December 5th, 2013 by Kristin Green
According to the recently released World Happiness Report, Denmark ranks as the happiest country on Earth and one of the reasons listed for that is the Danes’ collective regular practice of something called hygge (pronounced hyooga. More or less). The word doesn’t translate directly to English but can be generally (and inadequately) explained as coziness. Hot chocolate, roaring fires, candlelight, and good company are things that would be considered hygglig and essential not just for getting through the dark days of winter but for thoroughly enjoying them.
I think the VanWickle McKees knew all about hygge even if they didn’t have a word for it — and then again, maybe they did. And I believe they practiced it as they gathered at Blithewold every summer and holiday season. Family tradition is honored this year as it is every year with an 18′ tree in the entrance hall, decorations, lights, and glitteriness throughout the mansion, the opportunity to indulge in afternoon tea in the dining room with family and friends, and listen to music as you pretend Blithewold is your own home away from home.
And I have already mentioned in previous posts a relatively new (since last year) Friday evening event destined to become a tradition. Christmas Sparkle feels especially hygglig to me. A lighted path from the mansion leads to bonfires, s’mores kits, hot cocoa, crafts, carolers, and beautifully decorated trees in the Enclosed Garden and on to a warm(ish), bedecked and candlelit greenhouse full of green growing things. I’m all for a good blaze and candlelight but for me it’s especially essential for year-round happy-coziness to be surrounded with green growing things… You too?
Keep your eye on the forecast and on our website for event announcements — it would be challenging even for those practiced in the art of coziness to enjoy the outdoor festivities if it’s pouring buckets (not to mention how difficult it would be to keep the fires lit). But otherwise, gather your friends and family and make a hygglig night of it — we plan on Sparkling, inside and out, the next four Fridays!
November 27th, 2013 by Kristin Green
Gail, Betsy and I spent this short week getting ready for Christmas at Blithewold and the first evening of Sparkle coming up this Friday. We made (that is, Betsy made) gorgeous terrariums, and put together adorably tiny vignettes under cloches. We hung lanterns and filled bowls with our abundant harvest of cones and seedpods collected around the grounds here and at Arnold Arboretum. And Gail used some too to make the most beautiful wreath ever for the mansion’s front door.
Blithewold has been a Christmas destination for a long time, but now, for the second holiday season in a row, the greenhouse is too. I always think the greenhouse is worth the walk (and it’s open every day), but all spruced… I must say, it’s dreamy. Even in the daylight on a gray day. I can’t wait to see it at night all lit up.
I hope you have been enjoying sprucing for the holidays too. And if you had to travel, I hope the trip wasn’t as horrendous as predicted and that by now you’re cozied up in warm kitchens and living rooms with family and friends.
November 22nd, 2013 by Kristin Green
I am ashamed to admit that before yesterday I had never set foot inside Arnold Arboretum. Crazy. Good thing for me we came up with a couple excellent excuses for a day trip. The first excuse was that Gail always likes to take our intern on a field trip or two to see different gardens as a treat. This time Betsy was the one to take us out. Betsy spent last year interning at The Arnold and was eager to take us on a tour of her favorite trees and areas. Fine by me – and Gail! It’s such a huge place (a 281 acre link in Fredrick Law Olmsted’s Emerald Necklace in Boston) that it was extra special to see it through the eyes of someone so familiar with it.
The second excuse is one we have had all along — the Blithewold connection. Back in 1926, George McKee brought a flower from one of their trees up to Arnold for identification. Ernest Henry Wilson and Alfred Rehder followed him back to see the first toon tree (Toona sinensis syn. Cedrela sinensis) thought to bloom in this country. They were so impressed with the property they declared Blithewold an arboretum too. And so began a strong relationship that continues to this day. (Most notably in the intervening, a crew from The Arnold came down to assist with clean-up and tree work after Hurricane Bob in 1991. And, incidentally, yesterday all of the staff members we encountered on our walk mentioned planning a visit to Blithewold this coming spring.)
With those excellent excuses as our impetus, we decided to celebrate family tradition (this year’s Christmas theme) with a display in the greenhouse and on the front door wreath of conifer cones gathered from The Arnold. Betsy obtained enthusiastic permission from Michael Dosmann, Curator of Living Collections, and we set off with an inventory of collections and a sheet to tally our finds and turn back in. Remember – never take stuff from anyone’s property – maybe especially an arboretum’s – even if it’s on the ground, without permission. You never know what trees and areas might be being studied and surveyed.
I’ll just share a few highlights from our tour that started at Hunnewell Visitor Center, took us through the recently redesigned Levintritt Shrub and Vine Garden, to the bonsai collection (just hours before they were moved into winter storage); onward to the conifer path, way off the beaten path, and back by way of Hemlock Hill Road, the Beech Path and Meadow Road. It was as dreamy as it sounds. And I’m actually glad that my first visit to the arboretum was at the onset of winter. Just taking in the shapes – the age! – of the trees and hills, beautiful bark, cones, and berries was overwhelming enough.
Have you been to Arnold Arboretum? Any favorite trees or walks? Are you like me – have you somehow managed to put off visiting some nearby gorgeous place for way too long? Let’s make a pact to start crossing all of those places off our bucket lists. (Thank you, Betsy!)
November 15th, 2013 by Kristin Green
I don’t want to crow in case any of you are feeling swamped – either by the end of the garden’s season or in anticipation of the holidays – but as Gail would say, “we’re in good shape!” Almost all of the gardens are cut back and tidied (we take our time cutting back the pollinator bed to give the birds a chance at the seedheads); Betsy, Gail and I spread beautiful, fluffy shredded leaves on the cutting garden yesterday; and earlier in the week, the garden volunteers came in to help decorate the 18′ Christmas tree in the mansion. That particular event is always bittersweet because it signals the official end of our season with the volunteers. That very morning, snow fell for the first time and sealed the deal.
As ahead-of-schedule as snow (and tree decorating) might seem to me (at this point in the driest autumn almost ever, any moisture is welcome), it did help the gardens ratchet another notch towards winter. Their beauty has finally shifted fully away from flowers (despite a few tardy blooms here and there) to the granola crunch of seeds, twigs, and berries. And I am adjusting my tastes accordingly. It’s hard sometimes for me to stay enthralled with the gardens as they fall apart and blow to bits but I’m working on renewing my annual appreciation for muted brilliance of winter. Helps that the fall here is still spectacularly colorful. And even though I’m really trying to let go of flowers and focus on the other stuff, it wouldn’t be November Garden Bloggers Bloom Day without a gratuitous shot of the native witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) blooming down next to our compost area. And I’m not sure I could do winter without visits to an indoor garden like our greenhouse …
Is there anything still blooming in your garden? (To see what’s in bloom around the country and the world click here and follow the links.) Or are you on schedule to enjoy the seedheads and berries instead?
November 8th, 2013 by Kristin Green
Until yesterday I had no idea that Thomas Jefferson was the first American to grow rutabaga. According to Peter Hatch, recently retired director of Monticello’s gardens and grounds, author of “A Rich Spot of Earth”: Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello, and speaker at yesterday’s Garden Design Luncheon (an annual fundraiser for Blithewold’s education programs), it is gardening that reveals who Jefferson was. Not only was Jefferson author of the Declaration of Independence and the 3rd president of the United States, he is the father of today’s farm to table movement. He grew over 300 varieties of vegetables in his 1000′ long terrace garden; he recommended sowing a thimble-full of lettuce seed first thing every Monday from March through November; and was probably the first American — certainly the first American president — to serve French fries to his dinner guests. Like most gardeners, he believed that observation led to happiness and he valued failure as highly as success. He says in a letter to Charles Willson Peale,
No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. Such a variety of subjects, some one always coming to perfection, the failure of one thing repaired by the success of another, and instead of one harvest, a continued one thro’ the year.
He goes on in the letter to describe himself as an old man, but a young gardener. Aren’t we all?
Blithewold must also qualify as a rich spot of earth, as beloved by its original owners and today’s caretakers as is/was Monticello. And although stony New England ground probably doesn’t bear comparison to Virginia’s red clay, Blithewold has been under cultivation long enough that we are blessed with beautiful soil. This week the earth in the Rose and North Gardens became a little richer still with a top dressing of compost. Since we got the tulips in, and the gardens mostly cut back and ready for their winter rest, it was the perfect time to add organic matter to amend the soil. After being scratched and rained in (it always pours the day of the Garden Design Luncheon — and this year we needed it so badly, there was no complaining) it will work its magic through the winter. Next week we’ll top dress the gardens by the greenhouse with some of this fall’s extra beautiful shredded leaves.
Do you consider your garden a rich spot of earth? Will you be amending its soil this fall too?