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February 25th, 2013

Envelope, Please

We will leave it to the professional movie critics to opine on which of the winning films in last night’s Oscars ceremony deserved their awards. As for us, we think the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences needs to add a few competitive categories, and we know who we would have voted for in previous years:


Best Garden Makeover

The Secret Garden, 1993. Based on the beloved children’s novel by Francis Hodgson Burnett, this film adaptation is a testament to the restorative power of growing things. Its young protagonist, Mary, and her friend Dickon restore the health of Mary’s cousin Colin along with the health of his departed mother’s long-neglected garden.


Best Fantasy Potager

It’s Complicated, 2009. We include the word fantasy in this category title because the sumptuous kitchen garden shown in this film is Hollywood set-staging at its finest. The leading female character, a baker played by Meryl Streep, was trained in France, so it makes sense that she would have a French-style potager. What doesn’t make sense is that in this garden, cool-season and warm-season crops grow side-by-side. Turns out they were grown in a greenhouse and sunk into the garden pots and all, so any of them that wasn’t ready for its close-up could be replaced quickly. And those lush tomatoes? They were wired to the vines.


Best Garden as Metaphor for the Zeitgeist

Il giardino dei Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Continis), 1970. This story centers on the members of an upper-class Jewish family who appear to be living an idyllic life in their beautiful walled garden in late-1930s Ferrara, Italy. But the rise of fascism brings with it a more sinister kind of exclusion and enclosure.


Best Institutional Garden

Greenfingers, 2000. Based on a true story, this British comedy stars Clive Owen as a convict in a minimum-security facility in the U.K. who spearheads a prison garden project. The inmates’ efforts are noticed by a gardening celebrity, Georgina Woodhouse (played by Helen Mirren), who encourages them to enter the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. Georgina has an attractive daughter, and romance ensues. Note: Also award-worthy, albeit for the small screen, is the similarly titled “Green Fingers,” a 1972 episode of the TV show Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. It features Elsa Lanchester as Lydia Bowen, a gardener who refuses to sell her land to developers. They resort to coercive tactics, but in return Lydia plants a crop they will never forget.


Best Unauthorized Use of a Greenhouse

Saving Grace, 2000. Faced with foreclosure after the death of her husband, a small-town widow named Grace, played by Brenda Blethyn, turns to an unusual crop to make ends meet.


Best Garden Holiday

Enchanted April, 1991. Again, the lush landscape in this British drama about a group of Londoners vacationing in Italy is slightly enhanced for the camera, but that only adds to the dreamy character of the film.


Best Use of Wildflowers

Howards End, 1991. Our pic for most memorable scene featuring wildflowers is the scene of unlucky character Leonard Bast strolling through a woodland carpeted with English bluebells (hyacinthoides non-scripta). Okay, so they’re nonnative and can be invasive, but they’re gorgeous.

Other movies that feature pivotal scenes in gardens:

  • Gone with the Wind, 1939
  • The Godfather, 1972
  • Being There, 1979
  • Much Ado About Nothing, 1993
  • Sense and Sensibility, 1995
  • Harrison’s Flowers, 2000
  • Pride & Prejudice, 2005
  • Atonement, 2007
  • The Town, 2010
  • Quartet, 2012

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February 18th, 2013

Presidential Plants

George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who were born this month in 1732 and 1809, respectively, both served the country at critical moments in its history: Washington fought for its creation, and Lincoln for its preservation. But besides this distinction—and the fact that their faces are engraved on our currency—they share another honor: They each have garden and landscape plants named after them. Here are a few.

Washington1797

George Washington

Rosa ‘General Washington’ (a medium red hybrid perpetual rose), introduced in 1860 or 1860

Thuja occidentalis ’George Washington’ (variegated arborvitae), introduced in 1986

Hemerocallis ‘George Washington’ (a bubblegum pink daylily with a gold edge), introduced in 2007

Washingtonia, a genus of fan palms native to the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico that includes Washingtonia filifera (California fan palm) and W. robusta (Washington fan palm)

Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln

Rosa ‘Souvenir du President Lincoln’ (a medium pink Bourbon rose), introduced in 1865

Rhododendron ‘President Lincoln’ (a rhododendron with lavender flowers), introduced in 1871

Syringa vulgaris ‘President Lincoln’ (a common lilac with blue-lavender flowers), introduced in 1916

Lycopersicon lycopersicum ‘Original Abraham Lincoln’ (a red slicing tomato), introduced by the Buckbee Seed Company as ‘Buckbee’s Abraham Lincoln’ about 1923 and rebred by R. H. Shumway’s Seeds in 1986

Paeonia ‘President Lincoln’ (a red single form peony), introduced in 1928

Rosa ‘Mister Lincoln’ (a dark red hybrid tea rose), introduced in 1964

Hemerocallis ‘Abraham Lincoln’ (a lavender, violet, and chartreuse daylily), introduced in 2008

It would be interesting to learn why these plant breeders decided to name their creations after our first and 16th presidents. If any of you have grown one of these plants or has any more information about it, or know of other plants named after Washington or Lincoln, I would love to update our readers. Please add your comments below.

By the way, did you know that there is no official federal holiday called Presidents’ Day? The correct name for today’s holiday is Washington’s Birthday.

Happy birthday to the Father of Our Country!

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February 14th, 2013

Roses, Tokens of Love

In the Victorian secret code called the language of flowers, roses were especially meaningful. Each color of rose sent a specific message to the recipient, and many a fond hope was dashed when a gentleman presented a lady with a yellow rose (denoting friendship) instead of the expected red (true love) or light pink (desire).

Victorian and Edwardian greeting cards often featured roses, and several women illustrators of the period became known for the exquisite detail they achieved in painting the flowers.

Below are some of my rose-themed Valentine’s Day greeting postcards dating from about 1905 to 1915. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Dark pink, for gratitude

Dark pink, for gratitude

Light pink, for desire or passion

Light pink, for desire or passion

Coral, for desire or passion

Coral, for desire or passion

Red, for true love

Red, for true love

“Read love’s tender message, hidden in the rose.”

“Read love’s tender message, hidden in the rose.”

Cupid bears a message of love.

Cupid bears a message of love.

Red and yellow roses together indicated joy or happiness.

Red and yellow roses together indicated joy or happiness.

Hearts and flowers

Hearts and flowers

“Love is lurking in your pathway.”

“Love is lurking in your pathway.”

A rose topiary by illustrator Ethel Parkinson.

A rose topiary by illustrator Ethel Parkinson

A rose among the thorns

A rose among the thorns

A rose tussie-mussie

A rose tussie-mussie

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