September 29, 2013

Garden Bloggers Conference and visit to Kathy Purdy's

Oneonta, New York farm
Central Upstate New York state, with its rolling hills, early fall foliage and 19th C. farmland.

This past weekend, I ended my whirlwind tour of speaking engagements in beautiful upstate New York where I was a guest speaker at the Adirondack chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS). Now, I finally can rest, and reflect on the past three weeks - as there are no more speaking engagements for me through the rest of the year. Time to focus on work, some blog tweaks and, well, Lydia, our Irish Terrier female who is due to deliver a litter of puppies any day now. Joe leaves for the Montgomery national terrier show, where Weasley is showing, and leaving me with the rest of the 'kids, and taking care of my father for a few days. I'm OK with this quiet time, as I can focus on some work design projects, and then this weekend, start the awesome task of moving plants back into the greenhouse.

September 27, 2013

Fall Display Ideas in Dark Purple

Autumn cut flowers
If you have Cochicum blooming in your garden right now, why not discover how
long these flowers can last in water? Hint - longer than a week.

My whirl wind speaking tour is almost over, as I drive 6 hours to upstate New York to speak tomorrow at a meeting of the Adirondak chapter of the American Rock Garden Society (NARGS) at Cornel University where I will be presenting a talk about winter blooming bulbs. After an amazing and inspiring few days in Atlanta as the Garden Bloggers Conference last week, I am both energized and exhausted. I made many new friends as well as meeting dozens of other garden bloggers who I only knew as thumbnail images and hashtag handles. Isn't 'real' better than digital sometimes?

September 20, 2013

No holding back Autumn

Cute, 'Teddy Bear' Sunflowers provide tall, bright and well-needed color in the late, summer vegetable garden.

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in. I've been busy preparing for a few speaking engagements, plus selling a house on the property, my father and his health (updates on that later), and of course - work. Plus all of this travel ( I'm off to Atlanta this weekend so speak at  the Garden Bloggers Conference, so I am super excited, as this sounds like it will be a great event, and a chance to meet lots of other garden bloggers, and some peers in the botanical world. I will try my best to post some images.

September 12, 2013


Confusion reigns between the closely related species commonly sold as Cardinal Creeper, Cardinal Climber, Cypress Vine and Cardinal Vine, but here, Ipomoea sloteri, ( yes, even I got it wrong until a reader pointed it out!) Ipomoea quamoqlit, blooms regardless of the name. The key in identifying this species? The pentagon shaped flowers and the ferny, thread-like foliage.

Annual vines are the stars of of the September Garden, be they the common Morning Glories (Ipomoea and Convolvulus species including plants such as those omnipresent Sweet Potato Vines), the Nasturtium selections and lesser-grown species such as Cardinal Vine or yellow Canary Creeper, or even the more unusual, lesser known Nasturtium relatives such as the collectible truly twining Tropaeolum species like T. smithii. All of these plants share a trait - of these quick-growing vines will, at first, seem rather slow growing, and may appear unexciting until late summer when they really take off. This habit, often seen displayed in truly annual vines, should be one of the primary reasons for growing them - for late summer is precisely the time when one needs to see lush growth on an annual, and bright, cheerful colors more commonly seen in spring or early summer annuals. These vines have large seeds, they are terrific for children to plant and grow as their first foray into the gardening worlds, as they are so rewarding - seemingly growing many inches each day, often completely covering the structure on which they are grown in late summer, just as the sunflowers are blossoming, and the pumpkins are ripening.

September 9, 2013

Surprising Toronto Gardens

Garden designer David Leeman, provided a tour of some of Toronto's hidden, and not so hidden garden delights. Such as this unique sculpture at the Evergreen Brick Works, a community environmental space. This massive sculpture by Ferruccio Sardell demonstrated virtually Toronto's ravine, river and creek network. Water runoff from the roof, drains down various outlets and pipework, creating a living sculpture.

Barry Parker's Toronto Garden

Even though I travel often, there are a few North American cities which have somehow remained off of my itinerary, and this past weekend, I finally was able to check Toronto off of that short list of un-explored North American cities (leaving, perhaps only Austin, TX and Salt Lake City). Nine months ago,I received an invitation to speak from the Ontario Rock Garden and Hardy Plant Society , a very knowledgeable and active chapter of NARGS (the North American Rock Garden Society), to speak on winter blooming bulbous plants for the cold greenhouse. I accepted ( even though this month of September has become totally booked with speaking engagements - something I will never do again).

My weekend in Toronto was exciting, blissful, and packed with meeting new friends, many gardens and having a delightful time with my hosts ( Thanks Bella, Barbara and Shakie! I don't know how you ever sleep!)  Here are a few of my images from the first day.

Another image from the Don Valley Brick Works Park. The Weston Quarry Garden.

Don Valley Brick Work Park

Another view of the Weston Quarry Garden walkway at the Don Valley Brick Works Park.

I also visited some private gardens in Toronto. My visit started off on Friday, with a visit to fellow blogger - Barry Parker's  garden. Barry was traveling to South Africa ( I think!), but garden designer David Leeman was more than happy to tour me around this, and some of his other secret spots around Toronto.

Some alpine troughs in Barry's garden

David Leeman's creative eye expressed through arranged pots of Mediterranean herbs

Japanese maple cuttings in Barry's garden

Toronto transport

I had to take this photo for Joe - Finally, a bar that served serious bourbon and Rye. It's where David and I had lunch.

The garden of Barry Parker with some help from David Leeman

Barry's agave collection. I bet this helps keep the raccoon's off of the roof!

A sunny colored dark leaved Dahlia in Bella and Barbara's garden

The stunning garden of garden designers Barbara Cooper and Bella Seiden - my hosts.

If this Roscoea is hardy in Barbara and Bella's  Toronto garden, I can hardly wait until next year to add some to mine.
Check out this red Roscoea - so tropical, yet hardy.
Barbara and Bella had many Clematis, each one trained to a cedar post with wire wrapped around it.
Another inspiration I will need to use in my own garden next year.

September 1, 2013

Step away from my Plumcot

Pluots, Plumcots and Aprium - worth dishing out the extra money for, if you love flavor.

I received a text from my niece last week – “Uncle Matt - at the store, OK...what the hell is a plumcot? LOL" 

I replied " I don't know, but there is surely an ointment for it in aisle 3".

Ok my sophomoric readers..let's just get it over with right now.
These plumy new fruits sound more like naughty bits than, well, fruit. And even though fruit is technically "naughty bits' as far a plants are concerned, these new funny sounding fruits showing up at markets during high summer, are worth checking out - and here's why: They are yummy.

I want to convince you to try some velvety Peacotum, juicy plumcots, succulent Pluots, Dinosaur Balls, Colorcots, Pleury (OK, maybe this is a STD?), and Plucots. All are worth the extra price, and far superior to ordinary tasteless plums.

But what are they, exactly? And what's up with the funny names?  And for that matter, why are they so damn expensive? Do I really want to pay a dollar for a plum?  Sure, we've all balked at the prices for these fruit, with some selling for $2.99 and $3.00 pound, but just promise me one thing - before you pass on Plumco due to its price, try one, and try one now in early September, and not in January when they are being flown in from Chile. Eat them when they are in high season, when they are ripe and sweet as honey. In fact, try a few - buy a couple of pluots, or plum cots,  or even a new Aprium - for they are so incredibly flavorful and juicy, that they just might change your mind.

An Aprium has a super sweet flavor and a golden orange interior, hinting to its Apricot roots.
On a recent taste test, we discovered this entire new world of fruit.  Joe and I bought a couple of each variety this past weekend, and we ended up fighting ( I mean really fighting with yelling and all) about who should get the remaining few which we did not eat at the original taste test ( Joe even hid a couple so I could not find them because he said that he paid for them! Bastard.). We began by cutting up a selection of these velvety, plump fruit and placed them on a plate in a mock taste test. “Ooo, taste that one” and Oh My Gosh, wait until you taste this one. We are hooked, and forever dishing out a few extra dollars for these late summer treats.

Before you all start freaking out with worries about genetic engineering or Frankenfruit, just relax. These are not Frankenfruit, but rather just 'complex hybrids'.  I mean, Luther Burbank bred the first Plum Apricot more than a hundred years ago.  No Jellyfish genes have been added, these are the result of clever breeding within the genus Prunus. Today, a corporation-  a company named Zaiger Genetics (I know- bad name: Can you say Jurassic Park?)  owns the trademark for Pluot and for many of these fruit varieties, yet really, I'm OK with all of this. After all, they are the investors and the researchers who have invested millions of dollars and hours of  research into creating these tasty hybrids.  They should own the profits. It's a business. 

If I lived in California, or Oregon, I could grow many of these varieties, but I fear most are not hardy here in New England. At least, not yet.

Like wine grapes, when compared side-by-side, the flavor differences can be appreciated even more.

Regardless of the fancy, catchy or dirty marketing names and those icky trademarks, with labels and catchy brand names complete with circle R's or TM's and patent numbers, this is all just part of the business side of breeding plants today.  As time goes on, with a global market and millions of humans consuming produce, such ownership to intellectual properties will need to be tolerated if we are ever to expect improvements with our food sources - remember, many of these fruit are grown organically today. The result of science entering the breeding process has improved our grapes, cherries, plums and peached. So unlike tomatoes and the whole heirloom trend, smart consumers should know the difference with some crop research. All I know is this -  the experience of eating a meh meh a plum has been redefined, in fact, it's been significantly enhanced.

Mom nature knows these plant as simply as crosses  between a few closely related species, like Prunus armeniaca, Prunus salicina and Prunus persica, as well as their related older named selection. These are the plants which we originally knew as Apricots, plums and cherries. No one at Whole Foods is going to be interested in  a sticky label that says Prunus armeniaca x runus persica var. nucipersica on it. So we are stuck with‘Dinosaur Egg®’, it is a name that sells.

 Hybirdists simple ( or not so simple, hence the ‘complex part) developed these varieties by crossing a plum with an apricot. Botanists call these crosses Interspecific, which only means that they are crossing two different, yet closely related species together, often within the same genus, in this case, Prunus, 

What makes them ‘complex’ is that these are often not just 50/50 percent crosses, but more complex, which takes much more research and testing, so that breeders can take three or four generations to make a more flavorful plant. The result it that many of these hybrids have 70 percent apricot, and 30 percent plum, resulting in amazing flavor and textural differences. Mother nature and bees can do the same thing, but it just takes time.

Plumcots may look like plums on the outside, but inside, they are more than just tart, some
are spicy, or scarlet-red with honey-sweet flesh. Let's face it, most plums are simply sour, and watery.

We, the consumer, should rejoice and support these ‘new’ fruits, as they are enormous improvements over most any older varieties, which again, we should remember, we also  essentially cross bred in for hundreds of years, with humans – Luther Burbank even bred some pluot crosses. For hundreds if not thousands of years, humans made their own selections, passing on their favorite varieties which eventually became those trees which we know as prune plums, or older named varieties. Sometimes, an heirloom just is not a good thing, and so it is with plums.

At any good market this late summer, there are many varieties of these interspecific plum and apricot crosses being tested. Try a few. Compare them to your older varieties, and let me know what you think. Do a taste test with your kids. Buy one of each variety ( some stores carry nearly a dozen varieties of both new and old varieties of plums), slice them up, make card with the varietal names on them, and do your own taste test. I assure you, the result may be that you end up buying more expensive fruit, but the quality of these new varieties is undeniably far superior to older ones.

According to an article written by  Patricia Tanumihardja on NRP.org, “more than 20 varieties of pluots have been developed by Zaiger Genetics” and new varieties are being introduced every year. Be sure to start your research on the NPR page, and the Zaiger site, and work your way from there.

There is much demand for these new and improved hybrid fruits, and in fact, a majority of plums that you are already eating, or buying at your local market are in fact pluots. Not surprisingly, many stores are not labeling them as they know many customers arent’ familiar with them.