FLORA & FORAGE, and THE SECRET STORIES OF WILDFLOWERS, BLUE RIDGE BOTANIC's NINA VETETO
This week we continue our artistic autumnal theme in conversation with Nina Veteto a plantswoman, conservationist, artist, and expert storyteller in the service of artistry, conservation, the botanical, history..... and our collective futures.
Known as Blue Ridge Botanic online and the creator of the brand new Flora & Forage Podcast (an offshoot of her beloved Secrets of the Wildflowers Video series on social media), Nina is based in North Carolina, and she joins us this week to share more about her history, her artistry, and her passion and voice for plants – from their artistic renderings to their secret stories and other wonders of our natural world.
You can follow Nina's work on line at blueridgebotanic.com: Substack: https://floraandforage.substack.com/
and Instagram: https://www.instagram.com /blueridgebotanic/
All images courtesy of Nina Veteto, all rights reserved.
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JOIN US again next week, when we head to the Pacific Northwest to speak with native plant nursery cofounders Kristen Currin and Drew Merritt of Humble Roots Nursery in Oregon’s iconic Columbia River Gorge. Their new book, in the Timber Press Native Plant Primer series, is The Pacific Northwest Native Plant Primer, 225 Plants for an Earth Friendly Garden. They share so many storie and so much knowledge of the wildflowers and wonders of their place. That’s right here next week – listen in!
Speaking of Plants and Place .... and Clematis (seeds)!
Yes – many people say ClemAAAH tis while I say Clem A tis – and both seem acceptable to me – we know what we’re talking about.
It’s the seed heads of course that are calling to me right now – their twirly, twisty, feathery styles pluming their seeds and which form light-catching globes spangling the trees and shrubs of the foothills and chaparral right now. In early or late-day back light, these are as good as any autumnal string of lights you can conceive. And their evocative common names – old man’s beard, traveler’s joy, virgin bower, devil’s darning needles, sugar bowls, and more….and the best common name for the group as a whole seems perfect: The Queen of Vines – perhaps because their Staminate or pollen bearing flowers have so many stamens they seem crownlike, or that their pistillate or fruit bearing flowers have so many styles they too seemed crowned in their peak fruiting and dispersal season.
The genus Clematis in the buttercup family Ranunculaceae consists of more than 300 species from around the world, with more than 30 North American natives. They are generally deciduous woody vines, bearing white to pink to blue and purple open faced showy flowers or the most lovely pendent bell shaped blooms, but there are subshrub species, like the Colorado native I grew up with the sugar bowls or Clematis hirsutissima, and evergreen species like Clematis armandii, which I had in my garden in Seattle years ago, and I have here in my northern California garden as well – a sweetly scented spring blooming focal point on the fence outside of one of my daughter’s bedroom windows. While there are so many nice and colorful cultivars, the range and beauty of the natives offer so many good choices, every garden should try one or two of the natives as well. Of the native clematis species, C. virginiana is perhaps one of the most widely distributed. Also known as virgin’s bower or devil’s darning needles, this in native to the entire eastern half of the US.
Here in California, we enjoy three native species of clematis and between John and my gardens we have the first two – chaparral or pipestem clematis (Clematis lasiantha) the dry, heat-loving species crawling over toyon and manzanita in the foothills right now; Western virgin bower (Clematis ligusticifolia) which likes a little more water and grows in seeps and riparian corridors and I find bears a sweet fragrance, and a southern California species, Clematis pauciflora. I also like their small irregular three- leaf tendrils and their clambering ways – in the wild and in a vase.
In addition to our two natives and the shade happy evergreen Clematis armandii, I also have Clematis cirrhosa ‘Wisley Cream’, which I was lucky enough to get at Chalk Hill Clematis years ago now and whose pale cream clusters of bell shaped blooms brighten my deciduous winter climbing rose canes, and even scramble up gently into a native oak. Yes – it’s winter blooming in my zone 7-8.
Xera Plants in Portland, OR which had it for sale when I visited this past weekend, describes this way: "Winter doesn’t end the Clematis season and Wisley Cream delights from November to February with masses of small cup shaped cream flowers. A very vigorous evergreen vine that prefers part shade to full sun and a large support system. To 15′ tall very quickly. Rich to average well drained soil. Visited by Anna’s hummingbirds. The delicate appearance of this vine belies its vigor. Nice looking glossy foliage. Flowers are cold hardy into the low 20’s and if open flowers are frozen more buds will be waiting for milder weather. in summer this plant goes into a kind of drought dormancy. No water is necessary, the leaves droop and may drop. This is totally normal. This winter growing vine will wake up quickly with the first cool rains. Excellent up a large tree or along a pergola. It may be pruned hard in late summer. Blooms on both old and new wood. Mediterranean."
But as intimated in that description and true of most clematis other than the very doubled overly hybridized choices, butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds are as attracted to clematis as we humans.
I imagine any overwintered feathery styles of the seed heads are put to use in many nests come springtime.
Pruning clematis seems to be one of the things that confounds and/or intimidates gardeners, and I tend to be fairly lax about these things, but I remember my former mother in law pointing out to me that the plant itself sort of tells you how to prune based on when your plants bloom and come early spring where they are pushing new growth.
There are in fact three groups of clematis that all do well with a slightly different pruning regime. If you’d like more detailed information, here, from Piedmont Master Gardeners of Virginia (a state which has 11 native species of clematis) , are their very good instructions for pruning all three groups:
"If you can’t remember which group your clematis fits into, here’s a hint: it depends on what time of year the plant blooms. For example:
· Group 1: Blooms in mid to late spring. Prune immediately after flowering in mid to late spring. This group blooms in the spring on the previous year’s growth. Once pruned, the new shoots will develop buds for next year’s flowers. Slower-growing varieties may not require much, if any, pruning. The less you prune, the earlier next year’s blossoms will appear. So be judicious in deciding how far back to prune.
Vigorous or fast-growing varieties may need to be cut back more severely in order to contain their size. If you have a very old group 1 clematis with woody stems, avoid cutting down into the old wood because it may be reluctant to set buds in time for the next growing season. Clematis species belonging to this group include C. alpina, C. armandii, C. macropetala, and C. montana.
· Group 2: Blooms twice: In late spring/early summer and again in late summer. Prune in late winter and again after the first flush of blossoms in spring or early summer. This group consists of many of the large-flowered hybrids and is the trickiest group to prune because the plants bloom twice during the growing season. In general, the spring blossoms occur on last season’s wood and the summer blossoms occur on new shoots. The goal of pruning this group is twofold: (1) retain a healthy framework of old wood and (2) stimulate new growth in order to maximize flowering throughout the growing season. Timing is everything.
One approach is to thin out some of the stems in late winter and the rest after the first flush of blossoms. Make all cuts above healthy new buds. If this sounds like too much trouble, another approach is to prune the entire plant back by half or more every 2 or 3 years. In the first year after rejuvenation pruning, the plant will only flower once. Some plant selections in this group include: C. lanuginose, C. florida, and large-flowered hybrids such as ‘Nelly Moser’, ‘Miss Bateman’, ‘Duchess of Edinburgh’, and ‘Mrs. Cholmondeley’ among others.
· Group 3: Blooms in late summer/early fall. Prune in late winter. This is the easiest group to prune. Group 3 clematis vines flower in late summer or in fall on new growth that was produced that season. They send forth new growth from the base each year and can therefore be cut back hard on a regular basis. Simply cut the vines back to about 1 foot from the ground. If left unpruned, the members of this group will continue growing from where the growth ended the previous season. This will cause the plant to become top heavy. Moreover, flowering will occur at the tips of each stem, leaving a bare base. Representative plant selections in this group include: C. viticella, C. x jackmanii, C. integrifolia, and C. terniflora."
"If you’re still confused about pruning, don’t worry about it. Even if you don’t prune correctly, clematis is very forgiving. At worst, you’ll only lose one season of blossoms."
Clematis cirrhosa 'Wisley Cream' as pictured by Xera Plants in Portland, Oregon.
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Thinking out loud this week....
I like that description from Nina about her earlier work.
And I think it’s what we’re doing as gardeners at our best, our most open, our most compassionate and empathetic.
And I love how the seed of Nina’s subsequent work was catalyzed by the Quarantine Herbarium Project. How yet another silver lining came out of such a fraught time in our world. Dr. Elaine Ayers of NYU wrote of the project: Modeled on nineteenth century botanical correspondence networks, this project is designed to connect socially distanced plant lovers around the world while encouraging all of us to look closer at the plants growing in our immediate vicinities: the grasses, weeds, and kitchen plants that we often overlook (or houseplants and herbs from your indoor collections). By bringing the local plants we encounter on a daily basis into a single herbarium, we’ll build a floral map and diary of how we interact with nature when we’re stuck inside.
In her write up about her project, Dr. Ayers also cites the simultaneous projects of another project @quarantineherbarium on Instagram, a participatory botanical photography project led by William Arnold, Gem Toes-Crichton and John A. Blythe. That project coalesces disciplines of art-making, science, botanical observation and research practice. Facilitating a thoughtful re-connection to the natural world and empowering audiences by offering them agency to participate in a wider creative practice. "Quarantine Herbarium seeks to alleviate symptoms of plant Quarantine Herbarium seeks to alleviate symptoms of plant blindness* through a hyperlocal focus on flora while salving the monotony of lockdown through engagement with the accessible historical photo method of cyanotype sun-prints."
For a closer study of the practices of botanical illustration and an opportunity to participate in an illustration project, Ayer’s points us to her friend and colleague Jessie Wei-Hsuan Chen’s Hortus floridus lessi-- asking for photographic studies of the plants you see in an effort to build a collection of watercolor flora modeled on seventeenth-century botanical representations.
Just these three examples of how plant loving people the world over adapted and reached out to connect and connect to others in a time of isolation and confusion reminds me how much plant people are needed in the world. All that they grow in this world. Including growing us together.
THESE are the stories that form both art and meaning - past, present, and future.
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