Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Big excitement—for me, that is


All you jaded master gardeners out there probably grow this with the greatest of ease—or scorn it—but I have always wanted a moonflower (ipomoea alba). It is a scented vine, which combines my favorite plant structure with my favorite plant attribute. After a failed attempt to grow these from seeds passed along to me by my sister-in-law (chalk up yet another seed starting failure), I got a plant from Select Seeds and it is finally blooming. It should flourish through September, I'd think.


I see that this is related to morning glory, which implies that is likely invasive or at least overly aggressive in some areas, but that won't be a problem here. And it's poisonous. Poisonous and invasive—why do so many of the plants I really like fall into both those categories?

Monday, August 23, 2010

DIY self-watering

Because I'm mainly an ornamental gardener, I had never really thought much about using self-watering containers. Even in a dry summer as this one has been, I can neglect my containers of annuals and tender bulbs without too many ill results. They bounce back. And I don’t find the self-watering containers too ornamental. I’m still looking for that gorgeous lightweight container that looks like an Etruscan original.

However, my friend Gordon, who has an amazing ornamental garden that takes up most of his outdoor property, has found a way to have it all by using his driveway as a place to grow vegetables. And he makes his own self-watering containers (or self-contained gardening system, as these are often called). Gordon grows an amazing crop of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and other vegetables in this asphalt-covered space; many of the seedlings are started in a collapsible hoop house he uses in the spring. Vegetables benefit most from a steady diet of water and nutrients—there’s a little more science necessary when you grow them. Kind of like the difference between baking and other types of cooking.

At first I thought his homemade containers were just another aspect of his gardening genius. Not quite. Gordon has modified a recipe for self-watering containers he found on the web. It’s from Josh Mandel and can be found here. The site looks like it hasn’t been updated in a while, but the instructions are still good. Gordon recommends that instead of PVC, 3/4" copper tubing be used, and instead of black tarp, red weed blocking fabric be used, especially for the tomato plantings.

I’d be interested to see if anyone uses this, and if it works for them. And I’m still looking for those elusive self-watering, lightweight and beautiful containers for my ornamentals.

(Pictures coming soon for this--sorry!)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Went to IGC, spoke on a panel, lived to tell the tale


But it won’t be an epic. Here are just a few observations.

It’s a buyers’ show

Although there are plenty of speakers, sessions, and workshops, some of the garden center reps I spoke to said they would not have too much time to attend any programming. They were there to shop (and play in Chicago). The exhibit floor is on 2 levels and has little side sections. It’s a big job to carefully assess what’s there and make astute choices. The show is not open to the public, though, so I never found it uncomfortably crowded, as some of the big flower show vendor sections can be. Fellow Ranter Amy Stewart and I had fun walking around and stopping—pretty much at random—to speak to some of the vendors.



I liked most those vendors who were manning their own booths rather than being repped by PR people. For example, the product above—a planter on wheels that I rather like—was shown to us by its creator and his signage included a picture of him and his daughter with it. Amy and I feel that this would be crack on wheels if it came in stainless steel to add to the industrial chic. No urban hipster could be without it. But the white is elegant.

Then there were the plastic molds to shape small vegetables and fruits into hearts or squares. Very, very silly, but I can’t help but think of a cute little heart-shaped tomato floating in a cocktail. It could work.

And there was so much more, including many New Age potions to enhance plant performance. These are no longer called fertilizers. Goodness, no. They simply help plants to get the most benefit possible from the compost or other natural elements already present in soil. Whatever.


As for our panel

Over the past four years, we’ve all posted plenty of what we like and don’t like about our independent garden centers and how we’d like to improve them. Amy, Susan, and Michele took reader surveys to get a sense of the shopping habits of Rant readers and what they expect from their IGC. I went first and talked about, in this order: what IGCs sell, the marketing of various products, and the current trend of replacing one spray (chemical) with another (nicer chemical). I think we and our readers are pretty much in accord—we want to be taken seriously as gardeners and not insulted by higher prices for silly packaging, myths about “organic” sprays, or garden center aisles dedicated to stuffed animals and resin décor.

That all might sound kind of like a serious panel-long rant, but it wasn’t, judging from the laughs we got. Local radio station host Mike Nowak helped things along by interrupting us to serve cocktails to our panel, as he had threatened to do on the radio show we had with him. Great fun.


Would I attend IGC again? Actually I’d love to. I’d like to have more time to walk the floor and talk to the vendors—and it’s always in Chicago. You gotta love that.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Am I a real garden expert? If not, how much does it matter?


Our panel description for IGC

Over the last few days, as I prepare to speak on a panel at the upcoming IGC show, I've been thinking about how professional “expertise” makes a difference. In some ways, I think the difference can be on the negative side, when it comes to a truly useful dialogue about gardening.

While it’s true I do not have horticultural training—I am a writer by trade and by academic background—I am a gardener and have been for about 25 years. And it has been more serious since I began to own property. But I don’t know the ins and outs of the horticultural trade—how plants are hybridized and brought to market or who really decides which plants will become available and which ones will fall by the wayside.

I don’t know what marketing wisdom prompts the buyers for nurseries and garden centers to choose what goes on their shelves (though I can make educated guesses). And I do not have the scientific background of the professionals who staff academic departments in schools where agriculture and horticulture are taught.

Does any of this matter? I think not. As far as writing goes, I depend on my research, interviewing skills, and ability to put information together and draw conclusions. As far as gardening goes, I depend on my reading, the advice of others—including professionals—and trial and error (mostly). In any given day, in any given garden, mileage varies widely.

But most of all, like anyone who reads this blog, I am a fellow gardener and garden consumer who likes to talk about plants and occasionally raise questions about gardening practice. I’m not an insider—and in this case I am not sure being an insider would lead to the best kind of dialogue. Often, the horticultural insiders I know are very cautious about expressing their real opinions—they simply know too many people. That happens in every profession.

We have been taking guest rants on Garden Rant for the past couple weeks or so. It’s really wonderful how many readers were obviously unleashing opinions they’d long held but hadn’t really had an outlet for. It’s why I started this blog, and joined Rant—I just hope, as I go to events like this week’s IG show and GWA meetings, that I don’t get to be too much of an insider.

So expect my full report when I return Friday—as un-insidery as I can make it!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fast forward


While certain things about this speeded-up season have been slightly disturbing (lilies mostly over by mid-July, etc.), overall I have found it kind of fun. I have always had a mid-season-maturing garden, so with enough annuals and tropicals to back it up, I find that I’m getting more consistent fullness and color this year—earlier, and I hope just as long.


Plant of the month: rudbeckia lacianata “Golden Glow.” It’s kind of like a really tall (5’ and up) and better-looking mum. I have only seen it offered from Select Seeds, and much prefer it to the Goldsturm and the Herbstsonne, which was my previous favorite.


And these lovely herbs, a gift planter from Buffalo gardening guru Sally Cunningham. You can see borage and oregano flowers, with the fabulous houseplant plectranthus “Mona Lavender” in the background.

In front of the house (top), the fusion impatiens have achieved shrub status, while the colocasia are attempting tree height.

If I depended on perennials for my summer impact, I’d be nowhere. No matter how the season goes—speeded up or slow—if you have annuals and tropicals , you’ll always have some kind of drama. And I’m all about the drama. Especially on Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.

Friday, August 13, 2010

A garden at the end of summer


There was considerable pressure on the GWI garden during July. Actually, it started in late June when fellow Ranter and acclaimed author Amy Stewart snuck in with a camera crew and shot a video (mainly an interview with Amy), while I was out of town. It is a major production about Buffalo gardens and our love of gardens that the local visitor’s bureau is working on. When it’s finished, I’ll post it.

Then, July 8-11, 70 garden bloggers/writers/vendors were in town, and the GWI property again got a workout, on a very hot Thursday. I am assured by most of the attendees that they could not really see the garden for the crowd and the excitement of seeing each other—which is as it should be.


Finally, July 24-27, about 1,000 people came through as part of Garden Walk Buffalo. That’s a smaller number than usual, because the headquarters location changed, but 1k was plenty for me. It was a lovely weekend. I should mention that throughout July, my garden was one of a few dozen Open Gardens. Every Thursday I tried to remember to leave the gate open so that those few aware of the program could visit. We’ll try it again next year with better PR.


Phew! Now the garden is finally quiet. The lilies are over (except the speciosum), the roses are taking a break, but I do have plenty of annuals, tropicals and yellow/orange perennials. The heliopsis is doing wonderfully, as is the rudbeckia laciniata “Gold Glow” (at top), which might very well be my favorite rudbeckia ever. There isn’t the riot of scent that I had when the lilies and jasmine were dominating, but I do still have some fragrance from the heliotrope (especially the white), the old-fashioned petunias, the David’s Lavender phlox and a few other plants. And there are some plants still to bloom.

Maybe the garden isn’t so much quiet as different.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Seedpod sightings


Some were seen during a walk in the wild; some were seen during a brief visit to the assiduously cultivated local botanical gardens. Seedpods are kind of sad at this time of year, when you see the end of summer coming, but you’re not ready yet. I know that seedpods can develop all season along, but most of the time I deadhead, either to promote new blooms or simply to divert energy from seed production—as with lilies—into other areas. At the end of the season, I do often let them go. But not yet. I still have hopes.

Sometimes, the seedhead is just as cool—or way cooler—than the flower. That’s certainly the case with Gomphocarpus/Asclepias (I’ve seen both names) physocarpa, which was looking amazing at the Gardens today. It's a type of milkweed that’s also commonly known as swan milkweed or balloon plant. Or, for obvious reasons, hairy balls. I’d have to grow this from seed (which pretty much guarantees failure for me), but I’d really like to try sometime. Maybe next season.


These seedpods (above) were spotted during a walk in a lakeside state park. I am sure many of you know what they are—they look vaguely sinister, but sorta cool. (After I posted this, a Facebook friend informed me that they are the common asclepias, which I ought to have known. Oops!)