Friday, May 30, 2008

To Spray or Not

Iris 'Honey Glazed'

The use or avoidance of pesticides is integral to a gardener's lifestyle. I try to avoid them, but I am not an absolutist. For example, I don't know how I would manage my ten acres without glyphosate (i.e. generic brand Round-up) and Ortho's cocktail of selective broadleaf herbicides. (The latter is mostly used on poison ivy.) I use one fungicide and only once a year on my two peach trees to avoid peach leaf curl. (I don't spray my apples at all.) I feel pretty good about being mostly pesticide free. The bearded iris pictured above is an example of a decision not to use pesticides. I am visited by iris borers and actually gave up recently on a clump of tall bearded iris because of chronic infestation from borers. But so far this year borer problems are not evident as typified by the the Iris 'Honey Glazed' pictured above. I think the use of pesticides is a cost/benefit question. Unfortunately, people typically under estimate the cost of pesticides such as their personal and family's exposure, general pollution of the environment, and adverse impact on biological equilibriums. For me the cost is higher than the benefit of spaying my iris for borers.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Economical Plants Allow Experimentation

Dodecatheon meadia

Sometimes we chose a good plant but a poor place to plant it. It's nice to be able to put plants in a few different places to see how they will do, but that's difficult when the plants cost several (or even a score or two) dollars each. Bulb dealers often have good deals on plants we might otherwise think of as perennials. Pictured above is shooting star (Dodecatheon meadia) which I bought a couple of years ago from a bulb dealer for just a bit more than a dollar each. At that price I was comfortable buying enough plants to try them in several places. As expected they dwindled away in at least one spot. If I had purchased only a few and happened to put them in the unsuccessful spot I might have concluded that I just couldn't grow shooting star. (By the way, the recent edition of Rock Garden Quarterly includes a very convincing argument for why Dodecatheon is more properly in the genus Primula.
Another bulb dealer bargain I got a few years ago was gayfeather (Liatris spicata) for $.35 each.
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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Curious Little Book

Here is a great little book about incorporating gardening and similar aesthetics into a lifestyle. I'm not normally a fan of garden narratives. They tend to be excessively sentimental, try to awe us with their triumphs over exaggerated gardening obstacles, or ponderously name every plant in the garden. This 1898 book written by Elizabeth von Arnim, but first published anonymously, doesn't lack for sentimentality, but the free spirited Elizabeth is such an amusing character I find it somehow appropriate. Popular in its time but safely categorized as obscure today the book describes an at least somewhat fictionalized year in the life of the author on her German estate. The author's first of twenty-two books, this light reading offers fascinating glimpses into pre-World War I rural Germany, early feminism and (most importantly to me) an example of how a garden can be instrumental in personal fulfillment. I was lucky to find a copy of the book, in of all places, one floor below my office in the Kingwood Center library. Alas, the copy is too fragile to circulate, but the book is available free on-line and inexpensively from many book dealers.
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