Every year the Pantone Color Institute—in an astute publicity move—announces a “color of the year.” Foodies and Italian expatriates will rejoice in discovering that the color for 2015 is Marsala. For the uninitiated, Marsala is a fortified Sicilian wine that is similar to port, sherry, and Madeira.
Like sherry, Marsala comes in a range of ages, colors, and sweetness levels. A drier Marsala is traditionally served chilled between the first and second course, and paired with parmesan, gorgonzola, or another tangy cheese. Sweet Marsalas are served at room temperature as a dessert wine. Most of us have encountered Marsala as a reduction of the wine, prepared with shallots, mushrooms, and herbs for the well-known chicken dish.
As far as the color of the year is concerned, many of us will be delighted that earthy tones are back. They are so wearable! Marsala (the color, that is) is a warm and seductive earthy wine-red. Colorists have described it as hearty, nurturing, stylish, and sophisticated. I am looking forward to wearing the shade on my lips and nails. It partners well with blue-grey, pale lilac, silvery pink, purple, blue, tan, golden green, apricot, and ochre.
I thought it would be fun to search out plants that embodied this color. There are lots of burgundies on the market, and there are many wine-colored reds, maroons, and deep brownish-purples. I fired up PowerPoint and started laying out slides. On each slide I placed a color swatch of Marsala, then I perused my favorite online catalogs in search of earthy, fortified, red-brown flowers and foliage.
Every week I peruse Shop in the Garden to see what orchids they have in stock, and the selection this year has been stupendous. I received Oncidium ‘Sharry Baby’ (a.k.a. the chocolate orchid) from a grower and shared her powerful fragrance with a delighted audience. Fortunately, this in-demand orchid was available to purchase in the Shop, and every chocoholic in the audience went scurrying over to capture this odiferous orchid and take her home.
As the flowers on Oncidium ‘Sharry Baby’ began to wane, I got my hands on one of her progeny, Oncidium Heaven Scent ‘Redolence’. Heaven Scent ‘Redolence’ is the offspring of Oncidium ‘Sharry Baby’ and Oncidium ‘Ruffles’. Initially, she was not as pervasively pungent as her name would suggest. After a week of taunting me with the suggestion of a fragrance, she came into her own.
Last month I took my annual winter sojourn up to New England Grows, a regional tradeshow for the Northeast. I was surprised and pleased to see a humorous theme either consciously or subconsciously woven into the educational programming, and I laughed my way through three enjoyable days of lectures as I learned what others were up to in the field of horticulture.
Another theme which I have been exploring over the course of the winter was an environmental or ecological theme. Many speakers celebrated the close relationship that horticulture has with conservation and ecology. As one speaker aptly put it, ‘we are finally putting the green back into the green industry’.
A theme that I would like to discuss today is new introductions. In one of the lectures, Kelly Norris, the Horticultural Manager for the new Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden, turned the topic of new introductions into a poignant commentary on our industry, our role as gardeners, and our relationship to plants. Norris presented a ‘partial manifesto’ for modern gardening and outlined potential paths for us to follow.
On a rainy day in January, I sat down with Katie Bronson and interviewed her about some of her favorite plants. Katie has been working as a gardener at NYBG for over 10 years, and has been in charge of maintaining the gardens in the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden.
Katie has made a lasting impact on the garden during her tenure—imparting her vision of a child-friendly garden, bringing a sophisticated aesthetic with her art background from the Pratt Institute, and imbuing the landscape with the teachings and tenets of ecological landscaping that she acquired while studying for a certificate in Sustainable Landscape Design from George Washington University.
Katie’s journey as a gardener began with one of her passions—color. She has always taken great care to create seasonal combinations that captivate the eye and have the capacity to simultaneously stimulate and calm the young hoards of children that race through the gates of the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden.
I asked her about violas. Over the past decade, Katie has experimented with many different varieties of violas and pansies in her spring displays. Violas are ebullient patches of color that brighten up the garden in spring. They provide a backdrop for tulips and decorate the three large topiary caterpillars that usher the children into the Adventure Garden’s central activity space.
I find myself surrounded by bromeliads twice each year. During the early summer, when temperatures have sufficiently warmed, high-end landscape designers use these intriguing tropical beauties to dress up window boxes and the small front gardens of Manhattan town houses. And in frosty February and fickle March, though the temperatures make it an unlikely time for a northerner to encounter bromeliads, you’ll find colorful Neoregelia, showy Vriesea, and floriferous Aechmea thriving in the safe haven of our Conservatory.
Bromeliads add an important element of design to The Orchid Show with their color and texture. Their broad, lance-shaped foliage emerges gracefully from their vase-like form, adding structure and drama to the display. This year they are complemented by an array of lush, tropical and subtropical ferns. In nature, bromeliads often grow alongside orchids—the show takes this natural association and transforms it into a vibrant and stylized display.
The best way to avoid or eliminate pest and disease problems when growing orchids in your home is to follow good cultural practices. Correct water practices, consistent low-level fertilizing, a good growing medium, proper light requirements, and adequate humidity levels are all essential to getting your exotic friends to thrive.
Don’t worry if you were unable to check off all of those boxes—few of us ever do. Sometimes, all that we do to take care of our leafy little friends still isn’t enough. But let’s take a look at some user-friendly products that we have on hand to treat an ailing orchid. The first on the list is a grapefruit.
If you notice that something is munching holes in the leaves of your orchid, but you can’t find the culprit, then it’s probably a slug. They nestle into the loose, moist pieces of your fir bark potting mix and wait until dark before they strike. These nocturnal creatures can do quite a bit of damage. Leave an overturned grapefruit or citrus rind in your pot to deal with this problem. The slugs will crawl up into the damp cavity and you can then toss it out (slug and grapefruit rind together) in the morning. If you’re not a citrus person, then a large leaf of lettuce will do. Alternatively, the famous beer-in-a-shallow-bowl trick (about 1/2 an inch of beer) will make everyone happy.
Most of us grow our plants in soil—we fuss over potting mixes for containers and we amend our planting beds with leaf mould or compost. For those of us who don’t like to get our hands dirty, there is an alternative. Members of the Orchidaceae family love to show off their roots, and many of them were destined to climb. Some 70% of all orchids, in fact, are epiphytic.
Orchids that dangle in the air—sometimes known colloquially as air plants—are classified as epiphytes. Epi means “on top,” and phyte means “plant”—essentially adding up to a plant that grows on top of another plant. The relation an epiphyte has with the host is not parasitic (where it is harming the host), nor is it symbiotic/mutualistic (where both parties benefit, but rather commensalistic (when one benefits and the other is neutral). The term commensalism is derived from the Latin for “sharing a table.”
Like anything in life, adaptation to an aerial environment has its pros and cons. Plants grow in the upper echelons of the forest canopy in order to receive better light, a habit that also protects them from herbivores that roam the forest floor.
While the appeal for new accommodations with a spectacular view is enticing, the cons of co-habitation up in the forest canopy are significant. Orchids need to find a way to attach themselves to their obliging hosts. No longer with their roots firmly planted in the soil, they not only need to find a means of support but also ways to effectively take up moisture and nutrients.
If you are looking for a forgiving orchid, dancing ladies—or Oncidium—are a good choice for homeowners with decent light. Oncidiums are a species with panache—the dancing ladies have a lower lip or labellum which flares out like an opulent hoop skirt. Their sepals and petals are diminutive in contrast and look like the head and outstretched arms of little ladies. These lovely blossoms perch in profusion on long, branched flower stalks which bob and sway in a gentle breeze.
These lovely ladies use their good looks to their advantage; they are promiscuous and will be happy to hybridize with just about anyone. They hybridize well with Brassia, Miltonia, Odontoglossum, and many more species to create hybrids and complex hybrids that combine the best of both or multiple parents. The Oncidium Alliance is large with many vibrant orchids that are not only stunning, but also easy to care for.
I recently attended a lecture at NYBG given by the naturalistic landscape designer and meadow aficionado, Larry Weaner, who chose an unusual and interesting topic to cover: “Assisted Plant Proliferation in the Designed Landscape.” He based his lecture on the premise that if you do nothing, things grow. The challenge for gardeners is to get the right things to grow. In this respect, Weaner, through his work on large-scale naturalistic landscapes, is highly inventive and astutely attuned to the workings of nature.
On some of his project sites, he encourages volunteerism by leaving sections of the meadow fallow for a year to see what makes its way into the wild patch. If the new recruit is desirable, he flags the seedling. Otherwise, it gets mowed down the following year along with the rest of the meadow. Weaner showed an image of a healthy elderberry that had found its way to a fallow section at the edge of a meadow. Sometimes, some of the healthiest and most robust garden specimens appear in this manner, starting surreptitiously from seed and being allowed to flourish.
My note-taking was fast and furious as Weaner went through a number of case studies of plants in their natural habitat. He spoke of the importance of knowing where and how plants proliferate in nature. With this knowledge in hand, gardeners will be able to replicate the desired results.
I went to hear Doug Tallamy speak, recently. An entomologist and wildlife ecologist, his reputation first came about in 2007 when he published Bringing Nature Home.
In this seminal work on backyard wildlife ecology, Tallamy impressed on his readers the interdependency of plants, insects, butterflies, and birds. He made a call to arms asking gardeners to take on the challenge of becoming important players in the management of our nation’s wildlife by judiciously selecting local native plants for their gardens.
In 2014, Tallamy collaborated with gardening guru Rick Darke on another ecologically principled work entitled The Living Landscape. This book embodies what I hope will be an enduring trend in gardening. It is an upscale gardening book featuring gorgeous images that catapult you into another realm. Embedded in the gloss and glitter is informative, well-written content that educated and elucidates. The enduring trend which I am hopeful of is the celebration of the association between gardening and nature at large. It is a hope that the trend toward gardening with natives is imbued with a strong sense of stewardship and based on sound ecological principles.