With all the bad weather I’ve been happy to sit by the woodstove and read two new books from St. Lynn’s Press. Garden-pedia: An A to Z Guide to Gardening Terms by Paula Bennett and Maria Zampini ($16.95 paperback) is an excellent book for the novice gardener. There are so many terms that arise even in catalogs and other places that can confuse and confound. Writers and speakers may be trying to write or speak plainly, but sometimes assume prior knowledge. I should ask experienced gardeners how they felt the first time they ran into high tunnel, or nativar, or panicle.
In fact, I was very happy to go through Garden-pedia and see clearer ways of explaining or describing these particular three terms. I had never heard of high tunnels a decade or so ago until I was talking to a farmer who told me he had put his whole raspberry operation under high tunnels. Nowadays high tunnels, “a crop growing system that is structured somewhat between a greenhouse and row covers,” are more common. There are always new terms to describe new practices and it can take a while to catch up.
I knew about cultivars, a particular cultivated variety of a plant like Heuchera ‘Fireworks’ but what was a nativar? A nativar is a cultivar or hybrid created from a native plant. For example, Ilex verticillata, winterberry, is native to the American northeast, but when you go to the nursery to buy one you will find ‘Red Sprite,’ ‘Jim Dandy’ and ‘Apollo.’ These are nativars. I was interested that Bennett and Zampini do explain that there is some debate about whether nativars give all the benefits of a plain native. We will each have to make our own decision about how purist we will be in growing the natives that will support our local food web. Where I live now, in the midst of fields and woods full of natives, I don’t worry about including nativars, or even exotics, plants that came from elsewhere to my garden. But that may change.
Bennett and Zampini clearly explain 300 gardening and horticultural terms from Abiotic to Zone but they say they are happy to hear of other terms that are not included for the next edition of the book. Do you think the term ‘food web’ needs an explanation?
Bennett took many of the clear photographs that are really all you need when trying to understand leaf patterns or the structure of a panicle. There is an excellent index and a list of resources: books, websites, plant organizations and societies, and databases. Of course, as a New Englander I wish they could have included the New England Wildflower Society with its Go Botany website which can help all of us explore, identify and learn about our native plants.
Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques by Lisa Mason Siegler ($17.95 hardcover) is another small book with a lot of information!
Lisa Ziegler is a flower farmer, growing and selling cut flowers to florists and at farmers markets. She lives in Virginia on her husband’s old family farm, a farm now devoted to colorful flowers. Her book gives careful instruction on sowing seeds directly outdoors in fall, as well as in spring. Most of us will find seed starting indoors in the spring the most likely to work for us.
After a brief discussion of when to plant seeds indoors and out, Ziegler gives specific instructions for planting seeds of 30 particular hardy annuals from the familiar bachelor’s buttons and sweet peas to the less familiar False Queen Anne’s Lace.
Many hardy annuals can be started indoors six to eight weeks before you could put them outdoors. In my garden that means I could start seeds indoors in mid-March. I remember Elsa Bakalar starting snapdragon seeds at the very end of February. She had a homemade arrangement of shelves with low hanging grow-lights that enabled her to keep the seedlings growing sturdily for ten weeks.
Elsa did not use heat pads underneath her planting trays, but that is a technique we have available to us. Heat mats helps seeds germinate more quickly and dependably, but once the seeds have sent up shoots the heat mat should be removed. The seedlings now need good light for 16 hours a day. It is the long day under the lights that will give you strong transplants. I’m sure most of us have had experience with long leggy seedlings reaching for the sun.
Ziegler gives full instructions from seeding plants indoors, fertilizing, and hardening off the young transplants to prepare them for going into the ground. Once planted outdoors, she mulches, and then covers them with a floating row cover to protect them from the wind and any surprises in the winter weather. She finishes with advice for maintaining the garden all season long.
I was inspired by Ziegler’s plan for a 3×10 foot cutting bed for five flowers that would provide more bouquets over a long season than you ever imagined possible. Think of how all your neighbors would love you bouquets. The magic of a cutting garden is that the more you harvest the more flowers will come into bloom.
Garden-pedia and Cool Flowers will appeal to two different audiences; one of them might be just right for you.
Between the Rows February 14, 2015