Saturday, February 24, 2007


We're heading home Tuesday. Back to our home, back to work. I always look forward to it even though it means leaving behind the warmth and and wildlife in Florida. Right now it's looking might cold up there and it definitely will not look anything like spring when we arrive.

But then, one day, there it will be. Little green points poking up through the mud, on their way. It never fails to excite me.

And it will be a mess. I didn't do much cleaning up this fall. I enjoy my garden as much in autumn as any other time of year, so I'm hesitant to clean at that time of year, or I just never know when it's time...And, of course, I'm lazy, so that's a good excuse. I will have soggy heaps of big grasses, sedums, and various piles of unidentifiable sliminess, home to who knows what sort of critters large and microscopic. Poor garden hygiene, horrors! Note to self, it is generally more pleasant to be tidying on a crisp autumn day, than on a typically nasty March morning...

Besides, once I'm back to work I'll have precious little free time for a bit, until the spring insanity is over sometime in June. I hope for a good year at work, sales have been flat the last few years - not just for us but nationally. Maybe people have gotten frustrated from losing too many plants. And most people really aren't into the labor, they just want the prettiness, guaranteed. We can make various suggestions for a "low-maintenance" garden. The customer looking for one of these is often by contrast, rather "high-maintenance"; i.e. someone who's liable to reappear next spring, complaining that two of the twenty plants that she bought died at some point during the last year, may she please have a refund? Certainly. One of my favorite customer quotes was a woman who told me that she had been gardening for years, and never lost a plant until this most recent occurrence. Miraculous! As for me, I have planted vast heavenly gardens (i.e. where all my casualties go). Obviously, this customer was all green thumbs...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Planning (don't forget, you can click to enlarge photos)

Once again, a beautiful picture before I reveal the horrors that I can create...

This is the my
Japanese primrose garden, planted in an intermittent stream that, in a good year, never dries up completely (some years are more mittent than others, I suppose). I hadn't grown these much previously and I've been thrilled with their performance. They are more than happy in this site; in fact, I will have to do some serious editing this spring to keep them vigorous. Or, I can let not bother to spray with Deer-Off and let the deer munch them to the ground when they're in bud. It's a task I usually manage to get done, because chomped off primrose stems are a sad, sad sight.

This is a newer garden and I am experimenting with many other plants in the area, including Astilbes, Iris pseudocorus (which I'm getting rid of because it's a non-native invasive, so don't get excited), Mukdenia rossii (huh?), Rodgersia, Lobelia, Chelone.... Those are all moisture loving plants, but the land slopes up from there to a drier area that I am working on too.

The largest chunk here is a
Pulmonaria, or lungwort, maybe Sissinghurst White or Opal. A white one, at any rate, though there are many terrific varieties. This one is very happy. Sometimes gardeners have trouble with powdery mildew on Pulmonaria, but if it gets reasonable moisture through the season, it shouldn't be a problem. People assume that powdery mildew occurs as a result of excess moisture, which isn't entirely true: It's more a function of irregular moisture, and being too dry at some points can make the plant more susceptible: Take good care of your plants. The white spotted varieties have an advantage here, since mildew is conveniently camouflaged. Supposedly this is less of an issue with the lanceolate varieties, i.e. varieties that have long pointy leaves, like Samurai or Bertram Anderson, but I haven't experimented with this theory.

Anyhow, there's still a lot of bare dirt here, and no design happening. Behind the lungwort is a Sambucus, one of the golden ones (this is embarassing, I really must save those tags), for which I have high hopes. I grow a number of Sambucus, or Elder, which I really enjoy. One of them gets an absolutely nasty-looking white wormy borer (I believe that's its scientific name...) during the summer. Since I prune this tree/shrub heavily each spring, I now apply Elmer's Glue to the wounds to prevent anyone so pernicious moving in and damaging one of my favorite plants (
Sambucus nigra lacianata). This works nicely on roses, too.

There are some old Hemerocallis fulvas that I've since pulled out. Those are the wild orange daylilies that you see everywhere in high summer. I like them, but I don't need them in this garden - too tall, too leafy, just not right for the design that will someday reveal itself to me. I've put in a shorter variety, probably Little Grapette or some small purplish thing, that will fit in better.

There is a ton of Aster divaricata in the area, and a bit in this garden, because it is one of my favorites (yes, I have many favorites, and they shift about from time to time). Across the driveway from this garden is a wilder area that I have been cleaning up over the last few years: It was full of bittersweet (evil and omnipresent, though beautiful of course in berry) and poison ivy. Oh,
poison ivy! I could write a book. Or a blog post, at any rate. We have around 8 acres of land, and over 6 of those acres were covered with p.i. and bittersweet when we moved in. I spent many a summer day roaming about with a sprayer on my back, and Philip as well. I still spend much of the summer scratching myself here and there (never in public), but we have eradicated the mother plants and now only have to deal with the many seedlings. We have planted all sorts of other forage for the birds and other critters, don't dismay.

Aster divaricatus
- one of our loveliest natives, in my opinion. In the wild bed that we have along our driveway, these have established themselves happily and bloom over a long period in late summer into the fall. It's a wonderful sight to see along with many lady ferns as we go along the driveway, and it is almost entirely Nature's handiwork. Puts many a gardener's efforts (including quite a few of my own) to shame.

Many of my customers bemoan the fact that their properties are almost entirely shaded. I suppress an urge to ask them why they didn't look for a sunnier spot when they were house-shopping. It was our priority, but then, we are extreme gardeners. And then I tell them something I really believe, that there is nothing more pleasant and relaxing than a
shade garden on a hot summer day. It is the most natural of environments, particularly in the forested Northeast, and there is nowhere I would prefer to be on 90% humid August day than down one of my shaded garden paths, deep in lush foliage (we do not irrigate, though we will do supplemental watering during dry spells: Our lawn, what's left of it, we allow to go dormant if there is insufficient rain). The plant palette is wide and varied, though it is generally not a place where you will find enormous blooms, at least in August: Think about it, at least in deciduous shade, there is quite a bit of sun in early spring until the leaves have popped out, and many flowering plants for shade are low-growing and early-blooming for this reason (at least, that's my anthropomorphic take on plant logic). We are going for more subtle pleasures here, so if your middle name is Garish then perhaps you need to relocate to a nice glaring and exposed spot where you can pretend to be Gertrude Jekyll.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I wanted to begin this with a beautiful picture, because next I'm going to post some pretty ugly ones. Actually, it's fairly easy to make even ugly gardens look good in photographs. Right now, I'm more concerned with making ugly gardens look good in reality. The top photo is of Philip's lavender bed that's in front of our house. The lavender is 'Grosso', which supposedly is the hardiest of the hardier lavenders. During a very bad zone 5-ish winter, he lost oh maybe 10 of 60 or so plants. And I should correct that and say that he really only lost perhaps one or two, and that the rest just needed a good hard prune and a little time to recover, before regaining their good looks.

I love Lavender. I know it really hates me for planting it in New England, but I can live with that. I love to look at them in the sun, or when it's foggy, or when they're all in bloom; and of course, there's the fragrance. Philip cuts the stems and we made our first million from selling them (uh huh, oh yeah).

Okay, now on to the work at hand. I have many gardens, and in my gardens I have many problems. Where to begin...

Maybe this doesn't look so bad at a glance, but it's a mess. Lots of great plants. Lots. Maybe some less than great, and lots of those too.

Baptisia 'Carolina Moonlight' is a terrific plant, but I didn't need to put in three of them (that's the soft yellow blooms at the back). One of them must go. I'm generally fond of the Baptisias - tough as nails plants, nice long-lasting flowers and foliage that holds up through the season, as well. Some are a bit floppy and there is one I would never plant, 'Screaming Yellow'. Aptly named.

Somewhere beneath their pulchritude is an oppressed Aster called 'October Skies', Aster laevis, I think though don't hold me to it. A wonderful almost oh so close oh go ahead and call it blue color, blooming late like most of its kin. However, it does not seem to care for a three foot mulch of false indigo, go figure. I will rescue it this spring and find another home for a Baptisia or two.

Also lurking under leafage is one of those droopy golden Chamaecyparis-es (probably pisifera 'Sungold') which could be lovely but it's hard to tell. It too will see more light of day come spring, it's only fair. I planted these things, they are my responsibility...

The grass is Leymus areanarius, Blue Dune Grass. It had a tag that read "European Dune Grass". Now whether that's because they knew I'm a snob and would be a sucker for anything that said "European" on it, or because it really is a distinct variety, I'm not sure. It does seem to be less spreading than some of its typically pushy American peers, but I'm still not convinced. I read somewhere that Leymus was Gertrude Jekyll's favorite grass. So that, of course, settles that. It certainly is a smashing blue, and is a terrific architectural presence in the garden. But it deserves to be at the core of a design, rather than in the middle of a big jumble.

A big part of the problem here is the daylilies, front and center. They are a very nice variety called 'Miss Amelia' which I'm not sure is still widely available, but where ever it is, it's spreading, so go find some and just ask if you could have little, because of course, that's all you'll need. The bloom is creamy yellow and not huge and ridiculous like lots of modern hybrids, and the blooming goes on and on through the summer, for which I am always grateful. I find that I'm less grateful for all the deadheading I need to do to keep the garden looking spiffy. I said, "need" to do. Don't assume that I actually do it. At any rate, their foliage is too similar to the Leymus, and something must give.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Photo by Bob Gress

We were having dinner this evening when I thought I saw some movement in the bushes just across the bayou. I watched for a few minutes and then I saw it, sitting there gazing back at me, calm and quiet - a bobcat! We grabbed the binoculars and got a good look, since the bayou is only a few yards across. There were two of them, who then went along their way on the various paths we've seen over there when we go over to the beach. We see their scat from time to time but didn't think we'd be lucky enough to see the cats themselves. After oohing and aahing for a bit, we settled back down to our meal (yummy chicken curry). In a few minutes, Sally, our 7 month old miniature Australian Shepherd, alerted to sights and sounds in the back yard: Sure enough, they were back, and this time they were on our side, right on the lawn. They hesitated for a few moments, well aware of our presence, and so unsure as to the safest course. But soon they deemed it safe enough to hurry along, and they ran along the sand into the brush, not to be seen again.

I was so pleased to have seen them. I saw bobcats here about 6 years ago, the first year we came down; but I was alone and have been teased ever since that I made it up. This time Philip saw them too, as well as his brother John. A definite high point for all (except perhaps for the bobcats).

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Seedless in...(what rhymes with Seattle?)

I'm not even thinking about doing seeds this winter. Oh, I'll stick in the requisite sweet peas and maybe some zinnias, but I'm just no good with the follow-through when it comes to seeds. I lose interest, get too busy... I spend all sorts of money and often as not, the packets sit there for several years before I get tidy and throw them away (I hear gasping). Nope, I don't even throw them on the compost pile. I know, what kind of gardener am I who isn't musing over the catalogs during the long winter evenings? Of course, it helps that I often spend two months of the winter in Florida.

I apologize to whoever made this wonderful image for not giving them full credit, but I couldn't find a copyright or a name. At any rate, here's where I found it, you figure it out (it's pretty damn interesting actually and I think I have to stop blogging now to look into this further):

Curse of Blackmoor Manor
(be sure to scroll down when you get there...)

January Blooms

I took a few pictures in January just before we headed south for a couple of months. We live in zone 6 Massachusetts, used to be zone 5 but thanks to global warming, I have a broader plant palette than I used to.

I love Helleborus niger because it has the whitest flower of the hellebores. This may be some named variety, I'm not good about keeping tags. Look at that flower - I just wanted to lie down on the ground and gaze into it. Actually, that's what I did. It wasn't too cold that day...

Then there was a wonderful little Cyclamen purpurescens blooming away in a warm spot near the garden I call the allee. I was mesmerized the first time I found one of these blooming, and they still charm me far more than any showy June blossom. This is the hardiest of the hardy cyclamens, I would say zone 5 is usually safe.

The little blue flower is my favorite Phlox subulata, 'Oakington Blue Eyes'. It's not an easy variety to find these days for some reason. I like it because the color is very cool and pale. And yes, it was blooming on January 1st. Okay, it wasn't covered in bloom, but it was blooming. I could really get used to this whole global warming thing. Of course, I don't live on the coast...

And then there are the heathers (Calluna ssp.). Heaths (Erica ssp.) are actually hardier (at least in my experience, but many say otherwise), but I love them both. They are generally hardy here, although a few winters ago we had the worst winter in 100 years, at least as far as gardening is concerned (too much cold, not enough snow). A customer at the garden center where I work, a very nice older gentleman originally from England, had lost a 20-year old planting of heathers. Very sad. But he was shopping for new plants. Gardeners are nothing if not hopeful. That's a whole other topic... How many plants have I killed? But my otherwise reasonably healthy memory is capable of completely forgetting plants that I have killed not once but possibly several times, and finding a spot for them yet again. I suppose that's not hopefulness, that's suppressing unpleasant memories. Which really isn't such a bad thing, therapists be damned.

Honestly, anyone who gardens in this climate (brutal winters, unreliable snow cover,occasional 70-degree days in January, steamy summers...) is hopeful to the point of irrationality. More power to them (and me).