Thursday, March 29, 2007

Rain garden

Basement flooding + a damp spot in the lawn + visiting gardens in Japan last summer + hedge removal = rain garden

Over the past two years, a boggy spot has developed in the back lawn. The turf seems to float on a bed of water. Step down and your foot sinks several wet inches. When cutting the grass, the mower blade slows to a paddle. All signs are trending swampy.

In researching what to do before beloved family members, lawn furniture, and visiting wildlife became trapped in this quagmire, I came upon several articles about rain gardens, specialized gardens designed to mitigate stormwater run-off and reduce pollutants in the water. The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a particularly concise source of information.

So now I am thinking about how to create a new bed extending from the side property line to the boggy area.

However, because a French drain may have to go in next to the house in late summer, I will probably have to restrict myself this year to a few plants along the property line . . . though I can't resist sticking a few Iris versicolor smack into the boggy area. The tightly-mown lawn will be sporting a goofy cowlick!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Orchid passion

You know that you're slightly obsessed when you take vacation time just to be near the front of the line for the local orchid sale.

Witness the scene at the Lyman Estate in Waltham this weekend. There were clearly experts in attendance, but also a few novices like me. ("Would I like a Care Sheet? Yes, how did you know?") All were single-minded hunters searching for their prey.

Here's what I scored . . .

The perfect combination of my curious fixation on epiphytes and my fondness for dark red flowers, this mahogany-colored Dendrobium Burana Min x Blue Twinkle.

And just because its blooms are so very white and its stems so graceful, a nameless white Phalenopsis.

A bit like that scene at the end of The Graduate. I acted on passion. Now what?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Brooklyn Botanic Garden

A trip to New York afforded the opportunity to explore the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Cold, clear, and little human company on a March afternoon.

You might think that there was nothing to see this time of year, but that wasn't so. Sure, there were only anticipatory mounds of foliage in the bluebell woods . . .

. . . but I was able to indulge my curiosity about witch hazels. I have been dreaming of slipping one into the decimated area along the side property line. The red blooms of "Diane" were irresistible.

However, I learned at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden that "Diane" has an open graceful habit, completely unsuitable for a privacy hedge. Scratch that idea.

Next, I found a yellow and red variety, "Jelena," but its flowers were difficult to see at a distance.

And it also had a free and open habit. Is this the way witch hazels grow?

Finally, I encountered a heavily flowering yellow variety, "Arnold Promise," which might be possible . . . or might not be impossible.

So versatile, either espaliered . . .

. . . or pruned to a tall shrub. Could "Arnold Promise" be the one? Hmmmm . . .

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden is a wonderful resource! I love that almost all the plants are labeled--regardless whether there are leaves, stems, or even a spot of green to observe.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Look closely. Look very closely.

As the ice sheet covering the yard retreats, not only it is leaving a saturated, sodden muck of lawn and garden, but also, if you look very closely, it reveals emerging bulb growth. Snowdrops are poking up on the slope near the dogwood.

Along the side of the house, clumps of Narcissus poeticus are emerging, pale and blinking, into the sunlight. I hope that the wet ground doesn't rot them out.

The battered tips of these Iris renticula also indicate that they've been buried under snow for too long.

Hopefully, they'll all green up and grow up!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hurray for a stinkin' mess

During the winter, I call a moratorium on composting. Too cold, too icy, and too snowy to hazard the trek around the corner of the house to the compost bin. Besides, by fall, the bin is so full to the brim that it's difficult to jam on the lid and, when you're successful, the seal freezes shut.

The last few days have been warm--in the low 50s. Anticipation of spring has me back turning the pile. The top foot has thawed but below is stiff with ice crystals.

My biggest challenge is always to find a source for the carboniferous browns with which to balance the abundance of nitrogen-rich green kitchen scraps. Unfortunately, fallen leaves are seasonal. So, I've tried shredded newspaper and seaweed. Both take years, it seems, to break down. I add a few cups of fireplace ashes for potassium.

I used to compost the hair that I'd cut as family barber. Is that weird? Probably. The thought of literally going back to nature was appealing but the unanticipated sight of blond locks among the banana peels and apple cores became too jarring.

Yes, it's difficult to make decay look pretty, but I'll close with a lovely excerpt from "Compost" by local poet, Sophie Wadsworth.

Forever becoming
something else,
yet you are yourself exactly:
raw, hot at the core,
black at the bottom.
Now a year of deadness
surges all green and sugar
into the teeth of the corn.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Thanks, Mother Nature

After hours of hard rain yesterday, this morning dawned clear and bright. Looking up at the blue sky, you would swear that yesterday's storm had never happened. Looking down, however, Mother Nature's incriminating evidence was everywhere . . .

Yes, so what about the channel cut through the snow along the edge of my new foundation bed? That erosion can't be good.

Or the rainwater that sluiced over the frozen lawn and poured into the basement? That definitely wasn't good.

Does the sight of these bejewelled dianthus leaves make up for the wet carpet hauling, soggy newspaper gathering, and furniture moving?

Not even close.