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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In a Garden with Memories

A couple of weeks ago, I was planting dahlia tubers and thinking about old friends. You see, many plants in my garden have come from divisions which others have given me.

The particular dahlia is the off-spring of one which Winston Churchill Macdonough, a stalwart of the Wethersfield Historical Society gave me 20 years ago now. I had visited him one day spring just after he had planted his dahlias, and he had thrown the excess on the compost pile.

I was starting a garden at the Hurlbut-Dunham House and he was glad to share. While I thought initially that throwing those tubers out was a waste, in the ensuing years I discovered how prolific these were and I soon started sharing these with others.

Win passed away quite a while ago...I think probably in about 1994, and he is brought to mind every time I plant these tubers and every time they bloom. I'll never forget the image of him splitting wood at the Captain James Francis House. At the time he was in his 80s and I doubt I could have kept up with him.

Walking through my garden brings lots of memories. Although I moved from Meriden, Connecticut to Troy, Ohio (NOT a short distance) in 2005, I brought a lot of plant material with me. Some things I brought along were rare or ones I was particularly fond of, others I brought just because of who gave them to me. I was lucky as I knew we were going to move in Sept. of 2004, so I had time to make divisions and pot things up at the proper time and long before the house was put on the market.

These clove pinks (dianthus) are wonderful plants and an antique variety. Mary Alves, now a writer and the horticulturist and landscape manager at Historic St. Mary's City in Maryland, and the wife of my colleague C. Douglas Alves, shared these with me to plant at the General J. K. F. Mansfield House in Middletown, CT.

Clove pinks are extremely fragrant and have become a favorite of my non-gardening, but long suffering husband. I also like them for the mats of blue green leaves. Mary gave me this plant (or rather it's ancestress) back in the early 1980s.

Sometimes, but rarely, I obtain a plant as a division from a friends garden and I have no idea what the variety is. This frothy filipendula is from Eleanor Buck Wolf. Eleanor was a remarkable lady who I am proud to have called a friend even though she was old enough to be my grandmother. Eleanor obtained this plant from HER grandmother, which puts it no later than the mid-19th century.

Probably just as old of a variety is this stalwart (it stands tall and straight), long-lasting blue iris. Elizabeth Pratt Fox obtained this one at one of the historic houses she worked at....either the Buttolph-Williams house in Wethersfield, or the Buttler-McCook House in Hartford, Connecticut. Both houses are 18th century (the Buttolph-Williams house dating to the early 1700s), but the gardens at the time she was working there didn't have a lot of history. It is possible that these are plants put in the late 19th - early twentieth centuries or it is possible that they are earlier.

Regardless, these blue beauties are tough, and they have wonderful fragrance. They remind me of the grape Kool-aid I used to drink during Vacation Bible school as a child growing up in south central Michigan.

While I was living in Meriden, quilter Susan Varanka lived across the street from me. Not only did ideas about quilting and fabric go from one side of the street to another, but plants went across the street both ways as well.

This lovely yellow tritoma, also known as a "red-hot-poker plant" was one Susan gave mistake.

Susan had both the orangey red colored tritomas which are more common and the yellow. She was changing her bed over to have only yellow and she gave me a piece..and low and behold, it turned out to be yellow, not orange! Check out her website at:

One of my closest friends in Connecticut is Martha Smart. Martha is a gardener par excellence. Her gardens are breath-taking no matter what time of year you visit. She shared these beautiful purple Siberian Iris "Caesar's Brother" with me a long time ago.

Siberian iris has to be divided fairly regularly. Failure to do so will lead to a spot in the center without flowers and a ring of flowers around the bare spot.

Lots of other people are remembered in my garden. I only hope that perhaps when other people who have meant a lot to me walk in their gardens in Connecticut that they will think of me as they look on plants that I have given them, or that I encouraged them to buy.

I am dangerous to have as a neighbor because you just might find a pot of iris, or a daylily sitting on your doorstep as a gift from me. Of course, that angel I use in my profile is flying across a bed of coreopsis which my neighbor Ellen was going to throw out......

Now, if only it would get a bit cooler so I could go out and weed, or it would rain......


trueblue said...

Beautiful garden, Lisa!

Michigoose said...

Thanks Aswathy! I'm actually ashamed to show it all as there's far too many weeds.

I keep on thinking of Sunita in India waiting for the monsoon and thinking I'm in sort of the same boat. We're 3" of rain short this season, and this is the second day which is has been in the 90s.

The sun here is very hot, so hot that today at 12:00 I burned the bottom of my feet walking across the wooden deck to turn on the water. They didn't blister, but they are still sore!