Thursday, January 31, 2008

Going mono,maybe

I was reading Layanee’s post about color combinations and it made me think about how a bit of planning now could make me a lot happier about my own color mixes comes summer. There are certain things I can’t do much about in the perennial beds, but containers are the perfect blank canvas for this sort of thing.

Last year I had red bedder nicotiana and strobilanthes (Persian Shield) in a couple containers: deep red and purple. That looked OK, and I might repeat it.

The other cool combo (temp-wise) I like is white and purple, as with these silvery white petunias and the blue ageratum, though they aren’t combined as they should be here.

But it might be interesting to do some monochromatic schemes in the containers. I would use different shades of the same color as they appear in different plants. That’s the great thing about annuals; it doesn’t really matter how common they are: white impatiens massed against green-foliaged shrubs can look great. I’ve even seen celosia (an annual I really don’t care for much) look fantastic at the Botanical Gardens, when planted out like this:

Sometimes it doesn't even matter what the flowers are (again from the Gardens):

I’m straying from the point. Which is. Every summer I buy several flats of annuals from various places and add to that the ones my friend the seed king gives me. But then I stuff them into containers with very little though for color combinations, usually just going for violent clashes. This year I think I’ll try some semi-monos. Shades of orange, anyone? Or shades of red might be better. Or no, shades of yellow. Is there yellow coleus? There must be. OK, close enough:

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Bluestone 2008: a toe in the water

Thanks to all this early spring travel I’m planning (Sicily, Austin), finances are not as healthy as they could be, so I’m getting a slow start on plant ordering. Yet I could not let Jan. 30 go by without having taken advantage of Bluestone's early bird 20% off special. As well, the solidago “Peter Pan” was a full 50% off. I also have some agastache Blue Fortune, and some verbena bonariensis coming. These are all pretty common perennials/self-seeding annuals, you’ll say, but I don’t take chances on stuff coming back up (invariably where I don’t want it) and the Bluestone prices are much better than I’ll find locally.

Once my fortunes rebound, I’ll be ordering some more from them and from Select Seed.

But is it art?

We hope it will be. My friend Cheryl and I are planning an amusing installation featuring projected video and live plants we’ll call “The Secret Sex Life of Plants.” We’re making it for a fundraiser that will benefit Squeaky Wheel, a local media arts center. I’ve been doing searches and there is some great royalty-free footage of pollination you can buy from shutterstock (shown above), as well as educational animations and the like from a variety of sources. The event, called Peepshow, is a party with other installations, screenings, drinking, music, and dancing, so we’ll need to make something that can be appreciated within a minute or so.

I have the ulterior motive of moving whatever potted plants we have to buy for the installation into my plant room afterwards. There may also be some educational handouts about the importance of providing habitat for bees and using native plants. Though I imagine many of the attendees will be apartment dwellers, with gardening one of their lowest priorities. Still, for a February party, a nice fragrant room filled with color and plants may be quite welcome.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Plant Delights? Hmmm, maybe not this year

Heresy, I know. The thing is, I love the catalog; the descriptions are brilliant. But after reading about 36 entries on zone 7 and higher plants, with "maybe zone 6b" speculations, I don’t think this is the catalog for me this spring. My goal now is to install some tall, tough, meadow-ish perennials to mingle with the lilies in the back sun bed, and some shade-loving foliage plants in the front side bed. Containers will have old-fashioned annuals and summer bulbs, while textured ground covers will fill in here and there. And I need more vines.

Plant Delights has plenty of hostas, but I’ve never been too excited about those. They also have a lot of other plants I can’t grow year-round and I already grow tons of annuals. I will order some of their elephant ear (above), which this year I hope to winter over in the plant room (humidifier installed today!).

And here’s the other thing. Must I see the faces of Bush and Cheney on the cover of my plant catalog? I mean, I get it, but this year’s illustration just isn’t humorous enough to compensate. Bluestone, Select Seeds, Brent and Becky’s, and local vendors will supply most of my needs this year.

Having said all this, we will be stopping by the PD nursery and botanic gardens on our way back from the beach in July, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple hellebores made the journey back with us.

Monday, January 14, 2008

House blooms in January

It is sort of an in-between time, with all the forced bulbs yet to come (you can see their progress in the last post) and most of the holiday blooms over. Yet, there is still some color, with pink and red cyclamens, violet and light pink African violets, and 2 schlumbergera (Christmas cactus) just showing deep fuchsia buds now.

I also have the last of the tazettas from Old House Gardens blooming. They’re not spectacular-looking, but they smell like real daffodils, fresh and green, completely lacking the sickly paperwhite/Ziva scent. These are daffodils meant for Southern zones; they require 2 weeks or so of chilling.

In other news, I think the compact fluorescents are working in the plant room. I suspect that’s because the room is so small and it already has south light. Some tazettas that were bending uselessly all over the place now stand straight up, just in the few days that I’ve had the lights on. It will be interesting to see their effect on the other plants.

Oh and check out these two Christmas stocking gifts I got from Alan. I followed the directions, and voila!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Let there be light

If you take into account the houseplants, bulb-forcing, and plant room efforts, I've got more going indoors this winter than I've ever had before. With many caveats, of course.

The hyacinths finally came up, all in various degrees of development. They've had almost 10 weeks, so I think it's time, even though some of the buds could be bigger. This could be a cultivar issue. They'll probably improve in the chilly back room, where I'll keep them for a couple more weeks. I'm very excited about the Gold Rain double narcissi; their buds look very promising, though it still looks like a couple more weeks before I see-hopefully-their shaggy gold heads. Clearly, my habit in years past of keeping paperwhites in semi-lit room was not a good idea. I've learned my lesson and there have been no duds this time. We'll see though.

After some research, it seems silly not to take advantage of all the compact fluorescents on the market now. I've bought two for table lamps and will add a third, more powerful bulb in a standing lamp; between these and the big south window, the plant room should have enough lumens for what I've got in it. I'm not sure it will be good enough for serious seed growing, but certainly enough for orchids, foliage plants, cuttings, bulbs, etc. I need some hanging plants—though not in the window—to balance things. When the two lights are turned on, it looks pretty intense in there. They are not technically grow lights, but from what I understand, normal fluorescents can work, if there is enough wattage.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Finally—I finished the bulbs

This must have been the longest bulb-planting season yet. Today I potted the last of my paperwhites: 4 Grand Soleil d’Or and 4 Golden Rain (a double mutation of GSdO), and 2 pots of tulips that I had kept forgetting about (they will be taken outside in April). Everything was nicely sprouted so I’m optimistic. The potted hyacinths are ready to come upstairs; there are still so many, as I felt they were not ready to give as holiday gifts.

On to the next thing. The Bluestone and Select Seeds catalogs are in hand; Plant Delights is on the way. I also need to think about some interesting indoor plants to replace the ones that will go outside. Between the printed catalogs and subsequent Internet ordering, this will last weeks, especially since I always over order and have to winnow the list down to a financially realistic total. It still adds up to a hideous amount.

Other off-season rituals: visits to the Botanical Gardens to see the orchid and hippeastrum shows (as well as just sit with the flowers). Then come the garden shows. This year, I have big plans to visit the Toronto show. I’ve heard good things about it. I must say, it seems a lot snazzier (see above) than the Buffalo one. But in other ways, it seems quite similar (see below).

Wednesday, January 02, 2008


Reviewing my iphoto library often gives me ideas for posts. I was scrolling through recently, looking for a particular image, when I noticed lots of beautiful—and unfamiliar—plants. Had I owned these plants? If so what happened to them? Thus was I prompted to briefly review the cycles of life, death, and replacement in and around the GWI property.

Back in the days of yore, around summer of 99 or so, my first attempts at gardening included taking down all the fencing around the beds (the former owners had dogs). Then I filled the beds with plants that I liked, with total disregard for sun/shade/moisture/soil requirements. This resulted in a part-shade, acidic bed being planted with dianthus, bellis perennis, achillea, lavender, violas and iris. All long-gone now. This pictures is a scan, as I didn’t have a digital camera then. The mural wasn't there then, and I see only one (unplanted) trellis.

My next attempt included daylilies, lilium, and various tough low-growers like campanula, geranium (the real kind), and creeping jenny, as you see below.

Most of this has been replaced by the pond, though some of the plants are not quite dead. The daylilies and lilies were transplanted, and seem to have barely survived the summer in their new locations. The hydrangea remains.

Then there are all my lilium auratum. I had these correctly identified as the species from Lily Garden and given another name by Van Engelen, but I’m pretty sure they were all the same. I think lilies can give out after five years or so and that’s what happened here. Maybe if I’d divided them, which is something I hardly ever do. I just planted some bulbs from Van Engelen which seem to be at least relatives.

Maybe the saddest story is the rose garden. I have to blame myself here, because it looked pretty good when we moved in, all white shrubs mainly, with a red climber. There were two bad bushes: a Double Delight with black spot and some old polyantha with horrible mildew. However, I think I killed the white ones by not protecting them one bad winter. I also gave up trying to eradicate a severe midge problem. The rose garden is now a mixed perennial, tall annual, and lily bed. It doesn’t look nearly as tidy as it did (though you only really got one big bloom in late June, thanks to the midge).

Next on the chopping block? I have my eye on the side hosta bed. I guess for me it’s mainly the process. I’ll never be happy with the results.