June 9, 2018

A 50th Birthday Party Done Right

Some folks kick back and relax on their 50th birthday.  Some decide to take on a tough assignment.  Count the Greenleaf Garden Club of Milford among the latter group.

Where incoming horticulture is
I have a passing acquaintance with what are called ‘standard flower shows’.  If you walk into a room and see many groups of four floral designs, horticulture, and educational exhibits – and the titles indicate it is built around a theme – you’re in a standard flower show.  ‘Standard’ means the organization putting in on is following a set of rules about what kinds of designs can be used, the number of entries, what else is going to be displayed (e.g., horticulture and educational displays) and most importantly, how it will be judged.

Assembling a floral design - it all
seems so chaotic, but it isn't
Standard flower shows are not for the faint of heart.  You need a fair-sized venue, you need separate groups of people to create a schedule, lasso people to enter, build or scrounge up (and then paint) the pedestals (called ‘staging’) to be used, ensure all floral design materials are what they say they are, ensure all horticulture presented for display is what it says it is, ensure that floral designs conform to what the ‘schedule’ says it is supposed to be, type up and ensure everything is spelled correctly, and find accredited judges who are current with an ever-changing set of rules, and clerks to take down those judges’ comments.

Will they come?  And will they
bring horticulture?  Or will there
be rows of empty tables?
Oh, and you have to make certain everyone and everything is in the right place in that room (especially difficult with horticulture), ensure the floral designers have sustenance, keep the judges out of sight of the designers and vice-versa, have all the right awards on hand (and ensure they go on the right hosta leaf or six-foot-tall design), keep the designs and horticulture watered, and then clean up the place.

The decision to put on a standard flower show is a process that usually takes six months from start to finish.  It requires coaxing, cajoling, and understanding on the part of its chairman, who will need eight or so committees to handle the tasks enumerated above.  In all, it isn’t unusual for thirty-plus people to be involved.

Creating a table display
The Greenleaf Garden Club turns fifty this year.  The usual commemoration is a luncheon or dinner and a look backward at notable accomplishments.  The Milford club elected to do something quite different:  put on a flower show as a gift to the town.  And, with a tad over fifty members, that event would tap the talents of a sizable percentage of the club’s membership.

I became aware of the event because, weeks earlier, Betty fielded a phone call from an anxious member of the club tasked with ensuring there was lots of horticulture for the show.  Even though Milford is four towns and ten miles away, this person was working the phones overtime, looking for people with ‘known’ interesting plants they might be willing to take a piece of to share with the world. 

Each step is incised with
the name of a battle.
Double-click for  detail.
Betty agreed and, Friday morning, we drove ten carefully curated samples to Milford’s Memorial Hall.  It is an imposing stone building erected at the close of the 19th Century to honor the town’s participation in the Civil War.  The Grand Hall on the second floor is accessed by a curving granite staircase into which are incised the names of the major engagements of that war.  The last step bears the words ‘Surrender at Appomattox’.  (Though, as a son of the South, I note the stairs commemorate only those battles won by the Yankees.)

Inside that Grand Hall was a scene of which I have fond memories: a flower show being nurtured into existence.  At one long table was the ‘intake’ for horticulture; in an alcove, four educational exhibits were being readied.  And, in the main room, individuals and groups worked to assemble floral and table designs in, I think, eight classes.

The design is done, but
is it right?
To the untutored eye, it appears chaotic.  It is anything but.  Designers have a few hours to get right something they may have worked on for weeks.  The table settings class required four groups working in tight quarters to create a set piece built around a common idea – in this, case, a Fourth of July picnic at the town main park.  Even the educational class exhibits each had moving parts – one featured upwards of a dozen small floral arrangements.

Sometime after Betty and I left, probably around 1 p.m., judges came in and made their decisions.  At 4 p.m., there was a party and reception that was open to the public.

Horticulture galore
We returned Saturday morning to see the finished product and, to be perfectly honest, to see how Betty’s horticulture stacked up against the competition (the show was open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.). 

This was the time where everyone crosses their fingers, holds their breath, and waits for the answer to the question everyone has asked themselves for months: will anyone come?

The answer was a resounding ‘yes’.  The room was crowded with people.  Some were friends, some were strangers drawn by publicity about the event.  All were impressed.

The completed picnic tables
Betty and I had one unexpected but highly enlightening encounter.  The ‘blue’ and Educational Display Award went to one from the Milford Library, which displayed its plans for restoration of a garden at the site (which, in turn, sits adjacent to Memorial Hall).  The display was superbly done and ticked every requirement from the judges.  But, better than just a display, Library Director Susan Edmonds was there to explain the project and its present status.  We spent at least fifteen minutes engaged in conversation on the topic.  My fervent hope is that the project gets built exactly as shown, because it will be a gorgeous, environmentally sound, and useful addition to the library.

Judged horticulture.  And Betty got
several 'blues'
The flower show was a great success.  It energized the club by involving its members, and it was a memorable event shared with the larger community.  A golden anniversary luncheon would have left everyone with a full stomach and glow that lasted a few hours.  The Greenleaf Garden Club’s 50th Anniversary Flower Show will leave a lot of people exhausted, but also an indelible sense of having done something fine for the town of Milford.

June 1, 2018

The Siren Call of the Instant Garden

Our first act as homeowners was to
remove dozens of azaleas dying because
they had been planted too close'together
(no, this wasn't the house)

Several moves ago, Betty and I purchased a ‘doctor’s home’.  That house was relatively new and stood at the end of a suburban cul-de-sac in Alexandria, Virginia.  It had been professionally landscaped perhaps five years earlier, and the good doctor (or his landscaper) apparently had a thing for azaleas.

Our first act as homeowners was to remove at least 30 of those shrubs.  The doctor’s landscaper had installed double rows of medium-sized azaleas on two-foot centers.  In the ideal growing conditions of northern Virginia, the shrubs had doubled and tripled in size.  What had looked ‘perfect’ when first planted, now was not only wildly overgrown; plants were dying as they competed for light, food, and water.

Our two new polemonium
I was reminded of that long-ago landscape this past week as we planted two polemonium in our rear garden.  The perennials, commonly known as Jacob’s Ladder, were being added to an area once contemplated as the site of a water feature.  That idea has been shelved for the time being, and perennials will instead anchor the site.

Betty planted the polemonium on two-foot centers – 24 inches between what are (for now) fairly small plants.  To the untutored eye, there is a vast, empty plain between the two specimens.  Why not put in half a dozen and “make a statement”?  Your local garden center will love you for it.

What started as a single
Jack-in-the-pulpit is
now at least six specimens
The answer can be seen all over our garden.  Three years ago, it was a blank slate.  Even after a dozen trees and sixty shrubs, it still looked bare.  We’ve since added roughly 2,000 perennials.  That may sound like a lot but, when spread out over 20,000 square feet of garden, works out to give each plant ten square feet… like putting everything on three-foot centers.

The wonderful thing about plants is that they spread, and seed, freely.  Three years ago we carefully transplanted a single Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) into a shady area of our garden and surrounded it with protective ferns.  The following year, we found two plants.  This year, there are at least six in glorious bloom  

Betty's 'bargain' tiarellas and
heucheras have tripled both in
size and in number
Those 125 tiarellas and heucheras Betty procured at the 2016 Boston Flower & Garden Show have more than tripled in area and number.  Twenty native asters planted in 2015 have completely colonized and carpeted a dry, shady slope where nothing would seem to flourish.  Today the area is a verdant green, and we are pulling out asters where they are encroaching on other perennials.

What we’ve learned is patience is a virtue.  Everyone loves that “perfect garden”, but when everything goes in at once, the result is an image that makes for pretty wall calendars and postcards, but not much else.  And, there’s another problem: the next year, the garden won’t look the same way because some plants are bullies and some are shrinking violets.  A gardener will spend his or her weekends trying to maintain the “status quo”, always unsuccessfully.

A relative handful of native asters have
now colonized this dry hillside
Giving plants time to settle in is a much better idea.  Some won’t make it, some will flourish.  It is up to the gardener to maintain balance while allowing for the serendipity that makes gardens great.  So, that pair of polemoniums will have eight square feet of garden to themselves this year.  I’m counting on there being siblings and offspring come next June.
This is how much a garden can change in just two years - May 10, 2016 and June 1, 2018