Wednesday, February 28, 2007

We're not worthy

We who promote Garden Walk Buffalo and its accompanying book/DVD were dealt a crushing blow recently when Garden Design magazine, after some consideration, declined to consider a feature on our event—well, not a style feature anyway.

Not that I really blame them. GD sets the bar pretty high on design matters—they usually deal in international trends, not backyard ponds and front yard perennial beds. Even our architecture is probably too stuffy for them. Victorian: been there, done that, they're likely thinking.

We've been sending information on the walk around to national gardening press, in the hopes we'll get some positive media attention directed toward a city that could use it. After all, over 260 gardens, no jurying, absolutely free, neighborhood revitalization, housing values going up, book, DVD, other garden walks springing up all over the city—it's a story, right?

Not for Garden Design, apparently. It's OK; we have other interest.

I guess the gardeners on the walk (and most of the gardeners I am meeting through blogs, as far as I can tell) are happy to express their personal gardening aesthetic however that may take shape. They don't care much for design trends—sure, a few seem more or less inspired by Japanese gardens, traditional English borders, or various forms of rock gardens. Not the stuff high design is made of.

Those Garden Design gardens are a heavy lift, though. Talk about high maintenance. The people who come through my garden during the walk and say "A lot of work!" have no idea.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rage, rage against the shading of the light

The fact is that I've never been able to embrace shade. My gorge rises, my hands clench into fists, and my teeth grit involuntarily as I head for the glade in the back of the garden center, that dank area where they stash all the ferns and hosta. It's been going on ever since I started gardening seriously—about eight years ago—on a property overlooked by other tall houses in the back and surrounded by tightly-planted maples in the front. I think I can divide my struggles with shade into the following phases:

Stage one: Denial
At first, I didn't really understand the dynamics of light exposure and figured I could plant the pretty and fragrant plants I preferred anywhere. So I planted a veritable field of dianthus in a spot that gets about three hours of sun a day. I think I had some lavender in this spot, as well. Then there were delphinium, pansies, linaria, and maybe scabiosa. It's hard to remember because they're all long gone now.

Stage two: Anger
The failure of the lavender—a plant I associate with English novels and Yardley's eau de toilette—really hurt. So I started monitoring the amount of sunlight various sections of the garden got and found that only one spot got as much as six hours a day, while others got confusing spurts in early to mid-morning and late afternoon. The bitter realization set in that I would be limited in my plant selections. I started looking at the garden as a problem rather than a possibility.

Stage three: Bargaining
I learned to eschew the plants with the bright yellow full-sun symbol. But what about the ones with the half-black/half-yellow circles? I became very optimistic about the possibilities of "partial shade." I bought books like What Perennial Where? and 100 Favorite Plants for Shade. I got really excited about heuchera, rodgersia, and ligularia.

Stage four: Depression
Shade is one thing, but some of my shady spots have additional problems. In the back, the drainage is poor and the heuchera languished, then died. The rodgersia like the dampness but grow slooowly. The ligularia was mangled by slugs and I threw it out in disgust. In the front, the tree roots suck up all moisture, so drainage isn't a problem, but superhuman strength (or a jackhammer) is needed to get through them to plant any of the plants recommended for dry shade. I'm forced to tolerate pachysandra, which I attempt to brighten with some species tulips, erythronium, and other bulbs.

Stage five: Acceptance
I haven't reached this stage yet, and I don't think I ever will. But I have specific areas of rapprochement with the forces of darkness. I've been able to grow some lovely martagon lilies in a little section that I'm shaping into a urban woodland garden. Geranium (not pelargonium) seem to thrive in other areas, while a few clumps of daylilies are holding their own (though not exactly going crazy), and some rampant vines add an illusion of lushness. I depend on elephant ear and coleus for containers and on species lilies for height. There's an odd variety of gallium that gets quite tall as well.

I'll never love shade gardening. It would be nice to have a choice about growing hosta. But I've gotten accustomed to my nooks and crannies. Maybe this season I'll have the epiphany that will end my shade angst forever.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I beat the odds

My husband and friends are really, really tired of listening to me brag about this, but I am proud of the fact that—defying all the tenets of hippeastrum wisdom—I actually have two buds pushing up from my two oldest plants—I think six and five years, respectively.

The reason this is somewhat of a triumph is that I have never followed the prescribed advice for getting hippeastrums to bloom yearly. I do not put them into dormancy, but keep them going as houseplants throughout the year, with some time outside over the summer. I don’t think I fertilize them.

Nonetheless, all four of my hippeastrums have bloomed every year, except last year. It was then that I thought I would have to bow to the inevitable and put all of them into dormancy—but of course I never did. So I had minimal hopes of bloom this year.

The lack of a dormant period, is, I think, why you see the unusual situation of long leaves with an emerging bud; normally, the bud comes first, then the leaves.

So, two down, two more to come? One can hope. I think these two are both red, but maybe not.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The GWI Bloom Day post

This is a nice idea from May Dreams Gardens. Bloom Day: post about whatever's in bloom on the 15th of each month. When I first saw the title, I was confused—we celebrate Bloomsday here in Buffalo and it has nothing to do with gardens and flowers (though I'm sure flowers appear somewhere in Ulysses).

But then I read it, and I'm in. So this is what I've got, and it ain't much. Some forced hyacinths, some African violets, two cyclamen, and a hippeastrum in bud. I've had most of these for some years, except for the hyacinths, which I force from new bulbs each year.

Note the vintage bulb forcing glasses, ordered via ebay (at some expense) from British sellers.

Needless to say, nothing is happening outside except snow cover. Though I suppose the galanthus could be starting to push up. I hope so. And maybe even some early species tulips.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A precious commodity

Flower Confidential
By Amy Stewart
Algonquin, 2007

Like Amy Stewart, I'm a flower junkie, unable to pass displays in supermarkets or sidewalk stands without stopping to admire, sniff, and usually buy. Other than noting that cheap roses never seem to open and that altroemeria lasts forever, I have limited my study of cut flowers to making sure I've got plenty on display throughout the dreary Buffalo winter (and, for that matter, the more salubrious spring, summer, and fall).

But all that has changed now that I've read Flower Confidential.

What better day than Valentine's Day to take note of Stewart's comprehensive, exhaustive study of the cut flower business? The timing of her current book tour and accompanying media coverage seems at least partially aimed at taking advantage of one of America's biggest floral holidays. Only Mother's Day is bigger, and I know this because I read it in Flower Confidential.

I could quote my favorite Johnny Carson saying for a lot of the revelations confided in Flower Confidential. Gerberas need only a couple inches of water? Growers make very little more per flower than they did 100 years ago? That while it seems quite natural to display flowers near fresh produce, the proximity of flowers to fruits and vegetables actually shortens their shelf life?

"I did not know that!"

But this is not a dry recitation of flower industry facts—far from it. Stewart's love of flowers and her continual awareness of them as a gardener and consumer make this a sensitive recounting, filled with personal anecdotes. Stewart also sheds considerable light on how the business of flowers affects the socioeconomic lot of the people who toil in the fields, and she details the struggle to create fair trade and certification programs for flower growing, thus ensuring that fewer pesticides, fungicides, and unnecessary fertilizers will accompany the floral trade. Sadly—but as expected—the United States seems to be lagging behind in these efforts.

In addition to following—quite literally—the path of a cut flower from seedling to senescence, Stewart stops along the way to introduce us to some fascinating personalities in the flower business: lily hybridizer Leslie Woodriff, violet specialist Don Garibaldi, and Sun Valley flower magnate Lane DeVries, among others. It is encouraging—after we've met this driven, all-business efficiency freak—to learn of DeVries's decision to become a VeriFlora certified organic grower.

Flowers touch a deep chord in us all. As a gardener, I still love to shop for cut flowers in any season, even when I can snip them close at hand. None of the revelations in Flower Confidential will change that, but now I can satisfy my flower jones in a much more knowledgeable fashion.

More on flowers, valentines, and Flower Confidential at Garden Rant.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The greening of local radio

This post will only pertain to WNY readers of this blog (by far the minority, according to my stats), but if you're interested in gardening and you're within the reach of WKBW/1520 AM, have I got a show for you.

Local plantswoman Sally Cunningham takes to the airwaves tomorrow morning with a show dedicated to gardening and landscaping. It will also have an organic, environment-friendly slant. There'll be guests, and of course, answers to questions from listeners, though she doesn't want the whole show to be devoted to call-in.

Cunningham is the author of a few well-regarded gardening books and a master gardener. Until recently, she ran a master gardening program through our local cooperative extension, but that program was gutted and now Cunningham works at the fabulous Lockwood's Nursery. She also has a TV show on Sunday mornings on Channel 4 and writes columns for the Buffalo News. Plenty of cred there; this is someone I would listen to and even believe! (Though I might not always agree.)

It's great to see another gardening show on local radio; the one on WBEN on, I think, Saturdays, is OK, but we need a different voice.

GREEN SPACE with Sally Cunningham
Starts Feb. 11
WKBW (1520 AM radio)
10-11 a.m.

Cunningham's book, Great Garden Companions

Photo by Jim Bush.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Embrace the darkness

I used to wonder how I would continue blogging about gardening during our give-or-take five months of winter, especially during times like these. Every venture outside is accompanied by an involuntary curse. I can't even think about touching the soil, and I'm already gauging the odds of whether anyone will be able to tell silk hydrangea blossoms from real if I can figure out how to tie them onto the barren branches come summer.

Yet, somehow, talking about gardening and plants still seems possible, not just for me but for many other gardeners living in the frozen zones. In fact, an amazing amount of gardening bloggers are living in Alaska—and they're posting throughout the winter. I salute them and all the shivering bloggers throughout the Northeast, Midwest, and Canada—all the regions where the word "windchill" is part of our normal vocabulary.

Here are just a few examples of winter garden blogging.

Last week, in A Garden By the Ruins Near Narbeth, a Massachusetts gardener mused:
September is national suicide prevention month and October is national depression awareness month. Who decides these things? And why September and October? And don't they have it backwards —isn't it depression first, then suicide?
(I don't know why I find this endearing.)
He continues:
Apparently, the aging of baby-boomers is to blame as we're no longer able to sustain the effort to keep up the garden. Well, perhaps it's true that the Age of Gardening is passing. But I still peruse the catalogues, prepare for another spring and keep the larger goal in mind.

And then we have Kim, who gardens, like me, near Lake Erie, but in Ohio. Unlike me, she is keenly aware of all the natural happenings around her, even in winter:
With brittle sunny skies and the lovely crunch of snow underfoot, NE Ohio has never looked more beautiful to me as it does this winter.

A less cerebral, but equally celebratory, attitude can be found over at Dirt Divas Gardening, who are gardening in Alaska zone 2-3 (brrr!). Here's a recent comment from DD1:
There’s nothing like the cold shock of that first contact with an outhouse toilet seat at twenty below to make one’s mind turn to gardening!

Many bloggers, like me, while away part of the dormant months by forcing bulbs and browsing catalogs. Here are Firefly's thoughts on Bluestone's admittedly exhaustive offerings:
There are so many choices that, after 10 pages, it’s all a blur to me; even the plants look the same. No matter the basic species, flower form, or foliage, they all have cultivars with blue, pink, white, double, or frilly flowers, variegated foliage, blue stems, yellow stripes. The descriptions don’t site the plants in space or time.

Is all this thinking about gardening and blogging about it when I can't really garden making me a better gardener? Or will I find myself faced with the same shortsighted failures as always when it comes time to get back to the dirt?

Probably—but thanks to this activity, winter isn't quite the enemy of gardening it used to be.

(Photo by Cheryl Jackson.)

Friday, February 02, 2007

Hope springs eternal

While checking on this year's order from Bluestone Perennials, I saw that I had saved orders from the last two years. One of them I actually ordered; the other I never followed through on (and I see why; it looks like about $180 worth of plants).

So this is what was purchased in 2005:

AGASTACHE Apache Sunset (1)
ANCHUSA Dropmore (1)
ANEMONE Victor Jones (1)
ANEMONE Elegans (1)
CAMPANULA p. New Giant (1)
COREOPSIS Tripteris (1)
KNIPHOFIA uvaria Flamenco (1)
PHLOX paniculata Eva Cullum (1)
VERBENA Bonariensis (1)
VERONICA Stelleri Mann's Variety (1)
VIOLA cornuta Lutea Splendens (1)

(The [1], of course, mean 3 plants.)

And here's how they turned out. I failed to check the hardiness zone for the agastache; it was lovely but of course it did not come back. The anchusa was somehow never planted. The anemone was planted and is doing OK. One of the campanulas is coming up, but it's overshadowed by a bunch of taller plants; the others were planted in too much shade or devoured by hostas. The coreopsis came up and I pulled its lanky late-flowering stalks right out of the ground by the roots in the fall.

Moving on. The kniphobia has not yet flowered. I'm not sure what's happening there. The phlox might still be where I put it—in too much shade. The verbena is basically an annual and I have reordered it. (I haven't noticed any of this self-seeding everyone boasts about.) Veronica? I think it was eaten by lamium and, again, hosta. The viola was treated as an annual.

Not much result for about $140, eh? I'm sure you are all appalled, as well you should be. I was more conservative this year:

GERANIUM Rozanne (1)
CHRYSOGONUM virginianum Pierre (1)
RUDBECKIA Maxima (1)
CLEMATIS Huldine (1)
VERBENA Bonariensis (1)
BUDDLEIA davidii Harlequin (1)

Of course, I won't be repeating any of the mistakes I made last year. This year everything will come up and thrive. Oh yes.