Posts by James A. Baggett
Mention the Chelsea Flower Show on this side of the Atlantic and you set green hearts aflutter with serious horticultural envy. After all, what garden-lover worth his or her weight in well-rotted compost doesn’t long to attend this most famous and celebrated of all flower shows? So it was with utmost enthusiasm I accepted an invitation last May from Collette Tours and the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) to not only exclusively attend the Chelsea Flower Show (founded in 1804) on Press Day, but to also spend a few days touring other RHS properties, including Windsor Castle; Hatfield House; Wisley Garden in Surrey; and Harlow Carr in Harrogate—plus a requisite drizzly afternoon on my own exploring the capital of Yorkshire, one of the unbelievably ancient cities of the medieval world with substantial portions of existing Roman walls (where, try as I might, I didn’t spot a single Yorkshire terrier).
Press Day at the Chelsea Flower Show was everything I ever imagined and more: Handsome young men in bold, floral-patterned suits and stylish women-of-a-certain-age wearing floral-festooned hats; strawberries and cream; masterfully manicured show gardens, one even featuring a beautiful young woman wearing a gown made entirely of real flowers posing with a matching floral parasol; Alan Titchmarch; perfectly delicious fish and chips; aggressive flower show paparazzi; more than one vendor selling some of the coolest vintage garden books, prints, and tools I’ve ever coveted; mind-boggling and over-the-top floral displays of lupine and peonies and bearded iris and way more in the Great Pavilion (my favorite part) that left me dumbstruck and grinning from ear to ear; a refreshing Pimms-and-lemonade (or two); notable British celebrities (Piers Morgan, Jerry Hall, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Cleese, and Twiggy); Chelsea pensioners in their scarlet coats and tri-corner hats selling ‘Victoria Cross’ poppy seeds; even bumping into my friend Felder Rushing from Mississippi (wearing seersucker, of course) just as we were being shooed out of the show with the riff-raff in anticipation of the Queen’s requisite visit. Here are three of my favorite Artisan Gardens.
Don’t know about you, but I quite enjoy picking up a good field guide and using it to figure out what it is I’m looking at in the natural world. Even more than typing a hunch into a Google search browser and hitting return and scrolling through the results. So it is with some excitement I share with you a handful of especially well-written and packaged field guides—all published by university presses—that have recently moved from my desk here in the office to my bedside at home.
• Encyclopedic in scope, Richard Dickinson and France Royer’s Weeds of North America (The University of Chicago Press; $35) is the first to cover North American weeds at every stage of growth. Five hundred species are included, making this an essential reference for all who wish to understand the science of the all-powerful weed.
• Covering more species (630 in the West, 825 in the East) than any comparable field guides, Trees of Western North America and Trees of Eastern North America (Princeton University Press; $29.95 each) are the most comprehensive, best illustrated, and easiest-to-use books of their kind. The book features thousands of meticulous color paintings by David More and easy-to-read descriptions present details of size, shape, growth habit, bark, leaves, flowers, fruit, habitat, and range. With an unmatched combination of breadth and depth, these are essential guides for every tree lover.
• Home and business owners know that trees are necessary for—among many other benefits—providing shade, reflecting heat, and blocking wind. But choosing the right trees for the right location and Midwestern conditions is not always easy. With Landscaping with Trees in the Midwest: A Guide for Residential and Commercial Properties (Ohio University Press; $26.95), Scott Zanon provides a generously illustrated guide to 65 excellent tree species, their characteristics, as well as their uses in the landscape.
• Fusing general interest in mushrooming with serious scholarship, Mushrooms of the Midwest (University of Illinois Press; $39.95) by Michael Kuo and Andrew S. Methven describes and illustrates more than 500 of the region’s mushroom species. From the cold conifer bogs of northern Michigan to the steamy oak forests of southern Missouri, the book offers a broad cross section of the fungi, edible and not, that can be found growing in the Midwest’s diverse ecosystems.
A few years ago, I was fortunate to attend a photo shoot at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park, Illinois. Sometime during the day, I realized that the massive Gingko biloba tree that dominates the courtyard of this open-to-the-public destination was a female (because of the foetid fruit littering the ground beneath it’s heavy limbs). So I asked the groundskeeper how he kept the courtyard clear of the persimmonlike fruit. He rolled his eyes and motioned for me to join him behind the garage, where he unlatched a wooden gate to reveal a sea of baby gingko trees that had sprouted where he had dumped the fallen seeds encased in their fleshy, fruitlike skins which, at maturity in autumn, are messy and emit a foul odor upon falling to the ground and splitting open. Before I could even get the words out, the groundskeeper handed me a hand trowel and a growers pot so I could dig up a Frank Lloyd Wright gingko seedling of my very own. I’m proud to say that little sapling is now more than 20 feet tall in my yard here in Iowa, right at home in front of my own Arts and Crafts bungalow.
This past August I traveled to Pittsburgh to attend the annual Garden Writers Association Symposium (where my friend and contributing editor Marty Ross took home the gold medal for best magazine writing for an article she wrote for Country Gardens!). I knew I couldn’t spend time in the City of Bridges without visiting the “best all-time work of American architecture,” Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. Marty, our friend Sally Ferguson (the consummate garden publicist), and I played hooky from the symposium and drove to Mill Run in the rain for a drizzly, early morning architectural tour of this modern masterpiece that hangs over a waterfall. That’s me paying homage (above). Wright described his architectural style as “organic”—in harmony with nature, and though Fallingwater reveals vocabulary drawn from the International style in certain aspects, this country house exhibits so many features typical of Wright’s natural style, as you can see the house is very much engaged with its surroundings.
Summer is the season to celebrate sustainable farming. We talk a lot about farmer’s markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), urban gardens and hand-crafted food. Something that doesn’t get talked about all that much is the changing face of the American farmer. It turns out there are some pretty wonderful folks out there taking up the reins with skill and intelligence. Their enthusiasm is infectious. My new friends Gretel and Steve Adams are twentysomething organic flower farmers whose creativity and determination to earn a living from their land in Ohio is inspiring.
You can read about their Sunny Meadows Flower Farm and see how Gretel fashions her gorgeous flower arrangements next summer in Country Gardens! In the meantime, that’s the three of us admiring their hoop house filled with lovely lisianthus.
Fans of the late Dan Fogelberg may recognize the name Nederland (as in Colorado) as the inspiration for his 1977 album Nether Lands as well as the place where he made his home beginning in 1974. All I knew was that I was heading to meet photographer Bob Stefko and his assistant Shelby Kroeger at the garden of Kristin-Lee Baillie, a Country Gardens Awards winner who has spent the past eight years carving out a beautiful garden at some 9,000-feet elevation within the Roosevelt National Forest not far from Boulder. You can check out the results of our photo shoot in the Fall 2015 issue of Country Gardens. That’s Bob and me hanging out with Kristin-Lee’s undownable children, Jasper and Lili, who taught me how to run like a fox and is my new penpal.
Art director Nick Crow just returned from producing a photo shoot on Country Gardens Award Winners Leo and Gloria McGee and their incredible hydrangea garden in Cookeville, Tennessee. Here they are taking a break from the shoot. Look for the story in the Fall 2015 issue of Country Gardens!