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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An Updated Gardener's Guide to Thanksgiving Day Conversation

Yes,  I am taking time from my busy schedule and long to do list, which includes "mow the lawn one last time" to pause and provide advice for gardeners who are wondering what they will talk about during their Thanksgiving Day dinner.

In past years, I suggested topics such as composting, including worm composting, the difference between sweet potatoes and potatoes, and fall bulb bragging. I even suggested that if you are hosting Thanksgiving dinner perhaps the entire family could help with the final lawn mowing and leaf raking as a way to burn off all those calories consumed during the big feast.

Thankfully, gardening hasn't changed all that much since I posted the first list five years ago, so topics like composting, the difference between sweet potatoes and potatoes and fall bulb bragging are still excellent conversation starters.

But if those topics have been discussed over and over at your Thanksgiving Day dinners, perhaps some new topics might be appropriate?

How about "what's blooming in your garden?"

In my hardiness zone, such a question will likely cause family and friends to give you a funny look and then do a quick check of the amount of wine still in the bottle.

But no need for such skepticism. In my garden the Christmas roses, Hellebores niger, are all budded up, so there is hope for new blooms even as I pull the snow blower out of the back of the garage and put it where I can easily grab it when we get that first snow.

If "what's blooming in your garden" doesn't get people talking, you might mention my camellias.

They are surely the talk of the Internet by now, as many times as I've posted about them on Facebook and Twitter.  One of the camellias, a variety called 'Snow Flurry' is done blooming, but I have high hopes for 'April Remembered' and am watching it daily to see if the buds begin to open.

Wouldn't it be something, I mean front page news, if my camellias bloomed on Thanksgiving? Now that would give everyone something to talk about.

If the subject of my camellias still doesn't get everyone talking around the dinner table, you might mention the new strawberry variety, Delizz. It's an annual grown from seed and I am desperate to find a source for these seeds, the sooner the better. If everyone talks about Strawberry 'Delizz' around the dinner table, surely the word will get out and someone will tell me where I can find seeds for these strawberries.

There are many other gardening topics which could be discussed around the Thanksgiving Day table but no list of topics would be complete if it didn't include the topic of what we are thankful for in our gardens.

I am thankful for so much in my garden even if a rabbit eats my lettuce or Japanese beetles devour the zinnias. And even if I find a few squirrels digging a few bulbs and the occasional meadow vole wandering through, I still have plenty in my garden, and in my life, to be thankful for, and for that I am a grateful gardener.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Exciting Conclusion of a Tale of Two Plant Catalogs

And now, the exciting conclusion of a tale of two plant catalogs.

To catch you up, dear readers, we begin a ways back when I fell into a rabbit hole of old plant catalog references, which resulted in my desire to hold the catalogs in my own hands, to read them and find out for myself if Hennessey was a really a bully and if Houdyshel was really a sweet, nice man.

First came the Hennessey catalog.

Oh yes, Hennessey was a bully.  After reading through his catalog, I was afraid to order from it, lest I mistreat one of his roses by gasp, cutting back the roots. No matter that it was published in 1961 and his nursery no longer exists.  I was afraid I might order just one of the massing roses, which he refused to sell in groups of less than three, and really six would be better.

It took me a while to find the antidote for reading Hennessey's catalog, the cure that would make me forget, if one can forget, such a catalog which ends with several pages of his political views and oh by the way, I couldn't find one of the words he used, "%3/4#$&", in the dictionary.

He used that word in his catalog.  Yes, he did.

Then one day, one fateful day, I found the antidote for Hennessey prescribed by Katharine S. White, one of Houdyshel's catalogs.  It was on eBay. I bid on it, waited nervously for a day and then found out I had won the auction.

Forget that there were no other bidders.  I won!

The catalog arrived a week or so ago, and I have been savoring it since then.

This Houdyshel catalog is a gem, and it is indeed quite soothing, the perfect anecdote to Hennessey.

Dear Floral Friends, it begins, with a personal letter.

I assure you, Hennessey does not begin his catalog with a personal letter.

And there are "portals" to new rabbit holes sprinkled throughout Houdyshel's catalog.

Who wants to go down a rabbit hole with me, looking for a book called "Herbertia", which is actually many books, volumes of them?

If it were not for the fact that Houdyshel's catalog is 65 years old, I would be tempted to order many of his bulbs.  Certainly, his catalog has me in the mood to buy some amaryllis bulbs and maybe some other bulbs for winter forcing.  And some African Violets and orchids, for good measure.

After all, according to Houdyshel, bulbs and orchids make great gifts.
Avoid the crowds, he says, and order bulbs and orchids, and if you are going to give the gift of a book, give the gift of a garden book.

Hennessey? Ha! I'll take Houdyshel any day, any time, any century.

The End

Monday, November 16, 2015

Maladies of Gardeners

The great Dr. Hortfreud has been studying gardeners, or at least one particular gardener, for years.  She has observed that this gardener, and presumably many other gardeners, are prone to a number of maladies.

Four of the most common maladies of gardeners as observed by Dr. Hortfreud include:

Plant Lust.  Gardeners are likely to come down with a bad case of plant lust any time they enter the garden of another gardener and see a lovely plant they do not have.  Symptoms include a desire to linger in front of the plant for long periods of time, a run of questions about the plant, including "where can I get that" and an immediate feeling that they are deprived because they don't have that plant in their own gardens.

In extreme cases of Plant Lust, some gardeners attempt to remove seed pods or pinch off a tiny cutting in hopes of rooting it for their own garden.  However, it should be noted that stolen seeds, cuttings or even plants will not grow in the thief's garden and so this will not cure Plant Lust.

Zone Envy.  Zone Envy is similar to Plant Lust but affects gardeners when they visit a warmer climate zone than their own and see a plant that simply will not grow in the colder climate of their garden. There is no cure for gardeners as long as they remain in their own zone though some gardeners will attempt to cure Zone Envy by a process called Zone Pushing or Zone Denial. This involves seeking out the hardiest camellias plants and planting them in the warmest microclimate in their garden.

Many gardeners with Zone Envy can be treated with constant reminders of the many plants, like peonies, they can grow in their colder climates that warmer climate gardeners can not grow.

Cart Eyes.  Cart Eyes, another form of Plant Lust, occurs in gardeners when they are shopping at a garden center or greenhouse and notice a plant on another gardener's cart and immediately desire to have that particular plant or one just like it.  The onslaught of Cart Eyes can be quite sudden and may cause a gardener to purchase a plant they previously had not noticed and have no idea where they will plant it once they take it home to their garden.

In rare cases, Cart Eyes can induce a gardener to attempt to distract the gardener with the plant they desire so they can swipe that plant from their cart or quickly switch it for another one, or at least have thoughts of doing so.  When this happens, again, it is a fruitless attempt because a stolen plant never grows, even if the stolen plant was only in the cart of the other gardener, and not yet purchased.

63 and Sunny.  This recently named malady affects gardeners when the weather conditions are perfect for gardening, as in 63F and sunny.  It is worse when the preceding days were 45F and rainy and the 63F and sunny day occurs on a weekend.  Once a gardener comes down with 63 and Sunny, it is best for everyone if they are allowed to cancel all other plans and spend the day in the garden.

Attempting to force the gardener to do other activities, especially indoors, when they've come down with a case of 63 and Sunny can result in mental harm to the gardener, with symptoms such as grumpiness, frowny face, and in some cases withering stares towards the person or thing that caused them to miss out on a day in the garden.  Most cases of 63 and Sunny take place in early spring and late fall. It is rare in the heat of summer.

Though none of these maladies is life threatening, Dr. Hortfreud notes it is important to recognize their existence and treat them for the health and well-being of the gardener and all those around her.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2015

Camellia X 'Snow Flurry'
Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for November 2015.

Here in my USDA Hardiness Zone 6a garden in central Indiana, the blooms outside are scarce but like anything scarce, they are greatly valued.

First, there are camellias, sort of.

The best blooms on the only camellia to bloom so far, Camellia X 'Snow Flurry', a cross between C. oleifera 'Plain Jane' X C. 'Frost Princess', opened up a few weeks ago, when we had a bit of a warm spell.

One of those blooms has not yet fully dropped its petals, so it gets to make its debut for bloom day, even though it is a few petals shy of what it once was.

I have two other camellias, and I hold out hope that at least one of them will bloom before the winter truly sets in.

Camellia japonica 'April Remembered'
This one is Camellia japonica 'April Remembered'.

I check its buds every few days because if it blooms, I don't want to miss it. Maybe I should check every day?

This has been one of the prettiest falls we've had in many years. The trees were brilliantly colored and quite spectacular as were the autumn crocus, Crocus speciosus.

Crocus speciosus, spent bloom
These crocuses are definitely well past their prime but seeing them bloom, nestled against newly fallen leaves, was one of the prettiest sights in my garden that I can remember.  I will order and plant more autumn crocus late next summer.

As we go on to see what else is blooming, don't trip over the little viola that sowed itself in between two patio pavers.
Viola, self-sown
Maybe I should sow more viola seeds in the patio?  Or not, as I think they would do nothing if I actually planted them there, much like a child turns down a parent's suggestion. Let it be their idea.

I checked on the Christmas Roses, Hellebores niger.
Helleborus niger 'Potters' Wheel'
There are some nice fat buds, but no blooms yet.

They will be blooming soon, I hope, and give me a reason to go outside occasionally to see how the garden is during the cold months.

I'll have reasons to stay indoors, too.  I have amaryllis to pot up, along with a new Scilla to force into bloom and for the third year in a row, I've ordered Lily of the Valley pips to pot up and bloom in January.

But before I head inside for good this season, I need to spend a productive day or two in the garden, preparing it, and me, for the winter ahead.

What's blooming in your garden on this 15th day of November? We'd love for you to participate in Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and show us. It's easy to participate. Just post on your blog about the blooms in your garden, then leave a comment here to tell us what you have waiting for us and put the link to your bloom day post on the Mr. Linky widget.

Then repeat after me, "We can have flowers nearly every month of the year." ~ Elizabeth Lawrence

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Old plant catalogs

I was quite pleased to recently purchase a copy of Roy Hennessey's 1961-62 Rose Catalog after reading about it a few days ago in a book of letters between the writers Eudora Welty and William Maxwell.

After I got it, I read bits and pieces of it.

Welty and Maxwell were right about Hennessey's writing. He does not hold back his opinions and he is not one bit shy about writing exactly what he thinks the buyer should do, and then some.

After reading his catalog, I'm pretty sure I would be a afraid to send him an order.  Based on some of his writings, he might look at my address and decide my climate wasn't right for his roses.

Or he might decide I was someone who might commit what he considered a cardinal sin, presumably punishable by being stricken from his customer list.  That cardinal sin?

Pruning the roots of the roses before planting them.

According to Hennessey, we are not to do that. It's in bold type, multiple times in the catalog. CUT NO ROOTS! LEAVE ALL ROOTS ON!

The other thing a customer dare not do?

Order one of a rose variety meant to be planted for mass effect.

He might sell you three such roses but would prefer to sell you six.  He said, in regards to buying one such rose, "Well give me a glass of Lake Superior water I want to see what the lake looks like."

I've included a picture of the full page so you can read for yourself.

By the way, he only sold his roses by mail.  He considered those who came to the nursery to be "gate crashers" and wrote he didn't think it was fair to sell to them ahead of those from whom he accepted money several months before.

Can you imagine today sending money "several months before" and then waiting for your shipment?

And finally right there on pages 47 and 48,  in very small print, Hennessey writes his political views, especially regarding his desire to get rid of the 16th amendment and reduce the salaries of public officials. He also wrote about how everyone needs to vote because not voting is a default vote. Whew. Scathing.  I cannot imagine such writing in a nursery or seed catalog today.

Katharine S. White was right, too. After reading Hennessey, you need to read something else to soothe yourself. Her choice was a catalog called Bulbs for Pots written by Cecil Houdyshel.

Oh how I need to read some Houdyshel writing now!

And I will soon get some Houdyshel writing.  Otherwise, I would not have attempted Hennessey.

I should have some Houdyshel writing by Tuesday.

And I'll start reading it right away.  In the meantime, what shall I read to soothe myself?

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Plant Manners

Seedlings come up in the darndest places
We need to address the poor manners of some of the plants around this garden. I don't want to point trowels in any particular direction but I believe doing so will help other gardeners.

Of course, the very worst manners belong to the weeds. They usually arrive at this party known as my garden with nary an introduction. Then they stand around the buffet table partaking of the nutrients and sunshine while the invited guests, the plants I actually planted, languish nearby nearly starving for lack of the very nutrients and sunshine those weeds are stealing from them.

The weeds have worse manners than wedding crashers on their worst days.

It isn't just the weeds that have bad manners, as every gardener knows.  I've got raspberries behaving as though they are briars, creeping- no leaping - well beyond the bed I had planned for them.  And when they do that they invade the space of some nearby shrubs.

Well-behaved shrubs, I might add. Shrubs with good manners like a pearl bush and a lilac. The only thing they do that could even be remotely considered poor manners is when they drop their flower petals. But when that happens, I usually just laugh, like you would laugh at a baby eating cake for the first time. It's cute, isn't it?

Other plants show their poor manners by shaking their seeds all over the garden. Asters do that. Then there are asters everywhere.  Sure violas do it, too, like the little cutie growing up in a crack in between two pavers on my patio.  But violas are sweet and little and I actually encourage their self-sowing.  But not so much the asters. It's just rude when they show up clear on the other side of the garden, like that house guest who rudely wanders into that back bedroom you thought you locked the door to so no one could see the mess.  (I imagine such a room, I don't maybe actually have one.)

And trees? Inviting an oak tree to grow in your garden is like inviting a dinner guest who drops his food one piece at a time throughout the entire dinner, and then he gets up after dinner and leaves a trail of food crumbs all the way out of the house.  Those oak trees drop their leaves all fall, all winter, and into spring until little spring buds push the last ones off, finally.  No sense in trying to clean up until the dinner is over and everyone has gone.

But I would never have a garden without these ill-mannered plants, well, except for the weeds. Weeds cannot be excused for their poor manners.  But for all the other plants in the garden, a little self-sowing, a little spreading, a little lingering leaf drop, I can forgive them for that.

After all, they all give the garden a wonderful, lived-in look, the kind of look that invites guests to linger long after dinner. It's a place where guests feel comfortable enough to take off their shoes and stay awhile, enjoying the ambience.

That's the kind of garden I like, the kind of garden I have, a garden filled with ill-mannered, imperfect, but well-loved plants. Where guests and gardeners hopefully feel comfortable enough to stay awhile.