  Tovah Martin, author of many books, including Tasha Tudor’s Garden, is coming to speak in Oklahoma on February 13-14, 2010, so, last week, I bought her latest book, The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature.  When I spoke to her on the phone yesterday, she said she wanted people to have “nature at their elbow” because it increases their intimacy with plants.

“A terrarium makes nature accessible to everybody,” she said.

Diva likes this one because the glass is more beautiful, and she likes the blue rocks inside. I like how the striped patterns on the glass echo the Dracaena deremensis 'Janet Craig Compacta' inside. I will probably have to repot this at some point, but I'm enjoying it now.

She has over 100 plants in her home, nineteen of them terrariums.  She had more, but she sold some.  She said that for those gardeners who have “a brown thumb indoors” terrariums require little care and reap large benefits.  Glass enclosures keep the temperature and humidity more constant, making it less likely you’ll kill the plants inside from neglect.  Just don’t water them too often or too much.  Also, choose plants which like humidity.  Tropicals fit the bill, as do many shade plants, but stay away from desert lovers.  They will succumb to too much moisture.

In part II of my interview, I’ll share more about Tovah’s thoughts on garden stewardship (her topic for her Oklahoma City presentation), but today, I wanted to highlight terrariums.  Before reading her book, I used to tease my friend, Elizabeth, of Gardening While Intoxicated and Garden Rant, about her indoor plant menagerie and her terrarium.  This winter, I’m an enthusiastic convert.

Faced with more snowfall, I just had to get my hands into warm soil, and I wanted to create something beautiful.  I found small plants at the nursery and placed them within their glass containers just as I would in the garden.  Different heights, different textures.  I added pebbles and a bird nest to complete the scene in the one at top, along with Sagina subulata ‘Aurea’, chartreuse green Irish moss.  I love this little plant, but the summer always incinerates it in my outdoor garden even in the shade.  We’ll see if it will thrive under the moderating effect of glass.

Cloche over an African violet

Then, there’s the African violet covered by a cloche making it a focal point on a buffet or table.  As Tovah said, “It’s about intimacy with nature . . . in sparkling glass, and all of the sudden it has value.”

“Little bits of treasure.  Encased in glass making them a phenomenal work of art.”