Saturday, December 24, 2011

Season's Greetings

Ah, I can hear you now.  The War on Christmas!  Target in sight; good hunting.

Actually, I don't say "Season's Greetings" to anyone, because it sounds odd.  It's something that gets written on cards full of greenery and cardinals which are sent to people you aren't sure celebrate Christmas.  (If you are sure they don't, you send them Hanukkah cards at the wrong time of the month if they're Jewish, or cards with "Peace" and a dove if they are anything else, hoping it will not be taken the wrong way if they happen to be Muslim.  If you send cards at all.  Keep meaning to get back to doing that one of these years.  Aside from the few Landreth Seed Co. vegetable notecards I stuck into packages, trying to choose the ones with the most red and green - watermelons for Christmas, yay!)

But yeah, no one says "Season's Greetings"; they say "Happy Holidays," which is a PC way of declaring that you want your target recipient to be happy and celebrate something, in fact multiple somethings, because of that final s.  I suppose nearly everyone celebrates New Year's Eve and/or Day, unless they have to work on both of them, and then if we can add in one more, somehow, it makes holidays plural.  It works out fairly well in years like this one when Hanukkah overlaps Christmas; I always wince a bit hearing it in the third week of December when Hanukkah was over a week before and no one else has any holidays happening to speak of.  There will always be one along eventually, I guess; it's like wishing someone a good bus ride when they are waiting at the stop.  "Have a good holiday" is even safer.  (Yes, thank you; I plan to enjoy the Fourth of July this year.)

And I am all for being safe, as well as courteous, and don't tell people they must have a Merry Christmas unless I'm sure they intend to.  I kind of wish I could say "Season's Greetings," though (well, I could.  It seems to go with a curtsey and an honorific and possibly a petticoat, and all that could be arranged).  Because there is a reason that whatever holiday we celebrate this time of year has something to do with lights in the darkness, and that those with a long tradition in the north include evergreens and root vegetables, and that is because they are seasonal holidays, and seasons are important, and I don't think enough people (of those lucky enough to live in a place where there are distinct seasons) are really aware of them in this same-food-year-round climate-controlled(-except-not-really) age.

We ought to wish each other "Season's Greetings" all year, while shivering and cutting holly branches in the winter, while raking leaves (for the compost) in the fall, while sweltering and harvesting tomatoes in the summer, and while watching the green leaves emerge in the spring.  We should acknowledge the joys of each separate time of the year, and the seasonal depressions that can haunt people not just in the winter, and the fact that our outdoor environment changes, and our indoor environment too, if we bring flowers inside in the spring, and fresh produce in the summer, and long-storage produce in the fall, and evergreen trees in the winter.  I get rather overwhelmed in December by gift-giving, excessive food, endless carols, people saying "Happy Holidays," and the dilemma of religion, and when I crawl off in a corner to read a book it's generally not a gardening book (please, I need a break), but I always love the Christmas tree and the lights.  And the sweet potatoes.

So, Merry Christmas if you want one, and Season's Greetings to all, and to all a good if short day (unless you're in the Southern Hemisphere), and lights in the darkness.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Thou churlish ill-natured fig-biter*

*Shakespearean-style insult rather than actual Shakespeare.  I can't always find a quote.

But first, because it is a more cheerful post icon, forsythia.  Sorry I missed this for GBBD.  I would be all "In December!" except it's not that unusual; forsythia seems to respond to a hint of spring-like weather, and it's been warmer again (no white Christmas this year).  No harm to the shrub, which will bloom with its usual messy exuberance in March or April.

And so, the fig.  Warning, this photo is not quite what it appears: all that pale shavings stuff on the ground did not come off of the trunk, but out of a box or bag of something I ordered through the mail; it cried out to be used as mulch.  I would have moved it out of the way for the photo, except I couldn't, explanation below.

Anyway.  This is my wee Celeste fig tree, planted a year ago September some little time after I bought it from the parking lot of Whole Foods.  It got through last winter just fine, with nothing but a low fence around to keep humans from stepping on it, and did brilliantly over the growing season.

Then the perversity of animals started working against me.  Deer are not supposed to like figs, but nonetheless this fall I found the top leaves bitten off (the whole tree is only just over two feet tall as yet, but the snacking was definitely from above, so only deer make sense).  I doubted they'd be back, especially once the leaves fell off, but built a fence around it anyway, tall enough to discourage neck-stretching from above, but not reaching to the ground.  Then, a week or so ago, I saw this new damage - bark removed all along several branches.  I think this is rabbits or someone else small, because it doesn't look like antler-rubbing, it looks like chewing, and the angle and access are wrong for deer this time, never mind they'd just snap the branches off.

So, I've added to the fence so it reaches the ground now (hence my inability to brush the shavings away for a better photo), and I don't expect more damage (fingers crossed).  But what's there is bad enough.  None of the branches is girdled, so I can hope they will survive.  I'm not sure whether to stuff leaves into the fence to insulate the tree from cold, as I did with my pomegranate and was meaning to do here (though the fig got through last winter without that help), or whether that would encourage disease, pests etc.  I'm kind of inclined to leave the damaged stems to "harden off" for now (it's not that cold out anyway) and then either put in the leaves or wrap something around the fence later.  Thoughts?

The rabbits and groundhogs (or woodchucks, if you are from a woodchuck-denoting region) are with us always, but the deer are visitors here.  We used to hardly ever see them (no woods to speak of nearby, and two multi-lane roads defining the borders of our vague neighborhood) but in the last decade we've caught them visiting more frequently (more development around probably makes our relatively-rural yards a haven or at least a comfortable passageway).  Some areas they never seem to wander through (you should see my lush hostas on the northeast side of the house), and others are obviously regular pathways, although even there I can grow hostas and daylilies and the like and not fear that they will always be chewed to nubbins; in fact we've gone whole seasons without much damage to deer-favored plants.  Tulips are out in those areas, though; spring is hungry time.  And you'll note I did plant daylilies on the Way Back slope; I may be wrong, but I just don't see the deer standing there on the slippery mulch right by the neighbors' blacktop chowing down, at least not on a regular basis.  It will probably happen once or twice, but then not again for months.

I was driving home last week and about to pull into the driveway when I braked at the sight of four or five deer just hanging out in the front yard (this was about 4 pm, still perfectly light out).  Not sure what they were eating; the shrubs all need pruning anyway.  But that is an unusual sighting; we usually spot them, if at all, in darkness, doing their deeds (the gustatory sort, not anything else).

So we do have to watch out and be somewhat protective, but other people in this region have it much worse where deer are concerned.  Now, groundhogs, on the other hand... villainous rump-fed varlets!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day December!

Check out the GBBD post to see what's blooming in gardens all over the world!  I'm looking forward to seeing who (in this general climate zone) has anything in flower outdoors.  I admit I didn't go exploring much myself; I know there are still a few roses hanging on, but looking no different from last month, so I ignored them.

These camellia buds are my only recorded outdoor "flower."  This is the camellia I bought a couple of years ago at Lowe's for $10, and I'm sure I have a tag or something somewhere telling me what it is (I have yet to make my friend Barbara Dunn proud (not to mention the shade of Thomas Jefferson) and start keeping decent garden records).  I thought it was a fall bloomer when I got it, but so far it's been inclined to bloom in the spring, and probably is intending to do so this year, just got a bit confused with all the warm weather.  It'll be interesting to see if those buds open and when.

Aside from that, I have only indoor blooms.  This is Amaryllis 'Evergreen,' which I picked up when I was buying those discounted shrublets from Park's earlier this fall.  The amaryllis bulb was slightly discounted, but mostly I just wanted one, and thought it would be fun to go Decidedly Not Red this year.  It grew very fast and energetically, so probably it's worth trying to keep alive till next year.

Here is a very pink cyclamen that came with an award I got from Master Gardeners (they like me! they really like me!).  I don't think I will try to keep it alive; in fact I'm already managing to neglect it.  What? need watering again?

I have no poinsettias, because I am tired of them.

I brought in a Black Pearl pepper to winter over, not really intending to coax fruit from it, but it is making flowers, so maybe I'll have at it with a paintbrush and see what happens.

This is what the fruit looks like (took this in August at the demo garden; my potted plant never got that far).  It's a very handsome ornamental pepper; the fruit is edible but extremely hot.

And that's it, but at least flowers are blooming!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The aesthetic seduction of seeds

Well, my posts might get a leetle less frequent at this time of year (also, ridiculous weekend followed by brain-numbing cold; you're lucky you get me at all).

I did want to mention that among the slow avalanche of seed catalogs arriving at my house, I received yesterday the one I actually bothered to pay for, from the D. Landreth Seed Company.  They are in serious financial straits, and I encourage you again to jump in and order something from them, either a $5 catalog or a holiday gift or actual seeds.  The catalog is a marvel.  My one complaint is that the print describing the seeds is a bit small (aging eyes), but it's readable online where I'd be ordering anyway.  The rest of it is just great fun, with full-color reproductions of old catalog covers (from the 1800s to early 20th century mostly; the company has been around since 1784 but the catalog not that long) and engravings, plus pearls of wisdom, research stats, complaints about their competitors, etc. from the same period.  If you like history, and that moment when you read historical sources and realize how much and how little has changed, you'll enjoy it.

They have a really quite decent selection of seeds, including some collections (the African-American Heritage one is a collaboration with Michael Twitty and really interesting) and it's definitely one of those catalogs where you page through saying "ooh, I'm going to get that... and that..."  We'll see how my orders actually come out, but I'll get some stuff from them to be sure (prices are good, too).

Landreth is also the kind of company where, when you order a bunch of old seed packets (for purposes of... framing for decoration, I guess; I just thought they were cool) that they sell on the website, you get a call from not just customer service but the company president, to be sure you know the packets don't contain seeds.  Apparently some people thought they did; hope they didn't think they could plant them as a time-travel device.  (Though it is a fascinating idea.)

The packets evoke the days before what you got to illustrate your purchase was most often a photo of the flower or fruit or whatever end result is desired, impossibly perfect and yet, because it is a photo, daring you to challenge the perfection as unrealistic.  Drawings of unrealistic produce let you in on the joke more, I think, though possibly the gullible were once just as susceptible to them.  Not that I haven't had perfect produce out of my garden on occasion, and it's the privilege of the market to sell based on the product that tops the curve.

Seed catalogs (and with them, though not always matching one-on-one, seed packets) seem to fall under the general headings of "trying for pretty, with varying success depending on financial resources" and "trying for utilitarian, with varying success depending on how much we also want to include pretty photos."  Landreth (like Shumway's, but more successfully) goes for historical aura, but also shoves photos of most of their offerings into the center.  Their modern seed packets have modestly-representative photos on them, like most of the packets you buy in hardware stores; it's not art, but it tells you what you're supposed to be getting.  I for one like to see photos or good drawings, even if I don't believe them; it's habit and human failing, as if the lack of a picture somewhere means that the plant won't do its thing.  Some companies - Seeds of Change is one - edge over into really good photography, both in the catalog and on the packets; Seed Savers Exchange does this too, and their catalog is a pleasure to look at.  Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds goes almost too far in this regard; it's hard to tell in my photo, but their seed packets are downright seductive, and the catalog (huge and glossy) is basically food-gardening porn, which I find amusing considering their squeaky-clean home-schooled-Christian image.  The other end of the scale are companies like Johnny's and Pinetree, which have no pictures and little information on their packets, and catalogs that don't get fancy even if they are (in Pinetree's case - and Fedco, too, come to think of it - must be a Maine thing) occasionally quirky.  Johnny's has more money and can afford glossy photos, but their pride is in giving you tons of information and a wide selection, not in making you pant with longing.

And then there's the pretty-drawings crowd, which in the group above includes Renee's, Territorial (photos in the catalog), and Southern Exposure, but there are others.  Artsy, sometimes folksy; seducing with design and words rather than with enormous shiny watermelons.  I buy from them all in turn, depending on my mood and my needs, and I'm not denying the effect of presentation in my choice.  Go ahead, seed companies: cater to my desires; make me want you.  (Just please no more cute Caucasian toddlers holding jumbo produce, or I will throw up.)

GBBD tomorrow - I have blooms, and not just on seed packets, either!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

If collards be the food of love...

Oh, I am back to my old tricks.

This isn't a recipe post (though maybe I will do some of those this long cold winter, now that it is sort of cold) but more a food-related musing, so no photos, unless I think of any.  I'm just trying to reassess food a bit... good time of year to do so, with all the holiday treats tempting from every side, and this week and last I have been organizing concessions for the high school drama production, which entails looking at a lot of cookies.  I did make bagels for both shows last weekend and hope to do it again this weekend, but since they are white flour bagels it's not that much better.

During the set-up I got into conversation with one of the other moms (the one who brought clementines for the refreshments table, bless her) who told me her daughter often brings stuff like leftover kale for lunch, and my son is the only one who doesn't make fun of her for it.  I'm proud of him for this, and also determined to branch out into the salads he's been requesting that I never quite manage to remember to pack.  To think that only seven years ago, when we spent a few weeks in England and Wales, he ate chicken fingers at (to my clouded recollection) every non-breakfast meal, thus missing out on some really good food (no jokes about British cuisine here); and then there was the corn dog period, which he was just reminding me of yesterday, while gazing into the Trader Joe's freezer at the corn dogged shrimp yes really oh my god.  Anyway, the fussy eater is gone for good, hurray.

My husband spent two months this fall doing the Paleo Diet Challenge, and while I have problems with the Paleo Diet (mostly semantic, since it seems to me to be an arbitrary mishmash of modern dietary research and romantic notions about what people who spent most of their time looking for food would and wouldn't have eaten), problems I did not hesitate to express, I have to admit that we ate better during that time, even those of us who weren't attempting to split our plates evenly between meat and vegetables (with no grains, legumes, potatoes, sweet potatoes WHAT, dairy, sugar and I can't remember what else.  Oh yeah, booze.  No problem there; I can't drink it anyway, migraine trigger).  I am even wondering now if I can possibly convince my stomach that fish and vegetables work for breakfast.  Probably I could manage a puree of sweet potatoes and apples.  Along with my GrapeNuts.  My neighbor Anna eats great breakfasts: lots of green smoothies and toast with things on it.

One thing we're doing as a result of this is stocking lots of frozen veggies (it helps that we bought a freezer this fall).  The nutritive value may be slightly less compared with locally grown organic produce, but actually eating frozen broccoli (not while still frozen, obviously) is better than saying "oops, I have no locally grown organic produce in the vegetable bin" or "oops, the locally grown organic produce in the bin is now mush."  Which happens far too often especially when we have high school drama productions.

I did freeze some of my own garden produce, but not much (next year, in Jerusalem, without groundhogs), though we are well supplied with squash and sweet potato soups, and I've got two more ginormous butternuts (not local unless you consider Trader Joe's to be such) to soupify.  Great stuff, endless variety of seasoning possibilities.  (Blogger's spell check appears to think ginormous is a word.  Good for it.)

On the other hand, the Post's Food section cookie issue arrived today, oh my god lime-Thai basil shortbread, double chocolate coconut, etc. etc.  I want to make them ALL.  Love comes in many flavors...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

You say you want a revolution

Sea kale at Monticello.  Still jealous of how good it looks.
(I was going to go with "Words, words, words" to continue the Shakespeare streak, but sometimes you just need the Beatles instead.)

Not completely accidentally, I recently read, back to back, a pair of related books only one of which is garden-themed.  The first was Jill Lepore's The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party's Revolution and the Battle Over American History, a historian's examination of how the Tea Party uses the events of the American Revolution to present itself and its goals.  I did not read this for what is probably the usual reason, i.e. to gather ammunition for an assault on the Tea Party itself (though, nothing wrong with having some cobblestones in reserve to toss), but because I'd found myself in the odd position of having written a novel that begins with a visit to the Boston Tea Party (yes, it's about time travelers; they work for a Washington-area contractor in 2173; please send agents/editors my way) and includes a reactionary organization that idealizes the past, and having in fact written it (not, alas, by using a time travel device) several years before people started stapling tea bags to their hats (which... don't get me started, okay?) and waving signs about how none of us should pay taxes since the ancestors of some of us didn't like the dumping on our markets of shiploads of stale tea that despite having unfair duties slapped on it still undercut the smugglers' prices.  (Like most historical happenings, it was both very simple and very complicated.)  I'm still not quite sure how directly I need to reference in my characters' conversations what I hope would be a long-forgotten political group, but since I am revising the thing now and trying to get it published hopefully in this decade, it's not an aspect I can ignore.  Anyway, it's an interesting book (Lepore's, I mean, though I hope mine is too along with its three sequels), and though I clearly share her biases I think she presents her information pretty well.  And I do not like anachronism and presentism and the exploitation of selected snippets of what men who would have laughed to hear themselves called Founding Fathers said and wrote, so while I did wince once or twice at not-useful condescension, I did enjoy reading about it all, and I think it's a good lesson for all of us no matter what our political views: if you're going to use history as a tool, for God's sakes get it right or at least do some bloody research.

The potential for exploitation of Revolutionary heroes worried me a little, approaching Andrea Wulf's The Founding Gardeners, a sequel of sorts to her The Brother Gardeners (which explored 18th-century British-American sharing of botanical material and culture).  The newer book deals with the influence of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison (along with Franklin and others) on American attitudes toward nature and horticulture in the context of a new nation and its political structures.  While it is, I'm cynically sure, an attempt to sell books in an atmosphere of New Revolutionary Awareness, it works as a solid piece of nonfiction (and, see above, I use the word advisedly) and it's very good at expressing the yearning each of those early presidents felt for getting the hell out of the White House (or its earlier equivalents) and back to farming and obsessive landscaping.  Washington might as well have said, "I need to spend more time with my shrubberies."  And while it's a somewhat one-sided approach to early American history, regarding for example the founding of our political party system from the point of view of attitudes toward agriculture, it neither ignores other aspects of the problem nor sugarcoats (with either imported cane or homegrown maple) the animosity expressed, particularly between former friends Jefferson and Adams (they made it up later, largely in farm-related correspondence.  IMO this works better than golf).

Vigna caracalla (I think now reassigned as Phaseolus) at Monticello. 
The multi-person biographical approach, in fact, helps achieve balance between the personages (almost like crop rotation) and emphasizes both differences and similarities, along with how interesting these guys really were.  Jefferson will always be my favorite, flawed, contradictory and compulsive as he was, and I am getting to know Monticello fairly well now after several visits, but I need to see Mount Vernon again (it is the closest to me, after all) and I've never been to Montpelier (shame) or Adams's Peacefield.  I knew little about Madison as environmentalist (to use a presentist term for his advocacy on behalf of the natural world) and I think the frontier aspects of horticulture in this period are bountifully significant and, though I've already read William Bartram and Meriwether Lewis, worth more exploration (pun intended).  And I have a novel brewing in the back of my head about all of that, too...

One thing I really like about Wulf's work is how she brings out the importance of gardening in larger national and international contexts; people tend to lose that, or dismiss it.  Not just agriculture, which often gets ignored too (the implications of tea only being commercially grown in China in that period should be understood by anyone who talks about tariffs), but plain old gardening for pleasure and sustenance.  I recently reviewed a book (for Washington Gardener magazine; should be out in the winter issue) called Futurescapes, by Tim Richardson, about new trends in landscape design (a stretch for me; I usually grab the veggie gardening books), and really appreciated Richardson noting in one of his essays that "the dreaded G-word" has been regularly dismissed by landscape architects, who regard gardening as "bourgeois," "embarrassing," "uncool," and the province of right-wingers, old people, or social climbers.  But in the new professional zeitgeist, he says, urban landscape planners are beginning to think of themselves as "gardeners of cities," with emphasis on (gasp!) actual plants and how people relate to them.  It's not conformist or capitulating or backward-thinking, or for that matter purely trendy; it's a recognition that what we grow fundamentally affects our essential humanity and connects us to one another, and to the past and the future both.  And this was no less true in the eighteenth century than it is today -- differently true because it was a different time -- but equally important and, may I say, revolutionary.  Revolutions are not only fought with guns, or with hatchets to break up and destroy an addiction to the products of exploitation; they can be fought with seeds and roots and vegetables and the desire to go out into the wilderness (or the back yard) seeking knowledge, or to return to one's own farm in preference to the endless noise of political disputes.  Which last does not equal quiet retirement; just read Jefferson on the number of test crops "killed by bug" or otherwise lost in the battleground of the garden (and he was not just playing around but trying to help his seedling country become self-sufficient, a goal we still haven't realized, though for his own table the failed crops were replaced by produce bought from his slaves, who I'm sure tended to go for reliability over wild experiment).  It can be brutal out there, and ever-changing and challenging; I submit, however, that it seems to be easier to learn from one's mistakes in a garden than in the politico-historical arena.  (Also, you can often eat your mistakes, and they seldom taste like crow.)

Words, words, words.  More visits to historic gardens called for, for sure, and also I need to grow one symbolic tea plant.  Merrifield Garden Center has them; I nearly bought one this fall but it started to rain and I went inside and bought a lime tree instead.  Did not really have a place for Camellia sinensis, anyway (except for where I already put the other camellia), but one will be found.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Now is the winter of our discontent... any time now, really...

(Apparently I am just going for as many Shakespeare-themed post titles in a row as possible.  Ignore me...)

It's been a strangely warm fall here in Maryland, aside from that one late-October blip with the snowstorm.  Because it did get cold for a while, and more recently we've been seeing springlike temps in the 60s with drops into the 30s at night, but no significant frosts, some plants are getting confused.  On a walk through a local neighborhood last week, I passed a cherry tree in bloom (you just want to yell at it, "No!  Pull them back in!  You'll be sorry!").

Long autumns are great for getting caught up on gardening chores, or so the theory goes.  This weekend I did get all the leaves (for values of "all" that mean "really it's good for the lawn if you leave a few") raked up in front, some of them pushed into adjacent beds to protect plants, those new perennials in particular, and others collected into a large heap near the veggie garden, to be used as bed cover and/or compost as needed.  I also moved the bags of manure into the back part of the garden to weigh down the large sheets of cardboard that are hopefully smothering weeds until I get around to forming beds and mulching around them.  And I built a little fence around the cryptomeria because some %^(&! deer had been rubbing his antlers on it and scraping off branches in the process.  Also built the fence around the pomegranate that I will later stuff with leaves (another use for them!).  When it actually gets cold.

That's not all I needed to do, but it's something, and I guess I need some unfinished tasks to worry about in the dead of winter, if we have one this year.

I think we have reached the point in the fall where planting anything else is getting seriously chancy, so I can legitimately plan for next year without considering running out to a garden center and buying stuff I can't afford anyway.  I have been looking, discontentedly, at the beds outside the kitchen window, and thinking it's time for a redesign, for values of "redesign" that mean "not much design going on there in the first place, and are you likely to change that, Ms. Improvisational Gardening?"

This is what it looks like in part, in the spring.  I took photos in order to ask my fellow Master Gardeners what the heck to do about

the solid mass of enormous bleeding hearts in the bed against the house, because really if you have this knowledge base at hand why not use it, and it amused them for a time.  I have now planted black cohosh and angelica to get tall among the b.h.'s next spring (I hope) and Japanese anemones and hardy begonias to take over for them in the fall (as did happen in part this year), so we'll see what happens.

The rest of it, though... the mixed shrubs to the right as I look out the window are okay, I guess, though putting a buddleia there was silly.  The larger bed on the other side of the path is a mess of waning tulips, decent lilies, columbines spreading into the driveway, and a bunch of other things all squeezed together, including a lot of echinacea that ignores its chance to be strong in the middle of the bed and instead prefers to grow right along the flagstone path or perhaps in it.  I'm always cutting it down or digging it out, and if I didn't enjoy watching the goldfinches eat the seeds in the fall while I wash dishes, I'd get rid of it altogether.  But I think I need to be strong and move it elsewhere.  This should probably be a slightly more formal bed and also one that screens us from the driveway we share with neighbors.  So perhaps evergreen shrubs; I could start with the (still tiny) Japanese plum yew that I seem to have acquired for a ridiculously low price, assuming it survives the brutal winter in a pot on the deck.

Things to dream about when the winds freeze and the snow falls... which will happen any time now, right?  Right? (Though no snow until after December 10, please; we have one son flying home and another playing Bob Cratchit and no one needs to get stuck anywhere.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A rose by any other name

I'm sure it's a gardening sin to be attracted to a plant because of its name, rather than by its more horticulturally significant characteristics.  If so, it's a sin I commit frequently, or at least I lust after those plants in my heart even if prudence wins out.  (Or Pruden's Purple.)

We've had a couple of discussions over on Grow It Eat It about tomato varieties that have or haven't coped well with growing conditions this year.  Several people (including me) have done well with Speckled Roman, which is the oval-shaped tomato to the left in the photo.  Isn't it pretty?  (Being attracted to food plants because of their appearance is another failing of mine.)  They show up very well in the garden, are tasty and solid-fleshed, good for slicing and making sauces, and cope reasonably well with dire summers and brown marmorated stink bugs, though I did have some blossom end rot issues with them for a while.

Anyway, the point is that part of the initial attraction for me in Speckled Roman was the name, perhaps in this case not its own name so much as that it's bred from two varieties I've never grown but like the sound of, Banana Legs (which is just pleasantly whimsical and fun) and Antique Roman (which is a quote from Hamlet).  I wonder about people who name plant varieties sometimes, often with admiration and occasionally with horror, and hug to myself the idea that I might someday get to name one myself, except that I'd probably freeze up and not be able to think of anything clever, and end up like children who call pets Blackie or Spot.  (Neither of which would be a good name for a tomato.)  When I was very small I had a goldfish named Silly (I presume due to its highly amusing excretory functions; my mother will correct or confirm) and I don't think I was allowed to name pets for... oh, there were the gerbils.  No one could have named all those gerbils cleverly.

But anyway.  Speckled Roman came out well; less successful was the tulip Surprise, which was of course purchased because of Patrick O'Brian.  I don't have a photo of it handy, and it's not sold anymore, but it was a perfectly handsome orange tulip of the sort that starts red and yellow with stripes that sort of merge into each other as it ages.  Lovely, except that it clashed horribly and surprisingly with my magnolia that is either Anne or Jane and has big purple-pink flowers and blooms at the exact same time behind the orange tulips.  Tulips, we are supposed to inform people, do not perennialize well in this region (except for species types); well, ha.  The secret to getting perennial tulips is to plant ones that clash horribly with something else in your garden.  These lasted a good ten years after being planted in about eight inches of mostly clay; I think they may send up leaves this year but no flowers, and I hope they die and stay dead.  (I've had others last almost as long, actually; the Triumph type is particularly good at hanging on.)

I am also rather prone to flowers named after people I like (or make up *mumbleIrishistroidesGeorge*).  Never been tempted by the roses named after First Ladies; did seriously consider Hosta 'Captain Kirk'.  Because! They got the colors! Almost right.

I'm sure I have more examples of the name fallacy hanging around, but must run...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Goodnight sweet quince

Today I cut down my quince tree (which I apparently have no photos of, oh well).  I put it in spring before last, in great hopes of eventually getting a crop of this very useful fruit that hardly anyone plants.  Well, the reason hardly anyone plants it (and the Agricultural Research Service confirms this) is that it's very subject to fire blight, a nasty bacterial disease that (assuming you catch it in time) results in having to prune the tree back severely and unattractively (it's called the "ugly stub method" for a reason) with no guarantee that the leaf-blackening, tree-weakening menace won't come back.  My tree got it two years in a row; I did do the proper pruning to the best of my ability this summer (it's hard to prune eight inches below the point of evident disease when the branches aren't that long), but I suspect I would have to fight it off for many years to come, and I am just not willing to undergo that kind of battle.  It would probably also get cedar-quince rust, since there are Eastern red cedars in the area, not to mention a bunch of other things one has to spray for and I prefer not to.

In its place I planted the little serviceberry that's been languishing in a pot for too long; I hope it grows.  Serviceberry, being part of the same family as quince, apple, and pear, also can get fire blight, but it's not nearly as subject to it, and I did clean up very well when I pruned the quince, so bacteria shouldn't be lurking.  I should be able to do something with the berries if the birds don't eat them all, and I can buy quinces at a few places locally in the fall, if I have the urge to cook with them or make jam or chutney.

I also cleaned a lot of the rampant lamb's ear and Japanese honeysuckle out of the surrounding bed, which is slowly being converted from a congested perennial bed to a shrub bed with perennial edges, shared between neighbors.  (The serviceberry will be a shrub; it's got two stems now and wants to keep suckering at the bottom, so I'm going to let it.)  In the front of the bed, where I took out a bunch of deer-pruned daylilies to plant them on the Way Back Slope, I put in the rest of the daffodils along with three caryopteris and three amsonia (on sale from Park's), thus hopefully providing some unity to my usual "buy one of whatever I like" non-design method.  (Or otherwise acquire it.  The lilac there was a sucker from another plant, and the butterfly bush I grew from seed.)  When I'm done with the weeding I'll rake in most of the leaves fallen from the maple tree to smother winter weeds, and then turn my attention to whatever else I can get done in the back of the vegetable garden before full and honest winter.

Hopefully there will be pictures in the spring; they'd be pretty boring now.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blooms in the waning sunlight

My first Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day on this new blog!  And it's... November.  Hm.

Well, let's see what we've got.  More than expected, really.  Including... snowdrops.

Okay, guys, whenever you want to bloom is fine with me.  Just some of you try to wait until February, hm?

I'm always impressed by how long into the fall roses keep blooming.  I am not really a rose person; I caved and bought my first Knockout this year (the yellow one, which is not blooming at the moment), because I've reached the point in my life where I can declare that easy-care roses are all I'm going to manage.  This is one of the last blooms from my Bonica shrub roses, which are very reliable, though even they got some blackspot this year.  But it was an awful year.

Abelia is another reliable bloomer well into the fall.  If there were any bees about today (it was 65 degrees, so there might just have been), they would be visiting.

I think this combination is working (abelia, osmanthus 'Goshiki', and a euphorbia someone passed on to me).  With fallen leaves and miscellaneous dead sticks I probably should have removed before photographing.

A few more tattered flowers:  Japanese anemone, one last gasp...

... and rue, in the herb bed.

A couple of things that are not flowers, or not anymore:  spent goldenrod, with red maple in background...

(oh my, I am going to have a lot of goldenrod plants to thin out next year)
Viburnum 'Mohawk' leaves, turning colors.

Happy November blooms!  We'll see if I have anything in December...

(GBBD is actually tomorrow, but I'm posting now in case anything awful happens to my computer while calibrating my new battery.  I'll link in when Carol's post at May Dreams Gardens goes up.)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Great moments in journalism

Actual headline on (admittedly short) story in this morning's Washington Post:


Run for your lives; it's windy in the fall.

My cat! on the Internet!

All right, I know this is not a unique circumstance.  But come on, a whole blog about cats in gardens?  You know you want to.

Gobi is here - and Kathy would love your cat photos if you got 'em.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

And yet more planted!

First, the dawn redwood has its fall color (needles to the left) and I think when the ginkgo is larger it will be a very lovely combination.  Not that it's not now, just kind of unbalanced.

Now that the back slope is semi-planted, and the new evergreens are in, I can turn my attention, such as it is, to the rough patch that lies more or less on the property line between us and the next-door neighbors.  (More or less is all we can say; these are old houses and the deeds tell us to measure from stones that aren't there any more or from the railroad tracks which are twenty feet wide.  The two families get along very well, which is a good thing.)  We've traditionally used this area, which is under a line of maple and black walnut trees, for piling brush and logs that never became firewood (neighbors used to have this awesome Guy Fawkes Day party), and then last winter when we had trees taken down, a lot of it went into a chipper and became the mulch that I was slithering in on the back slope a few posts back.  There are still rotting logs and lots of vines and roots and weeds, but the soil is lovely.

I have always meant to plant some native shrubs along there, and did in fact put in a Carolina allspice years ago, which has had to fight its way along between strangling vines and dumped Christmas trees, but is still alive.  Now I hope to get somewhere with this project.  I grabbed three winterberry hollies at American Plant's 40% off sale, and have now cleared enough space and got them planted.  They are Southern Gentleman and his two Winter Red consorts; the females are the ones with berries and need a male pollinator.

(If this sort of thing makes you snigger, and who isn't occasionally prone to that, you might amuse yourself (if you can tolerate 18th-century poetry) by reading The Loves of the Plants by Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles), which is based on Linnaeus's system of taxonomy as derived from plants' sexual parts, and goes along like this:
With charms despotic fair CHONDRILLA reigns
 O'er the soft hearts of five fraternal swains;
 If sighs the changeful nymph, alike they mourn;
And, if she smiles, with rival raptures burn.
So, tun'd in unison, Eolian Lyre!
Sounds in sweet symphony thy kindred wire;
Now, gently swept by Zephyr's vernal wings,
Sink in soft cadences the love-sick strings;
And now with mingling chords, and voices higher,
Peal the full anthems of the aerial choir.
Which apparently is by way of saying that in flowers of the genus Chondrilla there is one female unit (pistil) to five male units (stamens), that the male parts are confederate, or linked at the top, and that everyone has a good time together.  Both Linnaeus and Darwin were considered quite racy.)

Where was I?  Oh, yes, winterberries.  So they are planted; here's one in a bad photograph:

They get 6-8 feet in every dimension and are deciduous with persistent berries.  The birds eat the berries, but leave enough for winter display.

Winterberries at the MoCo MG's demo garden a couple of winters ago -->

A real wow factor, bird food, and native, plus the benefit of chuckling about plant sex!  What could be better?

I'll put the viburnums back there as well, next spring when things are cleaned up a bit more, and we'll see what else I can come up with.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Please help save D. Landreth Seed Company

The Landreth Seed Company, America's oldest still in operation (since 1784, people!) is in dire straits and needs your help.  They need to sell 225,000 catalogs by December 15 to pay off creditors and stay in business.  If you can spare $5 to buy a catalog, even if you have no intention of ordering seeds, it would help.  Then pass the word along!

I'm on the run this morning, so I'm just going to link to my friend Michael's post to provide all the details.  Thank you!

In which I eat yacon and dahlia tubers

Grow It Eat It post, here.

(This seems generally easier than reposting the entire thing.)

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Gingko and the Chair

Nothing we do in life, including gardening, is done completely alone and without influences.  This is particularly true if one has imaginative children.

This is our ginkgo tree.  It was planted about 15 years ago when our son Nick was a dinosaur-obsessed first-grader, and I decided to create a garden of plants that existed when the dinosaurs were alive.  We also planted the dawn redwood and the magnolia (one of the first flowering plants of the Cretaceous, although obviously not in a USNA-developed cultivar form) in the Way Back at that time, and then never got any further with the project, and Nick's interest in giant prehistoric beasts waned.  But the trees are still there.

You'll note that the ginkgo has two trunks.  It's had a tough life, okay?  I don't want to deny it any sort of happiness.  It was never the hardiest specimen (the sort of potted sapling you don't buy unless you are determined to acquire that particular species) and it suffered in several summers of drought after planting, eventually losing the growing tip.  Then a tree fell on it (that was Hurricane Isabel's fault).  I was sure it was a goner until we pulled the branches away and found it was basically undamaged.

After that (the shock, I'm sure) it did settle in and start to grow, in the more shrubby form you see now.  If I was a good arborist, I'm sure I would have eliminated one of those trunks, since eventually it'll turn into the sort of tree that splits down the middle, but I hate to discourage its second wind.  I'm tempted to leave those branches coming out of the base, too, but I'll probably prune them off.

Ginkgos have a lovely fall color; the others in the area have already turned, but ours is just starting; the warm green of the summer leaves is brightening into spring green before turning yellow.

The other influence Nick's had on the Way Back Revival is more recent.  This is The Chair.  He constructed this as a project for a high school art class and exhibition.  It's made out of bits of two-by lumber, and there's no scale in the photo, but it's throne-sized, four feet or more in each dimension.  After we brought it home, it sat on the front porch for years (Nick is now in his fourth year at college studying architecture) until I finally said "enough!" and this summer we moved it (in pieces) to a back corner of the property.  It is going to be a Goldsworthy-like art object returning slowly to nature.  So far it is collecting leaves and pieces of black walnut husks (the squirrels enjoy it), and a multiflora rose is attempting to climb it, but that will Not Be Allowed.  I wouldn't mind other vines, though, and I'd thought of spraying it with pulverized moss and buttermilk, which is supposed to then grow moss all over if you keep it moist for a while.  Didn't get to that yet, so I suppose in the spring.

My younger son is an actor (I have not built an amphitheatre yet) and a photographer, in which second capacity he records rather than inspires, though we do get a lot of this sort of thing -->

(That's the shell of a pumpkin; the insides had already been scooped out for cooking.)

Then there is the cat, who just says "you built this salad table for Me" and graciously takes possession.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

How gardeners watch TV

screenshot from ABC
Last night I checked out the first two episodes of the new ABC show "Once Upon a Time," about fairy tale characters with amnesia living in a small Maine town.  It's quite fun, but I couldn't help noting, when Evil Queen/Mayor Regina brings a basket of apples to Emma's door, and claims they are from her Honeycrisp tree, that they look a lot more like Red Delicious.

And the tree is suspiciously pristine-looking; and I wouldn't wear that outfit in Maine in September or October when either of those apple varieties would be ripe.

Please tell me I'm not the only gardener who watches plants on the small or big screen.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November colors

Marina di Chioggia squash, with gourds, as Halloween decoration.  No, I did not grow them (Comus Market and Butler's).  The little chip out of the green gourd is thanks to a squirrel - that was yesterday, and today the same or a similarly-minded squirrel came by, and the other "eye" is completely gone.  Oh well.  They know us too well by now... end of October, snacks on the front porch!  Somewhere in the "archives" (notice how that goes in quotes.  Oh, to organize the photos someday) we have a squirrel-buried-head-deep-in-squash collection (I'll post them here if I find them).  They really like the seeds, and I suppose the flesh provides vitamins.  We have a very healthy squirrel population.

So, anyway, I went around yesterday taking pictures of autumn leaves, as one does, and the variety is quite satisfying, though if we didn't have as much space we could get the same variety just by growing sweetgum.  Green, orange, yellow, red, purple, and various combinations thereof, with speckles, all on one tree at one time!  Never mind that it has a nasty girdling root we really have to deal with, shades the vegetable garden, and drops annoying little hedgehog-balls (though I mention that only because people who have the trees in their front yards complain about them.  They don't bother me).  Sweetgum is the fish pepper of trees, and you can go look that up if you don't know what it is, though I will certainly have more to say on the subject later.

I'm also quite fond of our red maple, which is the October Glory cultivar, meaning of course that it is most spectacular in November.  (Around here.  I am generously concluding that it was developed up north.)

And while we're on red leaves, I try to mention to everyone who wants to grow fruit and knows that all edible plants are ugly and you have to tuck them into a plant ghetto where no one can see them, that really blueberries are rather nice in many seasons.  (Ha ha, tongue in cheek (I never know whether people can tell).  The only reason to ghettoize edible plants, and it's more like installing them in a gated community, is to keep away the deer, groundhogs, rabbits or whatever you have a problem with, which is done with a Fence A Bit Better Than The One You Put In™, or to keep away the birds, which is done with Bird Entrapment Netting, or to keep away the squirrels, which is done with a very good imagination.  Birds only eat about a quarter of my landscape blueberries, and no, I don't know why nor can I replicate it for you.)

There's a nice discussion of why leaves turn color in autumn here.  I was aware that with abscission (signaled by day length changes) the chlorophyll that makes leaves green is blocked, and therefore the other pigments in the leaves are revealed; that's true of xanthophylls, which make yellow, and carotenoids, which make orange.  What I didn't know was that anthocyanins, which make red and purple, are not present in the leaves all year; they're only manufactured from the sugars trapped in the leaves at abscission.  As if they had eaten too much Halloween candy, I suppose.

Aside from pigments, the other thing that gets revealed, a little later in the process when the leaves entirely fall off, is the branch structure of the plant.  Flesh dropping off to reveal the skeleton, very Día de los Muertos.  This one's a magnolia shrub (one of the "Little Girl" series, and it is either Anne or Jane and I don't remember which; the other one is out back), and one revelation was that it has apparently suckered or layered or whatever it does best, and there are a couple of new plants under there which I might well be able to dig up and transplant somewhere else.  Hurray, free plants.

The other magnolia (either Jane or Anne) actually has a cat buried under it, so there you are.  Skeletons.  The nice thing about plant skeletons is that usually they reacquire the covering of leaves in spring (barring... you know), but it's refreshing to see what's underneath for a while.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Frozen white stuff, falling from the sky!

We live in Maryland; we really should NOT be having more than the briefest of snow flurries in October.  It's been coming down all afternoon, after a rainy sleety morning, and though accumulation is only about an inch that's significant for this time of year.  I guess it's what we get for having a relatively warm and frost-delayed fall.

Facing snow, gardeners have something of an equivalent to running out to the store for the holy trinity of milk, bread, and toilet paper (in sufficient quantities to survive the apocalypse).  Watching the blogs and listservs before an autumn storm, you see a panicked "but I didn't get my tomatoes in!" response and a lot of last-minute instructions about how to cover artichokes.  I did in fact get my tomatoes in, last week *preens* and I am telling myself firmly that the ground isn't freezing and I don't have to worry about the dahlias or the pomegranate (or the artichokes at the demo garden).  I do hope we get a little more warm weather before winter sets in, to give the roots of the new trees time to connect with the soil (and, um, the roots of the viburnums that I appear to have ordered on sale from Park's and plan to winter over in pots on the deck) and to get some of the remaining outdoor tasks done.  Really I would prefer not to have frozen trashbags of manure spending the winter on the driveway again.

Oh, and this lettuce in the clementine box must shift for itself, but I did cover the salad table with a sheet last night.  That was my total horticultural preparation (I happen to have bought milk, bread, and toilet paper earlier in the week).

The cat has barely moved from the couch all day.  He is disgusted that we have let this happen again.  Nasty white stuff; we will not have it on our paws.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Update on the planting project

I looked down the back hill this morning and... gasp... couldn't see the little deodar cedar.  Went down to check: it had been pulled completely out of its planting hole (the root ball, alas, is still pretty solidly in pot shape).  I would say it had blown over, but it was several feet away from the hole.  Since I don't like to suspect human intervention, my best guess is that a deer tried browsing on it, and pulled too hard - probably was very surprised, too.  I replanted it, put in some stakes and tied it on, and gave it a very deep drink of water (it's raining on and off now, so that will help).  We will build a fence around it this weekend, I guess.

Most of the daffodils are in now - not one of my stellar planting jobs, but you try achieving proper depth and attractive spacing while standing on slithery mulch on a slope digging into soil full of roots and stones.  I expect they'll do fine.  Not sure about me.  Ow.

First 2012 seed catalog!

Before Halloween, yet: now, that's scary.

Thompson & Morgan just has to get in there first.  As far as I'm concerned, it gives me ample time to forget about them before I really get down to seed-buying decisions in January, though they will probably send me another catalog by then.  I did look through it, of course, and if I decide I have room this year to grow perennials from seed (I miss doing that, but the demo garden has kind of stolen away that seed-starting space, and I'll have less room than I did last year due to bathroom renovations), I might be tempted by the mixed heucheras.

image from T&M website
I've grown heucheras (coral bells) from seed before, but that was just old reliable Palace Purple; they've been self-seeding happily and I have quite a few of them now.  These would be something different (without having to actually buy plants; being able to say each plant cost me well under a dollar is part of the attraction).  I'd have to plant them somewhere where the groundhogs don't browse, as they seem to adore the leaves.  Well, something to consider (and I'll want to see what Park's has to offer too).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sweetgum scrunchies and the cat as architecture

Sometime back I read this Garden Rant post by Amy Stewart (which was inspired by another post linked therein) about using Google's search-by-image feature for horticultural images, and had fun playing with it for a while (okay, for a few hours).  I think Google may have made a few improvements since July, but not enough yet to use image search to ID plants, i.e., drag your photo into the search box and have it come up with an identical flower or whatever.  In fact, you are lucky if you get a flower at all; matching colors seems to be the point, which is probably nice for artists but not for gardeners.  Well, except that it's funny.

The more artistic or unusual a photo you use, the more interesting the results.  I popped in this photo of sweetgum leaves I took yesterday:

(That delicate green background is rampant ground ivy.  Please to ignore.)  And got back... hair scrunchies:

You can sorta kinda see the resemblance, right?  It did, about six images down, come up with one of leaves... maple leaves, but whatever.

Put in an interesting carrot I grew, get back... the goddess Flora and a cocker spaniel.

Last time around I tried a photo of my cat when he was a kitten:

And got back:

which was very amusing.  This time, the search did return some actual cats, although for some reason the top image is architectural:

And I also got this:
I think we are in the early stages of something that could eventually be useful but for now is just entertaining, like translation programs used to be before they improved enough to be occasionally reliable.  Something to play with next time it rains, though.

Project: Screening and Slope Beautification

The biggest of our overwhelming number of potential fall gardening/landscaping projects, and the one we've actually taken steps toward, is doing something about what we've always called The Way Back.  Our property is a long rectangle (slightly skewed and vague about its boundaries) and the part in back of our parking area was, when we moved in twenty-three years ago, a mess of weed trees and weedy underbrush and just weeds.  There have been improvements over the years; the vegetable garden is back there, and we've taken down undesirable trees and planted possibly more desirable ones (including one that conveniently shades the vegetable garden) but our attention tends to be on the parts of the half-acre closer to our house, especially after the unpleasant man known to threaten neighbors who stepped on his property, sometimes with a gun, bought the lot in back of us and built a house.  That house has changed owners twice since Mr. Unpleasant upped and moved to West Virginia.

The current inhabitants own a driving school, and park many and sometimes large vehicles on an excess of blacktop.  Last winter when we had snow, one of the little locust trees that had resurrected itself (as they tend to do) on the back slope fell over and landed on one of their small trucks.  No damage done, but it did lead to some thinking and some tree removal, and we decided to Do Something about the back slope, which was covered with locust and multiflora rose and Japanese honeysuckle and poison ivy and every goddamn thing we didn't want there, and now (after two Roundup treatments, a lot of mulch, and some initial planting), looks like this:

I did start out in early summer with five creeping junipers, as a trial.  First mistake: not planting until after the rainy spring was over (of course, it is hard to get around to spraying Roundup during a rainy spring).  Second mistake: not running a hose back there.  I did try to water, but it was a horrible summer, and three of the junipers died; I've transplanted the other two to a location where they may survive.

So, starting over, after the fall Roundupping to kill all the stuff that had grown back after the spring dose (by the way, I am not a crazy sprayer, but there are times that herbicide is the only solution, and this was one of them - that whole slope was covered with stuff that had to go), and after some digging out of pokeweed and such that resulted in a nasty swipe of poison ivy down my neck, I started planting again, this time with the strategy of 1) Free Or Very Cheap; and 2) Aggressively Self-Seeding.  I did buy 25 daylilies and 100 daffodils from Gilbert H. Wild, very cheap, and I'm also going to transplant a bunch of other daylilies from around the yard.  Also self-sown buddleias, eupatoriums, baptisias and orange butterfly weed.  Some of those are already in (I still have to get to the daffodils) and I'm also thinking lemon balm, fennel, that sort of thing, anything that spreads and takes over.  Ground that is not covered... will be.  And what's lurking in that green area to the left is not grass, mostly, or where it is it's often Japanese stilt grass.

The branches you see to the upper left are of our dawn redwood, which is magnificent:

but deciduous.  As is the ginkgo nearby, of which more another time.  In the winter we basically have no screening back there to relieve us from the sight of trucks and buses and whatever is parked on any given day, so we determined to plant some evergreens, and (surprisingly enough) actually did so.  (We also bought a new dining room table yesterday, twenty-five years after purchasing the sturdy but cheap Ikea pine one we could afford then and have lived with ever since because we couldn't settle on a new one, oh dear, such a big purchase, the last one we'll ever buy, etc.  I doubt this is a complete End To Dithering, but it's a good sign.)

So I went shopping for trees last week, and got a reasonable bargain on a Cryptomeria japonica 'Radicans' and then paid a bit more for a red holly 'Robin' - here they are upslope a bit from the dawn redwood.  The holly should get about 15 feet tall, the cryptomeria about 30-40; neither is very wide.

Then - ta da! - I got a deodar cedar for $12.50, yes, that's twelve dollars and 50 cents, or 48 cents to be precise.  Found in the 75% off area at Johnson's, and in fact I do know that if it survives (those roots were bundled pretty tight in that too-small pot, but not as badly as I'd been afraid of) it will grow fifty feet tall and thirty feet wide.  There is room for it.  More or less.  Right now it's about four and a half feet tall and rather narrow, and we will run a hose back there and water it lots, as well as the other two.

So - Someday Screening.  It will take a little while.  If only we'd done it years ago, etc. etc.  I am now suffering guilt over not buying natives, but hope to make that up with some understory shrubs in the spring.