“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.”
– Hamlet (1601) act 4, sc. 5, l. Read More
“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember: and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.”
– Hamlet (1601) act 4, sc. 5, l. Read More
Or rather, resurrect them in a different form and try to forgive their author for the summer of neglect that has passed. Dear long-suffering LG readers, despite my life-long motto of “Resist the tyranny of busy!” The Linden Green in blog form fell victim to the unrelenting hecticness that was Summer 2013 and its bevy of complex design projects. Now, after the unexpected and unannounced hiatus, The LG and its semi-reliable posts return at last, like a long forgotten friend / overly persistent pest.
The Linden Green’s website is undergoing a transformation, not yet complete. But for the meantime, The LG-as-blog will now be posting on Medium. Please read the newest post; as a token of my apology, I have written about booze, which I know you all love.
Keep watching and reading – updates to come soon…
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This week Allie at Kate Collins Interiors wrote about the myriad design and health benefits of using big plants indoors. [spotify id="spotify:track:5cbnlD2QPJoEZvx7iGan33" width="300" height="380" /]
(Tangentially, remember Kate & Allie? I loved that show. Am I totally dating myself here? Sigh – the K.C.I. Kate and Allie are a pair of fabulous cousins, and they are probably way too young to have watched their eponymous program.) Anyhow, Allie has been discussing the use of big plants in a living space, as opposed to little orchids or aloes on a kitchen counter, although the little guys do have a special place in my heart (and home) as well.
Today I’m joining the indoor greenery fray with a long overdue post on houseplants, due in part to some feedback from my friend Shona in Hong Kong who recently wrote that she enjoyed the blog (thank you, Shona) despite – or perhaps because of – the scarcity of soil in her city of residence. Likewise my homies in Manhattan, and this got me to thinking that the blog has been very lots-of-space-centric of late. Discrimination I cannot abide, be it of land size, marital partner, or plant choice, so let us without further ado delve into the world of balconies, windows, and well-lit interiors. (Because I will always discriminate against the poorly lit, as will any discerning houseplant.)
Allie’s first foliage port of call was with big, leafy greens, which can be used to fill vertical space as room dividers, between armchairs, or to create depth and mystery while drawing someone through the planes of a room. The best place to start is with the Ficus family, which is a vast one, ranging from the 100’ rubber tree (Ficus elastica) to the 11” creeping fig ‘Minima’ (Ficus pumila).
Ficus lyrata, the fiddle-leaf fig, is a dreamy plant, and I was first introduced to it by my friend Amanda, who has superb taste in plants and spotted it in Lonny, Apartment Therapy and Peonies & Brass. Ikea makes a fake version, which we will choose to ignore. (I discriminate against fake plants as well as bad lighting. And fecal cake, for that matter, so that’s three strikes against Ikea.) Real Ficus lyrata has bold, dark green leaves that resemble a violin in shape and make a striking and graphic contrast against white walls.
Another Ficus with gorgeous foliage is the edible fig (Ficus carica, but often just called ‘Fig’). ‘Petite Negra’ is a dwarf variety that stays compact, making it an easy choice for an apartment. If it gets enough bright sunlight and water, the edible fig will provide you with (wait for it…) edible figs. How luscious and pharaoh-esque to pluck fruit from the trees growing round your living space?
The fig and its leaf have long been used in art and cultivation, long before prudish popes and Victorians used them to cover nudity. Ficus carica is indigenous to Egypt and has been grown in the Nile Valley since at least 1500 BC.
'I [ask that I] may each day walk continuously on the banks of my water, that my soul may repose on the branches of the trees that I have planted, that I may refresh myself under the shade of my sycomore [fig].' - Inscription on the tombs of wealthy Egyptians, ca. 2000 BC
Ficus is also sacred to Buddhists and Brahmins; a childlike Krishna is depicted lying on a fig leaf contemplating the destruction of the universe at the end of the kalpa, or cosmic age. You know, just in case you want to get deep while lying on your sofa contemplating your ficus.
Light: Eastern or western exposure; bright but indirect light.
Water: Ficus carica is very thirsty in a container. Other varieties of ficus have low water needs.
Soil: Good organic potting soil with some compost mixed in at planting time.
Feed: Fertilize from early spring through late autumn.
Temperature: Ideal nighttime temperatures are from 50–60°F (10–15°C).
Along a similar cultural, historical and edible vein is citrus. If you have the budget and the space for it, a potted citrus in a brightly lit room nails the indoor plant triumvirate: evergreen foliage, edible fruit and mind-bendingly heady fragrance. For indoor success, give your citrus plant a south, west or east window to sit in front of, but keep in mind that if you live next door to a skyscraper that blocks your southern sunlight, just go to the Union Square Greenmarket instead.
As a houseplant, 'Ponderosa' lemon is probably your best citrus choice because of its size. At 3-4’ in a 12” terracotta pot, it certainly isn’t small, but if you want a stately “orangerie-esque” Versailles feel to your pad, this is the lemon for you. It isn’t the best culinarily, but remember that a plant’s optimal growth site is in the ground, and if you choose to forgo the soil and bio-organisms available there, some give and take has to be made. If quality edibles trump gorgeous container plant for you, try instead a kumquat or calamondin, which are sour oranges and naturally compact and thus won’t punish you for growing them in pots.
Light: Sunny southern, eastern or western exposure
Water: Moderate. Avoid overwatering and root rot.
Soil: Rich organic potting soil with compost mixed in at planting time.
Feed: Fertilize in early spring, summer and late autumn with specialist citrus food. Watch for chlorosis (yellowing leaves) and treat with chelated iron, manganese or zinc. Take affected leaf to a good local nursery for help identifying which mineral to use.
Temperature: 55–65°F (12–18°C) at night
And finally I can’t recommend highly enough a member of the orchid family, the Cymbidium. Forget any preconceptions of fussiness or prom corsages from 1987 (I’m not that old, FYI; it was 1994 and I believe a white rose, not an orchid. Not worth the pain of digging up the photo to check, because I seem to remember there were also black pantyhose under my red Jessica McClintock dress. God, do we blame the ‘90s or being 17? Or Jessica McClintock? What must her closet have looked like circa 1993?)
In coastal California, cymbidiums grow extremely well in containers outside, so I will say, “Put them on your balcony in Santa Monica!” with great jollity so as not to discriminate against the smaller-homed amongst us. They must have nighttime temperatures below 60°F (16°C) in the autumn in order to set flower buds, so if this isn’t likely outside where you live, keep them as a luscious indoor plant. Their foliage is long, straplike and evergreen. Its ideal color should be lightish yellow-green; if the foliage is forest green, the plant isn’t getting enough light. The stunning flowers tend to bloom from late winter through spring for months on end and range in color from pink to bronze, yellow to chartreuse, deep burgundy to white. Cut the flower spikes at the base after flowering and repot infrequently, only when the pot seems overcrowded by dead pseudobulbs (the oval base from which new growth originates). The general rule on when to repot is after flowering but before the 4th of July.
Light: Bright and indirect. Black or dark brown spots on the leaves indicate sunburn and the need for a new site. Very dark green leaves indicate insufficient light.
Water: Underwatering is bad but it is preferable to overwatering. Once a week is good; do it more in very hot weather. Indoors these plants are susceptible to spider mites, so rinse or mist the leaves as well while watering.
Soil: Plant in fine fir bark blended with perlite or leaf mold. Because of their size and weight, it’s best to pot cymbidiums in plastic pots, placing those inside better-looking decorative containers.
Feed: These boys are generally hungry. While growing leaves and creating bulbs, cymbidiums will want 20-20-20 fertilizer at the suggested rate. Once the bulb has matured use 0-10-10 (the 0 means no nitrogen) to encourage flowering. After the blooms die back, return to the 20-20-20. Confused? I feed mine never, and they both flowered this year.
As inhabitants of the natural world – albeit much farther removed from it than our forebears – our connection to the changes in the seasons is deep and primordial. It’s certainly no coincidence that most of the world’s organized religions celebrate major festivals at the same times of the year, and that those same religious festivals correspond very closely to ancient celebrations of the sun and the moon. Not that it’s bound to make anyone in Europe or the East Coast of North America feel too giddy, but last week was the vernal equinox, marking the change between the dark and light halves of the year.
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Granted Boston, New York and London “celebrated” with a new 50' pounding of snow in what’s being called ‘The Winter Without End.’ It’s all so Game of Thrones, and I’m no Stark. But fear not – as of last Wednesday, March 20th, at 11:02 GMT, "Spring is coming." Feeling warmer?
The ancient Celts used an alphabet of tree-like runes called ogham, on which is based the lunar Celtic tree calendar. The tree-calendar month of Fearn runs until April 14th and is represented by the alder tree (Alnus), said to signify stability in times of change, protection in times of conflict. The following Celtic month is Saille, represented by the willow tree (Salix species). Willows grow best at water’s edge, and for this reason they were closely associated with the energy of water, also seen as lunar, feminine energy, and the means to deepening intuition. Emergent leaves on a willow tree are feathery and light, and ‘Willow Green’ is almost synonymous with ‘Spring Green.’ This new verdant growth perfectly represents the active yang energy that spouts forth at this time of year, as winter’s inward-turning yin energy recedes.
Despite their affinity for water, willows were also planted in the heat of ancient Egypt. A list of orchard trees drawn up by Ineni – builder to King Tuthmosis I (1528–10 BC), who reigned two hundred years before Tutankhamun – includes eight Salix subserrata trees. Ineni also planted Zizyphus spina-christi, also known as 'Christ Thorn,' although presumably not at the time. Zizyphus is one of the plants said to have been used to weave the Crown of Thorns, a grisly job if ever there was one. (Also, mortuary cosmetics artist.) Despite the onslaught of fluffy bunnies and Peeps at this time of year, the Christian festival of Easter observes Jesus’s death. The Crown of Thorns was constructed as a parody of the Roman crown of victory and over the centuries, it became a supposed relic attributed to Louis IX, Catherine of Siena (who’d previously turned down a golden crown) and the Sybil, a group of Delphic priestesses to Apollo who decreed his oracles. According to Thomas Aquinas, thorn branches symbolize minor sins; major sins are depicted by brambles (Rubus sp). The burning bush, through which God spoke to Moses, is also generally believed to have been a variety of Rubus.
The rabbit, meanwhile, has long been a symbol of fertility. Alongside the hare, it is an ancient Chinese lunar symbol and, in fact, ‘Moon Rabbit Pounding a Mortar and Pestle’ is the Eastern counterpart to the Western ‘Man on the Moon.’ In Christian art the rabbit morphs from fertility into a symbol of lust, and when painted at the feet of the Virgin Mary signifies the victory of virtue over lust. (Sigh, they do have a way of taking all the fun out of things…) So how do we get from piercing crown of zizyphus to fluffy fat fertile bunny via willow leaves, lengthening days and the odd patch of blue sky?
Rebirth – whether it’s of the seasons, energy, a messiah or new growth, the surge of hopefulness and renewal we experience at this time of year is due to our deep connection to the earth, no matter how far removed our modern lives or ideological beliefs have become. When Easter became set in stone, so to speak, as the observance of Jesus's resurrection, early Christian practitioners wisely marketed their holiday around the pagan festival of the goddess of spring, Eostre or Ostara. Taking on a new religion perhaps seems not so difficult when it’s loosely cloaked in the rites of your previous one. In the Middle East, the primal goddess of fertility was Astarte, and her sacred flower was the lily (Lilium), associated in recent millennia with the Virgin Mary and indeed, with Easter. The lily is also associated with Catherine of Siena, as before, and the Sibyl, aka the Oracle at Delphi.
Easter in Spanish is Pascua and in French, Paques from the Latin Pasch, which is itself derived from the Hebrew Pesach, which in English means Passover. Passover commemorates the Israelites’ exodus from slavery in Egypt and like most of the Jewish traditions, it is a holiday deeply imbued with symbolism. The Seder meal is a religious feast held on the first two nights of Passover, in which the food itself helps narrate the story of the exodus. Vegetables dipped in salt water represent the tears of the Jews shed during their time of slavery. Bitter herbs – generally horseradish – symbolize the pain and discomfort of bondage. A mixture of fruit, nuts and wine called charoset signifies the mortar used for bonding the bricks of ancient Egypt.
Another crucial element of the Seder meal? Lamb shank, also found on many an Easter table in the form of roast lamb. Hall’s Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art defines "lamb" as the ‘sacrificial victim in many ancient religions.’ The Jewish paschal lamb was quickly adopted by the early Christian church as a symbol of the son of God, and depictions of the lamb can be seen in Jewish funerary art in the Roman catacombs. A reformed vegetarian, I now eat meat with gusto, but lamb is the one food/animal that I can’t separate from its cute little image of frolicking fields of fun. But if you’re going to sacrifice it in your oven at home, and it sounds like observers of most of the world’s religions are, then I must insist you roast it with rosemary, grown in your own spring garden – green, fragrant, upward-facing, cultivated since ancient times, and also deeply imbued with symbolism.
It should by now be clear that nothing in history is clear, except for one thing. Everything starts in the same place: the soil, the bulb, the seed, the sun, the water, the atmosphere, the air. Whether your beliefs are Eastern or Western, spiritual or intellectual; whether your forecast is sunny and bright, cold and bracing; the light half of the year is here and new beginnings surround us. Unless you’re in the Southern Hemisphere, of course, in which case it's time to embrace your inner House Stark, Australia.
Expounding on last week’s master class (literally, Linda is a feng shui master) on feng shui in the garden, this week we delve a little deeper into the realm of the White Tiger, celestial doyenne of feminine and nurturing energy. Whereas the Green Dragon (more on him to come) dictates the use of specific evergreen plants in his area of the garden, the White Tiger’s needs are met with softness and quietude.
And who shall silence all the airs and madrigals, that whisper softness in the chambers?
– John Milton, Areopagitica, 1644
One of the most difficult yet important challenges in creating a space – whether interior or exterior – is to engage all of the senses. One of the crucial points on my design checklist is to ensure that a space is a sensuous one, and over the next few weeks, we’ll look at each of the senses separately. In honor of the White Tiger, we begin by investigating touch, the most nebulous and difficult of the senses to define but the most instinctive and innate to experience.
The skin is the largest organ – 20 square feet of it in all, that’s kind of gross – and it is brimming with receptors that send neutral messages to the brain which then interprets them into feelings: pain, pleasure, ticklishness, itchiness, etc. I am operating way above my pay grade here, by the way, so please ask no questions. In his utterly glorious book The Sensuous Garden, Monty Don proclaims that “the closest we can get to any garden is only skin deep. Of all the senses, touch understands least, knows most.” Think of feet on cool grass on a hot day; fingers oozing through mud to make an appallingly glorious mud pie (I have sons); piercing a finger on a rose or cactus thorn – pleasant or not, these deeply experienced moments are an integral part of being outside.
In the same way that my baby son knows intuitively how to erase the banking information from my iPhone (thank you, Apple), my little boys are without fail drawn straight to the Stachys byzantina (Lambs’ ears) growing in my garden. They know instinctively what feels interesting and inviting. Horticulturally, stachys is thought of as an excellent all-rounder and background player, but kid-wise, it’s a star player. My son giggles uncontrollably each time he picks a leaf, and then he ceremoniously presents it to me as some kind of offering. I can remember being irresistibly drawn to pussy willow (Salix discolor) when I was little, and yes, I know that now all of my male readers are also giggling uncontrollably.
Stachys’s fuzzy, silver foliage makes it resilient to heat and deer and allows it to conserve water – the little hairs reduce transpiration, if you really want to know, and render it unappealing to deer, in a hungover-tongue kind of way. That said, I find it does tolerate shade better than most of the silver-leafed plants. (Senecio and artemisia, for instance, will not thank you for planting them under your sprawling shade trees.) There isn’t much that doesn’t look better set off by lambs’ ears – even the name is evocative – but especially good companions are ‘Konigin Charlotte’ Japanese anemones and purple-flowered salvias, such as S. leucantha ‘Midnight.’ If you’re more of a furry than a fuzzy – does anyone else remember than Vanity Fair article in the ‘90s? I’ll never forget my friend Logan explaining the difference to me – take a look at Meconopsis paniculata, whose foliage looks straight outta Sesame Street.
Another softy (furry? fuzzy? Now I can’t remember the difference between the two) is bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare purpureum, how’s that for a mouthful) who grows to a whopping 6’ and spreads its seeds all about at the end of the season, generally September or October. Most gardeners and gardening books complain about this propensity to self-sow, but honestly I am firmly in the camp of lazy gardeners who can’t see this as anything but a bonus. Anyone who knows me will tell you that my only control issues are that I generally don’t have any, so there’s your caveat if you like things tightly in check, but I am so often asked for ways to save money while not comprimising the garden, and I can’t see how self-seeders aren’t the perfect answer here. Buy a few plants now, watch your collection expand each year! And when you don’t want to add any more to your name, you can either cut the flower heads off before they go to seed, or pull up the new seedlings before they hit full height. Anyway, there you have Lindsay’s quick and dirty, laissez-faire take on cheap gardening.
Back to the White Tiger and her quest for softness: bronze fennel is excellent in a herb garden and as a companion to purple or pink-flowering shrubs, particularly roses, as it can cut their saccharine quality. Fennel is an umbelliferous plant – meaning what your eye sees as a flower is actually an ‘umbel,’ zillions of tiny flowers in an upturned platter shape – and consequently, butterflies love it. If you live somewhere along their migratory path, you’re sure to see their fat and psychedelic little caterpillars chomping away on its delicate, ferny fronds. Please don’t flick them away or spray chemicals all over your garden! You’ll have six feet worth of fennel for them to chew; surely we can share? If we don’t allow caterpillars to munch our leaves, we can’t expect to see their glorious adult incarnations flitting about our skies.
‘Giant Bronze’ is the cultivar best liked by the master plantsman and designer Piet Oudolf. He uses it as a screen effect, only lightly obscuring the plants behind it, and couples it with Echinacea, Echinops, Monarda and Stipa. Cut the old, thick fennel stalks down to the ground at the end of each winter to allow new growth and prevent bulkiness. Before you do so, collect the seeds from the umbels and use them in your kitchen; this is exactly what you’re getting when you buy fennel seed for your spice rack, though the vegetable fennel is a different beast altogether.
There are numerous grasses to choose from if you want softness for the garden; my (and Piet’s) top choices are Molinia caerula ssp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’ (Purple Moor Grass) and Stipa tenuissima (Mexican feather grass). Try either alongside Salvia verticillata ‘Purple Rain.’ Both grasses have an ephemeral, feathery lightness to them that belies their lack of maintenance needs.
And finally, for the softest, most tactile kind of garden, I can think of none more nurturing or inspiring than the gardens of Saihō-ji Temple in Kyoto. Known more commonly as Kokedera, or Moss Temple, the gardens of this 14th-century Buddhist temple incorporate 120 different varieties of moss and have influenced Japnese garden design for centuries. When visiting Kokedera, visitors are asked to observe the rituals of kito and shakyo (chanting and copying of the sutra) before wandering the meandering paths of the moss gardens. Surely this is the model of softness and meditativeness to which the White Tiger would have us aspire?