Water and water plants as spectacle at Longwood

When we visited Longwood Gardens this past August, I was blown away by the sheer spectacle of it.

The grounds were expansive, with ancient trees at every turn –

Big.  This place is big.  Everything here is large, impressive and impeccably maintained.

The sheer size of everything was manifested most impressively, I think, by the water features.

The mechanics of making water dance seems to have mesmerized the rich and powerful for a long time.  Think Versailles, the Villa d’Este at Tivoli, the Alhambra and today, the epitome of such ostentation, the Dubai fountain.  Pierre du Pont was no exception and you can’t help but be appropriately impressed by his creation almost a hundred years later.

Although the pump house that hides the guts to this incredible display is discretely hidden from view behind an allee, the building is no less architecturally beautiful with its stone details: balustrades, urns on pedestals and spouting heads.   It is obvious to all who visit that this kind of display demanded a lot of vision, ‘good taste’, expertise and of course, money.

(This photo above actually makes me chuckle because of the incongruous scale.  The view is from behind the balustrade on the deck of the Conservatory complex; if not for the unexpectedly large (in scale) people meandering about, one would imagine the dimension of this waterworks display to be much larger…a trick of the eye spoiled by the unsuspecting visitors.)

But the place where water and plants come together in the most impressive display is in the courtyard waterlily garden, embraced by the gigantic conservatories with their towering windows.

Here the visitor is immediately stopped in their tracks as they witness not only over one hundred varieties of water plants (waterlilies, hardy and tropical, reeds, lotuses, papyrus, elephant ears, etc.) :

But the piece-de-resistance is the Victoria waterlily:

The tropical Victoria waterlilies above, with their hugely pronounced rims, represent the native species that come from South America, specifically from along the shallow edges of the Amazon and Parana rivers.  The two species (Victoria amazonica and Victoria cruziana) were ‘discovered’ by European plant explorers Aime Bonpland (France) and Robert Schomburgk (England) in the first half of the 19th century and were named in honour of QueenVictoria.

They are parents to the even larger waterlily that was hybridized at Longwood, and was given the name Victoria ‘Longwood Hybrid’.   It is showcased in the circular central pool.

Believe it or not, this spectacular hybrid waterlily is grown from seed by the Longwood gardeners each year.  It is started in February and by summer, the plants are producing leaves that reach six feet in diameter!

This aquatic horticultural display does not date from Pierre du Pont’s time.  The pools that exist today were pre-dated by thirteen curving ones that were constructed in 1957.   This arrangement was re-designed in its present configuration (four pools around the perimeter of the courtyard, with a central circular pool) in 1989.

You’ll notice in these photographs that the water in these pools appears black, and the visitor can barely see any of the pots or other mechanics under water.  This is because Longwood uses an organic black dye (as does Wave Hill garden in New York City, and probably many botanic and public gardens around the United States) in order to slow algae growth.  It also provides high contrast between the bright green foliage and the water.  The pools also contain small fish (mosquito fish, Gambusia affinis) that feed on mosquito and other larvae in these 30″ deep pools.

The outdoor waterlily display is open from early June through mid-October. Peak bloom occurs mid-July through the end of September.



I have to thank my good friend Barb for this.

Not because she took the picture but because she said, “Why don’t you sit out on your front porch?”  To which I replied, “There’s no room.”

Well, clearly as you can see, there is room.  And we loved doing just so this past spring and summer.

It was mid-May and the weather was glorious.

And all the most intoxicating flowers were in bloom:  honeysuckle, lilac and lily of the valley.

Hold that thought  …

Allotment garden memories: Summer 2012

I thought I’d take a look back at our 2012 allotment garden season.  Such a clean slate back in May!  Still there are some straw bales left over from the first year, but much has already been laid down on both the beds (to keep weeds suppressed and the moisture in) and the pathways.

Our virgin outing on May 24th, 2012.  Armed with forks, home-grown seedlings and bonemeal.

Tomato plants laid out much further apart this year than last.  And only about 6 or 8 plants this year instead of double that from last year!

And greens seeds are going in!

A few weeks later there is already bounty… ‘Monet’s Garden Mesclun’ from Renee’s Seeds was insect-free.

Not so much with the ‘Spicy Greens’ mix, where it looks like slugs or earwigs have been leaving their mark.

I set aside one whole bed for seeding annuals and other cutting flowers.  I scattered the seed in the last week of May and a few weeks later, the fruits of my moderate labour were sprouting.  It’s hard to tell what’s a weed and what’s worth keeping at this stage so you just have to watch and wait.

By late July, the garden is bounteous with flowers ready for cutting for the next two months.  Borage, cosmos, zinnias, nasturtium and others, with hollyhock putting on a first year’s growth.

A bucket full in the back of the car!

Fresh cut flowers in the house make everything better.

All the yellow surrounding our plot is goldenrod; not the source of my terrible hay fever last year since that was courtesy of ragweed.  I believe the mechanical cultivation of the rear of our garden last spring gave the goldenrod seed a chance sprout, making the section that we didn’t weed full of it by the late summer!

Even with extra muscle, digging the mid-summer weeds out of the ‘last frontier’ was back-breaking work.  And don’t be thinking I didn’t do any of that labour; I was the dirtiest, sweatiest one there!

This past summer was very hot and dry.  Despite the parched lawns and droopy plants elsewhere, our allotment didn’t seem worse for wear.  We didn’t have any regular irrigation other than putting on the sprinkler every so often – and this was mainly to soften up the soil that we’d be weeding.

Goodnight allotment garden.  See you next spring.

Amazing annuals, courtesy the NCC’s Tina Liu (Lau)

I wanted to bring your attention to the plantings around Commissioner’s Park in Ottawa.  These are the flowerbeds that overlook Dow’s Lake along Queen Elizabeth Drive in the residential neighbourhood of the Glebe.  They are the work of the National Capital Commission and designed by Tina Liu, a young landscape architect with a genuine love of plants.
Enjoy these memories of summer!

P.S.  Perhaps there is a new addition by now?