My Chelsea list

While we’re all waiting for the Chelsea Flower Show to open next week and for pictures to emerge, here are a few things that I particularly liked when I visited the original Chelsea — the Chelsea Physic Garden — about a week and a half ago.

The four-acre London garden was founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries in order to grow medicinal plants and train their apprentices. It is the second oldest botanic garden in Britain, after the one at Oxford.

1. The Pond Rockery area (also shown at the top). The sides are planted in Mediterranean and alpine plants.

2. This giant fennel. It was a beacon in the Botanical Order Beds at about 8′ tall.

It did not have a label, but I have since looked it up — Ferula communes.

The species is part of the carrot family, Apiaceae. (Common fennel belongs to another genus, Foeniculum.)

This tamarix in the center of the beds was a star too.

3. The plant supports of bamboo, string, and shrub and vine cuttings.

4. This neat little kitchen garden arrangement and its beautiful cardoons.

And the nearby beehives.

5. This trunk of a Catalpa bignonioide, which is supporting a huge Rosa Brunoni or Himalayan musk rose.

The rest of the tree was cut off.  It may have died, but it may also have been too large for the space.

6. The greenhouse area.

Plants from the Canary Islands, Madeira, The Azores, and St. Helena.

7. This primrose display, which — with the giant fennel — made my “most desired” list that day (along with this).

8. My tea towel from the gift shop.

(And the café is excellent.)

Mount Vernon

A repeat “Vintage” from 2012. . .

I love this 1902 photograph of the Upper Garden at George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. It’s so high Colonial Revival.

Early American Gardens has a post this week,  “Mount Vernon after George Washington’s death,” with images from the 19th century.  While looking at them I remembered the picture above and the two below.

Above is a hand-colored slide from a 1929 aerial photo, part of the lantern slides collection of Frances Benjamin Johnston.  The Upper Garden is on the right side.

And here is a general view (c.1910 – 1920) of the the Upper Garden by the Detroit Publishing Co.  All three images above via the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

The 20th century photos are pretty, but they don’t accurately represent the Upper Garden of Washington’s time.  In the late 19th century, restorers thought that the boxwood parterres (many filled with hybrid tea roses) were original to Washington’s time, but research in the 1980s found that they were actually planted in the 1860s or 70s (although they may have been rooted from Washington’s boxwood).

The garden was substantially re-worked in 1985, but such is the romantic power of a boxwood hedge that the mid-19th century bushes were largely “kept in place by their own mythology and the mythology they supported of Washington as American royalty,” according to The History Blog, here.

But by the early 2000s, those boxwoods were dying, so the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which owns the estate, decided to make an extensive (six-year) archaeological dig on the site.  This culminated in a “new” (1780s) design in 2011.  The area now holds large open beds of vegetables and flowers.  They are bordered by low boxwood hedges and centered by a 10′ wide gravel walkway.

You can read about the restoration in this Washington Post article, here.  And I really recommend watching this very interesting 30-minute C-Span video about the research and archaeology that informed it.

(There’s more about the garden in 2017 here.)

Vintage landscape: Florence

Palmieri, Firenze, ca. 1915, OSU on flickrPalmieri, Firenze [ or Florence, Italy] – Box garden from level of tennis court,” ca. 1915, via Arthur Peck Collection, Oregon State University (OSU) Special Collections & Archives Commons on flickr.

Note the patterns of the clipped boxwood in the middle distance and those on the villa at the top.

Arthur Peck was a Professor of Landscape Architecture at the Oregon Agricultural College from 1908 to 1948. During his long career, he created a teaching library of 24 boxes of glass lantern slides — now in OSU’s archives.

Behind the house the upland falls
With many an odorous tree—
White marbles gleaming through green halls—
Terrace by terrace, down and down,
And meets the star-lit Mediterranean Sea.

‘Tis Paradise. . . .

— Herman Melville, from “After the Pleasure Party: Lines Traced Under an Image of Amor Threatening

The mission garden, Basel

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

During our Thanksgiving visit to Basel, Switzerland, we stayed at Hotel Bildungzentrum 21 or Hotel Educational Center 21.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

Although a large garden was mentioned on TripAdvisor when I was booking, I had guessed that this would mean — particularly in late November — neat gravel paths, some dormant shrubs and lawn, and beds of chilly purple pansies on a 8″ planting grid.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

That the “private park” would actually encompass meadows, large plots for flowers, vegetables, and herbs, rows of berry bushes, and an orchard was a wonderful surprise.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

The hotel’s rooms are in one part of a building constructed in the 1860s as housing for the Basel Evangelical Missionary Society, now called Mission 21. (Hermann Hesse lived here for six years as a child.) The garden was once a place for teaching outgoing missionaries how to grow their own food.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

Today, it is cared for by Unigärten Basel — a collective of University student gardeners — in collaboration with Urban Agriculture Basel and ProSpecieRara.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

Unigärten’s goal for the Mission 21 garden is to show the “greatest possible diversity of plants” within a permaculture system. They believe the garden, open to hotel guests and the surrounding neighborhood, can inspire both experienced and novice gardeners.

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

I loved this practical and romantic garden.  I spent the beginning and end of every day we were there taking dozens and dozens of pictures — which is why it has taken me so long to post this. (There’s also a good photo of the garden in summertime here.)

The back garden, Mission 21, Basel, Switzerland, late November 2015, by enclos*ure

(At the bottom of this post, you can click on ‘Continue reading’ and then on any thumbnail in gallery, and you can scroll through larger versions of all these photos, plus several more.)


The back garden

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In the back garden, seven rectangular and square sections are outlined in sheared boxwood.

Wild plants (Wildpflanzen) — particularly those that thrive in dry and waste or disturbed ground (Ruderalflächen) — take their place alongside the urban agriculture. They have been left to spread largely undisturbed along the pathways and under shrubs and fruit trees.  And in the two meadows, there are forty species, “providing joy to many insects,” according to a sign posted outside the restaurant.

The front garden

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The front garden, across from the hotel entrance,  does contain curving gravel paths and lawn, but also a number of large, old trees underplanted in a very rough and natural way with native plants from the region — mostly those with the downy oak forest as their native habitat.

You can also see that this front area has been designed to accommodate the hotel’s and the Mission’s entertaining needs and is surely at its best in the warmer months, full of tables and chairs, lights, and people.

Basel travel tips

Hotel Bildungszentrum 21 is two blocks from the historic city center. The rooms are simple, but comfortable.  Their rates are very reasonable.

Meals are the biggest expense for a tourist in Basel. Main dishes in all the guidebooks’ lists of budget restaurants are $20-$45.  A Whopper meal at the local Burger King is around $15, although sandwiches from bakeries, eaten standing up, can be had for $6 – $10.

I can recommend Zum Isaak and the bistro of the Museum der Kulturen (nice for lunch), both on Münsterplatz; Manger & Boire at Barfüsserplatz; and ONO deli cafe bar at Spalenvorstadt and Kornhausgasse (their generous Zmorge breakfasts are good for lunch too).

All public city transportation is free for anyone staying in a Basel hotel. Just ask for a pass when checking in.
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