I beg you pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.

One evening, a couple of months ago, I went on-line to my favorite purveyor of roses to select and order bare root plants for a client.  (I buy from these folks because they are in a climate that is comparatively chilly to ours ( Zone 5- Ontario, Canada) and, therefore, does not harbor the same diseases that you might find in a warmer climate, like Texas or North Carolina…..). Anyway, while I was at it, I noticed that this rose nursery, world renowned for its selection of historic and heirloom roses, was discontinuing several classic, important varieties that I’ve always longed for. I’m no rose aficionado and so what I mean when I say ‘important’ is heirloom, late 18th and early 19th century roses. Their importance, to me, resides in their longevity and my thinking that these old cultivars ought to be preserved . The threat of discontinuation came as a shock and I acted upon it, immediately. A volley of urgent emails between Andrew and I ensued, (me in the studio at my laptop, he, in the house watching BBC news on TV, and shopping for roses on his smart phone).  The ‘Final Offer’ roses were keenly researched. Together, and separately, we came up with a list and ordered them, along with our client’s roses.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. It was around Oct. 23rd or so and I’d received confirmation of my rose order. I was exiting the house, walking across the lawn, headed to my studio, Andrew had just returned from somewhere and was approaching me, when it suddenly struck me. Oh dear God! I threw my arms around him, gave him a kiss, and said “Happy 10th Anniversary”! He responded in-kind, but equally shocked, and we both nearly fell down laughing. “When was it?”, he asked. “I don’t know, maybe last week,” I said. Of course, most married couples don’t experience the same ambiguity about their anniversary date but, in our case ,it’s justified. We were married on Oct. 18th, 2001 but we (and I’m using the ‘royal ‘we’ here) forgot to bring the marriage certificate to the church, and so, had to return the next day to have it signed, which, technically, bumps our actual marriage to the 19th of October.

Later that evening, after the belated champagne, I returned, dizzily, to my studio and Andrew to watching BBC news on TV, and checking his email on his smart phone) another volley of emails between Andrew and I ensued. This time, it went like this. “We’ve order six heirloom roses. We get three each. Two each for our birthdays and one each for our anniversary. Here’s the list of what we ordered, You go first. Select your anniversary rose, then I’ll select mine, then you your first birthday rose, then me, …….” Amazingly, our personal selections mirrored our favorite personal choices. More amazing is that I’m writing about it, because, after all, Andrew and I, through thorns and dis-ease, lush, floral display or the disfiguring and disheartening effect of deer predation, we share the same rose garden, and, I beg your pardon, I never expected or even dreamed that I would ever have such a garden to share with such an impeccable man.

What’s your favorite color?

Is it possible that I am the only one who thinks this is a ridiculous and perplexing question? I’ve been asked this question many times and never from a client who has engaged my professional services as a designer.  Sometimes it’s employed as device to change the subject from something terrifyingly confrontational, like politics or religion, or vegetarianism, but I’ve noticed that it’s most often used, mistakenly, I might add, as a sort of lighthearted, upbeat, conversational ‘ice-breaker’ and usually among women. (I’ve never overheard men asking this question of other men). As a painter and a colorist, it would be the equivalent of asking a parent, who’s your favorite child. In fact, I find the question to be confrontational in the extreme. Imagine asking, What’s your favorite race? What’s your favorite ethnic group? Yes, okay, perhaps I’m going too far there, but even so, I’m beginning to realize that I have a deep distrust of people who think that that sort of question is an ‘ice-breaker’. More like an ‘ice-maker’! Yes bring on the alcoholic beverages, please, make mine a double!

As a designer I often ask clients if there are any colors that they are adverse to. This, I believe to be a legitimate question, and one which will generate far richer insights into a person’s aesthetic than anything else. (“I hate yellow. My stepmother painted my room that color the moment she moved in without even asking me.). I never ask about their favorite color. (I assure you, if they have one, they’ll make it known well before any serious, thoughtful design work takes place to the detriment of any serious, thoughtful design work).

Frankly, I can’t see the purpose of the question. Let’s say someone has a favorite color. Blue is a common answer. ( Oh yes, I’m an eavesdropper. Make note of that.) What then? How does one reply to such a statement?  “Wow! Then you must really like the sky!”, or ” Do you visit the Caribbean often?, vacation in Greece? Embrace the democratic party?” The favorite color thing is exacerbating. but I have plenty of stories to vent on this subject so you may see more posts in the future about this. Be forewarned……

Apples

In 2009 we planted the espalier orchard in what we then called the Liberty Garden. We researched apple varieties and began with a very long ‘Wish List’ that had to be pared down to 14 whips. Whips are small, single stemmed, usually year old trees, that are grafted onto a specific rootstock. (If they have branches, they’re called feathered). In our case, we wanted a dwarf or semi-dwarf rootstock as the trees were to be trained on wire against a fence, as espalier, with the intention of creating a decorative, six or seven foot high, living fence, as the trees matured. When we bought the property, we acquired a tiny, disorganized, and long neglected ‘orchard’ of six apple trees, three pear trees, a peach tree and a cherry tree. The apple trees were in a terrible state, uncared for, unpruned and suffering from Cedar Apple Rust, a disease that afflicts both cedars and apples but only shows deleterious effects on the fruit trees.
At the time, the roadside frontage of the property was lined with a long row of 12 very tall (30’ high or so) eastern white cedar trees. These had clearly been planted to create a privacy screen but, as they matured, and their branches rose to six and eight feet from the ground, that purpose had ceased to function. They were neither beautiful nor aesthetically suitable but we hesitated to cut them down simply because they were mature trees and seemed to have attained some sort of merit by that fact alone. Yes, they were hosting and perpetuating an unsightly disease that manifest itself in our apple trees with rust spotted leaves, shriveled fruit and premature defoliation, but we couldn’t bring ourselves to cut them down.
Cedar wood is a traditional material used for fenceposts as it is amazingly resistant to rot and decay. When we created a rustic fence for the Potager, we crafted it with what was on hand, hardwood saplings, knowing full well that it would last only a couple or few years. Well, to make a long story short, in 2011, the planets aligned and guided our chain saw firmly into the trunks of those emminant cedars, an event that coincided with the rapidly deteriorating Potager fence and the discovery that Cedar Apple Rust can kill young apple trees. It was liberating. The cedars were cut up and dressed into appropriate lengths and configurations for future fenceposts and the grateful apple trees responded with tremendous blossoming, lush, green growth and persistent foliage, and a bumper crop of fruit.
Two nights ago I made an apple pie and served it to a very fussy ‘foodie’. He raved about it, and as he headed into the rapture, asking for my secrets, I guided him over to the recycling bin, pulled out the packaging for the IGA brand prepared Pie Crusts and said “its all about the apples”. Which were they? Who knows? My guess is that they  are Rhode Island Greenings, but the identity of that particular tree, with the tart, crisp, yellowy-greenish, dry apples, (the ones I give as treats to the ducks) will remain a mystery in the mists of time.

Planning the Kitchen Garden

In my experience, it’s relatively easy to establish parameters for oneself by committing to a 20’ x 20’ plot and limiting the plantings to fit within those confines. It works in writing and on graph paper. If, however, you’re a dreamer like me, seduced by fantasies of abundance and variety, it doesn’t work all that well, especially after the hibernation of a dark season of long winter evenings spent reading seed catalogs, with a glass or two of wine, a highlight marker and a block of post-it notes. It’s very easy to slide into the 20’ x 35’ plot, or the 30’ x 50’ plot or the 50” x 85’plot, so easy that it’s almost inevitable.

I offer the following example. The first year that we started our vegetable garden, our seed bill was $27 dollars. The next year it was $74 dollars. The size of the garden didn’t alter.  So, what changed? A desire for greater variety; we wanted three kinds of beets, not one, seven different tomatoes, not three, four kinds of squash, not two, etc…

Shakespeare knew something  when he wrote: “Know thyself and to thine own self be true”. But here’s the rub: as a home-gardener, I don’t need 45 zucchini seeds. I need 4, or, if I’m going to sow successively, I need 8, or maybe, at the limit, twelve. The cost of seeds isn’t that expensive but it does add up, especially if you’re like me and want to try all sorts of things.

The fun and economical solution/idea is to share. Get together with other gardening friends during the winter months. Call or e-mail your gardening compatriots in October/November to make sure that they are receiving the same seed catalogues that you are (and e-mail them the links to your favorite seed suppliers if they’re not). Set up a potluck buffet-dinner evening in mid-to-late January to come together and prepare a group order. This will work for either a large Community Garden group or a Rag-Tag band of home gardeners. You could be admirably well organized and list the categories of produce for which you seek seeds for your garden, i.e., tomatoes, corn, squash, lettuce, cucumbers, beets, spinach, etc… You might even use the various catalogues’ categories and headings as a guide. No matter how you do it, remain focused and have a designated someone to keep track of everyone’s shared orders.  If you’re going to be professional about it you could purchase very small ‘Ziplock’-type bags or ‘glassine’ envelopes (in future, you will be directed to a resource link for such products) to divvy up the seeds once they arrive. This is yet another excellent opportunity to share shoptalk with other gardeners and will likely lead to long lasting horticultural friendships.

In future, more to come about Kitchen Gardening.

YARDS vs. GARDENS

People. What’s up with calling our gardens ‘yards’?   Why? Can we aim a bit higher? Honestly. Every time I hear the word ‘yard’ I think of train depots or industrial sites and conspiratorial guys saying, “yeah, we’ve got that; it’s back in the yard.” Maybe it’s an American thing but I don’t see why we can’t call a garden a garden. Is it too much of a commitment?  For god’s sake, is it that much of a challenge to treat your ‘green-space’ as a garden?  Let’s try it out: ” oh yeah, the kids have  a jungle gym, it’s out in the ….garden? yard?”, or this, “Oh, I can’t wait to plant a hedge of peonies in my ‘yard’…” garden?.

I know what suburban (or even urban) folks mean by ‘yard’. It’s defines the green space, usually quite limited, that comes along with the house. I get it.  But why not call a spade a spade and refer to the green space as it ought to be referred to: the “Garden”,. Go ahead, call me a snob, but I feel that any , even a tiny bit of land, can be treated with a sensitivity towards aesthetics and that that patch of lawn could become any of several things; a perennial garden, a vegetable garden, a shrubbery, a rock garden?

Lawn isn’t the best thing since sliced bread. There are many more, environmentally responsible, things that we can do with our ‘yards’ and I encourage you to explore all of the options.

Got Eggs? Apologies. Not many.

Apologies to those who may have stopped by looking for eggs and found the cooler empty. Most of the hens are moulting, which means that all their energy is going into the production of new feathers, to protect them during the winter, instead of egg production. With 23 hens, we’re only getting about six or seven eggs a day; not the usual sixteen or so.

To save yourself an unnecessary trip either call us or log on to this site, scroll to the bottom of the page and hover over the duplicate image of the one you see above. Text will appear indicating whether or not we’ve got eggs.

 

Willow Planting

Without photos this is rather dull. Apologies as well as accolades to those who read on. Today we planted the willows.; 56 of them. These are dual purpose; for cropping and summer privacy, not aesthetics.  As crops we hope to cultivate a sufficient quantity of, what are referred to as ‘ rods’,  to build some living fences or experimental structures to create garden architecture and then,  some willow border edging to deter our feathered charges from invading our gardens. As privacy, we hope that the willows’  rapid spring and summer growth will provide an adequate, albeit light and seasonal,  screen from the heavy traffic to and from our neighbors places’ to provide some relief from our ( I mean ‘MY’) sense of exposure.

No offense. I’m very fond of our neighbors and their lodgers and employees and subcontractors, but when I moved here from NYC , and gave up the stimulation that ‘the city-that-never-sleeps’ provides, I’d expected that, at least,  I’d be able to sit outside at 7:00 am with a cup of tea, (and, yes, a cigarette) in my pajamas, and write my To-Do list without having to wave friendly acknowledgement and greeting to every passing vehicle. Not so. I feel obligated to disrupt my focus and wave and smile; and so may they! They may very well be thinking ” Oh, god, her again….jeez, what a pain in the ….oh, wave, wave, Hi, How-ya-doin?”

Yes. Let’s have a screen, shall we.

The willow planting will not make a beautiful hedge or a year-round screen and we know that. They’re deciduous, for one thing. They won’t flower, in the ‘specimen’ sense (maybe a few catkins in Spring). They won’t present beautiful, shapely forms or even interesting hues and shades and foliage.  We’re trialing these plants for the USDA. We are looking at soil erosion issues as well as their ability to ‘break-up’ compacted and hard pan soil.

We have planted them in a row that borders the driveway. They have been mulched, for weed control,  and the mulch has been covered with black, plastic netting , secured and anchored with wire ‘staples’, to deter the chickens, ducks and turkeys from scratching in the mulch. (This was even happening while we were installing the netting, of course with the cutest, most innocent and most grateful looking faces imaginable, peering up at us with expectant hope, as if to ask “When are you going to get rid of this impenetrable webbed stuff?” ! The feathered ones believe that any earth disturbance around the place is done for the express purpose of making their lives more pleasurable.)! Think again, o feathered ones.

The trial is on. I’ll report back in the Spring/Summer of 2012 to see what happens.

The Glass: Half Empty or Half Full?

After all of these years, doesn’t Dickens still speak to us with candid authority? It all depends upon which side of the fence one finds oneself on, doesn’t it?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
—The opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities

Color in the Garden

Having things in bloom in the perennial garden at this time of the season is a challenge. The asters, anemones and hardy chrysanthemums (now called dendranthemums) aren’t yet blooming and the roses are behaving erratically. There is, of course, rich vibrancy in the great swathes of golden rudbeckia, the tall sprays of violet, purple and white buddleia, the wands of late blooming hostas and the soft lavendar spikes of perovskia but much of the richness and variety that provides a sense of abundance in the garden during the summer is receding.  And so we are grateful for the annuals and tender perennials that add color and texture to the landscape at this time of year. We rely on the heavenly scented Gem Series marigolds with their tiny fragrant (edible) flowers in lemon and tangerine colors (there is a red but we haven’t tried it; maybe next year) forming nice billowy clumps, and tithonia, the so-called mexican Sunflower, with its velvety stalks and rich orange daisies. The dahlias are doing their best, but the deer seem to be always one step ahead of us and them. The same can be said for the sunflowers, adding the goldfinches to the list of predators. The zinnias are going great guns and I wonder why I restrict them to the cutting garden and don’t sow a few seeds in the borders…..hmmm, deer again.  The china asters are just beginning to flower in the cutting garden which will bring a smile at the bedside table but contribute nothing to the borders. Cleome continue to do their thing, albeit in a more subdued manner, and ask little in return.

This year, on a lark/impulse purchase, we picked up some packets of seeds for pelargoniums (what many think of as Geraniums), celosia (aka; Cockscomb), and coleus and threw them into some potting soil in the greenhouse. Wow! How great is this?! These have proven to be some of the most colorful and arresting plants in our gardens. I’ve come full circle in my thinking about annuals and tender perennials. In the past I’ve thought of their use as a sort of cheating, something of a cheap (or expensive) trick to create the impression of abundance.  Further contemplation leads me to the obvious; I’ve always associated annuals and tender perennials with bedding plants; the sort of thing one sees, nowadays, at golf courses or shopping malls.

How wrong I’ve been. The annuals and tender perennials can add volumes of vivacity to a perennial border at very little cost and for months of beauty. We are sold and committed, and we intend to include more of these treasures in our clients’ gardens in the future. It’s exciting to discover ways of expanding ones’ palette and finding complementary plants to create variety and freshness in a perennial border from year to year and we are going to be paying much closer attention to this from now on.