Birch Tree before the “Blizzard for the Ages”
All was quiet and beautiful after a slight snowfall, but the “Blizzard for the Ages” was predicted. Everyone prepared to hunker down. Supermarkets and libraries were unusually busy as hunkering has many aspects. Pots of water set aside along with firewood and flashlight batteries. A state of emergency was declared for Massachusetts and all non-emergency workers told to stay home.
The snow, a fine dry snow, did not begin in Heath until 10 pm on Monday, January 26.
“Blizzard for the Ages” 10 am January 27, 2015
This morning I woke to 12 degree temperatures and stiff breezes blowing the fine dry snow off the roof, and across the fields. The “Blizzard for the Ages” seems to be a bust in Heath – for which we are very grateful. The town plow arrived, and we could leave our hill and explore, but I think we will just stay by the fireside.
Rhododendron ‘Calsap’ a broadleaf evergreen
Rhododendrons are probably the largest group of broadleaf evergreens that are familiar to most of us. They can play a big part in adding substance and interest in the garden during the winter. I do confess it took me a while to understand the cigar roll shape those broad leaves take when the temperatures are very low, but I accept that even plants must protect themselves from the elements as best they can.
Rhododendrons come in a whole range of sizes and colors from low growing varieties like the pink ‘Yaku Princess’ to brilliantly colored shrubs that will tower over us. After visiting Jerry Sternstein, whose rhododendron hillside in Hawley opened my eyes to this range, I have added rhodies to my garden. ‘Boule de Neige’ is an old white variety, ‘Calsap’ is white with a speckled purple flair at its heart, and the deep red ‘Rangoon’ is not as tall but it spreads wide in maturity.
Rhododendrons need an acid soil that is moist and rich in organic matter. Its feeding roots are close to the surface and so need to be protected from heat and drought. Those feeding roots also explain Sternstein’s rule about planting, “Keep it simple, just a dimple.” Rhodies do not need a big deep planting hole, but after planting in a dimple a layer of mulch is good practice. Mulch helps keep the roots cool and moist.
Rhododendrons are considered a plant that likes at least some shade, but Sternstein’s rhodies flourish in the sun. It seems that some rules can be broken. The height of Sternstein’s garden is usually Memorial Day – hundreds of rhododendrons in full bloom.
Mountain laurels, Kalmia, have most of the same requirements as rhododendrons, rich acid soil, and dependable moisture. They do require some shade, especially protection from summer afternoon sun. The hybrids intended for home gardens usually range about three to four feet tall with about that much spread. The white and pink of the native mountain laurel is beautiful, but there are other shades and combinations in the hybrids that you will find in catalogs. ‘Carol’ has dark pink buds that open to pale pink petals,‘Firecracker’ has intense red buds that open to white and pink, ‘Peppermint’, as you might expect has candy stripes. ‘Minuet’ is slow-growing reaching three feet after ten years with bicolor blossoms of cinnamon and white. Again, be careful planting. Just a dimple.
Ilex Blue Princess holly
I hadn’t ever thought of them that way, but hollies are counted among the broadleaf evergreens. I have planted Ilex x meserveae ‘Blue Prince’ and ‘Blue Princess’ and they have proven hardy even on my windy hill. All hollies are dioecious which means they require a male and female plant to produce fruit. Actually, you only need one male for several females. ‘Blue Princess’ is the more vigorous grower, but she needs her little prince to produce those red berries.
Ilex opaca’Compacta’ is a native holly that is similar in form to the shiny leaved hollies we expect at Christmas, but the foliage does not have that sheen. This variety will grow slowly to six or eight feet.
Ilex glabra ‘Shamrock’ is an inkberry cultivar. Inkberry is a broadleaf evergreen with fine small foliage and little black berries in late fall. It likes sun, but can tolerate some shade and doesn’t mind the wet. It can even be used as part of a rain garden planting. It grows slowly to a height of about four feet with an equal spread. It is a neat plant, and like other Ilex is not much bothered by deer or rabbits. Good to know.
Yucca filamentosa is another plant I don’t think of as an evergreen, but so it is. It looks like a southwestern sort of plant with its rosette of spiky golden leaves. In midsummer it sends up a five or six foot spike with panicles of fragrant, creamy white flowers. The spiky form is so unusual in a New England garden that it makes a great focal point. The fragrance is a surprise and delight.
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi ‘Massachusetts’, better known as bearberry, is a very low-growing evergreen; this variety has small leaves bordered in white. The words uva and ursi refer to the fact that berries are prized by bears. Birds relish the berries, too. A sunny spot with good drainage is ideal for this native groundcover. Don’t worry about fertilizing; bearberry doesn’t need it. Red berries appear in the fall, and are often used as Christmas decorations, as holly is.
To a great degree our gardens in winter can be a simple blanket of white – if we have cut back all the perennials, removed the shriveled annuals and weeded carefully. We are lucky if we have trees with interesting sculptural limbs, but without broadleaf evergreens or conifers the effect can be a little skimpy.
Next week I’ll discuss conifers, those cone-bearing evergreens like pines, spruce and junipers.
Between the Rows January 17, 2015
boxed amaryllis bulbs
I suppose my amaryllis mystery began on December 11, 2014 when I rather belatedly bought boxed amaryllis bulbs ready for planting and blooming. I knew they would not bloom in time for Christmas, but glamorous amaryllis flowers are welcome in January and February as well.
I potted all three bulbs up as directed. I did notice that the Athene white amaryllis seemed to have been pruned back more severely or more recently than the other two. I kept all three bulbs together in our living space which is the warmest part of the house.
Amaryllis on January 19
As time passed the three bulbs showed various rates of growth, most especially Athene. If you look closely you can see that I marked her pot with a little W in expectation of a white flower. That bulb never produced any foliage but did send up two bud shoots, one of which began to open a couple of days ago. We will let the mis-labelling pass. That has happened often enough in the garden, indoors and out. It is the rates of growth that amaze me. One bulb has produced two bud shoots with one blooming; one has produced foliage and two bud shoots, one of which is beginning to open; and the third produced foliage and two bud shoots of very different heights.
Is there a solution to my amaryllis mystery? Is it just c’est la vie? or is there a reason? All three bulbs had exactly the same care and conditions, although we have to assume kind of difference in the striped bulb now blooming. Any ideas?
Growing Healthy Houseplants
Some of us may have gotten gift houseplants during the holidays. If we are not experienced indoor gardeners this can cause some anxiety. “Now what do I do?” the recipient may wonder when the gift givers have left the premises. I personally think it is perfectly acceptable to treat any gift plant as a living bouquet, which will last longer than cut flowers, but still a bouquet that will have a limited life span.
At the same time, I know that a little information can help keep a gift houseplant alive for many months, and possibly years. Just as in the outdoor garden, if you want an indoor garden you must choose the right plant for the right place. Does your plant need sun, or does it require a northern light? Does it need frequent waterings?
Storey Publishing has put together a series of useful little books called Storey Basics. Ellen Zachos is the author of Growing Healthy Houseplants: Choose the Right Plant, Water Wisely and Control Pests ($8.95) which has exactly the basic information needed to provide proper care to a gift plant, or the plant you give yourself. Beverly Duncan, of Ashfield has provided the black and white drawings throughout the book.
Growing Healthy Houseplants is organized to give you basic information about lighting, watering, potting soils and fertilizing in general and then goes on to talk about maintaining plants which includes a section on making more plants and managing pests.
The final section talks about ways to display houseplants, and provides specific information about an array of flowering and foliage plants from ferns and begonias to ficus trees and mistletoe cactus. Orchids, too.
The days are growing longer and brighter. If you didn’t get a gift plant, enjoy a minor splurge and choose one for yourself. Flowers are cheerful, and foliage plants are an optimistic addition to a room in winter. This book will set you on the road to months and years of pleasure. A plant or two (given appropriate light) will add a note of vibrant life and welcome to any room.
Whether you have houseplants or not, most of us gardeners are starting to leaf through the catalogs that arrived even before Christmas. What new directions will our garden take this year?
Guan Yin Mian tree peony
I love to shop for perennials locally, but local garden centers are necessarily limited in their choices. They can only carry so many varieties of rhododendron or iris or rose. I recommend a look at mostly local specialty nurseries like the ones I’ve listed below – in alphabetical order by plant.
Silver Garden Daylilies (www.silvergardendaylilies.com) run by Richard Willard has over 400 daylilies now located on Pickett Avenue in Greenfield. It is often possible to choose your daylilies while they are in bloom so you can get exactly the colors you want.
Noted plant hunter Darrell Probst has been finding rare epimediums in China for many years. This beautiful shade loving ground cover with delicate flowers is also known by the name fairy wings. The nursery, Garden Visions Epimediums (www.epimediums.com) in Templeton sells other shade loving perennials like iris cristata. It is open to the public only on select weekends in May.
Foxbrook Iris Farm in Colrain is operated by Deborah Wheeler and her son Andrew Wheeler. Their specialty is Japanese iris which bloom in July. They usually have open digging days that are announced. When I bought my white Japanese iris from Andrew he said it didn’t need to be planted where it was wet, but it should be planted where it could be watered regularly. Good advice.
Joe Pye Weed’s Garden (http://www.jpwflowers.com) in Carlisle specializes in Siberian irises, but also grows versicolor, crested and species irises as well as primroses. There is an online catalog with photos, or you can request a print catalog for $2, refundable with your order.
Nasami Farm (www.newenglandwild.org) in Whately is the propagation arm of the New England Wildflower Society which has its main office and the famed Garden in the Woods in Framingham. Nasami sells an array of native plants, perennials, groundcovers, shrubs and trees on weekends in the spring and fall. With all the interest in the importance of supporting our local food web, more and more people are making a special effort to make sure at least some of their plantings are natives.
Not quite so local is Fox Hill Lilac (www.lilacs.com/) in Brunswick, Maine, but it offers scores of lilac varieties and the catalog gives information about fragrance as well as color and size. I cannot imagine my own garden without a lilac or two.
A luxurious plant in the garden is the tree peony. Unlike the familiar herbaceous peonies, these have a shrubby structure that does not die down in the fall. Although the large blossoms look fragile, the plant is very hardy and blooms earlier than herbaceous varieties. Klehm’s Song Sparrow nursery (www.songsparrow.com) offers a large variety of tree and herbaceous peonies.
A very large collection of rhododendrons can be found at WhitneyGardens nursery in Washington state (www.whitneygardens.com). They also offer azaleas, mountain laurels and other plants. PJM rhodies are very pretty and very hardy, but there are so many other varieties and colors, it is a shame to limit yourself.
Whatever new plants you add to your garden this year, take the time to find something that might be a little unusual – and yet no more difficult to care for. ###
Between the Rows January 10, 2015
Snowflakes on the car window early this frigid morning. And the photographer’s hands.
Snowflake Bentley will tell you more about snowflakes and photographing snowflakes. Snowflake Bentley by Jacqueline Briggs Martin tells the wonderful story about a Vermont boy born in 1865 who loved snowflakes and learned how to photograph them.
For more Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.
Do you treat your Christmas Poinsettia as an annual, and throw it way when it finally loses all those beautiful bracts, or do you care for it, baby it, and suffer its dormancy in order to bring it back into glorious bloom next December?
Can you guess which approach I take with a Christmas poinsettia?
I’ll give you a hint. This is my second poinsettia, a gift from my husband. I left my first one in the car. Overnight. Temperatures down to 10 degrees.
Digging Deep by Fran Sorin
In her book Digging Deep: Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening ($14.95) Fran Sorin makes the point that we are all creative creatures. Every baby ever born learns something new every day, laughs at something new every day. That creative urge can be tamped down in dozens of ways from an early age. Remember the coloring book and the stricture not to color outside the lines? Remember the frown when you couldn’t help it, or just wanted to color outside the lines?
Digging Deep is about garden design and planning and planting. Sorin shows us ways to create a healthy and beautiful garden that is unique and our very own. She also shows us that digging in the dirt and connecting with nature in a very physical way releases the other creative impulses that may have been discouraged.
Digging Deep is a perfect book to use as a guide as a new year begins. What do any of us want as we look ahead? A lot. We want to enjoy the love of family and friends. We want adventures. We want to make things better at home or work and we want to learn more and have fun. All those things will take imagination and resourcefulness, the elements of creativity. All it takes is a little confidence.
When we are lacking confidence in the garden Sorin takes us through the stages of creativity: awakening, imagining, envisioning, planning, planting, enjoying and completing. I think awakening may be the biggest first step. I know a number of people who have turned down the invitation to ice skate, bake bread, knit, build a trellis because when they tried any of those things it wasn’t perfect. They fell on the ice, the bread didn’t rise, the knitting got knotted and the trellis collapsed. It can be hard to live in spite of the fear of seeming foolish or incompetent. It takes time and patience to learn something new.
Sorin takes her time in teaching us how to begin visualizing our own garden, trusting our own instincts, and owning our own style. She suggests different styles from funky to romantic to minimalist. The question is what style or combination appeals to you? How do you see yourself in your garden, with friends and alone?
Then we come to the more practical advice about actually building soil, choosing plants, waiting while they grow, and making necessary changes. Nature will bring change, and you will see the need for change. At the conclusion of each chapter there are things To Try, or lists of equipment ongoing chores.
The final chapters are for enjoyment and celebration. You would not think gardeners would need to be reminded to enjoy and celebrate, but sometimes we cannot turn off the busy button.
I’m older now, and more apt to sit in my garden chair and appreciate what Mother Nature and I, and my husband, have accomplished, but I am not beyond needing a reminder to stop, breathe and enjoy. Sorin’s conversational style is also a joy to read, and re-read, in quiet moments.
Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual by Roger Marshall
For those whose creative juices are still bubbling away Roger Marshall brings us The Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual ($24.95). This readable and encyclopedic manual begins with a review of the different types of greenhouses, warm and cool, and their pros and cons. It is obvious that many gardeners are not satisfied with two or even three season gardens because I have seen more and more greenhouses, modest and grand, going up in our region.
Growing in a greenhouse requires more than your outdoor skills. No longer are you limited to planting in soil. Hydroponics and aquaponics require new skills and techniques.
Many local greenhouses or hoophouses are used for raising vegetables through the winter. Marshall gives full information about growing 70 vegetables, but he opens up who new worlds of plants that are more easily grown in a warm greenhouse than a sunny windowsill. Chapters on growing fruit, ornamentals like flowers and foliage plants, specialty plants like cactus, bromeliads and orchids all suggest new opportunities for experiment and fun.
The colorful photographs of all the systems and beautiful plants are inspiring. Many photos give clear information about how to manage certain techniques.
In case you need a little extra encouragement to get a greenhouse Marshall even suggests ways it might make you some money.
Any garden venture requires maintenance, cleanups, management of bugs and disease. Marshall gives clear, brief instructions how to manage all the every day aspects of greenhouse ownership.
If you are dreaming of the delights of having a greenhouse, read this book first. It will help you make decisions about every aspect of greenhouse ownership.
Now that 2015 is here, what are you seeing as you gaze at the blank calendar pages? What opportunities do you imagine will present themselves? Will you grab them?
Of course, you will! You are a gardener! ###
Between the Rows January 3, 2015
Books in the Great Room
Where do you keep your books for the reading season that follows the delightful chaos of the holidays? I will show you my bookshelves – or at least portions of the ranks of bookshelves in my house. There are about 44 feet of bookshelves in the Great Room. This section includes nature refernce books, mysteries, essays and cookbooks and books on cooking.
Cookbooks by the dining table
This array of cookbooks is next to the dining table that also serves as a worktable. This is probably the most used collection of cookbooks in the house.
More cookbooks, with an emphasis on baking
When we remodeled the kitchen a couple of years ago I gained shelf space for more cookbooks (and the dictionary which must always be at the ready for family ‘discussions’) with an emphasis on baking.
Books in the downstairs sitting room
This is just one section of bookshelves in the sitting room – and you can see it hold more than books. Culinary liquers that can’t fit in the kitchen and Christmas is not quite over at our house which accounts for gifts waiting for more chaos.
Bookshelves in the bedroom
A motley collection of books lives in the bedroom – fiction, essays, mysteries, and non-fiction.
Garden books in the office
My husband and I share a tiny ‘office’ under the eaves, but the books are all ‘mine.’The garden books in this section of office bookshelves have to share with reams of paper, envelopes, toner, etc.
Ever since I learned to read, winter has been a welcomed Reading Season. Where do you keep your books for the reading season? For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday click here.
Beauty Heart Radish
Watermelon or Beauty Heart radish? At the farmer’s market on Saturday I bought Watermelon radish. However, I first met this radish in China where the Chinese name was translated as Beauty Heart, so much prettier than Red Meat Radish which is the way it is sold by some seed companies. I love Beauty Heart, but I can easily live with Watermelon Radish. When my Chinese colleagues first served me this radish in a pickled salad I insisted it must be a turnip and that we had run into a translating problem. I was wrong. This radish is a type of daikon radish (which doesn’t look like a cherry belle radish either), but all are members of the brassica family.
Beauty Heart or Watermelon radishes range in size from golf ball to baseball size and have a mild flavor. The Chinese do a lot of pickling and my favorites were pickled lotus root, garlic and, of course, Beauty Heart radish.
A simple pickling recipe:
eniugh thinly sliced beauty heart radish that can be covered by
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
pinch of red pepper flakes.
Place in a jar and refrigerate for a couple of days and enjoy.
Grafted TomTato from Terratorial Seeds
What’s new for 2015? In just five days we’ll have entered a new year where unimagined things may happen. How much of 2014 did you forsee on January 1, 2014? I’ll bet lots of the unimagined entered your life, and I hope that much was positive and joyful.
You know that there will be many banners of NEW in the nursery and seed catalogs that are starting to fill our mailboxes. Perhaps the most unimagined new plant I have seen – so far – is the Ketchup ‘n Fries TomTato being offered by the Territorial Seed Company. I had just gotten used to the idea of grafted tomatoes that promise to give us delicious tomatoes earlier in the season, but now there is a grafted TomTato. Territorial says, “Extensive trials and careful selection of both the tomato scion and potato rootstock cultivars were required to achieve properly staggered maturity. This enables the plant to focus its energy first on yielding hundreds of sweet, tangy, and early glistening red cherry tomatoes, before maturing up to 4 ½ pounds of fine, thin-skinned, all-purpose white potatoes in the late season.” Wow!
I never imagined such a thing as a TomTato, but you can be sure that I want to try it. That is the joy of gardening. All kinds of experiments, including the weird and wonderful, can be tried with very little investment.
Other vegetable catalogs will have new varieties. Johnny’s Selected Seeds is offering a new carrot, Nutri-red. These coral-red carrots “are best cooked to deepen the color and improve the texture.” It is not often that cooking deepens the color of carrots. Johnny says that the strong carrot flavor makes it excellent for stews.
Renee’s Garden Seeds also has a new carrot. This one, Purple Sun, is a rich purple color, but a sweet flavor. It will probably fade a bit when cooked, but it is also good eaten raw.
Renee has paid a lot of attention to gardeners who have limited space. One of her new window box tomatoes is Litt’l Bites Cherry that produces early cascades of fruit on plants just 20 inches wide and 12 inches tall.
Botanical Interests has its own new carrot, Atomic Red. “When you steam, roast, or stir-fry them, the contrast between the brilliant, deep red outer layer and orange core intensifies.”
Botanical Interests is also offering a number of seeds on seed tapes. For example there is a packet of three lettuces, Waldman’s Green, Little Gem Romaine and Tom Thumb butterhead, on three 6-foot seed tapes. These cost more, but if you don’t like working with tiny seeds this might work very happily for you.
Even the Seed Savers Exchange whose mission is preserving old varieties of vegetables and flowers has NEW offerings for 2015. I liked the Holmes’ Royal Red radishes. These were introduced in 1899 but are now very rare and will only be sold while the limited supplies last. This radish has a beautiful color, shape and delicious flavor. Shop quick for this one.
While it is not a flower bunny tails grass is a fun ornamental annual that Seed Savers is selling. This low growing grass with its soft beige seed heads is pretty in the garden and also useful in flower arrangements. Sometimes it will self seed, but it is not invasive.
Needless to say there are new flowers, too. The brilliantly colored osteospermum Blue Eyed Beauty is a showstopper. I became aware of the osteospermum family because they are used generously on the Bridge of Flowers in a range of colors. They bloom all season long and are a great front of the border plant.
Akila Daisy White is an osteospermum in a very different mood. It is a serene white around a small pale yellow eye. You may not find seeds for these plants, but osteospermums are easy to find at garden centers.
The National Garden Bureau has named this the Year of the Coleus. The coleus has become more and more popular as people become more interested in foliage in the garden. Nowadays when you go to the garden center in the spring you will find a large array of these plants with colors ranging from lime green to deep burgundy red. Marquee Box Office Bronze is a new shade this spring, a deep rich bronze. Lime Sprite, another new introduction, has that lime green border around a burgundy heart. So many plants require sun, but coleus is happy to have shade.
Burpee Seed’s new nasturtium is a 100 year old variety renamed Phoenix. The unusual split petals are in shades of glowing red-orange. Like other nasturtiums they are edible and cheerful in the front of the border.
Another larger Burpee nasturtium, Summer Gown, is perfect for containers and hanging baskets with its busy growth and deep burgundy/purple blossoms that shade more blue over the course of the summer.
High Mowing Organic Seeds has a new mix of one of my favorite flowers – zinnias. County Fair Blend mix has warm tones of coral-peach, gold, and scarlet blossoms. They will produce more flowers as you cut them for bouquets. Disease resistant. Zinnias make great cut flowers over a long season.
It’s fun to try something new every year. Something new in the garden is sure to bring new beauty or new flavor into your life.
Be ready for the unimagined.
Between the Rows December 27, 2014