Monday, October 28, 2013

Begonias, In all Shapes and Sizes!

As sometimes happens, you can be part of a trend that you aren't aware of. Last winter I started becoming interested in the many different leaves of Begonias. A plant associated with my mother's generation, I started to see unusual ones here and there that were stunning. In June LaCombes flower boxes, in friends houses climbing to the ceiling, these were not my mother's varieties. They over flowed with abundance, they didn't need a lot of sun and each flowered in a different and sometimes crazy way.

When I would go to Skillins Greenhouse in the winter, they had cute little 2" plugs of a huge variety of  rex begonias with different leaves and textures. I would buy one a week on my way home. A friend gave me a cutting of a huge gorgeous plant in her studio, a begonia! I started to pay attention and before I knew it I had a collection. They rooted in water, they divided easily and those leaves! Dark green, red, speckled, ridged, lime..every color of the foliage rainbow!

River Nile
When I admitted my obsession to myself, I went further afield. As always, Snug Harbor Farm in Kennebunk had the most unusual and rare of the type. When there I would  buy another beauty (Tony actually got written up for his Begonia collection recently in Garden Magazine.) Now I have a little collection, all in hand made pots from Fiacre in Portland, or local potters that sell at Wealdon Farm here in Freeport.
Varieties that I have thus far:
River Nile: gorgeous lime leaves with dark fringe
Rex: this variety has red speckled leaves
Escargot: Grey green and dark swirls on the leaves
Iron Cross: Lime crinkle leaves with burgandy tracing
Strawberry: An old fashioned begonia that has babies like a spider plant
Deco Checks: Red and speckled
Ginni: Dark green leaves with white spots, will get very tall, bright pink flowers
Erythrophylla: or sometimes called Beefsteak, with glossy dark leaves that are round.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Moses Kent Farm

Last weekend I had the spectacular pleasure to tour Tim and Lynn Cook's house in Lyme/Orford New Hampshire with a few people from my art group. Staying down the road at Lindsay Hancock's family retreat of 60 years, it was a truly inspirational 11 hours of food, friends, and farms. 

On Saturday morning, Lindsay had called the neighbor, Lynn Cook, to see if we could come tour her house. Recently they had gotten a conservation easement put on the house to save the murals inside done by the 1820's itinerant painter, Rufus Porter.  The house also has been lovingly restored by the Cooks for the last 30+years.

The tour turned out to be so much more. We first had a look at the newly restored gardens that Lynn has been lovingly adding to for years. Weeping crabapples, a sunken garden, flower gardens with 19th century varieties of Nicotianas and Dahlias, and vegetable garden with rare varieties of eggplant, peppers, and a great purple brussel sprout I will hunt for next year. The stable was a sight to behold, as all the fittings were of the highest quality and it was immaculatly ordered and clean. Tim recently had gone into the Tack business, running a tack shop from a side barn.

Then we went inside. Passing by neatly stacked cord wood and yard kindling, we entered this 1811 house. Through a few small and dark, cozy rooms and into the grand entryway, the murals leap out at you when you enter the formal entrance. Recently restored, these murals are the best examples of Rufus Porter's work in the area, most of the others having been painted or wallpapered over. We are stunned by the murals. In a subdued palette, these folksy paintings are strange and wonderful. Feathery looking and bizarre, you wonder the eye that made these tall, lanky trees and sailing ships.

Plaster has bowed but has been cleaned to allow these beauties to stand as they were. Through the hallway and up the stairs they continue into a large formal bedroom that has been brought back to something like the original elegance. Fronds and houses, ships and huntsmen all frolic on the walls to the delight of the onlooker. A rare treat it was to be able to see these paintings that give us a glimpse of what beauty looked like to the 1800's homeowner.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Lauren Fensterstock: Artist, Garden Historian

This week is the opening of the Portland Museum of Art's Biennial.  Lauren Fensterstock, an incredible artist, friend, and fellow garden history lover, has a stunning piece that will be the first thing you see upon entering the exhibit. Lauren’s work has always stunned visitors, such as her recent exhibition at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin, that involved 3 rooms of garden history embodied by immaculately conceived and crafted installations. An 18th century English garden with pond, an American lawn,  and a Japanese “kiku” garden with Chrysanthemums. Labor intensive and dramatic, her pieces satisfy the viewer with a “more IS more” viewpoint. Her piece, Ha-Ha, is tongue in cheek nod to modernism while actually manifesting a European landscape feature from the 17th century. This gorgeous and powerful piece made me dive into the history of the Ha-Ha.
The concept of the ha-ha is of French origin, and is a ditch made in the land, usually with a retaining wall structure on one side and a sloping side on the other. The advantage of this feature is that it kept animals (cows, sheep, horses) out of the gardens close to the house. The ditch is too trepidacious for them to jump, yet, from the house, one can’t see the ditch at all; one sees only a seamless expanse of estate ahead. This was so clever, that when locals would approach to see how the animals were contained, they would exclaim Ha-Ha! or Ah-Ah! An early example of this feature was in France at 
Château de Meudon, circa 1700. By 1786 when Thomas Jefferson went to Stowe House in England, he was astonished that “it was all enclosed by ha-ha”, obviously being familiar with the term and feature. They are still found on grand country estates and still act as a way to keep animals out while not having a fence.

In Britain, the ha-ha is a feature of the landscape gardens laid out by Charles Bridgeman and William Kent and was an essential component of the "swept" views of protégée Capability Brown. Capability Brown was a 17th century landscape architect who was "England's greatest gardener." He designed over 170 parks, many of which still endure. The new rage he introduced was a much more naturalist approach with expansive lawn up to the house, and vistas with lakes or clumps of trees, that was a new "gardenless" approach to landscaping. The ha-ha was an essential feature as this left an unobstructed view of the land.  Thank you to Lauren who brought this ingenious concept from1700's landscaping to our attention while using it as the perfect venue to highlight her exquisite work.  Her curled and formed black paper beauties cover the inside of this ditch, and, as ditches do, it has a bit of standing water in the bottom to reflect the sides. She also said the piece refers to the idea that modernism is dead and so her big black modernist box has grass growing on it! Ha-Ha! Come to the Portland Museum of Art and see it for your self!