Sunday, July 25, 2010

Keywadin, Songadeewin and me

My travels around Vermont have opened a new appreciation for this area. I have been soaking it in and seeing things, some which are simply eye dazzling to every degree in between. I feel like a kid at summer camp. One of my walks took me around some pretty wonderful gardens in the area of Lake Dunmore. The above pictured globe thistle or (echinops banaticus) is a plant that I have tried to grow at home and it has never fared well. Here at the house of a local potter it is the major plant in the front garden.

Bordering the lake another clump of perennials with some of the best lilies you will see anywhere. The white lilies were a mere 5 feet tall. The hot pink ones below were in another corner of the garden at over 7 feet.

On a trip into Middlebury to see some sights I came across this famous two lane covered bridge just as a funnel cloud instantly descended and I thought I would be sucked up in some sort of tornado. Just as fast as it came, the funnel cloud spun and dispersed and the skies returned to the best shades of blues that I have ever seen.

The outing I was on was intended to get me to the University of Vermont Morgan Horse Farm. Here the breed known as Morgan horses were originally bred from a stallion named Figure. This was the first breed of horses of total American origin. The horses are known for their build and trotting ability and were the favorite horse during the Civil War. The site is located on a rambling hillside with magnificent views.

Neighboring swamp to the Morgan Horse Farm

Vermont is rather unique in weather, size and the quickness that paved roads become less so. Leaving Middlebury on Creek Road you follow along the Otter Creek (a great Vermont beer is named for the Creek) then you continue down these great farm fields and before you know it you are on a dirt road called Three Mile Bridge Road (the bridge is long gone but the name remains) with some great farms bordering the Cornwall Swamp Management Area. Wonderful wildlife and scenic beauty and just as fast as the road became gravel it returns to fully paved for another stretch.

Strange times and events led for houses in the area to be abandoned. This typical Vermont farmhouse is slowly being reclaimed by the elements and maybe it will be restored by some owner. It has a perfect metal roof. Adjacent to this beauty is one of a different kind.

Just when you thought you had seen it all next to the abandoned house on Creek Road there is this Chalet with three of these A-frames with a small concrete animal for your pleasure. Hey, it takes all kinds!

Just down the road from the house I am staying is this wonderful old garage with several inches of moss and ferns just waiting to be photographed. I wonder if they get any TV reception, we don't nor do we get any cell phone coverage.

Kampersville is a facility on Lake Dunmore that serves campers of all kinds on a private stretch of forest and lakefront. Here private camping whether by tent of RV are accommodated and the Sexy Squirrel serves to mark a place to resupply yourself on fuel, food or Sunday New York Times (the only place to get it nearby) which is how I came by the squirrel. By the way it was $6.00 for the New England Edition.

These campsites are also here in part because of the attraction of the region and the longstanding heritage of camping. Keywaydin Dunmore is purported to be one of the oldest boys camp in the country dating to 1910 where boys came to rustic cabins and army tents. Songadeewin, its female counterpart dating from the 1920's and now reorganized into the Keywadin management is another of the standards. All I can say is that I wish that I had parents enlightened enough to send me to a camp at such a wonderful place as Lake Dunmore.

Nearby Waterhouses' is yet another campground on the "busy end of the lake" as locals say where you can also get gas for your powerboat.

We are miles away from the major campsites located on the north end of the lake. In the southern end are mostly private homes and family camps like where I am staying. Here too, are unusual camps. While I was kajaking a rain shower started out of the blue and caught me and a cellist at the music camp in the rain. The cellist continued to play making my trip that much more eventful.

As I was saying our side of the lake has fancy and not so fancy houses where families have been returning since the 1930's. I am staying with friends that have called this their summer home since then and met other's like them who share longstanding summer friendships.

This biggest news in the lake is the return of the loons. For almost a hundred years loons were not seen at Lake Dunmore because of its popularity and their need of isolation. A few summers ago a pair returned and are back again. I came close enough on a canoe with friends to take this image. My prior contact with loons has been limited to those on the film On Golden Pond, but this summer I have gotten my fill of them taking the kayak out on daily runs to see them or going out on a neighbor's pontoon boat to an area they have claimed for raising the two chicks. They are very vocal and if you get too close you will get all kinds of alarming bird songs, swear language no doubt, telling you to keep away.

Finally, we had a torrential downpour for about three or four hours; a storm that started with huge hail. By the beginning of the evening there was a clearing of the skies and the Green Mountains opposite us were momentarily lit as though by floodlight and as the light wavered, colors I have only seen on Hudson School Paintings of Frederic Church surfaced. I leave you with this view from our dock. Happy Gardening!

Monday, July 19, 2010

If a cat decides to have kittens in your oven that does not make them biscuits!

Moss Glen Falls on Route 100 near Warren

If a cat decides to have kittens in your oven that does not make them biscuits! In Vermont people are very proud of their heritage, and this saying is one of the many ways that the local folk have of being matter of fact of what qualifies as a Vermonter. It has been many years since I traveled this region on camping adventures with Taxi and my ex. We were much younger and so impressed with this marvelous state; something that could also qualify as a state of mind. No billboards, sublime natural beauty, simplicity of scale, natural forces at play such as black fly, mud season and a hardy winter that keep most away but the toughest.

Beaver Lodge and Lake

I was so impressed with this region and its people that I considered moving here. I thought I would venture out of my natural hardiness zone (those we apply to plants) that I personally use to decide if I can survive in a place. The lowest I considered was for Maine which rates a 6 on the coast. Currently I live in zone 7 which is slightly warmer and shorter period of deep freeze. But Vermont, well, that was another matter. Vermont was a rather chilly zone 3 or 4 which meant periods of deep freeze of 20 below zero. So I discarded the idea of life in the heart of Yankee country.

Writer's Camp at Breadloaf of Middleburry College

True to my expectations, Vermont has continued to excel with New England values allowing freedoms as contrary to the national norm as to be the first state that allowed gay marriage. Marriage, not civil unions! In spite of very strong religious and family values Vermont is a place that prides itself on freedom: Equal under the law. Now, thanks to global warming, Vermont has inched closer to my natural hardiness zone. Depending on the map you use, it can be as warm as zone 5b. No, I am not moving here, but the thought of it is tempting. For the last three days I have been swimming in warm spring freshwater lakes and traveling a land that can only be described as magical.

Warren Inn

The people I have met and the places I have seen lack fluff and are rather earthy and natural. The natural beauty is inspiring with long glacial valleys and stands of wildflowers as far as the eye can see. Best of all, this area is filled with people still filled with the spirit of adventure modern pioneers, still making life in a place than can be less than hospitable. To my surprise I found a young couple selling Cuban food to the locals in the Middlebury Farmer’s Market. The Cuban Diaspora is remarkable.

Love of gardening

Best of all I am staying with UU friends. I am seeing Vermont through their eyes. Friends who have lived here for most of their life. Flatlanders, the term used to describe non native Vermonters, but people who love their second home and who enjoy sharing all that they love about Vermont.

Enjoy a little Vermont!


First of the Summer Corn. It was real good.

Saturday Farmers Market in Middleburry

Elizabeth and Clayton a Cuban and a Yankee couple at the Farmers Market

Our swimming float

Samson egging me on for another toss in the lake

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Heat Wave!

For over a month we have not had any rain. For the last week temperatures have been hovering above 100 degrees devastating gardens in the Northeast. When Marilyn Monroe sang the song Heat Wave in There’s no Business Like Show Business it was fun sizzle, not this! I have been out and seen trees fried and lesser plants shriveled beyond recognition. My own garden has had a few shrubs shrivel and lesser groundcover like the violets practically vanish. Yet it has managed with just one hose drink of water and yesterday the rains came and gave us a bit of respite. More rain is due soon which will help a great deal before greater damage is done.

On another topic, for the last month I have been witness to the fury and passion of the World Cup. About an hour ago, my team, Spain, won! All that I wish is that I could be celebrating in the Gran Via in Madrid. This "Great Way" is a central avenue in the heart of Madrid where thousands upon thousands joined to watch the match projected from large screens. The final scene televised of this great victory spectacle showed the crowds dancing in the streets like only the Spanish can.

This last month I was also in touch with Laura Moss the photographer who recorded my garden last year for this year’s New Jersey Monthly May article that featured the garden. I was able to horse trade with her garden design for my personal use to her images. Rather than show fried pictures of my plantings I will just show you the one (above) with the rains starting and let you enjoy Laura’s splendid appreciation of Spring and the plants in my garden. They are enchanting. Happy Gardening!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy 4th of July

Willow shading my garden bench

A tree is the greatest legacy one gardener can leave another. Trees used to be the spires that in other times defined our skylines. They are magnificent for their foliage, size and variety. They provide shelter and food. Buddha found enlightenment under a tree. Yet today in our culture they are seen as threats something that can loom over a house and must be suspect of potential damage.

When I first started as a landscape architect I was approached by Old Swedes Church in Wilmington Delaware to look over the churchyard and make recommendations for what they could do to save this historic landscape. Over three hundred years old at the time, there was not much that could be done but to plan for its next 300 hundred years. They had lost about half of their trees and the other half would follow suit with time. I evaluated what was there and came up with a plan that allowed for maintaining vistas and planting patterns with the new trees. Today Old Swedes continues its legacy and honors members with new trees planted in memories of loved ones.

A ginkgo at the Woodlands. Locale of first American introduction.

I have, over time worked, on other historic projects that have involved mansions, graveyards, city parks, ruined palaces in foreign countries and even Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater consulting on the importance of the trees that delineated the site. Unfortunately many people don’t appreciate or take care of these gifts from our past. This July 4 weekend, if you are enjoying a cool breeze under tree in a bench or a hammock take a look at what is directly above you and take heed: this tree may need your help!

Mighty American Sycamore at Woodlands

Trees need care just like any other plant. They can grow into mighty structures, but getting there is not as simple as all that. We have this understanding that plants once established can be forgotten. That may be true for smaller shrubs or other plantings, but trees, if they are to last centuries in urban environments, need to be cared.

Rare fastigiated Zelkova at Woodlands

Typical homeowners have a tendency to spend more money on yearly plantings of annuals like impatience than they do on trees. Trees don’t need much, but they need a few things if they are to survive for the long haul.

Left: Magnolia damaged last winter by snows was hacked and now detritus is left to fester bugs and who knows what else to damage home and other vegetation

Right: Parking area under the most tender roots are slowly killing this pin oak. Dead branches barely hang on above these cars that may hurt individuals and certainly pay back the cars.

Here are four things that trees must have. 1. They need water year round. Most people don’t water in winter because it rains, yet trees go into great stress in winter because of lack of water. 2. Trees need to be pruned. Carrying dead wood from storm damage or as a matter of course, is a magnet for bugs and fungal infections that can destroy them. 3. Every now and then trees need to be fertilized especially if they are growing in difficult situations. 4. Most importantly trees need air in their roots! The Mall in Washington has one of the most compacted soils anywhere in the nation. There, overworked National Park Service staff aerates the soil around the remaining American elms to help them survive. It often surprises me how people that teach their children well come home and park their cars on top of tree roots day after day. The results, I assure you will be a dead tree. In most major building projects, before construction begins landscape architects require that tree plantings to be saved are cordoned off with fencing so that construction crews will not kill them by laying down materials or parking equipment on their roots. Take heed, like all living things trees need their air so we can get ours.

Remaining English elms at the Woodlands

Years ago I worked on a project at Woodland Cemetery. This was once the plantation of William Hamilton a great plant collector of his day. He shared his plants with buddies like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. Today, what little remains of his plantings can be seen in the remaining 38 acre West Philadelphia landmark. It served to educate young botanist at the University of Pennsylvania because of a friendship between Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin.

My English Elm twig standing barely 5 feet tall

The project was to find a modern day use for this languishing landscape and historic structures that could provide the income to survive into a new future. Great ideas came and went but not the money to implement them, which is probably just as well. My association with the organization garnered me a prized English elm sapling barely 3 inch twig from one of the Board Members.

Historic Painting of The Woodlands circa 1760's showing "Elm Walk" left of central clearing.

The Elm Walk at the Woodlands framed a view to the Schuylkill River that visitors often enjoyed. Today, nearing three hundred years old the few remaining trees serve as a shady lane to mark a few graves now that the Septa commuter trains have cut off the landscape from the historic Schuylkill River view. I have nurtured the twig for almost ten years in my swamp garden where it is now well on its way to make a lasting impression and hopefully last three hundred years. Happy 4th of July