Sunday, August 26, 2007

Checking in at the BG

This side greenhouse is still being restored, a continual process in a cold-climate glasshouse like this.

Interestingly, this is by far the best time of year to visit the outside gardens at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. I was disappointed in their perennial beds earlier in the summer, and their annual beds were just so-so. Now they're worth seeing. I usually visit the greenhouses, but yesterday I stayed outside.

Many annuals I have no fondness for—like traditional short ageratum and celosia—are used to superb effect in patterned beds, with a backdrop of more interesting taller plants like verbena bonariensis, cleome,dahlia, canna, and nicotiana. None of these plants are terribly rare, true, but the gardeners here are real artists, and that makes all the difference. Would I ever buy or plant a celosia? No, but I love looking at the way they are used here. I suppose, with no formality whatsoever in my garden, I yearn for it in the gardens of others.

I also applaud them for being free of paranoia in planting castor bean, giant milkweed and the many other (no doubt) “deadly” cultivars here. And I’m assuming that Erie County’s no-pesticide rule applies to the nicotiana, usually troubled by tiny bugs at this time, so more kudos that theirs look so good.

As for the huge century plant, it looks like it’s starting to bloom, but it’s not fully out yet.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Our fabulous casino! How to landscape it?

Oh, I know, I know. I am so late to this party. But I truly don’t think you can grasp the magnificence of Buffalo’s lovely new gaming facility (which has been open for some time) unless you have seen it in person, so to speak. My sister and I were driving back from the Botanical Gardens and took Ohio Street off the Skyway. Soon enough, there it was, in all its splendor. I didn’t notice too much activity around it. But we were too busy laughing our heads off to really pay attention.

Now, for the gardening-related part. What plantings would you suggest to complement architecture such as this? I don't know what the Senecas have planned—it should be corn, beans, and squash (the Three Sisters) of course—but they might not want to limit themselves to the traditional ways.

Oh, I'm sorry, here's a side view so you have a better sense of the design. As you can see, they have started working on the tree canopy.

Update on the massive agave and late-summer gardens at the BG to come. They are always at their best at this time of year.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

This was not the idea

Alan had been wanting a hummingbird feeder in the yard for a while, so I picked up this pretty glass one from a going-out-of-business sale held by the owner of a chic local garden shop. We put it in the middle of the area most frequented by butterflies, thinking that hummingbirds would naturally be drawn to its locality.

I didn’t really expect to see any hummingbirds, as we’ve never spotted them in the yard before, and I didn’t much care either. There is so much action already (for a city garden): a cardinal’s nest in the mock orange, plenty of other birds bathing on the stones of the waterfall, demented squirrels, an occasional rabbit, and lots of butterflies. Not to mention all the bugs.

However. What I wasn’t prepared for was that the thing would become a bee exterminator. They were squeezing into its tiny little opening and then drowning in the sugar water—a truly horrible sight. So now it has this dahlia stuck there to stop them from going in, and of course now it is utterly silly and useless. So it goes.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

My antidote to mumdom

Late summer/early fall is a problem for me—and it may be for many of you as well. The problem is that I really, really hate so many of the plants that are recommended for this time slot. Autumn Joy sedum? Ew. Ornamental cabbage? Ew. MUMS? EW! EW! EW!

The persistence of my favorite annuals—as well as the blooms of such truly classy fall plants as sweet autumn clematis and Japanese anemone—help me make it through the late summer/fall months.

Perhaps nature’s plan is to make it easier for us to accept the passing of summer by choosing end-of-season plants that are so easy to relinquish. Yet, in some ways I love this season. I love the plants you’re not supposed to love: the non-native goldenrod, the toxic and invasive pokeweed, the wild asters. I seek these plants out and cut them for huge, sculptural arrangements, the purple stems and berries of the pokeweed contrasting with the sulphur yellow goldenrod, with the unruly sprays of wild boltonia as a backdrop. Indeed, one of my keenest pleasures of this time of year is to find and create such an arrangement.

When I do, I’ll post it here. It's early yet.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I learn how to give a chicken a bath

Not that I expect ever to be doing that. But this is one of the few genuine elements of our oh-so-tacky county fair. Lots of cute baby farm animals, fried food, rickety rides, and not-so-cute adult humans.

Sleepy pigs.

Flowers, too. I had never wandered into the flower displays (in the “arts and crafts” area) before, but I was pleased to see many examples of some of my favorite old-fashioned annuals, and some truly wacky arrangements and place settings. Who enters this type of contest? It’s another world, and a very strange one. The good news: during a desultory amble round the “grange,” we found that the local cooperative extension may be reinstating its Master Gardener program. In the past this program has fostered many opportunities for public gardening and chances to improve one’s gardening knowledge, whether enrolled in the program or not.

Definitely not, in my case, because the Master Gardener classes are always held Friday during the day. Huh? That rules out pretty much anyone with a job. Nonetheless, I am glad to see the extension come back to some sort of life.

Friday, August 17, 2007

How did this happen?

Warning! Porn alert! These are pictures from catalogs! Do not expect this at home!

This is the first white version I will have of this native plant (erythronium).

So far—for a property already riddled with bulbs, stuffed with perennials, and severely limited by tree roots/shade and a good amount of hardscaping—I have allocated close to $500 for bulbs, not counting an as-yet-unsubmitted order to The Lily Garden (see Sunday’s Garden Rant post for some thoughts about them).

I am adding species tulips. This is batalini "Bronze Charm."

One reason is that I decided to plant up more containers this year; last year I just did a few. In spite of the cool weather, they look very cheerful lining the patio. Another is that I have created a new perennial bed in front—it won’t look too good in the spring (I am expecting a few plants won’t make it—frost heave) and will need some color. I have allocated some wildflower tulips, erythronium, and martagon lilies to that space.

And, of course, I ordered no lilies last year. I’ve noticed a decline in some of the older plants (six years seems to be the magic number), so they will need to be replaced. Also, I am going to remove the biggest rose bush in order to make room for lilies and tall summer perennials and annuals (sage, tall rudbeckia, nicotiana sylvestris, verbena bonariensis, etc.).

I am renewing the White Henryis in the lily bed.

Finally, I did far fewer hyacinths last year. This year, I’ll buy more antique forcing vases (yeah, ebay, here I come) and give a few more as gifts in pots.

Grand Soleil d'Or. A difficult tazetta to force, but, unlike Ziva, it does not smell like urine. Always a plus.

Oh, yes—I expect to give a sampling from this order to Ron, my gardening … pupil? That doesn’t seem right. I am not sure I like apprentice either, as that would imply that he is helping with my garden as part of his learning experience, which he sure as hell isn’t. I know I’m the coach, but what is he? Oh, well, to be pondered another time. In any case, I want him to try out some of the more unfamiliar bulbs to see if they work for him.

I have always wanted these. Not the prettiest eremus, but it is an old one and might be hardier.

So far, the lucky vendors are Old House Gardens, John Scheepers, and Brent and Becky’s. Scheepers for the bulk of the hybrid tulips (which will be treated as annuals), B&B for the small bulbs and wildflower tulips, and OHG for species lilies, as they are one of the few vendors that bothers. Though—Scheepers has some. Let’s see if they send me the right bulbs. (If I like what they send instead I never complain.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I spent two hours in a great nursery and came home with ... nothing!

The heucheras at Lockwoods.

Inspired by Kim’s great shopping spree post, I have one of my own. Although I, too, don’t need any more plants this season—indeed, I would be hard-pressed to find room—that would never stop me from buying at least 10-12 perennials and even a few annuals (though at this point in the summer those are only for emergency situations).

Lockwood’s, easily our best vendor, though there are ten other places that come close, looks almost as lush in mid-August as it did in early June. First we went for the shade perennials. They have 5-6 heuchera cultivars, including the chartreuse and golden varieties, as well as a new one I had never seen. The leaves are very stiff and frilly, with a burgundy underside—so frilled that the burgundy colors appear at all the leaf edges. Interesting. No idea what the flowers are like.

Then, the hellebore: they have a white speckled variety, nursery-grown. No comparison with what Plant Delights is offering, but still better than the usual hybrids you see everywhere. Next: Japanese anemone: oh, what the heck, how about one that’s ready to bloom! Finally, for part-shade, a lovely blue lobelia (cardinal flower, not the annual).

On to the sun selections. There must be a tall orange-red helenium and—oh, god, one of the tall grasses, not miscanthus, but I forgot the name (sorry). A couple of Russian sage (the price was right), a pink coreopsis, and a totally goofy and ridiculous fluffy-headed raspberry echinacea. To round it out, we grabbed a magnificent chocolate eupatorium.

One must have height, so we went for the clematis paniculata and a campsis (to grow up a utility pole). And, finally, a teacup colocasia (Plant Delights calls this coffee cups).

Ron consults with the lovely and knowledgeable Sally Cunningham, horticulturalist-in-residence.

By this time, the tab was well north of $150, but not one penny of it was spent by me, because I was on a garden coaching expedition with my pupil Ron. And I must tell you: I was completely satisfied.

But I do apologize for not knowing all the exact names—the buyer, not the enabler, gets the labels.

Addendum: Ron—the rudbeckia hirta Herbstomme came in. You must buy some now or I will be very unhappy!!

Addendum #2: See comments for Ron's notes.

Monday, August 13, 2007

When the slowpokes become the stars

This is the other thing I like about mail order. Many of the plants I've been getting from Bluestone and Select Seed are very small when they arrive in May-much smaller than anything you'd see in a nursery. (In fact, most shoppers would be appalled at the thought of paying for these.)

In the case of Bluestone, I might not really see any action until next year, as is happening with the rudbeckia maxima. But with some of the plants, including this Prairie Glow from Select Seeds, they are just beginning to show their stuff now, when, believe me, I could really use the color.

And thank you, whomever is creating new rudbeckia, for giving us these softer colors and taller plants. (The Prairie Glow is easily 4'.) I would never consider bringing another Goldsturm into my garden, but these mingle well with tall purple and white flowers.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I love ordinary plants

As I write this, I’m more intoxicated than usual, having imbibed some wonderful crisp whites and spicy reds (a picpoul de pinet--correction--I said I was tipsy!--from Languedoc, and an Argentinian blend) at a friend’s house. So I shouldn’t be typing anything.

Yet, I feel impelled to post. As I was leaving Cheryl’s garden, a huge white potted geranium caught my eye and I had to rub and smell the leaves of it. She keeps it in her classroom throughout the winter and brings it out in her garden when school is over. It is just the type of lush, abundant annual that gives me the most pleasure throughout the summer. Tulips, columbines, peonies, roses, lilies—they all come and go. But what I depend on for continual color and scent are the common annuals. Yes, I’m talking about the petunias, the nicotianias, the heliotrope, even the geraniums. I try to get rarer, old-fashioned varieties whenever I can, but even the garden center ones can provide equal satisfaction. Just now, I am waiting for Select Seed’s Appleblosson Rosebud to really show its stuff, but it’s taking a while. That’s the fun of it too—our weather will be balmy through October and I’ll need the color then.

In the fall months yet to come, I appreciate the last gasp of summer annuals far more than perennials meant for this season. Way more.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Birds-eye view

Garden photography can be tricky if you're trying to show big picture/design stuff. Close-ups are easy—and beautiful—but they tell you about the flower—which could be anywhere—and not the personality of the garden. I love close-ups, especially for turk's cap lilies, but recently I've been trying to get more big picture shots as well.

One successful method is to get up on a ladder or somewhere else high. I like taking pictures from a second floor window (my husband's study). It gives the false impression that we're mostly pavement, but it does show the tapestry of the different beds. This image shows a good-sized portion of the patio, with the pond and the rose/perennial/lily bed. This raised bed is the bane of my existence. It's not that raised anymore so the plants get their start overshadowed by larger plants and the brick walls of this thing (held together with rebar and wood—a nice engineering job on the part of the former owner). There are also a lot of containers, some of which are shown, most of which are not. Oops, left a deadheading bucket out!

I've also updated my Flickr page; there's a badge at right. It has a lot of shots from this season, and I'll be adding to it.

Friday, August 03, 2007


Five months after I first reported on it, the agave/century plant at the Botanical Gardens is getting ready to bust out with what I hope will be some really stinky blooms. (Monstrous plants like this always have disgustingly foul efflorescences, right?) It survived some single digit temps in April, and now it's blooming right when it should, giving people a reason to come to the gardens when they don't need (or maybe even want) the heat of the greenhouses. Exciting! I'm sure this sort of thing is old hat to many of you, but I'm psyched.

The news on our endangered street tree is not so good. My email did elicit some advocacy from friends and neighbors, but the arborist who inspected it is sticking to his guns. I feel the rush to judgment is at least partially due to fear that the funds will not be available next year if it does turn out the tree is too far gone. But that is just incredible from the looks of it. It's also funny the way someone—I have no idea who!—keeps ripping down the sign that indicates the tree is on the death list. They need it because it is also meant to stop anyone from parking in front of it, thus blocking the equipment. I love silver maples—so much more distinguished looking than the Norway maples.