Sunday, May 31, 2009

Yellow flowers in containers

This year, I replaced the succulents in my outdoor table centerpiece with a slew of yellow flowering annuals-- Osteospermum "Lemon Symphony," Calibrachoa hybrid "Yellow Chiffon"--accented with blue flecks of Ageratum "Hawaii Blue" and Nemesia fruticans "Bluebird."

Another container boasts a host of yellow flowers that will soon ripen into vegetables. These summer-promising "Sungold" cherry tomatoes were transplanted just a couple of weeks ago.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Preventive care, the garden variety

Maybe I'm bringing my work home too much. I just submitted my chapter on "Preventive Care" for publication in The New Museum Registration Methods, 5th edition, so preservation is on my mind.

Last night, temperatures down into the 30s were forecast. So I applied some garden-variety preventive care to my newly-planted tomatoes in order to protect them from the cold: "Micro-environments can be produced to maintain desired temperature and RH levels within small areas . . . a quantity of cellulosic materials may be incorporated into the object’s container in order to buffer fluctuations in RH and temperature."

Works for museum collections and works for tomato plants--particularly when, by chance, your newspaper wrapping celebrates "A Night at the Museum"!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Raised vegetable gardening

Last year, thanks to a tomato volunteer that sprouted in my compost pile, I found myself to be an accidental vegetable gardener. And I have to admit that for several weeks, it was pretty darned nice to be able to pack a handful of just-picked tomatoes into my brown bag lunch every morning.

So this year, I decided to be a bit more intentional in my vegetable gardening. Rather than simply be grateful that a tomato plant had squeezed its way out of my compost pile, I decided that I would shoehorn a few plants into a sunny spot in the garden. First, though, I had to make a little space, which I did by resting a bluestone slab over a window well. This sort-of raised bed supports two large pots of "Sungold" cherry tomatoes; a third pot of "Sugary" grape tomatoes rests on the curb of an adjacent window well.

The arched bamboo supports are a whimsy, playing off of the rounded rose arbor and trellis. Maybe I'm still having just a little difficulty acknowledging that these plants are functional rather than merely decorative. I'm sure that I'll come around by harvest in 60 days!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Glenn Dale azaleas

This past week, I was fortunate to enjoy azalea season down in our nation's capital. Living in New England, I don't see many azaleas that compare well with their southern cousins. Northern azaleas seem to tend towards the leggy, distorted, and small. And way too many are sheared into unnatural geometric shapes and shoved into a line of foundation plantings.

So it was a delight to have some attitude adjustment at the National Arboretum. The woodland banks of Mount Hamilton were swept with mid-season bloomers.

Even the gaudiest varieties were in shameless company among a sea of other gaudy azaleas. The eye adjusted to all that fuschia, scarlet, and Pepto-Bismol pink within a few minutes. Below, "Chanticleer" crowed out loud and clear.

Between 1946 and 1948, the Mount Hamilton hillside was planted with 10,000 Glenn Dale azaleas hybridized by the Arboretum director, Benjamin Morrison.

This lovely specimen, "Ben Morrison," is his namesake.

In addition to all these gloriously rambunctious Glenn Dale azaleas, the National Arboretum also holds a collection for which pruning is a positive thing: the azalea bonsai, like this exquisitely shaped kurume example, made you forget just how unnatural they actually are. Super-natural, perhaps!

Friday, May 08, 2009

The tulip royals

As a twist on my usual color fixation, I added a lilac and orange early tulip pairing this year: "Purple Prince" and "Princess Irene."

They make a perfect royal couple.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Lawns are plants, too

This has been a couple of challenging years for thebackquarteracre's lawn. First, a portion of the back and side yards were torn up to install a French drain. Then the front lawn was chewed up as a retaining wall was rebuilt. And, earlier this year, a new gas service line and meter box required some mid-winter excavations.

A week or so ago, as my son and I were refilling the crater left by National Grid, a passerby stopped and commended us for replacing our lawn with a vegetable garden. Lawns are bad, the person went on. They are a monoculture. Birds and insects don't like them.

Hey, I wanted to say, look around! Do you know where you are? You're not standing at a golf course, by the polo grounds, or on the rolling parkland of some English manor. You're in the middle of suburbia. The house lots here are small. Proportionally, lawns just don't take up much space. My yard is filled with trees, shrubs, and flowering plants. On the back slope, a big patch of naturalized spring bulbs grows in the grass. And lawn trimmings are compostable!

But instead, I replied, no, I like lawns, and I am preparing the soil for re-seeding. I like the way that lush green grass sets off the colors of blooming flowers, I like the way its uniformity contrasts with the various textures, shapes, and sizes of plants in a mixed border, and I like the way that a curve of lawn charges space into motion.

My little patch of grass welcomes plenty of wildlife--birds nesting in the rosebush, bees sipping from water in the raingarden, rabbits nibbling tulips in the side beds. (Okay, not so welcoming towards the rabbits, but we peacefully co-exist.)

I'm so glad that my husband has now leveled and seeded that little corner of the front lawn. It should frame the hollies, rhododendron, pieris, and vinca growing along the house and front walk.

Information, like lawn care products, can be inappropriately applied. Vegetables? Instead of lawn? Nope, my tomatoes will definitely be contained this year.