A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Monday, January 29, 2007

My Photos on Flickr

I have almost 2 gb of digital photos on my computer. One of my projects this winter is to upload and organize them on Flickr. The easy part is finished. All of the pictures I took on my various outings since 2005 are now available for viewing. In case you're curious, there were more than 900 of them!

Now for the hard part. How to organize the rest of my photos in some coherent fashion. I have them in folders by date on my computer. I would like to arrange them by "theme" on Flickr so I would have two ways of searching my pictures. I'm slowly working out various themes. For starters, I have posted the photos I used in the newsletter for the Open House at Rutgers Gardens last July as a set.

I created sets for my slide shows. For the past two years, I have used photos from my gardens arranged in slide shows as the screen saver on my computer at work. I'm such a show-off! Both the 2005 slideshow and the 2006 slideshow are now posted.

I'm considering a butterfly set and a set for my roses. I just can't figure out how to present the rest of my flowers. I can't do it by variety because I plant so many different kinds of flowers. Maybe annuals, perennials and bulbs? And I can't do it by flowerbed because I change the themes of my beds every year.

Does anyone have any suggestions?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday


I've been trying for a year now to figure out why I am so fascinated with the orchids at Longwood Gardens. There are literally walls and walls of them but that's to be expected. There are more colors and shapes than I thought existed but there are many, many orchids species so that shouldn't be surprising either. I'm not an orchid fancier. I have no desire to grow orchids. Heck, they don't even have a nice fragrance! I don't know what it is, but I could spend hours in this part of the conservatory.

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

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

2007 Master Gardener Reunion

The Steering Committee of the Middlesex County Master Gardeners sponsors a "reunion" every January. All of the MG's are invited to meet, mingle, network, and exchange ideas. There is always a great speaker whose talk is worth one education hour. Everyone is encouraged to bring a dish or dessert for the buffet and a plant or other garden-related item for the Tricky Tray (Chinese Auction for those of us who are "politically incorrect"). I baked my fool head off for two days and brought seeds and a couple of the African violets that I had propogated. The whole idea was to eventually get rid of all but a couple of the African violets so that I could use that windowsill extender on another window to relieve over-crowding in another, brighter room. That plan got sabotaged when I "won" this in the Tricky Tray:

I know. It's my own fault. I shouldn't have put any of my tickets in the cup. There were so many tickets that I was sure mine would never get pulled. The picture doesn't do it justice. The flowers are a deep violet fading to white centers. I've never seen one so beautiful and I have the perfect window for it!

Oh, and I won this too:

The plant, not the cat. I am not allowed to bring anything into the house without his approval first. Does anyone know what kind of plant it is? I haven't a clue, but I have a great place for it. The stick is a black pussywillow. One of the Master Gardeners does gorgeous flower arrangements. She used black pussywillows from her backyard in one of the arrangements she brought and then handed them out at the end of the evening to anyone who wanted to take one home to root.

The food was delicious and I had a great time catching up with my classmates that I haven't seen in months. Definitely worth all the work I did baking, helping with setup, photographing the event for the newsletter and then helping with cleanup.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Teaming with Microbes

After slogging my way through the last book I read, I was disheartened to read in the Preface to Teaming with Microbes: A Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web that the first part of the book would be difficult to get through. I pressed on. Very science-y. An excellent sleep inducer. No joke. I did fall asleep while reading it one warm afternoon. But it was definitely worth it. Like the authors, I urge you to read the entire book and not just the second part which is the heart of the book.

Their argument boils down to one sentence: "No one ever fertilized an old-growth forest". Think about all the wild places you have ever seen, lush with growth. How did they get that way without the help of Scott's or Miracle-Gro? And if Scott's and Miracle-Gro are so superior, why don't our yards and gardens look better than those wild places?

The authors' thesis is that we should garden like Nature gardens, working with the flora and fauna in the soils rather than against it through the use of compost, organic mulches and actively aerated compost tea. Best of all, they provide precise instructions and call for materials that most of us have on hand anyways. No need for expensive ingredients or equipment!

I was thrilled to discover that I am not a "lazy composter" as I have always thought. Instead, I practice cold composting (not turning the compost), a method that produces the most "nutritious" compost! And what I jokingly refer to as "composting in situ", using the mower to shred up leaves and dumping them with the grass clippings onto my beds in the fall is actually a recommended mulch. As are the leaves I leave in my gardens over the winter. The only thing I am doing wrong is removing the leaves in the spring. And my deepest, darkest secret is nothing to be ashamed of. Instead of carefully working my compost into the soil, I just spread it on top. Again, a recommended method for amending the soil!

Of course, there are things that I have to do differently. Such as leaving the leaves on my beds. And even though I don't roto-till, I should still stop "loosening" the soil in the spring when I plant my seeds. The soil should be disturbed as little as possible. Planting in individual holes or narrow furrows is fine. I should learn to make and use actively aerated compost teas. Perhaps most importantly instead of throwing anything and everything into my composter, I should pay closer attention to the individual ingredients and their proportions, maybe go so far as to have different composters to make compost tailored to the needs of the various plants in my gardens.

This is a wonderful book that I will be referring to again and again. Thanks Carol for recommending it. My garden is forever in your debt.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday


I have no idea what it is but I love it! Another picture from my first trip to Longwood Gardens last year. This is in the cacti/succulent room of the conservatory. The size of the plants in the conservatory just amazed me. I'm so accustomed to seeing much smaller versions in homes.

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

Thursday, January 18, 2007

First Snow

Because this blog is also my gardening journal, I want to record the fact that we had our first snowfall of the 2006/2007 winter season today. No accumulation because the ground is still warm from the long period of unseasonable warm temperatures.

Now back to Teaming with Microbes which is finally getting easier to read after a very tough start.

More on this later . . .

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Flowers and Their Histories

Last year when I was researching cottage gardens for my plot at Rutgers Gardens, I encountered several references to a book on the origins of the plants typically found in English cottage gardens. It is appropriately titled, Flowers and Their Histories and was written by an Englishwoman named Alice M. Coats. She was curious about the origins of garden flowers in England and when she couldn't find any books on the subject, she wrote one herself.

I love heirloom flowers. I love history. I love plucky women. So I went online to my local library consortium and requested a copy of this book. I literally couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I was sure that I would be so enthralled that I would have to hunt down a copy (it is out of print) and buy it no matter what the price.

Thank goodness for libraries! This book was a HUGE disappointment. Extremely informative. Extremely detailed. Extremely dry. Now I know what people mean when they say history is boring. I still can't get over the fact that anyone could take my two favorite topics and render them so unreadable that when the due date arrived and I still hadn't finished slogging my way through it, I was actually glad to return the book.

Don't get me wrong. This is an excellent reference book. If you are curious about the backgrounds of some of the plants in your garden, this is a great resource. But if you want a book that you can curl up with and actually enjoy reading, I can't recommend it.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Squirrel Damage

The squirrels, who should be hibernating, are frolicking around the yard as if it were summer. It's so warm that instead of snow and ice like the interior sections of the country, we are getting rain. In January. Back to the squirrels. There is plenty for them to eat. All the bulbs are sprouting. Here are some of the crocus that I planted in the Entry Garden to brighten my spring:

And here is a lily. I planted several kinds of oriental hybrid lilies in the Entry Garden. Stargazer. Casa Blanca. Muscadet. Lemon Meringue. I'm not sure which one this is. I didn't keep track because I was counting on the flowers to tell which was which.

Unlike prior years, I have a white primrose as the first bloomer rather than a yellow one:

They don't normally bloom in January either!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday


I've always been a big fan of staghorn ferns. They don't look like ferns. They don't grow in soil like ferns. The ones I had previously seen were cute little plants mounted on boards. Who knew they could grow into monsters like the one pictured above? That tiny figure underneath is actually a grossly obese man. I took this picture a year ago in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens. I'm still wondering what they feed it!

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

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Please excuse the screaming, but long-time readers of this blog know that I have waited literally years for this event. I was making my daily trip to the composter with my morning coffee filter and coffee grounds when I spotted some white by the birdbath. My composter is a tad full and I leave the top off of it so when the coffee filters dry out, they have a tendency to fly around the yard when it gets a little breezy. I am constantly picking them up all over the yard and putting them back into the composter.

As I got closer to the birdbath, I realized that what I was seeing was not a coffee filter. It was (drumroll, please) . . .

. . . a hellebore blossom!

As you may recall, I planted the hellebores in fall 2004. Let me repeat that, FALL 2004. Other than getting larger each year, they have done exactly zero for for 2 1/2 years. So there was a lot of screaming and dancing around today. Then I came to my senses and dashed into the house to grab my camera before something happened to the flower. Like a hungry squirrel or sudden ice storm. It could happen, you know! It is January.

The downside of this event is that now I'm going to have to find something else to complain about. Like the fact that I can never get foxglove to grow from seed while everyone else is "weeding" them from their gardens.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I'm a Gardener!

Carol over at May Dreams Gardens is at it again. This time her survey is all about gardeners. Specifically, "What makes a gardener"? Here are my answers:

Do you consider yourself a gardener? How did you decide you were a gardener? I most definitely consider myself a gardener. And not because I am particularly skilled at it. It's more of a mindset. A way of life. I breathe, therefore I garden type of thing.

When is the first time you referred to yourself as a gardener? Where and how did you learn to be a gardener? I honestly can't remember the first time I referred to myself as a gardener. I was raised by a (flower) gardener. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. My mother gardened at every single house, whether owned or rented. I don't remember how old I was, just that I was in elementary school, when she gave me a corner of one of her beds and some packets of flower seeds. I lovingly planted and cared for those seeds and was so thrilled when they grew and bloomed. I was hooked and had to have a garden no matter where I have lived.

Has anyone ever introduced you to someone else as a gardener? All the time, especially since I took the Master Gardener course.

When someone tells you they are a gardener, what image of them does it bring to mind? What do you expect of them? I always imagine them looking a lot like I do when I garden, dressed in old, comfy clothes, covered with dirt and sweat with a trowel in their hand. I always expect them to regale me with all of their gardening woes: weeds, slugs, rabbits, deer, squirrels, groundhogs. Only after they have that off their chests will they tell me about the wonderful plants they are growing. The discussion will last for hours.

Can a gardener live where there is no place to plant anything and still remain a gardener? Been there, done that. It's called living in a tiny apartment in a city. Mine were always filled with houseplants. I had the gardening bug so badly at the last apartment I lived in before I married that I had (illegal) planters filled with flowers on the fire escape! I've lived in aprtments with so little natural light that I had to grow houseplants under gro lights. I've designed and maintained terrariums for friends with reptiles. Now at Rutgers Gardens, I've learned that some of the volunteers who participate in the Adopt-A-Plot program do so because they have no place to garden at home.

What about horticulturalists? Are they a "subset" of gardeners or a whole different group? Hey! Some of my best friends are horticulturalists! (Hi, Marianne! Thanks for your advice on taking cuttings of hoyas.) My definition of "gardener" is broad enough that it includes anyone who knows/loves indoor/outdoor plants.

Does every gardener just naturally want a greenhouse? Egads, no! Most of the gardeners that I know that actually labor in greenhouses definitely DO NOT want one because they know how much work is involved in maintaining a greenhouse.

I hope Carol does a survey on composting. I love compost. I have a lot to say about compost.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Straw Hats have a Gingerbread Adventure

After our tour of the Holiday Train Show, we strolled over to the Children's Adventure Garden. The garden was still dressed in its Christmas finery.
Those trees, by the way, are in a fountain that was occupied by a Chihuli glass sculpture called "The Sun" the last time we visited. A picture of the sculpture can be seen in this post. It didn't feel much like Christmas at 72 F (22 C). Too warm for jackets:

On our way to the Adventure Garden, we passed these cute Christmas trees decorated by children with handmade ornaments:
Then, our Gingerbread Adventure began:

Of course, no Gingerbread Adventure would be complete without some examples of extraordinary creations from professional bakers:

There was even information on the origins of gingerbread:

The Adventure Garden is a funfilled area. In addition to plenty of places for kids to climb and swing and whirl, there are also fanciful creatures:

Whenever I see a sign telling me NOT to touch something, I always get an overwhelming urge to touch it, don't you?
And there is a small water feature with an inviting bridge:
You knew I was going to work in a water feature, right?

Just like our last trip here, there were occasions when it was difficult to believe that we were in the Bronx:

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Green Thumb Sunday


Today marks the one year anniversary of my first trip to Longwood Gardens. It was love at first sight. I took a lot of photos on that trip but only posted the Christmas themed ones last year. I took other photos of the spectacluar variety of plants in the conservatory. These are carniverous plants.

I had no idea there were so many kinds!

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

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Straw Hats at the NYBG Holiday Train Show

The Straw Hat Society had its first outing of 2007 to see the Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden. This exhibit has been an annual tradition since 1992. It consists of buildings constructed of natural materials with model trains running throughout several parts of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.

The creator, Paul Busse, works from photographs of the buildings, using sand, glue and tile grout for the stone facades and berries, seeds, pods and vines to add texture and detail.

It takes almost 20 people 10 days to position the buildings, lay out the 1,200 feet of track, get the trains running, construct the trestles, tuck in the hundreds of plants and place the lights.

Many of the buildings are well-known landmarks.

The "glass" in the conservatory and the windows of other buildings is poured from casting resin.

City Hall

Close-up of statuary on the roof of City Hall

Gracie Mansion, the Mayor's house

The Chrysler building and the Empire State Building
St. Patrick's Cathedral

Close-up of a steeple of St. Patrick's Cathedral

Rockefeller Center with Radio City Music Hall in the lower right corner.
Statue of Liberty

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Guggenheim Museum

Grand Central Terminal

New York Public Library. See the famous lions on the steps?
High Bridge. All of the "stonework" is actually pieces of bark.
Poe Cottage

Apollo Theater

Folies Bergere Theater

Yankee Stadium
Here are some landmarks in Central Park:
Angel of the Waters. Sits atop the Bethesda Fountain.
The Dairy

Gothic Art Bridge

Music Pavillion

I will be posting more photos from the exhibit on my Flickr account including close-ups of the incredible variety of plant material used. I was also fascinated by the construction of the trestles.

Our outing did not end here. We continued on to the children's Adventure Garden to see the Gingerbread Adventures show which included some spectacular gingerbread houses constructed by professional bakers. Look for that part of our tour in an upcoming post.