The garden on the roof above the museum center is surrounded by a stone wall and raised slightly above the level of the adjacent patio. It is a pollination garden, designed to attract bees and butterflies. “It was Maeterlinck who introduced me to the bee,” writes Twain, speaking of the author of The Life of the Bee. “I mean, in the psychical and in the poetic way. I had had a business introduction earlier.”
Along with its pollination role, it’s also a friendship garden, given the number of plants from friends’ and volunteers’ gardens that have found their place there. Even the garden’s name refers to one of those gifts–the sundial in the center of the garden provided by volunteer Cindy Curry.
Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) blooms in the summer, with purple flowers that smell like anise or licorice. It does well even if things get a little dry, which can often happen later in the summer here in New England. Peter Henderson observed that while many people planted it in their gardens, it had also “escaped in many places to the roadsides.”
Photo credit: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Perennial sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) bloom here between July and September, attracting birds and butterflies.
You may notice these are much smaller than the sunflowers you’ve seen elsewhere. Those bigger ones are annual sunflowers. This means that you plant them and they come up for one year and then that’s it. Perennial means that these sunflowers come up every year in the summer, no matter how cold the winter gets.
Peter Henderson noted that it was the fashion in the late 19th century for women to wear sunflowers—even the very large ones! Once, after rudely brushing off his wife’s attempts to place a smaller flower in his buttonhole, Sam Clemens apologized, saying “I will do penance & wear a sunflower down street if you say so.”
Photo credit: Nicholas A. Tonelli from Northeast Pennsylvania, USA, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Pansies and Violas
Pansies and violas (Viola X wittrockinana) are beloved spring flowers in New England. Henderson said they would give “profuse and continuous bloom from March to June” if started from seed in January.
In a letter to his wife’s parents written from Buffalo, where they lived before moving to Hartford, Sam Clemens proudly stated “We have got one panzy in bloom.” Have we done better than Sam?
Photo credit: Kolforn (Wikimedia), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Yarrow (Achillea “Moonshine”) is another summer-blooming plant that works well in full sun and poor, rocky soil. Henderson states that the wild version of this plant often grows in “our roadsides and neglected fields.” Even so, the dedicated garden volunteers here at the museum never neglect our yarrow!
Photo credit: David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum x superbum ‘Becky’) were developed in the 1890s near Mt. Shasta, CA by Luther Burbanks. They were a brand new kind of flower for families like the Clemenses, too new to be in Peter Henderson’s books! A summer perennial, this flower looks a bit like the ox-eye daisies that grow wild throughout New England.
Photo credit: David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The irises in our gardens are a kind called “bearded irises.” Can you spot the beard?
Henderson mentioned irises in his books, but he was less interested in the kinds we have, as they were already “common.” Instead, he was excited about a different kind of irises that had just been introduced to the United States from Japan a few decades earlier: “These are really grand plants, and worthy of a place in all gardens.” Flowers go in and out of fashion just like clothes, and Henderson was always looking for the latest trends!
Photo credit: Leslie Wagle, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
In spring, you’ll see a lot of daffodils in the Twain gardens. They bloom March through May in a variety of yellows, whites, oranges, and pinks, and their hardiness made them “of utmost consequence to the flower gardener,” in Henderson’s opinion. We certainly make good use of them here! Daffodils are in the genus narcissus, named for the character from Greek mythology who was so captured by his own beautiful reflection in the water that he stared at himself until he was turned into a flower.
The town is budding out, now—the grass & foliage are, at least—& again Hartford is becoming the pleasantest city, to the eye, that America can show. –Sam Clemens to Livy Clemens, 12 May 1869
Photo credit: Wilhelm Zimmerling PAR, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The alliums in our garden are beautiful perennials that bloom in the spring. While the flower may be unfamiliar to you, we bet you know some of its relatives—onions and garlic. (Don’t eat these flowers, though–or any of the flowers in our gardens!)
Peter Henderson thought these flowers were lovely but had probably been ignored as ornamental garden plants because people associated them with those relatives and didn’t think of them as beautiful flowering plants on their own. Do you think they’re worth having in the garden?
My friend, the flower which you took such honest pains to pluck & lug some thousand of miles is not a flower at all but a mere onion . . .
Samuel Clemens to Thomas Bailey Aldrich, 20 October, 1875, Hartford
Photo credit: Нацку, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Stella D'Oro Lilies
Rose campion (silene coronaria) is a perennial and an evergreen–or evergray, as the case may be. It has leaves of silvery-gray with a velvety feel, so it’s often nicknamed “Dusty Miller.” This is a good example of how botanists–people who study plants–are always working to know more. Today, this plant is considered part of the genus silene, but Henderson lists it under the genus names lychnis and agrostemma as well! Scientists working all around the world sometimes come up with different names for the same thing, and it takes a while for everyone to agree on what to call things. One of the older names lingers on in an insect that likes to feed on rose campion–a moth called the lychnis!
Photo credit: James Petts from London, England, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
You may have grown zinnias in your own garden or at school. Henderson said these flowers had “great value as ornaments for the flower garden” and usually bloomed in August if started from seed in a greenhouse.
Zinnias can be single flowered–with a single row of petals and a visible center–or double flowered–with multiple rows of petals that cover the center of the flower. Which kind do you see in our garden?
Henderson loved that zinnias came in lots of colors: “we have now dazzling scarlets, yellow, orange, lilac, rose, white, and crimson.” Which colors do you see in our gardens?
Photo credit: Relly Komaruzaman, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Yucca (Yucca filamentosa) is an evergreen plant originally from South America. Henderson states it is a “beautiful plant . . . for lawn decoration” especially because it’s hardy enough to withstand winters in the Northern US. If you’re visiting the museum when it’s not blooming, it might not look that big, but when it blooms, a 5-8’ stalk covered in masses of white bell-shaped flowers rises from the center of each rosette. Once dried out after blooming, the flowers leave behind a woody seed pod that can be used in dried arrangements.
Photo credit: H. Zell, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Joe Pye Weed
Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium dubium ‘Little Joe’) is a perennial that grows to be 4 feet tall and blooms from July to September, attracting bees and butterflies. Our gardener thinks the flowers look like mauve broccoli.
Henderson preferred some other relatives of this plant that had white flowers, but we like our mauve broccoli just fine!
Photo credit: Photo by David J. Stang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Blue False Indigo
Blue false indigo (Baptisia australis) is a perennial that requires little maintenance and blooms from May to June in our gardens. Henderson describes the flowers as “dark purple or violet spangled with yellow.” The flowers leave behind seed pods that are interesting in dried arrangements. The seeds rattle around inside the black pods and it is said that they were once used as rattles by children. It’s called “false indigo” because British colonists in North America sometimes used this as a substitute for indigo, a plant used for dying fabric blue, but it was “false” because it wasn’t as good as the real thing!
Photo credit: Dominicus Johannes Bergsma, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Lemon balm (melissa officinalis) is a perennial in the mint family, but as the name suggests, smells of lemon. The leaves are edible and are often used to make tea. The flowers are very small but honey bees love them! Henderson lists this plant and its relatives under the name Melissa, from the Greek for bee.
Photo credit: Cbaile19, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons