Thursday, December 27, 2007

GWI does 2007: a very good year indeed

Some of the local blogs do retrospectives at this time of year. For the ones who cover Western New York happenings, this can be depressing at worst and funny (in a gruesome way) at best. Fortunately, since I strictly maintain a gardening focus, I don’t have to talk about local political follies, horrible things going on in the world, family issues, or my many personal problems. I spare you all of these things to bring you only my gardening experiences. Believe me, the other stuff? You don’t want to know.

I join Garden Rant! Woohoo! There is sort of a regimen—I post twice a week whether I have something to say or not—but that’s actually what’s good. It forces me to look outside my own garden and think about the bigger issues affecting all gardeners. And find out about cool garden-related stuff that’s happening around the world.

As usual, I order a lot of stuff from Bluestone Perennials and Select Seeds. Glancing over the orders, I can say that the most successful plants (plants only were ordered) were the verbena bonariensis, geranium Rozanne (which pretty much bloomed all summer), and the chrysogonum. I expect good things in future seasons from the other plants. Nothing died, anyway. As for the Select Seeds order, all 40 plants were fantastic, except for the brugsmansia. The rudbeckia triloba variant was probably the most amazing. All annuals or biennials of course. My forced hyacinths came up, as always, and I posted one for Bloom Day, which I join (right word?) for the first time.

We vacation in Naples, Florida, where a year-round growing climate seems to be pretty much wasted on routine corporate landscaping. A century plant breaks through the cactus house at the Botanical Gardens, and I visit a few garden shows.

I am sure all you Northeasterners and Midwesterners remember early April and that wonderful freeze we had, which almost ruined my hellebores and did ruin my erythronium. I become one of the very first member/owners of Urban Roots, Buffalo’s first gardening co-op. Since then, I’ve bought some great plants, mulch, soil, and other supplies there. Three possible contractors come to give us pond quotes and designs. We choose the one who says he does all his sketches as he works, but his ideas seem closest to our idea of a natural-looking water feature.

May is when it all starts happening at once, especially this year when we had hardly any rain and 80 degree temps quite early in the month. The pond is finished. I love it right away. All the plants arrive, plus I have to replant the ones displaced by the pond. The wisteria blooms unseen, trapped between old vines and new foliage. Still haven’t solved that problem.

After several lackluster seasons, I have the biggest year for roses I’ve ever had—the dryness, the heat. Garden Walk planning is in full force and controversies over selling plants rear their tiresome heads. The Select Seeds annuals do their stuff, especially the Red Bedder nicotiana.

Lily time is here, and all decide to bloom pretty much at once, thanks again, I guess, to the wacky dry weather. At the end of the month, the Garden Ranters arrive for Garden Walk, plus a few other bloggers and lots of media folks. A glorious time is had by all. Ranter Susan is kind of shaking her head over the wild Buffalo gardeners. Or maybe just me.

Ron officially becomes my garden mentee (that's garden guru Sally Cunningham with him), and we visit nurseries and online vendors, buying up perennials for about 70 new beds he has planned for his suburban property. Prairie Glow rudbeckia bursts into orange, red, and yellow splendor and is absolutely amazing. I start to order bulbs.

I raise hell on and offline about my friend Jean Dickson’s garden, visit the Botanical Gardens to enjoy the best late summer flowers I’ve ever seen there, and order more bulbs.


I advocate here for species tulips, participate in Blog Action Day, and start to plan an upstairs plant room/semi-greenhouse (still in progress).

The upstairs plant room receives fancy, unsustainable flooring; I wait the longest I’ve ever waited to get my bulbs in, but eventually do; and my many exotic varieties of paperwhites get their most elaborate pottings ever.

Snow starts early this year, but no freak storms. The hyacinth bulbs seem a bit behindhand, bud-wise, so remain in the root cellar. I install twitter but don’t have much to say on it and we have a great Christmas, with enough Veuve Cliquot to last the entire hors d’oeuvre, dinner, and dessert courses. Not to mention rum punch, burgundy, and spatlese reisling. Certainly enough to toast all my fellow garden bloggers and wish them a successful 2008 in their gardens and everywhere else.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Dressing up for the holidays

Sorry, no spectacular lighting displays have been documented so far—I just haven’t had the inclination to drive around at night getting them. But while doing some errands on foot this afternoon, it did strike me what a great effect a thin dusting of new snow can have. Like above, where this fancy evergreen hybrid (I am not sure what it is) is outlined against the house. Or this frosted ironwork.

Then of course, if you insist on a little color, there’s always this (below). All for now—I’ll be getting back to my festive activities.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Floral drinking

No, Perrier-Jouet did not drop off some samples. But I was pleasantly surprised to find this lovely gift set decently priced at around $30 (normally, the P-J runs upwards of $40 for the juice alone, never mind the pretty glasses). What a great gift! For me! And maybe others.

Also today, I was reading a local wine column in which the writer points out that champagne is far preferable for the kind of casual occasion where you might be having a beer. Beer can be very filling, whereas champagne is light in comparison. You can drink tons and never feel it. Perhaps a bit the next day.

So now we move into the “intoxicated” part of our program. No gardening going on at the moment, just parties, sitting in front of the fire, putting up lights, all that cool holiday stuff I actually love.

I'll try to have some decent holiday lighting images up soon. Cheers!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Giving Shrub Coat a try

Though I usually don’t discuss particular garden products here, I’m making an exception of Shrub Coat for 2 reasons:
1. It’s the brainchild of a Western New York horticulturalist.
2. If it works, other zone 5 (and under) gardeners should know about it, because it might spare us some seasonal anxiety over our hydrangea macrophyllas, rhododendrons, and other marginally hardy shrubs.

Up until now, I’ve been protecting the 2 macrophyllas (both are pink and bloom on old wood) by heaping bags of leaves around them in late fall, in order to block some of the more bitter winds. It’s worked almost every season, as far as I can tell. But it’s also a bit of a pain, as the piles fall over and the leaves get soggy. Sometime over the summer (I think) the Shrub Coat people dropped off some samples and I installed 2 of them yesterday. I probably ought to have done it sooner.

If you could count on a deep snow cover for the whole winter, that would do the job, but you can’t count on that. Nonetheless, I resisted the urge to cover the rhododendrons in the front, because I’m less inclined to spoil them. If they can’t tough it out and thrive, then I’d love to replace them with something native.

So, there you have it—Shrub Coat. They come in teepee types, with poles, and simple covers, without poles; you pound them in with plastic stakes, also provided. The sizes range up to 9-feet-high. The fabric is some kind of tough mesh that does seem like it would work better than burlap. We’ll see.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Plant room on hold

Sort of. Things are at a bit of an impasse with the project (top), as lights still need to be purchased and installed in some attractive manner, and I’d like to have some hanging basket hooks put into the ceiling. Soon, however, a whole mess of hyacinth glasses and pots will be coming up here. Fortunately they won’t need special lights.

One thing I do think about is what will happen when summer comes and many of these plants are outside. I’ll have to load up on cactus and orchids, which I won’t have room for in the garden. There must be some sort of indoor summer gardening project I could take up.

In any case, I can live with this until I figure the rest out. Better than it was (above), anyway!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bulb check

Posting will be a bit light as we get into the winter months; I tend to use this blog to chronicle my own garden, and, as joyful as the four seasons are and all that, the fact is, the garden is not terribly … active. At the moment, that is.

Nonetheless, there’s plenty happening inside, both with the flowering houseplants and the bulbs chilling in the root cellar. I went down today to do a quick 5-week check. As usual with the hyacinths, the root development happens very quickly, though little can be seen, bud-wise. The hyacinths in dirt tend to be a bit more forward. I was worried because it got real cold, real fast here—in the 20s most days, which is not normal for December. But what’s normal weatherwise these days?

At the office, in addition to my obnoxious Christmas decorations (I like things that light up or make noise unexpectedly), I have some of my more advanced paperwhites: this is Inbal. I like to use colored glass as well as natural-looking rocks. A friend of mine uses aquarium gravel, but I haven't tried that yet.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007



This is what I love about gardening. Even after some half-hearted mangling and butchering by roofers who clearly were not giving it their all, I’m confident that the cycle will continue, from bare to burgeoning to lush to fading and back again.

And this is why I have no interest in living in anything less than a four-season climate. Every place has its cycles, but ours is pretty dramatic. Hard to believe, looking outside on a gray February day, that I’ll have my urban jungle back in a matter of months. It’s kind of fun, for a while, to forget about outside gardening and turn my attention to the bulbs, MAYBE some seeds, and refreshing visits to the Botanical Gardens.

But those are minor distractions compared to the hidden action outside.

Now, if someone would just come along and make all these matted maple leaves disappear before snow buries them.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

You know you're an Allentown gardener if ...

A bunch of Western New York bloggers are playing the neighborhood stereotype game, prompted by this article. Here's mine:

You Know You’re an Allentown Gardener if:

1. The only grass you have is on the patch between sidewalk and road and you’re in the process of replacing that with perennials or some kind of hardscaping.

2. You disdain overly flamboyant holiday decorations and tend to favor tasteful white candles and lighting that highlights the architecture of your house. Or you go the other way—all the way—and create a spectacle that becomes a tourist destination (no inflatables though).

3. Flamboyance is always encouraged in summer however, when cars screech to a halt so the occupants can stare at your bright orange and red cannas, daylilies, oriental lilies, and tropicals in your front yard.

4. Any use of gazing balls, pink flamingos, and smoking cowboy silhouettes is purely ironic and only brought out for parties, which, admittedly, are frequent.

5. Architectural remnants and strange stone objects from former Buffalo mansions are common throughout the neighborhood.

6. You have at least one outside bar, one upper, and one lower dining space, and a complex outside lighting and sound system. Fortunately, the local precinct has been ignoring noise complaints from Allentown for some years. Gunshots will alert them, so be advised.

7. Though your back yard is the size of a Civic, you have one and usually two ponds, both containing koi the size of small dogs.

8. Participation in Garden Walk is handed down from homeowner to homeowner. Hapless newcomers who think they can get away without entering Garden Walk are pressured until they give in, hiring a landscaping service if necessary to make sure their garden is up to snuff.

9. Though ponds are considered the main event, throwaway water features like fountains, birdbaths, and Zen-like bubbly thingies are common, though they do not qualify as water features on the Garden Walk application.

10. Every morning, neighbors greet each other and enjoy coffee while gingerly removing crack bags, syringes, and junk food wrappers from the front of their properties.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Inside, outside, and in cyberspace

Do you want the good news or the bad news? Let’s start with the (not so) bad. I’ve been finishing up bulb planting—some triumphs in the front, some lilies, more species tulips, and small bulbs here and there—so I’ve had an opportunity to view the roofing damage, thus far. They had to remove the trellis/arch that supports the mock orange, so it looks as though they cut away what had been supported. Or maybe it just broke away. So now it’s tall and upright rather than gracefully arching. This might be fine; I suspect that plant has needed a good hacking for a while. Several beds seem to have been stripped of all plant life. I think what happened is that when they cleaned up the debris, they dragged the above-ground plant life away with it. Unless uprooted, I expect most of this to return. I think I may have lost some hardy geranium (big deal).

When I mentioned the roof work on Garden Rant, there were suggestions involving wheel barrows on the roof dumping into truck beds, etc. None of that would be possible here. They did slide the stuff down plywood, but directed disposal is not so easy with a very steep roof and no space between buildings. Anyway, I’m looking at all this as an opportunity, depending on what I see in the spring. Around here, we're used to the frequent roof work that cold weather and old housing stock involves and we're also used to dealing with the damage.

Inside, we’ve painted the ever-progressing plant room (as you see above), and I’ve purchased some plant stands from Gardeners Supply (not seen). I just need the lights and some humidity trays.

Finally, I just got an email from a Garden Walk buddy, who’s started a cool garden travel blog, in which he shares his photos of all the gardens he’s visited during his frequent globe-trotting. This is pure garden porn you won’t want to miss.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bloom Day—are you kidding?

Seriously, the place is a hellhole. Roof grit and dust everywhere, plywood everywhere, 2 x4s everywhere, ladders everywhere, tarp everywhere. I could go on but won’t depress you. Nonetheless, I went out there with my camera—one thing, it’s quite warm, mid-50s—and got a few snappies. Most are over at Garden Rant (or will be as of 11/15), but at top you see what I suppose should be the last rose of summer (David Austin, Charlotte), though never say never. I also am getting some nice action from my houseplants. Cyclamens seem to be foolproof rebloomers; I’ve had one pink one for nine years. This is a newer red one. Lots of growth on the paperwhites—maybe I'll have some for next GBBD.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

So all my bulbs aren’t in yet. So what?

Not only that, but I am still in the process of sending some giveaway bulbs to others, thus ensuring that all their bulbs aren’t in yet either. Not only that, but it’s been snowing a bit and it’s about 35 out right now. Not only that, but the roofers should be here any day now and that might present me with difficulties when I do get my act together and plant the rest of the bulbs.

I did get the lilies in (except the ones I just ordered) and got all the hyacinths and paperwhites (the special tazettas that need a cold spell) into the root cellar. I like fooling around with paperwhites: no digging, no dirt, no freezing outside. I’m also experimenting with some larger containers. One, the tallest, is a bit iffy, but these are tall varieties and I’m betting they’ll clear the top of it. Or not, and then we’ll see how that looks (strange, probably). These will stay on the dark, cool back room for a while and then they’ll go into the new plant room, which is progressing.

As for the outdoor bulbs, it’s really nothing to get excited about. The weather will warm up in a few days, and I’ll get them in. I happen to know you can wait until January to get tulips in and as long as you can get into the ground, they’ll bloom as usual in the spring.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Last bulb purchases—maybe

I was feeling a bit insecure about the lily situation, so I did end up ordering more from The Lily Garden. Just three: Elise (above) Madame Butterfly (below), and Miss Lucy (below that). Elise and Madame Butterfly are relatives of henryi, a reliable species type that I’ve been growing for some time. Miss Lucy looks the same as Double Prize, which I’ve grown before and really does last a long time. I had it in a container and it did not return—I suspect it may have frozen. That does happen once in a while. I know I take a chance by storing these pots of bulbs in the garage, but the fatalities are rare. Tulips and lilies do very well, but I’ve stopped keeping hyacinths out there. They just don’t make it.

Then I picked up a bag of species tulips (bakeri Lilac Wonder) at Home Depot. I had given the ones I had to mentee Ron, not realizing that they bloom at the same time as the batalini Bronze Charm, so I'll need them for the contrast. The other violet ones I have, humulis Persian Pearl, bloom earlier. These species can be tricky with their bloom times. You'd think they'd all be early blooomers, but they're not.

Indoor plant room, step one

When we ripped up the incredibly ugly brown/gray carpet in my former study, we found that there was really no floor. Most of the house has its original (restored) parquet flooring, with some wide-plank pine upstairs, but this (shown above) looked too crappy to bother finishing. So we chose some teak remnants at a hardwood place and they installed it. I could have gone with tile (or, yes, something more sustainable like bamboo) but I like wood, and I associate teak with outside use. So we’re really happy with it. Next: shoe molding goes in and the walls and ceiling will be painted.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My halloween post

Is over here.

I'm afraid I only have one in me.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ok, summer’s over

Tonight I’ll finally take in my gardenia, banana, and jasmine plants; a frost is expected, our first. They might survive it; in fact, they probably would, but why delay the inevitable. When I visited the Botanical Gardens today, I saw that they’d ripped out their outdoor annual plantings. Ouch. I bet they still looked fabulous too. But they’ve got to get their bulbs in, just as I do. The lilies are in but none of the tulips. I hope to do all the pots for forcing today and tomorrow.

Thank goodness I have a winter project: my new indoor greenhouse, which, believe it or not, will be created from the nondescript room you see above and at top (all the office stuff will go, but I’ll probably put back a lot of the art). It has great southern light, which I’ll supplement with some kind of other lighting (I need to research it). The room is quite cool, and it will be easy to add moisture, as it’s manageably small. Other people in this area have successfully done this with spare rooms, so I’m hopeful. We picked out a new hardwood floor yesterday, and will paint it after that. Then I'll need to find plant stands, humidity trays, lights, all that. A big project for a small room.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Avert your eyes!

Today was a beautiful gardening day (too bad we were up a bit late last night at a neighbor’s party). We’re cleaning up and clearing away pots and other things and we got a lot done. I also planted the bulbs that seemed in most urgent need of planting: the lilies and the eremus. The tulips and hyacinths (all being forced) are tough; they can wait a bit more. I had never seen an eremus “bulb” (more a root). Ew!

But that’s NOTHING compared to this grotesquely-shaped sweet potato vine tuber I found while pulling them all out of the containers. Now, tell me, what does this remind you of?

It seemed a shame to pull all the still-thriving annuals out of the pots, but with roofers coming they'd just be a target, so we have to put the pots away. It would have to be done soon enough anyway.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Blog Action Day

Although I am not nearly as environmentally conscientious as many other bloggers I know, especially my Garden Rant colleagues, who water far less and plant far more native plants or organically-grown vegetables than I do, there is one area where I think I'm doing the right thing.

I don't grow any grass. I have nothing against it as a plant—it is beautiful in its way—but most of the lawns I see are clearly doused regularly with chemicals—to fertilize, to eradicate weeds, and to kill pests. Then, too, in order to keep them green, most require a ton of water. Then there is the mowing—and they all require this—often with polluting gasoline-powered mowers. These have no catalytic converters and can do a lot more damage than most cars, if used regularly. (One hour of power mowing may cause as much pollution as driving a car 1300 miles. Some say it’s more like 3200 miles.)

Recently, I helped defend a friend (scroll this whole category to see all the posts on Jean's garden) who maintains a shrub and perennial insect-friendly, bird-friendly front garden with no chemicals and hardly any watering. Next Blog Action Day, I hope many more of my friends and neighbors will be hosting such spaces.

See ranter Susan Harris's great BAD post here. Find out more about BAD here. BTW, where are the Buffalo blogs? I don't see any local BAD posts. (And now I will refrain from the obvious puns.)

Late season action

To be honest, seasonal decline is very evident on the GWI property, as I begin to get bulbs in and dread the leaf onslaught to come. However, I do have plenty of annuals still going strong and some nicely coloring shrubs, as follows:
Above is Forever Pink macrophylla , which gives a nice dusty rose color as it ages.

I still have elephant ear all over the place, which I may try to overwinter. Here's Violet Stem with coleus and an interesting impatiens variety (yes, such exist!).

And the nicotiana bella is still very floriferous, as are its relatives throughout the garden.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Strolling where the dandelions bloom

I had no idea these bloomed in fall, but then my horticultural knowledge isn’t what it could be. We had a lovely walk around Delaware Park Lake where we enjoyed this bright vista as well as the still-green foliage.

And here’s an image of the patron saint of the park, Mike’s Dave. This is definitely a NIMG; I would love it but the thing is 17 feet tall. Back home I had to take pity on the container plants and water them; plus, it occurred to me that I won’t have much luck saving some of these over the winter if I kill them through deprivation first. In horrible contrast to the balmy weather, the Christmas stuff is already in the supermarkets.

I guess people in warmer latitudes are used to that incongruence.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Tazetta update

The instructions from Old House Gardens came today along with a box of wonderful, earthy-smelling bulbs. I put the box of bulbs next to my other big box of bulbs (soon to be joined by the next box UPS tells me is about to arrive).

Here’s the deal with the tazettas like Grand Primo and Early Pearl, which can be grown outside in warmer places. They are like paperwhites, and can be forced over water and pebbles, but they do need two weeks in a dark, cold place before they can be brought out to grow in the light. Old House Gardens cautions that the room should be chilly like a Victorian parlor. Ha! No problem. Soon I will be starting my indoor-sort-of-greenhouse project, and that’s where there these will go. More on that later. The fact is that any room in our house is chilly enough during the winter for these or any other plant that doesn’t like it too hot and dry.

I do wonder. Old House Gardens is headquarted in Michigan, and yet they really seem to specialize in bulbs for warm zone gardeners who can't give bulbs a natural chilling period. Hmmm. I'm glad they do though. Everyone should have access to bulbs.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Learning to love the species

Acuminata, tarda, and turkistanica, 2006 photos

When I first considered tulips, I didn’t want to think about anything other than the large hybrids. My knowledgeable friend told me that the species tulips would perennialize better; I’m not even sure I knew what that meant. But then I watched the hybrids decline, and always hated their too-prominent foliage. Lilies became more rewarding; the stalks declined at the end of the summer rather than the beginning.

Eventually, my interest was piqued by the species, starting with humilis alba coerulea oculata (loved the pure blue, unadulterated by yellow or purple, which features in so many species). Those proved to be short-lived and I moved on to turkistanica, a white/yellow variety that is multi-flowering and has lasted (increasing too) at least five years so far. Others I’ve accumulated include clusiana (Lady Jane and Cynthia), batalini (red and yellow), and praestans fusilier. This year I’ve ordered acuminata (last year’s did not repeat, so we’ll give it another shot), bakari Lilac Wonder, batalini Bronze Charm, and humilis Persian Pearl. They look like wildflowers in the garden and are just as subtle so you need quite a few to create an effect. I’m not quite there yet, though I’ve created a new bed that will accommodate them as well as other perennials. Also, though these can perennialize (as my long-ago friend said), some do quite better than others. Some don't do well at all.

I also love the history of these flowers, most discovered growing wild in the mountains of Greece, Turkey, and locations in Central Asia. I think clusiana was the first to be named by naturalists, in 1803, while many of the others were brought into mainsteam bulb culture later in the nineteenth century. They weren’t part of bulbmania. And they’ve only recently become part of my bulbmania.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

BECBG in early fall

It looks as though it will take a hard frost to end this display. We visited the Botanical Gardens to meet the orchid society people (which I’ve posted about on Garden Rant), but as impressive as their handiwork was, I found myself admiring the persistently vibrant annual beds even more. The Mexican sunflowers I mistook for dahlias last time continue to open, while the verbena bonariensis has been joined by massed boltonia.

I’ve noticed this in my own garden; starting with younger seedlings such as those I get from Select Seed and my friend’s basement greenhouse provides a delayed, and hence longer-lasting display. I imagine the growers at the Gardens do everything from seed; I wish I could. It would simply take too long with all the shade.

The orchid show was interesting, though all the prize ribbons detracted from the flowers. I guess the winners don’t mind that too much. Above is … some kind of cattleya, I think. I’m just beginning to learn about these plants.

Easier to identify are these colchicums, which have naturalized all along the front perimeter of the perennial beds. These could be waterlily or pleniflorum, judging from images I’ve seen in catalogs. Lovely. I should give these another try in the front yard; looks like they might take some shade. Most bulbs will.