Garden Diary - October 2005

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Friday, 28 October 2005

Autumn Crocus

Corn is long since harvested and, like other grasses the fields have turned to taupe and tan, beige and brown. Asters and goldenrod and other flowers have gone to seed. The garden is shutting down. But not quite yet. One last hurrah as the wheel spins around in its yearly circle. Easiest (both in reliability and obtainability) of the autumn crocus, Crosus speciosus blends its smoke-blue flowers with the fading season.

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Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Grass, or Not Grass?

My husband has his own unique theory of taxonomy. (Need I mention that he's not a gardener?) He defines plants as either "grass" or "not grass." And the way you tell the difference between them? You cannot cut grass with a chain saw.

Summer has lingered on, and on, and on. We may have flirted with frost, but much of a tease Jack Frost might be, soon enough he'll arrive. Jerry decided it is time to cut back the brugmansia plants and bring them into the greenhouse' head house for winter storage. This yearly task in made laborious by their sheer size, and their numbers. Further, flowering has been sparse this year, and Jerry is loathe to send the flowers that have now decided to bloom off to the compost heap as trimmings. Alas, there's not much choice. Time's running out.

Jerry bids adieu to Brugmansia 'Charles Grimaldi', a deliciously fragrant, apricot flowered cultivar

As Jerry fires up the chain saw, there's no question. Paul would have to concur. At this size, brugmansia must be classified as "not grass."

With all the rain the ground is nice and soft. It's relatively easy to dig each cut-back plant, stuff the roots into a large, sturdy, black plastic nursery tub and haul then under cover. Well before it's time to plant them outdoors, new shoots will break and the plants will make a nuisance of themselves, sending forth leaves and shoots in anticipation of thier summer vacation. But for now . . . for now as days continue to grow shorter while nights lengthen, they just have to wait.

Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Autumn Harvest

My friend Jerry is a great gardener. He has a huge greenhouse full of uncommon cacti and succulents. His garden is filled with flowers. Moreover, he has a gigantic vegetable garden. Consider: when his four children were young and lived at home, the garden fed a family of six. The children are gone from the nest and out on their own. The garden, however, remains the same size. Arrive at tomato time, and tomatoes go home with you. (No complaints, mind you, they're large, luscious, delicious tomatoes.) October may be beyond tomato season. None the less, Jerry's garden continues to be bounteous.

A good thing this is a sturdy table, laden as it is with produce

One of his favorite end-of-summer vegetables are Lutz Long Keeper beets. They're huge (you can see a couple of them just beyond the daikon radish in the shallow wooden bowl) yet of excellent quality throughout, no woody centers. And the leaves are good to eat too. The pale purple stems belong to Russian kale. It's not as tender as the more familiar frilly Scotch curled variety you see in the grocery store. The flavors good, and I like it in Italian bean dishes. As well, I came home with pungent arugala, spicy cilantro, enormous Swiss chard with broad white midribs and dark green savoyed leaves, a tender cabbage, a head of bok choy - a veritable cornucopia of prime vegetables that make a feast for the eye as well as for the table.

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Tuesday, 25 October 2005

An Enormous Puffball

A rainy, damp, drizzle-y sort of day. I took the kitchen compost bucket with me as I drove down the driveway, to empty it into the compost heap. "Ooops!" I wondered as I got out, "What's a volley ball doing next to the compost heap?" There was an enormous, gigantic puffball, beautifully round and nicely firm, as well as another rather mis-shapen one. Once I realized what it was, I telephoned Carol, my friend and mushroom maven. So enthusiastic was she that I plucked the two 'shrooms, put them gently on the floor of my car and drove straight to her house. And received confirmation that these were indeed giant puffballs in prime condition. Her husband was less enthused than we, merely mentioning that he'd seen another one on the verge of a nearby road. Hoopla! Into the car and off we both drove. A slow creep along the road eventually turned up the third giant puffball - though this was was more goose egg size than the ostrich egg John had claimed it to be. A different species too. So back to my house, where we'd divvy up our prizes.

Carol and the giant puffball. They're easy to tell apart - she's the one with the big grin

Cut in half, it's prime condition is reflected by the firm, even texture, clean white color, and lack of any insect nibbled holes

I tried it several different ways: cut into batons, then dipped in flour, egg, and breadcrumbs before deep frying; included in a stir-fry; together with coarsely chopped onion and sweet pepper, topped with diced tomatoes and piled on foccacia before grilling. Alas, I found the texture somewhat odd (the deep-fried version shrank within its coating, somewhat resembling the soft insides of a fire-grilled marshmallow), and the flavor, while not unpleasant, wasn't particularly special the way I want forage mushrooms to be (spoiled, no doubt, by chanterelles and huitlacoche.) John and Carol being more enthusiastic, received the balance of my share and now have several packages of diced, dipped, lightly fried giant puffball in their freezer. Still, it was fun, finding such a humongeous puffball.

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Thursday through Tuesday, 13 to 18 October 2005

There Are Fairies in the Garden

Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland is an enchanting place adorned with wonderful trees and shrubs, and a large pond that mirrors the Japanese-style pavillion. We can tell it is a magical place, as there are fairies in the garden.

Sunlight dappling through the trees coaxed these sweet fairies out to play in the children's garden

Legend has it that fairies and elves are quiet creatures, spending their time sleping in flower cups or hovering high above the tree tops. If you want to see or hear them, you must look and listen very carefully for their signs. Sometimes (I suppose if they were startled) a fairy leaves it's shadow behind.

If you want to make special fairy wishing dust, mix together dried flower petals, crushed leaves (especially nice smelling ones like mint, and furry ones like lamb's ears), some birdseed, a little colored sand, a good big pinch of glitter, and some colored confetti paper. Once everything is all mixed together, here's what you must do.

*** Wishing Rules ***

Wishes should be made outside, under the open sky
Make your wishes by day, and dream at night
Stand as still as possible, and close your eyes
Whisper your wish (fairies disappear when things are noisy)
Don't tell your wish to anyone after you make it. If a fairy was nearby, they'll have heard it even if you whispered ever so softly
Now sprinkle a pinch of fairy dust all around you, and then hop over it. Do try not to smudge or disturb the ring of fairy dust

And maybe, just maybe, your wish will come true.

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Thursday through Tuesday, 13 to 18 October 2005

Horticulture Magazine LectureTour: Part Two

From Cave Hill we went to Yew Dell Arboretum in Crestwood, Kentucky. A slow saunter through the gardens adjacent to the house. We were joined by many of the Yew Dell board members, who accompanied us on our stroll. Then a delightful luncheon in The Castles, a building with a crenallated roof over a single large room. No need for fire in the fireplace, for the shirtsleeve temperatures were most pleasant. The buffet style menu included a fruit salad, a spinach quiche, and cheese grits. I wouldn't mind the recipe for the last named, as they were very good. And an explanation of just exactly what the difference is between grits and polenta would not be amiss. Perhaps the coarseness of the ground corn meal . . .

Following our repast we went back outdoors onto the grounds for a look at the rock garden, hear the plans for turning the barn with its boat-ribbed roof into a lecture hall, walk betwen the trees of the Holly Allee, and out onto the grounds proper to admire the conifers and specimen trees. Grand as all these were, what remains in my mind are the three or four native persimmon trees near the barn. Diospyros virginiana is a tough little tree. It's not much on looks, but the fruit is a different matter. Eat one of the orange-y fruits when mushy soft and ripe, and its like nectar. Anything less than dead ripe and astringent barely begins to describe it. Food for foxes, raccoons, and other critters, the fruit is said to be ideal for preserves and puddings. I wouldn't know, as my previous experience has been an occasional fruit found tumbled to the ground beneath the alligator-barked tree at the New York Botanical Garden. There, I have a feeling it is the squirrels who benefit the most.

As the rest of our group walked away I came to a halt, happily eating persimmons. If this had been the last stop on our three-city tour I'd have attempted to box some up and take them home with me. Since it was the second venue, I was determined to eat enough for a wonderful memory. It wasn't a solo act. Margaret, our hostess at last night's dinner party whipped off her hat, saying "Hats are useful for more than shading your head! My daughter loves persimmons, and we're going to her house tonight." She and I spent a happy 15 minutes or so, scavenging plump, soft, sound fruit from beneath the tree with the best flavored fruit.

Margaret with her hat full of persimmons for her daughter

Beautiful, and tasty, persimmons are a neglected native fruit

Satiated, we caught up to the rest of the group, looking at oaks and apples, maples and magnolias, beeches and birches and more. The afternoon at Yew Dell drew to an end. Wonderful to see the arboretum in the early days of its development into a superb public garden. Our little group of speakers and mother hen visited one more garden, a small city garden belonging to Allan Bush and his wife, with many good plants. Then dinner, repacking the belongings I'd strewn around my room, and a night's sleep before our travel to Maryland on the morrow.

A shunt through Chicago and slingshot on to BWI Airport outside Washington, D.C. If there is one thing I learned on this journey it is that every airport we traversed is under construction, and BWI was no exception. We made it to the rental car lot, and drove to our hotel as the full moon rose into the cloudless sky. An early evening, as Tuesday was our last lecture, and also our dispersal homeward. The last venue, Brookside Gardens, is a wonderful public garden. Having by now heard each others lectures at least once (if not twice) the garden proved more of a draw than yet another iteration of Crafting the Artful Garden. Since I wasn't up until after lunch, that gave me a goodly amount of time to enjoy yet another glorious autumn day outdoors. There were some flowers - a few autumn crocus, Crocus speciousus; a lone Colchicum 'Waterlily' with is heavy double flower lolling on the ground; an ivy-leaved cyclamen, Cyclamen hederifolium; a blaze of golden daisies on swamp sunflower, Helianthus strumosus; some tricyrtis, a late hosta, and a few more. Fall color came mostly from trees and shrubs offering the first shifts from green to autumn yellow and hints of orange to red.

Though it was berries that took pride of place. The cycle of seasons turning again, from the first growth of spring to bossoming beauty, and then ripe harvest before winter's rest. Sealing wax red of dogwood, the intense violet of beautyberry, Callicarpa bodinieri, viburnums with metallic blue berries, and more. Every day filled with wonder in a garden.

The arching stems of beautyberry are wreathed with small fruits of an intense, shocking violet color

Metallic blue fruits on a native viburnum lend autumn interest to the garden - at least until the birds eat them

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Thursday through Tuesday, 13 to 18 October 2005

Horticulture Magazine LectureTour: Part One

"Crafting the Artful Garden" started off in Wellesley, Massachusetts at the Massachussetts Horticultural Society, continued on to Yew Dell Arboretum near Louisville, Kentucky, and wrapped up at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland. Lots of time in airports / on airplanes, balanced by attentive audiences, some time out in gardens and landscapes, and pleasant conversations with each other. Of course, from previous symposia I know Nan Sinton, symposium organizer and tour director for Horticulture magazine. As well, she's "Mother Hen" to speakers as she ably shepherds us from airport to hotel to symposium venue, getting everyone where they're supposed to be and when they're supposed to be there. Tom Cooper and I have previously worked together, back when he was editor at Horticulture magazine. Currently he's free-lancing as a garden design and writer. He gave an interesting presentation at the conclusion of the day, discussing plants in partnership as they influence a garden through the seasons.

The other two speakers were new acquaintances for me. Paul Cappiello is director of Yew Dell Arboretum, and gave an interesting lecture on trees and shrubs as garden specimens. He is a co-author of Dogwoods: The Genus Cornus. Recently published (April 2005) by Timber Press, this informative, beautifully illustrated book is an excellent guide to the popular genus of trees, shrubs, and ground covers. The fourth speaker / member of our happy band was Carol Klein. Proprietor of Glebe House Plants in the UK, Carol has a passion for perennials but won't pass by an attractive shrub or tree. Plant Personalities: Choosing and Growing Plants by Character is her recent Timber Press title, in which she ascribes character such as drama queen, seductive sophisticate, cinderella, etc. to various perennials. As author of Bulbs for Garden Habitats (Timber Press, May 2005) I, not unexpectedly, was talking about choosing and using bulbs for color, impact, and sustainability.

Our initial presentation in Wellesley, Massachussetts at the Massachussetts Horticultural Society was well received, augering well for the remaining locations. A pleasant dinner, a night's rest, and on the road again - more like in the air - with a change of airplanes in Chicago and then on to Louisville, Kentucky. Very swell hotel, The Brown, where Carol and I had rooms on the 11th floor, accessible only through the use of our room cards in the elevator. There was a pinio player in the lobby, near the bar. Carol and I met there, for some quiet conversation, helped along by a sherry for me and a vermouth and tonic for her. Two rounds, actually, doubly helpful. Dinner, a night's rest, then on Saturday round two of our three-city, six-day symposium tour. Again, an attentive audience that followed what we had to say, were amused in the appropriate places, and asked intelligent questions afterwards. A lovely dinner party in the evening, preceeded by a stroll around our host and hostess' charming garden. Interesting trees and shrubs, a pair of reflecting pools, and a soupçon of perennials still in flower in mid-October.

Out in the garden before a dinner party on Saturday, Carol Klein's outfit tones beautifully with Aster 'Raydon's Beauty'

Sunday now, Sunday was our fun day. We began with a stroll through Cave Hill Cemetery. Now, visiting a cemetery might not sound like a fun thing to do. Cave Hill, however, is a spacious, gently undulating landscape with magnificent specimen trees, an interesting selection of shrubs, and even a couple of ponds with their attendent ducks and geese, all in a pastoral style. With, indeed, a number of monuments, tombstones, and mausoleums. This morning the landscape was bathed in that soft autumnal light that angles in at the opening and then end of the day. Away from traffic and urban noise, the peaceful morning (and the location) naturally made our conversations quiet - the ducks and geese were raucous enough. Oaks and black walnuts, even more notably, various species of buckeyes, Aesculus species, were in fruit. How is a gardener to resist? Soon Carol and I, Paul too, were gathering various seed-filled pods and the polished leather nuts of buckeyes.

A merry grin and a handful of conkers - Carol holds some huge Aesculus seeds still in their green husks

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Saturday, 8 October 2005

Weather, and Another Bulb Potting Workshop

It's been dry. It has been very dry. Typically, by now Hunterdon County, New Jersey would have received about 36 inches of rain. As of last Thursday, only about 27 inches had fallen. No major rainstorms since April, the last 90 days had less than 50 percent of normal rainfall, and August 2005 was not only very dry, it was the warmest on record.

Bless the frogs and little fishes, for they shall welcome the rain.

Raindrops make patterned circles as water splashes off the pavillion roof

It started yesterday morning. Good, steady rain, heavy at times. At night, when I awoke to hear it drumming on the skylights, dripping on the trees, I'd smile and slide happily back into sleep. By morning there was 3.80 inches in the rain gauge. Delightful. Of course, today was the Rutger's Fall Foliage Fling, a sale of plants particularly notable for autumn color. There was a garden tour scheduled, and I'd agreed to give a couple of demonstrations of potting bulbs for forcing. The announcement noted "Rain or shine" so last night I had again loaded the car with bulbs and pots (soil would be provided, I'd been assured.) Uncertain of what the turnout might be, I headed south for New Brunswick and the gardens.

The motto of the U.S. Postal Service might happen to be "Neither rain nor snow . . .", referring to the mail carrier's devotion to duty. A gardener's quest for yet another plant might actually exceed this. We're sweet, but gardeners do not melt in the rain.

Raincoats keep this pair of shoppers dry as they survey some of the ornamental grasses offered for sale

Beneath sheltering umbrellas, two gardeners head for the Log Cabin, where my demonstrations and lectures were held

There were trees, both deciduous and evergreen. Among the shrubs was beauty berry, Callicarpa bodinieri, with its violet berries wreathed along its gracefully arching stems. Perennials ranged from leadwort, Plumbago capensis, with electric blue flowers; Aster tartaricus 'Jin Dai' from the Japanese botanic garden of that name, with soft lavender / lilac flowers and growing only 5 feet tall rather than the species typical 7 foot height; other asters, toad lilies, and more. And gardeners turned out, arriving by themselves, with a friend, with a child, with a spouse. They bought by the individual plant and by the cart full. When the rain was heavier, plants in the open were checked out. When the monsoons returned, suddenly those plants under the pavillion's sheltering roof became more interesting.

Attendence at my morning talk was sparse. The room was gratifyingly full for the afternoon session. Even more pleasing - seeing some attendees choosing bulbs from those available, such as smaller daffodils 'Itzim', with its orange-cupped yellow flowers, and 'Jenny', whose yellow cup matures to the same white as her petals. For the garden? Well, perhaps. They could be. But they could also be for potting to coax into early bloom, spring flowers in the winter house.

And when I got home in late afternoon there was another 2.50 inches in the rain gauge. I have a feeling that the negative 9 inches will all be replenished in just a couple of days. Which means that the year's average rainfall will be normal. Of course, try explaining that to a plant that shrivelled to a crisp in August. Yet, vital to get trees and shrubs settled into winter with adequate reserves of moisture at their roots. And imperative for the bulbs now making roots in the garden. Indeed, bless the frogs and little fishes, the gardens on which the rain falls, and the gardeners who likewise enjoy the benison of rain.

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Friday, 7 October 2005

A Bulb Potting Workshop

Having mixed a cart-full of soil, peat moss, and bark mulch, then carefully decanted the stuff into two 5-gallon buckets; having written "tulip" or "hyacinth" on brown paper lunch bags and counted 5 of the appropriate bulb into each bag before stapling closed; having poured white pebbles into another bucker and put paperwhite narcissus bulbs and plastic tumblers into the wooden bulb crate with the bags of bulbs - having loaded all this stuff and then some more into the car last night, this morning it was relatively simple to drive off to the Flemington, New Jersey Senior Center for a workshop on Spring FLowers in the Winter House.

Ten people had registered, and eight of them made it in regardless of the weather reports suggesting heavy rain was possible. My goal was to introduce bulb forcing to those who might never have tried it, and offer some tips and refinements of technique for those who had done it before. We began with the sure-fire, hard-to-go-wrong single paperwhite bulb in a tumbler with pebbles. Just add water and watch them grow. Of course I suggested that the water be added at home - some people were travelling on the Link Shuffle bus, and dry travels better than wet. The cultivar I provided was 'Israel', which has creamy yellow petals and a golden cup, accompanied by a delicate, musky fragrance.

Update: I wish there was a way to post the sweet fragrance of this paperwhite narcissus,
delicately floral rather than overwhelming. We'll just have to settle for its dainty appearance.

Next were bulbs' big three: hyacinths first, then tulips, and daffodils last. Hyacinths, with a uniform profile, are simpy fit into the pot partially filled with soil, then covered over. Since the first leaf on a tulip emerges on the bulb's flat side it is a nice refinement to face the flat side to the pot's rim for a more refined display. And daffodils were last, as I demonstrated the two layer technique that allows nearly twice as many bulbs to be tucked into a standard pot when compared to a single layer in a bulb pan. And they all come up and flower at the same time and at the same height too. I finished off by displaying tubers of Grecian wind flower, Anemone blanda 'White Splendour' in their dry and in the rehydrated state, and explained how you could double-layer tulips and windflowers in the same pot. Lastly I potted up a smaller container with Muscari 'Christmas Pearl', as that grape hyacinth willingly flowers with scarcely any chilling at all.

Then it was time for the students to try out what I'd shown them. Decisions, decisions: "Do you want tulips or hyacinths? If tulips, do you want 'Heart's Delight' with its rose and white flowers, or primrose yellow, double-flowered 'Montreux'?" If someone asked for hyacinths, their options were self-descriptive 'Delft Blue' or 'Pink Pearl'. There was newspaper down on the tables and we didn't spill very much soil around. Everyone had a good time, and went happily home with a paperwhite to flower soon, and a pot of bulbs to bring spring flowers into the winter house early in the new year.

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Thursday, 6 October 2005

A Japanese Woodlander

Last summer I was trolling through some left-over plants at the Rugers Gardens nusery area. There were some interesting plants, many seriously pot-bound and in need of release from their tight confinement. An inkberry, Ilex glabra, would like the area along Magnolia Way, I thought, and set that one aside. Remember, this was early enough in the summer that the rains were falling in a regular pattern. I added a Rosa omiensis to the set-asides, with its huge translucent red-glowing thorns (the deer appreciated that one.) As I cast back and forth I noticed what looked like a blotch-variegated hydrangea. Except the shape of the leaves was not quite right. Peering at the label, it turned out to be Leucosceptrum japonicum 'Variegatum'. Fine, now I knew what it was - something from Japan with variegated leaves. But what a Leucosceptrum was I hadn't a clue.

When did that lack of knowledge ever slow a gardener down - if the plant could survive shoe-horned into a too-small pot in bright sunshine it was bound to do better in my garden. Especially if I could find out what it might like. So, accompanied by an assortment of other plants tucked into the back of my car, homeward we went. If it wasn't mentioned in Ohwi's "Flora of Japan" I reasoned, a quick flit on the Internet and all would be made clear. Well, there was nothing in Ohwi's Flora. And some of what little information is out there about this plant is in Japanese. Google's automatic translation program provides, shall we be polite, a rather lyrical interpretation of the information.

Leucosceptrum is herbaceous, grows at the edge of woodland, and flowers in autumn. That's O.K. It is a starting place, or shall I say a planting place. Which I did. The variegation became much less obvious, green on green rather than cream on green. But the plant seemed to settle in quite nicely. In the subsequent parched conditions I made sure that water was laddled out to this newcomer. It might have to wilt a bit before I got there, but plants had to take their turn.

And now it is in flower. Wispy little off-white bottlebrush terminal spikes of flowers, one or more to a stem. Welcome indeed as September's equinox has tipped us into autumn. There are some other late blooming perennials in that vicinity: the pollia is finished of course, but makes a fine introduction to the season and that part of the garden. And a white Tricyrtis hirta is doing nicely too, near some old-fashioned Hosta with white-variegated leaves. Elsewhere in the garden there are white-flowered colchicums, and it will be easy to move some over here.

The moral of this story is don't be afraid of unknown plants. They might just make a fabulous addition to your garden.

Leucosceptrum japonicum 'Variegatum' quietly makes its presence known

The variegation is subtle, the flowers subdued. Somehow this seems most appropriate for a Japanese woodland plant

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Wednesday, 5 October 2005

Photo Shoot

The month began on the run, with my lecture on "Native Plants for Rain and Water Gardens" at the native plants symposium sponsored by Phipps Conservatory and Garden Center in Pittsburgh. Back home on Sunday, the new week began on Monday with a three day photo shoot in my home and garden. I don't want to spoil things for you, so I'll just say the stories will appear next year in a major national lifestyles magazine.

Outdoors and indoors, plants and props and a great collaborative effort between photographer, editor, and yours truly. When next you see a stunning picture of some garden vignette in a magazine, take a moment to appreciate the effort needed to bring you that image. Shooting medium, 2¼ format, pulling a black and white Polaroid© to check the details that the camera sees perhaps a little differently than the human eye, then two 10 exposure rolls of film at incremental changes of exposure . . . it is the photographer behind the camera that makes the decisions. The mantra is - always pay attentions to the smallest of details. Lighting, yes, and we worked with natural illumination much of the time. Placement, shifting a watering can (or my foot) by a matter of an inch or two. Coordination is the key. And when three people can work as well together as did Rob, Sarah, and I, it really shows in the photos.

Up a ladder, Rob Cardillo makes the art of picture taking into a well-balanced performance

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