Friday, April 24, 2009

A Trip to Italy (via France)

One of the most highly acclaimed gardens in France is located in the Loire Valley, at Chateau de Villandry. Interestingly though, the gardens are not typically French in style as you would expect, but rather, Italian Renaissance!

The Chateau itself was completed around 1536. However, the gardens from that era were destroyed in the early 1900's to create an English-style park. In 1906 the great-grandfather of the present owners purchased the Chateau and saved it from demolition. Today, the gardens are in the true Renaissance style and compliment the architecture of the Chateau completely.

Though the Chateau itself is certainly impressive, the gardens are the true stars here. Staged on three levels, there is ample opportunity to enjoy nature, whether you appreciate the ornamental water garden as a place for quiet contemplation, or the rowdy mix of colorful blooms bordered by tightly trimmed boxwood in the "love square".

On the lowest level is the vegetable garden. However, this description is completely inadequate, as you can see by this photo of the ornamental kale-this is a Potager Par Excellence! The Chateau's gardeners are artists in their own right, deftly mixing colors while at the same time coaxing impressive yield from whatever veggies they plant. Interesting note: during the war, a portion of the Chateau was used as a hospital, and the patients were fed from this remarkable garden.

There's no doubt that Chateau Villandry is Green in it's own right!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Things may grow larger here in the South, thanks to an extended growing season, but nothing tops these botanical monsters. Rafflesia, more commonly known as the world's largest single flower, can have a diameter up to three feet, Unfortunately, it also carries the aroma of rotting flesh! Native to Southeast Asia, the Rafflesia is related to violets, poinsettias, passionflowers, which it slightly resembles. Thanks to the foul odor, though, you may be grateful that its flowers bloom only once a year, for approximately 5-7 days.

Victoria amazonica is the largest water lily in the world. Because of it's size, a special network of ribs on the underside helps it to lay flat. The pattern of these ribs is said to have inspired the network of metal girders around which the Crystal Palace was built for Britain's Great Exhibition in 1851. Sharp spines protect the pad from herbivorous fishes. Being pricked by one is painful due to its toxicity. This photo was taken in 1902 at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Note that the girl is standing on a plank laid across the leaf, to more evenly distribute her weight!

The incredible Corpse Flower (titan arum) takes the title of the world's largest influorescence. So named because this plant's scent is of decaying flesh, it was found in Indonesia in the late 1800's. It can weigh 170 pounds and reach 10 feet. As it flowers so rarely, botanical gardens fortunate enough to have a specimen build huge viewing events around it. But bring a mask!The world's largest leaf is though to be that of the Raffia Palm (Raphia regalis). Native to tropical Africa, it has leaves that can reach up to 80 feet (yes feet!) long. The Fairchild Botanical Garden in Florida has a stunning specimen in their collection.

Here's my own giant find: "Century Plant" (Agave americana) found on my garden travels this past fall...and it's not nearly finished growing!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cherry Blossom Time

The Cherry Blossoms are at their peak in the Nation's Capital! Every year, masses of blooms engulf the trees circling the Tidal Basin and other areas of the city. I visited one year when the wind and rain pasted pink petals onto everything.

In celebration of the trees and their importance to the city, dozens of organizations plan festivities to coincide with the blooms. Parades, fireworks, a marathon, kimono fashion shows, martial arts exhibitions, just to name a few, are all themed to the famous blossoms.

In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo donated cherry trees to commemorate the US and Japan's growing friendship. The first of these trees were planted on the banks of the Tidal Basin by then-First Lady Helen Taft, along with the wife of the Japanese ambassador.

The first official festival was held in 1935, but suspended during WWII for obvious reasons. It resumed again in 1947.
Since then, 3800 more trees have been planted, including cuttings from a famous tree brought from Japan, that was thought to be over 1500 years old!

Here's a photo from my own yard-a little cherry blossom festival among the azaleas!

Friday, April 3, 2009

An Old Favorite Stages a Comeback

Bouvardia, once considered your grandma's favorite flower, is again coming into vogue, especially with brides. Native to Central and South America, its relatives include the coffee plant and the fragrant gardenias, though the bouvardias bred for the cut-flower trade have only a slight fragrance.

Bouvardia derives it's name from Charles Bouvard (1572-1658), a director of the Paris Botanical Gardens, who was also the personal physician to King Louis XIII. An interesting note found in a Dutch breeders's site states that " the space of one year, Bouvard administered more than 200 different medicines to the King, bled him 200 times and gave him 47 colonic irrigations. History tells us that the King survived the treatments".

Well! That may be more information than we really need. Suffice it to say that Bouvardia is a lovely, hardy bloom, which delights us with it's many shades of pink, white, red, lavender, yellow and even a new variety in light green. Blooms may be single or double, and most are borne on sturdy wooden stems.

Care for Bouvardia is much the same as other cut flowers, with a few differences. They perform better in a vase, rather than in foam. And when storing, prefer to have the hydration solution to themselves, rather than sharing with another type of flower, which contributes to bacteria production, thus shortening it's life.

In the language of flowers, Bouvardia means enthusiasm. Brides are now rediscovering Bouvardia for its lovely shape and the multitude of colors available. I love how this double variety beautifully compliments the peonies in this bride's bouquet. The lilac Bouvardia is often mistaken for the lilac itself (though without the scent).

Don't have Bouvardia in your garden? You can find it at Bloomers!