May 17, 2016

The Gardener's Full Plate Season

I presume that most of us suffer the same plight  during these spring days - that of little time, and lots of chores. Once one factors in the obligatory plant sales, treks to the garden center and garden tours - the idea of spreading mulch or repotting dahlias can get pushed out to another weekend. If you are anything like me, returning home from a plant sale often means that even more plants arrive - why is it that we often forget the entire second part of the process? That each of these plants needs to be planted, the containers washed and repurposed or recycled? Each plant well watered and tended to.

But, really, I 'get' it - you can't risk ignoring that very special rare salvia species or afford the slightest delay in grabbing that giant cassia or spikey solanum just discovered at the nursery (unless we really want to place another order with Annies Annuals and wait...). In some way, this is a sport - not unlike a mobile game, complete with the thrill of the hunt and the delight of 'scoring' high when the cart is full of treasures (sometimes even if the perfect container has yet to be claimed).

Spontaneous container curating ensues (whether we have the 'perfect' container, or not.). I am one of those who sometimes shops for plants with a vague idea of what I want, but the reality is that one never knows what one will see at a nursery or plant sale until one arrives, and quick decisions sometimes need to be made. No dark brown foliage or golden leaved plants? Then don't just settle for a bromeliad as a filler, decide on the spot to make it the centerpiece of your urn - better yet, allow it to inspire you to zig instead of zag. No need to be too precious and waste hours and fuel searching for that perfectly black-leaved colocasia if no growers has it this year.

Great gardeners rarely shop for plants with a precise list, rather they keep a library of ideas filed away in their brains, and most any color or textural palette is ready at a moments notice. One of the best skills a new gardener can exercise is not perfection - gardening isn't interior design, for forget swatches, magazine clippings or the color of that container. Nice idea, but most of the time, it isn't going to work in your favor.

Curating plant collections for you garden isn't even like grocery shopping - not at all, unless one shops like a real foodie or an accomplished chef. What I mean is, shop the nursery selections with the same freedom and openness that comes with the mind of a chef - embrace the surprise find, expect anticipation  and disapointment, but then move on to even more clever and relevant solutions given the material at hand. Allow your creativity to drive your new skills in instant curation.

These next few weekends bring long to-do lists which often get rescheduled as plant sales and nursery runs interrupt the already hectic spring gardeners schedule. Yet, we adore spring, don't we?

  • 6:30 AM   Started watch ducklings hatch - they were having trouble due to a new incubator. Involved tweezers, fingers and a pair of nose hair scissors. Don't ask.
  • 8:00 AM   Depart for Trade Secrets - drive to Sharon CT. (1.5 hours) Ducklings safe under a heat lamp, rest of eggs left to fend for themselves while we go schmooze with the fancy folk.
The traffic,  even a mile from the farm where Trade Secrets is held, was  stopped as many opted to forego the $125 entry fee at 7:30. opting for the $40 entrance donation at 10:00 am. I learned my lesson.

  • 10:00 AM Waited in line to find parking at Trade Secrets for an hour (NEVER again - missed all of our friends including Abbie whom we never see there! We even missed Margaret Roach.) We did get to bump into our good friends Tony from Snug Harbor Farm,  Andrew Brand from Broken Arrow, Ed Bowen from Opus Plants, Karen Perkins from  Garden Vision Epimediums,  Esther and Harvey Wrightman from you-know-where, and Tovah (do I really need to say -Martin?). 
Trade Secrets is worth most any entrance fee. Fresh-from-the-kiln, one of a kind pots hand thrown by star potter Guy Wolff. And, Guy hand wraps each one in deli paper so that you can take it home.

The weather this year at Trade Secrets in Sharon, CT. was sunny and warm on Saturday, not so, on Sunday. 

My big 'find' at Trade Secrets? This Hippeastrum species, or more likely, a cross. I don't trust the name on the tag, as it was not found on any list of Hippeastrum (amaryllis) species lists. Not unusual, if anything, it makes the bulb even more desirable. It's planted in a Guy Wolff triple ruffle pot (purchased last year - this year I bought one of his Mount Vernon pots).
  • 1:00 - Stopped to shop for more plants on the way home at Ward's Nursery in Great Barrington. Because.... we needed more plants (and we had cash left over). Joe bought a hardy opuntia which proceeded to get thorns in my chest and arms as I carried it to the car. Damn you opuntia!
  • 2:30 Late lunch (and a few too many gin and tonics) at the Aegean Breeze in Great Barrington. Thanks to most every Berkshire member of NARGS who introduced me to this place!
A close-up of the blossom on my new Hippeastrum. If anyone has a thought on what species this is, please share.
  • 4:00  Arrive home after getting detoured due to an accident on the Mass Pike.
  • 5:00  Worked in greenhouse repotting my new Hippeastrum from Trade Secrets, and repotted seedlings of various veggies and annuals. Took cuttings from more Dahlias and made labels. Repotted Vireya's with woodbark. Tied and trimmed topiary rosemary, used clippings in kitchen for a great potato salad from the newest issue of Food & Wine that came in that day.  (Harrison Ford's son's recipe).
Back at home, a pot of ranunculus that I potted up in November is just coming into bloom. Most of the buds were damaged when I went to Iceland, since I left the pot outdoors for a week just after Easter. 

  • 6:30 finished cleaning oven. Started helping Joe un-hatch the remaining ducklings that were having problems. One egg died, but the rest are healthy. 

  • 7:00 Grilled sirloin strips for dinner ( off the all plant based diet for 1 day a week, which has creeped into 2.5 days this week due to Curtis (Joe's nephew staying with us).
My Lathyrus collection (annual Lathyrus) is starting to look better. Still looking for a good way to stake them for display, as I really dislike using twine, but all I could find at this point was green twine. Need me some Nutscene, I guess. Slender bamboo may need to do, on seven foot canes tied into a tee pee. It seems like the most authentic 19th century way,
  • 8:30 - searched on Google images for ideas on how to stake Lathyrus collections in pots (not many ideas here - I will need to originate). Ordered more chrysanthemum cuttings from Kings Mums now that they are propagating Woodman's Century again. As if....

Rare and unusual annuals sown last weekend (along with most of my tomatoes which I had lost the packets of, and then found) are emerging quickly. I have little fear that they will all catch up - later sowings are generally better for many fast growing plants anyways. Besides, it's been a colder than normal spring here in the Northeast.

  • 9:00 PM We enjoy reading dear friend Abbie (Zabar's) email  - appologizing for missing us at Trade Secrets due to their early departure -(she wrote "...but we're due to meet Martha and Bunny at another friends' house and then I have to head back to the city, I'll fill you in later boys - xoxo, Abbie").  Yes, I am paraphrasing but you get the gist.  I wrote back, explaining how I was able to talk Joe out of an antique bird cage from France which he coveted for of all thing, some of his Spanish Timbrado Canaries - surely, we would have been the ONLY ones who would populate that gorgeous thing with real, live canary birds (well, except perhaps for Martha). 
  • 9:30 Doodles (Daphne) gets a tubby. She probably thought that it was punishment for digging that hole in front of the green house - (her very earnest spring project). She is now a fluff ball and is allowed in bed to watch some old Katherine Hepburn movie or 'Ma and Pa Kettle' (my secret indulgence). The Egg and I seems appropriate for some reason.

Greenhouse plants brought outdoors for the summer are beginning to bloom, but most remain underclass due to our cold weather. 


  • 7:00  Closed greenhouse vents, because it too cold
  • 8:30  Open greenhouse vents, because it was too warm
  • 9:30  Run errands - Olive bread from Crumbs, Home Depot for electrical wire for the sweet pea cordons, twine, horticultural lime and some Fiskars - the mini ones, for topiary - started looking for materials to creatively stake and display my lathyrus project.
On Sunday, our big project was continuing to trim the hornbeam hedges. This one runs along the east side of the property, near the greenhouse It has been neglected for the past few years, and is growing into another yew hedge. Curtis wears his 'transformers' boots - from a job site where he was plastering. I think see a new product idea here!

  • 10:25  Farm Store for chicken feed and shoe laces for my boots and chain saw oil to prep for Joe and Curtis's project to cut back the hornbeams by the greenhouse
  • 11:30 Ocean State Job Lot  - for clay pots ( amazing ones and 6 inch ones for $1 each) plus scored some peony rings and thick bamboo poles for sweet peas besides various impulse-buy items like a teuteur.
Plants arrive in the mail most every day this time of year. New cuttings of exhibition and Japanese chrysanthemums needed planting, which thankfully kept me in the warm greenhouse much of Sunday. I am adding many new varieties not found at Kings Mums - new English crosses from master growers in England. Can't wait to see how these will work, trained into traditional forms  like cascades, pyramids and standards.  This may be the first year I join a club and exhibit.

  • 1:00  Repotted new exhibition Chrysanthemum cuttings from England - into larger clay pots in greenhouse. I cannot wait, these new varieties from another collector prove to be impressive.
  • 1:45  Reorganized greenhouse, dahlias fertilized and benched, mums fertilized and benched.
Puppies in the garden come at a cost. 

  • Find broken lilies from puppy. Ugh - really? Joe blames me because I didn't fence the beds. We fight about it. Start fencing off areas.  Bitching lasts for 15 minutes.
  • 2:45  Swap out Doodles (Daphne) and re-crate Liddy and Weasely for being naughty. They were digging holes and encouraging bad puppy behavior.

Since the window for spring treats is small, I wanted to take time to enjoy the rest of the bounty in the garden. A strawberry rhubarb pie was on the menu tonight.

  • 3:00  Help Joe and Curtis trim branches from hornbeams to use as Dahlia stakes.
  • 3:15  transplanted chili peppers and Joe's new variegated clivia crosses

  • 3:30  Help Joe and Curtis pull branches to the woods and compost pile (this takes the remainder of the day, but I kept finding excuses to go back into the greenhouse).
Rhubarb pie will help me deal with Joe and Curtis, since they spent much of the day hauling long hornbeam branches out to the woods and to the compost piles. The new gate on the fence proved problematic when trying to drag the longest branches through.

  • 4:30 - it was getting cold and frost was forecast, so started bringing in camellias with new growth, and other potted plants into the greenhouse. Thank God I was late this year in planting out everything. 
I think the new ducklings will be named after various Mustards  - Dijon, Frenchy, Houlden, Coleman (and Mostarda since I needed a 5th name in the theme). 


  1. exhibition mums from England! not from King's Mums!!!is there another source in the U.S. that we don't know about?

  2. Ha. I was waiting for someone to pick up on that! You know how it goes - wanting to keep secret sources close to ones chest.....here I go. I can't say that he still is offering any, but write John at http://capocreations2.wix.com/capobiancocreations

  3. I sported out $4.40 for a used copy of Mad Hungry. :-) Straight forward, satisfying comfort food sounds good right now.

    1. It's one of my favorite books - I miss Lucinda's show!

    2. Wow! My used copy arrived and it looks, to my eyes, completely new! You take your chances with a used cookbook--moreso than with a used novel. Anyway, I can now get down to the business of testing the quality of your recommendation ;-P

    3. Having paged thru, I see a bunch of recipes that I want to try!

  4. honey, brown or Stone- or wasabi. a fourth mustard needn't be limited :)


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