Gotta Garden

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

What Not to Do: Spring Bulbs

I know it's tempting. You may even have seen lovely pictures (I was sure I had). However, this is one mistake that perhaps you don't have to make...

What's this you ask? Those, my flower friends, are tulips. Tulips that coming up smack next to a tree truck. Why did I plant them there, you ask? (A good question) Well, I didn't exactly. Years ago when I planted them, there was plenty of room between them...and the tree.

That's right. Trees grow. Because I am such an equal opportunity person, here are some daffodils in like circumstances (although a different tree)...

In case that doesn't do it for you, here's a full view...

Something else to consider...those tree roots do not give up any bulbs willingly. You haven't fully appreciated the ramifications of planting bulbs around a tree until you try to remove them. You can't. Or, at least a lot of them will remain and defy your best efforts to extract them. I know. You don't have to make this mistake, do you?

Some of my replacement Cream Beauty crocus are just beginning to bloom...

My learning curve is steep...and while I did not plant these around a tree (especially a tree that later has to be removed)...I did plant them in the four corners of the tree replacement bed....not that they...clearly...are all going to bloom at the same time.

Still, we take whatever blooms we get at this time of year...with temperatures projected to go down to 22 degrees tonight...

Monday, February 23, 2009

February...On the Path Toward Spring

Yesterday I finally remembered that I wanted to get a picture of the orange/red Witch Hazel in full bloom. What is noteworthy about this is that it is the very first time it has ever bloomed without a bunch of raggedy brown leaves hanging all over. See for yourself...

Wow. I hope it decides to do this from now on. It took quite some doing to cut out the things I didn't want to show (it is the backyard, after all). Here the blooms are closer (without my having to actually go closer...such a thrill)...

The good thing about going around back is that I got to take a look at things I otherwise wouldn't have noticed (today) that the Pink Dawn Viburnum is beginning to bloom. This is such a great easy care fragrant shrub. Always one of the first things to bloom (looking back...from January, at times,...with blooms into March...)...

That's pretty hard to appreciate, isn't

Near the Pink Dawn are some Summer Snowflakes....I believe I have Leucojum aestivum...which actually bloom in spring...I show you this group because it started as a small group of bulbs (maybe six or so?)...and look now...

They obviously won't be blooming for a bit. But, what makes this interesting to me is that I read somewhere that they will tolerate moisture and this is a damp area. Looks like they might even like it. I popped over to Wikipedia and found out they do indeed prefer the moisture...which explains why some of the others are not nearly as robust...they miss the water. I'll have to be on the lookout for some Spring Snowflakes. They apparently bloom earlier and have yellow spots.

This is for fans (like me) of Winter Daphne. Here's the infamous backless one in the backyard as of yesterday...

What's that I see?? Do you see it, too?? Look closely at the bottom...oh here, this will be better...

Yippee! One of the best fragrances in nature is about to perfume my backyard! I'll have to go have a look at the others.

While we're back here, in the backyard, I'll show you a few other things...a mixed bag, so to say...

I have a continuing erosion problem...that I'm working on...not too successfully so far....

As the water picks up speed and/or is less diverted, it is pretty powerful going through here...enough to knock out the stacked castlewalls. I have a dry stream of rocks, but that clever water has now just decided to go around the rocks. I need to get above it, I think, and figure out new diversions.

Below this area...liking the my moss farm (just kidding)...

As you know if you're read other things here, I like moss! So, I'm actually pretty cool with this. It's certainly better than weeds, although there are still weeds here. This area probably has maple roots under it, is shady and quite appears moss would be a fine solution...apparently, nature agrees.

All of you people out there who have nice flat yards filled with wonderful soil to garden in...where's the challenge in that??! (Just kidding...don't I wish)

While standing up near the orange/red Witch Hazel, it occurred to me to wonder if my other Witch Hazel might be in bloom. Far be it from me to actually walk down there (very muddy right now), so I trained the zoom over there...and look what I found...

Now, that is beyond neat! I couldn't even see the blooms (there are just a's just getting going), but through the wonder of a zoom lens...there it is.

I am beginning to in so many things...that one must know the right questions to ask to get the right answers. While this lens is wonderful, I think it might not actually be what I need for tour gardens. I don't blame the salesman (he was great) because I didn't really know and based on what I said/thought...this was the lens he recommended. I thought I might not be able to get too close (lots of people) but I now know that I will eventually get close (sometimes you might have to wait a few minutes...or just go look at something else in the garden)...and this lens, great as it is...doesn't allow me to stand close enough...even at 70mm. I think I need a new lens (haha)! This one is terrific, just like I showed with the yellow Witch Hazel....but for touring, I need one that lets me stand by the flower and take a picture...and then zoom in even closer (no, the macro doesn't meet those requirements, although it is fabulous, too). Another trip to the camera store is in my future...maybe this time, I'll be able to better express what I need....and I just know there must be a lens out there that will Goldilocks said...just right.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

SAINT FIACRE...Patron Saint of Gardeners

In my own garden, I am not one for statues, particularly those of people. In other people's gardens, I find them fascinating. What I may like for myself has absolutely no bearing on what I enjoy seeing elsewhere. Still, there was one statue that interested me...

It's no mystery if you read the title above. For some time, I have searched here and there, but never finding one that suited me. There are lots of Saint Francis ones around, but that's the not the Saint I desired. After all, he is often pictured with certain animals...that I'd rather not welcome to my garden....

I found a few things....a garden marker, a booklet on St. Fiacre (more on that a bit later)...a plaque I regretted later that I had not purchased... Then, I ventured into the gift shop at Lewis Ginter while attending the symposium I wrote about. It's always fun to browse around in there and I seldom leave without finding something I...need. It appeared that they had a new offering of garden statuary. To my shock, there were some of St. Fiacre (seldom have I found these). Since I would be back the next day, I carefully looked at some, deciding to table the decision overnight.

The next day I went right to the statutes, but....well, one was too small, one was too brown...and all had faces that were rather...scary....not the feeling I want in my garden. (You begin to see why this has been difficult for me.) I cast my eyes over towards the St. Francis ones....when one...just really appealed to me. I hesitantly looked at the label, mostly just curious who it was...expecting it to not be St. Fiacre...when, I did a double take...and took out my reading glasses, just to be sure. It was! St. Fiacre. I had never seen him quite like this.

Instead of just holding a shovel, he actually has one foot on it...and in his other hand, he is reading a book (undoubtedly the Bible). His expression is peaceful. I just loved it! Reading and gardening are two of my very favorite things!

Here he is...inside for now...until we determine exactly where he will reside...

I'm sure the picture doesn't do him justice. He is probably around 30 inches high. Not sure, as I haven't measured him. He is rather heavy, but that's good...he won't blow over.

If you don't know, here is a brief bit about St. Fiacre (roughly pronounced Fee Ahhh Ker):

He was born in Ireland in the late sixth century. Of fortunate circumstances, he was educated at a monastery. His father was a warrior and spent much time away from home. He was devoted to his mother; however, she died when he was in his late teens. Rather than take up the warrior life, he left and began a reclusive life of prayer and devotion.

People in desperate circumstances of sorrow, hunger and sickness began to seek him out. He fed those that were hungry from his own garden, ministered to those who were sick with his herbs and gave God's blessings to all.

Desiring solitude, he journeyed again....and again, the people came. He was much beloved by all who knew him.

St. Fiacre decided to go to France, probably in a very simple boat. It was said that his prayers caused the winds and waves to still. For centuries, a bottle of water from St. Fiacre's well was thought to guard against shipwreck.

Settling in France, St. Fiacre heeded God's voice to "Care for my people" and eventually established a monastery. Needing more land to provide food, he asked the Bishop and was told that he could have as much land as he could dig in one day. St. Fiacre prayed and the next morning went out with his spade. Wherever it touched earth, trees and bushes were felled and uprooted, stones were turned aside and trenches opened up.

A woman observed this and ran to tell the Bishop. The Bishop saw St. Fiacre kneeling in prayer and the amazing amount of land that had been cleared...and knew he was witnessing a miracle. While still praising God, St. Fiacre collapsed in exhaustion on a rock and rested. The rock formed a resting place for the Saint. This stone can still be seen.

Numerous other miracles have been attributed to St. Fiacre. He still rests in death (believed to be around 670) at the same village church where the stone that curved to fit his body resides. His feast day is August 30th.


There's your education for today! Many thanks to Leona Woodring Smith whose booklet Saint Fiacre (Patron Saint of Gardeners) provided the reference for the information above. Her booklet contains many more details (more miracles) as well as much more information about the time period. I purchased mine at the National Cathedral gift shop.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mary Washington House 2009

Thursday was the first meeting of the year for our group of volunteer gardeners at the Mary Washington House. It is such a pleasure to be a part of this group. Our meeting was mostly organizational and planning. We did, after some tasty snacks, make our way outside.

Things bloom earlier in this garden than in mine. Here, the crocus are already in bloom...

A hyacinth was also blooming...

The strawberries over in Mary's vegetable garden promise lots of sweet fruit in the future...

A tree peony rescued by H the Horticulturist who has worked her magic with it and it now has a happy home...

Some camera fun...I can't resist...

I'll end with this odd shot...lots of shadows for an area that will burst into bloom shortly...

We'll be back for another look in a month or so...

Friday, February 20, 2009

08 Seedlings...Making Choices

I need flower pictures. I could work on some of the gardens I have yet to post about, but my mind this morning is on my seedlings. Probably seeing the new seedlings sprout around me here as I type renews my anticipation. Which of these that are now just rising up out of the Pro Mix will be winners...year after next?

I made 90-some folders for blooming seedlings last year. They won't all make the cut...for various reasons. Today's offerings are based only on the photos...a very one-sided judgment. I will, of course, be watching all the others, but for today...I am greatly anticipating the return of these:

They'll begin to get closer scrutiny this bloom season, looking for some of those other plant habit, branching, number of buds, height, etc. It's a multi-year process. People select daylilies for many reasons, but with my limited space...I'll have to be extra-choosy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Garden Education: Gardening in an Era of Climate Change: Is the Sky Really Falling?

On February 4th and 5th, I attended a few lectures of the above mentioned symposium held in conjunction with the Lewis Ginter Anniversary Symposium Series and a CVNLA (Central Virginia Nursery and Landscape Association) short course. Virginia Cooperative Extension was also a partner and as such, education credit was available to master gardeners. As you might guess, the audience was composed of a large number of individuals for whom horticulture is a business. I'm sure there were others like me...folks who love to learn and are slightly obsessed with gardening.

The first speaker was Dr. Allan Armitage, known to most of us for his books, articles and, of course, his work at the University of Georgia. I digress here for a moment...I first heard Dr. Armitage speak maybe four years ago or so at a symposium in South Carolina put on by the Midlands Master Gardener Association (fine symposiums, by the way....I think I've been fortunate to attend three...still mean to write about the one last year...I'll get to day...) and credit him with my introduction to and now love of Clematis Armandii (click here to see mine; click here to see Clematis Armandii on a return trip to Riverbanks).

His topic on this day was entitled Gardening is a Four Letter Word - The Changing and Confusing Landscape of Consumer Preferences and Industry Trends. The main point here seemed to be (to me) that the wrong attitude has been conveyed to public. That, for instance, gardening is hard but landscaping is easy. You know, those shows on cable tv that put a garden together in 24 hours and then, as Dr. Armitage says, it dies in 24 days. We've made gardening too complicated. While horticulturists should know botanical names, don't expect your customers to know them.

Big box stores account for 75-85% of all plants sold. He also feels strongly that too many choices are available to consumers. The story of his daughter, Heather, not being able to chose some heucheras because she had too many choices available to her was told to make his point. As well as a slide showing too many mustard options in the grocery store.

(Sigh)....Okay, I disagree with that premise...I strongly disagree with it. I like lots of options and choices. The more mustards, the merrier. And, frankly, if a nursery I visit only has five varieties of heucheras, I won't be buying. I probably already have them! Somehow, I feel Dr. Armitage would say I am not typical, but the thought of only a few choices makes me want to break out in hives! I can make choices...and do...every single day! Long live variety and choice.

I did like his use of the term 'Nativar' for cultivars of native plants. Here we can find some common ground. Native plant pushing is big these days (my words, not his) and he stressed that these Nativars are a good way of getting 'native plants' to customers. I especially appreciated hs comments that he hasn't found the longevity in echinaceas other than purple. His favorite is Kim's Knee High. I so agree! I'm not even interested in trying any more of the new echinaceas. My one exception is a white one called Fragrant Angel that I got a few years ago from a now defunct online nursery.

In an interesting twist (which will become apparent later), an article I read in Carolina Gardener (Spring 2007) entitled Echinacea from Spring to Summer: More Than Just Purple Coneflower by Richard Bir basically says the same. That the hybrid colored echinaceas are not long lived. Most persist three years , a few as long as five. As Mr. Bir says, "In the end, I've learned not all perennials last forever. Perennial means that they return more than one year, but not necessarily every year from here to eternity." (Carolina Gardener, Spring 2007, page 38) Kim's Knee High has been very reliable here as has what is probably Magnus (although it may just be reseeding). I'd actually like to remove the Magnus, but it seems unwilling.

Okay, back to Dr. Armitage...he concluded with showing slides of some interesting new plants (although, I'd not sure exactly how new some of them are...I think they are probably new varieties of some known favorites) like Pineapple Lily (that's the only one I wrote down...*shrugs*). Dr. Armitage thoughtfully provided lecture notes and copies of some of his columns. I found in the lecture notes that he recommended as great plants for gardeners: Salvias, Hellebores, Heucheras, Echinaceas and Eucomis.


The next speaker was James Urban, a landscape architect and urban arborist who is nationally known for his work and research on trees in an urban environment. This was one of the most interesting and informative talks I have been to in quite a while. He is the author of a book Up by Roots which is considered a manual for those planting trees in urban environments.

First off, I learned that pieces of soil (maybe we call them clods?) are actually called peds. They come in all sizes and are important indicators of soil structure. By the way, amusingly, Mr. Urban said compost should be the color of 70% dark chocolate. He urged us to smell the soil (good soil does smell nice....maybe not as nice as chocolate, but still nice).

His work with trees in the urban environment has led him to say that the politics of trees is more difficult than the science of trees. I didn't take extensive notes, but his research into container grown trees was startling. I believe he said that he hadn't found a single container grown tree that didn't have girdling roots. Some have such serious girdling that you will probably kill the tree trying to correct it/them...but, you have to try because the tree will die in 5-10 years from those girdled roots if you don't. Scary.

On fertilizer, I learned that most fertilizers were developed to boost yields for crops...and trees are not crops! It is better for them to grow slowly. Too much N (Nitrogen, but you knew that) increases sucking insects and foliar diseases. Less fertilizer is better.

We saw great slides of soil and soil structure...very interesting! He talked about ways to correct it. Compost is the solution to almost all problems. Get it into the soil and not just on top (oops).

In correspondence with Dr. Dirr (very famous author...authority on trees, etc. also at the University of Georgia), Mr. Urban had Dr. Dirr define his use of "adaptable". It means the plant grows without obvious discontent over a wide berth from zones 4-7 (I hope I got that right).


The final speaker I stayed to hear the first day was Dick Bir. Did you catch that? Yep, the same author I mentioned above. His lecture was called Successful Gardening in an Era of Change. In short, I believe his answer to the question posed by the symposium was "Yes". Yes, the sky is falling...translation, all of us in zones 6/7 should now plant zone 8 plants. (Giant sigh.) This after a record cold for the month of January. Maybe he didn't know. He is from North Carolina, after all (retired extension agent and faculty emeritus from the Department of Horticultural Science at N.C. State University).

He had some wonderful slides of shrubs (a lot of azaleas/rhododendrons) and from a project he has been involved with (lovely, truly). But, I just couldn't get past his rather often mentioning of the fact that we should now plant zone 8 plants. Okay, I do some zone pushing....but I wouldn't recommend it. Our winters are such that you can think something is going to make it...and then we have a wicked period that kills all those iffy plants ( makes some special efforts...and then, sometimes in spite of those...they still die). Happens every so many years. A couple years ago, we had a week in February with single digit temperatures and no snow cover after a mild January. Very difficult. Those zone 8 plants would probably not make it for most people under those circumstances.

He did state something about how nothing is really going to happen (climate-wise, I think) for 50 years or which I think I'll wait until year 48 or so to make my changes. Of course, in 48 years (assuming I'm here), I'll be asking someone else to make those changes for me!

He also stated that the temperature has gone up a few degrees in the last ten years. I'm sort of ambivalent about all this. You know I like peace in my garden. It would have been helpful to have provided some data and links on this. I'm just saying...if it gets warmer, I'll adapt...and so will the they have a history of doing. Who knows what the perfect temperature is supposed to be...this planet has changed, is changing and will change. So be it. Let's all just be happy in our gardens.


Day Two begin with Felder Rushing. Now, I would drive many miles to hear Felder Rushing! You remember when I last heard him? He is such a character and so fun to listen to!

He opened with this beautiful quote by Minnie Aumonier: When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden. I liked it so well, I added it to the signature line of one of my email addresses!

Being Felder, there were a lot of good jokes and funny lines, but here's one I remembered: You might be a garden nerd if you clean your truck with a leaf blower. (Pretty good idea, actually)

I had this moment of excitement (kinda like a thrill running down your leg...just kidding) when I realized that my brain might sorta sometimes kinda be aligned with Felder's. He showed a picture of larkspur with its famous bunny reminding us of the beauty in nature when you take the time to look (I called it Bunny-in-a it was shared with me). And, then he took a moment to mention the Museum of Garden History. Finally, he showed a slide from Chanticleer (one of these days I will finish all my posts on Chanticleer...I just loved it there). Amazing, huh...

But, on to more Felder-isms...He showed us some slides of his own garden(s) and pointed out the edging with a train that can carry two beers with ice. Sure beats mondo grass, he pointed out.

He doesn't care much for the 'meatballs and gumdrops' of many front lawns and speculated that those with a nice neat (boring) front yard may feel a need to have control over wilderness. You can just imagine what his front yard looks like...especially as compared to his neighbors'. As he points out, theirs haven't been featured in most of the leading publications of our day. When he was growing up and having to mow lawns, he decided that when he was grown, he wasn't going to mow any more lawns. He certainly appears to have succeeded...although he does like to remind us that he is actually a turf specialist. When people question him (since he doesn't grow grass), he points out that a brain surgeon doesn't have to have a tumor. There was also a laugh-out-loud picture of weeds (yes, weeds!) growing in an artificial lawn.

Especially amusing to me was his comment that he was genetically selected to be a southern gardener as his mother and grandmother were gardeners. His grandmother actually had labels in her garden for her daffodil collection. So, as he says, he was raised in a garden with labels. (You know I can relate to that.)

He covered fire pits in his particular way noting that sitting around a fire pit was as interesting as watching (on tv) people argue and blow themselves up. We were reminded that swings in the garden need a long chain so that you get that slow leisurely ride. Finally, he loves to recycle (you remember those tire planters?) and has made use of chamber pots. His preferred to plant to fill them with? Sweet peas.


Darn hard to follow Felder Rushing, but someone had to do it. Next up was Dr. Roger Harris, the Interim Head of the Virginia Tech Department of Horticulture. In a self deprecating manner, Dr. Harris told us that he gotten "the short of end of the stick" as to why he was the Interim Head. Undoubtedly not true as he proceeded to tell us what Virginia Tech is up to...horticulture-wise.

I would fail in my duty if I didn't tell you that Dr. Harris...of course...had on an orange shirt. Standard attire for Hokies.

Besides some of the things you might expect, like recycling and sustainability programs (there is actually a Sustainability Office which hosts an annual Sustainability Week), Va Tech has been engaged in some major tree planting and, of course, has ongoing research in a number of areas. They're getting better every year and are certainly more conscious of their need to improve.

One particularly interesting project was a rooftop garden (I believe this is actually the third one on campus) planted and designed by students. Dr. Harris provided great pictures of the progress of the project and then the finished garden...complete with, of course, a very nicely planted VT in the middle!

Along with the wonderful Hahn Horticulture Garden, there is now online an inventory of the trees on campus. Each entry provides information on the tree as well as a detailed map of where it is located. This is an ongoing project, one it is hoped will create interest and over time provide another reason for individuals to visit the campus.

Sounded like VA Tech is on a great path. One sorta sad note, Dr. Harris noted the declining enrollment in the Horticulture program.


There were a number of other speakers that contributed to the three day program. I'm sure they were also interesting and informative.


As I finish this up, I have to note the weather here today. We've had sleet, teeny tiny hail and now large snowflakes this morning. I don't expect any of it to last as we should be up on the 40s (eventually) and the ground was not frozen.

Camera Fun

Yesterday I'm out and about walking around the garden a bit...realizing how every year I forget...and then re-find...the wonder of it. There's nothing like strolling your beds for clearing your mind, refreshing your spirit and reminding you of the renewal that always comes...the cycle of things.

Having not really done this since sometime last fall...and certainly not then with the same attitude of hope...I greeted the return of old plant friends, looked to see how newer plants were (or if) making it through the winter....and it occurred to me: Where are the larkspur seedlings? I mean, early spring (sometimes even in the fall) is when I begin to see them...and they are a major reason why I don't use a pre-emergent for weeds...I couldn't bear not to have them pop up here and there...even if it means other things (like evil chickweed) are also popping up.


....ahem....let's just rocket that zoom in...

Why, there they are! Some tulips are also awakening here. Okay, you caught me....I can't resist...isn't this lens fun?....Standing in the same spot we go from 70mm to 300mm....whoohoo. Let's play some more.

Look closely in this picture (I'm standing on my front steps)...see that bit of white under the branches of the Japanese maple?

(Never mind all those hellebore leaves for the moment). Zooming in...

....why it's a white Roman hyacinth! (Excuse that fuzziness....I'm just learning here...that's the Japanese maple branches...)

I can hardly wait to visit some gardens with this lens! No more missed tags! Or blurry tags (one hopes) because with that zoom, I can see in the window if they are not readable. Yippee! Before I take it on the National Convention tours, I'll practice (never fear). I can see the benefits already of being able to get that flower that either people or circumstances prevent me from getting close enough to.

I did learn, however, that it will not take a picture up close (use the zoom, duh) the macro...I begin to understand why different lenses are necessary. I'm hoping to use the macro, for instance, to capture detail(s) that will enable me (again, I hope) to work on my drawing. I'm so excited!

Here's a rosebud from the Valentine arrangement that I took from the same spot as I shot the whole arrangement yesterday...

And, here's where I realized the lens would not allow me to stand so close (the area is small)...I could only use the 70mm on these seedlings....I thought you might like to see that the albino seedling is still around...

If I remember (or get back there), I noticed a witch hazel in full bloom (without those hanging leaves, no less...hmmm, I should get a picture) the backyard. That's a lesson in planting as I put it in an area that...otherwise...looks pretty shabby and bare right now. It will be a trick to photograph it without showing you things I'd rather not!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

It was a very good day....

Valentine's Day was especially nice for me this year....DH brought home this beautiful arrangement...

....along with an extra gift.... my complete surprise, I found this...

.....besides being adorably cute, my DH told me that he thought it would be useful to carry when I attend a garden lecture or such (how thoughtful!), and that the fabric pattern is called (drum roll)...Hope Garden....Ten percent of the purchase price goes toward breast cancer research.

Hope you also enjoyed a special day.

Tomorrow...I plan to show some pictures with my other lens, a zoom lens with image stabilizer...if I thought the macro was something...oh my, this one is the bomb!

Yes, yes...I will get back to that symposium write up (I'm afraid it will be rather...long...)...but in the meantime, we can have a bit of fun.
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