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.