Corona Garden Diary 3/22/20: Two Views on the Ornamental Cherry

Here in northern VA, the cherry blossoms are at their splendid best.  Down at the Tidal Basin, at least some tourists are showing up to view the iconic Yoshino cherries (check the Bloom Cam to monitor the social distancing).

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There are a couple of different ways to view the cherry trees:

a) that they are to be revered as symbols of ephemeral beauty, that they should be contemplated in the spirit of hanami to remind us that life is short and we should make the most of it (this view courtesy of the Japanese)

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b) that they are a nuisance and “messy as hell” (this view courtesy of my dad)

The topic of spring blooming cherries came up when I visited my dad this weekend.  Since we both have mature Yoshino cherry trees growing right next to our driveways, we bonded over the pros and cons of the tree.  While I tried to tout the merits of the pale pink blossoms as a wondrous harbinger of spring, Dad was more circumspect:

“The petals fall on the cars and stick like hell,” he said.  When I pointed out that the Japanese celebrate the beauty of the delicate blossoms scattered on the ground as the flowers fade, my dad had a different take: “It looks like an army of birds has shat on everything.”

I envision families in Japan gathered to contemplate the fleeting nature of life as they gaze upon the white-pink petals fluttering to the ground.  Meanwhile, my dad scrapes the petals up with his snow shovel and dumps them into a trash can.

Dad’s getting older though.  He’s nearly 84, moving slowly these days, and I realize that one day I will miss his cranky takes on cherry trees.

Hanami.  Life is fleeting.

Great Day to Be Alive

When it’s close to 70 degrees on February 18 it seems like there is very little in the world worth complaining about.  Even the traffic on New York Avenue seems worth it once you’re finally at the National Arboretum walking among these beauties:

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(Prunus mume and Edgeworthia in the Chinese/Japanese Pavilion Gardens)

Even the often dour blooms of hellebore knew enough to perk up and tilt their faces toward the sun:

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(I know, I know, many hellebores are bred that way, let me just do my personification thing, will you?)

I liked the stark contrast between the black mondo grass and the old stalks of ornamental grass (Northern Sea Oats, I think):

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Cherry blossoms!  (I think it’s another Prunus mume, so technically apricot but I’m in a t-shirt in February so who gives a toss!)

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Terrible photo of one of my favorite plants in the whole arboretum: Chimonanthus praecox:

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This specimen is perched on a steep slope above the Anacostia River, where the winter sun warms its buttery yellow blooms, which emit THE most delicious fragrance in the floral world (except maybe Vibunum carlesii???) a sort of warm vanilla spice that definitely makes you forget it’s winter.

And last but not least my beloved Camellias.  It always surprises me seeing such perfect, extravagant blooms on such awkward, lanky plants.  Kinda like seeing a beautiful young girl with knock-knees and pigeon toes…all the more charming for their imperfections.

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No Longer Winter

Is there anything more miraculous than taking a walk on a late January afternoon in zone 7a and encountering masses of flowers?  Not “winter interest”, no, but full-on, voluptuous, lipstick-colored blossoms?

img_5071This is Camellia ‘Autumn Pink Icicle’ — thriving at Green Spring Gardens — which is a hybrid of the already cold hardy ‘Pink Icicle’, an Ackerman hybrid.

Anyway, as I walked along with the sun shining overhead and these hot pink blooms reaching out to say hello, well for a minute it was no longer winter.

A Private Garden Transforms into a Public Garden

I recently visited a private garden near Frederick, Maryland called High Glen.  I would link to it, but at the moment it does not have a website (though it does have a Facebook page).  Its lack of online presence is mostly due to the fact that, since its inception in the 1990’s, it has been an exclusively private, family-owned garden.  The owner of the house and gardens is a real estate developer who carved out his own bit of paradise among the rolling farmland around Frederick.

It was an interesting trip, not only because it’s a beautiful garden, but because it’s in the process of becoming public.  (Now that development has reached his own doorstep?) the owner has decided to move out, but to transform the site into a public garden that he hopes will become a “national destination” within the next 10 years.

The horticulturalist who led the tour showed us a drawing of the ambitious plans for the garden:plans

The master plan includes a Grand Allee, Wet Meadow, Woodland Garden, Asian Valley w/ Teahouse, even a large area set aside for some Earth Sculpture.

What I found fascinating was being able to witness the very beginnings of these plans.  For example, here is the future Woodland:

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As you can see, it’s not very woodsy just yet.  The trees were planted just a year or so ago in what is currently a vast swath of lawn in the front of the property.

Here is the current driveway and entrance to the property, with a beautiful Silver Maple standing watch:

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A new approach will be built, along with a large parking lot, horticulture center, and teaching gardens, on another side of the property.

And now for the “Grand Allee” (drumroll….)

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They have planted two double rows of Burr Oak (Quercus macrocarpa) which will (eventually) be a rather stunning grand entrance from the parking lot to the center of the property.  I can’t wait to come back in ten years or so to see how much the grandeur of this allee has increased.

Here is a shot of the main axis of the property, with nice views of the rolling Maryland hills in the distance:

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Alas, here is a glimpse of what’s to come.  You can see the encroaching development in the distance:

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I guess people are figuring out that Frederick, Maryland is a nice place to live.  And everybody who moves to a nice place always wants the development to stop as soon as they move in.  Unless of course you are the developer himself!

Moving along to another part of the garden….does this look familiar?

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The owner is apparently a big admirer of Dumbarton Oaks, particularly the Elliptical garden there.  So he’s paid an homage to that garden by planting an identical double ellipse of Carpinus caroliniana with a fountain in the center.  This was the first year the trees were big enough to pollard.

Here are a couple of other random cool features of this garden:

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The homeowners had created a rather stunning Mediterranean/dry garden.  Hopefully this will stay.

Everybody needs a dedicated Bocce Ball space in their yard:

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And while we’re at it, a sparkling pool landscaped with excellent tropicals…

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The owners have cultivated this perennial border for many years, but it underwent a renovation recently.  The borders were bumped out a few feet, and more shrubs and small trees were incorporated:

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Right now, the gardens seem only to be open to the public for special tours like the one I took.  (My visit was organized by the awesome Green Spring Gardens.)

The master plan won’t be fully implemented for another 7-10 years, but if all the plans are realized it will be a stunning public garden.  Unfortunately, the surrounding farm country looks like it will be largely lost to development, but at least there will be this lovely patch of green preserved to remind us of what used to be.

Country Time

Like many of you, every once in awhile I fantasize about living in the country.  I’m pretty sure that if I actually lived in the country, I might turn into a version of Jack Torrance from The Shining and after a couple months of winter start chasing my family around with an ax for lack of nearby amenities. 

But thankfully, every now and then it’s possible to get a taste of the country life without actually committing to it.  Such was the case a couple of weeks ago, when my mother’s friend Bobbi invited us out to her farm near Harrisonburg, VA for the day. 

She has a charming turn of the century farmhouse, adorned inside and out with the coolest old farm equipment and tools….(pics by my sister Karen)Bobbie's house at the Busy B Farm

My son and I played hide and seek in her awesome barn, which is packed with rustic farm paraphernalia…

Tools in the barn

Baskets strung up for the Barn Sale

Cool sign with old bicycle in the barn

Lanterns in the barn

Jars in the barn

and as for garden ornament, how about a wheel wall?  I didn’t know I wanted one of these until I saw Bobbi’s…

Fence of wheels

Wouldn’t it be great to have the kind of property where an antique Ford pick up looks right at home in the front yard?

The Old Ford

everywhere you turn, you are reminded of simpler times, of the days before texting, tweeting, and twerking…

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Bicycle leaning against the shed

Sign taking you into the Busy B Farm

There is even a delightful stream running through her property, where we skipped stones and looked for interesting rocks…

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More wheels…Bobbi was kind enough to let me take a couple of wheels home with me!

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One of the wheels Bobbi gave me, at home in my suburban garden…

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Yes indeed…for me, full time country life = mental illness.  But one beautiful May day in the country = mental health.

View from the end of lane and the house at Busy B