Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Festive, if temporary

Winter gardening is about forcing bulbs, but much more. This is the time when flowers inside the house are essential. This is the time when it’s hardest to keep living plants alive.

But it’s also fun. I love bringing big evergreen branches in for the mantelpieces. I love planting hundreds of hyacinths for forcing. And I love getting marvelous gifts like the one you see here—a tree made out of evergreen boughs.

Soon a recently-bought amaryllis will be in bloom, and not too many weeks later a bunch of narcissus will as well. Such is winter gardening. And such is GBBD in December.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Stocking up for winter

The insanity continues. As if there wasn’t enough excess happening downstairs in the root cellar, where about 200 bulbs are chilling in their pots and vases, I’ve also been adding to the plant room upstairs.

While shopping for evergreen branches the other day, I noticed that the nursery had added—probably just to torment me—a table of citrus trees to their selection of gift plants. Right in there with all the amaryllis, zygocactus, rosemary, lavender, and cute little ferns growing out of little rocks or whatever.

These were sizable trees, too, many with fruit and buds all over them. I have always wanted to keep some citrus growing through the winter, moving it outside in summer, so how could I resist? I could not resist. I am now the owner of a dwarf Lisbon lemon. It is meant to be grown outdoors, of course, as the instructions make clear. Nothing there about keeping it going inside, but I know it’s possible; many grow citrus indoors.

I have purchased small plants from Logee’s before, but they didn’t make it, which was disappointing because they were pricey for their size. This lemon is established; at the very least, it will take longer to kill. At the most, I’ll be making cocktails with my own lemons from now on.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanks for nothing, Mr. Collins

It’s like I’ve said all along. Politicians have an inbred aversion to such things as flowers, paintings, dancers, actors, plays, and literature. Oh, right, and library access.

See, when you run government like a rich businessman, you can’t really understand why other people would need any of the things you’ve taken for granted (though clearly ignored) for your entire life.

I wonder how many politicians rely on the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens. Many of you saw this magnificent facility last summer, during Garden Bloggers Buffa10. It needs work—and hopefully will continue to get it—but what it has right now is enough to entrance local families on a regular basis and impress out-of-town visitors whenever they get a chance to see it. It is one of three Lord & Burnham conservatories sited in an Olmsted park. It has the largest collection of ivy in the U.S. and it is the one place in Western New York where you can escape to the tropics in a twenty minute drive. In February.

That might impress some people, but clearly it is not enough for the leader of our county (the aforementioned Mr. Collins), who has withheld funding from the facility for the last year and plans the same treatment in 2011.

My friends from Idaho, North Carolina, and Wisconsin seemed to think the Botanical Gardens was a pretty cool place.

Look, we all know money is tight. But those of us who pay attention also know that the funds allocated to the Botanical Gardens and every other cultural organization in the area—AND the libraries—would not be enough to make a $2 dent in anyone’s property taxes. Seriously.

Fund the gardens. Fund the theaters. Fund the galleries. And for gods sake, fund the libraries. We can’t afford to have another generation growing up as ignorant as YOU, Mr. Collins, clearly are.

If any of my fellow admirers of the Botanical Gardens would like to advocate, I have an email for you:, and here's a phone number: 716-842-0490.

Monday, November 15, 2010

What happened to fall?

It fell. Usually I look forward to Thanksgiving weekend as a good time to at least pretend to rake some leaves before I give the job to a neighborhood wino, but this time next week, I don’t think there will be any leaves left.

Not that I’m complaining. The early chill and leaf fall, followed by milder temps, encouraged me to get all my bulbs in before it got too cold. The outside ones, that is. I still have 75 hyacinths and 30 or so tazettas to get into pots of some sort. There are about 100 in the root cellar now. Maybe more. I’ve lost track.

Slowly, all the furniture and décor has disappeared from the patio, while the fish have been adopted by someone with a deeper pond. It’s pretty bare out there, but with some attractive color, as you can see from these images. Which will have to suffice for GBBD. There is more, but the late fall hydrangeas are always my favorite.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Behind the fall décor

See, it’s like this. We in the Western New York area love our seasons; we really do. But in order to give up on the flowers of summer and the growing season in general, we need some kind of substitute.

Or, I should say, I do. Part of it is celebrating the symbols of the harvest in a little display like this—including pumpkins, hay, dried flowers, and whatever else seems to work.

For me another part is firing up the plant room for all the tender and tropical plants I am overwintering; right now it looks like a mini-jungle in there, except that jungles usually don’t have artwork and bookshelves. It also includes planting the final perennials and—of course—621 bulbs, many of which are being forced for January-March enjoyment. Though I must say I think I enjoy potting them up and storing them in the root cellar even more than when they bloom.

There may be some hay and pumpkins on the stoop, but there also a lot of gardening action going on chez GWI—even in late October.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day: The late Great Lakes?

As Kathy/Cold Climate Gardening is fond of saying, I live by the shores of an inland sea. To be honest, I’d rather live by the shores of a real sea; I love the ocean. But Lake Erie and Lake Ontario are very beautiful bodies of water. They have gorgeous beaches, and the sight of sailboats on Lake Erie is something that never tires. The proximity to the lakes softens the winter temps even as it brings more snow. It also keeps things cooler in the summer. Orchards and vineyards around Lake Ontario benefit as well.

But you often can’t use the gorgeous beaches thanks to polluted run-off. Infestation of alien species threatens many of the fish, and contaminated sediments make eating many of the fish that remain in advisable. In some ways, the lakes are better than they were, but there are still plenty of problems. I’ve always known about them, but this summer they became a bit more personal.

It was hot. I had never in my life visited any Lake Erie beaches on the American side, but this summer we did. We went to three—all were very pretty in their different ways. I particularly like the vintage concession buildings a couple had. Only one was open for swimming the day we went—the other were closed because of lifeguard shortages and heavy currents. But a report on beach pollution throughout the U.S. rates a few Buffalo-area beaches as persistently failing to meet healthy standards, particularly during times of heavy rainfall. This is when storm water overloads water treatment plants. The report was widely publicized.

There is more EPA money on the way as a result of this and other publicity. I know that beach health is just one part of the Great Lakes picture, but wouldn’t it be great if they were always clean and open all summer long?

Here are two useful sites:

Great Lakes Information Network

EPA Great Lakes site

Friday, October 08, 2010

In which Amy's chickens steal the show and Amy drinks vodka out of a mason jar

Oh sure, I did my best with my weird pickled hibiscus buds and my vintage hyacinth vases, but that background clucking and Ladybird's guest appearance was just too cute. Here's episode 2 of the Garden Rant Cocktail Hour. Stay tuned because we're bringing on some other bloggers who long to tell their tales and drink their drinks for you.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Return to Sonnenberg

A couple years back I visited this historic public garden; we found it lovely but in need of some restoration. Now it looks like it’s getting some help. I met fellow Ranter Amy Stewart here the other day; we toured the gardens and shot a couple episodes of our new Cocktail Hour video series, which will be running on Rant every Thursday—more or less.

The rock garden’s water courses have been filled; this is really the most beautiful feature of Sonnenberg. The rock walls and structures follow a meandering path punctuated by cascades, pools, and streams. We both fell in love with the rock folly above; it is topped by a beautiful climbing hydrangea.

The classic Victorian glasshouses are dilapidated, but still elegant, and the plants are in good shape. We surreptitiously taped a short video in one of them—I had brought along a floral liquor I thought we could taste with Sonnenberg as a backdrop. Amy had some slight demurs about embibing at a rather early hour (10 a.m.). We’ll be posting that soon.

In the meantime, Sonnenberg is well worth a visit if you’re ever near Canadaigua, NY. I wouldn’t think cool weather would make any difference—in fact, I am sure the autumn color here is gorgeous.

Shaken, stirred, and Skyped

Amy Stewart (in California) and I have started a project called the Garden Rant Cocktail Hour, a series of videos in which we mix drinks and chat, mainly about the drinks but about other stuff too. We’re both interested in using botanical infusions (like cucumber gins or homemade fruit vodkas) and botanical elements in drinks (like flower garnishes). Here's our pilot—still some technical issues to work on but we’re working on it.

Sample restaurant's Honey Lavender martini (modified by Eliz)

1 part gin (G'vine is divine.)

1 part honey lavender simple syrup (boil sugar, honey, water; use 2-1 water to sweet stuff; add a bunch of lavender; let steep an hour; strain)

Juice of 2-3 lemons

Shake with ice, strain, pour into martini glass and garnish with lemon slice studded with a viola blossom. You don't really need a premium gin—Sample does not use one—but I like the way a botanical gin's flavor shines through whatever you blend it with. I have also included a sugar/honey mix, not all honey (too much honey taste).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Teetering on the edge

The garden at this time of year might be compared to this high wire artist. Things could go south any day if an early hard frost or freeze were to make an appearance. It is early, but it could happen. I usually try to keep things up—water, cut off dead blooms and pull out spent annuals—through mid-October or so. By Halloween, I’m ready to take a rest and let the garden do the same.

It’s rather nice now, though. There is some windblown weed aster that is making quite a show in the same bed with the heliopsis (blooming since July) and the buddleia (also since July). And roses can be depended upon through frost.

I love the tropicals for this reason. They don’t recognize our seasons. All they know is that if it gets too cold they’ll die. That hasn’t happened yet.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Now blooming

Ha! Just kidding. This did not come from my garden, though I guess it has some relationship to the big Rose of Sharon shrub currently flowering behind the house. This flower is from a jar of hibiscus preserved in syrup. It’s for drinks, not Bloom Day.

The fact is, I like the garden fine, but I am getting just a tiny bit bored with it, as the season winds to a close. I do have some wild orchids in bud—Ladies’ Tresses (Spiranthes cernua), which are fairly common but still hold some excitement for me, as I’ve never had orchids in the garden before. There are also gentians, which you’ve seen, and some lovely colchicums that were given to me and other bloggers from Kathy/Cold Climate Gardening. Still waiting for the leadwort plumbago.

Which is all well and good. Actually there is plenty still blooming, and lots of foliage. But I’m getting excited about bulbs now, including the hyacinths for forcing that I just ordered from Old House Gardens. That will be my next big gardening project—that and planting all the other hundreds of bulbs I’ve ordered.

It’s the cycle. I’m always looking forward to the next big thing.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Keeping the drama

Late summer perennials are all very well, but I find that focusing on all-season foliage and sturdy annuals is what really gets me through August and September. Even so, I have been getting better at planning some late summer action in the perennial line.

Here’s what I am excited about.

Gentian! These are very interesting plants. I am hoping their pretty blue capsules will hang on until the nearby dwarf plumbago (ceratostigma) produces its star-shaped flowers.

Sweet Autumn Clematis! I lost this when we put in the pond, but I planted some around a side trellis and it is doing splendidly. It’s also better placed here, where it provides much-needed scent and blooms in a prominent location.

Weeds! I love fall weeds. I have a statuesque pokeweed maturing in the front and some seeded wild asters—could be the fleabane or bushy types.

Otherwise, I give high marks to the heliopsis, which has been going strong for 2 months and all my lovely colocasia, some of which are finally showing their variegations. This slowness to display variegation is my only complaint.

But I’ll have many more when the garden really starts to go downhill. But by then I’ll be potting up bulbs and won’t care too much.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Big excitement—for me, that is

All you jaded master gardeners out there probably grow this with the greatest of ease—or scorn it—but I have always wanted a moonflower (ipomoea alba). It is a scented vine, which combines my favorite plant structure with my favorite plant attribute. After a failed attempt to grow these from seeds passed along to me by my sister-in-law (chalk up yet another seed starting failure), I got a plant from Select Seeds and it is finally blooming. It should flourish through September, I'd think.

I see that this is related to morning glory, which implies that is likely invasive or at least overly aggressive in some areas, but that won't be a problem here. And it's poisonous. Poisonous and invasive—why do so many of the plants I really like fall into both those categories?

Monday, August 23, 2010

DIY self-watering

Because I'm mainly an ornamental gardener, I had never really thought much about using self-watering containers. Even in a dry summer as this one has been, I can neglect my containers of annuals and tender bulbs without too many ill results. They bounce back. And I don’t find the self-watering containers too ornamental. I’m still looking for that gorgeous lightweight container that looks like an Etruscan original.

However, my friend Gordon, who has an amazing ornamental garden that takes up most of his outdoor property, has found a way to have it all by using his driveway as a place to grow vegetables. And he makes his own self-watering containers (or self-contained gardening system, as these are often called). Gordon grows an amazing crop of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and other vegetables in this asphalt-covered space; many of the seedlings are started in a collapsible hoop house he uses in the spring. Vegetables benefit most from a steady diet of water and nutrients—there’s a little more science necessary when you grow them. Kind of like the difference between baking and other types of cooking.

At first I thought his homemade containers were just another aspect of his gardening genius. Not quite. Gordon has modified a recipe for self-watering containers he found on the web. It’s from Josh Mandel and can be found here. The site looks like it hasn’t been updated in a while, but the instructions are still good. Gordon recommends that instead of PVC, 3/4" copper tubing be used, and instead of black tarp, red weed blocking fabric be used, especially for the tomato plantings.

I’d be interested to see if anyone uses this, and if it works for them. And I’m still looking for those elusive self-watering, lightweight and beautiful containers for my ornamentals.

(Pictures coming soon for this--sorry!)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Went to IGC, spoke on a panel, lived to tell the tale

But it won’t be an epic. Here are just a few observations.

It’s a buyers’ show

Although there are plenty of speakers, sessions, and workshops, some of the garden center reps I spoke to said they would not have too much time to attend any programming. They were there to shop (and play in Chicago). The exhibit floor is on 2 levels and has little side sections. It’s a big job to carefully assess what’s there and make astute choices. The show is not open to the public, though, so I never found it uncomfortably crowded, as some of the big flower show vendor sections can be. Fellow Ranter Amy Stewart and I had fun walking around and stopping—pretty much at random—to speak to some of the vendors.

I liked most those vendors who were manning their own booths rather than being repped by PR people. For example, the product above—a planter on wheels that I rather like—was shown to us by its creator and his signage included a picture of him and his daughter with it. Amy and I feel that this would be crack on wheels if it came in stainless steel to add to the industrial chic. No urban hipster could be without it. But the white is elegant.

Then there were the plastic molds to shape small vegetables and fruits into hearts or squares. Very, very silly, but I can’t help but think of a cute little heart-shaped tomato floating in a cocktail. It could work.

And there was so much more, including many New Age potions to enhance plant performance. These are no longer called fertilizers. Goodness, no. They simply help plants to get the most benefit possible from the compost or other natural elements already present in soil. Whatever.

As for our panel

Over the past four years, we’ve all posted plenty of what we like and don’t like about our independent garden centers and how we’d like to improve them. Amy, Susan, and Michele took reader surveys to get a sense of the shopping habits of Rant readers and what they expect from their IGC. I went first and talked about, in this order: what IGCs sell, the marketing of various products, and the current trend of replacing one spray (chemical) with another (nicer chemical). I think we and our readers are pretty much in accord—we want to be taken seriously as gardeners and not insulted by higher prices for silly packaging, myths about “organic” sprays, or garden center aisles dedicated to stuffed animals and resin décor.

That all might sound kind of like a serious panel-long rant, but it wasn’t, judging from the laughs we got. Local radio station host Mike Nowak helped things along by interrupting us to serve cocktails to our panel, as he had threatened to do on the radio show we had with him. Great fun.

Would I attend IGC again? Actually I’d love to. I’d like to have more time to walk the floor and talk to the vendors—and it’s always in Chicago. You gotta love that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Am I a real garden expert? If not, how much does it matter?

Our panel description for IGC

Over the last few days, as I prepare to speak on a panel at the upcoming IGC show, I've been thinking about how professional “expertise” makes a difference. In some ways, I think the difference can be on the negative side, when it comes to a truly useful dialogue about gardening.

While it’s true I do not have horticultural training—I am a writer by trade and by academic background—I am a gardener and have been for about 25 years. And it has been more serious since I began to own property. But I don’t know the ins and outs of the horticultural trade—how plants are hybridized and brought to market or who really decides which plants will become available and which ones will fall by the wayside.

I don’t know what marketing wisdom prompts the buyers for nurseries and garden centers to choose what goes on their shelves (though I can make educated guesses). And I do not have the scientific background of the professionals who staff academic departments in schools where agriculture and horticulture are taught.

Does any of this matter? I think not. As far as writing goes, I depend on my research, interviewing skills, and ability to put information together and draw conclusions. As far as gardening goes, I depend on my reading, the advice of others—including professionals—and trial and error (mostly). In any given day, in any given garden, mileage varies widely.

But most of all, like anyone who reads this blog, I am a fellow gardener and garden consumer who likes to talk about plants and occasionally raise questions about gardening practice. I’m not an insider—and in this case I am not sure being an insider would lead to the best kind of dialogue. Often, the horticultural insiders I know are very cautious about expressing their real opinions—they simply know too many people. That happens in every profession.

We have been taking guest rants on Garden Rant for the past couple weeks or so. It’s really wonderful how many readers were obviously unleashing opinions they’d long held but hadn’t really had an outlet for. It’s why I started this blog, and joined Rant—I just hope, as I go to events like this week’s IG show and GWA meetings, that I don’t get to be too much of an insider.

So expect my full report when I return Friday—as un-insidery as I can make it!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fast forward

While certain things about this speeded-up season have been slightly disturbing (lilies mostly over by mid-July, etc.), overall I have found it kind of fun. I have always had a mid-season-maturing garden, so with enough annuals and tropicals to back it up, I find that I’m getting more consistent fullness and color this year—earlier, and I hope just as long.

Plant of the month: rudbeckia lacianata “Golden Glow.” It’s kind of like a really tall (5’ and up) and better-looking mum. I have only seen it offered from Select Seeds, and much prefer it to the Goldsturm and the Herbstsonne, which was my previous favorite.

And these lovely herbs, a gift planter from Buffalo gardening guru Sally Cunningham. You can see borage and oregano flowers, with the fabulous houseplant plectranthus “Mona Lavender” in the background.

In front of the house (top), the fusion impatiens have achieved shrub status, while the colocasia are attempting tree height.

If I depended on perennials for my summer impact, I’d be nowhere. No matter how the season goes—speeded up or slow—if you have annuals and tropicals , you’ll always have some kind of drama. And I’m all about the drama. Especially on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A garden at the end of summer

There was considerable pressure on the GWI garden during July. Actually, it started in late June when fellow Ranter and acclaimed author Amy Stewart snuck in with a camera crew and shot a video (mainly an interview with Amy), while I was out of town. It is a major production about Buffalo gardens and our love of gardens that the local visitor’s bureau is working on. When it’s finished, I’ll post it.

Then, July 8-11, 70 garden bloggers/writers/vendors were in town, and the GWI property again got a workout, on a very hot Thursday. I am assured by most of the attendees that they could not really see the garden for the crowd and the excitement of seeing each other—which is as it should be.

Finally, July 24-27, about 1,000 people came through as part of Garden Walk Buffalo. That’s a smaller number than usual, because the headquarters location changed, but 1k was plenty for me. It was a lovely weekend. I should mention that throughout July, my garden was one of a few dozen Open Gardens. Every Thursday I tried to remember to leave the gate open so that those few aware of the program could visit. We’ll try it again next year with better PR.

Phew! Now the garden is finally quiet. The lilies are over (except the speciosum), the roses are taking a break, but I do have plenty of annuals, tropicals and yellow/orange perennials. The heliopsis is doing wonderfully, as is the rudbeckia laciniata “Gold Glow” (at top), which might very well be my favorite rudbeckia ever. There isn’t the riot of scent that I had when the lilies and jasmine were dominating, but I do still have some fragrance from the heliotrope (especially the white), the old-fashioned petunias, the David’s Lavender phlox and a few other plants. And there are some plants still to bloom.

Maybe the garden isn’t so much quiet as different.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Seedpod sightings

Some were seen during a walk in the wild; some were seen during a brief visit to the assiduously cultivated local botanical gardens. Seedpods are kind of sad at this time of year, when you see the end of summer coming, but you’re not ready yet. I know that seedpods can develop all season along, but most of the time I deadhead, either to promote new blooms or simply to divert energy from seed production—as with lilies—into other areas. At the end of the season, I do often let them go. But not yet. I still have hopes.

Sometimes, the seedhead is just as cool—or way cooler—than the flower. That’s certainly the case with Gomphocarpus/Asclepias (I’ve seen both names) physocarpa, which was looking amazing at the Gardens today. It's a type of milkweed that’s also commonly known as swan milkweed or balloon plant. Or, for obvious reasons, hairy balls. I’d have to grow this from seed (which pretty much guarantees failure for me), but I’d really like to try sometime. Maybe next season.

These seedpods (above) were spotted during a walk in a lakeside state park. I am sure many of you know what they are—they look vaguely sinister, but sorta cool. (After I posted this, a Facebook friend informed me that they are the common asclepias, which I ought to have known. Oops!)

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A garden craft gets a workout

Voila! Hypertufa has arrived in my garden. Actually it's been hanging around for a couple weeks, but I've been busy.

Last month, I got together with an old friend to experiment with hypertufa at her place. She has a spacious backyard where messes can be made unobtrusively. I brought over some cheap plastic containers to use as a planter-type mold and, as I was unable to find some cheap plastic balls, I used her husband's old soccer balls for the spheres I had long wanted to make.

I won't give the recipe and exact directions here. They are everywhere. I will say my inspiration for making spheres came from Frances/Faire Garden. So, without going into boring detail, we mixed a bunch of stuff together in a wheelbarrow. We also sprayed Pam into the molds after laboriously cutting little circles out of the old soccer balls (this ought to have been an omen of things to come). We filled all the molds and then had some wine and dinner.

While the plastic molds came easily away after the requisite couple days, the soccer ball skins held onto their filling for some time, until finally, the guy working on our kitchen took pity and offered to get the leather off with his special tools.

And there you have it. Strange prehistoric spheres and a perfectly good planter.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The days of lilies and roses

… are passing quickly. Almost every lily I’ve got in the garden is either out of bloom, in bloom, or starting to bloom (except the speciosum rubrum). And Garden Walk is still over a week away. There are still plenty of buds, however, and I know I’ll have Black Beauty, tigrinum “Flore Pleno,” henryi, and maybe a few oriental hybrids persisting when the walkers come. Still, I can see an emergency trip to the nursery in my future.

I’m not really worried. The Garden Walk visitors are easy to please; they don’t seem nearly as fussy as, say, a group of 70 garden bloggers/writers might be. Good thing I won’t have any of those!

Some flower observations:

-A red climbing rose I remember cutting back nearly to the ground due to winterkill a few years back is slowly crawling to the top of the house, and blooming better than it ever did. The clematis near it seems somewhat troubled; maybe a similar treatment for different reasons next spring would help it. You can see both of them in one of these shots.

-This is the year of the hydrangea. I have dozens more blooms on every bush. Annabelle and ES Blushing Bride are kind of floppy but I’ll take that in exchange for the 4 months of flowers both give. The Alpenglow and Forever Pink are nearly florescent.

-Hostas are early as well. My unnamed purple variety will need to be deadheaded in a week or so.

-Strange anomalies include my rodgersia, which has great foliage but no flowers this year. What gives? And my rudbeckia hirta Herbstsomme is doing nothing. But it may be too early. Actually I am looking forward to the various rudbeckias, which come into their prime when the lilies are done.

And to close this Bloom Day post, I should mention that I am listening to an NPR On Point show right now that indicates the hot summer we’re getting in Buffalo and across the NE and MW this summer may just mean “summer as we now know it.” According to a new study. !!!