}

April 26, 2015

EXERCISING PATIENCE WITH SPRING, AND DIVIDING DAHLIAS



I should have called this post 'biting my tongue' - so can someone please tell me when it became OK for garden centers to sell plants before the frost free date? Not all nurseries, mind you, since the good ones are smart, and care about both their customer and their plants, but the larger ones - the commercial big box garden centers like the Home Depot and Lowes around us in central Massachusetts all have their tender annuals out - salvia, tomatoes, marigolds, celosia, geraniums, impatiens - don't get me started. Our frost-free date is nearly one month away, and the soil for tomatoes, eggplant and most other warm weather crops needs to be 55º or warmer, which won't occur here until the end of May at the earliest. It's just ashamed, as it snowed this week here and the past two nights dipped into the high 20º's, which brought a long line of people complaining to out local Home Depot today. I suppose, it's one way to learn.


Tomatoes, peppers and some snapdragons await transplanting this weekend. These will be upgraded into 2.5 inch pots. No need to rush, even though nurseries are already selling tomato seedlings with blooms on them. It's far too early here.

I do understand the issue here, though. I too am eager to get gardening, but I've learned over the past 45 years or so of starting tomatoes, to wait - even later and later, sowing my seed around the end of April ( see above) and learning to keep my tomato and pepper seedlings warm (near 75º) both day and night, and I've learned from commercial growers, that even shifts in night and day temperatures can stunt tomatoes, and peppers in particular can be damages by temperature shifts ( iron deficiency = yellow leaves and stunted growth, no matter how much you feed them). The best answer is under lights, warm and safe until mid May. By doing this, I get healthier seedlings with large root systems and large leaves, and I get tomatoes about 3 weeks earlier than my neighbors - many of whom bought pre started seedlings that were much larger than mine, but they just planted them out too early.


That nice white amaryllis that I bought for Christmas bloom, had just decided to bloom. Three more are on their way.

 I can understand garden centers and nurseries loosing money with long, drawn-out colder-than-normal, or shall I say 'seasonally normal spring temperatures, as we are experiencing this year. We have only knocked on the 70º temperature once this spring, and last week it snowed a bit two days in a row. I've been delaying taking plants out of the greenhouse this year, and thankfully, it's payed off -for we've dipped below freezing for three days now, and I've had to keep the hear on in the greenhouse. Even my camellias have not been brought out yet - because their tender new shoots are just too soft.

Many of the clivia in my collection were damaged by the freeze when the greenhouse heater short circuited last January - this one, I just found today under a bench. I almost threw it out due to its damaged foliage, but I think it might be worth keeping, don't you think?

I enjoy springs like this, as most gardeners do - a slow wakening is good for the garden, but even the greenhouse is slow this year. It may be because of our long, long, cold and snowy winter, or perhaps because of the big freeze I had in January which apparently did damage many plants which did not look damaged at first (probably root damage). The clivia which always bloom in early February are just blooming, the lachenalia, amaryllis and most of the camellias are just reaching peak bloom as well.



One of my favorite crosses from ten years ago - we call it 'Muggle Drops', after our late dog, Margaret.



I wanted to share this rare, heirloom double hyacinth 'General Kohler' which was sent to me as a gift by Old House Gardens this past fall. I came home one day and found this box full of interesting bulbs sent by Scott, the owner of Old House Gardens - I have not had a chance to write about these bulbs, but as they bloom, I will share the images. Thanks Scott! That was very generous.

Back the the nurseries for a second, Joe and I always say to each other that we probably could not own a garden center this time of year, since we probably would not have many customers - as the competition would 'eat us alive'. Clearly, pansies and early veg crops would not be enough - for as we discovered last weekend at Mahoney's Garden Center near Boston, a large establishment where we saw and heard staff giving advice such as "Oh sure, those Martha Washington Geraniums will bloom all summer long as long as you keep the old flowers snipped off", or today at our local Home Depot in Auburn, MA, where a sales person was caught telling a customer that " Yes, those English Daisies will bloom all summer long and will come up for years and years". We drove to another nursery where a woman asked a sales person "Will this do well in a hanging basket?" as she held a large pot of Monarda. "Oh sure, as long as you pinch it" the sales person told her. I then watched an Indian couple who clearly were new to gardening, buy a flat of cilantro - already bolted and going to seed along with some eggplant and tomato seedlings (it was 34º outside). I stepped in an intervened.



I am no pro when it comes to Dahlias - still learning here. I have grown them for many years, but I tend to be lazy about digging them in the autumn, but last year, after growing some very nice cut flower varieties so popular on flower farms - those with pom pom flowers or smaller blooms, and I not only didn't get sick of them by autumn, I wanted to save and divide them for the following year. Always good to save some money.

Cut with a sharp knife, I've kept many tubers together on this one, as cutting any thinner would only weaken the plant. I will trim the stems to about 3 each once the pot is underway.

Dahlias can be divided shortly after digging them, when the eyes are visible, or in the spring which is when I prefer to do it. Large clumps can be difficult to manage, especially if them have a lot of tubers connects and intertwined with each other. Most experts advise dividing them earlier. As you can see, the eyes are starting to swell - like potatoes, and it's time to cut the tubers so that each has a piece of the original stem, as this is the only place where eyes will emerge. You will have waste - tubers without a large enough piece of the original stem base, or tubers which are nice, firm and large, but with not part of the original stem. These will never form eyes, and will need to be tossed.


When you save your own tubers you can keep four or five tubers together, which will give you a much stronger plant than those grown from just a single tuber, which is what you usually get from a mail order house.

I do keep single tubers, however, as long as they have a piece of the original stem base as this one does. It has a couple of buds or eyes already emerging on it. This is about the average size one gets from a mail order nursery, so that is OK.

I never mentioned it, but the week the Fergus died, our Lydia had puppies - I know, the circle of life, right? She is just weaning them (they already have teeth!) so this may the one of the last days that she is feeding them as they have already moved onto solid food.


While we are on the subject of tubers - potatoes are being rescued from the kitchen baskets, cut up and being planted out into the garden this week.

April 23, 2015

ROCK GARDENING SOCIETIES - BEYOND ROCKS - A SPECIAL GIVEAWAY


NATIVE PLANTS SHINE IN THIS WATER-WISE ROCK GARDEN IN SANTE FE ON A TOUR WITH THE NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY - A SOCIETY WHICH CAN HELP YOUR UNDERSTAND THAT ROCK GARDENS ARE NOT REALLY ALL ABOUT ROCKS.

Mention the term 'Rock Garden' and most people will offer a different definition. Even amongst the most passionate of rock gardening enthusiasts - member of the NARGS - the North American Rock Garden Society or the AGS - the Alpine Garden Society in the UK, even within the chatty, active chat rooms and forums of the very active and passionate SRGC - the Scottish Rock Garden Club folks disagree on what the exact definition is, but one thing is for certain - rock gardening has less to do about rocks, as it does about the plants - for each personal definition does provide a hint to what rock gardening is today - a hobby or interest which demands more than some basic knowledge about plant life. The art and science of rock gardening errs more on the side of science, ecology and botany than it does the 'art' part of the equation.


TROUGH CULTURE IS A VERY SPECIFIC TYPE OF ROCK GARDEN WHERE HIGH ELEVATION ALPINE PLANTS ARE GROWN IN HYPER-TUFA CONTAINERS MADE OF A SPECIAL BLEND OF CONCRETE THAT MIMIC'S TUFA ROCK - A HIGHLY POROUS LIMESTONE ROCK THAT MANY ALPINES GROW WELL ON, BUT THE TERM TROUGH CAN MEAN MUCH MORE THAN THESE 'SINK-LIKE' CONTAINERS.


Not that aesthetics aren't important to rock gardeners, far from it, but rock gardening is about as far away from landscape design or outdoor decoration as a garden can get. In a nut shell, it's more like recreating nature - think: habitat creation. Many rock gardens are like tiny zoo's for plants. Want to raise a rare, high elevation saxifrage from the Alps? Then you will need to recreate the alpine conditions as best you can right in your own back yard - right down to the perfect drainage, soil pH and rocky outcroppings or screes where the specific genus once grew in nature. It's a bit like creating a living diorama from a natural history museum - perhaps right in a small trough sitting on your deck, which is kind-of cool once you start thinking about it, right?

PURISTS IN THE ROCK GARDEN SOCIETIES STILL ENJOY ATTEMPTING TO GROW THE MOST CHALLENGING OF PLANTS - HIGH ELEVATION ALPINES SUCH AS THIS SAXIFRAGE SPECIES I SHOT IN ONE OF MY TROUGHS, BUT ROCK GARDENING TODAY CAN MEAN SO MUCH MORE.

Although many rock gardeners focus strictly on alpine plants in the UK, in the US the boundaries blur between interests - ferns, woodland plants, bulbs, shrubs, cacti and succulents and true, high-elevation alpines. So even though the first rock garden movement in the 1910's, kick-started by a British plantsman and explorer Reginald Farrer  -  the 'Father of Rock Gardening' -as he he ignited the trend back in the Victorian era and it grew into a specialist favorite throughout the first half of the 20th century. Near the end of the 20th century, the trend started to wane, to evolve into what rock garden is today - more about interesting plants and the people who crave them, than anything else. Some of use still raise proper rock gardens in the English style, others, do it with a twist, raising plants in troughs, raised beds or pots.

ONE OF THE BENEFITS OF JOINING A ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY IS THE SOCIAL ASPECT, TOURS, LECTURES, TALKS, ROUND-TABLES, PLANT AND SEED EXCHANGES AND CONVENTIONS. THIS TOUR IN NEW MEXICO WAS ORGANIZED BY NARGS LAST YEAR, AND INCLUDED HIKES, STUDIES AND PLENTY OF CHATTY MEALS.

That all said, 'Rock Gardening' expland into many tangential specialist groups including the Penstemon Society, the Primrose Society and many other highly specialized groups based around a single genus. Then, there is California and the water shortage, where rock gardening may mean a water-wise gravel or sand garden. Similarly, in Arizona, it may mean a cactus garden or a Steppe garden, or  in Colorado and Utah a mixture of all three. In the North East, it may mean getting rid of your lawn and introducing native plants.

There is still an identity issue here to those trying to wrap their arms around what rock gardening actuall is, but there is one thing clear to all rock gardeners - a rock garden is not simply a garden of rocks. It's about creating an environment or a habitat where these plants can grow, as most will sulk in a regular garden. This may mean fast drainage, protection from winter wet, or sand beds, gravel mulches or tiny crevice gardens of clay.


A VIEW OF MY RAISED ROCK WALL ROCK GARDEN WITH A MIXTURE OF LOW GROWING ALPINE BULBS, SPECIES TULIPS, DWARF EVERGREENS AND PERENNIALS. I TRY TO NOT GET TOO GEEKY ABOUT STAYING TRUE TO WHAT A TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY ROCK GARDEN MIGHT HAVE HAD IN IT, I PLANT A LITTLE OF EVERYTHING, FROM ANNUALS TO TREES AND BULBS. I NEVER HAVE TO WATER IT.

Even nurseries and garden centers are confused, often clumping together various low-growing or dwarf plants in areas and labeling them as 'rock garden' plants. There are only a handful of true alpine plant nurseries in North America, but as the term broadens to include woodland and shrubs and grasses, you can begin to see that a rock garden enthusiast could find a suitable rock garden plant in many aisles of a nursery, but the purist would most likely need to either join a local club, or order plants from a specialist nursery as few garden centers carry any rock plant beyond a sempervivum or a dwarf campanula.

WE DECIDED TO ELIMINATE THE LAWN IN OUR FRONT YARD, WHICH NOW LOOKS LIKE NEW YORK's HI-LINE MEETS THE NETHERLANDS, BUT EVERYTHING IN IT CAME FROM INSPIRATION I RECIEVED FROM NARGS MEETINGS, EVEN THIS BLACK, DWARF IRIS, WHICH I BOUGHT AT A NARGS PLANT SALE.


In many ways, the North American Rock Garden Society is stuck with a very unfortunate name.  It may have been appropriate in 1930, but today, it can be misleading. First, the idea of a 'society' is limiting and off-putting to some, then there are the words North and American - it used to be called the American Rock Garden Society, but once again, Canada is left to fend for itself, so the name was changed. Even so, North America is limiting as well, especially as NARGS is a global society now. The word 'Rock' has many believing that rocks are essential to rock gardens ( and in many, they are), but as you can see here - rocks are only part of the story.  What about bulbs, ephemerals, woodland plants, wildflowers, prairie grasses or ferns and mosses?

Clearly, this is simply a PR and identity issue more than anything else. We should be smart enough to be able to overcome such issues, but changing names of large organizations is challenging, and although acronyms seem to only make the matter worse (NARGS…really?), the future of these groups weighs more on the members and what they believe in more than it does what they are 'in to'. It's safe to say that NARGS, AGS and SRGC attracts the most intellectual of the plant people, sure, but it also attracts those who are curious, smart, adventurous and who love learning more about plants.

A GROUP OF NARGS MEMBERS MEET ON A SATURDAY FOR A BOTANIZING HIKE. USUALLY THERE ARE A COUPLE OF INFORMED LEADERS, AND EVERYONE ELSE TAKES NOTES AND INSPIRATION. THESE ARE ALWAYS A GREAT TIME FOR NOVICES AND EXPERTS ALIKE.

Of all the benefits that are worthy with these groups, by far, the best part of membership are the sed exchanges. Annually, each of these clubs offered members a long, long list of fresh seed - seeds available from no where else - forget about saving heirloom tomatoes - what about an endangered plant from Brazil who's habitat has been destroyed, thought to be extinct? I want to save THAT seed. Not a bean that I am saving because of some crazy, unfounded GMO fear. Make a difference in the world.

MY LOCAL CHAPTER, THE NEW ENGLAND CHAPTER A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO, WHERE THE LUNCH-TIME TALK WAS ON GESNERIADS WHICH ARE ALPINES. YOU MIGHT THINK THAT THIS WAS TOO INTENSE, BUT EVEN FIRST-TIME ATTENDEES WHERE ENGAGED AND MADE MUST-GET LISTS, 

Attend any NARGS meeting ( there are many regional clubs that you can join, or you can simply join the national organization of NARGS, which, some full disclosure here,  I am currently the president of NARGS, something of which I am proud of, even though I still feel a bit inadequate in the role.  Attend any local or even the national annual meeting ( in two weeks???) and  you will find a cheerful, friendly group of plant enthusiasts who welcome both newbies and experts.  You just need to be curious and open about learning new things. Friends tell me that attending meetings is a little bit of boy scout meets a college lecture.


THE BRITISH SOCIETIES ARE VERY SOPHISTICATED ABOUT HOW AND WHAT ALPINES TO GROW, AND I TRY OCCASIONALLY TO IMITATE THEM IN THIS ALPINE HOUSE COLLECTION OF POTTED, TRUE ALPINES AND SMALL BULBS. NOT FOR EVERYONE, BUT I REALLY ENJOYED THE CHALLENGE.

My love for rock gardening and alpine plants started early in life, when I was a gardener at a small estate here in my home town which happened to have an extensive rock garden, tufa rock walls and an important collection of true rock plants. I just never took it all very seriously until I was much older, when about 20 years ago I started visiting some of the British sites - the Alpine Garden Society in the UK , in particular, as well as the Scottish Rock Garden Club. Both have deep sites where they share many  photos of their shows which happen it seems, every other week. No one can grow alpines in pots as well as those in the UK can, but believe me, I try. Just check out their show reports here - the Scottish ROck Garden Club imges are here.  Ian Young's bulb log was the inspiration for my blog, he and his wife Margaret are both active members of the Scottish club, you just have to visit his extensive collection of images on his bulb log here. It is insane!

THE PLANT SHOWS OF ROCK GARDEN PLANTS IN THE UK ARE SPECTACULAR. MOST GROWERS RAISE THEIR ALPINE IN POTS AND IN ALPINE HOUSES, WHICH ARE ESSENTIALLY COLD GREENHOUSES. ALPINE HOUSES ARE DIFFICULT TO KEEP HERE IN THE US, BUT MANY OF US TRY.




I kind-of knew that I could not raise such plants here in the US, but I have tried - unfortunately, our climate doesn't' cooperate in most of the US (unless one lives in Alaska or the North West), but I tried, and continue to try to raise alpine-type plants in pots and containers. I brought a few of these to my first NARGS meeting where I quietly entered them into a show - basically, a folding table near a window in an all-purpose room our local chapter rented at a state park. Most meetings occur monthly, and some include an opportunity for 'show and tell', where members can bring in a pot or even a cutting of a precious plant, and members talk about it - sharing how they grew it. There is usually coffee and treats, and then a presentation of some sort, usually a guest speaker. A great way to spend a Saturday.

FORMER NURSURY OWNER AND PLANTSWOMAN ELLEN HORNIG, THE PRESIDENT OF MY LOCAL CHAPTERS AUCTIONS OFF A RARE MONOGRAPH ON THE GENUS GALANTHUS (SNOWDROPS) AT OUR LAST MEETING. I LEFT WITH ABOUT 25 BOOKS! THE TABLE IN BACK WAS A SHOW AND TELL OF MEMBERS PLANTS. IT WAS MARCH, AND MANY PLANTS WERE LATE THIS YEAR.


It was at this first meeting when I realized that although I knew so little about these plants, that everyone was taking notes, laughing, sharing stories about how they killed something, or triumphed with it.  There was a plant auction ( it was spring) and members brought in plants that they grew or divided at home ( a note about this - NARGS members run the full gamut, from novice to expert - and it's these experts, which most chapters have in one way or another, that make membership so special - in this way, NARGS is not unlike an elite country club.

At this first meeting, I met and became friends with Darrelll Probst, the then epimedium expert who offered up few flats of rare plants that he raised from seed that he collected on expeditions to China with Dan Hinkley. These were amazing, to say the least - I mean, podophyllum that were just too precious or rare to sell to commercial nurseries like Plant Delights because he only had ten of them - each plant made me want to empty my bank account. " This white dwarf Iris came from my last expedition to China, we are not sure about the taxonomy, the species may be new to science, it's only 8 inches high, and covered itself with white Iris blossoms early in the year,  super hardy and it makes a huge mound - no one has it yet, so I'll start the bidding off at $5 - any takers?). Crazy.

At the same meeting, I met chapter members allium expert Mark McDonough, bulb expert Russell Stafford of Odyssey Bulbs and the speaker who spoke on water-wise sand beds. I bought a beautiful hyper-tufa trough and a few flats of woodland plants, bulbs and alpines, a small Daphne shrub that a member started from seed ( a species which was hard to find) and I bought a tall stack of old journals that another member was selling. Throw in a few books from the chapter library that would be lucky to every show up on Amazon, and I was hooked.

I couldn't wait for the next meeting - but I had to wait for an entire month! How could I ever survive?
NARGS is like that. Nothing at all like what my mother said rock gardening was about - rocks, placed in a garden. Ha.

THE PAGES IN THE CURRENT JOURNAL OF NARGS SHOWS THE DIVERSITY OF WILD PLANTS IN NATURE, FROM PATAGONIAN OXALIS  TO RARE PRIMROSES NOT IN CULTURE YET AND POPPIES FROM THE HIMALAYA. TELL ME - WHAT MAGAZINE FOR $35 OFFERS THIS SORT OF CONTENT TODAY 4 TIMES A YEAR? AND AT THE SAME TIME, OFFERS SEEDS OF MANY OF THESE PLANTS?


Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of rocks in rack gardens - in particular, tufa rock, a porous limestone rock treasured by rock gardeners for true alpines, as they can root directly into the rock, but it is difficult to come by, and if you do, it is expensive. Hyper-tufa is a concrete mix, I think you've all seen it - people use it to make troughs or bowls in which to plant alpine plants.  You may remember it being used in some classic Martha Stewart Living TV episodes, or from a few DIY craft blogs. If done right, it can look very much like rock, and it is the preferred method for creating troughs, a very specific type of alpine garden where high elevation plants are raised in carefully constructed troughs which mimic the stone sinks early rock garden enthusiasts used in England, but if done poorly, it could look like dinosaur poop.


TROUGHS, WHICH ORIGINALLY WERE WHAT FARRER  CALLED SINK GARDENS IN 1900, ARE GAINING POPULARITY - EVEN IN THE SOUTH WEST - WHERE THIS ONE THRIVES IN THE SHADE OF A PINON PINE.

Regardless of how you define rock gardening or what a rock garden is, the art and science of it makes sense, as explained in a nice post on the NPR blog this week - where the author has shared some interesting thoughts about how relevant rock gardening can be today.


A SPREAD FOR THE CURRENT JOURNAL OF THE NORTH AMERICAN ROCK GARDEN SOCIETY, THE ROCK GARDEN QUARTERLY FEATURING AN ARTICLE ON PLANTS FROM AFGHANISTAN AND MUCH MORE. THIS IS CLEARLY NOT GARDEN DESIGN MAGAZINE OR WILDER, BUT IT SURELY HAS SUBSTANCE.


MY VERY SPECIAL GIVE AWAY

So in an effort to promote rock gardening or alpine gardens, I am offering two precious copies of the latest journal of NARGS to two randomly selected readers who leave comments on this post - how great is that? In this issue, you will see articles on plants from expeditions to Afghanistan, to China, and Patagonia, but mostly, I hope that you will see that rock gardening is more about discovering the wonder of some of the most special plants in the world, be they endangered or threatened, curious or odd, or simply rare and undiscovered.

I AM OFFERING A GIVEAWAY TO TWO WINNERS - THE LATEST ISSUE OF THE ROCK GARDEN QUARTERLY, THAT I HELPED REDESIGN - NORMALLY ONLY AVAILABLE TO MEMBERS OF NARGS. BETTER YET, JOIN!


All this said about rock gardens because our national Annual Meeting is being held in a couple of weeks in Ann Arbor. Hey, you could always attend and really get introduced to the whole scheme - I am bringing a couple of friends who have never been. If not, then at least check the NARGS sites for a local chapter of NARGS website here, and attend the next meeting - I promise you that people will welcome yo - tell them I sent you, and maybe you will be so inspired that you will join this great plant society that has such a long and respected history.


ALL SORTS OF INTERESTING ARTICLES COME IN THIS PRESTIGIOUS JOURNAL, FOUR TIMES A YEAR.

April 19, 2015

ABBIE ZABAR'S NEWEST ORCHID POT DESIGNED FOR SEIBERT & RICE

LARGE SPECIMEN  ORCHIDS SUCH AS THIS CATTLEYA 'KATHLEEN CLARK' 'CARMENITA' REQUIRE A GOOD, HEAVY CLAY ORCHID POT - AND THIS JUST RELEASED ORCHID POT DESIGNED BY ABBIE ZABAR AND MANUFACTURED IN ITALY BY SEIBERT & RICE IS THE PERFECT CHOICE.


You may be surprised to learn that all terracotta is not created the same. Even as a potter myself, I assumed that terra-cotta was simply soft, red clay which when fired, would chip easily like those inexpensive tourist plates one gets in Mexico - but I was so wrong, for in the world of clay and pottery, not all terra-cotta is created the same. For example, this past summer, I learned much about terra-cotta, it's many times based on region and chemical composition, it can be soft and fragile when fired, or hard and as solid as stoneware - most importantly, I learned that the finest terracotta in the world comes from a small village tucked deep in the Tuscan hills, just a few miles from Florence, Italy - Impruneta, the village and the clay which shares the same name, is world renown.

This new orchid pot designed by Abbie Zabar combines design excellence with horticultural knowledge - I so appreciate pots which are designed by these cross-over artists - those who combine their skills of form and design with that of horticultural expertise and experience in growing plants. The result here is a pot of heft and volume, worthy of a tall rare dendrobium or a cascading species  while at the same time, attractive and scientific in appearance. It will make a practical statement in an estate greenhouse,  or in a collection displayed in a botanic garden conservatory or on a rooftop garden in New York City (where the designer actually lives and gardens), where a pot this heavy makes all the sense in the world - especially when the winds gust. It's practical, beautiful and a statement.


AN IMPRESSIVE POT, THIS ONE IS HEAVY AND THICK WITH LARGE AIR HOLES, ESPECIALLY IN THE BASE WHICH MAKES THIS POT PERFECT FOR SO MANY EPIPHYTIC ORCHIDS


So here's the story behind this pot showed up on my doorstep thanks to Sievert & Rice, who sent me one to test, but I had already planned to buy a couple after seeing it in person.

New York artist, designer and author Abbie Zabar is a good friend of mine.  She designed this pot, just released by Seibert and Rice, who make fine garden pottery in Italy (and really, few can compare with their quality and provenance - those who know about such things, already know about them). Yes, these pots are expensive, and perhaps not for everybody - but if you are one who cares about design, quality and plants, this may be the perfect pot to add to your collection.  They are available at finer horticultural stockiest's  -- such as the New York Botanical Garden gift shop.

Abbie was actually careful about asking me if I might write about this pot, as she knows that I sometimes find it difficult to write about my friends projects, be they books, products or pots - (believe me, I get about 5 -10 requests a day via email to pitch something on this blog), and to be honest, I was a bit noncommittal about reviewing this pot at first - that is, until I felt one in my hands. Really.  One touch and I changed my mind.

This past February, while Joe were in New York City we visited Abbie We met Abbie at her [ kind-of amazing] penthouse (where you enter through a roof-top garden - I needn't say more). We needed to warm up a bit before going to brunch - so as wet were snooping through her library of gardening books, I spotted a trio of these new pots  - just sitting on a table in that bright, February sunshine.

"Abbie….Are these your new pots?" I asked.

I picked one up carefully, thinking that it might be fragile - but it was so heavy and solid. Thicker than I imagined and hard, with a 'ring' to it when tapped - At that moment, I knew that this was no ordinary pot, so I agreed to write about it, and honestly - as sometimes, we bloggers do get things for free to write nice things about, but I really don't like doing that. I really did, and do, like this pot.






Abbie had a nice white phalaenopsis planted in it, which makes sense as I would say that this pot is the right depth and scale for a large phalaenopsis, and undoubtedly many people will use this pot for their collections of this now common florist plant, but I have to say that this pot deserves to be in the serious orchid growers collections with more interesting species planted in it, as it is functional in ways few orchid pots are - massive drainage holes for one, and a good weight.  Unglazed and porous, this may not be the best orchid plant for the one who wants a decorative plant, unless you use a tray with gravel in it, but this is a pot that orchids will enjoy, as it is clearly designed for plants, first and foremost this is a working orchid container. Dare I say - form follows function.



ABBIE'S NEW POTS WERE MUCH LARGER THAN I IMAGINED THAT THEY WOULD BE. 


Visually, this pot feels timeless. I am convinced that once it is mossy and covered in roots, one would be challenged to know if this pot is 200 years old or contemporary. It's  larger than normal drainage holes make it feels very serious indeed, yet its symmetrical design hints that either a star architect or top designer had their hand at it (in many ways, one did).

Now - why would one need a frost-resistant orchid pot?  As serious orchid growers know, many cool and cold orchid species like to stay out to get nipped by frost - many cymbidiums, large and unwieldy ones that will appreciate a heavy pot, but also many orchids that appreciate a good nip of frost - Neofinetia, some dendrobiums and even calanthe would do well in this pot.

Because of its heft, I am using this pot for a warmer more tropical orchid - a beast of a specimen plant - which I ordered from the nice folks at Santa Barbara Orchid Estate in Santa Barbara, CA. because, as I explained to Abbie - If I was going to write about this pot, I wanted to find just the perfect specimen orchid plant to feature in it - to do it justice, if you will. No white phaleaonopsis for me!





A few more words about the artist, Abbie Zabar

Packed with 'Abbie' style, she is feisty, bright and talented in so many ways - as an artist, a designer and and author, she is a noted authority on the art and culture of topiary (author of the 1988 classic book The Potted Herb  a must-have book for every herb and topiary lover which is out of print, but worth tracking down on-line), as well as an acclaimed artist -  this summer, her most recent project  will be showcased in a noteworthy solo exhibit at Wave Hill. Her series Flowers in the Great Hall of the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be featured in this solo exhibition at Wave Hill - Abbie Zabar: Ten Years of Flowers from June 7 until October 4 at Wave Hill House.

About Imprunta Clay

As for the choice of Impruneta clay - it is the medium of choice for Seibert & Rice, and Impruneta clay has been used in ancient vessels and sculptures, found in the worlds finest museums where curaters and historians have dated its use back to the Estruscan settlements - that would be way back to the 1300's.  6th century BC.  Few materials have proven themselves over such a long period in history - but along with marble, alabaster and other artisan materials, time and quality wins out. For people who know and appreciate fine things, few clays are nicer than that which comes from Impruneta.

BONUS - Click here to listen to an interview on Heritage Radio Network on their program We Dig Plants where both Lenore Rice from Seibert & Rice and Abbie Zabar talk about the process of working together with Italian craftsman as they built this pot.

April 13, 2015

PRUNING ESPALIER APPLES AND REPOTTING BAY LAUREL TREES



INCREDIBLE TO THINK THAT JUST 3 WEEKS AGO, THESE SHRUBS WERE ALL UNDER FEET OF SNOW. NOW, PANSIES ARE PLANTED IN NICE, RICH SOIL. I COULDN'T RESIST GETTING SOME COLOR INTO THE GARDEN.

I spent a good part of last year searching for a low cost, light weight pair of 36 inch wide containers for two of our largest bay laurel standards (topiary trained giants), and although I found some containers at Lowe's early in the spring, their nearly $200 price was a bit high. I thought that I might take a chance, and wait until November, when garden pottery gets marked down on clearance to make room for the Holiday decor, and my bet paid off. I was able to get both pots for 60% off. I might have been able to wait for a lower price, but with pots this size, it seemed best to not wait any longer. Since the bay laurels were already in the greenhouse, it seemed best to wait until spring to repot these giant trees. Anything to avoid moving them in and out of the greenhouse one more time.



These plastic, rotomolded pots have a nice sandstone color and finish, so much nicer than what we had before, which one one lead colored square pot, and a second terra cotta colored plastic pot. Clearly, the far East is getting better in molding plastics ( I should know, as a designer at Hasbro). The only problem I can find is that they are light weight, which is both a good and a bad thing.




 Easy to move around, but one heavy thunderstorm or wind gust, and these huge lollypop trees could topple. I had a few thick pieces from a nicer clay pot that were quite heavy that I saved exactly for this reason. Well, ok--not exactly, I was too lazy to haul them to the dumpster, and now I found a way to use them.




We use good quality Pro Mix BX for these large pots, augmented with sharp sand and some garden loam to help maintain porosity. After trimming the root ball down on these 15 year old trees, I centered them in each pot, made sure that the trunks were vertical, and then filled each pot with the soil mixture. Watered well, I was very happy -- even thrilled, to finally having accomplished this repotting task, for as many of you know, I've been stressing about finding the right pots for some time now - about two years. After repotting.....I noticed a problem....



 ...one potted in pots exactly the same size, the two trees no longer looked like they were the same height. I never calculated the fact that one of the older pots was a long-tom Italian clay pot, which was about 10 inches taller than the other pot, so although the two trees were trained to look the same, the trunks were actually quite different in length.



A little creative pruning with a nice gift of hand tools that the nice folks at Troy Bilt sent each of us Saturday 6'ers as a thank your for being a spokesperson for them for the past two years ( I am no longer affiliated with Troy Bilt),  I could see that I could trim up one of the trees, at least enough so that one cannot notice the difference as much. I am confident that with a years; worth of growth the difference will be minimal. Please look past the mess here, this was my first time working outdoors, and I have yet to clean up after the snomageddon.



PRUNING APPLE ESPALIER

It's late to prune apples, but these espalier are more for looks and garden form than they are for fruit, but after a few nice apples last year, I am going to fuss with them a little more. February is the proper time to prune apples, but these trees were completely buried until 3 weeks ago, when I pruned them first. Now, I decided to work with them a little bit more, constructing a bamboo frame based of some photos that I took the last time I visited Japan. 


Perhaps over kill, it was fun to build, and it should help support the branches in a less intrusive way than the typical method seen here in North America, where the stems are tied directly to the canes. Here, bamboo cross bars either support or suspend branches, branched which have been pruned more intensively than normal.


By the end of the day, I realized that I had spent most of my time fussing with the fruit trees (with more to come next weekend when the new pears and currants arrive). I actually got sunburned too, which kind of felt nice after, well, you know.


This was the first year that I decided to cover the tree peonies with Styrofoam cones which are designed for roses. These were costly plants which were a gift from Song Sparrow Nursery a few years ago, and I cherish them as this far north in New England, most of the fancy tree peonies are challenging to winter over. This year, each stem has a bud, and there appears to be no winter damage. I think that I will be covering all of my tree peonies next fall.



Lastly, many of the agapanthus were repotted, or potted up as well. The root systems on these tubs are massive, almost completely white with fleshy roots, but that is normal, and is to be expected. This species above is a rare and lovely one, Agapanthus innapertus, a nearly black flowered form with pendant blossoms which hang almost directly straight downward, it's deciduous here, and it blooms late in the summer, so repotting this species in spring is fine, whereas most of the other species prefer to be repotted just after blooming.


A nice last note - a robin nests in this tree every spring, I doubt that it is the same robin, nor offspring but it could be, for it seems to nest in the tree before May 1st every year for the past 7 years or so, often before I can relocate the tree. I took these two trees out of the greenhouse yesterday morning, and I had them laying on the ground until I could repot them in the early afternoon on Sunday. There were only potted up for about one hour before I heard a robin sounding an alarm sound. When I looked up from making the espalier form, I could see that a robin had already pulled rope, sweet pea ribbon and strings that I had swept out of the greenhouse into the tree. Apparently, no time to waste this spring, but then, who could blame them this year.

April 12, 2015

WE PREPARE FOR SPRING, FULLY LOADED

After cutting down our giant 20 year old Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold's Prommis' last summer, I knew that I would miss it's early bloom, both for the house as early forcing material as early as January, and for our first spring, woodland color. This new, young shrub, was completely under 5 feet of snow 3 weeks ago.

 I knew that it would happen eventually. really. Spring would eventually arrive, and today, as temperatures here in New England edged so close to 70º, we rejoiced (along with the bees, the crocus and even early blooming bulbs and shrubs, which have been sleeping late this year, until an unseasonably long and cold (and snowy) winter. We still have some snow in the shady spots around the yard, and even while attempting to clean up a little today, every tomato pot or outdoor tub that I moved, was still frozen to the soil below. The sun is strong, and in a few weeks, I am confident that the primula will be in bloom as the cobs on the Primula denticulata are alread emerging from their tight rosettes of leaves.


Pussy Willows in April? Typically we would pick these much earlier, my father used to take us hunting for pussy willows on March 4 every year, it was a family event - get in the Country Squire station wagon, and ride through the back roads and the first one who saw pussy willows would win. We would pick long branches ( he like big arrangements) and we would force them a few weeks longer in the dark cellar, so that they would turn pink.


I don't think that I can ever remember a spring such as this one, where the pussy willows - even the wild species are just emerging. By all accounts, it looms more like the second week of March than it does the second week of April. But in many ways, this is not unusual weather, one may even dare say that this could be the perfect spring - a long, cold winter followed by a long, cool spring with few hard refreezes ( or let's hope and pray that we don't get one in May, as that is far more dangerous to garden plants in New England than any cold, snowy winter can be), and even though plants are late, they will emerge in a timely, staged way.



I had to add a crocus image. So cheerful after this winter we had.



This bulbous Corydalis solida will need to be moved, as it has been overrun by a bamboo - Sada vietchii. I find that with a deep trowel or skinny perennial shovel, I can safely move and relocate these early spring ephemerals. Some Erythronium are on the list as well.



Chores abound, and with a big party coming up in a few weeks, I just don't know where to look first. Saturday, I focused on the greenhouse, as there is now so much damage from our big freeze back in January. Someone will need to climb up unto the rafters to trim some of the vines which froze when the furnace short circuited on the coldest day of the year. Other plants seems to have survived quite well. I have a method when I clean the greenhouse, mostly, it's about staging the benches properly. I usually like to arrange all of the Southern Hemisphere plants together on one side, and then divide the benches in the front of the house by those plants from South Africa, and then those from South America. Not this year - it's a big jumble - and go ahead, you may be thinking "well, no one will really every know, Matt". But I dare to differ - in three weeks we will be hosting  a party with many serious plant people, as we host the opening party for the national exhibition for the American Primrose Society, as well as this year, adding in two North American Rock Garden Society's as well. These people will know. (They won't really care as we shall have them suitable wined and dined).

Dendrobium 'Butter Star' an Australian cross that hints of D. speciosum in it's genes, it can handle our cold greenhouse, yet it typically blooms in late January.

Lachenalia are late as well, and even though I have reduced my collecting of these genus, a few favortites still remain.

Many plants seemed dead, so I tossed them. I did this with about half of the standard  fuchsia collection until I realized that they were not dead at all - just very dormant. I saved about a dozen, which are all showing tiny points of green. This Euphorbia, a white flowered 'crown of thorns' looked dead as well, but as I was carrying it to the dumpster, I noticed these buds.

Remember those black-centered anemones that I planted as a winter project? I know that I've been sharing a few images - they were basically a failure, and none were the black centered variety called 'Panda' which I wanted. Still, some nice purple and white ones. All in all, they grew well in the bench, and next winter I will plant many more traditional forms.

Another view of that Dendrobium but I wanted you to see this yellow flowered creature at the base of this acacia tree. I first noticed it's fragrance, for beyond that, one grows it for its bright, yellow bells which yes - typically bloom during the shorter days of winter. Hermannia verticillata, or 'Honey Bells', it's related to the hibiscus and native to Africa. An old fashioned greenhouse and conservatory plant in the north, it often looks best grown in a basket, and I will add that it is an aphid magnet. 

Gasteria seedlings, well, I suppose that they are hardly seedlings now seeing that they are about 6 years old or more,  are reacting to the warmer, and gradually lengthening days by sending up their flower stalks. This one s sending up many.

This babiana is just the typical hybrid form sold by the Dutch bulb catalogs as mixed colors. I thought that I might try a few in a pot over the winter - it's been an interesting study as my species collection of Babiana are going dormant, having bloomed last month, but these are just taking off - maybe they think that they are in California?


Rarely seen in northern gardens, Ipheon are borderline hardy as a bulb plant here in Massachusetts. I grow mine in pots and containers, and then will bring them outdoors if the weather becomes mind. This is a pink cultivar.


Even the camellias are late. This is a new one for me, an old variety from dare I say, the 1970's called 'Elegans Champage'. It's one of the 20 new varieties I added to the camellia collection  this autumn. We need to raise them in containers and tubs, which are brought under glass for the winter.

My seeds from NARGS are germinating! The North American Rock Garden Society seed list has many gems, but wonder if I should have sown these Massonia so late in the winter, as it is a winter grower. I will try to keep them growing on as long as possible, and allow them to go dormant around late June or July.