Monthly Archives: January 2012
It's the Plants, Darling

I can have Lilium canadense? Really?

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Franziskas Garten

If I hadn’t already put in a sizeable order for these with Brent & Becky’s, I wouldn’t be sharing the news of their new—and startling—availability. The picture in the B&B catalog isn’t the best I’ve seen of these—use Google or Flickr if you want to see them in their full glory. According to Michele, they flourish in the wild throughout her part of New York State, but I’ve never seen them around here. I have seen amazing images on various websites showing immense chandeliers of down-facing yellow-orange trumpets. The length of the flower tube, the flamboyantly outstretched petals, and the sheer number of blooms that each stately plant can hold—it all adds up to drool-worthy in my book.

That’s why—though there are plenty of native lilium—I’ve always focused on this one. Many gardeners grow the superbum (Turks cap), but that variety is too similar to the henryi, martagon, and other downward-facers I already have. I have a feeling that canadense will flourish in the same terroir as my martagons—dense, acidic, and slightly shaded. (Speaking of martagons, there seems to be a new, cool hybrid of these on offer every year—check it out.)

Canadense is rarely offered commercially (Old House Gardens had it once), though I have seen it in various online seed exchanges. It’s getting rarer as a wildflower, and is listed as endangered in a few states and in its namesake.

Writing for Dave’s Garden, Diana Wind lists canadense as one of her top ten hummingbird attracters. The buds and roots were eaten by North American Indians. And here’s my favorite Lilium canadense factoid. It has a Facebook page, which I just liked, for the heck of it. Except that Facebook apparently thinks it’s an animal, and the page offers very little credible information.

I can have this? Really? If so, then here are the ones I want next:
L. nepalense (green outside, deep purple outside)
L. majoense (white with purple spots)
L. taliense (white recurved with near-black spots)
L. papilliferum (dark purple, rare and difficult)
L. nielgherrense (failure guaranteed, only included for name)

With bizarre species like these to yearn for (and occasionally get), who needs orange double echinacea?

Posted by on January 16, 2012 at 5:00 am.   This post has 15 responses.
Eat This

Fun for Potato Obsessives

UntitledThat would be me!  Potatoes are just about my favorite crop.  They are famous for yielding the most food in the smallest possible space, why is one explanation for why the land-poor 19th century Irish became so dependent on them. They are very forgiving, producing early, late, everywhere in between.   And homegrown potatoes are creamy and delicious.

So, it was with pleasure that I flipped through The Complete Book of Potatoes: What Every Grower and Gardener Needs to Know by Hielke De Jong, a retired potato breeder from the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Potato Research Center; Joseph B. Sieczka, Cornell hort professor emeritus; and Walter De Jong, of the Department of Plant Breeding and Genetics at Cornell.

Publisher Timber Press outdid itself here.  This is a beautiful book with lots of useful photographs, including those of various potato diseases, which will occasionally trouble even the most easy-going home grower in a wet year. There are photographs of different varieties–to be expected–but there are also photographs of the potato in art and of outrageously colorful and wildly shaped cultivated potatoes from the potato's birthplace in the Andes.  Let's get some of THOSE varieties over here.

And while the growing instructions seem a little constipated in way that suggests a greater familiarity with the needs of commercial growers than happy seat-of-the-pants gardeners like me–i.e, worry about pH even though potatoes will grow in a wide range of soil types–the real delights of this book are in its panoramic consideration of the potato.

I learned all kinds of things I did not previously know, such as…

1.  If you intend to store potatoes, the skin will toughen up if you leave them in the ground for at least two weeks after the vegetation dies.  

2. Half of the world's potato crop winds up in processed foods.

3.  Wild potatoes are full of toxic glycoalkaloids that make them taste bitter.  (The glycoalkaloids have been bred down to acceptable levels in domestic potatoes, but are concentrated in the green tissue of tubers that have been exposed to light.  That's why we hill potatoes–to keep them shrouded.)

4.  In the Andes, where the potato is native, people dealt with the glycoalkaloids by eating a special clay that binds to them, or by leaving potatoes outside in freezing weather and then trampling and washing the glycoalkaloids out of them, creating a freeze-dried product called chuno.

5.  Colored potatoes contain additional nutrients, including antioxidants, so if you can do blue or red, why not?

6.  The authors make growing potatoes from actual seed, called TPS or "true potato seed"–rather than from "seed potatoes"–seem like a reasonable proposition.  Of course, you'll be getting the product of sexual reproduction in that case, so you'll have to do without the genetic uniformity of tubers.  But seed tubers are expensive!  I'd rather not spend the $30 or $40 I spend on them every year.  The only source I could find, however, for TPS is here

Posted by on January 13, 2012 at 7:59 am.   This post has 20 responses.
Drink This,   Eat This

Urban Self-Sufficiency, One Crop At a Time


Here's one way to go about making a city more self-sufficient, food-wise:  Start with just one crop. Once you get that one right, move on to the next one.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Friends of the Urban Forest is doing just that:  They are mapping every Meyer lemon tree in the city, with a view to planting enough to meet the city's entire Meyer lemon needs.  They estimate that a few thousand lemon trees are already in place; 12,000 is the goal.

I just hope they've checked with the bartenders and the bakers. 12,000 trees might be enough to supply the city with  Meyer lemon and proseco cocktails, but what are the rest of y'all gonna have?


Posted by on January 11, 2012 at 8:54 am.   This post has 18 responses.

From the Dept. of “We Could Have Told You That.”


1.  Worms are good.  Really good. Greenhouse tomatoes grown in a mixture of worm compost and coconut fiber produced more marketable tomatoes than those grown in rockwool.   Well–yeah, who'd want to live in rockwool?

2.  You don't need all that damn potassium fertlizer.  Belgrade's ancient fortress, built of white limestone, is turning black thanks to the overuse of fertilizer in the flower beds around the site, which is now a tourist attraction. C'mon, people. Enough already!

3.  Fusarium can kill you.  Okay, we didn't warn you about that one before.  But in case you hadn't had time to become really, really terrified of anything yet today, there's this:  Fusarium (yes, the plant fungus) also comes in strains that can live in your bathroom sink drain and attack you when you least expect it! Such as when you're washing your contact lenses!

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

Posted by on January 11, 2012 at 8:02 am.   This post has 6 responses.
What's Happening

Martin Luther King Memorial as Landscape

I recently visited D.C.'s new and long-awaited Martin Luther King Memorial.  In the words of its designers, "the entire MLK Memorial is conceived in a landscape tradition, characteristic of other recent memorials, such as the FDR and the Vietnam Veterans War Memorials. This approach, which utilizes the contouring of the earth, the shaping of the site and natural elements to convey meaning, is exceptionally well fitted to a memorial for Dr. King, who was inspirational in his oratory and extensive use of metaphorical reference to the American landscape."

I'm a big fan of the new landscape tradition for memorials, which has become so popular with reviewing agencies and the public since the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was unveiled in 1982.  As controversial as it was at first, The Wall has become the most visited memorial in town.

Another superb example of this style is the FDR Memorial, which opened in '97 and iAAAJan2012s my personal favorite.  It was designed by the late, great landscape architect Lawrence Halprin.  Though a crowd-pleaser from the start, the fact that its depictions of FDR hid his disability was controversial in the disabled community, and a statue of him in his chair was later added at their insistence (photo right).

But let's get to the MLK, shown below in the designer's drawing.  The site is perfect – near the Lincoln and directly facing the Jefferson across the Tidal Basin.  (And if you're wondering, this IS the first memorial on the Mall honoring a non-president.  Much less an African-American.)

Mlk2Because the memorial consists of one long wall for quotations, one statue, two large blocks of stone (the "Mountain of Despair" through which you walk to get to King's statue) and 158 cherry trees, it certainly qualifies as a landscape-style memorial.

And for my taste, that's a good thing.  We have more than enough of the old-style monuments and memorials – all stone and little or nothing that's living.

That said and with all the appropriate disclaimers (the monument is totally deserved, etc) I was disappointed.  The space just seemed so cold, it might as well have been all-stone.  And the size of the statue – at 30 feet – was overwhelming, especially compared to those life-size statues of FDR, or even to Lincoln (at 19 feet).


But I'm a gardener and I know to come back next spring when all the cherry trees are blooming, and again several years from next spring when they're full-size and blooming.  Landscapes take time.  And it's January now, after all. 


Now a word about the controversies, because no major memorial gets built these days without a slew of them, the 9/11 Memorial being a prime example of that.

In the case of the King Memorial, this design isn't universally loved and may never be.  There's the size and confrontational (to many eyes) stance taken by King in his statue, and the fact that it was carved by a Chinese artist.  (It didn't help that he boasted that this statue would bring honor to the Chinese people!) But a big, unexpected controversy has erupted over the truncated wording of the quote carved on one side of the statue.  It's "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness," which was shortened for design purposes from: 

If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice.  Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.

Big diff!  Maya Angelou has protested that “The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit. He was anything but that. He was far too profound a man for that four-letter word to apply." We'll see if pressure from vocal critics will result in some recarving, back to the original longer quote.

1/13/12 UPDATE:  The quote WILL be changed.

Here's a short video of memorial in all its cherry-blossom-flowering glory. 

Posted by on January 10, 2012 at 4:15 am.   This post has 7 responses.

My token seed catalog


The reason this is my favorite seed catalog has nothing to do with seeds. While other gardeners are browsing through Thompson & Morgan, Burpee, Johnny’s, Seeds of Change, Fedco, Baker Creek (a catalog so gorgeous I actually gave it as a Christmas present), Jung, and others, I get them, pass them along to vegetable growing friends, and hang on to the SS catalog. It is the only seed catalog I order from—because it sells plants.

As I mentioned last week, I am always looking for unusual annuals. My urban garden—with its central courtyard and partial shade—has an insatiable appetite for containers and their requisite plants. Which is great because I love container gardening. I just wish there were more and better annuals to fill them. Especially when it comes to shade, nursery annual offerings can be limited, even in the best IGCs. It’s especially ironic here, because every August we are treated to an amazing display of new offerings at the Erie Basin Marina Test Gardens, almost none of which actually make it to area nurseries the following spring.

I will never buy Tony Avent’s T-shirt that says “Friends don’t let Friends Plant Annuals.” I love them for their variety, versatility and season-long interest—when they aren't boring that is. This is where a place like Select Seeds comes to my rescue. They offer four types of heliotrope, none of which are the short-lived stubby variety offered by area nurseries. There’s a new fragrant nicotiana every year, and some gorgeous old-fashioned petunias. The thinking behind Select Seeds reminds me of the way California wine merchant Kermit Lynch insists on carrying the delicate reds of the Loire valley when he could be pushing Australian fruit bombs and overoaked cabs.

Some lucky gardeners actually can plant all the plants I buy from seed, or they can trust them to reseed. Not me, but no matter; it leaves more room to change from year to year. This year, I’m looking at a deep purple nicotiana, some seductive fuschias, several goofy coleus varieties, and more.

Maybe someday I’ll grow seeds, but not quite yet. Oh, and check out the stylish new look for this year's book; their covers were always kind of ordinary, design-wise, but this year they've gone for a slightly cheeky retro look. Likey!

Posted by on January 9, 2012 at 5:00 am.   This post has 16 responses.

Meet Master Waterer Lorenzo

Master Waterer

One quick quote from Lorenzo:  "I loooove gardening."  Click here for the rest, or here to learn more about the awesome garden he waters.

Posted by on January 7, 2012 at 5:17 am.   This post has 5 responses.

Seed Stars of 2011

City garden
Happy New Year!

The catalogs are arriving, and it's time to start thinking about the vegetable garden.  While 2010 was a banner year for me, 2011 was problematic for many reasons.  I made a new garden in my city yard.  Too small!  Too many trees casting shade and sucking up all the nutrients!  And it rained and rained and rained in late summer, discouraging the tomatoes and diluting the flavor of many other things.

Nonetheless, I always take my broker's advice to diversify.  Shake enough paper packets over the soil, and even in a crap year, you will get some thrills.  Here are mine for 2011.

1. 'Afinia' cutting celery:  I started this early in the basement, and shoehorned the plants into my new garden underneath the branches of a viburnum.  With very little sun, it nonetheless thrived.  Cutting celery, which looks like a pale parsley and lacks the thick stems of ordinary celery, adds an intense celery flavor to soups and stews.  Borderline too intense!  But I wound up being very grateful for this tough planet, which is also extremely hardy.  I was harvesting leaves into December.

2. 'Paul Robeson' tomato:  A terrible tomato year, and the main tragedy was that after getting a few 'Paul Robesons,'  in late July–a big, blackish tomato with spectacular flavor–I got hardly any more.

3. 'Applegreen' eggplant:  I'm a 'Rosa Bianca' lady, when I can get them to do their stuff in my cold climate, but last year, I took a chance on 'Applegreen.'  A big, beautiful plant, with wonderful green softball-sized fruit.   Like 'Rosa Bianca,' 'Applegreen' has a creamy, unbitter flavor.  My feeling is that the paler eggplants are just tastier.

4. 'Marconi Rosso' pepperI fall into the camp of those who do not consider green peppers an actual vegetable, but instead merely an unfortunate stage on the way to red peppers.  Too bad for me.  I live in a place where the peppers often don't redden up before frost.  But this one formed a huge plant, full of sweet horn-shapped peppers that turned red early.  Another shockingly good Seeds From Italy selection.

5. Chrysanthemum greens: Here in upstate New York, I grow increasingly desperate about the lack of decent Asian restaurants.  Increasingly, I ineptly cook Asian myself.  Last year was my first experience with this Japanese edible.  Easy to grow in spring and fall, with a flavor in which you'll detect the scent of chrysanthemum flowers.  Just harvest before they bloom.

6. Chard: I like the more delicate-tasting white-ribbed varieties offered by Seeds From Italy, but the star here is chard, any chard.  Spinach-like vitamins, only unlike spinach, it doesn't bolt as the days get long.  Forms a handsome plant from which you can keep harvesting the outer leaves all summer.  Stands forever in the garden into winter, almost as long as the toughest brassicas.  If only my kids liked it!

7. Direct-seeded okra:  I love okra.  All those slimy gumbos and bisques in my 30 year-old Paul Prudhomme Louisiana Kitchen cookbook!  Love them!  But okra never loved my country garden, which was always too chilly, I think, and maybe had heavier soil than the okra wanted.  Now, however, I am gardening in balmy and sandy Saratoga Springs, NY–zone 5, thank you.  After losing all my onions to cutworm last year, I looked around in desperation in early July for something to fill the spot and found nothing except a four year-old package of generic okra seeds.  What the hey. Only three plants germinated.  But they grew so huge and tall and beautiful, even started so late in the season, that this year, I'll spring for fresh seed and find room for a dozen plants.  Okra, you know, is a relative of hollyhock, and almost as pretty.

That's it!  Like I said, 2011 was not a great year for me.  But in the vegetable garden, the glass is always half full, as long as you plant a variety of crops.  Whether the same holds true for life in general–whether the key to happiness is putting one's eggs in many baskets–is a debate for another time.

Posted by on January 6, 2012 at 6:13 am.   This post has 12 responses.

Contrasting Community Gardens

A 21-year-old community garden in the heart of Washington, D.C. was recently shut down indefinitely.  The owner of the property, the Scottish Rite Masonic Temple, took the wildly unpopular action to clear the 1/4-acre space as a staging area for their upcoming renovation, which is predicted to last 5 to 20 years.


Everyone is devastated,” said Kerry Kemp, who has gardened at Temple Garden for 15 years. “It’s an urban oasis, a place for refuge.” This article goes on:

The garden, which opened in 1990, was never just a place to plant seedlings. Families held barbecues. A neighbor who’s an art teacher takes students there to paint.  “There’s a lot more to it than just growing things,” says the Temple Garden association’s president, David Rosner, who became a member in 2006, after four years on the waiting list. “This is part of people’s lives.”


Indeed it sure looked like a wonderful place when I visited last summer. 

Of course there was a campaign to convince/pressure the Temple to find some other solution, one that wouldn't destroy the garden.  One gardener I talked to wondered why the big honking lawn next to the garden – also owned by the Temple and just as close to it – couldn't have been use for construction staging instead.  

The Temple's "big honking lawn".

Once a garden, always a garden?

With all the agita and bad publicity the Temple has had to deal with over the closing of this garden, I bet there's some who regret having agreed to the garden in the first place.  And I bet it gives other landlords pause when gardeners ask to put their unused land to use.  Is there a better way?


Another community garden, not my favorite

I can't help but compare the fabulous Temple Garden to another D.C. garden that I'll show you but won't name.  When I visited two years ago I found the grand entrance in this horrible condition, plus unkempt paths and worse – unused plots!  Most gardens in D.C. have waiting lists but this one isn't even used to its capacity.  And no wonder, with its lack of upkeep and worse – a coordinator who won't allow his contact information to be made public (I did that once and was scolded).  The garden is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, by the way.

Posted by on January 5, 2012 at 6:21 am.   This post has 15 responses.
Ministry of Controversy

In 2012, it would be nice if …

A 2011 highlight: our garden blogger visit to Seattle's Dragonfly Farms Nursery.

Here's my wish list for the New Year. Some of this is reasonable; some of it isn’t. And please feel free to add your own in comments!

It would be nice if …

Every community had a centralized urban farming and community gardening office, which would be able to answer questions about land use and expedite the use of empty lots for food growing by block clubs and other neighborhood organizations.  Yes, it may sound like adding more bureaucracy, but much of this land is city-owned or policed and there are questions to answer and guidance to provide. Cities need to recognize this land use as legitimate and expected. The existing permits, planning, and inspections offices are too building-focused and just don't seem to get this stuff.

Independent garden centers stopped whining about the big boxes. This might be too inside baseball for some of you, but—mostly on Facebook and in some other places—I see a lot of griping about the strategies of the big corporate home and garden places making it harder and harder for smaller IGCs to compete. I sympathize. On the other hand, the situation is not going away. In Buffalo, we have Home Depot and Lowes. We also have at least a dozen fabulous small nurseries and garden centers that seem to do very well—most have been around for decades. We even have a co-op garden center, of which I am a founding member. I spend a lot of money at all these places. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? The IGCs around here provide something that the big boxes don’t and manage to make sure people know that. The big boxes have their place. And our co-op center stocks—among other things—unique garden objets by local artists. If there's room for all this in Buffalo's market, one would think other markets could also make it work.

There was less hysteria about the disease or insect of the month (Emerald Ash Borer! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!), and better ongoing practice and education about ensuring that diversity and sanity prevail in what we sell and plant. If fewer elms had been planted in Buffalo, we wouldn’t have been deforested back in the 70s. Industry-generated emails about which pesticide to use and firewood bans are treating the symptoms, not the problem.

(More environment than gardening) Please, EPA and other agencies, gather the evidence, figure out the implications definitively, and either regulate the hell out of hydrofracking or stop it. Especially after the Ohio earthquake, it’s sounding more and more like the risks are worth it. This needs a strong focus, not just wishy washy talk from greedy politicians.

Lawn supplies and equipment could be kept in a completely separate place in the garden center—separate from plants and supplies for making real gardens. That would help everyone understand the difference and the choice. And maybe think about it a bit more.

Garden tourism—to showcase garden walks, community gardens, public botanical gardens, Open Days, and more—becomes more widespread and better organized. It’s another way for communities to market themselves, and, more important, it draws more public attention to the ground underneath our feet and what we’re doing with it.

And, finally:

Among all of our brilliant growers and nursery people, a few more shift their focus to developing more interesting annuals for shade. Please?

Posted by on January 3, 2012 at 5:00 am.   This post has 23 responses.

More Vegetable Gardens

The New York Times reports that because the U.S. population is so much heavier than it was 50 years ago, the Coast Guard is assuming 25 pounds more per person on average and revising the carrying capacity of boats downward.

Posted by on January 2, 2012 at 7:48 am.   This post has 3 responses.
Real Gardens

Gardens of the Candidates

Didja see this slide show of the homes of Republican presidential candidates?  Check them all out – for their sheer size, if not any landscaping of note.  Only Newt Gingrich’s landscaping stands out – and not in a good way, to my taste.  If our homes say anything about us, doesn’t this one scream “tightly wound”? Gingrich

Also, 5,200 square feet for two people?

Posted by on January 2, 2012 at 6:29 am.   This post has 36 responses.

Books we’re Reviewing

 Books we have or want to have, and will review.  Alphabetically by title.


Baker Creek vegetable book? Michele


Posted by on January 1, 2012 at 10:53 am.   This post has Comments Off on Books we’re Reviewing.