Saturday, February 24, 2007

Double take

I have strong recollections of my mother's garden. I remember in particular one bed that edged the driveway was planted every summer with a line of red salvia. (Maybe those horticultural horrors contributed to my decision to leave home.) So when I chanced upon this photograph, it brought back memories of the technicolor 1970's. Those ghastly salvia look like the flames of hell. But what would an Antarctic explorer, Washington lawyer, former debutante, and unidentified fellow traveler be doing in a sulfurous place like that? (Drinking bourbon and branch, I suspect.)

So imagine my surprise when I saw another photograph of the same flower bed taken earlier in the same year and from a different angle.

I don't remember any irises in that garden--but there they are--and blooming a cool, subdued shade of lilac. I do recall a dark red peony--and, there is it, too--but when I asked my mother many years later if I could have a division from that plant, she didn't remember it in her garden. Memories can create their own gardens, I guess.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Safety in snow

We've seen few snow storms this winter: two fade-away attempts in December and a bracingly unromantic Valentine's Day nor'easter. Snow and rain are forecast for today and tomorrow.

I am happy to know, as we face this wintery precipation, that snow is a welcome security blanket for the garden. Snow functions as a white mulch, stablizing a micro-climate underneath for plants.

It's the unprotected cold temperatures-bitter winds combination and the spring freeze-thaw cycles that are the killers. I learned that lesson the hard way two winters ago when I mistook our lack of snow for a benefit and left unmulched my climbing roses. I now have one less climber to show for it.

Now, if only I could get the snow shovelers around here to abstain from using salt!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Winter respite

Snow and cold temperatures necessitated a visit this week to the warmer climes of the historic greenhouses at the Lyman Estate in Waltham.

My dear friend, DH, who left her own garden, two greenhouses, and allotment in London to enjoy New England in February, was knowledgable company.

Yes, the one hundred-year old camillias were wonderful . . . but the orchids were even more than wonderful. What variety of shape and color! There were dendrobiums, phalaenopses, cattleyas,

maroon-flowering cymbidiums,

brown cymbidiums,

yellow cymbidiums,

and my favorite, this deep salmon phragmipedium.

These are plants with which I need to become reacquainted. I had a dendrobium many years ago but was unaware that different orchids have different temperature, light, and water needs. Clueless. Time to find out what type of orchid will tolerate my windowsill. I think that I'll be back for the annual orchid sale at the Lyman Estate on March 23-25.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Forcing nature

Frankly, I find forcing winter bulbs tediously predictable: "just add water and stir." Yes, on a dark winter day, I do welcome the sight and smell of their blooms, but where's the challenge? So I am forever tinkering with the equation of temperature, light, and nourishment. Unfortunately, either my experimental conditions are not stable or my observational senses insufficiently refined for I have discerned few relationships of cause and effect. Just buy the best bulbs you can find.

I used to follow my mother's advice (yeah, after 50 years, I've got to stop doing that) and start paperwhites for two weeks in a cool, dark area. Sometimes cool turned out to be too cold, and the bulbs failed to grow. Other times, I'd forget about the bowl of bulbs that I'd put on the attic stairs until it was dried out. Now, I just tuck the bulbs into a convenient corner before setting them them out in the sun and plying them with alcoholic beverages. Works fine.

This holiday season, I was fortunate to receive three amaryllis plants: "Minerva," I think, from Harry and David and another red from a local florist.

and "Picotee" from White Flower Farm.

Usually, I treat these like gigantic paperwhites and simply throw them away after they've bloomed. But tossing out three bulbs in a single season seemed recklessly profligate, so I've decided to undertake a new experiment--new, for me--and roll them over. I am feeding all the bulbs--those to-bloom, blooming, and done-bloomed--with a half-strength solution of fertilizer every other week. After blooming, they are put in a south-facing window.

Let's see what happens.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

Groundhog day

Gray and overcast today, affording no opportunity for rodent shadow-spotting. The garden, too, is hibernating: ice has formed in the low-lying areas, the compost pile is frozen solid, and the beds are dishearteningly barren. Only a few signs of spring's promise could be discerned, for example, in these dogwood buds:

and ring of columbine leaves:

and a reminder of the past season in these yellow holly berries:

Hope that groundhog is right!