bulb order II


Galanthus nivalis – Snowdrops  bloom in my garden 22 February 2012

I grow species bulbs, sometimes called minor bulbs, a reference to their size not their importance in the garden.  A large and diverse group, the minor bulbs include species Crocus, Cyclamen, Eranthus (winter aconite), Galanthus (snowdrops), Hyacinthoides (bluebells), Muscari (grape hyacinth), Scilla; and the diminutive species of Iris, Narcissus and Tulipa; as well as less familiar bulbs such as Camassia, Chionodoxa, Ipheion, Leucojum and Puschkinia, among many othersand the autumn flowering bulbs, Colchicum and Sternbergia.

Species of Crocus, Cyclamen, Eranthus, Galanthus, Hyacinthoides, Narcissus and Scilla are perennial for me, so I’ve been reluctant to plant or replant the others.

 lauras  meadow 048 (2)Muscari armeniacum, 22 April 2014

But I love Muscari and cannot resist ordering a fresh crop of bulbs each autumn.  At $15.50/100, from Van Engelen, minor bulbs like the wild Muscari armeniacum are inexpensive annuals. I split the grape hyacinths with Kevin and Mollie, so the bulbs do double duty to brighten two gardens with their vivid blue spikes.

March 2014 171Crocus tommasinianus ‘Lilac Beauty’ blooming in my meadow 23 March 2014

When I moved into my house on Labor Day 2007, I did not know what spring bulbs I’d inherited, but I figured it unlikely that the turf in the back garden concealed hundreds of snow crocus that would burst into bloom in purple drifts to herald the spring of 2008, unless I planted them.  And so I planted 500 Crocus tommasinianus bulbs; 250 each of ‘Barr’s Purple’ and ‘Ruby Giant.’  Since then I’ve added a hundred more of each of my favorite tommies as well as a few hundred each of ‘Roseus’ and ‘Lilac Beauty.’

late tommies and Feb Gold 209Crocus tommasinianus ‘Ruby Giant’ blooming in my meadow 9 March 2013

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Crocus tommasinianus ‘Barr’s Purple’ blooming in my meadow 9 March 2013


 ‘Roseus’ is the first of the tommies to bloom in my meadow, about the same time as the species: 6 February 2012

A bargain at $11.25/100,species bulbs like Crocus tommasinianus perennialize and increase in the garden.

As I mentioned in part I (Bulb Order I), I dug up the large trumpet daffodils crammed into the narrow side bed along the house, filled with messy foliage and few flowers, and I replaced them with drifts of early blooming winter aconite and snowdrops.

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Eranthus hymenals – winter aconite blooming in my garden 25 February 2012

I banished the large-flowered ‘King Alfred’ daffodil bulbs to the rough beyond the meadow where they belong, and where they look amazing naturalized and viewed from the  deck and upper story windows; in the middle distance between the meadow and the rough, the little Narcissus thrive: early cyclamineus ‘February Gold’ and later blooming triandrus ‘Hawera’ open and close the spring bulb season.

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Narcissus ‘February Gold’ blooming between the meadow and the rough 3 March 2012

This autumn I ordered Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Golden Bells,’ a tiny daffodil species to add to the dwarf bulb display and fill the rather wide bloom gap between ‘February Gold’ and ‘Hawer.’


 Narcissus bulbocodium ‘Golden Bells’ ($19.00/100), Hudson NY 16 April 2014

I recently tweeted Vita Sackville-West on bulbocodium: The bulbocodium or hoop-petticoat daffodil is an easy one, which you may have seen naturalized in the grass almost by the acre at Wisley, and very pretty it is, small and tight-waisted, springing out into a crinoline.

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANarcisus bulbocodium naturalized at Wisley, RHS Garden England, UK

“Oh, those red tulips.”

In  2009 I removed a privet hedge from the narrow bed  along the front of the house.

Jan snow 007 (3)     cropped-garden-roses1.jpg I planted Rosa ‘New Dawn’ climber and Clematis x jackmani to duke it out on the fence

And I ordered spring bulbs. The spring bulb display must be bold: Red Gregii tulips,with handsome striped foliage, interplanted with vivid blue spikes of Muscari.

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Tulipa ‘Red Ridng Hood’ ($22.50/50) and Muscari armeniacum 19 April 2013

This is a tough spot and although Gregii tulips often perennialize, not in this bed.  So, next I interplanted a red species tulip that Jane grows, Tulipa praestans ‘Fuselier’ with ‘Red Riding Hood,’  These two do not bloom together; one tulip variety is best for a bold display.   lauras  meadow 049 Rosa Morning Magic 050 (2)

Tulipa praestans ‘Fuselier’ ($26.50/50) and Muscari armeniacum 22 April 2014

This autumn I ordered  another red tulip species that we grew in the red borders, now gone, at the Arboretum: tul_species_linifolia_main

Tulipa linifolia ($11.50/100)

VSW collected Tulipa linifolia on her second trip to Persia in 1927 and proudly reported in her book Twelve Days, which recounts her exploration of wild Persia:

and on a slope I found to my joy the little scarlet tulip for which I had looked in vain in other parts of Persia.

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She dug it up and took it back to England. Today we know better; we’re aware of our ecological responsibility to the planet.  Always buy bulb species from reputable growers.

I’m also trying another Muscari for the front bed.


Muscari botyroides ‘Superstar’ ($12.25/50)

You can never have too many bulbs, especially drifts of the little gems

Sources Van Engelen McClure & Zimmerman Brent and Becky’s 

More on Speices Bulbs Conserving Turkey’s wild bulbs Minor Bulbs Are Anything But No So Minor Bulbs

lauras  meadow 133 (2) Colchicum autumnale ‘Lilac Wonder’ blooming in Laura’s garden 25 September 2014

wild tulips

I’ve been reading about tulips in the wild.

   scan0005wild tulips blooming in the Kazakhstan mountains

If you want to go treking through the wild tulip country of Central Asia, the Middle East and Turkey, follow the old Silk Road. No. Better not. However, you can avoid the hotspots. Just follow the Dutch bulb hunters.

The Dutch bulb hunters I’m following begin their trek in eastern Kazakhstan, as you will see if you click on the handy interactive map, to which I’ve linked the excellent tulipsinthewild website.


Following the tulips, the plant hunters track the spread of the species from east to west; sometimes they follow the tulips over the ancient Silk Road, which crisscrossed Eurasia, fulfilling human desires; always the plant hunters follow the sweep of the Ottomans’ westward expansion through the mountains of Central Asia into the heart of tulip country.


wild tulips, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan, south and west to Afghanistan, Iran, (all of the Middle East), Turkey, Greece, Algeria (all of North Africa) and, finally, into Europe.


where part of the ancient Silk Road crosses Afghanistan

The Ottomans failed to fold Iran and Western Europe into the Empire though not for lack of trying; one of the Ottomans’ most coveted resources poured into Istanbul from all over the Empire; Istanbul became the city of tulips and a center for distributing the bulbs. The Ottomans introduced tulips into Europe in the mid 16th century and fostered the tulipmania that gripped Holland in the 17th century. Above all, the Ottoman Empire owned, embodied the tulip motif, making Turks synonymous with Tulips.


Medieval Ottoman design from Uzbekistan

the Ottoman’s legacy :  Turk = Tulip is embraced in modern Turkey.

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  Turkey is synonymous with Tulip


the Turkish flag: a bed of red tulips surrounding a crescent moon and star, Istanbul

Persia gives the tulip its generic scientific name: Tulipa


 Tulipa hybrids have been cultivated in Iran and imported into Turkey since at least the 15th century; creamy-rose tulips fill a tulip garden near Teheran


Wild red Tulips cascade down a slope in the mountains of Iran

Persia shares a unique cultural history with the most cherished of its many beautiful wildflowers. Some 12 native tulip species (botanists are still debating the exact number) and at least one new endemic species, Tulipa faribae, find a home in the snow-capped peaks, rugged slopes, and foothills of the mountains that run from northeast to southwest Iran.


the tulip is the emblem of Iran. It’s botanical name Tulipa (Linnaeus) derives from the old Persian, toliban, meaning turban, which aptly describes the shape of bud and bloom

 tulip-gardenTulip Garden, Teheran


 Laaleh is Persian for tulip

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In Iran red tulips powerfully symbolized the martyrs of the Islamic Revolution

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a favorite Iranian wildflower is Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis), the inverted tulip


Iran’s inverted tulip, Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)


If Holland is the center for hybrid tulips, Central Asia is the center for wild tulips.



tulips-10The genus Tulipa L. comprises about 100 species taxonomically classified into two subgenera: Tulipa and Eriostemones. Subgenus Tulipa is subdivided into five sections: Tulipa, Eichleres, Tulipanun, Kolpakowskianae, and Clusianae. The commercial cut flower assortment of tulips consists mainly of cultivars from Tulipa gesneriana (section Tulipa) and T. fosteriana (section Eichleres)

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For more on Tulips:


Iran: a botanical paradise

High Plains Gardening

download (1)Next: bulb order II

Bulb Order I

If planting bulbs is an act of faith, deciding which to order is an act of fortitude, or as V. Sackville-West proclaims: “The bulb catalogues arrive by every post, leaving us in a state of confused temptation.”  She’s acknowledging the emotional appeal advertisers use to temp consumers into a fantasy garden of glossy photos, promising a bit of Kew Gardens for each of us if only we order and plant the grower’s top bulbs as directed.

bulb21 (3)“A Bulb Grower’s Garden” Mima Nixon painting from Dutch Bulbs and Gardens, 1909


Even VSW is susceptible. Of course, although she is cognizant of her readers‘ limited budgets and always recommends the best plant for the best price, as well as economical ways to increase plants, her knowledge, garden, and budget were all far greater than most In the same article VSW recommends ‘Sundew’ tulips, “cheap at 5s a dozen.”  5s is a bob or a crown; 4 = £1, so she could buy 4 dozen tulips for £1, about $1.65 or about 3.5 cents each. Today, Van Engelen, the best US wholesale grower and my main source for bulbs, offers comparable tulip bulbs at $30 per 100, or 30 cents a piece, a good price.

In 2013 I budgeted $50 for tulip and muscari bulbs, which I grow as annuals in the front.

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Tulipa praestans ‘Fusilier’ and Tulipa ‘Red Riding Hood’ punctuated with Muscari armeniacum ‘Blue Spike’

In 2014 my budget is a bit more though still under $100. I budgeted far more in my first five or six years in the garden. Now, after years spent establishing reliable perennial bulb plantings, the meadow is filled with more than a thousand snow crocus and other bulbs flowering from mid-to-late winter through spring and early summer, while cyclamen blooms spring and fall in the shady border and winter aconite and snowdrops in the sunny one.

SnowdropsGalantnus nivalis:  snowdrops herald the spring

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Eranthus hymenalis: winter aconite is also a herald of spring

Hundreds of snow crocus (Crocus tomasinianus) fill my meadow in waves of color for four to six weeks in late winter and early spring

snow crocus 059RoseusMarch 2014 171 Crocus Tomm 331

Crocus III 007Crocus tomasinianus cultivars ‘Roseus,’ ‘Lilac Beauty,’ ‘Barr’s Purple,’ and ‘Ruby Giant’ fill my meadow in waves of color for four to six weeks in late winter and early spring


I dislike big daffodils in borders; they are best naturalized and viewed from a distance, so I moved these trumpet Narcissus ‘King Alfred’ to the rough at the back of the garden beyond the meadow where they thrive along with earlier cyclamineus and later triandrus Narcissi.  When their leaves fade, they can be mown off with the tall grass

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late flowering triandrus Narcissus ‘Hawera’ brightens the rough in late April

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‘Excelsior’ Spanish bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) flowering in the May meadow

IMG_7387 (8) Hyacinthoides hispanica ‘Excelsior’  blooming in the meadow 11 May 2014

 Clematis and Dodger 048a view of the meadow on 9 September 2014 with Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ flower heads. At the end of October I cut and rake the meadow, plant additional bulbs, and  clear the decks for the spring performance

My bulb order from McClure & Zimmerman, my favorite retail purveyor of fine bulbs, arrived today.


While I was on the website ordering Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ bulbs ($7.95/dozen) for Kevin and Mollie’s garden (Van Engelen now sells them only by the 100), I checked out the specials and decided to try a re-blooming tall bearded iris, which must be planted in September. Instead of splitting up the order, M & Z sent both items; I’ll keep the Allium bulbs cool and dry until I go to my brother’s next month.

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Allium ‘Purple Sensation’


Kevin and Mollie have better success with ‘Purple Sensation’ than I, and they enjoy the big purple globe flowers. So, we continue to plant more bulbs, increasing the fabulous late spring display in their garden.

I’m intrigued with the re-blooming Iris I ordered on sale, 3/$11.25, from McClure & Zimmerman.  It’s a violet-blue variety called ‘Daughter of Stars.’

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 Iris go dormant in high summer, so it’s best to divide them during August and September and plant new ones, which arrive as bare-root, dormant rhizomes with a bit of leaf; these should be planted immediately or potted up.

The American Iris Society recommends dividing or planting new Iris rhizomes 4-6 weeks before hard frost to allow enough time for the roots to get established.

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‘Daughter of Stars’ is an award winning reblooming tall bearded Iris hybridized by Don Spoon at Winterberry Gardens in Virginia

Next: Bulb Order II

Tweeting Vita @thegardenvsw Part III



I recently changed VSW’s Twitter profile photo to VW’s favorite picture of VSW and the one she chose to represent Orlando, now a woman, on her return to England.


Harold-Nicolson-and-Vita--002 (4)I also added a background color photo of Vita, Rollo, and Harold taken on the tower steps at Sissinghurst in 1959. VSW made her study in the tower room when they moved to Sissinghurst in 1932 where she wrote her books and her weekly “In Your Garden” column (1946-1961) for the Sunday Observer, sister publication of the Guardian.

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Vita’s study in the tower at Sissinghurst


69e1783936c9e4fa14601f5871eb0819Vita’s desk today as if she just stepped out



Vita and Rollo walking in the garden at Sissinghurst 1950s

 Yale recently acquired VSW’s papers

Black swallowtail feast


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tall stems of sweet Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) blooming in my meadow 27 July 2014

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sweet Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) flowers attract a female black swallowtail to my meadow 27 July 2014

I must admit that I never noticed a black swallowtail on the Joe Pye weed until I did. Perennials take three years to mature, so the Joe Pye weed has finally come into its own in the meadow most prominently; indeed, it is as high as an elephant’s eye, and I was kicking myself for failing to shear it in spring.  But with its big flower heads atop 8′ stems it would be hard to miss a black swallowtail feeding.

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 black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) sips nectar from Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum) in my meadow 27 July 2014


It’s always good practice to spring prune perennials that bloom in high summer and fall to encourage branching and fullness rather than stretching and legginess. Perennials that benefit from spring pruning include:


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Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium sp.)






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Bush clematis (Clematis heracleifolia)




Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’




Monkshood (Aconitum sp.)




Ironweed (Vernonia sp.)


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 Phlox paniculata and Cleome blooms highlight the late summer garden at the Mission House Museum, Stockbridge MA  22 August 2013


In late April and May, until about Mother’s Day, you can simply cut the stems of the late bloomers, reducing them by about half. You’ll appreciate the results: bushy rather than lanky plants with more blooms.  Also, deadhead spent flowers to keep plants clean and encourage continued flowering.



Gateway Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium maculatum ‘Gateway’) blooming in Mount Holyoke College Botanic Garden 20 August 2013

The Joe Pye weed in my meadow would benefit from a spring cut, and swallowtails arrive regardless.  I’m certainly more tuned in to butterflies since Laura and I visited Project Native, a nonprofit native plant farm and wildlife sanctuary in the Berkshires.

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Project Native: nonprofit native plant farm, nursery and wildlife sanctuary Housatonic, MA


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Project Native Nursery Catalog

May is a great time to buy native plants in the nursery, and we did. I’m trying to establish bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) again in my shady border while Laura must have butterflyweed (Ascelpias tuberosa) for her meadow. But May is not the best time to see the flight of the butterflies.  The butterfly house isn’t open until June.


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We did see a tiger swallowtail emerge in the chrysalis nursery. Project Native raises butterflies and the communities of native plants on which they depend: feed, breed and overwinter.




tiger swallowtail

(Papilio glaucus)



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Project Native Shop

IMG_7864 (3) Project Native summer programs


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 I looked out at the meadow to see a black swallowtail  (Papilio polyxenes) sipping nectar around tea time

I grabbed the camera, ran out on the deck, and then up to the second floor window for a better view.  She was hungry and fed for quite a while.


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black swallowtail butterfly (Papilio polyxenes) sips nectar from Joe Pye weed in my meadow 27 July 2014

IMG_7775Project Native linksIMG_7848 (2)

 Butterfly Gardening plants

Plant nectar plants for butterflies. Plant natives; feed our native butterflies and bees. Spy a swallowtail or a monarch feasting in your garden


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Tweeting Vita @thegardenvsw Part II

Not all dates are covered in the four-book set In Your Garden, of course, so on missing dates, VSW sometimes tweets from her letters to VW, but mostly she quotes Ms. Jekyll, offering seasonal gardening advice from Gertrude Jekyll’s books Colour Schemes for the Flower Garden (1908) and Annuals and Biennials (1916). So, for example, on 30 June VSW tweets:

Jane June 2014 167 (2)Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw


view of the Edwardian sunk garden, pergola, intricate arts and crafts stonework, and rill

Ms. Jekyll never got to try all of her ideas, but she knew that other gardeners would carry on the development of the English garden, and her books and articles, as well as the gardens she designed with Lutyens point the way.

Miss Jekyll's Gardening Boots 1920 by Sir William Nicholson 1872-1949

Miss Jekyll’s Gardening Boots, 1920

Oil paint on wood: 324 x 400 mm

Sir William Nicholson (1872-1949)

Tate, Presented by Lady Emily Lutyens, 1944

Gertrude Jekyll was a well-known garden designer, who often worked in collaboration with the architect Edwin Lutyens. In 1920 she was seventy-six, and quite difficult. It is said that Nicholson painted this picture of her boots while he was waiting the opportunity of a sitting, as she would only allow this in the late afternoon. However, Nicholson enjoyed finding the revelation of character in clothing. He had painted other pictures of shoes, and of a hat.


Jekyll-Lutyens Gardens

Gertrude Jekyll. Roses for English Gardens (1902) full text

Gertrude Jekyll Paintings

Ms. Jekyll Gardening Boots

Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden 

Great British Garden Makers: Gertrude Jekyll



Tweeting Vita @thegardenvsw Part I



To celebrate the birthday of my favorite garden writer, I opened a Twitter account on 9 March in her honor:

Vita Sackville-West @thegardenvsw



Tweets are from “In Your Garden,” VSW’s popular column published in the Observer from 1946 to 1957 and collected in four volumes:

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In Your Garden (1951)

In Your Garden Again (1955)

More for Your Garden (1955)

Even More For Your Garden (1958)


VSW describes “a formidable increase in my correspondence” when she is deluged with letters from her readers, most of whom want to know where they can find plants she recommends. In the forward to In Your Garden (1951), VSW comments with inimitable humor on this tremendous public response to her column:

 “I think two thousand enquiries arising out of one article was the record, but on several other occasions a thousand letters arrived, done up in bundles of fifty, tied round with string. I trust and believe that I answered all of them. If anyone was overlooked, I take this opportunity to offer an apology.”


In the books VSW lists sources for recommended plants, which could not be included in The Observer as she explains that it would be tantamount to free advertising. This solution seems to have stemmed the deluge.  Readers, of course, continue to write seeking VSW’s advice, and she often responds in her column, taking the query as her topic.

Like all gardening books (mine were out of print before the ink was dry), VSW’s In Your Garden books dropped out of print.  After Vita’s death in 1962, her daughter-in-law Phillipa Nicolson began editing a selection of the articles from the four books, and V. Sackville-West’s Garden Book (1968), issued in paperback in 1969 and reprinted through 1987,

Garden Bookbecame one of the most popular gardening books of the time and a best-seller in the shop at Sissinghurst Castle Garden, pictured on the cover.  Alas, like all gardening books, even the most popular, it, too, is out of print.

In 2004 Francis Lincoln, Ltd reissued the four-volume In Your Garden series in handsome reproductions. VSW is a delightful companion who guides readers month-by-month on a tour through the gardening year. Instructive, hilarious, and philosophical, VSW shares her horticultural know how with warmth, wit, and good humor in fluent, confident prose. Taken together, the four-book set represents the life-work of a dedicated gardener. To read Vita is to witness the gardener at work materializing the dream.


But reissuing the four-book set of In Your Garden was probably undertaken as a limited niche market hardcover run, and although you can still find new copies, they, too, are out of print.



The National Trust reprinted VSW’s long poem “Sissinghurst” on offer in the garden shop when I visited.  Dedicated to VW (Virginia Woolf), the poem was published in 1931, a year after Vita and Harold bought the run-down, overgrown, abandoned farm with Tudor out-buildings and an Elizabethan tower in Kent near Knole. Indeed, Sissinghurst the estate as was had been in her Sackville female line.


Thursday. to V. W.


A tired swimmer in the waves of time

I throw my hand up! let the surface close:

Sink down through centuries to another clime,

And buried find the castle and the rose.

The poem expresses the poet’s aspiration to make a garden on the ruins; envision, plan, materialize. She knows what she’s up against, and yet the poet invokes “the castle and the rose,” dual symbols of Vita’s Sissinghurst Castle Garden as it is today.

On my first visit to the garden in 1983 I bought a copy of “Sissinghurst,” sat on a bench in the Cottage Garden enjoying the sweet scent of ‘Madame Alfred Carrière’ (the Noisette rose covering the cottage) and read the poem. It was glorious simply to be in VSW’s lovely garden, alone.  What I remember most vividly in the poem is the truth the poet reveals about the land.  The land wants to be forest, so making a garden means continually beating back the wildwood.  Great gardens conceal this truth. The gardener’s hand is always at work to create controlled abandon, a touch wild like an alpine meadow and vibrant like a wind-blown prairie.


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‘Madame Alfred Carrière’


The National Trust reissued VSW’s Some Flowers this year; the gift shop at Sissinghurst sells any number of books, new and reprints, by and about VSW; the cafe offers a large selection of used books; and Vita and Harold’s library is now open for tours.  VSW has always been a popular writer of fiction, biography, memoir, and travel books.  Indeed, her 1924 best-selling novel Seducers in Ecuador got better reviews than Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. But thenVSW always sold better than VW, and Seducers was to be the first of stacks of VSW best sellers for the Hogarth Press.  Its owners, Leonard and Virginia Woolf, were delighted; VW was in love; and VSW was to be the best thing that ever happened to the Bloomsbury intelligentsia.


In the US, VSW’s books were also bound for the best seller list, and Americans lapped up the family stories.  Americans love a scandal, especially a very British, aristocratic scandal, itself the stuff of popular, scintillating fiction, and, especially when we know the aristocrat. She lived in Washington, playing hostess for her British Minister father; she charmed the First Ladies and won the hearts of all who admit to reading the society pages–most of us–so that, vicariously, all of the Sackvilles and the Sackville-Wests are ours, too.



Victoria Sackville-West (Lady Sackville)

The illegitimate daughter of a British diplomat, Lionel Sackville-West (2nd Baron Sackville), and the famous Spanish dancer, Pepita (Josefa Duran), Victoria grew up in the south of France where her father kept his mistress and growing family secreted during the 19-year relationship, ending only with Pepita’s death in 1871; Victoria is sent to a French convent school, emerging in 1881 to make her American debut, accompanying her father, British Minister to the US (1881-1888). Both Queen Victoria and First Lady Garfield give permission for the beautiful young woman to act as hostess at the British Embassy in Washington, DC.


At 19, Victoria is an immediate sensation, a star in diplomatic circles of Washington society; she assists her father through seven seasons as his charming hostess at the British Embassy and receives countless marriage proposals (including one from Chester Arthur, recently widowed, who becomes the 21st US President when James Garfield is assassinated in 1881).  All this, despite the fact that Victoria speaks little English (nor will she; her future husband Lord Sackville and daughter Vita speak fluent French). Lionel Sackville-West is recalled in 1888 for his part in a scandal surrounding the presidential election, in which he suggested in a letter that incumbent Democratic President Cleveland is the preferred choice of the British. When the Republicans publish the letter, Cleveland losses the election to Benjamin Harrison who becomes the 23rd US President, only to lose the White House to the same opponent, Grover Cleveland, in the election of 1892.



Lady Sackville, 1913  Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

Back in England, Lionel inherits the Sackville title and Knole while Victoria wins the heart of the heir to the title, Lionel Edward Sackville-West (3rd Baron Sackville), her father’s cousin, and marries him in 1890. Victoria ‘Vita’ Mary Sackville-West is born at Knole in 1892. When Victoria’s father Lord Sackville dies in 1908, another of her father’s illegitimate children, her brother Henry, contests her husband’s title in a highly publicized legal battle, which Lord Sackville eventually wins; Victoria becomes Lady Sackville of Knole and their daughter, the Hon. Victoria ‘Vita’ Mary Sackville-West. Lady Sackville wins another very public legal battle a few years later when the family of her friend and benefactor, ‘Seery,’ Sir John Murray Scott, contests his will, in which he leaves a large legacy to Lady Sackville. Lady Sackville was also a close friend of Auguste Rodin, but that’s another story. Picutured is one of two marble “Dream Portraits” Rodin made of Lady Sackville.




Knole 1880


A female and an only child, VSW is disinherited and her home, Knole—the magnificent house and deer park bestowed by Queen Elizabeth I on Thomas Sackville, whose descendants, Earls and Dukes of Dorset and Barons Sackville, lived in the great house since 1603—passes to the male heir, her cousin Eddie. VSW marries a diplomat, Harold Nicolson, bears two sons, writes scathing best sellers and family history, has a passionate affair with Violet Trefusis, becomes the beloved of Virginia Woolf, whose love letter Orlando: a Biography is testament.  Sissinghurst becomes compensation for the loss of Knole; VSW makes a garden, experiments, and shares her passion with readers every week “In Your Garden.”



the land

the ewardians


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Last year a lost love poem Vita had written to Violet in 1918 was discovered in VSW’s writing room in the tower at Sissinghurst:




When sometimes I stroll in silence, with you
Through great floral meadows of open country
I listen to your chatter, and give thanks to the gods
For the honest friendship, which made you my companion
But in the heavy fragrance of intoxicating night
I search on your lip for a madder caress
I tear secrets from your yielding flesh
Giving thanks to the fate which made you my mistress.

 Portrait of Violet Trefusis by Sir John Lavery, 1919



scan0002images (3)







Virginia Woolf. Orlando: A Biography (1928)

 VSW’s garden at Sissinghurst is the most visited in Britain.

So, what’s to be done to keep a VSW garden book in print and in the Sissinghurst shop?

All those visitors from around the world want to take home a VSW garden book.

And this season, they will.

VSW’s son Nigel Nicolson made a cottage industry of keeping VSW’s books in print and the tradition continues.  VSW’s granddaughter-in-law Sarah Raven—who lives at Sissinghurst with her husband, Adam Nicolson, (Nigel’s son) and their children—has saved the day, at least for a while. Her compilation—Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden—is on sale now in the UK and is set for US publication in the fall (4 November, 2014).



Here’s the blurb:

“From 1946 to 1957, Vita Sackville-West, the British poet, bestselling author of All Passion Spent and maker of Sissinghurst, wrote a weekly column in the Observer depicting her life at Sissinghurst, showing her to be one of the most visionary horticulturists of the twentieth-century. With wonderful additions by Sarah Raven, a famous British gardener in her own right who is married to Vita’s grandson Adam Nicolson, Sissinghurst draws on this extraordinary archive, revealing Vita’s most loved flowers, as well as offering practical advice for gardeners. Often funny and completely accessibly written with color and originality, it also describes details of the trials and tribulations of crafting a place of beauty and elegance. Sissinghurst has gone on to become one of the most visited and inspirational gardens in the world and this marvellous book, illustrated with drawings and original photographs throughout, shows us how it was created and how gardeners everywhere can use some of the ideas from both Sarah Raven and Vita Sackville-West   Sissinghurst is a magnificent portrait of a garden and a family.”

 In the meantime, I’m tweeting Vita unless a court orders me to cease



Vita Sackville-West tweets @thegardenvsw

VSW’s Twitter profile includes a brief description of the tweets and a tiny seasonal profile photo showing a view of Jane’s garden in summer with perennial borders enclosed within a brick wall offering an impression, an allusion to a walled Sissinghurst.

                             Website: http://beinecke.library.yale.edu/about/news/beinecke-                                library-acquires-papers-vita-sackville-west-harold-nicolson-0

 Yale recently acquired VSW’s papers



Jane June 2014 167 (2)


The other Twitter account in VSW’s name is @theorlando1892, very informative about her life and work with more than 1800 followers, including @thegardenvsw.

vswVita Sackville-West @theorlando1892

Androgynous time-traveller, aristocrat, novelist, poet, feminist, dog afficionado, consummate gardener: #FLOWERS REALLY DO INTOXICATE ME

Knole♥ · myspace.com/dearcreature


My Vita Sackville-West Twitter feed has only 30 followers, perhaps because I have not tweeted regularly. However, I’m back on the job.  I also retweet @the gardenvsw to over 400 followers on my personal Twitter feed @decumaria (queering the text and gardening).

 I prefer to offer precise VSW “In Your Garden” timely advice on the corresponding date.  For example, on 29 June, I tweeted:

Jane June 2014 167 (2)Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/1/51 ‘Mme Plantier’ dates to 1835, so she and the Queen may be said to have grown up together towards the crinolines of their maturity


Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/1/51: Queen Victoria is dead, but ‘Madame Plantier’ is still very much alive. I go out to look at her in the moonlight: she gleams . .

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/2/50: Nature sometimes makes the most hideous mistakes; and it is up to us gardeners to control and correct them.

 Sometimes a series of tweets are in order to communicate VSW’s full comments. For example, on 15 July 1951 she offers her honest assessment of the Bourbon rose ‘Zephyrine Drouhin.’

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/15/51: ‘Zephyrine Drouhin’ has a romantic history, worthy of her breeze-like name.

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/15/51: Who was Zephyrine? Who was Monsieur Drouhin? These are questions I cannot answer. They sound like characters in a novel by Flaubert

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/15/51: Dear though she was to me, perfect in scent, vigorous in growth, magnificent in floraison

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/15/51: and so kindly and obliging in having no thorns, never a cross word or a scratch as one picked her

Jane June 2014 167 (2)

Vita Sackvile-West @thegardenvsw

7/15/51: Dear though she was, I say, I had always deplored the crude pink of her complexion.


Rosa ‘Zephyrine Drouhin’ (Bourbon 1868)

dodger AC

Tweeting Vita @thegardenvsw Part II 


Clouds over Olana


Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900)
Clouds over Olana, August 1872
Oil on off-white paper, 8-11/16 x 12-1/8 in.
Olana State Historic Site, New York


 clouds over Olana and the Hudson River Valley, Hudson, NY 16 May 2014

There were rain clouds over Olana when Laura and I visited the Hudson, NY home of Frederic Edwin Church, American landscape painter of the Hudson River School.


 Olana, Persian inspired home of Frederic E. Church built 1870–1872, Hudson, NY

Church knew the Hudson, NY site of his future home well. He had painted the Hudson River Valley from the hilltop as a student of Thomas Cole (1801-1848). Church studied painting at Cole’s Catskill, NY studio across the river, and Cole took his student sketching all over the Catskills and the Berkshires during 1844-1846. The British-American landscape painter influenced Church and a generation of American landscape painters who became known as the Hudson River School. The master praised his student who had “the finest eye for drawing in the world.” Church made his debut at the National Academy of Design at 20.


view of the Hudson from Olana

After his apprenticeship with Cole, Church continued to travel and sketch, producing New York and New England landscapes in his NYC studio. Like his contemporary Walt Whitman (1819-1892), Church was inspired by renowned German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859), who spent five years exploring the Amazon (1799-1804), recounted in his popular Personal Narrative (1807) of travels in equatorial South America.  In his great work, the scientific best seller, Cosmos: A Sketch of the Physical Description of the Universe (1845), Humboldt describes the natural world as a unified, organic, kosmos and not only encourages American naturalists to follow in his footsteps, but also American artists and poets. Humboldt’s groundbreaking work is made for America, and its enduring thesis insists that we see our environment as a living, organic whole. In 1853 Church, the first American artist to heed Humboldt’s call, made his initial trip to South America, following Humboldt’s route through Columbia and Ecuador into the Andes and returned with sketchbooks and diaries filled with exotic, illuminated, landscapes.

The Andes of Ecuador by Frederick Edwin ChurchFrederic Edwin Church (1826–1900)
The Andes of Ecuador, 1855
Oil on canvas: 48 x 75 in.
Reynolda House Museum of Art, Winston-Salem, NC

If Church is searching for the light, the organic synthesis of Humboldt’s living cosmos in The Andes of Ecuador, so, too, is Whitman inspired to record light-filled landscapes in his poem “A Prairie Sunset”:

Shot gold, maroon and violet, dazzling silver,
emerald, fawn,
The earth’s whole amplitude and nature’s mul-
tiform power consigned for once to colors;
The light, the genial air possessed by them—
colors till now unknown,
No limit, confine—not the Western sky alone—
the high meridian—North, South, all,
Pure luminous color fighting the silent shadows
to the last.

For Whitman, who contains multitudes, there is no limit to nature’s power, to the luminous colors of the Western sky, to the human soul transcendent in Humboldt’s cosmic unity.

Back in New York, Church continued to paint awe-inspiring North American landscapes


 Frederic Edwin Church (1826–1900)
Niagara, 1857
Oil on canvas 42 1/2 x 90 1/2 in. (108 x 229.9 cm)
The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

niagara detail

 Detail: Fredric Edwin Church (1826-1900) Niagara, 1857

Church debuted Niagara in 1857 at Williams, Stevens, and Williams in New York City; 100,000 people paid 25 cents each to see the monumental ninety inch (more than 7-feet across) canvas of our great American natural wonder–water rushing over the falls–up close. Niagara traveled to major US cities, to Britain and was exhibited in the 1867 Exposition Universelle in Paris.  Niagara made Church’s reputation.

ChurchNiagara1857CorcoranC web

 Detail: Fredric Edwin Church (1826-1900) Niagara, 1857

Williams, Stevens and Williams agreed to pay Church $2,500 for the painting plus an additional $2,000 to hold the copyright. If they resold the painting, for a sum greater than $2,500, they’d split the proceeds with Church.

1857 was an ambitious year:  Church painted Niagara, the exhibition of Niagara drew 100,000 Americans inspired by Church’s representation of our great natural wonder. Niagara spoke to the American spirit, imagination and, perhaps, patriotism, uniting the country for a moment in time before we waged our bloody Civil War.  After the exhibition the artist returned to equatorial South America for another sketching trip.

Heart-of-the-Andes MET

Fredric Edwin Church (1826-1900)
Heart of the Andes, 1859
Oil on canvas 66 1/8 x 119 1/4 in. (1168 x 302.9 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NY

  In 1859 Church painted the monumental Heart of the Andes, an instant success.

Heart-of-the-Andes detail 2 MET

Heart of the Andes detail

Church’s monumental canvas is ten feet across and rich in botanical detail

People again paid 25 cents each to see Church’s huge, exotic, sublime landscape; after the exhibition the artist sold the painting for $10,000, equivalent to more than $225,000.00 today. In 1859 tensions were growing in America.  The country was a tinderbox. The exotic landscape Heart of the Andes appealed to the American public and captured the American imagination.  The masterpiece made the artist rich and famous.  What it meant to the artist is that he could afford to hire a ship to take him north to the Arctic to sketch icebergs.

Heart-of-the-Andes-(detail) MET

Heart of the Andes detail

By 1860 Church was the most successful artist in America; he moved his family into the farmhouse “Cosy Cottage” on the Hudson property.  In 1867 the Churches traveled for 18 months in  Egypt, the Middle East, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Greece; it was in Egypt and the Middle East that Church got his first taste of Islamic art and design.  He was smitten.  By 1870, he was ready to buy the hilltop and 250 acres and dedicate his artistic genius to designing and building his architectural masterpiece. Olana, the Persian-style villa estate is built on the hill-top, unified and integrated into its designed naturalistic landscape of lakes, woods, meadows, farmland, gardens, and planned views of the magnificent Hudson River Valley.


Church’s studio


  rustic Olana fencing is made with mountain laurel wood (Kalmia latifolia)


  rustic Olana benches are also constructed of mountain laurel wood (Kalmia latifolia)


  rustic Olana bench is made from mountain laurel wood (Kalmia latifolia)



Perennial Borders


Allium aflatunense ‘Purple Sensation’


Narcissus bulbocodium var. conscpicuus




Laura and I purchased our $10 tickets for the Olana house tour in the visitor center when we arrived.  We watched a film introducing visitors to Frederic Edwin Church, the making of Olana, and the preservation of Olana.  It was misty, threatening rain, so we decided to walk in the gardens until our tour time or until the rain poured.  When it poured rain, we’d run for shelter.


Olana facade and main entrance

The artist designed the house, working with Calvert Vaux, and every detail, from the Persian-style facade, to the decorative tiles.



Olana facade and main entrance

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tiles pattern: photo by Laura Flandreau



the handsome Indian-style colonnaded veranda was added in 1890; open doors in summer admit cool air and provide fine views

The beautifully proportioned and brightly painted Mughal-style colonnaded veranda demonstrates Church’s increasing fascination with Indian art and architecture and the Influence of Lockwood de Forest, a student and relation, who made frequent passage to India on buying trips; de Forest sent Church Indian and Kashmiri artifacts to add his collection on display in the artist’s studio in Olana.



impressive view of the man-made lake from the veranda

Church also designed the naturalistic landscape inspired by the Romantic English Park style popularized in America by Andrew Jackson Downing and Calvert Vaux, who designed many of the homes and country estates on the Hudson and, with Olmstead began developing plans for Central Park, until Downing’s untimely death in 1852.  Like Central Park and other naturalistic gardens and country estates, Olana is a built landscape, complete with man-made lake, copses of trees planted to close or open sight lines associated with grand borrowed views of the Hudson River Valley.


view of the man-made lake from the garden

IMG_7942When the rain came, we took shelter with our four fellow visitors and waited to be admitted to the inner sanctum of Church’s Olana

Entering Olana, it really feels as if the artist just stepped out, and maybe he’ll return to give the tour.  Olana is essentially as Frederic Edwin Church left his home in 1900.  The treasurers of Olana have not been plundered.  The house was maintained as a museum and occupied by Church’s daughter-in-law until her death in 1966.


The house tour is excellent and well worth the price of admission. The house is beautifully maintained, a result of planned on-going restoration of both buildings and landscape, a joint effort of New York State and the Olana Partnership.


2012 invitation to the annual Olana Partnership-Frederic E. Church Award Gala at the New York Public Library honoring individual contributions to American culture. (2012 honorees: Martha Stewart and Met curator Morrison Heckschar). Pictured is the South-facing studio window framing a view of the Hudson and Catskill, NY in fall. No interior photography is permitted, so this a taste.


 views of the Hudson from the upper level porch off the artist’s studio


view of the Hudson and Catskill, NY from the upper level porch off the studio


 obscured view of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge spanning the Hudson River



After our excellent house tour at Olana, we crossed the Rip Van Winkle Bridge into Catskill, NY to have a look at Cedar Grove, the home of Church’s teacher, Thomas Cole, the landscape painter who started it all.


Cedar Grove’s 200-year old honey locust tree (Gleditsia triacanthos).

Cedar Grove was closing, but it was worth the ride across the bridge to see Cole’s 200-year-old honey locust and wander around a bit

olana from the southwest drawing FE Church 1872

Fredric Edwin Church (1826-1900)
Olana from the Southwest
Oil on thin paperboard

Crossing back on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, behold, Church’s Olana sitting high on the hill overlooking the Hudson.  It really is quite a dramatic sight.

A few favorite Landscape Paintings

I like Church paintings that flame at sunset or dawn, like J. M. W. Turner.



J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851)
The Fighting Temeraire, 1839 Oil on canvas: 30 x 48 in.
National Gallery, London

Take Turner’s The Fighting Temeraire (tugged to her Last Berthe to be broken up), for example. The colors are magnificent, glorious, and yet the painting represents the bitter end for a grand ship that, with Nelson’s flag-ship the Victory, defeated Napoleon at Trafalgar.  It’s no wonder it’s Britain’s favorite painting.

I am reminded of Turner in Church’s Cotopaxi.


800px-cotopaxi_church  Frederic Edwin Church (1826 -1900)
Cotopaxi, 1862
Oil on canvas: 48 x 85 in.
Detroit Institute of Arts

Most critics see Church’s 1862 fiery landscape painting of erupting Ecuadorian volcano Cotopaxi as a metaphor for the US Civil War. Included in the 2013 Smithsonian exhibition: “The Civil War and American Art,” the blazing colors flame as paradise is destroyed by the erupting volcano spewing molten fire and ash.

oxbow cole

 Thomas Cole (1801–1848)
View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow, 1836
Oil on canvas; 51 1/2 x 76 in. (130.8 x 193 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Cole’s The Oxbow is all sky and fast-moving clouds.  It reminds me of Beethoven’s “Pastoral Symphony.”

I’ve always liked Cole.  He studied at the Academy (PAFA), worked as an engraver in Philadelphia when he arrived in the US from England, and did some sketching on the Wissahickon before returning to England.  Back in the US, he settled at Cedar Grove on the Hudson in Catskill, NY where he seems to have given American art a big push toward modernity.

Paeonia, beautiful Paeonia


  I’ve always preferred the lovely botanical name Paeonia.


Zou Chuan An (1941- ). Flowers and Birds.  Chinese Gongbi Painting

The contemporary Chinese artist Zou Chuan An (1941- ) paints in a traditional style, using a technique known as gongbi (meticulous). Depicted in this wonderful painting is the common Chinese tree peony, Paeonia suffruiticosa [pay-ON-ee-a  su-fru-ti-KO-sa]. Tree peony is a shrub, easily distinguished from its herbaceous perennial cousins, familiar garden varieties of Paeonia lactiflora, by its persistent woody stems.  My friend Jane grows both types, and she sent me beautiful photos. I think I’ve correctly identified most of them.

Photos by Jane Bodine

   I don’t know how any gardener can resist tree peonies.

Janes white peony

 Paeonia ostii ‘Phoenix White’ blooming in Jane’s garden: large, perfect snowy petals open to reveal golden stamens clustered around a red center

The common tree peony has been cultivated in China for sixteen centuries and is represented by more than 1000 local varieties. Cultivated Chinese tree peonies have a complicated history, involving multiple Paeonia species, populations and locations. In addition, traits of cultivated tree peonies have diverged from wild Chinese species, particularly in flower size, petal count and color. This makes it difficult for Chinese botanists to sort out the domestication history of the tree peony; DNA profiles may be key.

  “Flowers float like silk”

janes white peony 2

 ‘Phoenix White’ tree peony opening in the dewy morning after closing over night

Here’s the Cricket Hill Garden catalog description of Paeonia ostii ‘Phoenix White’:

“Flowers float like silk on top of the leaves. This is a cultivated variety of the wild species tree peony Paeonia ostii. It is a very versatile garden plant that is adaptable to harsh growing conditions. Planted in shadier areas it will still grow and flower well. ‘Phoenix White’ has been commercially grown for at least 500 years in central China. The roots of tree peonies are used in traditional Chinese medicine. They possess yin qualities and are used in combination with other herbs to treat a range of maladies, including liver ailments.”

Janes white peony 3

 ‘Phoenix White’ tree peony in bud and bloom in Jane’s garden

The variety ‘Feng Dan Bai (‘Phoenix White’) originated in Tongling County, Anhui Province, China hundreds of years ago; its mature size is 5 x 4′ at ten years. Single white flowers are very large, about 8 – 9″ across and fragrant.


janes tree peony and friends

“I cut a tree peony for my friends Rachel and Owen.  It was huge.”

huge white tree peony

‘Phoenix White’ tree peony bloom going over and folding like a huge snowy handkerchief

Janes garden with peony

a view of Jane’s spring garden with Chinese tree peonies and lilac

Will the real burgundy tree peony, please stand up!

Janes red peonyPaeonia suffruiticosa ‘Burgundy Wine’ is the real burgundy tree peony in Jane’s garden

Here’s the Klehm Song Sparrow Nursery Catalog description of Paeonia suffruiticosa ‘Burgundy Wine’:

“A very floriferous plant with good strength and excellent vigor and substance. Deep burgundy wine fully open blossoms show a center of yellow stamens.”

Hardly a poetic description, no, Klehm and Domoto have chosen the perfect name for their wine dark peony, so we need only a brief description of how their aristocratic tree peony grows. Including parentage is a bonus: ‘Burgundy Wine’ is a seedling of Moutan (Paeonia suffruiticosa) raised by Toichi Domoto, the Japanese American nurseryman noted for hybridizing camelias, tree peonies and Japanese maples (Acer palmatum). ‘Burgundy Wine’ (Domoto 1987) was introduced by Roy Klehm of Song Sparrow Nursery in 1995.

janes red tree peony 3

superb semi-double flowers of ‘Burgundy Wine’ Chinese tree peony seem to twist as they unfurl fluted petals, gradually revealing a tight cluster of golden-yellow stamens, which echo the golden flowers of Kerria japonica mirrored as a backdrop in Jane’s spring garden.

Janes red tree peony 2

‘Burgundy Wine’ Chinese tree peony makes a vigorous 3 – 4 x 3′ shrub with handsome, clean, red-tinged foliage, contributing abundant bloom to Jane’s spring border

Jane's red tree peony

large, semi-double flowers of ‘Burgundy Wine’ Chinese tree peony hold their distinctive dark red color against handsome deeply cut foliage tinged crimson; then peony petals blue to magenta as they shatter

Janes red peony 3

 Paeonia suffruiticosa ‘Burgundy Wine’ Chinese tree peony produces one bud per strong stem and makes an excellent cut flower clothed in deeply cut foliage tinged crimson

 Herbaceous Garden Peonies

 “The herbaceous peony is the one we are accustomed to see in some not very attractive shades of red or pink in cottage gardens. Do not condemn it on that account.There are many varieties either single or double, ranging from pure white through white-and-yellow, to shell-pink, deep pink and the sunset you find in P. peregrina.

V. Sackville-West. In Your Garden, 4 Sept 1949

Peony farm 3

Jane called in early June, enthusiastic about her visit to a peony farm out near Longwood in Chester County.  She described walking through fields of herbaceous peonies, and the thrill of being surrounded by pastel peony blooms stretching to the horizon, which she likened to an impressionist painting.

Peony Farm 1

“There were acres and acres of nearly 100 varieties of peonies outstretched over rolling hill country amidst wild grasses and in some areas California poppies.  It was windy that morning–propelling rivers of motion in the fields.”

peony farm 7

a worker gathers fresh-cut peony flowers 1 June 2014

Killdeer eggs

“Imagine the WONDER of coming upon this tucked in the heart of a peony! Exquisite.”

peony farm 6

Herbaceous peonies, the garden peonies most of us inherit or choose to plant, are the most long-lived of any perennial garden plants. When I was in horticulture school, I lived on Maplewood Ave. in Germantown, and from my second floor window I could see a lovely wild spring scene in the abandoned back garden of the adjacent house on Schoolhouse Lane: a field of tall grass and dandelions punctuated with big bunches of pink double peonies.  When I went back to check a few years later, they were gone, lost under the construction presumably when the building was extended; otherwise, double pink peonies would bloom forever in a field of grass and dandelions.

Peony Farm 2

“To be practical, there is much to recommend the peony. I will make a list of its virtues. It is a very long-lived plant, increasing yearly in vigour if you will only leave it undisturbed. It likes to stay put.”

 V. Sackville-West. In Your Garden Again, 22 June 1952

Janes peonies

In May Jane’s garden is a profusion of white, pale pink, violet and coral blooms

Jane’s garden blooms in profusion in successive waves as tulips and spring bulbs give way to peonies and iris, and roses and clematis to lilies and daylilies, and summer annuals to fall delights. In May, Paeonia ‘Krinkled White’ dominates the foreground with its large, crisp, creamy petals and golden-yellow stamens, tall bearded Iris ‘Clarence’ in white with violet falls contributes a streak of violet-blue contrast, and ‘Coral ‘n Gold’ single peonies transition to roses behind, where taller Bourbon rose ‘Souvenir de St. Anne’ fills the background, putting on quite a show with a mass of fragrant, semi-double, shell pink, blooms. Finally, Jane’s magnificent cerulean urn draws the eye to the right, and then farther back, we notice a swirl of magenta on a trellis as ascending blooms of Clematis ‘Rouge Cardinal’ open. Beautiful. And so satisfying.

single white

large creamy, single flowers of Paeonia ‘Krinkled White’ interface with fragrant clusters of semi-double Bourbon rose ‘Souvenir de St. Anne’ while a ‘Coral ‘n Gold’ single peony  peaks out on the left and Jane’s cerulean urn is visible on the right

Lauded on both sides of the Atlantic and cherished by gardeners since its introduction in 1928, Paeonia ‘Krinkled White’ is a winner by any standard: its single crepe paper like flowers are large and fragrant carried on strong stems, making it an excellent garden and landscape specimen for which it won The American Peony Society Award for Landscape Merit (ALM).

iris and  peony

single ‘Krinkled White’ peony and its foregrounded foil: tall bearded Iris ‘Clarence’ flowers of palest bluish-white with dramatic violet-blue falls

 Visiting Jane’s garden is always satisfying.

Here is the handiwork of a skilled gardener. The beautiful yet subtle combination of single peonies, semi-double roses, and tall bearded iris is the result of thoughtful planning, artful design and good gardening practice.

 Jane loves singles, and so do I.

Janes herbaceous peony

dazzling single peony ‘Coral ‘n Gold’ resembles a poppy with its vivid cupped reddish-orange petals enhanced by a center of golden stamens.

Imagine a field of ‘Coral ‘n Gold’ poppy-like single peonies. 


Claude Monet. Coquelicots (Poppies), 1873


Coral and Gold

lovely single Paeonia ‘Coral ‘n Gold’

Janes herbaceous peony lavander.jpg 2

Paeonia ‘Doreen,’  Imperial or Japanese style peony boasts showy fuchsia-pink petals with large glowing stamenoid centers

Janes herbaceous peony lavander

Paeonia ‘Doreen’ is a classic Japanese style peony, distinguished from single and Anemone type flowers by its central cluster of stamens which have been transformed into slender petals or stamenoids.

bridal icing herbaceous peony

Paeonia ‘Do Tell’:  “This is one of my favorite shots–such an exquisite peony.”

Jane’s exquisite peony ‘Do Tell’ is also a classic Anemone-type flower, similar to Japanese, but staminoids are even more petal-like petaloids.


Doreen (2)

Paeonia ‘Bowl of Beauty’ opening in the dewy morning light after closing over night


Paeonia ‘Bowl of Beauty’ with cupped cerise-pink petals and a central mass of narrow, creamy-white petaloids in classic Anemone-form

Peonies are classified by their flower forms: single, semi-double, Japanese or Imperial, Anemone, Double, and Bomb.  Any questions, follow the flower forms link or check with the American Peony Society. I’m no peony expert. I hope my discussion of the distinctions and Jane’s beautiful photo illustrations make it clear. I do think it perfect that Jane grows each type of peony flower form. Up next: Bomb.


red charm or kansas bud herbaceous

red tree peony

    Paeonia ‘Red Charm’ Bomb type flower

Paeonia ‘Red Charm’ is so double it’s exploding in classic “Bomb” form; it’s like a double flower with many petals, but the stamens are transformed to substantial petals in the center forming a round ball or bomb, sometimes in a contrasting color. The term probably derives from bombe glacée, a spherical ice cream dessert.

red charm

Paeonia ‘Red Charm’ in perfect Bomb-form, sets the standard for crimson hybrid peonies

“The secret of growing the herbaceous peonies is to plant them very shallow and give them a deep, rich root-run of manure for their roots to find as they go down in search of nourishment. They will go ahead, and probably outlive the person who planted them, so that his or her grandchild will be picking finer flowers fifty years hence.”

V. Sackville-West. In Your Garden Again, 22 June 1952

 Intersectional Peonies: the Itoh Hybrids

Intersectional peonies are hybrids between herbaceous peonies and tree peonies created by Japanese hybridizer Dr.Toichi Itoh in 1948 and are therefore referred to as Itoh hybrids.

helens inter peony 3Helen received this beautiful strawberry-red Itoh hybrid peony as a graduation gift in 2002, probably Paeonia x ‘Julia Rose’ blooming in her garden in early June 2014

Another unnamed peony, I’m not complaining. I’d never heard of intersectional peonies until Jane sent pictures of Helen’s. Fortunately, there are not many on the market; unfortunately, Itoh hybrids change color so much as they open, and some also fade dramatically, like Helen’s. It’s difficult to identify. Let’s face it, if I’ve learned one thing about peonies by writing the text to accompany Jane’s wonderful photos, I’ve learned that peony flowers are nearly impossible to reproduce for id purposes (except ‘Do Tell’), especially tree peonies.  I had a devil of a time identifying Jane’s and had given up on the burgundy red when I decided to type in “burgundy” as a descriptor. I got a hit:  “Burgundy Wine” appeared on the screen, a Klehm introduction, where Jane purchased all of her peonies over the years, accompanied by terrible pictures, and a perfect description.

My best guess to name Helen’s Itoh hybrid is Paeonia x ‘Julia Rose.’ Here’s the Solaris Farms catalog description:

“Flowers have a cream base color heavily overlaid in bright rose.  Colors fade to amber, copper and yellow blends with pink highlights.”  Bright rose seems right and fading to pink; photos are the correct colors but seem to show flowers with too many petals for a semi-double peony.  Anyway, they look nothing like Jane’s pictures.

Here’s the Peony Farm catalog description:

“Intersectional. ‘Julia Rose’ opens cherry red, fades to apricot-yellow then yellow as the bloom matures. Shows 3 colors at the same time. An attractive mix of variously colored blooms on one plant!” The photos are excellent and do resemble Jane’s, at least the fully open fading bloom. Helen’s Itoh hybrid probably is Paeonia x ‘Julia Rose’

helens inter peony

probably Paeonia x ‘Julia Rose’ blooming with Allium christophii in Helen’s garden

helens intersection peony 2

probably Paeonia x ‘Julia Rose’ fading to pink in Helen’s garden

“It always seems to me that the herbaceous peony is the very epitome of June. Larger than any rose, it has something of the cabbage rose’s voluminous quality, and when it finally drops from the vase, it sheds its vast petticoats with a bump on the table. . .”

V. Sackville-West. In Your Garden Again, 22 June 1952

petals (2)

 “It’s wonderful to catch the moment a peony spills its multitude of petals” 

It’s gratifying to know that gardeners across time and place have similar experiences, like Vita Sackville-West and my friend Jane commenting, each in her unique voice, on the moment a peony shatters in the vase. Both are gardeners who love the garden with an intimate knowledge of the whole and of each plant. At sunset when the work of tending her garden is over, she cuts a few carefully chosen bud and blooms, and brings the garden indoors. These, too, she knows intimately even as each stem gradually opens to full-blown and shatters.

See links below for peony sources. Jane orders from Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nursery. When I worked at the Morris Arboretum, we ordered our white peonies and blue iris from Roy Klehm for the border above the rock wall in the rose garden. Like most peony growers, Klehm’s ships in the fall: fresh, bare root plants with 2 -3 eyes. Helen’s friend Kathleen Gagan runs Peony’s Envy nursery and display gardens in Bernardsville, NJ off 287 south of Morristown, the only display gardens in the area so worth taking a ride. Photos on the website are excellent.

P. venus 1888

Sources for peonies:

Cricket Hill Garden

Klehm’s Song Sparrow Nurseryp. lactiflora 1805

Peony Farm

Peony’s Envy

Swenson Gardens


Martha Stewart: visits a fabulous tree peony garden 5/27/14cc_20110406_horticultural_013_1

The American Peony Society

Peony Classification






Emily Dickinson Poetry Walk

ED Poetry Walk 5 17 2014 023Dickinson Homestead 280 Main Street

The Poetry Walk is an Amherst tradition commemorating Emily Dickinson’s death on 15 May 1886.  Launched by Amherst College students in the ’90s, today the Emily Dickinson Museum hosts the annual pilgrimage from the Homestead through downtown Amherst to the  poet’s grave. For Dickinsonians, it’s not only a commemoration, but also a celebration of the poet’s life.  The theme of the 2014 Poetry Walk is romantic love.


  We gather under the Dickinson white oak (Quercus alba) in the garden

The white oak is leafing out on 17 May 2014.  We imagine golden leaves emerging every spring since the Dickinsons planted a pair of sentinel white oaks to flank the Homestead after their return in 1855.  One is lost; the other endures.  We imagine golden leaves emerging to mark ED’s death on 15 May 1886.

ED Poetry Walk 5 17 2014 111

romantic love is the theme of the 2014 Poetry Walk: volunteers gather under the white oak to read the first selection of love poems  

Participants volunteer to read the thematic selection of poems.  In the first group of poems read under the oak, the poet invokes the heart: i. e. “The Heart asks pleasure first” and  “The Heart has narrow banks”  also “The Heart has many Doors”

ED Poetry Walk 5 17 2014 122

My favorite of these poems from the heart is an early one, #17 (of 1789), written in the summer of 1858 (did a flower accompany the letter poem?):

It’s all I have to bring today – 
This, and my heart beside – 
This, and my heart, and all the fields – 
And all the meadows wide – 
Be sure you count – sh’d I forget 
Some one the sum could tell – 
This, and my heart, and all the Bees 
Which in the Clover dwell. 

Perhaps ED sent the poem with a flower from her garden, maybe the poem itself is the offering, or the poet herself.  We don’t know.  It’s always best to keep the heart and mind open when reading ED.

ED Poetry Walk 5 17 2014 119

Reading ED at the Homestead 17 May 2014 Poetry Walk


the white oak group reads ED love poems with heart  

Berkshires Flagged (37)Next stop, the Evergreens, home of Austin and Sue Dickinson next door, an ongoing restoration project of the Emily Dickinson Museum which reunited the properties in 2004 


At the Evergreens readers perform another selection of love poems 

In this selection of romantic love poems, ED names and invokes love: “You love me — you are sure” and “The Love a LIfe can Show Below” also “Love — thou art high.”

I volunteer to read poem #380, a bit of a tongue twister. It is a letter poem ED sent to cousin [with the fabulous name] Eudocia Converse Flynt, July 1862.  Did a flower accompany the letter poem? As in “It’s all I have to bring today,” the speaker conflates a flower, the poem, and the speaker herself.

Dear Mrs Flint

You and I,did’nt finish talking. Have you room for the sequel, in your Vase?

All the letters I can write 
Are not fair as this — 
Syllables of Velvet — 
Sentences of Plush, 
Depths of Ruby, undrained, 
Hid, Lip, for Thee — 
Play it were a Humming Bird — 
And just sipped — me — 

Dickinson herb 2
Iris and Anemone flowers preserved in ED’s Herbarium compiled 1839-1846 when she studied botany at Amherst Academy.  ED was an avid gardener in a family of gardeners; the poet often sent a stem or bouquet of flowers picked from her garden to accompany letter poems  


the best performer on the Poetry Walk is a Dickinsonian enthusiast of about nine 


Next, we stop briefly at the Emily Dickinson statue where a Dickinson expert reads excerpts from the Master Letters, three love letter poems she wrote to an unknown recipient 1858 – 1861


Emily Dickinson is joined by Robert Frost in A Poetic Dialogue.  This is a fantasy meeting, of course, because ED died nearly two decades before Frost was born. Frost taught at Amherst College.  So what?  Whitman would have been a much more provocative and interesting choice for a dialogue with ED. That I would enjoy.  

Michael J. Virzi. A Poetic Dialogue dedicated 4 May 1996

As the Poetry Walk gets underway through downtown, we head over to the site of the Dickinson’s North Pleasant Street (formerly West Street) house overlooking Amherst West Cemetery where ED lived from age 9 to 24.

North Pleasant Street childhood home of the Dickinson siblings  1840-1855 

amherst map
Map of Amherst Poetry Walk route

We walk through downtown Amherst, and at the site of the Dickinson’s North Pleasant Street house (demolished), adjacent to Amherst West Cemetery, we enjoy some of ED’s gender bending love poems: “Where Thou Art–that–is Home” also “Now I knew I lost her” and “You left me–Sire–two Legacies.”

My favorite of these is #531:

We learned the Whole of Love – 
The Alphabet – the Words – 
A Chapter – then the
mighty Book – 
Then – Revelation closed – 

But in each Other’s eyes 
An Ignorance beheld – 
Diviner than the Childhood’s 
And each to each, a Child – 

Attempted to expound 
What neither – understood – 
Alas, that Wisdom is so large –                             And Truth – so manifold! 

view of Amherst West Cemetery from ED’s North Pleasant Street house site

On a beautiful spring day, our procession streams through Amherst West Cemetery and gathers at ED’s grave for a final commemoration of the poet.

A hushed reverence descends as we gather around ED’s grave and together recite the final poem selected for the 2014 Poetry Walk  

That Love is all there is
Is all we know of Love; 
It is enough, the freight should be 
Proportioned to the groove. 
ED sent the poem to Sue Dickinson

To conclude our commemoration of the poet, participants volunteer to recite a favorite poem or choose one to read from Poems of Emily Dickinson circulating in the group.  At least a dozen participants read favorite poems; a biographer shares an excerpt from her book, and, for her encore, the amazing girl child selects ED’s rebellious poem of liberation: “I’m ceded–I’ve stopped being theirs”  and belts it out.  I swear she’s channeling ED.


our youngest reader selects a zinger and belts it out at ED’s grave

I’m ceded, I’ve stopped being theirs; 
The name they dropped upon my face 
With water, in the country church, 
Is finished using now, 
And they can put it with my dolls, 
My childhood, and the string of spools 
I’ve finished threading too. 

Baptized before without the choice, 
But this time consciously, of grace 
Unto supremest name, 
Called to my full, the crescent dropped, 
Existence’s whole arc filled up 
With one small diadem. 

My second rank, too small the first, 
Crowned, crowing on my father’s breast, 
A half unconscious queen; 
But this time, adequate, erect, 
With will to choose or to reject. 
And I choose just a throne. 


And, I choose my favorite ED five-liner, which I recite from memory:


To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, 
One clover, and a bee, 
And revery. 
The revery alone will do 
If bees are few. 

herb 11

clover specimen from ED’s Herbarium

IMG_8271Afterwards participants crowd around ED’s tomb to get a good shot

IMG_8280 Laura and I linger among the tombstones waiting for the crowd to clear 

Among the tombstones I get a text from Gerry: Church’s finally has Kousa dogwoods in stock, so we’ll plant Joanne’s tree Memorial weekend.  Among the tombstones I call Henry and Jane, relay Gerry’s message, and make arrangements to order the tree.  They are glad that Laura and I are enjoying our Berkshires trip, especially among the tombstones in Amherst West Cemetery on a poetry walk with the ghost of Emily Dickinson.


Dickinson family tombstones

ED Poetry Walk 5 17 2014 146

Emily Dickinson
Born Dec 10, 1830
Called back May 15, 1886

We retrace our steps, stop at Rao’s for a coffee, sit in the warm Amherst sunshine and admire tulips backlit in a slant of afternoon light: a perfect day for a poetry walk with ED.



Images, Herbarium specimens, and poems from the Emily Dickinson Archive

For more on ED see my post: Imagining Emily Dickinson’s Garden

For more on the Master Letters:

The Master Letters of Fuller and Dickinson.  Judith Thurman. The New Yorker, 2013