April 28, 2009

Frits and frats - Fritillaria persica

Fritillaria persica

A slightly less common Fritillary, Fritillaria persica is completely growable for many North American and European gardeners. The best strain apparently is one called 'Adiyaman' but it is muddled, and few can offer the accurate form. Still, the bulb is carried by most retailers of Dutch bulbs in the fall, and I encourage all to buy as many as you can afford. Like many large bulbs, they are not inexpensive, but a dozen or two make the best impression.

Fast drainage and summer dryness is preferred by this native of Iran, I grow mine in a raised rock garden, with gravelly soil and deep snowcover, since it slides off of the greenhouse onto this foundation bed. It seems to work. Many say to plant the large skunky scented bulbs on their sides, since water can collect in the cavity on the top, but they will reset themselves in one growing season, so it seems fruitless to do do. Try all of the Frits, they are awesome when they are seen in bloom.

Espalier Apples

This weekend I planted four espaliered apples along the back of the kitchen garden, infront of the greenhouse main bluestone walk lined with boxwood. This part of the garden, which was all weed trees and weeds chest high four years ago, is still in the re-building phase, even though you might think that the photos make it look rather fancy, if I stepped sideways or turned around, you would see the mess......maybe I should do that for a posting...show the reality of the place! It's a little embarasing.
Training fruit trees into classic and simple forms for beauty or space, is an ancient art perfected by the French in the 17th Century. In the 17th Century, 'espalier' originally referred to the frame or trellis on which the plant was trained. Today, espalier refers to both the two-dimensional tree or shrub or the horticultural technique of actually training the plant. My first exposure to espaliered trees came at a young age, when I was working at a private estate while in high school. Espaliared pear trees, not unlike my new set up, were planted in Mr. Stoddard's boxwood garden she called the Williamsburg Garden, a tiered, formal boxxwood planting which enclosed small plots of vegetables for her kitchen. We mostly grew herbs and Romain lettuce, if I remember correctly, but the one thing I did remember was her two rows of espaliered pears, which never became ripe in time for me to enjoy, for I had to return to school in the fall. ( clearly, I am not over it yet!), But now.......

I will have my own fruit harvest!!! This time, appled. Winter Banana and Cox' Orange Pippins anyone?

It doesn't matter where one lives, you could have espaliered trees......All you need is a wall, or a fence, or construct a structure like this one in Australia.

Image from Sydney Morning Herald, Australia ©Cheryl Maddocks
Even in Japan, or Germany I have seen amazing espaliered forms of fruit trees and other woody plants, trained into classic 'espaliared' froms or even in simple rows, for the main reason is space reduction, even though they look beautiful to the eye year round. This is an economical way to both add structure to you garden and to add to your harvest. Add in blossoms in the spring, and a nifty hedge, and it's clear that this is a 24/7 hit.

Classic Espaliered forms can be found in many vintage books on gardening
Even Martha Stewart has Espaliered trees....but a few more than I do! check out her blog posting from last week....

April 26, 2009

Plants by Mail - Do you get what you pay for?

As we clean and prep the gardens for some garden tours next week, the greenhouse garden has never looked better.

Early narcissus with pink rimmed trumpets blooms near the door of the greenhouse. ( I lost the variety name).

The alpine troughs that sit on the bluestone walk that leads to the greenhouse are starting to bloom, with tiny Primula, androsace and Draba starting the show.

In the ephemeral garden, many plants are blooming like trillium, anemones, corydalis, and these hybrid Erythronium, or Dogs Tooth Violets, which look like yellow lilies here, but are named for the way that their bulb looks - like a dogs canine tooth.

Some plants from Songsparrow Nursery arrived on Friday afternoon.

I was in a meeting, Thursday, at work, when a discussion started before latecomers arrived, about what were we all going to be doing on the upcoming weekend - one which was promising the warmest temperatures of the year, 80 degrees and blue skies...then, one newly married colleague admitted that she was planting a lilac, which was arriving in the mail. I asked where she ordered it from, and then she shyly admitted that she ordered it from Spring Hill (wincing, when I visibly winced). Sometimes, people just know what the response will be.

But then the reality smacks me.....no matter how much of an evangelist I may be for quality and the best performing cultivars, most gardeners who garden on the weekends in North America, have an idea...oops, I mean an ideology that is informed by, oh, I don't know....their childhood vision of a garden' - and if cockleshells really existed as a plant, surely, they would buy it ( from Spring Hill most likely.

Now, honestly, before you all respond with a wheelbarrow full of emails about how terrific Spring Hill is, I am only responding from the perspective of a plant collector who is concerned more about plant quality, provenance, shipping methods, and cultivars. Those of us who know, know which mail-order nurseries ship the finest, most thoughtful and carefully packed, largest or well grown of the best varieties of species or genus that the world has to offer....and then, there are the rest. Of course, we all learn in the world of gardening, and it occurs over time. We learn that Blue Potatoes from Guerney's aren't really 'blue', but purple and they aren't the novelty they once we're two decades ago since now they are indeed trending worthy and even no longer called 'AMAZING BLUE POTATOES' or RAINBOW POTATOES', instead they are positioned as heirloom Peruvian purple potatoes and are available at Whole Foods at $5.00 a pound. All I ask is that you all move toward being more informed gardeners in addition to being emotionally motivated. So the next time you feel the inner stirring that tell you that you must have a Foxglove or a Bleeding Heart......make sure you do some homework, and at least, invest in the best quality variety, species, or finest new introduction or most proven vintage heirloom variety that you can find, and then order it from the expert nursery that either breeds that cultivar or knows the best growers. It might be true that price means quality, and it might not, but in my experience, mostly, 98 percent of the time, the higher the price today, the better the quality. Gripe if you will, but in an interconnected, internet-driven world, it is far more difficult for growers today to get away with high prices for crap than they used to be.
Song sparrow packs four to a box, or large gallon-sized planted are single. They arrive in perfect condition.

Plants from reputable nurseries such as Songsparrow arrive in impressive packaging.

OK, the truth is that many garden snobs are just that, gardening snobs....and although I'm OK with that idea, since I am one, and I hang out with many if not the greatest of garden snobs in the world. I also welcome the newbie. On one condition...that they promise to appreciate and listen, read and learn, that they take the time to GROW. What I don't have the patience for are those who treat plants and gardening as decoration only, disposable nature, or as furnishing. So if you spend your weekends preening your Scotts-perfect lawn, as if it was a golf course, or if your idea of horticultural success is lush, largest, most perfect like a Rapid-Gro Tomoato commercial and that your idea of a perfect flower garden is that of Daisys that bloom from early spring until fall, when you only need to move the red mulch or white stones, just enough to plant a bushel basket Mum---no wait....you hate mums.....your idea of the perfect flower garden consists of the simple palette of blue and pink. Blue Hydrangeas in clouds that mimic the color of the sky on a Cape Cod morning in September but the perfection park comes from your visions that below the clouds of blue grow white daisies, tall fragrant Casa Blanca lilies, drifts of Pink Lady's slippers, intermingled with violets, sweetpeas, poppies, how could I forget poppies, everblooming lily of the valley, bleeding hearts in white and pink, morning glories, foxgloves, Batchelor buttons, Big Pink Peonies, and the white ones, anything that blooms in Peach, tea roses, lilacs, topiaries, ahhhhhh.........

OK. I guess I'm a garden snob. But I can help you appreciate more. Really. Believe me, I am all for old fashioned gardens, in fact, I often despise the newer varieties opting for the vintage, but folks, do your homework. Since you are reading this, you can find on Google, the finest grower of Heirloom Iris, vintage peonies, lilacs that we're grown at Versailles. Just research first, then buy. As for old fashioned gardens? It's all relative, subjective and like anything that is emotionally fed, is personal. I do grow the vintage plants that remind me of my childhood, and most likely, you would find them unexciting, lame, or poor choices. Gardening is like cooking and eating. We all like comfort food, and yes, I have my plot of Bleeding hearts and I do collect vintage Iris varieties introduced at the time my house was built ( 1910), I do prefer the 19th century varieties of Lilacs, and plant them at the edge of the woods, I love old fashioned perennial gardens that look like a watercolor illustration from a children's book from 1902 ( hollyhocks, digitalis, Salpiglossis, Sweat peas, hmm I have a posting idea). Just grow what you love, but don't stop there.

Look, my point it, if you want a lilac, if 'feel' that a lilac will add something special to your life, that you want to see you, child, to have the experience you once had when you would steal some fragrant branches from an unsuspecting neighbors' bush to bring to your mother, a scent that today, instantly brings you back in time to your childhood, if you want to plant a bush that will be the shrub of Lilac in full bloom that your future daughter might pose in front of for their prom picture, then doesn't that experience of the future demand the respect of conscious selection? Doesn't that event deserve the 15 minutes of research on-line or with friends to find the finest lilac shrub and cultivar, delivered in a one-gallon pot, carefully rooted from an over-performing cultivar with a provenance of excellence? Or does it simply mean a direct mail brochure ' and a 4-inch pot or bare-root' deal'?. Sure, Spring Hill may be better now, and I intend to order some and see for myself, to test if things have changed, but I would look first for the best that I could afford. Now, granted, I could probably afford more than most, but even if I could not, I would do my homework for a good variety could be found even at a WalMart, you never know. But then, so could a bad cutting in a tube box.

So where do I start? Well, honestly I know little about lilacs, So, I just Googled Lilac nursery,and found the International Lilac Society.... this may direct me to some growers who they believe are worthy. Most plants have a society, either nationally or internationally, and under their sources guide, one will find reputable growers, for these are societies and rarely do they list growers who pay for advertising ( in their journals, they may have paid ad's so be cautious.). Now ( Michelle with 2 L's since you know who I am talking to) I found this place in Massachusetts just now, as I am writing thing....Windy Hill Farm ( I love these guys, what a day trip to thier rural nursery in the Berkshires)...their list says "686 Stockbridge Rd Great Barrington, MA 01230
413-298-3217 Fax 413-298-3167
Dennis Mareb offers an extensive selection of Syringa on its own rootstock, in field-grown 3 to 6 feet tall, 3 and 5-gallon containers. Located in Berkshire County, Western Massachusetts where cultivars, hybrids, species, and grafted standards are offered." Cool.

Then, the site lists another Massachusetts site, Syringa Plus, a "Wholesale nursery with retail trade of superior taxa on their own roots shipped bare root or in 3 1/2 inch pots to 2 gals. containers. Visitors welcome by appointment. Growing list available." Sure, barerot, but these must be impressive plants.

An Alpine rock from Wrightman Alpines arrives safe and sound, ready for planting. If you are interested in growing high elevation plants in troughs, and if you want the best luck with such plants as Saxifrages, Wrightman's carries these rocks, where three alpine plants are already established, rooted in a piece of Tufa rock, ready to be planted in your trough or alpine bed. Plants grow this way are very successful, and these are really worth the money.

They arrive in a box full of foam peanuts and fresh sphagnum, ready to be planted.

An established Alpine rock from Wrightman Alpines, two years old, set into planting in a trough by Betsy Knapp.