September 28, 2009

September Blooms Hint of a March Wedding


I find it fun to try to challenge myself to create unusual combinations of plant material, and still keep the expression, seasonal. Here, a tea cup with a carefully curated selection of flowers from my garden is inspired by a little get together we had at the house yesterday, while planning the design of my best friend daughters wedding. She is getting married in March, and since she works at Logee's Greenhouses in Connecticut, she wants a botanically diverse wedding, rustic, hints of vintage, yet totally designed.This will be a fun project over the winter, for I have only designed a couple of weddings in the past, one, a fancy high budget fete at the Blythewold Estate in Rhode Island, again, for another friend, where I crafted garlands of chestnut leaves, artichokes and citrus which payed homage to the frieze in the estate's main home, and faux topiary constructed from lemon leaves, chicken wire and dozens of gardenia's, and built centerpieces our of sheered domes of boxwood and truffle colored velvet ribbon. I become too obsessed about designed weddings, wanting each to be better than anyone could ever imagine, but they are exhausting projects, so I rarely plan to become involved with any.

For this one,to be held in Sturbridge Mass. in a barn setting , we are planning arrangements of unusual succulents which need to be started now in the greenhouse, mosses, topiary Citrus, hints of feathers with speckles, tall forced branches of shrubs lit from below, and charming vintage collections of pottery with arrangements like this. It's all about an unusual color palette. Chocolate, mustard, chartreuse, aubergine, buttermilk and truffle.

September 21, 2009

Autumnal Equinox - Ladyslippers and Rain Lilies


Paphiopedilum 'Magic Lantern'
(P. micranthum 'Big Al' x P. delenatii 'Ruby'
A slightly deformed flower ( one half is actually missing, but when shot at this angle, you cannot see it).Something must have happened to the flower bud while in spike. Still, this new cross was appealing to me last year, when I purchased the plant at the New England Orchid Society Show since I felt that this Paph looked at bit like our native pink Ladyslipper, Cypripedium acaulis. Ladyslipper orchids, you will find, generally fall into three genus ( Which, for those of yer intimidated by orchids, is the first name in the latin name which is capitalized, the species half, is always lower case. The cross, or the name that the breeder has given the cross, will be in parenthesis). The three genus commonly referred to as ladyslippers are Paphiopedilum ( Paph's for short, in case you search for them on eBay, these are usually topical or sub-tropipcal), Cypripedium, ( usually you can think of yellow or pink ladyslippers that are wildflowers in temperate climates, Cyp's are hardier slippers, such as those grown in the garden and woodland in North America) and then there are the last tropical forms, known as Phrag's or Phragmapedium, similar to Paphs, but usually with more flowers per stem, and some and very long petalstha twist and hang, downwards. eBay is a great source for Paph's and Phrag's, if you want to load your windowsill up for the winter.

Tropical Ladyslippers, like Paphiopedilum are highly collectable by orchid specialists, but I do wonder why they are not more commonly grown by ordinary folk, for these cool growers are as easy to grow as the more commonly available Moth Orchids, or Phalaenopsis one finds at home centers and florist shops. With around 20,000 species, Orchids are the largest Family in the plant kingdom, and still, we only can find less than 5 available at retail locations. If I was to recomend easy orchids, especially to those in North America ( New England, in my case) I would suggest Cymbidiums, Paphiopedillums ( the Lady Slippers) and Miltonia species and the many hybrids of all of these. I have yet to be able to bloom a Phalaenopsis from Home Depot, however. Besides, they bore me.

A Rain Lily, or Zepharanthes blooms in a pot on the deck.

I move pots around all of the time, and the Rain Lilys, or Zepharanthes always surprise me. These ridiculously easy-to-grow bulbs were purchased 7 years ago, and I just keep them in the same pot, with hardly any care, besides the rain. They cannot freeze, so I keep the pots dry in the greenhouse all winter, and in the summer, I just place the pots outdoors, where the grassy foliage emerges early in the year. Every fall, the flowers surprise me since they emerge on an unpredictable schedule, usually after rain, the experts say, but I find that temperature and day length may play a more important role, since it has rained here ALL summer, and no blooms. As the pots bloom, I move them into arranged displays along with whatever plants in containers happen to look good at the moment. Here is a sampling I threw together last evening, with little thought. I think I could have found better companions to assemble together if I wasn't barefoot, but the gravel is sharp, and I was too lazy to go find sneakers.

September 19, 2009

Bulbs I'm Ordering Today


Act fast for the new introductions or they will sell out, like this pink muscari. Everyone wants this new pink Muscari, or Grape Hyacinth this year. It is very, very pale pink, but, still pink. Not sure how well it will perform but I must have it. Muscari 'Pink Sunrise' is available at most retailers mail order, but it is now sold out at Van Engelen.

You all know that I love rare and unusual bulbs, but one doesn't need to spend lots of money, or search for rare bulbs at tiny micro nurseries. Many interesting bulbs can be purchased on-line, from the main-stream bulb retailers. I order both rare and more common bulbs, from all sources, for I really don't care where they come from, as long as they are of the highest quality. Bulbs are graded, just like produce at your local supermarket, so you generally will get what you pay for. So, those glossy bulb catalogs where one can buy 50 bulbs for 9.99, will most likely send you smaller, less prime bulbs than the catalog that sells the same cultivar for 21.00 for the same quantity. I have noticed that although is is difficult to make a bad choice with bulbs, since most are rather fool proof, that also, one gets what one pays for. Especially with Amaryllis, for over the past 4 years, I have paid nearly $30.00 for those bulbs from White Flower Farm, and each has produced 3 buds each, and the quality was exceptional. So, although many will groan at the price of their plant material, when it comes to bulbs, the premium sources obviously purchase the most premium bulbs at the Dutch bulb auctions, whereas a Spring Hill, will take the riff raff. Business is business., and there are always exceptions. Here are some of what bulbs I am ordering today. ( NOTE: Bulbs are less expensive if you buy a higher quantity, a great source is Scheepers, and their sister site, (not wholesale, but higher-quanitity site) Van Engelen. Here is my list, some of it anyway, and where I am buying them.

From VanEngelen Inc

I am ordering these:


Narcissus cantabricus
This species Narcissus is a favorite of mine, and although I need to grow these in small pots in the greenhouse ( not unlike Paperwhite Narcissus), this tiny, fragrant, hoop flowered jem from the Mediterranean is choice and rare, and difficult to find, in fact, this is the first time I have ever seen it at a main stream catalog. Normally, I can only find the seed at rare bulb auctions or at the only source for rare, miniature Narcissus, Nancy Wilson where she sells slightly more noteworthy selections, but at a significantly higher price. Here at Van Engelen, they are around a dollar a bulb. Sweet!


Narcissus 'Peeping Tom'
Look at the scale of these trumpets! I love Cyclamineus-type of Narcissus, meaning those named cultivars which are bred from the wild form of N. cyclamineus, a species form with distinctive, blown back petals like a a cyclamen, and a long, long, pencil this slender trumpet. I adore the wild form more than any other Narcissus, but it is exetremely difficult to find, let alone grow. But the hybrids are available at the larger Dutch Bulb growers, and they will be listed under CYCLAMINEUS ( you will see that all Narcissus are listed by GROUP, divisions organized by the Narcissus Societies which sections them by form, like Large Cupped, Triandrus, and Tazetta - most either refer to the original wild species, like N. triandrus, as the parent of the hybrid, or the form, such as in miniature, or species). Cyclamineus may be challenging, but the hybrids are not, and all are beautiful. This hybrid called 'Peeping Tom' actually looks nothing like the wild N. cyclamineus, but the the genetics pushed the genes into extreme edges, and expressed in a super-long trumpet, which is open at the end, and smaller petals. This is smaller Daffodil, but like all Daffs. order as many as you can afford, but don't feel bad about it, they are long lasting and return every year.


Narcissus 'Sinopel'

At 10 for $18.00, this is not innexpensive, but always fun to have a greenish daffodil. I know, if you've grown this, it's not as green as the photo shows here, but it is still a fav. These I am planting along the east side of the greenhouse, in the bulb bed which is mostly sand, but they perform perfectly fine in regular garden conditions.


Frittilaria meleagris 'alba'
There are no comon names for most Frit's but don't let that stop you, these are not difficult to grow, and F. meleagris is perhaps the most easy. This rarer form is all white, and I just love how it looks, even as a cut flower. The typical form, of this "checkered lily' or 'Snakes Head lily' if fine enough, but the pure white form will show up better. These are fabulous planted in drifts, under trees in partial shade, where the naturalize for me by self seeding. The white form may revert back if it self seeds, but I am not sure. I will order 100 bulbs, and save 25 for growing in pots, forcing them in the greenhouse.


Iris dardanus

Sure, there are easier Iris species to grow, but the section of Iris organized as Onco's are choice. Yes, difficult, bot not this one. I grow enough of the more challenging ones, which actually are not that tough if one provides the right conditions, but if you want something different that will impress, this is the only Regelio Cyclus variety rarely carried by the big growers. I am going to try it in pure sand, that's it. Pure sand in full sun, no need for winter protection. I just bought bags of play sand at Home Dept, and dumped a few into a hole, in the front garden, and that is where I am planting these. That's it, now, that's not hard, is it? These Iris I have seen at some friends' gardens, and believe me ... NO one grows it, and EVERYONE will ask you where you got it. At 5 for 9.95 US, it's priced perfectly.


The all while form of Frittilaria persica, F. persica 'alba' available this year at some specialty bulb catalogs as well as the larger dealers like John Scheepers. I am getting a dozen to plant in the rock garden, since the dark violet form, which is more commonly available, did so well last year. Pricey? yeah, but I'm worth it.


Eremurus robustus

I know! Eremurus in New England, but these did so well for me last year, that I want more. I planted them in pure gravel, simply dumped gravel chips in a hole in the front garden, and they have retuned now for 4 years, at nearly 5 feet tall, they stop traffic.

Just a few for now, I will try and share more later!

September 17, 2009

Nominated at Blotanical.com - Please consider nominating my blog.


Hi faithfull readers. A few updates first, it's time for the annual gardening blog awards. At Blotanical.com, which is our Academy Awards, well, sort of. I have been prenominated, which really doesn't mean all that much, but if my blog is selected to be a finalist, then that is a bit better. I know it all really doesn't mean that much, but winner do seem to get featured more on other sites, and I get to post an award tag.

If you choose to vote, you will need to register with Blotanical, which is not a bad thing, no junk main, and lots of great links to hundreds of the worlds best garden blogs. Nominations are now open for one more week at Blotanical.com.

If you feel that I deserve any of the awards of which I am prenominated for, please consider voting.

check through the pulldown menu's on the Blotanical site, will show my blog's name Growing With Plants, then vote!

You may have to log onto the site, not certain.

Regardless, There are many pull down menus. no need to waste time voting in the tiny categories, I think I am only nominated in a couple, anyway. The important one, is the category under MAJOR GARDEN BLOG AWARDS, and the section GARDEN BLOG OF THE YEAR. I am listed there, along with most every other garden blog in the world, but if you are adventurous, please find my blog and vote for it, if you believe it should be nominated. In a week, Blotanical will announce the final top five nominations in each category, and then, we shall all have to vote, again. Ugh, I know.

I don't know why my blog wasn't listed under best designed, or best rare plant blog, or best photography, but we have little control over such things.

Thanks!

September 15, 2009

Ten ideas for Planting Spring Bulbs

It all starts so innocently. A glossy Dutch bulb catalog arrives in the mailbox in mid-August, and I pretend not to notice it, slipping it quickly into the trash bid along with an L.L. Bean catalog. After all, it's August, it's all just junk mail. It just seems wrong to be ordering Narcissus while wearing shorts and flip flops. Bulb ordering is a task to be reserved for cooler weather, an arctic cold front, a rainy Saturday night, the sort of heavy, cold rain that only comes in the very last days of summer, making the last of the green tomatoes shine as if lacquered green orbs, the type of rain that doesn't even have a smell, for it is more of a sound. An event, even. Which brings me to the subject of rain.

In New England, cold rains in August are one of those events that signals that a change in seasons is beginning, for one will go to bed listening to the warm pouring rain, and then awaken in the middle of the night, to shut the windows, for the weather has shifted. You can see your breath, and suddenly, it's feeling very autumnal. Soup is made, the fireplace is lit for the first time, and the home is now scented with dusty heat, since the radiators are starting to come on for the first time since early spring.

It is at this time of year, cool, autumnal nights, early sunsets, when the bulb catalogs feel more attractive. In fact, stacks of them sit in the basket near my chair, even right now. They demand careful attention, for ordering species Tulips and selecting the perfect cultivars of Narcissis requires not only planning, but a hot bath, a glass of red wine, a pen a laptop and ...ok.......Trueblood and Hung marathon playing on the TV for background sound ( I KNOW, but one can't control both bulb ordering AND the remote, I don't have control over such things, I am only human).

I plan bulb ordering for a single weekend in mid September. Starting with Naricissus,miniatures for the greenhouse, bulbocodium types, Narcissus romieuxii, N. cantabricus and the like, those tiny, tender winter blooming Narcissus that can't freeze, and that bloom not unlike short, fat Paperwhites in tiny pots in November and December. Then, of course, there are Paperwhites, which I find sell out quickly if you want the more choicer cultivars, there are about 12 to choose from. I order 50 of each, since one can never have enough, they are perfect for hostess gifts if you don't feel like buying wine, a half dozen bulbs in a bowl with gravel, is a gift everyone loves. Then I order unusual bulbs for the gardens, Fritillaria's, tiny ones like F. pudica, and large impressive ones such as F. imperiallis, the crown fritillary. Last year I planted a dozen F. persica, which did very well in the raised rock garden, where the soil drains well, so this year, I will order the white form and maybe try for 24 bulbs.

Quantity is critical, with all bulbs. The trick for impressive displays in the garden, is simple, plant as many as you can afford. A hundred or two hundred Crocus make an impression which is difficult to forget. It is better to limit your selection to three of four species and get a few hundred of each, rather than to resort to 8 or 12 bulbs of twenty cultivars. A clump of ten bulbs is nice, but it is rarely impressive. If every year you buy two cultivars of Narcissus, but by a hundren bulbs of each, imagine what your garden will look like in five years.

You of course, do not need to order bulbs from a catalog, for since Fall is nearly here, boxes of Dutch Bulbs are appearing at local garden centers and Home Stores. Just be careful that they have not been stored indoors, for the heat of an average store will cause the flower bulds to abort, or become deformed. The best garden centers will store their stock outdoors, or in cool greenhouses. Remember, bulbs are alive, and poorly stored bulbs are not worth the price. I do, however, do not pass up sale bulbs at Home Depot and Lowes around Halloween, for a bag of Narcissus,even if plain yellow, are perfectly fine for naturalized plantings, for the few that have aborted one does not notice.

Right now, bulbs are everywhere, and it is the perfect time to pick some up, and plant them, they are practically fool proof.

September 13, 2009

Mediterranean Moments Exist


Olives in Massachusetts

The rain has caused the figs to burst, so in an effort to save them from the doom of Yellow Jacket wasps, they have been picked. Maybe next year, the new fig tree planted in a large terra cotta pot, will bear more fruit. It will be brought in, under the protection of glass, for the winter where it will loose all of it's leaves, a loss, for I use them to steam salmon in, on the grill.

The last of the figs, were tossed in olive oil along with some fresh root vegetables, turnips, parsnip, fresh fennel and rosemary. After roasting, the addition of a splash of aged balsamic vinegar enhances our 'Mediterranean' moment. Oh, an maybe a little Barolo.
September is the month when many potted plants which are more commonly grown in the Mediterranean ( or, um, southern California), look their best. After a summer of bright sunshine, and fresh, outdoor air, have transformed tubs of Agapanthus from mushy, yellow barely alive dormant plants in the spring, to lush, vibrant plants, many even bearing fruit such as the figs and olives.

TIny Pomegranate flowers on our tiny Pomegranate plants always bear tiny Pomegranates that turn red by Christmas.

It all sounds a little better than it actually is, for 6 figs and perhaps 30 olives hardly makes a meal, or an impression, but the idea is there, and the idea, is purely visual. Indeed, this is why we in the north, grow many of these plants which might be common landscape plants in Los Angeles, here in New England, we carefully rush them under glass at the end of the summer, often when they are looking their best, to protect them from the hard freezes which will be inevitable.


We keep so many large tubs of Rosemary, both clipped, trained, and commando, that the collection verges on obsession. Still, large 5 foot shrubs of Rosemary branches in full bloom, when brought out of the greenhouse in March, are impressive and I am certain the bees are not complaining. I do think that this year, a few larger shrubs will be cut back to make more room in the greenhouse.

Our Olive tree is becoming almost too large to move, growing in a 4 foot square tub. It is brought outdoors in late March, just as it is budding in the greenhouse, where the blossoms can have a better chance of being pollinated by wind or bees ( I am not sure which is necessary). We keep many Mediterranean plants on the deck, and in containers around the yard, all are brought indoors around mid October, for many of these plants are hardy enough to withstand cold temps slightly below freezing, it's the frigid wet winters we must be wary of. I use 26 deg. F as my limit for comfort, yet I feel many of these semi-tropical woody plants actually prefer to freeze a bit. Sort of serving and a cold slap in the face, to say "Hey. dude, winter's here....go to sleep".

Aside from any Hi Karate moments ( ugh, I'm dating myself, again), it is September and October when the Olive trees, Rosemary's, Myrtus, Phormiums, and the like, look their finest. If I chose to gather them all together in one area, the look achieved is very Greek isles, or 'very south of France", heck, even some of the containers I grow these is I brought back from Nice and Cannes. So, as I serve bits of goat cheese with freshly picked figs, and occasionally exclaim, "damn, although I should be planting bulbs, the Olives are crying to be picked and brined, so much to do". I cherish my little Provence, my tiny corner of Tuscany, my bit of Crete where armloads of woody rosemary branches are tossed on the grill and then topped with fresh lamb. Fennel Pollen, fresh Meyer lemons picked green for my Pellegrino, homemade lemoncello, or grilled ocean fish. Even though, wormtown USA is just over the fence, no one really knows the better, and our lives are a little better for it.

A Phormium grows in a tub planted with annuals, it will be brought back into the greenhouse for the winter, where it will be delegated to its own pot for the future, as now, it is reaching a mature size.

September 9, 2009

Fall Issue Sneak Peek



Just a few spreads from my self published magazine that you can order on Magcloud.com ( the late summer issue is there now!), called Plant Society. Still working on the cover and design inside on this one, due out Oct.1. Some sample spreads...

Fragrantissima! It must be college time.


Late summer does bring more to gardeners than cold nights and mums, it also means that plants are maturing, and competing for bees, pollinators and our noses. I have mentioned before that I think that we may have the largest, or at least the oldest Gardenia in New England, for it is nearly 8 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of around 12 inches, nothing, I suppose, if you live in the south, but here, this is a potted plant, and our Gardenia tub is so heavy, that it takes three men to lift it, when we need to bring it back into the greenhouse every autumn. As if it knows that winter is coming, it always has a last flush of bloom in late summer, and this year is no exception. There must be 75 blossoms on it today, and here, Joe has picked an armload.

It may sound silly, but to me, these rich fragrant flowers of September remind me of returning to college. Surely this is because I went to college in Hawaii,but every September it's not the Staples commercials that send me back to the land of nostalgia and palm trees, it's the end-of -summer blooming of those fragrant flowers, many of which are common flowers used to make Lei's with in Hawaii- mainly, the Tuberose, white ginger and Jasmine. Gardenias are not usually used for lei's, but the scent is everywhere on the sidewalks near Waikiki since the scent drift out of the tourist shops where the perfume is popular with the Japanese tourists. Hawaii is the number one wedding spot for many Tokyoites.



White Ginger is sharply fragrant around the full moons of September. I know that right now, it is completely in full bloom under the high tension wires in the Tantalus mountains on Oahu, where I use to rent a house in Hawaii for college. We would drive the winding road on the full moon evenings, just to go smell it.
Besides Gardenia flowers, September also brings other intoxicatingly fragrant flowers into bloom, one of my favorite is the Tuberose, a bulb plant that instantly takes me back to Hawaii, for I went to college there for 5 years, scents are a powerful memory indeed. The scent of Tuberose is omnipresent on the Island, since many tourist lei's are constructed out of them ( as well as from other fragrant plants that bloom this time of year, like pearl Jasmine, called Pikake in Hawaii, and often reserved for the most special of events like a graduation or a visit from a State official, and 5 strand Pikake lei for the fanciest of weddings, for the look like pearls).

Murraya is a great houseplant, that also is grown as a hedge in Hawaii ( and in the southern US), where it can make a big presence. We lost our large potted one, which started to become too woody, but this smaller plant, started from a cutting last taken last summer, is starting to reach nice size again.
Other white fragrant flowers blooming now, perfect for September weddings, are Mock Orange blossoms, the Murraya, the scent reminds me of our hedge around out home in Hawaii, that woudl be trimmed after it bloomed in October so that it would bloom again, usually just after January, when I would return after Christmas break. The scent would sweep in on evenings and seem shockingly intense for someone who has just flown in from snowy Boston.

Below, the Neofinetia, a more sweet and less intense fragrance is much more acceptable. This Japanese native is our official end of summer flower.

September 3, 2009

The Rise of the Internet and the Death of Gardening


An alpine meadow of Soldanella, at 13,000 Ft. in Switzerland. From the book, I'll never write.

The Cruel Irony of Garden Blogging

If you write gardening books, you already know this.

If you buy gardening books, you are starting to see it.

Have you visited a big bookstore lately? How many gardening books are there?

How about television? What is your fav show on gardening?

What’s happening?

I’ll tell you what I believe is happening, and it’s not that gardening is declining as a pastime. for if anything, it's never been so popular, with the recent trends of 'Green Thinking' and Organic Gardening" combined with the recession and recession gardening. In fact, according to the National Gardening Association (NGA), an estimated record 91 million households participated in one or more types garden activity in 2008, and homeowners spent a record $44.7 billion to hire professional landscape services. So taken together, these figures represent a dramatic increase in gardening interest and expenditures. So where is this growth coming from, and who's expanding the gardening market—a market which has previously been viewed as dying on the vine?

The answer, according to many experts ( publishers, researchers, trend analysts) are young people.

Yeah, young people.

>>Insert Crickets, here>>

OK. So I can hear it now. easy fix, right? Plant Society meetings will start focusing on how to recruit younger members, since most members are retirement age or higher. No wait, they’ve tried that, and it’s not working.

What’s up, then?

What’s ‘up’ is use of the Internet.

But I wouldn’t look at what’s ‘up’ I would focus on what’s down, for a more realistic view of what’s happening.


Look. Whether you like it or not, most, if not all young people ( those under 25) are getting their information from alternate sources. Websites, Twitter, blogs, but they are getting it on-line, not from books. I believe that this is not going to change.

Need proof? Just look at the recent failures and closures of big city Newspapers. And dare I look at magazines? This fact is not rocket science. In the past two years, even the shelter mag’s, and good ones at that, like Conde Nast’s Domino, Martha Stewart Living’s Blueprint, even Home and Garden, - poof. Gone.

And we all thought the nesting thing was a positive movement in our post 9/11 world? What’s up with that?

What’s up with nesting, is that is has increased also. Younger people are indeed, nesting, and desire shelter content more than ever, the only difference is how they get this information too. The answer here, is blogs. Those Beautifully designed wedding blogs like Green Wedding Shoes, or interior design and craft blogs like Design Sponge are loaded with stunning content, edited, specific, instant. And the same thing might be happening with gardening, and with food. I know actually, since at last count, I have bookmarked over 150 of these. Cupcakes, weddings, floral arranging, party planning, plus a bevvy of more horticulturally smart blogs ranging from growing and mastering collecting crocus species, to alpine plants. There is far more than any book or journal can cover, out there.

Yet plant societies still argue amongst themsleves about how many pages of color they should print, on traditional printing machines, simply because they've been doing it for 80 years, and are fearful about stopping, or shifting to a new media. And rightly so, for most folks over 70 are not using the web, yet they want to attract younger people to keep the groups vibrant, hence, the conundrum. They worry about the color of the type on a page, since they want to print it out, and younger gardeners are searching Twitter looking for a page on growing alpines because saving the alpine plants, seems, cool. There is a huge disconnect.

Books and information is still needed, but people just want to access it digitally now. And they expect it to be free. Which really sucks for many of us, but not for those who are the customers. Because they will find it somewhere else, online.

And that is most likely not going to change either, like it, or not. Your granddaughter who is IM’ing her BFF will be an adult before long, the new generation is rising fast, and, they are used to this. Say Bye bye newspapers.

But at the same time, it’s not all doom and gloom.

This is not a rant, after all, but it is sounding like one. It’s just an affirmation.

Things are changing,and we’ll all be OK. Really. Here’s why:

We continue to cherish our leisure time more than any other generation before us. It’s true.

I was having a discussion today, even ( on line) about this very thing. Time is worth money, lot’s of it. I would much rather pay someone to weed, than to weed myself, but I will still dig and plant bulbs because that is the task I enjoy. After all, I only have a couple hours a week to actually garden, and I am certainly not going to spend it weeding my front hedges. The vegetable garden, sure, but not the hedges. It’s not worth the time.

Many other factors are affecting leisure time activities today, and since to most people, gardening is indeed,” a leisure time activity", this should resonate. We would rather can our own tomatoes, or make a Daub, or carve a pumpkin, where our parents were fine with a plastic one, but at the same time, we have no problem with buying a pre-trained topiary for the Holidays or in maintaining a compost pile. The experience is as important as the meaning, but rarely is the process. In-the-moment gardening, I call it. Who cares who started it, I'm harvesting it.

But why aren’t people buying gardening books or supporting gardening programming on TV?
The answers are different, to each of these questions.

First, TV. Particularly, the impact we imagine that the Food Channel has.

I thought of this, this week, while driving to work and listening to a report on NPR about the popularity of the film Julie and Julia, and the effect this has had on Julia Child's book sales for The Joy Of Cooking, and with the death of Sheila Lukins author of the highly influential cook book, The Silver Palate, based on her Silver Palate Food Shop in New York City. Widely touted as changing the 'tastes' of Americans, for ever. I started thinking about the rise in popularity of the Food Network, it's chefs, cooking shows in general that even I loved to watch, like Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa, and even those I dare say I've watched, like Iron Chef and Hells Kitchen. ( Yes Chef, I KNOW I'm a fat cow. I'm sorry chef, I won't do it again, chef". Ugh.

Has the emergence and popularity of the Food Network increased the dollars people spend on food, kitchens and cook books? Not really, or at least, not in the way you may think. Yeah, we are all designing and building dream kitchens with stainless steel deep fryers and wine coolers, but we aren't using them. But we love watching them on TV.
But here is a horrifying trend. It isn’t/ According to blogger Eric Gower, aka The Breakaway Cook, as he paraphrases Michale Pollan’s POV:
““For anyone perplexed at the massive rise of viewers of the Food Network, and how it can be that jillions of people are more interested in watching cooking than actually doing it? Then, how can it be that this rise has paradoxically coincided with the rise of fast food and the ‘home-meal replacements’ sold at supermarkets?", it’s a must read.

Then, another blogger, Sam Fromartz, has this revelation: “Food has become largely about entertainment, rather than engagement. We watch, rather than participate. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but it is the story for many. More and more people are buying prepared foods, eating sandwiches, not cooking.”

The same thing could be happening to gardening. Not you, of course, you're reading this blog, probably on your sofa while watching TV at the same time, right? Or, you are at work....( recent study....52% of Americans multitask with a laptop on their lap, while 'watching' television". Hmmm... why then is it so hard to convince some plant society board members that improving their group's web experience is so critical? People. Like it or not, say good by to your societies journals. Things are going to change, fast.

Just remember this fact. Young people prefer to use the Internet to get their info. They are used to getting info from the web. This issue was raised at a garden publishers forum last month in Publishers Weekly last month then is this: Garden writers and plant book publishers' most important question should be “What can you get from a garden book or plant society that you can't get from the Internet ?”

Your answer may be bad coffee in a Styrofoam cup, but really, this is the issue. Go ahead, moan and grown, about how young people are missing out on social relationships, etc, but in they end, is this really true? And if it is, will this change anything?

I say this. If you are a plant society, garden club, garden writer, and you are not looking at alternative methods of connecting, it may already be too late.

Look at this post on the Publishers Weekly site that interviewed a number of the leading publishers of garden books.

Young gardeners consider their hobby differently than their predecessors, says Storey's Pam Art—“they approach it almost as a craft.” Magazines like Domino and ReadyMade, she says, feature gardening as “a way to create something eye-catching, unique, artistic and self-expressive.” A May release, Deborah Peterson's Don't Throw It, Grow It!, says Art, instructs readers on turning kitchen scraps into windowsill plants that “will appeal to crafter-gardeners with an eye for the unusual.”

"Young people just don't have the time to dedicate to gardening that older generations have. Which is why he poses the genre's most important question: “What can you get from a garden book that you can't get from the Internet or magazines?”

After all, why would an inexperienced gardener spend money on a book catering to an experienced gardener's needs when there is an abundance of information online about how to get started? Discussing blogs and online magazines, Gillman at the University of Minnesota says, “As new gardeners appear, they have an easier time finding how-to information through these routes.”

Rodale's Karen Bolesta thinks publishers need to rely on “notable authors with voices of experience, wonderful visuals and great packaging” to compete with the Internet. The combination of these three things, she says, can “convince a reader that a garden book is as worthwhile as a keyboard.”

Timber Press' Neil Maillet agrees. He believes that there is a certain kind of learning that balances the visual, technical and inspirational that only a book can provide. The industry is adapting to provide a better reading experience for the generation coming up, he claims. “We still put our focus on finding the credible author who can give the reader the reassurance that their money is well spent by buying a book rather than just Googling for free.”

Need more proof? Go to the Timber Press website, and look for the specialty books. I got their catalog last week, and this proved my theory. But it really wasn't a theory, I was well aware of this trend back in March when I met with Neil to pitch some rather gorgeous "coffee table' books on specialty plants that I had comped up. He loved them, but shared with me his vision, They we're not going to sell. Business is business. I get it, it's not their fault not their owners ( Storey Publishing and Workman Publishing). The fault, lies with me. I blog, and in a way, I am contributing to the demise of the lovely gardening books that I enjoy and cherish so much.

If a gardening book becomes a best seller today, it has to deliver a clear message, either in a focused way, such as with a monograph on a single species, but don't expect to make any money, or, it must be accessible with real, simple, information, since the young gardener rarely can look to their boomer parents for advice. So plan on seeing many more "The Top 50 Perennials that are easy to grow" sort of books. The last type of books that will survive, are novelty books. Small price points, that focus on novel ideas like black flowers or, dangerous plants, etc. Amy Stewart must know this, for her fabulously fun book Wicked Plants, has made it onto the New York Times Best Sellers list. An accomplishment, and a statement of confirmations at the same time. Be commercially viable, and interesting at the same time, must be the goal. Coffee table books, not so much.

Amy Stewart and Michael Pollan get it, be entertaining and interesting. It's more about the meaning, than the content and the subject. The scientific or cultural facts can be had, elsewhere. I would imagine that late at night, they dream about the perfect gardening book never written, but then again, what garden writer, doesn't. These types of books are perfect for light reading, and, well, entertaining ( a theme, here). They are enough for an overseas flight bag, a bedside table, but not for reference, for you can get that, on line, remember? Books as reference might even be going away, since last night, on NPR, there was a report about Google documenting every book in the world, to be scanned and entered into their system.

As convergence continues at a stealth rate, the information we want, may be a industry changing as iTunes was to the world of music.Things changes tremendously, but we never really stopped buying music, only now, the musicians are starving.

Bye bye Libraries. ( oh, and bookstores).

As for gardening and young people, a few last thoughts, especially to those of you who are planning to print this out in an effort to convince the Luddites amongst your plant groups, to try and consider a web site with a link to your journal, and a list of plant sources. It's gonna take more than that.

Considering the real problem/opportunity here, young people, and how to attract them to gardening....we need to think about what is different, today.

Gardening may never have been as popular, but the depth people want to dive in, has changed. In a way, it's more Pop gardening, then anything else.

Young home owners are desperate for information, but are also keenly aware that they will most likely move in 5 years. No visions of high maintenance, or in planting a tree that will require pruning annually, into a massive specimen that their grandchildren will attach a tire swing on. Nope. It's more like " I just want a a pretty shrub that makes my house look cool, and is different than the neighbors. Or a vintage Iris, or a lilac. Simple, right? "I want charm, and a message, with little work or maintenance, since I have little time".

So with all of this depressing news, what can we do?

Well, I have always felt that the problem is much larger than how one accesses information, but with these recent stats, I may change this theory. But originally, I felt that the problem may stem from allowing children to discover interests early in life. I am reminded of a trip I took to our local Science Museum last year while researching a toy property based on science. I was amazed at the lack of interest kids had with most everything. And if one did show any interest, they we're prompted by their escorts to keep moving on. " Oh look, electric eels!" the boys would scream, and then the chaperon would say, : "come on boys, keep it moving.". But most of the time, the young students just passed from display to display, never really being able ti engage in one thing, as if, overwhelmed, and at the same time, disinterested.

I've seen this pattern repeat itself in different venues, such as the Museum for Modern Art, in NYC. At a recent MoMa exhibit, I did however see two different responses, which leads me to believe that some young people do show interest, but that is probably depends on how young they are introduced to new things, and to, and it's sad to say this, how affluent they are. Not that affluence allows for instant success, but I think it is safe to assume that there are more youngsters exposed to new foods, new interests, and encouraged to deep dive at an early age with affluent families, than it is with more normal, working families strapped with time and resources to support more meaningful exploration.

Educate, inspire, influence.

Meaningful, early exploration may be the key, at least it was, I think. Not sure anymore. Since children are natural explorers and they are naturally curious. When many of us we're children, we were allowed to roam free, running through the woods, discovering bird eggs, snakes, mud, butterflies, whatever. We came home when the street lights came on, but today, it's a much different world. There is structured play, structured discovery and structured schedules that allow little time for discovery. Soccer on Saturdays, shopping, daycare, etc, keeps parents busy beside their full plate with full time jobs. It's rare for one parent to stay home and watch the kids.

In schools, the arts are fist cut, then the sciences. Science kits are no longer available ( thankfully, no more mercury and Asbestos in a jar!), but a career in science in generated where, then? On top of all this, their parents are most likely not interested not have time to dedicate supporting an interest in science, or horticulture for that matter. Most kids graduate high school with no clue as to what they want to be when they grow up, except perhaps a sports star or a musician ( not classical). The ones that break this mold, are those who are either gifted, who more importantly, those who have been exposed to an interested adult, a role model or mentor, that helped them become interested at a young age. In a sense, it's all about appreciation.If you are an obsessive gardener, or plant collector, you may have cultivated the interest by yourself, but someone most likely helped, or allowed you to cultivate it more.

The only way I can see these trends changing, is by fostering interests with young people, early and often, and then, get over the fact the they will be sitting at a computer most of the time.

After all, we are doing it too.

This kind of was a rant, wasn't it! Oh well, off to weed. Ugh.

September 1, 2009

Bane Berry and Spikenhard - Harry Potterness in the Backyard


Actaea pachypoda, or Dolls Eyes, reminds us all that Halloween is not far away.

As fall sweeps in with 45 degree F temps last night, I start to notice berries in the yard more than flowers. Two native North American wild plants are in full glory, and they are both not that unrelated. The spooky white berries of Actaea pachypoda ( there is also a red-berried form, both native to Eastern North America. Commonly known as Dolls Eyes, this plant is a transplanted clump. a self-seeded plant, removed from growing behind our chicken coops.The berries are poisonous. I prefer the blossoms of this plant in April, more than the berries, but most folks prefer the silly name, and the obvious reference.

Aralia racemosa, or American Spikenhard ( great name), disp[ays it's berries for the first time, after being planted two years ago, Purchased at the Framingham, MA Garden In The Woods, a spectacular wild flower garden near us in central Massachusetts run by the Massachusetts Wild Flower Society, this plant is finally starting to reach its magnificent promise of being a massive plant, almost tropical in appearance. The berries are a nice bonus, but grow this plant in your shade garden for its foliage. American Spikenard's large roots are aromatic and spicy, they were once used as one of the ingredients in root beer and as a remedy for respiratory ailments in man and domesticated animals. The berries are not considered edible.

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