Friday, December 24, 2010

Wreath Making and Future Workshops

I have been making winter and holiday wreaths for years. I was first taught the craft by my mother who taught me to use natural materials and to be creative with them. Later on she taught me bow making in which I really later explored while making wreaths at the farm I worked at years ago. Both are simple skills that anyone can learn and expand on.

I now make all the wreaths here in Cornwallville from scratch using pre-made forms and as well as ones I compose myself. I gather greens and materials from different sources and have my "secret places" as my mother and I refer to them (and as does she to her own).

They are an absolute joy to create and the techniques and creativity you can express are endless. Back in the day when I was being paid to make wreaths for a couple of years, I realized that they were in high demand but also wanted to teach people how to make them as well. I think they are short lived works of botanical art, much like a floral arrangement but lasting well over a month or so. Creating them together in a group for me is also part of the process (think a sewing circle, but a bit more fun).

So it is in this idea of using creativity and crossing it with botanical materials, in which I want to inform you that during the holiday season of 2011 I will be offering a few wreath making workshops. They will take place here at the M.H. Merchant Stone House, and possibly one in Northern New Jersey and will provide all the materials needed. The details will come most likely in October.

The final wreath below is not one I created but one I received as a gift from my good gardening friend Heather Grimes. It just goes to show how creative one can be. Instead of using evergreen plant material, Heather composed an absolutely charming wreath for me out of dried herbs and seed heads. Now that's being a true gardening wreath maker!

I hope you enjoyed this quick glance at some wreaths here in Cornwallville and that it inspires you to get creative with your holiday decor.

Happy Holidays from the Cornwallville Gardens!

Friday, December 10, 2010


These images are of the first hoarfrost here in Cornwallville. Hoarfrost is a crystalline deposit of frozen water vapor on vegetation and other outdoor surfaces. It is also one of my favorite works by my partner Stephen.

It can be one of the most magical things to happen to the winter garden. It looks as if sugar has been sprinkled from the clouds and everything it lands on shimmers with sweetness.

For S.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Arrangement: November

A simple, calming, beautiful arrangement for November. It reminds me of something you would see in a Shaker's home or in a dutch painting. All the composition contains is an unknown Australian blue squash, and two salt glazed bottles one of which contains a single bittersweet branch.

I have been doing this sort of arrangement at the end of the dining room table now for years, it varies but always consists of an unusual gourd or squash and bittersweet.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Seasons Ending.

It's November here in Cornwallville and although fall does not officially end until December 21st, the last bit's of fall color are holding on for dear life.
Above and below are pictures of the three standardized Wisteria that the former owner planted years ago. At first I wanted to remove them when we moved in but have truly grown to love them. They are covered in blooms in May and then we are rewarded with the stunning soft gray seed pods and left over yellow stems in the fall.

Grasses were way under used when I first started all the gardens here a few years back. With my own education and seeing them in other gardens I have begun to add more and more. The one pictured below is a switchgrass or Panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch' or commonly called Red Switchgrass. The blades are green at the base and fade into burgundy at the tips. After the cool temperatures hit it, it fades to a true golden yellow.

The Rudbeckia laciniata is still pushing off-set blooms. This is why I have so many drifts of this amazing plant. It just keeps on going and going.

Now come the dark stars of the show. Plants that with many cold nights and a couple of frosts produce the most deep, dark reds. Below is Viburnum nudum 'Winterthur' followed by Coreopsis tripteris.

Another Viburnum that is a newbie here is Viburnum 'Brandywine'. I fell in love with this one as soon as I saw it for sale at Loomis Creek. Coral-pink fruit fades to a blueberry that looks good enough to eat. Now though shriveled, they continue to add color to the garden.

Ornamental Kale is perfect in so many different gardens. I believe it is truly an underused plant. It gives you color from September till December sometimes even through January, and if you live in a warmer zone can last till the next spring.
The variety below is unknown but seek out the most unusual you can find, typically I find Kale to have better color and texture then their fellow cabbage.

The native Northern Sea Oats or Chasmanthium latifolium above, and Huchera 'Autumn Bride' are two perennials that I could not live without. The Sea Oats are just charming all season and 'Autumn Bride' has been blooming since August. Beat that kind of bloom time.

One of the many trees that the previous owner planted on the property is this lone ancient Metasequoia. This young fellow stands alone at the edge of our south meadow. The plan is to get him some younger brothers in the spring so they could form a grove. Oh and look at that gorgeous bark pictured bellow, it screams autumn.

I conclude with an Anthirium, to be exact Athirium 'Tweeny Peach'. I picked up a flat at Loomis Creek in the spring and they have been blooming from May till November even after multiple frosts with a little dead-heading.
I have never seen this variety before and I hope to god to find it next spring even though Stephen finds it less than special.

As I am finishing this post it is beginning to snow. A perfect ending for a perfect season here at the M.H. Merchant Stone House.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Perennial Profile: Aster tataricus 'Jindai'

The perennial profile is a new series in which I will focus on plants that are not quite "Freak Outs" for me, but rather great perennial performers that I encourage people to plant in there gardens.

This first perennial in the series is Aster tataricus 'Jindai'. This aster emerges in the spring with 2ft. long leaves. These large clumps wait until early fall until the flower stalks erupt to height of 4-5ft. Lavender flowers with yellow centers blooming at different heights, creates a unique depth to this beauty.

After the night temperatures begin to hover in the 40's the foliage turns bright red and yellow. This, with the fact that it is the absolutely last plant to bloom here makes it an outstanding performer.
I urge you to seek this one out.

Aster tataricus 'Jindai'
Z 4-8
Full Sun
4-5 ft. tall
Moist, well drained soil. This aster will spread and the plantlets are easily transplanted elsewhere.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Loomis Creek Nursery; A Goodbye

I spent a full season working at Loomis Creek Nursery. Once a week on Fridays from 9-5, I would make the journey across the Hudson River to this plantsmans paradise.

Loomis Creek is the brain-child of Bob Hyland and Andrew Beckman. Plantsmen, authors and lecturers, they decided to open the nursery eight years ago in Columbia County after looking in Connecticut and elsewhere.
After eight years at the nursery with their manager Robert Anderson, Bob and Andrew have decided to relocate to Portland Oregon to start a new gardening adventure.
We all wish them luck and can't wait to see what they will do next.

I can't tell you how much I have learned from everyone there at Loomis Creek. My knowledge has been enriched, my taste has changed, and I will never forget my time there.

Thank you so much Bob, Andrew, Robert and everyone else who made the experience there unforgettable!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Arrangement: October

For this months arrangement, it is a notably dark one.

A golden carnival glass vase is filled with dark plums, reds and burgundies, all appropriate for this time of year.
It s composed with a burgundy snapdragon, crab apples, celosia and different grasses including my favorite, Northern Sea Oats.

At this time of year I love walking the gardens and trying to find botanical material that together, can create a beautiful bouquet. Seed pods, grasses and late summer bloomers all can be found and put together for a uniquely seasonal display. What can you find in your garden?