30+ Types of Specialty Gardens

I love gardening! Or, rather, I love the idea of gardening, as the heavily wooded plot on which I live is rather too rich in shade, deer and rodents to allow for much actual planting. However, this doesn't prevent me from daydreaming about the types of gardens I'd plant if I had unlimited time, unlimited space, unlimited $$, unlimited sun, and perhaps a few acres of greenhouses. Some of these specialty gardens listed below are fairly well-known; others, however, I've "collected" from my life and travels. If you end up being inspired by this list to plant any of these, send me a photo!

  1. Booze Garden (aka Cocktail Garden).  Having just recently read The Drunken Botanist, I'm now all aflame to create a garden full of plants involved in the production of alcohol so that I can distill my own! All kinds of garden appropriate plants can be converted into booze, especially fruits.  It's also easy to grow many of the herbs used to create simple syrups; for example, mint, lemongrass, geranium, and lavender. (Source: The Drunken Botanist, Amy Stewart)
  2. Chinese Garden. I read somewhere that Chinese gardens evolved from so-called "scholar's gardens," intended to facilitate the academic contemplation of Chinese scholars and beaurocrats. Typically incorporating a combination of plantings, water, rock (the rocks were supposed to remind the scholars of cool mountains), paths, and structural elements, these elements are then artfully arranged into mini-landscapes. In my dreams my own Chinese Garden incorporates weeping willow, ginkgo, flowering cherry trees, chrysanthemums, and a moon gate.
  3. Christmas Garden.  Almost every year at Christmas my family travels to a nearby botanic garden specifically to ogle their greenhouses and indoor structures stuffed to the brim with holiday plants - poinsettias, peace lilies, hollies, ivy, mistletoe, and conifers/boxwoods of every description. What I wouldn't give to be able to create a Christmas garden of my own!
  4. Color Garden.  I love the idea of creating single-color gardens in which flowers of a single color are grouped.  Within such a garden one would be able to move past color and truly appreciate the nuances and variations of nature - shade, shape, texture.
  5. Cottage Garden. It's hard not to be dazzled by scripted chaos of a cottage garden, an over-the-top cacophony of the snapdragons, irises, lilies, peonies, columbine, geraniums, foxglove, cornflowers, phlox, allum, and - of course! - roses ... either consuming the whole yard or confined behind white picket fencing or cockleshells all in a row.
  6. Curiosities Garden. A garden entirely composed of weird-looking (and acting) plants? What could be cooler? I imagine this as a sort of outdoor "cabinet of curiosities," combining nature's oddest fauna - monkey puzzle trees, dragon's blood trees, exotic fungi, carnivorous plants - gathered from the four corners of the earth.  
  7. Dinosaur Garden (aka prehistoric garden). A garden comprised solely of species and varieties that existed on earth during the time of the dinosaurs. Think exotic conifers, redwoods, cycads, ginkgos, sphenopsids (like horsetails) and ferns. 
  8. Dry Garden.  Dry gardens are just what they sound like - gatherings of drought-resistant plants (ex: succulents) artfully embedded in dryscaping. I've seen this done in some of the wealthier neighborhoods in San Diego and Arizona; the result is something between landscaping and artwork. So many gorgeously exotic succulents - so many patterns and effects you can create with stone!
  9. Formal Garden. Every great house in Europe seems to have least one formal garden, featuring boxwood-lined, geometrically-arranged paths, often surrounding elaborate topiary sculptures or a fountain. However, formal gardens aren't reserved for great houses - many middle-class homes in Colonial Williamsburg feature formal gardens too, some of which do double-duty as herb gardens. Though I do love a nice topiary elephant, I think the latter sort may be more within my scope.
  10. Fruit Garden (aka orangerie). This garden would undoubtedly require greenhouses, but what could be better than fruit picked fresh off the vine or tree?  I might even throw in a grape arbor or two, since I live in an area where wineries are becoming ubiquitous.
  11. Grasses Garden.  I'm such a sucker for ornamental grasses! I love their height, their lightness, and their infinite variety - some sporting stalks topped with oats, others cattails, still others gaudy flowers.  What a pretty garden one could make of just ornamental grasses.
  12. Hanging Garden. Have you ever passed through a trellis "tunnel" overgrown by wisteria? Then you know the sort of garden I'm imagining, composed entirely of arching trellises overgrown with floral vines (wisteria, bougainvillea - whatever I can get to grow in my zone), their blooms dangling through gaps in the boards.  I'd line the trellises with white fairy lights and place wrought iron tables underneath the blooms to create a magical place for evening parties.
  13. Herb Garden. An oldie-but-goodie ... a garden dedicated to growing kitchen herbs and spices. True, some herbs/spices aren't terrifically photogenic - they look more like grasses or weeds - but the scent of an herb garden in full flower is more than adequate compensation!
  14. Japanese Garden. Though not my first choice (I tend to prefer letting nature be natural), one has to appreciate the aesthetic charms of Japanese gardens, with their delicate bonsai trees, sculpted paths, and delicate bridges.
  15. Medicinal Garden. A garden comprised entirely of plants with identified medicinal properties, because how cool would it be to run out into the garden to pick from fresh aloe vera whenever you need it? Other medicinal plants worth the space it takes to plant them include chamomile, echinacea, ginseng, gentian, lemon balm, comfrey, feverfew, and yew.
  16. Native Garden. I'm borrowing this idea from the Smithsonian Museum of Native Americans, which has planted the grounds surrounding the museum with vegetables and fruits native to North America. Depending on climate, such a garden could include varieties of beans, corn, sunflower, tomato, chili peppers, squash, pumpkins, beechnuts, concord grapes, black cherries, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries and key limes.
  17. Night-blooming Garden. Also known as Moon Gardens, these landscapes feature plants that bloom only at night. The white flowers of most moon garden plants look luminous by moonlight. As a bonus, night blooming flowers attract pollinating insects through fragrance, rather than color, perfuming the air with rich scent. Some good night blooming flowers for a moon garden include Moonflower (Ipomea alba), Four o'clocks (Mirabilis jalapa), Nicotiana (Nicotiana alata), Yucca (Yucca filamentosa), Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria),and Artemesia. (Source: http://www.gardenguides.com/84223-novelty-garden-ideas.html)
  18. Poisoners garden. Several botanic gardens around the world have begun featuring poisoner's gardens - gardens devoted to plants that produce deadly toxins: belladonna/nightshade, hemlock, monkshood/aconite, jessamine, angle trumpet vine, etc.  (Liability? To hell with liability!)  My own poisoner's garden would include plaques for each plant listing the infamous poisoning trails in which it had been implicated!
  19. Pollinator's garden (aka  butterfly garden). A garden full of temptingly delicious pollen ... if you're a pollinator, that is! Not only would the butterfly and hummingbird sightings be lovely, but I'd be giving overworked bees a break by providing easily accessible sources of pollen; we all know bees need all the help they can get. Plants that attract pollinators vary by growing zone, but I've heard butterfly bush, butterfly week, bee balm, phlox, and milkweed (for monarchs) are reliable staples. 
  20. Rain garden.  As a scientist I'm sensitive to the need for more rain gardens - gardens built in shallow depressions whose purpose is to gather and filter rainwater before it enters the water table. The trick is to choose plant species that can tolerate wet soil and high levels of phosphates and nitrogen from fertilizer runoff.  
  21. Rock garden. Not only are rock gardens cool (I am a geologist), but they're multi-functional: you can install them on slopes that are too steep to mow; they add texture/altitude to otherwise flat, boring lawns, they're the perfect landscaping for arid areas, they combine well with water features, and they're great for setting off small-plants in a way that ensures they'll be seen.  Mine, of course, will include geologic specimens - banded iron stones, agates, etc. 
  22. Scent garden. If you enjoy aromatherapy, consider planting a scent garden, full of fragrant herbs and flowers. Choose plants that scent the air, such as roses, as well as plants that release perfume when brushed or crushed, such as scented geranium or thyme. Look for varieties grown for their scent; some modern hybrids of plants such as roses have very little scent at all. Some plants to try in a scent garden include butterfly bush ( Buddleia davidi), nasturtium (Tropaeloum majus),  sweet alyssum (Alyssum marit/mum), creeping thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and  lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). (Source: http://www.gardenguides.com/84223-novelty-garden-ideas.html)
  23. Shade garden.  Shade gardens have their own special type of magic: they're perpetually cool and damp and they smell wonderfully earthy. My own shade garden will incorporate particularly spectacular varieties of hosta and fern, set against a backdrop of rhododendron and azalea.
  24. Shakespearean Garden. Stole this idea from the Folger Shakespeare Theater in Washington D.C., where they've planted a garden with all the plants mentioned in Shakespeare's plays - at least all the ones they can identify (and that grow in their zone). Naturally, the garden will be arrayed around a bust of the bard on a aged and venerable column.
  25. Single-species garden. There's something scientifically intriguing about gathering together all (or many) of the varieties of a single species in one place. In the case of flowers, the satisfaction is visual as well. Many species of flowers are available in spectacular variations - some naturally occurring, others bred by gardeners - to include rose, tulip, orchid, fuschia, peony, iris, and clematis
  26. Tea Garden. What's better than brewing a fragrant cup of tea? Enjoying a cup of fragrant tea that you grew yourself!  Many herbs are suitable for growing in the garden, including Tea Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citriodora), Jasmine (Jasminum sambac), Roman Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and mint. Grow tea roses for both their beauty and fragrance, and for their rose hips, which make a citrus-y tea full of Vitamin C. (Source: http://www.gardenguides.com/84223-novelty-garden-ideas.html)
  27. Tropical Garden. Though it would require a greenhouse for me to pull this one off, I love the idea of being able to escape our harsh local winters by retreating into my own tropical paradise featuring palms, hibiscus, banana trees, elephant ears, orchids, ferns, and birds of paradise.
  28. Victorian garden.  What I picture in my imagination is a garden filled with all those dainty flowers one associates with the Victorian era: roses, lilies, baby's breath, forget-me-not, bachelor button, carnation, lavender, etc.  What fun it would be to create posies and bouquets with secret meanings for all my friends!
  29. Victory garden. Your standard local vegetable/herb/fruit garden, but with a cool patriotic name, harking back to the days of WW1 and WW2 when Americans were encouraged to plant their victory gardens so as to free up more food for "our boys overseas." Just big enough to supply our family's needs plus some left over for canning.
  30. Water garden. I picture wide, shallow pools filled with blossoming lilipads and water-tolerant plants and populated with ornamental fish. Also lots of frogs to control the inevitable mosquito population.  
  31. Wildflower garden. All the beauty of a local meadow without the thistles. And snakes. An added benefit is that native wildflowers tend to attract native bugs, including swirling swarms of lightening bugs in summer. Magical!


Book Look - The Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens

It’s been days now since I finished Tale of Two Cities, but still having a hard time shaking it. The opening of the book – “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” foreshadows up the conundrum to come – how can a story of so much horror also be a story of so much love, nobility, and self-sacrifice?

I postponed reading the book much longer than I should have because, frankly, I worried for my emotional well-being. Having barely survived the death of Little Nell, I wasn’t sure I had the intestinal fortitude to handle a Dickens novel set during the horrors of the French Revolution. The inescapable irony, of course, is that great love/nobility/sacrifice can only exist in the midst of horror. And so it is in this riveting, heartwarming/heartbreaking tale of (with apologies to The Princess Bride) “true love” in all its forms – selfish, platonic, filial, romantic, unrequited.

As I expect most folks already know, the tale centers around a triumvirate of characters – the beautiful, virtuous Lucie Manett, her psychologically fragile old father Doctor Manette, and Charles Darney, an honorable young French nobleman who has moved to England in order to renounce any association with the atrocities of the Revolution. And since this is Dickens, they are kept company by a bakers dozen other brilliantly imagined and realized characters, from the coarse but faithful Crusher to the stolid-businessman-with-a-heart-of-gold Lorry, from the ambitious French revolutionary DeFarge to his ghastly wife Madame DeFarge, from self-aggrandizing lawyer Stryver to perhaps one of Dickens’ most tragic characters, the self-destructive university student Sidney Carton.

Inevitably, our young lovers Charles and Lucie end up in the hands of the Revolution, whereupon I headed for the tissue box, foreseeing the tragic end. But because this is Dickens (again), I should have expected that the tragedy would be a complex thing: that heroes would turn out to be flawed, that villains would turn out to be less heartlessly villainous as they may at first have appeared, and that otherwise ordinary people would turn out to be capable of extraordinary acts of courage and sacrifice. As in many other Dickens novels, the author doesn’t shy away from realistically portraying the cruelty and brutality of which human society is capable. Some of the people and scenes depicted in this tale are simply appalling. And yet, somehow, Dickens always manages to pilot us through the morass to a place where human decency ends up triumphing over all the obstacles set against it.

Am not sure why Sidney Carton doesn’t get the press that other literary greats – Gatsby, Ahab, Heathcliff, Atticus Finch, etc. – have garnered, because I feel like he more than deserves a spot in the pantheon. Be that as it may, he’s definitely earned a spot in my list of great characters in literature, and whether or not he’s enjoying the far, far better rest he wholeheartedly deserves, I know I’m a far better and richer person for having met him and for allowing Dickens, once again, to whisk me away on an unforgettable journey



Climate Change's Tipping Point: 10 Feedback Loops That Explain Why It May Be Closer Than We Think

A feedback loop is any initial process that triggers a change that in turn influences the initial process.  The feedback loop is considered "positive" if it increases or enhances the initial process, "negative" if it lessens or negates the initial process.

In the case of climate change, there's nothing "positive" about positive feedback loops.  For those folks out there who weren't paying attention in 7th grade science, the earth is a very delicately balanced system of systems. Any disruption in one system (in this case, the carbon cycle) inevitably inpacts other systems - sometimes in ways that are easy to predict, other times in ways that are freakishly complex.  This is the main reason scientists can't tell us how quickly climate change is going to happen: while they have a pretty good handle on how much carbon dioxide we humans will be producing in the future, they really have no idea of the extent to which feedback loops - some already identified, some only just now being studied, some yet to be discovered - are going to exacerbate and hasten global warming.  What they can, and are, telling us, however, is that the more they learn about feedback loops, the more frightening the climate change prognosis becomes.

Without further ado, following are some of the more significant positive feedback loops scientists have thus far identified, a list that I'll continue to add to as new research becomes available.

  1. Warmer temperatures will cause people to use more air conditioning, the emissions from which will hasten climate change.
  2. Melting icecaps will result in less reflective surface on earth (an effect called ice-albedo), causing the earth to absorb increasing amounts of heat, which will hasten climate change.  
  3. Melting ice forms rivers of water that erode through the glacier over/through/under which they flow, further hastening the melting rate of glaciers. Fewer glaciers = less light-colored surface to reflect light = faster climate change (per #2)
  4. Droughts will cause more forest fires, the smoke from which will hasten climate change.  Oh - and ash from the fires will cause the earth to darken, which will cause the earth to absorb more heat (see #2), which will also hasten climate change
  5. Everyone knows that trees photosynthesize during the day (absorbing carbon dioxide & releasing oxygen - GOOD!) then during the night hours use the energy they've created to grow and do other tree business (absorbing oxygen & releasing carbon dioxide - BAD!).  Recent research suggests, however, that when trees become too stressed - because of excess heat, for example - they reduce the amount of time they spend photosynthesizing and increase the amount of time they spend using energy ... which returns carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which will hasten climate change
  6. Cold water does a better job of retaining dissolved gasses than warm water.  At ocean and freshwater temperatures increase, they will release stores of dissolved methane and carbon dioxide, which will hasten climate change. The converse of this is also true, by the way - as ocean waters warm, they will be able to absorb smaller amounts of carbon dioxide than in past ... further hastening climate change.
  7. Enormous amounts of carbon dioxide and methane are stored in tundra permafrost. As permafrost ice melts, quantities of methane and carbon dioxide will be released into the atmosphere, hastening climate change. Oh, and warming temperatures are causing a "baby boom" of microbes that are degrading the permafrost even more swiftly, further hastening climate change.
  8. Most people are aware that, when it comes to slowing climate change, more trees is a good thing because they absorb carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesis (#5). What many people don't remember is that during the process of photosynthesis trees also release excess water vapor in a process known as transpiration - evaporation of moisture from trees.  Interestingly, most of the rain that falls in rainforests such as the Amazon isn't actually produced by evaporation of groundwater but by transpiration. Therefore, as droughts kill trees in the rainforest, even more severe droughts are triggered due to reduced transpiration, which will kill more trees ... hastening climate change
  9. Warm temperatures hasten the decomposition of vegetable matter (ex: peat), which will increase the amount of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere, thus hastening climate change
  10. Warmer temperatures cause more evaporation, which causes more water vapor to enter the atmosphere. Alas, water vapor is a greenhouse gas, so this will hasten climate change.