I was delighted to open my local paper, The Observer, and right there on Page 3 upper right was a big and generous article about my Virtual Garden Tour Video. David Ambro the Publisher, outdid himself by putting into words the far-flung conversation we had of how people are coping with the Covid-19 pandemic. As an artist and a gardener, it was a natural for me to share my garden online since the many garden tours I’ve hosted over the years were not going to happen anytime soon. My garden provides the inspiration for my art but it also gives me emotional solace. This is what I love to share with my visitors.
I thank David so much for sharing my thoughts and my garden with a wider audience.
I love to share my garden! This is a creation that I’ve been working on for over 30 years and what fun is it keeping it all to myself? That feels so selfish to me.
So the best thing I can do, since it’s hard for so many of you to travel here, is to take you on a garden tour around my 1/2 acre woodland walks in Northport NY. We’re Zone 7 here and this Garden Tour video is in the early spring on March 21, 2020 around 6pm in the evening.
I haven’t yet finished my fall cleanup at this point and of course, as gardeners well know, the garden is never perfect. At this time of year, in my neck of the woods, something new opens every single day. It’s a very exciting time for me each day as I walk around to see what’s new. Spring is about renewal. About optimism. About color. About surprises.
This is the first in a series of Garden Tour videos I’ll be doing so please remember to subscribe to my YouTube Channel to be alerted when I publish new videos.
My garden is the source material for almost all of my paintings. It is where I get my inspiration. It’s where I present yet another aspect of my creativity but this one is in 3D and seasonally adjusted over time and temperature.
When we need to “Water” ourselves we take a drink towards the top of our stem, our mouth.
This water, sooner or later is then is eliminated, as if by gravity below the point of entry.
Plants, on the other hand, take a drink at the very bottom of their structure, their roots, and then, defying gravity, eliminate the excess at the very top of their structure, their leaves.
How is this journey accomplished?
Pathway of Water Through a Plant
Water enters the plant through the root hairs.
It is then conducted upward in the stem via the xylem.
Water exits the plant through the stomata located on the leaves.
Osmosis is the process used for the water to enter the root hairs.
Cohesion-tension theory is believed to be the method that water is conducted upward via the xylem. Think of adjacent drops of water, which when their exterior barriers are broken, move & merge into one larger drop.
Transpiration is the process of water evaporating from the leaf.
Roots have microscopic root hairs to take up more water
At the root of it all…are the roots.
Roots are designed in different ways to anchor plants.
Their main purpose, however, is to gather from the soil the water & nutrients needed to sustain & grow the plant.
To do this the root is designed in a point called the apical meristem.
This apical meristem pushes through the soil in search of nourishment.
In order to increase the surface for absorption the root has microscopic root hairs that increase the surface several hundred times. By osmosis, these root hairs bring water into the root.
Osmosis is the process that allows water to pass through cell epidermal walls. Water molecules attempt to balance the amount of water pressure on either side of the wall. Once the water enters the root hairs the equalizing mechanism is shut down & the water can’t escape. It then moves from the root hairs to the roots via a process called turgor.
Water moves through the plant from roots to leaves through the xylem. Osmosis moves the water from the ground to the root systems & cell turgor moves the water through the xylem.
Cell turgor is what keeps the firmness in plants. With low turgor you get wilting. You want to keep all cells filled with water or the cells begin to die.
This is why you cut flowers under water to use in your flower arrangement.
To protect the cells from exploding with too much water as it moves from the roots to the xylem, the cell walls protect themselves by pushing the water out into the hollow tubular cells in the root’s center using a gentle pumping action called root pressure. This brings the water into the xylem, which now conducts the water upwards from the roots to the leaves.
Rhododendron leaves in winter will curl up to reduce the number of stomates on exposed surfaces to reduce the transpiration rate of water. In my garden the rhodi leaves curl when the temperature moves into the 20’s
Transpiration occurs in the leaves by way of the stomates usually located on the underside of the leaves. Water is vaporized through the stomates & is replaced by liquid water that has been delivered by the continuous flow upwards through the xylem system of roots, stems and leaves.
This transpirational pull is felt throughout the entire length of the plant.
In most plants about 98% of the water is lost through the transpired water vapor from under the leaves. A 48-ft tall Silver Maple is thought to transpire up to 58 gallons of water an hour.
You can perceive this on a hot summer day when sitting under a large shade tree & enjoying the cooling effects of the transpired water.
Plants protect themselves from too much loss of moisture by closing the stomates in the underside of the leaves. Generally, stomates are open during the day & close in the night-time. In the winter when the ground freezes you can see the curled leaves of large leaved rhododendrons as they reduce the available surface of exposed stomates.
In preparation for winter and in times of drought, leaves will fall from the trees in a process called abscission further reducing the stomatic surfaces used for transpiration.
In winter, the deciduous trees have lost their leaves and water movement halts. If the water freezes in the cells, it ruptures the cell membranes. You can see this quickly in Colocasia AKA Elephant Ears after the first cold snap.
One way that winter-hardy plants survive is by a process of cold hardening, which uses sugars that function somewhat like antifreeze.
The pathways for water distribution are also modeled for nutrient distribution in the plants but that is worth another entire post.
That first sunny warm day in February seduces me into my garden to begin my spring gardening tasks before the last snowstorms of winter reappear for a brief visit. It is a happy day for me each year when I reach for my Felco’s, put on my gardening gloves, pick up my rake and head out to reunite with my garden.
Hellebores remain evergreen and provide winter interest in my winter garden.
I always start by trimming the hellebores since the longer I wait the more complicated the job becomes. Those stalwart evergreen leaves that have decorated my garden all winter are by this time raggy, spotted and brownish. Hiding beneath them are the brand new buds of the Hellebore flowers just waiting to burst through heralding spring. I love uncovering their light deprived lime green growth and freeing them to bask in the sunshine.
Cutting the old leaves at this very early stage makes it less likely that I’ll damage the new growth. The old stems are long and thick at this time and easy to differentiate between the short almost stemless new growth. On the years that for one reason or another I wasn’t quick enough to do this early trimming, the job took twice as long as I had to carefully select between the old and new growth leaves. Not easy to do without accidentally cutting off a few buds. Full disclosure: When I do cut or damage a plant in my garden I reflexively find myself apologizing to it out loud…sigh…
Not to worry about uncovering the hellebores when inevitably another bout of winter arrives since these are very hardy plants in my zone 6 garden. When the weather turns cold again for the next few weeks of winter I enjoy watching spring emerge through the windows in my home. Those hellebores burst through with so much optimism.
After trimming the old leaves, the emerging flowers of the Hellebore are a great glimpse of optimism for the upcoming spring season.
Hardy bulbs are planted in the fall and will come up in the spring. The reason they are called hardy is that they can survive and actually need a period of cold in order to bloom in the spring or summer. Given a period of 2-4 months of chilling, (perhaps in the refrigerator?!?) many of these bulbs can be forced into blooming early for a nice break in the dark of winter.
Tender bulbs are planted in the spring for summer blooming. They cannot withstand the winter and must be dug up and stored in a cool dry place. They’re not as easy to force. These bulbs respond more to daylight and to warmth to start their growth cycle. To give them a headstart I usually start my spring and summer bulbs indoors in the late winter so by the spring the plants will be more substantial in size.
These double daffodils bloom in mid-spring in my garden. It wasn’t until I began to create this Artwork did I realize that these particular flowers are quite fragrant unlike many of the spring blooming varieties. This made for a nice addition to my enjoyment of creation!
My muse is my garden. Other gardens as well, but my garden in particular. I move in it, feel it, and hear the breezes whisper through it. I watch the lighting during the day as it slides over and around the textured surfaces.
This azalea and tree peony combination bloom in my garden together every year. Their colors match perfectly and are so inspiring to me!
Lighting is so different on days with sun and with clouds. Lighting in the spring with the bright yellow-greens of optimistic new growth and lighting by the fall with ambers & tans of a lived life. Morning light offers tender ambiance while afternoon colors not only light the scene from a different direction, the colors are deeper and warmer.
My garden brings consciousness and meaning to me. It keeps me grounded. The ephemeral beauty of an unfertilized blossom studied up close with magnifiers and macro lenses is a representation of a miracle. The world of possibility. The beginning of a story I represent in my Art. I walk through my garden gathering ideas. Stories I want to tell. Suggested ideas I want to convey.
In my garden I spend time designing the landscape or I spend time closely and intimately with a singular specimen at a particular stage of growth. In my studio I may paint a vignette or a full landscape view of a part of the garden I’ve designed, or I may choose to paint a small portion of one flower that has moved me. The minute miracle. This is my work. Outdoors and indoors. These are the stories I tell. This is my Art. You can see more of my work in my online Art Shop.
There are some plants in my garden that just demand to be viewed together. In my front garden bed is a Fire Flame Tree Peony that for years has bloomed at the same time as a perfectly color matched azalea. Together they light up their niche in the world for a week or two each year if I’m lucky.
These Fire Flame Peonies blooming in my May garden along with the azalea inspired my original painting.
Keep the rain away from the peonies and the heat away from the azalea & I’ve got a perfect vignette. I love the way the focal points shift around my garden all year when either color takes prominence or form, as it does in winter.
I think of my garden as a theater production where spotlights guide your eyes around the action on stage.
If you want to extend the season of the colorful joy of these planting combinations you should consider buying one of my pieces of Art. Visit my Art Store to see your options. You won’t be disappointed!
Fire Flame Peony – Available in the Mary Ahern Art Store
Corms look a lot like bulbs on the outside but they are quite different. They have the same type of protective covering and a basal plate like the bulb does, but do not grow in layers.
Instead, the corm is the actual base for the flower stem and has a solid texture. As the flower grows, the corm actually shrivels as the nutrients are used up. Essentially the corm dies, but it does produce new corms right next to or above the dead corm. It has contractile roots that bring down the corms as they rise up to the surface of the soil which is why the flowers come back year after year. Depending on the type of flower, it may take a couple years to reach blooming size.
A corm does not have visible storage rings when cut in half. This distinguishes it from a true bulb.
Corms of a dormant colocasia (Elephant Ears) and a crocus in bloom.
Many corms produce two different types of roots. Those growing from the bottom of the corm are normal fibrous roots, they are formed as the shoots grow, and are produced from the basal area at the bottom of the corm. The second type of roots are thicker layered roots that form as the new corms are growing, they are called contractile roots and they pull the corm deeper into the soil. They are produced in response to fluctuating soil temperatures and light levels. Once the corm is deep enough within the soil where the temperature is more uniform and there is no light, the contractile roots no longer grow and the corm is no longer pulled deeper into the soil.
The newly dug corms will have cormels that are pea size formed around the top of the old corm. The remains of the old corm will be directly beneath the newly formed corms. When the corm is cleaned up and the old stem removed, the growing point of the corm will be evident. The cormels can be saved and replanted in the back of the garden until they reach flowering size.
Examples of Hardy Corms – Crocus. Arisaema, Crocosmia, Liatris
Tunicate bulbs are some of the most familiar bulbs we come in contact with both in and out of our gardens.
Many underground plant structures are generally named bulbs. A definition of a bulb is a plant that incorporates its entire life cycle in an underground storage unit. Technically true bulbs are compressed stems surrounded by fleshy leaves acting as food storage organs. They are in the Monocot family of plants.
Graphite Drawing of Onion and Garlic bulbs by Mary Ahern.
Bulbs can be further classified by looking at their various growth habits. Some of these “bulbs” are actually further classified as “true” bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes. Examples of these bulbs respectively are: narcissus, crocus, dahlia and canna.
True bulbs are represented by two classifications, tunicate and imbricate as represented by onions and lilies in that order.
Tunicate bulbs have a dry thin paperlike sheath surrounding them which helps to prevent them from drying and improves their storage capability. The basal base plate along with the tunicate sheath hold the bulb together. Roots emerge at the bottom of the basal plate.
We enjoy these bulbs both in the kitchen and in our gardens. Our cooking is enhanced by the addition of the tunicate bulbs of onions, garlic and shallots. The joyous colors in our early spring gardens are presented by our daffodils, tulips and hyacinths.
The term “bulb” is used by most people to refer to plants that have underground, fleshy storage structures. Only some of the plants commonly called bulbs actually are bulbs. The general definition of a bulb is any plant that stores its complete life cycle in an underground storage structure. These underground storage structures store nutrient reserves to ensure the plants’ survival.
Tubers, rhizomes, corms, and bulbs actually all serve the same purpose, just in a different way. They are each a storage unit for food that gives the plant the energy it needs to grow, bloom and complete its lifecycle each and every year.
The energy is created and stored by the foliage’s photosynthesis. You’ve probably heard that it’s important not to cut back the foliage after the bloom has died. That is because the leaves need to have time to absorb energy for next year’s bloom. Each storage system takes differing amounts of time to perform this task. Examples would be Alliums and Daffodils.
Bulbs or bulb-like plants are usually perennials. They have a period of growth and flowering. This is followed by a period of dormancy where they die back to ground level at the end of each growing season.
As with perennials, there are bulbs that are hardy in our climate and others that must be overwintered as house plants or placed in dormant storage.
Bulbs can be broken down into five types of storage structures. These include: true bulbs, corms, (stem) tubers, tuberous roots and rhizomes.
“Leeks and Pearl Onions” a graphite drawing by the Artist Mary Ahern
Daffodils are classified using two parts of the flower. For the purpose of this description, the daffodil is divided into two regions, the perianth (petals) and corona (cup).
In further classifying daffodils the perianth (petals) is described by identifying first the outside edge of the petal, then the middle, and lastly the inside part next to the corona.
The information I am providing in this article is gleaned from two sources, The American Daffodil Society and Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. Both of these websites offer untold amounts of information and make enjoying the spring displays even more rich.
The Daffodil Society even has downloadable & printable coloring books for those individuals who work with children’s groups. Brent and Becky’s information filled Fall Bulb catalog arrived just in time for Spring so that we can go out to view daffodils in other gardens and make a list for next year’s display.
All daffodils are classified into one of the thirteen divisions described below:
Division 1 – Trumpet
One flower to a stem, corona (trumpet or cup) as long or longer than the perianth segments (petals).Trumpets usually produce larger bulbs than other divisions. Most have gray/green foliage ½” – 1” wide
Division 2 – Large Cup
One flower to a stem, corona (cup) more than one third but less than equal to the length of the perianth segments (petals).The group that you see the most often used in gardens; perfect for perennializing, picking, forcing and showing; some of the showiest daffodils are in this division and are the ones that give you more ‘bang for your landscape buck’.
Division 3 – Short Cup
One flower to a stem, corona (cup) not more than one third the height of the perianth segments (petals).These are long term perennializers, show flowers and late season picked flowers, often with a spicy fragrance.
Division 4 – Double
Daffodils have a clustered cup, petals or both. There can be one or more flowers per stem.Camellia or roselike flowers; with single of multiple blooms; good for shows, showy gardens, picking and bedding.
Division 5 – Triandrus
Usually more than one flower to a stem, head drooping, perianth segments often reflexed and of silky texture.Fuchia-like blooms often with a fruity fragrance; great in containers.
Division 6 – Cyclamineus
One flower to a stem, perianth significantly reflexed and corona straight and narrow. Some exceptions exist.With their faces looking like they are standing in front of a fan, they look & perform wonderfully in pots & are terrific for forcing; seem to be more tolerant to partial shade moisture as a group.
Division 7 – Jonquilla
Usually several flower heads to a stem, flowers usually fragrant, stem is round in cross-section and foliage is often rush like.Foliage is often reed-like or at least very narrow & dark green. Most like the hot baking summer sun. Better in southern gardens but some are adaptable in cooler climates. Sweetly fragrant. Most are great in pots.
Division 8 – Tazetta
Usually three to twenty flowers to a stout stem, sweet scented and very short cupped. Perianth segments rounded and often somewhat crinkled.Excellent perennialzers with a musky, sweet fragrance; good for Southern gardens & forcing.
Division 9 – Poeticus
Usually one flower to a stem. White petals sometimes stained with the corona color at the base, small flat cup edged with red.Excellent perennials with a spicy fragrance, dogwood-like blooms; good for picking.
Division 10 – Bulbocodium Hybrids
Usually one flower to a stem. Perianth segments insignificant compared with Corona.Cultivars in this division are offspring of the species bulbocodium conspicuus, often referred to as ‘Hoop Petticoat’.
Division 11 – Split Corona
Corona split – usually more than half its length.A division where the cup of the daffodil is split into segments & spreads back against the petals. Sometimes the cup is smooth, often it’s frilly & many other times it’s in between.11a) Collar Daffodils Split-corona daffodils with the corona segments opposite the perianth segments; the corona segments usually in two whorls of three11b) Papillon DaffodilsSplit-corona daffodils with the corona segments alternate to the perianth segments; the corona segments usually in a single whorl of sixColoration of the corona often appears in sunburst-like streaks.
Division 12 – Other Cultivars
Daffodils not falling into any of the previous categories.
Division 13 – SpeciesAll species and reputedly wild forms.
Ones that are referred to as species daffodils & most of which are Heirloom & suitable for restoration gardening from 1700 on.
All photos are from the Brent and Becky’s 2013 Fall Catalog.
Disclosure: We receive NO financial or other consideration from either of these organizations for linking to their websites.
This large vase-shaped hosta emerges slightly behind some of my other hostas such as ‘Blue Cadet’.
This slug-resistant architectural specimen is a commanding presence in my perennial garden. Though planted in full sun with absolutely no sunburn effects, I plan to divide it in the fall and put a portion of it in the woodland near the Hamamelis. I think their V-shaped structure will echo each other offering a nice rhythmic change of scale and will tie the two plants together.
The distinctive vase shape of the Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’
I’ve put that project on my to-do list for the fall. The spreadsheet keeps growing. Soon I’ll have to employ a Gertrude Jekyll type labor force to keep up with all my ideas.
I bought this plant in the early 1990’s from a mail-order house that I don’t think still exists. At least, they don’t have a web presence at this point in time. I still remember the excitement I felt when a box with the plants showed up on my deck.
It was my first plant mail order purchase. I’d worked so hard to pick and choose varieties of hostas with different leaf shapes and colors. I was still in my newbie phase of disdaining variegated plants so all my purchases were solid greens and blues.
Hosta ‘Krossa Regal’ in the perennial garden
I remember how horrified I was when those straggly roots came out of the package. I felt so robbed. I’d never seen or even heard of bare-rooted plants at that time. Was I ever that young and naïve?
Well, I planted them all and they all lived. But over time many of my plant labels were lost or destroyed or misplaced so I no longer can easily identify some of them. The Krossa Regal is an exception since it has such distinctive charisma.
There are so many stages of hostas that I enjoy seeing. None of them include slugs by the way.
Having a shade garden I naturally grow many different cultivars of hostas. This particular one is named ‘Blue Cadet’ and was given to me years ago by my son Chris for Mother’s Day. Two Cadets and a Phlox subulata, I made out like a bandit!
• Hosta ‘Blue Cadet’ top view
Each year I try to catch the hostas as they emerge from the ground but each one has its own timetable and the prime time is very short. If you go into the garden in the morning to look at their progress, by the afternoon’s stroll they’ve changed again.
I’m always glad when I take these worm’s eye view shots with my Sony digital with a swivel screen so I no longer have to lie in the mud like the good old days. I can thank my friend Elise for nodding in the right direction when it came time to buy my first digital camera.
I love the textures of the newly emerging hostas and the changes in coloring at the base. I love the unfurling spirals so dramatic from the top view. Each leaf unfolds with its own personality and destiny.
• Hosta ‘Blue Cadet’ in June
I don’t grow hostas for their flowers but some of them do have quite beautiful and in some cases, fragrant blooms. The Cadet has a nicely formed lavender flower emerging by the end of June. The heart-shaped leaves have a blue tinge to them and in my garden is almost slug free. It forms a compact, well-balanced medium sized tidy mound like the rest of the tokudama clan of which it is an offspring.
I think I should transplant some of my Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’ to create a vignette. The scale of the two might get along nicely.
Grape muscari, otherwise known as Grape Hyacinths live close to the ground. For years I never took much notice of them except for the little spots of brilliant purple that bounced so nicely against the bright yellow daffodils they bloomed along with in April.
Then I got down. Hands and knees down.
What a surprise! How intricate the little flowers are. Little bells dance around a central stem forming a small pyramid. This inflorescence changes shape as it ages and can be more and less tightly knit.
The individual purple doesn’t seem to change on each bell but the overall purple varies when viewed at a distance based upon the tightness of the overall flower.
I enjoyed these 4″ bulbs so much in my garden that I bought a bag of them from Costco one year and low and behold the next spring the flowers that bloomed were very different from my originals. They were more blue than purple and were more rounded than pyramidal.
So I googled Grape Muscari and found a world of cultivars I didn’t previously know existed. That’s one of the things that is so much fun about gardening. You are constantly in a learning mode. You are in for surprises every year and every season. The knowledge and information you acquire just keeps on growing, along with your garden.
So now I know that so far in my garden I have Muscari armeniacum and M. azureaum. Next year I’m sure to have more.
When I made my Digital Mixed Media Painting of my Grape Muscari I was careful to recreate the basal growth of the leaves. It would not have been accurate if I’d placed the leaves higher on the stem. The painting would have looked like a plant Frankenstein. As a Garden Artist, that is not what I’m trying to create.
Sometimes the most fascinating aspect of a flower is before it even arrives. I love to watch the progressive morphing of the Allium bulgaricum as it pushes through the ground early in my perennial bed, usually before I’ve even managed to clean off the winter debris.
These tall, 36″ stalks are very strong and have never needed staking. These particular bulbs have been living in my garden since 2003 after I bought them at an after-season sale at Home Depot. I always scour the sales in various Home Depot stores in my area to capture the treasures left behind by the undiscerning customers.
Allium bulgaricum breaking through the tunicate.
As the flower grows you can see it bulging through the paper thin protective membrane covering.
I walk daily through my perennial bed waiting for the first tear in the parchment like shield. I would liken it to the first beak marks I’ve seen when a chick is breaking out of it’s shell. Not that I’ve seen chicks very often since I was raised in Brooklyn, which is not noted for farmland.
Allium bulgaricum stretching it’s wings
The flowers pounce forth in a gleeful display of empowerment and spread their wings in umbel fashion sitting proudly on tall stalks overlooking a still short, unfolding and early season perennial garden. These are not glamorous flowers in my opinion but they always add weeks of drama to my early spring theater.