I'm speaking in Austin

Come see two other speakers and me if you are in the area. Click here for more information at The Garden Conservancy.

Limestone & Water
Plants, Design and Inspiration for the Texas Garden
A Garden Conservancy seminar
Saturday, October 31 | 8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, TX
Cosponsored by Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, University of Texas at Austin

Four garden design experts share their experience with innovative design in a hot climate. If you aren’t lucky enough to live in Austin but live and garden elsewhere in a dryer climate, this seminar applies to you too.

Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, TX


Smarter Gardens: gardening with less but getting more
Stephen Orr, garden writer, NYC
Stephen identifies a new revolution in garden design that treats gardens not as resource guzzlers—water, labor, materials, energy—but as conserving and graceful places in which to live and rest year ‘round.

Plant Driven Design: honoring plants, place, and spirit
Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden, garden designers, Austin/Fort Collins, CO
By putting plants first, the Ogdens empower gardeners to design and designers to plant, while creating a powerful connection between place, plants, and people. Authors of Plant-Driven Design: Creating Gardens That Honor Plants Place, and Spirit (Timber Press, Oct 2008)

Outside You Can Live In
Dylan Crain Robertson, D-Crain design and construction, Austin
Big Red Sun co-founder Dylan Robertson crafts and maintains elegantly functional outdoor living spaces that include sophisticated built environments and sensitive plantings.

It's raining in LA!

Los Angelenos are finally getting rain for the first time in many many months. Hooray! Let's hope it doesn't come all at once but signals a break for the long-suffering gardeners in drought-ridden California. Read more about it at my friend Ivette's blog, The Germinatrix. (photo Ivette Soler)

Pamela Schwerdt (1931-2009)

Through sheer horticultural prowess Pamela Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger, her partner of 60 years (both pictured above), made the plantings at Sissinghurst world famous even after the death of the garden's charismatic owners, Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson . Read Tony Lord's informative obituary of Pamela Schwerdt, who died on September 11th, here.
"The pair contacted various gardening correspondents including Sackville-West, then writing for the Observer. She knew of nowhere but wrote again a week later to say she needed a head gardener: would Pam be interested? Pam replied 'yes, but we are two'. Sackville-West invited them to visit in mid-July. They found a garden with good bones designed by Harold and romantic and profuse planting by Vita. But there were many weeds and Sackville-West lamented that the season was over. This Pam and Sibylle saw as a challenge, and decided to take the job.
It was then unusual to have one lady head gardener: two was perhaps a first. Sibylle recalls the visiting public gawping as though they were exhibits in a zoo. Sackville-West gave them free rein to plant as they saw fit, a policy that continued after Sissinghurst passed to the National Trust in 1967."—Tony Lord
Note: the above photograph is by Valerie Finnis. For more of her wonderfully evocative portraits of the 20th-century's most famous English gardeners buy the book, Garden People: The Photographs of Valerie Finnis.
PS Thanks D, for the tip.

Pamela Schwerdt and Sibylle Kreutzberger, photographed in 2004 by Tessa Traeger / National Portrait Gallery, London.

Rooftop Farms in Brooklyn

While working on my garden book this summer, one of my favorite discoveries was Rooftop Farms in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Not only is the 6,000 square foot, three-story high rooftop an agri-engineering marvel thanks to Chris and Lisa Goode at Goode Green Design, it is a wonderfully bucolic place to visit.

During the Sunday market days (the only time the farm is open to the public), you can see boats chug up and down the East River against a storybook-perfect view of the Manhattan skyline seemingly just a few block away while buying your organic radishes, tomatoes, lettuce, kale and peppers. Read more about the farm and how it came to be in this article at Edible Brooklyn.

The rooftop's rich layer of installed soil has yielded hundreds of pounds of produce over the first season. Annie Novak and Ben Flanner, the patient and hard-working urban farmers, have been selling their vegetables to restaurants and to the general public all season. But they only have two market days left, Sunday, October 18th and Sunday, October 25th from (9am-4pm).

Be sure to visit before they put the farm to bed for the winter. I bought the best tomatoes I had all summer from Ben and Annie. Click here to find out how to visit and learn more about their workshops. The farm is easily accessible from the G train.

Neat rows of bush beans, peppers and baby lettuces.

Looking back towards Long Island City, Queens. The farm sits near the northern border of Brooklyn

Tomatoes from a little earlier in the season

Upstate fall

This past weekend upstate was so autumnal. It seems like we've gone from high summer to fall just like that. Temperatures feel colder than normal (at least in my estimation) and the color of the leaves has started. While I wait for the bulb order to arrive there is not much gardening to do, at least not until all the leaves are on the ground.

One of the old lake cabins in our neighborhood

The leaves are just starting to turn on the other side of the lake

"Der Einsame im Herbst" from Das Lied von der Erde by Gustave Mahler—Janet Baker and The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra

This is my favorite house in our lake community. It is painted with creosote and we liked the charcoal shade a lot so we took our paint swatches up and held them up to the side of the house to match the color.

Big blowsy colchicums are always a surprise. I planted these autumn-blooming bulbs several years back and usually forget I have them until they pop up unexpectedly in October. Because the plants flower separately from the leaves (which come earlier in the summer and then wither away), the plants are sometimes called naked ladies. Several other plants behave similarly.
Though my naked ladies flop around in a drunken sort of way and look kind of messy, I don't judge them too harshly. I think they behave as good representations of the romantically exhausted fall garden. Plant them in late summer or early fall and they will bloom within a few weeks.

This Colchicum autumnal might be 'Lilac Wonder' but there are quite a few cultivars that look pretty much the same to me. Click the photo to see the subtly tessaleted pattern on the petals.
The plant and its extract colchicine are very poisonous if eaten, on par with arsenic. Administered carefully, it has been used for centuries to treat gout and now is being studied as a treatment for certain cancers.

Catching one last nap on our dock before it is removed for the winter

I bought a of couple of asters at the garden center. This year they are as tight as a mum. So I've really planted them for next season when I hope they will get wild and rangy. This one is called 'Frolic'. If it grows back dome-shaped next time it's coming right out.

The edge of the lake

Colchicums make unexpectedly good cut flowers. Since the long flower stems look so fragile, I thought it would droop immediately but it lasted for several days.

The rare ghost plant (aka indian pipe or corpse plant) grows fairly frequently in the dark forests around our house—we even have them in the front yard under the hemlocks and beeches. Like an apparition, Monotropa uniflora won't show itself for long. This milky white wildflower doesn't rely on chlorophyll but instead gets its nutrients from a complex relationship with nearby tree fungi. Of course, I get very excited in my own quiet way when I see them since they look like no other plant.

Our house

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Undergrowth with Two Figures by Vincent Van Gogh, Cincinnati Art Museum

A double-lot garden redo in Brooklyn

Read my new article on a beautiful backyard renovation in Brooklyn.
The New York Times, Recapturing the Terrain.

Photo: Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times