Earthbound Farms

Rob took 5 days off last week to take a little holiday in California.  Every holiday for him is at least partly a busman’s holiday. A busman’s holiday?  This refers to people who do much the same sort of thing on their vacation that they do at work.  The reference speaks particularly to a bus driver who takes a driving holiday-as opposed to a stay put on the beach holiday, or a cruise holiday, or a skiing holiday.  Rob on vacation-he is gardening.  He does a great job of putting his eye to the gardening news, no matter where he is.  

So I get a look via his photographs of the fruit stand owned and operated by Earthbound Farms.  The same day I am writing about how a long twisted stem is an element that could make a pumpkin spooky, he is checking out the fall harvest of California grown pumpkins and gourds that have long beautifully twisted stems.  He tells me given his visit to California,  that fall pumpkins are beautifully defined by what is preserved of their vines and stems.       

Via Wikipedia, I learn that Earthbound Farms is the largest grower of organic produce in the United States.  150 farmers cultivate some 30,000 acres of land.  The well known writer Michael Pollan refers to Earthbound Farms as ” a company that arguably represents industrial scale organic gardening at its best.”  No wonder Rob was interested in their side of the road fruit stand.  He saw varieties of pumpkins with which he was unfamiliar.   

He was very keen about the arrangement of the stand.  Pumpkins of different varieties were heaped high by variety on the ground.  As much as I love an ordinary pumpkin representing orange in October, I am interested in all of those other less common varieties.  Like any other gardener, I willing to experience variation.  Whether I am looking at plants or produce, I like the opportunity to know a name or origin.  The best of all-a plant, an idea, a design, an arrangement, a move, and a story that goes with.    

I have seen the pumpkin Jarradale before-I just never knew its name.  The story of this pumpkin variety I need to absorb.  I will confess that I am surprised that Rob found pumpkins for sale in California.  This surprise represents an illiteracy of a regional sort.  How could fall pumpkins ripen in such a climate?  I know-what an ignorant idea.  I must have believed that the fall harvest is specific to the midwest.  OK, I need to attend a fall 101 course in the fruits of the harvest.  My photo visit to Earthbound Farms courtesy of Rob-eye opening. 

I loved the crate and iron chairs with grass cushions-what an inspired gesture. 

The left long stems on these pie pumpkins were perfect to hook over a wire spanning the length of the fascia board of the fruit stand building.  The same pumpkins line the railing.  The display would have encouraged me to take everything home that I could. 

I find it very interesting that every farm, nursery, or stand at market I frequent features gourds distinctively all their own.  Each grower decides what seed to buy; every result is different.  This is one of the simple pleasures of being a gardener. The element of surprise, mixed with a big dose of individuality.  The need to imagine, choose, grow, and shop-and work like crazy, yes.  This describes farmers and gardeners alike.   


Should you garden near me,  the fruit stand of Earthbound Farms is not available for a quick visit.  No harm here-we have plenty of local growers who do a great job.  I make it my business to patronize them, as I want them to be successful.  The efforts of our farming community are never so clear than they are at this time of year.  Whether you live in Michigan, California, New York, or Louisiana-it is harvest time.  My advice?  Load up, locally, whatever you can.

Near To The Last Of The Lead

I sold this lead fountain cistern 3 days ago.  Stunning-isn’t it?  I so clearly remember a constellation of feelings regarding its purchase, some years ago.  I was afraid to commit so hefty a chunk of my budget to one ornament.  I was equally afraid not to commit to it; I am in the business of making first class garden ornament available to my clients.  Some first class ornament involves only a great eye, and not so much money.  But lead garden ornament, both new and antique, is very expensive.  You may think that committing to a very expensive garden ornament takes nerve.  Truth be told, I would not describe myself as nervy.  I try to focus on what I cannot live without. Lead in the garden-this I would want.       

Lead in the garden has long history.  English lead ornament has a  long long history-this I respect.  Lead is poured into molds, and cooled. An artist takes the castings from a raw set of molds, and hammers and sculpts the lead into the finished ornament.  A large lead egg cup may take 60 hours of hand work to finish. The finished ornament is very heavy; lead is the densest of all the elements.  It is equally as soft. This makes it difficult to transport, and easy to damage.  Yet lead is the ideal material for a garden ornament; it is all but impervious to weather and maintenance-free.  

The English company known as Bulbeck produces very fine lead garden ornament.  Pots, sculptures, fountains and cisterns.  Hugo flew over, and paid a visit to us some years ago-he was so pleased that an American garden store was featuring his work. I have four of his lead egg cups available now.  They are based on pots from the National Trust garden Anglesey Abbey, and feature four medallions-pears, oak, roses and grapes.  I doubt I will be able to buy more, once these four egg cups are sold.  The cost of lead has increased so dramatically in the past few years, as has the cost of transport.     

 Eighteenth century lead ornament has inspired many of the pieces produced at the Bulkbeck foundry-and no wonder.  The production of lead garden ornament and architectural pieces was a flourishing business during that period.  Only a few companies deal in lead now; I hope their business stays strong.  It has been my pleasure to design and plant around lead ornament; to follow are a few pictures.   

 plain Bulbeck egg cup

lead tapers with grape garlands

lead fountain ornament

lead round from Kenneth Lynch

English lead box with lion medallions

English lead square with rose medallions

English lead square with contemporary zinc planters

Canadian lead egg cup

tapered English lead planter

This 17th century English lead cistern is near to the last of my lead.  I am looking here at the very best reason I have to find more lead ornament-there is nothing else quite like it.

Walking The Field

I would bet that if I organized and offered a shopping trip with Rob, it would fill up in an instant.  There would be a waiting list.  He has an eye for where to go, what to see, and what to commit to that interesting and beautiful.  His less obvious searches includes sifting through the debris and dried materials that tends to accumulate in vacant land.  This abandoned tangle of wire fencing and rotted posts may not upon first glance seem like much seem like much. But I would say the chances are excellent I will see this found object, or this combination of colors and textures and materials, or some semblance of this idea somewhere soon.   

Vacant land has a story to tell.  This grass likes the watery ground.  Other species only come so close, before conditions are no longer optimal.  Plants are very specific about what they want-this picture makes that clear. Given this picture, it is no wonder that lawn saturated with water from automatic irrigation thrives.  Other plants are not so crazy about it-they stay away, if they can.  I know him well enough to know this wild grass laying over is appealing.  Some spot or another in the shop will have this look.            

Wild asters have small and insignificant individual flowers, but large colonies of them can be very beautiful.  Weedy and wonderful, this.  Rob’s pictures are a harbinger of what is to come from him.   The other day Rob nailed a  twig bird feeder to a chestnut fence post, and set the post in a tall limestone cylinder.  Wedged into the cylinder around the fence post, a few wisps of weedy plastic grass.  The idea of plastic grass appeals to no gardener, but should you come in, take a look.  There is an utterly natural and believable look to the entire assembly.      

This vacant land is littered with giant logs, the remnants of their roots intact.  The goldenrod and asters have grown up around them.  The story that lies behind this picture is unclear.  They do not look cut, they look rotted off at the very base.  They look like they were dumped here. But perhaps this land was inadvertently flooded long enough to kill all of the trees.  I am just waiting for Rob to ask if I can send a truck and trailer after them.  They would be the perfect material for a stumpery. 

 I have no clue what thesese shrubby trees might be.  They have been dead long enough that the bark is peeling away from the wood from a long standing sun burn.  Spooky branches, he calls them.  Would they not be perfect for a Halloween vignette?  Rob is just as likely to find inspiration from spooky branches in a tract of vacant land as the library.  To put it mildly, he has an active imagination.  A genuinely original imagination.    

He and I both love asclepias tuberosa-milkweed.  Few wild and weedy plants have big luscious leaves like these.  The story of how milkweed seeds mature, and are sent aloft is one of the most delightful stories that nature has to tell.  When the pods mature, and crack open, the seeds are packed tight in that pod with the unopened parachutes attached, just waiting for a stiff breeze to send them all aloft. An afternoon sky full of milkweed seeds is one of the best visual pleasures of fall.   

Thistles are a pernicious weed in cultivated gardens.  They are almost impossible to eradicate; the roots go very deep, and are very strong.  Who would want to touch one?  But the seed pods are beautiful.  The seeds nourish many a goldfinch.  They look great in fall arrangements. If you know of any tract of vacant land in zone 4-5, there will likely be a thistle patch.        

There is a fall party going on here-undisturbed.  No one has had a mind to refurbish, zone, or organize this space for residential use.   Vacant land in no means implies a vacant space.  There are plenty of plant species thriving with no need for any supervision.  It may be that the most beautiful places on earth are places that are solely supervised by nature.   Every gardener appreciates this.  

Rob took all of these photographs-of course he spotted this giant thickly growing clump of asparagus.  Did it grow from a seed?  Was there a farmhouse here decades ago?  The mystery that is nature is alive and well on this vacant land.  A shopping trip with Rob to a vast tract of vacant land?  It might be better than you think.

Fall Color

The phrase fall color usually refers to leaves that color up.  The gingkos go gold, and the sugar maple leaves turn the most amazing shades of yellow, peach, orange and red.  But there are those late blooming plants whose flowers are richly saturated with color.  Jewel like-as in the wine red and lime green of amaranthus caudatus Fat Spike, and the the golden topaz of amaranthus Hot Biscuits.  These big rangy growing cultivars of grain amaranth bloom with colors I associate with the season.      

.The amaranths dry incredibly well, but the color is at its most dense and brilliantly jewel-like the moment they are cut.  I buy them by the bunch loads when they come into season.  There is something about their velvety color and texture I find irresistable. I do use them in fall containers, especially clients who will replace their fall planting with a winter one the end of November.  

Hot biscuits is just as beautiful in a vase.  I remove all of the leaves and cut the thick stems on a steep slant. 

 Mixed with the orange rose of my dreams- “Star 2000″, the yellow and orange bicolor rose “Confetti”, and the florist’s button chrysanthemum “Yoko Ono”, the result is a spectacular discussion of color particular to fall. 

The orange summer planting at the shop looks perfectly appropriate this October 1.  The copper leaved banana, the orange dahlias and red violet coleus have taken on a different, more saturated look.  The forecast for temperatures in the 30’s tonight does not augur well for a good look tomorrow-I thought I had better take a picture.   

Clear sky orange and yellow pansies look particularly appropriate for fall.  Some dark twigs, with a substantial collar of eucalyptus dyed orange completes the look.  These pots will look all the more beautiful once the leaves on the trees change color.   

Some fall color is as much about the quality of the light as the color.  This antique white fountain with its paint rusting looks cream, gold and orange in the low in the sky, late day sun. 


Have you seen the new issue of Garden’s Illustrated?  It is superb.  My most favorite article is about the Dutch garden Boschoeve, owned, designed and tended by Dineke Logtenberg.  Her ornamental kitchen garden is full of varieties of edible plants that are beautiful in their own right.  This photograph of the cabbage “Kalibos” by Elke Borowski says everything there is to say about the color of fall maturing plants.

The pumpkins and gourds are ripening.  They will be cream, butter yellow, orange, peach, and black green.  This color is unlike any other season.    Their colors are all that much more intense, given a little late summer sun. 

 My trees are just beginning to turn color.  The kousa dogwoods are always the first.  The brilliant red berries pepper the green leaves in the process of turning red.  This look is some consolation that spring is several seasons away. 

Dahlais are especially beautiful in the fall.  Provided they have survived the spider mites and mildew, they will bloom like crazy towards the end of the season.  There colors will intrensify with the beginning of the cold.  This carmine pink University series cactus dahlia has bloomed faithfully all season; it is especially good right now.  

Not all fall color is bright.  These plantings of red bor kale, cirrus dusty miller and blue pansies are moody, just like the rainy blustery weather we have been having the past few days.  No summer planting looks like this.  Color in the fall is an experience like no other.