Here at GardenRant we don’t use Google ads or aggressively pursue advertisers because we blog for the love of it, not to pay our mortgages. But like any website, we DO have expenses – for hosting, site maintenance and improvement.
So boy, do we ever appreciate our advertisers – like the prestigious organizations promoting books and educational opportunities on GardenRant right now. And today we interrupt our usual assortment of news, opinion, plant and people profiles and outright rants for a brief mention of our advertisers, with our thanks.
Speaking of prestigious, a New York Botanic Garden Certificate is definitely that, and can be pursued on an accelerated basis through their Summer Intensive Programs in Floral Design, Landscape Design or Gardening; intensive classes are also available in Botanical Art & Illustration and Horticultural Therapy.
If I lived closer to NYC I’d sign up for the course in Landscape Design myself. (I’m loving the class in Landscape Architecture that I’m auditing at the University of Maryland, but it’s teaching me how little I know.)
You may not have read in November of last year a post about a landscape renovation that we have had underway since June of 2018. A part of this project in process involves the design and fabrication of a large scale cloister style pergola. The story behind the design and fabrication? Click here for the […]
Here in the Mid-Atlantic there’s plenty of blooming action among bulbs, but in my own garden I only have eyes for my newest plants, especially the ones with big job requirements – shrubs for screening and groundcovers to do the obvious.
So take this Koreanspice viburnum, for instance. (V. carlesii). It’s full-grown now in its 7th year – a nice small size for small gardens – but this year it’s in a new spot, where it provides just enough privacy between my porch and the sidewalk behind my back yard.
After its super-fragrant blooms are gone the shrub looks a bit boring but hey, it’s still doing its job, with no work on my part.
Here’s a different view of that Viburnum with blooms of a ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud in its second spring here. On the right you see the privacy screen I had built about a year ago for the purpose of blocking of an ugly view, and love it!
Here’s a closer shot of the screen with ‘Ogon’ Spireas on either side and an Oakleaf Hydrangea leafing out in the middle.
Above and below are views of the screen from the sidewalk at the rear of the back yard. Above, the ‘Rising Sun’ redbud I planted last fall, in bloom.
Here the redbud’s leaves have turned yellow (thus the name ‘Rising Sun’) and a Fothergilla is blooming. Like the Koreanspice viburnum, Fothergillas aren’t much to look at once the blooms are gone, but in this out-of-the-way location that’s fine.
Now for a couple of groundcovers, starting with golden groundsel (Packera aurea), which is evergreen, native, and a reliable spreader in shady spots. I love it in this spot where it’s far from any azaleas, which bloom at the same time and to my eyes, look terrible combined with gold blooms like these.
Another groundcover I’m forever recommending is also evergreen; it’s the old-fashioned comfrey (Symphytum grandiflorum) just starting its long bloom period. Comfrey can also handle shade and spreads reliably, so I can’t figure out why no one grows them. Or sells them, for that matter.
Here in my front garden, more comfrey is filling in quickly around the foundation shrubs. Another ‘Ogon’ Spirea is at work hiding my new mini-split HVAC, which can just barely be seen behind it. Also shown is an Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’ (another of my favorite shrubs of all time) and an unidentified azalea.
That’s all for now from my little Maryland garden.
Botanically speaking, I suppose most horticulturists don’t do much with tulips in their home gardens. Despite a history rife in treacherous explorations which brought a plant from the dry eastern Mediterranean to low-country Holland, most horticulturists are on to other things. They dismiss the anthropologically fascinating story of markets, economies, and logistics. Many are likely ignorant of the sordid tales of obsession that prompted good, stout, Calvinist Dutch to try one or more of seven deadly sins. They’d probably take a leering interest in this if they knew, but they don’t. The transformative alchemy of selection and breeding from the earliest days of the Renaissance to modern times? Not the coolest subject in these times of native plants, naturalistic gardens, permaculture, and environmentally conscious gardening. So, okay. Maybe, just maybe, tulips are not, in fact, the most important thing going on in the Horticultural world at the moment. But, Lord help me, they just might remain the most beautiful.
No other flower that I know of can conjure such saturated colors from soil, sun, and rain. No other flower glows with, seemingly, its own light. One alone, magnificent. In droves, beauty beyond measure. Enough beauty to melt the coldest heart of the most skeptical, disgruntled, and ideologically pure horticulturist among us. To the innocent masses, tulips are simply a glorious, breathtaking, and joyous gift to enjoy without restraint.
Crowd pleasers. Let’s face it, we need them. When we’re an expert and an ambassador, they are a tool. When we’re dumb consumers, a joy. They are, almost always, the impetus that stears ordinary people toward great passions. Without Meet the Beatles, we would never have gotten to Sargent Peppers. Without Sargent Peppers, how many other bands would have never begun? Or pushed the boundaries? How much other great music would we not have?
If we’re smart, we leverage crowd pleasers. I work at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden and right now our tulip display, which is about 110,000 bulbs strong, is at its peak. Our visitorship is rocking. Each day, a thousand kids are parked in front of gardens and digitally captured for the ages. Who knows how many of them will take in these displays like a seed? In which of them will that seed grow into a lifetime of enjoying plants, making gardens, and beautifying our communities?
Last Saturday the Garden Clubs of Ohio held an event based around the tulips. They had tours, they had lunch, and then heard a talk on the best plants for their gardens based on our plant trialing, and how these plants in more yards and gardens can benefit pollinators, human well-being, and more.
Last night we held an evening fundraiser called Twilight in Tulips. The weather was perfect. The tulips never looked better and people enjoyed a great social event. They received tours of the gardens that introduced many of them to the plant trialing, native plant conservation, pollinator programs, and more that the Botanical Garden side of the Zoo does. Our guests then had a fine dinner, drinks, and then heard an inspiring and informative talk by acclaimed ethnobotanist, Mark Plotkin. Money that will support further work was raised. But just as importantly people met other people. They heard a message of amazing science, heroic conservations efforts, and hope. Who knows how many ideas were hatched?
What was it that brought them all together in the first place? A mass planting of an age old plant of enormous popular appeal. Sheer, unapologetic beauty will always get attention, as it should. Life without it is so greatly diminished. Not experiencing such beauty is a shame. Not leveraging it for a better world for the greater good would be a terrible, missed opportunity.
It’s not that there isn’t plenty to feel bad about these days. Occurrences like yesterday’s horrific fire at Notre Dame cast such a dark pall that it’s easy to be tempted into end-times gloom and despair.
Which is all the more reason that we need to find hope and happiness in the small miracles of nature that we find in our gardens. We need to feel enthusiastic and confident about wresting beauty and sustenance from the landscapes, small and large, that surround us.
But that can be difficult when dark warnings of how gardeners are causing pollinator apocalypse and other disasters hurtle in via social media on a daily basis. As a co-administrator of a local garden group on Facebook, I’m finding that, even on this local level, communication via meme seems to be preferred over actual discussion. (Or, if not memes, then links to dubious-sounding blogs that I’ve never heard anyone refer to anywhere else.) “Don’t clean up your gardens!” is a popular cry, and now it’s not just in the fall, it’s in the spring too. Because in the spring, apparently, we’ll kill all the pollinators still hiding in the garden debris left from fall. If we in Western New York were to wait until consistent 50plus temps to do anything in the garden, nothing would get done until mid-June. Which is kind of late to get the garden going and also takes away well over a month of doing what we enjoy: gardening. And then there are all the “only natives” directives…
To be honest, I pay no heed. I’ve been at this too long. I do as much as I can: whatever makes sense to sustain the creatures and the plants. But then I see an actual worried post from someone who went out in her garden and raked when it was 48 degrees. Fortunately, I have a wise co-admin who has been gardening for many years and she replied: Nobody wants to kill pollinators, or ruin the soil, or destroy the environment, and you won’t. Gardening is fun. It’s the most sensuous activity you can do—PG rated—and you really won’t hurt anything.
She’s right. It’s the people who don’t even know memes like that exist, who have probably never gardened, and who only see the natural environment as something to employ for financial benefit who are really hurting things. We’re not them. So, meme people: Stop trying to scare us and go after the real problems.
Typically our garden design process begins with a brief from our clients on what they want from their space, we present our solutions to meet these needs, then execute our agreed design in its entirety. In the case of our Glen Iris project it ran a little differently. Our design was constructed over four stages between 2013 and 2017 to coincide with our clients extensive home renovation.
The landscape design brief given to us by our clients, a garden loving family of four, was to update their tired, run down garden and give it a new lease on life. We were encouraged to take our design to the edge of contemporary without straying too far from the traditional.
Taking on this project, we faced many landscaping challenges. Arguably the most pressing, to disguise the unattractive neighbouring block of units visible from the rear garden and provide a new ‘positive’ focal point. Towards the latter part of the construction, we also faced privacy issues with a new property being built next door.
Disguising neighbouring dwellings was not our only hurdle, we needed ways to improve the overall flow of the garden.
In theory, the fundamentals of the garden were to remain, a lawn area, pool and pavilion but all were in need of a functional, modern face lift.
Given the size of the property it afforded the opportunity to design different zones. Although considered to be self-contained gardens with their own purpose and feel, it was vital that these zones shared a common thread to help tie them together and give the entire garden design cohesion.
We chose classic plants reminiscent of the era but ensured the layout had a modern edge. To link the hard landscape surfaces we laid Travertine paving in a traditional method but in a contemporary layout to give it a slick sharp finish.
On our first site visit, we were delighted to find a magnificent specimen Golden Elm tree at the rear of the property, a key feature we happily worked around.
At the rear, to draw the eye down and create interest, Buxus spheres were “randomly placed” in the lawn (a nod to one of our favourite designers Tom Stuart-Smith).
To combat the neighbouring eyesore, screening was erected to block the units. Deciduous Pears previously used to hide the units were transplanted to another part of the garden to bulk up the effectiveness of the screening. A double row of evergreen Ficus ‘Flash’ were then used to form a continuous solid pleached hedge in helping to block out the flats while also providing a dark background for the bright light green foliage of the Golden Elm to stand out and become even more of a feature.
The garden bed under the double row of pleached Ficus has been planted out with mixed perennials. Viewed from the pavilion, the long bed extends for the length of the lawn with a client selected sculpture placed at the end to draw your eye through the differing perennials.
To improve the flow of the space, we levelled out the lawn and removed many unnecessary steps making it easier to move around the garden.
We relocated and rebuilt the stairs off the residence to the backyard, adding a landing area to increase functionality and safety.
We sourced a beautiful large mature evergreen Magnolia from NSW which we installed down the side of the property to assist with the screening and privacy to the new dwelling next door.
On the North side of the property, we created a terrace above the garage. A functional area designed for casual dining, we used large Lilly Pillys to screen this space and added a sun shielding pergola to keep the house cool in summer.
As with all jobs but especially ones with heritage front facades, keeping healthy, original planting is of utmost importance. This existing front garden contained a number of established traditional plants. We chose to continue with the planting palette of Camellias, Azaleas, Hydrangea and Lilacs but executed the styling with a more modern approach. Japanese Maples, Iris and Ajuga were integrated to help connect the front and rear gardens.
After four years in the making, we’re thrilled with how this design has come to fruition and even happier knowing that we’ve created a space that our clients enjoy and are proud to call their own.
‘Dreamscapes – Inspiration and beauty in gardens near and far’ is a stunning collection of over fifty of the world’s most beautiful gardens from across the globe. Photographed by one of our absolute favourites, internationally renowned and awarded photographer Claire Takacs.
Primarily Melbourne based, Claire is a highly recognised garden photographer who has visited and photographed some of the best and most innovative gardens around the world. She spends half of every year travelling internationally and her photographs are regularly included in the top international gardening magazines. Claire’s work is also represented in many international gardening books.
‘Dreamscapes’ includes many gardens designed by famous designers such as Piet Oudolf and Spanish designer Fernando Martos among others, with photographed locations including New Zealand, UK, USA, Europe and Asia.
Iconic gardens included are the stunning Welsh garden Dyffryn Fernant, Martha Stewart’s private garden, the beautiful Edwardian idyll of Bryan’s Ground in Herefordshire, the former home of Vita Sackville-West, Long Barn in Kent, the naturalistic French garden of Le Jardin Plume in Normandy, Hermannshof in Germany at the forefront of planting design, and Kenrokuen, one of Japan’s most beautiful public gardens.
This stunning book will astound and delight you with the diversity and creativity of the gardens featured, all captured at that rare moment when they are at their most breathtaking.
In theory it would make the ideal mother’s day gift, but realistically it’s too hard to give away. Maybe mum could just flick through when she visits?
We plant loads of containers in April in celebration of the spring season. The length, depth, and breadth of that planting is informed and driven by those materials available that can tolerate the chill. Farmed twigs are shipped to us in early spring and late fall. They provide mass, volume and height to our container […]
I thought I knew how to grow daffodils – because who doesn’t? They’re critter-proof, perennial, drought-tolerant, and so on. Or so I thought until Brent Heath, co-owner of the beloved bulb company Brent and Becky’s, disabused me of my assumptions in his recent talk at Brookside Gardens outside DC.
Having been in the bulb biz forever and traveled the bulb-growing world, Brent knows his stuff. Here are my take-aways from Brent’s very informative talk.
(By the way, I first met Brent when we kids vacationing with our families in Nags Head, NC. He and my sister became friends, or something like that.)
Daffodils are NOT good pollinator plants. I knew that animals don’t eat them, but it hadn’t occurred to me that that included pollinating insects.
They’re also not native to the Americas, growing in the wild only in Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. Interestingly, they were brought here sewn into the hems of transatlantic passengers’ skirts. Bulbs were able to survive months that way, enabling immigrants to grow a little something from home when they got here.
Daffodils need sun to keep blooming. So that’s why some of mine haven’t produced flowers long-term. As Brent mentioned, people proclaim, “Oh, but my daffodils DO get sun when they’re blooming, before nearby trees have leafed out!” But that’s not enough; they need sun for the 8 weeks after they bloom – you know, that period when you want to remove the ever-uglier foliage but know it’ll reduce the blooms the next year.
Daffodils also need to be fed, and Brent recommends good old compost. I don’t believe I’ve ever done that but will now because Brent (who ISN’T selling me a fertilizer product) told us to.
Daffodils are best harvested, not cut. Brent says to snap them off as close to the ground as possible.
The 4th most popular daffodil is the Dutch Master, the 3rd is Ice Follies (which multiply very well), and I didn’t catch numbers 1 and 2. Damn my note-taking!
Hydbridizing takes patience, like 5-7 years of it to get a single bloom on a new daffodil. Brent’s talk included images of varieties that are clearly show-quality and others not, and please don’t ask me to remember which are which or why.
Above, early tulips and hyacinths were also blooming that day at Brookside.
In the immortal words of Brent Heath: “Plant bulbs and harvest smiles.”
Parting shot: remains of a Quinceañera party in the gardens earlier in the day.
All photos taken by the author at Brookside Gardens on March 31, 2019.
Yesterday my long-time favorite garden center announced it’ll close soon. Here’s my tribute to the company and its people on a local blog. I’m reposting it here for the Rant’s broader audience because the closing is part of a very sad national trend. Also, it shows what great independent garden centers are doing for customers and the community and why their disappearance is such a enormous loss. (Sob!)
It’s official. In today’s press release, Behnke Nurseries announced that after 89 years, it will be going out of business in June. Thousands of local gardeners will mourn this incalculable loss.
Why It’s Closing
It seems that the time has just come, and not because business is bad; it’s because there are no family members coming up to take over the business. The only Behnke still working there is vice president Stephanie Fleming, granddaughter of the founder, who told me “We love our customers but the Behnkes are all in their 80s. The time has come.”
To answer your protestations of “But, but…” every possible alternative to closing as a garden center has been explored. Selling to another garden center or a buyer interested in renovating and keeping the nursery open isn’t feasible in today’s market, with independent stores closing and almost none opening. Some of the remaining garden centers are morphing into “lifestyle” stores, selling beachwear and pet supplies.
What about an employee buy-out, you say? If only! Many are retirement age or near it, and really, could they collectively buy almost 12 acres along busy Route 1? Hardly, at today’s prices.
What’s Next for the Site
Zoned for miscellaneous retail use, the property could be just another car dealership, but the family wants whatever replaces the nursery to be an asset to the community and is participating directly in development of the property, rather than selling to a developer. To this end, the family has solicited suggestions and input from the county and local community groups and has obtained additional zoning that would permit their preferred use of the property – for townhouses, with a 1-acre green space in the center and a walking path around it.
Highlights from Behnke’s History
The nursery was founded in 1930 by Albert Behnke, who was born in Germany in 1904. He worked for his father’s rose and cut-flower business and decided to immigrate with his wife Rose to the U.S., for more opportunity, settling in Beltsville.
At first, the Behnke greenhouse was a homemade affair attached to the side of the family house. In 1946, Albert and Rose Behnke had a modern steel and glass greenhouse built and by 1951 there were five greenhouses.
Albert and Rose’s 17-year-old daughter Sonja was featured on the cover of the Washington Star weekend magazine watering African violets, which was one of the nursery’s mainstays. Behnke’s sent violets to every first lady from Bess Truman to Nancy Reagan, and they still have thank-you notes from them to show for it.
A Gardener’s Appreciation
Here’s just some of what Behnke’s has meant to its thousands of long-time customers, like me.
Plant Choices and Knowledge
Behnke’s has always stood out from the small crowd of garden centers with its extensive selection, including hard-to-find varieties. It’s so famous for its selection that garden club tours from out of state have included Behnke’s on their itinerary when visiting the garden highlights of the DC area.
According to perennials specialist Larry Hurley, “Selection has always been our claim to fame. We are ‘plant people’ and we love plants, and we are always excited by what’s new.” When Behnke’s grew its own perennials, it carried 1,500 to 1,800 of them. Even after its growing facilities were shut down, it still offered many more varieties than, say, the box stores. (According to company records, Behnke’s carried 1,465 perennials in 2014.)
Another reason the plant selection changed, especially for perennials, was the plague of deer in this area. Larry says it’s made a “huge difference in the demand for hostas and daylilies.” I’ll bet.
Behnkes staff didn’t just source and sell plants, by a long shot. They gave free classes and workshops in the store and at garden clubs throughout the region. They sponsored still more free talks by well known authors and experts from throughout the East.
More learning opportunities throughout the nursery included a stormwater demonstration site, display gardens, and beehives.
The company’s website, blog and social media accounts have been packed with accurate gardening information and resources perfect for local gardeners. (You don’t see Home Depot doing that.) Stephanie Fleming tells me that they’ll be keeping the Behnke’s website and blog live online after the store closes, as long as there’s interest,
In roughly 2000 Behnke’s became involved in the movement to study and stem the tide of invasive plants through the horticultural industry, a bold move for a retailer! John Peter Thompson, grandson of Albert Behnke, led that project and eventually left the company to pursue that issue full time.
As a result, they stopped selling problematic plants like English Ivy and Burning Bush Euonymus, and for plants like Barberry, restricted sales to the better-behaved varieties that produce little or no fruit.
At the same time, the nursery increased its emphasis of native plants, for which there had finally begun to be a market, especially for pollinator plants. They’ve published many articles about native plants on their blog.
Behnke’s was also an industry leader in prohibiting the application of neonicotinoids to its plants and urging their grower-suppliers to use the least-toxic alternatives.
They also stopped carrying products by Scotts Miracle-Gro, despite the huge demand for their products ginned up by expensive advertising throughout the media. (Here’s my round-up of reasons that company has so few fans.)
Who Hasn’t Worked There?
Behnke’s large staff is known for its well-trained, full-time experts ready to answer every possible question, none too specific or ridiculous. They’ve answered them all!
So how did they find or train their staff? Many are Maryland Certified Professional Horticulturists; some have college degrees in horticulture or related fields. They all receive in-house training and are encouraged to attend training provided by the UMD Extension and other educational opportunities.
But their staff is also known for longevity and for loyalty to the company. President Alfred Milliard, for example, started there when he was 13, never left and is the longest-serving employee. The second-longest is Hank Doong, the company’s CFO, who started in 1970 when he was 14. Operations manager Larry Bristow has been with the company since he was a teenager. Helmut Jaehnigen is another long-timer. Imagine their job hunts now, in an ever-shrinking market for their horticultural knowledge.
As Larry Hurley wrote me, “We have a lot of very old and grizzled staff members and we try to impart our experience to the younger folks. Many of us oldsters grew up working for Mr. Behnke (always “Mr.”), Helmut, and the other Behnke icons.”
Many employees got their start at Behnke’s through the PG Police Department’s Young Explorers Club, where Officer Hibbert apparently has a knack for finding the very best potential employees from among the many applicants at High Point and other nearby schools.
Behnke’s employees have gone on to get jobs at these highly respected institutions: White House greenhouses and grounds, the Naval Observatory grounds, the Smithsonian Institution Gardens, the University of Maryland, the National Arboretum, and the Architect of the Capitol. Others have gone on to establish their own nurseries, including homestead Gardens, Metzler’s Nursery and Jos Roozen Nurseries.
Supporting Local Clubs and Societies
Lastly on this long list of ways that Behnke’s will be missed are the many events at the nursery – the Garden Party where clubs and societies could recruit members, the many organizations that held their events at Behnke’s, rent-free (including Brookside Gardens, local societies for roses, gesneriads, orchids and bonsai), holiday parties, yard sales, and even paper-shredding.
Of course the company also donated directly to dozens of local causes, like the food bank at Beltsville’s United Methodist Church, to which Behnke’s donated the $600 it raised recently from its winter tool-sharpening service.
Other frequent recipients of Behnkes’ generosity are the Beltsville Rotary Club, the Beltsville Lion’s Club, the Beltsville Fire and Police Departments, and Toys for Tots.
Customers Mourn, Especially ME
In anticipation of this dreaded closing, my local gardeners friends have been consoling each other, or trying to, with limited success because we’re devastated by the news! No exaggeration. We struggle to suggest alternative sources for plants, reliable advice and fun gardening gatherings but those other stores are all farther away and frankly pale in comparison.
I’ve bought nearly all my plants at Behnke’s since the ’70s and loved the nursery and the people who worked there, but not nearly as much as I came to love them after I started writing their blog and other materials for their website in 2010. That’s when I got to work with the best boss I’ve ever had – Stephanie Fleming. Since retiring, I now go to Behnke’s any time I want to be surrounded by fabulous plants and the people who love and know them, whether I need to buy something or not.
Will I ever say that about Home Depot or even Patuxent Nursery, our closest independent alternative? I’m guessing never.
Thanks to Stephanie Fleming for the photos and information she contributed to this post.