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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sproutkale 29, 2012

Crocuses blooming on a sunny Sproutkale day
I was down in a rabbit hole full old gardening magazines when I ran into a tidbit or two  about the month of February. 

Or should I say, the month of Sproutkale?

Or should I say, the month of Solmonath?

“THE STORY OF FEBRUARY has been on the whole an ill used month perhaps in consequence of its noted want (in the northern hemisphere ) of what is pleasant and agreeable to the senses. Numa let fall upon it the doom which was for some one of the months of having, three of four times, a day less than even those which were to consist of thirty days. That is to say he arranged that it should have only twenty nine days, excepting in leap years, when by the intercalation of a day between the twenty-third and twenty-fourth it was to have thirty. No great occasion here for complaint. But when Augustus chose to add a thirty-first day to August that the month named for him might not lack in the dignity enjoyed by six other of the year, he took it from February, which could least spare it, thus reducing it to twenty-eight in all ordinary years.

Verstegan informed us that, among the Saxons, the month gets its name of Sproutkale from the fact, rather conspicuous in gardening, of the sprouting of cabbage at this ungenial season. The name of Solmonath was afterwards conferred upon it, in consequence of the return of the luminary of day from the low course in the heavens in which for some time he had been running.”

American Homes and Gardens, Vol. XI. January – February 1914

If I grew cabbage in my garden, I'd start some seeds in Sproutkale to plant out in the garden in March. I would also claim that March was not named after Mars, the god of war, but was named March to remind gardeners everywhere to march right out to their gardens and get a good jump on spring. Or maybe I would keep with the theme of Sproutkale and call it Plantpeas

One more day of Sproutkale, of Solmonath, of February and then we march out to our gardens in March, or should it be Plantpeas, to really get going for spring.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

And gardeners of the club

Two Iris blooms walk into a bar...
Dear Members of the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Old-Time Gardening Wisdom, Lore, and Superstition (SPPOTGWLS or “the Society”), Members of the Green Bandana Garden Club, (GBGC) and Members of the Society of Gardeners Age 50 and Over (SGAFO),

I, who humbly serve as the President of each of these esteemed, distinguished and worthwhile organizations bring greetings and news to all.

As you may or may not be aware, the combined Boards of Directors of SPPOTGWLS, GBGC, and SGAFO recently met.

What, you did not know that these fine organizations each have a Board of Directors?  Who do you think is reviewing the finances, the long-range plans and the overall health and viability of these societies and clubs?  It is the Board.

Board members include distinguished gardeners in their own right, each with their own special skills and points of views.

The first order of the combined board meeting was to discuss if the three societies/clubs were in fact duplicative and should be combined into one society/club.  After heated debate, it was decided that they should, in fact, remain as three separate societies/clubs, each with its own unique purpose. 

The board members also discussed if it was a conflict of interest for all three societies/clubs to be led by the same president. But unanimous vote, it was determined that this was not a conflict of interest. In fact, the board members wondered how I manage to keep up with the three societies/clubs.  The key, as I explained is to hold meetings infrequently and keep them brief.

The board noted it was a leap year and discussed the merits of an idea I presented four years ago to petition to have the extra leap day moved to Spring, Summer or May.  The boards agreed that while this was a brilliant idea, no one knew who to petition to make the change, so it was table until 2016.

Finally, the Board approved the programs I plan to present to each Society/Club in the coming months.   These programs will remain a secret until such time as they are presented.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Boards were reminded that the plant giveaway expires at midnight on Feb. 29 and late entries would not be considered. They were also reminded that voting continues for garden blog of the year on and to please vote daily.

I hope this update has been informative to all members of these Societies/Clubs. Should you have any questions or wish to join one of these organizations for gardeners, please let me know.

President for life of any and all societies and clubs that I have formed or shall form in the future.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Calling all plant geeks - Special Giveaway Sponsored by Arrowhead Alpines

Trough Garden Collection from Arrowhead Alpines
Attention all plant geeks, gardeners, nature lovers, small plant aficionados, wildflower seekers and fans of Arrowhead Alpines.  The garden fairies and I are excited to have been invited to host a giveaway of a garden trough collection from Arrowhead Alpines.

As described by the plant geeks at Arrowhead Alpines, this garden trough collection includes "4 trough plants and a very small dwarf conifer or shrub for an 8 x 10 or smaller trough. These little things are cool, obviously you need to pick very slow growing plants which we will do".

If you are not familiar with Arrowhead Alpines, please go now and browse through their website and take a gander at the lovely, unusual, sweet plants they have for sale. 

I personally swooned over their Clematis offerings. And when I searched on "clematis", I found an unusual Aquilegia with clematis-like flowers.  About then my palms started to get a little sweaty.  And then...

Garden fairies here. We think we've lost Carol. Last we saw she was looking at "garden treasures" on the Arrowhead Alpine website. We are garden fairies, we have seen this type of behavior in gardeners before. We don't think she'll be back for awhile so we will do the business end of this post.

If you would like to win the garden trough collection from Arrowhead Alpines, here's what you do to enter (do both things).

1. Enter your name and your blog url in the Mr. Linky widget below. If you do not have a blog, just enter the url, AND
2. Leave a comment to tell us what you saw on the Arrowhead Alpines site that made your plant-loving heart go pitter-patter an extra beat or two.

Please make sure that from either your blog or your comment, we garden fairies and Carol can figure out your email address to notify you if you are the winner. 

All entries must be submitted by the end of February, which we garden fairies are pleased to announce is Wednesday, February 29 at midnight EST.  The winner will be chosen by random number drawing and will be notified on Thursday, March 1st, via email. This post will also updated at that time to let everyone know who the winner is.

Open to residents of the United States, over 18, etc.

Ready, set, enter.

Update March 1, 2012 -- The random number is...


Frances wins the trough garden from Arrowhead Alpines.  Thanks to all who entered and commented.

If you'd like to try again, visit Garden Rant, for a giveaway that runs until 10:00 am EST on Friday, March 2nd.  Good luck!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lettuce contain them

Over the last several weeks, I viewed thousands of picture of gardens I've taken in the last six years, which is nearly every picture I've taken in the last six years.

I was looking for pictures to include in a presentation I put together called "No Excuses--Grow Vegetables".

Or maybe it was "Grow Vegetables--No Excuses".

Either title, I presented it today at a spring gardening clinic.  The clinic took place at a school on the east side, just a few blocks from where my mom grew up.  I can just imagine my grandmother's diary entry for the day -- "There was a spring garden clinic today at the school up by the park. Daddy stayed home with the little ones so I could go. Such a treat to spend a day with gardeners. After a delicious lunch, there was a session on growing vegetables. I felt like I knew the speaker, but I don't how I could have. Came home thinking about planting Cue Ball squash."

Please don't tell my sister that during the presentation, I may have shown a picture of her garden as an example of what happens when you don't weed your garden as you should. I may have also mentioned it was my sister's garden.  May have.  I used the picture to illustrate that one of the secrets to happiness in your garden is to size the garden for the resources you have, including time to work in the garden, which my sister did not have much of that summer.  All good fun.

Anyway, as I went through all the pictures, wondering why I hadn't taken even more pictures of vegetable gardens, I ran across two pictures of plantings that I decided I'm going to copy in my own garden this spring.

The first picture I'm going to attempt to copy is the big container pictured above planted with Swiss chard and beets, with what looks like some radish that has gone to seed. I like that color combination. I can put the container on my patio or maybe on the front porch.  The weather should be good enough to plant it in a few weeks.

In a few weeks?  Whoa, don't panic.  I'll be ready, the garden will be ready.  Will the garden be ready?  Let's hope so.

In the meantime, I also found this picture, which I took at the Chicago Botanic Garden, along with the picture of the Swiss chard/beets/radishes container planting.

I really like this combination of lettuce mixed in with violas.  I think I'll also try to plant something like this in my garden.

After viewing all the pictures I've taken, I also decided that I am going to re-install the raised beds in my vegetable garden. Last year, I paid some guys to tear out raised beds because the wood I used to build them was more rotted than solid after nearly 10 years.  The crew who tore everything out left me with a clean slate, which I planted as long rows.

I much prefer raised beds, though, to the point that I'm almost borderline fanatical about them.  I will use either wood again, or if someone happens to know someone who might want to get rid of a lot of bricks, free for the taking, let me know.

I need to get those raised beds installed in a few weeks, or at least one of them installed in a few weeks so I can plant peas -- Spring isn't waiting.

(My apologies for the pun used in the title.  One can hardly resist...)

Some additions to this post added on Sunday...

Veg Plotting reminded me that Salad Days are the fourth Friday of the month. She invited me to include this post as my February entry, and so it is.  Suddenly, I'm hungry for some really good lettuce.

If you happened to hear me speak on Saturday and would like to leave a public review, you can do so on on the Great Garden Speakers website.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Random Garden-y Thoughts

Random garden-y thoughts...

I was going to come up with a clever name for this warm, March-like February - something like "Marchuary" but that sounds too much like mortuary, which reminds me of death but spring is not about death, it's about life.  And "no go" on Farch for obvious reasons.  I think if I need a different name for this month, I'll go with Warmuary.  Or Warmruary?

Crocuses in bud always remind me of matchsticks.

I've thought for awhile about re-writing my GADS post from four years ago but I keep getting distracted and end up doing something else instead. (That is an example of subtle humor). Maybe I should do a video version?

I need to start weeding before the end of Warmuary. Or is it Warmruary? 

This is my 1,864th post on this blog.  If the average number of words per post is somewhere between 200 - 400 words, which sounds about right, then I've written somewhere between 372,800 and 745,600 words. I wonder how many words are in the average sized garden essay book?

In 21 days or so, I'm going to sow peas outside in my garden.

I've ordered and received all of my seeds for my 2012 vegetable garden so everyone else can go ahead and order theirs now.  My "new to me" vegetable to try is Valerianella locusta. The common name is mache, sometimes called corn salad.  I bought the seeds from Botanical Interests. They have the best seed packets with very complete information, including the botanical name. I just read on the back of the mache packet that the seeds can take a while to germinate, so I should be patient.  Great, my seeds are telling me how to behave now.

I changed the settings on this blog to no longer require word verification when commenting. I know, robots might spam me, but it should be easier to leave a comment now.

I've been working on a presentation and a handout on the topic "Grow Vegetables - No Excuses". I'll be debuting this presentation at the local master gardeners spring garden clinic on Saturday.  I do not plan to talk about Valerianella locusta, though it is fun to pronounce.  It does make me wonder why it is when someone presents about flowers for the garden, it's considered bad form not to include the botanical names but when you present about vegetables, no one expects you to provide botanical names?  In fact, if you did slip in the botanical names of vegetables, it would probably be confusing and people might think you were a haughtyculturist.

I like gardens better than landscapes.

For the presentation on Saturday, my stylist, Gloriosa Vanderhort, will decide what I should wear. My assistant, Jane Hortaway, will make sure I actually take the presentation with me  on a thumb drive.  The advice columnist, Hortense Hoelove, will be on standby if I get a lot of questions, and Dr. Hortfreud, my garden therapist, will review the experience with me afterward.  The garden fairies are not invited because they would just cause trouble.  If you would like to know about these characters, check out the Who's Who page on my blog.

I'm going to host a giveaway in a few days.  

I received word yesterday that I've been nominated for Best Garden Blog on Gardening.
Right before I found out, I got a seat upgrade at the Pacers game to the first row.  It is my lucky week. I'm considering buying a lottery ticket now.  Follow the link to vote for your favorite garden blog, garden magazine, garden catalog, new gardening book and classic gardening book.

If I won the lottery, I'd probably spend it all on my garden.

Random garden-y thoughts can go on and on.  I'll stop there.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wildflower Wednesday Waiting

 Jeffersonia diphylla,
Will my spring wildflowers emerge earlier than normal, following the lead of the Iris histrioides 'Katharine Hodgkin' now blooming four to five weeks early in my garden?

I'll watch for them and find out soon enough. I'm anxious to see if those I...

Garden fairies here!

What does Carol mean "my" wildflowers? Doesn't she know you can't really "own" wildflowers. You can admire them, enjoy them, even wax poetic about them, but you can never own them.

Why is that? We are garden fairies, "that" is because we've decreed that it is not possible for anyone to own a wildflower.  In fact, the only reason we even allowed Carol to attempt to bring some wildflowers into the garden was because she was rescuing them from a wooded area that was going to be logged out and turned into a lake.

If she hadn't dug up a few of these wildflowers, they would currently be in Davy Jone's locker.   But she did dig them up so instead they are in her garden huddled around the base of a redbud tree, which is the only half-way woodsy place that Carol has in her garden.

We are garden fairies. Isn't that pathetic? So little shade. It's hard on us garden fairies sometimes to find a decent place that isn't in full sun in this garden. But somehow we manage to, and when we do, we always find that Carol has planted as many shade loving plants as she can in those areas.

We sure hope the twinleaf, pictured above, and the other rescued wildflowers come up in her garden, or Carol will have nothing to post for Wildflower Wednesday sponsored by Gail at Clay and Limestone on the fourth Wednesday of the month. Whew, that would be bad.

We have our garden fairy fingers crossed that these wildflowers that Carol so lovingly and carefully planted in her little tiny spot of woodland garden emerge and flower this spring.  Maybe they will even be blooming by the end of March.

We are garden fairies. We'll see, time will tell. It always does.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

News Flash: Winter Teased Spring

Iris histrioides 'Katharine Hodgkin' teased into bloom.
MAY DREAMS GARDENS, IN - Winter teased Spring again with sunshine and warm temperatures. In the aftermath, Spring allowed an iris, Iris histrioides 'Katharine Hodgkin' to bloom even though it is only mid-February.

The gardener in whose garden this teasing took place commented, "I can't control the seasons, obviously, but I do enjoy the results of their antics. This little iris is blooming about five or six weeks earlier than normal."

When informed of the early blooming iris, other local gardeners in general concurred that it was far preferable to have Winter tease Spring and trick its flowers into blooming early with warm temperatures, than for Fall to mess around with Summer and perhaps shorten the growing season with earlier than normal cold temperatures.

However, most gardeners said they were not personally going to fall for the antics of the seasons and would stick to their usual planting schedules. They planned to keep the tradition of planting peas on March 17th and other cool season vegetables like lettuce, radish, and spinach a week or so later.

"The biggest problem with all this weather tomfoolery isn't the early blooms", noted Dr. V. Q. Hortfreud, who specializes in the study, diagnosis and treatment of the anxieties of gardeners. "Those blooms are a nice surprise in February, though a bit freaky. The biggest problem is that the winter growing weeds are really taking advantage of the mild weather and no one is paying attention to them. Not only are they quite large for this time of year, but some are even starting to produce flower buds. I suspect if these weeds aren't controlled, my business is going to increase significantly as gardeners seek treatment for the anxiety and distress these weeds can cause for them."

Local authorities are advising all gardeners to look out for these weeds, even as they look for more early blooming flowers, including irises, that may have been teased into even earlier bloom. The weeds should be easy to spot and should be pulled as soon as possible, in accordance with Loudon's Rules of Horticulture, Rule No. 7.

For those who don't get the weeds under control, Dr. Hortfreud said she will be providing extra counseling sessions, as needed. Group therapy is also available for anyone who wishes to discuss the freaky February weather and what happens when Winter teases Spring.

Updated Monday, February 20.   A local gardener, who wishes to remain anonymous, went back to the garden where the weather tomfoolery is occurring and observed that there were four additional iris blooms present on Monday afternoon. Local authorities were notified.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Can you believe this frass?

Photo orig. from The Blogging Nurseryman
Can you believe this frass?

The Hoosier Gardener, perhaps knowing that I like to use the word frass as my own secret gardener's cuss word, sent me this picture of a bag of frass.

Insect frass in a bag.

Can you imagine?  How in the world does a company get enough frass to fill not just one bag, but enough bags to market and sell it as plant food?

Who came up with the idea of collecting insect poo and using it as fertilizer, anyway?

In all my wildest gardening dreams, which include dreams of someone delivering and spreading a wonderful well-composted, odor free load of manure on my garden, I never dreamed of collecting insect frass for fertilizer.

By the way, don't dish the manure as fertilizer.  One of my uncles uses horse manure on his garden and it makes quite a bit of difference, as noted in this picture from his garden a few summer's ago.

For the tomatoes on the right, the big tall ones, he added composted horse manure to the hole before he planted. He ran out before he planted the ones on the left, the puny little ones. See the difference?

Anyway, I wonder what what kinds of insects they get the frass from and how many insects it takes to fill a bag full of frass.  I would assume they use big ol' fat caterpillars because if you've ever seen a big ol' fat tomato hornworm on your tomato plants you know that they can produce a lot of frass.  Frass! I hate the tomato hornworms.

In my garden, I usually see their frass before I see the damage they've done to my tomatoes. Then I go looking for the actual hornworms, which are well-disguised and blend in.  Follow the frass and you will find them.  Collect the frass and you apparently have some good fertilizer.

And what would you call the place where they gather all the insects to produce all this frass?A farm? A ranch? How about a squirm?  Yes, I think the term for a large group of insects brought together to produce frass for fertilizer should be  a squirm, for many reasons.
I should have asked for a bag of insect frass for my birthday.

Somehow, I will get a bag of Insect Frass soon to try on my own plants, perhaps on the houseplants?

Frass! Another rabbit hole of gardening exploration and experimentation.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dear Hortense Hoelove Tells a Legend

Dear Hortense Hoelove,

Has anyone every asked you what will happen to spring flowers that start to bloom in February because it has been a mild winter? 

What if it turns cold again?  Will we not see daffodils bloom?  Will the snowdrop be happier in the snow?  What is the legend of the snowdrop?

Curious at Half Past February

Dear Curious,

Don't even ask me that first question about flowers blooming in February. It will just send me over the edge with a tirade about how people should worry about a lot more than a few early blooms. People should actually celebrate early blooms and in general relax and enjoy whatever nature sends their way, be it snowdrops or snowfall.

Ditto the other questions about cold and daffodils. We will see cold again, we might see snow again and everything will be just fine, both gardeners and daffodils.

As for the Legend of the Snowdrop...

Once upon a time, there was a little garden fairy who wanted to bring cheer to the gardeners who were so weary of winter. She thought and thought about what she could do and decided she would make a little flower that would be the earliest blooming of all.

She at first was going to make her flowers all pink and purple but realized that those colors were taken by the crocuses. She thought about gold and yellow, but those were the colors of those selfish Narcissus. Finally, she decided to make her flowers white, the color of the snow itself, so they would blend in with the season.

The legend part is

When snowdrops bloom in the snow
Winter is half past,
Garden fairies dance.
When snowdrops bloom in the mud
Spring is half here,
Garden fairies dance.

Isn't that lovely?


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - February 2012

Snowdrops in the snow
Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for February 2012.

Here in my USDA Hardiness Zone 6a garden, I've been enjoying a mild winter.  But I've been enjoying it with one eye open, watching for winter, wondering where it is, waiting for it to send us some real snow and cold and wind.

Finally after the watching, wondering, and waiting, winter sent us some snow early yesterday morning, leaving flowers like snowdrops covered by about an inch of snow.

No worries, though.  By mid-day, some of the snow had melted on the south side of the house and by late afternoon, most of the snow had melted completely throughout the garden.

We'll be back to our mild winter weather before we know it.

Snow is certainly expected in mid-February around here. Looking back at past bloom days, we didn't have snow on the ground in mid-February in 2011, but we did have a big snow and ice storm at the beginning of February that year.  We had snow in 2010.  We didn't have snow in 2009.  We had snow in 2008. And we definitely had snow in 2007, the first year of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

This little quote seems appropriate for the season...

"Sing a song of Winter
The world stops dead;
Under snowy coverlid
Flowers lie abed."

      From "All in a Garden Fair" by Alice T. A. Quackenbush (A. T. De Le Mare Company, Inc., 1925)

Here are some flowers that "lie abed" under "snowy coverlid" in my garden in mid-February.

There are golden crocuses.

And purple crocuses.

And little violas.

Other blooms braving the cold and snowy coverlid include the witchhazel, Hamamelis vernalis, and the Christmas Rose, Helleborus niger.

Inside, the Christmas cactus which bloomed in December has decided to repeat its blooms for February.

I'd like to think that it is my green thumb, my careful attention to all of this plant's needs, that has caused it to re-bloom. That is only true if neglect and occasional watering qualify as "careful attention". Sometimes, for some plants, that's all it takes.

And that's February in my garden.

What’s blooming in your garden on this mid-February day?

We would love to have you join in for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day and tell us. It’s easy to participate and all are invited.  Just post on your blog about what is blooming in your garden on the 15th of the month and leave a comment to tell us what you have waiting for us to see so we can pay you a virtual visit. Then put your name and the url to your post on the Mr. Linky widget below to make it easy to find you.

We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.” ~ Elizabeth Lawrence

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Gardening Terms Defined

I'm not sure I can retrace my steps through old gardening books to determine how I arrived at Johnson's Gardeners' Dictionary, but as soon as I read about it in the introduction of another book, I decided I needed it.

My newly-arrived dictionary is A New Edition, "Based on the Original Edition of 1846, thoroughly recast and brought down to the year 1917".

There is a lot between the covers of this 923 page dictionary, including every plant genus known at the time, from A to Z, with all their species, plus hundreds of gardening terms. 

Shall we look up a few terms?

(Sure, Carol, let's do that)

First term...

Hoe.  "This is the implement which should be most frequently in the gardener's hand, for the surface of the soil scarcely can be too frequently stirred."   And from there the editors continue with a discourse on the handle (should be light weight) and the types of hoes, mentioning Dutch hoes, crane necks, draw-hoes, amongst others.  All you gardeners who claim not to garden with a hoe. Ha! What are you thinking?


Gardener.  After describing gardeners and under gardeners, the editors provide some  advice, namely, "There are two golden sentences which we have always kept in mind by the gardener -- 1. Let all things be done orderly. 2. Be always ready to give an account of your stewardship."  Words to live by as well as garden by.

How about...

Gardening.  "Is the art of cultivating and arranging plants, so as to obtain from them the greatest amount of produce and beauty."   Produce.  See, gardening does involve vegetables.  We should always make room for a few vegetables in our gardens, no matter what.

And in honor of the day...

Love-apple.  Or tomato for you modern gardeners.  "Tomatoes, whether outdoors or under glass, give most atisfaction when restricted to one stem.  Throughout the summer clear away all lateral shoots, as well as thin the leaves, so as to expose the fruit to the full influence of the sun."  How do you like them love apples? What further proof must I provide to show that real gardeners stake their tomatoes?

Are there any other terms I should look up?

What about...

Bloom as in Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is tomorrow. Who's joining me for Year 6?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Guest Post: Garden Fairies Worry About Seeds

Why we grow vegetables - for the food.
Garden fairies here!  Finally, we get a chance to post something. When was the last time we posted?

Goodness, we don't know when we last posted something on this blog. We are garden fairies and we do not keep track of such things. We just post whenever and hope for the best.  We were going to actually hold off posting anything for awhile as a form of protest, but then we forgot what it was we were protesting.

Then we remembered, we are garden fairies, it is not like us to protest anything. Live and let live is our motto.  Speaking of which, we are growing quite concerned because we have noticed that Carol has not ordered any seeds for spring.

We were really nervous about her lack of seed ordering the week before last because it was unseasonably warm and we thought that meant we would have an early spring and so Carol would plant peas on March 17th, but she hadn't ordered the seeds yet, so we were worried.  Then last week it got cold like winter again and we were all like "whew", we dodged a bullet there. It's still winter after all, which means Carol has more time to order seeds because now she won't plant her peas until March 17th.

Then Tangle Rainbowfly said, "Hey, wait a garden fairy minute".  Then he did some ciphering and some calendering and had Sweetpea Morningdew check his figgering before he announced, "It doesn't matter whether it is warm or cold, Carol is going to plant peas on March 17th."

Oh, what an uproar that caused amongst the garden fairies. We are garden fairies and we are growing more concerned each day by Carol's lack of initiative, yes, we wrote initiative, in ordering her seeds for this year.   We do not need this kind of stress in our lives.

This procrastination must be stopped. We are garden fairies, it is not fair to us to make us worry and wonder.  We will have to come up with some way to get Carol to order seeds!

Submitted by:
Thorn Goblinfly, Chief Scribe for the Garden Fairies at May Dreams Gardens and the One Who Might Have to Order Seeds if Carol Doesn't Order Some Soon

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Book Review: Writing the Garden

I have yet to find the secret code, the nugget of information, the key that will unlock the story of the life of Alice T. A. Quackenbush, whose gardening books I've been reading these last few days. Without her maiden name, I can go no further in my quest to find her.

It was much easier to find out about Ida Dandridge Bennett, the gardening author I discovered last winter, because she never married and so I knew her maiden name.  Yes, I am reminded that I never finished posting all the information I had about Bennett.  I just couldn't bring myself to share her whole story because it has an unhappy ending, but I think one day I shall.

Anyway,  reading old gardening books is a bottomless rabbit hole for me.  I won't reveal how many more old gardening books I've acquired this winter, but they all relate to each other, so I felt I had to get them, to save them, to savor them.

I decided to take a little break from reading old gardening books and read instead a newly published book, Writing the Garden: A Literary Conversation across Two Centuries by Elizabeth Barlow Rogers. (David R. Godine, 2011)

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy reading the classics of garden writing, including some books written in the last few years and others written nearly 200 years ago.  Rogers writes about the writers and their books in groups, such as Travelers, Humorists, Warriors, and Correspondents.   Reading this book is a bit like going to a garden party where they are all there, everyone from Thomas Jefferson to Vita Sackville-West, plus Elizabeth Lawrence and Indiana's own Gene Bush.  (Note, I must buy Gene's plant catalog.)

In a lovely, easy to read, conversational style, Rogers tells a bit about each writer and shares passages from their books beyond just the one or two sentence snippets that we often read over and over again.  For anyone who has read those snippets and wants to know more, get Writing this Garden and come to this garden party to meet garden writers from both the United States and Great Britain, from the 19th, 20th and even 21st century.

It will be one of the best parties you attend all winter.

(And listen to Rogers talk about her book on this YouTube video.)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Garden Pickers - The next great gardening show?

Is anyone else watching episodes of American Pickers on The History Channel? For those without cable or who haven’t tuned in, American Pickers features two guys, Mike and Frank, who travel around and try to buy old stuff from pack rats and collectors who have amassed enormous piles and buildings full of stuff.

Mike and Frank tend to pick old cars, bicycles, motorcycles, oil cans, rusty signs and the occasional old toy. Sometimes they’ll pick up a lamp or other artifact… if they think they can clean it up and sell it for a profit. I don’t blame them for buying these same types of things over and over again. Everyone buys what they like.

But after watching numerous episodes, it struck me that they have yet to pick a hoe, an old planter or two old metal chairs that look like they would be right at home in a cottage garden.

How long can a gardener watch a show if there isn’t much going on related to gardening?

Fellow gardeners, I think it is time for The History Channel to take American Pickers to a new level and create the next great garden show, Garden Pickers.

For Garden Pickers, two avid gardeners – let’s go with me and someone else for now - would travel about to visit other gardeners across the United States, and maybe Canada, Great Britain and Europe, and see what unusual plants and gardening gear they have. We could barter with them to buy old hoes, planters and garden furniture to re-sale at select garden centers across the country and – here’s the most exciting part – if those gardeners have unusual trees, flowers, shrubs, fruits, or vegetables growing in their gardens that you can’t really get any longer unless you happen to know them, we will offer to take cuttings or collect seeds to turn over to select greenhouses and nurseries to propagate and introduce some of those plants back to the public.

Along the way, we’ll also get to see undiscovered, personal gardens of the Unites States, and maybe Canada, Great Britain, and Europe, and interview real, passionate, quirky, possibly eccentric gardeners.

Oh, and just like how Mike and Frank check in with a “buddy” when they don’t know about something, we’d check in with the closest horticultural school to bring in experts to help with plant identification. Oh, wait, it’s Rick on Pawn Stars who is always calling a buddy in for a second opinion. Well, you get the idea, we’ll invite experts to be on the show to help with plant identification.

Would you watch a show like Garden Pickers? If so, treat the comments like a petition and sign up. Tell your gardening friends. If there is enough interest, who knows? Someone might find themselves on the first episode telling us about their special heirloom tomato or maybe even showing us their old hoe, the one they can’t garden without.

Go ahead, tell the world this could be the next great gardening show.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

The Mysterious Alice T. A. Quackenbush

Wanted:  Information on the garden writer Alice T. A. Quackenbush. 

There seems to be very little information on her in the public domain.  The info I do have from my own searches and those of Annie in Austin include:

Born in either 1879, 1880, or 1881 in New York.  Husband's name was likely Walter Quackenbush.

May have lived in Westport, Connecticut in the 1930's where she had a radio show about gardening.  Wrote many gardening related articles including some published in The Garden Magazine and Home Builder and The Gardeners' Chronicle.

Wrote three books:   All in a Garden Fair (A. T. De La Mare Company, Inc, 1925), The Annuals of Flowerland (The Macmillan Company, 1927), and Perennials of Flowerland (The Macmillan Company, 1929).

I would love to know more about Alice, if anyone has any information at all.  Most useful would be her maiden name and the date she died.

While you ponder if you have some information on Alice T. A. Quackenbush, I will leave you with another quote, this time from the introduction she wrote for Perennials in Flowerland...

"The royal road to happiness passes through the garden, in fact, may begin and end there.  For to garden successfully is achievement of  the finest.  Its sturdy requirement can lure youth from less admirable pursuit; its benign serenity makes point to age that usefulness increases with the passing years. Call it tonic, sport, science, art, if you will.  But do not fail to call it, adventure."

You'll get no argument from me. Gardening is an adventure, and so is reading old gardening books.

Old gardening books have the power to transport us back to another time. They can remind us of plants long forgotten and help us see old plants in new ways.  The authors can be sweet and sugary or pompous and pontificating.  They can lead us in directions we never imagined and take us along on adventures we never anticipated.

I now have all three books Alice wrote and would love to know more about her.

Please help!

Pansies: Gift from the Garden Fairies

According to Alice T. A. Quackenbush, the pansies are a gift to us from the garden fairies.

I did wonder about that and suspected that there might be a connection between them. I would guess they are also somehow involved with little violas, too. 

The evidence...

"Once the fairies were making ready for their annual midsummer night's revel and wanted to do something to make the world brighter for the human race. They put on thinking caps -- probably plucked from Foxglove-- and thought and thought and thought.  At last one of their number (and how we should bless her!) suggested that they make a new flower.  Unanimous approval and enthusiasm! So they took the blue from the sky, the red from the sunset, the yellow of the sunbeam, the brown of the earth; worked feverishly the night through; and lo! the Pansy with its glowing colors.  A few added the touch of comedy and painted caricatures of their friends on the petals, to be seen even today by those who care to look for them."  (Chapter VI, page 44, All in a Garden Fair)

 I love the treasures of long-forgotten garden lore that can be found in old books. 

Knowing what we now know about the origins of pansies, I invite you to look at the parade of pansies featured on Faire Garden with new appreciation. Look intently to see the faces of garden fairies.

Perhaps you might see the face of our own Thorn Goblinfly in one of them?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Welcome, Dandelions

Look closely to see the garden fairies disguised as dandelions
I never realized when I ordered All in a Garden Fair by Alice T. A. Quackenbush (A. T. De Le Mare Company, Inc., 1925) that I would discover important information on the relationships between some flowers and garden fairies.

I had no idea that learning of that relationship would forever change how I think of that peskiest of weeds, the dandelion.

Often the first blooms of spring, blooming right after the snowdrops and crocuses, the dandelions taunt me early in the season in both lawn and flower border. They persist and bloom right up until the hard freeze of fall. Their roots are never-ending and they find the most impossible places to grow, just out of reach of the dandelion digger. I feel certain I will never get rid of them.

And though I know that all good gardeners fight dandelions, I feel a bit of shame for all the dandelions I let grow in my garden. I try to get rid of them, as most gardeners do. They are impossible to dig out completely so I often resort to just cutting off the blooms or more often the seed heads, hoping to outlast the dandelions. Honestly, it is laughable that I optimistically expect that if I keep cutting back the blooms, the dandelions will one day just give up and die. 

From Quackenbush, I know understand why that is not going to happen and why there is no shame in having some dandelions in your garden. In fact, I now look upon dandelions as evidence of garden fairy activity in the garden, if indeed I needed more evidence.

"And that sturdy Dandelion which has escaped the diligent weeder! Do you realize it was born when ruthless men decided to banish the "little folk" from the earth? Most of us try to banish the blossom, too, but it someway persists in spite of ungentle treatment. When the dread decree went forth that fairy tales must go, the gnomes dug into the ground, the elves crept into crevices, and the brownies made themselves comfortable homes in the trunks of trees. But it was a tragic time for the fairies themselves, for they must have sunshine to live. So their queen had a happy thought and turned them into flowers, letting each take the color of the gown she happened to be wearing. It chanced that a number of tiny fairy kiddies in yellow pinafores were huddled together, and they were turned into Dandelions. Tenacious infants these, with the will to live strong in them, as many a weary gardener knows. Still, have they not a place in the scheme of things, if for no other reason than that mortal children love them?"

Ah ha! I knew it! Those dandelion flowers are the clever disguise of garden fairies.

Suddenly, a few dandelion flowers in the lawn and flower borders seems acceptable, the mark of a garden that welcomes the fairies and encourages them to put down a few roots, stay for the season and beyond, and enjoy the sunshine. 

Gardeners, lay down your dandelion diggers. This is not a battle we are going to win.

Welcome, garden fairies, disguised as dandelions. Welcome.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Round every flower there gleams a glory

"Round every flower there gleams a glory,
Bequested by antique song or story;
To each old legends give a name,
And its peculiar charm proclaim."

I will never think of dandelions in the same way now that I've read chapter VI, Twilight Time, in All in a Garden Fair by Alice T. A. Quackenbush.   I will look at pansies with a new appreciation, too. Oh, and the tulips. I'll be careful now about looking in a closed  tulip, too, lest I disturb...

Garden fairies here! Whoa, we are garden fairies and we see that Alice T. A. Quackenbush has revealed some stories about flowers that may or may not involve us garden fairies. We had completely forgotten about this book she published in 1925.   We are seeking legal counsel at this very moment to decide if we should let Carol tell these stories or not.

We are garden fairies, always vigilant. All we can say is that Alice's stories are true, and in due time we may let Carol reveal them, but not without some compensation for us garden fairies. We are garden fairies and we have some demands.

First, we want to say that the snowdrops are blooming which means... hey wait, we are garden fairies, we are not going to be tricked into revealing yet another secret that may or may not involve us.

Anyway, regarding snowdrops.  You know what they say.  If the snowdrops are blooming and you haven't ordered your seeds yet, you are a blooming radish and way behind. Way behind.  We have not seen Carol order even a single seed and the snowdrops are blooming.  This means that she is a blooming radish and she is way behind.

We are garden fairies, we know a seed when we see a seed, and we know a secret when we hear a secret. In due time, we'll let Carol tell the stories of the dandelions, pansies and tulips.  But not until she orders her seeds for this year. We are garden fairies!

Submitted by,

Thorn Goblinfly, Chief Scribe for the Garden Fairies at May Dreams Gardens.

(P.S.  The story of the dandelion relates to a very painful time in the history of us garden fairies. We may not be able to tell it, but we will surely let Carol tell it because it is an important story and will forever - and we are garden fairies, we do not use the word "forever" lightly - change how you think about dandelions.)

When a gardener goes downtown

When  a gardener goes downtown and the downtown is Indianapolis, and it is the weekend of the Super Bowl, she expects to see a crowd.

She easily finds those crowds, everywhere she walks.

She notices that football fans are like gardeners.  They don't let a little bit of rain keep them from enjoying the outdoors.

She makes her way through the crowds to the center of the city because she wants to see the giant XLVI.

She sees it and though it is nice, she thinks it is far too large a sculpture for her garden.  

Along the way, she hears street preachers on every corner and encounters more people.

She turns down a side street and has hope when she sees the Artsgarden and a few less people.
She knows the Artsgarden isn't really a garden. It's more of  a gathering place.  She is reminded that gardens are gathering places, too, not only for gardeners but for garden fairies, too.

Later, she finds herself in front of the hotel where GWA members stayed when they visited Indianapolis in August.  She notices that someone took the time to plant a few pansies there, which is not something generally done in February in Indianapolis.

She wonders if maybe having all those garden writers visit Indianapolis left its own special imprint on the city, the way the Super Bowl is leaving its mark.

As she makes her way to her actual destination, she encounters a lovely sculpture, smaller than those giant letters.
She remembers that the Hoosier Gardener wrote about these. She would love to have a Girly Steel sculpture in her own garden someday.

Finally, when a gardener goes downtown and the downtown is Indianapolis, and it is the weekend of the Super Bowl, she ends up at her final destination, intact, and remembers why she would venture downtown with all the crowds.

She would venture downtown to see a basketball game...

The official sport of gardeners.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

"The Breath of the Garden"

Roses - the quintessential scented flower

Why do I read these old gardening books like "All in a Garden Fair" by Alice T. A. Quackenbush and "The Garden that I Love" by Alfred Austin?


Because  I can not easily find in newer books the passion for plants and gardening that these authors of another time express through their writing.  No one seems to write about gardening the way they did.

Yes, many newer books are good, well-written books with pictures that nearly jump off the page with clarity. Many are very good books, filled with useful gardening information that I absorb as much as the next gardener. But the authors seem to stop just short of passion, as though they are afraid that passion will scare people off. These passion-less books are like scentless flowers.

Consider this passage that Quackenbush wrote regarding scent in the garden.

"Some folks have a Puritan complex which inhibits the enjoyment of anything frankly sensuous; others consider a smell, even a sweet one, vulgar. Yet no one can quite banish such fragrances as those of spring, gentle and soft; of summer, hot and generous; or of fall, strong with the acrid overtone of burning leaves. Nor those of the earth after rain, a fresh plowed field, new cut grass, the seduction of dense woods. Smell is not merely the strongest of the senses and the most satisfying, it is health-giving in that it promotes deep breathing; let the utilitarian remember this, if he must have a reason. When he is blessed by the breath of the garden - that delightful mingling of Mignonette, Verbena, Stock, Wallflower, Honeysuckle, Pink, Lily and Rose - one hopes that he will forget himself for once and relax to happiness. If he cannot, he is surely of the damned."

"The breath of the garden" - what a great way to describe the overall scent of a garden.

Quackenbush also wrote "A small sweetly-scented Stock is surely lovelier than that giant bloom that has lost its soul."  Yes, she wrote that. She wrote that a flower with no scent has lost its soul.  Just like she wrote that if you can't enjoy the scent of a garden, you are damned.

I surely do not want a garden full of soul-less flowers or to be damned for not being able to enjoy the breath of the garden. Goodness. It sounds like an awful fate.  I want a garden with a good breath!

(Garden fairies here. We need some help. Do you know anything about Alice T. A. Quackenbush?  The Internet is not yielding much information about this author.  We have snippets of information but would like to find out more. If you have any information about Alice T. A. Quackenbush, email Carol! She won't rest until she knows who Alice is which means we  garden fairies will have nothing to do but watch her use the computer, which means we garden fairies won't be able to use the computer and post anything. Help!)

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Pixies in Tulips

I'm not sure how it happened. I was searching for information about gardening books and came across a reference to a book by Mrs. Alice T. A. Quackenbush.

In the book's introduction, Helen Morgantheu Fox writes, "Mrs. Quackenbush has not taken the conventional attitude of dwelling upon the color scheme and cultivation of a garden.  Her deep love and interest in flowers has led her to find out about their "personal relations" and all the flower gossip."

Personal relations amongst the flowers? Flower gossip?

Welcome to "All in a Garden Fair" by Alice T. A. Quackenbush (A. T. De La Mare Company, Inc., 1925)

When I received my copy in the mail today, I flipped it open and thought how nice it was that the giver of the book had written a little inscription on the inside cover.  I love to get old gardening books with little personal hints about the people who first owned and read them.

Then a few minutes later it occurred to me.  Alice T. A. Quackenbush wrote that note and signed the book.  "For the lady who is just as good a friend as she is a secretary - and that's going over!"

What a nice surprise.

In the forward, Alice wrote,

"This tiny book about plant names and their significance does not presume to be scientific. It is merely a suggestion offered by one garden lover to another, that there is more in the garden than a first glance reveals; further, that botanical names are not so formidable as some of us may have thought; and further still, that the most satisfactory place to learn them is in the garden.

If it be the means of reminding a few amateur gardeners of the pixies which cradle in their Tulips, or of sending them to the dictionary for a better understanding of the names of the flowers they grow, it will have served its purpose."

Alice T. A. Quackenbush

Cold Spring-on-Hudson, N.Y.
July, 1925.

I know nothing of Alice, her secretary, or Helen, who wrote the introduction.  That doesn't matter to me. I hold in my hand an old gardening book and there is information in it about "pixies which cradle in their Tulips".

When I hold these books, and read phrases like that, I'm glad for winter, happy that it gives me time out of the garden to go down these rabbit holes to learn and explore and get lost in another gardening world.

I'll leave a little trail of flower petals and hope to find my way back in a few days.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

I survived January

January. Where for wert thou, January?

Where were your blowing winds and frigidly cold temperatures?

Where was your snow, your ice, your sleet?

What was that all about, January? Sunny days, moderate temperatures, even thunderstorms?

January.  You hardly made us suffer. You made us nervous with your mild and meek ways.

Now we fear, you, February.

We fear February because we are conditioned for winter. For snowed-in days, for bone-rattling cold, for ice, snow, sleet and cabin fever. If January didn't deliver winter, surely February will.

Welcome, anyway, February.  You are one month closer to spring. Please be kind to us. Do not make us suffer for the sake of January.  Please. Do not.  But please give us a little more winter so we can appreciate spring when it arrives.

An extra day of winter, you say, February? Thank you.  One extra day of winter will be quite enough and will give me more time for my "to do" list.

To do in February:

Inventory seeds on hand and then buy more seeds than any one gardener could ever plant.

Clean up the sunroom and remove any evidence of indoor plants that died when I forgot to water them.  (Just one, I think, no need for panic.)  I won't clean too much though - it makes the garden fairies wintering over in there nervous.

Line up someone to come and remove that suckering excuse for a large viburnum in The Shrubbery and maybe have them remove the other one that seems not to have survived two dry summers.  I need a clean planting palette and "remove large shrubs" is no longer on my list of fun gardening tasks to do. Instead, I've added to my list of fun gardening tasks "watch someone remove large shrubs while I dream about what to plant there instead".

Contact garden designer for assistance with The Shrubbery which isn't quite the garden area I want it to be yet.  I must also thank her again for leaving me that book, The Garden that I Love.

Prepare a little presentation on "Grow Vegetables - No Excuses".   There really is no excuse to not grow a few vegetables, if you are any kind of gardener at all.  One would think that it is part of every gardener's DNA to grow vegetables, but apparently it is not. 

Finally, if February turns out to be meek and mild like January, weed the vegetable garden. (Now that's funny. I am conditioned by years, decades, of Midwest gardening to not even think about doing something in the garden in February, even if we have some nice days.  Though, I could be convinced to watch someone remove some large, suckering shrubs.)