Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cure for Over-gardening: The Right-size Flower Garden

It's like getting old - we deny it's happening despite all the signs. It's an inevitable period that we ignore as handily as we ignore muscle aches after our first day in the garden after a long winter.

We've lived a life filling up at a giant buffet of plants and opportunities. But now one plateful is all we have room for.  For want of a better word, let's call it "over-gardening."

To some degree, it happens to all of us. It happened to Kerry Ann Mendez, whose new book, The Right-size Flower Garden, offers some great tips for downsizing.

I love that Mendez coins the mantra: "Plants are not children or pets." In other words, you can't be overly sentimental about plants if you intend to lighten your overloaded weeding/pruning/planting schedule.

The Right-size Flower Garden isn't an encyclopedia of plants for a low-maintenance garden. It's a hand-holding workbook that encourages over-gardeners to prune, pluck and otherwise eliminate the most likely culprits that enslave us.

Mendez recommends planting flowering shrubs and conifers in place of sweeping drifts of mixed perennials. She's quick to say she still uses perennials, but a lot fewer of them, choosing instead plants like oakleaf Hydrangea, reblooming lilac and tree peony.

To many, the scariest chapter in the book is "The Elimination Round: You be the Judge." Not only does Mendez address which gardens will remain intact, but she pulls no punches when it comes to winnowing out the individual slackers. It's all part of the goal of "reducing maintenance and plant expenses by at least 50 percent without compromising beauty or property value."

If you're an over-gardener like I am, you will have numerous gardens or sections that can do with some scrutiny. I like that Mendez starts with the view from inside. After all what good is a beautiful garden if you have to traipse over hill and dale to appreciate it?

Juniper 'Mother Lode' with Chamaecyparis 'Split Rock' in my garden.
Mendez addresses sloping ground, which is easiest to maintain by those with good balance and flexibility. She offers suggestions for covering rough terrain, including low-growing Sedum, creeping Phlox and creeping Juniper. She gives a thumbs-up to Juniperus 'Mother Lode', and I heartily concur, having installed it in my own garden seven years ago.

The author recommends switching out plants that overwhelm their neighbors, but she also suggests replacing older cultivars with improvements, using Hemerocallis 'Stella D'Oro' as an excellent example of swapping out for one of the newer varieties like 'Going Bananas'.

Sections on shrubs that should be pruned severely, perennials that don't need deadheading, groundcovers and three-season shrubs make this a great go-to reference, not just for over-gardeners, but for new gardeners who don't want to make the same mistakes as their over-loaded neighbors.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Clivia nobilis: You Can Grow That!

The description said it was more prone to rot than the more commonly available Clivia. And that it would bloom in two to three years. Neither scared me. I wanted color in the winter and I was willing to take a chance on failure to get it. My challenge was to keep my newly-acquired Clivia nobilis alive for two years with a long-term incentive, a prospect not common in most houseplants.

On October 30, after summering outdoors, the Clivia takes up a spot near a south-facing window. It was later moved to a bright location in the living room with no direct sun. 
I took the warning about excellent drainage to heart, planting the root and fan in a mixture of Turface, extra vermiculite and potting soil, with a sprinkling of orchid mix.
By Jan. 29 the bud became obvious.

February 8.
Eight months after planting it, the extreme reward arrived in a flower stalk. By late January, I knew I'd succeeded in at least nudging it into bloom - a year early at that!

Perhaps it was its summering outdoors that pushed it to maturity. Depending on the heat and impending rains, I moved the pot back and forth from under the shelter of the overhang on the patio to the shade of taller plants so it could catch a bit of rain if the soil was dry. I move all of my plants outdoors in summer; otherwise I'm afraid they'd die of neglect.

Feb. 19
Our summers' humidity and my garden's shady nooks made it perfect for this African native. My wonderfully-premature Clivia has been in bloom for a couple of weeks and I'm enjoying its color transition from yellow buds to orange.
Feb. 28
According to Grassy Knoll Plants, which is where I purchased this Clivia, the 3 year old plants are 2-3 years from blooming. 

March 4.
Check out Grassy Knoll Plants and you'll fall in love with all of the Passifloras and Proteas. They also have a good selection of unusual succulents. Watch for the daily special and sale prices and order early for the best selection. I was happy with the plants I received.

Whether I got lucky and gave the plant all it needed to zoom into bloom in nine months, or if I was sent a plant more mature than three years, I am happy to say Clivia nobilis can be left in a bright spot and pretty much ignored during early winter. Take a look at it once in awhile and bring it into a sunnier eastern exposure when you see a flower bud.

Color in March is a beautiful thing, especially when there is still a foot of snow on the ground.

Check out the website You Can Grow That! Celebrate the joys of gardening and give something new a try. Otherwise, you won't know if...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Pacific Northwest Garden Tour

The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour is brimming with reasons to visit the gardens in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. It's enough to make anyone who has ever given a flower a second glance to throw caution to the wind, say tah tah to reason and hop a plane to Portland.

Donald Olson's new book, published by Timber Press, is good enough to make even the casual gardener add an arboretum or two to their itinerary.

In the Pacific Northwest, you couldn't throw a stone without hitting a rhodo or a rose or a moss-covered surface. Anyone seeing the region for the first time (or any time for that matter) can improve their trip with a little perspective to go along with their oohs and aahs. That perspective should be provided by Olson's book.

Magnolia wilsonii at Hoyt Arboretum, 2007.
He names Portland, OR, Seattle, WA and Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia the three great garden cities in the Pacific northwest. From just a handful of visits, I would have to agree. The three cities are tied together in the introduction, where Olson compresses the history and hits the highlights of how the area became the garden paradise it is known to be today.

For example, the Hoyt Arboretum was completed during the Depression era with labor from F.D. R.'s Works Progress Administration program. It was at the Hoyt Arboretum that I fell in love with Magnolias.

The Dog-friendly Garden at Oregon Garden in Silverton (2007)
I like that the book has a short rundown at the beginning of each entry--hours, admission, address and phone, etc. The book's format, in which each region is divided into areas makes the book even more accessible. Olson has created a round-up of public gardens, independent nurseries, sanctuaries, former estates and urban parks. You'll find a bit of history on each place, plus lots of behind the scenes tidbits.

One of the first gardens I toured in 2007 was Oregon Garden in Silverton. According to Olson, it opened in 2000 as an outdoor showplace for the Willamette Valley horticulture industry.

A patch of, at the time, unnamed Helenium at Joy Creek (2008).
Now, it is managed by a company that operates the Oregon Garden Resort, which features an on-site hotel. In 2007 when we visited, they were putting finishing touches on the resort buildings. We stayed there in 2013, and enjoyed it just as much as we had six years earlier, even though it never stopped raining for an entire day.

The Garden Writers Association held its annual conference in Portland, OR in 2008 and I visited a whole new set of gardens, including two mentioned in the Pacific Northwest Garden Tour--Cistus Nursery, and Joy Creek Nursery, both of which deserve a spot in any book for Oregon gardeners.
Astoria-Megler Bridge from our hotel room (2008).

Packing up plants (2008)
When I visited Joy Creek, I was enthralled with the healthy and vivid Heleniums. I didn't buy any but I did have them ship me a Clematis and a Kniphofia.

It was 2008 that we drove across the Astoria-Megler Bridge from Astoria into Washington for a day. Our trip was coming to an end, and I was looking forward to planting all of the goodies I received at the Garden Writers event.

Siberian iris 'So Van Gogh' at Mid-America Garden (2013).
Olson nails the back story of Sebright Gardens, and its affiliation with Mid-America Garden. Sebright is a nursery specializing in shade plants that also has gorgeously-landscaped display gardens. I remember as I meandered through Sebright's display beds wondering why the landscaped grounds seemed to suddenly shift to a display of row upon row of peonies and irises. I didn't know it until I saw Olson's book, but the Mid-America Garden, adjacent to Sebright, is devoted to irises, and is a great place to take a gander at the latest varieties.

The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour  is as vital an item to pack on a trip west as comfortable shoes, plenty of time and a camera. Its small size and tons of photos make it a great companion on the plane if you haven't already dog-eared its pages marking the places you want to see before you've even scheduled your vacation.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Adorable Bulb Makes Welcome Houseplant

It's within the range of February's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day--a bit late because I had to include the nearly-opened flower of this little cutie (and as a third person non-fiction just to change things up):

Chubby, compact and upright were the qualities that had fascinated her over the past year or so-- the qualities that led her to plant seven varieties of torch lily, four different pineapple lilies, and now, Lachenalia, an African plant with no common name that she could find.

This latest was something she stumbled on as she poked around the web researching some topic for a magazine feature. Detours were common in the life of a writer, especially a modern writer who no longer traveled to a library but learned all she needed from a Google search.

Any color besides salt-melt grey was an apparition in a Midwest winter. But a flower of iridescent violet streaked with chartreuse was especially welcome.

Lachenalia 'Rupert' is just beginning to open.
Grown from a bulb, Lachenalia is a member of the Hyacinth family. And like the Dutch hyacinth, Lachenalia blooms in spring. And since it's not hardy, desperate Midwestern gardener potted up  six bulbs indoors in a mix created with a generous helping of orchid bark and gave them as much light as possible as they prepared to make their entrance.

From the top, Lachenalia shows off its closed-up flowers that look like purple tootsies.

While success has revolved around this one bulb, two others have formed flowers, albeit in a much slower fashion. This, she figured, is a result of planting depth. And now, as the one that's tallest grows larger, those left to lag fall behind even further from the overshadowing provided by the expanding flower spike.

The bulbs were planted in a quick-draining mix containing orchid bark. The oak-looking seedlings are a mystery.
Author's note (Because I've always wanted to write one.): I couldn't help writing in third person after listening to the audio book Dead Tomorrow by British author Peter James. Can you tell I wrote this with an English accent?

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Garden-pedia is a must have reference

Garden-pedia by Pamela Bennett and Maria Zampini is a reference to nearly every term you'll encounter along your personal gardening path, no matter how far you've gotten.

Sometimes, all you have time for is a snippet of information--just enough to get you to that reference point where you can get on with your life.

Did you know that lead could be found in soil? (A good reason to get your soil tested.)

Some gardening terms--like budding, chipping and standard--can have more than one meaning?

And, what the heck is a macronutrient, anyway?

Answers to all of these questions, from the obscure to the obvious, can be found in Garden-pedia, published by St. Lynn's Press. I loved perusing this book at the dinner table. (Yes, we do that.) It's not a meaty book, but one that might lead to further examination of a term, a method, or a type of plant you're considering for your garden.

Just because it makes a small footprint and makes a fun read doesn't mean Garden-pedia is a book for dummies. Whether you consider yourself a beginner or a seasoned horticultural veteran, the book offers nuggets of information that will make you a better gardener. At the very least, it will make you more fun at parties. Can anyone name the three sides of the disease triangle?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Kitchen Gardening?

Perhaps not the kitchen, but somewhere in your abode lives memories or even remnants of a new gardener's attempts at growing plants indoors. It could be a thread of macrame cord from a spider plant, or a spray bottle used for misting that finicky fern. I'd hazard to guess most of us started planting things indoors before the gardening obsession took us over completely. Where we went from there is as varied as the species we plant.

But if you suffer a winter with freezing temps, you also spend several months suffering the loss of fresh-tasting vegetables. According to Elizabeth Millard in her new book, Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden, it doesn't have to be that way.

I like that she addresses a plan. I'm a firm believer that failures are the result (partially, at least) of poor planning. Whether you're new at the whole gardening thing or would like to give the indoor venue another shot, having a plan keeps expectations real.

For example, the author asks:
  1. What do you hope to gain?
  2. How ambitious do you want to be?
  3. What's your vacation schedule like?
  4. Are you looking for indoor-only growing, or transfers between the kitchen and outdoor garden?
I've started plants indoors for eventual planting outdoors, but usually don't start up until March. As for ambitions, I'd simply like to have fresh greens, not potatoes and mushrooms. Although Millard offers great details on starting and growing these long-term commitment vegetables, I opted to achieve the easiest victory.

Microgreens is a term that wasn't around when I was a kid. I first encountered them at a restaurant where they were sprinkled atop a minute salad. My first thought was, "What cute little seedlings. But what are they doing on my food?"

I knew what a seedling looked like, after all, and that's what these were. I assumed they were edible, yet I wasn't sure what to expect, so I just doused them with dressing and dug in. I think the restaurant owner/chef should have included a little notice with the salad that said something like, "These are sprouts of radish/cabbage/carrot (or whatever) and are higher in nutrients than the actual plant. And they taste delicious."

Even the USDA sings the praises of this tiny but mighty produce. I pictured Popeye opening a tiny vial filled with spinach microgreens to give him the same walloping energy as a whole can.

I sampled a product called Microgreenz, a simple little method of growing your own microgreens. From the instructions, it seemed it couldn't be easier. I filled the ceramic tray with soilless mix, planted the seed and put it in the window. I got sprouts, but learned that just spraying the seedlings didn't provide them with enough moisture. And because the tray had no drainage, it would be easy to drown the little guys.

The chapter on microgreens in Indoor Kitchen Gardening: Turn Your Home Into a Year-Round Vegetable Garden alone makes the book a winner. Millard explains what they are--initial leaves of a seedling called cotyledons. She recommends beets, mustard, radish or carrot, which all sound good to me. She also suggests containers for growing them and how to make sure they're getting the right amount of moisture.

The author calls growing microgreens the ideal initial project. I really like how she shows photos of what they look like at harvest stage, and offers specific and detailed troubleshooting sections about growing microgreens, and how to use them in recipes.

And if a foray into microgreens isn't enough, there is a chapter on growing shoots, which Millard defines as just microgreens of the seeds you've chosen. She recommends peas, sunflowers, popcorn and nasturtium as making some tasty shoots for harvesting, storing and using in recipes.

I'll follow the author's advice to know the limit of your ambitions, and will stick with microgreens. But if I change my mind, I'll delve into the other chapters of her book, which include more long-term goals like fully-grown radishes, hot peppers, tomatoes and lettuces.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Of Course They Come in Blue--Bring on the Spray Paint!

I'm still getting comments on the piece I wrote about a succulent that had been painted blue, apparently, to gain the attention of unsuspecting consumers who don't realize that it isn't real.

It would have been nice if the plant come with a label disclosing that it had been spray painted and eventually grow out of its color.

Advertisers have figured out what the consumer wants, which is why the term "new" is used so often. We like to try/see/taste/grow/have things no one else has tried/seen/tasted/grown/had. Other popular buzzwords are "energy-efficient," "organic," and "gluten-free." It's the consumer's perception that causes him to gravitate toward these icons and what they represent.

Anyway, we've all felt swindled or cheated at some time in our lives. My friend the horticulturist felt a bit sheepish, I'm sure, but it was very early spring and cold and gloomy outside. The plant was $10, which means she paid at least twice what the Echeveria was worth. But in the big scheme of things, it was a relatively inexpensive lesson to learn.

Should there be warnings or laws that protect us from these fraudulent claims? Warnings, perhaps. Laws, I don't think so. With laws like that in place we'd never have "glitter mums," or deep blue carnations at our local supermarkets. And why else would they be selling if somebody out there likes them.

Why else would the Martha Stewart website offer instructions for putting glitter on roses?

Dyed and spray-painted flowers (fresh is relative, I guess) also are available. Although, to me, the look created here might as well be made of paper, cloth or even plastic, somebody out there likes them. I found some information on how florists dye flowers on the ProFlowers blog.

I'm not a fan, but as my mother used to say, "It takes all kinds."