Friday, December 11, 2009
Internal brown spots on Elba potato
I find potatoes to be one of the most gratifying of the annual food crops to grow. I know they can be purchased very inexpensively at the grocery store, but I do enjoy the bounty just the same.(And did you read what Michael Pollan said about pesticide usage on Idaho potatoes?) There is something especially satisfying about sinking a spade into the soil and unearthing a clump of potatoes. I also like the fact that I can store them. When I have grown crops with short shelf-lives like lettuce the eating opportunities came and went too fast, especially for those unnamed members of the household who found it more convenient to buy lettuce at the grocery store than to walk out into the garden and cut some. Aaarg.
One of the varieties of potatoes I have grown for the last two years is Elba. They are quite satisfactory, but they do have the curious propensity for brown spots in the middle of the largest of the tubers. (see picture above) Apparently not much is known about why this occurs, although most seem to think it is a physiological response to some sort of environmental stress. Anyway, it hasn't bothered me particularly. The spots are easy to cut out, and while they are said to reduce shelf-life I just use the largest potatoes first. They are the only ones with the spots.
I will be taking at least a year off from growing potatoes. 2009 was a horrific year for late blight. Fortunately I only had a small percentage of my crop damaged, but in order to avoid a major crop failure next year I think I will get out of potato growing for a while. I have not been very careful about removing all potential sources of inoculum; I don't want to spray; and I don't have a fresh bed available to rotate them into. Not to worry, I won't be lacking for other things to grow.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Above and below: Oats photographed on 23 November and sown in mid September as a cover crop
Cover crops seem to be one of those things that are supposed to not simply be a good practice but also a noble and wholesome one; the sort of thing that good "stewards of the land" would always do. But how often do you actually see it done? I almost never see cover crops. There is no shortage of information on the benefits of cover crops, so there is no need to go into that here. This is a blog about the gardening life style, so I am more curious about why such a highly regarded practice seems to be so seldom followed, at least in the home and public gardens I have occasion to see. Perhaps there is rarely the sense that a particular garden is open and unused for the necessary four or more weeks at the end of the growing season before cold weather shuts down the cover crop’s growth. Here at Kingwood, for example, after the annuals are removed from the seasonal display beds we typically plant tulips, alliums, or pansies in the fall. Home vegetable gardens are likely candidates, but perhaps people don’t like the idea of buying seed for something they are not going to harvest. I have typically mulched my open vegetable gardens for the winter, but cover crops might be better weed suppressants, less time consuming, and less expensive while still providing a boost to organic matter. I think cover crops are sufficiently rare that most people are reluctant to try something so unfamiliar.
I have to admit, until this fall when I planted the oats pictured above, I had very minimal first-hand experience with cover crops. This planting is sort of an anomaly. The beds had been planted in bearded iris, but to reduce maintenance we removed the iris and plan to direct sow annuals in the spring. Rather than let the soil sit empty and uncovered for the winter I planted the oats. I am gratified by the results so far and will look for more opportunities to use cover crops, especially in the vegetable garden.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
I have met many good gardeners who eschew labeling their plants. I think it is a matter of pride, although I am not sure whether it is pride in their memory or pride in not allowing labels to defile their garden's aesthetics. For my part I label like an Alzheimer's patient. One of my sister's once asked me why I couldn't just enjoy my plants for what they are without fixating on the names. The names of plants are so integral to my use and understanding of them I didn't know how to reply; I was dumbfounded. Today I read from one of my favorite garden columnists (Frank Ronan) that when rearranging a garden, "...whether the plant survives is infinitely less important than the removal of a vexation. We do not garden to be annoyed." I apply the same idea to plant labels. I am greatly vexed by looking at a plant in my garden and not knowing its name. I need to label, and with any luck the gentian pictured above will soon grow over the label so only I will know and be reassured that the name is somewhere to be found.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Deschampsia flexuosa (common hairgrass growing at my house
I love to visit plants in their native habitat, especially plants I am growing or that I might be inspired to grow. The topmost picture is of a grass called Deschampsia flexuosa (common hairgrass)growing in its native habitat at Dolly Sods in West Virginia. As a gardener I was thrilled to see this infrequently used ornamental grass growing in the wild, because I have been using it in my garden (as seen in the bottom picture). Being a fledgling rock gardener I also admired this rockery and thought how I might be able to recreate something inspired by it in my own garden. When I saw this modest little clump of Deschampsia flexuosa growing in the rockery I also thought I ought to try using it more subtly than my mass planting, particularly in a rockery, which I just happen to have in development. I also took a bunch of pictures of other cool plants at Dolly Sods that I am keeping in the back of my mind as potential garden plants.
Monday, October 12, 2009
A cheddar pink in its glory.
The same cheddar pink under attack.
Another system of gardening.
Look at the middle picture of the my beautiful mass of cheddar pink being engulfed in weeds that are nearly impossible to remove. One might say that the lesson I should learn is to keep up with my edging or to keep this vulnerable plant isolated. But the answer to what I did wrong is dependent upon the system of gardening that I chose to use. This is something that is difficult to explain to the many gardeners who call us at Kingwood Center with questions of what they should do differently following failures, especially after enjoying a few years of success such as I had (see top picture).
Garden decisions follow from the system of gardening we choose. This is a simple fact overlooked by many gardeners such as those who want the roses that also happen to be black spot susceptible, or want lovely apples, or want some common insect's favorite food but don't want to spray or won't learn to spray properly.
Some garden systems avoid the problem I had by making every plant in the garden an isolated specimen (see bottom picture) or by regularly scheduled maintenance techniques such as edging. Having rejected both of those approaches in my own garden I am obliged, therefore to know more about how plants in close proximity interact with each other. This seems to me to be a more interesting approach in which gardens are orchestrated intertwining masses of vegetation. Clearly my plant placement decision was not consistent with my choice of gardening system. So my lesson could be to change my system(such as by edging or changing the garden lay-out), but a better lesson for me is to do a better job with my system by finding more compatible neighboring plants for this cheddar pink.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
The white purple coneflower and Liatris offer up a beautiful show in July.
The meadow is especially nice in June with these oriental poppies and assorted other flowers.
I continue my work with my "meadow", or as I read in Peter Thompson's book, The Self-Sustaining Garden, my matrix garden. While trying to construct this self-sustaining planting, the aesthetics have not been forgotten. I am conscious of having a series of big seasonal shows. After the early spring daffodils comes the June show of blood-red oriental poppies and company, then in July the garden features white purple coneflower with Liatris. Now that a grass (Calamagrostis brachytrica)I planted last year has matured I have a show in September that precedes the fall color show in which the Amsonia hubrichtii is magnificent. I need to bolster the daffodil show and add something more for August. I have a lot of Crocosmia 'Lucifer' that I need to move. Perhaps it will help the late summer show and fit into the community.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Now here is something different for the garden - the parasitic look. Of course there are many fascinating parasitic plants that would be kind of fun to have in the garden, but they would be tough to grow. The above picture of Colchicum (autumn crocus) at Kingwood Center sending up their leafless flowers in the shade always remind me of parasitic plants. Could this be a step toward reviving the heroin chic motif but this time in the garden?
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Around the country, apparently in response to economic hard times, a record number of people have grown fruits and vegetables this year. I wonder how their harvests have been. Because in spite of my many years of experience, I am still frustrated by my failure to make satisfactory use of what I grow. I have concluded that unless I am committed to a concerted effort to can, freeze, or otherwise preserve. I will never do more than amuse myself with small bits of food now and then. For example I grew a row of beets this year and we ate beets four or five times. We could have eaten beets every day for months. I don't want to pickle or otherwise process them, so most of the beets are going to go to waste. The same is true for the green beans I grew. One seed packet of beans or beets is enough to provide fresh produce to twenty people! I am processing cherry tomatoes from my eight plants while the two full size tomatoes are largely going to waste. I bought a machine to dry the tomatoes and have amassed enough dried tomatoes to make all my friends and family hide from my anticipated dried tomato largess. Raspberries are great. I eat them with my cereal every morning like I did with blueberries before them. My five Asian pears from my young but precocious trees were delicious, but what do I do when that number is two hundred and five along with my existing Bartlet pears? Potatoes are satisfactory because they can be stored. I can provide home grown potatoes for most of the year. I am about to harvest about a bushel of carrots from another individual seed packet. What am I going to do with all of those?
Obviously I am growing some of the wrong things and/or growing them in too large of a quantity, but I never seem to learn. I need to hone in on the produce that suits my lifestyle and just forget about the other things. Spring is when that resolution goes out the window. Oh! let's try Brussels sprouts this year, and Lima beans; how about kale; I've never grown that!
Friday, August 28, 2009
Monday, August 17, 2009
There is something particularly gratifying about a desirable plant really settling in and making itself at home in my garden, and what could be more domestic than raising a family. This gratification is especially noteworthy when a plant that is a bit of a challenge to grow not only persists in my garden but also puts out a few seedlings. I discovered the above pictured seedling of Cyclamen purpurascens recently about thirty feet from my little planting of the parent plants. A likely parent, also pictured above, has been in my garden for about seven years and it and its companions are growing at a glacial pace. (In light of global warming we may have to change that expression.) So, given the slow growth of the parents the appearance of a few seedlings here and there was even more satisfying than usual.
A quote that caught my imagination about hardy cyclamens was from E.A. Bowles in his book My Garden in Autumn and Winter. In speaking of what we now call Cyclamen hederifolium he says, "You get as good value year in and year out from Cyclamen neapolitanum as from any one plant I can recall, and I think it must be one of the most long-lived of all that are not trees. There is one immense old root here, that would not go into the crown of my hat, and my dear old mother used to tell me she brought it from Atkins' garden at Painswick soon after her marriage, and it is now many years since my parents celebrated their golden wedding. Sixty years is a long life for any one plant, for C. neapolitanum does not renew itself annually as most bulbous plants do, but just grows a little wider from season to season and the older and larger it grows the more vigorous it gets, and the greater number of flowers it produces."
What are the chances one of my children will carry-on the cultivation of my cylamen? Ummm.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Paeonia veitchii in bloom
One of my most satisfying garden vignettes is pictured above. I love the textural combination of leaves, the various shades of green and the weed excluding, self sustaining massing of foliage. In the background is a Kirengeshoma; over to the left is Glaucidium; in the foreground and a little bit chlorotic is Primula kisoana; then on the right is a woodland peony, Paeonia veitchii. A bit of Epimedium is apparent and the thin leaves are a couple of different species of Carex. This is all growing in the shade of a big white pine. To repeat myself from recent blogs, my overriding goal is to develop more stable plantings like this one that need almost no care, have interesting seasonal flowers and, most importantly, look good in green the rest of the year. And just for good measure I am throwing in a picture of that Paeonia veitchii in bloom. It lasts very briefly, so thank goodness the foliage is attractive.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
This modestly assertive Veronica (upright blue flowers) is no match for the weeds. I should replace it with something more substantial.
I just spent about twenty hours over a three day week-end weeding, after which I would describe my gardens as "still weedy." It is the sort of frustration that makes me question my commitment to the scope and nature of the gardening I do at home. It also makes me scrutinize my strategies. With gardens relatively massive in scope, like mine, weed minimization strategies are essential. My "meadow" planting (an experiment in said strategy) is depressingly weedy in spite of dense, mature plantings and frequent and thorough weedings in the past. This experiment in sustainable gardening has been revealing. I have heard speakers talk about their successful "meadows", but with my own experience in mind I would like to see in-person how they cope with persistent weeds like goldenrod, Canada thistle, quack grass, oxalis, etc. (I am developing a new approach in another bed.) In my more conventional mixed planting beds I notice that some big vigorous plants like Nepeta subsessilis, Euphorbia palustris, and my several Monardas have no weeds growing up through them. What I need to do is to better merge my perennials into a continuous, weed excluding mass. It is actually a fairly small list of desirable perennials that have good weed exclusion properties. A look back at my meadow demonstrates that fact convincingly. Another strategy, of course, is to have gardens small enough that keeping up with the weeding and mulching is manageable. I can't bring myself to scale down. There is just too much to learn from my far flung gardening efforts, and since I am usually desk bound at Kingwood Center I don't get my gardening fix at work like I used to.
Monday, June 22, 2009
I was weeding my garden the other day and was surprised to see a few score of an unfamiliar seedling which I thought to be a strangely odd weed. After pulling a few I stopped to think and realized they were seedlings of the nearby Gillena trifoliata (Bowman's Root)(seedling and mature plant pictured above). It was a pleasant surprise to have such a desirable plant self seeding. I have grown it in that garden for years and this was the first time I noticed its seedlings. Perhaps I wasn't so heavy on the mulch this year. Coincidentally a few days later I read a brief interview with English horticulturist Noel Kingsbury. He was asked for his top gardening tip, which he gave as, "Get to know what plants in your garden self-seed, so you can recognize the seedlings and not weed them out. Then watch a natural, dynamic process take over." I would add a qualifier to that and say watch the natural, dynamic process take over with caution. I have many times been thrilled to see something self-seeding only to later curse its abundance and difficulty to control.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
These little thumbnails really need to be clicked upon for better viewing.
The two pictures above are from the garden I have been working on the longest in my eleven growing seasons in my current home. They were taken this spring (2009)and they both demonstrate a degree of success in achieving my goals with the garden and conveniently hide the frustrating failures. I want the garden to invite the viewer to walk into the garden, not just look at it from afar. Once in the garden the visitor should be enveloped by a flush of various heights, colors, textures, and forms that offer interest to the overview and to the detailed inspection. Where I have failed to complete this goal I have either planted a jumble that looks weedy, or my plantings have not yet coalesced, because I planted too few plants, or they just haven't had time to grow to full size. The jumble is the hardest to fix because I can't bear to get rid of otherwise good plants, and it is hard to tell what to remove when everything is dormant. As I write this I realize I just need to accept the fact that the worst jumble in this garden needs a total reconfiguration. I tell people to be brutal; I need to take my own advice.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Is this cowslip (Primula veris) a design element? Probably not, but I get great satisfaction out of its vigor and successful colonization of my rockery. It is beautiful.
I read a blog (Garden Rant) today that asked the question, are ornamental gardens really about beauty? They said that if beauty were the primary ambition there would be careful restraint unlike the exuberant excess of most keen gardener's gardens. She said, "My feeling is that beauty is a side product of gardening, but not the ultimate goal, which is vigorous exercise and pagan nature worship." I agree with the idea that beauty is a side product of gardening, but the rest of that sentence is a bit airy for me. Instead of vigorous exercise (occasionally) and pagan nature worship it is more about a sense of achieving understanding of natural systems through model making. I think we all love to build things and what better challenge is there than to build something out of living, growing, plants. It is a life-long pursuit of mine to learn about plants and their associated life forms. My favorite vehicle for learning is gardening. The garden also offers living space (comfort, as sense of place), and yes it offers beauty. Gardeners find their beauty in more than the quick scan of a carefully groomed minimalist landscape. There is also beauty in a tiny nook, an individual plant, a sense of enclosure, or any of a multiplicity of levels of scale. That's why we like the weird jack-in-the-pulpit or the fine details of the rock garden or the great sweep of a meadow-like planting. They are beautiful in their way and they are fascinating as well for anyone who wants to look beyond the superficial.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Iris x robusta 'Dark Aura'
I am covetous of the way many gardeners can simply bend at the waist and work at soil level in the garden. My mother could do that, and I recall her bending over in her long Guatemalan skirt searching the garden for newly emerging sprouts. She seemed to get great pleasure in personally greeting each returning guest. In our zeal for flowers we often overlook the fascinating world of emerging plants. I have included two that I photographed this spring. The first (Glaucidium palmatum), with the absurd common name of Japanese wood poppy, is subtle. At this stage this is almost a "belly plant." The second (a hybrid iris called Iris x robusta 'Dark Aura') won't let you ignore its intense color as it presents itself in the spring.
For the best views of the images click on them to enlarge to full size.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Have you seen those high-end specialty plant nurseries that must believe their arcane stock is so unique they can price their stuff at prices about two or three times higher than what others would charge for less rarefied plants? I admit, I have fallen under the spell of a few of those nurseries, and their apparent high prices are actually much higher when I look back and see the substantial attrition rate of what I bought. But yet, I go back, and Jeffersonia dubia is a perfect example of why. It's the Asian counterpart of our native Jeffersonia diphylla (Twinleaf) except that it has vividly colored flowers. When I spotted the plant pictured above this spring I was awe struck. I bought three of these Jeffersonia dubia seven years ago. Only two plants are still with me and one of those two is only barely alive. The third is thriving as the photographs suggest. That reminds me of another reason these high-end specialty nurseries are even more expensive than they seem. It is usually a good idea to buy at least three of each selection in order to increase your chances of finding that "sweet spot" where it will thrive. Why, for example is one of my Jeffersonia thriving while the other two, planted in what seemed to be comparably suitable environs are dead or dying? At least now if someone tells me they tried Jeffersonia dubia without success I can smugly say, "It's doing great for me."
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
A lifestyle garden is all about simple pleasures, especially the many tiny simple pleasures of a day to day life. One of those simple pleasures is the discovery in the spring that the questionable plant you put in last year actually made it through the winter. The tiny sprouts pictured above represent one such pleasure. It is the sprout of a groundcover raspberry (sold as: Rubus arcticus subsp.x stellarcticus) I bought last year from a mail order nursery that did not evoke much confidence in me. But the nursery had this curious plant that was said to have been developed in Sweden and would grow as a groundcover in a wide variety of conditions while producing a crop of raspberries. Its description was irresistible to me, and I couldn't find anyone else offering it (which also made me suspicious), so I took a chance. The plants arrived in horrible condition. I fussed over them until they became established, but a few never did. Throughout the summer the survivors grew modestly. I continued to wonder if they were going to amount to anything or were they just part of yet another exaggerated marketing claim. Seeing them emerge this spring has given me some assurance that at least they are viable plants. Now we will have to see if they produce those promised raspberries.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Monday, March 16, 2009
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I have always been a bit ambivalent about images of these ephemera unless I think about what they represent. While pretty in their own right I think they are representative of the wonderful emotional satisfaction of being out in the early morning garden. For me they represent the morning when everything is fresh (you, the day, the air, the light...). It is always a struggle during the week to walk through the garden to my truck in the exhilarating atmosphere of morning and drive off to work. I am grateful, however, that I have the garden setting that can evoke those exhilarating feelings. It is part of the lifestyle garden.