Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pussy willow snow

The clumps of snow clinging to branches after our overnight snowfall remind me of the soft silvery catkins of pussy willow.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Plant order, the first installment

Another happy winter activity: placing the first plant order of 2008!

If you have acute vision, it might just be possible to read the chart below. Or just click on it to open the chart in a larger window.

Here are some highlights of that small print . . .

Joe Pye weed "Gateway": Last summer, when collecting my son from a day of labor for his aunt's landscape gardening company, I saw this dramatic plant growing in a client's yard. The dark purple stems topped by lilac flower heads produced no ordinary Joe Pye weed: it was architectural when still and graceful when stirred by a breeze.

Dahlias: I admit that I am powerless over dahlias. And I am definitely not interested in joining a 12-step recovery program. Last year, I imbibed slightly with three tubers; this year I'm buzzing with eleven. One group of purple-flowering dahlias should link visually with the purple stems of the Joe Pye weed "Gateway"; another will blend tones of apricot, orange, and dark red.

Iris ensata "Aichi-No-Kagayaki": This soft yellow-flowering hybrid combines the elegant form and refined behavior of a Japanese iris with the palette of the rambunctious yellow flag Iris pseudacorus.

Writing from his big office with a view of Mount Fuji, VPS, Jr., tells me that this cultivar's name translates as "shining iris from Aichi": Kagayaki "means shining and can be used as an adjective in reference to the sun or to flowers or even pretty girls." Sweet.

Marsh marigold: I indulge my sentimental side by incorporating plants in my garden that share names with family members--Phlox panticulata "David," Peony "Sarah Bernhardt"--and this marsh marigold evokes my Aunt Mary's maiden name. Its cheerful disposition is as "Kagayaki" as was hers.

Witch hazel "Diane": I've been battling my attraction to these fiery crimson blossoms since encountering this cultivar in full show last year at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Last week at Tower Hill was more compelling.

Okay, I give up. Must have.

Daylilies: The bed along the house took some heavy hits during French drain construction. I'm shopping around for tall varieties in clear colors: "Bright Apricot"? "Benchmark"? "Chicago Regal"? Other suggestions?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sweet serendipitous sightings

Serendipity is so sweet . . . and a delicious trip out to Tower Hill in Boylston, Massachusetts on a snowy afternoon was a feast for the senses.

The annual camellia show was in full bloom, on tree and afloat.

Nearby, the Orangerie was a garden of delights. Particularly wonderful was the way in which the colors of foliage--even the hues on the undersides of leaves--and flowers were combined with plant shapes. Shades of green, bronze, yellow, and purple echoed from plant to plant. Total eye candy.

In the cold and clear outdoors, witch hazels were just coming into flower. A beautifully pruned (as is every specimen there--it's the horticultural equivalent of hearing a crisply articulated speech or pitch-perfect aria) Hamamelis x intermedia "Pallida" was unfurling its yellow flowers.

Nearby, the red buds of witch hazel Hamamelis x intermedia "Diane" were breaking through their casings. That's the winter treat that I'll be planting this spring!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mixed amaryllis messages

The two amaryllises that I potted up last month have sent out new green leaves from the top of their bulbs. That's good.

However, I've noticed something that is not good: a dark reddish area on the side of one bulb. A run through the Amaryllis/Hippeastrum Forum on Gardenweb suggests that this might be "red blotch" or "leaf scorch" (Stagonospora curtisii).

The University of Florida's Extension web-site lays it out: "red blotch" is more than not good; it's very, very bad.

The fungus and spores of red blotch are carried on the bulbs . . . Red blotch is difficult to control; disease-infected bulbs, plants or seedlings should be destroyed. Prevent disease by using sterilized potting soil when propagating and providing plants with the right growing conditions. Fungicides (like thiophanate methyl) can be applied, but they are expensive and hard to find. A hot water treatment is sometimes suggested. Dig up the bulbs, remove excess soil and soak them for 30 minutes in water kept at a constant temperature of 104-114°F (40-46°C).

I was pretty conscientious this past year about plant hygiene by bottom-watering all amaryllises and by quarantining and then destroying one bulb with mosaic virus. Dang!

GardenWeb discussants have proposed that many bulbs diseased with red blotch are being shipped into the country from the Netherlands. However, customers who discard the bulbs after blooming likely never realize that their plants carried red blotch. It's just those gardeners who season over their amaryllises that come to discover they've harbored infected plants. Double dang!

So perhaps I should not have been surprised to see small red spots nestled deep down among the dried leaves of this year's super fabulous "Royal Velvet" amaryllis. Triple dang!

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Crashing rolls of thunder, furious snow . . .

and minutes later, sunshine!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Digital dilly-dallying

Of course, working in a museum, I love old photographs. Lantern slides, glass plate negatives, gelatin silver prints: they're all good; and when the subject is gardens, even better.

The Archives of American Gardens at the Smithsonian Institution contains 80,000 images documenting contemporary and historic gardens. The core collection is 3,000 glass lantern slides from the 1920's and 1930's. Bliss! On a winter's evening, how pleasant to wander through the searchable database and stop to smell the virtual flowers. Best of all, you can direct your path by searching for gardens in particular places and times.

On my first trip to this database some years ago, I found several images of the Chevy Chase, Maryland, garden of renown rosarian, Whitman Cross. From the marginalia for this photograph, the rambler so happily sprawling over the stone wall on a sunny afternoon in late May, 1930, appears to be "Dr. W. van Fleet." When I showed these photographs to my mother, she told me that Mr. Cross, who lived just around the corner from her, had 2,000 roses growing in his half-acre suburban yard. Among them was the dark red rambler, "Chevy Chase," and I've wondered since if the deep crimson rose that my mother trellised by our back door was an homage to her childhood neighbor.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sowing for six more weeks

In the inverse logic of Groundhog's Day, today's sunny, mild weather means six more weeks of snow and ice. What better time to try winter sowing seeds? In a recent post, Carleton Gardener provided some links to this simple means of getting a jump on spring. And it sounded like just the treatment to combat seasonal affective disorder--or "seasonal defective disorder" as my son malaprops it. Yes, six more weeks of winter does seem rather defective.

Anyway, the basic idea here is to create little cloches or cold frames by recycling some of those plastic containers that end up anyway in the recycling bin. I started small with a gallon milk bottle.

After cutting the milk bottle in half and using my refined culinary skills to melt holes in the base with a hot fondue fork, I washed both parts of the bottle in a 1:10 bleach solution. A damp potting soil and peat moss mixture went into the lower portion.

Mallow seeds from Bestitched were scattered over the top and just covered with a little more potting mix. I'm not sure of these seeds' species or even genus--common mallow (Malva sylvestris), rose mallow (Lavatera trimestris), musk mallow (Malva moschata), whatever--but at least some varieties appear on lists of successfully winter sown seeds.

Join the top and bottom of the bottle with a belt of duct tape. Check out that high-tech HVAC system: holes covered by resealable duct tape tabs.

And then, outside it goes--here by a scrabbly mess of winter self-sown larkspur and over-wintering thyme. The south-facing location, while level, seems sunnier than the experts advise. Maybe that only matters once seedlings appear, between April and June, again according to the experts. Looking forward to the sight of those seed leaves!