Tuesday, November 01, 2011

No bulb left behind

There are 920 in the house and 150 on the way. It’s kind of crazy, but many will not be going on the ground—they’ll be in big pots to be set out in spring and in smaller pots for forcing in the root cellar. Here’s what I’ve got: Temple of Beauty (top) will fill the two raised beds in front. Prinses Irene, Passionale, Orange Princess, Black Hero, Sensual Touch will be in big pots everywhere.
Oratorio, clusiana Chrysantha, dasystemon, humilis Magenta Queen, and Little Princess will go into the ground, along with some grape hyacinth.
Parrots, hyacinths (Hollyhock, Mulberry Rose, Madame Sophie), and tazettas (Erlicheer, Golden Rain, Grand Primo, Wintersun, Early Pearl) will be forced.
Then there are some Rose of May narcissus that I’m not sure what I’ll do with. It sounds like a ridiculous amount of bulbs. But it’s amazing how they get spread around—creating quite an ordinary display, when all’s said and done. I completely get how people can plant thousands without batting an eye.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

When fall works …

Many gardeners say fall and spring are their favorite seasons. Not so with me. I like summer, the hotter the better, with the cicadas buzzing and the lilies filling the air with fragrance. Spring has its compensations (a huge box of which are sitting in my hallway waiting to be planted). So too, does fall, though it can be a somewhat melancholy season, especially when—as I discussed in the last post—the leaf color is compromised.
However, the foliage wasn’t a total wash. This is one of the benefits of fall—with not all that much going on in the garden, there’s time to take drives to where the foliage doesn’t suck, as well as visit some fall festivals. I do prefer the fall country festivals to the summer city ones, which tend to be too hot and crowded. Western New York has not one, but two Pumpkinvilles—the better of the two is south of Buffalo, in Great Valley. Thank god for non-orange pumpkins, or I would have gotten tired of these plants a long time ago.
Rural drives in the fall also offer great farm stand action, and random tableaux like this one. As for the garden, it’s about finished, with a frost expected tonight. Some flowers (the roses, and most annuals) have soldiered on through October, not seeming to realize summer is over. Next spring, I’ll plant more of the best cultivars, as well as try some roses in containers. And so the love/hate affair with roses continues! Another angst-filled saga—suitable for fall.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fall color—and the lack thereof

A good thing we visited the fabulous Pumpkinville (above) last week, because these pumpkins are providing the blast of brilliant autumnal hues we usually expect from our trees—a blast that will be somewhat dimmed this year.

Not all the maple trees in Western New York have the dreaded tar spot, or the Rhytisma acerinum fungus, but enough do that leaf peepers will notice a considerable amount of dull brown patches along local roadsides this fall. Norway, red, and silver maples are said to be the most affected, but it seems more widespread than that this year—at least to my unscientific eyes.

And here’s the depressing prognosis, courtesy of the Purdue Extension:
Tar spot diseases seldom are detrimental to the overall health of infected trees. Tar spots may cause premature defoliation, but are not known to kill trees. Tar spot diseases are best managed by raking and destroying fallen leaves because the fungi overwinter on leaves.

According to all sources, the tiny spores infect the leaves in the spring, and their growth is much aided by very wet springs, as we had this year. (Apparently, Buffalo got the lion’s share of its annual rainfall in May.)

I also saw this on the University of Maine’s extension site: If infected maple leaves begin to crinkle and turn brown, anthracnose, another common disease of maple, may also be present. This must surely be the case, as I’ve noticed the spots before, but never as bad as this, and there is crinkling.

Sources agree that treatment is unlikely to help, and in any case would mean blanketing the city with fungicide. The municipality is unlikely to ever remove the infected trees, as the disease will not kill the trees. So I am stuck with ugly trees and their horrifically ugly leaves in front of my house pretty much every year.

I’m not alone. Tree owners throughout the Midwest and Northeast are asking their extension services about this, if google is any indication. Here's my answer: don’t plant Norway maples, and replace those you can with a good mix of other tree species. All trees get diseases and infestations, but if we don’t depend on a monoculture of just one type of tree, the impact is not as dire. I wish the people who chose to plant my block almost entirely with Crimson King Norway maples had thought of that!

Leaf spot photo by JP Thimot.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Do I have to talk about my garden?

I’d much rather not. It looks fine and all—in fact, there’s been a decent amount of late season activity, thanks to tireless annuals, oblivious tropicals and a few warhorse perennials (rudbeckia, buddleia, etc., etc.). Things are winding down now; it’s almost time to bring the houseplants in and bury the bulbs.

To a certain degree, this has been a summer of looking at other people’s gardens. In July, the Seattle bloggers’ meet-up provided a whirlwind tour of magnificent private and public landscapes. The Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island was the most spectacular site we visited, in my opinion, and I think most of the bloggers would agree. There have been many posts on the Seattle gardens, but I am sharing just two images from Bloedel, at top and above. This is part of their Japanese area. I’ve seen plenty of Japanese gardens, but the variety of specimen trees, the artistry, and the luxuriant spectrum of greens in this one set it apart.

In August, we had two great garden visits, one private and one public. First we stopped by the fabulous property of Layanee/Ledge and Gardens. She made us a wonderful lunch, most of it fresh from her garden, and then we walked around in a steady rain to view her extensive gardens. There are several beds framing the house, more around the pool, and a good-sized vegetable bed. I didn’t take as many pictures as I thought—the rain, we were talking—but here’s a decent one (above).

Finally, we saw the formal grounds of Edith Wharton’s former home, The Mount, on our way back from New England. It’s gone through some rough times over the years, but is being restored. Wharton was an accomplished landscape designer in the classic fashion, clearly inspired by gardens she’d seen in Europe. I liked the contract between two equally formal spaces—a shady walled Italian garden and the quartered sunny flowerbeds. There are also magnificent buddleia and hydrangeas massed along the slope to the house (not visible here).

That will be it for garden tourism unless we make it to the tropics this winter. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Spending on spring already

Lame as it is, the new Woodbine bulb campaign I mocked so heartily over at Garden Rant has gotten me thinking about my fall bulb order. Not that it takes much to make that happen.

Bulb planning is what enlivens the dog days of the declining late summer/early autumn garden. I think about bulbs I want to force, bulbs I want to plant en masse outside, and bulbs I want for container planting (not the same as forcing). I think about species tulips and ephemerals that will perennialize (more or less) throughout the garden. I think about fall-planted lilium. I think about amaryllis (hippeastrum). And then I order them.

I'm guessing most gardeners don't enjoy the process of planning the bulb garden as much as I do. (Otherwise, why would a ridiculous promotional campaign be needed?) They'd like bulbs to act as most perennials do-get planted and return every year with a certain amount of maintenance. And I know many gardeners claim that their bulbs do just that. Indeed, daffs, species tulips, alliums, and a few others will certainly return quite reliably. Reliability can be boring though. That's why I plan for different varieties of hybrid tulips and daffodils and force different tazettas and hyacinths ( as well as come tulips) inside every year. It's somewhat extravagant (though probably less than a pair of expensive shoes each year), but it's fun.

Let the fun begin.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Advice to the design-challenged: plant lots

It’s a good thing that the previous owners left good, well-delineated planting areas in my urban front beds, side beds, and courtyard area, because I’m not that skilled at overall garden planning and design. I just love gardens and plants. I guess I’m like those people who say they don’t know much about art but they know what they like.

This is what I like: full, colorful beds with mostly tall plants, and lots of fragrance. That said, I’ve had to compromise because of the abundant shade throughout the property. Shade will limit your color and number of blooms, depending on how much there is. But that’s OK, because I like foliage too.

My strategy has been to ignore any and all spacing recommendations that come with plants. I squeeze it all together and let the best plants win. This gives me the fullness that I’m after and is also useful in making sure I get the most bang for my buck in the few beds that have good sun.

Given my limitations, a smart thing to do would be to have a succession of spring to fall flowering plants for maximum wow factor, like daffodils to daylilies to rudbeckia to grasses in a sunny bed (with some slight additions), but that would be too limiting. So trial, error, and pack-it-all-in is still my design plan. And aim for a mid-summer peak. That’s partially for Garden Walk, but also because mid-summer is when I most enjoy being in the garden. Which is what it’s all about—not the work, the being there. Right now, the emerging lilies are making that especially pleasant.

And—let's not forget! Happy Bloom Day!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Thanks, Birds & Blooms!

I am Blog of the Week currently over at the Birds & Blooms website. Birds & Blooms is a gardening magazine that focuses on bringing wildlife to our backyards through gardening—they cover a lot of general interest gardening stuff as well. The print magazine has a 2.5 million circulation, and the website is organized by gardening region. Editor Stacy Tornio came up with some really fun questions for me; check it out!

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Roses-the trade-off

For me, it's worth it, but for many other gardeners, it is not. And I understand why. Those of us who like the full, old-fashioned blooms of English or neoEnglish roses generally have to put up with lanky shrubs and intermittent bloom cycles (or even once only). On the other hand, if you'll accept a kind of boring, semi-double bloom and standard colors, you can have nice, compact ever-blooming shrub roses. They're great for roadside medians and other public landscaping situations, but I wouldn't give up garden space to them. I think many belong to the Knock Out family.

The roses I am drawn to are old roses or the David Austin line of contemporary takes on the old rose form and scent. For me, lack of scent or faint scent is a dealbreaker with roses, and too many of the modern hybrids have traded scent for disease resistance, floriferousness, and shrub form. These are all important qualities, but I don't grow roses for their disease resistance or their shrub form. I grow them for the flowers. And the scent. (Have you noticed how florist roses never have a scent—just a faint musty smell?)

This is why I tolerate the tendency of old-fashioned roses to be climbers, whether they're listed as climbers or not. My David Austin Abraham Darby gets black spot. And my Louise Odier is very stingy with her post-Junes blooms. So be it. When they make Knock Out roses that look like this (above) with a scent to match, I'll buy them.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A beautiful preserve with beautiful weeds

In addition to the native ferns, eupatorium, mayapple, and other woodland plants at Beaver Meadow Nature Preserve, the white blossoms of rosa multiflora are everywhere, at least in June. It may have been planted in the early years of the establishment of the preserve in order to provide cover and prevent erosion; the tall, abundantly flowered bushes provide a picturesque bower along the trails.

This plant is pretty commonly known as one of the most persistent invasive species in North America. It is classified as a noxious weed in at least 11 states and there is an outright ban in Connecticut and Massachusetts. Well-meaning state conservation departments distributed this throughout the U.S. as a wildlife cover and songbird food source, but it quickly escaped all its boundaries and ran rampant. It’s still pretty though—both in blossom and fruit—and goats like it.

This is the first time I have seen r. multiflora in such abundance—you don’t see it too often in gardens and parks around here—but the knowledge of its criminal behavior didn’t lessen my enjoyment of this wonderful preserve in any way.

Preserves around here are mainly for bird watchers; special viewing areas are built in many of them so that you can watch the birds unseen. Plants aren’t quite as much of a priority, though I’ve seen plenty of lovely wildflowers during my walks. But I think the agencies that run these places correctly assume that most of their visitors come for the animal sightings. They may stop to smell the roses, but they're not worried about them.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

My favorite non-native/native bulb

There is an Audubon preserve a bit south of us that is carpeted with ramps, fiddleheads, and erythronium Americanum (trout lily) at this time of year. Oddly, the erythronium in my garden are not this native Northeastern variety; I do best with the “Pagoda” cultivar. I also have the revolutum and the tuolemnense (above). I had the European dens-canis at first, but this faltered and disappeared pretty quickly.

I would love to see an entire bed with nothing in it but yellow erythronium and brunnera. Its beauty wouldn’t last very long—erythronium have a relatively short season, leaving the brunnera to carry one for a bit longer—but it would be glorious.

The native Americanum is now offered for sale at an area nursery; its mottled foliage is interesting, though not as big and glossy as the “Pagoda.” For crazy spring foliage though, you really can’t beat tulipa gregii, which is intertwined with the erythronium here. (I have a carefree attitude about bulb planting; I really don’t pay too much attention to what I had planted in the same spot before.)

The other silly nickname for erythronium is dog’s tooth violet. The bulb (which no one sees) is supposedly shaped like a dog’s tooth; I guess they call it a violet because it blooms as the same time. This is why I like botanical names.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hellebores—they’re a mystery, but that’s OK

So. After a few seasons of poring over catalogs, ordering them online, and viewing and buying them in person, I now have a nice bunch of hellebores. Two I have had for some years, purchased from Wayside back in the day. These have now formed nice clumps in the back garden.

The others are newer double and single varieties purchased from Plant Delights and local nurseries. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I am not really sure what any of the new varieties are. How did this happen? Some of the ones I bought did not survive. Plant Delights does not seem to currently carry anything that looks like what I bought. And I throw my labels out because I am not really that concerned.

In any case, the plants that are left and thriving are really quite attractive. There are 2 maroon doubles, a maroon single, one white double, a speckled white, and the rest seem to be ordinary hybridus.

Could hellebores be the ideal plant for the difficult terrain of the GWI property?

Happy belated GBBD.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Indoor tulip farming on a small scale

Well, here’s a strange selection of forced tulips. I have to wonder what I was thinking when I chose this bunch.

These pink ones? Really? Or was the package mismarked? This year I ended up using most of my mail-ordered bulbs for outdoors ad big containers, so for indoor forcing I grabbed some at the big box. There are a bunch of pink Darwins (I think), some parrots, these orange streaked ones (top, maybe Brown Sugar triumphs), and Orange Princess doubles left over from the mail order bunch. (I should have saved the bags.)

And then there was the PlantCam attempt to record the tulips coming up. This did not turn out that well, largely because the camera was set a bit too low. But it’s still fun.

I am using the cam again to catch the parrots coming into bloom.

Outside, we have some snowdrops, as always, hellebores in bud, and these lurid yellow eranthis. And that’s all folks. I don’t do crocus, though I am admiring all the tommies I am seeing in other blogs. Maybe next year!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Latest bloom day post ever!

A perfect storm of bad weather, depressing national and international news, and mid-winter doldrums has made it difficult to get excited about plants the past few weeks.

But then I started thinking about the few things that do cheer me up during this dreary time. The plants I grow and force during winter are near the top of that list. In the larger scheme of things, a few hyacinths and tazettas, a couple pots of African violets, a bunch of foliage plants, and a lemon tree prone to scale are not that spectacular. When spring comes, I will likely start neglecting my house plants, but right now they keep me occupied—especially the bulbs.

There are two hyacinths from Old House Gardens starting to bloom now: the Double Hollyhock and King of the Blues. DH is very slow to bloom, and opens from the bottom up, just like a real hollyhock. The KOTB looks like it will be a very deep blue—gorgeous.

A Plant Cam has been trained on these for the past few weeks. When all the hyacinths are open, it will record the tulips—I have about 50 of those coming next.

Better late than never for GBBD.

Friday, February 04, 2011


It’s common for botanical gardens to have outdoor light displays during the holidays, but a light show during the gloomy days of February? What a great idea! Night Lights, the current show at the Buffalo Botanical Gardens was inspired by The Heron, a park used for a variety of purposes in nearby Chautauqua County, which does an outdoor light show and uses the same company, Volt Vision.

Somewhat virtuously, my husband and I walked the 3k ring road before we entered the dome; it was a brisk 10 degrees or so, and we saw a lot of hungry deer in the spookily quiet park.

Inside, the highlight is undoubtedly the tropical rainforest/fern house, where a thundering tiki waterfall is brilliantly lit in series of lurid colors—but I was also fascinated with how individual plants would change color under the LED wash fixtures, as you see in these images. As we left, the shutterbugs were pouring in—most equipped with serious SLRS and tripods. Actually I think I got some decent shots with the iphone—I stitched them together to show how the fixtures lit the plants.

Has your botanical garden ever done anything like this?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

It's come to this: I'm spying on my plants

This has been sitting in a box in an upstairs room for about a year and a half. You know how that happens. I finally took the PlantCam out and set it up (very easy). As some of you know, this device takes pictures at set intervals for as long as an entire growing season. It then stitches them together to create a timelapse video. You put in the batteries, set the clock, set the intervals, and switch to auto. That's all.

It's in a sturdy plastic shell, so it can be used outside in any weather. For my purposes, though, I thought I could get some quick results by documenting these hyacinths, the last to emerge from the root cellar. When I bring the tulips up next week, I’ll document them as well.

PlantCam comes from the people (Wingscapes) who make the arguably more exciting BirdCam. And you have to wonder how useful either of these innocent devices would be for surveillance of other types. Hmmm.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Bulbs, bulbs, bulbs

Actually I gave a lot of them away. The 56 hyacinths and 5 pots of narcissus (5 others are elsewhere in the house) you see here represent a mere fraction of my 2010 bulb purchases. These will sit here for a while until I move some into my office and scatter others elsewhere in the house. This room used to be one of the darkest rooms in the house, but a couple months back we added 2 windows. It now almost qualifies as a sunroom.

Only a few of the forced bulbs are up, including these Erlicheer from Old House Gardens. The tulips are from the store, but I do have about 30 forced tulips waiting in the root cellar. Things tend to be slow here because the house is chilly.

Nonetheless, it’s a pretty sizeable indoor gardening situation at the GWI property. There is the plant room, where the lemons are getting bigger and yellower, the other houseplants, and of course the bulbs. I have a gorgeous zygocactus in bloom but I hate the way it looks in a flash photo. More to come next GBBD, when the hyacinths are up.

Outside? It’s all white. Pretty, but kind of boring. And cold. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.