Sunday, December 20, 2009

Up from the dungeon with the hyacinths

Part of my strategy for maintaining some semblance of gardening activity during the frigid months revolves around bulb forcing, which I’ve discussed here many times. But it’s always a new adventure, because I deliberately choose the stranger varieties of hyacinths: this year I have Raphael and Prince of Love, as well as the standbys Crystal Palace and City of Haarlem. City of Haarlem is probably one of the most reliable forcers, second only to Carnegie in my experience.

There is surprising variety among the cultivars. I’ve had terrible luck with Chestnut Flower, a pale pink, and some of the blue ones can be picky. The Prince of Love bulbs are huge and many have sprouts coming from the bottom. You can actually see some in the bulb at far left on the middle shelf, above. This means … I have no idea. Time will tell.

It may seem a touch early to take the bulbs from the root cellar, but they have been there 10 weeks, and are well-rooted—roots are coming out of the bottom of all the pots and are nicely filling all the vases. This is why I like to chill the traditional way, rather than chill the bulbs in the fridge separately, as many do. That’s a good method, but I like the old school way, and I may as well get some use out of our capacious but creepy basement.

I'd agree with many that hyacinths aren't at their highest and best use in the outdoor garden. If they're upright, they look sort of stiff and stubby, but usually they flop over. The more loosely-flowering Spanish hyacinths (hyacinthoides hispanica) work much better in the perennial border. Maybe that's why some bulb sellers say hyacinths aren't as popular as they should be.

For indoor forcing though, hyacinths are wonderful. They have what I find to be a light, fresh fragrance and it's easier to keep them upright. And they are a wonderful respite in February when they bloom.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Winter addictions

There is no way to recreate the idea of a garden inside a zone 5 house. And I think that’s why many gardeners in my situation just give up on houseplants altogether, unless they have attached greenhouses or Florida rooms. It’s just not the same, by any means. But I still find indoor gardening rewarding and fun. Inspired by local avid growers of these plants, I have begun to take up the amaryllis and orchid habits. Baby steps to be sure: I have 10 amaryllis (hippeastrum, correctly) and 7 orchids (phalaenopsis, dendrobium, oncidium, and cattleya).

Most of my winter gardening centers around spring bulbs. I have 40-50 hyacinths down in the root cellar and about as many tazetta narcissus either in progress or in bags waiting to be grown on stones and water. I think some of them will bloom in time for Christmas, but not all; they are all fancy types that take a few weeks longer than the traditional paperwhites. They are well worth the wait, and have a much softer fragrance.

Everything is ready, but nothing is blooming. For that, I rely on my old standbys (and by old, I mean plants I’ve had for 10-20 years): African violets, Christmas cactus, and cyclamen. These will bloom almost all winter. What perennial gives us as much bloom time as these plants, which are despised/overlooked by so many gardeners? Seriously.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What I know about indoor gardening

The indoor jungle

Today I took a good look at my upstairs plant room and I didn’t like what I saw. The thing is, I’m a bit nearsighted and hadn’t noticed the little bugs on the abutilon. But I already knew that this was a common problem with these plants. Rather than fool around trying to combat the problem, I promptly ditched the plant.

Shocking? Maybe, but I feel that indoor plants require prompt action. Too many people feel that their indoor plants should just exist, requiring the absolute minimum of attention. The fact is that these plants are already in a stressful situation; to keep them alive, you have to keep your eye on them, and—as is necessary with any plant inside or out—give them what they need. They need humidity and light, which I provide with a humidifier and extra lighting. Their watering requirements are few, and interference in the form of extra trimming is also not appreciated.

The main thing to know about indoor gardening is that it is gardening. You can’t expect the plants to take care of themselves, but if you accept that casualties are part of the process, you’ll do fine. So I tossed my abutilon, but also happily welcomed 4 new amaryllis (hippeastrum) to my indoor jungle. Such are the transitions of the winter gardening season.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Who needs mums?

They are not required on the GWI property. I’m now realizing that gorgeous weather is way more important than any flower when it comes to Bloom Day in November. Gorgeous weather is what we’ve been having, so I’ve been able to hang around in the garden and enjoy the colors of fall.

What could be better than yellow, red, and orange ivy against red brick walls, or deep red Japanese maples, or dusky rose hydrangeas? Most of the trees have lost the better part of their leaves, but the ones that remain are dramatic, silhouetted against an uncharacteristically blue fall sky. In July you can be picky, but in November you’ll take the plant color you can get. Even most of the fall bloomers are done by that time in this region—though I am not a big fan of many of the plants specific to fall.

The roses are hanging in there, especially the indomitable Abraham Darby, Blush Noisette, and unknown red climber. At this time of year they will hang on to half-opened buds for weeks.

Even the wisteria is contributing, looking more interesting as it loses leaves and gains chartreuse tones.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What do squirrels want?

Not my bulbs, it seems. I am finding holes dug by the furry rodents all over the place but none of them are really deep enough to displace a bulb, and I am not seeing bulb remnants anywhere. Snarky Vegan tweeted that they need to bury food everywhere because they can’t smell it. I believe her.

But still, it’s annoying. I need the bulbs to remain adequately covered by soil. This is surely the year of the squirrel on the GWI property. They’re always around. They seem totally at home on the patio during the summer, darting between the pond and the rose/lily bed all the time. I tolerate them, but do not want them digging up my bulbs, even by accident. So this is what I’ve tried:

Red pepper: seems to work, somewhat, but requires constant reapplication.

Critter Ridder spray: complete waste of money.

Peony grids over beds: works somewhat. Chicken wire would likely be better, but I really prefer this stuff on pots. Ground needs to be free. I don’t want chicken wire embedded all over the place.

Various disgustingly smelly Liquid Fence products: great for deer I'm assuming, but not for squirrels. AH! The bad sense of smell! (I do catch on.)

Many wooden skewers stuck into the ground, point side up: you’d think this would work. I have readily stabbed myself with these things while working around them, but I am not totally sure they deter.

I just want them to stop digging. But that’s not what they want.

(The image above is my pond, closed for the season. You can also see the only type of squirrel I like.)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

More finality talk

Hmm, a week after I have my “This is the end, my friends” post, Gardening Gone Wild announced an “End of the Line” photo contest. Coincidental, I am sure!

It was fun to look around the garden for my favorite end-of-the-season vignettes, particularly because the weekend has been gloriously balmy. We planted 17 trees around the neighborhood this morning: part of the Re-Tree WNY effort. It was up to me to choose the trees to be planted, and I had great fun with that. We ended up with redbuds, horse chestnuts, gingkos, serviceberrys, crabapples, and mountain ash. Decades from now, Allentown residents will see them in their glory.

Meanwhile, I am planting the last of the bulbs and enjoying what you see here. The roses have been just like this for the last 2 weeks; I guess they won't ever fully open. This is probably one of the last weekends it will be fun to linger in the garden.

The year of Erlicheer

Well, not really. But I’ve decided to closely document, just for fun, the progress of this particular type of tazetta. I loved them last year; each stem produces a tight bouquet of white blossoms (as you see below). And as I posted last year: they produce one of the most upright and bountiful floral displays I've seen. I’ve bought a lot of them (from Old House Gardens), and I hope to keep most—not give them all away as impulsive gifts.

And this is the year I’ll organize my forced tazettas and hyacinths just a bit better. I’m not mixing hyacinths in the same pots because they never come up at the same time. Mixing tazettas is often equally unsuccessful. In this case, nature encourages a monoculture.

Old House Gardens suggests that the Erlicheer (as well as the Avalanche and Early Pearl, which I also have) should chill in a dark cold room for a couple weeks, so I’ve placed them in the root cellar. They’re in tall glass vases, and I’ve used a combo (as you see) of river stones to hold them.

These bulbs are fun because I’ll see results in December and January, when nothing else is blooming—inside or out.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

This is the end, my friends

For the next few months, I can ignore the weather. Which is a relief in many ways. There may be snow, there may be sleet, there may be ice—or it might just be dreary and gray, but I don’t really have to think much about it, other than dress and travel appropriately. I don’t have to focus on how weather effects or does not affect what I’m doing in the garden, because I won’t be doing much out there, not until April or thereabouts.

There are still a few bulbs to plant, and quite a few leaves to rake. For as long as I can remember, the Norway maples on our street have hung onto their leaves well into November, making leaf disposal an annoying task—much of which takes place the following spring. But this year, there was an early frost and the leaves actually did what they’re supposed to do—change color to a rusty gold and fall off the branches. I think this is the first time I’ve seen their fall color; normally they morph into a greenish black. They’re very pretty, and they’re everywhere.

I already have my first few containers of tazettas started; with any luck, some may be in bloom by Thanksgiving. I will also be spending a lot of time tending indoor plants and dealing with 40-plus pots and vases of forced hyacinths. The weather outside will soon be frightful, but I can ignore it—and continue gardening.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Orchid experts make housecalls

At least in Buffalo they do. Whenever I see this friend, who is also an orchid grower and member of the Niagara Frontier Orchid Society, I always whine a bit about my orchids. I guess he'd had enough when he finally said, "Why don't I come by one morning and look at them?"

Sure! So he did, and I videotaped some of it, using my iPhone. That's why the sound and image quality are not the finest. Also, if you're prone to vertigo, the shaky camera might be annoying as well. However, I've used subheads to help make it all intelligible.

John's visit was very helpful. I feel much more secure about my orchids now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall fits and starts

(All is well in the plant room.)

If it’s not warm enough to sit in the garden, I am unlikely to want to work in it. I’m not one of those dedicated gardeners who loves to get out in the brisk chilly air and make a day of it—but I can stand an hour or two. Hence, there is still much to be done, and a bit that has been done.

The bulb project continues. Species tulips dasytemon, oculata, kolpkowskiana, and orphanidea have been added to the tarda, clusiana, batalini, humulis, biflora, bakari, marjoletti, and turkistanica I already have. (You’d think this would create a sea of color, and you would be wrong—so many of these are needed!) For the first time in a while, I planted a bunch of narcissus outside: Eudora, albus plenus odorata, and cantabricus. Just feeling crazy, I guess. Most of the indoor forcing is yet to do, but I have 4 big containers in the garage.

And this year I have a new protection system for the bulbs. For the containers I am using peony supports over the planting, as you see. I think this will deter squirrels if I use red pepper as well. I’ve also treated the outside plantings with cayenne and liquid fence. Phew! But I understand it wears off. It’s a bit of trouble, but worth it when you love spring bulbs.

You’re all reading about what a crappy little fall many of us have been having, but the perennials at least are turning brilliant yellow this year, especially the hostas. And this Solomon’s Seal I just planted is practically fluorescent.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Autumnal angst

Or is it simply angst that autumn seems to have passed us by? We went right from high summer in September to early winter in October this year. Oh well, my weather app tells me that some balmier temps are on the way.

But even with a warm spell to come, undeniably the end of the growing season has arrived, and thus it becomes more difficult to feign enthusiasm about any flowering plants that might be hanging on, even for a Bloom Day post. During spring and summer I anxiously await the development of the various flowers—tulips, roses, lilies, hydrangeas, rudbeckia, and so on. Every day has an exciting discovery, or even a traumatic disappointment.

In mid-October though, it’s winding down. I’m much more interested in planning the spring bulbs than I am in looking at what might still be hanging on at this stage. Which is really how it should be. And of course I’m very involved in my winter forcing projects. And I’m figuring out how to keep all the plants in my plant room alive.

The garden outside, now? Not so much. It’s pretty enough in its fall colors and scattered messiness, I’ll give it that.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

When you don't have a greenhouse

This post might be titled “Don't let this happen to you,” but, as crazy as it looks, I actually enjoy tending to my growing collection of overwintering tropicals and tender perennials.

It started over five years ago, when I bought a gardenia and a jasmine and kept them in this upstairs room over the winter; both bloom from May through August outside (the jasmine starts flowering inside in April). A few geraniums and an orchid followed. Then I converted the room from an obsolete home office to a full time plant room, with wood floors, humidifier, and some special lighting.

Now there is a large banana, several good-sized colocasia, a large alocasia, 6 orchids, a variegated abutilon, a large plectranthus, and many other common household foliage plants, as well as the plants I started with. Most of them go outside right after last frost. The room has a south-facing window and some high-powered compact fluorescents, which stand in for the usual shop lights many use—although I know they are not really great for the purpose. I find all indoor plant lighting to be unworkable in anything but a basement where no one will view its ugliness, and I am trying to find a better alternative.

In late December, pots of forced hyacinths and narcissus will join these plants, followed by tulips in February. That's when it really gets exciting and feels the most like real gardening.

Sure, I've had plenty of plants die inside. So what? Plants die outside too. The only ones that bother me are the orchids; they're expensive and I try to make sure they survive-with good success so far. And there are some houseplants (throughout the house) that I've had for 10-20 years.

Some day though … a real greenhouse. Or better yet, a conservatory.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Too many bulbs? Impossible.

Yesterday, I planted 150 bulbs around the front and sides of the GWI property, much to the amazement of my social networks. But it’s really not that many. Indeed, I expect to get 150 more into the ground before I’m done (and another 150 into containers and forcing pots). Over the years, I’ve realized that even on a small property, a few bulbs scattered here and there look sparse and rather pathetic. You must plant bulbs en masse.

Even dainty ephemerals and species tulips only look good if they are scattered rather thickly. A single species tulip looks good in photographic close-up, but is otherwise a sad little specimen. With these and other smaller bulbs, I’ve started to plant 3 or so together and try to make sure there are similar groups of 3 close by.

As for hybrids, I’ve stopped planting less than 8-9 large tulips or daffodils in the same hole. It doesn’t seem to impede the daffs from coming back (if they want to), and the tulips will persist if added to every year, so that the ones that falter won’t be missed. (Personally, I treat hybrid tulips as annuals, but that suits my conditions.)

So 150 or even 300 bulbs— a drop in the bucket as far as I’m concerned.

The images are of some of my tulips and plantings on a nearby street.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A perfectly good tomato plant I won’t miss at all

In better days, the tomato leaves were somewhat attractive.

At first I was excited when a small heirloom tomato plant purchased on a whim began to bear small yellow tomatoes a couple months back. Then I was impressed when the thing grew to about 9 feet and produced several ponderous branches, all loaded with fruit. Then I became annoyed when it dominated most of the bed it was in, hiding a rose bush (the lovely David Austin Charlotte), and leaning all over my Black Knight buddleia.

The tomatoes are fine, but not nearly as good as what I can buy at our local farmers’ market, where I am not restricted to yellow, orange, green, or red, but can buy a rainbow of great-tasting, locally-grown tomatoes. So, having put up with this monstrous thing for a while, today I ignored all the little maturing maters hanging in bunches all up and down its length and pulled the whole thing out, including its 4 stakes. Easy enough—not much of a root system there. I stuffed it into the compost bin, and the whole garden seemed to breath a sigh of relief.

No edibles here, now that it’s gone.

Now, you can see my new panicum Ruby Ribbons (not ruby yet), the new Charlotte buds, and the whole bed looks airier. I cut down the rudbeckia Herbstsonne too for good measure. Aahhhh!

I don’t need to grow tomatoes. Let that be a lesson to me. However, I am considering some ornamental peppers next year.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thank heaven for little ponds

In many ways, a pond, no matter how small, escapes the peaks and valleys of the usual WNY garden season. It always looks pretty fresh, providing you can keep the leaves out of it. The plants thrive throughout the summer, especially my favorite, papyrus, which is still sending out new stalks. This year I’m trying pickerel for the first time, and really liking it, while, as I’ve posted, my water lily has finally bloomed. Water hyacinths are nice surface plants, but multiply just a bit too rapidly and can clog things up—they’re not great for a small water feature like mine.

This is obvious, but it must be stated because it is the most astounding benefit of water gardening: you do not need to water. Something slightly less obvious: water plants can be fertilized. There are sticks made especially for them or you can use Jobes, pushed well in.

There are so many ways in which a water feature repays whatever effort and cash it cost. The sound provides a backdrop at all times, making your garden seem more idyllic than it is. You don’t have to have fish, but they’re fun. However, they do insert an element of trauma, if your pond is not deep enough for them to stay in it all year. I’ve finally found a winter home for my goldfish—cheap as they were, they’ve fattened up nicely, and I’d hate to just let them freeze. Or any of the sordid alternatives.

We’ll close the pond when it gets too cold to enjoy it; the non-hardy plants will be saved over (though without much success, I fear) and the hardy ones will winter over in the bottom. As for the fish, fingers crossed, my friend’s 20 gallon tank will provide a safe harbor.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A shrubbery!

Ask not for whom the bell tolls; I can assure you it tolls for 3 rhododendrons, installed at considerable expense as part of a front garden redo about 5 years ago. Try as I may, these shrubs simply will not thrive. They’re not terrible; they’re just not great. The picture above shows them in flower; you can see the discolored leaves and the fact that the branches are not as fleshed out with leaves as they should be. It’s too bad; the flowers are very nice, and long-lasting.

So I brought in my favorite garden consultant, the fabulous Sally Cunningham from Lockwoods, a local nursery, and she recommended leucothoe Rainbow (above), an evergreen with variegated leathery leaves and white flowers in spring. They’ll be going in Sunday. They’ll be a bit puny at first, especially when compared to the full-grown shrubs on either side of them, but if all goes well, they’ll fill out. The wall behind them is not an eyesore in great need of covering, so that helps.

I wonder if I’m becoming a shrub person. My interest in them has grown, especially in hydrangea, viburnum, and another newbie to my garden: pieris japonica.

BTW, If you’re wondering why I don’t have a Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day post today, I do: it’s here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A walk around the late summer garden with no close-ups

It does look a bit ratty in places, but overall, I’m … satisfied with the mid-September garden. But this isn’t the time to be satisfied. Like my friend Sally says, this is the time to give your garden a cold hard look, to figure out what’s really needed, now that the excitement of the floral fireworks has dissipated in large part.

Though we’re always giving our gardens a cold hard look. We’re always agonizing about all the flaws and problems. So why should today be any different?

Starting in the front, the presence of a surface network of maple and cherry roots is not likely to change. I am, however, replacing the rhododendrons with some different shrubs. My advisor and I are working on the choices now. Otherwise, my main problem is a mixed bed of shade perennials (not shown) that is a bit too mixed and needs some strong structural elements.

On the sides, all is well. Many of my friends think I should vary the monoculture of hostas and ferns I have on one side of this walkway, but I like them, so there. The hydrangeas, rhododendron, and perennials on the other side are doing very well.

I love this little strip near the side door. I feel like I can put anything there: perennials, annuals, herbs, bulbs, whatever. And let the best plant win in this tiny space.

In the sunny bed, it’s still mellow yellow, with heliopsis and rudbckia hanging on. I have pretty much decided that I will move the Herbstsonne to the back, probably in spring, not now. Lots of lily bulbs to cram in here in a month or so.

Can I just say that I love the pond, and especially now that I have these fish. I won them in a Canal Fest contest. But what to do over the winter? The pond is not deep enough. Dilemma.

In the back, we are again faced with a garden plot defined by a tree and its roots. But here is a slight second bloom on the viburnum. I never saw that before.

Finally, should I rethink all the containers? Should I fill each with just one plant? Something to consider.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Size matters

In my small patio garden, I need things to be either literally big or big in terms of impact. I have seen small dainty gardens with neat little mounds of foliage and flowers (strangely, these gardens often include a tiny patch of turf) and I have not been impressed. Not for me.

No. Tall is good, wide is good, and spectacular is preferred. Of course, I don’t have success with as much giant-sized stuff as I’d like. Large-flowered dahlias and big hibiscus don’t seem to get enough sun, and sunflowers never do well. But I can grow tall lilies, big-headed hydrangeas, other tall perennials, and lots of vines. And, with the various degrees of shade that fall almost everywhere, I depend on foliage plants. With big, big leaves.

Many of these are tropical or semi-tropical (meaning they’ll overwinter in Texas but not here). Two pics up, you see some alocasia that grow nicely inside for seven months and then go into the ground in June. There are also many types of colacasia (also shown) that I have varying success getting through the winter. One that I got from Plant Delights, the giganteum, will continue growing inside, but not all of these will.

The musa (banana plant) also has to be hauled up to the plant room in October, where it will continue to produce leaves, though slowly.

And there are some rather exotic looking hardy perennials that will give impressive foliage (without being hostas), like this boehmeria I got from Plant Delights last year. It’s about six feet tall and has strange little stringy white flowers—if that term even applies—hanging off it.

Many gardeners know the lesson of foliage. I’ve come to value it not just for the interest it brings when a plant’s flowers are gone, but even more on plants I grow for foliage alone.