Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Our mothers’ gardens


In reviewing some of the responses to “least favorite plants,” I noticed some negative fervor directed towards bedding annuals. Apparently, some people can’t even bear to walk by impatiens in the garden center. Others refer to geraniums as “the hideous ones.”

I feel their pain, and I do understand those aversions. I used to feel many of them myself. In fact, I remember scorning annuals when I moved into the GWI property seven years ago. I boasted to my mother that I would have a perennial garden, no common flowers for me. But there was a time when I looked at the bright hanging baskets and beds of annuals that my mother, my aunts, and their friends created and thought that’s what gardening was. Years ago, when all I had was a third floor patio to work with, my mother came over and set me up with some hanging petunias, some geraniums, a potted hibiscus, some ageratum and nicotiana (common hybrids, not the species nicotiana I go in for now), and a sunflower growing out of an old enamel coffepot. That was all the garden I thought I would ever need.

Now, faced with the realities of a very shady street, brutally overplanted with red maples, I recognize the saving grace and the welcome color that even impatiens can bring. I realize that I would never want a completely perennial garden, and that old-fashioned annuals can add great charm. (It’s true though, that most nurseries offer a very sad selection of bedding annuals, so I seek out exceptional cultivars online and elsewhere, something my mother never would have thought of doing.)

God help me, I'm even growing zinnias this summer.


(Even these common little violas—what a nice scent they had earlier this evening!)

Friday, May 26, 2006

A garden worth getting intoxicated in




And we did. (More on that later.)

Buffalo is not the Snow Capital of the U.S., and we residents get very tired of explaining what our weather is really like: i.e., the beauty of the four seasons; the fact that parts of Michigan, Minnesota, and other states get much more snow; the fact that Buffalo doesn’t even hold the New York State record; blah, blah, blah. But yes, it is cold here for a good six months or more of the year—so when the balmy weather hits, boy, do we ever love to hang out on restaurant patios. Many of us are connoisseurs of the al fresco experience. In my view, the Rue Franklin, a downtown French restaurant, has the loveliest patio I’ve ever seen. It’s really a secluded back courtyard, to be precise. The most notable features are a large, very elegant fountain against the back wall, three flower beds, a Kousa dogwood and a wisteria trained as a tree (shown above). The area is lined with a variety of flowering shrubs. No hanging baskets, no plastic planters. This restaurant garden is in a different echelon entirely. And I really admire their spring and summer bulb choices.

Having said all this, I must add that I don’t really like to eat dinner outside. But a glass of wine in this idyllic spot before and/or after dinner is perfect. And it was perfect yesterday for an open bar fundraiser I and some friends attended. Rue has a small but well-selected wine list. For the open bar, they poured a crisp, very nice white Bordeaux, much better than the gasoline-like chardonnay the bar two doors down was serving for the same event (this was a party where you circulated between three venues). So I had to switch to G&Ts, and from there to tequila was a short and predictable step.

If I replaced the cherry tree in my front garden, it would definitely be with a Kousa dogwood. The flowers last all summer and the trunks and branches are wonderfully twisted.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Your least favorite plant?

This used to be lots of fun in the Gardenweb perennial forum; gardeners would shock each other by revealing the plants they really can’t stand, regardless of said plants' popularity and virtuous habits. In a comment to my last post, Laurie nominates Echinacea (coneflower) and Autumn Joy sedum. I couldn’t agree more. Coneflower does look like a diseased daisy and Autumn Joy is just plain hidjous. Yet, you see both of these everywhere—usually in large groups. The Autumn Joy is tolerated because it blooms at a difficult time, I guess. But I’m not even sure if I would call what it produces a flower. I would suggest that people are much better off loading up on long-blooming annuals and self-seeders like (my favorite) Verbena boniarensis. Japanese anemone is a gorgeous late summer/fall flower, a gazelle to AJ’s warthog, though it’s not all that easy to grow. (They do very well with it in England.)

I will tolerate an ugly habit for a beautiful flower. Lilies, for example, have lanky, mutant-asparagus-like stalks that pretty much look like crap. But they give a gorgeous bloom and scent the entire garden for weeks. Another area for extreme tolerance is the shady, root-ridden state of my front garden. I will take just about anything that creates groundcover—and that includes many weeds.

But where I have a choice, I refuse to grow these plants:

Asters
These are very nice, but I find them boring. I prefer the brighter, annual daisy-like plants.

Chrysanthemums
They’re so depressing. By the time these come along, I’d just as soon give up on the garden for the year. I’m not that desperate.

Achillea
Floppy, stinky—what’s acceptable about this plant? (The dainty variety with small white flowers is OK.)

Ajuga
This does not spread easily or quickly. All the promises are lies.

Sempervivum (hens and chicks)
Why do people like this? There’s something I’m not understanding here.

Scabiosa
Ok, this is pure spite, because I failed miserably with it. Still, it is not all that.

That’s enough for a start; no need to wallow in it. And, having said all this, I always find myself maintaining and defending plants that, in my heart, I really don’t like. Because they’re mine and because they’re alive, even thriving, despite my ineptitude. So the admission that I’ve just planted two new, double-headed Echinacea in a sunny space should surprise no one.

It's still deformed—well, even more—but in an interesting way, I think.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Plants I wish I could love

Isn’t that better than my original title, plants I hate? The plants to which I refer are flourishing in my late spring garden as I write this. Flourishing, yes, but do I gaze upon them with joy? Not really. Sometimes I wish I had done a bit more research before purchasing certain plants, largely based on promises that they had long blooming seasons. Sometimes these promises were out-and-out lies; some of the promises were fulfilled. Regardless, despite the health and vigor of these cultivars, I’m this close to pulling them out by the roots, or “shovel-pruning” them, as the rosarians like to say.

Dicentra Formosa
Christopher Lloyd correctly describes the flowers of this as “grubby pinkish-mauve.” Unlike the normal bleeding heart, this will bloom all season, but…how does a flower come out looking like it’s about to die? I don’t get that. Yet, the thing gets twice as big each year, and the fernlike foliage is not bad at all. Tellingly, Bluestone does not provide an online picture for the plant.

My unknown hosta
My passion for this huge, deep-green, slug-proof cultivar and its tall, elegant violet flowers has waned considerably over the years. Every summer I watch in dismay as the leaves crisp and crumple in—August?! Sorry, that is not acceptable, particularly as the plants have a huge bed to themselves. I’m afraid of what it will take to pull all or some of it out. It looks really strong. God knows what kind of ironclad root system is going on under there. I inherited this.

Geranium macrorrhizum, Bevan's variety
I have a few geraniums, but one of them is getting huger and huger in both of its two locations and the pink flowers (nice, not as nice as some) end sometime in June. If a shearing does not produce a second crop of flowers this year, as it did with its more interesting neighbor, geranium phaeum sambor, out it goes, to be replaced by the imminent pond.

There is more, but it would get depressing. Here are the dicentra and geranium (from web pix, but this is pretty much how they actually look):



I think the hosta has been purged from all garden centers and online nurseries. I'll see if I can get a garden shot, but it's only fair to wait until it blooms.

Monday, May 22, 2006

More lawn trashing

I may not use a bicycle (not for a fifteen mile commute), I don’t save my scraps for compost (compost heap=yuck), and I don’t recycle as much as I should, but this morning NPR confirmed that by not growing grass, I am helping to spare the natural environment and reduce greenhouse gases.

Of course, I’ve always been against the use of grass in small urban spaces for largely aesthetic reasons. Suburbanites seem to understand the care and feeding of grass and nurture/worship it accordingly—albeit with detrimental chemicals, extravagant watering, and polluting mowers. City-dwellers just seem to throw the seed down and hope for the best. They mow it when the nagging gets unbearable. The plots are usually characterized by bumpy terrain, weeds, brown spots, and bare spots. On my street, every year a few people make pathetically unsuccessful attempts to grow grass in the easeway between walk and street. It never, ever works out—yet, they continue. It’s so sad; eventually, a few thin spears poke out through the burlap. Then, when they take the burlap off, most of the grass comes away with it.

The experts on NPR (actually Great Lakes Radio Consortium) were pointing out a three-fold scenario of the environmental damage done by grass-growing: 1.) the mowers are made without catalytic converters and thus throw out more carbon dioxide (among other contaminants) than the average car; 2.) grass requires near-constant watering, thus depleting a natural resource; and 3.) grass requires high nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizing, creating run-off into nearby streams, lakes, and rivers. The car comparison was the most dramatic: one hour of power mowing may cause as much pollution as driving a car 1300 miles. Some say it’s more like 3200 miles. (Most gardeners already know about water shortages and the dangers of chemicals.)

Digression: There was this guy, an English grad student living in Kenmore (a suburb of Buffalo), who refused to mow his lawn for years. It was covered with three-dozen varieties of wildflowers, many of which he had planted—and he did, in fact, weed and till the space. This guy received death threats, gunshots were fired at the house, and snakes were placed in the yard—all by his neighbors. He was eventually fined by the village for violating an ordinance, which he fought, semi-successfully, in court. Eventually, neighbors mowed the lawn illegally while he was on vacation. He lives in the Appalachian Mountains now. His dissertation was to be on Thoreau. I don’t know if he finished it.

Back to the NPR guys: They had some compromise solutions, like buying drought-resistant grasses, mowing high, and pointed out—another interesting revelation—that a light sprinkling daily may be more effective than deep watering twice-weekly. Whatever. My advice: by any means possible, avoid grass. There are many, many alternatives.

Here are a couple grass-free front yards I spotted last summer:




Addendum: I'm for just about any ground cover over grass, including pachysandra, which I find easy to contain. But there is also sweet woodruff (gallium odorata), vinca, and many, many types of lamium. All of these flower; most lamium will flower for most of the season. I woud also propose hardy geranium (cranesbill) as a potential ground cover. All of these would be great in tough spots, like easeways.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

And the plants come marching in

This year I ordered plants from two local sales: the Botanical Gardens, and Urban Roots, a fledgling co-op nursery that as of now only exists as an order sheet and a vacant lot—from which plants were dispensed Saturday morning. I must say the prices are right: for about 10-15 bucks, I got 10 sixpacks of lobelia and torenia. The torenia seemed leggy, but the lobelia was at just the right stage.

The Urban Roots gang is terrific. I love them. My only complaint would be that they’re almost freakishly obsessed with heirloom tomatoes. These are the only plants that receive detailed description on their website. For perennials you might get a short phrase; for annuals, you’re lucky if you get the color. But tomatoes? Oh baby.

There is nothing like the magic mix of sweetness, sourness, earthiness, freshness, and sexiness that comes in this little magic vegetable that's really a fruit.

These tomatoes are like tasting the finest wines.

There is nothing, nothing like the taste of an heirloom tomato right off the vine. It’s vastly similar to seeing a 6-foot waterfall and thinking it’s majestic without even knowing Niagara Falls exists.

I don’t care about the tomatoes. I want their drugs.

On to the Botanical Gardens. Now the BG has been doing this for years and they know their shit. Once I get there though and look at the plants I ordered—yikes! The diascia are huge, practically toppling out of their sixpacks. I thought most of the BG annuals came from on-site greenhouses, but that must not be the case here. Overgrown diascia has a tendency to crap out right away, so we’ll see. Otherwise, my impatiens, lobelia (what can I say—I love it), and fragrant purple nicotiana—an unusual cultivar—looked fabulous. While I was there, I also picked up a couple Wyoming canna and some sixpacks of two things I never buy: zinnias and marigolds. The BG people search out interesting new introductions from these familiar flower families. The zinnia cultivar, in particular, seems pretty wild—a little red cowlick sticking up in the center above the orange petals.

This is really the only way gardeners in our area can avail themselves of new varieties; because the commercial nurseries around here suck in that regard. Every year I go to the All America Selections display at the Erie Basin Marina and see all kinds of cool stuff, like this:



but it never shows up at the nurseries. Only the Botanical Gardens makes the effort.

And the nicotiana is actually called Deep Purple.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I cause trouble

Here,
here,
And here.

This is what I said: I commented that Voices seemed mainly to consist of “people showing off their gardens which is cool” (emphasis mine). Actually, I think that’s the purpose of Garden Voices. Which is fine. Previously on Gardenweb, which I have been reading for about seven years at least, posters struggled to include images with their commentary, in order to illustrate certain design problems they were having, or particular plants they wanted to identify. Putting up images was harder then, and most of the threads were all text. Now, with the wonderful world of image-friendly blogs, we can show our gardens in full, living color, not just talk about them. How fabulous is that?

But I must say, my favorite Gardenweb thread, and one that remains my favorite over any lavishly illustrated blog, is the “All-Ugly” thread. It was a long, long series of posts, where each poster made their contribution, describing what their ideal trashy Southern front yard would look like. Offensive? You betcha! Hilarious? I would say so. The planters made out of painted tires; the ragged canna; the rusted toilets, washing machines, and pick-ups that had become garden objets; the dogs running circles in the bare earth around a tree that had been wacked with the lawnmower too many times…well, I can’t reproduce it here. But as each post appeared, the aggregate of the thing is what made it work. And it was all text.

Everyone uses blogs for a different purpose. For me, it’s an exercise—and fun. I try to limit the images because I prefer words, and I feel funny about making it seem as though my garden is anything much. Because it isn’t. I’m just not that good. I love plants, and I love gardening, but I’ll never have the skill and design sense of such gardeners as the ones I blogged about here. Though I will take any opportunity this blog affords to make my garden look way better than it is. So, there you have it. I'm a show-off. Guilty as charged.

Now, let’s have a drink! It is Friday, after all.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

In defense of a great garden wine

I was reading one of my favorite irascible wine critics (is there any other kind?) Mike Steinberger of Slate today. Usually I find him very entertaining; his 2004 series “A Wine-Soaked Tour of Bordeaux” is brilliant. I’ll never forget his description of Jancis Robinson’s cracked lips and purple tongue. Or was it his? Or did she write that? Shit, who knows, I read it two years ago.

At any rate, the subtitle for the current column was not calculated to arouse my sympathy: “why sauvignon blanc is overrrated.” Oh, please. Who’s overrating sauvignon blanc? It’s a great crisp summer wine with fantastic grassy, citrusy, exotic aromas and a clean sharp taste. Nothing more. A perfect garden wine. Sure, it doesn’t evolve in the glass, but neither do other summer quaffers like most Muscadets and other comparably priced brisk whites. I don’t need it to evolve in the glass, but I do love the aromas. Scents are important in the garden and fragrant whites are perfect to drink there. Although Steinberger does not mention it, given that there are Chilean, Californian, and New Zealand ones of comparable quality, you do have a certain variety as well.

Dry rieslings are great for garden drinking too; they can offer a range of spicy and flowery aromas. And there’s a Spanish wine that we have been enjoying: Gramora Gessami. Robert Parker finds rose water and acacia flowers in it. I don’t know about that, but it is fragrant and complex.

I follow my nose when it comes to drinking in the garden.


Today’s image: one peony standing in for a bouquet.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

And there was great rejoicing and the wine flowed freely



We’ve all played the waiting game with wisteria. I’ve heard the other horror stories: eight years, ten years, fourteen years, more. And I’ve heard the solutions: root-pruning, branch pruning, don’t cut the old wood, do cut the old wood, Epsom salts, lime, voodoo, chanting, divine intervention.

I bought my “ready to bloom” wisteria—and it was rather a large one, as nursery vines go—about seven years ago, when we moved into the GWI property. During those seven years, it has developed a very sturdy trunk, attempted to tear the roof off our garage, seriously encroached on the next door neighbors “yard” (yards don’t really exist in Allentown), and created an additional shade canopy for a spot already in partial shade. In fact, I think the wisteria prompted my neighbor to plant her voracious silver lace vine, which is kind of like the kudzu of the North, and has taken a fence and a utility pole as hostages in its mission to envelop both our properties. But I can’t make any protestations—I have the wisteria.

Last night, however, as I was enjoying a cocktail (a vicious concoction I invented for the occasion and now bitterly regret) with friends in the garden, one of them pointed up and sure enough, there were the pale violet blooms, the first ever seen. At the top, where the most sun is (did I mention I wisely planted this in shade?). No matter—ANY FLOWERS AT ALL will thrill you after seven years. We celebrated. ( I would have blogged this sooner, but that would represented a veritable feat of complex verbal expression, given my debilitated physical and spiritual state for most of today.)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Bidding on (somewhat) garden-related art while intoxicated



Actually, there were more direct expressions of floral subjects (though not many) at Saturday’s CEPA photography auction, but what you actually end up bidding on at an event like this can be rather arbitrary, if not random. First, there are the 3 glasses of wine (or so) with dinner. Then there are the nice young people walking up and down the aisles with bottles ready to refill your glass—if not pour the wine directly down your throat—during the auction. Then, there’s the side room where they keep the hors d’oeuvres and all those pretty blue bottles of Bombay Sapphire.

BWI, indeed. In any case, we had a delightful, rather raucus time. This is not the first of these I’ve attended, so the event has kind of an “old home days” feel: many of the usual suspects bidding, with some new faces.

The truth is, I don’t connect gardens and flowers with my art collecting, such as it is. I have several plaque-mounted Garden Walk posters in the kitchen; that’s perhaps the most direct connection. But as I look around the house, I do notice a certain percentage of landscapes and still lifish works that contain images of flowers, trees, and other vegetation. Not too many.

In the case of the piece I bought at CEPA, it is by a pair of artists who collaborate under the name of MANUAL. Their work often contrasts the real and the virtual and is always digitally produced. I like the early spring green of the grass and trees, which are located in a Moscow Park, according to the title: On the Verge:MoscowPark/Untitled. With these auction donations, you are usually getting a relatively minor example of a particular body of work, so I’ll have to look them up to see what the rest of them look like. I’m happy with this, though.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Shade is a bitch

A comment I got on elephant ear reminded me of what I’ve noticed about plants that we buy because they’re “good for shade.” Actually, two things. One, that suppliers invariably exaggerate how much shade a plant will handle. Two, that most plants that will thrive in shade conditions will thrive just as well or better in full sun, provided they are given adequate moisture. Good examples of the former rule are the various hardy geraniums I’ve bought over the years; although they’re always touted as “partial shade” plants, they really love the sun. I’ve had several that have failed to survive in a shady position. Makes sense; I believe they are native to rocky, mountainous areas where the sun would be beating down regularly.

The fact is, we deal with shade as best we can, but there aren’t too many plants that really like it, except for some hardcore ferns, and a few others. Of all the elephant ear I’ve ever seen, and it is a good shade plant, the hugest, most luxuriant examples are grown by my neighbor George in full fun behind his house.

I just feel lucky I can get anything to grow in the many varieties of full and partial shade I have scattered about the GWI terrain. The front is getting nice and dark, thanks to the maples, now fully leafed out. I am hoping that impatiens and torenia will provide some color this summer, and I may add some more hostas. Yawn.

Thanks to the leaflessness of early spring though, I’m still having fun with late tulips, including these surprisingly resilient T. acuminata.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Must-have plants


The nurseries are stocked and the mail order places still have stuff, so get ‘em while you can folks. In a few weeks, it will be too late.

First, I must bring up Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus, shown above). This was admired and yearned-after by all who visited during Garden Walk last year, but of course by that time it was late July and we all know the horror of shopping for plants at that time of year. It’s “just” a foliage plant, but people who were able to walk right by this

were stopped in their tracks by the shield. Go figure. They still had some as of today at selectseed.com.

For shade—oh, it’s so difficult—but I have found the combination of elephant ear (Colocasia esculenta) and bright coleus to be very effective. Again, it’s all about the foliage. Green and black coleus is also very good with this particular ear. I don’t find these in local nurseries; they only seem to have the common type of elephant ear (green, big but boring) and maybe 4 types of coleus. I think if gardeners would be open to the idea of ordering annuals from good companies, they’d be able to add a lot more interest to their plantings. (Of course, other gardeners probably have better-designed gardens than I do, so they don’t have to rely on unique plants. And they have PONDS, and waterfalls, and big fat koi and all that shit.)



(Elephant ear (illustris) and Brilliant coleus.)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

And the winner is…


(obligatory spring photo of the GWI property)

No, not the “best blog” thing; I lost that as I knew I would. It did lead to a lot of traffic, and, rather surprisingly, my inclusion on the “Garden Voices” section of Gardenweb.com has also led to a fair amount of hits. I find that “Voices” contains a confusing and daunting amount of material, so I'm glad so many are able to sift through it. It’s mainly a lot of people showing off their gardens. Which is cool, and which brings me to the title of this post:

Of all the tulips I put in the ground or planters last fall, including these:

(Single late: Maureen and Perestroika),
and these:

(Triumph and single early: Passionale and Princess Irene),

the Princess Irene is really the most delightful. You can’t see it here, but there is a faint purple stripe up the orange, a bit of ruffling, and a delicious citrusy fragrance. Fragrance in tulips is often overlooked, but there is quite a range, particularly with the doubles.

I also have a lot of species action, but they are tiny and lack the drama of the larger plantings. The two oddballs, Black Parrot and the T. acuminata, performed well, and I’ll post on them later.

Congratulations to my friend Ron, as well, who also did not take home a plaque from Artvoice (he was nominated in two artist categories), but he receives honors from me for maintaining his spring bulb efforts. He’s even got this way cool messy thing going on, which may be, in part, the result of my urging.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Leaves of grass, fields of gold

My view on grass is that it’s fine if you live on an estate suitable to be chosen as the set for a Jane Austen film. Otherwise, why bother? Recent grass-sightings at friends’ gardens have not changed my opinion one bit. Most Buffalo houses have a front yard of about 10’ x 20,’ and a back yard not much bigger. Many have less, and of course there are exceptions. (I’m not talking about the large properties on Delaware and in the Lincoln/Chapin/Rumsey, et. al. area.)

But what I’m seeing, on the average property, is a miserable, bumpy patch, littered with weeds, bare spots, and debris. The art of lawn rolling is seemingly unknown here; people don’t even seem aware of the most interesting types of grass, if they must have it. On the other hand, there are so many wonderful ground covers to take the place of grass, many of them flowering, many of them evergreen. Lamium, sweet woodruff, vinca, even pachysandra: they all work much better with a small space. Of course, you can bring that up to the next level by adding plantings of suitable perennial and annual flowers, and/or hardscaping with rocks and flagstones. Now you’re talking.

This view is somewhat extreme, I know.

Having said all that, I enjoy a rolling expanse of grass as much as anyone, and I enjoy it even more when it’s sprinkled with the sulfur-yellow of dandelions, one of my favorite spring plants. Sunday, we saw a gorgeous field of these, in Niagara Falls, at DeVeaux State Park (formerly part of Niagara University).




A beautiful sight.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A match made in coleus heaven

The literal intoxication did not start until later, but we all felt a bit tipsy watching Sandra and Jack get married at the Botanical Gardens today. What an incredible setting and what a very sweet (and mercifully short) ceremony.


The place is always under construction, but then there’s always something new to see. I honestly felt the only thing missing today was the opportunity to drink champagne while wandering through the flowers. What’s on now: the coleus show, largely confined to a mural-decorated room off the Palm Dome. This is where Jack and Sandra had their ceremony. Many in attendance said they hadn’t been to the BG in years; I felt sorry. It’s truly one of the area’s top assets (especially in winter, as I’ve posted here before).

Afterwards we attended an equally intimate and friendly reception at their Arts and Crafts home in Parkside. The wine: Spanish, including an inexpensive but good red I’ve a had a few times before and a nice cava. We gave them—what else?—a plant stand and plants.

Buena ventura, Jack and Sandra!

More from the BG:

Friday, May 05, 2006

Oh shit

If Sitemeter is correct, the Artvoice nomination has caused major spikage in my visitation. What can I say?

Except:

I’m not worthy!
I’m not worthy!
This is a blog about gardening, for god’s sake.
I apologize!

This is very disturbing. I’m trying desperately to figure out how to make the blog more interesting without straying from the mission. (I’m kind of punctilious that way, though not in too many other ways.) A murder in the garden? As in,

I walked outside outside this morning on my way to work, and found a dead body draped over the hostas. Hmmm, I thought. The nitrogen in that blood will be good for the foliage.

Maybe. So far, the only murders have been perpetrated by the cat—well, fauna-wise, that is. I’ve murdered plenty of plants. I don’t think people find that too exciting though.

I’ll have to think about it. In the meantime, here is a nice picture of my oriental lilies. Come and see them on Garden Walk.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Thanks, Artvoice and Artvoice readers!

Inexplicably, my tiny readership has somehow managed to get me on the nomination list for “Best Blog” in the Artvoice annual “Best of Buffalo” issue.

I’ll get to the bottom of it, but I do feel gratified, regardless of how it happened. This nomination has galvanized me to create a better, more entertaining blog. I will get a new camera. I will be funnier. I will talk more about drinking in the garden.

Thank you faithful readers of GWI, all 10 of you! You won’t regret this!

And thanks, Buffalo Pundit, who will probably win and should win, for giving me the heads up.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Talking the talk: Gordon and Arlan

With the Garden Walk committee, I’ve embarked on the task of producing a Garden Walk book/DVD combo in time for a holiday offering. We hope that preorders taken during this year’s walk will help pay for production costs. About thirty gardeners are being interviewed: the crème de la crème from the more than 200 gardeners on the walk.

We started the interviews this week, with two gardeners whose styles are quite different, but whose gardens are undoubtedly among the best GW has to offer.


Gordon has an all-singing, all-dancing chorus line of a backyard, albeit hidden on all sides by a high hedge. Once you’re in though, you’re met by a large pond on the right (shown above), a series of trellises with passionflower and clematis (among other climbers), potted tropicals, rows of hardy hibiscus, another pond in the back, lights, music, and a patio area for entertaining. Woven throughout are beds of unusual perennials, including Panamerican hostas, sea oats, acanthus, and (my favorite) Japanese anemone. Gordon now says that his only regret is that he didn’t start out with any clear design, but developed his garden, as most of us do, by discrete increments.


Arlan, a quieter person, has a quieter garden, but not without its spectacular elements. It’s all about the structures here. There are two vintage fountains, a wooden potting bench and wooden garden shed (shown above) both of which Arlan designed and built—anyone who sees these will never be able to look at any prefab catalog version without a shudder of disgust—and a side “moss garden” where Arlan and Dom have created a miniature rural landscape. Elegance best describes it all, with some—restrained—whimsy.

It’s good to start the project with gardens of this caliber. I know that there are more grandiose gardens in Buffalo, but I also know from experience that many of these are installed by landscaping companies rather than built literally from the ground up by homeowners who wanted their gardens to reflect their personalities.

As these two gardens certainly do.