Monday, December 12, 2005

Holiday plants and all that

Did I mention how much I hate poinsettias in my last post? (Yes, now shut up about it.) I know, but the other thing about them is all the foil wrapping. The plant is not that assertive, so invariably you end up noticing the tacky wrapping more than any of the growing parts. They are also very difficult if not impossible to maintain as a houseplant; you have to do weird things in the basement. Hardly worth it, one would think.

Now, on the other hand, there are plants normally associated with the holidays that are well worth the room they take up in one of your two south-facing windows. My friend Cheryl and I have kept our oldest Christmas cacti plants going since the eighties. I must say hers is by far the most impressive; I guess mine never gained back its momentum after early smoke damage. In any case these blooming machines require hardly any care and bugs don’t seem to like them. They look good in and out of bloom, but the flowers are impressive—indeed, rather orchid-like, in various shades of hot pink and red.

I love all four of my hippeastrums (amaryllis to many of you), though since I let them thrive as houseplants and don’t put them down for dormant periods, they tend to bloom rather late. Still.

On the paperwhite front, things are a bit shaky. The explosive leaf growth has not been matched by equal bud development—not enough sun, probably. We’ll see.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Posting will be light, but it will continue!

Yeah, it’s 20 something degrees out, the ground is a little bit white (barely covering the disgusting soggy leaves we never raked) and I haven’t touched spade to ground since late September. But that’s not really why I haven’t updated this blog for over a month. It’s mainly the mounting weight of procrastination, which, as all you procrastinators out there know, becomes heavier and more difficult to overcome with each passing day.

Ok, gardening. Hmmm. Actually, this is a big season for plants. It's the only time of year I really appreciate evergreens; during the summer, they’re just a tall/short/round/pointy green backdrop that you see around. Now, though, I find myself examining and appreciating the different types of needles, leaves, and colors: bright green, gray green, brownish green, yellow green. I enjoy sorting through them and disposing them around the house. God knows they last longer than most cut flowers. And I love holly. Holly rocks. Wish I could grow some, but I content myself with buying cut holly and maybe little holly plants that I can easily kill within a few weeks or so. In the meantime, the little sharp bicolored leaves and berries are fantastic.

But poinsettias. There were about four loaded displays of these at Wegman’s today, and each one was uglier than the next. Why do people like these? Why did a whole huge show of them at the Botanical Gardens open today? They all look the same; OK, some are red, some are white, some are green, who cares.

Back to good stuff: in a few weeks, I will be able to bring out my hyacinth pots and vases, so they can bloom. More on that later.

This isn’t holly, but it’s an nice tree with berries we saw on a walk a while back.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Hyacinth vases: stop the madness?

I am now the proud owner of 2 blue hyacinth vases (shown above), and one amber one, in addition to the 6 or so I already have (some of them are not that great). An antique place in Nantucket that specializes in British imports had the blue ones and I got the amber one from ebay for not that outrageous a price—it has a couple small nibbles. The last time I bid for a good one, I had stopped at £40, and when I checked back I had been, as usual, overbid. The closing price was £149. That’s $266. It was a nice vase, but still.

The ones I have are a gorgeous blue, but they have relatively smooth bases; I couldn’t find a broken-off pontil. So, I’ll still bid on a few, to get the verifiable pontil mark. It’s discouraging, because obviously my fellow devotees will pay anything.

The irony here is that I’m very hesitant to actually use these to force hyacinths. I’m afraid the temps in the root cellar might break the glass. When I have used cheaper ones for forcing, I’ve found that the bulbs always grow better in dirt. So this is what I will end up doing: growing the bulbs in dirt, then, in December, taking them (carefully) out of the dirt and putting them in the hyacinth vases to finish the process. You can also chill the bulbs separately, but you need an extra refrigerator for that. And they get moldy.

There you have it. I’m buying bulb-forcing containers that are so expensive I’m afraid to use them and even if I do use them I know they may or may not work. It's kind of fun.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Putting the garden away

Well, not really. It’s still very much there, but as we basically have a patio/courtyard garden with isolated beds, its formal existence largely depends on the structures (fountain, pots, furniture, sculptures) we use to define it. And now, most of those structures are sitting in the basement. I felt a bit of a wrench as I tore armfuls of still-attractive diascia, lobelia, coleus, and more out of the pots, but they are required for bulbs now. I’ll be filling them all with tulips (and a couple lilies) and storing them in the garage.

The hideous task of leaf-raking remains, though bags of them will come in handy to protect the hydrangea. I have high hopes for hydrangea flowers next year—I bet it’s an on-again, off-again thing. We are also curious to see how the lighting works once the snow cover kicks in. This, by the way, is supposed to be a snowy winter. I hope so; it’s better for the plants. Anyway, if it’s going to be cold, we may as well have snow.

For some reason, the remaining roses have put on an insane growth spurt over the past few weeks. One of the back ones is halfway up the house. It’s as if they know I’m toying with the idea of tearing them all out. Silly of them—the skinny new canes will be the first to go when cold hits.

I have heard that there is less fall color this year because of the hot, dry summer. We did get some interesting reds on the viburnum, though the creeper has not yet turned.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Bulb management

So now I have various boxes of bulbs sitting in the back room, awaiting proper in-ground, forcing container, regular container, hyacinth glass, and paperwhite vase dispersal. I’ve finished the hyacinths, all of which (30 pots worth) are now in the root cellar. I’ve saved 4 for special antique hyacinth glasses, though I’ve been beaten on every ebay auction for them that I’ve entered. The fact that I made someone else pay more is little consolation. I wish someone just sold these things outright.

The tulips, scilla, and snowdrops are still sitting in their unopened boxes, and I just received the lilies a couple days ago. I’m recording where I plan to plant these so I can remember to check if they came up or not.

So: Copper Coin (trumpet), Chambertain (oriental), 2 speciosum rubrum, and Mother of Pearl (orienpet) should land in the rose garden. The removal of another rose bush should facilitate this.

Then, another rubrum in the front, maybe the Double Prize (oriental) in a pot, and the Barbados (oriental) along the side of the house.

I spend way more gambling with bulbs than I ever would at any of our four lovely area casinos. Much better odds though. And considerably more time spent hopefully imagining a successful result.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Operation paperwhite

There’s a reason paperwhites are great nature projects for kids—they’re dead easy, But here’s why adults should love them too: they are also tall, graceful, beautiful plants, with a great fragrance, if you get the subtler varieties.

Unfortunately, all the garden centers usually stick to Ziva, the most common variety, which has a piercing fragrance some find unpleasant (doesn’t bother me, though). I never buy them anymore, now that I’ve tried some of the other varieties, such as Nazareth and Israel. There is also the Grand Soleil d’Or, which is supposed to be the crème de la crème, but somewhat difficult. I’ll try it next year.

If timed correctly—I would plant 4-5 bulbs per container and stagger the plantings every 2-3 weeks through December—paperwhites can supply your indoor floral needs from late November through January. The varieties I choose take a bit longer, so I just started a container a few days ago. I use river rocks, clear glass pebbles, or colored glass, if I’m feeling festive. Tall glass containers are best, planted about half way up, so the stalks have support and the roots have room. The water should be just below the bottom of the bulb—and the glass container makes this easy to maintain.

Here’s the one I just did. The river rocks camouflage the bulbs pretty well.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

My latest obsession

Yeah, yeah, the posting has fallen off just a bit. But when posting is not as frequently prompted by active gardening, that will happen. Not that I don’t have plenty of garden-related matter to take up—I just have to figure out how to shift into distanced discussion mode. I have some ideas.

In the meantime, here is something really trivial and barely deserving of anybody’s attention that I am involved in at the moment. Any day now, boxes of hyacinth and other bulbs will be arriving at my house: bags and bags of earthy-smelling, papery-skinned, oniony-looking things. It will quickly be my task to get them into pots of dirt pronto.(More on that later.) I also have a bunch of glass hyacinth vases or glasses, as they were originally called. The bulbs balance on the top of the vase, which is filled with water. The roots grow into the water, and, after a cooling period, the bulb sprouts and blooms. Or not.

I don’t have the real choice antique hyacinth vases, and for a couple years now I have been trying to buy them via ebay. I’m usually too cheap to pay enough. Maybe this year will be the year. They come in two types: a squat, wide-bottomed, rustic type, or a taller, more elegant type with a flattened top. Neither of these are the best but they show the basic shapes. Cobalt blue is always the most desired color.

Monday, September 19, 2005

2005 garden retro, part one

All in all, I would call this year’s garden a good garden, certainly not a great one, but with major improvements. My gardening partner has divided up the tasks into “hardware”—edging, flagstones, fences, fountains, trellises, and other built amendments—and “software”—plants and planting. As should be obvious from former posts, I’ve got the software job, but I have to admit that the hardware improvements were the big news this year. We finally got rid of the rotting wood along the side walkway (people have been falling over it for the last 4 Garden Walks), replacing it with new timbers. Elsewhere, we replaced more rotten wood and some unstable bricks with stone. The crappy narrow planting area by the front of the house has been paved over (burying a whole bunch of snowdrops—I wonder if they’ll force their way through?). Finally, a truly unattractive strip of bare ground by the garage has been paved in a decorative pattern. The moral of the story: if you’ve tried to plant in it for 5 years with no results, it’s time to pave.

There are other structural improvements I’d like to see. I’d really like some kind of small pond and waterfall. There is a brick, wood, and rebar (soon to be former) rose bed that I’d like to lower by at least two bricks. And I think both sets of wooden outdoor stairs are ugly and should be replaced by brick and wrought iron, as we have in the front.

But over all, the hardware guy has outdone himself this year. Except for the partial autumn clematis massacre disguised as wisteria trimming. Most survived.

(part two, plantings: to come)

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The magnificence —and the humiliation

Gardeners generally don’t look forward to the mid-September border. You’ve got your grasses, your rudbeckia, a few other perennials, and, of course, annuals, always annuals.

Average gardeners, that is. But if you happen to be the gardeners at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, you’re all ready for September. You have planted lush, colorful borders full of canna, cleome, elephant ear, amaranth, butterfly bush, tall verbena, and many other annuals and perennials that keep their color well into fall. Including rudbeckia and grasses (gloriously tall and lush). I’m not sure what everything is that they’ve got going down there in South Buffalo, but they have definitely got it going. I was particularly impressed by the tapestry of, I think alyssum, and a foliage plant at the beginning of the front border. (Gardeners, don’t try this at home.)

Everything was gorgeous, including this from the side garden.

And this example of Verbena Bonariensis, which I loved in my own garden this year.

Check it out—as an added attraction, their orchid show and sale is this weekend, September 17-18, during normal hours.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

My Dutch tulip vendors let me down

Little did I know when I was opening my mail after work today that inside an innocent-looking envelope from John Scheepers (shipping confirmation I’m figuring) would be the horrifying news that due to a CROP FAILURE they will not be able to send me my 10 Tulipa acuminata.

“We are quite sorry to disappoint you. Normally, we try to suggest alternate recommendations, but Tulipa acuminata is a unique, special variety and there is really nothing quite like it.”

Yeah. I know. That’s why I ordered it. And of course, as I knew they would be, Brent & Becky’s is out of it already. So, I went to the Old Houses Gardens site, knowing that, due to their incredibly high prices, they would probably still have plenty of bulbs to sell. I only bought 5 and I’m way too mortified to reveal (I mean, people are starving and homeless) what I paid for those 5 tulips. Rare though they may be.

So, if you go by the images on the sites, instead of this:

I’m getting this:

I will be donating the exact amount I spent on this ridiculous purchase to Salvation Army Crisis Website.

Friday, September 02, 2005

A watering Nazi? Moi?

While people suffer horribly from an excess of water on the Gulf Coast, we in WNY have spent most of the summer either hand-watering or using specially-installed automated systems to keep our lawns green (I suppose—not a lawn person AT ALL) and our gardens growing.

It was confirmed in the Buffalo News today, which had an end-of-season roundup. Most said that IF they kept up the water, all went well. I do admit to paranoia in this area. I don’t trust surface moistness; I always wonder if the water has flowed all the way to the roots. And I figure that if I SEE a drooping leaf, that means I’m three days too late.

So today I was accused of being a watering Nazi—after what was perceived by my gardening partner as a superfluous request for watering. With pots, I figure you can’t water too much. With soil, yeah. I suppose it can be overdone, though we are still in a drought.

What I always keep in mind is that we have these plants in extremely artificial situations. They are not in their native habitats and we can’t expect them to adjust to circumstances we have imposed.

So the obsessive watering will continue—through September anyway.

Here’s a well-watered plant.

And a link, to help those trying to survive the deluge. I have chosen The Salvation Army, because I believe they have very little overhead. Salvation Army Crisis Website

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I buy more bulbs

Unbelievably, some 100 more bulbs will be wending their way to Allentown from Gloucester, VA, the location of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs , one of the highest-rated bulb companies in the US (just an FYI). All the same, I did go a bit overboard.

And this isn’t the last bulb shipment.

There will be 60 hyacinths, “Crystal Palace,” and “Chestnut Flower.”

I figure I‘ll force most if not all of them, with some as gifts. This year, I’m going to try keep more pots for the house. This is so easy to do, though you do need the right temp for the cold storage period. And some I’ll transfer to hyacinth vases after chilling.

Then, there are 40 paperwhites, Israel and Jerusalem.

Why are these always given these biblical names? Did they originate in the Holy Land? I don’t have the vaguest. Anyway, these are supposed to be tall and have a more delicate fragrance than the Ziva, though I don’t remember if I got Nazareth last year and if I liked it. That’s partially what the blog is for. I hope I’ll have the courage to admit to all my usual dismal bulb-forcing failures. Enough of that, though—this is the hopeful time!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

A floriferous afternoon at Erie Basin Marina

It’s not often that I would be on my way to anything with the words “All-America” in it (I’m not terribly patriotic and I hate watching most sports). But I can’t believe this is the first year I’ve visited the All America Selections Display Gardens at the Erie Basin Marina.

This is a truly impressive public garden site and all the better that it’s almost exclusively annuals—late August is not the time for perennials or bulbs. There were unfamiliar varieties of most of the annuals I use and quite a few annuals I never use and had barely heard of before. Unfortunately, I had not brought writing materials and the labels did not come out well in photos. Not to worry. I’ll be amazed if more than a few of these are available locally next growing season. Seed geeks, rejoice. Still—it was cool to see them.

Now, here’s a plant I usually HATE. But this variety seemed to have a lot more oomph. My husband noticed it immediately. Is it a guy thing? It’s celosia, surrounded by “pearls of opar.” (Well that what the label seemed to say.)

Loved this rudbeckia (prairie sunset).

Nobody gets too excited over impatiens. But very few of us can live without it. These had delicate spurs, and came in many shades.

We must have foliage and there were some great examples, including perilla, ornamental pepper, and a really cool coleus. Didn’t get variety names on any of it, but I’ll know it when I see it in the stores. Which I probably won’t.

Also some red and pink vincas—great looking varieties of another plant I normally couldn’t care less about.

There were many, many pentas. I have never bought these—apparently they’re sometimes called star flowers. They were there in every possible color, including red.

My beloved lobelia, with argyrantheum (daisy-like) and some angelonia behind. This is one of the many urns filled with mixed annuals.

Here's those freaky pearls of opar again, by themselves.

And so much more.

Friday, August 19, 2005

I’ll miss the hot hot hotness

It makes the summer go slower. What I love more than anything these late afternoons is coming home—especially on a Friday!!—pouring a glass of white or opening a beer for myself, choosing a red for my husband and sitting together on the patio, listening to the incredibly loud cicadas and watching bees (and sometimes) butterflies buzz around the verbena boniarensis. (Unfortunately I can’t photograph the verbena—it always looks like a big mess.)

Garden work is not really done during these interludes, except for some languid deadheading. Garden Walk is over and things are kind of mellow. Not a lot of color or flowers, but still great foliage and a few late arrivals.

Like this, a hibiscus that is doing much better this year.

Or this, a caladium that I yanked out (or thought I did) but it survived and grew despite my brutish mangling.

The hot hot hotness makes the wine taste better.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Intelligent plants—but not radio

I was driving to a mid-day errand today and was pleased to hear someone talking about plants and botany on am 1270 (WHLD). Well, I was pleased for about 30 seconds. I THINK he was talking about some interesting research that has been done on the complex interactions of plants with their environments and about how they evolve to meet conditions. I THINK he may also have been trying to explain how the forms of plants have influenced art, architecture and other fields of humanist endeavor.


Because, and this is the price you pay for independent radio these days (I guess), the guy was totally incoherent. His discourse seemed to consist entirely of “like,” “you know,” “like, you know,” “sort of,” “kind of,” “um,” and “uh,”—all punctuated with long periods of dead air. His sources were “they,” and “I saw on the web.”

When I got back to a computer, I tried to find out the WHLD schedule, but they only list 4 programs that I could see, headed by the excellent Democracy Now. I couldn't find the official name for what I had been hearing.

It is disappointing. Very little TV or radio is devoted to really interesting shows on gardening, though it is an enormously popular form of activity. The cooking spectrum is much better. All we get on commercial radio is shows constantly shilling for some commercial landscaper or other, and the TV stuff is all makeovers and fuzzy advice. Nothing really edgy or provocative. And, yes, there are edgy and provocative topics in gardening—certainly in landscaping, which brings up more aesthetic questions.

I did stick with this show for its length—until they switched to Polish language radio—and it continued pathetic throughout, though he became more enthusiastic and thus somewhat more tolerable. A guy called in about the demonization of cannabis at one point, and I thought, “Ah, THAT must be what’s going on here.” It would be difficult to do a radio show stoned unless you were a real pro.

Image of the day: speaking of plants that have many purposes, here is the species Nicotiana prior to growing its flower stalk (which I am eagerly awaiting).

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The art of public planting

Now is the late summer of our discontent as far as public and community gardens go. It’s hard enough to keep a private garden going in a dry hot season, but in public spaces, where watering is even more labor-intensive and there are larger spaces to tend, keeping a lush look takes real dedication.

We took a walk to the Albright-Knox to see the Extreme Abstraction show Sunday, and I admired many public plantings that were holding up under difficult conditions. The landscaping at Soldiers Circle and Bidwell looked very good, though I only snapped Bidwell (needed batteries).

Most of the big planters on Elmwood looked great, like this:

But a couple were just a waste. What would it take to keep this one up?

Of course, on Elmwood, they have kept up their hanging baskets.

And I’m really PISSED OFF that those in power in Allentown chose not to hang baskets this year, though there are some great planters.

My favorite on the walk, though, was this mysterious little structure in a corner lot. Couldn’t tell who owned it.

I remain convinced that public plantings are worth every bit of trouble that goes into them and, yes, every bit of money. It is one of the best ways to make a neighborhood look inviting and well-cared-for. I’ve adopted a couple planters on Main and Allen, though they’re in a difficult spot. Many mornings I’ve had to politely ask hangers-about to stop sitting on them as I drive by. Who sits on plants?!!!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

I order bulbs

Those unfamiliar with my property will assume I have a three-acre estate to cover in spring flowers when they read this list of bulbs due to arrive at my house in September/October. Those familiar with my tiny property also know that I am insane.

I had the most fun choosing the “accent bulbs”—the weird exotic ones that will be sprinkled about. I decided to go with 10 of the black parrot, though I read in my fabulous new tulip book that it is a “difficult grower.” Damn.

Then, I got another 10 of t. acuminata, a species type which I’ve been tempted by the last couple seasons. Check it out. Wild—and supposed to be pretty sturdy, though we’ll see.

And then 10 of this pretty t. clusiana “Cynthia.” I already have a related one, “Lady Jane.”

For the two circular raised beds in front, I got two tall Single Lates, Perestroika and Maureen, 50 each.

Sprinkled throughout the new hosta beds and around the front will be 50 galanthus nivalis flore pleno, a double snowdrop, and the very bright blue 50 scilla siberica. I’m hoping these little ones might come up around the same time, but not sure.

Finally, for forcing and for containers, I’ve got 50 Princess Irene and 50 Passionale.

That should get me started. Now for the hyacinths and lilies.

Oh yeah, this order is from John Scheepers.