January 31, 2010

A weed by any other name, Primula malacoides

In the fine Timber Press book PRIMULAS, the monster monograph on the genus primula by John Richards, one can discover that the lovely florist flower we sometimes find in better greenhouses on these short day-length winter days Primula malacoides was considered a lowly weed. According to turn-of-the-Century plant explorer George Forrest, " P. malacoides is clearly an abundant field weed in these localities of Dali, Lichang, Tengyueh and Yunnansen" . Yet, as abundant this "weed" apparently was in 1900, today, modern cultivation methods may have rendered this man-dependant species very rare in the wild.

First flowered in cultivation from seed collected by Forrest in 1908, the species of P. malacoides was quickly adopted by commercial seed growers in England, and within a decade, became a fragrant,colorful strain sold in the cold greenhouses of Europe and the United States. Many named strains were introduced in the early 20th Century, and suddenly, Primula malacoides became one of the most popular pot plants for conservatory culture, especially since it is primarily a winter grower, and, profitable for commercial growers, since it's roots of once being a weed in the rice fields of China, meant that it was indeed and annual, so new crops would need to be grown each year, to fill the plant windows and conservatories in the winter.

Today, the species is less common, being short-lived in our hot, dry modern home climates, and this species, along with it's companion species which shares the same growing season, Primula obconica, shares the trait of having primulin, a chemical in all primula species, but particularly irritable in these two species to a few people who are allergic to it. For some simply touching the hairs on the leaves of these two species, may cause a dermatitis or an itchy sensation not unlike poison ivy, but can cause a severe rash headaches or nausea. This has been somewhat bred out of newer hybrids, and relatively few people have a severe reaction.

Primula malacoides is an annual that blooms in the short days of winter, so seed must be sown in the greenhouse in June or July, if one wants plants for January. Most growers today use a peat based soiless mix, but many experts prefer a loam based soil. This is a plant that should never be allowed to dry out, and it prefers a buoyant, moist cool atmosphere. If you happen to find a plant of this Primrose, it may be best to pot it up into a larger clay pot, for the 4 inch plastic pots that commercial growers use are unsuitably small, and dry out in a day or two. I repot store bought or nursery bought plants into 6 inch clay pots, and let them sit in water once or twice a week.

Primula malacoides grows in Burma, and Sichuan at 5000 ft in meadows and damp fields, so take a lesson from it's native haunts, since it grows wild around the mounds and shores of rice paddy's. There are related species which have completely fallen out of favor in commercial horticulture, P. forbesii which was introduced by Vilmorin of Paris in 1891. Reportedly, this species was common in spectacular winter conservatory displays in Paris around 1900, with pink blossoms virtually covering the plants in massive plantings underglass. Today, I have yet to find it.

This weekend I found some P. malacoides at a local garden center, and I grabbed one of each color. We hosted a meeting of the New England Primula Society on Saturday for a luncheon, and I needed some Primroses since this year I did not grow any. These potted plants are so fragrant, that it felt like spring as soon as you walked into the greenhouse. I've been looking for my favorite, but rarely grown florist primrose, Primula obconica, but could not find them again, anywhere. But the nursery where I bought these, had seen some at the Boston Flower Market, and promised to buy a case for me, for next weekend, I cannot wait.

Last year, while in Japan during February, I saw incredible cultivars of both P. malacoides and P. obconica, both distributed by Sakata Seed, but not available here, in the US.

January 27, 2010

Who Will Bail Out This Seed Bank? Not me

If you thought politics was limited to the 41st Senate seat, a new survivalist movement driven by conspiracy theorists and teaparty extremists are even affecting us gardeners, who try to simply stay focused on what we love, gardening. I received 4 emails this week asking me if I would be interested in featuring their unique heirloom seed sites, and two asked if I would mention a discount code. which brings me to this weeks post on heirloom seeds, fear and taxes.

Yeah, that’s right.

Last week I was contacted via email from an owner of a seed company that I had never heard of, offering a large plastic pastry bucket of heirloom seeds called a 'seed bank'. He was writing me asking if I would be interested in passing a discount code on to my readers, so that they could order one of these buckets of seed. I clicked the link he enclosed, and was brought to a website, that was obviously a template, which is fine, but one with lots of ad's for right wing extremist groups, and for a number of right wing TV shows ( like Beck). Above all, the site was poorly designed, had lots of photos of vegetable and flower varieties that we're not truly heirloom, but also not new varieties. The whole thing was a little too slick, but at the same time, something was wrong.

I Googled "Heirloom Seedbank" and I was shocked at the number of sites that popped up. Most offer these buckets of seed, apparently are intended to be buried in the ground, so that you can 'protect your seed bank", from, oh, I don't know, the Obama crazies. Whatever. But I was still a little ticked, if only because these people are contacting me, a simple plant collector and gardener, and not giving me a full disclosure of their intentions. I hate that.

I get the whole extremist movements, both right and left, extreme right, and extreme left. I assume most of us are just somewhere in the middle, and that's what makes the country I live in America. But the reality is that these extremist fringe groups are getting more exposure, and the last thing I want to do is to bring more attention to them. If you are curious, then Google or Bing them yourself, and analyze the info for yourself.

Look, the political environment in the US is ignited right now, and whatever side you fall on, at least we are all getting involved. I even get this whole "buy seeds and bury them in the yard" thing. Believe me, I was on a plane that morning on September 11th flying out of Boston, I had to drive home 3 days in a rental car with the spontaneous phenomenon of American flags draping the bridges of the east coast, I saw Food, Inc, and believe in eating healthy, in sustainable local agriculture, and in supporting much of the non GMO movement, at least with some varieties that might cause health risks, such as Soybeans that are immune to pesticides, but, like many things, it's not really about one side or the other. There is a very blurry middle,and we all must educate ourselves and learn the real facts before burying anything in the ground.

My advice is if you truly feel that the government is going to collapse, and that radiowaves are causing earthquakes and that the H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine is just a government scam, and that that bank bailouts are even worse, then why not buy the best seeds you can buy? Maybe some organic. non-GMO organic seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds, a real, reputable company who sells bulk. Why would you believe the conspiracy theorists, and then go buy seeds from one of these websites that are home made, and that can't really tell you where their seeds come from? Watch out, because some of their seeds could come from France!

I have a personal policy ( an agenda?) to not promote any product or company on my blog unless I personally have either used, grown or have been a customer myself. I’m not out to make money on my blog for now, so for authenticity sake, I would first ask if I could try their product (seeds) first, before passing on a discount to my readers.

Here is what still angers me.
Some quotes from one of these seed catalog sites...





This one site goes on and on, explaining in bold red and blue type all these reasons why you should buy heirloom seeds that range from why Haiti’s earth quake was caused by the US govt. ( I know!), the Obama ‘agenda, and on why Monsanto hates us. Which then got me thinking…….

Telling people to grow their own beans in their back yards of Nebraska, then to save their dried seeds while listening to their short wave radios and weaving their own burlap may sound like a smart idea to some, I think it is just silly, and unrealistic, and terribly misinformed.

Right now, I am not educated enough to comment on anything that Monsanto is doing or to rant about non-GMO seeds vs organic vs conventionally grown. I leave those decisions up to you. Hey, I grow hybrid Zinnias, and although I love heirloom tomatoes, I must also grow some new tomato varieties that are resistant to late blight. Do I buy GMO Tomatoes in the market? Somethings, but I prefer not to. I do buy organic broccoli, milk, and spinach, I tend not to buy organic root vegetables, nor do I look for non-GMO on a package of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. The greatest concern I still have with GMO produce is pesticide immunity, and residue, let alone the whole taste thing. Organic is generally my first choice, but not always. I just make decisions, which always change as I learn more.

Do watch Food, Inc. Don't hate Monsanto, learn more with an open mind, I know you are smart and curious.

It makes as much sense to be against 'GMOs' as it does to be against 'chemicals'. Are some chemicals bad? Sure! But some chemicals are good too. You have to judge each one individually. Inform yourself properly. It may make more sense to buy strawberries vs organic blueberries, for instance.( I think, from my own experience).

There are a lot of damn good GMO foods out there. Golden rice keeps kids from going blind. Rice that produces lactoferrin and lysozyme keeps babies with severe diarrhea alive. They are working on a GMO rice that contains a cholera vaccine.

And....as we place our seed orders this spring, Remember this:

"Seeds become more valuable than gold in an economic collapse…
In recessions and depressions, FOOD IS ECONOMIC SECURITY
Food Supply Independence – If food supplies or supply-lines are challenged, home gardening is freedom."

And...If Bill Gates is funding a “Doomsday Seed Bank” in Norway, we must learn from this message and create one here in America. because....


(from Survivalist Seeds.com)

One last thing ( sorry for this very political rant)...

I was amused to see that these buckets of seed also included mesclun. I mean, really. Why would these folks need these? Oh wait.....maybe to lure in illegals from Europe to trap as slaves...

but then, why do these buckets also include pounds of seed of things like ornamental gourds and arugula? Ohhhh. maybe to trap gay couples from Vermont who might be looking to steal this seed so that they can decorate their gun case.

But, I was even more amused to see links on these sites to organic Marijuana aquaculture sites, which I guess is not a surprise, but I would be interested in how they expect to grow pot without electricity after the 'collapse of culture". Then again, why would they need to grow pot secretly, Hell - grow it in the open. No need to hide anymore. Even though the police are 'in' on the big govt. conspiracy.

Best of all, these buckets include seeds for Hops and Tobacco. Hops, OK....that's a must ( but no organic Merlot seed? How Cum?)

Then, most carry organic, non-GMO tobacco. Yeeaah! We all know that this whole "lung cancer" thing is just a health care conspiracy funded by the Obama agenda to increase the support for a national, no a Global Health Care system.

To end, you can always bury some cans of meat. Yum. Can't wait. But hey,
why bother, the whole world is going to end in 2012 , so don't tell anyone that I am growing anyway!

January 24, 2010

Mastering Regal Geraniums

A shot of some Pelargoniums from the front sand bed in the greenhouse from last May. These we're still young, but now the plants are getting larger, and need some care so that a better display can be had. This means cutting back, taking cutting for young plants that will bloom next year, and ordering many more new cultivars and species. Something to do on a January weekend.

A scented Pelargonium of the Apple persuasion, awaiting a hair cut. Cutting will be taken.

Trimmed back, this Regal Geranium will be fertilized and encouraged to grow on in the cold greenhouse, where it will set bud and bloom in late spring and early summer, as the days grow longer.

A dip into rooting gel, and then into the tray of cuttings. I had so many, that I was able to edit out only the strongest cuttings. With more cultivars on the way from Geraniaceae.com, I will need room!
or even July.
Regal Pelargoniums, or Pansy Faced types, awaiting to be placed into a propagation tray to root.
A tray of Pelargonium cuttings, ready to be placed in a protected area in the back of the greenhouse, on the sand bed to root.
Regal Pelargoniums, or more commonly known as Regal Geraniums or Martha Washington Geraniums have a long history as a flowering pot plant in both North America and Europe, but they also have a strong following with greenhouse enthusiasts who look forward to their blast of flouncy flowers in May and June. Other crosses which are similar in floral shape, are the Pansy Faced varieties, which also have a large, fancy flower. Regal Geraniums are not true Geraniums, but most of you all know that, they are Pelargoniums, but hybrids with a showy, large flower head, and they require a unique treatment compared to other Pelargoniums, for we grow many types and species, ranging from the summer dormant geophytic species all the way up to the common red geranium. But Regals require regal treatment, for they take longer to come into flower than the zonal type of pelargonium (the ones that people usually call geraniums). Commercial growers have to worry about all sorts of things ranging from the perfect fertilizer at the perfect time, and artificial lights ranging from 14 hours to 18 hours of daylight, so most just buy pre-bud-initiated liners ( rooted cuttings with buds) and then pot them on.

As a home grower we can relax a bit, but this is because we have a cool greenhouse. Indoors, keeping Martha Washington Geraniums is more challenging, since they require a long, cold winter period blow 65 deg. in the day, and around 50 at night. So combined with their complex photoperiod, and their need for cool temps, you can see why they are difficult as house plants, but dumb easy in a greenhouse. If you have an old house, with an unheated sunny room, or a sunporch, or a cold window, they might be easier, but if you live in an apartment or a modern home, getting them to bloom will be as easy as getting any other old fashioned house plant into bloom like a Clivia, virtually impossible.

Regal's have a 'season' and once you start thinking of them as to get them into bloom, for they require a fourteen hour daylight period in to order to form buds. In commercial greenhouses, they are grown much like other day length sensitive plants like Pointsetia and Christmas Cactus, but without artificial light to lengthen daylight period, they tend to bloom in June

The large, flowering Regals one sees in May for Mothers Day are grown on a biannual basis, where it takes two years to get a decent sized plant. But I have both larger stock plants, and smaller 3 inch pots. Both require cutting back while they are in their slowest period of growth, which is now, during October to March. I am taking about a dozen cuttings of each cultivar, and plan to plant about 3 to 5 cuttings per pot. A simple dip in rooting hormone ( I know, I should have removed some rather than dip the cutting in the container, but it's my greenhouse and I am lazy!). These cuttings should root within a few weeks, for these Pelargoniums root fast in the cool nights and warm days in the greenhouse.

The mom plants were repotted with fresh soil, and fertilized with a weak solution to get them started. The are all now moved to the upper shelf into full sun, and soon growth will begin. If you are looking for some interesting Geraniums or Pelargoniums, then try some of these sources in the US. Geraniaceae.com, and in the UK< try Gosbrook Pelargonium Nursery ( why don't I live in the UK? WIll someone find me a job there?).

January 23, 2010

Gladiolus priorii, and other Winter Blooming Species

We all are familiar with the common Gladiolus, an all too common florist flower often seen in funeral sprays, or in summer garden shows in bright colors. But, there are a slew of wild species available ( mostly from seed) 163 species, to be exact, most of which are native to the winter rainfall areas South Afirca, and most, are pot worthy for a cool greenhouse in the northern hemisphere. I think I am truly becoming addicted to these little known species.

One of my favorites is Gladiolus tristis, a fragrant winter blooming species which will not blooms until March, for us here in New England, but it you live in California, many of these species can be great garden plants. Two years ago, after planting a pot of G. tristis bulbs in September, and watering them, I was surprised with a flower stalk, which arrived just after the foliage emerged. Obviously, a different species of Gladiolus had become mixed up with the G. tristis, and what I had first identified and G. huttonii, I now believe is the fall blooming G. priorii. SInce it either blooms in October, or even as late as January, and, they flowers dangle, looking down to the ground.

I'm still not certain, but these things are often muddy, since there are few books which show all of the many Gladiolus species, and even fewer that show photographs. I am relying on the web site of the Pacific Bulb Society, which has an awesome site with many member images of interesting bulbs. I suggest that you consider joining them, since not only are they friendly and fun, they have an amazing network of growers and fans, who are all very active on line, and in exchanging seed and bulbs of rare and hard to find geophytes.

This cold, January morning, I was again, surprised to see a single flower stem of this salmon colored gladiolus, which had nestled itself in a Nerine undulata umbel. With all of the ice and bitter cold outside, these colors glowed in the sunshine that was reflecting off of the snow.Later in the year, this same pot will have a dozen or so fragrant stems of G. tristis, but for now, it brightens this very chilly day, and makes winter more interesting.

Some Gladiolus tristis from last year, which bloomed in February and March. As you can see, the entire plant is more delicate and less gaudy than it's showy cousins of which we are so familiar with. These are truly coinnoisseur Glads.
THe scent of these G. tristis are beguiling and crazy rich, but only at night. During the day, they are almost scentless, so plan to bring a pot into the house on a cold, March evening. These, are from last year.

Gladiolus tristis can be grown, both in the summer, or the winter ( from different stock, either planted in the fall, or in the spring in pots in the north.).
While looking in my files for the G. tristis images, I was lost for a few minutes in the folders entitled March. Such fresh images of spring, are so hopeful, aren't they? At least from the snowy perspective of mid January.

January 21, 2010

How to make a Euryops pectinatus Standard

Last Saturdays fine weather kept me in the greenhouse for most of the day, and it wasn't difficult to find chores to be done, most of the pleasant. On the rear wall sill above the foundation, sat a tall lanky Eryops pectinatus, a rather common South African daisy, often grown as a summer pot plant for its golden yellow daisy's and silver foliage. Euryops = from the Greek "eurys" = large and "ops" = eye referring to the showy flowers. pectinatus = from the Latin meaning pectinate (i.e. with narrow divisions like a comb referring to the divided leaves).Euryops grow woody with age, looking in Californian gardens, more like an aged sage shrub rather than a daisy. As I said in my previous post, I am generally, lazy, and find myself wasting money on new plants each year for no reason, which is silly, since I have a greenhouse. Euryops cost me about $8.00 per plant, which is nothing more than a rooted cutting in a two inch pot. For a plant which roots easily, I decided to bring last years plant into the cold greenhouse, and then take a few cuttings, which I did last weekend.
A little damaged from frost, the plant still gave up about 9 cuttings, which I dipped in rooting hormone, and placed in soil on a heated bench to root. I will most likely repot these cuttings in a month, and pinch them back after taking another set of cuttings later this winter. By spring, I may have a flat of 30 or so cuttings, which will allow me to plant a hedge or something more impressive than a single pot. I was left with the mother plant, which I was going to toss into the compost pile, until I noticed that if I trimmed the plant, I could have a standard topiary with little effort. Eryops make terrific standards - plants trained to a single staked stem, then allowed to branch out at the top. Euryops can be trimmed, but carefully, one has to be careful to leave enough growth for flower buds to form, since they form only on the newest growth, terminally. Even though I have trimmed this specimen harshly, by May, it should branch out beautifully, and by summer, I expect it to be perfectly gorgeous.

SO first, I need to find a large clay pot.

I was surprised at how tight the rootball had become. Clearly, this plant needs a much larger pot, so I decided to save the plant, and pot it in a significant pot, for if one is going to commit to growing a South African Daisy, I might as well go all the way, and let is have it's full root run, which is deserves.

The first task was snipping the root mass, to stimulate new root growth. This may seem severe, but it is less invasive than tearing the root ball open, which could damage the root connections to the stem, and could crush the tender roots disabling them.

When I placed the root ball into the fresh soil and pot, I realized that the angle needed to be changed, since I had trimmed the multiple stems down to a single stem, which was growing off at an angle. It was easier to simply tilt the root ball rather than to tie and restake the stem.

Once the rootball was properly positioned in the pot, I filled the gaps with soil, and placed a new bamboo stake close to the stem. The only thing left, was to tie the stem to the stake with strands of damp raffia, which protects the stem from possible damage which often occurs with wire, or rope.

Straightened out.

It's difficult to see in this photo, since the topiary behind this is blending in, but if you look carefully, you can see the Euryops in the foreground. It has no leaves, but in a few months, this should look completely different, and it will look awesome on our bluestone terrace as a specimen plant, blooming all summer.

January 17, 2010

A season of it's own

A white Rosemary which has grown too large as a topiary, blooms. This is acting now as a stock plant, and now has many children which need to be repotted today.

Having run out of large, clay pots, I needed to repot a Cameliia which fell off of a bench, and broke its pot. I found these old, wooden desk drawers handy, and rather attractive, for now. They most likely will deteriorate over a summer or two, but I do love plants potted in wooden boxes. Maybe I will have some made-up from Mahogany so that they will last longer.

One of our interspecific Clivia crosses, with buds.

A rare geophytic Ornithogalum species, Ornithogalum fimbriatum 'Oreandra' bloom on the cold, sill on a southern exposed wall of the greenhouse.
First of all, I had always wanted a greenhouse, and I already always loved winter, I think, even more than summer, which is odd for a gardener I know. I think I loved winter because it gave me a reason to be lazy, that my chore list was shorter ( so I imagined) and that that I found houseplants and greenhouses more manageable, less over-whelming than two acres of vegetable gardens, lawns, and hedges to trim. When I built my greenhouse ten years ago, I knew that I would love it, but what I didn't realize was how much it would make me enjoy winter even more.

Here it is, mid January, and I'm wearing rubber boots, I'm muddy and there is dirt under my nails. My jean are wet from watering plants with a hose, and my short-sleaved tshirt is hot in the bright sunshine, and damp from the mist and hose-splashing. I'm even sweating just a bit in the hot sun, and as I breath in the, warm moist, Osmanthus-scented air, I think about how I used to enjoy January. Sure, outside, it is just about freezing, a bit of a January thaw, even. So outdoors it's pleasant enough to take a hike in the woods, or to go bird watching, but underglass, in the warm sunshine potting up cuttings for the summer garden, it feels a bit like a July afternoon. Just a bit.

The other thing I've realized is that the greenhouse itself, has very distinct seasons of it's own. Starting in October, just as the large tubs of tender plants and numerous potted specimens that have spent the summer out of doors are moved into the greenhouse, there is this great shift in atmosphere. In one day, the greenhouse becomes crowded and more damp with the addition of plant material that still has it summer lushness about it.

By November, just before Thanksgiving, most of our native tree's have dropped their leaves, and suddenly, practically overnight, the quality of light changes. I notice this most on sunny days, when the sun starts to set early, and the low angle, shines into nooks and crannies like no other time of year. By December, the greenhouse enters what I beleive is it's most vulnerable time of year, which lasts from around December 10th until January 15, or so. During this time, around the winter solstice, the angle of the sun is so low, that full sun becomes limited, illuminating the greenhouse between 9:00 am and 2:30 pm because of our abundant mature trees, that give our place that very park-like setting. I sited the greenhouse purposely during this period, looking for the perfect location in January that would offer the longest direct sun.

But by mid January, one notices the days becoming longer, and on sunny days. the sunshine is bright enough to melt any ice and snow on the roof, often heating the interior to a very balmy 80 degrees. By Valentines Day, in mid-February, the greenhouse feels practically like mid-May. With most bulbs and plants from the Southern Hemisphere now reaching peak bloom. March becomes like June, and suddenly, one notices the seasons all blurring, and I rarely complain about he winter feeling so long anymore.

The tender Primrose known as Primula x kewensis, which I started from seed, is starting to pull out of it's short dormancy period, with buds emerging, I must remove all of the dead and yellowed foliage, so that the crown doesn't rot, and so the well farina'd leaves can grow into healthy rosettes.

A stem with flower buds starts to emerge on the Primula x Kewensis.

All cleaned up, the pot of Primula x Kewensis gets relocated to the front of the greenhouse, where it can get more winter sun. Typically, it spends its time on the cold ground in the back of the greenhouse slowly maturing.

So, here we are, mid-January, and on a sunny, January thaw day like today, I can work in the greenhouse in shorts and tshirt. This was the first weekend where underglass, if felt, and smelt like springtime. I found it pleasant enough to take time organizing the back potting bench, and I repotted a tray of cuttings which I hastily took on a cold, October evening just before a killing frost. The many Salvia species, geranium and abutilon are now all rooted, all with very little effort beyond cutting with whatever knife I could find, and some old soil in an even older plastic tray. I also took a number of cuttings off of a large topiaried White-flowered Rosemary, which I was going to let freeze, although I still brought it into the greenhouse for now. It's too woody and needs to be let go.

I admit that I rarely take the time to carry through the winter, such summer stock, opting to buy new plant material each spring. But the cost savings is now so great, that I really need to take the time, and develop a routine on managing carry-over material. This weekend, I also went to Logee's Greenhouses to visit and pick up some plants, and now when I see to cost of even a simple Euryops, I can easily calculate that just this one tray of cuttings, has resulted in a few hundred dollars worth of plants for the summer garden. And, the abundance of certain varieties of Salvia will allow me to plant larger drifts, resulting in a more impressive garden.

A Rosemary cutting, becomes a baby topiary. This white flowered form will be trained to become a potted topiary form, since the parent plant has grown too woody.

Seeds of other genus find their way into other pots, all the time. Here, a Cyclamen coum grows in a pot of Narcissus 'Mineo', and N. romieuxii cross. I find this sort of behavior magical, and rarely will repot believing that mother nature sows plants in places better than I could ever imagine. Probably why these plants tend to grow better than the ones I've sown.
A tropical Rhododendron, a Vireya species from Borneo, has sent out a few flowers on this sunny, winter day.

January 16, 2010

I'll Pass on Easy and Cheesy

I was reminded this morning about our obsession with things being easy. Actually, I think it first surfaced last night, while I was watching my Birthday gift - the Julie and Julia Blue Ray disk. ( I know, a 'chick flick', but we need a little distraction away from the horror of our recent natural disaster, and it was Friday night, and Joes gone for the weekend so I can watch all of the chick flicks I want.).

In the film, there is this scene where Julia and her best friend from France, and co-author of her first book Simone Beck are lamenting over why their once interested publisher , Random House or LIttle Brown, I don't remember, reject their now famous and influencial book, Mastering The Art of French Cooking. OK, in 1960 I can completely understand the business reasons why the publishers beleived that "housewives" in America would rather cook with marshmallow Fluff, rather than take the time to debone a duck, but I was surprised, as a garden and style writer, how today things have both changed, and how they haven't. Basically, the concept that the masses are more likely to migrate towards 'easy' and 'simple' rather than "challenging"and "complex".
But why is this still true? In some ways, yeah, it is, if not worse. But in some odd and refreshing ways, today, there is also this alternative cultural appreciation going on, and many of these people are writing and sharing their journey of discovery in 'alternative' media such as blogs. But I can't help but wonder if people like us are a dieing breed. Sure, Martha Stewart prooved that there still can be this rennaissance of appreciation, that some young people still may want to raise goats in Vermont and make small-batch cheeses, and there is this whole thing around the youth cultures new fascination with victory garden's and organically grown food that is susstainable. But I'm not sure if this is just a trend that might change in the future, or if this is the start of something big. But since I work in the design world, I have already heard stories of big brands saying such things in packaging meetings like " OK, last year we tried the susstainable packaging thing because the consumer wanted it, but this year, we are trying something different" ( something with more plastic). It's not really about the meaning, just, what it means. And that tends to change as trends change.

This week, while driving home from work, I heard this report on NPR about youth culture, and how they are getting their information essentially their news, from. Mostly, they do not read newspapers and a recent study showed that all magazines will be gone by the year 2050, since someone did the math and that's about the time that magazine readers today, will all die. Nice.

Then, for my birthday this week, I got a Wii system, with WiiFit. Besides that being a hint, I admitted that since I am just older than most gamers today to know little between a joystick and a Xbox, that we should keep technically current, lest we get left in the dust, besides, it looked fun.

You all may know this, but when you attach the Wii system, the navigation page that appear on your big, flatscreen TV gives you the option to click on a number of buttons, such as weather information, shopping, or the News. And, the entire sound and visual experience makes the Weather Channel and CNN look amazingly ancient. Now, between Manhun2 and blasting my ab's, I can check out the latest news on anything I find interesting, just by scrolling through the titles of the reports, even news on subject I might find interesting and which would never be covered on commercial TV. And that's the other thing that's changed, living in Massachusetts, I can't help but be blasted with bipolar news - on our ABC channel, the earth Quake in Haiti, on our Fox affiliate, no earth quake coverage. I just hate these options, for now, even the media has had to take sides, in what NPR called "Partisan news". I never know who to really trust any more. So blogs and smaller news outlets become the preferred source for news for younger people who will not read Newsweek, the Newspaper or even watch the news on TV.

I don't know about you, but I always believed that as societies developed and evolved, that along with that will culture. I suppose, in many ways, our American culture has started to evolve, for now we in larger metropolitan cities and blue states can now fine good cheese, better bread, and more ethnic restaurants. But at the same time, the Wal Mart-ization of America, (if not the world), is distilling any advancements made in taste and culture, into a much more digestible bland and easy, mess. Basically, an american cheese stuffed, bacon-wrapped steak is more desireable than a grass-fed, organic heirloom dry-aged strip steak.

Our world of plants shares many of these same development issues, for just as many of us are thrilled with the broader availability of heirloom tomatoes, species and wild forms of plants and rare or once hard-to-find plants like Hellebores and Orchids. But at the same time, there are branded plants, copywritten complete with glossy four-color plant tags showing photos of how 'beautiful and easy' they are, fool-proof Supertunia's®. Plants for non-plant lovers must be simple, and the big retailers know this, as do the plant breeders who develop and research for the few companies who service this trend. Plants today, I'm sorry,....FLOWERS today must be over-performing, 'blooms all year!', care-free!, and virtually Fool-Proof!. In many ways, the same way flowers were marketed in 1955. Which, I think is sad.

We know, as plant lovers, that appreciating anything, takes an investment of time, and that knowledge and challenge combine to make the entire process even more enjoyable. Maybe it's me, but I can help but make a connection between younger generations obsession with instant gratification and disposabiity with todays surprising lack of patience and appreciation, basically, most people don't have the time, or is it interest in depth. Knowing just enough to get by, but to still have it look good, seems to be enough.

I happen to have the Food Network on in the background as I type this, let's see what's on today.....

Mexican Made Easy
Meals in a Minute
5 ingredient Fix
30 Minute Meals
Slim in 6
Sandrs's Money Saving Meals
Slow Cooker Savings
A Can, a man, a plan


January 9, 2010

Seems like Bonsai West is Bonsai Best

A grove of tree's in the Bonsai style, is amazing, and now, this is all I want to make for our garden. I am so inspired!

The selection of Bonsai pots and containers at Bonsai West was impressive, and not only we're they beautiful to look at, they were surprisingly affordable. I can't wait!!!

Bonsai West is located in Littleton, MA, which is just west of Boston, and twenty minutes from our home. Many people may recognize them from their exhibits at the New England Spring Flower Show, but their nursery is even more amazing to visit. It has the largest collection of masterpiece bonsai for sale in the country.
The Bonsai West collection contains trees from all over the world and features many works by first-generation Japanese American Bonsai artists living on the West Coast during the second half of the 20th century.
These old specimen bonsai include works by Mr. and Mrs. Hatanaka, Mr. Yamasaki, Roy Nagatoshi, Mr Ishii, Mr. Marata, as well as contemporary artists including Nick Lenz, Kenji Myata, Michael Levin and Guy Guidry.

On these short winter days there seems to be little to do beyond taking out the trash, or looking for the dogs, to make sure they are not gorging themselves on Brussels Sprouts! But this Saturday, we decided to act on some impulse, since I was whining about having no energy to do anything, and we headed off to Littleton, Massachusetts to visit one of the premiere Bonsai nurseries in suburban Boston, Bonsai West.

Our good friend Glen is a very knowledgable horticulturist, and is responsible for much of what goes on at the nursery, and I knew that we had to visit for everytime he see's us, he invites us to visit, and see the collection that has so many people talking and coming back for more. But, you see, that is my little problem, I knew that if I visited such a place, that I would not be able to resist myself, and that my wallet would be a little, or lot, smaller.

Joe poses with a Taxodium which has just started to be trained into a Bonsai
I was impressed, as was Joe. So much so, that I know deep inside out brains, a little Japanese gland called the Ambigula japonica, excreted a good dose of a hormone called Bonsaitonin asiatica and before we knew it, we were under the influence. Hortus endorphinitis they call it, and it's terribly difficult to get rid of. You just sort of have to let it run it's course, for there is no cure. We both had it once years ago, and the empty bonsai pots are still stacked under the benches in the greenhouse. Needless to say, we left with everything from Akedama soil, to two massive trained, yet immature Taxodiums that took up the entire back of our SUV. Oh yes, and two roled tubes containing Bonsai West 2010 calendars.

We'll be back.

Bonsai in winter are sometimes more interesting than in the summer, particularly deciduous ones. In our New England garden, they would need to protection from the elements, although not from the cold. Here, it's the cycle of thaw and freezing that kills many of these trees, for they are in little soil, and the best solution is to either keep them in an unheated hoop house, one which keeps them just above freezing, or move them to an unheated barn or garage where the temps never move above 38 degrees, or so. Hovering around freezing is ideal, and we sometimes keep larger plants in the shed where we keep our lawn mowers with a space heater added for extra heat to keep the shed around 34 degrees F, or we keep the on the stone floor of the cold greenhouse. Either way, Bonsai are not as difficult as you may imagine, and most people loose them simply because they try to keep them in the home, or let them dry out too much in the summer. We find them now, as adults, rather easy and carefree, as long as we keep them somewhere where we pass frequently in the summer, near a hose, and have a safe place for them in the winter. NOTE: Most bonsai nurseries will store your plants for the winter for a small fee, which is what most people do, so don't let that keep you from trying a magnificent specimen from becoming the focal point of your garden.
If you live in New England, be sure to check the BONSAI WEST demonstration list on line, as well as their lectures. They run for informative demo's for beginners, to elaborate training courses for those who are slightly more informed. After seeing their greenhouse classroom and some of the 'student's work ( they sell all the supplied you will need), now I am all set to take their Yamadori Larch class on March 6. Can't wait!

Outside, in the vacant display garden, some plants remain out to take the full force of winter. This small tree, which l looks a bit like an Ulmus parvifolia if I had to guess, looks absoulutly stunning without leaves, and bathed in the late sunshine of a crisp January day.

I was moved by how the snow here, reminded me of my many trips to Japan. So pieceful, and quiet.

These bonsai stands looked like mushrooms stuck in the snow.

Pines are never as lovely as when trained as Bonsai.Imagine these in your summer garden.

Bonsai are miniature versions of full grown trees. These are not those crispy,dry Junipers one sees in malls sold at the Holidays, but carefully trained and cultured trees, available in many species. The deciduous ones are just as interesting to look at without their leave, in the winter. In a photo, they looks very much like their full-sized versions, don't you think?