Paved Paradise…

…as you grow more ambitious, the blue poppy Meconopsis baileyi, which is the dream of every gardener, will all take happily to a shaded home, especially if some moisture keeps them fresh.

-Vita Sackville-West
A Joy of Gardening; 1958

The other day, my Grandmother told me one of her favorite memories…

When paying her one of my frequent visits some years ago she drew my attention to the vacant lot across the street.  It was a space we both loved because of its abundance of oriental poppies.  But the demo trucks had shown up and were waiting for orders to do their duty; tear up earth and flower with relentless and unremorseful furry.   The poppies nodded innocently in the breeze unaware of their fate.


Without hesitation, my grandmother thrust a shovel in my hand and employed a wheel barrel.  I was then ordered to follow, and the two of us ventured through the blockade under the watchful eye of a bulldozer, and dug up as many of the plants as we could carry.


They took very well to transplanting.  But they did not perform very well for me as cut flowers, I think the trick is to get them in water immediately if they are to last.

My Grandmother loved this memory I suspect, because we worked together to collect and savor that last bit of paradise.  Now, the field of poppies has since been paved over, but the chosen ones continue to give her a private show every year.  Outside her kitchen window their furry little bulbous heads emerge, and the memory of the day we saved them is instantly reestablished in her mind.  But this memory isn’t a singular favorite to only her delight, for it is one of my favorites as well.

So common they were to me, that I never realized how rare they are to see in the wild.   It wasn’t until that field was torn up that I realized their rarity and began to cherish every poppy I spotted.  Even to this day when I see one with its hairy little stem and its delicate crimson petals, it’s as if heaven has opened and is shining its crystalline light upon its delicate and perfect beauty.  So if you see one don’t pick it. Instead, enjoy it in nature, as poppies are best remaining wild and free.


Photo Credit:  Blue Poppy
Oriental Poppy
Feature Image


Snatching Velvet in the Night

Their beauty is beyond dispute.  No velvet can rival the richness of their falls; or, let us say, it is to velvet only that we may compare them.

-Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden
June 26, 1949


I have thought of planting Iris for a long time, but they are rather expensive.   Out my kitchen window my neighbor’s come up every year and taunt me.  They rent the house and I know she wouldn’t mind, or notice for that matter, if I slipped over there in the middle of the night and split a couple of the neglected rhizomes for myself. Their dog, however, might pose a problem.  I doubt his barking would allow me to do this unnoticed.

Is it naughty of me to speak in this manner?  Perhaps.  But what if I told you I would be helping the iris bloom all the better by doing so?   You see, Iris rhizomes multiply at such a rate that they should be split every three years.  Knowing this, and knowing that others probably have forgotten or neglected this task, I thought about asking friends and neighbors if they would trade me an iris rhizome for one of our dahlia tubers from Italy.  Do you think that trade would suffice?  I should think so.



On my walk this morning I passed a house whose front yard needed a little weeding, to say the least, but it had these gorgeous Victorian purple Iris growing. They are in a rather awkward spot, but I’m sure before the weeds took over their position seemed logical.  I think of all the Iris I’ve seen, I like these the best.  I know of few of the other neighbors in the hood (don’t call it that) have their eyes on some of the other plants on this property.   When the day comes that the owners move and the demolition trucks show up, that’s when we’ll make our move with shovels and picks.

Anyway, if someone is kind enough to trade with you or give you some iris rhizomes, let them finish flowering before putting them through the trauma of being split.   Then, once you plant them, leave a tiny bit of the rhizome above ground so the sun can warm it and tell it what to do.   Vita advises that the plant, “will push itself up even if you do cover it over; but why give it that extra bit of trouble…”




A Rose That Spoke

They may roughly be described as roses which should be grown as shrubs; that is, allowed to ramp away into big bushes, and allowed also to travel about underground if they are on their own roots and come up in fine carelessness some yards from the parent plant.

-Vita Sackville-West
May 28th, 1950
In Your Garden



Perhaps not exactly what she had in mind was this Oso Shrub Rose called Lemon-Zest.  Yes, other “classic” shrub roses are far prettier, I’m quite sure.  However, I saw this one on sale and I was instantly struck by how healthy it looked.  Compared to the other ‘fancy’ roses surrounding me, its leaves were brighter; every one of them so perfectly intact, and the buds!  The buds were plentiful with a promise of abundant color.

I slipped my hand under the leaves and checked the stems for any sign of grafting.  I do this because if the Michigan winds blow in a hard winter like that of 2013; with snow aplenty and temperatures continually below zero, your rose bush may not live to see another Spring.   Instead, it will die back, and up will pop a different rose; foreign and strange.  It is the rose which yours was grafted upon.  An unwelcomed guest indeed, and you never know what you might get.  So for this reason I prefer un-grafted roses.

This rose, I learned, will flower continuously until Fall and the flowers will not fade to white.  Because I’m such a lover of yellow lately, I thought it would make a nice picture set beside our side door which I intend to paint red or perhaps colonial blue.  I have yet to decide.

In future posts I will speak more of the roses Vita recommends.  I doubt this shrub rose would have been her first choice, in fact, I’m almost positive she would have been displeased as there are more attractive choices for shrub roses.  As she has stated, “I am no blind believer in the ‘improved’ modern flower: I don’t like delphiniums with stalks like tree-trunks; I don’t like roses with no scent and a miserable constitution…” But she has also mentioned that she doesn’t understand the snobbery that some gardeners possess.  However, to me this Lemon-Zest spoke, so its cultivar makes no difference in the world.



Short and Sweet Woodruff

There are things we grow in our gardens and forget about, and then remember suddenly, as I have just remembered the Sweet Woodruff, that meek, lowly, bright green native of Britain, so easy to grow, so rapid in propagation-every little bit of root will grow and extend itself-keeping weeds down and making a bright green strip or patch wherever you want it.
It is not showy.  Its little white flowers make no display, but it is a useful carpenter for blank spaces, and it certainly makes sweet bags for hanging in the linen cupboard to discourage the moth or to put under you pillow at night.

-Vita Sackville-West
May 14th, 1950
In Your Garden


I read about these late one night and was intrigued by a certain useful quality the Sweet Woodruff possesses.   So intrigued and attracted, that I headed to the nursery strictly to get my hands on some.   I’ve since planted it all over my flower beds and under trees, so my supply is great and my harvest will be plentiful.

Vita advises that if you cut the leaves in autumn, which, if they grow as rapidly as I’m told, I would just cut their long stalks of leaves and hang them upside down as you would a spice.  They will not have a scent until they are dried.
After which, you can make them into little sachets which smell of freshly mowed grass and lingers for years.  Imagine the lift you’ll receive when in the dead of winter you’ve forgotten what grass looks like let alone smells like!  Slip it under your pillow to remind yourself.  You’ll sleep peacefully knowing that spring is always right around the corner.


From Muddy Waters to Finding the Perfect Shade of Blue

“The Morning Glory is a joy every year.  Those enormous sky-blue trumpets that open every morning before breakfast and shut themselves up again between luncheon and tea…You must make sure to get the right kind: it is called Ipomea rubra-coerulea, Heavenly Blue.”
Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden:
February 12, 1950


Vita loved her Morning Glories.  Besides zinnias they are the only annual she planted.   She advises that you can sow them indoors in March or April.  However, you don’t loose much time sowing them at the end of May in the ground from which they’ll grow.

She advises,
“Sow the seeds in little parties of three or four, and thin them remorselessly out when they are about two inches high, till only one lonely seedling remains.  It will do all the better for being lonely, twelve inches away from its nearest neighbor.   It will branch and bulge side-ways if you give it plenty of room to develop, and by August or September will have developed a spread more desirable in plants that in human beings.” (V.S.W.; In Your Garden, February 12th, 1950)

The seeds are extremely hard and must be either soaked in water for 24-48 hours prior to planting or I’ve heard people ‘file’ the shell down to expose the tiny plant-this technique made me nervous, and it seems it’d be rather tedious.


These seeds above were soaked for 48 hours.  The water became quite cloudy, but you can see the tiny plants poking out.   I was going to plant them right away, but then it starting SNOWING.  Fearing they would become water logged if I left them soaking any longer I took them out to dry.  Then I began to fear that drying them out too much might be detrimental to their growth, so I employed a baggie with a wet paper towel and wrapped the birthing babes neatly- leaving them tightly sealed until they were ready to plant (about two days).  The baggie idea just instinctually came to me.  It’s like the seeds were speaking to me or Vita’s influence is taking its toll.  Whatever it was, it worked wonders…

The seedlings grew twice their size!   I planted them yesterday along three trellises and a fence.  If I’m lucky, the blue trumpets will block out the view of our neighbor completely!

Artists have never been able to agreed on the correct shade of blue.  If only they had turned their heads to a trellis of Ipomea!  A blue that goes well with all others, that will never clash or swear.  A blue that seems to be translucent- that shares a touch of all the others.  It is all found in the Ipomea rubra-coerulea!

…And while they grow I’ll think of Vita; how behind her garden gates, unbeknownst to all other artists and the world, she knew she possessed the perfect shade of heavenly blue.


Photo Credit(Because mine haven’t grown yet to take a picture): Wallace Gardens




An unusual way of treating clematis is to grow it horizontally instead of vertically…but do this as gingerly as you can, for clematis seems to resent the touch of the human hand.
…the reward will be great.  For one thing you will be able to gaze right down into the upturned face of the flower instead of having to crane your neck to observe the tangle of colour hanging perhaps ten or twenty feet above your head.  And another thing, the clematis itself will get the benefit of shade on its roots, in this case its own shade, with its head in the sun, which is what all clematis enjoy.

-Vita Sackville-West
May 15, 1949


I bought one White Clematis (pictured above) at Bordine’s Nursery the other day.  It was beautiful and perfect.  Compliments rolled from surrounding tongues as I crossed the store to pay for it while snapping these lovely shots.  My plan is to allow it to climb up my lilac bush.   This way I will practically have blooms all summer long, and they will look so romantic glowing in the dark at night.  My own little “white garden” like Vita had at Sissinghurst Castle!




I resented having to transplant my other clematis.  I know how delicate they can be, and I hope it will survive.  It did not like the spot I put it last year and it was looking pathetic.  I thought it might do better under the other lilac bush (I have two side by side). So, now I will have two clematis of two different colors climbing, and hopefully one day connecting; climbing through each other to make one large colorful hedge.  We shall see.
Anyone have luck doing this in the past?
If you have anything to add or further advice about clematis please leave a comment. I’d love to here from you!


“Go Round Popping The Buds”


Far more satisfactory [than the hibiscus], I find, are the hardy fuchsias…although they will probably be cut to the ground by frost in winter, there is no cause for alarm, for they will spring up again from the base in time to flower generously in midsummer…and in case of extremely hard weather an old sack can temporarily be thrown over them.  Their arching sprays are graceful; I like the ecclesiastical effect of their red and purple amongst the dark green of their foliage; and of course, when you have nothing else to do you can go round popping the buds.

-Vita Sackville-West
June 25th, 1950

I recently bought a couple Fuchsia Springtime from Bordine’s Nursery to hang on my porch.  They like shade, but this variety cannot tolerate the cold nights.  So I bring them in if the temperature is predicted to get below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  As I am constantly moving their fragile stems some of the buds pop off.  When this occurs I’ve been plopping them in a bowl of water and here I can intimately watch them open and reveal themselves.


Some of these buds were growing limp with coming death, but I clipped their little ends and put them in this little bowl.  They’ve since come back to life and will open for me soon.  I’m sure Vita meant to go around and help the buds to open by popping them, but no matter.  This is my version of “popping the buds”.


Fuchsias come in different colors and some are hardy enough to plant in zone 5 (Michigan).  Vita recommends varieties such as, Mrs. Popple, Magellanica Riccartoni, and Mme Cornelissan, and Margaret.  Check with your local nursery, I’m sure they’ll have something that suits your fancy.

*If you have questions or comments about fuchsia or any other plant questions please don’t hesitate to ask.  I’ll do my best to answer! Thank you for reading!