October 19, 2015


I am smitten by Amy Goldman's latest book, which will be published October 27.

Sometime, even I discover books and authors in the most traditional of ways ---from a friend.

 I made such a discovery last week - via a friend, of course. A few weeks ago, I received a package in the mail containing a gem - Amy Goldman's brand new book (being released this week) HEIRLOOM HARVEST - Modern Daguerreotypes of Historic Garden Treasures (Bloomsbury) with beautifully illustrated with surprisingly engaging Daguerreotypes by noted photographer Jerry Spagnoli.  It is a book which surprised me in a few ways, because it delivers on so many levels. I like to imagine that if it appealed to me on these levels, that it may appeal to you to.

I came to know Amy Goldman quite indirectly - through my dear friend Abbie Zabar, the artist, author and plantswoman who frequently fills my email box with delightful "must reads" and "Matt-must-get's". Abbie, who has this uncanny ability to connect people with her "I know that these people should know each other" mind - - did just that, via email

I knew about Amy Goldman's work, but only on a superficial level. Many people have mentioned her books to me in passing, and I have to admit that the covers always intrigued me, but I really can't say why I never bothered to order one, or pick one up at a book store? (I mean, where is there a bookstore, anyway?). Sometimes, I do wish that I lived in the city. If you are not familiar with Amy Goldman Fowler, she is first and foremost, a gardener with an extraordinary life history. She is an author ( 3 books, each one award-winning(, a writer (as seen in Martha Stewart Living magazine, the New York Times, she is an artist, (I will always remember those bronze cast squashes!). She is also a philanthropist with deep family roots in New York City. Most importantly, she is an advocate for seed saving, specifically heirloom fruits and vegetables. Amy is one of the foremost heirloom plant conservationists in the United States, if not the world today.".

Did I mention that she was also nominated for a James Beard Award.

So….let's say this….she's kind-of qualified to write a book on heirloom vegetables.

For whatever reason, I have never seemed to have acquired one of Amy's books - maybe I assumed that because they were designed so slickly, that they might contain shallow content - I now admit, that I had no idea what lay inside those books. 

Look, there are plenty of writers today who write about gardens.  There are plenty of garden writers who write about their experiences in gardens, and then there are those few people like Amy Goldman, who have the magic combination(if not gift) to immerse themselves in a subject so deeply that they can't help but learn most everything one ever needed to know about the subject. This deep-dive lends not only credibility to Amy's writing, but it makes for a great read as well.

Believe me, these sort of authors are rare today. So as many of us moan about the lack of the great garden writers, and look to the past, the 'Ruth Stouts', the Thalasa Cruso's'', Gertrude Jeckyl's and the, Vita Sackville West's. I believe that what we have here is indeed, our own American 'Vita Sackville West. Someone with the means, the care and passion to collect, grow and document what many of us can only dream of growing. Heady stuff to say, I admit, but when one looks at the scope and knowledge that factors into such a book, I think it's safe to say that it is a significant piece of work, at least visually.

It's the text that I really enjoy in this book. More! I want more!

Some of you may be familiar with her earlier books,  The Heirloom Tomato from Garden to Table, (2008), Melons for the Passionate Grower, (2002),  and the Compleat Squash - A Passionate Grower's Guide To Pumpkins, Squashes and Gourds (Artisan, 2004) - (this one I almost bought! Really!). What's important to note here is the word 'authentic'. Amy has grown these plants on her farm, from the gnarliest heirloom curcurbit to the sloppiest rotten melon. This sort of first-hand analysis and study is not only rare in todays published works, it may be nonexistent aside from Amy.

 What I really connected with in this book, which I first felt might have so easily just been a 'pretty book with nice images', was Amy's deep passion. It surprised me, as I read the first few pages ( and then the entire book just after I opened it on my vacation week two weeks ago). We share some foundational quirks - both started by exhibiting her veggies in state fairs and in competitions at horticultural societies, raising Indian Runner Ducks, and searching for unusual plants and heritage breeds - if I had a life to live over again, it would be Amy Goldman's, which is why I enjoyed reading about her journey so much.

The real star of this book are the photographs by Jerry Spagnoli. Dageurrotypes actually, so unique and lovely -  (think - Cival War style images) of Amy's gardens and plant crops harvested through the seasons.

Amy's books are also visual treasures, often winning design and production awards as well ( her first book, Melons for the Passionate Grower was nominated for several awards, including the Garden Writers Association of America 2003 Garden Globe Award for Achievement, and numerous Bookbinder's Awards for design and production, not to mention a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Design. Clearly, her books are not only comprehensive, but thoughtfully designed as well.

In a world full of mobile phones and fast media, one has to give credit to anyone who cares enough to see through the hype and hyperbole which sometimes can surround trends such as the 'farm-to-table' movement and heirloom tomatoes 0 it would be too easy to dismiss any book on these subjects as taking advantage of a noble cause of the moment. Let me assure you, this is no such book.Given what you now know about Amy's life, you can see what has informed this work of hers.

Black and white photos don't always inspire but these daguerreotypes are beautiful, and really add a tone a book which could at first, just be 'a book about pictures of heirloom vegetables'. This book is much more.

This photo of Joe watering the chrysanthemums in the greenhouse this weekend. -Our lives are surrounded by history, an old home, an older farm stone walls and plows - even the plant varieties and livestock each  have a story. Amy surely senses it all, and combines history, heritage with contemporary life in a respectful and uncommercial  way that makes everything feel more connected( in a world, which ironically really isn't all  that 'connected' with itself at all).

This weekend we picked the last of our heirloom onions and shallots. In the evening when I flipped through Amy's book, I could imagine how they planned their shots, since this is exactly what veggies really look like - when one raises interesting and heirloom types. Not, typical supermarket commercial selections.

A contemporary view from The Heirloom Harvest by Amy Goldman, of her greenhouse and garden. Perhaps you can see why I feel so connected to this lifestyle, albeit on a completely different scale!

Now, I am on a mission to read Amy Goldman's other works. For a gardener like me, who happens to have his own, personal history of experience with plants, particularly vegetable, I have found few books that offer either inspiration or help, often turning to vintage texts from the 19th Century since they somehow are more helpful, since they are always written with first-hand experience. I now know that Amy's books will do the same.

We with gardens always can learn more, knowing HOW someone grew the leek, or how they discovered that salsify really isn't that easy to master, or even, how they 'effed it up and tried again. It all adds to a collective knowledge which most of us need to discover (mostly because few of us have a grandparent who could advise on on exactly what does a Belgian Endive require each month, to be properly forced in the root cellar).

A winter view of Amy Goldman's farm.

If I had any complaints (and I do, but all are minor), the biggest is so superficial that I fill silly saying it - it's that gorgeous finish on the cover (a flat, uncoated varnish), it looks great, but it lends itself to fingerprints (yeah - maybe I have greasy fingers, but they are often dirty!). I also felt that this book is large (dimensions are bigger than I imagined). Heft, with a book, is usually something I appreciate, but since I wanted to sit and read the book, I felt that it might be slightly too big, at least to read in bed.

Clearly, my favorite part of this book is the text, but aside from a few chapters in the front, there is not enough. I want more!

The photography, of course, is stunning. In many ways, it feels like a beautifully shot documentary - a journey, with a tone and voice which is not only appropriate, but thoughtfully produced. It also somewhat functions as a portfolio for the these very fine photographs of Jerry Spagnoli, and I can appreciate the rest and pause between the text and the images, as one can focus on one, or the other, and, they deserve to be within the same covers.

Our last fig of the season, just being moved into the greenhouse before our first, hard frost this past weekend. I'm kind of inspired by those images! More of our harvest pics to come now that we had our frost.

Still, I guess what I am saying here is that I could also imagine this work as two separate books - better yet, I want to see another book now with more detail by Amy about her amazing and inspirational life on the farm - a month-by-month biography ( the sort I want to write), on her journey with plants, food and rural life which so few of us get to experience ourselves.

To close this blurby gush, as a graphic designer myself, the overall design of the book is really flawless. It's an object one will want to display (but always within reach for winter reading). The subtle but thoughtful graphic details within, the color palette, the typefaces and imagery all work. That said, I refuse to put this book in my book case, and even brought it to my office so that I could display it on my desk - it's that beautiful.

This is my own image of an olive tree, that I started a couple of years ago from a cutting that Abbie Zabar convinced me to 'just take it and root it in a glass of water'. Today, it's 5 feet tall, and trained as a topiary in the same style as Abbie's now out-of-print-book, The Potted Herb, by Abbie Zabar  (1988,Stewart, Tabori and Chang) (get that book took if you can find it!).

October 13, 2015


In nearby Brookfield, Massachusetts there are beautiful old farms dating back to the 1800's. While apple picking this weekend, Joe and I stopped here for a picnic lunch, it's where my parents use to take us for fall and winter picnics. The color in the foliage is later this year, so we are about 2 weeks away from peak, but who's complaining!

Face it folks - there is no holding back fall. After a long, hot weekend, and only a little color on the trees here in New England, some are wondering when fall will actually arrive. I say - relax. The Wooly Bears know. The chipmunks know ( I know that they know, because they just planted a nice crop of sunflower seeds in each of my pots of annuals I was starting for the greenhouse.

SO…Wolly Bears. In  New England, there is a saying that children often share - that the banded wooly bear larvae, which have a black, fuzzy body with an orange or rust colored band can forecast he seasonal intensity of winter.  Curious? You can read about the legend here.  Briefly, thanks to a scientist in the mid 1940's who studied such things, a lovely story began.  Of course, this is disputed by modern entomologists, and although fun for the child in all of us to play with, I would suggest strongly that you get the app 'Dark Sky' ( really, it's my fav weather app - and remember - I work with a bunch of futurists and geeks who know these sort of things.) Get Dark Sky, you'll love it, and you'll know when your first frost will hit. Yeah….You're welcome.

Big sky picture here, its a rather typical fall in New England. A week off this way or that is totes norms. Sure, folks will chat about how the 'foliage just won't be a great as last year because of the drought' or why the color is late this year, due to the heat'. but ask any meteorologist and they will tell you that ' sure, we might be a week or two off, here or there, but overall, there is no holding back the inevitable.  Believe me, winter is coming, and the garden knows it. Hell, nature knows it. The woodpeckers are red squirrels around here are fighting over the acorns, the chickadees and titmice are visiting the empty feeders with those 'over-weight doggie at the cookie jar-eyes. 

They know. We all know. That big garter snake that darted across my path going to the greenhouse doesn't know, but nobody tell him.

Thick, huge carrots are a variety appropriately named  'Hercules'  ( from Johnny's) . Aside from the always tempting  Gladiator reference (duh, they tricked me - Damn you Johnny!) , these did succeed in transporting me back to the 'great, epic  carrot harvests' of Matt's  youth. Sure, my parents grew many varieties to can, but our neighbors did as well. Here's to you Mr. Pockevicious and Dr. Lingappa - the scent of this massive harvest has transported me back to you root cellars! and the year 1968.

If you've never tasted carrots directly from a garden, then all I can tell you is that you have no idea what  carrot really tastes like. Do this! Plant carrot seed next spring, if not for you, then for your kids, since those little, ground-down 'baby carrots' in the poly bags which are neither 'baby' nor barely carrots by any measure are better off as a replacement for dog cookies (which is what we buy them for) and not for the kitchen. 

Aside from a homegrown tomato, or a crisp, sweet winter cabbage,  of the greatest pleasures front eh home garden - one where you can truly distinguish a significant difference with from store-bought, is, the lowly carrot. Lowly no more, one you try them this way. Along with the musky scent of woodland leaves, damp and decaying with mushrooms and pine ( or what Joe described yesterday as "that 'rotting stank of fall"- he hates winter, mind you), the scent of carrots pulled from the earth is somewhat therapeutic.

This past weekend brought us seasonally warm temperatures and sunny, sunny days. A few cold nights around here (expected this coming weekend with our first frost) will ensure bright colors on the sugar maples.

 Remember, these were root vegetables which were once white and purple (not orange, actually until man messed around with their genes through selections and cross-breeding in the late 19th century), the white carrot was one of the first vegetables not only grown by humans, but believed to he wild harvested by them as well. ( Iraq, Iran, Caucuses, Turkey where it grows wild in high elevations). Of course, back then, it was used primarily as an aphrodisiac ( what wasn't, right?). These 'medicinal properties later evolved into using the vegetable as food, and more tender and colorful varieties were selected.

We really should respect the carrot much more than we do today, where we either use it as part of a base trilogy in dished, or use it as a substitute for doggie treats even!

Camellia foliage looks best in the autumn, and this variegation on 'Daikajura' variegated form, is a great example of how attractive a potted camellia can be ( or outdoors, if you live in a warmer area). Here, camellias are greenhouse plants.

As the maples and ash trees color-up for their big show in the woodlands, in our garden things are taking many turns. The camellias are all budded up after their summer vacation outdoors. I pick a few of the buds off, so that there are only one or two per branch, otherwise they will crowd out each other. This new camellia in my collection has three things going for it. First, it's an early bloomer, as many camellia's especially the sassanqua and tea camellias bloom in the autumn or early winter.

'Daikajura' is variable, and some are entirely pink, so be sure when you find one at a camellia nursery, that it is a selection which some special benefits, or you may end up with one which is entirely pink - not a bad thing, but not as awesome as the one above.
 Second, for an early bloomer this flower is pretty showy. Most fall blooming camellias are known as 'sassanqua' camellias, bred from C. sassanqua  or mixed parentage from other species. 'Daikajura' is a C. japonica variety. which can bloom early or mid-season, often spreading it's boom period across November to January. My plant is so young, perhaps it doesn't yet know what to do, having moved here from Pasadena last autumn - or, it may mean that we are in for a nasty winter again!
I don't fall for such juju, and simple believe that it's off-schedule a bit due to age and environment. All of my camellias seem to vary a bit with their bloom, based upon when they are moved back into the greenhouse, the daily temperature shifts from night to day, and day length.

Lastly, this camellia does has pretty foliage --I mean, the leaves are large, shiny and green, not because some are variegated.  Don't be mislead - one may have only a few leaves which decide to emerge with variegation, not unusual at all with camellias. Cherish each one like a flower, and value  the rest of the un-fancy ones since they will carry the plant through the winter.

A late evening shot of one of my Japanese chrysanthemums. This bud is larger than a 50 cent piece, which means that the flower might be very large once it opens later in the month.

Frost threatens, even though it is warm and near 80 degrees F. outdoes today. One my one, I am moving choice plants back into the greenhouse ( there just isn't too much room, with all of the chrysanthemums!). This variegated calamondin orange is loaded with fruit. I can't wait until they turn bright orange. They should contest nicely with this big, Japanese ceramic tub I found.

It's a poor image due to the lighting, but don't you love this dahlia? Orange chiffon with pink tips'. I could eat it! Now, I need to try and find the label in the perennial garden! Dogs have been playing tricks with me.

October 10, 2015


I've been growing some rare species of Cobaea (the cup and saucer vine) this summer, and most bloom near frost so seed from this species seems unlikely. This blossom of  C. campanulata (not certain, as I can only find one image on Google images)  is typically keyed out with a white perianth, but the stamens extend, and the calyx seems right.

One would think that with an entire week off from work, that I would be able to post at least three times during this past week, ( and full disclosure - it's now been 2 weeks!), but somehow, I never made it to the computer - not a bad thing,  maybe it's best if I just share some random happenings in the garden these few weeks. That's OK, right? NOTE - the images won't match up with the text, since what I am writing about has not yet made it into the garden! The images? They are what are in bloom right now, or represent what is happening here this week.

One interesting habit of this Cobaea campanulata  that it turns violet as it ages, much like its more common relative,  C. scandens which we can find in any seed catalog. Maybe we could just call this species with the common name  the "cup vine', since it has no saucer? I wish I could get some seed from this one, I may try to move the window box in which it grows into the greenhouse, but the vine is so long, I doubt that it will survive.

Last Sunday, after I had just came back from a double lecture and house party at the home of nurserywoman Ellen Hornig honoring the Swedish botanist and nurseryman Peter Korn, ( an excellent speaker I should mention --  and some of you will be able to catch the last of his talks at the Tri-State NARGS meeting on at the New York Botanical Garden next week), he is on his last stops on this amazing North American Rock Garden Society speakers tour sponsored by the Berkshire Chapter (Massachusetts) of NARGS - I learned so much from his talk, and even though I didn't have a note pad handy, I was inspired to do the following (which you might be interested in trying, as well). I thought that I would share these interesting plants and ideas with you. A little random as well, but hey - it's a post, right?

Speaking of annual vines, this Mina lobata is looking mighty fine this fall.

Peter Korn's garden just outside Gothenburg in Sweden looks incredible. Some fine images can be seen on the Prarie Break blog written by the great and powerful Panayoti Kelaidis of the Denver Botanic Garden.  This was where I was first introduced to Peter's work.  He showed us how he move tons (yes, tons) of soil off of a mountain hillside over the past decade, to expose the rocks below, and then how he brought in tons of sand (of a large size so that drainage for his plants would be excellent - his tip today? Buy sand that will fall apart even if squeezed in ones fist while damp. Many mountain alpines and even woodland plants and bulbs (as well as Onco Iris) will thrive in such a medium. The more I hear about sand and pumice used as soil, the more I am convinced to truck more in.

It is cyclamen season under glass. I've had this white Cyclamen hederifolium for ten years now, it's getting quite large. Plant collectors continue to be obsessed with these hardy cyclamen, which also do well outdoors in my zone 5 garden, but for some reason, they never show up at garden centers and rarely in the mass trade. You will have to look for them in specialty catalogs and nurseries.  Great as a cold greenhouse plant, but also terrific out it in the garden, blooming through the autumn leaves.

Planting Ideas from Peter Korn

1. Plant thousands of Triteleia laxa (or as many as you can afford) (some catalogs will list the genus as Brodiaea)- Apparently, they've been lumped together by taxonomists along with Dichelostemma and Bloomeria.

Triteleia laxa are purported to be hardy (or so, I've been told by Peter - to USDA zone 5), and although they may not be new to you Californian or West coast gardeners, for us in the East, they are not something one sees. I was so surprised to see how many  Peter planted in his gardens, in sand beds, the alpine gardens and even in his rooftop plantings. He said to order a 1000 bulbs at a time (I may start with 500), as they are inexpensive. True, perhaps in Sweden, but here, one can get 500 bulbs for around $35. That's more affordable.

The chickens are maturing. All egg-layers, I can't wait until spring when he days begin to lengthen and they start laying for the first time.

The choicest variety is one called 'Queen Fabiola', but I think any of the named selections will be precious. Be sure to plant in drifts, for 6 or 8 bulbs will not deliver the look one wants. I am adding them to my more natural planting in the front of our house.

He suggests the named varieties, particularly Triteleia laxa ' Queen Fabiola', which one can find in any of the larger commercial Dutch bulb catalogs, but if you want more interesting species or selections, you may want to try some of the special catalogs - such as Telos Rare Bulbs.

So here is a rare Chinese tree that one doesn't see that often, at least in the New England landscape. Zanthoxylum simulans. Curious? OK, the thorns are nasty, but the foliage is beautiful, and I do like the thorns. You foodies may be more familiar with the reddish fruits on this tree - it's more commonly known as Szechuan pepper. The berries will ripen to a bright red in the autumn, but for now, this one is too young.

2. Try Ledbouria ovalifolia in the garden - particular one selection sold under the name 'Dowie Human' --I just have to find it! --  mark my words (well, Peter Korn's), Lednouria ovalifolia will be in every Dutch bulb catalog that fill your mailbox within 5 years (apparently they are propagating it with big hopes), and you will want it. Plant Delights once had it, but I can no longer find it anywhere, I may have to settle for an un-named selection from seed.

Yes, I said Zone 5.

The exhibition chrysanthemums have been moved into the greenhouse, to protect them from frost, and to prepare them for their last month of growth before the bloom in November. Now, I need to future out where all of my other plants are going to fit! These will be ut back to 'stools' after blooming, and one of each variety will be set under a bench to winter over, and used for fresh cuttings in late winter.

3. The best tulip trick ever which none of us do

Not buying tulips anymore because they only bloom for one or two years? Here is what you are doing wrong.

Tulips, many of which hail from the steppes of Turkey and the Caucasus require hot, dry summers. I never knew this, but you know all of those fields of colorful tulips grown in Holland? Those bulbs are planted late (November) and when they are done blooming, and after the foliage has died back, they don't stay dormant in their fields. The soil would be too cool with the short summer, and even too damp.

Some bud on these chrysanthemums are getting large, all have been pinched to a single bud to a single stem, which is how most exhibition mums are grown. Do not confuse these with the the dense, mounded mums you see now at the nursery or in plantings - these are the big, fancy mums which were once so popular in the 19th century.

Most if not all commercial growers of Tulips dig their bulbs and store them in warm and dry warehouses for the summer. The cooler and damp underground temperatures inhibit growth, and bulbs slowly deteriorate with each year.  They then  plant the cleaned bulbs out again with the arrival of each autumn. This technique is particualary important with the species tulips, many of which come from a higher elevation and demand a hot, dry dusty bake like the would received in  their hot and dry meadows in Afghanistan or Turkey.

I was grateful to be reminded of this habit, which my parents used to do each June when the foliage began to fade on the tulips. Now we need to be realistic, there is no such thing as a properly perennialized tulip, in many ways, they are temporary visitors in all of our gardens, but with careful treatment like this, one can have tulips for 5-10 years, but as I said, the best results will come from the species or wild forms which can last for years in pots (in a greenhoue or outside in a sand bed), if lifted and dried off every summer. Give them all a bit of the hot, dry steppe of Caucases, to keep them believing that they are still in the remote environment.

Here is a shrub that needs a good evangelist (or a marketer). I expect to see it used more often in gardens ( it puts Dahpne 'Carol Mackie' to shame ince it never stops!). Daphne x transatlantica is a cross between D. caucasica (female)  and D. collins (male). This one came as a gift in my suitcase after visiting with Panayoti Kelaidis from the Denver Botanic Gardens. If anyone knows what plants will do well in my garden it's Panayoti, and wow - this plant impresses me each year. It's now 2 feet tall, and it has two main flushes of bloom, in the spring and again in autumn, with some flowers in-between. Fragrant, gorgeous foliage - hardy--  come on nurserymen - grow it!

All of this is kind of simple advice, loaded with common sense when you think about it. If there is one tip that I walked away with from Peter Korn's talk was that microclimates exist even in small gardens and plants will perform best if you first have travelled to where they grow in nature (Armenia, Patagonia, etc), so that you can site the plant at the most ideal spot. He had many examples of a gentiana or Lewisia which faltered one meter above on a slope, or rotted in too much moisture 2 meters lower, but which thrived and prospered in a 3 foot zone where everything seemed just right, and perfect. He knew from observing the plant in the wild, the the long roots may need to be dipping into an under group stream, but that the crown of the plants needed to be in hot, dry scree.

Yeah--this 'other' Daphne ( or just Daph, Daff, or Doodles) also looks pretty cute, as it starts to rain again. She may be the runt, but talk about personality! Goofy, crazy and lovable (most of the time, anyway!).

So many of us simply come home from a plant sale or a nursery, and just dig a hole with trowel, and dump the plant into regular 'ol garden soil in much the same why one might plant a petunia. A rare, Colorado lupine may appreciate the top, northside of a ledge, where there are cooling breezes, and where it can grow in coarse sand. A primula may apprreciate a crevice with an overlapping rock which acts like a roof to protect it from rain. So many things factors one can learn, when one observed planted in their native habitat or site.

No one really wants to bother with let's say a large, floppy parrot flame tulip which is slowly declining over a few years looking more like a mounting parrolet than it;s honky freshly plants Dutch grown bulbs which was forced to employ chastity for years ( snapping off the flower and dead heading afterwards), to build up strength and vigor.