JOURNAL: Gardening Blogs for Plant Lovers

poncirus trifoliata charles university prague photo karelj

Fruit of tree Trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata), from the Botanical Gardens of Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic. Photo Karelj, Wikimedia Commons

Any close and worthwhile contact with the earth tends to make one original or at least detached in one’s judgments and independent of group control.” – L.H. Bailey

Plants exist in both reciprocal and antagonistic communities, just as humans do. Plants shield their progeny, respond in their own ways to countless stimuli, adapt over time to their situations and, now we know, smell danger. Their lives are no less complex, no less vital than the lives of human beings. Think of the lives dependent on plants: soil, bacteria, worms, insects, birds, reptiles, mammals, humans and who knows what our bounding technologies will discover next. Now think of the lives dependent on humans.

In the year 2013, it is way past time for treating plants solely as means to a selfish end, as “material” for the design conceits of landscape “professionals” or as fodder for the nefarious ambitions of Monsanto, Big Ag and Big Hort. It may sound trite and yet so true: plants are people too.

These blogs, listed alphabetically and all by creative and joyful plant stewards, are my most valuable refuges and references.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens
The silky hairs glow in the light, and the plant looks like it is covered with hundreds of silver flowers–simply breathtaking.  …It is a multi-stemmed shrub that forms an almost perfectly rounded umbrella shape of cinnamon colored branches.” – Carolyn on Edgeworthia

For the introduction to Edgeworthia alone, Carolyn’s blog is a frequent port of call. Good to find a nurseryperson motivated just as much by the love of plants as the pressing need for the buck. The nursery business is about as profitable as restaurants–for those who make it past two years, its still mostly a labor of love. That’s Carolyn’s key to success: love of plant life and generosity with practical advice. Carolyn specializes in shade plants but no mail-order–this is a home nursery, in the truest sense.

Dirt Simple
Those gardeners that never water anything are not really gardeners. Those gardeners that water over and over again given a tough summer season are fearful gardeners. I understand that fear-I reacted to the steamy heat and dry with my hose, open full blast. But I see now that my off the top of my head reaction was harmful. Thoughtful watering makes for a great landscape and garden.” – Deborah Silver on watering

Gardeners are nearly always creative, generous folk and Deborah Silver is our Queen. A true professional (she gets up before dawn), Deborah is a master of restraint; restraint is the seed of elegance and good living. Most of civilization’s enduring gardens take a lot of money and Silver has earned the level of working with monied clients. What discreet, appropriate hardscapes! What boxwood! What exuberant containers! Deborah makes timeless and restful gardens, homes for vigorous plants all suited to place. She is today’s Russell Page. Or today’s Deborah Silver.

Hayefield
…For those of us who garden simply for our own pleasure, I can’t see any reason to judge our success on how closely our gardens conform to the guidelines of “good design” – unless that’s the standard we want to use, of course.” – Nancy Ondra, “Its Personal, Part 1”

To say that Nancy Ondra has a green thumb is an understatement. Hayefield, Nan’s Pennsylvania garden, is a plant lover’s dream. And while most gardeners have cats or dogs as gardening allies, Nan has alpacas. Think of all that good poop! Nan’s many books are essential references, her book on grasses a particular favorite. A natural photographer, Nan’s blog is packed with inspiring visuals and down-to-earth, practical advice. You want to be a virtuous plant steward and make a beautiful, happy garden? Follow Nancy Ondra.

Kansas Garden Musings
My feelings have run both hot and cold for Arundo as long as I’ve grown it.  I admire the easy-care maintenance of the grass because it requires only cutting it back to the ground each spring; no extra water, no fertilizer, no shaping. …On the other hand, even the variegated form is so uninspiring that I’ve never taken a picture of it.  Ever.” – Professor Roush on Arundo donax

Professor and Mrs. Roush live in rolling prairie, the Flint Hills of Kansas, gardening in increasing drought, blistering heat and incessant winds. The Prof, a veterinarian by day, is the go-to guy for tips on successful gardening in extreme and unpredictable weather–sometimes even Doppler can’t catch it–which the Midwest deals in spades. Quite the rosarian, Prof is the reason I gladly tussle with Pyracanthra (covers the view of utility boxes), and choke up in May with Madame Hardy’s first bloom.

Louis the Plant Geek
Silvery when young, the basal leaves of first-year plants mature to a chilly celery green. The leaf-to-leaf gradation of silver to celery-green is most prominent in first-year clumps, and is subtle as well as showy.” – Louis Raymond on cardoons

The things Louis Raymond does with plants will blow your mind: topiary Poncirus, espaliered quince, pollarded Paulownia and mini-forests of Cryptomeria. A maven of the color wheel, Louis is a modern Axel Erlandson but much more sensitive to a plant’s well-being than most garden designers of today and yore. Training plants is much like herding cats but Louis has the touch–nearly everything flourishes under his hand, which he often uses for scale in his pictures. Exacting, truthful advice and a perfect balance between design and stewardship are Louis’ hallmarks. I hit this site at least once a week and always laugh with wonderment.

Rob’s Plants
In late October, balloonflowers are strong contributors to the autumn foliage scene, their leaves turning a rich butter yellow that’s especially striking when the sun comes out to play.” – Rob Broekhuis on Platycodon grandiflorus

When I come across a new plant or want to do a better job of pleasing an existing garden resident, the first place I go is Rob Broekhuis’ invaluable reference site. Based in Pennsylvania, he grows mostly from seed and is scrupulous about germination records, making happy homes (check his pictures), for well over 1000 robust plants on less than an acre. Thanks to seed from Rob (check his trade/sale list), I’m now on increasingly friendly terms with Solanum atropurpureum, Thalictrum pubescens, Eryngium yuccifolium, Heuchera villosa and Platycodon “Sentimental Blue.” Many thanks, Rob.

Rock Rose
A garden without grasses just isn’t a garden. There is no lawn to mow in our gravelly garden but there are grasses. Not the sweeping vistas of grasses that are sometimes used in garden design but individual clumps scattered throughout. One of my favorites is the ruby crystal grass, Melinus neviglumis, with it’s pink puffs of seed heads.” – Jenny on grasses

Jenny should shoot for National Geographic, her pictures are that composed and insightful. Based in Austin, Texas, Jenny and her husband David travel to the great gardens of the world and her unprejudiced delight in the many ways of making gardens is inspiring and infectious. Her home garden is an oasis of desert blooms, grasses and pools of water, a resting place.

Sweetbay
Two butterfly bushes in a small bed by the back porch door are gone, so I added a couple of spare blue mist shrubs and mulched with hay to encourage the catmint to grow more. If the blue mist shrubs don’t make it through the winter I need to come up with a study woody plant on the small side that can cover the view of the hardpan underneath the back porch.” – From Alicia’s post on hay

Alicia Maynard’s is an ideal country garden: big in scale, careful in appointments but never contrived or fussy. Every plant in Alicia’s yard looks happy to be there. Hers is a garden for reflective strolling, lazy picnicking or dozing to the music of flowers, insects and birds. Her Bidens borders would make Gertrude Jekyll hit the drawing board. When I visit Sweetbay online, I always imagine the smell of honeysuckle and deviled eggs. The Sweetbay garden loves life.

What Ho Kew/What Ho Hidcote
Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of my time at Kew so far has been maintaining and becoming acquainted with the large Passiflora collection held in Zone 9! …The simplest way I can describe them is as the tropical version of Clematis; vigorous blighters that clamber about all over the shop on tendrils, and with delightfully beautiful flowers that are consistently showy and fascinating across the genus!” – Bernie on Passiflora

Bernie used to work at Hidcote, now he’s at Kew. What is it like to work at a global destination garden? Bernie will tell you, cheeky fellow, and illustrate with photographs that actually depict plants in garden contexts. A bona-fide plantsman, Bernie brings haute horticulture to the masses, laughing, covered with bugs and dirt.

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6 comments
  1. Hey, thanks for mentioning my blog! And I’m glad I could inspire another with a love for Madame Hardy :)

    • My Education of a Gardener said:

      All thanks to you, Prof.

  2. Heartfelt thanks for your interest and support of my work, and my writing. Truly. Deborah

    • My Education of a Gardener said:

      Rock on, Deborah.

  3. I have been away or I would have thanked you sooner for your kind description of my blog. I am in very good company, and at least three of the blogs, including mine, are from Pennsylvania. Thanks.

    • My Education of a Gardener said:

      I hope someday to visit your nursery, Carolyn. Think I’ve caught Galanthus fever.

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