Weeds by Paulene Poparad
By PAULENE POPARAD
November is for …. vacation memories, and a renewed commitment to the garden
I will have someday.
In 1934, famous American composer Cole Porter wrote the following lyrics for
his hit Broadway show “Anything Goes,” whose revival CD I play often in the
car. If you see my lips moving at a stop light, I’m not having a nervous
breakdown; I’m probably singing:
And there’s no cure like travel
To help you unravel
The worries of living today
When the poor brain is cracking
There’s nothing like packing
A suitcase and sailing away.
We did just that recently, sailing 2,200 miles in the Oldsmobile to North
Carolina. There’s nothing like seeing fantastic gardens to inspire us to do
something new in our own back yard. Even a little greatness goes a long way,
and I certainly saw jaw-dropping gardens on this trip.
Biltmore. Need I say more? For the 14 of you who have never heard of it,
it’s the largest family-owned private residence (250 rooms) in the United
States. Built in Asheville at the foot of the Smoky Mountains in 1889-1895,
George Vanderbilt acquired 125,000 acres for his country home and bought the
nearby town to house the workmen and artisans who brought famed architect
Richard Morris Hunt’s plans to life.
Yet it was landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted who gave Biltmore its
Olmsted designed New York’s Central Park and the U.S. Capitol grounds. His
goal at Biltmore was to enhance the natural beauty of the land and to hide
the scars of construction. By late 1893 nursery superintendent Chauncey
Beadle had purchased 209,925 plants, some from famous arboretums here and in
Europe, and collected 366,527 locally. In all, 2.8 million plants were
installed on the estate.
One area alone of the 250-acre wooded park and pleasure gardens surrounding
the house had 43,382 plants of 669 different varieties. To replant the woods
felled for Biltmore construction, the first managed forestry program and
school in the U.S. was begun there.
Without seeing Biltmore, it’s hard to wrap your senses around how vast it
and the grounds are. Or how unbelievable are its treasures. There are two
Renoir paintings in the Chippendale bedroom alone.
The winding three-mile Biltmore driveway, which starts surprisingly near a
busy Asheville intersection, is closely planted to impart an air of
seclusion. Today the estate --- a working farm and winery --- contains 8,000
acres. According to The Biltmore Company, the home hosts about one million
visitors a year, has 90 rooms open to the public, and employs 1,000 people
in the house and gardens, on the farm, and in the gifts shops, restaurants,
winery and Inn.
This winter I’ll share more about the inspiring Biltmore gardens, or as much
of them as I saw in two hours and 45 minutes. I considered the whole
experience a celebration of the talent and vision of thousands of craftsmen
and women who helped build a monument for the ages. At $34 per adult
admission, Bernie thought Biltmore was a monument to excess and greed, and
he couldn’t wait to get out of there.
If you want to learn more about Biltmore for free, log on to
www.biltmore.com for a cybervisit. I highly recommend the softcover Guide to
The whole purpose of this vacation was to get me to Raleigh, N.C. for Oct.
12 to join about 25 other avid gardeners who accompanied Plant Delights
Nursery owner Tony Avent on a two-hour tour of his Juniper Level Botanic
Garden. It was 83 degrees, sunny, and I was in heaven.
Avent’s enthusiasm is contagious. He promised to send us on plant (and
Latin) overload, and he did. I came away energized, ready to look at my
garden with a more critical eye, and enthused about trying early-blooming
tropicals as annuals next year.
A well-known hosta hybridizer (‘Elvis Lives,’ ‘Tatoo,’ ‘Hillbilly Blues’),
Avent also travels the globe searching for rare and unusual plants, shrubs
and trees gardeners can use to expand their horticultural horizons. His
botanic garden is a winding, crazy-quilt trial bed for these found, shared
and hybridized plants, some of them endangered species.
Hostas generally were not featured in this area. Avent said genetically,
hosta and agave, the latter spiny sun-loving desert plants, are the two
closest related and some want to breed them to give hostas more drought and
sun tolerance. “We’ll call them hostaves.”
Avent believes the No. 1 problem with gardening in America is that the
“experts” have taken the fun out of it. “We’ve been taught that you garden
with hedge shears and a sprayer, that you have 12 different plants and that
anything more, your garden looks junky and weedy, and that you have to plant
in huge drifts. And you can’t buy something unless you know where you’re
going to plant it. You get the plant because you enjoy it.”
For any plant, Avent believes soil is the key. Organic matter is liberally
used for his plants, many growing in raised mounds to improve drainage, the
importance of which gardeners often underestimate, he said, especially in
winter. No 10-10-10 in this garden. “Our rule is, if it doesn’t benefit the
microbes, it doesn’t go in here.”
Despite their longer Zone 7 growing season, his garden will rest for the
winter, a time when Avent said the bones of a garden will show its true
structure. His plants are grown in blazing sun, under a canopy of trees and
in a bog, each appropriate to its cultural requirements, even down to the
gravel mulch some enjoy and actually need to reseed.
”There’s never enough bold textures,” Avent tells us as we pass a big-leaf
alocasia or Elephant Ear. It seems every other plant is one of his
favorites. Bees and butterflies abound, and he often comments how important
fragrance is in the garden.
Avent wants to push the plant envelope. He grows one from China native to
the much warmer Zones 9 and 10, yet it has survived trials in Minnesota. “We
really can’t judge where a plant comes from is how winter-hardy it will be.
That’s what a garden’s about, wishing and hoping.”
As anyone who has read a Plant Delights catalog knows, Avent likes oddballs,
both people and plants. One plant’s trunk instead of growing up grows into
the ground, some to more than five feet down. Avent – who’s pictured in the
December issue of Horticulture magazine recommending DecoColor Permanent
Markers as the perfect holiday gift – also laments that many of our unusual
native plants and trees are under-appreciated and under-used.
Seeing Avent’s garden, which surrounds a private residence, gave me the
courage not to apologize for anything I do in my garden, and not to feel
guilty when I plant in drifts of one. It’s what we have in our gardens, not
how many of each, that counts.
And I won’t let the words “Not hardy in Zone 5” scare me off ever again. If
Avent can cut his banana down with a chain saw and fill a wire cage around
it with crushed leaves to overwinter it so it will fruit again next year, I
can try to find a way to protect something new and special to me, too.
Wasn’t October the pits? I’ve put off sooooo many garden tasks that need to
be done, like spraying Wiltpruf on the rhododendrons to help prevent
moisture loss from drying winter winds; picking even MORE hickory nuts out
of the beds before I lay down shredded leaves; and planting tulip bulbs.
I’ve lost the coleus and geraniums to frost, but many plants are still
holding their tattered heads high. The bush fuchsia ‘Gartenmeister Bonstedt’
wilted while I was on vacation, but when cutting it down I saw green wood
inside the stems. I whacked it back, dug it up and planted it indoors. It’s
sprouting new leaves.
It’s near a south window with a group of tired houseplants I recently
repotted. The Christmas cactus is already budding out, and I took starts of
a fantastic flowering plant I still don’t know the name of to share as
holiday gifts. When repotting, be alert that the new soil may have different
water retention properties and you may need to water more (or less) than
Outside, I’ve been keeping my eye on what appears to be two baby canna
plants that apparently self-sowed in a space between two concrete pads near
the basement door, adjacent to a downspout and somewhat sheltered. At first
I thought it was a weed.
Was it last year or two years ago (three?) that I planted a canna nearby?
Maybe it was someone else’s over-sexed canna, although my neighbors’ yards
are pretty far away.
The five big leaves on the 17-inch tall canna have turned to mush, but the
8-inch canna still looks fine. Both are encircled with staked clear plastic
empty mulch bags to protect them. Cannas can grow 5 feet tall from tender
rhizomes, their fan-like leaves sometimes streaked or colored, topped with
bold flowers in yellow, red, pink or orange.
My dilemma: if the baby canna has started making a rhizome (a lumpy, swollen
root), how do I get it out of the space between the concrete slabs? I’d love
to winter the canna over on the porch and put it out to flower next summer;
in the fall, I’d dig up the rhizome, clean it off and store it like I will
my dug-up dahlia tubers this week, in crushed leaves in a cardboard box on
Speaking of dahlias, whizzing by on the highway while on vacation I saw a
woman standing beside what must have been 100 dahlias, each grown in perfect
precision in a grid pattern on tall stakes lined up like soldiers at
attention. The colors just leaped out at you. I admired her foresight to use
such study stakes. Maybe it was a cash crop and she sold the flowers.
If you need to garden this month and it’s really cold, your best friend
might be a helmet liner for a construction hard hat.
Wool or cotton on the outside and heavily-lined on the inside, it has flaps
to cover your neck, ears and some even a flap to cover the forehead. Gals,
you’ll look incredibly stupid like I do, and talk about a bad hair day, but
you’ll be toasty warm and able to stay out longer to pound in stakes before
the ground freezes for burlap windbreaks around special shrubs, like tree