A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Weirdness Chronicles 2006 Chapter Ten

Snowdrops blooming in November. I WIN!! I WIN!! I WIN!! These are either the earliest flowering bulbs of Spring 2007 or the latest flowering bulbs of Spring 2006. Doesn't matter which contest because I WIN!! I WIN!! I WIN!!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Green Thumb Sunday


You are looking at one of my biggest disappointments this year. It's a poppy. It was supposed to look like the ones in the Old Masters paintings. And it did. Sort of. As a flower, it was very attractive. As a plant, it was just plain ugly. The flowers were so heavy that the stems couldn't support them and drooped. So, instead of looking like this:

(attractive picture in the catalog), it looked like this:

Click on the picture to enlarge it and experience the horror. I thoroughly deadheaded so that this monstrosity would never, ever reappear.

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Garden Bloggers' Book Club

Okay, I'm late posting my thoughts on Henry Mitchell's "The Essential Earthman". I'm juggling a few projects right now plus (eek!) I haven't even finished reading it. I'm almost done, so I can safely post a few comments.

I was prepared to not like this book. It's just not my style. Come on, a collection of newspaper columns? We've all read the garden column in our local paper. It's horrible. Poorly written, pushing a lot of chemicals and all the newest plants. I'm an heirloom gardener. My interest is history. What were old gardens like? How did gardeners back then do things? What did they grow? Why? What worked for them and what didn't?

My favorite garden books are books about historical gardens and historical gardeners. I don't care for "modern" gardening and I absolutely loathe "how-to" books. They're a lot like those TV shows about home renovation. They make it look so easy, but when I actually try doing it myself, it's a heck of a lot more difficult. Or needs specialized tools. Or involves a lot of expensive materials. So I was prepared to dislike Mr. Mitchell and his book(s). Instead, I fell in love.

I was hooked from the first sentence: "As I write this, on June 29, it's about time for another summer storm to smash the garden to pieces, though it may hold off until the phlox, tomatoes, daylilies, and zinnias are in full sway". A real gardener! With a sense of humor! And perspective! And he grows heirlooms! In fact, in many cases, he prefers the heirlooms to newer varieties. No perfect garden here. Instead, he willingly admits to mistakes and how he corrected them.

Much to my chagrin, this is the perfect "how-to" book. He gives complete instructions on many issues and even admits when the process is difficult. He names and describes both new and old plant varieties. And provides the kind of useful information that you won't find in catalogs or nurseries: how a plant performs (or doesn't perform) in the home garden. All with a wonderful sense of humor.

Like most of the other garden bloggers who have read this book, I have issues with some of his opinions, especially when it comes to invasives, but I think it's reasonable to say that any time you get two or more gardeners together, you will get differences of opinions. It's just that kind of a hobby. There is no "right way" or "wrong way". What works for one gardener may not work for another.

This book is perfect. It can be read and enjoyed by both experienced and novice gardeners. I'm so glad I bought it instead of just borrowing it from the library. I'm looking forward to buying and reading his other books. If you haven't already done so, drop everything and READ THIS BOOK!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Mystery Plant

I just love mystery plants, don't you? I actually found these two cute little mysteries about a month ago, but haven't gotten around to writing about them until now. Too much going on. Anyways, it's difficult to tell from the photo but they are seedlings. That's a Madonna lily leaf in the top of the picture to give you an idea of how small they were. The leaf shape was completely unfamiliar and they were fuzzy.

I do plant a lot of new seeds every year so there was a good possibility that it was just something new but I couldn't recall planting anything that might resemble this in this bed. So it had to be a gift from the birds. I checked the NJ Weed Gallery and the USDA Invasive Plant Species page but didn't see them there. A delightful mystery indeed!

A couple of weeks later, while doing research on cottage gardens, I came across a picture of Rose Campion. That's it! Rose Campion. I planted seeds in that general area, but thought they didn't germinate. Because the blossoms resembe dianthus, I had expected the foliage to resemble dianthus also. Who knew Rose Campions had wide fuzzy leaves? Now I wonder how many seedlings I must have pulled out thinking they were weeds!

That's a major gripe of mine about catalog pictures. They show you the flowers, but not the foliage or the seedlings. How are you supposed to know what it looks like if you have never grown it before? Especially a perennial that is not likely to bloom for a year or more? Grrrrr. . .

At least these two survived and I have something new to look forward to next year.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Green Thumb Sunday


This is a miracle. And one of the biggest reasons why I love heirloom roses. This spring, I thought my Harrison's Yellow was dead . I noticed a few leaves so I pruned away all of the dead stuff and crossed my fingers. That was in April. This picture was taken July 28, almost exactly three months later. Lots of new growth. The darned thing may actually bloom next year. Boy, those heirloom roses are tough!

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Weirdness Chronicles 2006 Chapter Nine

We have been having incredibly warm weather all week. Every day the thermometer in my car has been reading 70F (21C) or above. I still have lots of green and a few flowers in my gardens. I noticed today that my Alpine strawberries are looking excellent. They even have a few flowers. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that they also have berries!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Still Blooming

One of the few things I like about living in New Jersey is the long growing season. Even after more than two decades, I still can't believe that it's November and I still have flowers. The Bachelors Buttons in the Entry Garden are blooming up a storm. I especially love this bi-colored one.

I've never seen one like this, have you? In addition to the usual blue, there are some lovely dark purple blossoms.

In the backyard, annual Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) are still putting on a brave show.

The perennial ones (Rudbeckia fulgida) gave up the ghost long ago! I don't normally allow the annual ones to flower. I usually am pretty ruthless about weeding them out because they are so invasive but this border was virtually devoid of flowers this summer so I allowed them to grow and blossom. I will regret this next year!

Three of the rosebushes I planted this year are growing spectacularly! The first two are Belle de Crecy and Mme Pierre Oger. I didn't label them and I have forgotten which one is which. I'll find out when they bloom. The last is Seven Sisters.

The Seven Sisters is AMAZING! I thought that it had died so I asked the company for a replacement. By the time the replacement arrived, this rose had leaves so I transplanted it to its current spot and planted the replacement in the original spot where I wanted it. Now the replacement appears to have died. I'm just leaving it. It may come back and then I'll have two of them!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

GreenThumb Sunday


I'm "borrowing" an idea from a blogger that I admire very much and nominating this "My Favorite Spot". I hope that she believes, as I do, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

This is the shadiest spot in my yard. It sits under my neighbor's magnificent maple tree which creates dense shade except for a few brief hours very early in the morning. I've been trying various plants for years looking for something, anything that will grow here. After much trial and error, I have finally figured out my mistake. I have been trying to grow flowers here. Except for the liatris, no self-respecting flower will deign to take root. But foliage plants do wonderfully.

So I'm throwing in the trowel and seeing beauty in the shapes and textures of the leaves. I have transplanted all of the liatris to either side of the birdbath. Behind the liatris are ferns that will eventually grow tall enough to hide the ugly fence. They are all different colors and shapes. In front of the birdbath are the non-blooming hellebores which make an attractive groundcover. The hosta, originally from Rutgers Gardens, provides a nice splash of color and will eventually be joined by other, different hostas. The liatris next to it was moved to the other side to make room for English iris which is reputed to grow well in shade, my last shot at growing flowers in that area. The German iris was dug up and given away to two new gardeners who were looking for plants.

I like the way that the birdbath is slowing disappearing into the lush foliage. Its hard edges are softened by the hellebores. Its weightiness is lightened by the airy foliage of the liatris. The ferns will provide a rococo frame for the entire scene.

Now, if only those darned hellebores would bloom!

Gardeners, Plant and Nature lovers can join in every Sunday, visit As the Garden Grows for more information.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Straw Hats Visit a Chinese Scholar's Garden

The Straw Hat Society had its last outing for 2006. Our final expedition was to The New York Chinese Scholar's Garden at the Staten Island Botanical Garden.

The Scholar's Garden was designed and built by the Suzhou branch of the Landscape Architecture Corporation of China. 90% of the materials used were imported from China. A team of 40 Chinese artists and artisans built the garden in six months.

We entered the garden through a bamboo forest.

The first thing we saw upon leaving the forest was the Moon Viewing Pavillion.

Here is an inside view:

The moon is viewed not by looking up, but by looking down at its reflection in the water below.

Some of those fish are quite large.

We followed a path through miniature bamboo that was lined with stones telling the story of Chinese gardens in general and this garden in particular.

The stones alternated English and Chinese.

There was also bonsai . . .

. . . and roses. Many roses are native to China.

To enter the compound, you had to go around a screen. The screen is there to keep out evil spirits. The Chinese believe that evil spirits can only travel in straight lines, so if a spirit tried to enter, the screen would deflect it back out.

From inside the compound:

This is the public part of the scholar's house and garden. There are two pavilions facing each other across a large pond.

The Knowing Fish Pavilion:

The long table is a scroll table where the scholar could unroll his scrolls and read them. I love the way windows and doors are designed to frame views:

Across the pond is the Tea House of Hearing Pines which was used like our living rooms to entertain guests.

The large sculpture is actually three rocks piled on each other. All of the white rocks were quarried from the bottom of Taihu Lake near Suzhou. None of them are carved. The Chinese believe that would disturb their Chi. Inside the pavilion are chairs, a scroll table and chests for storing scrolls.

The ceilings and lamps of all of the interiors are beautiful.

The door pulls on all of the doors in the compound are in the form of stylized bats, a symbol of good luck.

Outside of this pavilion is a mosaic created by a famed mosaic artist who uses whatever materials are available to create mosaics. In this case he used marbles for the heron's eyes, pieces of the workers' rice bowls for their white feathers, pieces of roof tiles for the black outlines and pieces of beer bottles, Heineken and Budweiser, for the tree.

You can enter the private part of the compound either by crossing this bridge . . .

. . . or through this Moon Gate:

The view from the other side:

Or along this covered walkway:

Inside the private part of the compound were bedrooms and the scholar's study:

Note the raised sills in the doorways. This was another way to keep out evil spirits since evil spirits cannot step up, they can only move in straight lines. The private part of the compound has its own, smaller pond and garden. It is supposed to evoke a mountain scene. The wavy roofline represents clouds.

This is the Cool Jade Pavilion. Another beautifully framed scene. Because of the placement of this table and the materials it is made of, if you lean over it, you hear the sound of the water going over the waterfalls as if it were emanating directly from the table rather than coming from outside.

There were also smaller, enclosed courtyards for meditating that were entered through Banana Leaf Gates.

In one courtyard, there was an actual banana tree!

After our tour of the Scholar's Garden, we strolled around the rest of the botanical gardens. Even this late in the season, they were attractive. We are already making plans to return here next summer to see the other gardens such as the White Garden, the herb garden and the butterfly garden, in full bloom. We especially want to see the Secret Garden.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mr. Wonderful's Namesake Coleus

As previously mentioned, all of the coleus at Rutgers Gardens are named varieties. We were delighted to find a variety called "Mr. Wonderful". Of course, we wanted to take pictures and I wanted to post one, but the coleus woudn't allow it. We had to sadly agree with the plants that if a picture was posted in the internet, then people would know what it looked like and could come to Rutgers Gardens and take illegal cuttings.

Then "A" had an idea. She reminded us that Mr. Wonderful had once used a bucket to hide his face and buckets are plentiful in a greenhouse. We scurried around collecting enough buckets for all the plants to use.

So, thanks to A's quick thinking, I can proudly present:

Coleus 'Mr. Wonderful '

(Creative inspiration and photo editing by A, founding member of the Straw Hat Society and long-time Rutgers Gardens volunteer. )

Thanks A, you're a genius!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Plant of the Month

I love looking through catalogs but when it comes time to order, I'm internet all the way. Consequently, I'm on every garden catalog's mailing list, both snail mail and email. Today, I fell out of my chair laughing when I received email from Breck's touting William Guinness columbine as their "Plant of the Month".

I've had William Guinness columbine growing in my purple garden for years. As you can see from the picture below, it is truly a lovely columbine.

It's beautiful as a bud. It's beautiful facing downward. It's beautiful facing outward. The flower stalks are at least two feet tall with multiple blossoms on each one. There's just one teeny, tiny problem. It reseeds itself quite freely. In fact, it's a bit of a pest. Every time I want to plant something in that garden, I have to find homes for several tiny columbine plants either in my gardens or someone else's. If I allowed it, it would take over that bed completely.

Breck's admonishes their clients to buy a lot of plants so that they will have enough flowers to cut and bring inside. They are selling it as follows:

3 plants for $9.99
6 plants for $17.99
9 plants for $23.99

That much for something that's almost as much of a headache as dandelions?