A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Monday, March 31, 2008

Round Valley

Before our tour of the Indoor Display Gardens at Duke Farms, we went for a hike at Round Valley. It was a beautiful day with not a cloud in the sky.

A bitterly cold wind kept our outing shorter than we would have liked. I love photographing trees in the winter. The lack of foliage allows you to see things that aren’t normally obvious. Like a lone pine tree in amongst all the deciduous trees.

This little tree positively glowed in contrast to the other leafless trees.

I wonder what caused this?

I am fascinated by the intricate patterns of branches. Doesn’t this look like veins?

Sometimes it’s the trunks that make a statement, like the strong verticals in these pictures.

If the landscape hadn’t been so barren, perhaps I would never have noticed and taken this picture:

A smooth transition from rock to water. Miraculous.

I’m looking forward to coming back to Round Valley to see it clothed in its summer finery, then in the fall for its rich colors. And I want to return again in winter to see more of its stark beauty.

You can see more pictures of Round Valley on Flickr.


Maybe it’s due to my age, but I’ve never quite understood this “social networking” stuff. Seems to me that it requires an awful lot of time on the computer. Time that I’d rather be spending in the garden or if it is too dark or too cold to garden, reading a good book or watching a good movie. There’s been a lot of chatter about Twitter on garden blogs lately. I didn’t pay much attention until the proverbial lightbulb went off over my head.

My company forces me to use a Blackberry. “Force” is not too strong a term. The expectation is that once you are issued your Blackberry anyone can call/email/PIN you any time 24/7 and you will respond. If you don’t respond, management will demand to know why. I. Kid. You. Not.

So as long as I have to garden with the despised Blackberry attached to me, checking it periodically for messages and network status updates, why not use Twitter to blog directly from the garden? No waiting to clean up and then compose a properly spelled, grammatically correct, interesting post. Just a quick “My roses all made it through the winter” or “Rose Campion coming up in one of the wintersowing containers”.

Starting today, I am tweeting as OldRoses. “Follow” me if you’d like to know what I’m up to in the garden.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Green Thumb Sunday


My favorite photo from my visit to Duke Farms yesterday.

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

Winter Sowing Update

Another one of my favorite flowers sprouted on Friday, Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate. I was introduced to them a few years ago during my Master Gardener course. They were featured in the herb beds that all of the classes are required to plant and tend. It was love at first sight. KMOTGG are a difficult seed to germinate. After much trial and error, the Master Gardeners have found that seeding the flats and then leaving them outside of the greenhouse for a couple of weeks works. I’ve found that wintersowing is perfect for them. Interestingly, they came up on nearly the same day last year, April 1.

A new addition to my Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden that also appeared in a container on Friday is parsley. It’s a larval food source for swallowtail butterflies of which I have a quite a few every summer. They also feed on fennel which I planted last year. I have milkweed, a food source for Monarch larvae, seeded in another container.

Today saw the debut of the snapdragons for my plot at Rutgers Gardens, Freesong Pink and Golden Monarch. These are definitely iffy choices. According to the Head Hatter, snapdragons don’t do well in the heat of the Display Gardens but I saw snapdragons doing quite well there last year. I’m chalking it up to the new drip irrigation system. But I’m also hedging my bets by planting in the Cottage Garden style. My hope is that the densely planted flowers will shelter the snapdragons from the heat.

A second foxglove came up today. These are the Wild Purple foxgloves that were a success last year. I will definitely be more careful weeding this year so that I don’t lose any. When I plant them out from the containers, I will give each one a good dose of hot pepper to prevent the squirrels from bothering them. I hope.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Duke Farms

Duke Farms recently announced that it is “going green”. You can read the press release here. What caught my eye is the fact that they are closing the indoor Display Gardens which I visited last year with the Master Gardeners. I went back today for a last look. It was especially bittersweet as one of the docents told us that what is being kept quiet is that the new facility is much smaller than the existing conservatory so not all of the plants will be moved. No other gardens are willing to take them so they will be lost.

Since I had already documented the different gardens during my last visit, this time I concentrated on colors and shapes that struck my fancy.

I had fun with patterns. . .

. . . and perspectives. This is the same bridge from both ends.

It looks completely different, doesn’t it?

Hmmmm . . . are we in Japan . . . . or New Jersey?

As before, my favorite gardens were the French Garden with pansies this time instead of tulips:

And the English Garden:

I just loved the snapdragons. I hope my snapdragons look as good this year.

I’m so glad that I had another chance to see these wonderful gardens before they are gone forever. More photos of my visit can be seen on Flickr.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Winter Sowing Update

I’ve been wondering why none of the supposedly cool season flowers have germinated in my wintersowing containers. I had expected snapdragons and petunias by now, not the heat loving marigolds and cosmos that sprouted last week. My relief was palpable yesterday when I noted that the Balcony petunias were showing signs of life.

Last year I filled hanging baskets in front of my house with petunias. Buying plants is expensive. I’ve grown petunias from seed in the past so I decided to give it a try again this year. Select Seeds offers a few heirloom varieties. I chose the Balcony petunias both for their colors and their height, 2 to 3 feet tall, intending that they drape gracefully from the hanging baskets. Instead of direct sowing the seeds as I have done in the past, I wintersowed them hoping that they will bloom sooner if they get an early start.

My theme this year may be “Back to Basics” but it hasn’t stopped me from trying new flowers or creating a new garden. Yesterday I was pleased to see that the white foxglove for my new White Garden has germinated. Foxglove are another of those flowers that everyone seems to be able to effortlessly grow except me. Wintersowing was the answer, though. Last year I was able to finally grow some wild purple foxglove. Only one survived both my aggressive weeding and the voracious squirrels so I have wintersowed more in addition to the white foxglove and strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) meant for the infamous Entry Garden.

Today I spotted an old friend in one of the containers: Verbena bonariensis. I wintersowed it last year for my plot at Rutgers Gardens. I had some extra which found a home in the border along the Ugly Green Fence. Those never bloomed because they were shaded out by Canterbury Bells that got completely out of hand. I have banished them from my gardens this year so I am hoping for a bumper crop of blooms from this year’s wintersown Verbena bonariensis.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Weirdness Chronicles 2008 - Chapter 2

Iris are one of my favorite flowers. I have bearded iris, Japanese iris, Siberian iris, Iris dardanus, Iris bucharica and a lot of unidentified iris. After seeing them on various blogs, I fell in love with miniature iris. They bloom early so I thought they would go well in my Semi-Shady garden with the other miniature spring blooming bulbs already growing there.

Two years ago I took the plunge and ordered an assortment of miniature iris from Brecks. I tossed the 20 bulbs to achieve a more naturalistic pattern than my usual rows. After planting them, I carefully covered the freshly dug earth with leaves to prevent the squirrels from digging up the bulbs and eating them.

The wind blew away the leaves and the squirrels feasted. I was hopeful that they might have missed a few bulbs but my hopes were dashed last spring when nothing emerged in the area where I had planted and the squirrels had eaten.

Look what I found today! Sorry about the poor quality of the photo, but I was very excited. It appears that the squirrels missed a bulb. Either squirrels or rabbits have decimated all of the blossoms on my crocus. Perhaps this flower survived because they don’t like the taste of iris? And where was this iris last year? Why did it wait two years to come up?

First Daffodils

I am pleased to announce the first daffodils of the season in my yard. They are the same daffodils that bloomed first last year and on nearly the same day.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wintersowing Update

I’m falling behind with my wintersowing updates. Boring for readers but a treasure trove of information for me in the future so please bear with me.

March 21, Good Friday – St. John’s Chamomile. Hmmmm, I wonder if there is some kind of significance there. This will be planted in the Accidental Herb Garden.

The following day, March 22 two violas, Historic Florist Mix and Bowles Black made their debuts. Both of these are new for me. The Bowles Black is meant for the new shade bed I am creating on the shady side of the front of my house. The Historic Florist Mix violas are from Select Seeds and described as “…sprightly smaller pansies with expressive whiskery faces and a light sweet fragrance are just what you are looking for if the six pack specials of huge floppy sort just don't tickle your fancy. Called tufted pansies way back in the 1800's.” They will be taking their chances in the infamous Entry Garden.

Same day, March 22, another new one for me, chives that I grew from seed I collected from the herb bed at Rutgers Gardens. They were a late, unplanned addition so I haven’t thought about where to plant them. Most likely they will end up in the Accidental Herb Garden.

On Easter Sunday, March 23, the first larkspur germinated. They are Giant Imperial and include two All-America Selections winners, 'Blue Bell', a pastel blue from 1934, and 'White King' from 1937. Unlike most gardeners who consider larkspur almost a weed, I have never been able to successfully grow them. I have my fingers crossed that wintersowing is the answer because I love delphinium but delphinium do not love the hot NJ summers. Larkspur will just have to substitute.

Finally, today, the Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica) seeds sprouted. I tried direct sowing them last year in the Butterfly/Hummingbird garden but got nary a leaf. This is another one that I am hoping wintersowing will be the answer. And another new flower for me.

Come to think of it, that’s a lot of new stuff for someone whose theme this year is “Back to Basics”. I just can’t seem to stop myself from trying new flowers. In my own defense, I have to point out that they may be new to me but they are all classic, easy to grow cottage garden flowers.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Green Thumb Sunday


This is a hellebore flower that is just opening. Normally I don’t like taking photos in afternoon light but in the early spring and late fall when the sun is lower in the sky, colors are not as washed out and I can get interesting light and shadow contrasts.

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

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Weirdness Chronicles 2008 - Chapter 1

The hellebores surrounding my birdbath have made a lovely groundcover since they first emerged in the spring of 2005. They finally deigned to bloom last year, if you can call one measly flower a blooming event.

This year they have out-done themselves sending up four flower stalks, only three of which are visible in the above photo. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you will not only see the three flower stalks, but you will also note that they are all facing away from the camera, i.e. facing towards the back of the bed.

This is becoming a regular feature in my gardens. You may recall the yellow foxglove that also faced backwards. Just for fun, when I transplanted it to another bed, I turned it around. Sure enough, it bloomed last year facing the front of the bed.

I really wish that mailorder nurseries would clearly mark the fronts and backs of plants before they ship them to me so that I can avoid planting them facing the wrong way.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wintersowing Update

Two more containers have sprouted. An heirloom pansy, Chalon Supreme mix for the border along the Ugly Green Fence and Johnny-Jump-Ups that I will try to establish in the border along the back of the house.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Book Club

My first exposure to Michael Pollan’s writing was an article in the New York Times Magazine. I loved his writing style and his point of view. He made me think about the environment in ways that were totally new to me. I love those “aha” moments. Those “why didn’t I think of that?” moments. And then my outlook on life and the world around me is subtly altered.

So it was with great anticipation that I ordered my copy of “Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education” for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. Michael Pollan on gardening. It doesn’t get much better than that, right? Well, um, actually it does. I was expecting a completely new perspective on gardening. What I got was just another memoir of a beginning gardener. Admittedly, he does tell much more entertaining stories than most garden memoirists. No one who reads this book will ever forget his monumental battles with a woodchuck culminating in an attempt at incineration that very nearly incinerated the garden. Hilarious, but still quite ordinary. Can you think of a single garden memoir that doesn’t contain a battle with a woodchuck? Just as Hollywood screenwriters use a predictable formula for their storylines, garden memoirists all stick to the same, tired outline: How I started gardening. How I made all the newbie mistakes my first year. How I tried to correct them. How I learned the “right” way to garden.

Disappointed, I soldiered on until Chapter 10 when I finally had the hoped for “why didn’t I think of that?” moment. The story of the restoration of a woodland area in his town that had been destroyed by a tornado morphs into a discussion of restoration vs replacement vs allowing Nature to take its course and all of the consequences, intended and unintended, that could happen for each option. Now this is a book that I would like to read. The question of what time period a restoration should mimic is particularly intriguing. Colonial, after changes made by European settlers? Pre-Columbian? Taking into account the fact that the indigenous population also had a significant impact on the local ecology, should the area be restored to the state it was before the Native Americans arrived? These are questions that have never occurred to me when thinking about our altered landscape.

Ideally, I would have liked to see the “memoir” part of the book excised and this topic expanded. Where else in the US or even the world has this issue been addressed? What decisions were made and why? Was global warming taken into account? What provisions were made for non-native plant and animal introductions?

And then the book reverts right back to the standard memoir. The last two chapters are the obligatory catalog survey and “What my garden looks like now”. Yawn.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Michael Pollan’s books and his unique perspective. Even if it is only one or two chapters that grab me, they will be well worth it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Favorite Rodents

No, I don’t mean the ravenous Middlesex squirrels or the dastardly tulip-bulb-eating rabbits or even the occasional mouse that sneaks into my basement only to become a cat toy. I’m talking Mousies, the Mouse & Trowel awards, where garden bloggers can nominate and vote for their favorite garden blogs, podcasts and websites.

Colleen has made some changes. She has eliminated a few categories and added “Best New Garden Blog” and “Post of the Year”. My favorite category, “Garden Blogger You’d Most Like to Have as a Neighbor”, made the cut so I can vote for the blogger I’d most like to have on the other side of the Ugly Green Fence!

Get your nomination form here. Make sure you include your email address on the bottom and submit your favorites by April 13th.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Jack is Back

Last fall I splurged and purchased a Jack Frost brunnera from a catalog. It was the most money that I had ever spent on a single plant. I was fortunate to receive a large healthy plant. It stayed large and healthy after being planted in its new home in a bed on the shady side of my house. I’ve had my fingers crossed that it would make it through the winter.

I was very excited this morning to see the first leaves poking up through the autumn debris. Jack is back! Now if he can only survive the squirrels . . .

More Sprouts

I’ve started my springtime routine of checking my wintersowing containers every day. More seeds have germinated. All of which will be planted in my plot at Rutgers Gardens. New today are statice, Gold Coast (yellow) and Roselight (pink), cosmos Sonata Pink and Yellow Garden and Signet Marigolds, Lemon Gem (yellow).

I’m a little concerned about the cosmos. Last year, cosmos germinated well but then died off when the weather turned chilly for a short while. The temperatures are still rather cool (50’s F, 10’s C) during the day with nighttime temperatures even lower so I am puzzled as to why they have even germinated.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Green Thumb Sunday



I haven’t been checking my wintersowing containers because it is too early for anything to be germinating. According to my records, the first seeds sprouted during the last week of March. Just for fun, though, I decided to peek today to see if anything was stirring. Two of the containers had seedlings. Silver Cup lavatera destined for the pink side of my plot at Rutgers Gardens and red Mexican Hat that will grace my Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden.

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

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Home Gardener’s School – Spring 2008

Today marks four years that I have been attending the Home Gardener’s School at Rutgers University. Thankfully they keep adding new classes because I have taken most of the core courses already. This session I signed up for three classes instead of the usual four. I just couldn’t find a fourth one that I either hadn’t already taken or was remotely interested in taking.

My first class of the day was “Amazing Annuals” with Ira Grassgreen. Yes, that is really his name! He works for a plant wholesaler and donates a lot of time and plant material to Rutgers Gardens. I love working with Ira at events at the Gardens because I always learn so much from him. Today was no exception. Along with site requirements and origins of the newest annuals being offered, I learned that plant breeders seem to be going in the direction of producing shade plants that can tolerate sun and sun plants that can tolerate shade. I must be getting curmudgeonly in my old age because I really prefer my shade-lovers to stay in the shade and my sun-lovers to bask in the sun. Sorry, Ira!

Next up was “Accessorizing Your Landscape” with Bruce Crawford the Director of Rutgers Gardens. No garden gnomes, just a lot of water features, containers, fences, gates and arbors. The most intriguing idea presented was a container with nothing in it. The container itself rather than plants is the decorative element.

We broke for lunch which I shared with “A”, my fellow Straw Hatter and cooking blog partner. She was taking a break from working at the Rutgers Gardens plant sale. We munched our sandwiches while listening to a Q&A with a panel of experts. I was really impressed that they were emphasizing environmentally friendly ways of dealing with pests and diseases.

My last class of the day was again with Bruce Crawford, this time on “Vines and Espaliers”. No, I haven’t suddenly gotten an urge to espalier anything although Bruce swears that it’s easy. I was interested in vines. I’m always looking for ways to hide the ugly chainlink fence that surrounds my backyard. The eye-opener for me in this class was that there are three different types of clematis, each with its own pruning requirements.

Instead of a fourth class, I helped out at the plant sale with “A” and other Rutgers Gardens volunteers. The $2 African violets were sorely tempting but I have too many already. After a discussion of their requirements, “A” snagged the last one. Maybe she’ll let me have a leaf from it . . .

Friday, March 14, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

I’m posting my GBBD a day early because I will be attending the Home Gardener’s School tomorrow.

Currently blooming in my yard:

Snowdrops past their prime

The few crocuses that the squirrels have left me. The rest look like this.

Rounding out the outdoor portion of our tour is the annual single hellebore blossom:

This is a vast improvement over years of no blossoms.

Stepping inside, one of my many African violets is blooming.

When this one grows up, it will be the opposite, white with purple edges:

Yes, I’m an office thief. Some employees steal office supplies. I steal cuttings.

I can never remember what this is:

It was given to me as a small cutting and has done spectacularly well. It appears to be quite potbound, but I hate to repot an obviously happy plant.

I probably should have cleaned the windowsill BEFORE taking the picture instead of after, shouldn’t I?

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Green Thumb Sunday


(From the Philadelphia Flower Show)

At first glance, I thought she was real.

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

Saturday, March 08, 2008


This post is my personal opinion only. It in no way reflects the views of Rutgers Gardens or any of its staff. I am not a spokesperson for Rutgers Gardens.

As difficult as it may be to believe, I lived most of my life in ignorance of the floral nirvana that is the Philadelphia Flower Show. As soon as I learned of it, I made plans with gardening friends to attend. And those plans fell through. No matter. There was always next year. Except that the same thing happened the following year. And the year after that. It became a running joke.

This year was shaping up to be yet another disappointment. First I polled the Straw Hatters. They each had family plans that prevented their attendance. Next, I made plans with a gardening friend in my office. She contracted bronchitis. Finally, a non-gardening friend came to my rescue and whisked me off the City of Brotherly Love.

This year’s Theme was “Jazz It Up”, a celebration of jazz and the city of New Orleans. I thought that I was prepared for what I was about to experience. I wasn’t. I am accustomed to local flower shows where local businesses showcase their work in the form of small display gardens with plant material, water features and outdoor furniture. Today, I walked into a cavernous space filled with building facades.

And what is on the other side of that façade that everyone is in such a hurry to see? A stage with a band and dancers.

I’m sorry, did I say “facades”? How about entire buildings?

How about this for a water feature?

Wait! Look up.

The flower arranging competition was out of this world. Instead of the tables or small tableaux that I’ve seen at the NJ Flower Show, Philly offered entire front yards.

I’ve seen window boxes, but how about window boxes with matching hanging baskets?

Pianos and piano motifs were used extensively, both in the display gardens and the flower arrangements.

If you click on this next photo and enlarge it, you will see a piano as a fountain.

Oops! Looks like one of those pedestrian display gardens from the NJ Flower & Garden Show sneaked in.

Here’s my choice for most creative:

A topiary dog park complete with fire hydrant.

You can see all of my photos of the Philly show on Flickr.