}

April 19, 2012

Amp Up Your Garden with Treasures

A Primula marginata blooms, rather weakly, because this one was rooted into a piece of tufa rock, which keeps the plant more in character. 

Ask any child to draw spring, and they will confirm it - springtime is synonymous with flowers ( OK, and maybe Robins),  but I am convinced that mom nature never really intended us to plant flouncy hybrid daffodils along side florescent orange tulips, nor to force Easter Lilies alongside foiled pots of Blue Hydrangeas. The true flowers of spring, are found in the deciduous woodlands and alpine meadows of North America, Japan, China, Korea and Europe. Sure, tulips and narcissus in their delicate, wild forms are indeed, wild flowers, but those are only found in the most serious of gardeners gardens. If you are ready to move forward with your gardening skills, these next few weeks are the best time to start, and with plant societies hosting some very special plant sales and auctions, and even a few plant shows, this may just be the perfect time to amp up your knowledge and skills. Look, you never are going to grow with plants, until you take that next step from phase 1 gardener to phase 2 gardener....I think it's time for you to try something more challenging, don't you? Life is too short to grow the same, dump daffodil year after year. Why not try, say, a Jeffersonia?


Jeffersonia dubia, blooms in the April sunshine, open only for a few days, the honey bees squeal with delight  when it is open. 

These next few weeks marks the peak bloom period for the earliest, and perhaps the most lovely of the alpine and woodland plants, two categories that I group together since for some reason, these groups often appeal to the same audience, the rock gardeners, also known as alpine plant enthusiasts, or those who cultivate wild flowers, the woodland types - ephemerals, ferns  or the wild, deciduous orchids, like lady slippers. Yes, these are not always the easiest plants to grow, but they are truly the jewels of the garden, and all are treasures. Learning to grow something that is really delicate and challenging, can be extremely rewarding, even better if you've been able to cultivate a rare wild flower to naturalize or to get an endangered, high elevation rock plant to bloom, provide you with seed, and then share it.



A yellow Saxifraga from a rooted cutting, that was also planted into a hole that was drilled into Tufa rock, a porous limestone rock which many alpines can actually grow in, especially if planted in a trough.

That's what most people do who are members of the North American Rock Garden Society, or NARGS, and between now and mid May, these societies are very active, with member auctions where members bring plants that they have grown, to share, and with some shows. Most chapters are having meetings during these spring months, and I encourage you to attend one to see how fun and interesting these people can be. You may even wish to join.

Daphnes are rarely seen in most gardens, but the alpine forms are even more unusual, yet I don't know why, for they remain small and tight, and they bloom very early, with numerous, fragrant blossoms. The scent from these Daphne x hendersonii drifts across the garden, and it smells like cinnamon buns.



Two events worth attending if you are even the slightly interested in learning more about rock plants, alpines or wild flowers happening over the next two weeks. In New York City ( yes, New York City) You would be shocked to see the successes achieved by savvy rock gardeners who cultivate rarities on their 'high elevation' balconies and breezy penthouses. They provide  almost the exact environmental conditions found in some of the most extreme glacial mountain ranges.

If you live in the north eastern US, here are two events that are must-visits.

Saturday, April 28 - The New England Chapter of the National Rock Garden Society ( NARGS) meeting and rare plant auction held at the Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge, 680 Hudson Road, Sudbury Ma. ( OK, I will be leading a discussion there too on Troughs), but I am really going there for the plant auction, for most of these plants cannot be found anywhere else, or, they are unaffordable.

Sunday, April 29, The Annual McNARGS ( the Manhattan Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society) Plant Sale featuring 'Uncommon Plants for City Folk'. McNARGS really knows how to attract both great plants, and educated members, and newbies are always welcome, ( when ever I attend a meeting there, it seems who ever I drag along with me ends up joining too, even if they never attended a NARGS meeting before - it's that sort of group. The sale runs from 10:00AM until 1:00PM and it will be held at El Sol Brillante Community Garden 522-528 12th St. (between Avenue A & B).

 My trick? Get there early before the even open the gates. So ....you New Yorkers....., if you are ready to raise the bar on that window box? If your neighbor has a nice organic heirloom basil in their garden that makes them feel sustainable, you could now respond with "oh, that's fine, but have you seen my high elevation rock garden? The plants are from seed or critical alpine species that grow only in one crevasse found in Val Gardena in the Italian Alps - it's kind of like fostering a rescued snow leopard, but safer" Global warming and heirloom Basil?  Meh.

April 16, 2012

Last (and Rarest) of the Winter Greenhouse Bulbs

A BROWN HYACINTH? NOT QUITE, BUT ABOUT AS CLOSE  A PAN IN THE ALPINE HOUSE DISPLAYS A SINGLE BULB OF THE RARITY FROM THE HYACINTH FAMILY KNOWN AS   Dipacdi serotinus,  


Dipcadi Serotinus
 In the bulb plunge bed, a sand bed at the front of my greenhouse, a never ending display of tiny pots ( and some not so tiny pots) gets set weekly, it's where I like to show whatever is in bloom, and it functions as sort of a display bed, if only for me, and the occasional visitor. By spring, the bed gets less and less interesting, as does the entire greenhouse for that manner, as more interesting events are happening outside. The final reset of the display bed happens around May, just after our Primrose party, when the last of the tiny collector bulbs that require protection, bloom marking the final transitional period for southern hemispheric bulbs before the begin the dormancy as the temperatures rise, and the soil in their pots dries out.

A closeup of Dipcadi serotinus shows a little slug slime, but they are not eating the tissues on this plant, which leads me to believe that either it is slightly toxic, or just doesn't appeal to them.


The last of the Lachenalia are starting to bloom. This time of year always surprises me when it comes to Lachenalia, for these seed-raised pots from wild collected sources in South Africa often provide some surprised such as this pot of very beautiful Lachenalia unicolor forma. alba, a species rarely seen in an already obscure genus found in few gardens outside of the serious collectors.

Lachenalia latimerae


Lachenalia latimerae is quite rare, or at least, rarely grown as I have never found bulbs available anywhere, and when one Google's this species, only this blog appears besides the Pacific Bulb Society site. Easy from seed, the only challenge here is finding the seed, and as there generally is only one or two sources in South Africa, this plant shall remain one only found in private collections, and perhaps, a large botanic garden such as Kew. I think it is lovely, a late bloomer in more ways than one, this pot is almost ten years old, and needs a refresh. I've been lazy in fertilizing and in winter care, literally not watering this plant as it sat on a shelf in the greenhouse hidden behind some Nerine sarniensis, until I found it last week, when I watered it for the first time. It is still blooming, though weakly.

Lachenalia 'lost label' It said ' L. uniflora' which it is not. Another reason why I need to start placing vinyl labels inside the pot, too. A new practice I have started this year.

April 15, 2012

A Symphony In Need of a Hot Tub

THERE ARE PLANTS THAT SEEM TO GET BETTER WITH AGE. A PULSATILLA BLOOMS IN THE ALPINE GARDEN, STARTED FROM SEED EIGHT YEARS AGO, THESE HIGH-ELEVATION ALPINES GROW WELL IN OUR GARDEN, IN TROUGHS, RAISED BEDS AND CONTAINERS THAT FREEZE SOLID.


First of all - the winner of the hanging planter is ADELE! So, congratulations Adele! Please email me and let me know your mailing address and full name - we will be sending you the planter soon.

OUR VERSION OF HOMELAND SECURITY - A PAIR OF CHINESE GEESE, AND A PARTICULARLY VICIOUS INDIAN RUNNER DUCK PATROL THE PERIMETER OF THE YARD LOOKING FOR THE OIL MAN, THE GAS MAN OR AN IRISH TERRIER OR TWO TO INTERROGATE.

When I was about 16, with the first paycheck that I received from my first job, I bought a super 8 movie camera ( it was the late 1970's). My first film I entitled 'Fantasy in Bloom - a symphony of color by Matthew X. Mattus was filmed, set to the music of Richard Strauss' 'Alpine Symphony' ( the cassette recording).  The premiere was memorable, a July evening in my dad's painting studio, the film, projected on a large king size sheet that I draped over one of his paintings over the fireplace, the projector strategically placed at the far end of the house, in the kitchen, set on a piano stool, so that the projection would be massive on the sheet - it was practically IMAX '76.

I had painted credits on glass panels, with the key shots behind it.  That evening, the audience ( my pathetic siblings who laughed through it all hysterically, my parents and Aunt Ann)  patiently sat through 25 minutes of spliced film, shaky closeups of bright orange oriental poppies, bumble bee sequences, and a stunning pan as I rode down the meadow high behind out house on my banana seat bike with the camera ducktapped to the handle bars. If things went well, I could have become the next Steven Spielberg, for this would have been the classic back story, but no. My feature film, a tour de force interpretation of 'Jonathan Livingston Seagull' set to music from the album, failed miserably before anyone could appreciate it. Maybe, someday, I will copy these spliced reels to Youtube, but until then....I garden.
JOE RETURNS THE GANDER, BACK TO THE COOP AFTER HE WANDERED OFF INTO THE STREET THIS MORNING, MOST LIKELY DISCIPLINING THE NEWSPAPER DELIVERY BOY.
A DOUBLE BLOODROOT BLOOMS IN THE RECORD-BREAKING HEAT. MOST LIKELY, THIS BLOSSOM WILL LAST FOR A DAY AND A HALF BEFORE SHATTERING.

THE OLD GOLDFISH POND WAS DRAINED, AND THE MUCK CLEANED OUT. JOE HAS VISIONS OF VICTORIA WATERLILIES FOR IT ( rrrrrrright). BUT I THINK THAT SOME DUCK WEED, A WATER LETTUCE AND THE IRIS PSEUDACORUS WILL BE JUST FINE. MAYBE A GUNNERA.


I spoke at a local garden club this past week in Easthampton, MA, a quiet town nestled in an agricultural valley in western Massachusetts. It reminded me about my crazy fantasies about living in the Berkshires, or in Vermont, maybe even up-state New York on a farm or anyplace where I can meet some of my basic requirements - a location where I can hear spring peepers - our native tiny frogs that live in vernal pools in the woodland, their call is something that I grew up with, but which I never hear anymore now that homes have been built all around us here in the city; no sounds of distant highways - a bit unrealistic, sure, but where I live, the Massachusetts Turnpike is less than a mile away, and I can hear trucks, plus, the road I live on is busy now that they opened it up to a section 8 housing project, which is OK, but the new 'shortcut' it provides for the next town over, is not. Lastly, as there must be three, I want a view of something wild, a distant hill, a valley, a deep forest - anything other than our neighbors white box trucks.

A VIEW I RARELY SHOW, THE LONG WALK WITH THE UGLY FENCE, THAT SEPARATES THE NICER GREENHOUSE SIDE OF THE YARD, AND THE REST OF THE GARDEN. THIS OVER GROWN PERENNIAL BED HAS BEEN BOTHERING ME FOR TEN YEARS, SO THIS WEEKED WE STARTED DIGGING IT OUT. MY PLANS? FIRST, THIS WAS GOING TO BE MY 'OLD FASHIONED ANNUAL' BORDER. BUT I THINK THAT THIS WILL BECOME A MOON BORDER - ALL WHITE AND SILVER ANNUALS, PERENNIALS AND BIENNIALS. THE FENCE? I WILL JUST HAVE TO PAINT IT BLACK, FOR NOW.

I suppose we all can complain, but it's now- when spring arrives ( this year a whole lot early), is when I want space where I can appreciate the migrating song birds, the brief ephemeral wild flowers,  most basically,the sensual side of spring: it scent, its sound, its dioramas. Woodthrush, Woodcock, Wood Frogs and woodlands. Simple, right? Not so fast. I need to work, I need to be near a large city, near an airport, near culture. As I read the New York Times this morning before starting my second day of garden chores, I wished that I lived near enough to Manhattan, if only to see friends, and certainly to sit somewhere in the audience Wednesday to hear the New York Philharmonic directed by Lorin Maazel perform Richard Strauss' 'Alpine Symphony', a tone pome if not literal composition inspired by the Alps ( literal is OK, if it gives you goosebumps!). I would want to be able to zip over to Matthew Marks Gallery to see Brice Marden's new works, if only to remind me of my past life as a contemporary artist, but these sort of experiences still inspire me, they confirm a creatives place in time and culture - something which is more difficult to do today no matter how creative you are.
LOOKING AT THE LONG WALK FROM THE OTHER DIRECTION ( MORE OF A VIEW I TYPICALLY WOULD FEATURE). THIS SHOWS HOW LONG IT ACTUALLY IS  (ABOUT 150 FEET). IN THE FOREGROUND,  SASA VEITCHII  BAMBOO IS PARTICULARLY DIFFICULT TO ERADICATE, ITS RUNNERS REACH DOWN NEARLY TWO FEET UNDER GROUND. I LOVE IT, BUT IT HAS TO GO. NOW THE COMPOST PILE IS RICH WITH A FEW BLUE HYDRANGEAS,  SIBERIAN IRIS AND BAPTISIA. PLUS, NOW THAT THIS WILL BECOME A MOON GARDEN, MAYBE I SHOULD CALL THIS THE MOON WALK?

A VARIEGATED PETASITES JAPONICA DISPLAYS ITS VARIEGATION STRONGEST IN THE SPRING, BUT VIEWED EN-MASS, THE PLANT LOOKS LESS THAN PLEASANT, SO HERE IS THE TRUTH.....

OK - NOT ALL IS PRETTY HERE ON OUR PROPERTY. A STUMP FROM A LARGE BLUE SPRUCE THAT WAS UP-ROOTED IN A WIND STORM LAST MONTH, REMAINS AS PETASITES EMERGE. THERE ARE SO MANY PROBLEM AREAS THAT I JUST HAVE TO LET GO WILD FOR NOW.


What's interesting about those two cultural events is not that one is old, and one is new - I mean, one is a repeat performance, composed and performed first nearly one hundred years ago, and the Marden exhibition debut's the artists' newest creations - what interests me is that they are both similar to why we appreciate growing things. Not the art of 'gardening', but the appreciation of what happens in the garden. I  never consider myself a gardener, if I did, my garden would look awesome and believe me, don't let the photos on this blog mislead you - 75 percent of this old garden is not impressive, it's downright messy, unkempt and out-of-control. A gardeners garden is generally more about the collective experience - a delicate recipe which in no other time of the year besides spring, becomes overwhelming.

SOME CHORES CAN'T WAIT, EVEN FOR A DAY. LAVATERA SEEDLINGS ARE DIFFICULT ENOUGH, AS THEY ARE PRONE TO FUNGAL INFECTIONS AND CAN ROT IN A DAY WITHOUT PROPER VENTILATION. CAREFULLY PRICK OUT ALL BUT ONE SEEDLING PER POT, AND PLAN ON TRANSPLANTING NEXT WEEK AS THESE ARE TAP-ROOTED ANNUALS, AND THEY DISLIKE ANY ROOT DISTURBANCE.



Between late April and mid May, New England gardens become Avery Fisher Hall, Carnegie Hall and The Met - all at the same time. There are other times of the year when I, myself become the curator, the planter of bulbs, the sower of seeds, but during this brief spring interlude, I become nothing more than an observer - an usher even. One can sit and observe the performance ( something that I need to practice on more), or proceed with the never-ending to-to list of chores, trying not to notice the house wrens as they pick up whisps of goose down that became stuck on a petasites blossom, or the bloodroot as it opens its large, waterlily-like waxy white blossom if only for a day, since the unseasonable heat swiftly convinces the plant to do its duty, and move on. My symphony in the garden is brief, but always worth experiencing, in one way or another.

A LARGE DENDROBIUM SPECIOSUM HAD TO BE REPOTTED INTO A LARGER BASKET, ONE OF THE LARGEST ORCHID PLANTS ONE CAN GROW, THIS PLANT IS STILL YOUNG.



I mention to-do lists, which I do make each day, but rarely do I follow them. One task leads to another, and before long, I am taking on large projects that never even made it to the original list. The Lavatera needed thinning, which reminded me that some orchids in the greenhouse needed to be repotted, leading me to parsley plants that needed transplanting, sweetpeas set out into more rows in the garden, tubs of agapanthus, olive trees and calla lilies needing to be hauled out of the greenhouse for the summer, better fertilize the spinach and the snap peas, and cactus need to be relocated from the high bench in the greenhouse to a sand bed as they are showing buds. So much to do, but I did turn the fans off in the greenhouse so that I could hear the mating chickadees, and there was enough time to make a caramelized garlic and creme fresh tart, albeit with frozen puff pastry. After all, we had to eat!

THE BEES ARE STILL BEING FED SUGAR WATER TO BUILD UP THE HIVE, TWO HIVES WERE LOST WHEN THE TREE FELL LAST MONTH.