Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tour of the Newport Flower Show - Part 1

Welcome to a tour of the Newport, Rhode Island Flower Show. The tour begins on Bellevue Ave. (Remember, you can click on each picture to enlarge it and get a closer look.)

The avenue is a lushly green impeccably manicured street where the rich and famous reside in Newport. It's the address that impresses and has been since the late 1800s. Each side of the street is lined with large black iron fences and elaborately grand gates with intricate designs and gold leaf touches. Behind each gate is a large mansion. As I walk by each one I can only dream of what it must have been like back in the 1800's going for a stroll in a long flowing dress and parasol.

The gate into Rosecliff is quite common for it's day. It opens into a long driveway that is now paved but was once filled with gravel as horse-drawn carriages road over it towards the house.

As you enter the property a sign welcomes you to this historic site.

The first look inside the property you'll see a large planting container. Not your average container - this one is over 6 feet tall and filled with Asiatic lilies. The sweet scent of the container plantings was intoxicating as I walked up to it to get a closer look.

Each flower was incredibly large and perfect. Of course, this was our first blue ribbon winner of the show.

The Rosecliff mansion is set way back inside the property. It's not visible from the street as are many of the other mansions. Instead visitors are teased towards the house by the massive elm and oaks trees as well the perfectly shaped boxwoods that carve a path towards to the "cottage." I would have taken a picture but the since this was was garden show event all you would have seen was vendor tents and it wouldn't have done it justice.

As you enter the property a path that meanders towards the house leads visitors to the first display of the show where entrants for the bicycle basket competition are lined up. Here there were about 20 different brightly colored bikes with baskets brimming full of flowers and foliage. Each one was more beautiful and creative than the next. These baskets gave me such great ideas and inspiration. I'd love to have one on display in my garden.

Here's a lime-green bicycle with bright foliage to match.

And a closeup of another.

Pretty in pink - this bicycle has a cottage-styled basket.

A closer look - notice the small garden hats picks tucked in among the flowers.

Another pink bicycle. Pink was a popular color choice for many of the entrants.

With a smile on my face from looking at all these happy bikes I moved on to the next display. Here I was greeted with a butterfly garden planted around an old fountain. This was breathtaking as at least 20 different kinds of butterflies were fluttering around it. The picture doesn't nearly do it justice. My photography skills just weren't good enough to catch all of those butterflies. I stood there for about 20 minutes just taking it all in and watching serenely as the monarchs flew around me. I was tickled by their soft wings and giggled like a child. True happiness for me....

I continued on with the tour and walked past many vendor tents and small displays. Finally there was a break in the trees and I saw this...

In all it's glory is Rosecliff. A magnificently large white mansion with a formal garden leading up to it. Imagine pulling up to this in early 1902 in a horse-drawn carriage. It took my breath away as I'm sure it did to those who visited it's grandness back when it was a private home.

A close look at a brightly colored flower arrangement near the front palladium windows.

On the right side of mansion is the front door. I thought it odd that the front door is over to the side since most mansions have their front door as the centerpiece. But, with the palladium windows and formal gardens being showcased in the front I can see why the architects and landscapers of the time choose to design it this way.

When you open the massive front doors you are greeted by a grand central staircase and elaborately decorated foyer. Imagine the lady of house descending down these stairs dressed in her finest gown ready to greet her guests for a lavish ball.

There's so much more to see. Stay tuned for another installment of the flower show tour.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Newport, Rhode Island - A Return to the Gilded Age

A step back in time to the gilded age where gold and marble fireplaces, grand staircases, and elaborately painted ceilings graced the homes of the wealthy. It was the robber baron era where the late 19th century businessmen, bankers, railroad tycoons, and coal magnates who dominated the industrial age amassed huge fortunes and flaunted their wealth by showcasing their homes.

It was a time when the likes of the Vanderbilts and Astors were drawn to Newport - the City By The Sea - along the southern tip of Aquidneck Island in Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island. The area is graced with breathtakingly beautiful cliffs that jet out into the Atlantic ocean. It is here where the wealthy built magnificent summer homes they called "cottages." Each home was not only decorated elaborately but had equally amazing gardens.

We often visit Newport since it's only a 45 minute drive from where we live. Sometimes we just go to enjoy the sunsets by the water and stop for a seaside dinner. Other times we spend the day shopping and walking by the docks.

One of my favorite things to do is tour the mansions in Newport. There are still many mansions in Newport today that are currently occupied by the wealthy. But, I'm referring to visiting the mansions that are now historic sites and museums that once hosted lavish parties in the late 19th century as the Astors presided as the official head of the social scene at the time.

There are 11 mansions in total that the public can tour in this area. The mansions today are hosts to charity events, weddings, and other activities that the average person can enjoy and peek into the lives of the rich and famous of the day.

Each year the Rosecliff mansion hosts the Newport Flower Show. This was my first year there and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rosecliff was commissioned by Nevada silver heiress Theresa Fair Oelrichs in 1899. The house was completed in 1902, at a reported cost of $2.5 million. "Tessie", as she was known to her friends, was born in Virginia City, Nevada. Her father, James Graham Fair, was an Irish immigrant who made an enormous fortune from Nevada's Comstock silver lode, one of the richest silver finds in history. Scenes from several films have been shot on location at Rosecliff, including The Great Gatsby, True Lies and Amistad.

Over the next several days I'll be posting pictures of my visit to the Newport Flower Show. I hope you will enjoy the tour of this idyllic place.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Slug Feast!

The month of June has been a bust here in New England. Usually it's a wonderful month with warm breezes, cool nights, and low humidity. It's one of my favorite months. But this June has been nothing but clouds, rain, lower than normal temperatures, and high humidity. Nothing seems to get much sun or dry out. The garden plants are all lushly green but the blooms are lagging behind desperate for some rays of golden sun.

Here's the rain gage after just a few hours of showers. If I were to measure all the rain we've had this past month I could probably fill up a small bucket.

It seems I can't get ahead of all the fungus and mildew problems my plants are having. Black spot disease seems to be every where. I spray and cut back but I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle. Some of my phlox, which is normally susceptible to disease, may be a goner. Even the cosmos which were beautiful a week ago are clearly complaining about their "wet feet."

But the thing that seems to be enjoying this weather the most are the slugs! So much so that we've renamed our garden "Slug Feast 2009!".

Here's one munching on a sweet green pepper leaf. How brazen.... in the middle of the day he's feeding!

My usual methods of controlling don't work in these rain forest conditions. Beer in cups, copper, slug bait, netting, cages, hand picking, - you name it I've tried it. The sad fact is that slugs are breeding faster than bunnies (I'd prefer bunnies at this point) and there's very little I can do but hope for some drier weather.

Here's what they've done to the bok choy and basil. I've never had problems with them eating basil before.

I could have taken more pictures to show you what they've done to the delphiniums, bee balm, hostas, lettuce, cone flowers - but it's too depressing.

Well at least today the sun is out!

Ahhh... it feels good.... but in the background while making breakfast I heard the weather man on TV say that afternoon showers are expected. It took all my strength not to throw my coffee cup at the TV.

PS - As you know from my Houston post I've been away all week. Sorry I haven't had a chance to read your blogs and comment on them while I was away, but I'll be catching up on them now that I'm back. Thanks so much for continuing to read my blog. I really do enjoy and appreciate all of feedback!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bird Happy

If you listen and watch carefully the earth speaks to you. I often get giddy as the beauty of Mother Nature unfolds around me. Like a child with bright eyes and a heart opened wide I'm fascinated by the ripples in a brook, the softness of lush moss growing up the side of tree, and the sparkle of a spider web wet from the morning dew. When I am bestowed with a "God Gift" I get especially excited and will run like lightening to retrieve my camera so I can freeze a moment in time.

Two such occasions happened over the weekend and I was so thrilled to have caught them both in stills - which is rare for me since I'm usually so shaky with excitement that I can't get a clear picture.

First up it was feeding time at a popular bird house in our side garden. So far this year we've hosted 3 bird families here - a titmouse family, then some chickadees, and now sparrows.

As though catching a feeding on digital wasn't thrilling enough I was soon to be treated to another God Gift as I weeded a raised bed. While I knelt down next to the bed I felt something ever so lightly brush up against my leg. It was so soft that at first I thought it was just the wind breezing by (or maybe delirium from too much weeding). But then I caught something out of the corner of my eye - a hoping fluffy ball like a cotton puff dipped in ink. Hop, hop, and hop again - I watched as it bounced by me chirping ever so softly.

My heart started to race as well as my thoughts. "My God it's a baby robin!" I yelled. "It must have fallen from the nest!" I said out loud even though no one was around to hear me. I followed the little fluff as it hopped away - I noticed its feathers were still wet with newness.

Immediately my thoughts turned to how I would rescue the baby bird. Should I pick it up and take it home? Surely it wouldn't survive without some assistance. Thankfully I didn't have to think too long as Mama and Papa soon arrived on the scene thoroughly annoyed (or should I say furious) at my presence. As loving parents should they protected their young by squawking at me and diving for my head - I was never so thankful to be the target of a bird attack!

Amazingly Mama and Papa guided their baby back to the nest in the thicket of a conifer where its siblings waited for the lost one's safe return. Finally the fledgling took its place back in the comfort of its protective family. I then let out a loud sigh of relief as I thanked God for allowing me to experience this precious gift.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Houston Bound

I’m heading off to Houston on a business trip. This trip is bitter sweet for me. I’m excited to go since I’ll have the opportunity to meet new co-workers that are in another state, but at the same time this trip is due to the closing of our Massachusetts facility where I currently work - another casualty of the weak economy.

I work for a large technology company that services the financial industry – companies you would easily recognize. The division I work for handles print mail for many large banks, lenders, and other financial institutions. For example, your credit card bill, 401k statement, dividend check, car loan statement, mortgage coupon, or even your electric bill was very likely printed and mailed from one of our facilities around the country. Before working in this industry I had no idea how complicated it was to produce a credit card bill and get it mailed out. But, after working here for almost 2 years I’ll never look at a piece of mail in the same way again.

Getting the right data on a credit card bill is no easy task, and then getting that bill printed properly on the right paper, inserted in the right envelope with the correct address along with any other materials is accomplished through large printing presses and postal machines based on barcodes and machine-readable digits. Ever wonder why there are barcodes on your bills and statements? The barcode counts the number of pages in your statement and makes sure all pages get inserted together in the right envelope with your mailing address. It’s really quite amazing and without that barcode nothing would get mailed.

The reason for my trip is to assist with the transfer of work from the Massachusetts facility to Houston Operations. I work on the technology side of the business managing projects. Over the past few months after learning that our facility would close I was told that I had two options – I could move to Houston or accept a severance package. For me moving was not an option so I’ve been looking for another job. But then a blessing came. About 2 weeks ago they told me that since I was part of the technology team and didn’t need to be onsite with the operations in Houston they were going to let me keep my job and allow me to telecommute from home. I couldn’t think of anything sweeter when I heard this wonderful news.

As the closing of our facility doors grows nearer I’m thankful that I still have a job but so worried and sad for the almost 200 co-workers who are not as fortunate. Each day as I walk around our facility more large machines leave our building on route in a truck headed for Houston. Every time a machine leaves a person who worked that machine loses their job.

I’ll miss the spirited gentleman that manned the check writing machine. We always had the best conversations about politics. And the funny guy who ran the postal inserters – he always told the best jokes. The forklift machine sits idle like some museum dinosaur. The operator’s wife used to bake the best brownies. Then there is the cute white-haired lady who is 75 years young and hand stuffed envelopes to supplement her social security retirement income. I’ll miss them all and I pray for them each day.

Although this blog is about gardening and decorating, I felt compiled to share what is going on in my life right now and to pay tribute to the people who have lost or will be losing their jobs. Each time I go out into in the garden it’s a blessing for me since I could have very well lost it without having a job to pay the mortgage. I never take anything for granted especially now when so many are in dire need of help.

As a sign of hope for all those who have lost their jobs during the finanacial crisis of our country, I'm posting this picture of a banyan tree.

In Hindu religion, the banyan tree is considered sacred and is called "Ashwath Vriksha" ("I am Banyan tree among trees" - Bhagavad Gita). It represents eternal life because of its seemingly ever-expanding branches. In Hindu mythology, the banyan tree is also called kalpavriksha meaning 'wish fulfilling divine tree'.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fertilizer Friday - Cheery Cosmos

It's Fertilizer Friday! Please join me and our host Tootsie over at Tootsie Time and enjoy all the wonderful blooms and lush greenery.

For this week's installment I'd like to welcome you to my Cosmos patch.

Cosmos are a cheerful cottage flower that stand out in wildflower mixes. They are one of my favorite annuals because they are so easy to grow. I adore the bright large blooms, tall stature, and ferny foliage.

Look at this quaint cottage garden on Martha's Vineyard.

This is what I think of when I see Cosmos. I took this picture a few years back when we were visiting the island. It don't remember exactly where the picture was taken but I do know it was outside of an inn. You can see the chef standing on the steps taking a break from cooking. Imagine how lovely it would be to stay there.

Cosmos stand tall in a cottage garden. Depending on the variety they can reach anywhere from 3 - 6 feet tall. Some are bushy while others need staking. Cosmos love full sun and are drought tolerant. They are great in areas with poor soil. If you plant them in soil that is too rich and moist they will get lanky and not bloom as well. As an added benefit Cosmos are also pest and disease resistant. Now that's my kind of plant!

Cosmos are usually the centerpiece of my container plantings. They do well with other sun-loving annuals and drought-tolerant perennials like Echinacea, Zinnia, Lavender, Dianthus, Rosemary, Sweet Potato Vine and Thyme. This year I decided to plant them in the ground along my front walkway. I'm so glad I did because I love the way they sway in mass when gentle breezes blow by.

I always purchase my Cosmos from the local nursery but next year I'm going to grow them from seed. The seeds look like pine needles and are one of the easiest to grow so it's worth it for me to give it shot.

Did you know that the word Cosmos is derived from the Greek word meaning "balanced universe. " What a perfect name for one of the most perfect annuals!

Finally to wrap up this week's Fertilizer Friday I'm sending all my blog readers a big beautiful bouquet of peonies.

Thank you all so much for visiting my blog, adding great comments, sending me wonderful emails, and offering up this newbie gardener great advice.

Happy Friday!!