May 31, 2011

A Colorado Blue Spruce with Lime Needles? You Betcha.


Last year I ordered this rare clone of the Colorado Blue named Gebelle's Golden Spring® PP 10,643 Spruce from Klehm's Song Sparrow Nursery and I must admit, it's delightful. It may look ordinary for most of the year, but in spring, its breathtaking young foliage is a stunning, vivid, bright yellow, which fades to green during the summer. My plant is still young, and barely two feet tall, but imagine which this tree will look like in ten years when it is 8 feet tall! I can barely wait.

Planting Heirloom Imported Italian Pole Beans

Suddenly, it's summer, or so, at least, it feels like it. Time to plant beans. This is the season, and I am choosing to grow heirloom imported Italian string beans, because....well, if one is going to dedicate a little time and space in which to grow beans, why grow something ordinary? I want something that I could never, ever find, even at a farmers market. I want special fancy beans!

 As soil temperatures rise above 55 degrees F, and night air temperatures staying above 65 degrees, signals the time when it is safe to plant the tenderest of vegetables such as basil, tomatoes, summer squashes and beans. This year I am planting three types of pole beans. Not too many, just one bean tower per variety. I was raised in a bush bean family, meaning that we always grew long rows of bush string beans, golden wax and green types. But real bean enthusiasts know that pole beans are tastier. This year I have two imported Italian varieties, one, a violet string bean, and the second, flat podded yellow roma bean. The third variety is a green string variety from Johnny's Selected Seeds.

 These two Italian varieties are available from this Italian site for Franchi seeds. The violet bean is the climbing French variety Trionfo Violetto, a stringless beand with excellent flavor and a brilliant purple color, and the yellow flat pod is a choice heirloom variety called Cornetti Meraviglia di Venezia which is served with modena vinegar and olive oil in Italy.
Seeds are planted in a trench rather close, and then thinned to 4-6 inches apart. The bean towers, ( available from Gardener's Supply) are 60 inches tall, and can be lifted and stored for the winter.

Inside Plants take a Summer Vacation

This last weekend of May, not only marks the last frost-free date for us in New England, but it also is the start of our long, hot summer. With three weeks of cool rain, we have all been eager to get out and get some some, for with temperatures in the 80's and 90's, and relative humidity just as high, it does indeed feel as if it is suddenly summer. 

I use this last weekend in May to relocate houseplants and greenhouse tropicals from the glasshouse, to the deck stairs, the terrace and to other places around the garden. Camellias and other sturdier plants that can handle some cool frost have all been moved out earlier this spring, but now it is safe to move the most tender tropicals, even begonias. Below, I share some before and after shots, showing just how important these potted plants are to our outside living spaces. It now suddenly, feels like summer, again.

Before plants arrive back out....

....and after plant collections are tiered onto the stairs.

Be careful when placing houseplants out for the summer, for they will burn quickly unless you gradually acclimate them to the bright sunshine. My plants live in a glass greenhouse, so they are more adaptive, and can be placed in full sun right away. I like to mix pots of summer-blooming bulbs, agave, cacti, succulents like Gasteria, even trees like Japanese Maples and pines.


Ferns and orchids also find a shady niche where they can be watered easily twice a day with rainwater.

May 29, 2011

Awesome Container Gardening That Will Stop People in their Tracks

Even us experts look to books and magazines for ideas when planting summer containers. Every year I try to do something different, which is hard when it feels as if you've tried everything! This year, I decided to look at some favorite books to see what I might try together, mixing annuals, tropicals, houseplants and even succulents all together. As a designer, I know that ideas can come from anywhere, an old magazine from an antiques show, an eBay gardening magazine from the early twentieth century, or even a classic gardening book on containers . You might even want to try a classic branded website where there is lots of information daily about container gardens and home gardening ideas that anyone can use. 


I will top this off with gravel to hide the soil, but this mustard, gold and bronze tinted container will explode in a massive container of foliage and tropical colors in July and August.

A Japanese magazine inspired me here, with peach Gazania, lavender verbena, mustard colored Heuchera and burgundy coleus.

May 27, 2011

...and pretty maids, all in a row.

Silver (white) bells. That's what I'm talking about, and there are many, many white bell flowers in the garden today. Let me share a few as I wander the garden.

King Solomon's Seal, or Polygonatum biflorum grows in the woodland behind our house, and throughout the deciduous forests of New England. There are many selected forms on old farmsteads and gardens so look for choice forms at plant sales and exchanges. A shade lover, this is a plant that prefers spring moisture, and late summer dryness. Remember, like many woodland plants in New England, or where there are deciduous forests, they bloom as the leaves are emerging, and tend to slow growth or complete their growth by July, when the canopy of green leaves above their heads drinks up all of the moisture below. Learn tricks ( or reality!) about the culture of these plants, by where they grow in the wild, so allow the leaves of autumn to cover them, a natural mulch that will protect them all winter, foster  micro nutrients, which feeds them in the spring burst of growth. Simply said, they prefer woodland conditions.
Any white bell post would be incomplete without an image of the Silver Bell Tree, our native southern U.S species of Halesia, Halesia monticola. I remember one at a garden where I worked while in High School, that was planted by Fletcher Steele, the noted landscape architect, and I always admired it. I was told that he wanted a colorful woodland garden, and needed a tree that would be large, and that would bloom in late May. The Halesia tree is covered with large ( 1 inch) white bells, and indeed, it blooms for us at a time when few trees are in bloom, for the crab's and cherry trees are done for the year.

Lily of the Valley, with a scent like nothing else on our planet. I love that these are picked from a colony that my grandmother planted over 100 years ago, and they still are picked every spring to fill the bedrooms in the house. Looking to grow some? You can, but be careful where you plant it, it spreads and smothers out all other plants, which, can be a good thing, or a bad, depending on where you plant it. Perfectly sited under a shady tree where it goes dry in the summer.

May 24, 2011

The Under Appreciated Art of Hand Weeding

No Mulch Here! It's true, I hate mulch ( garden snob!). I use tons of it, but not in the nicer perennial beds closer to the house. If I could afford gardeners, everything would be hand weeded, but such inefficiencies must be limited to the gold and blue garden, and the ephemeral bed where the wild flowers grow.

During these wet days of spring, with most every day bringing us rain and cool mist, all plants are making tremendous growth, in fact, most trees and shrubs make their annual growth during these next few weeks, so we should not bemoan the rain. In the vegetable garden, perennial beds and borders, the herbaceous plants and veggies are exploding into growth ( just look back at blog pics from a week or two ago). As these plants grow, so do the weeds.

I was reading a gardening book about a relatively experienced gardener, who started gardening in their 30's. She wrote about how challenging it was for her to weed in her early gardening years, which I found interesting, since I've gardened and weeded since I was a young child, so identifying weeds from young flower seedlings or vegetable and herb seedlings from weeds, since this was a skill that was clearly learned, but one that I have taken for granted. If you are a new gardener, don't dispair, we all must learn proper weeding techniques, and each of us will customizing depending on where we live, and our level of experience.

BEFORE - A row of Arugula,  lost in weed seedlings. These weeds will be taller than the intended crop in a week or so.
Broadly speaking, proper weeding and thinning is simply about removing competition, since most plants require space in order to maximize their growth potential. If there is one mistake many gardeners make, it's planting their plants too close, I even do it, but intentionally in most cases. A row of turnip seedlings thinned out to 8 inches apart will produce larger turnips, than a row thinned to 4 inches, and turnips with rows 10 inches apart will produce fewer turnips than rows 18 inches apart. Learn to read your seed packets and catalogs, and trusted books for proper spacing cultural guidelines. Some skills are self-taught, but we are talking about agriculture here, so if you want superior lettuce heads, grow lettuce properly, not in a pot, a container or over planted and under-thinned.
AFTER -  Once I weeded, the arugula, I decided  not to thin out the row, since I am cutting enough daily for salads ( with roasted goat cheese and honey, yum) that this row will be harvested in a couple of weeks.

Dwarf European Lettuces can be planted closer than full-sized varieties. I have planted these 10 inches apart, with plans to this every other head, as I harvest. Notice the Fennel seedlings? These ferny seedlings have been intentionally broadcast over the entire bed, so I must weed around them. Fennel ( and dill) will self-seed, and those that emerge where nature planted them, will be more robust since Fennel and Dill hate being transplanted.
Chickweed and Galen soga are pulled out by hand in the lettuce bed.

The mini-lettuce is starting to look fine. I have planted 9 different varieties, with dwarf mini Cabbage in the other half of the bed.

The Belgian Endive that I planted 4 weeks ago needed to be thinned carefully to 10 inches apart. These will be thinned again, and I will use some greens for braising.  Since these are grown for their roots, which grow like carrots -the must be no transplanting for these Endives are grown for their thick tap root which must grow straight and thick. Remember, these will be dug in the autumn, and potted in sand and kept in the dark, to force the chicons we all see in the high end markets, commonly known as Belgian Endive for crisp winter salads.

Turnips and Broad Beans, along with onions are planted too close, but I know that the turnips will be harvested in a couple of weeks, and the onions were just some extra sets that I had - I've been picking these as green onions all spring for soups and salads. If I wanted to grow storage onions, this method would not work, but sometimes, French intensive gardening is OK, as long as you manage the harvest times.

The Salsify that I planted a month ago has been weeded, which was a little difficult since the bed was full of crab grass and dock seedlings, and Salsify or Oyster Root, looks exactly like grass, when it is young.

May 22, 2011

The Romance of Wisteria

Mastering Wisteria is easy for some, impossible for others. Many find the Wisteria cultivars and species available today to be difficult to flower, while others fear their invasiveness and aggressive behavior, but when kept in check with careful pruning, and removal of seedpods and runners, Wisteria vines offer an elegance unmatched by any other vine.

Wisteria is a relatively small genus, with ten species and many selected cultivars. Two species are native to the Unitied States, while the rest are native to China, Korea and Eastern China. Some choice Asian species bloom before their leaves emerge, while most others bloom just after the foliage arrives. Some selections have tremendously long flower stems, making the entire vine, when grown on the side of a house on a trellis, or in an old tree, look like tumbling waterfall when in bloom. I prefer vines that  are trained to a single leader while young, staked, and pruned tightly which produces an elegant" tree-like form". Often sold as 'tree Wisteria', these are actually trained vines, and although they will form a strong, muscular trunk, they remain vines, and will require frequent pruning to maintain their shape, which is easy.
Wisteria species come in white forms, blue, purple and pink. Chinese species are less hardy than American species, but they are more fragrant. I adore the orange-blossom scent of Wisteria, and some species even have attractive seed pods. Look for plants that are dormant via mail-order, or find a reliable source for choice strains if you want dependable bloom. Plant with care, for once established, a wisteria vine is difficult to remove from the landscape. If perfectly sited, they add visual appeal and value to most any garden.

Thinking ahead, the Himalaya? Maybe.

Primula denticulata
I've been thinking seriously exploring part of northern India and NW Tibet next year, particularly the  Himalaya, in July next year ( if everything plays out here). These sort of trips take time to plant, and these plans take time since they are not of a commercial nature, but a plant exploration trip to a visit India, the north western Himalaya and borderlands of western Tibet, is what I am thinking about I do not go botanizing in Patagonia this November as I was also planning. Given Margaret's condition, this seems to make the most sense to me. I feel that I should go and take advantage of such trips before I am too old ( frankly, it's a reality, isn't it?) and when I can't handle high elevation atmosphere as well. Trips to the Himalaya require excellent health and some training, but little can prepare you for altitude sickness, as those of us who have read any book about climbing Everist, know.

This had me looking around my garden, to see what I have from the Himalaya. Many ornamental plants hail from China, Japan, Korea and Tibet, but few of us ever think about what comes from where. Today, while Margaret was sleeping, I took a quick walk around the garden at dusk, just after the world was supposed to end, to see what I had blooming after this very long, damp, wet week of cold rain. The first plant I saw, was an alpine, Androsace studiosorum, a high elevation alpine plant from the mountains of Pakistan where it blooms in meadows and screes just below snowmelt. Look closely, and you can see a flower that looks not unlike a primrose, and indeed, Androsace is in the primula family, Primulaceae.

This species is one of the many Androsace ( an-droh-sah-see) that are mid-tier mountain plants, for many at the highest elevations grow as buns or dense mounds in the clouds, these mid-tier species grow more like sempervivum, or house-leeks, you know, the hens and chickens that we all still grow in some dry spot in our garden. Sending out runners just after flowering, each rosette forms at the end of a runner, and remains rootless until the following year, which makes it a little challenging to transplant, but ever so easy to grow.
I guess I could include some of my Pleione orchids, a bulbous high elevation cloud forest orchid on my list of Himalayan plants.

You saw this odd plant a few weeks ago, when it was a curious knob emerging....well, it has only become curious-er. The naughty-looking bracts on the floral stems of this Tibetan Rhubarb are, well, entertaining on evening walks like this, with a glass of wine ( and maybe a cigarette).


May 21, 2011

Margaret returns home

Margaret is now home, and slowly adjusting to a new, normal. She is no longer the fast, vibrant dog that she was two weeks ago, but she is showing signs of being herself again.  As you can see, she still has a feeding tube in her neck, as she is not yet back on solid food, but she has improved markedly in just two days. Today, she spent a nice day relaxing outside for an hour, on a nice sunny day in May with brilliant blue skies. singing birds and with three new baby White Chinese Geese that she could not help but be a mommy to ( so very 'Margaret'). She jumped to action as soon as she heard their peeps. It got her off of the sofa, an out into the spring sunshine.
Margaret returned home (twice) this week from the amazing doctors and staff at the Tuft's New England Veterinary Medical Center where she was admitted in an emergency two weeks ago. Not to bore all of you with 'puppy love' tales, but briefly, Margaret, our oldest Irish Terrier, has laryngeal paralysis four years ago, where her larynx had to be pinned open so that she could breath. This rare neurological issue is unheard of in this breed, which is a breed that is rather free from inherited diseases. The 'pinned' open larynx was bad enough, it typically affects older dogs ( 14+, and usually large breeds, particularly over bred breeds such as Golden Retrievers), but Muggy's case was rare, and we were grateful that the surgery went well. The only thing we were aware of was the danger of her getting asphyxiation pneumonia, which she did, two weeks ago after an 'incident' of vomiting.

Margaret, on Wednesday was a sadder case, just after she arrived home. Lydia, left, and Fergus look on as she lays on the sofa, unreactive to anything. She later became ill and we rushed her back in until she arrived back home yesterday after some drugs were replaced.
After rushing her to the Tuft's Medical Center, which, luckily is near to us, the doctors informed us that although they could treat her pneumonia with antibiotics, that it stresses her kidneys which activated another disease much more serious, and sadly, one which is terminal - along with an alarming list of medical problems which have surfaced over the past week, like a hypercoagulable blood condition which they informed us was the highest they have ever seen in a dog ( blood clots). 

Sadly, our Muggle Bunny has been diagnosed with Glomerulonephritis, a serious protein wasting renal disease more commonly called Protein Losing Nephropathy (PLN). The disease causes high blood pressure, blood clots and severe protein loss, and, it is fatal. He outlook is a little unpredictable, but with specific parameters, we've been told that she has anywhere from one month to eight months to remain with us.

Margaret herd her Goslings, she is a natural mother, and these new baby geese are helping her take her mind off of the hospital. She is was just happy to be out in the grass and acting normal.

One, two three, those naughty geese need some discipline. Muggy can't help herself, a mommy's job is never done.

Exhaustion comes quickly these days, but a sunny day in May, laying in the cool grass of springtime, with baby geese under a flowering Wisteria tree is a little bit like heaven. ( All we were missing was a rainbow and a unicorn).

May 17, 2011

A day at the Brimfield Antiques Show

Between hospital visits with sweet Margaret, I attended the Brimfield Antiques Show, which happens three times a year just down the road from us in Brimfield, Mass. Margaret,  ( who appears to be getting better and who may be home in a couple days if tonights test on kidney function goes well! ) sends her best to all of you who understand how some pets can connect with us. Those vets are amazing at Tufts, and many thanks to all the good wishes! The Brimfield Antiques Show was something that I had planned to attend a few months ago, but I thought that I might not be able to attend due to Muggy's illness, and a business trip to Vancouver that I was supposed to attend. Jeannie, my best friend from college flew out from Minneapolis for a few days, and she planned her trip around this major antiques show - and it just worked out that I could attend, which kept my mind off of Margaret's situation, and it was, as always, interesting. Here are some pic's.

My big take away was that there were fewer sellers, and once you left the main fields, where you must pay to enter, there were more "curated" sellers like the above photo, which appeared to be crafted by, well, rich ladies who wanted to sell 'antiques' or lifestyle junk. Not to be negative at all, for many of these tents we're interesting, but these 'curated' collections were a bit out of place from the true collector displays.
The crab apples in downtown Brimfield made for a very 'New England' scene.

May 15, 2011

Daphne, like a fragrant bit o' the Alps, in your own back yard.

Daphne hendersonaii 'Ernst Hauser', a tiny shrub that was buried under snow and crushed this past winter....still, it seems to have recovered. Situated at the base of a stone wall which runs along the side of our greenhouse, perfect for many alpine plants, it is challenging for shrubs since winter snows fall and slide off of the greenhouse roof and often crush any shrub. Designed for high elevation conditions, most Daphne can handle such treatment, with flexible stems, most survive. 

Hopeful moments, Margaret Update...

Not to dwell, but here is Margaret yesterday, at Tufts Medical Center, unresponsive, foggy eyed and too lethargic to walk after getting her feeding tube. This morning, we received a call from the hostpital saying that suddenly, she is more chipper and active. And after today's visit, we are somewhat encouraged.

Who says dogs can't smile? Sweet Muggy Bunny. Stay strong. Thanks to all of you for your support and thoughts! I can't even imagine how people deal with children who have illnesses. Support your local children's hospital or vet school.

May 14, 2011

The Prettiest of times, the worst of times

I just cannot seem to post anything while our sweet Margaret, our Irish Terrier remains in intensive care still in critical but stable condition. The third week of May is the most beautiful time of year here in New England, with spring at its very peak, but with my sweet 'Muggles' in the hospital, and little hope for long-term recovery, it is now the saddest. This is surely the most difficult of times when one owns and loves dogs, as we do. With three Irish Terriers, even though we love them all, Margaret is clearly the special one, that one you just can't help but love the most.

Joe and I spend three hours now, each day, laying on the floor with her at the Tufts Vet School, awaiting any tiny sign of progress. What began as Pneumonia, had now worsened into Renal Failure, a protein loosing disease, a blood platelet issue, and she has not eaten for a week. Still, her medical team is still hopeful that we can keep her comfortable and active again, if she can hold the med's and if we can get the pneumonia under control, and her appetite back. Until then, I will just share some photos I took this week.

Fergus wanders the garden, a little lost, looking for Margaret.

Giant Calla Lilies and Geranium maderense bloom outside now, where their containers were moved.

Young cabbage, crisp with morning dew,in the salad bed with lettuce seedlings.

Purple fringed tulips bloom in front of the greenhouse.

It looks intentional, but this was all a happy accident, purple, violets and lavender flowers somehow all ended up in the same bed, and....it works!