Those who play in glass houses: Conservatory and Indoor Children’s Garden at Longwood Gardens


Maybe Southerners don’t need conservatories because our winters are pretty green. Growing up in the South, I don’t recall ever visiting a conservatory until I started garden traveling to northern states. (We don’t have a culture of spring garden shows either, perhaps for the same reason.) Call me a conservatory philistine, then, but I have just never developed an appreciation for looking at gardens that are indoors. I always have a vague feeling of being in a mall. Plants should be outside!


Aechmea ‘Blue Tango’

This notion is rubbish to my friend and traveling companion Diana/Sharing Nature’s Garden (not a native Southerner, mind you), who joined me in visiting Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia, earlier this month. She loves conservatories, and so Longwood’s cathedral-sized glass house was our first stop.


Jaw-droppingly vast, the conservatory was constructed in 1919 by Longwood founder Pierre S. du Pont (Longwood was his summer home) and been expanded over the years to its current 4-1/2 acres (!) of gardens under glass.


Conservatories are all about tropicals, of course — plants that can’t be grown outdoors in cooler climates — but for us Texans, sago palms are regular landscaping plants.


Bamboo too, although this black bamboo is particularly nice, and I like how the hanging lanterns add a little Far East flavor.


I also admired the bonsai collection, which is nicely displayed against black-framed, translucent screens, with labels on some that date the beginning of each plant’s training. I’m always amazed to see trees miniaturized into tabletop potted plants. Here, for exampled, is a pomegranate, an ornamental tree that I grow in my own garden, and look — even the blossoms look tiny-sized. How do they do that? Does it set doll-sized fruit, I wonder?


Japanese black pine, whose training began in 1949 — 67 years ago!


A fairy-sized forest is created with a grouping of loose-flower hornbeams, mosses, and tiny ferns.


A bald cypress, whose majestic dimensions are somehow recreated on a miniature scale. It all looks perfectly in scale, even the bark, but magically made small. I really want to know how this is done.


Aechmea mulfordii ‘Malva’

Moving on, there were many other wonderful plants on display throughout the 20 indoor gardens of the conservatory.


But I confess, all I could think about was getting outside to enjoy the wonderfully brisk temps (in the 50s!) of a Pennsylvania summer morning, not walk around indoors in a humid 70-something degrees.


No doubt I would appreciate it more if I could visit in the winter, when all else is sleeping under snow.


But here’s something unusual in a grand conservatory — a children’s garden! As a half-dozen tots in strollers, pushed by their mothers, converged on the area, my interest was piqued. What a surprise to discover a beautifully designed indoor play area, with at least a dozen fountains and water features that encourage interactive play.


Bronze and cast-stone animals spit, drool, and spout water in hidden nooks throughout winding, narrow pathways that encourage children’s exploration.


Little ones and adults alike delight in spouting lizards…


…a bird family in a nest…


…a pair of ibis…


…and a pelican gobbling up fish.


Grand fountain rooms…


…with interesting tilework…


…contrast with subterranean-seeming niches accessible only to children or adults who stoop, like this seascape-themed tunnel with mosaic fish.


This one, tucked under a curving staircase, elicited a happy shriek from one little boy who darted in. A trio of fanged snakes coils along the ceiling, over a smoking pool of dry ice.


Scary fun


Another nook includes a stained glass window, with a couple of small chairs and and baskets of books to curl up with.


The secret heart of the garden is the Drooling Dragon fountain, with a red-lit roaring mouth and a crown of asparagus fern.


You know you’re getting close when you spot this slinking, scaly dragon stair rail.


A phoenix and viper locked in epic battle adorn a low window grate.


And steampunk-esque metal bugs rest on a wooden door. I was charmed by the indoor children’s garden and imagine it’s hugely popular with local families.

Up Next: A trio of top-notch treehouses, plus a native-plant meadow at Longwood Gardens. For a look back at the Rose Arbor, Italian Water Garden, and other formal spaces at Longwood, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Snake lounging and whale flowering in the garden


The biggest snake I’d ever seen in my garden was lounging in a bamboo hammock this morning.


Earlier, while looking out my office window, I’d noticed a bamboo cane leaning horizontally and thought, “Hmm, did it rain again?” But no, everything looked dry, so I eventually moseyed out to take a look.


Hello! A 5-foot long rat snake was coiled way out on a culm of the ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo (Bambusa multiplex ‘Alphonse Karr’) behind the house.


It’s kind of pretty, don’t you think? I’m not scared of snakes in the garden, although I’m sure I’d feel differently about a venomous one. I’ve never seen a rattlesnake or coral snake in my garden, but I do keep an eye out since we back up to a greenbelt, and this is Texas.


But rat snakes are not venomous, and they eat rats, which means it’s a welcome predator in Austin. They unfortunately also eat birds and bird eggs (they’re good climbers), but that’s all part of the circle of life.


Eventually it coiled its way down the bamboo, and David and I watched it slither through the garden bed, down a wall, along the pool deck, and into the Mexican honeysuckle, where it disappeared. Go eat rats, rat snake!


Moby, my whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), has been growing a magnificent bloom stalk for a month and a half. Today, the first flowers on the lower branches opened.


Will they attract bats? I hope to find out.

All in all, it’s been an exciting day in the garden. And a shout-out to Peter Schaar, who visited from Dallas and brought me an Agave salmiana pup from his garden. Thanks, Peter!

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, 10:30-11:30 am. Get inspired to save water in your garden during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Foliage in full spring swing: May Foliage Follow-Up


The day after Bloom Day is Foliage Follow-Up, a day to give foliage plants their due. This month I’m leading with the fresh spring greens of ornamental grasses, like shade-loving inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium).


Their “oats” are just forming, and by mid-summer will turn from apple green to tan.


Along the fence (and in many other places in my garden), bamboo muhly (Muhlenbergia dumosa) makes soft mounds of chartreuse foliage.


Peek through the peek-a-boo gate and you see more bamboo muhly behind the live oak, incandescing celery green in the afternoon light.


Here’s the view from the other side of the gate, with variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica ‘Variegata’), native river fern (Thelypteris kunthii), and Chinese mahonia (Mahonia fortunei) along the neighbors’ new fence.


A wider view shows the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) that anchors this shady northeast corner of the garden. The gate leads to the side yard where we store our trash bins. Our new neighbors recently moved their fence forward to enclose more of their side yard, and so now we have this nice-looking fence along part of the property line, providing a comfortable sense of enclosure.


Here’s how this space looked in 2008, when we moved in. The Japanese maple, planted by previous owners, has grown a lot! I underplanted it with the river fern, pulled the gate/fence forward to enclose the trash-can storage, added a stepping-stone path, and planted a hedge of Chinese mahonia along the property line (see above).


A side view shows the Japanese maple glowing in afternoon light. The dry stream carries water from the driveway around to the back garden.


Leaving the shade garden behind, let’s move to the sunny gravel garden on the other side of the front door, and a slew of foliage plants: ‘Sticks on Fire’ euphorbia, ‘Color Guard’ yucca, ‘Alphonse Karr’ bamboo, red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), toothless sotol (Dasylirion longissimum), and ‘Jaws’ agave.


Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) spreads its fan-like leaves in the island bed. The blue-green foliage of heartleaf skullcap (Scutellaria ovata) fills in underneath.


Along the driveway, ‘Color Guard’ yucca and purple sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’) make a showy combo in a sun-baked spot.


I’m trying a new shrub on the other side of the driveway: spreading Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’). I planted 5 of these last winter, replacing several autumn sage ‘Teresa’ that were not getting enough sun to thrive. The plum yew may really prefer more shade (in our hot climate) than this part-shade location provides, but we’ll see. So far the deer have left it completely alone. Gray-leaved, creeping woolly stemodia (Stemodia lanata) fills in around it.


A few fuzzy mulleins (Verbascum) are studded in along the front of this raised planting bed.


That bed segues into the alt-lawn of Berkeley sedge (Carex divulsa), accented with a couple of ‘Margaritaville’ yuccas and a tuteur from TerraTrellis.


Spring is the showy season for Mexican feathergrass (Nassella tenuissima), its blond tresses blowing in the breeze. Lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) adds fuzzy, silver-green texture beneath.


Moving into the back garden, silver-blue foliage leads the eye back and forth along the path: Arizona cypress ‘Blue Ice’ (Cupressus arizonica), gopher plant (Euphorbia rigida), and Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’. A blue gazing ball and turquoise shed door reinforce the blue hues.


Of course there’s plenty of green foliage too, including ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), ‘Bright Edge’ yucca (in bloom), Agave lophantha, spineless prickly pear, Mexican feathergrass, and a few other odds and ends.


Face-to-face with Yucca rostrata ‘Sapphire Skies’ — shazam!


Variegated flax lily (Dianella tasmanica) is one of my favorite foliage plants for shade/part shade. Its white-striped, strappy leaves light up a dark spot, and it’s surprisingly drought tolerant. In our zone 8b, there’s a risk of winter die-back or even outright death during a hard cold snap, but I’ve decided it’s a risk worth taking. They’re blooming right now, and while the airy flowers are not particularly showy, they look nice mixed with other cut flowers in bouquets, as I learned at Linda’s house in San Antonio.


It would be a rare Foliage Follow-Up without a few succulents, like winter-hardy ghost plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense) in an Esther pot. A orange-spined cactus pops in a blue, skeleton-impressed Rick Van Dyke pot. Moby, my whale’s tongue agave (A. ovatifolia), looms in the background.


This striking ‘Painted Fingernail’ bromeliad (Neoregelia spectabilis) was a gift from talented Houston design team and bloggers Laurin Lindsey and Shawn Michael of Ravenscourt Gardens. A pot of purple oxalis (Oxalis triangularis) enhances the bromeliad’s magenta “fingertips.”

I admit I would never have thought to try a bromeliad, had it not been a gift. I always assumed they were thirsty, needy plants. But this potted specimen has done really well for me with only a once-a-week drench in the summer. Notice the tiny, purple flowers emerging in the center cup?


To close, here’s one more little succulent-and-cactus planter, this one adorning the garage wall.

This is my May post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is going on in your garden this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! If you can’t post so soon after Bloom Day, no worries. Just leave your link when you get to it. I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Come see me at Festival of Flowers in San Antonio, May 28, 10:30-11:30 am. Get inspired to save water in your garden during my presentation at San Antonio’s 19th annual Festival of Flowers. I’ll be at the book-signing table after the talk, with copies of both The Water-Saving Garden and Lawn Gone! available for purchase. Tickets to the all-day festival, which includes a plant sale and exchange, speakers, and a flower show, are available at the door: $6 adults; children under 10 free. Free parking.

Do you review? Have you read my new book, The Water-Saving Garden? If you found it helpful or inspirational, please consider leaving a review — even just a sentence or two — on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites. Online reviews are crucial in getting a book noticed. I really appreciate your help!

All material © 2006-2016 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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