Archive for July, 2012


When we travelled down to Mohonk Mountain House (linked here), we also visited the Vanderbilt estate in Hyde Park, New York, north of Poughkeepsie. On a pleasant summer evening, we walked the grounds and visited the Italian gardens.

Frederick Vanderbilt purchased the 600 acre country estate of Walter Langdon, Jr. in 1895.  Located on the Hudson River, the once-grand property had fallen into disrepair. In 1896, Vanderbilt began the construction of a modern new mansion, complete with electricity, on the site of the original buildings. The mansion stands today much as it was after alterations in 1906.


The rear facade of the mansion overlooks the Hudson River, offering a beautiful view. With their main residence in New York City, Frederick and his wife visited the Hyde Park property seasonally.


Frederick, the grandson of Cornelius “the Commodore” Vanderbilt who had built the vast Vanderbilt fortune, was a successful businessman in his own right and controlled a fortune of more than $78 million. Frederick also had a passion for gardening. The layout for the formal Italian-style gardens was started in 1903. The location of the gardens and tiered framework was established by Walter Langdon, who began the garden in 1874.


The annuals tier features ornately designed beds showing off mass plantings of annuals. The designs of the beds on this tier are based on the designs used by Vanderbilt.


The Cherry Tree Walk begins with an ornate brick pergola and leads to an elaborate pool house, with a classical statue and reflecting pool. Bordering each side of the path are sloping walls with pockets for plants. The cherry trees that give the aisle its name line the walk. Italian gardens typically included the use of symmetry, central walks, terraces, walls, formally clipped hedges, water, statues, and evergreen plants.


The statue, affectionately known as “Barefoot Kate”, was added in 1902.  In front of the pool are a series of beds and borders filled with perennials.


Frederick and his wife had no children, and after his death in 1938, the estate passed to his niece, Margaret Van Alen, who put it up for sale. Unfortunately, the Depression meant that there were no buyers for it. It helps to have rich neighbours, especially one who is President. Franklin D. Roosevelt, who lived next door, knew the estate well and did not wish to see it broken up for development. He arranged for Congress to purchase the estate in 1940 and make it part of the National Park Service (NPS).


With the advent of World War II, the estate fell into disrepair. The gardens were neglected until the late 1970s, when the NPS received a grant to repair and restore the walls and structures of the garden, but no money was set aside to replant the beds.


In 1984, three enterprising local gardeners approached the NPS to ask permission to attempt to restore the plantings in the garden and the F. W. Vanderbilt Garden Association, Inc., staffed by volunteers was formed. Since then, volunteers have provided countless hours of work and fundraising, and the gardens reflect the care of many hands. The rose garden still awaits restoration.


Admission to the garden and grounds is free. The grounds feature beautiful views of the Hudson River and many lovely, huge, old trees. Tours of the house are available, although we didn’t attend as we were visiting in the evening. For more information about the gardens, visit the FWVGA site linked here.


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Found on a bench at Mohonk Mountain House

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Echinacea Double Delight

I recently came across an article in a gardening magazine in which the author rails against the unsightly new echinacea hybrids. These poofy clowns would never find their way into her garden! Give her a good, old fashioned coneflower that the pollinators will recognize as a real flower. I’m not such a purist, myself. I have very much enjoyed adding some of the new hybrid echinaceas to the bed. Pictured above is one of them, Pink Double Delight.

Echinacea Magnus

That’s not to say that I spurn traditional coneflowers, not at all. They have a starring role in the midsummer garden. While many of the new echinaceas are smaller plants, standing about 2 feet tall, Magnus holds its flowers high, reaching about four feet.

Echinacea Ruby Star

And here is Ruby Star. It’s just a little shorter than Magnus, and its flowers have a slightly more intense colouring.

Echinacea Primadonna

Primadonna is blooming in a partly shaded section of the garden. The muted flowers are set off beautifully by Geranium ‘Rozanne’.

Echinacea Sundown

Sundown is an unusual shade that I find really is suggestive of a sunset.

Echinacea Alba and Sunset

Here’s Echinacea Alba, with Sundown in the background.

Echinacea Virgin

Virgin is another nice white coneflower. It has large, unusually flat flower heads, with the petals held out stiffly rather than drooping in the traditional coneflower manner.

Echinacea Hot Papaya

I still have space for some exotic doubles. Hot Papaya bloomed heavily last year, and put on an amazing show. It is just starting to bloom this year. It’s not quite so profuse this year, owing, no doubt, to the drought.

Echinacea Meringue

Meringue is situated in an area that has morning shade, where the greenish tint to the flower cones is well-displayed.

Echinacea Secret Passion

Finally, here are a couple of plants that were new to the garden last fall and are just putting out their first show of flowers. I’m really enjoying Secret Passion, above, and Milkshake, below, which are both set off nicely by lime green hosta leaves.

Echinacea Milkshake

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When I was strolling around the garden with my morning coffee a few days ago, this busy garden visitor caught my eye. It’s a Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe). It was concentrating mostly on the monarda, or bee balm flowers, moving from one to the next down the row of plants. I had been thinking they were past their best and needed deadheading, but the moth clearly felt otherwise.

When you think of moths, the creatures that first come to mind might be the drab little characters that flutter around your porch light at night, but moths are a diverse and interesting lot. The Hummingbird Clearwing is also sometimes called a Hawkmoth, and is a member of the Sphinx moth family.


Sphinx moths are fast, powerful fliers. The Hummingbird Clearwing has narrow wings with a dark band surrounding the translucent centre that gives this moth its name. Sphinx caterpillars are called hornworms because they typically have a short “horn” on their posterior end. Most hornworms don’t spin a cocoon but pupate in an earthen cell, built from leaf litter, just below the soil surface.

For more on diurnal sphinx moths, visit Seabrooke’s account at The Marvelous in Nature, linked here.


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Here, as across much of the continent, it has been hot, hot, hot and dry, dry, dry. In fact, from July 1st last year until June 30th this year, the weather has been both the warmest and the driest ever recorded during any previous July to June period in the Ottawa region. Our poor little river is no longer flowing. It has been reduced to a series of puddles interrupted by dry river bed.


Here, as elsewhere, there is talk of farmers losing crops. As climate change takes hold, we can expect plenty more of the same. Dave Phillips, Environment Canada senior climatologist, notes ‘Canada is not the Great White North that it used to be.’ If only Conservative denial of the problem could halt climate change, we’d be in good shape, but their strategy doesn’t seem to be working.


Still, my garden has been performing well, in spite of the drought. As you can seem in this overview of the main garden, it is mainly the grass pathways that are suffering. That’s not because the garden is well-watered. I don’t water anything except new plants still settling in. The rest are mostly on their own. When I do water, I use buckets or a watering can so that I can deliver water directly to the root area, rather than broadcasting water with a sprinkler.


Here’s my secret weapon. Mulch, and lots of it. I purchase it in bulk from a local tree service, shredded branches. The mulch both keeps down weeds and helps the soil retain moisture so it isn’t baked dry by the sun.

As I write this, there are thunderstorms in the forecast. Exciting! Last week, we had one single storm. It brought a 45 minute downpour of rain. What a blessing! I stood outside on the porch and enjoyed the rain as the garden sighed with relief.


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Painted Lady on Purple Coneflower


Vanessa cardui on Echinacea ‘Prairie Splendor’

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Here’s Remy, sitting by the Giant Maiden Grass (Miscanthus giganteus). Remy is about 18 inches tall. The Giant Maiden Grass is 9 feet! In June, the garden is dominated by the Giant Fleeceflower (Persicaria polymorphus), which I wrote about in a post entitled Another Summer in the Garden, linked here. But by July, it has been overtaken by other high-risers now hitting their stride. Foremost amongst these is this huge grass, and it isn’t done yet. It has its seed stalks to top off its nine feet still to come. I purchased this grass in the fall of 2010, so this is just its second summer in the garden. You can see how it looked that first fall in my post Tucked Into Bed. It’s sure come a long way since then!


Just down from the Giant Maiden Grass is this Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum). It’s a native of eastern North America. It is topping out this year at 7 1/2 feet as it starts blooming. The large leaves are fused in pairs with the leaf opposite, embracing the interesting square stalk, giving the impression of the plant stalk perforating the leaves. The leaves form a little cup that captures rain water and gives the plant its common name.


Coming in at a mere 6 feet, the Giant Coneflower (Rudbeckia maxima) falls far short of some of its neighbours, but it is a very cool plant. When I first saw this rudbeckia, a member of the black-eyed susan family, in a nursery, I thought it had been mislabelled. It sure doesn’t look like other black-eyed susans.


Its large, glaucous leaves are nothing like typical rudbeckia leaves. Maxima is native to the southern states, but has so far been hardy here in Eastern Ontario. This is its third year in the garden. It’s flowers, held high on long, stately stems, are quite attractive. This one has attracted a little white crab spider.


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Garden Path

Here is a sampling of some of the daylilies blooming this week.

Galena Gilt Edge

Galena Gilt Edge

Flaming Wildfire July 18/ 12

Flaming Wildfire

Starstruck July 17/ 12


Ruby Spider July 17/ 12

Ruby Spider

Custard Candy July 18/ 12

Custard Candy

Rue Madeline July 17/ 12

Rue Madeline

Scarlet Pansy July 17/ 12

Scarlet Pansy

Siloam Little Girl July 17/ 12

Siloam Little Girl

Vesuvian July 17/ 12


Alpha Centauri July 17/ 12

Alpha Centauri

Geneva Firetruck July 17/12

Geneva Firetruck

Dragon Dreams July 18/ 12

Dragon Dreams

Troubled Sleep

Troubled sleep

Old King Cole

Old King Cole



Golden Tycoon

Golden Tycoon

Pink Super Spider

Pink Super Spider

Texas Gal

Texas Gal

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Weary Gardener

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Daylilies are so named because each individual flower just blooms for a single day. Thus, every morning there is a fresh crop of blooms to admire. Walking through the garden to see what flowers are open today never gets old. Here are a few of the daylilies that have been lighting up the garden this week.

Brookwood Lee Causey

Brookwood Lee Causey

Chance Encounter

Chance Encounter

Choo Choo Fantasy

Choo Choo Fantasy

Coyote Moon

Coyote Moon

Earth Angel

Earth Angel

Galena Gilt Edge

Galena Gilt Edge

Karen's Curls

Karen’s Curls

Key Lime

Key Lime

Mata Hari

Mata Hari

Rose Emily

Rose Emily

Starman's Quest

Starman’s Quest

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