Friday miscellany

The porch of Burnside Plantation in 1938, by photographer Frances Benjamin Johnson for the Carnegie Survey of the South.


The Washington Post has an interesting, and rather sad, article (and colorful slide show), here, about the once-great floating gardens of Xochimilco in Mexico City. Although it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, “the ancient plots and their life-giving canals are weedy and abandoned, overrun by cattle, invaded by exotic fish, sucked dry by urban sprawl — and a dozen agencies of government have failed to save one of the wonders of the world.”

Anne Raver in The New York Times writes about Nancy Goodwin’s celebrated Montrose Gardens in winter, here. The slide show includes a photo of her lath house, which has been on my list of favorite garden structures since I saw it in Garden Design in the 1990s.

In urban landmark news, the first Starbucks on the East Coast, at Wisconsin and Idaho Avenues, N.W., in Washington, D.C., has closed. The building it occupied will soon be demolished. However, The Huffington Post reports, here, that the new, mixed-use development will still have a Starbucks (whew!). In the meantime, if you visit the nearby National Cathedral’s Bishop’s Garden, you can get coffee (and fudge) in the gift shop.

(Also, a slideshow in the header of the National Cathedral’s website, here, has some revealing photos of the earthquake damage of last summer.)

This link from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the University of Texas at Austin displays a map of the U.S. Click on a state and you get a list of native plants suitable for that region. Also, here’s an interesting perspective on the honey bee as a pollinator of American native plants, at Garden Rant.

Finally, if you need a reminder to always be alert to possibilities for design, click here.

Antique shades of green

Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’ and boxwoods. 

I spent yesterday morning at The Bishop’s Garden of the National Cathedral.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never visited this popular Washington garden before.

I’m sorry I waited so long.  The place has the beautiful patina of an old piece of silver.

The partially walled space was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr. as a private garden for the Bishop.  But in 1916, Florence Brown Bratenahl, the wife of the Dean, took over the garden’s installation and re-worked the plan for public access, opening it in 1928.  She was the cathedral’s Landscape Designer from 1927 to 1936.   Today, the garden is maintained by the All Hallows Guild, which Mrs. Bratenahl founded.

An old boxwood and companion plants.

The garden sits on the south side of the cathedral immediately off an access road and parking area.   One parking space actually blocks a bit of the Norman-style arched entryway.

On stepping inside, however, you are immediately enveloped by the long branches of an old weeping cherry and encounter the first of many antique boxwoods.

Younger boxwoods grow in a bed set on a higher tier of a wall with 15th c. bas relief.

In the 1920s, Mrs. Bratenahl brought in mature boxwoods from George Washington’s Hayfield Manor, from the Ellersbee Plantation in Virginia, and from other historic sites in the region.   I wasn’t able to discover from online research how many of the current bushes are from this time.

Original or not, however, they are very, very old and I like the way many have limbed up and split open at their centers, creating spaces through which other plants have grown.  (I believe I was also seeing some of the damage caused by the huge snows we had here in 2010.)

The upper perennial bed.

This lovely garden contains almost every shade and shape of green leaf, set against aged bark and moss-grown stone — all beautifully punctuated, but not overtaken, by the flowers of old-fashioned perennials, annuals, and herbs.

My only real reservation about the design was the central rose garden, which I think has too many brightly colored, glossy-leafed hybrid teas.   I would prefer to see bushes with more subtle appeal and interesting foliage.

The fact that the south side of the garden is open to a parking lot for St. Alban’s School is really too bad as well. In Olmstead’s original plan, I believe that area merged into woods and a stream.  However, one of the gardeners working there told me that there are plans to put in some kind of view barrier, probably a tall hedge, possibly as early as this fall.

Please enjoy the gallery below. Click on any thumbnail photo below to scroll through all the enlarged pictures.