Category: Virtual Gardener

Posts to be shown on the Virtual Gardener page.

The Virtual Gardener Announces a New Member Benefit

The Virtual Gardener is pleased to announce a new Member Benefit! Members can now peruse our circulating library's collection online.

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin was the first American to start a circulating library in 1731? Members of his "Library Company" paid a fee which was used to purchase books and maintain the library and each of these contributors had borrowing privileges. (learn about Franklin's idea at, search "The Library Company." ) This is much like our library – each of you pays membership fees, a part of which maintains the library and each of you has borrowing rights. So, exercise your rights and borrow a book!

Here's how — Go to and select "Resources" from the bar across the top of the home page. Under "Resources" select "Library" and follow the link to the online card catalog. Here is the link to the On-Line Card Catalog.

We are going to be adding more sections to this list, but for now you can see the listing of books under the Garden Design and Juvenile sections.

Many of these titles are available for purchase at So, to learn more about the book you are interested in, you may want to type the name of the book into's book section to see it online and perhaps read some it there.

To borrow a book, simply send the name of the book(s) you would like to borrow to Your book reservation must be sent to me by Wednesday at 9:00 am and you may borrow up to 3 books at a time.

Reserved books will be available for pick up at the Front Desk of the Haggerty Education Center on that coming Saturday or Sunday from 9:30 am – 4:00 pm.

You will be asked to complete a form when you pick up your book.

Books are due back two weeks after your borrow them. Overdue books are charged $1.00 per week. In the event that the book is "out" and therefore not available, you will be notified by email.

To return books:

Leave them with the receptionist at the Front Desk of the Haggerty Education Center on Saturday or Sunday from 9:30 am – 4:00 pm. You will be asked to sign a form.

There may be some kinks in this process that we have to work out along the way, but we hope it will encourage you to use the library and we thank you for your membership!

Virtual Gardener Spring 2011: Climate Change and Your Garden

Over the past year, the Virtual Gardener has found that nothing can bring a pleasant dinner conversation with relatives to a halting stop like the utterance of the phrase “climate change.”

I will not say another word on the subject but offer these websites for you to explore.

First, to for an excellent glossary.

Understand something my brother-in-law does not – the difference between climate and weather at:

Read what the EPA has to say at

Even my brother-in-law could not find Cornell University to be a wacky, fringe group at:

National Geographic takes on “climategate” at

An interesting article that would really make my brother-in-law angry is at:

Botanic Garden Conservation International has some good materials at:

“For heaven’s sake,” I would like to have told my brother-in-law, “even the Chelsea Flower Show acknowledged climate change” at:

Whilst you are picking new plants for your garden, it would be of value to consult:

You can use the AHS Plant Heat-Zone Map in the same way that you do the Hardiness Map.

Mother has something to say about that map at:

You and my brother-in-law can see the change at:

To learn more about climate and your garden, I recommend “The Climate Conscious Gardener.” which we have a copy of in our library. This step-by-step guide to offsetting climate change through gardens and landscaping explains what happens when the atmospheric balance of carbon and nitrogen goes awry, and how plants, soil, and synthetic gardening aids (such as fertilizer and pesticides) affect climate. Chapters include: A Gardener’s Guide to Climate Change, Reducing Your Garden’s Climate Footprint, A Guide to Landscape Materials and Product, Offsetting Carbon Emissions in Your Garden Landscaping for Home Energy EfÔ¨Åciency, The Climate Footprint of Homegrown Food, Turning Your Landscape into a Carbon Sink, Carbon Sequestration in Soil, Carbon Sequestration in Plants.

John Bartram

by Lesley Parness —

This Virtual Gardener entry is about John Bartram. This year’s New Year’s Party will allow you to meet John Bartram in person, no small feat as he was born in 1699 and died in 1777. Please read the program description for information about this fabulous presentation!

In preparation for this program, and in order to understand the importance of his work to the world of horticulture, please start at for a concise biography of the man. Note the many references to Peter Collinson. At the New Year’s Party, you will see some of Mr. Collinson’s books and letters to Mr. Bartram from our Rare Book Collection. Although John Bartram lacked a formal education, he corresponded with many of the great scientific minds of his age: including Mr. Collinson; Phillip Miller, author of the “Gardener’s Dictionary” (also to be on display);
Sir Hans Sloane (founder of the British Museum); various Earls; Dukes; and Linnaeus himself, who called John Bartram the “best natural botanist of his time.”

Now on to for more insight into this fascinating figure. Next,, the website of the non-profit organization that manages Bartram’s home and garden and Finally, enjoy the detailed house information at

This year’s New Year’s Party includes a program that should not be missed, about a man who has been largely overlooked but who played a role without which the green history of the world would not be the same. I hope to see all of you at the New Year’s Party!

Sallets and the Father of British Gardening

Virtual Gardener – Summer 2010

Let us now praise the sallet (salad.) This menu item, healthy or haute, is ever present on 21 century tables. Not so a mere 400 years ago, when a dish of arugala was fit for a rabbit, not a king. How did sallets gain acceptance in the dining rooms of royales and common men alike? Through the work of John Evelyn (1620-1706) essayist, diarist, lobbyist, and horticulturalist, who praised their virtues.

Born into a wealthy family of gunpowder manufacturers, Evelyn created an explosion of his own with his essays, diaries and books, among them “Sallats,” the first cookbook for same, which proved that vegetarians could eat and live. You can read it online at

This book and others by Evelyn are in the Julia Appleton Cross Rare Book Collection at The Frelinghuysen Arboretum and will displayed and discussed at the July 18, 2010 program “Sallets.” The second half of the class will feature re-creation of recipes from this book by Chef Cynthia Triolo.

Begin at the British Library where you will find an excellent introduction to the life of this influential man who was at the center of 17th century English society and learning. Look at the Roald Dahl-esque drawing of gardening tools and remember it. Go through the “Discover More” brief and informative links there.

Now, on to The 1648 portrait of Evelyn by Robert Walker depicts a very different Evelyn. Instead of the patrician, rational, critic, we see a romantic, symbolic and philosophical Evelyn. This is the side revealed when he was engaged in gardening. In fact, Evelyn said, “What is a gardener to be, but an absolute philosopher.” Scroll down a bit and you will see that drawing of gardening tools again. The first two readers to name all 35 tools get a nice prize. Email answers to me by July 31 and the winners will be announced online. The list of tools just below the image should help a bit.

More?, search “Evelyn” and get the gardens he visits and likes and, of infinitely more interest, the gardens he visits and doesn’t like. His wit is sweet and sharp.

See modern day images of his own garden, Sayes Court, at, search “Evelyn.” This garden is being restored and the 12 apostle’s yew tree avenue is straight and true. His designs for Groombridge, detailed like a general’s battle plans. Sayes Court boasted a holly hedge 160′ in length, 7′ high and 5′ wide. When Evelyn left Sayes Court and moved to Wooton, Sayes new owner was Peter the Great, who enjoyed wheelbarrow rides under the holly’s great limbs.

In London, they named a community garden after Evelyn at
vids.myspace. Yes, it’s worth the trip, after all this is the man considered by many to be the “Father of British Horticulture.” In the midst of burgeoning ship building, and the rise of the glass and iron industries, he had the foresight to insist that trees be planted to replace the ones felled and, not to his surprise: 1,000,000,000 trees were planted.

At, that source of all knowledge, search John Evelyn to find other things that named after him: a rose, a bar, a gossip column, a School for Women, and Crabtree & Evelyn (who knew?)

Deeper still? See his political quick stepping at and his clever affiliations at

Evelyn’s swan song, “Elysium Britannicum” is referred to as the “missing masterpiece of the literature of gardening.” Containing drawings and descriptions of every kind of garden design, ornament, and element in the world of horticulture, it was never completed nor published. The manuscript is currently housed in Christ Church, Oxford, but you can view it online at

Finally, a culinary connection to bring it all full circle:

Yes, “The Man Who Would Be a Locavore” even had an opinion about cheesecake.

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at

The Rush of Citrus

It’s worth the olfactory desert of January to smell, on a sunny afternoon in February, the rush of citrus. There’s a lovely Meyer’s Lemon waiting for you at Willowwood’s conservatory.

For some closer to home, grow your own. For the real deal on growing your own, check out recommendations at, Use their citrus variety information chart.  Rangpur Lime sounds divine (I dimly hear the clink of ice cubes…)

Master Gardeners are in the know at

You’ll find serious cultural advice at, search “growing citrus indoors.” Mr. P. Allen Smith has a video, naturally, and you can watch him prune a citrus tree at, search “growing citrus in containers.”  He’s so cute when he says scale – skay-ul!  But cuter still is the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Scott Appell. Learn how his Bubbi Irene started his love affair with citrus at, search “Manhattan Marmalade.”

I would love to teach a class on citrus and have lime, tangerine and lemon trees for sale.  If you are interested in such a class for next year, email me and we’ll make it happen.

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at

Living Walls

A recent trip to the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation’s new headquarters in Morristown provided the subject for this issue’s column – Living Walls. I was told that the living wall there is the second largest in the US. The sounds of water trickling down the four stories and the smell of plants certainly improve meetings!

It’s not a new idea (think: Hanging Gardens of Babylon and more on that in a future column) but French botanist/artist Patrick Blanc coined the term “living wall” or in French “mur vegetal” only a decade ago.  At search “living walls” to see 15 walls from Mumbai to Las Vegas.   The CaixaForum in Madrid, Spain has over 15,000 plants of more than 250 species.  Whether used to grow food, clean the air, provide shade, cool the building, mitigate sick building syndrome, muffle noise, reduce stormwater runoff, clean greywater, provide privacy, create a wildlife habitat; or act as a design element,  living walls have captured the minds of urban ecologists and garden designers and the hearts of city-dwellers and garden lovers around the world. And while we are on our way to other living walls, let me interject a slight detour to, a fascinating project in nearby Queens, NY that does all of the above.

There are two main categories of green walls: green facades and living walls. Green façades are made up of climbing plants either growing directly on a wall or, more recently, specially designed supporting structures. The plant shoot system grows up the side of the building while being rooted to the ground. In a living wall the modular panels are often comprised of polypropylene plastic containers, geotextiles, irrigation systems, a growing medium and vegetation. The roots in these systems are airborne.

Lots of plants make good vertical growers, used in combination or singly. For a monoculture living wall, visit and search green wall technology.  What could be plusher than a mossy wall?  At the basic considerations are set out.  More detailed info can be found at search living wall.  At search living wall to see a wall mounted living wall constructed. 

There are lots of companies from which to purchase living wall materials – these include and

Currently, the world of living walls seems split between the seriously green building world and the more artistic application of this growing technology. Visit Swedish ecologist Folke Gunter at for cool directions on how to make a living wall from old tires and plastic bags and lots of other neat stuff. The work and philosophy of Patrick Blanc, whose stunning designs grace the Quai Branly Museum in Paris and numerous other lucky walls in France and Asia, may be seen at

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at

Spring 2009 – This Spring Go (Micro) Green

The smallest, quickest to harvest vegetable is also easy to grow and available in a range of colors, shapes and tastes. Micro greens rule! Try growing them this spring.

The nice folks at Sunset Magazine define the ages of greens as 4″-6″ tall- teenage, 2″-4″ tall – baby, less than 2″ tall – micro. Read about them at They recommend seeds from – a very user friendly site with interesting owners.

Food critic, David Rosengarten, thinks that there are 9 stages to the life cycle of a green as he describes at Perhaps he was a rabbit in a former life.

You need macro green to buy micro greens at, so grow them yourself.

Simple straight forward growing directions can be found at

Trend setting foodies take note at

More culinary advice can be found at They like for seeds. Garnet Amaranth and Bulls Blood Beets are just so cool looking.

Check out 3 great recipes at:

Other seed sources include:

2009 is the Year of The Greens at the National Garden Bureau. Although small in stature, micros, babies and teenagers are part of the “Greens” family. Enjoy the “greenealogy” at

– Lesley Parness

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at

Winter 2008 – The Winter Sky

We do look up occasionally, we gardeners – up to the leafy green canopy that is. Come winter, what do we see? Now that the trees are bare, the stars seem especially bright. That is in fact true and is a result of winter’s low humidity, which results in greater sky clarity. Follow me if you want to know more.

Start out simple with UMass’s McGraw Hill astronomy text book. It provides beginner’s level methods to find Orion, the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia. There are sky charts of each season. Print out winter, grab your hat and go out into the dark.

At there are calendars of sky events and you can download good monthly sky charts. I liked learning about star magnitudes from open clusters to diffuse nebula. There is a dictionary and a pronunciation guide to help your tongue around some of terms. As gardeners, we can appreciate this, having similar difficulties with plant nomenclature. provides a nightly “news report” of celestial happenings. Go to “earth sky tonight” and listen to some excellent podcasts . This site makes the science accessible. provides specialized information for urban sky dwellers and links to learn about light pollution. There is also a kid’s section including the ABC’s of astronomy (good for any age) and directions for making a Milky Way with 4 old CDs and a hunk of Styrofoam.

Finally, we come to “Rhapsody of a Winter Night,” at Turn up the Tchaikovsky and pass the cocoa! Read about the fathers of astronomy: Christian Huygens; Charles Messier and Carl Sagan. If you’ve been bitten by the star gazer bug – there are links to many groups who meet regularly for “star parties.”

Come next summer, when the trees do their best to monopolize your attention, the sky behind them will be more than just a patterned background.

– Lesley Parness

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at

Summer, 2008 – Focus on Japan

What is the meaning of this parable posed by 16th century tea master Sen-no-Rikyu? Sen-no-Rikyu built a garden enclosed by a tall hedge that blocked the view of the sea. The wealthy merchant for whom the garden was built was unhappy – until he bent to wash his hands in the water basin.

Why? Visit these websites on gardens of Japan and see if you can come up with an answer.

Let’s get warmed up at

Now, just dive in at, where 29 Japanese gardens are featured in a most user friendly manner. The midori taki (green waterfall) at Kenroku-en is positively dreamy. Check out the “Elements” listings for a plethora of lanterns, bridges, stones and other garden features. (Meditate on Japanese Gardens) is a modern site complete with blogs. Look at the featured gardens on the right hand side scroll – the moss temples are otherworldlike and the essays by William Will are spot on and give a sophisticated topic its due. There is a wonderful glossary as well with cogent definitions.

More photos, this time in black and white, at

At, search botanic garden in japan for a list of almost 100.

So niwa shi, (garden master) do you know the meaning of the parable?

The merchant smiled when he bent to wash his hands because the sea then became visible in a gap between the hedges. As Sen-no-Rikyu had hoped, his client then realized the intent behind the design. As his mind made the connection between the water in the basin and the great ocean it also connected the merchant and infinite universe.

– Lesley Parness

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at

Spring 2008 – Arbor Day and The Bottle Tree

Any virtual exploration of Arbor Day must begin at where you will find lots of information about the importance of trees. Arbor Day’s founder, J. Sterling Morton understood how trees impact all life of Earth. As Secretary of Agriculture under President Grover Cleveland, he helped to establish the National Forest Reservations. His home, “Arbor Lodge,” is now a state park. See it at You can take a house tour of some of its 52 rooms and their furnishings, including his walnut desk, apple wood chair. and indoor blowing alley. His eldest son, Joy, founder of the Morton Salt Company, transformed his own home, “Thornhill Estate” into the Morton Arboretum. You can read more about Morton family’s history, whose motto was, “Plant Trees” at the history pages of

Arbor Day is celebrated all across America. In the state of Washington at there are lists of planning tips for scout leaders and school teachers. I love the poem by Henry Abbeys under “celebration,” “What Do We Plant When We Plant a Tree?”

In Idaho there are really into it. Visit . There’s a photo of President Theodore Roosevelt giving his “Arbor Day Proclamation to the School Children of the United States” in 1907, 100 year ago. The things he said then ring true today. Plus, they have a cool word puzzle. At our Arbor Day program on April 27 we’ll have a contest with this puzzle.

In Nebraska, at, they’ve a short and nicely done biography of J. Sterling Morton with this most excellent quote from him – “Other holidays repose upon the past. Arbor Day proposes for the future.”

But lest we think that Arbor Tree is an exclusively American holiday, join us for this year’s Arbor Day program where we continue our international approach to “Arbor Day Around the World” when we travel to West Africa to learn about the Bottle Tree.

Along with providing oxygen, shade, habitat, wind protection, noise and pollution reduction, materials for thousands of products, respite and artistic inspiration, trees are the also protagonists in the literature and folklore of many countries.

There is practice of African Americans in the South to place bottles and other luminous objects onto the branches of dead trees. This custom was brought to America by West African slaves who continued their tradition of attaching shiny objects to trees. The bottle tree tradition holds that evil spirits are attracted to the bottles and are trapped inside, where they can do no harm.

Glass bottle trees are no longer just a Southern thing – their popularity has grown into a national interest. Recently, the bottle tree has seen new life as a tree-like metal structure with a steady base and branches such as at

Among those bit by the Bottle Tree bug are Elmer and his beyond kitsch Bottle Tree Ranch. Find Elmer by doing an advanced Google search with the following words: elmer + bottle tree + ca. If you belong to Flickr, Yahoo’s online image community, you can see a blue collar bottle tree for the bud crowd at #333291065 and a bottle tree that John Travolta would approve of (think disco) at #422810005.

We’ll learn more about the African Bottle Tree custom, decorate the Arboretum’s Bottle Tree and make table-top sized bottle trees to take home at our Arbor Day event.

– Lesley Parness

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at