Posts by James A. Baggett
Spring is definitely Cardinal Season…and I’m not just speaking for my steadfast baseball-loving friends and family in St. Louis—where I grew up during my junior and senior high school years—but for red-bird-lovers everywhere. Every evening as I walk my good dogs Scout and Finch on the sidewalks of our turn-of-the-century neighborhood here in Central Iowa, I’ve noticed at this time of year that a ruby-red male Northern Cardinal’s defended territory seems to encompass about every other property. There he is, in every other front yard, perched on a prominent branch with his head thrown back and singing his territorial song. The male sings in a loud, clear whistle from the top of a tree or other high location to defend his territory. He will aggressively chase off other males entering his space. The Northern Cardinal learns its songs, and as a result the songs vary regionally. He is able to easily distinguish the sex of another singing Northern Cardinal by its song. So while we were on our stroll the other night, I noticed a pair of cardinals perched in a full-on blooming redbud. The distracted couple didn’t seem to notice me or the dogs from a few feet away as we witnessed an endearing courtship ritual: the red-robed male would flit to the ground and return to his prospective mate with a single seed which he would proceed to feed to her beak-to-beak in a simulated kiss. Mate feeding is thought to be part of the pair-bonding process; it gives the female an inkling of how well her suitor will provide food for their eventual young. Makes sense, right?
So imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox and discovered Into the Nest: Intimate Views of the Courting, Parenting, and Family Lives of Familiar Birds by Laura Erickson and Marie Read from Storey Publishing (2015). This is such a cool book! I immediately turned to page 177 to find the image above of a courting male Northern Cardinal as he feeds his mate. Organized by species, this book focuses on the details of courtship, mating, and parenting that are so often hidden from our view. With the support of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the authors bring the diverse personal lives of raptors and hummingbirds and woodpeckers and wrens into stunning focus. Buy the book!
Excerpted from Into the Nest (c) Laura Erickson and Marie Read. Photography by (c) Dave Welling. Used with permission of Storey Publishing
Be sure to check out the Today Show this Friday (between 8 and 9 a.m.) and watch Country Gardens build a garden for Tamron Hall’s mother in Texas in honor of Mother’s Day. Editor James A. Baggett and Art Director Nick Crow worked with Tamron to create the garden her mother had always dreamed of…in honor of her late husband. Set your DVRs!
Our friends at Ball Horticultural invited me to attend their impressive Spring Trials for 2015 at their growing facilities in Santa Paula, California, last week. This is when plant growers and breeders show off their new introductions for next year—and I was given a sneak peak at cool new plants from Ball Flora Plant, Selecta, Ball Ingenuity, Burpee, Wave Pansies, Wave Petunias, PanAmerican Seed, Kieft Seed, Darwin Perennials, and Ball Ornamentals. Here are some of the highlights:
Here’s a sensational new macrophylla hydrangea, L.A. Dreamin’ Hydrangea (Ball Ornamental), the first macrophylla to bloom in blue, pink, and everything in between without any aluminum sulfate or special fertilizer.
This great-looking new Scabiosa Flutter Series (Darwin Perennials) boasts larger blooms, deeper colors, and a superior compact habit. This one is Scabiosa Flutter Deep Blue.
Double Zahara Series Zinnias (PanAmerican Seed) produce fully double flowers and a tidier habit in some really interesting colors, like this new Double Zahara Salmon Rose Zinnia.
Considered a designer collection of grandiflora petunias, the Petunia Sophistica series (PanAmerican Seeds) are a little out of the ordinary with large blooms in special one-of-a-kind colors and patterns. This is Sophistica Lime Bicolor Petunia.
I’ll leave you with a shot I grabbed of a hummingbird feeding on a leucospermum. So nice to spend time with friends Katie Rotella (Ball Horticultural), Jerry Gorshels (PanAmerican Seed), Karl Batschke (Darwin Perennials), and Anna Ball herself, the third-generation leader of Ball Horticultural Company.
As the longtime fiction editor for The New Yorker, Katherine S. White helped to shape more than three decades of American literature, discovering and supporting hundreds of writers, including Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, and James Thurber. Her “favorite reading matter,” however, remained elsewhere: within the pages of garden and seed catalogs. Here, writes White, she finds the potential for a special kind of reading: “I read for news, for driblets of knowledge, for aesthetic pleasure, and at the same time I am planning the future, and so I read in a dream.”
New York Review Books Classics is publishing on March 17th a handsome new paperback edition of Onward and Upward in the Garden, which collects all of the essays White wrote on gardening for The New Yorker between 1958 and 1970, ranging from critical readings of seed catalogs to meditations on 18th century flower painting. Whether she is extolling the virtues of the lawn—“What pleasanter surface on which to walk, sit, lie, or even to read Tennyson?”—or deriding the modern extravagancies of the ruffled snapdragon—“an abomination,” she insists—White writes with the lucidity and poise of a sharp editorial mind.
In his introduction to the book—part love letter, part critical biography—E.B. White, Katherine White’s husband, writes that White “refused to dress down to garden,” and would often appear in Ferragamos and a “handsome tweed skirt and jacket” while among her plants—more the image of the literary editor then the green-thumbed gardener. As White notes in his introduction, “to write of Katherine simply as a gardener would be like writing of Ben Franklin simply as a printer.”
Onward and Upward in the Garden is the only book by Katherine S. White, who had intended to write one more essay—a reminiscence on the gardens of her childhood—before her death in 1977. If this classic is not already on your garden bookshelf, now is the time to order your copy of the book The New York Times once called “a bouquet, the final blooming of an extraordinary sensibility.”
Check out the newest bookazine from the team that brings you your favorite garden magazine, Country Gardens. Gardening for Birds & Butterflies celebrates the increasingly green-hearted spirit of gardening. Gardening for Birds & Butterflies will inspire you to transform your home landscape into a healthy haven for friends, family, and wildlife. From creating backyard bird and butterfly habitats, and organic vegetable gardens to nurturing prairie habitat and wildflower meadows and native plant collections, Gardening for Birds & Butterflies will help you find easy and practical ways to garden—and make choices—with respect for all living things. This issue is packed with helpful hints, inspired locations, easy weekend projects for the whole family, and profiles of community role models who are doing their part to leave this planet a better place, one backyard at a time. Look for it on sale now at newsstands nationwide.
Who says you can’t improve on a classic? Our friend and contributing editor Lauren Springer Ogden most certainly did improve on a classic when she thoughtfully revised her best-selling book The Undaunted Gardener: Planting for Weather-Resilient Beauty (Fulcrum Publishing), originally published in 1994. Engaging, lyrical, and often quite humorous, Lauren’s newest edition provides practical and environmental perspectives, describes a myriad of well-adapted plants for the home landscape, and offers a uniquely aesthetic approach to gardening in a challenging climate. And she should know. Lauren’s suburban garden on the edge of Fort Collins, Colorado, teems with wildlife, as it borders a river corridor and wild land stretches to the west and north for hundreds of miles. Her top two most-limiting outside forces in her garden: deer and drought. Included in the book is a list of plants Lauren has observed over the deer-filled years that seem to be less appealing to what she calls the “lovely yet highly destructive interlopers.” And, with this new edition, she has become even more stringent in categorizing plants as truly drought-tolerant. To be considered drought-tolerant, a plant needs to grow well on 1 inch of water total—rain and/or irrigation—every two weeks during the hottest stretch of a summer. “I’m the same plant-mad, obsessive gardener who tries almost anything and who kills an inordinate number of plants or yanks them for lackluster performance or for sheer impatience,” she writes. “I design with plant and site in mind rather than around hardscape or following arbitrary artistic rules. My gardens are filled to the brim with the generosity of plants that are happy to grow there.” Find out more about her plant-driven perspectives in the Spring 2015 issue of Country Gardens, on sale March 10th.