While attending the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in London last spring I stumbled upon a radiant grove of azaleas, rhododendrons, birches, and maples around the central monument in the Great Pavilion. This was Hillier Nurseries’ annual exhibit, for which, this year, the company won a 69th consecutive gold medal. At Chelsea, in what is Hillier’s 150th anniversary year, I spotted a fourth-generation family member: company president John, who first helped stage the exhibit in 1959—that’s the two of us, above, as John shows me around his Pavilion exhibit. Hillier’s began in 1864 when a 26-year-old journeyman-gardener, Edwin Hillier, bought a florist’s shop and three acres of land in Winchester. Edwin had spent 12 years working on country estates, including the Duke of Northumberland’s Syon House and Studley Royal in Yorkshire, as well as for the legendary Veitch nursery on King’s Road in Chelsea. Edwin’s ambitions are traced in a book, Hillier: the Plants, the People, the Passion, written by Robert Hillier’s wife, Jean, to mark the company’s anniversary. The 10-year project took the couple across England to archives and libraries, villages, churchyards, and estates associated with generations of Hilliers. In dusty crates in Hillier’s head offices, Jean found Edwin’s notebooks, which made it clear he aimed not to become a head gardener, but to run his own business. From those beginnings, Hillier has evolved into Britain’s largest wholesale hardy plant and specialist tree nursery, annually growing more than two million shrubs and perennials.
Posts by James A. Baggett
Last spring, I was fortunate to be invited by Collette to attend the Chelsea Flower Show in London as well as to tour other Royal Horticultural Society properties, including Wisley, Hyde Hall, and Harlow Carr, and Windsor Castle. While exploring the vendors at the Chelsea Flower Show, I stumbled upon Garden & Wood, a dealer in antique garden tools, furniture, as well as ephemera. Here was the garden gear of my greenest dreams: Handsome, fully restored spades and forks, hand tools such as trowels, daisy grubbers and dibbers; unusual glass cucumbers straighteners, grape storage bottles, hot bed thermometers, and seed measures; seed catalogs, seed packets, garden journals, and more. I struggled to find a suitable souvenir (that I could get back on the airplane) and settled on the two items you see here: A diminutive (just 3 1/2 inches tall) yet elegant green-patinaed toy or child’s watering can and a hand-colored etching of a Stapelia dated 1823.
While serving as a judge for the 2015 Green Thumb Awards for the Direct Gardening Association a few weeks ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find an entry definitely worthy of a shout-out. Powerful Plants is a new “edutainment” and healthy lifestyle brand from Al Benner, a father of twin eight-year-old boys who has been passionate about plants all his life. He feels that plants and the exploration of our natural world have taken a backseat to more passive forms of entertainment such as watching TV and playing video games. Powerful Plants is both a line of books as well as a line of vegetable and flower seeds packaged as characters that will appear in the books, like Snow Whate (‘Snow White’ cherry tomato), Dinosaur Kale (Lacinato kale), and Dragon’s Tongue (‘Dragon’s Tongue’ bush beans). Powerful Plants is all about getting kids re-engaged with the natural world and understanding how important it is to protect our environment, and our food supply. In the first book, The Carrot-Napping, Daucus our likeable carrot character is carrot-napped by Mean Gene and taken to his secret lab to be genetically modified. Can he be saved? Young readers find out the answers by responding to questions about what they have just read to unlock each animated scene. For more information, visit PowerfulPlants.net.
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.