Spring, finally, made an appearance here in the northern regions of the country. It’s very late this year--about five weeks after the vernal equinox--and delayed by a dreary, interminable stretch of clouds, cold, wind and snow.
But after a single day of warmth and sunshine, crocus pushed up through frosty soil. On its heels soon will follow a colorful parade of gorgeous flowers.
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. ~ William Wordsworth
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft And of thy simple store two loaves of bread alone are left Sell one, and with the dole, Buy hyacinths to feed the soul. ~ Moslih Eddin Saadi
White bud! that in meek beauty dost lean Thy cloistered cheek as pale as moonlight snow, Thou seem’st, beneath thy huge, high leaf of green, An Eremite beneath his mountain’s brow. ~ George Croly
I am thinking of the lilac-trees, That shook their purple plumes, And when the sash was open, Shed fragrance through the room. ~ Anna S. Stephens
(Daffodil, hyacinth and lilac photos above are by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman's Cabinet.)
The gorgeous footage of unfurling flowers, complete with wiggling stamens, is reason alone to watch but the story is intriguing, too. Check out “Flower Power: the unfolding research on plants,” broadcast today on CBS Sunday Morning.
Earlier in the week, both The New York Times (Anne Raver) and The Washington Post (Adrian Higgins) reported on a devastating fungal disease problem with impatiens. This downy mildew affects hybrids of the common impatiens (Impatiens walleriana), not New Guinea cultivars (I. hawkerii).
Columbine (Aquilegia spp.) photo above by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman's Cabinet.
Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. ~ Warren Buffett
Whether my brain is addled by the heaviness of a head cold or my spirits are almost unbearably low due to endless weeks of the most @#$%&$!# snow, sleet, cold, damp, clouds, wind and gloom, I’m in the mood for a huge celebration. This weather will finally break. Clear skies will be blue, the sun will be warm and the balmy breeze will be gentle.
I adore celebrations and rarely miss an opportunity. But this year, in addition to popping the cork on a nice bottle of champagne, I want to commemorate special occasions with a different kind of present.
I’m considering giving the gift of a plant to plant.
Many Americans are drowning in their own stuff. The Sunday Review section of The New York Times recently featured “Living With Less. A Lot Less,” written by Graham Hill. Among other cool ideas, he made several excellent points. Garages often aren’t for vehicles anymore because they’re too full of stuff. Houses are grown from an average size of 983 sq. ft. in 1950 to 2,480 sq. ft. in 2011, giving even more room for more stuff. Even worse: “Apparently our supersize homes don’t provide space enough for all our possessions, as is evidenced by our country’s $22 billion personal storage industry.”
Yikes! We really don’t need more stuff.
Plus, a plant gives back. The little ecosystem that is your garden will benefit…as will neighbors and wildlife in adjacent gardens.
Finally, not only will the recipient revel in the plant season after season, but someone, perhaps 100 or 200 years from now, will be able to stand under its huge branches in awe, wonder and delight.
Reasons to celebrate. Obvious reasons abound: holidays, births and birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. Any year will do. Why wait for a 10th when the 2nd might be more deserving or exciting?
• Housewarming gift. • The day a new puppy came home. • A spectacular trip to England with good friends. • The day we bought the cabin. • The day we sold the cabin. • Astronomical events, especially midsummer and the winter solstice. • Successful round of treatments due to a medical issue. • Retirement from one career. • Launch of a second career. • A dream come true.
Photos above by Chris Mathan, The Sportsman's Cabinet.
I’m not exactly sure why it didn’t occur to me to share this newspaper story Kim Ode wrote about the legacy and romance of “cabins” on “lakes” in Minnesota.
Kim is a writer for the Star Tribune based in Minneapolis and one day last summer she called me. While researching her story, she discovered my essay Of cabins and lakes which is posted on this blog.
One reason for my reluctance, perhaps, has something to do with a personality trait. The Myers-Briggs test shows me practically off the charts in the “I” category, meaning extreme introversion. People like me tend to like solitude, space and privacy. Perhaps, too, my disinclination is the essence of what draws me to cabins on lakes. Kim ferreted out this notion at some point in our interview when I said:
“The most important thing is living in a peaceful, quiet, private way."
Now that weather patterns have shifted to warmer temperatures and ice on lakes will soon give way to beautiful, open water and cabin owners will visit their cabins, I’m ready to share Kim’s story in full…below and at the Star Tribune website.
Cabin culture: A place at the lake by Kim Ode Photo above: Brian Peterson Star Tribune, July 8, 2012
When Betsy Danielson's grandpa was 47, he built a small log-sided cabin, set high off West Twin Lake. It faced south, so they enjoyed sunrises as well as sunsets.
She spent every summer there, concocting obstacle courses in the woods, raising tepees, playing Monopoly, walking the railroad tracks with her siblings and cousins. There was no TV, but she could sometimes coax a scratchy signal from WDGY, the pop music station down in the Twin Cities.
Her grandpa always had a project going, like the dinner table built to fit under the big window overlooking the lake. Pushed flush against the wall, it was almost like being outside.
As a grownup, Danielson rented other cabins on other lakes: White Iron, Gunflint, Green, Gull, Bay, Leech, Ida, Burntside, Winnibigoshish. Always, she kept an eye open for a cabin to buy. Finally, one gave her "a feeling."
It was set high off the lake. The dinner table fit flush under the big window. She was 47.
Minnesota has more than 122,000 "seasonal recreational" dwellings, according to property tax permits. Some are hunting shacks, some are grand getaways, but most are what everyone knows, and reveres, as a cabin.
"People talk about the family farm, but in Minnesota, it's the family cabin," said Jeff Forester, executive director of the Minnesota Seasonal and Recreational Property Owners Coalition. Its slogan: "Cabins are where family happens."
Cabins are cultural, said Doug Ohman, a photographer who documented 90 of them for his book, "Cabins of Minnesota" (with text by Bill Holm; Minnesota Historical Society Press). "It's part of our language -- going to the cabin, going to the lake. I had a friend in Georgia who once asked me, 'Where is this lake that everyone goes to?'"
Of course, not everyone goes -- or wants to.
Skeptics regard them as second homes with plumbing that clogs, grass that grows, weatherstripping that rattles. They tut-tut about the absurdity of a bumper-to-bumper commute in search of relaxation, or tsk-tsk about the ability to own two homes. Longtime cabin owners bemoan newcomers elbowing onto their lakeshore, while year-round residents moan that seasonal folks don't pay their fair share of taxes.
Yet once the hook is set, there's no release.
"Our cabin culture is as distinctive as it seems," Forester said. People own cabins, on average, for 24 years, among the highest in the country for seasonal homes, according to a coalition study in 2005. More than eight in 10 owners have no intention of selling.
"These are generational," Forester said, adding that despite the finding that one in five owners now lives out of state, they keep the cabin. "It's almost like they're salmon, always returning to the spawning ground where they were born."
The romance of rustic life
The roots of cabin culture are in the late 1800s when wealthier Minnesotans emulated the great Adirondack camps with their white canvas tents and twig furniture arranged on Oriental rugs.
"It established an early romance for rustic living," said Paul Clifford Larson, a historical researcher who became intrigued by "almost the fetishism that developed around cabins," and in 1998 wrote "A Place at the Lake." (Afton Historical Society Press).
When Henry Ford's affordable Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908, the rabble also could experience this romance, along with those who hopped on rail lines stretching north toward lumbered-out acres. "The first people in Brainerd Lakes area -- the first really huge summer area -- settled on barren land, but immediately planted pine and spruce trees," he said. Larson, of Stockholm, Wis., said cabin culture was inevitable given the number of deep, glacial lakes that provide excellent habitat for game fish. But lakes are not a given.
"Practically before I married my husband, I said I had to have a cabin," said Danielson, 58, of Sandstone, Minn. She didn't think she needed to specify "lake," but her husband grew up in Henderson on the Minnesota River, and thus favored the sort of water you can never step in twice. "He loved to be outdoors, too, but his was more of a Mark Twain experience."
Still, vista trumped current. "I like the expanse of a lake," she said. "You can see what's coming. With a river, you can't see what's around the bend."
Ohman said Minnesota's cabin ethic harks back to Scandinavian stugas, or mountain cottages. Like their ancestors, early city dwellers also wanted to escape the heat of the streets, with some wives and kids staying for the summer while the breadwinner commuted.
"The cabin became a family tradition, as sacred as the crown jewels," he said, then broached a delicate subject. A cabin "has to have kind of a roughness to it. Otherwise, it becomes a 'lake home,' and to me that implies something different."
A cabin, he said, has a screen door that bangs. There's no Internet and little cellphone coverage, but stacks of games and decks of cards. Mobiles of driftwood hang as evidence of the occasional rainy day, as do the superfluously helpful signs: "Shed." "Dock."
"It's about cabin fever," Ohman said, upending the term to describe the need to get inside four walls. "We've put up with the 40-belows and scraping the windshield, and it's like we've earned the right. Sure, I-94 on a Friday afternoon can be cabin fever at its fullest, but we get off at Monticello, and we enter the zone."
Why buy one bunch of yellow tulips when three would be so much better?
Since the yellow tulips are the only source of brightness on this bleak, early spring afternoon and because I couldn’t decide on the exact spot, the bouquet moves from the top of the bookshelves to the coffee table to the kitchen island.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy is still on my bedside table. I am very near the end…but I don’t want it to end…and am doling out pages dearly. More vibrant to me than the tragic downfall of Anna and Vronsky or the joyful love of Kitty and Levin are Tolstoy’s descriptive passages. All northerners can appreciate Tolstoy’s telling of the first signs of spring on Levin’s farm.
…the snow-waters rushed down, the ice on the river cracked and moved, and the turbid, foaming torrents flowed quicker, till on the first Sunday after Easter toward evening the mists dissolved, the clouds broke into fleecy cloudlets an dispersed, the sky cleared, and real spring was there. In the morning, the bright rising sun quickly melted the thin ice on the water and the warm air all around vibrated with the vapour given off by the awakening earth. Last year’s grass grew green again and new blades came up like needle-points, buds swelled on the guilder-rose and currant bushes and on the sticky, spicy birch trees, and among the gold catkins and on the willow branches the bees began to hum.
The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison was recently released and I rushed to the bookstore for my own copy. Not only is Harrison is among my all-time favorite writers but the notion of his protagonist as a swimmer was too alluring. Twin passions of mine are swimming and bodies of water and it is thrilling to read Harrison’s magical allegory.
Writing the Garden by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers is, at first glance, a beautifully made book. Classic fonts, simple graphics and well-edited photographs are printed on rich, creamy stock. Then, though, the content grabs. I have long been interested in writers who were gardeners—focusing on the quality of the writing over any expertise in the garden. Rogers has amassed a perfect collection of the best of the last two centuries.
Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter by Lloyd Kahn is inspiration for a dream project. Ever since my husband Jerry and I sold our own 600 square-foot cabin on the east shore of a northern Minnesota lake, I have been planning our next cabin. It will be even smaller and simpler but still on the shore of a lake.
Timing is everything and for this trip to the Atlanta Botanical Garden, my timing was off. Within a week or two, this oasis of 30 acres in the heart of Atlanta would be ablaze with bulbs. (Fortunately, though, it wasn't too early for a bright planting of darling 'Tete-a-tete' daffodils.)
But I am here and must make do. Plus, as a gardener from the north, I am starving for fragrance, for color and for signs of life in a garden.
Atlanta Botanical Garden is located on bustling Piedmont Avenue just a few miles south of the business, shopping and eating mecca that is Buckhead. But once the vehicle is parked and I am ushered through Hardin Visitor Center, peace prevails and the hushed reverence of the garden overtakes me.
A public garden like Atlanta Botanical Garden can achieve magnificent displays due, in large part, to the design principle of scale that can’t be matched in home gardens (for most of us anyway). And while I perhaps am missing the spectacle of this one in full bloom, I can pay particular attention to other elements.
The bones of the garden are magnificent. Towering southern red oaks (Quercus falcata) provide a strong vertical statement and the hardscapes are beautifully designed. Aged brick walkways, fountains as focal points in courtyards, parterres, curving walls constructed with big chunks of sparkly granite and massive decorative containers make me almost forget about flowers.
Paperbush (Edgeworthia papyrifera) The fragrance from a single blooming plant is evident from 25 feet away. I have never smelled anything like this nor have I ever seen this shrub with its thick ungainly stems and fuzzy, drooping flowers. The heady scent is sweet (like a peony), tropical (like a gardenia) but rich and spicy. I could not get enough of it.
Levy Parterre Garden Fountain & Sculpture Anchoring this classic parterre of boxwood-edged beds, teak benches and evergreen topiaries is a simple, stone fountain. All seems orderly. But sitting atop the fountain, in a masterful touch of juxtaposition, is a totally modern, flamboyant glass sculpture that looks like several intertwined bright blue octopuses. I loved it.
It is a sculpture by Dale Chihuly, the Seattle, Washington, based artist.
I think his work is very cool. Last spring, I saw pieces at the Missouri Botanical Garden. He’s also done sculptures for the New York Botanical Garden, Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Garden (Pittsburgh) and the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. His work graces banks, libraries, corporate offices, hospitals, hotels and universities in 35 states and many countries.
Tulips! A bed near the entrance to Day Hall will be gorgeous and lush—in about 10 days—with the beloved tulip ‘Apricot Beauty.’ I will miss that spectacle but am on my hands and knees gazing into breath-taking, individual blossoms. My luck is better when I cross Flower Bridge. Instead of plain railings, this bridge is adorned with sort-of window boxes full of Tulip ‘Happy Family,’ Kale ‘White Peacock’ and various pansies and violas.
Water Wall I am a sucker for any water feature and this one is extraordinary. It is big, with a 12-foot high curving brick wall and a long, kidney-shaped pool. Water trickles out from the wall and forms rainbows as it falls into the pool. Several underwater jets cause mesmerizing waves and movement.
Snow piling up outside? Another forecast of frigid temperatures? Have a bad case of the winter blues?
You’re not alone. Most gardeners get a little cranky this time of year. Last fall seems ages ago and there’s a good month or two before we can get in the outside garden.
My cure is utter indulgence. Head to a favorite greenhouse or nursery and buy plants (Of course!) to create a simple windowsill herb garden. These perky plants will provide much-needed fragrance to stale indoor air and they can be snipped to eat fresh or toss into dishes while cooking. Come spring, get a jump and plant the now-robust herbs in the outside garden.
Here are five simple steps to create a windowsill herb garden.
1. Choose the herbs. Whether one pronounces the word with or without the “h,” many herbs are easy to grow inside. • Basil (Ocimum basilicum) • Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) • Chives (Allium schenoprasum) • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) • Oregano (Oregannum vulgare) • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) • Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
2. Pretty pot. You must have a pretty pot. Nothing ruins the elegance of a container garden more than an unsightly pot. My advice: put a $5 plant in a $50 container. In the short term, the look is far more pleasing; in the long term, the container is a sound investment. It will hold countless plants over many years and provide continual pleasure and satisfaction.
Remember that drainage holes are vitally important. Either choose a pot with drainage or drill your own holes.
3. Potting soil. Soil is a crucial component in the windowsill garden. Either buy fresh, top-notch potting soil (don't choose "garden soil" or "topsoil") or use a leftover bag from last year.
For future reference, it’s fun and economical to mix your own potting soil. Visit my post: Good potting soil.
4. Good spot. This is easy and follows my #1 rule for gardening whether indoors or out: put the right plant in the right spot. Herbs need full sun so choose a south- or southwest-facing window.
5. Care. Since these plants will get eaten or will be transplanted to the outdoor garden, the major cultural consideration is water. When the soil is dry ½” down, water thoroughly until about 10% of the total water dribbles out the bottom of the pot. If using a saucer, empty the saucer after watering. Never allow the container to sit in water.
Use room-temperature, untreated water. If your hot water is softened, use water from the cold faucet and let warm to room temperature before use. If your water contains fluoride or chlorine, fill the watering can and let rest for 24 hours.
Pardon another post about what I’m reading but now, in Minnesota, is a good time to read. At our latitude of 46.07 degrees N, the sun’s declination is only 22 degrees above the horizon and even though we’re gaining seconds of daylight since the winter solstice, the long, cold nights are conducive to reading.
Besides, my indoor and outdoor gardens are quiet. This year my husband Jerry and I are making a determined effort to protect our white pines and a special amur cherry from the voracious deer. We felt a bit like Bill Murray as we installed our new fence—a heavy-duty, UV-stabilized, black plastic mesh that will not rust, rot or corrode. Plus the thing is seven feet high.
Due to an extended time away, I donated my big indoor garden plants to our local library. Jeanne is an excellent gardener and so the plants are in good hands.
And I can’t bear to take down our Christmas tree—a traditional balsam fir—until the last possible minute. Even though it’s not drawing up much water, the branches are still flexible and the needles soft.
So there is plenty of time to read.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy has been a favorite classic dating back to high school literature classes. On a recommendation from dear friend Bettie, I bought a new copy. While I remember the gist of the plot and characters, I had forgotten details of this truly remarkable novel. Now I’m completely immersed in Russian society and caught up in the lives of Anna, Vronsky, Kitty and Levin.
Off the Menu by Stacey Ballis finally made the pile on my bedside table. Way last summer I had scratched down a couple of easy reads for the beach while driving and listening to an NPR show. I’m not far into it but do like the sauciness of the narrator/heroine and Dumpling, her lovable rescue dog. Too, the references to food, restaurants and recipes are fun.
The Rope by Nevada Barr has been on the stack for several weeks. Maybe these dreary winter days aren’t conducive to such a strong, dark story because I never seem to be in the right mood to read it. Barr’s impetus for the book intrigued me. The setting is 1975 when Anna Pigeon first arrives in the southwest and provides an extremely compelling reason for Pigeon’s career path as a park ranger.
French Flair by Sebastien Siraudeau absolutely solidifies why French décor, style, colors, furniture, architecture and gardens so resonate with me. As I posted earlier in December, French style is the epitome of elegance, simplicity and charm. I could live, eat and/or shop in each of the 111 locations Siraudeau features. Most are small bed-and-breakfast places but private homes, bistros and antique shops are also included.
White Flower Farm and Jung Seeds & Plants are among the first of the catalogs to arrive in my real mailbox. Tony Avent announced via my virtual mailbox that an online version of the 2013 Spring Plant Delights Nursery is available. I’ll wait for his paper copy which is “in the mail,” according to Tony. Hopefully more will arrive daily. Plant catalog reading is a traditional winter pastime and I’m ready!
Many gardeners yearn for a potting shed—a small, private space just for them. Until I have my own, I’ll make do with this posh shed.
The Black Dog Tavern on Martha’s Vineyard was a favorite haunt when my mom and I spent a week on the island…and not only because the food, beer and view were outstanding. I’m especially partial to just about anything black dog-ish, in honor of two, Tweed and May, of my own.
Tulips are among my favorite flowers and a white tulip seems quite suitable for the holidays. And I certainly agree with Anna Pavord: “the queen of all bulbs, producing the sexiest, the most capricious, the most various, subtle, powerful, and intriguing flowers.” I bought this in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, on a fun visit with dear friend Bettie.
Finally, a tiny ration of Crown Royal…just in case of emergency.
This tag line isn’t original to me. It’s from an advertisement in an old issue of Maisons Cote Sud, the luscious French shelter magazine for which I can occasionally justify the price. Those easily translatable nouns--in combination--resonated immediately with me.
Elegance. Simplicity. Charm.
They are touchstones for much in my life—home and interior design, clothing, food and anything involving flowers, plants and gardens.
Flanking the front door on our covered front porch are two winter container gardens. Full, elegant arborvitaes (Thuja occidentalis ‘Pyramidalis’) are planted in simple, classic terra cotta pots. Adding a nice dash of charm and color is a bright red lantern, hung jauntily from a rusty iron hook.
Flower shops and greenhouses are full now of flowering plants for the holidays. And whether shopping for me or for a gift or whether I just need of fix of moist air and lush green plants with bright flowers, I always stop to check them out. Among my favorite plants at this time of year is a holiday cactus, either Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) or Christmas cactus (S. x buckleyi).
Holiday cactus facts. • Thanksgiving cactus have softly jagged leaf margins. It blooms in late November and the flowers have a distinct upward bend. • The leaf margins of Christmas cactus have no points and both foliage and flowers are more pendent. Normal flowering time is late December. • Both are members of the true cactus family (Cactaceae) and are native to the tropical rain forests of Brazil. • They are tree-dwelling epiphytes and rely solely on rainfall for moisture and nutrition. • The blossoms are pollinated by hummingbirds. • Cultivars are available in vivid shades of red, magenta, lavender and salmon, as well as white. New this year are cultivars in soft pastels like yellow, peach and pink.
How to grow holiday cactus. Thanksgiving and Christmas cacti make wonderful indoor garden plants—either in a container or as a hanging basket. In summer, both species thrive when placed outside in a spot with light shade. (Mine was very happy on our screen porch.) When heavily-budded plants are purchased now and brought home, some bud drop is common due to the stress of moving. Try to find a good spot and then leave it there.
Here are other care tips.
Light. Direct east or west exposure is ideal. A south window is too intense in summer but probably just fine the rest of the year.
Water. Check often and water only when the top inch or so of soil is dry. Always water thoroughly until about 10% of the water has dribbled out the bottom of pot. Don’t allow the pot to sit in water. Most holiday cacti die due to over-watering but withered foliage is a sign of not enough water.
Soil and fertilization. Normal potting soil for indoor plants is fine. Annually top-dress with nice compost or well-rotted manure. Augmentation with fertilizer is fine, too. To encourage flowering, choose one with a higher concentration of phosphorus (the middle number).
Repotting. Repot only when absolutely necessary. Flowering is most abundant when a little root-bound.
To set blooms. Since flowering is triggered by the short days and long nights of fall and by night temperatures of 50 degrees, keep them outside until just before the first frost. Within weeks, tiny flower buds will emerge from the tips of the leaves. Occasionally, and for no apparent reason, a plant will blossom at other times of the year. Last year, my white ‘Malissa’ cultivar bloomed repeatedly throughout the spring and summer.)
Design ideas. Sometimes it’s best to keep things simple. A specimen holiday cactus looks gorgeous in its own container—which could be a plain terra cotta or fancier. Other times, it’s fun to create an indoor container garden. Here I chose a nice full ivy and a white azalea to go with a pale yellow cactus.
Finally… Large holiday cacti are magnificent—whether in bloom or not—and are extremely long-lived, often passing from one generation to another. Over the years I’ve known several plants that were started as stem cuttings from a grandmother’s plant.
Another reason to buy a holiday cactus this year? Start a legacy.
Late November found me in southeastern Wisconsin for a couple of days. Bettie Brondyke Downie, a friend of mine since third grade, and I had chosen Lake Geneva as this year’s rendezvous spot. Even though we live several states apart, we manage to get together every few years. Mainly we talk and laugh—of times both old and new—but we also like to eat, shop and play tourist.
This part of Wisconsin had long interested me because it’s home to Northwind Perennial Farm, an extremely nice nursery and garden center. It was founded in 1991 by friends Roy Diblik, Steve Coster and Colleen Garrign. The three clearly adore their country site and have beautifully restored the dairy farm buildings while also adding greenhouses and charming display spaces.
Obviously much of their nursery is shut down at this time of year, but they feature a Christmas Shop from mid November until mid December.
One afternoon Bettie and I drove the short three miles north from Lake Geneva, through the tiny town of Springfield to Northwind Perennial Farm. We toured everything, inside and out. Bettie was patient. I was besotted and couldn’t decide whether to simply move right in or just buy everything.
Highlights of the Christmas Shop and gardens at Northwind Perennial Farm:
• whimsical elements, rich brick walkways and fieldstone walls • gorgeous containers arranged with evergreens of all colors, berried branches and bare branches • smoke from a cozy fire wafted through the barns and gardens • rusty vintage garden chairs, weathered wood, imaginative furnishings • worn wood tables, wicker baskets, fairy lights and generous bunches of dogwood (Cornus), eucalyptus (Eucalyptus), willow (Salix) and winterberry (Ilex verticillata) • lovely old rugs, Christmas cards, ornaments and decor • bright bird houses and evergreen wreaths • artful juxtaposition of purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) and aged turquoise pot backed by tall hydrangeas and grasses • even more imaginative plantings of barberries (Berberis), evergreens and a weeping specimen around a pond • a mellow red rose bush still blooming in front of a white picket fence
The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, is the first in Tolkien’s fabulous creation of the universe of Middle Earth and such stars as Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Gollum, Galadriel, Legolas and creatures like dwarves, goblins, dragons, trolls, elves, wargs, orcs, ents and wizards. I’ve read it countless times but am doing a quick re-read before taking in Peter Jackson’s movie which premieres December 14.
Garment of Shadows, by Laurie R. King, is the latest in King’s series featuring Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes. Russell is wonderful as Holmes’ enterprising partner—a young woman who not only matches Holmes in intellect but very often exceeds him.
The opening chapter of the book is compelling. Russell awakens in a small room with a splitting headache and no memory. But she is so adept at language and geography that she discerns she is somewhere in North Africa, “Algeria or perhaps Morocco.” She then escapes—but with nothing, no food, no money. Russell does have her very considerable wits, though, and soon she has stolen nuts, fruit and a knife and broken into a shop for shelter.
Within days she reunites with her husband and they continue on their adventurous assignment during the early days of the Rif Revolt. In the end, it is Russell who correctly identifies the turncoat agent: “'Russell!' I did not often shock my husband, but I had now.” As the story ends, dawn breaks and a church bell tolls. Russell speaks to herself in Arabic and then, in English, wishes all “a very happy Christmas, and a peaceful new year.”
Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, by Dennis Paulson, is a field guide for all species of the order Odonata, which includes dragonflies and damselflies, in the eastern U.S. and Canada. It feeds my passion perfectly because it includes hundreds of color photographs for identification and lots of other cool information about these graceful, gorgeous creatures.
The book is one of 36 of the Princeton (yes, that Ivy League Princeton) Field Guides, a series that provides includes excellent, detailed information that’s useful for the scientist and layperson alike.
Resorts of Minnesota, by Neil E. Johnson, was given to me by Gail Heig, co-owner along with her husband Bill, of Bowen Lodge on Lake Winnibigoshish. My husband Jerry and I spend much of every October at their resort and, over the many years, Bill and Gail have become good friends. The book nicely details the history of 37 resorts, from the southeastern corner of the state, through the middle and including the border lakes lake country. The beautiful photographs by Mark J. Harlow, Doug Ohman and Scott Pederson make me want to hit the road and start exploring.
My bedside books have this group of bookmarks: • gold-plated brass marker with navy blue grosgrain ribbon and inspiring words from Winston Churchill: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER QUIT. • paper marker from Jim Brandenburg’s studio in Ely, Minnesota, with a photograph of a boundary waters lake during a summer rain. • plastic-coated paper marker with “Advice from a LOON. Spend time at the lake. Enjoy a good swim. Call your friends. A little color goes a long way.” • an old favorite that depicts a French café—complete with croissants on the table and bright flowers spilling out of a window box. A woman wearing a stylish beret has a steaming cup of café au lait in one hand and her book in another.
Even a casual gardener or observer of nature can’t help but notice. The leaves of most deciduous trees in our region have long since fallen to the ground. But some trees retain their leaves.
What’s going on?
Even though botanists don’t agree on the exact cause, they have identified the phenomenon and named it marcescent foliage.
marcescent (mär-ses’ent) adj. Botany. Withering but not falling off. [from Latin…present participle …inceptive of…to wither) ~ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
In other words, marcescence is the opposite of abscission where a separation layer forms at the base of the leaf stem which causes the leaf to fall. If marcescent foliage isn't broken off by wind and snow during winter, it eventually falls off in spring when a corky layer forms at the base of the leaf stem. Those cork cells expand and eventually break which causes the leaf to fall.
As I mentioned, there is no consensus among botanists and plant physiologists about the reasons for marcescence. It might be more common on younger trees, or on new growth of older trees or on leaves high in the canopy that receive more sunlight. One study actually discovered that marcescence might be a detriment. Insects use those clinging leaves which caused an increased incidence of galls and tumors. One benefit, perhaps, is marcescent foliage protects exposed shoots from browsing wildlife.
For a gardener, marcescent foliage is a bonus. It adds interest to a winter landscape so dominated by white snow and evergreens. Some bare deciduous trees do have leaves and those leaves add soft color. Also, the dry, clinging foliage makes noise in even the gentlest breeze. And when blizzard-strength winds blow strong from the northwest, it’s somehow reassuring to hear those marcescent leaves rustling—if the oaks and beeches have the strength to outlive the storm, then so do I.
There are only a handful of trees in our region with marcescent leaves.
Betulaceae (Birch Family) • American hophornbean (Ostrya virginiana), a.k.a., ironwood • American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), a.k.a., blue beech, musclewood
Fagaceae (Beech Family) • American beech (Fagus grandifolia) • pin oak (Quercus palustris) • red oak (Quercus rubra) • white oak (Quercus alba)
Finally… Dave Koets of Finlayson, Minnesota, is very observant. He mentioned to me that red oaks just across the border in western Wisconsin exhibit far more marcescense than those here in Minnesota. As we talked, we determined that the major difference seems to be soil type. Wisconsin has quite sandy soil compared to ours which has more clay.
Photos above are of American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana). This post also appeared in the Pine County Courier, Sandstone, Minnesota.
The window boxes looked dull and dingy. Chrysanthemums that were once vibrant shades of orange, bronze and burgundy had shriveled and turned brown. Even perennials had faded. And all the cute pumpkins? After several nights well below freezing, they were rotting and had become mushy.
Time for a change!
Go on a buying spree at a favorite nursery or greenhouse. Right now they are chock full of evergreens, fruiting branches, bare branches and all manner of fake branches. Check out your own landscape for possibilities. Then try to choose a balmy late fall day so the creative experience is enjoyable.
Just recently I followed my own advice…..at least up to the balmy day part. There was a time crunch with a deadline so on my afternoon, the sky was gray with low clouds and temperatures were falling but I still had a blast.
Here are the components of my winter window boxes. • white pine (Pinus strobus) • white spruce (Picea glauca) • Port Orford cedar (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) • incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) • orange-berried winterberry (Ilex verticillata…‘Aurantiaca’ perhaps) • curly willow (Salix matsudana…’Scarlet Curls’ perhaps) • sparkly twig branches
You can never be too rich or too thin. ~ Wallace Simpson, Duchess of Windsor
A couple small substitutions render the Duchess’ famous quote completely agreeable to gardeners.
You can never be too rich or have too many bulbs.
An easy, clever, versatile idea for bulbs. If your garden beds are full or your soil is just too heavy for bulbs or you’re weary of deer eating every green bit of tulip foliage as soon as it emerges or you just want to grow more bulbs, here’s a nifty option.
Simply bury container gardens full of bulbs outdoors in fall and un-earth next spring to move and display as desired.
Their pots put them up close, where their beauty may be attentively studied, and they can be moved about at pleasure in the very peak of their bloom. ~ Wayne Winterrowd, Horticulture, August/September 2006
Simple steps to plant and bury the pots. First, gather bulbs, containers and soil. Choose any bulbs hardy to your zone. Sturdy terra cotta pots work best as they provide bottom drainage and excellent breathability out the sides. As always use good potting soil—either your own mix or buy from a favorite nursery.
Next, follow these six steps to plant and bury the bulbs. #1. Plant bulbs close together and cover top of bulb by about 1” of soil. (Normal depth and spread guidelines don’t apply to this method.) #2. Water thoroughly until water dribbles out the bottom of the pot. #3. Bury entire pot in well-drained spot so rim of pot is covered. #4. If critters are a problem or if the pots contain crocus or tulips (especially delectable to critters), provide protection. Cover planting area with barrier of some kind—hardware hardware cloth or an old window screen. Be creative! #5. Spread about 4” of peat moss, marsh hay or pine needles over the spot. #6. If adequate rain of about 1” per week isn’t received, water thoroughly until ground has frozen.
Then forget about them until next spring. When the ground has thawed, gently dig up the pots and place by the front door, by the back door, on the terrace or deck and in other nice locations around the garden.
When the flowers fade, continue to care for the plants until the foliage yellows and dies. Bulbs grown in this manner aren’t stressed at all and can be re-planted in pots or in the ground.
Finally… Normally when one pictures bulbs in container gardens, there is one—sometimes two—kinds of bulb per pot. But this fall, a gorgeous photo in Anna Pavord’s oft-referenced book, Bulb, provided fresh inspiration. On page 517, a huge copper pot positively bursts with glorious mix of dark red wallflowers and different-shaped tulips in shades of red, rose, pink, apricot and yellow.
A garden project of my own involved four terra cotta pots and an order from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs that included 10 each of the following daffodils and tulips. • Narcissus ‘Actaea’, ‘Fragrant Rose’ and ‘Thalia’ • Tulipa ‘Maytime’, ‘Prinses Irene’ and ‘Spring Green’
I contemplated design options for the containers and bulbs and, instead of carefully planned color and species blends, I gently mixed all 60 bulbs together and randomly planted each terra cotta container. During the long winter months ahead, I can dream about my buried treasure—pots planted full of tulips and daffodils in lovely pinks, purples, oranges, creams and greens.
Photo above: Four containers fully planted and ready to be buried.
With few exceptions, the blustery winds of October have stripped leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs here in the north central region of the country. The gaudy days of early autumn have faded and, for the most part, subdued shades of tan and brown now dominate the landscape.
All of which showcases fruit. From blueberries to chokeberries, bayberries to winterberries, pretty berries are everywhere.
But I don’t think they’re all berries. Apples aren’t and roses have hips. Wait! What’s a hip?
Fruit facts. To get to the bottom of this “berry” business, we need to understand some basic botany.
Plants reproduce by either spores or seeds. In Botany for Dummies, Dr. Renee Kratz writes, “Spores are nice but seeds are better. Seeds have protective coverings and food reserves, helping them to survive away from the parent plant.”
Seed-producing plants are either gymnosperms that don’t produce flowers and fruits (such as ginkgo trees and cone-bearing evergreens), or angiosperms, which do produce flowers and fruit.
Still with me? Here’s the last distinction.
Angiosperms produce two types of fruits: fleshy and dry. Dry fruits include achenes, capsules, grains, legumes, nuts and samaras. The only dry fruit type involved in this essay is a capsule which is produced by the genus Euonymous.
Fleshy fruits can be simple, aggregate or multiple. Below are examples of each.
Fleshy/Aggregate roses, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries (not berries!)
Choose pretty shrubs. Now that you’re a fruiting body expert and know a dry from a fleshy and a berry from a drupe, let’s consider options. Following is a list of shrubs with very showy fruit. Cultivars are available for each species, sometimes numbering in the hundreds and, in the case of roses, thousands. (Or click for DazzleGardensSimpleShrubFruitChart.pdf)
• Bayberry, Northern (Myrica pennsylvanica), grayish white drupe with a waxy coating. Fun Fact: wax makes the lovely fragrant bayberry candles. • Blueberry, highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum), bluish lack, bloomy berry. Caution: plant multiple cultivars for good cross-pollination. • Blueberry, lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium), bluish black, bloomy berry. Caution: plant multiple cultivars for good cross-pollination. • Chokeberry, black (Aronia melanocarpa), purplish-black pome. • Chokeberry, red (Aronia arbutifolia), bright red pome. • Chokeberry, purple-fruited (Aronia x prunifolia), purplish black pome (“lustrous” according to Dirr!) • Crabapple (Malus), virtually every shade of red and yellow pome. Fun Fact: ‘Harvest Gold’ is beautiful. Caution: need multiple crabs or apples for cross pollination. • Dogwood, gray (Cornus racemosa), flashy white drupe borne atop bright red pedicels or stems. • Eastern Wahoo (Euonymous atropurpureus), four-lobed crimson capsule opens to brown and scarlet. • Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), purple black drupe; cultivars available with red fruit. Fun Fact: cooks into excellent pies, jams and wine. • Indiancurrant, coralberry, buckbrush (Symphoricarpus orbiculatus), purplish red to coral red drupe. • Inkberry (Ilex glabra), black to purplish-red drupe changing to black; some cultivars have white fruit. Caution: Hardiness Zone 4/5. • Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma), warm, rich purple drupe. Caution: Hardiness Zone 5 but definitely worth trying. Fun Fact: a truly stunning shrub and one of my favorites. • Rose (Rosa), shades of red and orange aggregate. Caution: be sure to choose plants that actually produce persistent fruit. • Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) , creamy white drupe. Fun Fact: tolerates shade. • Sumac, staghorn (Rhus typhina), bright crimson drupe turning dark red. Caution: Plant is dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). Only females produce fruit so be sure to purchase at least one male for a group of females. Fun Fact: famous ‘Tiger Eyes’ cultivar is a staghorn sumac. • Viburnum, arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), blue or bluish black drupe. • Viburnum, cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum), bright red drupe. • Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), bright red drupe. Caution: Plant is dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). Only females produce fruit so be sure to purchase at least one male for a group of females.
Design ideas. Here are four simple, charming and elegant design ideas.
#1. Plant the right plant in the right spot. (Dazzle Gardens Rule #1.) This is always critical but even more so when the objective is to cultivate a nice crop of fruit. Wouldn't it be silly to prune off flowers and fruit because the plant was overgrowing its intended space?
#2. Incorporate into herbaceous gardens. Shrubs can provide two design principles: focal points (planted singly) or repetition (planted repeatedly to provide cohesiveness).
#3. Plant in a massive shrub border, surely one of the great design concepts. Not only can it be beautiful to view for oneself but it can provide the perfect screen from a neighbor's house, garage or driveway.
#4. Even better, plant a shrub border against the backdrop of evergreens. The effect is dazzling!
Finally… Growing plants that are pleasing in all seasons is another basic rule of Dazzle Gardens (Rule #2, in fact). And by choosing shrubs with showy fruits, the plants are not only pleasing to look at for several months during fall and winter but the fruits provide food for gardeners and wildlife alike.
Photos by Chris Mathan of the Sportsman's Cabinet, www.sportsmanscabinet.com. From top: Crabapple, Cranberrybush viburnum, Winterberry.
War Brides by Helen Bryan is the only piece of fiction on my bedside table and a pleasant read at the end of the day. It was recommended to me by Carol, a friend from way back when, among other things, we spent long evenings playing bridge, drinking wine, talking and laughing.
The book brings five disparate women together in an East Sussex village first during the early years of World War II and then again 50 years later. The characters are rich, the writing is good and the story is excellent.
Plant Dreaming Deep by May Sarton has been in my library for about 30 years and I’m now re-reading it for perhaps the fourth time. I’m intrigued by real writers who were also real gardeners.
Sarton (1912 – 1995) was a poet and novelist but her journals are my favorites. This is her earliest when she chronicled her home purchase in Nelson, New Hampshire, and her first garden.
Sarton’s writing style is flowing and descriptive but also clear without excessive adjectives.
My outdoor garden would never win a ribbon from a garden club, but the indoor-outdoor garden has been a constant joy from the very first year. There are gardeners who cannot bear to pick. I am not one of them, so it has been a boon to have that plot at the back, a kind of kitchen garden, stuffed with lettuce and annuals that I can plunder without a qualm.
Arranging flowers is like writing in that it is an art of choice. Not everything can be used of the rich material that rushes forward demanding utterance. And just as one tries one word after another, puts a phrase together only to tear it apart, so one arranges flowers. It is engrossing work, and needs a fresh eye and a steady hand. When you think the thing is finished, it may suddenly topple over, or look too crowded after all, or a little meager. It needs one more note of bright pink…
1001 Gardens You Must See Before You Die by Rae Spencer-Jones was spotted on the shelves while recently browsing in a book store. After the briefest of perusals, I simply had to buy it. Spencer-Jones is an English horticulturist and journalist with an impressive background. In addition to freelancing for various gardening publications in the UK, she is Publisher of Books at the Royal Horticultural Society.
This book is an absolute must for anyone interested in gardens and travel. It’s arranged by region geographically from west to east and then north to south. Every possible place is included—North America, Europe, Asia, Central and South America, Africa and Australia.
Details for each garden include designers, owners, style, size, climate, address and names in original language. (The French names are especially romantic and bewitching. Who wouldn’t want to visit Chateau de Fontainebleau, Chateau et Parc de Chantilly, Les Jardins des Tuileries and La Roseraie du Val-de-Marne?) Color photos accompany most gardens. Even though the text isn’t extensive, it is well-researched (Spencer-Jones enlisted the help of 70 contributors) and complete enough to give the reader a good sense of the garden.
If you’re planning a trip, consult this book for nearby gardens. If you’re seeking travel destinations, page through this book and the list will soon be long. Or if you’re a dreamer, keep this book near and consult often.
Monet’s Garden by Vivian Russell and Monet’s Years at Giverny from The Metropolitan Museum of Art are checked out from the library to study Monet’s art, his garden and his flowers.
I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers. ~ Claude Monet
Even though I’ve never seen Giverny in person, I’ve been there through Monet’s images on canvas. I remember an exhibit, A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape, at the Art Institute of Chicago in the early 1980s. I saw room after room, painting after painting of beautiful flowers—roses on arches, spreading nasturtiums, iris, poppies, huge sunflowers and the wisteria-covered Japanese bridge. Too, I remember seeing Monet’s huge water lilies paintings at the Musee Marmaton in Paris.
My garden is my most beautiful masterpiece. ~ Claude Monet
In October, pumpkins are everywhere and hard to resist…even if pumpkin-carving days have long passed. I like them all—big and orange, small and white or green and warty. Pumpkins taste good, too, as an ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes.
Everyone tells me you are a fake but I believe in you. ~ Linus, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 1966
Charles M. Schulz memorialized this time of year when he created a television special that featured The Great Pumpkin, a Santa Claus-type hero who would rise out of the most sincere pumpkin patch on Halloween night and bring presents to girls and boys. Who’s not a fan of this charming show full of great music, friendship, loyalty, Snoopy in costumes, tricks-or-treats and, of course, pumpkins?
Pumpkin facts. • Pumpkins belong to the Cucurbitaceae family. Other members include cucumbers, gourds, melons and squash. • Pumpkin cultivars are progeny of Cucurbita pepo, C. maxima or C. moschata. • Pumpkins are monoecious which means separate male and female flowers are borne on the same plant. While both are needed for fertilization, only female flowers set fruit; male flowers won’t. • The new world-record pumpkin weighs 2,009 lbs. and was grown this year by Ron Wallace from Greene, Rhode Island. • 90% of the pumpkins grown in this country are raised in central Illinois. Libby’s huge pumpkin-processing plant is located in the town of Morton where more than 85% of the world’s pumpkins are canned each year.
How to grow pumpkins. Pumpkins are warm-season plants. Not only should seedlings be planted after all danger of frost has passed, but they need warm soil and air temperatures consistently above 50 to grow. Since pumpkins require a long growing season to bear fruit—about 75 to 100 days—seedlings are preferred over seeds. Seeds can be started indoors about 2-4 weeks prior to planting time but allow time for hardening off. Check seeds packages and plant tags for specific information.
Choose a spot in full sun with good, rich soil. Pumpkins are heavy feeders so amend soil with well-rotted manure and compost several times during the growing season. If rainfall of at least 1” per week isn’t received, provide additional water.
Pumpkin cultivars are available in vine, bush and miniature forms. Big vines are often grown on “hills” that need 50 – 100 square feet of space. Bush and miniatures can be grown in rows.
Pumpkins cultivars. Here are some cool pumpkin cultivars to grow. Large pumpkins: Big Moon, Connecticut Field, Dill’s Atlantic Giant, Howden Biggie, Large Cheese Tiny pumpkins: Baby Boo, Jack Be Little, Wee-B-Little Pretty pumpkins: Autumn Gold, Cinderella (the French heirloom ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’), Jarrahdale (gray-green from New Zealand), Lumina Ugly pumpkins: Sea Pumpkin (C. maxima ‘Marina di Chioggia’), One-Too-Many
Eat more pumpkins. With edible seeds, creamy flesh, and a shell that doubles as a serving vessel, pumpkin may be fall’s most versatile ingredient. ~ Jeanne Kelley, Fine Cooking Magazine, October/November 2010
I discovered oodles of recipes featuring pumpkins while leafing through my cookbooks. Check these out. • Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland, by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson • Simple Cooking, by John Thorne • Simple French Food, by Richard Olney • The Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker • The New James Beard, by James Beard
Decorating with pumpkins. If your style tends to Carve-by-Color Pumpkins, Halloween Pumpkin Creatures or lining your entranceway with Leaf-Carved Pumpkin Lanterns (I’m not kidding.), check out Martha Stewart Living.
I prefer a simple design which also, to me, looks charming and sophisticated. • Choose several (odd number if under 6) interesting shapes and colors of pumpkins. Aarrange nicely on front porch, steps, or deck. • Add one or three smaller pumpkins of choice to already-planted fall containers. • Fill container or window box with nice straw, dried grass or marsh hay. Select similarly sized but different colored pumpkins and nestle them.
Finally… Beverages that are sweet don’t generally appeal to me but I make an exception for Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte. It is warm, comforting, looks pretty and smells divine. Even though Amanda Hesser pooh-poohs lattes after dinner (as her future husband suggested in Looking for Mr. Latte), this drink is rich enough to double as dessert.
The most glorious group of plants on earth. ~ Anna Pavord, Bulb
Anna Pavord is a British author who has written several books on gardening: The Curious Gardener, Plant Partners, New Kitchen Garden and Flower Power. She is best known, though, for her bulb passion. In 2001, she published The Tulip: The Story of the Flower That Has Made Men Mad which became both an international and New York Times bestseller.
My favorite Pavord book is an extraordinary 544-page tome, Bulb, and not only because she admitted in the Acknowledgments that “I spend more on bulbs than clothes.” The photographs by Andrew Larson and Torie Chugg are so enticing, so mouth-wateringly gorgeous that the book borders on plant porn.
Bulbs, corms, rhizomes and tubers are a group of plants that depend on a swollen underground storage system. For the purposes of this essay, “bulb” will be used inclusively even though the crocus is a corm. Eleven fall-planted/spring-flowering plants are considered and all have a Hardiness Zone rating of 3 or 4.
Find a good site. Adhere to Dazzle Gardens Plant Rule #1: Consider the light, soil and moisture requirements and mature height and width of the plant.
Light Requirements Full Sun • Daffodil • Tulip
Full Sun to Part Shade • Bluebell • Crocus • Fritillaria • Glory of the Snow • Grape Hyacinth • Hyacinth • Snowflake
Part Shade to Full Shade • Siberian Squill • Snowdrop
Soil & Moisture Requirements Needs well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. (Add humus to sandy soil.) Moisture is especially important in spring. • Bluebell • Daffodil • Glory of the Snow • Snowdrop
Needs well-drained soil, rich in organic matter. (Add humus to sandy soil.) Spring moisture levels not crucial. • Hyacinth
Rich, fast-draining soil is essential. Add grit or gravel to heavy clay. • Crocus • Siberian Squill • Tulip
Prefers rich, damp, heavy soil. • Fritillaria • Snowflake
Not fussy about soil at all! • Muscari
Plant the bulbs properly. Excellent suppliers Brent and Becky’s Bulbs recommends planting bulbs “after the first frost but before the ground freezes.” For two reasons, try not to procrastinate. The longer the bulbs are in the ground, the more fully developed the roots will be. And even though it can be easy to put off, I write from first-hand experience that it is not fun to be in the garden with bulbs and a trowel during an early sleet storm.
There are two methods for hole-digging—either one hole/one bulb or one big hole for several bulbs. Choose the option that makes the most sense for the garden design and the size and quantities of bulbs.
The list below specifies spacing and planting depth. Spacing refers to on-center spacing, i.e., the distance from the center of one bulb to the center of the next bulb. Depth refers to the distance from the bottom of the hole to the soil surface. When in doubt, plant the bulb 3 times deeper than the height of the bulb.
Bluebells, English & Spanish: 4-6” spacing/4” depth Crocus: 2-3” spacing/2-3” depth Daffodil: 4-6” spacing (or 3 times bulb width)/4-6” depth (or 3 times bulb height) Fritillaria: 3-4” spacing/4-6” depth Glory of the Snow: 2-3” spacing/2-3” depth Grape Hyacinth: 2-3” spacing/2-3” depth Hyacinth: 4-5” spacing/4-6” depth Siberian Squill: 1-2” spacing/3-4” depth Snowdrop: 2-3” spacing/3-4” depth Snowflake: 5-6” spacing/4-6” depth Tulip: 6” spacing for standard (or 3 times bulb width)/8-10” depth for standard (or 3-4 times bulb height)
After planting, water the area thoroughly. If rainfall of about 1” per week isn’t received, continue to water until the ground freezes.
Pavord recommends topdressing with grit, fine gravel or builder’s sand. After the ground freezes, a mulch of loose organic material such as leaves or evergreen boughs can be beneficial.
Finally… Bulbs can be successfully grown in containers for the outdoor garden or forced for indoors. To be continued...
Photos above: My order from Brent and Becky's Bulbs, Daffodils by Chris Mathan of The Sportsman's Cabinet, darling checkered Fritillarias.
Jim Harrison is a gifted writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. He is perhaps best known for his novels, including Legends of the Fall which became a successful movie in the mid 1990s and starred Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt.
I have always preferred Harrison’s nonfiction. In the memoir, Off to the Side, he wrote beautifully flowing essays about his Seven Obsessions. While Harrison’s obsessions are erudite and impressive in scale (Alcohol, Hunting/Fishing (and Dogs), Private Religion, The Road and Nature, among others), I thought the idea could be shamelessly borrowed and applied to a different subject.
Presented below are my Seven Gardening Obsessions.
Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. ~ Les Brown
Dream big. When designing a garden, take time to think, dream, brainstorm and plan. Then incorporate the entire thing into one all-encompassing, long-range project that can be phased in as time and money allow. Inspiration can come from many sources—reading books and magazines, talking with friends, visiting gardens, taking a class, traveling.
Famous gardens. Many famous gardens were once part of private estates and are now generously open to the public. Longwood Gardens, Winterthur, Biltmore and Filoli are just a few worth seeing in our country. Overseas, grand gardens include Giverny, Sissinghurst Castle and Villa Carlotta on Lake Como in Italy.
Public gardens often came about due to one person’s bold dream. Minnesotans can thank Dr. Leon C. Snyder who envisioned the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and, in North Carolina, Dr. J. C. Raulston was the force behind his state’s arboretum.
Whether the garden is public or private, support them with memberships and contributions. And never miss an opportunity to visit when traveling.
Intoxicating fragrance is something spiritually nutritious and…flowers are giving it away. ~ Thomas Hobbs
Fragrance. Plant breeders are often so intent on unnecessary colors or ungainly double blossoms that they disregard basic botany. The entire raison d’etre of a flower is to produce a seed which ensures the continuation of the species. Scent is a key enticement to attract pollinators.
Flowers with fragrance are borne on all manner and size of plants—from herbaceous annuals and perennials to shrubs, trees and vines. Whether delicate or heady, I value scent more than show-off colors and enormity of blossom.
Furnishings. Just as personal effects like books and artwork give a home its personality so, too, do furnishings and ornaments in outdoor spaces. Liven up the garden with distinctive benches, chairs, arbors, lanterns, fountains, rain chains, stained glass pieces, beautiful pots and anything else that strikes your fancy.
If you make a four-season garden…you feel the life cycle of nature. ~ Piet Oudolf
Four seasons. In general, outdoor gardening begins in spring and ends in fall. Gardeners in the northern half of the country not only neglect many months each year but, perhaps more significantly, they don’t place value on plants—and nature as a whole—when plants are dormant.
Instead, design the garden with a keen eye focused on all seasons. The garden then becomes part of the compelling cycle of growth, reproduction, decay and rebirth.
Food. Nothing is more elemental or satisfying than cutting an assortment of colorful lettuces and savory herbs from the garden just prior to preparing the evening’s salad. Not only does fresh food taste better but it’s more nutritious. In addition, there is value in knowing where food comes from and home-grown fruits and vegetables cost less than other sources.
Take good care. A garden—whether 10 square feet or 10 acres—is part of our planet’s ecosystem. Take good care of the soil and its microorganisms. Practice no-till. Compost kitchen and garden waste and then use it to top-dress prodigiously. Consider the food and habitat needs of native insects, birds and other wildlife when choosing plants.
It is now within the power of individual gardeners to do something that we all dream of doing: to “make a difference.” In this case, the “difference” will be to the future of biodiversity, to the native plants and animals of North America and the ecosystems that sustain them. ~ Douglas W. Tallamy
***Many thanks to Jill Bickford for her photo of Sissinghurst Castle Garden and Chris Mathan of The Sportsman's Cabinet for her photo of winterberry (Ilex verticillata).
I wandered lonely as a cloud That floats on high o'er vales and hills, When all at once I saw a crowd, A host, of golden daffodils; Beside the lake, beneath the trees, Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. - William Wordsworth, Daffodils
It might be difficult to think about spring-flowering bulbs now when herbaceous plants are still overflowing their bed lines and trees and shrubs are showing off with a final blaze of glory. Too, many of us are weary of outside chores and the thought of even more things to nurture renders us numb.
But now is the time, gardeners, the time to design, buy and plant spring-flowering bulbs.
We might be sagging but we must be strong; remember spring. I don’t know one gardener who doesn’t grow bulbs—if not lavishly then at least a small group of crocus by the back door or a smattering of daffodils in the bed under the birch. Remember what is surely marvelous and seemingly amazing: the colors and verdancy of a bulb garden in spring after many long, dark months.
There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter. ~ Rachel Carson
Bulb garden design is simple. Follow these three tenets and you will succeed.
#1. Buy lots. Don’t be stingy. Bulbs look best when massed.
We are grateful for them, as must be all gardeners who endure a winter worth the name. It is not so much their precocity that causes us to treasure them, however, as the extraordinary clarity and intensity of their colors…The purest colors of the gardening year are seen in the high bright light of the April sun, as far up in the sky as it will be in September but shining through the yet-unfurnished branches of the trees with extraordinary intensity. ~ Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd, A Year at North Hill
#2. Mix colors. For some reason, whether we need a color fix or bulb colors just naturally blend (or both), flowers of most bulbs can all be grown together. White Flower Farm knows this, too, and offers gorgeous combinations: Golden Legacy Daffodil Mix, French Single Late Tulip Mix, Peaches and Cream Tulip Mix.
#3. Plant in casual groups. In other words, don’t plant bulbs in a straight line or a geometric pattern. I like this advice from so long ago I don’t even remember where: gently toss a handful of bulbs onto the bed and plant where they land.
Many thanks to Chris Mathan of The Sportsman's Cabinet for her lovely photographs of the daffodils and 'Spring Green' tulip.
Zephyranthes candida is an enchanting thing, its name meaning “flower of the west wind” for in its home it comes into bloom in response to the first of the late summer rains. ~ Anna Pavord, Bulb
Pavord knows her stuff…or my zephyranthes read her book. Just last week, several of its green stems bore slim buds that opened to reveal a dainty, crocus-like flower. Each blossom was composed of six pure white petals, six gold stamens and a taller, off-center pistil. A fresh, daffodil-like fragrance was evident.
The plant was a gift last autumn from Lonnie LaMontagne, a friend fortunate enough to live, and therefore garden, in two disparate regions of the country. For many months she and her family live just outside Ely, Minnesota, where they own the magnificent Burntside Lodge. Even though the soil is just a thin cover over the granite bedrock, Lonnie has developed beautiful gardens that peak in July with an explosion of lilies. Sometime around Thanksgiving, though, she returns to her home in the desert southwest where she indulges her passion for cacti, succulents and other heat-loving plants.
Rain lily facts. • Additional charming common names include Rainflower, Fairy Lily and Zephyr Lily. • Member of the Amaryllidaceae (Amaryllis) Family. Other important family members are daffodil (Narcissus), amaryllis (Hippeastrum), snowflake (Leucojum) and snowdrops (Galanthus). • Native to marshy areas of Argentina and Uruguay in South America. • A true bulb (not a corm, tuber or rhizome) with that efficient system of storing its own resources. • Very sturdy plant and not picky about soil type or moisture; will simply go dormant without sufficient water. • Deer, rodents and insects don’t bother it due to lycorine, a poisonous alkaloid present in the bulb and other plant parts. (Make sure pets and children don’t ingest.) • Of course plant breeders have been fiddling around and hybrids of Z. candida and other genera are now available in peach, apricot, orange and red.
How to grow rain lilies. Rain lilies are easy to grow—no matter if you choose to grow them outside in the garden soil or as an indoor garden plant. Since they are rated to Hardiness Zones 7 – 10, they do need protection from below zero temperatures in winter.
Outdoor garden • For best results, choose a site in full sun with well-drained soil. • Plant bulbs in spring 4” deep and 4” apart. As noted above, no special care is necessary. • After flowering, don’t cut back foliage until it yellows and fades. • Then lift bulbs and store in a cool place.
Indoor garden • Plant bulbs 4” deep and about 2” apart in good potting soil. • Water thoroughly and place in east, west or south window. • Although, the plant isn’t particular at all, it’s best to let dry out somewhat in winter and then resume normal watering in spring. • Can be placed outside when temperatures warm.
Finally… Keep rain lilies away from the kitchen garden! When not in flower, the foliage is, for all practical purposes, identical to chives.
Consider adding some rain lilies to your garden repertoire….if for no other reason than to have the excuse to mention your charming Fairy Lilies and Zephyr Lilies over cocktails. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs (brentandbeckysbulbs.com) sells them and they’re cheap: 10 for $4.80 or 50 for $20.50.
When summertime rain storms ruin your plans, you are rewarded with a smile the next day because that same storms “kicks” the Zephyranthes in bloom! ~ Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Summer-Flowering Bulbs Catalog 2012