In the spring of 1999 I started a new position as the President's Residence gardener after 12 years as pruner/propagator for the Botanic Garden. In my previous position I worked exclusively with woody plants, maintaining our current collection campus-wide, propagating new trees, shrubs, and vines, and collecting seed from woody species in the wild. My new position allows me to work with a much more diverse plant collection. In addition to some outstanding trees and shrubs, the collection here includes an extensive rose garden, medieval herb garden, kitchen garden, perennial borders, and shade garden areas. I grow annuals, perennials, herbs, roses, vegetables, cut flowers, shrubs, trees, and lawns in one of the most beautiful settings on campus.
Topographically the grounds are unique, with long green vistas to Paradise Pond, stone walls, and steep stone steps behind the statue of St. Francis leading to the upper terrace. To the right of the house beyond the terrace, the land slopes dramatically to a deep, shaded ravine whose sides are covered with pachysandra and ferns, with a brook running along the bottom. In the heat of summer this appears as cool and exotic as a rain forest. On the other side of the vista, thriving in the deep shade, native wild white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) grace the banks of pachysandra. Birdlife is plentiful-catbirds follow my weeding hoe picking up insects, a pair of cardinals raised a family behind the house this summer, ruby-crowned kinglets flit about in the hemlocks, and a pileated woodpecker frequents the woods by the terrace, startling all with his raucous cry. Hummingbirds visit the gardens, and the kingfisher's rowdy call drifts up from the pond. What more could a gardener want? (Yes, there were warblers in the evergreens last summer!)
Herbaceous and woody plants of interest grace the area surrounding the house. First to bloom, some years through the snow, is Adonis amurensis on the back terrace. This six-inch tall golden, ferny-leaved member of the Ranunculaceae opens its bright yellow flowers on a sunny morning in late February to mid-March depending on the weather. Adonis amurensis is native to Manchuria and Japan. Unfortunately, it flowers before any insects are available to pollinate it, so we are never able to collect seed.
Another interesting member of the Ranunculaceae on the terrace is one of my favorite perennials, Anemonopsis macrophylla, false anemone. The pendant, waxy lavender-pink flowers of this Japanese native hang gracefully above foliage reminiscent of columbine (yes, the specific epithet is inappropriate). Beginning in late summer, anemonopsis flowers in both sun and shade, preferring the latter in the afternoon. Hard to find in the trade, and tricky to propagate from seed, it can also be seen in the Systematics Garden near Lyman Conservatory. Also on the terrace is a large specimen of Kirengeshoma palmata, another Japanese native
from wooded mountains in the south. A member of the saxifrage family, this plant is three feet tall by three feet across and has elongated, waxy pale yellow bells with closely overlapping petals, appearing in August above broadly palmate foliage.
Mature specimens of Dictamnus albus, the gas plant, adorn the narrow borders behind the herb garden. It produces beautiful white blooms in June alongside the interplanted blue Siberian iris. I have added ten new groupings of peonies to this border to complement the iris and gas plants.
I have also planted thirteen peonies in the iris border along the sidewalk by the white fence. Two of these are very old single varieties that flower quite early, right at Commencement last year. One of these, a pale pink, was already growing in the border by the herb garden, and the other, a pale yellow, grows in Capen Garden. There is no record of the varietal names but I suspect they are Saunders hybrids from the 1940s, possibly two of his quadruple hybrids using Paeonia lactiflora, P. macrophylla, P. mlokosewitschii, and P. peregrina. Other varieties that were planted in the gardens last fall include 'Cytherea,' 'Windchimes,' 'Burma Midnight,' 'White Wings,' 'Mons. Jules Elie,' and a half dozen others. Many of these were purchased at the Maple Ridge Peony Farm in Conway, Massachusetts, which should be on your destination list for next June. I am currently searching seed lists for Paeonia officinalis and P. ostii for use in the medicinal bed in the herb garden.
The rose collection at the President's
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