Garden Rant is a team blog by Susan Harris, Elizabeth Licata, Evelyn Hadden, Allen Bush and Thomas Christopher. This blog have been named as Best Garden Blog, Most Innovative Garden Blog, and Best Written by the Mouse and Trowel award program.
As much as I long for spring, there is one sight I am dreading. It’s the clipped hedges that were once beautiful spring-flowering shrubs, but now have become boxy travesties of their natural selves, dotted here and there with a few flowers that have managed to survive the pruning frenzy. The worst offenders are the over-pruned forsythias. These are really noticeable, because the yellow of forsythia is among the first signs of spring in Western New York. It should be a wild blaze of yellow, not a tortured row of bare branches dotted with yellow.
Here’s a quote from my cooperative extension site:
Hedging destroys the natural beauty of the shrub and limits the number of blooms to a thin mantle of blooms on the sheared surface. The most beautiful shrubs have blooms throughout the plant, up and down the stem.
Right. That’s what I’m saying. I’m no pruning expert, but there are plenty out there and a survey of them indicates that the best time to prune forsythia is after it blooms. And here are a couple quotes from a guy we all respect, Michael Dirr: “Forsythia was not made for extensive pruning,” and “does not belong in foundation plantings.” Foundation planting forsythias are generally the ones you’ll see chopped down into boxes or balls.
Full disclosure: I don’t have a forsythia. They require a lot of sun and are the type of one-hit wonders I simply can’t afford to give space to. But I love enjoying the forsythias of other gardeners and many that I see along country roads: big, sprawling yellow explosions, all. Just a few weeks more …
Among portraits of laborers – a riveter, a migrant worker, a “sandwich artist” at Subway – there’s this statue of “The Gardener (Melissa with Bob Marley Shirt).”
Now as the subject of portraiture I love Melissa, but she raises some questions.
First, to my eyes she looks more like a home gardener than a “laborer” at gardening, someone paid to do it for others. And the possible misuse of the term “Gardener” to identify a paid laborer is an example of wildly different interpretations of the term.
For example, when my nongardening friends see me calling myself “Gardener Susan” they wonder why I’d identify myself as a poorly paid worker – or a very uncool hobbyist. I can’t even wrap my head around seeing “gardener” as a term to avoid. Is there a better word for someone who grows plants? Seriously, I’m interested.
Then there’s what the exhibit curator tells us about Melissa, that she’s “enjoying a moment of rest, to which anyone can relate.” Really? With her skyward gaze and unhappy expression it looks like she’s thinking “God, when will this be over?”
The curator goes on to say that “At the same time, Melissa is very clearly portrayed as an individual and as someone who should be respected.”
Sure. After all, the sculpture is a life cast of an actual neighbor of the artist.
Several other workers in the exhibit can be seen in this article.
Scott Pruitt was scolded recently for flying first class at taxpayers’ expense. The Administrator of the EPA was sent back to coach class for punishment. Do me a favor if you’re squeezed in next to Mr. Pruitt, waiting for your tiny bag of pretzels. Ask him if he has a garden.
I feel sorry for lost souls who are disconnected from nature and gardening. An abundantly loved square yard or two is all it takes to get past the velvet rope of Hortus. It’s not hard to grow a few daffodils. And you don’t have to dress up.
Pruitt strikes me as a guy who might keep the shades drawn all day. I find it hard to imagine that he spends much time outdoors. I may be wrong.
I would be happy to learn that he has planted a few daffodils. And I might feel better about the native Kentuckian and climate change skeptic if he were hosting a Daffodil Doodah. It would prove, at least, that he might be fun-loving and has found some goodness on earth besides fossil fuels.
The last few weeks of February in Kentucky were wet and unusually warm. Salvisa hit a record-breaking 80 F (20 C). We weren’t alone. The Arctic had a heat wave, too. The planet’s northern-most region recorded an astounding 61 hours above freezing. Meanwhile it was snowy and cold over large parts of Europe.
Flooding in Salvisa on February 22nd. Mac Reid photo.
Then came the floods. The modest Salt River got out of its banks over five straight days of rain. A favorite Doc Watson song kept rattling around my head. No one sings and plays Deep River Blues better than Doc.
As the water rose, our daffodils were just beginning to poke out of the ground. The flowers took a deep breath. Small mouth bass and rotten logs swept by, surging 100 miles downstream to West Point, KY, where the Salt River empties into the Ohio River.
The daffodils survived.
This reminded me of an extraordinary tale of flooding and flowering told 40 years ago. I was working for Will Ingwersen, the alpine plants expert and author, at his nursery near the Gravetye Estate, a few miles from East Grinstead, England.
Mr. Ingwersen liked to tell a good story.
Lenten roses on dry land. March 10th.
He and Alan Bloom, author and nurseryman (who lived to be 98), both enjoyed ice-skating. Mr. Ingwersen, puffing on a pipe, told me he once visited a flooded field of flowering Lenten roses, Helleborus x hybridus, on a cold, late winter’s day at Mr. Bloom’s Breesingham Nursery in Norfolk.
The field was frozen over.
Will Ingwersen and Alan Bloom spent a surreal afternoon, ice-skating over and staring down at the blooming, saucer-shaped Lenten roses beneath their skates.
Our Salt River returned to it banks. Thousands of daffodils were beginning to bloom last week. Winter was shaken from its perch, though there was no guarantee it wouldn’t reappear.
Talented professional gardener Bruce Eveslage hatched the first Daffodil Doodah over 17 years ago, from Swampview, his home and garden in Floyds Knobs, Indiana, across the river from Louisville. A dozen friends came over for the first—ever (anywhere!)— Daffodil Doodah.
Bruce Eveslage’s Doodah invitation.
Eventually 30-40 friends were showing up for his annual gathering. The daffodils were beautiful. Bruce’s Doodah menu remained consistent—daffodils, beer, wine, bread, cheese, pork loin, Edna Lewis’s black-eyed peas and lots of desserts. Bruce was a chef at Louisville’s legendary Afro-German Tea Room before he started gardening professionally 22 years ago.
Rose and I invited Bruce to come out to Salvisa for lunch on Monday— a timid first attempt at our own Daffodil Doodah—just the three of us.
It snowed 6” the night before.
6″ of snow on March 12th.
Snow skating in Salvisa…Dream on.
We glided past colorful daffodils covered in snow, dressed in warm clothes and gardening boots, hands held behind our backs, pretending to skate like Will Ingwersen and Alan Bloom.
This basement setup has been in operation for decades.
Now is the time that some of my more intrepid friends are beginning their seed programs. I envy them, to some degree, as I look out the window at a still-white landscape, with a new storm on the way. But I won’t be emulating them.
Another friend starts hers on windowsills at first.
For me, seeds are so front-loaded. For me, they’re beautiful packages filled with broken promises. I browse the racks every year, lost in admiration of the imagery and designs, particularly those from Botanical Interest, Renee’s, and Baker’s Creek. And the catalogs! They’re much more sumptuously illustrated than any plant or bulb catalog. (Again, Baker’s Creek.) The idea must be that consumers need all the extra visual stimulation. And the names! The descriptions! In a perfect world, I would totally grow the Black Nebula carrot (a stunning dark purple drink when juiced, and when a squeeze of lemon is added, turns bright pink), Glass Gem corn (on the cob they resemble strands of glass beads), and the Columbine Rocky Mountain Blue (dazzling pale violet and white, long-lasting blossoms; delicate, beautiful, blue-green foliage). In the world we have, I would undoubtedly fail.
Baker’s Gem Glass corn
Why? I lack the technical expertise to set up a growing system, the patience to deal with the ongoing trouble-shooting, and—most important—the unobstructed sunny garden space needed for whatever seedlings survive the germination and early growing process.
Baker’s Black Nebula carrot
This is not a big problem—in fact I only think about it during these quiet, late winter days, too early for plants or bulbs. I can take comfort in the fact that two good friends are growing seeds and have offered me some of their no-doubt successful results. A neighbor maintains a basement greenhouse that produces hundreds of seedlings, mainly annuals; another friend has a smaller operation, but has chosen some really interesting heirloom varieties from Select Seeds. Good luck to them and all the seed speculators out there!
What with snow and some winds from hell, it wasn’t a great year for the Philadelphia Flower Show, dependent as it is on decent weather to bring in the crowds that fund the PHS’s many worthy projects. But let’s get to how the weather affected ME, shall we?
I thought I was so smart this year to book an Amtrak ride from Baltimore to Philadelphia and back – barely over an hour’s trip – rather than driving. Plus, I was attending on the preview day (for members and media) when it’s free and more importantly, the crowds are light enough to SEE stuff.
Long story short, the snow and wind forced Amtrak to cancel all trains in the entire Northeast Corridor, leaving me stranded for the night in a strange-to-me city with an unfathomable public transit system.
But somewhere in the chaos I introduced myself to a fellow traveler who, in addition to her other charms, had the good sense to book a (very nice) hotel room right away, which she was willing to share with me. She also happened to know her way around the city and its various train systems. I simply attached myself to her, and made a new gardening friend in the bargain.
So meet my rescuer – Nancy Blois, an avid gardener active in the Maryland Horticulture Society. She’s shown with our other roommate for the night, her niece Blair.
Another highlight was similarly of the human variety – meeting up with a few other intrepid garden communicators. From left in this photo by Kirk Brown, they’re Peggy Anne Montgomery, Marcia Tate, Louise Clarke, Ruth Clausen, yours truly and Dan Benarcik. Little did we know then what a trial it would be getting home.
But about the show, with the “Wonders of Water” theme this year. I wasn’t too stressed to enjoy the show gardens, above and below.
The theme of water includes dry gardens, too.
And water-themed special effects.
My favorites are usually the smaller displays, like these rooms with plants and water features. (Above, there’s a water wall left of the bookcase, according to my source – Kirk Brown again.)
There must be a water feature somewhere on this “Zen Balcony,” though I can’t find it in this shot.
And smaller still, I always enjoy the “Pressed Plant” competition.
And would you believe plant-and-water-themed hats, jewelry and handbags? What a hoot.
I was intrigued by the exhibits about water in other countries, like India and Mexico. “Mexico has become a bottled water country.” Who knew?
At the risk of pissing off people I know and like, and with the qualification that it’s just one opinion, here goes.
Titled “Spring Thaw,” it looks hokey and fake.
Gratuitous color with no connection to the theme? Another meh.
Beached old boats with a few plants stuck here and there.
And my least favorite exhibit – turfgrass with a croquet set and signage that reads, “Sometimes prevention is not enough and repellent becomes essential…DEET and Picaridin (in Avon Skin So Soft) are both effective and safe if used correctly…” and so on. Wtf?
Worst overall? The stuff sold in the large retail area, almost none of which was garden-related. Also, it was surprisingly low-end.
From the press hand-out I learned that:
$65 million is the economic impact of the Flower Show on the Greater Philly region.
$1 million is raised each year by the Show to support community greening programs.
3,500 is the number of volunteers it takes to put on the Show.
42,000 is how many hors d’oeuvres were served at the Preview Party, where 1,152 bottles of wine were also served. (How did I miss that?)
When I first starting looking online for garden advice in the early 2ks, the first places I visited were gardenweb.com and the mail order ratings (Garden Watchdog) on Dave’s Garden. For a brief period, I considered using the garden journal option on DG, but then I found Blogger, which seemed better for writers. Over time, I stopped checking GardenWeb, and moved to the discussions I found in the blogosphere—but GW was instrumental in first helping me identify other garden blogs. GW was purchased by iVillage in 2005, and seemed to putter along, although its “voices” blog directory faltered. In 2015, the GardenWeb forums were purchased by the Houzz home design site; you can find them here.
I took a quick tour of the forums recently, and, overall, I’d have to say it’s a pretty quiet scene, with some hot spots. One poster, lamenting the lack of activity on many forums, states “I wish Facebook didn’t exist,” correctly identifying social media as the preoccupation that has decimated forums and, to a lesser extent, blogs, as online meeting places. Another poster forlornly notes, “I stopped by because I was looking for help turning fire extinguishers into chimes.” I hope he or she finds this information; I feel confident it is out there.
However, I did find some viable and recent discussions in landscape design, antique roses, and permaculture forums, which had been among my favorites, though some categories, like compost/mulch, seem to have disappeared. You’re also bothered by a repetitive popup asking you to join Houzz and the navigation is annoying. Visitors to Houzz will not see the GW forums unless they click on the “stories and advice” tab, and the back arrow is nonfunctional most of the time. On the other hand, Houzz does host full articles on gardening topics, most written by knowledgeable professionals, as far as I can tell, and there are links to these in the forums.
In the end, this is a story of survival. In spite of Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, the GardenWeb forums are still here, and, in some areas, still lively. I hope they stay that way.
Dolan recently posted this video citing the many virtues of the stuff, and crediting Chalker-Scott as his source. They’re summarized in the description below the video:
7 reasons why arborist wood chips are the best wood chip mulch for your vegetable garden: they support a broad diversity of soil life and promote healthier plants; their diversity in materials and particle sizes results in less compaction compared to uniform mulches; they are large enough to remain on the soil surface; they don’t tie up nitrogen in the root zone; they break down slowly; they are local and sustainable; they are the least expensive option.
Best Wood Chip Mulch for Your Vegetable Garden - YouTube
And here’s some great news – he found a website for locating arborist wood chips either free or cheap! It’s GetChipDrop.com
Perusing the comments on the video, I found plenty of advocates, including one who wrote, “Wood chips changed my life.”
One commenter suggests yet another benefit – that wood chips they absorb water, while bark mulch repels water.
Asked where Dolan uses arborist wood chips in his vegetable garden, we learn that he mulches “pathways, perennials, and large annuals with wood chips. We don’t use them on beds of intensively planted closely spaced annuals.”
One commenter asked if the guitar introduction on the One Yard Revolution channel is by Dolan himself. Yep, that him.
For this viewer, it took seeing arborist wood chips in the video to understand what the hell they are – bits of leaves, branches, twigs, bark and trunk from a variety of tree species, in a variety of sizes.
And it turns out that I may have been getting arborist wood chips in my latest mulch run to my city’s tree-and yard-waste dump site. Here’s a shot of my latest haul, looking pretty close to the ideal. Most times of the year, however, the pile this came from is just leafmold mulch – chopped-up and partially decomposed leaves – or even worse, leaves that are fully decomposed into compost.
For a somewhat dressier look, I’ve been pitch-forking carloads from a pile of wood chips provided by my housing co-op. I’m afraid they don’t qualify as arborist-type, though – too uniform, and I see no signs of bark or leaves among the chips.
So how can local governments (or co-ops) recycling tree and yard waste create the super-special mix we’re coming to know as arborist wood chips? Anyone know? (I’ll also ask the plant geeks in the Garden Professors group.)
Award-winning English writer Alexandra Campbell, recently described what she calls YouTube Gardening in this post on her blog The Middlesized Garden. Like me, she complains about there not being enough good gardening videos for her readers – even there in a lively gardening culture like England’s!
She wrote that “the YouTube gardening scene currently seems dominated by the US, Australia, Canada and India/Pakistan. They’re interesting and often useful channels, except when the weather is too different.”
Which is exactly my complaint – in reverse – because searching on YouTube produces a preponderance of videos from British television, usually with Alan Titchmarsh.
So to learn more about what videos pop up for YouTube searchers from England, and more about this interesting woman, I suggested to Alexandra that we Skype, and she was all-in.
English Gardening YouTubers
From left, Katie at Lavender and Leeks; Tanya at Lovely Greens; and Sean James Cameron
According to her, what the English do find on their YouTube searches are lots of allotment (community garden) videos because allotments are a big deal there, and “cool.” (There are TV shows about allotments and even allotment competitions!) One allotment YouTube channel she likes is Lavender and Leeks. I checked it out and noticing that some are 30 minutes long, I imagine that Brits have longer attention spans than we do.
For videos about ornamental home gardening she likes Tanya at Lovely Greens: Gardening, Beauty and Bee-keeping, a channel that’s “picking up new subscribers by the thousands.” Tanya won a week’s training at a YouTube Creator Camp designed to encourage successful new YouTubers. (Tanya recounts the experience here.)
She also likes videos by Charles Dowding, who’s famous for his no-dig gardening technique that’s based on his own research. And of course BBC’s Gardener’s World is great, though it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere for us deprived Americans – even on BBC America.
Finally, she recommends the Royal Horticultural Society YouTube Channel, which is so exhaustive, it posted 14 hours of coverage for last year’s Chelsea Flower Show. (More proof of the superior attention span of the English?)
Moving on to the not-so-great on YouTube, I heartily agree with Alexandra here:
There are lots of videos which are essentially slide shows with music, often called something like ’20 Small Backyard Garden Ideas.’ There are also channels where people peer fuzzily at the lens and lose track of what they’re saying. They wave the camera about so much that it’s like viewing a garden from a small boat being tossed in a storm. All very like some of my own videos admittedly…
But I don’t believe that last self-deprecating bit because I’ve seen her own year-old YouTube channel, and her videos are delightful. They include a Middle-Sized Garden of the Month, and monthly tours of her own garden, somewhere in England that’s equivalent to our Zone 8. Looks damn good for February 1!
February garden - the Middlesized Garden 1st of the month tour - YouTube
She records the videos on her phone, with one external mic and another to use indoors for voice-over, and edits in Adobe Premiere Pro. About her videos she told me “I lost my nerve for about six months” but “rediscovered my mojo” thanks to encouragement from no less than Monty Don himself! (She was able to chat with him at an event for his newest book.)
Alexandra is very multi-media, with her 9 novels and 10 nonfiction books, her garden blog, freelance writing, plus coaching others in writing/blogging. Video came next for her because it’s “an important part of building a brand.” She’s also a fan of blogs because unlike Facebook, etc, blogs are something the creator actually owns.
I have always looked at plant failure as an opportunity, but I held out against replanting my terrarium for months. It looked … ok. At first, the fact that one of the succulent varieties was pretty much taking over the thing was fine. But eventually I had to recognize that the stems were browning at the bottom, making it impossible to prune them to healthy areas. After almost ten years, it was time.
Close-up with the tiny new plants
So everything got pulled out, and I put in a few new plants, still succulents. These are not necessarily recommended for terrarium planting, but I find that their hardy natures work well in that environment. Some years ago, I lined the edges with rocks, holding the cloche away from the base enough to let some air in, and get rid of condensation issues. Which it does.
Will I get another ten years from the new array? Maybe not—and that will be an opportunity to try some different plants. Maybe I’ll finally have to read my terrarium book.
It’s called the ‘Mostoller Wild Goose’ bean. Sarah Mostoller found the first seeds in the crop of a wild goose that her son had shot in a mill race in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, in 1865. Sarah planted the rescued beans the following spring and found them to be a particularly productive pole type whose harvest proved excellent for baking. A specialist in rare beans obtained seed from her great grandson in the 1970’s and in 1981 he in turn donated some offspring to the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa. And now the Seed Saver’s Exchange is sending a sample to Svalbard, Norway to be stored in a tunnel 500 feet beneath an icy mountain just 800 miles from the North Pole.
Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange
This bean is just one of 2,000 collections that Seed Savers has sent for safe keeping to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Impressive as this number is, it represents only a small portion of the 20,000 varieties of heirloom food crops that Seed Savers Exchange has collected over the last 45 years. In a world of increasing agricultural uniformity – over the last century, the United States has lost as much as 90 percent of it food crop cultivars – Seed Savers Exchange has been a leading advocate for biodiversity, preserving some 20,000 varieties and cultivars that otherwise would likely have become extinct. Aside from the unique flavors such collections provide, they also offer adaptations to different climates and soils, and often disease resistance that could prove invaluable in the future.
In the past, Seed Savers has preserved its collection in its own vault in Iowa and at the U.S. Department of Agriculture seed bank in Fort Collins, Colorado. Svalbard, however, provides a whole new level of security against the loss of diversity due to natural disasters, the effects of war, and changes in global farming practices. With its dry atmosphere and permafrost, Svalbard naturally provides near ideal conditions for seed preservation, without risky dependence on refrigeration.
Seed Savers Exchange maintains rights to the collections dispersed to Svalbard and Fort Collins and continues to maintain its own collection in Iowa. Members of the public can order seeds and plants from the Seed Savers Exchange catalogue of over 600 varieties; members have access to an exchange list for sharing and swapping thousands of seed types often unavailable anywhere else.