Sunday, December 31, 2006

A resolution-free reflection

2006 was a very good year for gardeners and gardens in Buffalo. Garden Walk Buffalo had more participating gardens than ever before and smaller walks throughout Western New York grew and thrived. Best of all, after years of talking about it, we finally published a Garden Walk book, with an accompanying DVD. I think some in the area are beginning to see how our passion for gardening might be almost as valuable a civic resource as our architectural and cultural bounties. But most important, Garden Walk reinforces our love of gardening and helps us enjoy our beautiful springs, summers, and falls even more.

It was also a very good year for garden discourse throughout the U.S. and beyond; 2006 saw the advent of numerous garden blogs and the continuation of some garden websites that have long been great resources for the exchange of information and advice. Garden Voices has proven to be a very useful way to gather all this diverse garden chatter together. Best of all, in many cases, we're actually talking to each other, not just bragging, lamenting, or opinionating into the ether.

Significantly, I am saving commentary on my own personal gardening efforts for last. Truth is, my efforts on the Garden Walk book took up a lot of time that would have been spent implementing new initiatives on the GWI property. So things pretty much stayed the same; I'll do better next year (which is the closest I'll come to a resolution).

Check out Garden Rant, which has collected the 11 most provocative (in terms of eliciting commentary) rants of the year. I'm pleased to say that my flag rant is #1!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Time to dream of castor bean

I had planned to enumerate all the failures and successes of the 2006 gardening season—it is that time—but that's so depressing. Fortunately today's mail brought the always-fabulous Select Seeds catalog, and I was able to drift away in its pages, tangerini in hand, fantasizing about all the exotic annuals I'll be installing next spring. Even some from seed: castor bean, zinnia, amaranth. (Never mind that I'm never successful with seeds.) Then there are the plants: Queen Vick's favorite geranium, every tall nicotiana available, climbing petunias, wacky coleus, and much more. Datura or brugmansia? Maybe. Next will come the Bluestone, and we'll do the perennials.

I love catalog time, which generally lasts from late December through early March (when they begin to sell out). This is my insurance that whatever the selection at local nurseries in late spring, I won't be restricted to the same-old, same-old.

There are much bigger problems with the garden, but the catalogs allow me to escape them. In any case, I'll be ready this year. I received 3 pairs of gardening gloves (one monogrammed) over the holidays, so that should help.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

In the spirit(s)

Happy holidays! I'm currently in the midst of family celebrations here in Connecticut and am taking a brief hiatus from garden musings. I'll be back posting at GWI by Wednesday; in the meantime, check me out at Garden Rant where I have a guest post on holiday lighting.

Thanks, Garden Ranters, for letting me rant with you. I'm raising my glass of Veuve Cliquot to you and all my garden blogging buddies.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Where's the love?

I very much admire the fabulous trio of bloggers at Garden Rant, but I cannot go along with their collective disdain for the humble houseplant.

Even an office philodendron provides air filtration, a welcome spot of green, and a touch of humanity to the manmade environment. Some of my colleagues at work enjoy taking rootings of their spider plants and begonias. Our associate editor is currently using his ficus as the basis of a festive holiday display. It's good to have plants to take care of throughout the year; it reminds us of the interdependence of all living things. (And if that sounds pompous, so be it.) The tending of house or office plants is often the only contact with plants non-gardeners will have.

I maintain a very active indoor gardening schedule at this time of year. There are the paperwhites, hippeastrum, and hyacinths to force; the Christmas cactus to deadhead; the cyclamen to keep watered. As reported earlier, one of our dracaena is blooming and I've been monitoring the progress of a Dizygotheca elegantissima (false aralia) we had outside all summer. True, I mainly just keep the gardenia and jasmine alive indoors—they perform their magic starting in May—but their foliage is a lush promise of the gloriously scented blooms to come. I've had some of my plants for nearly ten years.

A house without plants is just as unthinkable as a house without art, as far as I'm concerned. Both are continual reminders that life—and hopefully thought—is taking place within the walls.

Though a greenhouse sure would be nice.

Home invasion

I’m beginning to hand out the potted hyacinths that have been forcing away in the root cellar for the last couple of months—and have had a most unpleasant surprise. I did notice a couple strangely stunted-looking buds pushing out of two of the bulbs, but now that I’ve seen an actual half-eaten bulb, I have to admit the worst. Mice, rats, squirrels? Any of these would be most unwelcome and I have instructed the household enforcer to eliminate this scourge by any means necessary. He hopes those means will simply consist of blocking their ingress, but we’ll have to also make sure none of the creatures are currently inhabiting the cellar.

Thank god most of the bulbs are intact. I keep the ones in forcing vases for myself and give out the pots. This year we have Woodstock and Yellow Queen. Woodstock seems to have the head start.

I must say the mice or whomever don’t seem to have enjoyed the bulbs much. Rather a half-hearted effort.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Urban vs. suburban and the politics of lawns

Here in the Buffalo blogosphere, there are a couple of flame wars still simmering on the subject of urban vs. suburban living. It’s become a common occurrence, ever since a passionate group of city-dwellers started posting on the site Buffalo Rising Online. In their paeans to the beauty of urban life, they have often been unable to resist a crack or two at the suburbanites’ expense. But many of the people who love Buffalo and read BRO happen to live in the suburbs—hence the flames.

And what does this have to do with gardening, you may ask? For me, one of the major aspects of suburban living is the maintenance of an emerald green lawn. Sure, city folks have them too, but they’re smaller and seem rather a perfunctory part of the domestic landscape. Most of my urban friends who have lawns treat them nuisances that receive occasional mowing and little else, as their perennial gardens take over more and more of what was once lawn space. And on Garden Walk, I constantly hear from suburbanites that I have way more perennials and annuals than they do. So I have to assume that—given their much larger acreage—instead of planted areas, they have lawns. (Or concrete, but grass seems more likely.)

I like the look of a big, well-kept lawn, though I don’t think I’d choose one for myself. I hate the look of a small, scraggly lawn, as the city lawns often are. I don’t condemn those who do whatever is necessary to maintain their lawns, though it may often involve chemicals, polluting powermowers, etc. That’s their choice. (I hope that events like Garden Walk demonstrate the other choices that are available.) But it’s only in the suburbs that you hear of pressure being brought to bear on neighbors who let their lawns go. (Years ago, a Kenmore man received death threats when he tried to grow a wildflower garden in his front yard. This past summer, a Tonawanda man was forced to cut down the sunflowers by his mailbox.) In the city, we look with pity upon neighbors trying desperately to keep their grass alive, but don’t really care much whether they succeed or not. Some of us mow the lawns of absentee landlords as a civic duty.

That’s my perception anyway. There is definitely an urban/suburban dichotomy in the world of gardening, some of it logical, some not so much.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Garden Rants about Garden Walk

Susan Harris has written a warm and generous post about Garden Walk, both the event and the book, on Garden Rant. I couldn't describe some of the most positive aspects of Garden Walk any better myself.

One thing she mentions is the fact that the gardens are not chosen, juried, or judged in any way. Usually, garden tours are selective and most cost money. I think that distinction is pretty important, and I'm glad that Susan made special note of it. (I wish the book was free too, but that's impossible. At least, the profits we get from it will go toward our beautification grants to community gardens.)

I'm pretty overwhelmed by everything she said. Thanks Susan! Thanks Garden Rant!

For those unfamiliar, Garden Rant is maintained by three garden writers, each of whom has her own blog—Amy Stewart, of Dirt, Michele Owens of Sign of the Shovel, and Susan, of Takoma Gardener. All are published garden writers; Amy has written several books.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Leafy gifts

I've seen a lot of book and tool lists as bloggers put forward their holiday gift suggestions. I hadn't really thought much about this—indeed, my gift ideas had been falling in the "I" side of GWI—but while recently cruising the shelves of a local gift shop, I couldn't help but be struck by an interesting observation.

At least half if not more of the pottery and silver trays, vases, plates, and pitchers used floral, leaf, or branch shapes. Even the tall white ceramic pitcher we eventually chose as a wedding gift was constructed from overlapping leaf forms. I like the idea of seeing and using natural forms all year round, and I think items such as these would be great gifts for gardeners.

Unfortunately, only my shots of the silver objects came out, but you get the idea.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Deck the halls

There was another book signing today at a local garden center. This was great fun, mainly because I got to shop for my holiday décor. (I don't think anyone bought any books while I was there, though the place has re-ordered twice.) They have a beautiful selection of greenery, including juniper, noble fir, incense cedar, holly, pine, and much more. There were also some strange knobbly green oranges that can be used as accents and a few fake but classy items.

There were also—god, I hate to even type this—painted poinsettias. Bright blue, green, pink—some had glitter. Acres of them, as far as the eye can see, and NO, I am not posting an image of them. Apparently these are greatly anticipated by many of the patrons. Though, to be honest, I hate the regular ones, so it's not like I'm all that offended by the desecration of the plants. Masses of the same plant are always impressive visually, but I am sure that, detached from their brethren, one or two of these plants can make a pretty tacky statement.

I'm looking forward to coming back here in the summer, when I understand they have an impressive selection of annuals.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Plants like martinis, too. Are we really surprised?

Given the title of my blog, I must take special note of this post on Garden Design Online. Amazing! Replacing the water in a container of paperwhites with a 7-1 water-gin solution (once the roots have begun to grow) will stunt their growth enough to keep them from getting too floppy and top heavy. Learn more at the original post; I won't repeat the whole thing, but it's backed up by a Cornell study.

I have a couple caveats. One of the reasons I mail order special cultivars from Brent and Becky's (who are the GDO favorites as well) is that I actually like the height of tall paperwhites, and use deep glass containers to supply the support they need. Nonetheless, I think I'm going to try this with one of my current crop of paperwhite starts.

My other caveat is that I must seriously demur with GDO about it not being the season for G&Ts. It's ALWAYS G&T season. In fact, I was just enjoying a few Tanqueray and tonics at a party last night. Martinis are trendier, but you can drink more G&Ts, and you get the benefits of the quinine.

He's got balls

This is why we don't bother to do much holiday decorating. Not because we think it's tacky, or care about the waste of energy, or deplore the commercialization of Christmas—none of those reasonable objections pertain.

No, it's because we have a neighbor who has set the bar so high anything we did would look paltry. (Of course, he sets it for himself as well.) Unfortunately, I don't think I can capture the red lights too well, but those are strung lavishly around his steel B, and fall in a curtain over the side bay windows. The balls around the door are an annual feature, and this year some imposing, um, icicles (?) have been added. It looks best at night. (I just don't think I can get the shot.)

I think Martin demonstrates that holiday decorations can be fun, creative, and cool.

Oh well! Guess we'll put our little candles and icicle lights (so passé) in the windows again.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Madness and mayhem

When I heard there was a full line-up of book signings for the Garden Walk book, I was pleased. When I realized that the first signing would take place at the Galleria Mall the day after Thanksgiving? Not so much.

This was at Waldenbooks; over the next two weeks we will be doing signings at Barnes and Nobles, Borders, and some local outlets. I think most of the shoppers were a bit too crazed to pause for a signing today, but we did a few. I also don't know that it's a book that people really need signed, exactly—and my handwriting is so grotesque. Too bad I can't do calligraphy like my friend Cheryl (who did the DVD). (The ability to write legibly would probably suffice.)

The place was thronged, of course, and the usual ugliness was going on over parking spots. Oh, yes, and there's construction too. But they do run some pretty good promotions, I got an illustrated boxed set of Chronicles of Narnia for free with a purchase from the book store. Now I have to find a kid who doesn't have it.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Strange fruit

Above, in what I can proudly say is one of my crappiest photographs EVER, you can see the rare flowers of the common dracaena fragrans (corn plant), a nondescript cultivar normally used for office fodder. Nonetheless, I sort of like it, and I always get excited when, once every three years or so, it blooms. The flowers aren't great looking but once they get going, the fragrance fills the entire upstairs. We have two but only the one in my husband's study ever blooms.

There's something strange and exotic about seeing plants we take for granted suddenly take on these strange forms. I expect the cyclamen, African violets, and Christmas cactuses to perform, but this is a plant that is just supposed to sit there and stay green. Like I said, the flowers aren't much. It's late November, though, so we'll take them.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Trees—they're on it

Amidst all my lamenting about the losses to Western New York’s urban and suburban tree canopy, I neglected to mention that there are many groups and individuals very active here in the reforesting effort. A Re-Tree WNY group is joining the existing Olmsted Conservancy and Green Fund efforts to advocate for the replacement of thousands of lost trees.

A Re-Tree Now Sprouting article in today’s Buffalo News details some imaginative initiatives, including one that asks local artists to create sculptures from large felled trunks that could then be auctioned off for the cause.

Here are some excerpts:

Pizza Plant in Amherst has offered to pick a menu item that, when ordered, would generate a donation to the reforestation effort, and a local confectionery is interested in designing and selling tree-shaped cookies that would benefit the cause.

And Therese Forton-Barnes' plan to turn felled trees and stumps into art that would benefit the cause is also taking shape.

Forton-Barnes said she has secured 35 to 40 large tree trunks for the project, which would mimic the "Herd About Buffalo" campaign of several years ago.

She said there is another component as well. Inspired by a similar effort that followed a storm in Truro, Nova Scotia, Forton-Barnes said she would like to save some of the stumps of the larger trees so that artists can carve them into the faces of local historical figures.

"We'd like to be able to start that next week," she said, adding that Frederick Law Olmsted would be an obvious choice as a subject for one of the wood statues.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Beautification with a huge B

This evening, at a pleasant gathering of the community organization whose board I am rejoining, I warned them all that my first crusade would be to bring back hanging baskets to our neighborhood. Last summer, it seemed many other block clubs and business groups were able to maintain beautiful baskets all summer long. So I just don't see why we can't. "But we have to keep them watered," they said. "Yes," I replied. "I think it can be done."

To be honest, it is a big pain in the ass to maintain baskets, but I think it's worthwhile. And to be fair, there are a few other beautification chores we usually don't have—such as reforesting Allen Street and the adjacent green spaces. We also have a little pocket park we started and never finished. Nonetheless, it will be fun doing neighborhood beautification again.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fun with flowers

Tomorrow I am providing the flower arrangements for a benefit dinner we're organizing (as well as cooking a good part of the food, but I won't get into that) and one of my fellow board members read somewhere about using gerberas in little shot glasses of varying heights, I guess about five to a table. The lowness of it sounds right. And I love gerberas at this time of year; their warmth is very welcome, and there's no scent to interfere with the food.

I'll report back on how it turns out. Boy, those suckers are kinda expensive, even with a discount, but I refuse to work with mums or carnations. Though—I've heard from a event designer friend that amazing things are being done with carnations these days. Towering constructions of carnations and baby's breath are apparently all the rage.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Note to self—landscapers to avoid in the highly unlikely event I move to Texas

Here's the letter:

I am appreciative of your time on the phone today and glad you contacted us.
I need to tell you that we cannot meet with you because we choose not to work for homosexuals.

Best of luck in finding someone else to fill your landscaping needs.

All my best,


Todd and Sabrina Farber
Owners, Garden Guy, Inc.
visit us at:

Member of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers

Creating beautiful landscaping for Houston homeowners since 1991!

Phone 281-208-4400
Fax 1+801-365-9353

UPDATE: I've been asked to document this. It's actually old news—it was reported (from Houston) in the Los Angeles Times on Monday, by writer Lianne Hart. Here's an excerpt:

The co-owner of a landscaping company here called Garden Guy turned down a job last month by sending an e-mail to a man who had requested an estimate for work on his yard:

...[see above]

Floored, the recipient of the e-mail, Michael Lord, and his partner forwarded the message to dozens of friends. Within days the e-mail had spread across the Internet in blogs, websites and gardening forums from Seattle to Washington, D.C.

Farber and her husband, Todd, who've owned the landscaping company since 1991, were bombarded with profane phone calls and e-mails. Their online forum flooded with outraged posts.

"It blackens my mind to think that an alternative version of the KKK is alive & kicking in the USA," read one of the milder comments.

The Farbers, declining interviews, released a statement saying they "do not hate homosexuals" and "did not refuse service with malicious intent.... We meant to uphold our right as small business owners to choose who our clients are. We are humbly sorry for the hurt that it has caused."

And that's all I'll quote, as I dislike violating other people's copyright. But the simplest of googles will yield a rich harvest of commentary on this issue.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why I always buy cut flowers

I sincerely wanted to take this poll, mainly because polls are fun, but couldn't participate. For me this is one of those "When are you going to stop beating your wife?" situations.

I really, really love buying flowers at all times. Even when the garden is producing cut flowers (never enough) I usually find myself supplementing them, particularly for special occasions.

But there doesn't have to be an occasion. Here it is, an ordinary Monday, and I'm looking across the room at a vase of white roses and some ornamental berries, while in other rooms there are a variety of arrangements. When the bulbs get going, I'll have less room, but I actually look forward to winter for one reason—there is every excuse to buy flowers. Not that I need any.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A treescape forever altered

These crabapples in Johnson Park were among the survivors.

Many of you will smile at my ignorance—and I truly am ignorant about trees; I can barely tell them apart—but I learned a lot of disturbing and eye-opening facts about Western New York tree damage during a talk with a certified arborist yesterday.

It was interesting to hear him assert that previous lack of trimming had nothing to do with how the branches fell. He said some of his most regularly pruned trees were destroyed by the storm, and maintained that the amount of leaves on the trees and their positioning (east of a building being the worst) were the most crucial factors.

He says he’s most worried not about next spring (because the leaves gave up their nutrients before the storm hit) but about the following springs, when less branches and leaves on the trees will mean less food going to the roots, making them vulnerable to insects and disease.

To some degree he took a conservative position on the possible unnecessary removal of many trees, asserting that it does look much different when you’re in the bucket than from the ground. But I did get him to agree that the company most at fault had originally been hired to remove branches from power lines and had minimal professional standing as arborists. That’s pretty much what most of us think already, of course.

I feel like I want to learn more about trees. I’m certainly appreciating the ones left standing a lot more.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Viewing the Garden Walk DVD while intoxicated

Nobody’s asking, but nonetheless I’m here to report that our first glimpse of the Garden Walk Buffalo publication was a great success. Sure, there are some minor glitches (Jim, I found the typo and a couple other very small ouches in the text), but overall it looks great. The photography is very nearly perfect, and I think the choices show off neighborhoods, architecture, and Olmsted as well as gardens.

So, anyway, we started out with champagne then kind of devolved into whatever bottles were open or could be opened. The most enjoyable part of the evening for me was the DVD, which I had not seen in its final form. They lucked into some gypsy-jazz musicians playing in a restaurant patio during the Walk and were able to use this for the DVD soundtrack. And there are so many cool quotes. I wish I had an excerpt I could show here—hopefully, soon.

The interviews have a great casual feel—my friend Deb chatting to the interviewer in her doorway, kid noises from within; me, face hidden by huge shades, mumbling about god-knows-what; Tom, lounging by his pool, pronouncing that, without soil amendment, “it’s not gonna happen, people!” They used the music and the moving feet of the walkers very effectively as transitions.

Well, you’d have to be there. Maybe I can grab some stills.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The book is done, the book is done!

Tomorrow, a bunch of us will be stopping by designer Jim Charlier's house to take our first look at the completed Garden Walk book and DVD. This is coming at just the right time. In retrospect, I think it's much better that the project debuts now, as we head into the dreary days of late fall, rather than in early summer, as we had originally planned when we first conceived of the book.

We could all use some cheering up! Many have lost trees and many others have huge clean-up jobs still ahead of them.

Here's the book announcement (sorry—it's way too long):

Garden Walk Buffalo - The Book & DVD
This large-format, high-quality, soft-cover volume offers 120 pages of words and pictures that capture the best of Garden Walk Buffalo. Selected gardeners discuss their gardens and why they feel it is so important to share them with visitors every year. Professional photography captures highlights of all 260-plus gardens on the Walk, while sidebars on the architecture and history of these exceptional neighborhoods explain their unique ambiance. New and fascinating aspects of Garden Walk are illuminated, including the behind-the-scenes story of how the gardeners prepare their properties for the weekend onslaught of thousands of visitors.

The book includes interviews with 27 gardeners, as well as photos of more than 80 additional gardens, adding up to over 225 photographs. It also includes a section on the gardens of Frederick Law Olmsted's Delaware Park; a spread on community gardens; a selective list of plants grown in Western New York (Zone 5); a history of Garden Walk Buffalo, its impact on local urban gardens and how it helps rejuvenate city streets; and even a brief how-to on starting your own garden walk.

But there’s only so much a book can do to depict an experience as interactive as Garden Walk. With the addition of the DVD, still pictures start to move and the viewer moves with them. Follow the cameras of our videographers as they walk through gardens and talk to more than 20 master gardeners who have created these exceptional spaces, each accessed by selecting a dot on an interactive Garden Walk map. The interviews include expert advice on all aspects of gardening—from individual plants to overall garden design.

The book was photographed by Don Zinteck, of Photographics 2; written by Elizabeth Licata, editor of Buffalo Spree magazine; and designed by Jim Charlier, of JCharlier Communication design. The DVD was produced by Cheryl Jackson and Brian Milbrand. The book and DVD are published by Buffalo Heritage Unlimited, Inc., which also published Classic Buffalo (under the Canisius College Press imprint) and which will soon release Oakland Place: Gracious Living in Buffalo.

Garden Walk Buffalo is of the largest garden tours in the U.S. More than 260 private Buffalo gardens open on the last weekend of July each year, welcoming the public to some of the city’s most beautiful and creative urban gardens. Garden Walk Buffalo has also been a major force in neighborhood revitalization, encouraging residents to combat urban blight through grassroots beautification. It is important to note that this book documents and preserves for posterity many of the gardens, parkway circles and old growth trees of Buffalo prior to the damage incurred during the devastating snowstorm of October, 2006.

Books and DVDs can be ordered at:

We hope to have a viral video to pass around soon; the stress of production made a rest period necessary for our DVD authors.

Friday, October 27, 2006

More tree badness

Well, I wasn't going to harp on about Western New York trees any longer, but the situation has become alarming. I'm hearing rumors that out-of-town contractors are making instantaneous decisions from their bucket lifts about which trees should stay or go. I'm hearing that the contractors actually get paid more to remove a tree than to trim it. I'm hearing that they are leaving the tree remains lying there when they're done.

It's all very disturbing and impelled me to send out a semi-hysterical email on a local listerv. Re-reading it, I was embarrassed, but then there was a reply from one of the connected types who reads this listserv that many others had been complaining and a moratorium on tree removal has been imposed today.

Thank god! Sure, I've complained about my Norway maples, but this is going way too far. I guess some tree maintenance companies love taking down trees as much as some housing inspectors love writing demolition orders.

I'm going outside to hug the maples right after I post this.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Winterkill, I mean over-wintering

I am sure this is the earliest we’ve had to drag in the potted roses and the garden furniture—normally, I wait until the first snow of the year to get the roses in. Oh right—we had the first snow of the year!

And it looks as though there will be more quite soon. Of course, my regrettably unharmed maples have yet to shed a leaf.

It’s been chilly in GWI country, so I’ve taken my colocasia down to the basement, where I will:

A.) Cut them down and leave them in the pot to go dormant in the root cellar.
B.) Take the tubers out of the pot and leave them in a box of peat moss or something like that.
C.) Take everything out of the pot and throw it all out.

Why is C. so attractive? Could it be that I’ve never had one bit of luck saving items such as these and even less starting them inside when spring comes? Could it be that I know in my heart that the beautiful set of 5 young plants (so nicely packed) I got from Brent and Becky’s for $30 last spring will be available to me once again? Could it be that I’m a wasteful slacker who hates the environment?

I am looking forward to finally potting up the hyacinths (yes, the ones I have had for at least 2 weeks) and some other goodies I am forcing—maybe tonight.

Oh yeah—someone gave me some colchicums that say “for indoor forcing only.” What could be meant by that, I wonder? I thought these were fall-blooming bulbs that one plants in the ground for the next year. Never had much luck with them.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

More adventures of the TV gardener

This week, the timing seemed perfect for me to use our AM Buffalo segment to talk about garden damage and winterizing—figuring that the storm could be considered a rude reminder from mom nature that it’s time to pack up the garden.

My friend and master gardener Gordon (shown above) was my cohort. He brought some dahlia and canna tubers as well as potted tropicals to aid in his discussion of over-wintering. But the questions we got were at a far more basic level.

“What do I do with my rose bush?” (broken canes and never blooms anyway)

“How do I get my hedge to stand upright again?”

“Should I cut back my hydrangea now?”

Everybody wanted to cut stuff back, but I earnestly did my best to convince them to wait until spring. People seem to think they should use the excuse of the storm damage to do a major pruning. Not a good idea. And why does everyone cut back their hydrangeas? Then they wonder why they don’t get any blooms. The calls kept coming, way more than we could take. I did try to stress the importance of hiring professionals to take down the broken branches. Though I know that every daredevil who owns a ladder and a chain saw is out there dicing with death as I write this.

Of course, the thing no one talks about is that the city has not pruned many of the trees it owns (on easeways, etc.) for years. We’ve been begging them to do our block since we moved here seven years ago. The homeowners can’t do it because of the liability.

We'll see what it looks like in spring. I think I'll be able to get my bulbs in this weekend!

Monday, October 16, 2006


I am sure that many of the bloggers out there have heard about our freak storm by now. But I doubt many of the news reports are dwelling on its most lasting—and calamitous—effects. It’s one thing to be without power for a few days, which, honestly, is not a big deal, given the mild temps and the fact that gas stoves, candles, flashlights, generators, grills, and such make everyday life a bit of an adventure, but doable.

This is a garden blog, however, so I’m not here to talk of such matters. I will say that it’s going to take Buffalo and probably much of Erie County a very long time to recover from the damage to its tree canopy caused by this storm. In the sixties, Dutch elm disease denuded many streets in the area. This time, there’s been no discrimination. Older, more brittle trees have suffered, but so did the relatively young Asian elms along Bidwell and Lincoln Parkways, two of the city’s most beautiful streets, each distinguished by central medians and gracious setbacks, all lined with trees. Both were designed by Frederick Olmsted to provide pleasant avenues for carriages and equestrians.

This is what they looked like during the first drive I’ve been able to take.

Because of the medians, which seem to have been planted at the same time and with the same trees, the destruction is shockingly consistent.

Smaller residential streets throughout the area have also suffered, but it isn’t as noticeable. I’ve often heard photographers complain that our street is impossible to shoot during summer and early fall—they won’t have that complaint next year. Wouldn’t you know it though, the two Norway maples in front of my house—the same ones often vilified in this blog—are just fine, virtually unharmed. But I feel sorry for those who are cleaning up messes like this:

Having read some comments on my other posts, I would like to clarify a few things. I enjoy the weather here and would take a few snowstorms over hurricanes (south), tornadoes (midwest) or earthquakes (west)—any day. We usually don't see any serious snow until late December, when you want to see it, and I am sure what we have now will be melted in a couple days. I'm really only expressing my concern over the trees, which I do feel is a possible tragedy. We'll see once the debris is cleared away

Friday, October 13, 2006


Well, I feel a bit petty about my dahlia lament last night. Today,300,000 people in Western New York are without power after a premature blizzard dumped so much snow on the fully-leaved trees that branches and powerlines are lying in a tangled mess throughout the region. Actually, everyone on our street was hoping for a tree-trimming, but not quite like this.

In terms of garden damage, I’m hearing about gazebos split in half, trellises in splinters, and worse—like me, no one has really winterized anything this early.

So, there’s a lot of this (this fountain is still playing):

and this (these impatiens still look great):

Every few minutes I’m hearing loud booms as huge loads of snow come crashing down from trees and roofs. Tuesday it should be 60. Can we fast forward?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Are you kidding me?

Yesterday, I was admiring this—

—and believe me, it’s not often I have a dahlia I can admire, let alone the tallest one I’ve ever grown.

And today, I drove home in this:

I’m sure I’m not the only one exclaiming in horror over this early October blizzard. And I don’t even have my bulbs in, dammit. A fluke, surely. In the meantime, I guess it’s sayonara for all my potted annuals, which were all doing quite well, better than they ever have at this time of year.

I did manage to cut the dahlia, though I suppose its siblings are goners.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The spice of life? I think so.

Not to harp away on this, but who the hell cares if tulips only bloom for six or seven years? I just noticed a comment to that effect on some other blog (while narcissistically checking on my referrals) and wondered what the problem was. I guess some people sorely need to see the same flower bloom year after year for decades. Either that, or they really like to squeeze a nickel. Anyway, no way do tulips last that long, except the species and maybe the Darwin hybrids. Two or three years would be more like it—if that long.

My point is this. There are many things in life we can’t change, or can’t afford to change as often as we’d like. I can’t refinish the hardwood floors in the hallway this year, as much as I’d like to, and should. Nor can I change the paint jobs in all the upstairs rooms, though they could use it. For that matter, I'd really like at least four or five new cashmere tops for work. I don’t think it’s going to happen.

But for far less than the price of all those things, the one thing I can do is put a new set of tulips in the front yard this spring. (I’m sure our neighbors would rather we cleaned the gutters.)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Flag rant follow-up and then I’ll shut up about it

Gee, I wish I could get that many comments on this blog! Just kidding—but I was reading through the comments and I’d like to respond to a few:

1. Yes, I totally agree that there are far more loathsome front yard displays in store for us in the months ahead than flags. Somehow, I don’t mind the Halloween stuff as much, especially if it’s really ghoulish. There’s something kind of subversive about it. In fact, we at GWI like to fly the Jolly Roger (the only flag we ever fly) and hang a skeleton from the eaves for the week of Halloween. I don't much mind the hay, pumpkins, and other harvest-related stuff. During Christmas—oh sorry, the holidays—our block puts electric candles in the windows. You barely notice them—rather boring, in fact.

I must admit I like to get in the car to tour the pull-out-the-stops, guns-ablazing insanity. The ones where you can’t say anything but “Holy shit!”

2. I would also endorse the belief that the cutesy flags with various kitsch on them are even worse.

3. Yes, the picture I included is rather attractive even with all the flags. It was taken by our Garden Walk book photographer Don Zinteck and will be included in the book. A pro like Don can make pretty much anything look good.

4. The ones on cars?? Don’t get me started.

Ok, all done. I have to go kick some puppies and kittens now.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Blocking out the scenery, breaking my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign

-Five Man Electrical Band, 1970

OK, totally dating myself with that reference!

We are not talking about writ large here, just the most literal interpretation possible. We’re talking about signs in the yard. Yeah, those.

Some years ago, I felt strongly that casino gambling in downtown Buffalo was a really bad idea, so strongly that I placed a “no casino” sign in our front garden. We lived with it for many months, but when I took pictures of the house, all you saw was the sign.

I now have a no-sign policy. Recently, some very well-meaning community activists created signs that say “Non-violence starts with me,” and “I leave peace prints.” The signs have doves on them. You can see them all over the West Side of Buffalo—but not in my yard. This is not why I spend thousands of hours working on my garden. We won’t talk about the other expenditures.

I live in a preservation district, so businesses in my neighborhood have to apply for permits before they can put up signs advertising what they do. All property owners must apply for permits and submit plans before replacing windows, porches, or any other exterior features that may alter the historic integrity of their buildings. And of course demolitions are discouraged. This is a good thing. The neighborhood keeps its distinctive look; one can imagine what living in Buffalo during the nineteenth century was like.

Unfortunately though, nothing stops you from putting up “temporary” signs. The most hateful are the electric ones with "Happy 40th" or whatever on them. Sometimes, we just don’t need all the information.

(More on another type of political signifier here.)
Sorry--this is a retreaded earlier post, but I am adding an image later today of an Eastlake house utterly defaced with rental signs.

My obsession with bulbs

It has always been so. Before I even started my first garden, I was fascinated by the thought of buying and planting little round things in the fall that would burst forth into colorful life the next spring. Over the years, I’ve been known to spend $300 or better on tulip, lily, daffodil, and hyacinth bulbs—as well as miscellaneous other types. Usually, friends are the yearly recipients of my insane overbuying.

Do people plant as many bulbs as they used to? I tend to see them more in public plantings than in private gardens these days. (At one time, I tried to synchronize our whole street in tulips, but we used containers and had a hard winter, so most didn’t come up and that was the end of that.) Although I see no evidence in the media that planting spring-flowering bulbs is any less popular, I’m also not seeing as many bulbs each spring, at least not in Western New York. People here find it difficult to accept the fact that tulips are not really perennials, and when their first crop fails to return in force the next year, rather than plant new ones they decide not to bother. To me, the fact that tulips must be renewed is a good thing. It provides variety and negates the futile practice of letting ugly bulb foliage die back.

Some speculation on why bulbs may not be as popular as they used to be:
-no instant gratification here
-an increasing emphasis on low maintenance (bah!)
-more hardscaping and water gardens make less space for bulbs in quantity

Hmm. I’m not sure. They’ll always be one of my favorite aspects of gardening—which is why I have about 30-40 lily stalks dying back in my small courtyard right now.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It’s not easy being green


Ok, here’s the big debate about the Garden Walk book cover. Would we choose a photo and design based on “pop!” and color? Would we pick something that was really Buffalo, i.e., Victorian architecture surrounded by plantings? Would we pick something subtle, something that expressed great garden design but was not necessarily urban or colorful? Or would we aim for democracy, trying to get as many representative gardens on the cover as we could?

What do you think, gentle readers of GWI? I’m hesitant to show any of the prospective covers now, because I know what we picked, and I want to unveil it when the book is done. A lot of determinants go into a book cover, not the least of which is what is “salable.” When I think about the gardening books I have, the ones that stick in my mind are very diverse. Botanica is a design of colorful foliage. I liked it so much I chose my kitchen curtains based on it. Christopher Lloyd’s Garden Flowers is a big orange dahlia, while other book covers I like feature lush English borders.

It seems there may be a movement toward greener-looking covers, with less flower power. I don’t know. I hope we did the right thing. Above is a photoshop melange I put together for your enjoyment.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Spending ridiculous amounts of money on 2 weeks worth of flowers

I’m trying to cool it on the bulbs this year. It’s gotten out of control—I’ve been spending too much money and too much time agonizing over which color, which variety, which ones will actually come up, which ones will perennialize.

Stop the madness!

So last week I took just a few minutes to quickly put in an order at Brent and Becky’s. The goal is to get everything but the lilies at ONE PLACE. There are some Perestroika and Blushing Lady (god the names) single lates for the front.

Some Prinses Irene and Striped Bellona for containers.

And some Woodstock and Yellow Queen for forcing. I’ve pretty much given up on the whole subtlety thing. I think bright colors are what it’s all about for this short spring show.

It will be interesting to see if the species tulips from years past come back. I think I enjoy forcing the hyacinths the most; potting them, checking on them, and waiting for them to bloom inside is fun.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

On public and private gardening

Garden Rant is kindly allowing me to post as a guest today, and suggested that I write about Garden Walk Buffalo—as an encouragement to those who might want to start similar events. They’ve also linked to my garden bench post, where seating in a private garden became—intentionally—seating for the public.

I think there are a few things bubbling under the surface of these seemingly benign topics. As gardeners and property owners, we always have to ask ourselves: how public do we want our gardens to be? Even if you’re not allowing thousands of people to walk through your garden, as I do, installing a bright flower garden in front of your house rather than a discreet lawn invites attention. And some people don’t want that kind of attention. The former owners of the GWI property commented that they’d never wanted to draw notice to the house in the way they felt we did when we had a mural painted on the garage door. My colleague at work is afraid to go too far in his front yard gardening because he feels it will be too different from the neighborhood standard. (But he’s a subversive through and through, so I know his inner wild gardener will break free.)

The gardeners of Garden Walk Buffalo simply do not think in this way. They’re screaming “Look at us!” not only for the sheer egotism of it, but because they want to spread the spirit of community and neighborhood pride that a block of exhibitionist gardeners creates. (I guess that extroverted sensibility is a big reason I call my blog "gardening while intoxicated.")

Neighbors talk to each other more when there is a shared activity. People feel less alienated when there are benches to sit on. I’m pleased to say that we’re seeing more and more public benches in some Buffalo neighborhoods, though it remains a bit of an issue.

As for the yearly public invasion of Garden Walk, I have never heard anything about anyone’s property being harmed in any way. I guess the area thieves just don’t see the return for their efforts, and garden-hating vandals correctly suppose that any destructive activity would be quickly terminated by the other walkers.

Thanks, Garden Rant. I also highly recommend the blogs of the garden ranters: Dirt, Sign of the Shovel, and the Takoma Gardner, who also has a guest post on As Time Goes By.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I become a TV gardener

One of my new projects at work is that I am programming a segment on either AM Buffalo or PM Buffalo (daytime local talk shows) every Wednesday. It’s supposed to be connected to what we are covering in the magazine. I’m trying to avoid going on myself (Ever catch sight of yourself in a TV monitor?), but had to participate today, because the subject was…

Gardening! And I must say we killed. I went on with Lacy, who runs a very cute shop in town called Diggin It!, and we did a bulb forcing demonstration with paperwhites and hyacinths. I was a bit nervous about trying to show and tell people how to force hyacinths in the few seconds I had for that. Paperwhites are easy; hyacinths not so much. But Lacy had brought all these gorgeous vases, draping, and other materials for a really professional display and we got calls the whole time we were on. Thank god I could answer their questions, as many were not about bulbs.

“How do I get my Christmas cactus to bloom? “Why does my rose bush only give me three flowers?” Jeez. I felt bad—all these people out there really wanting to make things grow but needing basic assistance.

Anyway, all were happy, and for me it was additional proof of how much people connect to gardening. Even the station staffers were asking us questions about stuff they wanted to do.

Monday, September 18, 2006

And never the twain shall meet

Here I am, sitting having a beer in the middle of a beautiful early fall afternoon, listening to the sounds of cicadas, bees, the soft breeze rustling in the maple tree—and two housepainters arguing about the Bills game in stentorian tones. Yes, the neighbors are having some work done. Recent mornings have been heralded by their ladders crashing to the ground as they position them around the house and their portable radios tuned—at 8:30 a.m.—to one of the more obnoxious classic rock stations.

This is all part of urban life and does not really bother me. But the one thing you have to remember about contractors is that they are the sworn enemies of any and all vegetation. It’s part of their union rules or something. When we had our brick stoop rebuilt, I found all the old bricks in a huge pile on top of what had been a promising bed of sweet woodruff, Jacob’s ladder, and martagon lilies. “You didn’t have anything there dear, did you?” the foreman asked rhetorically, smiling in his usual kind-of-cute-if-you-like-that-short-Mediterranean-type way.

You see, they are really incapable of noticing the more subtle plantings. (I’m not saying that if you stuck a basket of bright pink petunias in their face they wouldn’t see it.) So when construction is in the planning stages, it’s always a good idea to also plan how you’ll replant a few of the nearby beds that you were getting sick of anyway.

And it helps if there are a couple of hotties in the group.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Wild and crazy on the West Side

Today I saw one of the most delightful gardens I’ve seen yet while preparing the Garden Walk book. You’d never call it subtle, but the combination of the tightly packed front yard planting, the tire containers, and the upper porch hanging baskets are so colorfully over the top, they defeat demur. It’s also a fun block—Hispanic and Asian, mainly—with lots of kids playing in the street.

The gardeners, Le and An Ly, have—as far as I could tell—dahlias, roses, coleus, allysum, hollyhock (gone now), cleomes, petunias, hibiscus, abutilon (flowering maple), zinnias, perilla, and some evergreens. The tires are particularly interesting—one usually only sees painted tire containers in the rural and suburban south. I think they work better in an urban setting. These are creatively painted, too—not the usual white.

And I’m seeing it now. I can only imagine what it was in July. I’m going over there Sunday to talk to them—my final interview. A good thing, as the book goes to print Monday.

The photo was taken earlier in the summer, by Don Zinteck.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Remembrances of Buffalo gardens past

In the course of writing a rather half-assed sidebar on Buffalo garden history for the GW book, I did come up with some interesting tidbits, none of which seem to fit together.

For example, an organization that is just as Maoist as it sounds, the People’s Garden Association, formed in 1910 to help provide co-op gardens in vacant lots to feed the city’s working class and unemployed poor. Their manifesto?

“The people are brought together; they talk together, especially about their crops; become friendly; help each other; trespass becomes rare. They are drunkards, worn-out or disabled men, washerwomen—all but the rich and lazy.”

I applaud their not classing drunks with the lazy. Drinking is hard work.

On quite the other side of the coin, a book called Buffalo, the City Beautiful celebrated the estates of city’s well-to-do. Most were clearly modeled after Georgian and the more formal Victorian gardening principles, with large areas of lawns and shrubberies, and some very severe-looking bodies of water. Out in the burbs—back then they would have called it the “country”—people seemed to have more lively perennial gardens, sort of the opposite of the way it is now.

Finally, I read with interest the vigorous attempts of the 1930s-era Buffalo Garden Club to get the petunia named Buffalo’s municipal flower. These women were dedicated and persistent, but, as far as I know, they were ultimately unsuccessful. It could be that when WWII came along, the mania for Victory Gardens made obsessing over petunias seem rather trivial. I’m still tracking this down though. I’ll let you know.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Take a seat

Some people have fences, some people have “keep off the grass” signs, and others keep dogs to make sure the property in front of their house is not violated by pedestrians.

Gail McCarthy and Marvin Lunenfeld had a bench. It was installed in the late eighties, just inside their property line, so close to the sidewalk that it had every appearance of public seating. This was a natural extension of the relationship the two had established with passers-by, who would comment on the bright perennial garden that surrounded their house; at that time, few of their neighbors had anything other than grass.

When McCarthy and Lunenfeld left their house in 2003, the entire neighborhood for blocks around had caught the gardening bug, and there were many front gardens just like theirs—largely thanks to their example. (The two also founded Garden Walk Buffalo, which had around twenty gardens when they started it and now has over 200.)

Over time, the wooden bench deteriorated and had to be removed by the new owners. They installed a bench exactly like it, right down to the small “welcome/bienvenudo” sign that is affixed to the back. So there it is, just in case anyone walking by needs to sit for a minute, change their baby, or just feels like enjoying the vista of urban gardens that Gail and Marvin helped to inspire.

(I interviewed them recently for the GW book.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Another big fat show-off garden

I’m not quite as enamored with the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens as I was last year; the annuals I bought from them this year were a bit inconsistent, and the canna were not the same cultivar (as I had been told) so they clashed. A bit. Not a biggie.

Nonetheless, I always enjoy visiting the Gardens as the season is waning, because they always manage a rather magnificent display in their perennial gardens and front annual beds. I am hoping to try my luck next summer with the fabulous castor bean, shown here:

And the BG always reaffirms my faith in verbena boniarensis, a sure-fire butterfly magnet.

The Gardens—Lord and Burnham, 1901, part of Olmsted’s plan for South Park—are undergoing some kind of never-ending renovation. There is a grand master plan that, I believe, will span the globe, displaying examples of botanical environments at various checkpoints along the way. So far, the Palm Dome and one side dome have been completely rebuilt and the third is almost done. It is taking a very long time, but there are always wonderful plants to visit, no matter what construction may be happening.

They even have finally got this thing going—kind of a huge (30-feet, I’m guessing) tiki waterfall:

It had been dormant for years; apparently the plumbing is very complex.

My friend’s big fat show-off garden

I’ve had many an argument with my fellow gardeners about the value of subtlety in gardening. One of the things my mother-in-law said to me when I told her I would have mainly perennials in my garden was, “Well, you’ll have to have some annuals, if you want to have a show all summer.”

And she was right. I do want to have a “show”—all summer long. I like big flowers and huge, exotic foliage plants. Increasingly, I prefer bright colors, and have been moving toward red, orange, yellow, bright blue, and purple, forsaking pale pinks and quiet lavenders.

So imagine my delight when I was once again invited to my friend Gordon’s annual martini party last week. (Ok, the delight had more than one cause.) Gordon’s garden (one of the pond sections is shown above) is well worthy perusing in a leisurely manner, drink and camera in hand. All of his plants seem to be three times bigger than their manifestations in anyone else’s space. His Japanese anemones are a huge thicket, at least four feet tall. His musa bajoo (banana plant) which he over-winters in our zone 5 climate goes at least seven feet, as does the blood red variation on it. I also love his castor bean plant (don’t know the latin for this one) which I’ve only seen as large at the Botanical Gardens.

All that’s missing are some nice big-ass dahlias to make my joy complete.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

GWI 2006: highlights



My property does not lend itself well to big picture shots. (Well, my camera does not lend itself too well either.) The garden winds around the house, disappearing into corners and there are many discrete sections. So, mainly for my own edification, I put together twenty-five or so different shots that show the progression of growth and blooms over this year’s season. It’s in the top Flickr badge in the sidebar. Yeah, not a big fan of Flickr, but twenty-five images in a blog post can get rather cumbersome. So there it is for anyone to check out—or not. Clicking on the images seems to work best, as I mangled the code a bit.

The one back plot that I can document as a whole is shown above. The vines might be a tad out of control.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Put to the test

All those for whom the mere mention of bedding annuals is enough to bring on a shudder of nausea: stop reading here.

For the rest of you, here’s my annual report on the test gardens at the Erie Basin Marina. With lovely surroundings that include this—

—the test gardens are always worth a visit toward the end of the summer. They are maintained by a very nice gentleman, Stan Swisher, who supervises test beds of annuals being introduced by various companies, such as Ball, Proven Winners, Goldsmith, and others. I’ve had the pleasure of pouring Stan a glass of wine or two at the Garden Walk rally (the gardens are cited on the map) and he’s tried to explain to me how the testing works and why I never seem to see any of these plants in local nurseries the next spring. I’m still not sure I understand, but no matter. It’s fun to check them out, even if I can’t actually have any of the plants.

This is a heliotrope, Scentropia Silver (Proven Winners). It has a similar habit to my white heliotrope, which I find to be much more successful that the dark blue ones.

There are always fabulous coleus here—well, when are coleus not fabulous? These are Pistachio Nightmare and Florida Sun Lava (Proven Winners).

And this is Wine Country.

I’m always surprised by the annual vincas—I have never seen these for sale and they ‘d be so useful if they take shade, as the perennial vinca does. Are they real vinca? Gecko, would you know? These are from Goldsmith—very eye-catching, I thought.

Always a sucker for diascia, I hope I can order this red variety, shown here with Roseglow lantana.

It was a lovely walk down there, and I also took note of some splendid front perennial gardens, which I’ll save for another blog. Sadly, all the zinnias at the test gardens were well and truly mildewed.