April 24, 2016

Hedging Hornbeams, Planting Onions and other April Chores

A hedge of English Hornbeam (Carpinius betulus) gets trimmed twice a year, once in June, and once in September, but every few years it needs to be topped-off, as I don't want it to get too tall. This must be done in the early spring, which provides us with pea brush, as well.

 Training a hedge of hornbeam is a very European thing to do. Rarely seen in the US, a hornbeam hedge makes a lovely statement in the garden, as well as a fast-growing hedge. I have two hedges on the property, one, planted 18 years ago (this one), which runs along the long walk, and second one which we planted between our neighbors and our Martin House gravel garden, near the greenhouse, which makes a sort-of tunnel which the dogs love, but which is actually a secret shade garden.

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April 22, 2016

My Earth Day Giveaway - Disposable Compost Bins by Postmodern

These new compostable food scrap boxes introduce a new system which is 100% compostable, all designed by two of my good friends. I want to share a month's worth with you, as an Earth Day Giveaway.
Thanks everyone! Contest is over.

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April 15, 2016

How to grow primroses that return year to year

Primula elatior (this one grown by primrose expert Amy Olmsted in Vermont) as dug from the garden for a primrose exhibition, proves how resilient primroses can be in the spring, as all tolerate being dug and potted for a few days and brought indoors, only later to be returned to the garden often after dividing them (this is usually what most growers do).

I've struggled with growing primroses, and I suspect that I am not alone. Sure, I could buy pre-grown plants in the late winter and spring, and set them into containers and into garden displays, but they rarely or never returned. I wrote it all off for years as something not that I was doing wrong, but that my lack of wintering over primroses was because of our climate. USDA Zone 5, New England, and my neighbors and friends gardens all reinforced this theory - none of them ever had primrose borders or plants that wintered over. But all of that changed, once I joined the American Primrose Society, and started visiting gardens in New England that not only had primroses in the spring, but also found some with loads of primroses. Clearly, there is a lot to learn here.

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April 11, 2016

Winter's Late Departure Allows UsTo Catch Up

Those pots of Nemesia that I sowed in September, but then fussed a bit over by adjusting their pH, and monitoring their magnesium and calcium diet, are really taking off. Clearly, an alkaline soil and tweaks to their feed made a huge difference.

It has snowed here in Massachusetts three times since April 1st, but most of the garden seems to be handling this late blast of cooler than normal temperatures. Raking seems more enjoyable, even though one needs to wear a down jacket. Gloves are still necessary, which keeps some chores uncomfortable, such as sowing seeds late pruning of the fruit trees. It's during winters transition into spring, such as this year, when one appreciates having a greenhouse. Oh Hell, one always appreciates a greenhouse except when it's time to pay the heating bill, but the plants themselves really appreciate the warmth during the transitional seasons. Those of us who have been around a bit know that it can snow as late as mid-May, I can remember snow weighing down lilacs and late tulips in the last week before Memorial Day. It can happen again.
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April 9, 2016

My Icelandic Immersion Ends

In my last post from Iceland, and before I return back to more traditional gardening posts, here are some of the various images from both the two cities of Reykjavik and Akureyi in the north.

The snow melted quickly in Reykjavik, on most days, the temperatures hovered around freezing. Iceland was very similar in climate to New England, at least in March and April.

It's just a couple of weeks after Easter Sunday here in Iceland, and many of the stores and homes are still decorated.

There is still plenty of snow cover in the north, where one is closer to the polar regions, but even in Reykjavik, which is in the souther eastern portion of the country, there was some snow. It was snowing when our flight  arrived and snowing back in Boston, as well.

There are only a handful of geysers in the world, and some of the best happen to be in Iceland. 

Reykjavic lays just south of many mountain ranges, and the rest of the country - extending many miles and hours north, is relatively barren with a few farms in between. From across the fjord here, you can see raw nature just miles away.

We visited Iceland's version of Home Depot, and were impressed with the color selection for home colors in their paint department. Coral-red, mustard, sage and light blues - clearly, the colors were limited but I can't help but imagine that this palette helps make the island nation look even nicer.

Driving north, Jess and I stopped to climb a few ridges to appreciate the amazing views, often with any sign of man in sight. No roads, street lights, jet trails but occasionally electrical wires on pylons. With so much geothermal energy,  electricity production is big business in Iceland.
Can you see the rainbow? This remote lake was frozen, and with only the site and sound of migrating birds. In a few weeks. when the ice thaws, these lakes will host one of the Planet's most diverse and rich populations of nesting waterfowl and waders.

It was encouraging to see that in some of the very remote areas, these pylons are forbidden. This sign was seen driving north on the western coast, where one could see for at least 30 miles and not see even a pylon.

Once in the north, only a few miles from the Arctic Circle, the temperatures were significant'y colder, and it snowed most every day.

In the northernmost city of Akureyi, the second largest city in Iceland, a  fearless use of color tints many homes. Homes here appear to made either of concrete, or sided in corrugated metal. Probably due more to the cost and shortage of wood than the cold.

Google helped us find our favorite coffee shop, although, once we found it, we discovered that it very 'Wes Anderson'-like.

The Icelandic Winter Games was one reason why we went to Iceland. The idea of skiing under the Northern Lights intrigued us, but that never happened. There was clearly a 'small town' feel about this event, which we really liked.  Snowboard pipelines, and a snow mobile rally made the night exciting, high above the small city and ocean beyond.

It was snowing hard, but the steep snowy slopes were no match for the many 4X4's that made their way up the hill.
No trees, and a very arctic looking ocean to ski down to, made the experience very special and unique. You could ski with your eyes closed, because there were so few people here.

Super premium all natural fish snacks - - - for dogs. It's what Icelandic dogs eat.

One of the first things I do, when visiting another country, is to peruse the supermarket aisles. This looked interesting.

Our AirBNB was so pretty, the host is clearly an artist, with her paintings on most every wall, and lots of Scandinavian influenced color and patterns. Jess, as  a designer herself,  really liked it.

Jess posed on one of the many colorful sofas in our AirBNB.

On the way back 'home' to Reykjavic, the setting sun enhanced the views.

This country had such amazing vista's and nature, that even though there were few interesting plants, especially in winter, I am certain that I will return again.

April 7, 2016

Exploring Planet Iceland

Our land speeder made traversing this planet rather easy, and...it played gay disco music from the 70's (which the native population apparently enjoys).

It's not a stretch to imagine what it is like on Mars while touring Iceland. It's easy to see why feature films often use Iceland's epic scenery as a location for interplanetary travel, and to be honest, there were a few time while here that it felt a bit too much like 'The Martian', than it did Planet Earth. Here are a few more images of this beautiful and remote country.

Danger lurked everywhere, due to the cold temperatures and the atmospheric conditions.

In some valley's. there was some low plant life, which was interesting given the volume of water on this planet.

Some areas were inhospitable, difficult to walk through so we could only document them on film. A distant volcano hinted at the planet's geologic history.

Judging by the foot prints, we were not alone. 

With some elevation, this blue planet displayed a tremendous volume of water. Most of it appeared crystal clear, and safe for drinking. Someone should bottle it and sell it.

Yet some of the water seemed un-drinkable and acidic at first. We found it to be highly alkaline. Blue cyan-bacteria populated some water sources, which the local's used as a skin treatment (i.e. facial masks at the Blue Lagoon? I won't share those pic's.).

Our diet of licorice, vodka and herring made us feel vital and healthy.

A remote outpost.

At first we weren't sure if we could breath the air. I had left my oxygen meter at home.

Sulphureus fumes from fumaroles hinted that everything might smell like rotten eggs (it did).

It may look toxic, but apparently, this water will make you feel and look ten years younger. It was hot, and  therapeutic and  we took advantage of such pools.

Our team also explored many craters - we experienced a wide range of climactic conditions.

There are few places to pee when there are no trees and our space suits were not equipped.

Rainbows were everywhere. actually, this was a snow-bow.
An interesting outpost hinted of another visit by other explorers - it held two cots, and some basic supplies enough for one night in the frigid temperatures.

The language here is difficult to learn. Siri, on our translation device did an admirable job.

Yet sometimes, Google Maps just seemed to make gibberish out of the language. 

Spectacular waterfalls seemed to be at every turn, making a second visit a must.

Our land cruiser handled the rough terrain well, although we got pretty muddy.

...but the  atmosphere was totally breathable, (the design of our space suits was necessary color,  due to the color of the environment and for safety concerns).
We could not help but notice that there was only one sun in this system, but it didn't warm the atmosphere that well.

The solar storms at night were brilliant, and safe. The symbol of the letter 'M' freaked me out a bit.

The Aurora Borealis ended each night with style. We were fortunate to be 2 hours from our basecamp one evening, which allowed us to capture amazing images without interference. We were not looking forward to our journey back home.