December 30, 2009

Winter Stars, winter sax's

Saxifraga longifolia

Many non gardeners may think that the winter garden offers little in the way of interest or display. But many plants offer year-round interest, and walking to the greenhouse today, I noticed how pretty my many troughs of Saxifrages look in the winter, with their lime encrusted foliage, and their silvery leaves that are as hard as rock. I am amazed at how sturdy these high mountain plants are, and each and every year, as I add and collect more, their diversity and beauty stops me, and I am reminded of why I love unusual plants so much. You are unlikely to find Saxifrages at your local garden center, or at a big hardware store garden shop. But you can find them online at a few alpine plant nurseries. Saxifrages are worth searching out, for these are one of those things like the finest cookware is to a cook, or a fine imported tool, that get's better with age. Saxifrages seem to say " Hey, you are a serious gardener, and you undoubtedly know what you are doing". Well, if you are like me, you may like things that 'say' that.

Not all Saxifrages are alpine plants, for some are downright huge, and tropical. But it is the alpine species that are so collectable and cherished by rock gardeners, and alpine plant enthusiasts. Saxifrages that are alpines are tiny, lime encrusted plants, and often for dense, hard mounds that alpine gardeners lovingly call buns. The dense buns are hard, and tight, they way we like buns. In the wild, they cling to rocks and cliffs on the highest peaks above the clouds, in in the mist, but they are sturdy and strong, in fact, they are designed for snow and harsh, misty conditions, but, conditions that are exact. T

So why don't you see them everywhere? Well, the reason you don't see them that first, they are considered challenging to grow, and, they are not suited to mass productions for retail garden centers. Plus, they bloom in the late winter, or very early spring. When you see a trendy trough garden workshop on TV or on a make over show, what the host reccomends planting is often hens and chicks, sempervivums, and sedum's. These are incredibly foolproof we all know, but hardly something you can show off or impress with. I like semps, but sempervivums are best left to the casual gardener, for although pretty, they are rather unexciting, and boring, a toddler can grow them.

Saxifrages require an informed mind, and an experienced alpinist to master. ( They don't, but everyone still thinks so, even experienced rock gardeners ( read on) Or, so, they did, for today, I feel most anyone can 'master' growing this once difficult and fussy alpines, but don't share my secret with too many people! Just quietly order some, and pot up a trough, and leave it alone. Then, sit back and watch the most experiences horticultural snob's eye's pop out when they see your trough of these precious, high alpines, all dense and bun like, and you can exclaim...."oh those?, They're so easy, I really don't pay much attention to them". And, here's how...

Here is my big secret - although they are notoriously fussy ( I don't think so, though), they are easy if purchased from one retailer online Harvey Wrightman, for he not only has a premiere collection from the finest sources in Eastern Europe where the best come from ( the Czech's are crazy about Sax's), Check out their Rock Garden site if you want to see some incredible Sax's. But the reason you must get your plants from Harvey is because he grows his Saxifrages in blocks of Tufa rock, which makes them incredibly fool proof.

Look, you can still kill them, but think about this: I lost hundreds of Saxifrages until I bought Harvey's stone grown plants. I have lost none in over 4 years, and although costly, they have grown into large, if not huge, specimens in my troughs. And.....I rarely do anything to them. They get snowed on, rained on, full sun, and rarely watered, they are exposed to all of our New England elements. So, if you've ever wanted a winter garden, or a container that looked as good on the New Year, as it does in March, and in August, then consider planting a trough of Saxifrages, and maybe next year, you too can have a container of stars on your terrace or deck.

The only thing they dislike is winter moisture, and summer humidity. Many of these Saxifrages offer pretty flowers early in the year, perhaps late February or March here in New England, and often are the first sign of spring in our garden, long before the crocus and spring bulbs even think of emerging. Easy to grow in Hyper-tufa troughs, the sort Martha Stewart has shown being made out of concrete and peat, or grown in a frost proof stoneware container, Saxifrages are fun to collect, for there are countless hybrids and species.

December 28, 2009

Holiday topiary get a trim for the new year

The art of training shrubs and trees into standard topiary shapes, comes and goes with the fashion of the moment, just as bonsai become trendy, or certain colors in flower. But I've always found this style of training plants fascinating, and fun. Topiary styles have changed over time, but the earliest form of Mytrus species ( Myrtle's, which these are) , started in the Roman
times of Pliny the Younger. The form came back into fashion in Europe during the 16th Century, when the French clipped hedges and elaborate gardens with parterres complete with cones, spirals and even shapes that depicted animals. In Britain, the art form really thrived in the late 19th C., and it was the wealthy industrialists, who introduced the artform to America in their private estate conservatories and greenhouses.

I really enjoy keeping and training various topiaried tender trees and shrubs, in the temperate greenhouse in my garden. Here, in my studio, I am giving some of the Myrtles a trim and clip, before returning them to the glass house where temperatures are colder, and moist. Nothing kills a Myrtle faster than the combination of winter dry air indoors, and a lack of water, which is what I will undoubtedly do. The same goes for Rosemary, of which, about a third of my topiary's are.

This past September, I took cutting from the various topiary trees I keep, so that new ones can be started, since there comes a point when they outgrow their size, and the sphere's become either too dense, or grow out of scale.I've let a number of Rosemary topiary freeze this autumn, since they seem to outgrow their form faster than Myrtles. Other Genus are kept in the greenhouse until they bloom, for they require different treatments, such as Citrus, Westringia and those plants in the legume family.

December 27, 2009

Going Hay Crazy for Ruth Stout. how could I ever forget!

You must see the newly discovered videos of Ruth Stout. Who is Ruth Stout you may ask? Well, thanks to fellow blogger Margaret Roach, and her recent post on Ruth Stout which had me reminiscing and running to my library, she was the author of the 1962 classic organic gardening book The No Work Garden Book. Born in 1882, and living to the age of 96, Ruth Stout was highly influencial to many of us who lived and gardened in the 1960's and 70's. He methods were so simple, use mulch, lots of it, and only use hay as mulch. No fertilizers, no insecticides, and no work ( unless you call spreading hay and harvesting loads of vegetables, work. I remember my mother buying me the Ruth Stout No Work Garden book back in the early 70's while on a summer vacation in Maine, and I read the entire book in a few days. It changed how I garden forever. Her use of hay as a mulch is a method I still use today. FInd her book on vintage book sites, and try out her methods which are simply timeless, and perhaps, more relevant than ever, today.

I can't think of Ruth Stout without reliving her stories about Asapragus, her methods for raising annual Phlox, sweet peas, and tomoatos. If you are a new gardeners, track down her book. And now, Margaret Roach shares her long lost videos! Visit her blog to check them out.2010 resolution: a ‘no-work’ garden?

Posted using ShareThis

An overcast winter day reveals colorful evergreens

A Cedrus atlanticus, or the common Atlantic Cedar, sparkles in the melting snow.

These golden evergreens are often seen as houseplants or mini Christmas trees, but in the cold greenhouse, they thrive, and can grow into massively impressive specimens for northern gardens. I drag the pot out every spring, and the vertical golden needled trees stand out in our very non tropical climate.

Yesterday and today, brought temperatures above freezing here in New England. We know it's only for a short break from winter, for tomorrow, we are expecting some snow again, and the long range forecast shows little relief from single digit temperatures, so we must enjoy it while we can.

The melting snow has revealed foliage on the various evergreen shrubs around the yard, and I thought that I would capture some of the more interesting ones, since the light it nice with the reflection off of the snow, and the overcast sky, seems to enhance some of the colors.

In the greenhouse, the juxtaposition of a tropical Rhododendron, Vireya 'Valentines Day' with buds, and a Ozothamnus, just looks a little Christmasy.

A yellow HInoki Cypress which is a dwarf form in the alpine garden, practically screams yellow.

This now ten year old variegated Juniper tree, is starting to look quite nice. I'm not very fond of variegated anything, really, but some species attract me when variegated, especially when variegation is more rarely seen. Juniperus chinensis 'Kaizuka Variegata'

Thuja plicata ‘Zebrina’, grown from a tiny cutting from Dan Hinkley's Heronswood Nursery from when I visited there in 1996. It is finally starting to take off, and required a sheering this year, to help keep it in shape.

OK, this is in the greenhouse, but I am still attracted to this Ozothamnus 'Sussex Silver' which I brought back from a nursery in Oregon last March. Tender for us in Zone 5 near Boston, I must grow this as a container plant in the cold greenhouse. All of the Ozothamnus species have interesting silvery foliage, but this one promises more, some color from flowers, plus an exceptional display of silvery evergreen foliage.

The Japanese ground Bamboo, Sasa vietchii always looks most interesting in the winter. In our climate, it only runs moderately, and I can't live without it ( by choice). Only waist high, the evergreen foliage is useful for Holiday baskets, and in the snow, it looks amazing. The beige edges of the leaves are not variegation, but actually dead leaf edges that transform the all green summer leaf, into a white edged wonder. I love seeing these in the snow.

Ilex crenata 'Golden Gem', is a yellowish form of the more common Japanese Holly, Ilex crenata. This plant is hardy to zone 6, but so far, has survived 3 winters here. I think this year I may move this specimen, since it get's completely hidden in the summer by ornamental Rhubarb from Tibet. I will trim it back, and relocate it where I can see it's evergreen golden leaves all winter. Right now, it's a little scraggly.

In a trough, the alpine primrose Primula marginata, shows off it's sharp dentated leaf edges and white 'farina', what the primrose growers call the white powder that covers the leaves of well grown specimens. In the greenhouse, I have to be careful not to wash it off with a hose, but more is formed outdoors in extreme weather. These plants grow high in the Alps, in the mists of summer, or under deep, dry snowfall. Difficult conditions to reproduce in our wet climate at sea level. This is a more challenging alpine primrose, but I was inspired to grow it in troughs, after visiting the garden of Primula expert Kris Fenderson in New Hampshire. He grows his P. marginata in pure Pro Mix ( a peat based soil) in simple half whisky barrels. There is so much to learn still, in growing many alpines, since old books state that many of these fussy species prefer fast drainage and gravel, newer research shows that many grow best in clay substrates, or peat based commercial soil mixes too. Our troughs potted in pure, hard clay, have the best Saxifrages and even alpine Draba's growing perfectly. Still, more experimentation needs to occur. This primula will have it'd dead foliage torn off carefully, so that it doesn't rot, but the real reward is the lavender flowers in early spring.

These pleached hornbeams will not drop their foliage until spring, but isn't the color refreshing in the winter?

No need for garland, when you have Alaskan Cedar. I love the drooping long branches.

I noticed today the many lichens and mosses growing on trunks. Here, the trunk on a yellow flowered Magnolia 'Gold Finch" shows off some of these tiny displays like a miniature garden.

December Flowers

I've noticed over the past years, that there are flowers, and of course, greens available in my zone 5 garden every month of the year. And, I mean outdoors, not just in the greenhouse. I though that I might start a Friday tradition in 2010 ( if I can keep up with it!), but since there are so many tracking devices for blog traffic available, I've noticed that the most comments and views I receive come from the posts that show either floral combinations, or arranged plant material. But, since my blog is focused more toward more interesting, or rare plants, and those that are more unusual or overlooked or forgotten I thought that maybe this will indeed be an interesting and fun project to try.

So starting next week, I will try my best to post an image of plant material arranged artistically that is not just out of the ordinary, but extraordinary in some measurable way. The material may come from the yard, my garden or from the greenhouse. Or, it may come from any combination, but the one rule I must follow is that I grew it, and that nothing was purchased. Not sure what I will call the post yet, maybe something with the word inspiration in it., Or, simple Friday Flowers. But wait, I may not use flowers all of the time. OK...I need to think about this a bit!

Until then, here is a sampler....some Hellebores cut and arranged in a Tibetan wooden box, placed in the alpine garden on the late December thaw ( snow tomorrow!). Enjoy.

December 26, 2009

Remembering 'The Julia Child of Horticulture', Thalassa Cruso

Opening title card for PBS's 1960's gardening program "Making Things Grow" by Thalassa Cruso

Now that the pace and energy of Christmas and the Holiday season is slowing down bit, I can rest and catch up on other things I like. With two weeks off from work, these are the days where I can catch up with all sorts of unfinished projects, of which there are far to many.

Since Julia Child seems to be everywhere right now, and because this Christmas, one of my favorite gifts was the complete set of vintage Julia Child videos from her public television cooking program in the 60's, I've been also reminded of Thalassa Cruso, Julia's peer in the horticultural world, at least with novice's and houseplant lovers. Being from the Boston area, and having had parents that were closely involved with public television, Boston culture and the arts during that period, I find the nostalgic revisit to Julia's videos much more than just inspirational, for Julia's home studio was near where I lived, WGBH in Boston, and it seems as a child, we bumped into her tall ( 6 foot 2 inch!) frame of boiled wool and practical shoes, everywhere, from the museum openings as the Museum of Fine Arts, to Horticultural Hall and concerts at WGBH studios. So, to me, it all seems too natural for it was not unusual to bump into Julia at a local supermarket buying lentils, ( OK, it was only twice, but still, memorable).

Anyway, this is a long way to say that in this slow week of remembering Julia, worth every moment, I think it would be nice to remember Thalassa Cruso too. Thalassa Cruso (1909-1997) , who the New York Times referred to as "The Julia Child of Horticulture".

As Time magazine recenty recalled: "There is nothing highhanded about Thalassa, a 59-year-old British-born grandmother who finds "relief from the everyday pressures of life by working among living things which refuse to be hurried." On her twice-weekly show, Making Things Grow, which is carried on five educational stations in New England, she is to spathiphyllum cannae-folium what TV Chef Julia Child is to pate en croute.
Fatshedera in a Mini. Thalassa's pitch is like a cactus—plain yet prickly. Holding up a wire-looped hanging pot, she sniffs: "I consider this pot a bore." Banging down a tray of bulbs on her worktable, she declares: "Now this is a rather ratty object, a relative of the onion called tritelia. It's really not worth the trouble of growing, but some people do, so I have to show it to you." She talks about cow dung as if it were French perfume, condemns tinfoil wrapping as "a crime against a blooming plant."

Although I was teased by my older siblings, who found my interest in this older, British lady with the show that started with classical music, and who smashed naughty slugs, and spritzed her house plants with water, rather boring), for they wanted to wanted to watch "Love American Style" or "The Banana Splits". Our black and white Motorola more often than not, still would be tuned in to Making Things Grow, for thankfully, it was moved to Saturday afternoons when nothing else was on, and I could watch is by myself. Today, I wonder what might be inspiring the hortiphiles of the future, for I fear current programing may result in a bevy of killer shark experts and tornado hunters. I can't think of a contemporary 'Thalassa Cruso' except perhaps Martha Stewart ( the old program). But for my generation and older, many young gardeners were strongly influenced by her program 'Making Things Grow", which 'planted the seeds' that grew into a love and passion for plants.

I wish that WGBH, public television in Boston, would release her videos, although, I am sure that they might include some out of fashioned, techniques, many of us would still enjoy them. I can remember watching both Julia and Thalassa on Saturday afternoons, and surely, Thalassa's program 'Making Things Grow" was highly influential in getting me even more interested in plants. I will always remember her fearlessly smashing a giant pot of a Clivia miniata, and then sawing the root ball in half, a vision I always recall when repotting our huge specimens. Gardening takes confidence and determination, and Thallassa's acerbic British tone and perfect diction of a school teacher, made certain that you, the human, was in charge of the plants. For in the 60's, when the house plant movement was just starting to regenerate with macrame spider plants in the windows of hippies and those who wore patchouli , there were also those who talked to plants in a Jerry Baker way.

Thalassa was neither of those, being raised in a British household in England where plants and horticulture were an everyday part of life, her style was more like that of my parents, who also we're first generation immigrants, seeing plants as being useful both indoors and out, for very different purposes, but neither a mere decoration, for indoor plants we're there for the soul, and not treated as merely pets. They must be grown well, cultured, and cared for, but also re-propagated, by grafting, cuttings and or division, and then the mother plant, tossed into the compost. Thalassa's style was the same. Hack and smack horticulture, I guess, no emotional connection to plants, rather, more of a biological one. I do miss that sort of attitude, especially from a TV host who marketed herself as 'the everyman gardener". Today, our style of entertainment errs on plants either being treated as pets, novelties, or a bit too disposable. That is, if they are not made of silk. We've lost something along the way here.

As a young gardener, living in as rather horticulturally aware family, I could balance the innate knowledge shared with me by my parents, with the more exotic knowledge of Thalassa Cruso. Here was this ten year old kid, not playing baseball or football, but instead, taking the bus into the city to spend hours in the library at the Horticultural Society, being encouraged to borrow books first on more simple ventures, such as those on forcing bulbs or propagating houseplants, and later, on cultivating South African Bulbs and on growing alpines in pots. Thalassa Cruso introduced me to the Clivia miniata, the citrus tree indoors, the Spathyphyllum, the Jade Plant, the Paperwhite Narcissus. If there is anyone to blame for a lifetime of obsession, it surely is Ms. Cruso. If only I had met a writer in those formative years, maybe I could have done more with this passion!

Perhaps best way to experience Thalassa's wit and knowledge, is to find her books either on eBay or at other on-line vintage book sellers like Alibris. They are often very affordable, ( like a dollar or so in the US), and a great read to keep at the bed side. I often recall her stories about vintage Holiday plants in the England of her childhood, the holly, ivy and Hellebores and Anemones. I remember her stories about plant displays on the porches of her home outside of Boston, tiered stepped displays of Petunia's and Pansy's in early summer, her tales of Gloxinia displays in late summer, her story about having a custom made copper liner for her plant window, so that she could fill it with gravel and plant Paperwhite Narcissus for the winter. These are all influential stories that are personal to me, and which still move me to either try or execute somewhere in my future.

It was Thalassa Cruso who inspired many hoticulturists in the 1960's to attempt growing the orange Clivia miniata, then, not common at all. He books then told the story of the famed Yellow Clivia, which many of you know from reading this blog, we too have a long connection with. So, even though I never met Thalassa, I feel a little more connected.

Ten years ago, while exploring in Japan, we visited Mr. Nakamura, who together with Sir Peter Smithers helped bring the famed yellow Clivia miniata to the rest of the world. In the late 1960's, Thalassa Cruso wrote about her journey to obtain a division of a rare yellow Clivia from Kew in England. That plant came from Sir Peter Smithers, and his form called Vivo Yellow was first sent to Mr. Nakamura in northern Japan, where it first bloomed, and he named it after Sir Smithers home in Italy, Vico Morocote. I thought of Thalassa's letter and journey to owership of the then, valuable plant ( they are much more affordable today), as we found ourselves being invited to Mr. Nakamura's secret greenhouses in rural Japan, where hundreds of these plants we're being grown, and where hundreds of seeds and offspring where shared with us, and currently live in our greenhouse. Plants connect through story, and heritage, in one way or another. Being able to trace back sometimes, is a meaningful addition that adds to the entire experience.

Apparently WGBH is unable to transfer the old recordings over to DVD or digital due to cost limitations, but former host of The Victory Garden ( yes, another infuencial program that should be rereleased) Michael Weishan, has shared a terrific story and a video clip on his blog, worth visiting. The hour long Bonsai episode link is here.

Many thanks to Stephan Orr's great plant blog, that inspired me to write this.

Also, Is it just me, or is former Martha Stewart exec. Margaret Roach and Thalassa Cruso separated at birth?

December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve, and all is quiet, and well

Vintage Nineteenth C. Holiday card showing Camellias

My plant window over the kitchen sink in Holiday garb, this year, all white and green. Cyclamen, Stock, Hellebores, Cedar, Nerine unduata (with 6 buds!) and more.
On this very snowy Christmas Eve in New England, I just want to wish all of my readers and supports a safe and healthy Holiday, what ever one your family, friends or faith celebrates. Being of Lithuanian heritage myself, and raised Catholic, we later found out as adults that our traditional Kuchas ( sp?) and evening dinner on Christmas Eve, was actually a revised ritual that started as a pagan change of seasons, celebration, and typically was celebrated on the winter solstice. Well, since we we're busy keeping our precious plants alive all night, on the solstice, it's probably best that we celebrate tonight, as usual. ( Unless, of course the plants could speak at midnight..hmmmm). Anyway, thanks to all of you who expressed concern over our latest heating issues. Tonight, all is well, and nothing was loss, except a few dollars on space heaters, lost sleep and perhaps a fuel company. This, we move on and try to forget about it.

Here are just a few shots of the house, the plant window, some vintage Holiday cards that feature anything other than Poinsettias since that is a rather recent introductions to the world of Holiday plants. Traditionally, it was the white and red Anemone coronaria which were forced in Northern Europe, England and early America for Holiday flowers, as well as , of course, the Christmas Rose, or Hellebore, the Chrysanthemum, White Violets, and Cyclamen, and I err on traditional, for it is less mass market, and more meaningful, in many ways. Also, greens cut from the cedars and spruces, some early Camellia from the greenhouse, and anything else in berried form like Holly, rose hips and some citrus. Well, off to make more arrangements, since we have a full house this evening, roasts to start, topiaries to bring in from the greenhouse, garlands to draps, floors to sweep, as you all do too.

Here's to a very Merry Christmas to every one, whatever your religion, being rather non religion beyond mother nature, ourself today, this is more about the solstice, tradition and the food ( of course, the plants too!).

White Anemone's at Christmas, more authentic than silk poinsettia from a craft store.

A VIntage Italian Christmas card from the Nineteenth Century showing how winter blooming Hellebores represented Christams. In old England, a bowl of evergreens, Holly, and Hellebores was most traditional, as we're white Anemones.

My friend Jessica, a designer as Hasbro, and I made Holiday cookies last night. Yeah, I still need to do the dishes!

The yellow-Japanese spruce, 'Skylands", really shows it's golden glow in the new snow.

Japanese pines have the best cones.

The bees are nestled in for the winter
Rosa hips are still clinging to the branches
The Hemlock grove out by the duck house, looks best after a new snow. I find Hemlock forests very comforting, especially after a snow, so cozy and they remind me of my childhood hiking with my dad, or in the summer, when I would go on long hikes in the dark, mossy hemlock forests with my friend Mike. Those were the days. Now...off to cook.

December 21, 2009

Why Arrow Gas Company Sucks More Than Phytophera infestans

Anyone who keeps a greenhouse in a cold climate knows the risks of power failures or malfunctioning heaters. On this weekend before Christmas, I almost lost an entire collection of rare plants, precious imported bulbs and other jems that would be difficult, if not impossible to replace due to their age or scarcity. This loss would not be because of the Blizzard we experienced this weekend, with 18 inches of snow, nor would it be because of the bitter cold temperatures that we also are getting, with wind chills near 9 below zero and it wouldn't be because of our furnace not working, for as you know from earlier postings, we just installed a new one. Nope, instead, the loss of an entire collection cultured and grown and nurtured over a dozen years now, would be the result of the policy of my gas company. Arrow Gas in Rochdale, Ma, and I'm not very happy about it, in fact, I pissed.

It started on Thursday evening, when I arrived home from work late at night, I went out to check the gas tank and remembered that the new meter installed on it has a cover, which is semi transparent, but difficult to read and see how much gas is left in the tank. The same thing happened last year, when we decided to move the tank so that it would be closer to the road, so the gas man would not have to trudge through deep snow and dangerous terriers to get to the tank every 10 days. Arrow installed a new tank, with an automatic reading device that doesn't work, but which they included anyway. On Friday morning, I saw that it said that 15% gas was left in the tank. I know from 12 years of running this greenhouse, that on cold, sunnless days in the winter, that I use 5% per day, and with a weekend coming that was featuring not only bone cold temps in the teens, that also we we're slated to get nailed with a nor-easter. SO I called the Arrow Gas company, and asked when I might get my next delivery since I had 15% gas left, and a storm was coming, and that for the past 3 years, on this very same weekend in December which seems to signal the first major refill of the year, they always seems to let the tank go empty before they would come. Last year, I called on Sunday morning, when the tank ran out ( see posting from last Dec), and I was told that I would be fined $150. for making then come on an 'unscheduled' delivery. I ended up paying it a week before Christmas.

Now, I was giving them a three and a half day notice that said basically, that I think I'm going to run out of gas in a day or two, is there anything you can do about it? And the answer was " well, I guess we could make a deliver on Monday". I told them that that was risky since I know how fast my greenhouse eats gas, and that there was a storm, and, and, and. The answer was " sorry, you're due for a delivery on Weds, so the best we can do is to move you up to MOnday. OF course, now, we are SUnday night, and out of gas. The greenhouse is freezing solid, and Arrow's delivery man basically told us "sorry, it's too late, and we don't like to make deliveries after 11:00 PM ( we called at 11:15). So he is sleeping now, and we've been up all night trying to save what we can.

Now, on Friday, the cranky woman in the Arrow office told me that I was not scheduled for a delivery until next Weds. the 23rd. I asked if I could be put on the Friday schedule, and that I would even pay for the new fee of Off-Delivery Charge for $275.00, but she said that the best she could do would be to push me up to a Monday delivery, and that I had enough gas.

KNowing full well that I would run out over the stormy weekend, Joe and I ran to 2 Home Depots and a Lowes, and stocked up on a major propane heater, and some portable electric room heaters, to get by and to calm my nerves. Of course, now, here on a Sunday night, we run out of gas, and it is the coldest night of the year, at 9 degrees, and with single pane glass, I decided at 11:10 PM that I woudl give in and call the gas company and pay out of my ass, all of the new fines and fees outlined on their new letter of policy, and get the tank filled, since the new furnace ran out of gas, and the pots we're frosting up faster than that lady who works in the Arrow Gas office.

We called, and got the answering service who told us that we should get a call back in 20 minutes from the off hours delivery person. Five minutes later we get the call, and the man tells us that he's not coming out, since it's after 11 at night, and that's that. We'll have to wait until MOnday! Joe told him that "so, what are we supposed to do? :Let all of our plants die? ANd he said, yes.". I couldn't believe his rudeness and attitude, I mean, I just could not believe that a business could be managed this way!

You know, I'm a reasonable guy, and I would understand limited service if this was a major disaster, an ice storm, or if priorities had to be managed because of elderly not getting heat, or families. But to have someone tell you to your face "Nope" "Im in bed, too late" then I get a little ticked. Surely they must think I'm a crazy plant geek, but hey, I am. Regardless, we pay for this service, if you call it that, if anything, it's abusive and unsulting.

SOrry to gripe about this, but right now, it's 5:00 AM and we've been up all night trying to rescue plants, and running around to every Walgreens and Super Market that is open 24 hours buying every portable heating device we can get ( there are now 7 heaters in the greenhouse, and the gas in the portables is starting to go, plus a grill, and a few blown fuses, but the temp seems to be around 38 degrees in there. SO our fingers are crossed!!!

The good news is Joe called some competitive Gas suppliers, and they are already willing to come and replace our tank and let us be new customers, and one, Suburban PRopane, already informed us in a very human and friendly voice, that they service 24/7 365 days a year. And that this would never happen.

STill, I am shocked that this company is still in business, since this is the third time they have done this to me ( let the tank run out, and then act as if it's my fault, and my problem. I'm sure later this morning, I'll get zonked with more 'punishment fees!" Letters wil be written, calls will be made, but at the end of the day, the big message is that some businesses just shouldn't be in business, especially when the customer is always wrong, and punished.

Sorry for the rant, but I've been up for 36 hours now, and of course, it's the longest night of the year, as we await for the sun which is due to come out today, since it rises at jsut after 7:00 AM. Still, hours to go before we are safe.

December 13, 2009

Dreaming of a White Christmas

...and, peace, in the Greenhouse ( finally!), as the new furnace was hung and installed. Now, a nice, quite hum as it ignites, and no more explosions. The timing could not have been better, either, since Friday night it reached 14 degrees F. outside, and the furnace was installed that morning. The old one had only one burner working, and the bottom had blown off the night before, filling the glasshouse with gas fumes. Now, we are at peace.

Above, one of the last Nerine sarniensis cultivars to bloom, is the white form called "Kyoto".

The only green Narcissis, N. viridiflora, blooms open releasing their mysterious, scent. It's so easy to miss these, and I almost did if I didn't smell them. Not really a pleasant scent, the scent is a bit chemical, like acetone. Still, they are so special and unique, being both an odd color and a fall bloomer, I just love this species.

Brussels Sprouts taste best when they are harvested in the winter. Here, in the snow that fell this week, they stand out looking a bit messy, but they will be all picked by the New Year, with most of them being saved from Christmas Even dinner.

The PInus bungeana near the greenhouse and alpine garden, is starting to look better with the Japanese pruning technique which requires that I remove half of the needles every December.

The alpine troughs are planted with high elevations alpine plants, which are used to spending half of their life under a deep snow cover, so this, is exactly what they want.

A pot of Narcissus romieuxii is more than well budded this season. I can't believe how many flowers this pot will have in a few weeks. Who needs Paperwhites! These tiny winter blooming species from Morocco pack more for the buck than most any other Narcissus.

You all know I'm a Lachenalia nut, growing nearly 40 species, mostly from wild collected seed from carefully monitored populations in the cape floral area of South Africa. These two are both seed started, and now that the bulbs are reaching four years old, are either blooming, or expected to. Lachenalia pusilla has these speckled leaves, and tiny white flowers in the center, below, Lachenalia purpurea var. Caerulea may not bloom until next year, but the pustulated foliage is starting to show the characteristics of more mature foliage, with tiny pustules, like little blisters. Related to Hyacinths, the foliage of many species looks similar to this common Dutch spring flower.

Lachenalia purpurea var. Caerulea seedlings.

The large Bay laurels that were moved back into the greenhouse last weekend, has provided me with a large pot of bay leaves that I will make wreathes and garland with next weekend. These culinary wreaths are special, and will also be gifts for some close friends, especially those who love to cook.

It looks like holly (Ilex) but it's not, it's the semi tropical shrub known as Osmanthus. Osmanthiu fragrans is a related species that comes from China, where they make a tea with the flowers, it's scent fills the greenhouse in the late autumn and winter for us with its almond scent, but this species is different, but it too is not unusual in warmer parts of the world, being grown in California and other warm areas for it's holly-like foliage. For us, in New England, it's not something one sees grown, for it must be grown in pots, and kept from extreme cold. easy enough to grow if you can provide a cold, unheated porch or garden room, it grows slowly and is easy to keep tidy with a trim every now and then. It comes into the house during the holidays for a week or so, and everyone just thinks that it is holly.