Sunday we had high winds-giant concrete pots planted for spring out front got blown over and dashed to the ground.  We had four inches of snow today.  I would be lying if I said I took this in stride-I did not.  I was speechless.  The latest great snowfall recorded in my gardening journal was April 16, 1982.  6 inches.  April 18th this year-four inches of snow.    

This April 18th, the tulip leaves, which have been so slow to break ground, were buried in snow.   Discouraging to me-no kidding.  Every day I hope for a clear sign that nature has put the winter behind her.  A clear sign-not yet.  At this time last year, we were basking in our best spring ever.  This looks much more like the longest winter ever.    

As much as I plan for spring,  the arrival of spring is not really my call.  I have a great love for nature, and all things natural, but the weather today is exasperating.  I would have wanted spring to appear a month ago.  The greenhouse space in the shop is loaded with plants that cannot go outdoors yet. 

I do not need to worry much.  A late spring snowfall harms nothing already acclimatized and used to cold weather.  The spring flowering bulbs have been underground and cold for months.  They handle this late snow with aplomb.  Snow this late bothers my heart, not my tulips.  The crocus this year-not much to see there.  The cold temperatures and winds took the flowers out within a matter of a few days.  

These pansies with their frosting of snow will suffer no real damage.  They will pop back quickly from the insult. My hellebores are steadily making progress towards bloom week, and my European ginger is making an appearance.  This is all the news from my home garden.      

This Italian planter-the planting looks forlorn.  The temperatures were just below freezing; today’s snow will not stay on the ground for long.  I am still wearing my winter jacket and boots.    

All of the pots I planted with spring bulbs were buried in snow today.  They will be fine-they will bloom soon, as scheduled.  A spring snow-do not worry about it. Night temperatures below 25 degrees-worry.  We have on occasion had no spring.  Winter can stay forever, until one day there temps go to 80, and stay there. I am hoping for a more gentle scenario  

The four inches of snow today-hard on the eye.  Not so hard on the plants.

Sunday Opinion: A few Thoughts About Romance

I have been talking of late to my friend Michael K on the subject of romance-as a world view.  For me, that means a world garden view.  The most romantic gardener of my vintage would be Henry Mitchell.  He planted untold numbers of bearded irises on his small property.  All of the work that their successful cultivation takes he provided,  for that brief week or two of glory.  Only a romantic would devote so much time to a plant whose bloom time is so ephemeral.  Bearded irises out of bloom, or in need of division, or suffering from botrytis-not so pretty.  In bloom-who does not love them?   He spoke of the summer storms that inevitably knock over the the delphiniums in full bloom and shatter all the peony blooms, but he spoke even more about how those gardeners that grow them pick up and go on past any trouble in the sure belief that life without them would be a desert. The gardener that throws him or her self at their garden like they have 10 minutes to live-they are romantics.  The gardener who trims their boxwood with hand shears as they love the sound it makes is a head over heels gardener.  Romantic gardeners love a rainy day as much as a sunny one.  Gardeners who opt for gravel in the drive put up with the maintenance, as they cannot live without that crunching sound underfoot.  They never ask for a perennial, shrub or tree that blooms all summer, and is maintenance free.  The work of a landscape and garden is a life, not a job.  They treasure that most ephemeral element in a landscape-a perfect moment.  I have only had a few-but I live every day for the next one.  Rob could not have been more pleased to have sheep’s hurdles arrive in the container. I know of no one who takes sheep to market, and needs a temporary pen for them.   But I do know lots of gardeners who will fall for their history and sturdy construction.  Some romantic gardener will imagine a use, and make a home for them.  The hope of a supremely and sublimely beautiful garden-a very romantic idea that I cannot shake.   Rob’s romance with the sheep’s hurdles-I greatly respect that.        

Everything living and growing on God’s earth has a lifespan.  A moment, a season.  Some moments take but the blink of an eye.  That would be my crocus this year.  They came on, shone for the better part of two days, and vanished.  My Kent Beauty showy oregano-one summer season, and one summer season only-would I do without them?  No.  My maple, the biggest tree on my property, I estimate to be about 75 years old.  My yews and arborvitae are 25 years old.  My Limelight hydrangeas are 8 years old; I feel like I have had my butterburrs my whole life, though I have really only had them 10 years.  My garden in its present form I have had 16 years.  This is a very short time, in the big scheme of things.  But this is what I have.  Some lifespans are bigger than others.  Ancient yews in England, the sequoia trees in California, they are ancient and still vigorous.  Grapevines in France 200 years old still produce grapes for wine.  There are many examples of great age.  But eventually any living thing will succumb.   Not that I need remind you, but no living thing lives forever. 

What does the inevitability of a lifespan have to do with romance?  I find people with a romantic world view are intensely sensitive to the present moment.  One beautiful flower opening, a certain foggy morning defined by a flock of geese flying overhead and honking, that day the double bloodroot blooms, a harvest moon high in the sky-the romantic gardeners among us greatly value the beauty of the moment, and great hope for the future.  There is not a cynic among them.  Part of this is fueled, energized by the knowledge that our time is limited.  How do we choose to live it? 

We pour over the seed catalogues.  We grow seedlings under lights in the basement.  We search the soil surface for signs of life once the snow melts away.  We plan the next phase.  We celebrate every spring in much the same way-the best is yet to come. 

I would invite you to let your romance for a garden guide you.  Get going.  You do not have forever-you have now.

At A Glance: Violas And Pansies

Errington Reay & Co. Ltd


I am awash in English salt glazed garden pots,  hand made at Errington Reay & Co in England.  The pleasure is all mine; I am delighted with them.  Rob has been interested in this pottery for a few years.  This past fall, a shopping trip to England made for an opportunity to purchase them.  They are beautifully varied in shape, texture and color.  They have a very English look about them.  What do I mean by this?  To my mind, English garden pots are as much about utility and serviceabillty as they are about aesthetics.  These pots are thick and heavy; I am sure they will withstand the perils faced by any object left outdoors. No matter the shape, they all have plenty of space for plants.  They are sensibly roomy. 

Some pots are shaped like crocks, others like mixing bowls.  The shapes are simple enough to invite any number of uses.  They are all asking to be put to use.  There is a quiet beauty to this.  Each pot is hand made; this is evident.  All of the pots have a salt glaze finish.         

Salt glazed pots date back to the 18th century in England.  Doulton-Lambeth, which later became known as Royal Doulton, manufactured lots of salt glazed pots and sanitary ware.  In the 1830’s and 1840’s, salt glazed sewer pipes helped provide better sanitary conditions in urban areas. At the hottest moment of the firing, common salt is thrown into the kiln. The sodium in the salt reacts with the silica in the clay, to form a glossy coating of sodium silicate. This results in a a subtle texture that resembles that of an orange peel.  

Some salt glaze is colorless, or quite purplish in color given the presence of manganese in the glaze.  We have had French salt glazed pots on occasion from the Poterie at Noron.  These pots are various shades of brown given the iron oxide in the glaze.  No two pots are exactly ther same.  Rob thinks they have the look of freshly baked bread.   

Clean air regulations passed in England in the 1870’s prohibited the production of salt glazed clay in urban areas.  Royal Doulton quit producing pots with this glaze as a result.  Errington Reay and Co is the only pottery in England currently licensed to produce salt glazed pots.  Pictured above, their rhubarb forcers.  Placed over an emerging rhubard plant, they limit that plant’s ability to produce chlorophyll-this is known as photosynthesis.  Once the rhubarb has produced shoots above ground, the lid of the forcer is removed.  The plant grows towards the light, in limited light.  This results in more tender rhubarb.  They can also be used to blanch asparagus; so called white asparagus is green asparagus grown in the absence of chlorophyll.  

These tall pots would be great for any plant needing a long root run-tomatoes, for example. The pale biscuit color of the interior of the pots is just as lovely as the color of the outside 

The lot line is full full of these freshly unpacked pots.  The pair of horse troughs with their richly rusted surface visually explains everything about the iron oxide in the salt glaze.

Errington Reay & Co was founded by Robert Errington and William Reay at Bardon Mill-the site of a water powered woolen mill established in the late 17th century.  “Since Victorian times, when it earned its nationwide reputation for high quality sanitary ware, drainage pipes and ornamental pottery for domestic use, Errington Reay has remained a traditional family run pottery.  We still only practice traditional ways of hand throwing, hand moulding and casting.”  This is just part of what is written on the tag that comes with every pot.  We are very pleased indeed to offer them.