Sunday, January 22, 2006

Winter flowers

When my gardening partner intends to express mild but disinterested approbation, he says “I like it OK.” That’s pretty much how I feel about most houseplants. They’re almost a necessary evil, in some cases—especially when it comes to office plants. They cut the sterility, but don’t exactly add excitement.

For a houseplant to attract my attention, it has to have drama: height, distinctive branches, great flowers, something. I guess my preference would be flowers, although tall palms and fica can be impressive. Weird cacti and well-trained bonsai are also admirable.

But you need flowers in winter. In WNY, we have to wait until March for the first snowdrops and forsythia; I have seen witch hazel flowering in February but that was in Central Park, not here. For my winter flowers, I turn to a cyclamen plant I’ve had for six years. I just repotted it, but the roots are still like rock; it would probably benefit from being moved outside (they are hardy) but I can’t bring myself to do it.

Now, there’s nothing that exciting about the so-called “Christmas cactus”—of course, they aren’t really cactus and have very different requirements—but I find their flowers exquisite despite the ubiquity. This one I’ve had since 1987; it was the only plant that moved from our apartment with us. I’m not sure why it isn’t gigantic; it has had some setbacks, but it's doing better now..

Flowering bulbs have the most winter possibilities; one day I hope to branch into tuberose and freesia, but for now I’m sticking to paperwhites and hyacinth. In the past I have forced scilla and tulips, but not this year.

As for orchids, I have a book. That’s as far as I’ve gotten.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I was asked to write about gardening as a hobby and this is what I said:

Gardening a hobby? I think not. A quick perusal of the digital thesaurus provided by my word processing program sites such synonyms for “hobby” as “diversion,” “fad” and “sideline.” I wish that my gardening endeavors played such a light and frivolous role in my yearly intellectual, physical, and financial life.

Alas, in the fifteen years or so since I started a small container garden on my Elmwood Village patio, gardening has grown into nearly a year-round occupation. I can be counted on to be outside digging, planting, watering, deadheading, or fertilizing on a daily basis during the warm weather months; I plant and force bulbs in the fall and winter; and I maintain a growing inventory of plants inside year-round. I have three mail-order companies I regularly patronize for live plants in the spring, I can be seen browsing the offerings at local nurseries regularly on summer weekends, and, in late summer and fall, four other orders go in for mail-order bulbs. I am also constantly replacing outdoor pots, even though container gardening is now only one part of my six-year-old Allentown space.

While much of my gardening activity is pleasurable, almost as much of it is frustrating. There is very little I can do about the Norway maple trees whose roots make it nearly impossible to cultivate my front garden space and whose shade prevent any light-loving plants from thriving there, even if I could get through the cement-hard root systems to plant them.

On the side of the house, a bounteous jungle of hostas delights, and then dismays me very year; nothing I do stops them from prematurely decaying in mid-August. Should I replace them—or just enjoy them for the pleasures they do give? And what about the 15-dollar lily bulbs that never came up? Should I stop ordering—oh, but when they do come up, they’re glorious.

For the past four years or so, my yearly springtime obsession has been the pond I keep delaying. I know I will have one, but thoughts of filters, electrical access, possible mosquitoes (causing eventual death from West Nile), plant displacement, and upkeep terrify me, causing me to delay the inevitable one more year. But I can’t stop the bitter pangs of envy whenever I see a friend or neighbor’s fabulous pond.

This is not a hobby. This is endless worry, backbreaking work, unfulfilled expectations, irrevocable mistakes, and appalling expenditures. This is obsession.

But even obsession has its rewards. Sometimes, the sun is out, the lilies are in bloom, and the air is filled with their fragrance. Sometimes, the verbena boniarensis fulfills all my expectations. Sometimes, against all odds, the ground cover calls truce with the tree roots and my front yard looks acceptable.

See you on Garden Walk.

The front at an OK moment.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Dreaming of the tropics

Probably because this is the houseplant season and partially because I visited the Botanical Gardens yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot about tropical or upper-zone plants, especially fragrant ones. Normally used indoors, especially by those lucky enough to have greenhouses, these really work well in the WNY outdoor garden, though you have to save them somewhere during the winter. I know one gardening acquaintance whose garden is made up almost entirely of citrus, jasmines, bananas, agapanthus, and other non-hardy and semi-exotic choices.

And now I’ve found an online vendor, highly rated by Garden Watchdog, that is surely the motherlode for exotic plants. There are 16 types of jasmines, about 20 hoya cultivars, clivia, banana, carnivorous plants (if that’s what you’re into) and many others, including some quite bizarre varieties (see below). It’s Logees, and something tells me I’m going to be spending a considerable chunk of my garden budget there this year. I’d love to add some citrus and fragrant tropicals to the patio, though I’m not sure where I’ll put this stuff over the winter.

Here are some images from the site—actually I'm only interested in one of these, but they give an idea of the unique nature of their offerings.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Gardening resolutions for 2006

We all know that resolutions are bullshit, but as these are not aimed at improving my personal appearance or becoming a better person, I think there might be some hope.

1. I will have a pond. It will have rocks, plants, and fish. I will heed this quote from literary gardening guru Beverley Nichols:
“…I take this opportunity of reminding the reader that every garden must begin with water in some shape or form even if it is only a pool two feet square sunk into a little concrete terrace. If this reader’s retort is ‘In that case I haven’t got a garden at all because I haven’t got any water in it,’ my reply is, ‘Quite. You haven’t got a garden.’”

2. I will spend less than $500 on plants.

3. I will spend less than $500 on bulbs.

4. I will consider making compost. Maybe.

5. I will attempt to cultivate, once again, the sunny strip between the garage and next door.

6. I will finally dig up and rearrange the hosta bed.

Ok, that’s it.