December 28, 2022
What a December! I believe I spent the entire month on my knees planting bulbs during the day, and at my desk writing apology emails at midnight. And then to end with such a crazy Christmas storm week!
I know that you had it worse in the Midwest (as you are no doubt getting ready to tell me), but inconveniently perhaps, you will be bested by Elizabeth in Buffalo. Hopefully she will give Rant readers her thoughts on their monster storm soon.
A few drops of Californian blood still run through my veins and protest strongly when temperatures dip that low, that fast. Wind, rain, and @#$@# cold. At least you got some respectable snow for all your burst pipes and icy roads, which cannot fail to excite the inner elf-child – even if he has to don a balaclava and shovel the damn stuff.
We were without power for the two days before Christmas Day with daytime temps of 10F, which is humbling on several levels. Without power you are face-to-face with a climate that cannot be laughed off by walking into a warm house and shutting the door behind you. Though we heat with a wood furnace, it relies on an electric fan to push that heat through a network of ducts. Without the fan to vent the excess heat, we must keep the fire low to prevent a surprise appearance on the nine-o-clock news, and rely on gentle convection currents to tease warm air through the vents.
I’ll admit to a sense of humor failure at around three-thirty PM on Christmas Eve with Christmas dinner for 18 to prepare after two days of cooking in a down vest by candlelight. I only slapped myself out of my ratty mood by considering the citizens of Ukrainian cities dealing with the same situation; but, a) without hope of power being restored; and, b) the addition of bombs randomly falling out of an icy-clear sky. Not to mention so many other people and places in the world that drift in and out of our collective consciousness through the whims and algorithms of network executives and social media giants.
The Pied Pipers write the headlines and start the hashtags, we change our profile pictures and bask in virtuous thoughts – and then, just as quickly, it is over. For us. Certainly I would not have us bent double by the weight of all the world; but if I could wave a wand and replace the virtue signaling with 350 million quiet moments of gratitude and reflection on our blessings as a nation, I would.
Whew. Again. Veered off course there for a moment. I blame the cold.
In the end, power was restored a few hours later by incredibly hard-working crews that were always miraculously smiling when we passed them. I am in awe of that attitude, and deeply grateful. I can’t imagine how they were coping in the Northeast.
I hope your holiday went off without a glitch. Were you able to spend it with that plumpsy-gorgeous grandchild of yours?
Speaking of which, it is imperative that you keep your head in the face of grandfatherdom, and do not spend more than three minutes out of the 1440 that we are given each day in discussing this new creature and its delights.
Though you are a confirmed cynic and piss-taker of the highest order, you are still in great danger of falling prey to a disturbing phenomenon that can, within a few short months, transform an intelligent, captivating, life-of-the-party-type, to that weird guy who sits in the corner offering a grubby, well-thumbed phone and its 2,304 photos to anyone foolish enough to get too close.
If you feel the need to effuse beyond three or four words, might I suggest you put down any half-written correspondence to me, or current Facebook overshares, and call up Leslie Harris, who is so besotted by her 42 grandchildren (Or was it six? It’s so hard to tell.) that she hardly has time to put together an otherwise excellent podcast. You can compare notes. And plants, when you both come up for air.
On the plant front here, I’m far more involved with what will be than what is at the moment. Had a wonderful evening of swapping seeds with Janet Draper (Mary Livingstone Ripley Garden, Smithsonian Gardens), Melanie Ruckle (Putnum Hill Nursery), and Louisa Zimmermann-Roberts (Thanksgiving Farms). I say “swapping” but it was more Janet and Melanie foisting an embarrassment of riches upon Lousia and I. Exceptional women. Exceptional time.
Thousands of bulbs planted since March and the first of them (the snowdrops) just starting to poke their leaves through the soil now. Bulb planting happened in five phases, the last of which still shamefully needs to happen in the promised muddy warm up by the end of the week.
Phase One was a gift of 2000+ snowdrops in the green in March (probably Galanthus nivalis & G. elwesii), from a friend who was saving them from a property currently under the Damoclean development sword. A few short weeks and they will be making winter more bearable.
Phase Two was an early September bulk buy of daffodils for wild spaces found in the suburban aisles of Costco, which cheaply sells common but very respectably sized bulbs from Longfield Gardens – Dutch Master, Ice Follies, Tête-á-Tête, Tahiti, etc… (though I have found a few special things there occasionally). Longfield Gardens also has an online shop.
Phase Three was a Van Engelen’s online order, and ostensibly, a Brent and Becky’s order that I wrote on a piece of paper over a lingering breakfast, but completely forgot to put in (though I waited for it to arrive, as I am an idiot). Camassia leichlinii ‘Alba’ (after years of lusting after it in British gardens), Gladiolus communis ssp. byzantinus (ditto), more Leucojum aestivum ‘Gravetye Giant’ (this is getting embarrassing), and another bulk round of the pure white ‘Thalia’ daffodils. More crocus and ‘Tête-á-Tête’ for the no-mow areas that Mike has finally, reluctantly, spared from his 55-inch blade.
Phase Four was an actual Brent and Becky’s order of some incredible smaller bulbs and interesting daffodils after I realized my mistake in time to seriously hit their December 50% sale. Every year I mean to order in July. Every year I fail.
Silky species tulips (do you grow any?), Scillia litardierei, Ipheon uniflorum ‘Wisley Blue’ & ‘White Star’, Iris reticulata ‘Painted Lady’ and ‘Rhapsody’ (they have done well for me for four years in well-draining sandy soil), Alliums of all shapes and sizes because, damn they are sexy wherever they pop up, Iris x hollandica for the first time – and perhaps the last, who knows – I understand many people grow them as annuals. Even more Crocus tomassinianus to feed squirrels, and some C. isauricus & C. chrysanthus to keep near the house where I can marvel over their stripes and fancies.
Later, Brent talked me into one of their own white daffodil selections — ‘Elvin’s Voice’ which he insists are better than ‘Thalia’. It will be fun to compare them. It’s hard to beat the longevity, purity and late season splendor of ‘Thalia’.
In all, I have put in 5,500 so far, with a thousand to go in the post-Christmas oh-please-give-them-time-and-temps-to-root cold. Every terracotta pot I have is in the greenhouse, fat and filled with spring color.
I must take a moment here to qualify that I use the term ‘I planted’ in the same way that Martha Stewart might say “I plowed the back field and then set a table for 25 for a light dinner.” I did have a helper for the first two thousand, and she helped again shifting compost as I planted many of the little bulbs the Lazyman Way (inch of compost – bulb – three inches of compost). My Power Planter auger made much of the rest possible, though I have had to stop using the auger in the beds– too many precious snowdrops and other bulbs too easily destroyed. I’ll have to write up something on the pros and cons of augers later.
What on earth am I doing you ask? I’m filling this valley with color. In some cases early sources of pollen and nectar. In all cases, JOY– hopefully for many years after I start fertilizing them from the other side of terra firma.
Must run as the remains of a pretty good party are still to be cleared up. You were too kind to me in your last letter. Don’t go soft in your grandfatherdom Beuerlein. Are we on for California Spring Trials?
Happy New Year to you both!
P.S. Looks like I’ll be speaking after you at iLandscape outside Chicago in February. ‘Bad Ass Trees for Piss Poor Places’ eh? I’ll try to bring the tone up a bit.
P.P.S. Nigella Lawson is a witty, wicked, food writing goddess. I have eaten the below for breakfast for the last three days. Is that so wrong? Recipe in Nigella’s Christmas.
Great bulb list. Would like to hear pros and cons of augers.
Thanks – I’ve put together some thoughts and will post something tomorrow. – MW
Yum. Which pie for breakfast? (Don’t forget the coffee… with a shot or two of whiskey).
Linus – do you have that cookbook? It’s a good one. It’s her Mixed Nut Pie, except I only use cashews, walnuts and pecans and use my own pastry recipe. Coffee with whiskey and cream….yum. – MW
Gorgeous decor, glamorous lighting, amazing tablescape, spectacular bulbs, a roaring fire, PIE, friends who share plants and prosecco-truly you are blessed, Marianne, and deservedly so. Don’t feel too bad about beautiful ‘Marvel.’ In Zone 8, I’ve tried 6 in various locations. Uncommon cold and nasty rabbits claimed them all. Fortunately there is always something new to try. Stay warm & have a Happy New Year!
Thanks Jenny, you’re absolutely right – a lot of gratitude this season. On the ‘Marvel’ front – I’m wondering if your dry winds may be harming it? Mine is finally looking good after five or six years, but the foliage is definitely more prone to burning than M. aquifolium. It will be interesting to see how much burn I’ve got after this snap with crazy cold winds, but the blossoms went out like a light bulb! – MW
I love Iris reticulata, all of them but Katharine Hodgkin above all, cool intense icy blue. The foliage looks a bit weird for a while but settles down fast. They thrive behind a retaining wall that goes bone dry in summer, also at the edge of deciduous shrubs that keep the rain off once they leaf out. Many in my garden have been going for a decade and show no sign of slowing down.
This has been my experience too Chris. And another friend has them long term behind bone dry retaining walls. Never was ‘Right Plant, Right Place’ more apt. They are a little odd on the foliage front for a couple weeks with those tall thin leaves, but SO worth it, and gone so quickly. This year’s newbie was ‘Painted Lady’ and I have a little Katherine Hodgkin, but not much. I’ve also got a magenta clump that I need to look up the name for — it’s not as striking as KH however. Very glad to hear you’re on ten years – I’ll keep adding to my collection. -MW
This Christmas season was a beast across the country. Does make you appreciate the finer things in life like electricity and heat. Your table decorations were stunning. You definitely rose to the challenge. Crazy amount of bulbs but the show should be spectacular come Spring. Look forward to some after pics. All the best of the New Year.
Thank you Elaine – I will certainly be sharing photos. – MW
Now I know why the patch of iris reticulata that came with the house disappeared. The spouse said the down spout had to be pointed farther away from the house so basement would stay dry, a good reason, but at time didn’t know that the iris rec didn’t t like wet feet.
Absolutely in awe at your amazing decorations and table. Wow. Never mind your bulb list. Staggering – well done!
I found an auger useless in a too soft soil. But maybe you’ll have something to suggest that will discourage me from ebaying it..?
Thanks Anne – I used to work for a Hollywood caterer once upon a time to pay the rent – taught me a few tricks, and I absolutely LOVE working with whatever I can find to put together tablescapes for parties. I can’t imagine how much I’d love to do it if I had someone else cooking the dinner and cleaning the toilets. 🙂 As for the auger – you have stumped me. The only soft soil that would stop me would be pure sand. However, I would think that a bit of moisture in the soil when you dig is going to make a huge difference. When I’m digging in softer soil, I usually rapidly pull it up a few times whilst it’s running to pull soil out of the hole.
Soft, friable soil is not something you’ll find any sympathy for here however. 🙂 I’m still amending amending amending mine. I’d keep the auger and use it in your wild spaces for a daffodil sweep – you can’t tell me you’ve got soft soil everywhere! – MW
Wonderful column today on so many topics. Thank you & happy Christmastime to you.
If I could eat at that table, I would chop veggies, clean the toilets AND help with dishes! Stunning display. Martha’s got nuthin’ on YOU! And then you plant 2,000 bulbs..what’s your alias, Wonder Woman?
Agree with Anne 110%! What a joyful read and oh! that table. Stunning, indeed. Your friends must be so thrilled to receive an invitation from you.
After Thanksgiving, we enjoyed leftover pecan pie for breakfast and it’s even better in the days after.
With warm appreciation to you all for doing what you do!