Thursday, April 26, 2007


I have a massive order from Select Seeds arriving soon, but I hope it’s not quite as massive as the “saved basket” I’m now seeing when I log in, which shows over $600 and over 62 plants. Something must be wrong. That’s about 3 times what I ordered. Hmmm. I'm sure it's fine.

As always, I have blithely ordered many sun-loving plants, including some very tall rudbeckia, verbena bonariensis, castor bean, and nicotiana. I expect the best performers to be the verbena, the nicotiana, and some white heliotrope, which in past years has bloomed non-stop exactly as advertised, and with a much purer and stronger vanilla scent than any local nursery heliotrope I’ve ever bought. I’m hoping too that the old-fashioned climbing petunia will do better than it did last year. It rocked in 2005.

Select Seed does a pretty good job with their plants—but their strength lies in their name: the selection. Bluestone’s plants arrive in rather better condition, but they don’t carry annuals. I love ordering annuals. So much better than driving around from nursery to nursery, on the off-chance you’ll find what you want. So much less unthinkable than growing them from seed.

Also, all perennial action is on hold until the pond decision is made. Who knows what we may have to move and where we’ll put new plants? It’s a mystery.

Shown at top: Appleblossom Rosebud “geranium,” out of stock last year, but this year I got it. The other image is the white heliotrope.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gardening—not all it's cracked up to be

Today was the day—the first day warm enough to even consider spending outside. In Western New York, it's either late winter or early summer; spring's existence is confined to the calendar and the fact that tulips and daffodils are in bloom. So I ventured forth into the yard, where I:

-pulled out acres of English ivy, some of which I had actually purchased.

-stabbed at least 3 existing lily bulbs possibly to death as I tried to plant some new ones. Finally, I gave up and put the new ones in pots.

-pruned the roses.

-pulled out dead stalks and foliage from last year, stomping more bulbs in the process.

-installed a new trellis for the clematis, this wobbly sort of triangular thing. It could be cool, though.

God, it's a mess out there. On days like these, and there will be many more, I go outside and begin a long process of starting one thing, seeing another problem, working on that, running into the house or garage for tools, and then starting something else, with all the other things still in progress. It's rather harrowing, and very little seems to get accomplished. Also, this year I need to dig out a bunch of plants that are being displaced by the pond. This is a big deal for me, because I'm not one of those people who blithely move plants around all the time.

Above you see the erythronium foliage. This is one of the best, if not the best, spring bulbs for foliage; too bad it's out for such a short time.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Urban Roots!

I can think of very few places where co-op retail operations are still popular (though I believe there are still many co-op credit unions, farm organizations, and other business associations). In Buffalo, we have a long-running and successful food co-op (the Lexington Co-operative Market, 36 years), and this weekend, our first co-op garden center opens for business. Urban Roots Community Garden Center will be one of only two nurseries operating within Buffalo’s city limits—and the other one has long been regarded more as a landscaping service than as a retail operation. A lot of city dwellers were sick and tired of making day trips out to suburban garden centers located in the far reaches of Western New York; finally a group of them got together a couple years back and have been working hard ever since to make a full-service, member-owned city garden center a reality.

What’s the advantage of a co-op? It’s member-owned, so presumably you can take part in the decision making. Members get discounts. And I think the main thing is that it will be more organic, with an emphasis on city and neighborhood-based gardening, where block clubs get together to beautify empty lots, help neighbors who can't garden, and fight urban blight. In other words, this is more about creating a community around gardening.

Do I think the prices will be lower? Probably not, but in some cases, perhaps, especially for expensive perennials—the prices have really gone up at most of the centers for such plants as heuchera, campanula, geranium, hosta (we depend on it here), even lamium. Do I think the selection will compare? I doubt it, but I'm sure I'll be able to do a good portion of my shopping here, if not all of it. I am hoping too for some interesting organic soil enhancements, as I don’t compost.

This weekend, they are selling a very nice range of trees from a vacant lot, located near the building they hope soon to occupy. As they explain on their website, “because of a series of events mostly having to do with banks being perplexed by the concept of cooperative businesses, we have hit a few snags with the actual ‘opening-of-the-store’ part of the plan.”

So good luck to them. Even though I’d just as soon pay them to take away my trees, I’ll still visit this weekend just to say hi. (If I had the room, I would definitely be picking up a Kouza dogwood.)

Because I was one of the first 100 members, I am receiving the signed print by Catherine Parker shown above.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

An endangered candidate for Bloom Day

I promised to give an update on this and am using Bloom Day for it, because it's more interesting than anything on my property. A while back I posted about the century plant at the Botanical Gardens, which has been pushing up a flower stalk (right through the glasshouse roof) for the last 2 months or so. I voiced my doubts that it would make it in the cold air, and I'm not the only one. In today's Buffalo News:

Now, with the tip exposed to punishing wind, rain and snow, the huge plant may not live to do what century plants are famous for — flower for the first and only time in its life and then die.

“It hasn’t done much the last two weeks,” fretted Botanical Gardens horticulturist Doug O’Reilly. “Supposedly, as long as the base stays warm it should be OK.”

If the cruel April weather conditions persist, and the century plant dies prematurely, visitors to the South Park conservatory will miss a natural phenomenon.

The spike, which resembles a giant asparagus stalk, normally would rise to a height of about 20 feet, 10 feet above the greenhouse roofline, and then burst out in a bouquet of yellow or reddish-pink, pad-like blooms.

Because the stalk’s rapid growth sucks up all of the plant’s nutrients, the show would be brief. The whole plant, 10 feet wide at the base, would quickly go kaput, leaving only a brown seed stalk.

If it makes it through this week, it should be OK.

Meanwhile, I see that many others have posted about hellebores and such, so I offer some indoor action: a late-blooming hippeastrum and some other houseplants. This is why I defend houseplants so fervently; in weather like this, you really need them!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Further pondering the pond

Sorry, there are going to be a lot of pond posts from here on in—at least until it's done. Today, the third and final pond guy came over—half an hour early and I supposed I ought be ashamed to admit we weren't up. Hey, it's the weekend. Brian (shown above, in hat) used to work with the pond company of Western New York, Masterson's, but he has broken away to run his own landscaping company—no nursery, no showroom, just the creation and servicing of mainly ponds.

We both liked him: he is a young, down-to-earth guy who seems to really love making water features. Most of the ones he has made are natural stone-lined ponds and waterfalls. He uses flatish river (creek?) stones with rounded edges; nothing is pre-cast. It seems clear that the pond will take up at least two thirds of the bed it's destined for, but I think the hydrangeas, bulbs, rearranged perennials (that will fit), and, particularly, the very strong background of the vines will balance that.

Chris C. comments—rightly—about the size and formality of the space, but I've seen plenty of ponds in spaces just as small or smaller than ours. City people have to make it work. Also, I think the paved surrounding area makes it easier to see what's going on in the water. Hopefully, something will be! My husband is anti-fish, but I think the movement and color are necessary. I'm going to have to move many of the plants out soon. I hope I can dig up the Orienpets without incident. There are also some daylilies that I really like, though I'm normally not a huge fan. (Things are breaking ground, just in time for the next big storm.)

I understand the comment feature isn't working too well for certain browsers; Safari and maybe others hate Blogger. Why is that? How annoying. I apologize and thanks for your attempts to comment!

The Jehovah's Witnesses stopped by this morning as well. They're always on our block—I guess they know what sinners we are.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

THE POND!! The Pond! The pond?

It's funny how when you type a word many times, it doesn't look like a real word anymore. So it is with our pond—purely an abstract concept so far.

Today, Ben of Beautiful River landscaping came by. The myth is that the word "Buffalo" came from beau fleuve, beautiful river. This is probably not true. But Ben is real. He thinks a pond can become a reality, but at the possible risk of the trellis and vines that will surround it. So we'll see what happens.

Above, you see Ben, gazing perplexedly at our climbing hydrangea.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The pond! The pond!! THE POND!!!!

Finally. After talking about this for over two years, we have at long last taken steps. Over the next week or so, we are receiving estimates and design ideas for a new back garden water feature, which will include a pond and a waterfall, as well as … well, who knows?

Many of my Garden Walk buddies have declaimed with great conviction about the ease of creating one's own pond. I came close to buying this rhetoric, but my husband never did, and I think he's probably right. The correct set-up of the ingredients—pump, tubing, liner, stone and other hardscaping—will determine how easy it will be to take care of in summers to come. We're simply too inept to be able to create that set-up. I'm into plants, not plumbing.

Our first victim was the English Gardener, a company that has done a ton of landscaping jobs large and small throughout Western New York. Joseph Han (above), now the official English Gardener, spent a generous amount of time with us today. The pond part seems doable for our budget and I was also interested in some ideas he had for making better use of my wisteria, which we've been restricting to an overly shaded corner. He pointed out that urban gardeners can do more with their spaces through using overheard constructions such as curved pipes—maybe crossing the courtyard—to let the vine ramble and bloom overhead. It's interesting. I am hoping the pond will contain some other materials—ponds are so ubiquitous now, that I think ours will need some extra drama.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A lovely evening with a garden club

First off, I must reveal that I have no business giving a serious talk about gardening before any group, much less a garden club. Nonetheless, I found myself accepting an offer to give such a talk to the local Bowmansville Garden Club. I hedged my bets by making part of the talk about garden blogging and the glories of the internet for garden advice (Dave’s Garden, Gardenweb), part of it about my plans for my own summer garden, and part of it about Garden Walk, and how that affects the way I garden.

As you might expect, this was an impressive group of women who use the structure of the garden club to do all kinds of volunteering and community activities. One woman—herself using a walker—reported on her garden therapy projects for local nursing home residents. They also do plenty of plant exchanges and invite real experts in to advise them about tree pruning and other serious matters.

It was a bit nerve-wracking—especially when I saw the looks of familiarity on many of their faces when I recommended plants I thought were unusual. One woman in particular seemed quite the horticultural expert and had set up a sophisticated seed-starting greenhouse. But, like me, everyone in the group was self-taught, and that was comforting. They were very gracious.

It made me wish I belonged to such a group. Garden Walk is not a garden club—we mainly discuss issues such as how much we’ll charge for the T-shirts, how to improve the mailing list, and whether the headquarters sites should be expanded, and, if so, where. An Allentown Garden Club might be fun. Or not. (The insanity of even suggesting more meetings occurs to me at this point.)

Finally, I was fascinated by a tree branch brought in by one of the members. It was a larch, with many beautiful cones/seed pods located at its ends. Though I didn’t have my camera, I’ve googled up an image (shown above). You’ll have to imagine it without the needles—it’s a deciduous needle-bearer.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Glamour in the garden

Gone are the days when I potted plants wearing two right-handed canvas gloves, one with a hole in the index finger, the only survivors of a bulk purchase from Home Depot. No longer do I look at the pricey clogs at our upscale nursery, sigh, and walk on.

Hell, no. Now I have two pairs of fancy garden clogs (one with a removable insert) and a whole wardrobe of gloves, most of them gifts. It's kind of ridiculous, because the two most beautiful pairs are light-colored leather/suede. How in gods name am I supposed to keep these clean? One pair is elbow-length white suede, really more suited for the opera than the back perennial bed. And, of course, there is the monogrammed pair above. Those are not actually my initials. My mother-in-law, bless her non-blog-reading heart, refuses to accept that I did not take my husband's name, not even with a hyphen, so she requested ELB instead of EAL. As if this will somehow make it so. They are tight too; you have to loosen them one finger at a time, like dress gloves. Good for specialty work, like this:

As for clogs, they will always be my footwear of choice, though I did enjoy the discussion about clogs vs. boots carried on between Carol of May Dreams Garden and Yolanda Elizabet of Bliss. YE, who gardens in the Netherlands, scorns clogs completely.

I love the flowered wellies and the abbreviated pink and Burberry wellies YE says she wears in the garden, but for me they are utterly impractical. I am constantly running in and out of the house throughout my gardening sessions and I must have shoes I can slip out of instantly. I agree that clogs are kind of homely; remember when we all wore Bastads? Clogs have actually made a number of fashion comebacks, but my reasons for wearing them in the garden have nothing to do with fashion.

If anyone has suggestions about how to maintain these gloves, I'd love to hear them!