2009 Garden Moments

DSC_0006The year’s end always invites reflection on what worked and didn’t work, what I liked and didn’t like-what I might want to do differently next year. There’s time for that, over the winter.  But other things come more immediately to mind, at year’s end.  As I rarely see a plant or a garden that I don’t like, what sticks out in my mind are those great garden moments. I have had years when my March crocus are so blasted by below freezing temperatures they barely bloom.  This year, they were glorious-and glorious for quite a while.  The night temperatures were perfect; every day for 2 weeks they were an event well worth the price of the ticket.

DSC_0029My hellebores were similarly spectacular this year.  The evenly cool temperatures they liked.  I was even so inspired to send away for more from Knott Hill Farms.  The sweet woodriff coming on is a good companion for them.  I have both of these planted in full sun, not far from the road. They not only perform better in this location than my shadier places, they take fewer years to make dreamboat sized clumps.   

Spring flowers are like no others.  Their fresh color I will not see again until the following spring. The oakleaf lettuce in this box-just as fresh and juicy looking as any spring flower. This is my idea of planting vegetables, by the way. This season was very cool for Michigan; the spring plantings flourished until fairly late in July.  I do plant ornamental cabbage in the spring, though it will bolt at the first sign of hot weather.  I got lucky this year.  This is partly why I favor mixed plantings-you never know what nature might have in store.  My roses this year-nothing to talk about. 

DSC_0010The blooming of the Venus dogwoods however was spectacular.  They were in full bloom, loaded with these giant 7 inch diameter flowers, for over a month.  I could not recommend this tree too highly.  It is happy in full sun, and very hardy. It grows fast, but stays small.  It is the first tree I have planted in my yard in a good many years.  If I had the space, I would plant great drifts of them, and let the grass grow rough underneath them. 

July19 001The morning of  July 19 dawned cool and sunny, perfect weather for the garden tour we sponsored to benefit the Greening of Detroit. We had 325 people attend the tour, and 125 for bites and cocktails afterwards at the shop.  In addition to all that fun, we raised a good amount for the Greening. It was a perfect garden day.

DGW  26My favorite time at the farmer’s market begins with sunflower season. Everything is big about them-big size, big color, big heart-big delicious seeds, so loved by the goldfinches. Sunflowers-the name says it all. The summer harvest is well underway.

Aug 28 017My summer annuals provide much pleasure to me.  I like the planning, the planting, the caring for, the looking at, the deadheading, the watering-I like every aspect of this part of my garden.  I do not have the luxury of lots of time to spend in my garden; I work a lot elsewhere. This part I have the time, energy and heart for, every day.  Other parts of my landscape have their moments, but the annual flowers provide every day good moments. 

Aug 13 022I always have one container that’s all green-I particularly enjoy matching and contrasting shapes, textures and volumes of green.  Green-who could live without it?  

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Nicotiana mutabilis is probably my favorite annual flower. Once staked, it flowers its heart out way long into the fall. They are known to send out giant new spikes-in October. Those fluttering flowers-white, pink and rose on the same plant-are a meadow unto themselves- perfect for a small space.  This pot is my favorite of 2009. 

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Like my striped crocus this spring, my white Japanese anemone “Honorine Jobert” had a stellar year. Standing every bit of five feet tall, they were loaded with flowers for weeks. This is a very carefree perennial for me.  I do nothing to them, except look, and on occasion, water.  I weed the offshoots out of the Carefree roses in the spring-that’s about it.  Why they were so robust and heavy flowering this year-I could not say.  I can say this was one of my favorite things in my garden this year.

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We do not have that many foggy days in Michigan; perhaps this is why I enjoy them so much.  This late September morning had just a hint of fall about it. All the vibrant summer color begins to fade. It’s a favorite of mine-living where the seasons change.  All in all, it was a very good garden season, 2009.

The Gift of the Season

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I have always felt sorry for those people whose occasion to celebrate a birthday falls in a winter month. First off, there’s no opportunity for a party in the garden. Now what? In planning a party, the atmospheric conditions are the most important elements.  Set the mood first.  I look for that visual treat that encourages guests to leave their daily cares behind, and anticipate a festive evening.  This client was not about to let the winter weather hinder her celebration, so why should I?  The thought of her company slogging through the snow and ice in their party best made it clear there had better be something going on outdoors that would replace the that thought.  However, there is no replacing the ice and snow idea in Michigan in January-so why not make a gift of the season?  We would add a little fire to the snow and ice.

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It’s not so tough to make ice outdoors when the temps are hovering around 25 degrees. We tried our homemade ice votives at the shop before we took the idea on the road. Plastic waste baskets, cardboard boxes lined with plastic, and whatever else we had on hand got filled with water, and set outdoors; we allowed a week for freezing.  Quart sized milk cartons were set in the water, and weighted on the top so they wouldn’t float-we needed niches that would hold our fire-the votive candles. These overscaled ice cube luminaries did the trick. I could see the frowns on the faces of the women, putting their party shoes on the winter ground-turn to smiles.

2005 Wasserman (7)We carried this winter snow and ice idea from the outside, inside.  We outfitted sonatubes used for forming concrete cylinders into giant candles.  A platform set just below the rim was stuffed solid with 10 hour votives in individual glass holders. Single leaves wedged in the center created a flame shape.  The guest of honor’s table was dressed in white roses and lilies, and fern curl flames.  The overhead flowers make an immediate statement at eye level when guests arrived.  This treatment also makes it easy for guests to talk across the table. 

Wasserman1 (8)Some parties call for table numbers. We set cotton batting snowballs on tripods of glass drops; this makes an organizational element part of the fun. Formal occasions do not necessarily mean stuffy occasions. 

Wasserman2 (3)My client did want some color in evidence-chartreuse she liked.  The quality of cut flowers in the winter can be hit and miss, so I stuck with varieties that are readily available, and tolerate winter travel well.  Hollywood roses are my favorite white rose, but I need to order them well in advance to get them.  White freesia and the white button mum “Green Peas” I can count on. White dendrobium orchids, and chartreuse spider mums are equally foolproof.  White ranunculus can be good, and can be equally horrid; if I decide to use them, I order extra.

Wasserman1 (28)Glass bubbles in different sizes, shapes, and surfaces were spread on the tables, along with more snowballs.  White twigs encrusted with plastic ice gave a little height, and lots of sparkle. 

Wasserman2 (2)The chartreuse button pomp Yoko Ono is a cut flower workhorse. So much color from such a small flower. They can be used without water, if need be. The oversized votive candles have water in the bottom-this makes it easy to clean the wax out after the party, and re-use the glass holder.

Wasserman2 (4)Silver chargers, and white napkins wrapped in silver ribbon complete the table decor.  

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These large painted white branches are wrapped in mini lights with white cords. Some years ago Rob and I sprayed cut branches with a fine spray of water until they were glittering and icy-this I did for a party at home. One holiday party at the shop featured firewood burning in galvanized farm buckets all along the drive-even this simple treatment was every bit as effective as this more formal treatment. 

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This is not your garden variety garden party.  Nonetheless, this winter version was inspired by the garden.

Gearing Up

DSC04273Winter is setting in here with a vengeance.  I am determined to spend more time outside-even though my tee shirt and shorts weather is long gone.  Howard and Milo cannot figure out what my problem is-my not wanting to play ball outside our usual three or better times a day.  They leap right into winter-literally.  As their legs can’t be any longer than eight inches at the most, they know they have to get their speed up, and just plow through.  I think my corgis must have a Texas jackrabbit somewhere in their lineage.  My habit is to hole up indoors, with my stocking feet on the radiator-probably as I have been poor at gearing up.

DSC04312No wonder Milo has no problem being outdoors in really cold weather for long stretches at a time.  All that hair of his traps air, which warms up from his body heat.  I envy him that fur coat.  But I am taking a look at my winter garden gear-maybe I haven’t spent enough time and effort to get myself dressed for winter.  My first move was to buy 10 mile hike socks from Woolrich.  These socks have lots of loops of fiber on the inside; it is amazing how much warmer my feet are now, even inside.  Warmer yet are sheepskin lined boots.  I was dubious about wearing them without socks-but it works.  My main objection to most winter boots-how heavy they are. The lightest-and for my money, the warmest-moonboots.  First manufactured in the 70′s, they put a lot of space between your feet and the cold ground.  Unfortunately, I am way too old and not nervy enough for the look of these-pity.

DSC04317De-snowballing Milo is part of the daily routine.  That warm fur is a magnet for cold snow.  By the time he comes in, he is carrying a quart of water with him-in frozen form.  How he puts up with snowballs stuck to his belly is beyond my comprehension.  My idea of winter gear is enough layers between me and the cold to keep the snow as far away from me as possible.  I have finally learned that layers of clothes protect me from the cold better than a single layer.  Whomever the person is who invented fleece, and microfiber long underwear-thanks a million.

DSC04333Howard doesn’t have half the hair of Milo-maybe that’s why he is so much more sensible than Milo.  He has a winter shelter-underneath my moss cow.  Even though he has the classic Corgi short coat, that coat is several layers. A dense fluffy undercoat is protected from the weather by a longer more oily outercoat. He must have a whomping lot of hair, as he sheds like crazy.  My outercoat does keep me warm, as it is stuffed with a whomping lot of down.

DSC04344Its obvious from this picture that Howard’s tail will likely never be cold.  But his bare feet on that snow-yikes.  I take them out for shorter periods, multiple times a day when the weather is like this-his feet and ears do get cold.  In this case, I do not mind the look of my wool hat and honking big gloves-they are doing a job. 

DSC04348The Corgis seem to enjoy being outside in the winter as much as they do in the summer-maybe more.  The cold energizes them.  The lesson here?  When outside, move it.  Build up a little head of steam.  Can you tell I am trying to talk myself into this winter wonderland thing?

DSC04318You would never know from this picture that it wasn’t a balmy June day-but for all the white stuff.  I am sure how animals of all sorts survive in very cold temperatures has fueled some of the technology that makes for what winter gear is available to people.  Trading in a spade for a snow shovel is a little tough to take, but it gets me outside.  Once I am outside, there is plenty to see-as usual. I’ve made plans to look more closely at winter landscapes-what they do, and don’t do, and how they could be better.

Dec 28 004Today our snow is accompanied by a good stiff wind.  I am glad that I was sure to water my evergreens plenty before the ground froze.  On a windy 22 degree day, they are loosing precious moisture from the surfaces of their leaves and needles-and have no way to replenish that until the ground thaws.   

We’re gearing up.

Sunday Opinion: Little Miss Heartburn

I regularly read the garden blog Garden Rant (www.gardenrant.com); there is always something stewing, brewing, or cooking over there.  Their essays are very well-written,  passionately sincere, and more often than not, provocative. They even manage to make vegetable gardening sound fascinating-see what I mean? I am likely to read every word of their discussion of tomato varieties though hell would likely freeze over before I would grow any myself.  They shift from funny to genuinely outraged in a startling flash; have you noticed this?  One of my favorite posts?  Michele’s essay last July on invasive plants is really about something else altogether. Midway through she says, “If it’s invasive in your yard, get rid of it.  If it’s not invasive in mine, be quiet.” How well said is this? Though I don’t always agree with what I read-what does that matter?  Garden Rant is a first rate read.

This morning’s post- “Martha Stewart gets fact checked by hort professor”-by Susan Harris.   Having read the current issue of Martha Stewart Living, I could not agree more with Susan that Martha’s  case for the superiority of organically grown food has no basis in any decent science whatsoever.  I never gave Martha’s half-baked hoticultural blather another thought after reading it, nor would I take her to task over it-why would I?  She writes pop tunes, not symphonies.  She publishes a lifestyle magazine; she has not had scholarly works published in Scientific American. She parlayed her interest in cooking, gardening and graceful living into an empire of her own making, not undeserved. Make no mistake, I have the highest respect for her, and what she has accomplished.  She has made good design, good cooking, good crafting, good housekeeping – the proverbial good life –  accessible to many, many people-me included. She persuaded me to try to make a gingerbread house (I did a decent job) and a croquembouche.  I moved away from that house years later-that glittering spun sugar syrup still stuck tight to the kitchen ceiling.  But I would not know the words profiterole and croquembouche, but for her.  I learned how to fold towels from her;  my linen closet is a paean to serenity, not a mess that agitates me first thing in the morning.  I am a professional mess maker-I do not want that when I go home.  I grew my first Parma violets, dried my first hydrangeas, and made my first rose cuttings with instruction from her. I made my own invitations, picture frames, painted garden pots-all with encouragement from her. That Martha still talks me into trying things. When you say the name Martha, who doesn’t know the person under discussion?  You might be interested to know that my scientist Mom taught me none of the afore-mentioned skills.  Though my understanding of the science of nutrient absorption by plants is pretty darn good, I still couldn’t make a Pavlova if my life depended on it-unless Martha had coached me.  If you think one kind of knowledge is superior to another-you got me there.  In my opinion, I like a balance.  Though the dirt under my nails is permanent, one never knows when a manicure might appeal to me.  Better yet, I would have no problem going ahead.  Martha is first rate at encouraging people to go ahead, and try. 

No doubt she is a lightening rod for all of us who take our passions seriously, and abhor a quick fix, a sloppy premise, a mispelled word, or an idea too glossy to believe.  I choose to believe this comes from our expectation that she be be perfect, and our disappointment when she is not-not from any failing on her part.  I could make a long list of all the things Martha Stewart is not-besides not being a horticulturalist.  Somehow this does not seem useful.  When she is talking from who she is, I listen in. When she is talking pop trash, I tune out.  This is my choice, and it probably is my responsibility.  I do not think Martha is guilty of faulty thinking, nor do I she should watch out for any impending scientific gaffe. The magazine is named Martha Stewart Living-not Martha Stewart Eminent Scientist. I need to be thoughtful about where I go for information.  Everything in print does not imply the truth-people know this.  If I want information backed up by scientific research on the merits and pitfalls of growing or eating organically, I would read Dr. Chalker Scott-as would any number of thousands of intelligent gardeners all over this country.  I give people credit for being able to sort out the kernel from the chaff. Gardeners are by and large a rough and ready lot; they rarely need protection.

The most compelling reason I have to let Martha’s voodoo horticulture slide is Lewis Thomas.  I have read his books of essays over and over again. I would encourage any gardener to read him-he is better than the best steak you ever ate. He makes the point that the sum total of all of our scientific knowledge has yet to enable us to define or fully explain the miracle that is life; he doubts there ever will be perfect knowledge. I see evidence of this every day.  Three weeks ago I bought four pointsettias. Tented in kraft paper sleeves, I rushed them out of the nursery to my car-everyone knows pointsettias despise cold temperatures. In anticipation of holiday company, I planted two of them in pots on my unheated front porch-a room 5 x 11 feet.  The entire front wall is glass; the pots are inches from that glass.  I felt so guilty sentencing them to an early death with my thoughtless treatment-but they looked so great through the windows. OK, I used two pointsettias as party props. As our temperatures are in the low twenties now, I expected to have to pitch them within 2 days.Three weeks later, I cannot tell the difference between these points, and the ones in my 70 degree house. They look perfectly happy.  I am perfectly surprised.

My take is that very little of the science is finished.  You may fact check someone-but what are you fact checking them against?  I give my clients advice all the time about how to garden; how I garden is based on my 25 years experience and knowledge I have otherwise acquired or choose to believe. If I am speaking to an experienced gardener, I tell them this is my way-which they may or may not wish to try.  If it is a new gardener, I tell them what to do; I think it is more important to help insure their early success, so they keep gardening, than to qualify what I say with disclaimers. I have had clients insist that I give them the botanical names of plants, even when I know they will not remember.  They are interested in believing in my expertise, not tripping me up. 

I have had many a moment when I have wanted to wallop someone up side their head with a blistering fact check.  Clients, suppliers, service people, friends, enemies-a recalcitrant plant.   I can rant with the best of them-the details of which are best left unknown.  When I get to going on too long, Buck knows how to turn the tide.  When he calls me Little Miss Heartburn, I cannot help but laugh. How lucky I am to have him.

As for you, Susan Harris, I hope I have not irritated you beyond all belief-this is just a little good natured back talk. I read everything you write-and better yet, I am provoked to think about it long and hard; the length of this essay, and the late publishing date on my Sunday opinion is data that should survive a fact check. Truly, many thanks for what you and yours contribute to my gardening life.