Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A funky garden for a mansion

Thanks to the hard work—I suspect blood, sweat, and tears were all involved—of WNY landscape architect Joy Keubler and her team—our Show House garden is completed on schedule and can be viewed through May 17 along with the rest of the 30-plus room mansion.

As I posted here, the idea was to do sort of a demonstration garden, one that includes composting, vegetable-growing, rain barrel-using, and as much re-use of existing materials as possible. It’s the sort of thing that gardeners everywhere are doing, but it’s not the sort of thing you’re likely to see at a Junior League Show House.

So my magazine sponsored this by giving ads to everyone who donated materials or worked on it (almost no cash was spent), and the garden was built. This is more like the show gardens one sees at a garden show, except that it’s outside and remains open for 3 weeks. All the plants are in pots (and it was not easy to find plants for this time of year), and everything has to be returned to its lenders or otherwise repurposed at the end of the period.

The garden shed, pergola, potting and sink area, and cold frames were built almost entirely from deconstructed materials collected by Buffalo Re-Use. This wonderful group makes sure that when a house is demolished it doesn’t just get shoveled into a landfill, and is also involved in local community gardens built on empty lots. Then our co-op gardening center, Urban Roots came in with labor, a compost tumbler, a rain barrel, and a few other things. There are also solar lanterns and a lot of cool vintage items lent by a local store. Two water features are also made from recycled materials and soak into permeable paving.

Is it really a garden as I would use the word? No. But it is a fun space that’s comfortable to hang out in and may raise awareness of sustainable practices to a different audience.

See more images of the garden and the rest of the Show House here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Species tulips? Big fan.

It’s hard to believe I ignored these when I first saw them in a catalog many years ago. Back then, I wanted the big Darwin hybrids or some other showier variety of tulip. These days, it’s the opposite; I’m buying more species tulip and fewer hybrids. (Though most of these “species” are actually cultivars of wild tulips.)

It’s important to remember how small these are, though. I find that they only really succeed when placed in ground cover (as above), grouped with other early spring bloomers, or as an accent with bigger perennials. Even 5-7 can look pretty measly surrounded by bare ground, where perennials have yet to emerge.

At first I sort of assumed that these would all be early bloomers or all bloom pretty much at the same time—catalog times often are incorrect depending on zone—but some of them don’t emerge until May. I’ve made some goofs “pairing” different varieties that didn’t end up blooming together. And I see this spring that I still need to fill in a few spaces between the groupings.

So far this year, I have the white/yellow turkistanica, the orange-red batalini “Bright Red,” and the enchanting magenta/gray/yellow humilis “Persian Pearl.” There are quite a number to come, as well, of course, as my hybrids, which I pretty much treat as annuals.

ADDENDUM: I am not so sure that's a batalini. It was planted a while back and I now see that batalinis are later bloomers. But I don't think it's praestans either, as it is not multi-flowering.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The mighty hellebore

Certain plants seem right at home in Western New York gardens. Some of them I grow and like, but don’t get too excited about: hostas, daylilies, rudbeckia, echinacea. Some I feel happy about growing as successfully as I do: lilium, species tulips, clematis, David Austin roses. And then there are plants that truly surprise and delight me every season. Such a plant is the helleborus, which I first bought after seeing it on the back of a Wayside catalog in 1999 and thinking, “Hmmm, that looks interesting.”

I bought 3 plants, and 2 of them eventually matured. (Or maybe I only got two.) They were meant to be shades of rose and green, but I saw that the more sun they got the lighter they were in color, as the one you see above. I marveled at how they started flowering in late March and how the flowers lasted right into June, followed by lush, sculptural foliage.

Then, a few years ago, interesting cultivars of hellebore began to appear besides the single-flowered “Lenten rose.” I knew about an earlier-flowering variety (too early) and the helleborus foetidus, and had not been interested, but when I saw the double, and deeper-colored hybrids begin to appear in the Plant Delights, I had to have them. I now have some single and double-flowered mauve varieties and some double pink and whites on the way. These seem to adapt to my garden quite well; all have flowered the first season after late-summer planting, which is more than I can say for those earlier ones from Wayside.

I can definitely see myself becoming a hellebore collector.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Still inside and out

Aha! I thought this was sort of a weird in-between time for my garden. After scanning both this blog and Garden Rant, I see that I barely posted for Bloom Day last April, just flinging up a hellebore image (and those have been blooming for a few weeks).

However, there is more happening than just hellebores, though it’s not terribly exciting. The scilla are multiplying in the front beds, the new hellebores have come up, and some species tulips are starting to show buds. These recently-purchased hellebores are quite dark, and I am relieved to see that I have some double whites and pinks coming in from Plant Delights this year. The plants do very well here; these maroon blooms are more than I got the first year after I planted my white ones.

Inside, the hippeastrum will not go gently into their off-season. I have a white one still blooming and a red one still in bud. And maybe a couple more. If this keeps up, I’ll be able to bring them outside to enliven a late spring gathering.

As always, garden bloggers' bloom day is thanks to Carol/May Dreams Gardens.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Proven losers

That’s what pansies are in my garden. They look good for a few weeks, and then get all leggy, stop producing blooms, or simply die. Yet, I keep buying them (right, definition of insanity).

This year my plan is to plant them out very early, which is now. Daffodils are only beginning to pop in our area, as you see above. I figure I’ll get the most out of them before the trees fully leaf out. They seem to require much more sun than they’re advertised to require.

They are pretty though. I bought some common white ones, shown at top, and some fancy types (fancy in looks, names, and price), which are very showy, and which I already distrust intensely. I expect they’ve been on the shelf a bit too long, but hopefully they maintain their usefulness through tulip season. Then they’ll be replaced by shade annuals.

But there are many plants that have short seasons of beauty, like cherry trees (my forced branches above) tulips, mock orange, certain antique roses—far too many to list, and I buy and grow a lot of them. For some reason, the only ones I really resent are pansies. Perhaps because they do last longer for other gardeners.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Slowly … surely—but too slowly

This is an impatient and frustrating time for many gardeners throughout the Northeast and Midwest; I am reading it and feeling it. Indeed, I still see some gardens under a stubborn coating of snow. We haven't got that, but aside from a healthy showing from the hellebores, I wouldn’t say there’s too much going on in the way of flowers yet—and I would hardly expect it.

But it is the home stretch. All the spring bulbs are above ground, and I’m beginning to see the starts of hostas and daylilies. Even a few of the lilium—possibly martagons, are showing. In the meantime, I enjoy the last of the indoor forcing season. I started these cherry branches rather late and they are just beginning to show color—about 5 weeks ahead of the tree outside. It’s fun to watch their slow progress inside, because with the tree, it seems the burst of color happens and ends all too quickly.

Today I found a cache of lily bulbs down in the basement; they looked OK, so I planted them behind the house. There is a lot to be done back there. In 3 months it will be a weed heaven if I don’t get after it. It is also time to pull out the big bulb pots. It’s just about time to do a lot of things, regardless of this chilly, unpromising weather. No wonder I’m stalling, still looking at indoor flowers.