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.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Let the buyer beware

One of the good vendors

I just got my Lily Garden catalog—very early for them—and I’ve also been receiving the White Flower Farms, Van Engelens/John Scheepers, Brent and Becky’s, McClure Zimmerman, and Old House Gardens offerings for Fall 2006. Like many, I mail order a lot of bulbs at this time of year. I don’t like the selection at the big boxes. Although I’ve had fairly good experiences with many vendors, I thought I’d pass along some words of semi-wisdom from someone who does a lot of mail ordering. (This won’t be needed by many of you.)

You must check out the quality and reliability of vendors from as many third party sources as you can before you order anything. Dave’s Garden maintains a service called the Garden Watchdog, which rates vendors on the amount of favorable comments they receive. Sometimes, the negatives are unfair, but my experience matches up pretty neatly with the Garden Watchdog assessments. There are certain companies that just suck and people should never order from them, and before anyone orders from any catalog, they should first find out what they can. I believe the Garden Web forums often host such discussions and I am sure a question posed in a blog entry would receive some responses.

Even the relatively good vendors have their quirks. Here is my experience:
Van Engelens/Scheepers: They sometimes send the wrong variety, but the bulbs are great.
Brent and Becky’s: Same thing.
McClure Zimmerman: They often send the wrong thing. I don’t order from them any more.
The Lily Garden: I have had great luck with their offerings.
Old House Gardens: I’ve heard nothing but praise for this company. The few things I’ve ordered have been great. They have some rarities and old-fashioned varieties, and are one of the few places to get good species lilies. (Even Lily Garden offers fewer and fewer.)
White Flower farms: They are overpriced, though their plants are fine.
Bluestone: Their perennials are terrific, the best.
Colorblends: They’re kind of wacky, and shame on them for not giving all the cultivar names, but the bulbs are inexpensive and they always come up.
I have heard good things about B & D Lilies, but I don’t like their prices and they give the cultivars different names than you see elsewhere, which is confusing. But then Scheepers does that too.

Of course, my opinion on tulips is relatively worthless. I order new bulbs each year, except for the species. For me, trying to perennialize hybrid tulips is a big waste of time, so I change mine each year. No wonder everyone likes to send me catalogs!