Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 was a year

It was actually a wonderful year in GWI-land, though the number of posts might not seem to reflect that; a decision to post 3 times each day on Garden Rant left me too busy to do as much here as I usually do. That’s over though, so I hope to post more in 2009. Hence my resolution, and here’s a brief look at what happened in 2008, gardening-wise.

In January I celebrated my indoor plants as I always do, adding better lighting to the upstairs plant room. With the addition of the plant room (installed in late fall 2007), the house gained new inhabitants for the winter season, including a large banana plant, which grew slowly all winter. I noticed that it was a good two feet higher when I finally took it outside in warm weather.

And as I do every February, I had indoor hyacinths and specialty narcissus, like the Golden Rain (above). Garden Rant got a nice story in the Washington Post, which boosted our readership a bit. It seems to have gained a level ever since. I also learned what a spathe was.

It seems like we were gone for most of March, on a trip to Sicily, where we were right next door to a beautiful public garden, blooming even this early in the season, But we didn’t even have to go those few steps. The hotel where we stayed was abundant with bougainvillea, wisteria, and other flowers. For other photos from our Sicily trip, go here. As usual, I ordered a boatload of plants from Select Seeds, Bluestone, and even a few monster colocasia from Plant Delights. My experience since then with Bluestone has forced me to reluctantly reconsider ordering from them. The plants are just too small to make it under my generally unfavorable conditions.

Just days after returning from Sicily, in early April I was off to Austin, for the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling. This was really fun, though over all too quickly, and I didn’t feel like I got to know people nearly as much as I had hoped. For that reason, I look forward to the next Fling this May. Could Barbara/Mr. McGregor’s Daughter be pointing in the direction of Chicago, where she gardens, and where we’ll all be in May? See the rest of my Fling images here.

In the early to mid-spring, the species tulips came out on schedule, including some new varieties—I add new ones each fall—and this lovely white erythronium. I received my first composter, though I must admit that my compost did not have enough moisture in it; what I got was really more like leaf mould. I also gave a talk on summer bulbs at a local gardening center; now there I do have some expertise.

May and June usually flash by in an orgy of plant buying, though the best show came from plants I had had for years, such as this viburnum, above.. Many of you were interested in my explanation of how Gardening While Intoxicated got its name. And then—OMG!—I received a Blogs of Note designation from Blogger. My visitation remained in the thousands daily for at least two weeks, and some June posts received 71 comments or better, which is very unusual for me, though not for many of you. It’s kind of sad to think of it now that it’s all over. I figure I got it for the name. Otherwise, almost all of my June posts were about roses, as they should be.

Will I ever have much to talk about in July other than Garden Walk? No, and that’s only natural. Thousands of visitors in one weekend would be enough excitement for any gardener’s month, and in 2008, I was also pleased to see fellow Ranters Susan and Michele once again. I would love it if more of my garden blogger friends would visit during Garden Walk; it really is fun. I’m getting to the point now, too, where I can get away from my own garden for longer periods. As always, we went to Carolina for our beach fix; this year I saw dune replenishment in action.

It became clearer than ever that August and September are the best months of summer in Buffalo. Some of October too. The weather, though wet, was balmy, and the flowers were glorious. We took a weekend trip to Georgian Bay and briefly visited Sonnenberg Gardens, where we were awed by its mysterious decay and beauty. In September I went on my usual bulb-buying frenzy. The variegated colocasia shone in the late season garden, and for the first time, I actually attempted to save it for the next season. I think I really got into Plurk in August, having been on Twitter for some months.

In October I was inspired to post a rather long bulb FAQ in the hopes of inspiring other gardeners to do more with bulbs, and in November I continued to buy and pot bulbs. I see also that I posted about two great local museums, the Corning Museum of Glass and Buffalo’s new Burchfield-Penney facility. And here are my fall color shots, from a particular perspective.

And here we are in a more than ordinarily cold and snowy winter, with the usual quirks. In the space of 10 days we went from a good foot of snow cover to nothing and back again. I hope it stays. By GBBD I will have a new crop of narcissus, some amaryllis, and real progress with the hyacinths. And maybe some cross-country skis.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

How to live dangerously with bulb forcing

There are many easy, relatively risk-free ways to force hyacinths, tulips, and other bulbs. Sometimes, I follow these guidelines, but other times, I willfully ignore them.

First, you choose bulbs that are recommended for forcing; usually these are the early blooming ones that require the shortest chilling period, so with tulips these would be the Single Early, Double Early, and Triumph varieties. Hyacinths have been used for forcing since the bulb craze of the seventeenth century, and the practice peaked in Victorian times. Since then, it has become far less popular (outside of the cut flower industry). I am not sure why some hyacinths force better than others, but they do. For example, the Carnegie and L’Innocence varieties force very well. Both are white though, which can get boring. I've also heard that Gypsy Queen and Pink Pearl are good forcers. (In the past I have had good luck with a lot of the blue varieties.) I got some Carnegie this year, and they are the furthest along of all my hyacinths, as you can see above.

I also got two somewhat unusual varieties, Isabelle and Raphael, neither of which are terribly advanced. They are both about the same reddish color, bulb-wise, and I’ve forgotten which is which. I think one of each are above, judging by the difference in root development. These are not especially recommended for forcing and who knows what might happen. Sometimes, when hyacinths are not particularly happy, you’ll get stubby stems with a few flowers. I have not brought the tulips up from the cellar yet, but even with those I took the chance of trying to force some Double Lates.

I prefer to start my bulbs over water in hyacinth glasses/vases or planted in pots w/dirt, and then chill them. This is just the way I learned to do it. Others prefer to chill the bulbs in a paper bag in the refrigerator and then plant them. (Carol/May Dreams Gardens chooses this method.) Either way, the chilling period should last at least 8 weeks.

So I’ve got strange varieties that may or may not work well and I use a chilling method that depends on the temperature in my root cellar. This adds some variables and uncertainties to the whole process, which is fine with me, because that’s the way gardening usually is.

I’ll be reporting on the progress of these as they develop. There are quite a few of them: between pots and vases, I have 44.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

White garden

Awesome plowing job, guys!

Vita Sackville-West carefully planned her white garden, but we have one—of a sort—every winter. This year, a sizable snowfall came rather earlier than usual, and I suspect it may be a sign of a colder and snowier winter than we’ve had in a while. The Farmer’s Almanac said as much, and they’re generally on target (I think).

Drinks on the patio, anyone?

Like many in the northern half of the gardening world, I have a love/hate affair with snow. It’s very beautiful, and provides good protective covering for plants. As Allan Armitage posted on Garden Rant a couple weeks back, lack of snow cover is one of the difficulties of gardening in the south. As far as driving in the stuff and shoveling it? That’s where the hate comes in.

The pond is under here somewhere.

Nonetheless, the blanket of snow is one of the reasons I appreciate my lush summer garden all the more when it—almost magically—appears. In the dead of winter it’s occasionally hard to believe that a green and floriferous garden will ever re-emerge.

This is also why I swear by my indoor plants and try to pay proper attention to them even in summer, when I’m tempted to ignore them. Many of my housepants are flowering now. (I just don't get it when people diss houseplants. It really bugs me. Oh well.) The hyacinth buds are starting to come out and I’m already discarding my first batch of paperwhites. My two new amaryllis are also pushing up fat buds. I’ll be ready to bring up all the hyacinths from the root cellar in a week or so.

The sculpture in back has an elegant top dressing.

Sorry for this short little snow post—must shovel now!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Green inside and out

Well, the outside part will not last for long, I’m sure. As it happens, though, we are "basking" in 40-50ish temps today and what little snow we had has liquefied (you can see it in these images, some taken before it melted). The white stuff will return within a few days, I hear. December is a strange month in Buffalo; we don’t get the serious cold weather until after the New Year—generally speaking.

However, I can’t say I have any outside flowers. That would be lying, and the worse kind of lie—one with no chance of being believed, ever, by any of you. I’m fine with no flowers though; I’ve never had them before in December, so why should this year be different?

For Bloom Day, I offer a selection of what I’ve got growing inside. The plant room that I converted last year is doing much better than it did then. There is hardly any leaf drop and one gardenia still seems to be considering throwing out a few blooms. The alocasias, colocasias, and musas (close-up at top) are slowly growing more leaves, while (great excitement!), my dendrobium orchid has new buds.

I attended a winter plant sale at our Botanical Gardens (above) and picked up three new houseplants: a plectranthus, an abutilon, and some kind of coppery-leaved chenille plant. I don’t always know the Latin names for my houseplants, I must admit. Some of them are very long, involve too many consonants, or are otherwise hard to remember. I hope to keep these alive at least until summer, when they can go outside, but we’ll see. I’ve heard ominous things about the abutilon from GBBD founder Carol. The plectranthus is the one with all the blue flowers in the foreground. Very pretty.

The flowering houseplants are performing on cue and as expected. Ever since I bought the special African violet pots, they seem to pretty much bloom nonstop. I highly recommend these containers, which control moisture perfectly (I have shown these before). I have three Christmas cacti, all blooming. And of course the cyclamen, always in bloom at this time.

At the office, I have decorated my plants for the season.

Oh, and apropos of nothing, here are some painted poinsettias at one of our local nurseries. How about that for winter color! Frightening, but fascinating.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Thoughts on cut flowers

When my husband picks up cut flowers at the supermarket (providing I put them on the list), he invariably gets carnations, some type of mum/daisy, or maybe a couple bunches of “filler’ flowers. He’s going by price and his unfailing instinct for flowers that will last a while, thus providing the best value.

I can appreciate this, but after about a week of these invincible flowers I often find myself throwing them into the compost bin, regardless of their unwilted state. One of the reasons I can tolerate winter is that I have a great excuse to buy exotic flowers of all types. But even I have my limits. I try to keep to a middle ground, going for distinctive flowers that will last a decent amount of time. Here are my favorite choices:
1. Oriental lilies. These remind me of the ones I grow in my garden in summer and will always last at least 10 days to 2 weeks.
2. Spray roses. Sadly, no florist rose seems to have a scent these days, but the bunches of spray roses are attractive and have a more natural look.
3. Spider mums. If you must mum, these are very nice, especially cut short and used in squat crystal vessels.
4. Freesia. You have to like the fragrance, but these last a good, long while, and have a nice delicate, yet sculptural quality.
5. Flowering branches. These are not, strictly speaking, flowers (remember Michael Douglas asking for a dozen dogwood in The American President?), but I’m a sucker for just about any flowering branch, and they generally last a good while.

And here are the cut flowers that will just cause you heartache.
1. Delphiniums. Gorgeous. May survive long enough to be put in a vase. Or they may not even make the trip home.
2. Iris. Throwing your money away.
3. Tulips. It hurts me to say this, as I grow these by the hundred, but the ones sold in flower shops are usually pretty bad.
4. Protea. Ew. These look like they should be dead.
5. Gerbera daisies. I love the look of these, but they are apt to drop their heads almost immediately, and often need these dumb plastic straws to hold them up.

I wish there were more cut flowers available. (Snapdragons, phlox, blue orchids, blah, blah) But I also have my narcissus and forced hyacinths and tulips to keep me interested during the winter. Not to mention ordering more plants. The Select Seeds and Bluestone catalogs will be online in January!

Oh right, and I secretly love glads!

Monday, December 01, 2008

To journal or not to journal?

While cleaning out an area in the den this weekend, I found a pretty little garden journal. Here it is:

I imagine it would only cover a season, as it is small—only has 25 pages or so. I think you could write something once a week or so, from late spring to early fall. That wouldn’t be too much of an issue, because I might not want to write in it every day. Even during the summer, I don’t garden every day. I suppose I could record observations.

Now, I am well aware that any serious gardener would probably use the Lee Valley 10-year journal, which has 544 pages, with charts, information on cultivation and maintenance and other reference information, as well as the generous diary section.

When I first heard this being discussed on Plurk, I was surprised. I had thought of our blogs as in many ways our journals. But they aren’t, really. It would be deathly boring if I blogged about every single thing I did in the garden. Wouldn’t it?

But to go back to the handwritten page? I don’t know; it seems radical! Why should I do it? I have to think it over—but quickly, as it is under consideration as a possible holiday gift. I'm told.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An artist who loved flowers

Even skunk cabbage, a watercolor of which he is holding above. This is a photo from Life magazine by Alfred Eisenstaedt (from the Google-hosted archive).

This weekend, I attended the grand opening celebration of Buffalo’s first new art museum in over 100 years: the Burchfield-Penney Art Center. Previously, the museum had been housed on the third floor of a building in Buffalo State College’s campus; now it has a freestanding building, designed by architects Gwathmey-Siegel, also on the campus. The museum is devoted to works by Western New York artists, including, of course, Charles Ephraim Burchfield.

Clover Field in June (1947)
A renowned watercolorist, Burchfield (1893-1967) lived in a suburb of Buffalo called Gardenville for 40 years. (Part of the area is now a nature and art center dedicated to his memory; it has 29 acres of woods and trails.) Burchfield barely lived long enough to see the completion of the first Burchfield Art Center on the Buffalo State Campus in 1966; he would be amazed to see this expansive new facility.

Autumnal Fantasy (1916-1944) This is one of many paintings CEB returned to decades after starting them and reworked.

Burchfield was a quiet, introspective family man (he and his wife Bertha raised 5 children), who wrote extensively in his journals about his observations of the natural world. I wrote this about him in Art & Antiques in 1993:
Even the grimmest Buffalo winters enchanted Burchfield. Once, after gazing at a bleak January landscape of spongy, greenish-black vegetation and bare trees, he wrote, “I stand spellbound, unable myself to move for the power and wonder of it.” He was continually frustrated by the impossibility of pinning down a bright spring day, and after attempts at encapsulating hourly changes in the appearance of a landscape from dawn to dusk in his "all day sketches," eventually Burchfield decided to place more reliance on memory rather than subjecting himself to the distractions of reality. This strategy also allowed him to develop an abstract vocabulary of slashing brush strokes and angular distortions to represent drama, while undulating lines and atmospheric veils of paint suggested mystery and mood.
It was not important to represent the natural world exactly; Burchfield sought to express the awe, the intense emotions, that nature inspired in him. He might have had more in common with his abstract-expressionist contemporaries (whose work he detested) than he was willing to acknowledge.

Besides the “Seasons” and other nature-inspired paintings by Burchfield, there were many other nature-oriented works in the show, including a 17’ x 50’ (yes, feet) mixed media mural of an arbor by Russell Drisch (below, with dancers); delightful Flower Blobs by sculptor Roberley Bell (above, meant to be interactive); and many traditional landscapes by nineteenth and early twentieth-century painters.

My one hope is that the new museum will honor its namesake by installing a beautiful landscape design, one that includes native plantings—perhaps with an eye to Burchfield’s favorites—and as little turf as possible.

Many more photos of the museum and opening events can be seen here.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A book close at hand

What a coincidence. I had been planning to post about this book, but hadn’t. Then, today, I read Dee/Red Dirt Rambling’s blog in which she uncharacteristically responded to a meme about books. Update: Barbara/Mr. McGregor's daughter has also done it.

The idea is that you grab the book closest to hand—no cheating—turn to page 56, choose the 5th sentence down, and post the results, including other lines if necessary to provide context. Here are my results:

Earlier in the year, I had been impressed by a strain of cardoon, Cynara cardunculus, before it ran up to flower. Its pale leaves, less dissected than usual, were overlaid by a almost metallic sheen. This is a joyful garden.

I assure you, the closest book to my laptop, excluding the messy stack of catalogs it lay beneath, was Christopher Lloyd’s Other People’s Gardens. Published in 1995, it documents Lloyd’s travels through 24 gardens, 18 of which are in Great Britain and Ireland, and 6 of which are in New Zealand, Australia, and the U.S. I have never been to any of them, but long to visit many, including Beth Chatto’s and Helen Dillon’s gardens, both of which are included, as well as Powis Castle, Chilcombe, and Stourton.

This book had been on my Amazon “to buy” list for a while, and I finally ordered a used copy this year. I doubt it’s in print. It is written in Lloyd’s typical style—not a gushing travelogue at all, but matter-of-fact, opinionated, critical when necessary, and refreshingly casual in tone. I happened just now to open to a description of how rudbeckia “Herbstonne” “flops hopelessly in the border,” which mine certainly does. Lloyd describes the gardens he visits, but his descriptions are flavored at all times by his own experience of many of the plants and he is occasionally critical when warranted, as here in the chapter on Balcarres: “I have one criticism of Ruth’s Garden. I think it tries to cover too long a season of interest and this is at the expense of any potential climax.”

A fascinating book, and one I am sure many of you would love to read, if you have not already. Don’t worry, there’ll be no tagging, but if you want to do this it’s fun.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Think autumnal

Think Persuasion, one of my favorite Austen novels (given that there are no non-favorite Austen novels). All the flashy part of the autumn is over. It’s cold or at least chilly most of the time and the light is grayer. It rains a lot. It’s windy and daylight is just about over by the time I get home, weekdays.

Yet, I sat contentedly on the side steps the other day, having just managed to squeeze another few packs of bulbs into the ground, and I felt very good about the garden. Sure, much of it is brown and dead-looking. But you can still see structure and potential. At this time of year, I appreciate the evergreen groundcover in the front; it’s not my favorite plant, but it looks fresh.

Blooms? Not many. I took in a few of the rose buds, because they would be much happier opening inside than out. Some diascia and lobelia is still hanging on—and sure, the toad lily is in bloom. A couple dahlias. Meh.

Blooms are not what it’s about. It’s about setting the stage for the spring, getting excited about bulbs (especially bulb forcing, especially in the forcing glasses, above), and thinking about plants and gardening. And trying to find some decent lighting for my plant room so I can do better with my overwintering. And even though I still I may still clear out one more bed before Thanksgiving, it's really about next year's flowers, not now.

The 2008 garden is over. On with the 2009 GWI garden.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Operation tazetta

Though a few dahlias and roses are hanging on in the garden, it was windy and rainy today, and I couldn’t stand the thought of outdoor tasks. Luckily, I had an indoor potting job waiting: some empty vases from Amvets; stones, glass pebbles, and gravel; and plenty of tazetta bulbs, including some special tazettas from Old House Gardens: Erlicheer and Grand Primo. OHG advises that I chill these for a couple weeks and then bring them into a sunny spot.

I also still have Martinette, Grand Soleil d’Or and Golden Rain from Brent and Becky’s. Many of these bulbs are still available, by the way, if you haven’t gotten any tazettas yet.

The vases are all pretty cheap, except a few I got at an antique store, including this big one. The river stones look the best, I think, but I didn’t have enough and had to use some glass. I use a certain amount of stones on top to wedge the bulbs into place—not to hide them.

I was amazed at how huge the ones from Old House Gardens were (4 Erlicheers above). Just one of them totally filled a few of the vessels.

With a decent amount of sun, which they absolutely require, I’ll be seeing these come up from mid-December through mid-February.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

If you can't grow em, make em

It’s a stretch to call creating a glass flower indoor gardening, I do realize. But it does make a flower happen and it’s fun. Although it’s only about two and a half hours away, we don’t visit the Corning Museum of Glass as often as we should. They have a great permanent collection covering the entire history of glass, from Egyptian portraits to the latest from Chihuly, Ben Tre, and many Czech artists with very long names. Above is the 1997 Hollow Torso by Irish artist Clifford Rainey.

It’s a bit of a shame that the only glass artist most people know—I include myself in this—is Chihuly (above). I like his stuff, but during our visit, there were so many other wonderful contemporary sculptures and installations. I guess Chihuly is one of the only ones able to make the crossover into the larger art world. (You know, that whole craft vs. art thing.)

The magnificent Chihuly sculpture you see here is in the lobby of the museum, which, appropriately uses a lot of glass in its construction. Then you move into the galleries, which are chronologically arranged. There are also regularly changing special exhibitions. It was cool to see some work from the Blaschkas (their salvia, above), whom I posted about on Garden Rant. They made a lot of plant and animal glass in the nineteenth century for the purposes of natural science.

Throughout the galleries, I found that many of the objects have nature and flower motifs, as with this Venetian candelabra above.

Corning is certainly one of the most visitor-friendly museums you’ll find, and in an intelligent way, not just a bunch of video-game-like stations, such as many “science centers” have. There is an educational interactive gallery, a theater where you can watch artisans making glass, and a “make your own glass” center. We both made flowers—mine is above. Best of all, you can take as many flash pictures as you want. They do not care. More of mine are here.