February 10, 2010

Try a Winter Study Weekend, Join Others Like You!

If you are finding that waiting for spring is driving you crazy, or if you are looking for something more interesting to do on a long weekend other than the routine of running to the market, or shoveling snow, or, if you are bored with the lack of good plant programing on television, and content in the main-stream magazines, then consider attending a NARGS Winter Study Weekend.

NARGS stands for the North American Rock Garden Society, but don't let the name fool you, it's real name would be more accurate if it was called' The Wild Flower, Native Plant, Interesting Species, Shade Loving Plant, Wild Bulb, Interesting Rare Plant and Alpine Plant Society. For NARGS is simply a club of people, who love all plants.

Think about it, a whole weekend rubbing elbows with the worlds most informed gardeners, explorer's, botanists, growers, hobbyists and those who love the plants the discover, write about and collect. Essentially, NARGS it is an organization comprised of all sorts of interesting people with all levels of knowledge, beginners to experts, but all who are more serious about the plants the love, and all are totally obsessed with the worlds most interesting plants. Three times a year, the society comes together, once on the west coast at the Western Winter Study Weekend, once on the east coast, and the Eastern Winter Study Weekend, and once at a national location ( this year in Colorado) for an annual meeting.

All of these conventions are amazing experiences for anyone who would love to hang out with a bunch of people who love plants! I joined about seven years ago, and to be honest, I was afraid that I would find myself with a bunch of intellectuals who will talk Latin all weekend. Well, yeah, there is a lot of Latin during the slide presentations, and inside jokes about some species, but the entire experience was so much fun, that I have not missed one event since. And now, NARGS is my favorite plant society. I learn so much, and whenever I bring beginners with gardening, they leave totally pumped. It's just an amazing experience.


Membership is required to attend a winter study weekend, but, the cost also brings you an amazing four color quarterly magazine, with interesting articles and images of all sorts of interesting plants, not just alpine plants, but woodland plants, shrubs, and wild and native plants. NARGS is the premiere North American plant society, and there is hardly a well known botanist who isn't a member, so the company is impressive, and the people you meet at a NARGS weekend is basically the author list from Timber Press. The best part? You are having cocktails with a world famous plant explorer, an expert on wild bulbs from Turkey, and a hiking couple from Colorado, a radio host from Portland, a tax preparer who mountain bikes from Vancouver, and two students from Chicago. It's like a cruise of plant geeks! Food, drink, slide and powerpoint lectures with loads of gorgeous photos from expeditions and trips from Greenland to New Zealand.

I always find humor in the elevators at the hotel, crowded in with the other business folk who might be staying at the same hotel, would be a retired secretary with a tray of wild trillium's crosses not yet introduced , a young goateed hort student hugging a precious rare shrub he bought, and three NARGS members from the local chapter yacking about the last lecture and how funny the speaker was. Then, there are trips to local garden, sometimes hikes you can sign up on, or just hanging out in the coffee shops with other plant geeks.


I take so many notes of plants that I HAVE to get, or order or places to visit, that I now bring two note books. Then there are the plant sales areas at the weekends, that feature the areas best and most knowledgeable nurseries. For instance, last March, I attended the Portland OR meeting, and the entire weekend was so much fun, and it was SO inspiring, that between lectures, I kept running from the hotel to the first floor of the parking garage where the vendors were all set up, to buy plants for about 50 sellers.


These vendors are not just average vendors, since NARGS members expect more, instead, there were Rhododendron nurseries, specialized Hellebore breeders, incredible miniature shrub growers, and of course, alpine plant growers. There we're rare bulbs from Tibet, Pleione Orchid nurseries, and then the bigger of the best nurseries like Gossler Farms with a selection of shrubs starting to grow, Sisskiyou Rare Plant Nursery, and more. Each NARGS study weekend where every they are held, will only have the best of the best. After all, these are serious plant lovers.

Study weekends are called study weekend, only because they are chock full of lectures. Really, slide lectures on specific plants are the focus, with the worlds experts on each genus often presenting. The talks are often funny, informative, and always inspiring. I just don't know why anyone would go to any other plant conference? Most are so commercial and 'dumb easy' that I really can't bother. NARGS is a fun, friendly and smart group of people. Many have been members for decades, but there are also, many who are just attending for the first time, because a friend brought them. They may just grow a few ferns in their back yard, or started collecting some Hellebores, but by the time they leave a NARGS event, their suitcase or car is full of plants, and their notebooks are full of "gotta order this" or "This year, plant to visit here" sorts of notes.

This March, there are 2 Winter Study Weekends. The Western one will be in Medford, OR from March 5 - 7. Go to the NARGS WWSW website and see if it interests you. Here is what the hosting chapter, says about it: Our conference speakers will entertain you on the trail, as we armchair hike the mountain ranges of the Pacific Northwest – including Oregon's Elkhorn Mountains – and the Sierras, then explore the Dolomites, Altai, and beyond. You'll hear expert advice on growing alpine gems from around the world, and find out those most likely to adapt successfully in your garden. We'll also shop for plants, feast, and have fun all weekend long.
Don't miss this unique, one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience a Western Winter Study Weekend in the Rogue Valley, gateway to the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion.

The Eastern Winter Study Weekend will be near me, in Devons, MA on March 19 to 21. Here is a list of the speakers.

Gordon Hayward, author and garden designer, on the uses of stone in the garden.

Jan Sacks and Marty Schafer, proprietors of Joe Pye Weed's garden and Iris breeders, on small Irises.

Lauren Springer Ogden and Scott Ogden, authors and garden designers, on plant-driven garden design.

Bill Cullina, author and plant & garden curator, Coastal Maine Botanical Garden, on Trillium's.

Darrell Probst, Epimedium expert and plant breeder, giving two talks; one on,new introductions of Astilbes, Coreopsis, and more; and the other on Epimediums from the wilds to the garden. Darrell has traveled throughout China collecting and introducing most of the Epimedium in culture today.

Sally and John Perkins, Rhododendron experts, on ericaceous plants for the garden

Jeff Good, landscape director of The Fells, Newberry, NH, on design and restoration of the rock garden at The Fells.

So if you are looking for experiencing something incredible, consider attending one of these, or, the National Meeting of NARGS in Denver this July, where there will be days of planned hikes and trips too into the Rockies!

February 7, 2010

Curating Annuals-Some odd, but stylish choices

There isn't much that I don't grow, but I always make room for annual flowers. I suppose it's partly because they are some of the first plants my mother let me grow, for I remember sowing seeds at a very young age, and learning quite early, well before I was 10 or 11, what a Cosmos seed looked like vs. a Zinnia. Dad would dig compost from the large compost pile out back, and I imagine that the soil was rich with all of the chicken manure from our hens. The whole process would start in late February, and by mid March our glassed in front porch was full of these large wooden flats, about 4 inches deep and about 30 inches square, I think my father brought them home from the Newspaper, where he worked the night shift as an illustrator.

Annuals can be stylish, and this is the time of year to curate your collection so that you can start your own, and not be at the mercy of your garden center.

We never sterilized soil, or fussed with much or anything other than carefully planting seeds into tiny rows. No bottom heat, for the sun would heat the porch to nearly 70 degrees during the day, and at night, temps would drop to about 40. Still, mom had flower bed everwhere, and I can remember the entire scheme, for at that age, the zinnia and scabiosa were taller than I am. I think that's one reason why I love the scent of snapdragons and marigolds, they were at nose height. Apparently, moms flowers were well known in the neighborhood, and she would pick and make arrangements all summer long, clearly, I got my love for plants partly from her.

Amaranthus 'Dreadlocks'
But annuals hold a dear place in my heart even today, and each year, although I limit myself to what I will gro. Beyond the Proven Winner's series, which I admit, really preform well, I do cycle through the classics every few years. A certain bed along the walk of the greenhouse may hold a few dozen Scabiosa one year, and another, miniature Zinnias, or China Asters, such as last year. Mom always grew tall Asters, and I remember their unique blend of violet, lavender and pink. This year, I think I may plant Four O-Clocks here, not sure yet. But I know that I will grow Marigolds, for I skipped them last year, and I missed their scent too, which particularly reminds me of the first frost of autumn, when mom would pick most every flower in the garden to save them from the frost.
Celosia Spring Green, a new crested green form.
Some new varieties this year I want to try are the many double Cosmos bipinatus, which are available from a few sources, but I will order mine from Johnnys Select seeds. Then, at Harris Seeds, there is a beautiful green Celosia called Celosia Spring Green, which will add interest in arrangements since there is nothing like apple green, magenta and orange.
Gold colored Craespedia is one of the most stylish flowers on the wedding trend sites. The gold mixes well with magenta's, violets and silver foliage, and is very stylish indeed.

Instead of showing the new annual introductions, I am sharing what I am growing. If you want to see some really stunning-but-not-for-me varieties like Zinnia Zahara Rose, go check out the other blogs. It's nice, but it just won't fit into my schemes. But Sweet peas always do, and after seeing the Sweet Peas in England last year, and at the Chelsea Flower Show, I am addicted again, as I was as a kid. I think I will limit myself to all of the violet and periwinkle shades, for together, they make ones heart skip. Check out these are a fine English blog.

Park Seed Company has an interesting Amaranthus, called,'Dreadlocks'. I am thinking about growing it, since it is 3 feet tall, and that appeals to me. They also have a Zinnia called Candy Mix, which is pretty, if you can choose the odder color combinations.
The vine related to Morning glory, Mina lobata comes in a sweet yellow form, available at Summer Hill Seeds. I grew the orange to red form one year, and it was in full bud when I accidentally tore the stems from the roots while moving a large urn in front of the greenhouse, so I may try this one this year.

The Lisianthus plants from Burpee are always worth the money they cost, for I can't think of any other annual that has the long lasting quality as a cut flower, and the color palette, which rivals the Spencer varieties of English Sweet Peas.
One hot humid evening last July, Joe and I went to eat at a local seafood restaurant in the city. Planted around the parking lot in a strip of soil between the hot concrete and the sidewalk was planted Tithonia, the "Mexican Sun Flower". They were so beautiful, and bright persimmon in color with healthy thick green stems and broad floppy leaves, I noted to myself that I should grow some this year, so they are on my list. A dwarf variety is available from Johnny's.Tithonia, Fiesta del Sol, which I will grow with Redbor Kale, a purple kale that will make the Purple leaved Sweetpotato vines and omnipresent black Coleus everyone else will grow, green with envy.Redbor purple Kale, a refreshing option to all of the other purple leaved plants, and you can eat it.

February 6, 2010

TIme to vote - on the color of my blog!

Design is very important to me, so I take comments about my site design very seriously. I accept that as a designer, one cannot please everyone, for, design is very personal, and many non-designers measure the rules of design against what they know, or against what they have been told.

Today there are many outrageous acts of poor design happening from what we read in some magazines and books, to what we watch on Television. I find nothing more annoying than the pop-up animated teasers that occur in the corner of the screen during a movie, or the 'bug' of a network logo remaining on-screen the entire time I am experiencing the entertainment.

What we should focus on is the 'experience', not the 'rules of print-on-paper' today, for each has a set of different rules. Rules which change as technology moves forward. First, about print and paper: Some of you have read me wrong, I LOVE print on paper, but yes, I do think it is going away. Maybe not in our lifetime, but certainly in a few. Right now, I like the feel and non-techyness of paper, but.....a big but.......it's going away, whether you like it or not. Not because people don't like it, it's going away because it isn't profitable.

Gourmet Magazine, The Boston Globe, Plant Journals, all going way. Let's face it. My point it, I would rather have a digital journal than NO journal. How many young people do you know under 30 who read a newspaper today? Even libraries are going digital, Google is currently undergoing a project to scan every book in the world, and Cushing Academy closed their library and went digital for their students. DO I like it? Maybe not, but the option is worse, so when you write and tell me that paper isn't going away, think first, inform yourself, and, it you don't agree, fine, but don't use it as an excuse to reject digital mediums. We all need to change, to adapt with technology, or we become cultural roadkill.

But back to color, and this blog.

This week, a few readers have written me some notes of encouragement, but also a few complaints about how dark my site is, and how difficult they find it to read. It should come as no surprise that I prefer dark websites with light or white knocked out type. Perhaps a personal preference, but there is some logic behind it too. I have found, being a designer, that many people apply the same rules as print on paper, to digital mediums, for black backgrounds with white type is difficult on paper, but the human eye and mind, prefers the white text on a solid black.

Part of the problem is that I am writing too much, for too much text with this layout, is difficult to read. Maybe I should just compose captions for photos, until I migrate the site to one that offers both fonts for text on white, and captions that are in a different typeface?

Look, monitors are like TV screens, essentially, lightbulbs, and good designers know that part of designing stunning web experiences comes in controlling the light, setting the stage, and everything becomes part of the look, from the style of the photos to the lighting an art direction of the shots, to the color palette. But I have resisted going to a white page online, On paper, I would agree, for I am old school when it comes to the rules of typography, in fact, I am a geek about type too.

The rules for digital design is different than that on paper, but that too is changing, and although subjective,But there is a grey area, and infact, it may be either grey, or as newer mac's and other screens allow, a dimming switch. Plasma and LED screens are also less white, so white suddenly works better. Still, for color photography, I prefer dark environments, because of the theatrical nature of the soothing low tones. Still, I am willing to listen to all of you, and get to a better place. If I was not limited to a template, I would have more freedom, but more on that later. I am working on starting another site.
The Gasterias are starting to bud up in the greenhouse.

Guess that we can't have both. Besides, the font that this Blogger template limits me to use is too bold, and the leading is too close for so much white text on black. I will over the next few days reintroduce my wood vector background, as well as play with some of the tints of the type to reduce the contrast until it is just perfect. Until then, look on the left and add your thoughts and vote. Or, email me and let me know what you think.
But there is a whole group of people who beleive otherwise.

So, let's vote. Do you prefer a dark background ( on which photos look best)
or, a light background?

Photo sites like Nikonians for Nikon fans, know the benefits of dark.
Some sites have an elegant use of dark, but the gradations are what really make it.
Here are my thoughts. I agree that the current design is hard to read, I lost the link to the brown wood pattern, which made the black less deep, and the off white type was less harsh in contrast. I also belive that an all white digital page is tiresome on the eyes, if one looks at one all day, as I do. As a prefessional designer, I sell many ideas that are grey, or screens that emit less color. The finest image sites use black or dark backgrounds, as do theaters, credits on films, broadcast. However, lately, soft grey gradations with black or dark grey type is possible, so I may look at that as an option.

The fine design blog Design Sponge has a design which I admire, but is a bit busy for what we do, but I like the collage aspect of it. When, and if I move to a website, I might consider some collage concept like this, or perhaps more styling like Terrain.

Nike knows the benefits of theatrical lighting and dark sites. Still, the solution should use elegant type rather than the horsey fonts offered by BLOGGER.
Anyway, I am open to designing a new site, but please understand that this Blogger platform limits me on what I can actually do, since I only have a few templates to work with. Also, I have been planning to move my blog to the other service called Wordpress, and host it on a server at Bluehost. I bought the URL, and was ready to move it on Jan 1, but found out that I would loose all of my photos over the past 4 years, and in order to keep them, I would have to re upload each one. Which is an impossible task. I looked at hiring someone to help me migrate my blog to Wordpress, but the cost was a little high ( at $1500) so I an stuck here for a while, until I start a new blog on WordPress maybe. Still working on that one!

SO, to redesign this site ( which I seem to get bored with and redesign often, anyway,, I would love to hear all of your thoughts. After all, you are the ones who need to read it, not me! take the poll, let me know! Then, I can post some designs and you can choose. Unless you are all willing to just move to a new URL, then, I can have a magazine style layout, with thumnails and pull down tabs for bulbs, alpines, vegetables, design, etc!