Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

December 2010

CamelliaIt’s no secret that I’m kind of a fanatic about plants. Take me on a garden tour and I can do it all day…then get up and happily, go see more. At horticultural trade shows, I’ve been known to skip breakfast, lunch, and even dinner so I’d have time to see more of the plants and displays. And you can tell from the number of plants in my home.

A cool one is my camellia — an evergreen shrub with gorgeous pink flowers. It always blooms around the holidays for me. Other than giving it water and occasionally fertilizing it, that’s all the care it requires.

It’s a great example that if you want to have houseplants, you don’t need to be limited to everyday varieties like English ivy, pothos, or philodendron (not that there’s anything wrong with them; I grow those, as well!).

As long as you have a bright window or fluorescent lights and don’t mind watering your plants regularly, there’s a wealth of cool plants you can try, including a lot of things we don’t usually think of as indoor plants. Growing them may be easier than you think!

I’ve met a lot of gardeners who are afraid of growing plants inside, but really, you have nothing to lose. And if you live in a cold-winter climate like I do, there’s a lot to gain — both from the psychological effect of having something green and living when everything outside is cold and dormant and the physical health benefits (plants absorb harmful toxins from the air and also add welcome moisture to dry indoor air).

So give it a try! I’d love to hear what houseplants you grow!

As an undownable fan of all things Frank Lloyd Wright, I’ve managed to visit most of the major (and many of the not-quite-so-major) Wright sites here in the United States: the concrete Hollyhock House in Los Angeles; the 16-level Dana-Thomas House in Springfield, Illinois; the humongously inspirational Taliesen in Spring Green, Wisconsin; and America’s most famous residence, Fallingwater just outside of Pittsburgh.

My work as a garden editor allows me the opportunity to travel extensively. It also allows me the opportunity to visit many lesser-known Wright sites tucked in out-of-the-way and less-traveled places: the Frank Lloyd Wright House in Ebbsworth Park in St. Louis; Cedar Rock (The Walter House and Boat Pavilion) in Quasqueton, Iowa; Kentuck Knob in Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania. The list is always growing, and includes, of course, such posthumous landmarks as the iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York City and the sexily curvaceous Monona Terrace in Madison, Wisconsin. (I also consider myself especially lucky enough to have an offspring of the ancient Ginkgo biloba tree that predates the courtyard of Wright’s original home and studio (1889/1898) in Oak Park, Illinois, thriving right smack-dab in front of my own 1920 Arts & Crafts bungalow in central Iowa—the seedling was a passalong plant from the groundskeeper a couple of years ago while I was in Oak Park to produce a story on the natural forms found in Wright’s architecture.)

So imagine my unbridled delight when Mary F. Roberts, the executive director of the Martin House Restoration Corporation, invited me—while attending Buffalo’s requisite annual Garden Walk this past summer—to make myself right at home, thank you, in the Gardener’s Cottage (1909) that’s part of the Martin House Complex (1903-1905). The Martin House itself is the best surviving example of Wright’s Prairie House, a revolutionary design he developed in the first decade of the 20th Century. The Prairie House style is characterized by rectilinear, horizontally oriented structures linked by crossing axes that are “woven” into their site.

The Martin House Complex (located within the Parkside East Historic District, laid out by renowned American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and his partner, Calvert Vaux in 1897 and part of the first coordinated system of public parks in America) was designed in this organic fashion, allowing clear, linear vistas throughout the various buildings and the surrounding landscape. Unlike the vertical stance of the typical Victorian-stle homes built in this era, Wright’s long, low roofs and intersecting planes nestle down in the landscape seemingly at one with the earth beneath the building. In addition to the grand mansion, the Martin House Complex contains the more modest Barton House (designed for Martin’s daughter and her husband), a working-class apartment above the carriage house for Martin’s chauffeur, as well as a comfortable cottage for the gardener (the sixth building on the property, which has more structures than any other site in the architect’s vast portfolio).

At first glance, the cottage was nothing more than a cozy, two-story wood-frame construction with stucco finish and cedar trim, a butternut squash-colored box hidden behind a stand of streetside lindens. But unlike the other structures, which were abandoned and allowed to deteriorate after the Martin family fell on hard times during the Great Depression, the 1,700-square foot Gardener’s Cottage was miraculously and continuously occupied until 2006…and, if I must say so, in rather pristine condition. Here was a small, affordable, and largely utilitarian dwelling designed for the common man. The first set of drawings for the Gardener’s Cottage was furnished by O.S. Lang, the general contractor, in July of 1905, but the cottage was not constructed until 1909. The very existence of this modest structure attests to the importance of the extensive gardens and landscaping on the site, not only because of Wright’s meticulous plan, but also because of his steadfast love of the natural world.

Of course, I wasn’t so selfish as to keep this exclusive invitation to myself, so I was accompanied on this architectural epiphany by my steadfast friend Julie, who is a true artist and has a decided affinity for all things aesthetically pleasing. Together (over a glass of wine or two) we made note of all the significant details around us: the interior textured plaster walls the color of browned butter (in the late-afternoon sunlight it resembled glistening mica) with a cooler lemon chiffon above the moldings; ribbons of Art Glass windows surrounding the south, west, and north sides of the house; built-in planters below the windows and broad eaves overhead, beneath a polite hipped roof; triangular uplighted jewel-toned colored glass sconces; the triangular pendant light hanging in the staircase with linked carved wooden chains dropping to a trio of four-sided shades; the downstairs fireplace is surrounded with the same golden yellow Roman bricks used on the exterior of the main house; the upstairs master-bedroom fireplace boasting lichenlike turquoise-green Grueby-style tiles worthy of Gustave Stickley’s Craftsman Farms.

It made me happy. My friend Julie and I conducted ourselves for three days as though we really did live in the Gardener’s Cottage: we bathed each morning with the hundred-year-old, green-patinaed copper shower head, we slept fitfully bathed in the stifling summer humidity with the Art glass windows cranked open wide (and with a neighborhood stray yowling), and we walked the property each evening at nightfall under a waxing moon, making believe it really was all ours for keeps.

Doritaenopsis I-Hsin Sesame

Doritaenopsis I-Hsin Sesame

Those friends who follow me on Facebook may remember that last week I managed a photo shoot featuring orchids for an upcoming Better Homes and Gardens book on orchid gardening.

Sorry–you’ll have to wait a full year from now to see the finished product. But if you’re looking for gardening books for Christmas gifts this year for your gardening friends (or yourself!) check out our 2010 crop of titles, published in conjunction with John Wiley & Sons. This year’s titles are: BHG Perennial Gardening, BHG Vegetable,  Fruit & Herb Gardening, BHG Rose Gardening, Dream Gardens Across America, and BHG Ask the Garden Doctor. All retail for $19.95, and are on sale through the Wiley website. As of next week, they should be available in bookstores as well.

I thought that you might like to get a sneak peak at some of the shots we took during the orchid photo shoot. We shot blooming orchids in most rooms of the house, demonstrating how easily they can create a spectacular display almost anywhere. Orchids bloom for months at a time, and require little care. Moth orchids, such as the I-Hsin Sesame at left, are widely available, and some of the easiest to grow. (Most moth orchids are in the genus Phalaenopsis, but many also have  Doritis parentage, and may be listed as Doritaenopsis.) Here are a couple more moth orchid shots, taken in the living room.

Phalaenopsis Jiuhbao Green Apple

Phalaenopsis Jiuhbao Green Apple

Phalaenopsis K.V. Beauty

Phalaenopsis K.V. Beauty

Vanda orchids are more difficult to grow indoors because they need a lot of heat and humidity. But they make a gorgeous display if you have the right conditions. This one is hanging in front of a stained glass window in a bedroom.

Vanda orchid by stained glass window.

Vanda orchid by stained glass window.

We also took many “how-to” shots for the book. Here’s one in a step-by-step series on how to repot a vanda orchid.

We’ll be shooting hundreds more photos before this book project is done. I find that working with orchids is a great way to beat the winter doldrums and brighten up the holiday decor.

Repotting a vanda orchid in an orchid crate.

Repotting a vanda orchid in an orchid crate.

Sharon Asakawa standing in front of Texas-sized poinsettias at Ellison's Greenhouse.

Sharon Asakawa standing in front of Texas-sized poinsettias at Ellison's Greenhouse.

Even the poinsettias are larger than life in Texas. I discovered that on a recent press trip to Brenham, Texas, hosted by the Washington County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Along with 15 other journalists, I spent several days in the “Birthplace of Texas”, exploring such sites as Ellison’s Greenhouse, where the photo at left was taken. Sharon Asakawa, host of GardenLife radio show, is a petite woman, but these 6-foot-tall plants towered over nearly everyone. (I’ll be a guest on Sharon’s call-in show on Sunday morning, December 12. Check the station list for times in your area.)

In addition to mammoth poinsettias, Ellison’s Greenhouse grows standard-size plants in colors ranging from traditional red to pink, white, burgundy, orange, and bicolor. One of my favorites was Iced Punch (pictured below), a two-toned cherry red and white variety with distinctive markings reminiscent of stained glass.

IcedPunchwebWashington County also offers many other horticultural wonders. Antique Rose Emporium, gardens at the Round Top Festival Institute, Chappell Hill Lavender Farm, Lavande olive and lavender farm, Windy Winery, and Pleasant Hill Winery were some of the additional stops on the tour.

For those more interested in history or food, the trip included the Washington-on-the-Brazos Historic Site, where Texas declared its independence from Mexico, a tour of the Blue Bell ice cream factory where we were treated to Homemade Vanilla fresh off the line, plus stops at several fun and funky restaurants, such as Royer’s Round Top Cafe with its Carnivore Platter and “Pie for Life” program; R Place, which serves up BBQ and family-style fixin’s, along with homemade cobbler and Blue Bell ice cream; Must Be Heaven Sandwich Shoppe with its unique Sawdust Pie; and the Funky Art Cafe, which is part gourmet restaurant, part art gallery, and part gift shop. The fabulous food didn’t stop at the restaurants, however. My hosts at Texas Ranch Life guest ranch and Lillian Farms Bed & Breakfast also treated us to delectable meals. (Did I mention that I gained 5 pounds on this trip?)

One regret that I had on the trip is that it didn’t happen during spring when the Central Texas hillsides are covered in bluebonnets, the native wildflower lupine. Of course, that’s just an excuse to return to Washington County for another helping of Texas hospitality!

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