Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wobbly color wheel

Last year, I complained about the garden's late summer white out.  A pale monochrome palette made everything look tired, tattered, and washed out: a dog day garden for the dog days of summer.

This year, as is my nature, I over planned--but under implemented--a response.  In the spring, I gathered images of plants and palettes on a Pinterest board.  My scheme was to use peach, coral, and burgundy dahlias as the center of the color wheel.  Yellow, blue, and (yes, even) white would spoke out from this hub. Maybe a dash of pink or purple would sweetened up the mix.

The dahlia part went just fine.  September has "Arabian Night," "Rose Toscano," "Normandy Painted Pearl," and "Pattycake" tossing out sprays of blossoms. The shades spanned a neat band of the color spectrum, and the scale and structure of the flowers complemented each other.


Some spiky interest was added by a fat patch of purple and white angelonia.

But then hoards of hungry rabbits entered the picture. They liked yellow plants: Coreopsis verticillata "Zagreb" and lemony marigolds were devoured down to the dirt.  Only marguerite daisies and goldenrod Solidago x "Little Lemon" survived the lapine predations.


Achillea "Pink Grapefruit"--that touch of sugar--settled in happily.  By late summer,though, most of the flowerheads have browned out and the lacy leaves are battling the combined outslaught of rabbits and dry soil. I'm just hoping that these tough little sweethearts are putting down deep roots for next year.

Less successful has been a row of pink Henry I asters, which I dug in to fill the gap between the achillea and a bank of daylilies. The rabbits didn't even bother to say thanks for this aster treat before chowing down. I will have to extract that sedum "Autumn Joy"from behind the compost pile, separate into several small clumps, and insert them in this denuded space come next spring. Can't wait to rescue this old friend from its exile.


Far from perfect and not quite balanced but at least this wobbly color wheel is rolling in the right direction.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bartram's Garden, redux

Back in 1980, I spent a chilly spring working on an archaeological excavation at the home of John Bartram (1699-1777), the father of American botany. After prior summers laboring on militarily precise excavations of medieval bishop's palaces, late Roman cemeteries, and Iron Age villages in England and the Netherlands, to suddenly be mucking around somewhere in southwest Philadelphia in search of a few greenhouse foundation trenches and sherds of glass and flowerpots seemed quite a step down. The Bartram's Garden excavation was woefully ill-equiped: no field notebooks, inadequate hand tools, and a total lack of heavy machinery. And how ridiculous we must have looked when, lined up like dancers doing the Hustle in silence, we stamped down the back-filled site at the excavation's close.

At that time, I knew nothing about John Bartram--and, in yet another failing of this silly project, which was part of a university class, there was minimal information provided about the property owner, why he was important, and how the excavation contextualized his personal history and that of the American landscape.

In the years following, I'd hear references to John Bartram: how he collected seeds and plants from the southern colonies, how the many species that he sent to Europe became part of our common plant vocabulary, or how his Latinized name was incorporated into various plants' Linnaean nomenclature. But not until this spring, armed with a greater interest in all things horticultural, did I return to Bartram's Garden.

The place had been totally rejuvenated since my dreary days there.  A new information center, knowledgable guides and gardeners, and a renovated garden added up to a terrific afternoon. 

Well-tended and clearly-marked stands of plants, like this false indigo (Baptista australis), sparked me to consider experimentation in my own garden. Upright blue-flowering plants always deserve attention.
In another area, carnivorous plants were enclosed in this most appropriate cage constructed from thorny branches. What a whimsically menancing display! Bartram is credited with naming and introducing cultivation of the Venus fly trap (Dionaea muscipula).

The information center sold the best souvenirs: seedlings from the garden. In homage to Bartram's plant dissemenation ventures, a great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) and a sprig of intensely celery-flavored lovage were transported back to my Massachusetts garden.

Above the door of his greenhouse--perhaps that very same greenhouse that we so unsuccessfully sought to find in our excavation--Bartram carved a quote from Alexander Pope: "Slave to no sect, who takes no private road, but looks through Nature up to Nature's God."

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Daffodil (and allium and hyacinth and amaryllis) dreams

Now that Labor Day has rolled past, it's time to put away the white shoes, sharpen the school pencils, and order bulbs for the coming winter and spring.  Thankfully, I had the foresight to jot a few notes down about what to order on my garden goalroll at the end of the last season.  How else would I remember a pressing need for hundreds of allium "Ostrowkianum"--or even how to spell that plant's name?!

Since I pledged my deep commitment to daffodils a couple of years ago, I find myself each autumn trying to fill, enhance, and extend their springtime show.  This effort means searching on a half dozen variables--hardiness, bloom time, color, flower shape, height, light requirements--to find the perfect variety, or at least one that meets most of the criteria.  This year, I'm seeking a replacement for my sadly unrequited embrace of hoop petticoat daffodils: none of the 100 Narcissus bulbocodium conspicuus bulbs planted along the front walk came up.  Not a single one.  None.  In their place, I'm yearning for a very early white northern-tolerant miniature. The closest candidate to my daffodil dream date appears to be "Jenny," a short (that's good), zone 6 hardy (yes!), early bloomer (terrific) with reflexed petals and a slightly frilled trumpet (okay, why not?!) of ivory and pale yellow (meh, I'll settle).

So here's how the whole order is shaping up:

Tulip World
60 narcissus cyclamineus "Jenny" Planted 10/13/2012 along front walk in groups of 3 bulbs

Bluestone Perennials
150 allium "Ostrowkianum" Planted 10/13/2012 along front walk in groups of 7 bulbs

Brent and Becky's Bulbs
50 wood hyacinth "Queen of Pinks"

And for indoor forcing:

White Flower Farm
36 paperwhite narcissus "Ziva"
1 amaryllis "Royal Velvet"
1 amaryllis "Picotee"

Old House Gardens
5 hyacinth "Gipsy Queen" 
5 hyacinth "L'Innocence" 
5 hyacinth "Lady Derby"

Now, if one reliable supplier would just carry everything on my shopping list.  But that's too much to dream!