Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Flower Fashion

I have a lot of clothes. My work wardrobe alone occupies the two closets in our guest bedroom. Being somewhat of a clothes horse, I am, of course, concerned with what I wear in the garden as well. My garden wear is more functional than fashionable, but I still have some strong preferences.

Green pants. I’m obsessed with wearing green pants in the garden. I have no fewer than three pairs of green gardening pants. (Technically, the third pair are capris.) I’m not sure why it is so important to me to wear green pants, but they just feel RIGHT. Color aside, I like pants for kneeling on concrete and holly leaves. Lately, in deference to the heat, I’ve been forgoing the protection of pants for comfort of shorts. Unfortunately, I have no green shorts, but I’m looking.

Farmer tan. Obviously, I’m fair skinned, but I am willing to risk a little melanoma to prevent a farmer tan. I picked up a few packages of A-shirts (a.k.a. wife-beaters) and they are my new favorite gardening shirts. Not only do they bare my shoulders to the sun, but the long length (because them are men’s shirts) covers the gardener’s crack exposed by my low-riding green pants.

Over-the-shoulder boulder holder. I haven’t got much in the way of shoulders (or boulders for that matter!) so I’m one of those women you see constantly hitching up her bra straps. I spent last season with my dirty hands down my shirt, yanking at errant straps. I finally tired of it and splurged on brightly colored Champion sports bras this spring. Not only do my undergarments stay in place, they are pretty (and modest) enough to wear on their own.

On my feets. I usually pop in and out of the house as I garden, so my footwear has to be easily removed. During the cooler weather, I wear a pair of rubber clogs. I pulled out the insoles because they just seemed to be in the way. Now that it is warmer, I wear flip flops. I bought a very cute pair at Old Navy in mid-April and have been gardening in them ever since. They are no longer so cute, but neither are my feet, especially after a day mucking around in the clay.

Personally, I think my gardening outfits – green pants, A-shirt, sports bra, and flip flops – are adorable. Perhaps I should start my own line of gardening clothing. Tim suggested the name “Botany Babe.” Then again, my tastes might not be marketable. What do YOU wear to garden?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Oriental Poopy

It’s sort of a running joke on GardenWeb to refer to poppies as poopies. I think it all started with a typo that turned out to be so amusing no one could let it to. It certainly grabs your attention.* This post, though, is about poppies, not poop.

I winter-sowed oriental poppy seeds last winter in an effort to follow Mrs. Greenthumbs’ recommendation of the “magnificent seven.” The poppies, along with the delphinium, also among the magnificent seven, failed to germinate. After seeing everyone else’s gorgeous poppy photos last June, I plunked down the cash for bare roots in the fall.

The fleshy roots sent up leaves almost immediately and I very nearly pulled the ugly foliage before realizing that this was my poppy. As the weather warmed, the plant grew larger, but no lovelier. I had to keep reminding myself that it was NOT a weed. The thick snout of a flower bud, rising above the greenery, promised redemption.

Incredibly, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a poppy outside of a photograph. I’ve seen fields of California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), but never a true papaver poppy. As the thick sepals parted to reveal the vibrant petals within, my anticipation increased. Even half-open, I was mesmerized by its beauty, and reminded of Michael Pollan’s** description of the incipient flower as a bright, silken parachute.

The following day, the petals had completely unfurled and I documented the enormous blossom with photographs of my own. This turned out to be fortuitous, because by evening, only half the flower remained. I’m not sure whether to blame the flower or Mr. Tibbs. Perhaps someone will comment on the longevity of their poppy blooms?

I am awaiting the opening of the second bud (already somewhat damaged by the aforementioned kitty). I hope I get to enjoy it for longer than a single day, or I will find this flower poopy, indeed.

*Regarding typos and titles, when my high school English teacher gave us a lecture on titling, he relayed the story of a student who inadvertantly turned in an assignment titled “1000 Pubic Lice.” (He meant “Public.”) In the end, the student let the title remain because it proved more interesting than the original. It was a good lesson in serendipitous titling, but I can’t help wondering what a story about 1000 lice (public or pubic) could be like.

**Michael Pollan wrote the fascinating “Opium Made Easy” article for Harper’s on the cultivation of papaver somniferum in the U.S.

Friday, May 26, 2006

My Favorite Spot, May 26th

I feel a little sorry for the corner bed. Nowhere else have I moved so many plants in and out. I’ve planted a stella d’oro daylily, clematis, hyacinths, lilies, larkspur, Russian sage, limerock ruby coreopsis, snapdragons, and cranesbill geranium. I’ve removed a coreopsis, the clematis, brunnera, echinacea, and more mint than you could shake a stick at. (The damn limerock ruby coreopsis was removed when it died.) All of this activity has taken place in about 5 square feet of soil.

The bed has yet to come into its summer glory, but the Johnson’s Blue geranium is presently blooming. Some gardeners complain about the geranium’s sprawling habit, but I like the way the flowers weave themselves into neighboring foliage. The geranium came from the crowded sun bed and replaced the crispy brunnera. (I moved the brunnera to a shady location.) I think I’m getting close to achieving the right mix and number of plants in this area, but it will probably take a season for me to finalize the plan. Presently, it is one of my favorite areas to visit on a hot day. The cool greens and blue take the edge of the muggy, late May heat.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

What's That Smell?

I get to play “What’s That Smell” quite often. I follow my nose to treasures such as cat poop in the closet, funky laundry on the stairs, and over-ripe garbage in the kitchen. The odor I’m seeking isn’t always an unpleasant one, especially outdoors. Spring finds me poking my nose into assorted blooms to find the one releasing that delicious, heady scent. I remember last year’s eureka when a storm blew down a black locust blossom and I finally identified the source of the gentle, pear-like fragrance that had filled the backyard for days.

There isn’t much blooming in front of the house now, but, on Tuesday, I kept catching whiffs of a light, sweet, clean scent. Through the process of elimination, I determined that it wasn’t coming from the sage, burgundy gaillardia, weigela, dutch iris, or mini-roses. I sat on the front steps, resting from my hoeing and sniffing the air in a puzzled manner. In a more “doh” than “eureka” moment, I realized that the source surrounded me on either side. My climbing hydrangea is blooming and the blossoms are scented.

Describing the scent is difficult. The closest I can come is “hotel soap,” which isn’t helpful at all. I asked Tim’s opinion and he describes it as gardenia-like. (I think gardenias smell soapy too.) Although it defies description, the scent is light and lovely.

I’ve chosen many of my garden plants for fragrance. So far this spring, I’ve been treated to hyacinths, shooting star, lilacs, and pinks. I’m eagerly looking forward to my Silk Road lilies and Julia Childs rose, both newly planted. The surprises are fun too, because I get another chance to play my favorite game. When the scent is pleasant, I’m always a winner.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Elfin Thyme Path

Brit loves my elfin thyme corner, and so do I. Mike and I often cut across the corner when traveling to and from our cars, so the stones and thyme (which can take light traffic) are ideal.

As I created the magnolia bed, last fall, I realized that I would need to keep a strip of the bed, along the driveway, free for foot traffic. A repeat of the elfin thyme and stone cobble would unify the new and old beds. This spring, I scrounged all of the rocks and bricks I could find in the yard and garage to form the “cobble.” Then, I plugged in 15 elfin thyme plants. Over such a long strip, the plants look pitifully small and the space between them woefully large. Mike, catching me halfway through the process, was aghast that I was creating something so ugly in the front yard. True, it’s raw now, but I’m hoping it will look as good as the corner by next season. Stay tuned for progress pictures.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Time for a Bigger Cage

The catmint has outgrown its protection. I caught Zoro topping the seedlings that had pressed themselves through the mesh. The crushed leaves betrayed the plants’ presence and I soon had a passel of cats milling around the box, searching for the narcotic.

I would be at a total loss, except for Andrea’s highlight of Peaceful Valley’s Plant Defender. I ordered 18 of them to use over the catmint edging my rose bed. I find it somewhat amusing that the Defender is described as a protection from “browsing birds, snails, slugs, raccoons, deer and rabbits,” but kitties aren’t mentioned! I’ll certainly write Peaceful Valley if they prove effective against cats.

Friday, May 19, 2006

My Favorite Spot, May 19th

My favorite spot in the garden this week has hardly anything flowering in it at all, but the promise is there. The full-sun bed in front of our house was my first gardening attempt. Admittedly, it looked pretty ragged last May. One year later, I’m amazed at the difference.

I’ve added plants and removed plants (hello! sweet woodruff does not like full sun), but everything that remained has doubled, tripled, or quadrupled in size. I’m particularly impressed with the East Friesland sage. I’ve edged the bed by alternating the sage and lamb’s ear. I love the effect so much that I’ve duplicated it on the other side of the sidewalk, in the magnolia bed. The sage was floppy last year, but this season it is standing proud and tall. My burgundy gaillardia has also grown impressively. The dwarf weigela was a little disappointing this spring because it sustained quite a bit of winter kill and, because it blooms on old wood, there were few blossoms.

There are a few blank spots remaining. One particular patch in the bed seems to be deadly. So far, I’ve planted, and killed, delphinium, shasta daisies, butterfly weed (the one that bloomed!), and limerock ruby coreopsis in the L-shaped region of death. (I don’t think the coreopsis was my fault. I also tried it in twice in another bed and it died, twice. That particular variety seems to be sickly.) Two sedum, planted last fall, are struggling to hang on. This year, I’ve filled the blank spots with nasturtium and snapdragons. So far, the annuals seem to be doing okay.

As my oldest and most established bed, I have a feeling that it will be my favorite spot more than once this season. I couldn’t stop photographing the blooms last year!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

I'm a Comedian

What do you call a woman who sells her body for plants?

A garden ho.

Yeah, I made that up.

Columbine from Seed

Growing perennials from seed is easy. Waiting for them to bloom is not. Last year, I was fortunate to see one of my butterfly weeds bloom from seed the first year. Perennials don’t usually flower until their second season.

Patience has its rewards, however. The columbine I sowed last winter began blooming in May. The plants seem to be less freely flowering than the blue columbine that Patrick gave me, but I appreciate the blooms even more because I grew these from seed myself!

Monday, May 15, 2006

It's Raining

I’m almost ready to build an ark. It has been raining raining raining since last Wednesday. It will continue to rain this week. I don’t mind gardening in the rain, but it certainly isn’t as fun as working in the sunshine. The cloud-filtered light is gloomy and almost oppressive. I am resistant to be stirred to any vigorous activity. Instead, I aimlessly wander the yard, poking at the leaf litter and pulling occasional weeds. Maybe I DO mind gardening in the rain.

On the bright side, I haven’t had to water since last Tuesday and my seedlings are getting a great start on the growing season. Still, I can’t help but feel that we’ve all gotten a long enough drink. Go away, rain!

Friday, May 12, 2006

Moon Jack

I once worked with a botanist who was a bit of an odd duck. Once, after taking her seat on an airplane, her fellow passenger asked her what she did for a living.

“I’m a botanist,” she answered.

“Oh? What sort of botany?” asked her companion.

“Lunar botany.”

With that, her seatmate was suitably impressed and satisfied.

I felt a bit like a lunar botanist myself upon moving to Cincinnati. I was trained in Pacific Northwest flora, with Western Washington and the Sierra Nevadas as my primary stomping grounds. Although a few of the species here are familiar, most of them might as well be from another planet. One of the most alien plants is the jack-in-the-pulpit, Arisaema.

I first encountered Jack in Tim’s wildflower garden and was utterly charmed, despite its odd appearance. The leaves are very similar to trillium, but the flower is quite different. It looks a little like a green calla lily, except that the top edge of the spathe flips horizontally at its tip to provide a canopy for Jack (the spadix). I could resist flipping the pulpit flap up repeatedly to peek at Jack tucked away inside. Tim earned my eternal gratitude by allowing me to dig a few for my own garden.

I planted my Jacks in my shade garden and they promptly withered away. I was horrified. Little did I know that he often goes dormant in midsummer. This spring, what I took to be oddly purplish hosta spikes were actually my Arisaema returning. They surprised me by growing far larger than last year. In fact, jack-in-the-pulpit can grow to be three feet tall.

Jack not only looks alien, but he has some odd reproductive behavior as well. Young plants are male, while more mature plants often become female (Jills). Fertilized female flowers develop appetizingly crimson (but poisonous) fruits. If conditions are poor, Jill will become a Jack again.

This has turned out to be an easy care groundcover for shady areas. I transplanted more Jacks in April and, with supplemental water, I had no dieback. I plan on raiding Tim’s yard for some more (with his permission, of course), because I’ve learned that he has purple-striped varieties as well. Fancy Jack!

These alien eastern plants are starting to grow on me. I really have no need to go the moon to find weird and exotic species. I’m still not wholly convinced, though, that Jack-in-the-pulpit wasn’t snuck onto our planet like Audrey II. As long as he doesn’t eat my cat, I guess it’s safe.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Time is Money

Mike and I aren’t exactly rolling in dough. True, I have a good job, but Mike is a full time law school student. Going from two incomes and free rent and utilities to one paycheck and a mortgage was quite an unpleasant shock. Then, to top it off, I had to go and take up the expensive hobby of gardening. All those bags of poop aren’t cheap! So, how do I support my habit? Credit cards! Ha, just kidding. I’m more financially responsible than that. I make my gardening money by teaching aerobics and acting.

Teaching fitness classes is well integrated into my schedule. I teach three one hour classes a week. As an actress, working rehearsals and performances into my schedule is a bit rougher. The two weeks before a show opens are usually pretty brutal.

In an effort to become better at auditioning (the singing portion always freaks me out), I’ve been auditioning for every single show put on by Cincinnati Landmark Productions in 2006. Through one of my connections, I also tried out for a brand new musical being produced as a part of the Cincinnati Fringe Festival. To my surprise and delight, I was cast in The Gospel According to Tammy Faye. The play is a hoot, the cash is great, but the rehearsal schedule is brutal. I’m in rehearsals almost every single day in May. The time commitment, on top of my existing work schedule, leaves me no time to garden! I found myself in quite a quandary. I need to earn the money to buy garden supplies, but I also need time to attend to my hundreds of seedlings and the additional plants I’ve purchased. The only solution seemed to be vacation.

As a part of my benefits package at my regular job, I have flex points to “spend” on my choice of benefits. This year, I bought an extra five days of vacation so that I could attend Hamilton County’s Master Gardener class. (The classes are held over ten Thursdays, 9 – 5, in the fall.) With the extra days purchased, I had just enough vacation to attend the classes and take a few days off throughout the year as needed. I did not have enough to take a May “gardening vacation.” I found myself with another choice: garden now or learn about gardening later.

The Master Gardener class will have to wait. I chose to take my extra vacation days this month. I’m taking half days off during the week and I LOVE IT. I no longer feel the frantic need to plug everything into the ground as quickly as possible. For a while, the urgency to get my spring planting done was sapping the joy from gardening. Now, I’ve slowed down enough to enjoy it again. It’s raining today, but I’ll still be out there this afternoon, digging holes and amending soil. I think I could work half days, every day!

I’ve reached a balance with my time and feel satisfied with my choice. So, how will I spend my Tammy Faye paycheck? Eight scoops of mulch and a cedar arbor. Hallelujah!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

College Hill Garden Tour

I’m going to try not to screw this announcement up:

College Hill Garden tour
June 24
11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

There will also be a plant sale, which I will try not to miss this time.

As a resident of College Hill, I'm taking a special interest in this tour. I plan on taking many photographs and "interviewing" the gardeners so that I can give a full report here.

(I’ve also updated the dates for the Licking Riverside Home and Garden Tour, “Grand Homes, Gardens, and Grapes.” It will be held in June, not July.)

Monday, May 08, 2006

2006 CVG Plant Sale

I hope there aren’t too many people out there using me as an event guide. I was looking forward to this past weekend because both the Civic Garden Center and College Hill Gardeners were having their plant sales. I had the dates for the CVG sale right, but I missed the CHG sale by a day. (In my defense, the date was listed as Saturday, May 7th on a College Hill website. The sale was, in fact, on Saturday, May 6th.) I apologize to anyone else that missed the sale because of my faulty listing.

I only made one of the events, but I arrived early and well equipped. The Civic Garden Center annual plant sale started at 9 a.m. on Saturday. I was there at 8:40, towing Tim’s Radio Flyer wagon. I wasn’t the only early bird. The accompanying photo shows just how many people arrived before I did. By the time the gates were opened, there were at least 100 people in line behind me. I was afraid that I’d be caught up in a stampede of eager gardeners when 9 o’clock arrived, but everyone moved along in a pleasant and orderly fashion. One woman even offered to help me carry my wagon up the steps.

I headed straight to the donations booth. The plants aren’t always looking their perkiest, but this is the spot to find large, inexpensive, and sometimes rare plants that are sure to grow here (because they were growing in someone else’s garden just days before.) I picked up a hosta (I like the dark green varieties, and that is getting harder to find!), two spotted pulmonaria, and a large mayapple division.

I paused at the native and shade tables, but the plants were a bit over my price range. (I’m dying to try bergenia, but not at $10 a pop.) I picked up three candytuft and eyeballed the peonies and roses as I headed to my second favorite section of the plant sale: the herbs. I don’t buy many herbs but I like to look at and smell them. I did need more elfin thyme for a new pathway section and I remembered that particular variety being available last year. The elfin thyme was back, and I bought six.

The highlight of the morning occurred as I trundled up the hill towards the exit. A woman commented on the cleverness of bringing a wagon and I told her that I had learned my lesson from last year (lugging plants around in a cardboard box). She turned to go, then looked back at me and said “Cincinnati Cape Cod?” I was thrilled, and oddly embarrassed, to be recognized by none other than Amy, the reader from Western Hills who turned me on to Building Value.

I’m not going to pretend to be nonchalant about meeting one of my readers. I had in fact, actually applied mascara and lipstick and PAINTED MY DIRTY TOENAILS, on Saturday morning in case I should happen to run into one of my internet gardening buddies. I doubt Amy noticed my nails, but I felt the effort to look presentable paid off, all the same.

They say money can’t buy happiness, but money can buy plants and they bring me great joy. I floated home in a bubble of excitement over my new acquisitions and acquaintance. I was disappointed to miss the second plant sale, but I think one event a weekend is all the thrill I can stand.

Friday, May 05, 2006

My Favorite Spot, May 5th

I had nothing to do with creating this week’s favorite spot. The shrub border along the SW edge of our property line remains as it was when we moved in. My changes have been limited to adding some columbine, killing the poison ivy, pruning some of the woody plants, and harvesting the self-propagated brunnera and ostrich ferns to use in other parts of the yard.

I’m often puzzled by the richness of the plantings in the shrub border. When we moved in, most of the yard did not show signs of a previous gardener. The front flowerbeds were occupied by four decrepit yews and two struggling rhododendrons. The back flowerbed was completely given over to weeds. Yet, the shrub border, which is in an out of the way spot, sports ferns, allium, hyacinth, snowdrops, crocus, roses, azalea, a rhododendron, a hydrangea, and assorted mystery shrubs. I have two theories as to the reason for the out of character plantings. The first is that the area is a pet cemetery and the plants are memorials to beloved pets. I know that at least one cat is buried there. My second theory is that a previous tenant was either too cautious or not allowed to plant in the main flowerbeds and had to confine his experimentations to a less prominent spot. I’m not sure which theory I prefer. I can identify with someone full of the need to create but lacking an outlet (that’s just how I felt living in apartments and rentals for many years) and I think cemeteries are romantic, if a bit creepy.

In fact, the entire border has a sort of a romantic, mysterious feel. I’ve groomed almost every bit of the yard, but this border remains an untamed zone. I like it that way. I might rip out a few more honeysuckle, or plug in a few more flowers, but I’m mostly content to enjoy it as is.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Please, Don't Tell the Police

Last Wednesday, I committed a gardening crime: I planted hyacinths in April. (I suppose this is only a crime in the northern hemisphere.) I plopped twenty-two bulbs into my magnolia bed. How did I happen to be engaged in misdemeanors in my front yard?

It all started with the masses of purple hyacinths blooming at Friendship Park this spring. They were planted so densely that the half-circle beds were each a solid mass of dark blossoms. As much as I enjoyed the decadent color and heady scent on a gray spring day, I couldn’t help but coldly notice that the bulbs were planted in an area destined to be filled with annuals later in the year. When the hyacinths finished blooming, they would be yanked to make way for marigolds and lantana. I was hoping to get my hands on those bulbs before they were thrown in the trash bin.

I wrote a very nice letter to the park staff, complimenting them on the landscaping and coyly asking about the bulbs’ fate. (Of course, my letter was a masterpiece of prose, but, sadly, I do not have a copy.) This was the response:

Hi Kasmira!
My name is Corrie-- I'm one of the three horticulturists who care for Friendship Park.
Thank you for the kudos for the park. I wish I could say I was part of the original design, but I do take a lot of joy in maintaining the plantings, as well as designing the annual flower displays. I can't wait for everyone to see the East end of the park when it reopens (hopefully soon!). It's the Garden of America and my coworkers and I have designed a new and improved "prairie" garden, featuring many natives and a whole lot of color and perennials.

As for the bulbs, we do in fact dig them and give them away. We generally keep the daffodils and use them for naturalizing at Friendship or our other parks we take care of. The tulips and hyacinths we dig and pile them by the parking lot (by the pinwheel) with signs on them identifying the varieties. They are always snatched up, usually by the time we go home at 3:30. I'm not allowed to promise them to anyone, and I can't say when we will be digging what. We usually start around the first of May, since our annuals go in the following week. Of course it depends on the bulbs and when they finish blooming.

If you have any more questions, feel free to email me directly. Again, thanks for the compliments! Sometimes we hear only the negative comments, and it is always nice to hear praises.

Corrie C

I was thrilled to find that the bulbs were given away, but, as I only walk the park once a week, I despaired of my chances of getting to the bulb pile before everyone else. Luck was with me, though. Last Wednesday, not only were the bulbs piled high in the parking lot, but I had a buddy walking with me to carry the booty. I didn’t come prepared with a bag or box, but we found that four pet waste bag (supplied free, at stations throughout the park) hold an awful lot of hyacinths! The plants were parched from their time cooking on the pavement, so I gave them a drink at work and planted them that same evening. The ripening foliage looks absolutely terrible in my still-bare magnolia bed, but the fact that they were free lends them a special beauty in my eyes.

The plant gods must still be pleased with me, because I happened upon a pile of dark pink tulips in the parking lot yesterday afternoon. Tonight, I’ll be breaking more gardening laws and planting tulips in May.

*Not only am I terribly cheap, but I’m also a greedy SOB. I didn’t tell a soul about the free bulbs until I had gotten first pickings. I didn’t want to compete with all of the gardeners in the tri-state area for free bulbs. Now, though, the secret is out!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Gardening Novel Review: Earthly Joys

I have to confess to using for purposes other than those intended by the company. I use the “Recommendations” page to plan my library check-outs. After I then read the book (for free), I check the “I own it” button, rate the book, and get updated recommendations! I also search the reviews to further guide my library choices. After finishing The Other Boleyn Girl and Wideacre (both from the public library), I used Amazon to find another Philippa Gregory novel to read. Earthly Joys was not highly recommended, because it lacks Gregory’s typical female lead. (I gather that most of her readers are female.) However, despite the protagonist’s gender, I noticed that he was a GARDENER. A historical novel about gardening combines two of my favorite subjects (or is that three?)! I put it on hold, picked it up a few days later, and read it backstage during our run of Fiddler.

I knew I was on the right track in the first chapter when John, the gardener, is walking with Cecil, his lord, through the gardens. As Cecil babbles on and on about political intrigue, John’s thoughts keep drifting to the garden around him and improvements to be made. John is daydreaming about “creamy tossing heads of gypsy lace and moon daisies encased by hawthorn hedging in its first haze of spring green,” when he realizes that he has neglected to attend to his master’s conversation. With a heavy heart, he returns to a discussion of the state of England’s monarchy. That moment captures my gardening mania perfectly. I often find myself drifting away from the conversation at hand to appreciate the flowers out the window or the virtual garden in my head. I suddenly snap to reality and realize that, while I’ve been in a dreamland of hot, summer sunshine and lazily droning bees, the person next to me is expecting a response, and I have no idea what was just said. Throughout the novel, John takes both mental and actual trips away from the political and military business of his lords to indulge in his love of plants. I suspect that Philippa Gregory is either a gardener herself, or married to one!

Besides the too accurate portrayal of a dedicated gardener, there are other aspects of the book to recommend it to the gardening crowd. The description of the tulip speculation in Holland is a great bit of background for all of us that can grab a 6-pack of red and white variegated tulips for $5.99 at Home Depot. I also enjoyed recognizing the “exotic” species that John and his son collect in Europe and America for introduction to the English garden. The greatest “aha” moment, though, was when I connected John’s last name (Tradescant), with the Latin name for spiderwort, Tradescantia. Our hero, John Tradescant, was an actual gardener and plant collector (hence “historical” novel?) and, buggery aside, I assume much of the book is based on the actual events of his life. He continually refused to name any of his discoveries after himself, but the genus Tradescantia was later named to honor him.

I recommend this book to all gardening junkies for the lush garden descriptions and fascinating plant histories. It’s definitely a book to add to your bookshelf between the gardening tomes and catalogs, to pull out when inclement whether keeps you indoors and away from the actual garden. It’s almost as good as daydreaming.

*I just discovered there is a sequel to Earthly Joys, Virgin Earth. I’m adding that to my reservation list now!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Nip or Mint?

I’m sure my neighbor was relieved to see the rose bed go from muddy pit to tilled paisley last Sunday. It took me 5 hours to level the bed (I had a pile of dirt from my initial attempt at double-digging), till the hardpan, work in peat moss, dig three 18” x 18” holes, amend the fill, and plant the three Julia Child roses. Later that day, I came home from Anne’s house with iris divisions and added those too. This weekend, I buried 10 lily bulbs and plugged in a few sweet alyssum seedlings. All that’s missing is the catmint.

To obtain enough catmint to edge the entire bed, without breaking the bank, I grew my catmint from seed. I also grew catnip from seed. This would not have been a problem, except that the writing faded/washed away from the containers and I can’t tell the nip from the mint seedlings.

Last week, I got the brilliant idea to use the cats to tell them apart. They should have a strong reaction to catnip, and a not-so-strong reaction to catmint. That plan failed when they tried to eat ALL the seedlings. I’m now operating under the assumption that the taller, more blue-gray seedlings are mint and the shorter, more yellow-green seedlings are nip (and that my cats are equally attracted to them both).

Realizing that my seedlings didn’t have a chance of surviving to adulthood if I planted them directly into the rose bed, I transplanted a number of them into recycled cell packs to grow up big and strong. Sadly, I had to cage them with my compost sifter to keep Mr. Tibbs from nibbling on them. He did his best to snare himself a snack, but my lofty human ingenuity won in the end. Mwa-hah-hah!

I’m still a bit worried about getting the catmint established even once they are larger. I may have to lock my narcotics-crazed cats up for a day or so after planting until the bruised leaves heal and the tell-tale volatile oils evaporate. Or I can just distract them with the oodles of catnip I’m growing too. Of course, that all assumes that I can tell one Nepeta from the another!

Monday, May 01, 2006

My Favorite Spot, April 28th

Besides being incredibly busy with work and planting last week, I simply didn’t have a favorite spot to highlight last Friday! Many of the beds are still a wreck. Those that are “finished” don’t have much blooming. I’ve made a mental note to plant something to fill the blank spots next year.

Looking at my neighbors' gardens last week, the predominate perennials were tulips, candytuft, columbine, and the last of the moss phlox. I plan on planting more of all of these this fall. I do have brunnera blooming, but it’s hidden behind some shrubs. I will be moving the self-sown plants into the spotlight this week. I’m also adding a few more azaleas (blooming now). I’m too cheap to buy annuals for a fix of color. I grew all of mine from seed and they are still just babies. Any other suggestions for flowers to fill the gap?