Saturday, January 31, 2009

We’re in deep

What if the snow came up so high it covered the windows? Then there would be no light for these plants to yearn toward, as they are doing here. I don’t think it will happen, but there’s no denying that we are having one of the coldest, snowiest winters ever. There haven’t been any major blizzards, but slowly and steadily it is building up—with more to come.

This is wonderful for the local skiers; even I am considering trying some snowshoeing or maybe cross-country. And if it keeps up, I won’t need to go to any special park; I can just set out from my front door. I do wonder what all this will mean for the garden. Most of my shrubs are just about buried, as you see little Annabelle here (this comes up from new wood, so it will be fine). The rhodies are almost covered; that could be good or bad. Will some of my recently planted perennials make it? I wonder. If the snow cover persists all should be well, but this is extreme, and one never knows.

This winter—more than I any other I have experienced—I marvel at the seeming impossibility that the change of scenery you see above will happen.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter vacations for plants

As we Northern gardeners go about our off-season business, watering our small collections of houseplants, poring over seed catalogs, and visiting conservatories, the business of growing goes on. Minutes from our houses, hot, steamy greenhouses are teaming with vibrant plant life, tended by professionals.

I visited a friend recently who actually maintains a summer patio garden filled with small tropical trees or such warmer zone plants as jasmines, citrus, and so on. At the end of the season these plants are all picked up by a local greenhouse, which takes care of them for her all winter. In the late spring, the truck arrives and unloads them back into her garden. She's also got a subtle and unique little water feature, as you see above. As counterintuitive and perhaps non-sustainable as that may sound, I find the whole notion rather seductive. I love tropical and warm zone plants (I think tropical has to be below a certain latitude, but I’m hoping you’ll give me the latitude to stretch the term a bit) like banana, olive, mandavilla, jasmine, ylang ylang, aglaia, and many others. I’d love to sit on the patio in summer and be surrounded by the fragrance.

Oh, I suppose I should be satisfied with zone 5 perennials, many of which are surely fragrant enough—indeed some of my visitors assume my oriental lilies are not winter-hardy. But I may look into storing just a few big tropicals at a greenhouse myself. Until then, I’ll have to keep dragging unwieldy pots of jasmine, musa, and gardenia—along with others—down the stairs and outside every year. I am sure around this time of year, they'd rather be enjoying a luxurious vacation in some greenhouse with lots of caretakers tending to their every need!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Three plants in particular

No, not the ones I would take to a desert island, though I like that challenge and have read a few thoughtful selections. Instead, I have decided on three commemorative plants. Recent events have been exciting and momentous; after 8 years of turning down the radio periodically so I would not have to listen to certain voices, I am interested in political events once more. Who knows, by May, when I plant these, I might be disgusted again, but for now I’m hopeful. I’m thinking I’d like to plant some new cultivars that would mark this optimism.

The first will be a hydrangea. These are my favorite shrubs; there is something so typically hometown American about them, though many are not native plants. A quercifolia is, though, and it’s one of the few I don’t have. I do have the other native variety, arborescens.

The second plant will be an unusual clematis. I am choosing plants that people notice for their beauty, not the sort of mainstay plants that everyone has, as appreciated and wonderful as these are. I have selected the clematis tangutica “Chinese Lanterns.” It might blend well with my c. alpina "Stolwijk Gold," which has gold foliage.

The third one will be a striking shade plant. I am thinking of pulmonaria saccharata "Mrs. Moon." I have one with narrower leaves; I think it is the majeste. (Many would consider this and the hydrangea ordinary plants, but I don't—it's all in ones perspective.)

I’ve not chosen plants I routinely add every year, like lilium, verbena bonariensis, tall nicotiana, dahlia, and so on. The plants here—a perennial, a shrub, and a vine—are meant to be high impact cultivars that will only get better over time.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Familiar, but not quite

Here we are at the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens again. I know what you’re thinking. “What could she possible find to say about this place for the umpteenth time?”

Well, I may have told you everything there is to know about this place (actually I doubt that, but you can get it from the website), and showed you everything there is to show, but another aspect of the gardens hit me today as we visited. It was frigid out; we went there because I knew they had the amaryllis show and that it would be balmy enough for a coatfree stroll. And it was delightful.

What I noticed amid all the exotic blooms, rainforest plants, Everglades room, bromeliad collection, and so on, were the many plants familiar to me as common houseplants. It was a lesson on context. What is rare and exotic to me is a weed in Hawaii. What is an annual to me is a perennial in Texas. And what is a completely-taken-for-granted houseplant in my house turns into a lush array of textures and colors in the hands of the BG gardeners.

For example, I have croton and plectranthus, both of which are mainstays here (above). The repetition of the two very different plants in this display is what takes them out of the ordinary. I suppose it is artificial, but I never saw anything in gardening that was anything but artificial, no matter how many native plants you use. In any case, for someone who depends on having growing things during zero-degree weather, it was great to see these plants used so attractively, turned into something special.

I also saw plenty of other plants I have, including hypoestes phyllostachya (polka-dot plant), colacasia, musa, saintpaulia and others. (I wonder if I should count the water plants.) It goes without saying that their versions are usually much bigger and often there are many more of them. I see that their polka-dot plant has gone annoyingly into flower, as mine has.

I don't have this Crown of Thorns euphorbia, but Carol/May Dreams does. It has some spots on it, most likely from water.

Isn’t the goal of using ordinary plants of extraordinary ways something all gardeners strive for? And is there such a thing as an ordinary plant, when you really think about it?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A good time for flowers to stay inside

It's been in the single digits almost every day this week, but my strategy is to ignore the temps. There's nothing to be done; this is a time to sit around the fire with friends, visit the botanical gardens, browse through catalogs, and, oh yes, tend to a thriving indoor garden that now consists of about 40 hyacinths, 60-some houseplants in various stages of activity, and some other seasonal bulbs. I'm still waiting for all of my amaryllis to bloom, but most of the narcissus are either blooming or about to.

Here is the Erlicheer, which really creates one of the most upright and bountiful floral displays I've seen from one of these. It cam from Old House Gardens. Grand Primo is also blooming and I expect Grand Soleil d'Or and Golden Rain to pop out over the next week or so. Martinette will be the final one; maybe even a February GBBD.

With the humidifier and lights going every day, I've now managed to spoil my plant room into thinking it's summer. The gardenias demand more water than usual (no leaf drop though) and the orchids are responding as well.

The houseplants I've always had are having a very long bloom season; I don't think I've seen the African violet out of bloom since maybe summer. I am looking forward to seeing what this plectranthus will do when I take it outside this year. I'm guessing it won't get buggy, based on the interesting musky fragrance coming from—I think— the foliage, not the flowers.

There is lots to anticipate over the next few months (the Isabelle hyacinths, above) , including some double tulips I'm trying to force for the first time. We'll see how that goes. As many of you know, Garden Blogger's Bloom Day is the creation of Carol/May Dreams Gardens.

Friday, January 09, 2009

I've seen better days

Buffalo in Bloom used to be a real competition, but now they pretty much give anyone an award who has bothered to create a front garden. (You do have to have more than just a lawn, I'll concede them that!) All the same, their website happened to pass before my eyes this morning and it was fun to look at my front garden as it was when they gave me my 2008 BIB award. It is a little sign in front, while in the window you can see my Urban Roots poster. (I only have it up for a few weeks in the summer.)

As you can see, this is mainly foliage—the trees have leafed out, providing the usual dry full shade. Hostas need to be my friend. It must be somewhat earlier in the summer though, because the window boxes are not that full yet. For the heck of it, I picked another address at random from the 100s on the website, from a street I had never heard of. And I have no idea where it is:

South Buffalo maybe. Interesting, because they hardly ever include people in their shots. I like it for that reason.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The slow months

In spite of their generally crappy weather, November and December fly by; you have the holidays, their accompanying social events, and possible travel. You’re busy.

No, the months we tend to dread in the Northeast are the slow months of January, February, and part of March. Other holidays and travel possibilities surface in March and by April we’ve begun to believe that outdoor gardening is once again possible.

One of my ways to get through these months is to force bulbs, lots and lots of bulbs: narcissus, hyacinths, tulips, amaryllis. But even the bulbs sometimes seem too slow. This year, I have decided to check for myself if a watched hyacinth will bloom, by bringing 6 of my hyacinth vases to the office (top), where I will be looking at them many, many times each weekday. This doesn’t happen at home; the bulbs are in rooms that get sun, while we spend most of our time in the warm, cosy den, which has permanently drawn shades (the windows face another building).

I don’t see much of a difference since the last time I posted about hyacinths, except that the tips are greener. Even the specialty narcissus are taking their time, though some are emerging. These are the Grand Primo, from Old House Gardens. I am not sure what is so urgently pushing to be released in the buds, below. Could it be the Golden Rains? Time will tell. They will definitely be out by next GBBD. Notice how short these stems are—surely the result of the lights in the plant room.