December 21, 2009

Why Arrow Gas Company Sucks More Than Phytophera infestans

Anyone who keeps a greenhouse in a cold climate knows the risks of power failures or malfunctioning heaters. On this weekend before Christmas, I almost lost an entire collection of rare plants, precious imported bulbs and other jems that would be difficult, if not impossible to replace due to their age or scarcity. This loss would not be because of the Blizzard we experienced this weekend, with 18 inches of snow, nor would it be because of the bitter cold temperatures that we also are getting, with wind chills near 9 below zero and it wouldn't be because of our furnace not working, for as you know from earlier postings, we just installed a new one. Nope, instead, the loss of an entire collection cultured and grown and nurtured over a dozen years now, would be the result of the policy of my gas company. Arrow Gas in Rochdale, Ma, and I'm not very happy about it, in fact, I pissed.

It started on Thursday evening, when I arrived home from work late at night, I went out to check the gas tank and remembered that the new meter installed on it has a cover, which is semi transparent, but difficult to read and see how much gas is left in the tank. The same thing happened last year, when we decided to move the tank so that it would be closer to the road, so the gas man would not have to trudge through deep snow and dangerous terriers to get to the tank every 10 days. Arrow installed a new tank, with an automatic reading device that doesn't work, but which they included anyway. On Friday morning, I saw that it said that 15% gas was left in the tank. I know from 12 years of running this greenhouse, that on cold, sunnless days in the winter, that I use 5% per day, and with a weekend coming that was featuring not only bone cold temps in the teens, that also we we're slated to get nailed with a nor-easter. SO I called the Arrow Gas company, and asked when I might get my next delivery since I had 15% gas left, and a storm was coming, and that for the past 3 years, on this very same weekend in December which seems to signal the first major refill of the year, they always seems to let the tank go empty before they would come. Last year, I called on Sunday morning, when the tank ran out ( see posting from last Dec), and I was told that I would be fined $150. for making then come on an 'unscheduled' delivery. I ended up paying it a week before Christmas.

Now, I was giving them a three and a half day notice that said basically, that I think I'm going to run out of gas in a day or two, is there anything you can do about it? And the answer was " well, I guess we could make a deliver on Monday". I told them that that was risky since I know how fast my greenhouse eats gas, and that there was a storm, and, and, and. The answer was " sorry, you're due for a delivery on Weds, so the best we can do is to move you up to MOnday. OF course, now, we are SUnday night, and out of gas. The greenhouse is freezing solid, and Arrow's delivery man basically told us "sorry, it's too late, and we don't like to make deliveries after 11:00 PM ( we called at 11:15). So he is sleeping now, and we've been up all night trying to save what we can.

Now, on Friday, the cranky woman in the Arrow office told me that I was not scheduled for a delivery until next Weds. the 23rd. I asked if I could be put on the Friday schedule, and that I would even pay for the new fee of Off-Delivery Charge for $275.00, but she said that the best she could do would be to push me up to a Monday delivery, and that I had enough gas.

KNowing full well that I would run out over the stormy weekend, Joe and I ran to 2 Home Depots and a Lowes, and stocked up on a major propane heater, and some portable electric room heaters, to get by and to calm my nerves. Of course, now, here on a Sunday night, we run out of gas, and it is the coldest night of the year, at 9 degrees, and with single pane glass, I decided at 11:10 PM that I woudl give in and call the gas company and pay out of my ass, all of the new fines and fees outlined on their new letter of policy, and get the tank filled, since the new furnace ran out of gas, and the pots we're frosting up faster than that lady who works in the Arrow Gas office.

We called, and got the answering service who told us that we should get a call back in 20 minutes from the off hours delivery person. Five minutes later we get the call, and the man tells us that he's not coming out, since it's after 11 at night, and that's that. We'll have to wait until MOnday! Joe told him that "so, what are we supposed to do? :Let all of our plants die? ANd he said, yes.". I couldn't believe his rudeness and attitude, I mean, I just could not believe that a business could be managed this way!

You know, I'm a reasonable guy, and I would understand limited service if this was a major disaster, an ice storm, or if priorities had to be managed because of elderly not getting heat, or families. But to have someone tell you to your face "Nope" "Im in bed, too late" then I get a little ticked. Surely they must think I'm a crazy plant geek, but hey, I am. Regardless, we pay for this service, if you call it that, if anything, it's abusive and unsulting.

SOrry to gripe about this, but right now, it's 5:00 AM and we've been up all night trying to rescue plants, and running around to every Walgreens and Super Market that is open 24 hours buying every portable heating device we can get ( there are now 7 heaters in the greenhouse, and the gas in the portables is starting to go, plus a grill, and a few blown fuses, but the temp seems to be around 38 degrees in there. SO our fingers are crossed!!!

The good news is Joe called some competitive Gas suppliers, and they are already willing to come and replace our tank and let us be new customers, and one, Suburban PRopane, already informed us in a very human and friendly voice, that they service 24/7 365 days a year. And that this would never happen.

STill, I am shocked that this company is still in business, since this is the third time they have done this to me ( let the tank run out, and then act as if it's my fault, and my problem. I'm sure later this morning, I'll get zonked with more 'punishment fees!" Letters wil be written, calls will be made, but at the end of the day, the big message is that some businesses just shouldn't be in business, especially when the customer is always wrong, and punished.

Sorry for the rant, but I've been up for 36 hours now, and of course, it's the longest night of the year, as we await for the sun which is due to come out today, since it rises at jsut after 7:00 AM. Still, hours to go before we are safe.

December 13, 2009

Dreaming of a White Christmas

...and, peace, in the Greenhouse ( finally!), as the new furnace was hung and installed. Now, a nice, quite hum as it ignites, and no more explosions. The timing could not have been better, either, since Friday night it reached 14 degrees F. outside, and the furnace was installed that morning. The old one had only one burner working, and the bottom had blown off the night before, filling the glasshouse with gas fumes. Now, we are at peace.

Above, one of the last Nerine sarniensis cultivars to bloom, is the white form called "Kyoto".

The only green Narcissis, N. viridiflora, blooms open releasing their mysterious, scent. It's so easy to miss these, and I almost did if I didn't smell them. Not really a pleasant scent, the scent is a bit chemical, like acetone. Still, they are so special and unique, being both an odd color and a fall bloomer, I just love this species.

Brussels Sprouts taste best when they are harvested in the winter. Here, in the snow that fell this week, they stand out looking a bit messy, but they will be all picked by the New Year, with most of them being saved from Christmas Even dinner.

The PInus bungeana near the greenhouse and alpine garden, is starting to look better with the Japanese pruning technique which requires that I remove half of the needles every December.

The alpine troughs are planted with high elevations alpine plants, which are used to spending half of their life under a deep snow cover, so this, is exactly what they want.

A pot of Narcissus romieuxii is more than well budded this season. I can't believe how many flowers this pot will have in a few weeks. Who needs Paperwhites! These tiny winter blooming species from Morocco pack more for the buck than most any other Narcissus.

You all know I'm a Lachenalia nut, growing nearly 40 species, mostly from wild collected seed from carefully monitored populations in the cape floral area of South Africa. These two are both seed started, and now that the bulbs are reaching four years old, are either blooming, or expected to. Lachenalia pusilla has these speckled leaves, and tiny white flowers in the center, below, Lachenalia purpurea var. Caerulea may not bloom until next year, but the pustulated foliage is starting to show the characteristics of more mature foliage, with tiny pustules, like little blisters. Related to Hyacinths, the foliage of many species looks similar to this common Dutch spring flower.

Lachenalia purpurea var. Caerulea seedlings.

The large Bay laurels that were moved back into the greenhouse last weekend, has provided me with a large pot of bay leaves that I will make wreathes and garland with next weekend. These culinary wreaths are special, and will also be gifts for some close friends, especially those who love to cook.

It looks like holly (Ilex) but it's not, it's the semi tropical shrub known as Osmanthus. Osmanthiu fragrans is a related species that comes from China, where they make a tea with the flowers, it's scent fills the greenhouse in the late autumn and winter for us with its almond scent, but this species is different, but it too is not unusual in warmer parts of the world, being grown in California and other warm areas for it's holly-like foliage. For us, in New England, it's not something one sees grown, for it must be grown in pots, and kept from extreme cold. easy enough to grow if you can provide a cold, unheated porch or garden room, it grows slowly and is easy to keep tidy with a trim every now and then. It comes into the house during the holidays for a week or so, and everyone just thinks that it is holly.

December 6, 2009

First measurable snow, time to prune!

I keep a number of large topiaried shrubs in the collection, mainly for decorative use, but as you can see here, they have planting of other uses, mainly the Bay Laurels, Rosemary's and Olive trees. If you live in California or Spain, then it may not seem like a very big deal, but here in New England, such plants will freeze to death, if not provided protection under glass. This is the only way I can maintain such large specimens of Rosemary and Bay Laurel, for if kept in the hot, dry climate of a house, they will soon dry up, in the hot, dry air that winter ensures we all have indoors.

Every autumn, it's a struggle, and I am sure that the year will come, when I cannot drag the large tubs in from the garden, even this year, it looked as if I was going to just bite it, and let our plant, we call, 'The Largest Gardenia in New England" just go the way of many other tropicals, since I tore a tendon ( again) in my arm, and I am not supposed to be lifting anything. But as things usually go with us gardeners, everything has made it back into the greenhouse, at the very last minute, since this weekend marked our first snow fall with measurable amounts ( only 4"). but it's coming.

The Bay Laurels. which we started as cutting received from the late Alan Haskell, are close the 12 years old, now. I think, every 4 years or so, I will have to cut them back hard, if not only to keep the busy and dense, but to keep them in scale, and, at a manageable size. As you can see from the greenhouse behind me, this hard cut, was needed. Besides, now, I have loads of fragrant bay leaves with which I can make Holiday wreaths from ( great gifts). Probably even a garland, for our kitchen.

This olive tree, which we keep merely as an ornamental plant, came as another small Holiday plant, which was being sold in New York City at the now defunct Smith & Hawken company store on West Broadway. Now, about 8 years later, it's a tree, and it even has some olives on it. I keep this outdoors until the weather becomes very cold, and when the temperatures start to dip into the low 20's (F), I bring it back into the greenhouse along with it's friends, the Rosemary's.

I know I said that I was going to keep more Rosemary shrubs outside to die this year, and I even took two trays of cuttings, so that I would have all of my favorite varieties ready as small plants in the spring. But....... I found more room! SO, they are coming back in again. Still, I am trimming them hard, not sure if this will work with them, but if they don't survive, than I can call it a day. It just that I keep thinking of Renny, our Carolina Wren who visits the garden in the summer and who loves to court amongst the big rosemary pots that surround the bird house pole. he would want them, right?

I've reduced the size of this estate gardenia to about 3 feet in diameter. I would imagine that Gardenia's enjoy a hard cut every now and then, but this one required lopping sheers. The pot, is the largest container in the greenhouse, it is nearly 4 and a half feet wide, and full of wet soil! It weighs a TON! Yes, it too was dragged in again. Now, we await the deliver of our new heater, since the wrong one arrived. If everyone in the world could call Griffin Greenhouse Company and tell them to scurry it up...it's been two weeks since they visited, and now we can't get ahold of them. Sometimes, it's tough being a hobby grower, and being required to buy supplies from the large wholesale distributors. I think we just get pushed to the bottom of the list. Yet, the head of sales, was kind enough to drive out himself a few weeks ago, and promised to help us. Yet we still have not heard back from him.

Now, I have to hear out old heater go KABOOM, ever 16 minutes, and the gas ignites randomly in the damp, cold air. One of these times, it's going to blow the whole greenhouse up, and who will I blame? The Gas company that wont come to clean it? The Furnace manufacturer who sent us the wrong furnace? The Greenhouse supply company who is daudling, and taking 3 months to come replace our heater? Mother Nature for bringing us cold damp, snowy weather? ( no not her, we have had the warmest November since 1923). I don't know, but I can her the furnace exploding from the office here, and I am on the other side of the house! Last night, it took a Lorazapam topped off with a Manhattan, to calm my nerves, and to block our the explosions. Ugh. Me thinks me ranted.