Tag Archives: Garden

Antoinette Tulips

I have a thing with gardening, an obsession really.  I would not quite call it Tulip Mania, but it’s bad, and now I have one more obsession to boot.  The Antoinette tulip is multiflowering, which essentially means its hues change over the bloom period, and it is gorgeous.  Antoinette would have been a fan simply for the tulip’s whimsical nature.  It’s Easter yellow and green . . . no, wait, raspberry pink.  No, salmony orange.  Oh, dear.

As a bouquet tulip, Antoinette is also abundant, producing 4-6 flowers per bulb.  The name really is perfect and although spring seems an awfully long way off, any Antoinette fan would be remiss to not have some of these in her garden.

Humphry Repton: Landscape Gardener and Jane Austen Inspirer

From Austen’s Mansfield Park:

In a recession society, stories of entrepreneurs “making it” after years of financial struggles and doomsday predictions are our psychological bread and butter.  Underdogs, late bloomers, scrappy fighters turned self-made–we love them.  Although removed from us by time and space, Humphry Repton, the 18th century’s last great English landscape gardener, was such a man. 

To call him a jack of all trades would be an understatement. Repton was great at two things, one of which was failing in professional pursuits.  When he was 12, his parents shipped him off to the Netherlands to cultivate his mercantile sensibilities . . . of which he had none.  Instead he was artsy, born. . .

He apprenticed as a textile merchant and set up his own shop, proving his stint at falling short of success was more than an abbreviated trend.  In 1778, his dismal lack of accomplishment magnified by his parent’s recent death, Humphry left his family home of Norwich, and treaded a course of trades in his new domicile of Sustead.  Among them, he was secretary to Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (briefly), a journalist, a political agent (read: consultant and possibly unemployed), a dramatist, an artist, a reformer of mail coach system,  etc., etc.  In short, the fellow lost a lot of capital.

Fast forward ten years to 1788.  Our dear Humphry is 36, broke, and a father to four children.  Earlier in his youth while training to be a merchant, he’d hobnobbed with a wealthy Dutch family wherein he acquired a penchant for botanical sketches.  This interest later played a pivotal role in his future when his botanist friend, James Edward Smith, encouraged him to study the subject for who is Repton’s neighbor in Sustead but Mr. Wyndham, owner of a vast library containing works on botany.  What luck!  Mr. Wyndham was also coincidentally named Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during their acquaintance which explains Repton’s secretarial work.   

This is the point where everthing changes for Repton.  After years of floundering, he has acquired three avenues that point toward his future success:  a network of wealthy, high class individuals (who, of course, require gardens), access to the right information, and a compendium of personal experience achieved through improving upon his own country property in Sustead.  Humphry Repton, dignified landscape gardner is thus born.

Armed with no real horticultural experince, it comes as somewhat of a suprise that Repton’s designs, displayed through his watercolors, were an immediate  sensation.  What made Repton different from his peers was his ability to work with an established character and situation of a  house and its adjoining landscape.  He improved upon designs of other artists, choosing to deviate from a garden’s traditionally straight paths by opening up natural vistas to incorporate bordering architecture, say a church spire, or compelling topography, such as rolling hills, into his scheme.  He published “Red Books”, landscape designs reminiscent of “before” and “after” makeovers found in today’s fashion magazines.  Although he received criticism by others in his profession for his straightforward, simple designs, he worked with nature’s dictates, not against them.  As a result, his work was made more affordable because he didn’t tear out existing structure, but modified, added, and enhanced.  Neither informed by asceticism nor our modern sense of minimalism, he approached his design with the pragmatism common today.  This is apparent in the Red Book of Stanage Park:

 An impressive “before” and “after” of Harleston House and Park, illustrating improvments in symmetry and balanced architecture, is shown below:

Regarding Jane Austen

During Repton’s thirty years as a landscape architect, he gained over 400 commissions and worked on a number of beautiful 18th century estates, some of which are mentioned in Jane Austen’s novels (Blaise Castle, for example).   Austen was no stranger to Repton herself, having seen Adlestrop house in person,  and was known to be an admirer of his work.  Mr. Darcy’s Pemberly house is Repton personified:

ELIZABETH , as they drove along, watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter.

The park was very large, and contained great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood, stretching over a wide extent.

“Elizabeth ‘s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. They gradually ascended for half a mile, and then found themselves at the top of a considerable eminence, where the wood ceased, and the eye was instantly caught by Pemberley House, situated on the opposite side of a valley, into which the road with some abruptness wound. It was a large, handsome, stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills; — and in front, a stream of some natural importance was swelled into greater, but without any artificial appearance. Its banks were neither formal, nor falsely adorned. Elizabeth was delighted. She had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. They were all of them warm in their admiration; and at that moment she felt, that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!

They descended the hill, crossed the bridge, and drove to the door; and, while examining the nearer aspect of the house, all her apprehensions of meeting its owner returned. She dreaded lest the chambermaid had been mistaken. On applying to see the place, they were admitted into the hall; and Elizabeth , as they waited for the housekeeper, had leisure to wonder at her being where she was.

The housekeeper came; a respectable-looking, elderly woman, much less fine, and more civil, than she had any notion of finding her. They followed her into the dining-parlour. It was a large, well-proportioned room, handsomely fitted up. Elizabeth , after slightly surveying it, went to a window to enjoy its prospect. The hill, crowned with wood, from which they had descended, receiving increased abruptness from the distance, was a beautiful object. Every disposition of the ground was good; and she looked on the whole scene, the river, the trees scattered on its banks, and the winding of the valley, as far as she could trace it, with delight.”

 For more on Repton and Austen, visit these links


Spring 2011 Bulb Plans

I have an ongoing battle with tulips.  Of course they’re breathtaking, dominate the garden in spring, and readily available.  They are also a royal pain when you favor perennials.  I can barely handle the annuals I have to rip out of the garden at summer’s end.  But tulips that must be dug out by the bulb?  Ay!

So last fall, thinking to save myself the headache, I defiantly resisted planting tulips.  My perennial garden flaunted hyacinths, muscari, and daffodils, all selected for their superior fragrance and ability to return without further work on my part.  The dreaded tulip was shunned. 

Inevitably,though modern day tulips lack scent and the vast majority refuse to rebloom, I bemoaned their absence from my gardens whenever I drove around town.  Even the bountiful Red Impressions, which I usually don’t spare a second glance, started catching my envy.

You can guess where I’m heading with this. Come late September I’ll be back on the bulb.  I ordered Going Baroque tulips for the small circle garden outside my office and plan to supplement with early and mid varieties.  They are scheduled to arrive the week before we head to the BWCA, which will have me cursing as I rush to get things done.

But just look at these.  They’re so beautiful I’m bumblebee-ish with excitement.

Figuring I should round out my 2011 bulb collection (so I can quit complaining about the tulips I must pull come early summer) I also ordered Crown Imperial fritillaria (above).  At 5/$25, they were a steal at  Colorblends.  I usually see them for around $16 a piece, maybe 50% of that price on sale.  Alliums were a good deal there too so Globemasters are coming my way.

In addtion, I ordered 100 more grape hyacinths for underplantings (they last forever and smell great!) and crocus for beneath Josie’s favorite tree.  With that, I should be set.  Well, except for the Casa Blanca oriental lilies and Madonna lilies for a pop of white.  And trumpet lilies.  This garden obsession is really never ending.

Garden Variety Finds

My idea of fine summer living in the country is an equation of simplicity: freshly squeezed lemonade, a lazy evening in the hammock, a philosophical book in hand.  It’s the time of year when I spend more time in the garden than in the kitchen, when errands in the city are forgotten or ignored, and visiting sterile air conditioned malls is like eating canned peas when fresh are 100 feet away.   Much preferred are the farmer’s market, open doored boutiques, and flea markets.  Second that, online shopping on cool nights with the sultry air breezing through the windows is pretty darned nice.  If I weren’t on a spending moratorium, this is exactly what I’d buy:

By Countess Elizabeth Von Armin.  First published in 1898, this chronicle of an English Garden in a German climate is part witty memoir, part languid gardening affair.  She affectionately refers to her husband as “The Man of Wrath” which is reason enough to scour ebay for this classic.  The beautiful book above is offered on shopgoodwill.com for auction through July 7th.

Dedeetsyshop’s interpretation of a coral hyrangea in felt on white linen.  Gorgeous.

I can see myself in this dress, kicking back on a blue blanket in the grass.  It’s a little graphic, a little outdoorsy, crisp in white and purple.  The surprising part?  Find it on the new-agey site Pyramid Collection.    While you’re there make sure to browse the accessories.  They sometimes have stellar finds.  You can also find renaissance fair garb here if you’re so inclined.

Chive Flower Salad

Chives have a special place in the garden – and that would be right up there with weeds.  Much like mint, they’re invasive, spreading and stretching, popping up feet after feet away from their original planting site. Pesky plants.  After I dug up some clumps last spring, they’ve sprouted near my roses bushes, nudged next to the lilies, and tangled themselves up with the thyme. 

This annoyance is really all my fault.  Before laying out a formal herb bed, I moved my chives three times.  The worst was crowding them into the perennial flower garden (a bad, bad idea which still has me pulling onion-scented sprigs!)  But there was an upside because now I’ve an abundance of chives bursting with spiky purple flowers and those edible petals are every bit as delicious as they are pretty.  Slightly more pungent than the chives’ green stems, they impart equal parts soft crunch and potent oniony flavor to salads and pastas.  Under Jon’s dubious brow – which believe me, was contorted with dreading curiosity – I tossed lemon vinaigrette with greens, walnuts, feta, pepper, and a few choice flowers.  Needless to say he was surprised by the flavor.   This edible is not your typical, bland pansy! 

When you’re prepping, just make sure to wash and dry the flowers carefully, keeping an eye out for any small crawling creatures.  Then discard the hardened flower stems and voila!  



Curious which other flowers are edible?  Edible Flower Chart

Butchart Gardens – Victoria B.C.

A Stroll in Spring

Butchart gardens is simply breathtaking.  I find the scope and sheer amount of flower beds mind boggling especially since come late spring, all the tulips and spring flowering plants (with the exception of trees and bushes) are pulled out and replaced with summer flowering varieties.   Yes, I asked!

The sunken garden (last picture) used to be a limestone quarry before Mrs. Butchart saw amazing potential in the big, ugly pit.  What a woman can do when she sets her mind to it!  Now, if only my garden looked so spectacular . . .

Georgian word of the day:  Puce

A popular color in Georgian and Regency times, found in fabric and on home articles.   Not charming to say the least as in French puce literally means “flea.”   Caroline Weber, in Queen of Fashion, recounts an amusing exchange between Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI:

“When the Queen asked her husand how he like the confection, which was made from tafetta of an odd pinkish-tan hue, he replied laconically: ‘It is the color of a flea [puce].'”

I can see a husband saying that!

FYI: The color is brownish-purple or pinkish-tan depending on the source.

Baronne D’Oberkirch, also noted in Queen of Fashion, wrote in her Memoires:

“every lady at court wore a puce-colored gown, old puce, young puce, ventre de puce [flea’s belly], dos de puce [flea’s back], etc.  [And] as the new color did not soil easily, and was therefore less expensive than lighter tints, the fashion of puce gowns was adopted by the [Parisian] bourgeoisie.”

Update: See my March 2012 post on ‘Pretties in Pink’ for more on puce.