Monthly Archives: July 2007
Real Gardens

Full disclosure

Uh oh. After two years of carefully-cropped photos and blithe descriptions of my favorite rare lilies and annuals, some of the people who have been reading Gardening While Intoxicated and this blog will actually see my garden. The reality. Not many, it’s true, but three of them are my fellow ranters and there are maybe six-eight other bloggers and lurkers. Yikes. I’m not worthy! So, to help prepare them, I offer:

The five ugliest spots in my garden.

(It could have been 10 or even 20, but that would be too depressing.)


#5 The hellstrip
Now, for many, this would be #1, but these areas are supposed to be ugly, so I don’t feel too bad about it. In its defense, I would mention that there are three Norway maples and their accompanying root systems in this little spot. The city owns the trees, so I’m hesitant to take any down, plus trees are good and all that.


#4 The big ugly rosebush
Why can’t I pull this out? It does bloom all the time—you can probably see buds on it now—but the flowers last about 20 minutes and the tall canes are blocking some truly attractive clematis, lilies, roses, and climbing petunia, mingling on the trellie behind it (or they were—what happened?).


#3 The unproductive rhodies
These were supposed to be better and hardier than the others. Well, they suck. I had six blooms in early summer. Major—and costly—replacement issues here, though. The other problem is that they, like much of the garden, have to assert themselves against the omnipresent red brick backdrop (the material of the two Victorians that pertain here).


#2 I don’t even know what to call this There is a big birdseye maple (well-behaved for its species), a couple lilies, Canadian anemone, porcelain vine, and—whatever. The faded pink flamingo (which my husband will not have removed) is not helping.


#1 Weeds galore
Don’t mistake, I have weeds throughout my garden, but most are well-hidden or mitigated by their surroundings. Here, however, in a spot behind the garage that never gets watered, weeded, or (one hopes) looked at, weeds take center stage. A couple lilies and a rose bush have survived over the years.

Again, this is a selective list. And I know that these images aren’t really all that hideous, but nor are they orderly flower beds. I am sure that when Susan, Michele, and Amy visit, they can expand on this. Not to my face, probably. Though—Susan is a coach. Maybe there’s some kind of tough love policy. The drinks will need to flow.

Posted by on July 25, 2007 at 5:00 am.   This post has 13 responses.
What's Happening

When Gardeners Band Together,
Tiger Mosquitos are Toast

I have a mosquito story to tell, so I guess this is Bug Week on the Rant.Asian_mosquito

It all started with a question on the local gardening listserv, with apologies for being off-topic: What’s up with these tiger mosquitoes that are making it damn-near impossible to garden this year?  You know, the recent immigrant from Asia that feeds (on us) not just early and late in the day but all day long.  The ones that can carry the West Nile virus.

In response, Gardener Bill related his success story: with the removal of standing water and the purchase of some *inexpensive traps – 3 for his yard and a few for his nearest neighbors – Bill’s gardening again, bite-free.  For outdoor parties he brings in some extra artillery, though – citronella candles and an oscillating fan – and nobody’s using the repellent.  Pretty impressive.  The traps contain what no self-respecting mosquito can resist, of course – pheromones – and Bill says it’s quite good fun watching the tiny bastards bang their heads against the sides of the trap trying to get out.

He closes with this call to local gardeners – let’s ALL use them and "decimate the tiger mosquito population."

Immediately, inquiries about the traps began flying around the Yahoosphere and the upshot is that because they’re cheaper to buy wholesale than from this retail catalog, everyone’s joining forces to buy up a big batch of those babies for themselves and their neighbors.  Well, do you know just how much administrative hassle is involved in all this compiling of orders and checks and delivery points and unclaimed merchandise?  Back in the days when I had too much time on my hands I arranged for a humongous citywide shipment of spring bulbs, so I shudder – really – at the imagined headaches.  But never mind; the mosquito trap order quickly became a community event.  Well done, gardeners! 

Not knowing a thing about tiger mosquitoes, I went surfing and found some good information, like this, but also noticed in a nearby county that there’s this spraying program embodying the more traditional approach to pest control: spraying from trucks of whole neighborhoods where 8 out of 10 residents request it, no matter how the other 2 feel about it.  Half the cost of this "service" to the community is paid by the county, the other half by the neighbors, which occurs as often as is deemed necessary by the sprayers.

Now I have to ask myself, is my knee just jerking to the left or is this really as safe as their site claims it is?  A little more digging unearthed this about the particular insecticide used:

The insecticide used in the adult mosquito spraying is a synthetic
pryethroid called Permethrin. This insecticide has a low toxicity to
people and other mammals. It is practically non-toxic to birds and
breaks down quickly in the environment.  As it is toxic to fish, we are
required to follow the guidelines set forth by the Environmental
Protection Agency; and as it is toxic to bees, applications are made in
the evening after most bees have stopped foraging for the day.

Fish and bees, huh?  Two animal groups that haven’t been feeling too well lately.   

Back to the traps, which Bill says cost him $10 each, plus $5 each for some replacement lures.  (It’s recommended that homeowners use 2 or 3 per backyard and they last for 6 weeks.)  But after the group banded together for a large order their final cost, including shipping, was $6 per trap and $3 per replacement lure.  Doing the math for such bulk purchases, a 3-trap garden costs the gardener $18 plus lures for another 6 weeks for a total seasonal cost of $27.  Assuming the traps can be reused the next year, the cost after the initial investment is only $18 a year for a typical suburban garden.

Here’s my reaction: if the guvment’s going to subsidize the killing of these truly obnoxious insects, wouldn’t most of us prefer they buy huge quantities of traps and distribute them at cost to whole communities, rather than spray poison from trucks?  Sure seems like a less toxic way to decimate the tiger mosquito population.  But then I’m no scientist so readers, please weigh in.

Photo Credit.

Posted by on July 24, 2007 at 3:43 am.   This post has 4 responses.
Taking Your Gardening Dollar

We Have a Winner!

The bottles of Great Big Plants go to Rebecca and Shira, so y’all need to get in touch with me with your addresses.  You’ll find contact info here.  Thanks for playing, everybody!

Posted by on July 23, 2007 at 9:16 am.   This post has 5 responses.
Real Gardens

Gardening for Bees

This just in from KQED–as part of their Quest series about science and nature in the San Francisco Bay Area, they’ve posted this video of UC entomologist Gordon Frankie showing off some bee-friendly plants in his garden.  It’s pretty interesting; he’s really looking at specific plants and the particular species of bees they attract.  He’s also created a website devoted to bee-friendly gardens, particularly on the west coast.  Visit his website to learn more about:

And so much more.  One of his favorite bee plants is Tansy Phacelia, an annual that he says attracts a wide variety of bees.  I think he’s referring to Phacelia tanacetifolia, a wildflower that thrives on poor soil and neglect.  Anybody growing it?

Posted by on July 23, 2007 at 4:30 am.   This post has 12 responses.

Cherishing the urban canopy


Here’s a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while, but held off—it’s more fun writing about snow when it’s 80 out. Some of you may have heard about this. Last October, a storm officially called Lake Storm Aphid caused near-catastrophic tree damage throughout Western New York, leading to the removal of thousands of trees. The heavy, wet snow, though it disappeared in a couple days, hit the still-green canopy like tons of bricks, filling the roads, yards, and parks with broken branches. The necessity of many of the tree removals is still being hotly debated, notably in two excellent articles in our local alternative weekly, Artvoice: “Stumped” and “Timber”. It’s highly questionably whether the outside contractors who removed many trees had done proper evaluations. Certainly, none went by the allowable damage percentage recommended by the DEC, which is up to 75 percent. So now many residents are left with stumps in their easeways, sunny beds that had been shady, and missing privacy borders.

Worst of all, though FEMA provided plenty of money for tree removal, it did not include funds for stump removal. So I have one friend drilling a hole in her stump to use it as a planter until she can get rid of it. Another friend is spending a fortune on junipers to replace one large tree that had effectively blocked the view of her neighbor’s yard. Others are still fighting with the city and county to save the publicly owned trees outside their properties. The Olmsted Conservancy is now using all its fundraising clout to replace the many trees it lost in the six parks and several parkways Olmsted designed here. One attempt I can’t quite get on board with involves making sculptures of Buffalo historic figures from the bigger trunks. These are heavily shellacked and kind of dumb-looking, IMO, but if it works, then fine.

I have to guiltily admit that I regretted (just a bit) that the trees lining the street in front of my house escaped with little or no damage—I have 3 tightly-placed Norway maples, and they make gardening there a challenge. But all this has made everyone here more aware of the urban canopy then ever before. Many of the gardeners of Garden Walk have had to redo their yards as a result, and it’s led to a reconsideration of which trees are best to plant. American elms? Kouza dogwoods? Cherrys? Redbuds?

I have one old maple in back—a birdseye, I’ve been told—that I cherish and was most relieved that it survived. It defines the garden, or at least that part of it. Do trees define your garden? Have you lost a favorite tree? I know that nobody in WNY—gardener or not—will ever take trees for granted again.

Posted by on July 22, 2007 at 2:10 pm.   This post has 4 responses.
Unusually Clever People

“At Craig’s List We’re Not Selling Out”

CraigWell, it’s Elizabeth’s "day" here on the Rant but her Internet’s been down and she won’t be able to post til later today.  So, because the hungry beast that is the GardenRant has to be fed, I’ll jump right in with the link to my latest article over on my blog. Hope to see some good Craig’s List stories there.

Posted by on July 22, 2007 at 9:16 am.   This post has Comments Off on “At Craig’s List We’re Not Selling Out”.
Unusually Clever People

The Legacy of Ladybird Johnson

Time to pause and reflect on the life and good works of Ladybird Johnson, as reported so very well by the Washington Post in the past week.Ladybird2_2  First up is fashion writer Robin Givhan:

She had an appreciation for beauty and its potential to instill pride in people, to comfort them and to bring them joy.  Her focus was not on the rarefied world of museums and symphonies, but beauty in a far more democratic form: nature.

With her death Wednesday at 94, much has been said about her dogged determination to see tulips and daffodils brighten the Washington landscape and to coax wildflowers to bloom along the country’s highways.  Notice that she was entranced by wildflowers, not painstakingly cultivated antique roses or finicky orchids.  She marveled at the kinds of flowers that often fade into the background.

Givhan went on to take a stand herself, urging the fashion industry to strive for pretty clothes that can be worn by any woman, not just Cameron Diaz.  Great idea.  Never happen.

And I love this tidbit about how Ladybird, who had the misfortune to follow Jackie Kennedy as First Lady, adjusted to the public eye, "She trimmed down to a size 10, learned to use flattering make-up, but never managed to keep her stockings from sagging at the ankles."  I knew I liked her.

Next, from an appreciation by Ann Gerhart:

She hated the word beautification. It sounded sissified, she always said. She focussed on the health and pathology of the world we inhabit.  After riots erupted, she planted daffodils. Yet she carried out her vision not through garden-club fluttering but through a flurry of legislation."

Garden club fluttering?  Speaking as a former garden club president, that hurts.  But does it reflect a bias against this traditionally female social institution or are garden clubs really still just fluttering (and judging silly displays of single flowers in glass jars?  There you see my own bias.)

Garden writer Adrian Higgins also writes that Mrs. Johnson hated the word beautification because it trivializes what she was trying to do. 

She helped organize the facelift of much of Washington’s civic spaces through mass plantings of spring bulbs and flowering tres and shrubs; vestiges of that floral blitzkrieg linger even as other major U.S. cities today have far outpaced Washington in their commitment to greening. 

So, I finally see in print the assertion that our capital city is lagging behind other major U.S. cities in going green.  I immediately fired off a message to DC’s enviro Yahoo group:  "DC Not Green?" asking if people agree and if so, what can be done?  Just asking.

Higgins also mentioned that the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas
is working with the American Society of Landscape Architects and the U.S. Botanic Garden "to develop standards and guidelines for
certifying sustainable green landscapes in the same way that buildings
now are certified by the U.S. Green Building Council."  The program’s
aimed at large landscape projects  like public parks, highway
plantings, and office parks; see Sustainable Sites for more details.  Judging from how quickly the Green Building Council’s LEED ratings for environmental sensitivity are becoming de rigeur for developers, similiar standards for landscaping could have a huge impact.  We’ll stay tuned. 

But there’s more big news from the Wildflower Center.  They’re working to develop a
web-based carbon footprint calculator to help in designing
environmentally sustainable landscapes.  But get this: Higgins quotes a Wilderflower Center staffer saying, "We are finding that in many cases [meadow] grasses
may be more effective in sequestering carbon than forests."  So, like the arguments now rampant in the food industry over distances traveled, hothouses and oil-based fertilizers, it looks like the landscaping world faces some food fights of our own between competing interest groups. 

Finally, an article about Mrs. Johnson’s impact on D.C. included lists of parks and schools she had a hand in improving and made this important point:

In Johnson’s view, what she was trying to do was much more significant than merely making things look nice.  Beautification had to do with combating pollution, halting urban decay, providing recreational opportunities, attending to critizens’ mental health needs, developing public transporation and addressing the rising crime rate."

Someone from the nonprofit group Washington Parks & People is quoted:

When she talked about beautification and the environment, she was talking about forgotten natural places and forgotten people.  She connected the two.  She really was the person who founded the urban environmental movement.

Was Mrs. Johnson’s role as an environmental pioneer – right up there with Rachel Carson – widely known before this week?  No matter.  Her legacy is now clear.

From these stories we start to see the impact this steel magnolia had on the Washington, D.C. area.  For stories of her good works in Texas, we’ll have to ask our Austin readers.

Posted by on July 21, 2007 at 5:09 am.   This post has 6 responses.
Real Gardens

Gardener Indicted For Color Scheme

Color_1 When I posted last week about daylily colors and my general sense that they are often not as advertised, I got some comments that really surprised me.  There were, of course, the "stop whining" comments. (Hey, I grew up in New Jersey!  Whining is our metier!)

But the ones that really interested me were the ones from ornamental gardeners who are not interested in color!!! 

There was one faction that agreed that color schemes are just too hard to pull off.

Then there were the sophisticates, best represented by the Renegade Gardener, Don Engebretson:

Study gardens, via pictures or in person, that sizzle, that drop the jaw, that lift the spirit while lowering the pulse, and you will see that the secret to a beautiful garden is to place plants so that there is constant contrast between the color, size, shape and form of the leaves. Color of bloom is secondary.

The creator of my favorite garden in the world, my friend Gerald, has in his fourth or so decade of gardening reached an even higher plane of sophistication.  He once gently confessed to me, "I’m not really interested in flowers any more."

All I can say, is, I’m not there yet.  I’ve spent most of my adulthood obsessing over my vegetable garden.  It’s only in the last four years that I’ve done big ornamental beds, since I acquired a city garden behind a Victorian house.  And while leaf shape and contrast are part of the fun in putting together beds where beauty is the point, to me, the real interest is in the fantastic array of delicious flower colors and assembling them as carefully as I once used to dress myself, back when I was young and cute and vain.

Of course, the chicest people in the world, the French, throw together insanely clashing flowers, if the photos in the book The Secret Gardens of France are any indication.  Combinations of orange, blue-pink, and crimson seem to be popular.   At Giverny, which I actually visited once while the tree roses were in bloom, these hot clashes are artful.  In other gardens, possibly a sign of carelessness.

Color But I care, not necessarily about harmony, but about interesting color contrasts.  In the front of my house, I have tomato red, white, and purple, a really refreshing combination.  In the shady spot near my little goldfish pond, it’s all white, green, and brooding maroon. Then, in the backyard, I’ve been inspired by my gorgeous climbing honeysuckle, whose flowers are blue-pink and apricot, so there are lots of peachy, yellowish, creamy flowers punctuated occasionally by a loud rose pink.

Of course, I often fail at my schemes, sometimes because I’m tricked by names like Little Grapette–and sometimes because something that doesn’t go turns out to be too beautiful to yank.  I planted a handful of Endless Summer hydrangeas a few years ago, before I decided to banish any Anglophile blue from my backyard.  They languished, I forgot about them, and when I remembered, thought idly about ripping them out.  This year, they’ve taken off, and my God, those blue balls of bloom are so stunning–well, I can’t bring myself to get rid of them just because they don’t work in the scheme.

But enough musings from the amateur.  What does the Queen of the Plant Palette, Gertrude Jekyll, have to say in her book Colour Schemes For the Flower Garden

A. Planting for color is hard:

To plant and maintain a flower border, with a good scheme for colour, is by no means the easy thing that it is commonly supposed.

B.  Think like a painter:

It seems to be that the duty we owe to our gardens is so to use the plants that they shall form beautiful pictures; and that, while delighting our eyes, they should be always training those eyes to a more exalted criticism.


C.  Have a different garden for every month.

I believe the only way in which [a color scheme] can be made successful is to devote certain borders to certain times of a year; each border or garden region to be bright for from one to three months.

That’s fine if you are gardening on a substantial estate, less practical in any smaller garden.   

Anyway, I’d give you some more of Gertrude’s advice on planting for color, which I’m sure is excellent, if I could stand to read any more of this deadly prose.  But I’ve tried before and find I just cannot. 

Posted by on July 20, 2007 at 3:57 am.   This post has 14 responses.
Taking Your Gardening Dollar

Is it Cocktail Hour Yet?

Greatbigplants UPDATE:  WE HAVE A WINNER!  The bottles of Great Big Plants go to Rebecca and Shira, so y’all need to get in touch with me with your addresses.  You’ll find contact info here.  Thanks for playing, everybody!

The nice people at Great Big Plants sent us a box of their wonder juice to try out.   I popped open a bottle earlier this year and watered all my distressed, frost-bitten plants with it, particularly an almost-given-up-for-dead tibouchina (princess flower) that had gone from a gorgeous flowering shrub to scary little nubs in no time.

I’m the worst person to ask to try out a product, because I’m such a hit-and-miss gardener.  You’ll never get a truly scientific evaluation out of me. But I gotta say, I used Great Big Plants on half of the tibouchinas and the rest just got whatever dry fertilizer and compost I was using in the rest of the garden.  The shrubs that didn’t get a shot of this stuff are seriously lagging behind.

Is it blind luck or are we on to something?  You be the judge.

Great Big Plants contains organic compost, water, humic acid, micronutrients, and seaweed extract.  It’s registered under Washington State’s organic program. A quart of the stuff sells for $18.95 online and makes 8 gallons.  And hey, the package is pretty cute.

Are you Great Big Plant-worthy?  Let us hear your tale of woe–most neglected plant, ugliest flower bed, crappiest soil–and we’ll pick not one, but two winners, and ship a bottle to each of you.  The winners won’t get announced until the weekend, so you’ve got time to really spin a yarn, or even post something on your own blog and put a link in the comments.

Posted by on July 19, 2007 at 5:32 am.   This post has 8 responses.

Avec Avent, part II

Here’s another post on my recent visit to Plant Delights and its proprietor Tony Avent.

For many of us who obsess about plants, the politics of weather has increasingly taken center stage, and Tony Avent is no exception. We spent much of our brief time discussing the evolution of the updated zone map (soon to be released).

Avent, who has been involved with the map revision for some years, explained the goof that was made with the first attempt in 2003. “That map was not accurate. It got rid of half the zones [the a’s and b’s]. It was easier to use, but it was wrong. Chicago would have been zone 6.” After that first map (which Avent says was created by a consultant the USDA sent off to make a map so he’d “stop bugging them”), the UDSA called together a new committee, and decided on a 30-year average of temps rather than a 20-year average, which would have created too dramatic a shift. Actually, you can read about much of this in the Plant Delights catalog and website. (I do think there are going to be a lot of disappointed gardeners regardless of how they do the changes. Sure, some plants will be hardy where once they were not. Some winters.)

Avent is always one for the long view and showed me a petrified palm found on his property (photo above) that he says dates from the cretaceous era, about 90 million years ago—this to help illustrate his view that periods of warming come and go. He’s not too concerned about global warming, and to be honest I wasn’t that concerned about discussing it with him. I have my views, and he obviously has his—but I was there for the plants.


And this is a plant geek’s paradise. As great as the Juniper Level gardens are, the greenhouses are even better, because they’re filled with glorious cultivars you can take home. Though, in a way, it’s almost better to use the catalog, as there are many greenhouses and it can be confusing. I spent most of my time in the shade houses, where I found all the double hellebores (some bred by Dan Hinkley) I’d been lusting after since I saw them in the new PD book. There are also the famous hostas and a fabulous assortment of elephant ear. Basically, if it’s got great big flamboyant leaves, you’ll find it here, and plenty more. I know some are wearied by hostas but they are blissfully reliable in Western New York and one of the few attractive solutions for my tons of dry and wet shade. Plus, these aren’t just any hostas—PD has every shade of gold, blue, and green and every type of variegation. I was also impressed by the acanthus, the asarum, the boehmeria, and the ferns. If possible, the plants are bigger and better than you could imagine from the catalog.


So home I went with a nice little cache of asarum, “coffee cup” elephant ear, 2 double hellebores, and a new aruncus.

Oh, yeah, the “friends don’t let friends buy annuals” shirt. I took exception, and Avent, as always, had an anecdote. Seems Anna Ball of Ball Seed was miffed by it but in the end had to admit the annual industry was in a rut and started introducing more variety. True or not, there are enough interesting annuals available now that you’ll never see me wearing that shirt. I bought the “Every plant is hardy until I’ve killed it myself—three times” one.

Posted by on July 18, 2007 at 5:00 am.   This post has 3 responses.
Real Gardens

Muscovites could Teach Us a Thing or Two

The annual convention of the American Public Garden Association was held in D.C. this year for the firstMoscow2 time ever – for some reason I can’t imagine – and I dropped in to see what was happening.  Passing on the sessions about fund-raising, recruiting volunteers, and innovations in signage, I popped in on the talk about "An International Perspective" to see what’s up with that.  Turns out it was about the state of botanical gardens in the former Soviet Union, the very existence of which had never crossed my mind.  (Well, they hadn’t exactly graced the glossy pages of Garden Design
Magazine, now had they?)  I was intrigued.

A speaker from the Minnesota Arboretum talked about working on a Kew Gardens-sponsored plant conservation project along the Amazon River and then asking himself, "Now what northern gardens might need our help?" and found plenty of them in the former USSR.  Places like Kazakstan, probably forever in my mind now the home of Borat.  Or the Estonian Botanical Garden, which had no greenhouse and now has one, thanks to a modest $5,000 contribution from the Minnesota Arb.  Turns out the annual operating budgets for public gardens in Russia are as low as $35,000, even the unimaginable $6,000.  So Minnesotans donated a used van for one financially strapped Russian garden, and helped another develop a fund-raising strategy.  Learning that Russia’s few wealthy citizens do not constitute a thriving philanthrophic community, they recommended making and selling dried flower arrangements, a scheme that is starting to pay off.  The Minnesota Arb’s own fund-raising must be going pretty well if they can send staff all over the world to help other gardens.  Nice!

Next wMoscow20bot20grdn201807e heard from the director of Moscow’s Apothecary Garden.  (It has no webite, but I found that reference to it on the web.) It was founded in 1706 by Peter the Great for the purpose of teaching doctors and growing medicinal plants, and some of the trees planted by Peter the Great are still standing.  Despite its location at the center of a large, polluted city, the director will have you know it’s the most biodiverse spot in Russia.

In 1805 it became the Moscow State University Botanic Garden and since the fall of the Soviet Union, change is everywhere.  They’re hell bent on modernizing, becoming sustainable and more relevant.  They "still do lawns and intensive horticultural things," but now have "areas of indecision", which are managed differently.  Differently, but their management actually requires more hort knowledge than the traditional gardens did.  They’re using more drought-tolerant plants, paying more attention to soils.  Boardwalks have been constructed to prevent disruption and compaction of soils.  Trees that have fallen victim to Dutch elm disease have been recycled as pavers, very good-looking ones.  These natural-looking areas were described as having "alternative beauty," rather than "exciting plants".  The lake is kept "wild-looking" and cityfolk seem to appreciate
it.  Labels and instructional signs are everywhere, and new programs are in the works to make the garden-visiting experience more active.  We saw a slide of moms pushing baby carriages in the snow through the gardens and were informed that Russians consider it healthy for children to be outdoors, even in the dead of winter.  Funny, Americans are just now noticing how far away from that basic truth we’ve strayed and thinking about the consequences of having no connection with nature.

Tradition hasn’t been sacked altogether, however.  They still have their spring flower festivals and ornamental displays, and mixed borders of perennials are still grown.  But the people now in charge of this historic garden see their mission as making the public environmentally literate and giving city-dwellers an opportunity to go back to nature.  They urge Russians to use alternatives to gas-powered garden equipmentBrent300.  They sponsor a competition for apartment-dwellers who’ve landscaped around their buildings.  They partner with the Young Environmentalist Club to create "ecological trails."  And get this: there’s actually a "Department for Sustainable Use of Nature
and Environmental Protection" in Moscow City.  All of which brings on this min-rant:  Why aren’t these things going on in our own capital city?  Just asking.

Here’s a PDF about environmental programs at Moscow’s Apothecary Garden and  here’s a short piece about the Importance of Botanical Gardens.

Bonus: Brent Heath of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, selling his wares to the botanic gardens of America.  Long, long ago Brent’s family and mine rented adjacent cottages in Nags Head, NC, so I got a kiss.

Posted by on July 17, 2007 at 6:57 am.   This post has 4 responses.
Ministry of Controversy

Something is Rotten in the State of Utah

LawnAh, the all-American lawn.  Lush, green, required by law, and enforceable by jail time.

We return to Orem, Utah, the city that has asked its residents to stop gardening for three years while it applies pesticides in an attempt to stop an invasive beetle from spreading.  Now they’re jailing little old ladies who don’t water their lawns.

Betty Perry, age 70, was arrested on July 5 when she refused to cooperate with police who showed up to issue her a citation for failure to water her lawn and for the general weediness of the place. During the scuffle, she fell and got a bloody nose.  After she was booked at the police station, the higher-ups realized they had a PR nightmare on their hands and let her go.

Now the city has offered to assist her with her lawn problems, and feminist attorney Gloria Allred has gotten involved.  We assume that the ordinance she was accused of violating was Chapter 11 of Orem’s city ordinace, which includes the following:

16. Vegetation. Dead, decayed, diseased, or hazardous trees, weeds, hedges, and overgrown or uncultivated vegetation which is in a hazardous condition, is an obstruction to pedestrian or vehicular traffic, or which is likely to harbor rats, vermin or other pests.

A harmless enough ordinance (and Chuck B. can certainly attest to the value of some kind of regulation of overgrown gardens given his experience with his neighbor), but I think the folks in Orem are having a little trouble with interpretation.  A dry, brown lawn is a downright sensible decision right now.  Weeds are a hassle, and they’re unsightly, but a hazardous condition?  And who defines weeds?  Who defines pests?

Posted by on July 16, 2007 at 5:25 am.   This post has 14 responses.
Real Gardens

Ranters’ Bloom Day: all-white/lilies ‘r’us/container action


Here are some samplings of of what we have going on in our respective yards in Buffalo, Sarataoga Springs, Takoma Park, and Eureka. You’d think—with such geography between us—there’d be huge differences, but I can report that Michele, Susan and I all have hydrangea, both Michele and I have tons of lilies, Susan and I have similar container action, and we probably have some plants in common with Amy too.

This is a colorful time in the garden for most, I imagine. So, here goes.


Amy reports a profusion of whiteness worthy of Vita Sackville-West; it is luminous at night and "just looks crazy" during the day. Shasta daisies, feverfew, and orange calendula.


Susan, like me, has a lot of distinct areas with different activity in each, but here you see a container with the undeniably-popping combo of sweet potato vine and purple waves.


Michele is all about dahlia and lilies. Here are some Navona asiatics with Red Rising Hood dahlias. (and tall purple dahlias in the background). Elsewhere she has Regale trumpets adding to the lily action.


I did a close-up for a change; here you see an oriental I think is inappropriately called Summer’s End (but I’m not sure) along with a clematis (Hagley). I’ve been tying lilies to trellises lately with some success.

Hey, when does this Bloom Day stop anyway? I am not looking forward to October and November! Amy will have to take it from there.

Posted by on July 15, 2007 at 5:00 am.   This post has 4 responses.
Shut Up and Dig,   Unusually Clever People

The Birth of a Gardener

Afp3aLast week I canvassed the world for new gardening coaches, and showed you a coaching client being interviewed by a reporter for Agence France-Presse.  Here’s the story – in English – and here, as promised, is the story behind the story. Susan

When Kirra Jarratt moved into her DC home last summer, the back and side yards were nothing but mulch.  The previous owners had had large dogs, and you can just imagine the realtor coming up with the mulch idea to cover up the ground, quick.  And it looked fine til the following spring, when the mulch was all gone and there was nothing but mud.  Something had to be done.  A quick call to a nursery brought some shocking news – that it would take a huge and surprisingly expensive amount of mulch to return the yard to its condition on move-in day, which mulch would again break down and return to mud.  The nursery offered this helpful advice, though: if she just bought some plants for the space, there’d be less bare ground to be covered in mulch.  As Kirra described it to me: "LIGHTBULB!" So, where does a total gardening newbie turn?

To a gardening coach, naturally, and I received an urgent email with the desperate mention of aKirraside300 housewarming party scheduled in just two weeks.  So I visited and found, as promised, not a single plant in the side and rear yards except a few weeds.  Not even a path through the mud.  But she was eager – and in a big hurry.  A visit to my own garden 5 minutes away helped
us choose her new plant, and I left her with these assignments:

  • To do: Take those stones that were piled up under her deck and arrange them in a nice curvey path along the length of the side yard, after doing a bit of regrading of the whole area.
  • To buy: Bags of mulch (there was no time to schedule a bulk delivery), nandinas, pieris japonica, acubas, an oakleaf hydrangea, pulmonarias, heucheras, and any other perennial for shade that might catch her eye (which a nice blue hosta did).

When she’d accomplished both lists I returned with my tools and about 30 plain hostas from my own garden, and Kirra’s mom had donated some humongous clumps of the lovely variegated liriope- excellent!  Here’s what we accomplished in two hours:

  • Deciding where everything would be planted, actually planting a few of plants to demonstrate.
  • Instruction in laying the stone path.
  • Instruction in watering.
  • Some pruning and instruction for more.
  • In the front, lifting and dividing a large hosta, instruction in dividing and siting more of them.
  • Also in the front, redrawing the border edge and instruction in sod removal and the creation of a new edge.
  • Plant suggestions for the front garden, for action at another time (we prioritized).

Two weeks later the whole place looked lovely and festive – inside and out – and the party was a good Kirraback350one.  I was there, introduced as her garden coach and handing out my card left and right.  Friends expressed amazement that Kirra had laid that path herself, that she’d created this garden herself, that she actually has a garden coach.  She tells me that neighbors are exclaiming, "Oh, you’re a gardener!" and she doesn’t know what to say. "Say yes, you are one."  And I know that not just by looking at her new garden.  I know she’s a gardener because she already says things like: "Knowing how to prune is so liberating," and "Gardening is meditative – and addicting!"  And because she has lots of plans for the fall – and knows to wait til then to add more plants.   So even a big-city lawyer can catch the
gardening bug.

Remember the huge amount of money that Kirra decided NOT to spend just to replace her mulch-only yard?  Her next financial decision came after spending $748 for plants and 20 bags of mulch.  Because she was in such a hurry, she contacted a garden maintenance company and was given a bid to:

  • Lay the stone path level with the grade, put her new plants in the ground and spread the mulch in the side and back yards.
  • Plant a flat of vinca, prune one crapemyrtle, and spread the mulch in the front yard.

For the sweet sum of $2,820! – and that’s for labor only, no plants. (No lie; Kirra has it in writing.)  What’s up with that?  Are these guys getting rich?  I really don’t get it, and this isn’t the first time I’ve been amazed by the high cost of maintenance.

Compare that to paying $300 for four hours of coaching (half of which covered design and plant recommendations), and doing the work herself.  "AND I would have had no idea how to maintain what they did! Granted, my path
would have been better graded, but I’m happy.  And everyone thinks that a professional landscaper did my yard!"  Looks like a happy coachee.  And she instructed me: "Don’t forget to mention that the other advantage/benefit of going with you was
you guided me to the local nurseries and gardening resources."  Going shopping with a coach can be a great learning experience, too.Kirra2300_2

The garden you see here isn’t a finished product, we all know that.  It and its gardener will be evolving over the years.  But already, people are giving Kirra their extra plants, continuing the wonderful tradition of passalong plants. 

Photos:  Top, coaching in progress, photo by Nicholas Kamm for AFP. (I’ve decided the Frank Zappa T-shirt doesn’t show up well, so it’s back to Hawaiian shirts for me.) Next, the side yard, with a path and the beginnings of a garden.  The acuba will cover lots of wall eventually, and a few more large plants will be added. Next, the back yard as seen from the deck shows an oakleaf hydrangea anchoring the corner, surrounded by pieris, nandina, and lots of perennials. On the right, Kirra in her side garden.

Posted by on July 14, 2007 at 2:51 am.   This post has 8 responses.
It's the Plants, Darling

One Minor Complaint On An Otherwise Perfect Morning


Little Grapette.  In my garden, looks more like Little Bran Muffin.

Daylilies are really useful plants.  As Susan pointed out this week, they are extremely drought tolerant.  They also grow in wet soil near my country pond, in full sun and surprising amounts of shade, too.  Real troopers.  They have great foliage that adds architecture to a border.  They start blooming in earnest now, when a lot of other perennials are taking a mid-summer siesta.  They saved me $14,000 that a mason wanted to charge me for a retaining wall.  I planted the bank instead with $300 worth of daylilies.  They look great and their finger-like roots hold the hillside in place. 

In sum, there’s nothing for daylily breeders to feel insecure about. They have a great product.  So why all the marketing hyperbole when it comes to color?  Last year, I planted two dozen "Pandora’s Box," which, I was promised by the catalog, were white and purple.  They were "white" like white underwear washed hot with an orange sock.  So I replaced them with Little Grapette, which I was assured, was a rich purple.  Purple, my eye.  My plants are brownish maroon.  In no way do they do anything for my purple, white, and tomato red color scheme.

Tomato red, you say?  That ought to be obtainable in the daylily world.  Only, just yesterday, shopping for a pond filter at Lowe’s, I passed a table full of Red Rum.  Were they red?  No.  More of a burnt orange.

I remember the late, great Mrs. Greenthumbs in her first book telling the story of sending away for 100 bargain daylilies, all different, planting them, waiting patiently for a year or two for the minuscule fans to flower–and discovering that they were 100 shades of orange.


Pandora’s Box: "White" as a shade of orange

Now, daylilies are plenty colorful. Any plant that succeeds in shades of yellow, orange, peach, scarlet, and brownish maroon is doing all right.  So why this obsession with color, or rather with covering the color wheel, however sloppily?  Daylily catalogs are even organized by color.  And many of the classifications could cause an arched eyebrow, at best.

I think it’s bad business to gloss over reality that way.  If I’m buying a brown plant, I want to know.

Posted by on July 13, 2007 at 4:17 am.   This post has 26 responses.
Real Gardens

More on Drought

I read Susan’s post on drought-tolerant plants while I was in the New Mexico high desert–where it rained almost every day.  Summers around there are known for their delicious, dramatic thunderstorms that rumble in just in time to cool down the 100+ temps and wash through the sandy, alkaline soil.

And then I returned home to chilly, overcast, northern California, where it barely rains for months but also never gets warm.  You’d think that High Country Garden‘s plants would just sulk in my slightly acid, clay soil, but guess what?  They’re flourishing.

I agree with the commenters who said that we should stop lusting after plants that grow halfway across the country, but I also know that drought-tolerant plants make sense anywhere.  Just depends on your definition of drought.

Before I order from High Country, I call them up and tell them where I live.  I make it clear that tempsNm2
never get much above 70, and I check to see if what I’m after can tolerate a little morning or afternoon shade. They’re surprisingly knowledgeable about my climate, and like any great nursery, they’ll cheerfully talk me out of a plant that won’t work here.

Here’s what I think a town like Santa Fe or Taos has to teach us: Figure out what works and run with it.  Every parking lot, every street median, every storefront and cafe and garden was growing yarrow, hollyhock, salvia, lavender–if it works, plant it by the dozen. 

I also loved the fact that gardeners there have figured out how to work with the architecture.  A blue Nm3
windowsill is just crying out for something orange.  A long red ristra (string of chile peppers) hanging in a doorway demands some yellow to help it pop.  Santa Fe has figured out what its thing is, horticulturally speaking, and it’s running with it.  It makes the whole city feel like one continuous garden.

And I’m not just talking about the wealthy, touristy communities–even run-down neighborhoods in Albuquerque looked fabulous–because they have figured out what to grow.

Do they long for roses and spirea and lilacs?  Well, yeah–probably.  What gardener doesn’t want what they don’t have?  But meanwhile, the place looks enchanting  The butterflies don’t seem to mind, either.

Posted by on July 12, 2007 at 4:56 am.   This post has 6 responses.
Taking Your Gardening Dollar

Avec Avent: a visit to Plant Delights


When you read through the visitation instructions on the Plant Delights website (extensive, informative, occasionally hilarious), there are categories for gardeners with impatient spouses (allow 60 minutes, more if you tie them to a tree), beginning master gardeners (90 minutes including shopping), and plant nerds with no life (3-10 hours). They don’t have a category for a sunburnt vacationer on her way back from the Carolina shore with several friends in tow, and twelve hours of travel ahead. That was my category when I finally visited this nirvana of leafy cultivars last weekend, and I felt lucky to make the stop, however brief. But my luck didn’t stop there.


I was also fortunate enough to spend a few minutes with Plant Delights/Juniper Level Botanic Gardens proprietor Tony Avent, who was mingling unheralded with all the other perspiring but invariably delighted visitors that day. In the unlikely event that someone reading this hasn’t heard of Plant Delights, Juniper Hill, or Tony Avent, this nursery-cum-show garden just outside of Raleigh, North Carolina is one of the top spots for the propagation and mail-order sale of unusual perennials, only to be compared with such venues as the late, lamented Heronswood Nursery. (Avent regularly goes on plant hunts to exotic locales with Heronswood founder Dan Hinkley.)

Plant Delights is known for an amazing selection of nursery-bred hostas, elephant ear, salvia, trillium, agave, and much more. Since the early eighties, Avent has been bucking big-box trends, offering leafy tropicals for outside garden use before anyone else was thinking about it and traveling yearly to locales like Thailand, Vietnam, and South Africa in search of cool plants. All the plants are propagated and tested in the Juniper Level gardens, where Avent tries his best to kill each one. As he said in a New York Times piece last year, “If we found it in a wet, shady area, we plant it in a sunny, dry area.” Indeed, Avent’s saying, “I consider every plant hardy until I have it killed it myself—three times,” can be found on the back of PD T-shirts.

I now own one of these shirts as well as all the plants we could fit into the back of a fully-packed VW Passat (not many), but I didn’t make any purchases before taking a quick tour of Juniper Level. According to Avent, he had visited Wayside Nurseries as a boy, expecting a glorious show garden, but found instead “a brick building and a couple flats of begonias. I decided then that when I grew up I would have a nursery/show garden and nobody would be disappointed.” Plant Delights is not a walk-in retail operation: there are only 8 open weekends per year where one can actually visit the gardens and buy plants (check the website).

Avent explains the mission of Plant Delights this way: “The nursery exists to support the gardens. We have an extensive research program, including the only commercial trillium-producing nursery in the world and our hosta breeding program. It’s a totally different business model. My plan is to endow the gardens so they remain after the nursery is gone. For now, we want to get as many cool plants to people as we can.”
So what are the cool plants Avent is most excited about these days? Not a fan of the plant du jour mentality, Avent says, “Our whole mission is to buck trends. We don’t want a plant that you can buy in Walmart. … As a gardener—no, make that plant collector—you go through phases. We’re in a variegated agave phase right now. I found them coming out of Thailand by way of Japan, but they were originating in California. And the nomenclature was horrible. We’re trying to make ferns a trend (though people want flowers), and we’re continuing to introduce more hardy tropicals. We collect it, we grow it, and then we trial it; it often takes years before we introduce a plant for sale.”


Agaves and spectacular tropicals are very much in evidence throughout Juniper Level, a labyrinth of winding paths punctuated by waterfalls, decorative structures, and a large pond. I also noted 8-feet-high trumpet lilies just finishing their bloom cycles, magnificent dahlias, and many exotic perennials whose labels could be found at ground level.


I was particularly impressed by what I think is a Boehmeria cultivar (didn’t write down the label info).

Unfortunately, I didn’t spend nearly as much time as this garden deserves, but I did have a chance to get Avent’s views on the soon-to-be-released updated zone map (replacing the 2003 draft) and a few choice words on global warming. More on that and my top picks from the Plant Delights greenhouses in the next post.

Oh, in case you can’t read Tony’s shirt, it says “Friends Don’t Let Friends Buy Annuals.” We had a little talk about that.

Photo of me with Avent by Mark Lavatelli.

Posted by on July 11, 2007 at 4:49 am.   This post has 11 responses.
It's the Plants, Darling

Drought-Tolerance is King

Buckeye1Man, we’re having another dry summer here on the East Coast.  And now with sweltering heat it’s looking pretty crispy out there.  All over the neighborhood you see sprinklers a’spraying – and a’wasting lots of water. 

Not me, though.  Got no irrigation system, drip, overhead or otherwise.  Got a pretty big garden, though, big enough that the sprinkler has to be moved to 9 different locations, and still some hand-watering is required.  What a hassle!  And seeing the water shooting high into the hot, sunny air (coz you can’t get it all done in the early morning hours), the inefficiency of the sprinkler is obvious.

So, like growing numbers of ecogardeners, I’m trying to cut back on my use of water in the gDaylily300arden, particularly the large amount needed to keep turfgrass green in the summer.  I say let it brown, and brown it does and is.  I apologize to my visitors and suggest PhotoShopping the lawn a nicer color.  See how even avid gardeners are capable of sacrificing aesthetics for a good cause?  Damn right.

And that brings me to a new appreciation for super-drought-tolerant plants. Here are the heroes of my own garden, plants that survive the longest droughts of summer with no help from me:

  • Shrubs aucuba, nandina, Heleri holly, junipers, spirea, euonymous ‘Emerald Gaity’, weigela, bottlebrush buckeye, Meidiland rose ‘Alba’, and oakleaf hydrangea (in full shade).
  • Perennials hosta, sedum, Russian sage, daylilies, ornamental grasses, liriopGrassbloom400e, carex, solomon’s seal, garden phlox, euphorbia amygdaloides, purple coneflower, aster, black-eyed susan.

On the other hand, the award for worst-performing plant in my garden goes to rhododendrons, about which I’ve ranted over the years and of which I’ll have few to none if the planet keeps going the way it is.  I’m especially galled by the way they die – without giving a moment’s warning.  No helpful wilting to force me to water them;  they just up and die.

Seeking help in gardening with our hotter and drier summers, I devoured this article in Slate.  The author first takes issue with gardeners rejoicing over their new ability to grow crapemyrtles in the North, calling it "nuts" and warning, "Be careful what you wish for" because arriving with those crapemyrtles are kudzu, itchier poison ivy, record pollen levels, and so on.  Rainfall is more extreme, either nonexistent or coming in deluges.

Here’s the author’s advice for gardeners in the era of global warming:

  • Make your soil hold more water by adding organic matter
  • Choose plants that tolerate drought and a range of temperatures, like agastache
  • Mulch your trees

And she mentions the much-loved plant supplier High Country Gardens, which got me thSpireawhite2inking.  Should we all be planting for High Country these days?  Coz drought-tolerance is looking like an awfully good idea, saving as it does on my water bill, the local water supply, and my hours schlepping the garden hose all over the place.  But what about the humidity and warm summer evenings we have here in the East?  High Country’s excellent website addresses that question with this:  For "very hot, humid climates…note that xeric plants with very woolly foliage…may rot from
excessive rain and humidity." We’re also reminded to plant in the fall or early spring and that plants benefit from afternoon shade.  And then there’s this advice: plants should be watered regularly during the heat. Say what?  I wonder if I’m expecting too much of these plants altogether.

The Slate writer ends on this bright note:

tend to be the most adaptable of human beings. In fact, working in a
garden is an experience that trains you to be flexible and to find
consolations where you can. So the poppies never came up and deer ate
the roses? Well, the irises looked great, and the lilacs were fabulous.

Absolutely, gardeners are adaptable; we’re literally grounded in reality.  And until further notice, this gardener is adaNeon300pting by demanding drought tolerance of all new additions to the garden.  It’s just as important as that other pillar of sustainable gardening – resistance to disease and severe insect damage.  (Notice the tolerance of a few insect holes?  Yet another way that our sense of beauty is shifting to the natural, I submit.)

Now readers, can I pick your brains?

  • If you also garden in a humid place, have you tried High Country plants and how are they working out?
  • If you’ve replaced your lawn with something that can still be walked on, how’s it looking, and how much water does it need?
  • And finally, how "dormant" can my lawn get before it’s "dead"?

Posted by on July 10, 2007 at 6:15 am.   This post has 32 responses.
Real Gardens

Top Ten Twelve Reasons to Attend the Garden Rant Meet-Up at Garden Walk, continued

And, finally, the last two:


#2 Discover the personalities behind the gardens
By now you should have figured out that this is not one of those rarified, exclusive tours where you tiptoe about with a guide, teacup in hand and pinkie held high. No. Garden Walk is a gabby, democratic free-for-all. Most of the gardeners on the Walk have never seen any of the other gardens because they feel it’s their duty to stay in their own space all weekend, answering questions and discussing general topics (usually garden-related, not always). In the early days, when crowds were thinner, some gardeners served lemonade, wine, iced coffee, even martinis (I kid you not). Now, with so many, we try to keep some pitchers of water handy, but we still have time to talk—passionately—about plants and gardening to any and all comers.

You’ll get to talk to Ellie, whose entire garden is a container, made possible with rock dust; Lou, who has been asked to market his hand-designed tea house; Jen and Jim, who might be going a bit far with the whole Victorian thing; Le and An, who have the most colorful garden I have ever seen anywhere, and many, many others.

#1 Meet your bloggers
You can’t always be virtual. In Western New York, we have regular get-togethers of the blogging community, which has grown quite large—it keeps things lively and reenergizes our online interactions. Susan, Michele, Amy, and I are really looking forward to meeting each other for the first time, and we hope to see a few other garden bloggers as well. With or without hippie chick dancing.

As devotees of an occupation that is all about getting our hands in the dirt, it wouldn’t be right to limit our communications to the sterile world of the keyboard.

OK, this is it about Garden Walk, FOR NOW. Over my next few posts, I’ll be reporting on a recent trip to Plant Delights/Juniper Level Botanic Gardens in North Carolina and my brief interview with proprietor Tony Avent.

Posted by on July 9, 2007 at 5:04 am.   This post has one response.
Unusually Clever People

If Only the New iPhone Could Do This!

SpectrometryHere’s a gadget I would totally go for.  According to Science Daily, researchers are working on a way to use an infrared flashlight that they could shine on plants to see nutritional deficiencies.

(OK, I know that some of you are going to jump in here and say that you can see nutritional deficiencies with your eyes.  I get it.  But why use your vast horticultural expertise when you can rely on a toy like this instead?)

Besides, this could signal much earlier changes to a plant brought on by nutritional deficiencies or watering problems:

Frantz, Locke and colleagues are testing ways to bounce infrared light off plants, in order to read the earliest possible signals of nutrient deficiency. The signals could be key proteins or other molecules associated with stress, or a change in a leaf’s light reflectance as a result of a deficiency. Spotting ways in which plants signal stress would be a way to detect a problem before any visible evidence of damage to the plant occurs.

Smith & Hawken, you roll out one of these, and I’ll be the first in line to get one.  What else would the ultimate garden device have?  A camera phone, of course.  MP3 player?  Hotkeys that let me order plants online while I’m standing out in the garden?  Oh, and a weather station.  It’d have to be waterproof and shatterproof, too.  Call us when it’s in beta.

Posted by on July 8, 2007 at 5:32 am.   This post has 8 responses.