Words of Wisdom from Margaret Roach

A Way To GardenFor the last few years (really), a little slip of paper has been floating around in the piles on the kitchen counter.  I had planned to see Margaret Roach’s garden in Copake, New York, at her Open Garden Day as part of a trip to visit Uncle Buzz in Salisbury.  Sadly, her garden was devastated by hail, so instead of a tour she offered an illustrated talk.  I was disappointed not to see her garden, which I’ve been following virtually here for years, but felt worse for her to have so much work turned into shredded leaves in just a few moments.  The good news is that her lecture was fascinating, as I can remember from my notes, scribbled on a piece of hotel stationery and saved since, I kid you not, June of 2013.

“The garden is a 365-day-a-year thing.  The garden never closes.”

Non-gardeners and sometimes even gardeners can get trapped into thinking the garden is all about smashing moments, nothing more, but there is always something there.  Even on the most dreary day of winter, you’ll find something to look at, to take note of, to think about.  It’s not all roses, people.

“When people say some colors don’t go together, think of the colors of the sunset.  It is YOUR garden.”

So if you want to have orange marigolds next to pink lilies, be her guest.  Mom always said, somewhat ominously, that you could tell a lot about a person by her garden.  So, embrace it!

“Design your garden from viewing spots in the house.”

This is just common sense, but how often do we really do it?  The oak tree garden is a focal point from the dining room and even from the front door, and it’s my most successful garden, so that’s good.  The kitchen window overlooks the rhododendrons and the akebia on the trellis, not terribly exciting but okay.  The living room windows overlook the maple tree, so not too bad, and the back door offers a good view of the terrace.  Pretty good on the whole, but not on purpose.

My final notes are about a few plants she suggested.

  • For big leaves, go for Rodgersia (I think it’s too dry here) and Astilboides (maybe ditto).
  • Leave rhubarbs to flower, they are gorgeous.
  • Cissus discolor, the rex begonia vine, is a tropical she has written about here.  Gorgeous leaves!

It was a wonderful morning, and I intend to go back…one day.  Maybe this June or August?



Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day

On January 15, the only things in bloom were the usual suspects, but they were welcome.  Winter aconite (which has been in bloom for about a month), hellebores, and crocus ‘Claret’ tried to brighten the gloom on this mild, cloudy day.IMG_20160103_160409
With rain in the forecast, I took Adrian Higgins’ advice and sowed some Shirley poppies that I had on hand. No telling if they will take, but worth a try.

Shirley Poppy

To Be Read, but when??

One of the blogs I follow promoted the TBR challenge for 2016.  Heaven knows I have more than enough books on the TBR list, between the books I own and haven’t read and the For Later shelf on my BiblioCommons list.  So here goes, with my initial ideas about what I’ll actually read in 2016, edited to accommodate the fact that I don’t read romance.

January 19 – We Love Short Shorts! (category romance, short stories, novella etc.) – Maybe Adam Gopnick’s Winter, Five Windows on a Season
February 16Series Catch-Up (a book from a series you are behind on) This has got to be the next in the Sharpe series
March 16 – Recommended Read (a book that was recommended to you) – Old Filth by Jane Gardam, which has been on my list forever and for some reason is being read now by several friends
April 20 – Contemporary – This must mean contemporary romance, but I’ll interpret it to mean a book set in the present, so how about Among the Ten Thousand Things, a novel set in NYC about the breakup of a marriage
May 18 – Something Different (outside your comfort zone, unusual setting, non-romance etc.) – Metaphysical Dog by Frank Bidart, a poet I hardly know but like, and I rarely read any poetry these days
June 15 – Favorite Trope (a favorite theme – amnesia? secret baby? fairy tale? friends-to-lovers? etc.) – I’ve read so many dystopian novels that a quick search on the catalog shows I’ve read a couple dozen of the first titles listed.  So maybe one of the myriad history/travel books on the shelves
July 20 – Award Nominee or Winner (links to past RITA finalists and winners TBA) – Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates has been on my TBR list since last summer, and now that he’s won the National Book Award for nonfiction, this  is the perfect choice

August 17 – Kicking It Old School (publication date 10 years or older) – this will be an easy one since there are so many older books I’m trying to get to.  Maybe Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club or A Welsh Childhood by Alice Thomas Ellis
September 21 – Random Pick (a built-in off-theme month – go where your mood takes you!) – too many possibilities here
October 19 – Paranormal or Romantic Suspense – way outside my comfort zone, I’ll have to think about this one
November 16 – Historical – easy peasy, how about Farthest North, the Epic Adventure of a Visionary Explorer by Nansen or The Wicked and the Just by Coates set in 13th century Wales
December 21 – Holiday Themes – this will fit in with Book Club, though I’m not sure I have one of these on my TBR shelf.  Maybe a nice cozy biography.


Garden musings for a change

Just a few random notes from the garden this fall.  This has not been a very active gardening year for me (wait till next year!!), but I wanted to mention a few things.

First up is this picture of a woodpecker on the yucca plant.  When the plumbers dug up the front lawn, they broke off a lot of leaves on this guy, and he was looking pretty sickly.  Nevertheless, I think it must be a cast-iron plant, because it has recovered nicely. I left one bloom spike on it for no particular reason, and now I know why: it’s for the woodpecker!DSC06434Blurry because he was pecking so fast!

A quick trip to Roxbury Mills so that I can plant the outdoor pots resulted in:

sternbergia lutea (fall flowering) because I love the ones I already have

tulips Maureen and Canasta (fringed) for front door pot

Boxwood Winter Star (so-called, probably North Star) for the front pot – I saw something like this somewhere and copied it.  Apparently if it is North Star it will grow as a globe but right now it’s small and upright.  When the pansies expire and before the bulbs come up, there will still be a presence there.

Daffodil concerto or more likely a tulip, I think for the front door pot

A couple of Allium purple sensations planted in the front of the sunny bed

Then, from Bluestone, Cream beauty crocus, Lilies both Oriental mix and Stargazer, and Pink impression tulips  planted today 11/15 – Stargazer lilies in the pink bed, mixed lilies in with the iris, pink tulips in the pink bed and with the mixed lilies, didn’t get to the crocus today

Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ on backorder

Still in bloom on Gardener’s bloom day:

DSC06459cornflower (note to self, get more for next year)

DSC06462dragonwing begonia (they go on and on, caught this just as the setting sun lit it up)

physostegia still holding on

random morning glories that pop up everywhere

a little purple everlasting that  quietly goes on and on – will try to get a pic later

rosemary blooming white

remains of wild white asters

The tragical history of Ireland, part 2

One of the best things we did was to go on a Historical Walking tour. Here’s Donal, our guide, telling us about the Battle of the Boyne in the old Irish Parliament building.  Notice how, like a real Dubliner, he prounounces his th’s as t’s.

We started out at Trinity College, DSC05970home to everyone from Samuel Beckett to JP Donleavy to Jonathan Swift.  (See my review of Donleavy’s The Ginger Man here.)
DSC05976 Gray buildings and beautiful trees made up the campus, and soon we we were walking into town.  We started at the old Parliament building (see above) which now houses a bank.  The tour guide was clearly still outdone that the Parliament had dissolved itself in 1800 so that the English could take over.

He took us down Parliament Street and into Dublin City Hall, a beautiful Georgian building that figured largely in the Easter Uprising of 1916.  We snuck into the rotunda, set up for an afternoon wedding, and admired the murals.DSC05985Next up was Dublin Castle, which we were not too excited about since it is not worth touring.  But pity our ignorance, because in fact it was the home of the British government in Ireland and thus heartily despised.  Here’s the famous statue of Justice, DSC05988which faces into the courtyard of the Castle, giving rise to the ditty, “The Statue of Justice, mark well her station, her face to the castle and her arse to the nation!”  Our guide invoked the feelings of all involved as we faced the gate and imagined the fighting that raged here on Bloody Sunday 1920 when three IRA members were killed.

When Donal left us at Christchurch Cathedral, we were filled with more knowledge of the Irish struggle than we had ever had (and have since mostly lost, sadly) and were eager for more.  At his encouragement, we decided to visit Kilmainham Gaol, where so many Irish political prisoners were imprisoned, tortured and killed.

DSC05996This is not actually the gaol but a view of the Irish Museum of Modern Art across the way.  After our visit we needed this rainbow.

The guide was not a great storyteller, but his low-key presentation was just right for the terrible stories he had to tell.  Follow the link above for the details.

The cells were tiny and dark, leading off long, straight corridors, incredibly depressing.  This section was the relatively airy second floor of a newer part of the gaol.DSC05991Here is someone else’s picture of the main part of the gaol, where the prisoners could occasionally walk around.  kilmainhamSome of the cells are now marked with the names of the more famous prisoners, this being the cell where the Countess Markievicz was held in 1916. She was an Englishwoman who married a Polish count and was active as a suffragist as well as a member of Sinn Fein.DSC05990Peering through the peephole in one of the cells revealed this painting by Grace Plunkett, who married her husband only hours before he was executed.DSC05992But most chilling of all was the visit to the place where prisoners were executed, one so weak and wounded that he had to be tied to a chair so that he could be gunned down.  This was very moving, and appropriately, it began to mist while we stood there.DSC05995A tragical history indeed, and I am so glad we learned more about it.

Walking the Causeway Coastal Path with Paul

Since this is NOT a hiking trip, I booked a guide to lead me along the coastal path.  Paul was a quietly congenial man who guides during the season, has a “minor job,” and enjoys his free time  otherwise.  He proposed a route from Dunseverick Castle to the Giant’s Causeway, a distance of about five miles along clifftops and up and down.  It was spectacular.

The wind!  Words cannot describe the force of the wind, not during the whole hike, but on high unprotected points it was so high and wild that we had to hang on to these wires.

But you really need to see the photos, which may need to wait until I’m back in the land of good wifi.  The views were unbelievable:  we could see Scotland (mostly Islay), churning water below steep cliffs, did I mention steep cliffs?, cliff viewa few birds and lots of wildflowers.  Fulmar, black-backed gulls, gannets, cow parsley, two kinds of heather (bell heather and ling), herb Robert, eye-bright, thistle, scabious, and on and on.  Of course, a month or so ago we would have seen much more, but this was a delight.

Did I mention the wind? It was so fierce that I was very grateful it was blowing inland.  Otherwise, I’m sure we would both have been blown out to sea.  It reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder – was it The Big Snow when they had to tie themselves to ropes to make their way from the house to the barn?  It was like that, but without snow.  Wow.

And it ended at the Giant’s Causeway, which we approached via the steep Shepherd’s Path that switchbacks down from the cliffs to the water.  shepherd's pathPaul took a seat while I explored the hexagonal basalt stones giants causewayand watched the waves curl against the shore.  I drove him back from the pub to our starting point, and we parted ways with expressions of thanks for a good morning out.  And no rain!

The Helen Dillon Garden

DSC06081I must have been searching for Irish gardening books when I came across Helen Dillon, whom I’d never heard of but who is clearly a garden writer of note.  I wrote about her one of her books  here and hoped to visit her garden on our trip.  Although Alison is not a gardener, she is game.   We made our way to the garden on the public bus (see below), and it was spectacular. So much to say that I have divided this account into multiple categories.

Some plants I have and how Helen Dillon uses them

I plant woodland aster under the maple tree in front because they can take the dry shade that is a constant challenge in this garden.  Helen, on the other hand, pairs them with white Japanese anemones.  Now, I have tried anemones three times and they never come back, but maybe this time will be the charm.  DSC06023Her asters are a bit more floriferous than mine, but then I guess I could actually water them occasionally and see if that makes a difference.  This is in the front garden, which she has made into a birch grove and a very quiet, serene place. Here it is from the street.


I have a love/hate relationship with my helianthus, which I sometimes call helenium (see, there are several issues).  The first year, it blew over in a storm and crushed the plants beneath.  Then it spread vigorously, so that I have had to root it out.  Plus, it is so tall that I now give it the Chelsea chop in early summer so that it doesn’t get too big and then fall like a giant redwood.

But here it is in Helen Dillon’s garden, appearing to behave itself and consorting with the verbena in a lovely way.DSC06026

Water elements

Oh, how I long for a water element and how I just can’t make it happen.  Well, Helen just tore everything out one day and installed this elegantly simple pond in her back garden.DSC06039Here’s a bigger view.DSC06025

Another water element, so simple and lovely.  I imagine the birds love it, and it’s more to my scale.DSC06051


Foliage becomes more important the longer you live with a garden.  Flowers will come and go, but the leaves may linger through three seasons.  Here are some of the most wonderful foliage plants that caught my eye.DSC06070

DSC06041 DSC06027 DSC06030 DSC06031Not sure what these are – the last filled in under a small tree.

Use of color

Apparently she started out with carefully “curated” borders of one color each, but finally just said the hell with it and went to town.  See?DSC06042This is the border along one side of the pool.  She is also famous for gardening in pots.  She no longer plants everything in the ground, just pots it up and hauls it out when it’s looking good and hauls it back when it fades.  Of course, this implies lots of space and a strong back, but it’s an interesting concept.  She doesn’t even use remarkable pots, just plain black ones that fade into the background.  Or even garbage cans, as in these ferns that were tucked under the deck but clearly still on display.DSC06063

Here are some red things.  I know the dark leaf is a canna, but I’m not sure about the pinky red flowers in the pot.DSC06035

Miscellaneous darling things

Beautiful dahlias – I must try them YET AGAIN.DSC06055 DSC06036

Elegant Japanese anemones, dittoDSC06043Box bushes shaped to echo a nearby potDSC06049Delicate maidenhair fern in a concrete troughDSC06057

Meeting the Dillons and visiting the bathroom

So you are really just coming to their house when you visit.  You ring the doorbell, and Val Dillon lets you in, takes your 5 pounds, and shows you in to the drawing room that overlooks the garden.DSC06024This first view is stunning, but if you can tear yourself away you will also see a table with her signed books for sale.  I picked up Helen Dillon On Gardening The room is filled with beautiful paintings, furniture and doodads, evidence of their earlier careers as antique dealers.

When we came back through the house to leave, Val invited us to use the bathroom if we wished.  He said it was unusual and that we might enjoy it.  In fact, he said, on day an elderly friend came to visit and when he checked on her all he could see were her feet sticking out the door.  Had she passed out or died?  No, she was just trying to get the whole bathroom in her camera lens.   I understand.  Here are my attempts.DSC06075 DSC06074I didn’t quite lie down on the floor, but you can see why she did.  Asked how long it took to make, Val said drily, “About 30 seconds to write the check.”

The bus ride

The website assures you that the #11 bus stops right at the Dillon Garden.  Of course,  it’s not quite that simple.  We got directions from the TIC near Trinity and walked down the street until we finally got to the bus stop.  Once on the bus, there was no way to know when we had arrived.  The brusque driver did finally point out our stop just when we had given up hope.  We wandered down the street, heartened by a sign for the Dillon garden, and finally figured out that we should just walk through a small opening to the road where the house was.  Not that hard after all, but confusing.  Luckily it all worked easily on the way back.

The end plus a video

Here are just a few more random wonderful things, plus a video that gives you a glimpse of Helen herself as well as their drawing room.DSC06047The good sport

DSC06076Garden by the driveway on the way outDSC06066snails’ trailsDSC06068Autumn cyclamen growing in pebbles

Short clip of a palm tree swaying in the wind

DSC06059DSC06061sea oats and a glimpse of Helen herself in the garden

The video is here: