A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Sunday, January 29, 2006

That Wascally Wabbit...er Squirrel

We had another cold snap. A very brief one but still I was concerned about my rosebushes especially The Fairy. That one had been putting out leaves like it was spring. When I got home from work this morning, I checked on it. Sure enough, the leaves were gone. Upon closer examination, I realized everything was gone. A squirrel or squirrels had chewed most of the branches off. The squirrels are not hibernating this winter because it has been so warm. I have been feeding them but I guess they wanted a little variety in their diet.

Needless to say, I am horrified. I lost a Zephirine Drouhin to voracious squirrels last year. Losing The Fairy would be heartbreaking. It was the only one of my new roses to bloom last year. I had high hopes that it would survive the winter and do even better this year. In fact, I was planning on moving it to become the centerpiece of a new cottage-style garden I am planning for the front yard, my opening move in eliminating my front lawn.

The seeds that I ordered have been arriving daily. I've been working the past four nights so I've just been tossing them into the fridge without opening the packages. The nights that I work, I just work and sleep. If you were up all night, you would sleep all day too! I did make a mental note that the my order from Select Seeds was most likely a partial delivery. It was my largest order. There was no way they could have fit that many seed packets into such a small envelope. Imagine my surprise when I opened it tonight and discovered they had indeed somehow crammed 25 seed packets into a tiny 6" x 9" padded mailer. I'm very concerned about that company. They are obviously trying to save on postage. Their packets are very poor quality. The printing on them is atrocious. Could they be flirting with bankruptcy? I hope not. I love that company. They are a fantastic source for all kinds of heirloom and other rare seeds and plants. Maybe I should start a movement. Encourage gardeners all over the country to order from them to increase their revenues!

All of those seeds in my fridge are tantalizing, especially with all the warm weather we have been having. It's supposed to continue the rest of this week. Again. This month has to be setting some kind of records for warm temperatures. But it's still too early to do any gardening.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Wild Lupines

My first seeds arrived today. Whew! That was quick. Didn't I just order them a couple of days ago? I don't know if I've never ordered from Pinetree Garden Seeds before or if they have changed their seed packet design, but I thought they were so pretty. I love the pastel colors.

One of the packets had the most interesting planting instructions I've ever come across. They are Wild Lupines. I loved the lupines that I grew in my Wildflower Garden last year. I wanted to plant more this year. The picture of the wild lupines in the Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog was fabulous. The description sealed the deal for me:

"Some of the more refined Lupines can be difficult to grow. Not this wild forbearer. Scatter the seeds around, and you will get a nice presentation. The color will be primarily shades of blue and purple, but occasionally you will get some sports with pink or white - mark them and save seed for more variety in your stand. An interesting planting that should last and expand for years. We tossed some in a road side ditch and have been amazed at how well they are growing."

There was one problem. They only sell them in 1 ounce size. That's a lot of lupines! My Wildflower Garden is tiny. It's just an awkward space by my shed that I decided to fill in with wildflowers. I threw caution to the winds and ordered the seed anyways thinking I could just throw some in my other gardens. That's where the strange instructions came in. Here they are:

"Plant 1/8" deep or scatter the seed and walk on them."

My neighbors have seen me do a lot of crazy things in my gardens, but tramping around the beds just might be the deciding factor in whether or not they should stage an intervention!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Springtime in January

We have been enjoying balmy weather for virtually the entire month of January. Daytime temperatures often reach the 50's and 60's (10-15 C). We did have one nasty cold snap last weekend. I took my usual nightly walk on Saturday evening. It was 60F (15.5 C) and pouring rain. When I left the house 90 minutes later to go to work, the rain had turned to snow and ice. Everything froze over night. My driveway is on a slight incline, just enough that I had a tough time the next morning walking (sliding?) down it to retrieve my paper and then trying to skate back up it to get to the house.

The only casualty so far has been my birdbath. We have been getting lots and lots of rain so it has been filled with water. Normally at this time of year, it is empty. The water froze during the cold snap and shattered the bowl.

This is a new bowl. I bought it last Mother's Day to replace one that had also broken during the winter. I'm going to have to start storing the birdbath in the shed during the winter. I have to have one. I enjoy watching the birds enjoy it too much to do without one.

I took a stroll around the yard today to see what was being fooled by the unnaturally warm weather. There the usual crocuses and daffodils. Those I'm not concerned about. When the weather turns nasty, they just go dormant until it warms up again. What worries me is seeing the new growth on columbines and hollyhocks:

Look at this lilac. It looks like it is about to burst into full foliage:
I don't know where those leaves you see in the background are coming from. I keep raking them up and they keep reappearing. They're not blowing in from the neighbor's yard. They are much better about raking leaves than I am.

What has me really worried are my rosebushes. All of them have leaf buds and some of them are even starting to get leaves.

If it gets too cold for too long, I'm afraid those buds will die. Without leaves, the bushes will die. All I can do is cross my fingers that they will make it through the winter alive.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Just a little obsessive

I ordered my seeds today. I know it's early, but my list kept getting longer and longer. Placing the orders was the only way to stop the insanity! I'm also trying to be more organized than in the past. I may have overdone it, though. I created a few spreadsheets. Okay, more than a few. The first one is a Master List of all the seeds that I ordered followed by individual spreadsheets for each company I ordered from followed by individual spreadsheets for each garden with color-coded tabs (green for the Green Garden, purple for the Purple Garden, etc.).

Sounds a little obsessive doesn't it? There is method to my madness. The Master List allowed me to review my entire order and discover I had left out a few things. The sheets for each company will help me track where I am ordering from and if there is a problem with germination rates from a particular supplier. The sheets for each garden will help me remember which garden I want to plant each type of seed in. I have a bad habit of making elaborate plans in the winter, ordering the seeds, throwing them into the fridge and then when I take them out in the spring to plant, I don't remember my plan(s) and have to start all over again. I have also put in columns for height to help me lay out each garden and germination information. Then I can make notes on my calendar which ones to cold stratify and for how long, which ones need to be planted early (such as poppies) and which ones to soak before planting.

Last year, on this same day believe it or not, I did a post poking gentle fun at myself for the number of varieties of the same flower I was growing. Just for giggles, let's do a little comparison. Looking at my Master List from this year, I note that cosmos and zinnias are tied for first place for the number of varieties. Five each. Last year, it was "only" four. Columbine remains the same at five although I am only ordering one kind. Four are already pretty well established. Morning glories also remain the same at six. Like the columbine, I am only ordering one kind, the rest merrily reseed themselves with no help from me. There are some striking differences. I am only growing one type of marigold this year as opposed to four last year. It may actually be two if the one I allowed to go to seed comes back. My normal order of only one kind of nasturtium has mushroomed to four this year. I am ordering two types of asters plus I have a New England aster that I ordered as a plant that went in last fall. I don't believe I ordered any asters last year. And last, but not least, are the foxglove. Three kinds this year, only one kind last year.

On a personal note, we finally got our midterms back today and I passed! We were all very worried. The exam was much more difficult than we had anticipated.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Plant Propogation

Last week and this week, the Master Gardener classes have been held at the floriculture greenhouses at Cook College. I had already worked in these greenhouses last November transplanting cuttings for Rutgers Gardens. As promised, I brought treats for Bea, the greenhouse cat. She caught on very quickly. As soon as she heard my voice this week, she popped her head around a corner and gave me a look that plainly said, "Any treats?". She was even brave enough to come into the classroom during the lecture, hopped up on the counter where I had fed her treats last week and then was rudely whisked out of the room because one of my classmates has a phobia about cats. I did try to lure Bea out with a trail of treats, but she was too smart to fall for that and I finally had to pick her up and carry her out of the room. I gave her that treat she was looking for and hope that she will forgive me.

The lecture last week was on plant propogation. It covered seeds, cuttings, division and various grafting techniques. Then came the fun part. We got to plant some seeds and root some cuttings. I chose to plant phlox and nicotiana seeds. When I checked my tray this week, the phlox had begun to germinate. I don't expect anything from the nicotiana. I was so busy trying to master the planting technique we had been taught that I forgot to read the seed packet first. Nicotiana should be seeded on the surface. I tried to "unbury" the seeds, but they are like dust so I have no idea how successful I was.

We were allowed to choose plants from the greenhouse from which to take cuttings. The coleus and scented geraniums that my fellow students found so attractive did absolutely nothing for me. I couldn't generate any enthusiasm until the lecturer brought in jade tree cuttings.

I have somehow managed to keep a jade tree alive for a few years now. On the tour of the greenhouses last week, I asked about the wonderful specimans I saw. They were huge plants in tiny pots and bone dry. There were two obvious mistakes right there! I always kill my houseplants with kindess. What I found most amazing was the variety. I had no idea that there were different kinds of jade trees. So you can imagine my excitement when I realized I could root and keep these new (to me) plants! I have placed them in the same sunny window that my current jade tree enjoys. After a week, they have perked up and I have high hopes that they will make it.

So . . . allow me to introduce my new plants . . .

The first one is variegated and the leaves are longer and narrower than "regular" jade trees. Yes, I know it looks like I buried it, but I didn't really. The potting medium keeps oozing all over it when I water it. I tried brushing it off but all that I accomplished was to break off one of the leaves.

This is my favorite one . . .

The leaves are tubular! Isn't that the coolest thing you've ever seen? It looks like something out of a science fiction movie. I have to keep resisting the temptation to overwater them.

And would you believe we still haven't gotten the results of our midterms yet?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Christmas Lights at Longwood Gardens

Believe it or not, all of the pictures I posted the last two days represent only half of the conservatory. I'm not going to post the photos of the rest of the conservatory right now. There is still weeks and weeks of winter left and I know that periodically I will feel the need for green. Those will be great times to revisit those pictures.

I would like to finish up with some pictures of the Christmas lights at Longwood. There are over 420,000 lights both indoors and outdoors. Sunday was the last day for the lights and there were still crowds streaming in when we left at 6 PM. I have to warn you. The pictures aren't very good. My camera isn't one of those fancy ones where you can vary the exposure and my batteries were on their last legs.

One of my favorite Christmas displays was of wreaths made by students. They were incredibly creative.

This one was my personal favorite:

After we finished our tour of the conservatory, we headed outdoors and did a very brief tour of the grounds. It was still light enough to see the gardens. Of course, I had to take pictures of the ornamental grasses.

Nope, they don't look any better than the ones I helped plant at Rutgers Gardens last spring. Right next to the ornamental grasses is a Children's Garden. I loved this "throne".

I had a tough time getting this shot because the children playing in the garden all wanted to pose in the chair for me! Further on are the veggie beds. There is nothing in them now, but I liked the birdhouse gourds.

See the lights in the tree behind it? What I want to know is, who climbed all the trees to put lights in them?
Here's a better shot of the "tree" to the left:

They had whole rows of these "trees".

This is a shot of the Italian Garden all done up in blue lights. You can't see any detail, but it gives you an idea of the incredible numbers of lights.

Here's a neat shot down an avenue. See the bright lights in the middle of the picture?

They're "lilac bushes"!

I'm dying to know. Did they use ladders or a cherry picker to get up there?
Oh, darn. I only got one side. This was an avenue with green and red "trees" lining both sides.

And remember the little flower lights outside the restaurant? Here's some more all lit up.

As we headed towards the Visitor Center (the bright light on the left) on our way out, we wondered . . .

. . . do they take the lights down each year or do they leave them up year-round and only illuminate them during the holidays?

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to going back during the growing season. Next time I'm going to bring more batteries and something to take notes on.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Christmas at Longwood Gardens, cont'd

The eastern wing of the conservatory is designed around a water feature.

It contains fountains . . .

. . . and waterfalls.

The plantings around the water are truly breathtaking.

Music has played an important role at Longwood both when it was a home and now as a public garden. There is a wonderful exhibit on organs.

In another room, was this music box which not only looks good but sounds like no other music box that I have ever heard. It doesn't have that typical "tinny" sound. It sounds like an actual recording.

The members of my group had to keep reminding me to take my eyes off of the exhibits and "look up". Some of the ceilings were spectacular.

I really enjoyed the Christmas decorations at Longwood because they were not the typical decorations you see everywhere.

The goodies on this table reminded us that we were hungry and should take a break for lunch.

To get there, we had to pass through another courtyard that contained yet another fountain. I thought the little heron was so cute. I'm learning to enjoy garden whimsies.

This is what is behind the heron.

Here's a view looking the other way.

The members of my group told me later that they had been making fun of me behind my back wondering if my mouth was ever going to close. I was just agog at what I was seeing. Here are some more photos of the entrance I took on our way out of the conservatory.

There was another Christmas tree outside the entrance to the restaurant where we ate lunch. Note the scooter. Longwood Gardens provides scooters so everyone can enjoy the gardens regardless of their age or handicap.

Also outside the restaurant were these "flowers". When we looked more closely, we realized they were lights.

Tomorrow, I will devote the third and final post of this series to the spectacular Christmas lights of Longwood Gardens. People come from miles around just to see the lights.