Friday, December 02, 2011

Amaryllis mite and main

Because we have been enjoying a long stretch of mild weather, the seasons seem to be rolling along slowly. Perhaps that's the reason why I've been late in sending some bulbs to the refrigerator to chill and nudging others out of their cool hibernation.  Last night, I finally got around to potting up two amaryllises that I had ordered from John Scheepers. 

While cleaning up "Red Pearl," I noticed a soft area on the side of the bulb.  My museum background has me hyper-sensitized to any signs of pest presence, and, with a little poking, a colony of pinpoint-sized shiny white insects was exposed under a layer of rot.  Although these little things look like eggs, they are actually bulb mites (Rhizoglyphus spp.).  They spread disease, cause distorted leaves, and result in rotted plants. Ugh.

The deeper layers of this bulb were mushy, discolored, and shiver-making.  More ugh.  Yes, you can treat the infested bulbs by high humidity, fumigation, and trimming--or you can just pitch the bulb and scratch that nursery off your list of amaryllis suppliers.  I voted for the latter option.

The other bulb, Picotee, was clean and firm.  It was potted up and placed in a sunny window.

Not to be held back by my 50% loss in bulbs, I cashed in a gift certificate to White Flower Farm for my favorite red holiday amayllis, Royal Velvet. In the meantime, I'm gearing up for the Christmas groove with the first rush of paperwhites.  Can snow and twinkly lights be far away?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Golden foliage/flowers/fruits/feasts

The goldenrod may have died back and the maple leaves shed, but there is still a wealth of gold in the garden.

Fronds of soft needle-leaved Amsonia hubrichtii are waving in the fall breezes.  This plant has benefited tremendously from being moved to a sunnier spot (even though it took its transplanting hard and slow) and being sheared to 10 inches after spring blooming.

A male American holly Ilex opaca is sporting jaunty yellow berries. The Ilex ladies next to him don't care that he is a ill-shaped shambling wreck as long as he has the goods.

Happily established on our front stairs, volunteers of "Dakota Gold" helenium are welcome interlopers.  I like them better than the potted mums that are our (snore) official flower display.

And, inside, it's all amber, yellow, and ochre.  Let's call it golden and say thanks!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Over-wintering dahlias, the extreme edition

My standard regimen is to treat dahlias like high-style annuals.  At the end of the growing season, I cut down their foliage, fork up the tubers, and toss the whole vegetative mess away.  However, over past few years, I've accidentally left a piece of tuber buried over the winter.  I never realize my oversight until the following spring, when a lush green sprout cuts through the soil about a month earlier than any of the newly planted dahlias.  That headstart pays off big in terms of bloom duration and plant vigor.

This summer, it was a nubbin of Normandy Painted Pearl that made the seasonal leap--a happy achievement since I had been unable to locate that variety among dahlia nurseries.

So this got me to thinking: As satisfying as it may be, why rely on mistakes and carelessness for serendipitous garden success? Why not be intentional?  Yes, this is a Zone 6 New England garden and dahlias may be tender perennials, but they have demonstrated that they can spend a chilly winter safely nestled next to a south-facing foundation wall.

With the goal of volitional gardening in mind (and having been unsuccessful with conventional winter storage), I've undertaken the extreme edition of dahlia over-wintering.  Following our first hard frost (and pre-season bizzard) last month, I allowed the foliage to wilt, brown, and start to harden off.  After two weeks, I cut each plant down.

The lowest part of  the stalks was still succulent.  Just to mark the location of each plant and to ensure proper stake placement next spring, I substituted the orthopedic metal stakes that these heavy plants require for support with a lighter variety.

At this point, I tried to simply recreate my previous haphazard technique by digging down to expose the clump of tubers. With clippers, I cut off each stalk where it ended. Those plump, juicy tubers looked good enough to eat!

The final step was simply back-filling each hole and mulching the row of plants with shredded maple leaves. Hopefully, this covering will be the extra little blanket that keeps the tubers snug during the winter snows.

The dahlia varieties are, from left to right, Pattycake, Arabian Nights, and Normandy Painted Pearl. Except for the minimal effort expended by running over the leaves twice with the lawn mower, I think that this over-wintering approach serves my intention to enjoy being a lazy and lackidasical gardener.  Not that that takes much effort!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Jump to it!

It was perfect weather over this holiday weekend for jumping through autumn chores.  Cool enough for vigorous lawn mowing (the lazy gardener's way of cleaning up fallen leaves), but still warm enough to get my hands wet.  Some urgent tasks can be checked off, but others need to be completed before winter bears down on us.

1.  Fertilize rhododendrons, hollies, and other broad leaf evergreens with Holly-Tone. Done 11/13/2011
2.  Prune climbing rose "New Dawn."
3.  Cut back perennials. On-going 11/12/2011-12/4/2011
4.  Spread composted manure on beds. 11/27/2011-12/4/2011
5.  Clip iris leaves. 11/12/2011-12/4/2011
6.  Pull and discard tomato and other container plants.  Scrub planters and put away. Done 11/13/2011
7.  Plant spring bulbs.  Done 11/12/2011
8.  Spray "Sky Needle" hollies with anti-dessicant.
9.  Compost fallen leaves after shredding by mowing twice.  Done 11/13/2011.  More, please!
10.  Remove old amaryllises from pots and cool for nine weeks.  In the refrigerator 11/28/2011.  Pot up newly purchased amaryllises. 12/1/2011

Fall harvest: compost bin and wash tub filled with shredded leaves

Monday, October 31, 2011

Iced out

After the snow and ice from this weekend's surprise storm has melted, there is going to be a great deal of sorry cleaning up and cutting down.  The season of tender perennials, annuals, and summering indoor plants has come to an abruptly chilling end.

Fortunately, I had time to pick a final bouquet of dahlias before they were glazed over.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sunken surprise

As I was racing to a luncheon lecture at the Radcliffe Institute earlier this week, I was stopped short in my steps by the sight of this lovely little sunken garden on the Institute's grounds. How could I have worked in Cambridge for a quarter of a century and never before stumbled upon this jewel?

It was decked out in fall flowers blue (asters, monkshoods, and irises--how is it that those are even flowering now?!) and white (anemones) and in foliage orange and green.

The hardscaping of stone and brick walks, walls, and water features provided a perfectly scaled framework.  The design led straight in the right places and swooped around in perfect curves.  Unfortunately, the fountain was also under renovation, preventing full access to the garden.  I can't wait to have a fuller visit this winter . . . and in the spring . . . and summer . . .

The only disappointment--and a surprising one, in light of its location in the most historically conscious and self-reflective university in this country--as well as one that sponsors a renowned landscape program--is that I could locate no information about when or by whom this sunken garden was designed.  A brief citation in a history of Radcliffe indicates that it was installed sometime in the first quarter of the 20th century.  Oh, and a plant list would be nice, too!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Seed send-off

For a dear friend and gardening buddy who is leaving New England for the Intermountain West, I put together a stack of seed packets: black-eyed susan, joe pye weed, columbine, larkspur, and northern sea oats collected from my garden.

I'd hoping that at least some of these will take root in the arid soil of southern Idaho. Just like her friendship (and her offerings of plant divisions) have been perennials in my life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ever since I broke two bones in my right hand back in August, my gardening activities have been drastically curtailed.  Sure, I could have used that functioning left hand to catch up on weeding but I just couldn't stand the thought of weeks and weeks of weeding and nothing else.  So, instead, I've done . . . nothing else . . . and just allowed late summer to roll along without ever lifting a (cast or splinted) finger to assist. I've sat back, put my feet up, and celebrated the parade of dahlias currently passing by.

Normandy Painted Pearl

Karras 150


Park Princess

Arabian Night

Bonne Esperance

The dahlia output was more uneven this year than in the past.  Some tubers, like Rose Toscano, are yet to bloom despite being planted exactly where they flourished so abundantly in previous years. Others, like Arabian Night and Pattycake, are six feet of blooming madness.  And Normandy Painted Pearl, which I accidentally abandoned in the ground over the winter, is a towering seven-foot explosion.  Despite our Zone 6 climate, it seems that a dahlia tuber left in the right place--next to a south facing foundation wall--has enough warmth and protection to survive.  I'll add this tip to my lazy bones gardening manifesto. But then all my bones are lazy right now.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pestering spring bulbs

Regular readers will know that I have kind of a thing for Robin Lane Fox, gardening correspondent for the Financial Times. Not only is he is fluent in all the proper Latin botanical names--as he should be since his day job is as a Reader in Ancient History--but his horticultural opinions are refreshingly contrarian. (And, when not gardening, he leads the occasional cavalry charge in a Hollywood sand-and-sandal epic.)

Anyway, Lane Fox's article yesterday on fall planting began by lambasting both the vermin who ravage spring bulbs and the "woolly minded eco-gardeners" who are their advocates. As a veteran of constant battles over the predations of backyard swarms of squirrels and rabbits, I say sign me up on your team, Robin! I've gone over to the dark side of gardeners for whom Peter Rabbit is no longer a cute, cuddly cartoon bunny.

This year, I've given up planting any bulbs that these pests like.  It's hard to enjoy a plant when all the time you're wondering first, if the bulb was dug up and devoured in the fall and second, how long before something hops or bounds over and snips off the leaves and flowers. Not going there this year. Instead of tulips, I am trying Spanish hyacinths.  They may be a poor substitute but, honestly, nothing carries off spring as flamboyantly as brilliantly-colored Darwin tulips anyway.  At least I can inject a little springtime pink with Spanish hyacinths. In addition, yes, there will be more daffodils--the late blooming variety "Quail" and, as reminders of a lovely spring in Portugal, hoop petticoat daffodils.

The plant list is below the jump. Full, but not complete--I'm guessing there will be a few more purchases.

100 Narcissus bulbocodium conspicuus (front walk bed) (John Scheepers)
10 Narcissus "Quail" (new side bed) (John Scheepers)
50 Hyacinthoides hispanica "Dainty Maid" (old side bed) (John Scheepers)

20 Paperwhite narcissus "Ziva" (John Scheepers)
5 Hyacinth "Gypsy Queen" (John Scheepers)
1 Amaryllis "Picotee" (John Scheepers)
1 Amaryllis "Red Pearl" (John Scheepers)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Evening primrose

Following from my last post about the need for a color infusion into the late summer garden, my mind was going back to the bordering-on-neon flowers that my mother used to grow.  She always kept a small patch for favorite wildflowers, among them tall yellow-blooming evening primrose Oenothera sp.  I started doing a little on-line research about evening primrose and learned that most available are short biennials grown from seed.  That's not what I was looking for!

So I was delighted the next day to literally stumble across the tall variety lining the trail through the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Concord.  Oh, the unexpected joy of serendipity!

The banks were thick with evening primrose.  I'm still confused about their habitat: my mother would grow them in partial shade and on-line accounts indicate a preference for drier soils; these however were flourishing in exposed wetlands.  More research is in order.  And, eventually, perhaps, a supplier of plants as well as seeds.  (Our rabbits are enjoying anything grown from seed way too much these days.)

Even if I never figure out how to grow them in my own yard, I'll know where to go to find them in the wild.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

White out?

The garden in August needs a jolt of color.  Sure, salvia, echinacea, and rudbeckia are sparking and sizzling, but way too much of what's in bloom has no charge.  Why do white flowers lack that electricity?

This isn't an intentionally white garden, like the White Garden at Sissinghurst. I suspect that the heavy representation of the color here results from two thoughts that pop into my head when selecting plants: "Oh, white goes with everything!  That's a safe choice" and "White flowers could brighten up a dark corner of the garden."  The overall result appears just as uninteresting as these lines of practical thinking would indicate.

Flower whites, clockwise from upper left: Argyranthemum frutescens "Vanilla Butterfly," Achillea sp, Phlox panticulata "David," Shasta daisy, Clethra alnifolia "September Beauty," Hosta "Guacamole"

The balance of "how much white in the garden is too much white" has been tipped. White should be used either sparingly or exclusively, and in this garden it's neither.  I do like crisp, cool white flowers, but next year, I'll need to think about how to replace some of those daisies and achillea with colorful Phlox panticulata varieties like "Sir John Falstaff" or "Russian Violet"--or even a few annuals.

The recent rain has also sprouted some not so welcome flushes of white.  Powdery mildew is rampant on the peony foliage, and tiny earthball fungi are popping up on battered areas of the lawn.

Fungus whites: Powdery mildew and earthball fungi
Yes,  need to get those whites out!

Monday, August 08, 2011

At last, rain. And lots of it.

After a day of torrential downpours, the garden is breathing mist.  Or maybe my camera just got wet when I was caught in a shower.

It feels this steamy, anyway.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

A watched tomato . . .

Maybe it's driven by my appetite for raw fruits and vegetables or maybe because I am impulse-control challenged, but for whatever reason, it seems like the "Sugary" grape tomatoes have taken an eternity to come to the table.

The plants started fast out of the gate, but then lingered and shilly-shallied and dawdled over ripening.  Why go red and be picked when you can be a unbothered green?

Way back in May, six plants went into two pots over Memorial Day weekend.  In less than three weeks, there were lots of blossoms.

Followed by fruit just a week later.  And then the pace slowed. The tomatoes hung on the plants, staying green.  Occasionally, one would just drop off, unripe.  Meantime, the plants themselves are starting to look exhausted.  Come on, tomatoes, get red!

At last, our harvest started coming in this week. After waiting 66 days, the crop was so welcome that the first sweet batch was almost all consumed right off the vine. But there are more still ripening . . . of course.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Winning a reprieve

It's been four years since I started to make a raingarden out of a wet corner of the backyard.  The first plants stuck into that mucky mess were blue flag irises (Iris versicolor).  Winter, summer, spring, fall: there has always been plenty of green spiky iris foliage but never, ever, any flowers.  This spring, I was becoming so exasperated with the lack of bloom performance that I was wondering exactly how bad it would be if I replaced these blue flags with yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus).  Yes, my line of thinking/rationalization went, yellow iris is listed as an invasive by the USDA and prohibited as a noxious weed in Massachusetts, but they look so lovely blooming in May and June along the margin of our town pond.  So, if yellow irises are flourishing on town property, how bad could they really be?

Thankfully, I was saved from sliding down that slippery slope by a single blossom.  At last, the blue flag sent up a flower.  And it is beautiful.  So, no doubt, this iris wins a reprieve.

Okay, I was so surprised to see this blue flag that after I uttered, "What the what?!" and caught my breath, I had a little episode of photographic mania.  I just had to document the event . . . again . . . and over again . . .  Now, if I could only figure how to spur more blooms.  

Monday, July 04, 2011


Looks like the garden is celebrating this holiday weekend with a small scale fireworks display.  The red and coral blossoms of this trumpet honeysuckle Lonicera sempervirens "Major Wheeler" shoot out like tiny versions of those sky-shattering explosions.

In the past, I've grown sweet peas on this trellis, but this year, I missed the early spring planting out season for seeds, and later I couldn't locate any nursery-grown plants. The past few years, too, I've had real difficulty keeping the sweet pea vines from going bleached and brittle by mid-summer.  Flower yields have been less than impressive.  Anyway, all these thoughts were rattling around in my head as I wandered down the aisles of my local garden center wondering what to do.  As soon as I picked up a potted vine with the name "Major Wheeler," I knew I had my answer. 

The twisting vines of my own family history are heavy with military Wheelers.  No Majors, but lots of other officers.  To mark this patriotic day, here are a few.

Captain Wheeler (1796/1798-1867) 
Colonel Wheeler (1826-1901)
Lieutenant Wheeler (1895-1918)
They definitely set off fireworks in their own days.  And so did we!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Biding my sweet time (Updated 6/30/2011)

May 30: A total of six "Sugary" grape tomato plants were set into two pots
June 19: Plants begin to flower
How soon will we have tomatoes?

I'm passing the time waiting by fertilizing, staking, and tying.  Oh, for that pungent tomato plant smell!

My question was quickly answered: this baby was waiting for me that afternoon!

Monday, June 20, 2011

"New Dawn": it's on!

My "New Dawn" rose is celebrating its glory days. This plant is just perfect for its sunny space over the back door--robust enough to cover the arbor, softly colored to complement the house, and freely flowering enough to supply a near limitless number of bouquets.

Although claimed to be an everblooming rose, "New Dawn" really has one good shot and mid-June is it. However, with a little luck (and a bit of fertilizer), a few random blooms will continue to be thrown out until the first snowfall.

My care regimen for this rose is oh-so-simple.  By far the most challenging component is pruning, which is wrestled out only at the cost of several days of teetering on a ladder, buckets of sweat, and armloads of scratches.  Last year, I cut this rose back hard, and it totally paid off: no loss of flowering and a far better shape.

If only it had a stronger scent and fewer thorns!   Maybe not the best climber ever, but pretty darn good.