GardenSmart :: EPISODES :: 2006 show12
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Show #12

This week we're outside of Nashville, Tennessee at the home of the 7th U.S. President, Andrew Jackson and his wife Rachel. Their home is called The Hermitage and is a classic example of a home and garden of the 1800's. It is the same today as it was back then and provides some classic lessons that are still effective today. The gardens and grounds are spectacular, even more so when one considers that when Andrew Jackson settled here this was untamed wilderness. The gardens have classic annuals, perennials, biennials, an informal vegetable garden and formal garden design. Its unique characteristics make the garden special and the lessons from the past are applicable today.

Patricia Leach is the Executive Director or The Hermitage and provides background information. This is actually Jackson's 2nd home. He and Rachel moved here in 1804, into a 2 story log cabin known as the first Hermitage. Hermitage, at that time, meant a quiet respite. This is where he came to get away from politics, wars and the other ravages that he endured during his lifetime. They lived in the 1st Hermitage from 1804 until 1820, when they built this mansion. The 1st Hermitage was then dissembled and turned into slave cabins. They have been completely restored and renovated and just opened this past summer. The 1st Hermitage was a cotton plantation with 9 enslaved people helping him work it. By the time they moved into the 2nd plantation it was comprised of 1120 acres and needed 150 enslaved people to work it. Today this 1120 acre site is a national historic landmark, thanks to the Ladies Hermitage Association who helped save it in 1889. Today they farm about 400 acres, the 1st Hermitage is open, they've introduced live animals and more than 200,000 people visit this site each year. Jackson and his wife are buried in the tomb in the Heritage gardens. Patricia invites all to visit and introduces the head gardener, Peter Fossel, the most knowledgeable person to talk about the heirloom plants and gardens.

Peter has been here for about 1 and 1/2 years and it wasn't by luck that he got here. Peter has been gardening since he was about 9, when his parents first gave him seeds. Peter and his wife have had their own organic farm and nursery, selling flowers and produce and designing gardens for other people. Peter loves history and loves heirloom plants so it was a natural fit. One of his missions was to make sure that this garden was true to form, as it was in the early 1800's. That took some homework and research. They know that Jackson visited Monticello and Mt. Vernon. As well, letters to and from Jackson provide insight into what was in his gardens. Thus it was pretty easy to paste together the overall picture.

The selections today are what would have been here in the early 1800's. Some of those annuals and perennials are present in this garden today. There are 2 greenhouses on the property where they grow their own plants and seed, allowing them choose what heirloom varieties to utilize. They also employ similar gardening methods. There were no chemicals during that time, instead they used manure, compost, leaves, grass clippings, whatever organic matter was available. They would work it into the soil, build up the soil and the result then and is today - beautiful gardens.

Peter loves Zinnias, they're one of his favorite summer flowers, summer annuals. They come in most different colors with blue being the exception. They make a great cut flower, the more they're cut the more they come back. The only problem with Zinnias is their foliage is susceptible to powdery mildew. So, around or in front of the bed of Zinnias they plant White Salvia or Basil. These plants disguise the powdery mildew and one just sees the beautiful flowers. Peter points out that there is no garden police saying you can't put an herb in a flower garden. The White Salvia is already in bloom but pinch it back and more flowers will follow.

We next look at a bed of White Cosmos. This flower has been around for a long time. This variety is all white, a great cut flower and the foliage is ethereal, very magical and delicate. And it is different than a lot of other annuals.

Peter likes to interplant one color with a different color or the same color but different flowers. By the tomb there is a little bed. Peter started this spring to just plant pink and burgundy Petunias. It's a nice color combination, the Petunias spread and fill in quickly. When doing this he thought - this color looks like the color of Purple Cosmos. So, they put those in as a backdrop and it works nicely. Here Peter has planted taller plants in the back. The Cosmos will reach 4 feet tall allowing one to enjoy the Petunias in the front. Peter has also spaced the Petunias nicely. They look sparse now but in another month each plant will spread to about 2 feet wide and the whole bed will be lush.

Joe notices grass clippings in a bed and knows that this isn't just a lazy gardener, they are here by design. Peter wanted a big, lush bed of Nasturtiums so he broadcast the seed directly on top of the soil, then covered that with a good layer of grass clippings. Not enough to smother the seedlings but enough to keep them damp for a week, so they could germinate. The key is to keep the soil moist so the seeds can germinate. Some may be concerned that when they put grass clippings down that that will deplete the soil of nitrogen or it will introduce a lot of weed seeds to the soil. These aren't legitimate concerns. In fact, green grass clipping add nitrogen to the soil, it's a source of nitrogen. And, unless your lawn has gone to seed, grass clippings won't introduce weed seeds at all.

We next look at a happy accident. Bachelor's Buttons are inter-planted with California Poppies which only bloom one day but they keep blooming. And, the color combinations are beautiful. The flowers spill out onto the pathway, which means one can't help but notice them as they're walking by. It forces the eye down and is a wonderful way to bring attention to a particularly beautiful plant. The foliage combination is fantastic. The California Poppies only bloom one day and on a cloudy day, like today, they're not open, as they would be on a sunny day.

Snap Dragons are another favorite cottage garden flower. But the reason Peter is showing us the area is because of the mulch. When he arrived they had a terrible weed problem. So, last fall they brought in load after load of leaves, grass clipping and wheat straw and covered the beds as deeply as possible. This does 3 things - it suppresses weeds, because it keeps sunlight from making those seeds germinate in the light, adds organic matter to the soil as it decomposes and it keeps the soil damp throughout the summertime. Additionally, it encourages earthworm populations to come in and they till and fertilize while you're taking a nap. Snap Dragons in the north are an annual but here they came up again from last year, making it a perennial versus an annual.

We next look at other perennials. Joe notices one that is different. It looks like a Pentas but isn't. It's a Maltese Cross, a very old perennial which was around during the time of Monticello and Jefferson. It is scarlet red, a bright scarlet, which would have been unusual in that day. Today it isn't as rare. Each mother plant will last about 3 or 4 years but it re-seeds. Peter grew these from seed and these will re-seed even though the plants are relatively short lived. The flowers last about 3 or 4 weeks, a nice show, but the best part is the color.

Bellflower, Campanula, is nearby and they are a gorgeous purple blue. They provide a nice show in the springtime for several weeks. They don't take the heat and die back but will leave spikes. If cut they won't come back, if not cut, in the fall, they get another bloom. Since in the summertime it's not so attractive, Peter inter-plants Coneflower, Daisy or Salvia, for example. Peter says use an annual or another perennial, something tall. A Comos would also cover up the foliage.

Eric shares his tips this week. An entryway says a lot about your home. He has a quick tip to invite people into your home. Thuja Green Giant is a wonderful evergreen tree, under planted with the perennial of your choice in this beautiful brown container in an excellent way to invite people into your home. VISIT OUR WEB SITE AND CLICK ON GARDENING TIPS - FOR MORE INFORMATION.

Joe notices another perennial that he likes for the foliage but what makes the Peony so famous is the flower. The 1st of May white Peonies come out and the garden is awash with fragrance. Whites are the most fragrant followed by the pinks. Some say Peonies are difficult to grow because they do require a period of cool weather and some think they don't transplant well. Peter feels that depends on the variety. They divided these plants, replanted them and they bloomed the 1st year.

Foxglove or Digitalis was a classic in the 1800's and still is today It is a classic cottage garden flower and comes in a wide range of pastel hues. It isn't an annual or perennial but a bi-annual. The 1st year you can raise them from seeds, they've done that here. They will grow about a foot tall the 1st year, the 2nd year they'll come back and send up a tall, beautiful spire. The mother plants then dies and re-seeds. At that point the mother plant can be removed because it is basically done. The seedlings here look like they're doing well.

The soil in this garden looks great but that wasn't always the case. Peter shows us one of the tricks he uses. We view a problem area, a bed that's overgrown with weeds, grass, wild chives and garlic chives. This could be a piece of lawn. Peter wants a beautiful bed and feels he has 2 choices. One is to spend all day digging it all up, getting all old material out and starting over. The second is what he calls a lasagna garden. Peter likes this method, it is quick, easy and highly effective. Cut everything down as low as possible. On the top place 6 or 8 sheets of wet newspaper, Peter is using cardboard. This basically smothers the area, particularly weeds and other plant material present. Once wet, it provides a perfect environment for earthworms. They'll move in, just like under wet leaves, they'll till the ground, aerate it, digest the sod and leave behind their fertile castings. If we do no more than this it will be the beginning of a nice, fertile garden bed. However, this is just the 1st layer of the lasagna garden. It is called this because it is built up in layers, just like lasagna. Next Peter uses wet leaves and rotted or semi-rotted straw and some compost. One could use peat moss or grass clippings, anything organic. On top of the cardboard Peter adds a couple inches of wet leaves, he then adds a nice sheet of pine straw, on top of that he adds a couple inches of, mostly, compost but any kind of topsoil could be used. Plant right into this mix, Peter adds a Basil plant and it's done. In several months this will all break down but it it's ready to plant now.

The vegetable garden was very important for anyone in the 1800's because they grew all their food. Typical was a four square design, very simple, 2 paths down the middle intersecting and everything would have been intensely planted. Beginning in the spring with peas and radishes then leaf vegetables, followed by midseason crops and so on. They got the most out of the space they had and they used it as much of the year as possible. Here potatoes are growing next to vegetables. Vegetables, whether leaf greens, legumes, peas and beans or any root vegetable would tend to be planted in a wide row, two feet wide and intensely planted. It was an efficient use of space. There would have been no other paths, keeping down weeds and conserving moisture in the soil. The lettuce is nice and dense and healthy. Lettuce is productive, anytime it's growing you can pick it off and eat it. When harvested by cutting off or breaking off parts, new leaves will come on. Thus, a long season of lettuce. This is the time of year when cool season crops are finishing up and warm season crops have started. Peter is growing some tomatoes and has a special way of trellising them. This is an intermediate variety which keeps growing all summer long and they produce fruit until frost. But, it needs support. Today we might use a tomato cage. In past times they might have let it sprawl onto straw or utilized what Peter has done - create a tripod and used sisal twine. It will last a long time. Simply wrap it around the leader of the tomato plant 3 or 4 times towards the bottom of the plant, as it grows it will follow the twine up to the top of the tripod. Keep wrapping the tomato around the twine as it grows. It will support the whole tomato and keep it off the ground and keep the fruit from rotting.

We next visit the formal garden. Rachel loved flowers and this garden is a tribute to her. General Jackson hired an Englishman from Philadelphia to design this garden. The center beds were the highlight of the design. Jackson would come here every day, even after Rachel's death, pick flowers and visit her tomb. One thing stands out - one doesn't see the area until you clear the allays and enter the garden. It's not revealed until you're in. Once in, one feels like they're in an enclosed room because the plant material goes all the way around. The paths are different- they narrow. The outside paths around the perimeter, are about 3 feet wide, then narrow to the next path and as you enter the center they're no more than 18 inches wide. Peter thinks that was done to slow one down, because a path, a garden is to be savored and enjoyed at leisure, not rushed or hurried. That also causes one to look down at the plant material. Joe likes the fact that crushed gravel has been utilized, one hears it and feels it. The bricks are another surprise. They contain the soil for the beds and they're longer than usual, well over a foot long and tapered at each end. They were designed and fired on the property specifically for the center beds. The pansies growing in the 4 beds make up the arms of St. Andrews Cross and the bricks surround that. It really is a nice design.

Joe thanks Peter for the tour. It's clear that between his love of history and love of gardening that he has been the perfect host. The Hermitage is a wonderful spot, especially for a gardener. Thank you Peter.

Links ::

Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center
The Hermitage

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