}

November 30, 2015

A $75 GIVEAWAY FROM JACKSON & PERKINS,WINNER!

Who doesn't love large, winter-blooming amaryllis bulbs? With this $75 dollar gift card to Jackson & Perkins, imagine what you could buy?
++++++ CONGRATULATIONS TO HEATHER ++++++
Heather, You won! (as number 7 who posted a comment). Please contact me at mmattus@charter.net with your contact info (just your email I think) it needs to be shared with the folks at J&P. Thanks for entering!  Matt.




I try not to do too many giveaways or partnerships. Only a couple this year, but this one is pretty good. A Holiday $75 gift card courtesy of the  Jackson & Perkins company. I don't know, maybe it's because it's the Holiday season? Most likely, it's just because I kind of liked the surprise element of them sending me something from their Holiday catalog--

"anything, really, I'm not fussy." I told them.
Can you tell that I accepted to do this out of pure selfishness? No one buys me Christmas gifts anymore, so I was desperate.

Two weeks ago it came.

I opened the box and guess what I got?

-
-
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A waxed amaryllis bulb.


I probably would have chased another color than this Star Wars silver, but it does match our kitchen.



Stop it!


 Look, I'm finding that growing it is kind of fun. Yes, this surprises me, because I needn't remind you that even thought I love me some nostalgia,  I even felt that forcing hyacinths in bulb vases was tacky (that changed after I had a 'talking-to' by my friend Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings ). Funny how I had to grow up to learn how to play like a kid again?

Two years ago these novelty hand-dipped in wax amaryllis bulbs began showing up at trade shows. My many plant-geek friends loved to joke about the on social media with snarky notes. Even Instagram photos of them with horrified faces in front of displays with waxed amaryllis.  I dismissed the idea as well, but really, out of everyone, I should have known better - - I work as an inventor and a futurist at a toy company - - a freaking toy company, which means that I am essentially like an elf, if not Santa himself - I should be all about play.

Honestly, I am having fun with it, even though I know that it won't be a fancy new variety, or one of the spider-flowered ones. Each morning it greets me as I make coffee, and I can see it's progress. Last year I grew about 20 large expensive amaryllis, and I can't say that I paid as much attention to them growing in their clay, Guy Wolff pots as I have watched this little guy. Maybe because there is only one, and it is the first week of December. For whatever reason, it's reminding me of the very first amaryllis I grew back in the early 1970's. I was so excited and proud when it bloomed. That won't happen here, but the process of watching it mysteriously grow has been fun again.

Get one of these for your kid - it may kick-start a love for plants.

Sure, it will die once it blooms, but who cares? I rarely save my amaryllis anyway. We all know that it's not a very horticulturally sound method (I mean, in a purist 1960's-force-a-colchicum-on-the-window-sill sort of way, (or even in a 2013-hotglue-a-airplant-anywhere-sort of way for that matter). Better than a Chia Pet but not as cool as Magic Rocks and not even close to a Fuzzy Wuzzy.

My wax coated amaryllis bulb is quickly growing - without water. It just sits on a wire ring, and is waterproof, even on our antique Arts & Crafts unfinished wood furniture.

Better yet, leave a message below and share this joy with a real kid - which this would be perfect for, or even better, with an elderly parent or neighbor (I am ordering a few for some of my neighbors who rarely get out anymore). Its more fool proof than a regular store-bought bulb, and it's cleaner.


The nice folks at Jackson & Perkins are offering up a terrific Holiday giveaway for my readers - a $75 gift card. To enter, just leave one message below (duplicates will be eliminated) and I will draw a winner using the randomizer web site on Thursday night at 9:00 PM EST. 

November 28, 2015

10 ROMANTIC WEDDING FLOWERS JUST WAITING TO BE REDISCOVERED

A selection of heirloom mums - spoons, Japanese cascades and anemone forms, combined with a few thistle, quill and formal incurves. I dare you David Stark - 17th century kimono meets October on Mount Fuji -Gold,  bronze, and pink? I say it works.


Also in the past two years,  I've noticed signs - an increasing interest in some very old fashioned flowers. My talks on how to grow many plants which were once so popular in the nineteenth century are attracting a broader audience. People under 40 are asking me about exhibition chrysanthemums, dahlias and my 'How to raise exhibition English Sweet Peas' classes are selling out. Some images of mine, particularly those on spider mums and sweet peas on flickr and Photobucket are getting hits nearing 50K. Something is happening.

There was a time, in the 18th and 19th Century when when local cut flowers were available 24/7. Although we've become dependent on imported flowers, revisiting some of these old fashioned flowers which are too tender to ship, or too seasonal, may be possible again - if local growers invest in new crops.

We can thank the wedding social media world so so much, from the 'good' to the 'bad' . They jump started the DIY/Michaels Craft Store make-over with the rush for galvanized metal anything, to blackboards and chalk. Wedding blogs re-defined wedding photography, making it an art form, than a job that old product photographers embarrassingly  retired to. Photoshop Actions shifted colors to unrealistic levels as bright teal and coral flowers emerged from simple bouquets which were -re-pinned in the thousands by eager brides-to-be. 

As far a flowers are concerned, the social media world has created it's champions which we can now recite as common as any brand name - 'Cafe au Lait 'Dahlias , 'Green Trick' Dianthus, not to mention long-stemmed English Sweet Peas, and the White and black 'Panda' Anemone's - did I forget the 'Billy Button'? 

Along with cool and epic mustaches, beards on the groomsmen, to the use of Mason jars for everything. Factor in farm tables, paper flag banners, chalk boards, succulents and air plants  - and that whole - Jumping the Shark thing - yeah, when it all moved beyond Target and Michaels, we have a problem. Now that social media has successfully redefined the formality of what a wedding originally was  - -  and within a couple of years turned what was so disruptive and original into mainstream? What's next?

So as a plant-guy, this has my day job as a 'futurist' factoring into what I do at night. What will we dare to kick-start next in regards to wedding trends? OK - Flower farms take note, I am sharing some secrets and predictions.


An heirloom chrysanthemum blooms in my greenhouse. Many of these flowers have been in bloom for 3 months now.


1. Old Fashioned Chrysanthemums - OK, No surprise here, at least for me, except that so few people can actually find any of the old varieties that this trend may peter out before this trend ever takes off. Some may say that it's beginning though - as we all realize that chrysanthemum means more than hardy mums in the garden. Here, an entire world awaits which once captivated many cultures hundreds of years ago.  I am getting so much interest from flower farm owners to individual growers who want to try raising these somewhat time-consuming plants, that I am overwhelmed by the lust for these flowers. Not the easiest to grow, since they bloom in October and November, many flower farms are just starting to raise them again. And it's just in the nick of time, as the old varieties are almost extinct.

Buddleja asiatic, a fragrant winter-blooming shrub that was once a useful winter cut flower before air travel made flower importing possible. Regional markets in the North Eastern US needed to rely on greenhouse shrubs like this.

2.  Buddleia asiatica - This may be new to you, but there was a time, in the mid 1800's when no winter wedding was complete without orange blossoms, asparagus fern and arching, fragrant sprays of Buddleia asiatica - a cool growing, winter blooming greenhouse shrub. This is the plant that made Logee's. Logee's.  You see, back in the mid nineteenth century, boxes of cut branches of this fragrant white winter-blooming buddleia made it from the historic New England greenhouse we all love, to the New York and Boston flower markets. cut back every spring, the shrubs, which were planted in the ground would produce an annual crop of arching branches by Christmastime, blooming until March, when few plants flower with size. This Asian buddleia is just waiting to be rediscovered by flower farms looking for an authentic, Victorian wedding flower that has disappeared from our visual palette.







3. Lily of the Valley - Why this flower has not been reintroduced confounds me. At one time ( around 1900) ,  hundreds of thousands of pips of the choices selections (Berlin and Hamburg) were kept in cold storage so that cut flowers could be had every month of the year. What happened? This easy to grow, easy to force flower which today can only be found at great cost, and, during perhaps 2 weeks of the year, is just waiting to make someone rich. I mean - talk about romance! Who doesn't love the scent of Lily of the Valley? I force many each year, simple by digging up my own pips in the garden, which I just did yesterday.



Bouquet's of rented Violets- not your garden variety, but a fragrant treasure from the past - once were so popular, that shipments were made from farm to large, East coast cities every week during the late winter and spring.

4. The Scented Violets - Like the lily of the valley, the Parma or Imperial violets would be such an economical crop that again, if I had investors, I would start a business raising these plants for cut flowers. All one needs are cold frames, or better yet, hot beds with manure. Of course, one would also need a crew with good backs to pick these short-stemmed fragrant flowers, but they were once so popular that florist magazines dedicated entire issues to their production. 

A cold frame of scented violets in Rhinebeck, NY circa 1910

They were once more popular than roses at Valentines Day. A hundred and fifty years ago, thousands of violet nosegays complete with wax paper cones which protected the delicate blossoms, were hand-tied, placed in wooden crates and set on trains which would transport them to cities like Boston and New York from their growing areas along the Hudson River. Today, imagine baskets of scented violets at a wedding? These would indeed be 'slow flowers' which are sustainable and yet rich with history. They deserve a second look by flower farmers.

A few violet colored varieties of gladiolus photographed in the fields of Pleasant Valley Glads near us.

5. Gladiolus - (what?!!) Really.
Here I go, dangerously out on a limb, but I sense a rise in interest in Gladiolus. If you aren't seeing it, just wait.  I don't mean those glads we see at the market or the florist, or at funerals even, but the amazing exhibition varieties sold only at small specialist nurseries like Pleasant Valley Glads (they have loads of Dahlias, as well). 

A striking new cross at the Western Massachusetts Gladiolus show. Ordering glads from a breeder will ensure that you get varieties not available anywhere else - remember, the Dutch only grow a select few - those that ship well, or propagate well for them. If you want 5 for tall stems with a dozen flowers open at once, you need to see these.


No pictures on their site, but please overlook it. If you want to order, do what I do, and just Google a few of the names. You may see what a chocolate colored gladiolus looks like which will convince you that there is an entire world here which is undiscovered. 

The show gladiolus come in most every color in the rainbow. Again, these are not available from any main-stream catalog, you must order the new crosses directly from the breeders themselves.
Rusty, ruffly, violet eyed, pie-crusted edges - you name it, the varieties that we are not seeing in catalogs are the ones I am talking about. Gladiolus are like a summer candy just waiting to be rediscovered.  Glamellas anyone? Go ahead, Google it.

Camellias were even considered a Christmas flower in 1900, which is no surprise, as many of my trees are coming into bloom right now, in the greenhouse.

6. Winter Camellias - As we become more conscious about 'slow flowers', these one-time common greenhouse plants found in every florists glasshouse in the north is long due a comeback. Their only drawback was shipping, and perhaps stem length, but shipping today is more of an opportunity and a selling point than anything else. 

A formal rose form camellia blooms in my greenhouse. Perfection.

Add in that they thrive in unheated or low heat greenhouses and hoop houses, and one can see why the Camellia is just waiting for its comeback. Winter blooming, low cost, trees that get better every year - there was no greenhouse in New York or New England that didn't have a bank of camellia trees growing at the back of it, often with beds underneath them with anemones, ranunculus and calla lilies growing directly in the ground.


An advertisement for Camellia corsages from the 1940's.





 A Nineteenth Century greenhouse full of Mignonette ready to be cut.

7. Mignonette - Mmmm, Mignonette. What the Hell is Mignonette anyway? (I don't know, but I want it, right?). A classic greenhouse cut flower from the Victorian era, Reseda odorata has been tucked into wedding bouquets for decades until it fell out of favor. Pots of this fragrant herb with flower which are anything but pretty, have been added to conservatory displays and botanic garden displays to add fragrance, but today - just try and find it. Hence the romance.  Any proper Nineteenth century cold greenhouses on estates and in large Eastern cities often kept plants of Mignonette in pots If one could re-market pots of Mignonette again, imagine what a game-changer it would be for the wedding industry?

Mignonette illustration featured on a cover from the 1892 Sutton's Seeds catalog.


8. Giant Calla Lillies - No longer the flower of death, these are the grande dam of Hollywood film stars and early 20th century weddings. Just look at your great grandparents wedding pictures, and surely you will see Calla Lillies somewhere in the shots. Low cost, back of the greenhouse bulbs, the tall, old fashioned varieties can still be found if you look carefully. 4-6 feet tall,as ours are, they are covered with giant, white callas every March - May. Come-on flower farms, leave the 'Cafe au Lait's' to the common growers. Let's bring back glamour.

Carnations from the mail-order source, Florabundance. Not your typical carnations.


9. Border Carnations
I know, right? But if I ever dreamed that so many people - professional flower farm people to plant geeks who have written to me admitting that they have a secret desire to raise the old-fashioned long-stemmed exhibition varieties or border carnations, you wouldn't believe me. I have been craving these plants for some time now, but in the US they are virtually un-obtainable. 

Vintage print of old florist Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus)
Most of the nicer exhibition types - those used for shows are in the UK, and the rest, which are commercial, are in India and Columbia. Some serious smuggling will need to be done to get some cuttings into the States, but whomever gets there first, will surely reap the rewards because we ALL want them!




Most of our great grandmothers' enjoyed orange blossoms in their wedding bouquets

10. Orange blossoms - Or any citrus blossom. I can't imagine flower farms raising these, unless they are in California or Florida, but citrus flowers in wedding bouquets were once as common as Jasmine and Stephanotis in the 1960's (Hmmm - I wonder if Stephanotis should be re-added to this list again?). There was a time when branches of orange blossoms were as common as babies breath in wedding bouquets, and why not - dreamy scent that can't be matched, and much are winter blooming in northern greenhouses. Sure, they are hard to ship, but again, we're talking local crops here. Seasonal for certain, but if one is looking for distinction, this old fashioned flower would do the trick.


Strings of marigolds at an elaborate wedding in India. Source - Indear.in


Bonus Prediction - Marigolds

Think about it. 'Eat, Pray, Love', 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' franchise, even the Day of the Dead. The marigold is on the cusp of a comeback. String of marigolds, a curtain of strung marigolds - the effect could be stunning at an autumnal wedding.
The idea of marigolds in any garden scheme may seem odd but as a secret, closet marigold fan, I've been noticing its comeback arriving in a big way. Easy to grow, water-wise, a late summer beauty with brilliant charm - the marigold may just be experiencing a rise in popularity never experienced before.




















November 17, 2015

NOVEMBER SONG

The espalier apple trees are fixed for the long winter ahead with their fruit removed for the season.  With Thanksgiving just around the corner, November marks a transitional time in the garden between outdoor chores, and greenhouse play.


I love November. Really, I do. It means that winter is coming. OK, stop it. Listen, I can like winter and like gardening at the same time. This is the time of year when gardening chores slow down, become more focused (since they are limited to my greenhouse projects which I enjoy more),a nd in other ways, they just become more cerebral - time to read, think, plan and dream.

These gray, autumnal days, albeit shorter than summer, are hardly what William Cullen Bryant calls "the saddest of the year".

Really?

I would think that distinction might go to March.



On the back porch, heirloom apples from the espalier apples in front of the greenhouse gifted us a few dozen fruit this year. These have been making their way into tarte tartin and oatmeal  for breakfast. Not perfect, since we didn't spray, they are still clear inside even though the skins are imperfect. Yes, that is a tomato!



The great poets seemed to appreciate little about November.  I can't find many positive stanza's or even phrases which don't include the words 'dreary' , 'dull' or 'bleak'.

(Robert Frost goes further to describe it as "sodden", whilst (yes, I said whilst) Sir Walter Scott penned out - "November's sky is chill and drear…", but dear Emily Dickinsen went further with:

 "November always seemed to me the Norway of the year."

 Whah? !

There has to be a story behind that….. because I love Norway, as well.


In the vegetable garden, the beds are cleaned up, with only hardy herbs left out along with a few carrots.




It's all happening in the greenhouse, right now. Chrysanthemums, the first of the cymbidium orchids and lots of South African bulbs.

Speaking of South African Bulbs - The Nerine sarniensis varieties are in full bloom, and rather spectacular.

Also known as Guersey Lilies, Nerine sarniensis are rarely seen today outside of a few collectors and private collections.

These relatives of the common Amaryllis are smaller and more delicate looking, but grow in a similar way, from a bulb which sits halfway into the soil in a pot. They require a hot, summer rest with no water, and a long, winter growing period with moisture and bright light, which limits who can grow them well to those with cold greenhouses.

My collection of about 100 bulbs has about a third of them blooming every year, they are a bit shy. Many of these varieties date back to the early 20th Century, and all hail from the UK, mostly the Exbury hybrids.

Outside, the gardens are cleaned and spotless because of a photoshoot last week. Even the boxwoods have bee sheered. I know, I could have centered the strawberry pot better!



November 12, 2015

HOLIDAY LIGHTING TIP - MAKE IT A YEAR ROUND CHOICE WITH BRIGHT LED GARDEN LIGHTS

Halloween night, kids could now walk the length of our long entrance path, illuminated with these bright LED path lights which out-shine any other path light we've tried. Into our dumpster went a whole bunch of ineffective solar lights.


A few years ago, we started using spot lights to up-light our outdoor birch trees instead of Holiday lights. The effect was so great, that each year we add more outdoor spots, illuminating the house, the plants and trees from below, and - get this, we now leave them up all year. There's a few problems thought - regular light bulbs are expensive, and we have extension cords running all over the place which generally get caught up in the snowblower tines, not to mention the cost of electricity and broken bulbs.

The look is spectacular though. So pretty at night, that we've noticed some neighbors copying us. Now, the generally uninteresting homes in our neighborhood are starting to look a little like hip bread and breakfast places!.





If you ever have thought about what it's like writing a blog, I shall remind you that yes - it can be tedious. For whatever reason, I have fallen into a routine where I actually enjoy the process (even though I've only been posting about one post a week lately - believe me, I have a very good reason that I can't really talk about right now!).




Our front walk, now illuminated at night with these fully wired in, path lights from SUPERBRIGHTLEDS.COM - I'm convinced, and now want to order more for our ether paths.




About 5 months ago I received a request to consider partnering with a company called SUPERBRIGHTLEDS.comhttps://www.superbrightleds.com. Really. I thought it was a joke, after all, when I visited their site and saw their awfully "super bright" logo (remember, I am also a graphic designer), I groaned and a-l-m-o-s-t clicked away.

But then, I really thought about it…..I thought about my own experience with less-than-effective solar path lights from big box stores, and - - I looked at all that they offered at SUPERBRIGHTLEDS.com, and I responded with a few ideas. More than a few, really, since once I started looking - at underwater lights, and color change lights, at directional path lighting, I began to see all sorts of possibilities.

Here is what we used from the site for our path:

      8 Landscape Path Lights - single tier, 4 watt
The ground mounting stake and east-to-screw-on connectors are included with each lamp ($19.99 each. Think about it , only about twice the cost of the solar versions which only last about one year, and are too weak to effectively light the walk.

     50 feet of Low Voltage cable 14 gage

Finally, here is a video showing how easy they are to install on Youtube



The benefits outweigh any time spent on installing real, wired lighting, but come on - even I could handle this installation. Snap, click and plug-in? Who needs an electrician (but the results sure look as if I hired one!)



But before I begin, let's think about the LED lights that we know from the past.

We see LED lights everywhere today. In this past week, I've seen how LED lights have evolved from harsh, almost clinical lighting to lighting with brilliant clarity that brings out the truest colors of food and plants, in much the same way that a brand new pair of glasses does (if you wear glasses!).

As a designer, I am critical about lighting and color, so I have resisted introducing any LED lights into my home, but recently they are sneaking in without be even knowing it. Our new refrigerator is loaded with lights on every shelf, but I have yet to covert to holiday lights for outdoors - that is, until this year after seeing some installed on trees at our nearby botanic garden, Tower Hill. Holiday lights are starting to show how LED lights are improving, so why not consider them?

One thing that will happen however, is if you are blessed enough to have many readers and followers which will lead to a good blog rank ( thank you ALL of you!), you will begin to receive offers for free giveaways, sponsored posts, book reviews and even product placement. To be clear up-front, this is a product placement post - but don't click away just yet - for as those of you who know me, I am pretty selective about who I partner with, and with nearly 20 requests a week for partnerships, and only about 5 annual partner posts, - that alone should show you how selective I am.

Like any technology, LED lighting keeps improving, but that doesn't mean that I am completely open to converting over just yet - then, as what happens with a top blog sometimes, I get an email from an LED company. At first, I almost deleted it (really - I think I did deleted the first few). Believe me when I tell you that I sometimes get requests for partnerships and sponsored posts for some of the strangest non-gardening products. Heck, sometimes, even the relatively-close-to-gardening-offers are so off-brand that I can tell immediately that they never even read my blog - (I may do a post about these sometimes, since some are quite funny).

The SUPERBRIGHTLED website has links to many, many, many YOUTUBE videos on how to install the various lights in your garden.

Now, back to why I finally changed my mind about LED lights - - with this offer, my imagination started to run. I couldn't help it! I had visions of Disney's 'World of Color' fountain lights, and Las Vegas' Bellagio-style supernovas! As my imagination ran, I could see our summer garden transform into a boutique hotel in Miami Beach, with all the tropical and lush bananas, alocasia and cannas illuminated from below spots (maybe even with color-change features!), but for that, I will have to wait until next spring.



I love how these bright LED lights look in the evening, something which was difficult to capture with my camera, but believe me, I want to order lots of these lights for our other walks now - it's where my Christmas lighting budget will be going.

The way I see it, I have the entire, long New England winter to plan for our garden illumination, and every spare $100 bucks or so, will go towards another feature (this walk would cost around $100) for materials - which really is only a few dollars more than those cheap, ineffective solar lights from the big box stores.


Joe helped install the lights along the studio walk, which only took on tool and about a half hour.





I hope that this post will change your outdoor life - at the very least, it will change your nighttime garden appearance or your entrance. As for electricity cost, LED's use much less electricity than incandescent bulbs - we leave ours on 24/7 now, and even our elderly neighbors have commented on how safe they feel when they look down into this portion of our garden  from across the street - which once was black at night ( they liked it when we kept the lamp posts on!).