September 17, 2014

Chincoteague and Assateague Islands

I have a white-knuckled grip on summer. Blame it on Atlantic Ocean salt breezes and island music. I've just returned from the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the coasts of Virginia and Maryland, voted #1 on Coastal Living's list of happiest seaside towns.

From my hotel room balcony overlooking the bay and neighboring restaurant, Jackspot.

I'm pretty sure this beautiful place still has me in "slow" gear as I'm having a little trouble resuming life as usual. But that's the best kind of vacation isn't it? -- the kind you can give 5 stars because regular life got left behind somewhere.

Oversized Adirondack chairs by the bay.

Speaking of 5 stars, Chincoteauge and Assateauge Islands are destinations that consistently get more 5 star reviews than anything else on TripAdvisor

A monument honoring 'Misty' of Chincoteague.

The popularity of the islands is a credit to the power of the well-written word. Once small, unknown fishing villages, author Marguerite Henry put them on the tourism map with her children's novel, Misty of Chincoteague. Written in 1947, the tale is fictional but is centered around real people, places, events, and wild horses

The islands are known for the herds of wild ponies that roam Assateague. For hundreds of years, they've survived on marsh and dune grasses and fresh water from ponds. Read more about the islands and ponies, HERE. Locals have passed down the story for generations that the ponies are descendants of surviving horses from a Spanish galleon shipwreck. 

Wild ponies grazing on Assateauge Island. 

The wild ponies get a lot of press as the islands' main attraction, and they were certainly a hit with my children, but it was the easy non-fussy, laid-back vibe, friendly people and beautifully clean beaches that won me over. Watching dolphins play in the bay from my hotel balcony didn't hurt anything either! 

Lunch on the patio at Jackspot, Chincoteague Island, VA

Soon my grip on summer will be useless.  A sure sign are the ripening apples on my backyard espaliered apple trees... :)

I'll be back soon! 


July 2, 2014

The Summer Plan

Though some of us might've thought it wasn't actually going to happen this year,
(kind of like an update to this blog, ahem)
it's officially here! 
And like the inevitability of Midwestern thunderstorms, 
I'm right back to the computer, finally blogging again. I've missed you, by the way.

"Summer in Paris" by Lana Moes. See her shop here.

The best plan for the long, warm days of summer, according to moi, is just that: Have a plan. For me, summer is precious & too short-lived, so soaking up every last minute is absolutely mandatory.

The plan might go something like this...

How To Pack the Most Sun & Fun into Summer:

1. Road Trip

There's nothing like packing a few light things and leaving life-as-usual behind for somewhere less familiar. The Wall Street Journal's Off Duty edition recently featured 50 reasons to love the road trip. Numbers 1 & 2 on their list: no planes. Translated into plain English, that means "no TSA". Which means the freedom to pack with cute luggage and find it recognizable when we've reached our destinations...

2. You Might Have Baggage, but at least it's Cute
Bric's Bellagio Luggage from Horchow. psst.. on sale over the 4th of July weekend here.

3. Shop, Stroll, Take Pictures
Snarkiness back under wraps, a road trip is the perfect excuse to adhere to the schedule of your whims, buy a new sun hat (ladies, try this one), stroll along sidewalks and poke your camera  lens through the gates of someone else's garden. Which is just what I was doing a couple weekends ago in one of my favorite day-trip destinations: Historic St. Charles, Missouri...
This garden adjoins The Conservatory Wedding Chapel, Main St., Historic St. Charles.

The English Shop, Main St., Historic St. Charles, is full of British food & eccentricities. From my Instagram.

Historic St. Charles (part of the greater St. Louis metro) is a laid-back destination situated on the Missouri River. The final embarkation point of The Lewis & Clark Expedition, it's full of late 18th & early 19th century homes, buildings and history. History aside, it's a fun weekend getaway-- the kind with bike rentals, old-fashioned soda & ice cream shops along old red-brick streets, & small-time entertainment. St. Charles deserves a post all its own, so more about it later this summer.

4. Sun without the Burn
       photo: J. Crew
July is UV safety month.
As with a lot of other things, having little people in my life gave my cavalier attitude toward sun protection a come-to-Jesus moment.
My youngest daughter's early sensitivity to most sunblock lotion was a problem that sun-blocking rash guards uncomplicated for me. Mini Boden's rash guard top & bottoms, below, is my 4-year-old's favorite swimsuit.

There's a great rash guard for everybody. For Women & Kids: Here & Here, Men: Here

5. ART

After spending weeks on facial feature studies drawn in graphite, I'm taking on what is for me a challenging, but I hope rewarding, summer drawing project-- a triple portrait of my two daughters and me based on a photo taken by my husband two weeks after our second daughter was born. My biggest trouble: getting all prickly-eyed looking at how fast they've grown. Wish me luck. 

6. Gardening, of course!
A favorite in my baby garden, my Pierre de Ronsard ('Eden') climbing rose - from my Instagram page.

Summer wouldn't be summer without a little gardening thrown in
poster from Magnolia Box, here

Catch me between posts on Instagram

Happy Summer!

May 12, 2014

Espalier, Part 2

An illustration of espalier from a late 17th c. Dutch gardening manual, New York Public Library. 
photo courtesy, Streets of Salem

I often think the more I learn about gardening, the less I know. As my circle of knowledge expands, so does the circumference of ignorance around it. Apologies to Einstein for the misquote.

I feel this keenly now as I write, having just discovered that at least one of my espaliered apple trees appears to be afflicted with fire blight, a bacterial disease that is often fatal, & most likely came from the nursery, as I have just acquired the trees.

The espaliered apple trees of which I speak are part of the finishing touches I've been putting to the patio project that I began writing about last spring. Talented garden designer, Debra Phillips of the blog 5th & State, has been so kind to guide me through this long process with her expert design advice, her tremendous knowledge of plants, by ever-patiently answering questions, & by advising me around the scrapes into which my impetuous choices have occasionally landed me. It was she who quickly diagnosed the dreaded fire blight for me this afternoon. If you're not a regular reader of her blog, do yourself a favor & pop over there.

Now, enough about my espalier woes. I promised to provide resources to help get you started espaliering.

In Espalier, Part 1, we took a brief look at the what this beautiful horticultural art is . If you're not familiar with espaliered trees & haven't read Part 1, you may want to read that first. It's here.

While the aesthetic side of espalier is obvious, understanding the science which causes an espaliered tree to produce fruit so abundantly & earlier in the tree's development is beyond the scope of this article, but if, like me, you won't be satisfied until you know the why as well as the how, I have provided links at the bottom of this article to references that will satisfy your every horticultural-geeky need.

When I first starting learning about espaliered fruit trees, I was looking for space-saving ways to grow a productive garden in a tiny backyard. Looking so unique & very European I considered a bonus. I approached the subject with all the enthusiasm of an amateur gardener and with all the naivete of one, too! My first attempts at espalier ended in disappointment on the trash heap and showed me quite clearly that this was no hobby for the impatient or impetuous.
A free-standing espaliered crab apple. Arne Maynard
Establishing an espaliered tree begins from the ground up and can take from several to many years. An understanding of how the tree grows & where to make pruning cuts is crucial. There is, fortunately, a wealth of information available on this subject, and one who is interested in learning the art can, with time & plenty of patience, establish an espaliered tree. In the rest of this article, I will highlight the necessary steps and direct you to resources for further reading into each one.

If you haven't been recently bequeathed an estate complete with an espaliered orchard & you'd rather not wait & labor through the process of espaliering, some nurseries sell ready-espaliered trees. You may even find several varieties grafted onto one tree-- a technique that handles pollination & variety in an extra space-saving way. In my own small backyard, I've purchased and planted four espaliered apple trees from a local nursery that form two of the outside "walls" of my patio area.

To grow an espaliered tree from the ground up, here's where to start:

The establishment of an espaliered tree begins with choosing a tree that is grown on dwarfing rootstock. For now, I will focus primarily on apples although I reference alternatives for warm climate gardeners, below. There's a numbering scheme (that does not follow an expected, sequential order) for apple tree rootstocks.  Here Here are succinct guides to understanding apple tree rootstock codes with descriptions of their various advantages & disadvantages, and Here for pears.

Taking a cue from my cautionary tale, above, choose a variety that also has good disease resistance.

Spur Bearing vs. Tip Bearing
Apples & pears bear fruit either near the main branches on fruiting spurs or at the ends (tips) of the branches. For espalier, it's important to choose a tree that is spur-bearing. In some cases the same type of apple tree is available in both tip & spur bearing varieties. A short article, HEREexplains that further. Some spur bearing varieties recommended for espaliering by are 'Red Rome', 'Stayman', 'Red Delicious', & 'Golden Delicious'. If you're unsure whether your favorite variety is spur or tip bearing, the grower should be able to tell you. In some cases, the name of the apple variety will give you a clue to its growth habit. For example, Stark Bros. labels their spur-bearing varieties with the brand name "Stark-spur".

Chill Hours
Chill hours are the cumulative number of hours that the temperature is between 32-45 degrees Fahrenheit in fall & winter. Many fruiting & flowering trees, including apples & pears, require a certain number of "chill hours" to reach dormancy & set flowers & fruit the following growing season. The required number of chill hours varies widely by variety. 'Red Delicious', for example, requires 800 chilling hours whereas 'Fuji' only requires 100-400 chilling hours. HERE, is a chill map of the U.S. developed by the University of Maryland to help you determine the number of chill hours for your area. If you buy your trees from a local nursery, they have most likely done the work of determining which trees will grow best in your area, but being over-prepared is never a bad idea.

Low Chill Options
For areas with few chill hours, apple varieties with low-chill requirements are available. Because I've been asked specifically about Florida, HERE is a map showing greater detail of chill hours for that state.

Tangerine tree espaliered into an informal shape surrounded by hen and chicks at its base. Design by Scott Shrader. Photo: Mark Adams

If you live in an area that doesn't receive enough chill hours to grow apples or pears, you might consider growing espaliered citrus-- orange, kumquat, lemon or lime-- or a fig tree. Some of these you may be able to find already espaliered at a local nursery, and certainly you can find young trees, not espaliered, available for sale.

Some apple trees are sold as "self-pollinating", but I'm told for effective pollination & consistent fruiting, a second variety is necessary. Here is a handy checker for pollination compatibility-- select your tree from the list, and a list of effective pollinators pops up.

Choose the Site
Apple & pear trees grow best in full sun. Walls & fences make nice backdrops for espaliered trees, and the warmth from a wall can help protect the tree from late spring frosts, but free-standing espaliered trees are also very attractive. Be sure there's enough room for the tree to spread out on each side, about 5 feet in each direction.
Training posts & wires on espaliers 

For training wires for one set of our espaliered trees, my husband & I sank 4x4 posts in concrete on either side of the tree & used 14 gauge wire attached with eye-bolts between the posts. Turnbuckles attached to one end ensure that we can tighten the wire as it gives over time.

Choosing the Espaliered Form & Planting 
If you can imagine the espaliered form, you can probably train your tree into it. Formal shapes are most traditional, but informal shapes are also attractive and may not take as long to achieve.

In fall or early spring, plant a whip close enough to the framework to attach the lateral growth to the wires. A whip is a young vertical tree with no branches or side shoots. If possible, you'll want a pair of opposing buds at about the level of the first wire. Just above these two opposing buds, cut the whip at a 45-degree angle. Attach the whip to the bottom training wire with a soft tie, like this one.

An informal espaliered tree, This Old House

For an informal espalier, the branches of a young whippy tree may be trained flat against a trellis or training wires, unwanted outward growth can be removed.

Training progression of espalier
photo courtesy Cottage in the Oaks
About 4-6 weeks after the first new growth appears, tie the side growth to the training wires. (Doing this too soon before the new growth has established slightly will cause it to break off.) The central vertical growth will become the new leader. Once the new leader reaches the 2nd wire, continue the process for the second tier.

Well, what do you think? Care to give it a try?! Be sure to tell me if you do.

Below, are some excellent articles on espalier from which you can find a wealth of helpful information, as questions are sure to arise as you work through the process.
Best of luck!
Vegetable Gardener - How to Grow Espalier Apple Trees
French Gardening - The Fine Art of Espalier