Sunday, July 30, 2006

Lessons of GW06

Finally, a flower close-up (lilium henryi) by a pro, Mike Groll, who was visiting the gardens, pocket-size Leica in tow. Thanks, Mike!

Amidst the joy, gratification, sunburn, and exhaustion, I’m more convinced than ever that my property needs some major enhancements. I’m too dependent on plants. The compliments I get are almost all plant-related, and as much as I appreciate them, I’m realizing that I have to have features that are constant, that don’t depend on what’s bloom at any given time. Well, duh, you say, and you’re right.

The fact is, I’ve always been a plant person, not a design person. I barely understand what good garden design is. That changes this summer, when I get some bucks for this book. A pond won’t be the whole answer, but I believe that the look and sound of a small body of water will greatly enhance a certain spot. Then, in the spring, I’ll be reworking some of the beds to add diversity and a better texture mix.

Anyway, all that said. Plant of the weekend? Nicotiana sylvestris. There were still a lot of questions about the Persian shield, the lilium henryi (above), and the elephant ear, but almost all wanted to know about the plant with the tubular flowers and the huge leaves.

There’s a minor controversy about how nicotiana is pronounced.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Heard in the garden today:

“How do you get your hydrangea to be that color?”
(Buy the right hydrangea.)

“Love the baby’s breath.”
(It’s gallium verum, but no matter.)

"Look at these stargazers!"
(I don’t have any stargazers.)

“Do you take this in?”
(I take nothing in–all tender tubers and annuals are replaced yearly.)

“How do you keep your gardenia alive?”

“This is one of the first gardens that smells like a garden.”
(YES—thank you!)

“Did you paint the mural? Did you make the sculpture?”
(Um, no.)

Horrible loud thrumming sound, like a generator.
(Oops—CD is skipping.)

“Do you take this in?”
(See above.)

“Thank you!”
(No—thank you!)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Beyond the envy

It’s early days to be drawing conclusions from all the gardens I’ve visited and the gardeners I’ve interviewed. (We’ll leave aside the fact that my finished text is now at least one week overdue.) Yet, I do feel some common threads have connected most if not all of the Buffalo gardens I’ve seen. And here they are:

The need for water
Ok, I realize how idiotic that heading sounds—but let’s leave it. What I mean, of course, is the presence—in nearly every garden—of some sort of water feature: whether it be pond, fountain, waterfall, or combo of all three. It’s the sound, more than anything, the illusion that you’re sitting by an idyllic woodland brook, far removed from sirens, helicopters, and bars letting out. Nearly everyone I visited had a pond, usually filled with fish (the corresponding need to nurture wildlife). These gardens are refuges and the more “natural” features there are, the more effective the refuge.

Pet plants
Almost all have their specialty. Today, I found, for the first time, someone who cherishes the rarer lily hybrids and species almost as much as I do, and actually orders bulbs from the ridiculously expensive Old House Gardens. Why, even I, in my reckless profligacy, shrink from their prices (most of the time). Another gardener told me of her love for porcelain berry. The two gentle gardening partners I interviewed after her—who live next to a loud Hispanic church— overwinter a selection of old-fashioned dahlia tubers every year. And then there’s the gardener who said of rudbeckia: “They have my heart.”

Reliance on the backbone
And in Western New York, that’s hosta, hydrangea, Rose of Sharon, daylilies, Japanese maples, peonies, lilac, rudbeckia, grasses, and various evergreens. I won’t offend anyone’s sensibilities by dwelling on the geraniums, impatiens, marigolds, and other everyday annuals. These are not terribly exciting plants, to be sure. But they seem to do very well in the clay soil, particularly the first four perennials I mentioned. I don’t find this to be an optimal spot for roses. I guess there’s a good reason 100-plus types of hostas are available to local gardeners—in person, not through mail order.

And then there’s the stuff
This is a rather more unfortunate category. Let’s simply say that it’s very difficult to stop oneself from adding objects to the garden, each of which may have its own charm, but the cumulative effect of which may be—well, perhaps a bit busy.

I’ll say no more on that subject, but more on local tendencies later.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Garden-worthy architecture

J&J's cottage, during GW 2004.

Today, once again, unwatered pots in my garden remained unwatered. Lily, gardenia, and jasmine fragrances wafted unnoticed. Japanese beetles had their way with the roses, and deadheads dreamed of becoming seedpods. In other words, I didn’t do shit in the garden, even though I’m expecting 2-3 thousand pairs of eyes and feet through the gate this weekend. Maybe more.

Those of you who have read my previous whining about this know that the reason I can’t spend time taking care of my own plantings is that I’m too busy asking other people about theirs. Which has its own rewards.

Today I spoke with John and Jeff, who have the perfect fairy tale cottage surrounded by the perfect cottage garden—it’s even been featured in a magazine, Country Gardens. They didn’t have too much to say about their gardening aesthetic, but their dogs are cute and their roses, delphinium, and clematis are lovely. Actually, this is what’s great about these neighborhoods; you can garden around a house that actually deserves a great garden around it, not some siding-infested suburban multi-level. Here, your house can make up for the shortcomings of your garden. I hope.

It was a pleasure to sit by this circa 1860 cottage, even though I know I will be gnashing my teeth come Saturday, over all that’s being left undone.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lilies and limoncello

This has been an odd year. At first, we all thought that the mild winter and spring would lead to premature maturation of everything. Then, the rains of early summer seemed to halt progress. Now, however, I must admit defeat, cut down my purple hosta blooms and snip off many a spent lily stalk as well. I’d be happy if I could stop time right at this moment. There are still a few unopened lily buds and many magnificent blooms. What appeals to me in flowers is quite like what appeals to me in wine and other aromatic drinks: intoxicating fragrance, best accompanied by cicada sounds and heat.

Right now I’m sitting, sipping, and trying to figure out what I’ll still have by the weekend. (Damn—if only I’d put in that pond!). It’s not that bad. The woodland tobacco (nicotiana sylvestris), unlike last year, has produced flowers as well as leaves, so that will be interesting. The verbena boniarensis has weaved itself around much more subtly than before (too subtle?), and the deep pink hydrangea (not these crappy indeterminate hybrids) did very well this year.

So we’ll see. It doesn’t totally suck—but four days can make quite a difference at this stage. Summer lasts through October now. Why can't the flowers?

Monday, July 24, 2006

A midsummer gardener's nightmare

When you need your garden to look fabulous at a time of year when most gardens are just a bit past their peak (way past for gardens in Southern and other warmer climes), you develop a rather dysfunctional relationship with area vendors. I’ve found that the serious nurseries on whom I depend in the early part of the summer offer very little at this time—usually just a few sad perennials and incredibly rootbound annuals. However, regular monitoring of the offerings at Home Depot can offer unexpected rewards. In addition to the aforementioned sad and rootbound prisoners, on Friday trucks had just unloaded huge, cactus-flowered dahlia plants, covered in buds and blooms. For $6.99!

I love the shaggy overblown look of big dahlias. I also love buying them full –grown, as I rarely can offer the amount of sun dahlias need for a sturdy, upright habit. So, yeah, the dahlias, and a few other things as well: yellow echinacea (yes, one of my least favorite plants, fickle prevaricator that I am), and some double daylilies, which were actually rather nice. I had not heard of either of these hybrids before. I managed to resist the daylilies; I just don’t have that kind of space.

Yet, yet. As with one hand Home Depot caters to last minute garden freakouts, with the other hand, they pretend that it’s “too late in the season” to offer their usual curbside bags of black mulch and other necessities of the exhibition garden. I find this depressing. We’re only halfway through the summer! (And, no, I also don’t appreciate the outdoor living section of our otherwise lovely supermarket, Wegman’s, being filled with back to school stuff.)

Greenhouses and nurseries, listen up. It’s still summer. We’re still gardening.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Last acts of a desperate gardener

Yesterday, I put duct tape on a lily stalk.

I haven’t talked much so far about my own preparations for Garden Walk, but I think that statement should supply an inkling. It was a special lily, to be sure—Double Prize, an unusual hybrid with, as its name suggests, an inner circle of petals. The Lily Garden offers these freaks once in a while; owner and hybridizer Judith Freeman is a genius at creating unique hybrids that not only come up but are hardy and long-lasting. Nonetheless, even the toughest lily is no match for my inept manhandling; while trying to bend the stake so the lily would nod forward in a natural manner, I bent the stalk past its natural flexibility. Hence the duct tape.

Shall I tell more? Of the expensive jumbo houseplants—the only decent-looking things in garden centers now—I’m using for bare spots I forgot to plant? Of the six bags of black mulch I’m hoping Home Depot still has (there is always a run on this before Garden Walk)? Of the anxiety with which I count the unopened buds on each flower stalk, figuring out what, if anything, will be in bloom by next weekend?

No, I won’t be posting an image of the taped stalk. If you want to see Double Prize as it should be seen, visit Lily Garden.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

You are all invited

I am inviting anyone who reads this blog to visit Garden Walk Buffalo, July 29-30. As I’ve stated in other posts, there are over 270 gardens on the walk, which covers about three square miles of Buffalo’s West Side. It’s an inspirational, visually spectacular testimony to the power and potential of urban gardening. Some of the spaces are quite tiny; others cover about half the space of the average suburban yard—but almost all use their spaces creatively, even artistically, if one can apply such a term. As most of the properties were built prior to 1900, it is an architectural tour as well.

Some highlights:

As if the 270 gardens were not enough, Western New York also offers an historic Botanical Gardens, a really cool waterfront test garden, and, of course, a park system designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. So if people aren’t really thinking of Buffalo as the garden of the Northeast, maybe they should. (At least at this time of year.)

So, c’mon down! Or up. Or over, as the case may be.

Update: I just noticed another post about the event here: Garden Design Online

Sunday, July 16, 2006

I can smell them from here

This is the time when my gardening obsession becomes distressingly clear. Any bed on the GWI property with at least 4 hours of sun exposure is now dominated by towering, lanky, awkward lily stalks, each topped by podlike incubi and/or huge, waxy, intoxicatingly scented blooms.

I realized that gardeners in our zone could grow lilium, particularly oriental lilium, during my first Garden Walk, which I experienced as a walker, not a grower. I decided immediately that these were the flowers I had to have. It was their scent that sealed the deal. At first, I bought a lot of stargazers, as these were the commonly available variety, but soon discovered all the other types. Now I have the range: henryi, speciosum rubrum, trumpets, martagons, orienpets. I have a few Asiatics, but they don't have a scent and they really want more sun than I can give them,

Now, lilies do not cooperate terrifically well in a perennial bed situation, although as far as culture goes, they couldn’t be easier to grow. Most of the interesting varieties do get quite tall and the blooms are big and heavy—hence, the result that almost every stake in my arsenal is now in use. And then you have to disguise the rather uninteresting stalks somehow. Nothing quite works, though rose bushes might be the best answer.

But I insist that the rewards are worth it. Upon our return from Italy, we opened the back door and were nearly bowled over the fragrance.

Here is a case where the fact that my camera doesn’t do close-ups well is just fine. I don’t think overly intimate views of lilies are preferable. These are Golden Splendor trumpets and Orienpet Silk Road.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Fiori d’Amalfi

I must admit I didn’t expect much in the way of flora from sunbaked Southern Italy, but my usual ignorance led to a very pleasant surprise.

I learned that the Italians are great lovers of the trellis, the arbor, and the pergola, that the fragrances of jasmine and wisteria would follow us almost everywhere, and that lush flowerings could emerge from rocks and cliffs.

Hard to say what’s perennial and what’s annual in this climate (see, my ignorance persists), but at showplaces such as the Villa Rufolo and the Villa Cimbrone, both in Ravello, I saw very picturesque groupings of palms, shrubs, and common potted varietals. It just doesn’t seem necessary to make too much of an effort her; the backdrop does it all.

Nonetheless, we delighted in being able to pick lemons at will (though didn’t really have much use for them) and in walking under canopies of bougainvillea. Lots of trumpet vine too, which made my usual pitiful sun-starved show of it look as pitiful as usual.

We loved the trip. One thing though: they really should do something about all these crumbling properties. Calling them ruins and asking for an entrance fee—whatta scam.