Resources

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I envy new gardeners, just starting out.  There is so much information available to new gardeners, via the internet.  Have a question?  Want an opinion?  Want a reference?  Want a list of places that sell clematis?  Want a stone supplier?  Need a landscape designer?  Need a garden center near you that sells trees?  mulch?  potting soil?  Orchids?  Have a question?  Write that question in the search line, and be prepared to have to edit the flood of answers.

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Have a vision?  Search Google images for a face to put to that vision.  Houzz.com has no end of pictures of landscape design projects.  I rather admire how easy and satisfying a resource they are.  Pinterest?  If you are a visual person, there is more there to see than you could ever possibly absorb.  The internet is the equivalent of the Encyclopedia Britannica,  times many millions.  If you have a question, there is probably someone taking a stab at it out there.  If you have a tricky question, you will find opinions galore out there.

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Such was not so, when I was in my twenties.  I had a handful of gardening catalogs that I read over and over again.  I had access to a local  library.  The Dewey decimal system-are you too young to know about that?  Never mind-it was a colossal bore.  I did the best I could without much counsel, and took my lumps.  I learned by doing.  What didn’t work out led me to the next step. I have a distinct memory of moving one clematis 5 times before it was happy.

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The Encyclopedia Britannica was better on the subject of World War II, than the successful cultivation of  Dutchman’s Breeches, or columbines.  How I wanted to grow columbines.  My failure to keep them going-routine and boring.  I killed an embarrassing number of plants before I caught on.  I had a few friends-most of them were close by.  Nurseries and garden centers were one of the best sources of information.  Today I have gardening friends whom I have never met face to face.  Worlds away.  A sympathetic gardener in New Zealand may inform how I approach a problem in my garden. This is extraordinary.

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Today you could with but a few keystrokes learn how to make an omelet,  grow tomatoes from seed, or graft a rose.  Given enough time and work, you could look over every company worldwide that sells doorknobs. You could see pictures and videos of the great gardens of the world.  You could know the temperature today in Florence Italy, or get a list of hotels in Iceland.  Just type whatever comes to mind.  How the internet is engirneered to respond to questions-astonishing.

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I use the internet for research.  Those plants that tolerate black walnuts.  Great stone yards.  Deer repellants.  Great breeders of hellebores.  Contemporary garden furniture.  The cultivation of orchids, daisies and sunflowers.  Good garden benches.  The perfect vase.  How to use string.  The science behind the production of chlorophyll.  The weather-at home, in Paris, or in Madrid.  The history of the garden.  The exhibitors at this year’s Chelsea flower show.  How to select and grow great hydrangeas.   Type in your question, and read on.  French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Belgian, Dutch, Mexican, Scottish, Icelandic, American, Icelandic, British, Polish, German-gardens all around the world.  Though I would never give up my books, I can get help with a question in seconds.

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Why am I writing about this?  An image of a hedge of Limelight hydrangeas I posted on Pinterest has prompted a flood of questions.  As to where one could purchase Limelights in northern Texas-I am not the right person to ask. A local nursery or garden center will have the answer to this. As to whether Limelights will prosper in dry shade, I could only answer for my zone.  But I am willing to bet there is a resource out there with all kinds of information about growing hydrangeas in Texas-and any place else, for that matter.

Garden Designers Roundtable: Mistaken

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The topic for the Garden Designers Roundtable-mistakes.  I appreciate the timing of this topic, as blunder season is just about here. I invariably misinterpret nature’s intent with regard to spring.  I am sure that spring has arrived, always weeks in advance of the real thing.  I am anxiously poking around, looking for the crocus and the hellebores.  If I am lucky, that poking will not damage tender shoots just emerging from the ground.    The true meaning of misstep?  Tulip leaves when they first emerge in my zone are the same color as the muddy soil.  Given that I never remember where I have planted them, I am as likely to smash them flat as not.  Every step I make on soil that is soaking wet from the thaw forces the life giving oxygen out of the soil.  Plants thrive in friable soil, and generally dislike compacted soil.  Why am I milling about in the garden when I know better?  The leaves of the hellebores are limp and brown now-and crying for a cleanup.  I am sure the number of emerging flowers I have snipped off thinking they were leaf stalks is appallingly high.  Were I to endure the mess for another week, the difference between leaf stalks and flower stalks would be obvious.  Yet here I am, in error.  Franklin P Jones put it so eloquently:   Experience is that marvelous thing that enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.

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Once the perennials begin to emerge, the bare spaces that would be perfect for spring bulbs are painfully obvious.  Spots for snowdrops-how is it that I failed to see them 5 months ago, when I could have planted?  The chionodoxa I did plant at the edge of a path as the spot was easy to get to-could I really have forgotten the edge of this path is part of the Corgi path?  Was that outcome not as obvious last fall as it is right now?  It will be months before my small perennial garden will be anything to look at. I could have tulips and daffodils on the way.  Phlox divaricata-every year I long for it.  Every year I do not plant it. A lost opportunity is one thing, but a lost opportunity that repeats itself year after year-a whopper blooper.

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Later I will find those mistakes that simply represent deficient knowledge.  Plants are very specific about what they want.  When they don’t get what they want, they have that listless and unenthusiastic look about them.  Or they die.  Wanting that catmint to thrive in a slightly too shady spot in slightly too heavy soil-that want washes over me all the time.  What would prosper in that spot, I don’t want.  The idea that the nature will suspend disbelief just for me-what is that?  Off sides is off sides.  I would conservatively estimate that my plant reference library has 50 volumes.  And I have a computer that works.  In spite of that, I persist in putting plants in the wrong place. On rare occasions, I get lucky.  I had to have a clematis growing on my garden bench-the romance of tat idea was irresistible. Though the spot had failure written all over it, I planted anyway.  Turns out, there is enough sun 4 feet off the ground to keep that clematis happy.  I know a certain gardener with a gift for making a mistake seem like a brilliant choice.  From Henry James,  She had an unequalled gift… of squeezing big mistakes into small opportunities.

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Gardeners derive satisfaction from many different things.  Some gardeners choose to grow food.  Others like tropical plants in pots.  Others want to grow plants and sell them.  Others swoon over conifers, or rock garden plants.  Others intend to reforest a city.  A relationship with nature is not necessarily a garden-it could be a wild place untouched by designing hands.  Entertaining outdoors, putting up lights at the holidays, and camping.-these are as much an experience of gardening as the parterres at Vaux Le Vicomte.  Given that the sky is the limit, that the opportunity for self expression is always there,  I think it is a mistake-not to garden.  Gardening is good for people.  Your garden should be just that-yours.  From Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.

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The most grievous error I see gardeners make is to give up a dream of having a garden environment  because they could not have it all at once.  The best part about plants is that they grow.  A bareroot tree planted in the spring and looked after will grow.  Yes, the mighty oak from the little acorn grew.  A slew of boxwood cuttings, placed in and grown on in a nursery bed, can one day become the most gorgeous knot garden imaginable.  Hellebores are gorgeous-but notoriously slow growing.  Large plants are pricey, for just that reason.  But little hellebores are readily available, and will grow into specimen sized beauties before you know it.  Now is a very good time to plant one.  From Edmund Burke:  Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.

The other members of the Roundtable no doubt will have their own views on mistakes-please read on!

Mary Gallagher Gray : Black Walnut Dispatch : Washington, D.C.

Debbie Roberts : A Garden of Possibilities : Stamford, CT

David Cristani:  The Desert Edge:  New Mexico

 

Monday Opinion: What Time Is It?

Daylight savings time means that Sunday March 10th was a day with only 23 hours.  One would think that anything planned for the day could easily be accomplished in 23 hours instead of 24, but you decide.  Howard showed up bedside at 5am like he always does, but it really was 6 am.  He and Milo usually have breakfast at 6, but 6 had already come and gone. By 7, which was now 8, I was late for work, and the corgis still had not had breakfast.  If you are confused, you know exactly how I felt (or am I still feeling it?).  I usually have lunch at 11:30, which, but the new 11:30 is actually 10:30.  So Sunday brunch.  By this time I had at least remembered to feed the corgis.  I was half way to a landscape appointment until I realized I would be an hour early.  In looking at my watch, I see that the second hand is only moving every 20 seconds or so.  What?  I circle back, and spent 40 minutes sitting in my office trying to figure it out.  Why really do we spring ahead, and then fall back?  I knowing children walking to the bus stop has something to do with it.  The other reasons seem unconvincing and arbitrary.  Now there will be more time after work to stand in the garden and be able to do nothing.  I will have more evening daylight to contemplate the frozen ground.  I still have mountains of snow, even though it was 62 degrees yesterday.  I am a day late expressing the opinion that a day with only 23 hours felt like a day that was out of reach from start to finish.  Today I was late for work, and cranky.

The days are getting longer.  Who knows exactly what day the sun will finally make up that lost hour.  At least it will be months before that 25 hour day arrives in November.  In the meantime, that out of sorts feeling can be diminished by just one thing.  The sure signs of spring.  It was just a few days ago that I heard birds singing when I woke up.  The magnolia stellata, even though it is heavily mulched with snow, looks like the buds are ready to burst.  Yesterday it was 62 degrees.  Today it is pouring rain.  It is muddy and icy, everywhere.  Milo’s footprints all over the shop make it look like we have not mopped for months.  What he doesn’t deposit on the shop floor is now in my office.  These are sure signs of spring.  The watch I have had for years is not running right.  It will take 10 days to send it out for evaluation.  However, I am sure I already know what is wrong. Even my watch can’t figure out what time it is.

Sunday Opinion: March Madness

March madness has a meaning in popular culture that dates back to the 1940′s.  For those of you who do not follow basketball, March madness refers specifically to the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) college basketball championships.  Most of these championship games are played in March, and followed with astonishingly reverential and lively interest.  Steve, my landscape superintendent, does not look kindly on any activity which interferes with a March NCAA game.  He likes his March to himelf.  Gardeners host championships every month of the year-but at least in my zone, not in March.  March is the next to the last of the tail end of winter.  This is a polite way of saying that March 1 does not necessarily mean spring.  My need for spring is always early.  Once March arrives, winter stocism starts giving way in a big way for a longing for spring.

Am I longing for spring?  No doubt.  A high temperature with snow showers today is disheartening at best, and really aggrevating at worst.  Our last heavy wet snow, so gorgeous as it fell,  is now glued into place, and has an annoying and treacherous crust.  This state of affairs-courtesy of recent temperatures significantly below freezing.  Everwhere, the landscape is represented by ice.  Dirty ice.  Gray skies.  Snow showers.  As for a gardener’s version of March madness, I think I might be afflicted.  I don’t want to be out, nor do I want to be in.  That cooped up feeling has intensified like a storm exactly on track.  My winter coat feels like a soft walled version of jail.  I am tired of that chilly and speechless state of affairs.

Henry V Porter was a high school teacher and coach in Athens, Illinois.  In 1942, he wrote this essay in which he coined the phrase-  March Madness.  At that time, basketball was a only a statewide event. His essay, though it is obviously dated, expresses in plain terms what it means to have a sincere passion.

March Madness,  by Henry V Porter
Homo sapiens of the Hardwood Court is a hardy specie. There are millions of him. He exists through summer and fall, shows signs of animation through the winter and lives to the utmost during March when a hundred thousand pairs of rubber soled shoes slap the hardwood in a whirlwind of stops and pivots and dashes on the trail to the state basketball championships. He is a glutton for punishment. When the March madness is on him, midnight jaunts of a hundred miles on successive nights make him even more alert the next day. He will polish his pants on sixteen inches of bleacher seat through two games or three and take offense if asked to leave during the intermission between sessions. He is happy only when the floor shimmers with reflections of fast moving streaks of color, when the players swarm at each end and the air is full of leather. For the duration of the endemic he is a statistical expert who knows the record of each contender, a game strategist who spots the weak points in a given system of offense or defense, a rules technician who instructs the officials without cost or request. Every basketball canine has his day and this is the  month.

He is a doodler who, while conversing, scribbles free throw lanes with a hundred radiating alleys. In May the three symbols of the New York Fair will take on their intended meaning but in March the helicline is a ramp to the balcony, the trylon is the pyramid of hundreds of teams being narrowed down to the one at the state championship pinnacle and the perisphere has the traditional four panel basketball markings.

In everyday life he is a sane and serious individual trying to earn enough to pay his taxes. But he does a Jekyll-Hyde act when the spell is on him. He likes his coffee black and his basketball highly spiced. He despises the stall unless his team is ahead. It is a major crime for the official to call a foul on the dribbler unless the opponent was dribbling. His moods are as changeable as the March wind. He flies into a frenzy at some trivial happening on the court and before his vocal expression of disapproval is half completed he howls in delight at the humorous twist of a comment from a bleacher wit. He is part of the mass mind and is subject to its whims. He berates the center for attempting a long shot and lauds him when it goes in the basket. He is consistent only in his inconsistencies.

The thud of the ball on the floor, the slap of hands on leather, the swish of the net are music in his ears. He is a connoisseur in matters pertaining to team coordination and artistry in action. The shifting zone, the screen and the spot pass are an open book to him. He speaks the language.

He is biased, noisy, fidgety, boastful and unreasonable but we love him for his imperfections. His lack of inhibitions adds a spontaneity that colors the tournaments. Without darkness there would be no light. A little March madness may complement and contribute to sanity and help keep society on an even keel.
The writer’s temperature is rising. The thing is catching. It’s got me! Gimme that playing schedule!

I did edit Henry’s essay, to the tune of two words. Does Henry’s essay not equally describe a passionate gardener? March Madness-I am sure I have contracted it.