Posts tagged Deb Engmark

“Screaming for attention” Chinese chestnut

Chinese chestnut (photo, Brucemore)

Chinese chestnut (photo, Brucemore)

   Deb Engmark, head gardener at the historic Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids, shares the following about an amazing tree on the Brucemore grounds:

     It’s time.  It’s blooming.  Brucemore’s Chinese chestnut is screaming for attention.  The first clue that the flowers on this magnificent specimen are present is the unmistakable aroma mingling through the landscape; earthy and spicy.  This perfume emanates from the chestnut’s canopy, which is covered in clusters of long chenille like tendrils resembling skinny hairy

Chinese chestnut in bloom (photo, Brucemore)

Chinese chestnut in bloom (photo, Brucemore)

fingers or spidery legs.  Approximately 50 foot tall and 50 foot wide, this low branching, wide spreading habitat makes it a great shade tree and, purportedly, an ideal climbing tree, though I do ask that you don’t climb our trees when visiting.

     The chestnut worth noting is standing among younger chestnut specimens. Due to this particular tree’s location in the area of the first orchard as well as its apparent age, estimated from the trunk diameter, height and spread of the tree, this is likely one of the oldest Chinese chestnuts in Iowa, if not the nation. Chinese chestnuts were introduced to the United States by seed in 1903. The original Douglas orchard, planted circa 1909, was in this location.  This was also the location of the Sinclair orchard, the estate’s first family.

    With consideration given to these facts and estimates by tree experts over the years, I feel confident about the age assumption and willingly share the information.  I encourage all to visit and view this majestic specimen, especially during the time of year when the Chinese chestnut drapes its branches in pungent, blooming finery.

Leave a comment »

Inspiration from living landscape history

Clematis at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Brucemore photo)

Clematis at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Brucemore photo)

The following is from Deb Engmark, head gardener at the historic Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa:

     I am in a constant state of wonder and awe at Brucemore; every direction I turn stimulates the senses. The birds’ twittering in the wisteria vine mingles with a slight scent of early blooming clematis growing along the grape arbor.  New growth is making its appearance throughout the gardens, as vividly illustrated by the lime-colored sprouts starkly contrasting against the dark green of existing foliage on the old Norway spruce.  Here on the Brucemore grounds, the new and old, past and present are demanding attention, clamoring to be experienced and shared.

     In an effort to appease my senses but also to share Brucemore’s role in American landscape history, I am leading a historic landscape tour. Wear walking shoes and bring a water bottle, this tour will cover a lot of ground and encourage discovery of this quiet, park-like space in the middle of Cedar Rapids.  Brucemore’s 100 years of Prairie landscape history, paired with the burgeoning spring plants, will make for an inspiring hike. Woven into the trek through the 26 acres of grounds will also be discussion of plants (mostly natives), theories of the original design, Brucemore family stories, and issues pertaining to current preservation and property use.

 Brucemore’s Historic Landscape Tour

Tuesday, May 26 & Thursday, May 28 at 6:00 p.m.  and Saturday, May 30 at 10:30 a.m. at Brucemore, 2160 Linden Drive SE.

Admission is $10 per person and $7 per Brucemore member. Please call (319) 362-7375 to register. See: www.brucemore.org

Leave a comment »

Another snowstorm? Look here for spring

As Iowa braces for what could be another spring snowstorm this weekend, Deb Engmark, head gardener at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids, sent the following observations and photos from the historic Brucemore estate:

From the Brucemore Gardens

 

It would have been a glorious first snow fall of the season had the snow fallen sometime between November 27th and December 30th. With four to six

 inches on the ground, my week of vacation coming to an end, and not nearly enough yard work finished, it sure made Sunday hard to take. On the bright side, on Monday morning the little bit of green that was evident in the landscape at the end of last week was much more abundant and vibrant. I also noticed the swelling of the buds on many of the shrubs and some of the trees here at Brucemore have expanded close to the point of explosion. Many buds have popped and the leaves are extended toward the sun.

 

 The honeysuckle bushes along Linden Drive opened sometime between 8:00 a.m. and 12:30p.m.on Monday, as did the first scillas on the property, revealing the sweet essence of  spring along with the reliable blues many visitors associate with older neighborhoods. The snowdrops are always an early sign of winters waning. Shining in the woods for a few weeks already and now many of the white nodding heads have opened to reveal the upside down v-shape of green marking the inside bell and if you are able to get close enough, it too carries a fresh scent of spring.   

 

Out in the formal garden the crocus are blooming and other bulbs are making their presence known as are some of the undesirables dandelions, violas and the creeping charlie seem to have survived the winter just fine, lucky us.

 

Now, before spring has totally sprung, is a great time to take notice of that which is often overlooked – trees. We are fortunate here at Brucemore to have a few grand specimens to appreciate. Across the road from the formal garden, west of the old greenhouse is a mature red maple and a stately old red oak.  Roger Johnson, our building and grounds superintendent, believes they are some of the oldest trees on the property. He estimates that they are well over 100 years old due to their height, trunk diameter, and the texture of the bark.  Oaks are slow growing, long-lived, and require a century to mature, and will often live undisturbed for two to three centuries or more. The red maple upon maturity develops a unique bark texture. Flat gray ridges like fins begin to wave and flake while spiraling up to the multitude of branches. A bit of the oaks’ structural supremacy and the mature maples textured bark is softened after the emergence of the leaf canopy in spring.

 

As I finish this typing Tuesday afternoon, the landscape has changed once again adding more colors, hues and tones in every passing moment.

 

I would love to hear what you are doing also!  Please feel free to send me any suggestions, ideas, or tips from your own gardens and explorations.

 

 

Deb Engmark                            

Brucemore Head Gardener                     

2160 Linden Dr. SE

Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52403

deb@brucemore.org

www.brucemore.org

 

 

Blue scilla

Blue scilla

 

Snowdrops at Brucemore

Snowdrops at Brucemore

Leave a comment »

Technically, it’s still winter

Several warm and sunny days this week might make us forget that winter is still with us, officially, at least, until Friday. Deb Engmark, head gardener at the historic Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids, sent the following about this time of year:

Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Brucemore estate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

  

 

 

 

   From the Brucemore Gardens

 

   The lengthening of the days and the warmer temperatures make me want to go outside and get back to gardening along with the rest of the grounds crew here at Brucemore. We have pruned all the deciduous trees and grape vines. The lawns and garden beds have been raked and the orchard will be pruned this week. While failing to pull the greenery used for holiday decorating out of a still frozen container, a somber realization dawned on me: it is still winter and there is a good month left before the real gardening can begin, and before we know it, the whole growing season will have passed by in a blur of continuous activity.

 

In my haste to hurry up and get busy, I realized that I had almost missed it again—the experience, the wondrous process of late winter merging into spring. With every rain drop and ray of sunshine, change is taking place. We all know this but rarely take the time to observe and enjoy. This year I vow to observe and enjoy with total presence, and I will stay conscious and aware during every season and transition of the year. Through Cindy’s blog, (thank you Cindy) I will share my experiences and offer tips and ideas for you to use in your own gardens.

 

I encourage you and yours to participate wholeheartedly also. Come visit the Brucemore gardens and grounds to experience the seasons this year. Our gates are open during regular business hours, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and often from dawn to dusk. Stroll the grounds, formal gardens, pond, timber, and orchard. Stop by the children’s garden to pick up a monthly activity sheet, which offers suggestions for additional nature study opportunities.

 

I would love to hear what you are doing also!  Please feel free to send me any suggestions, ideas, or tips from your own gardens and explorations.

 

Deb Engmark

Brucemore Head Gardener

2160 Linden Dr. SE

Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52403

deb@brucemore.org

www.brucemore.org

Leave a comment »

Ghost of Christmas Past

Deb Engmark, head gardener at the historic Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids, wrote the following about decorations of Christmases past:

 

The Christmas tree, the holly wreath, the sprig of mistletoe, and the Christmas bells were the four most “distinctive Christmas decorations” noted in a December 1907 issue of The Garden Magazine.  Stumbling upon this publication the day after the staff and volunteers completed holiday decorating at Brucemore allowed for some interesting comparisons between the times.

Balsam was recommended as the best variety of tree when decorating for Christmas and the best way to adorn it was not to overload it.  Pyramidal trees with short lustrous green needles striped with silver underneath were also popular in 1907 because they “give the impression of a recent light frost.” The month-long holiday season at Brucemore makes these natural, heavy-shedding, historic trees impractical for the mansion, and the temptation to over-adorn is irresistible in such a grand home.  I am not sure any of the staff has the ability to practice the “less is more theory” during the holiday season.

Holly was referred to as the most important decorative Christmas material, the most desirable was English holly with as many berries as possible. The most distinctive way of using holly was in the form of wreaths; the best wreaths were those faced with berries on both sides, “so that when they were hung in the window they would give pleasure to those passing by as well as the family indoors.”

As for the beloved holiday mistletoe tradition, in 1907 it was thought that “because it is not pretty in itself, one sprig of mistletoe is enough for most people.” This is a statement as true today as it was over 100 years ago.

The final “distinctive Christmas decoration” of 1907, the Christmas bells, are absent from the décor of 2008.  The traditional sleigh bells that we appreciate for their own magical sound were not the bells that the magazine referenced. In 1907, “Those big red bells of tissue paper that fold up like a stocking have now become almost a national institution.”  Who knew?

            Families in 1907 were concerned with their holiday budgets much like families in 2008.  According to the article, “The cheapest way to decorate is to collect native material, especially branches of evergreens.”  However, they urge the reader, “not to take any evergreens that do not belong to you without the owner’s approval. It is a gross violation of the Christmas spirit to cut down cultivated conifers on other people’s grounds.” 

            I encourage you to look to nature when decorating this holiday season.  Go forth and use your imagination and homegrown ornaments.  If you are questioned about your holiday aesthetic, cite deep American cultural traditions.  This method allows for creativity until the seed and plant catalogs start to arrive.  I too urge you to remember the Christmas spirit when collecting your greenery.

From the Big house at Brucemore may all comfort and cheer be yours this holiday season! 

 

Leave a comment »

A note from Brucemore’s head gardener

The following is from Deb Engmark, head gardener at Brucemore in Cedar Rapids:

 

     October 1st turned out to be a beautiful evening for the Wrapping up the Garden workshop at Brucemore. An intimate group of home gardeners attended and all were eager to ask questions and share their knowledge about plants and getting the garden ready for winter. My only disappointment of the evening was running out of sunlight. However, the dwindling sun was the perfect interruption in our lovely walk through the Brucemore formal garden. Experiencing the late season colors of the flowers and foliage as the orange sky glowed behind the trees to the west was a beautiful site most do not get the opportunity to experience. Perhaps we will have another gorgeous day to experience the estate in all its autumn glory in the upcoming Fall Landscape Hike…

 

     At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, David Morton, Brucemore’s Assistant Gardener and I will lead guests on the annual Fall Landscape Hike. David developed the concept for the seasonal hikes as he and I were oohing and aahing over every color change, floating cloud and shadow cast that we came across during his first autumn employed at Brucemore.  The hikes allow us to share and enjoy the 26 acres we call our “office.”  Informal and casual, topics included on the hikes are seasonal chores and preservation issues, while questions and discussions are also encouraged.  Admission is $10 per person and $7 per Brucemore member. Registration required. Space is limited, call (319) 362-7375 or register online at http://www.brucemore.org for further information.

 

Leave a comment »

Wrapping up the garden

   Brucemore gardeners Deb Engmark and David Morton will demonstrate and discuss the tasks involved in preparing individual plants and the garden for winter during a “wrapping up the garden” workshop at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 1.

   Admission is $10 for adults and $7 for Brucemore members. Reservations are required. Call (319) 362-7375 to reserve a spot.

   Brucemore, Iowa’s only National Trust Historic Site, is at 2160 Linden Dr. SE, in Cedar Rapids.

 

 

Leave a comment »