Wednesday, July 29, 2009

All the cool kids are growing their own ...

... food. And this summer the New York Botanical Garden is celebrating edibles in the garden. Just take a look at how the NYBG is elevating such garden staples as squash, tomatoes and corn by showcasing them in containers.

Pots of tomatoes, peppers, corn, squash and other vegetables line the waterlily pool at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the NYBG.

Corn is underplanted with cherry tomatoes at the NYBG.

It seems like I've been growing vegetables and herbs in pots for ages, albeit on a much less grand scale than the NYBG. I love having tomatoes nearby so I can brush up against the fragrant foliage (if someone could bottle the scent of tomato foliage I'd buy it by the boatload); having mint in a pot on the deck makes it easy to add a sprig to my iced tea; and eggplants are just pretty plants. Period. Whether or not we actually get any eggplants. And I always have at least one big pot of flat-leaf parsley on the deck out of reach of the deer.

Growing veggies and herbs in pots is easy. I use mostly recycled black nursery containers -- it helps unify the look on a deck or patio -- and potting mix that we buy by the bale. Find a sunny location. Pay attention to water -- the pots often will need to be watered every day depending on the weather. I use a liquid fertilizer about once a week. I also like to mix in a few flowers, often planting lobelia or alyssum as a ruffle around the edge of the pot.

Here's a grouping of a tomato, parsley, mint and two eggplants underplanted with lobelia. The mint winters over and everything else we grew from seed sowed in the house this spring.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A day in the life of a lily

'Pink Perfection' leans into a stand of phlox (not yet blooming) and consorts happily with the joe-pye weed behind it. The lily doesn't require any special care, other than being staked so it doesn't completely flop over under the weight of its blooms.

Change in the garden can be swift and dramatic -- as in when the main trunk of a pagoda dogwood splits in a windstorm -- or slow and subtle -- as in when a lily blossoms.

The long, fat buds of 'Pink Perfection', a trumpet lily, have been teasing us for several days. Today, she finally opened up.

At 9:55 a.m. Monday.

At 12:39 p.m. Monday.

At 4:11 p.m. Monday.

At 6:04 p.m. Monday. By 10 p.m. the lily's fragrance was filling this corner of the garden and drifting through the open window.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A feast for the eyes

The formal garden at a home in New York is set up for
a late afternoon wedding ceremony.

In summer, there's no place I'd rather be than at home in the garden. Yes, even with the weeds, the slugs and the deer damage, I still prefer hanging out among the ornamentals and the edibles in my little corner of the planet. Especially if there's a cold beer or an icy mojito nearby. But when travel is on the agenda, it's nice that some garden touring is included. And this summer I couldn't have asked for more. I had the pleasure of seeing two lovely private gardens as well as getting my first look at Battery Park, Central Park and the New York Botanical Garden. I returned home inspired -- and with a severe case of tree envy.

The formal garden where the bride and groom exchanged vows was among the most beautiful I've ever seen. It was sophisticated, yet welcoming. Classy, yet charming. Serene, but with a sense of humor. What I really loved, besides that gorgeous fountain and pond, was the choice of plants. Many were familiar -- lamb's ear, woolly thyme, baptisia, allium -- and they all contributed to the sense of joy so appropriate to the day. Here's some of what inspired me:

1. It bears repeating: the use of familiar plants that are readily available. It's not always about the exotic or the rare (although that's nice, too); sometimes it's about "ordinary plants" used in extraordinary ways. For example, that narrow border of lamb's ears around the pool -- very cool.

2. Hardscape matters. OK, most of us don't have the space or resources to make a garden like this. But attention to paths and the use of stone, gravel or other paving material pays big dividends. The gray tones of the walkways and urns complement the whites, silvers and blues in the plants.

3. Focal points and sight lines. I'll never have a fountain like that egret, but I can pay attention to where I place trellises and decorative items. While details are critical, it's important to remember to see the big picture, too. Where does the eye go? What do I want to emphasize and showcase?

4. Neatness counts. Everything was trimmed, deadheaded and in its place. A testament to well-organized nature.

The fountain is a jaw-dropper. The musicians prepare for the ceremony under one of the rose arbors.

Stone pillars with pineapple finials mark the garden entrance.

Guests gather just inside the garden. Robust plantings soften the garden's geometry.

The garden-maker also has a sense of humor. The gnome, hidden from view until you leave the garden, keeps watch.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Favorite plant of the day: Borage

Up close, borage flowers have an other-worldly quality.

Why? Because this morning I was struck by the way the dew collects on the flowers and fuzzy stems and leaves. Both the leaves and flowers are edible (the leaves really do have a flavor similar to cucumber) but mostly I enjoy the plant for its sky-blue flowers. This is another one of those self-sowers where the major effort is editing -- pulling out those seedlings you don't want. There is a
white form of borage, but I like the blue better.

Borage stands tall above a bed of California poppies,
another annual that requires a lot of editing.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Flower man

Here's the New York Times on the late Robert Isabell, the floral designer and event planner from Duluth who died last week.

The Times says that Tina Brown of The Daily Beast, who worked with Isabell on more than 30 events, recalled in her column that he could be frustratingly elusive: “His silences were very irritating when you were collaborating with him because he never verbally objected to an idea he didn’t like. He just passively aggressively obstructed it. He would also disappear a lot until you vowed you would never, ever deal with him again. You always did, of course, as, over time, most of the Park Avenue hostesses and fundraisers who were his bread and butter realized there was no one who could touch him when it came to creating something wonderful.”

Maybe it's because I'm recently back from a lavish East Coast wedding and still reeling a bit from what I saw, but I found the descriptions of the parties he planned fascinating. As well as his relationship with Bunny Mellon. And check out the photo gallery with Brown's column.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Favorite plant of the day: 'Lauren's grape' poppy

How can anyone not love this plant? It's a stunner up close ...

... and from a step back ...

... and in context with other bloomers including lilies, pink allium, purple Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna' and white phlox.

This Papavar somniferum is a selection introdu
ced by horticulturist Lauren Springer Odgen. The seed was selected in Colorado and isolated over seven years to get the pure seed strain. She's also the author of one of my favorite plant resources, "The Undaunted Garden."

I had a few of these poppies in last year's garden and deliberately let them go to seed. They are nothing if not prolific. This spring, I was rewarded with a gazillion seedlings that a friend said looked like lettuce. Just remember to thin; you get bigger, juicier blooms and healthier plants if they're not so crowded.

For all you Ina fans

I love Ina Garten. The Barefoot Contessa seems to live a charmed life, surrounded by lovely gardens, a great house, wonderful food and fun friends. I think it'd be a kick to share a bottle of wine with her. So I was interested to see this story about her at I had to laugh when I saw her fig tree in the video. We're growing a fig plant, too, although ours is in a pot we bring in for the winter and nowhere as big as hers. But who knows, one of these summers, we may actually get to taste a fresh fig from our plant.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Discerning palates

Perhaps this is why deer seem to seek out and devour my cardoon.
They've also been known to eat the carrots and parsnips. This sign is
from the herb garden in the fabulous New York Botanical Garden.
More about that adventure in a post-to-come.

The buffet at sillydoggarden was open for business last night. The deer visited. Again.

I knew I was courting trouble by planting the last of the cardoon in the unprotected front beds. But I couldn't help myself. Sure enough, this morning all four transplants were found uprooted, tops all gone. Damn deer. And the parsley transplanted last week -- all gone. Damn, damn deer. At least the parsley transplanted Sunday afternoon is still intact. Perhaps the rudbeckia will shield it from those long-legged fiends. But I thought the lady's mantle, euphorbia and witch hazel would shield the cardoon, too. Time will tell, I guess.

Here's what's left of the front-yard cardoon. Notice the
one remaining leaf and formerly healthy roots.

But there's more. Or, actually, less. The Cramers' Amazon celosia, first spotted last year at The Garden House in Solon Springs, Wis., and seed ordered this year from Johnny's Selected Seeds, was chomped. Also on the menu last night, the variegated burnet and the seed dahlias ('Black Beauty' from Thompson & Morgan). The burnet, a perennial, will recover but those dahlias are toast. Fortunately, I also planted them in several other locations and in pots so I'm confident I will get to inspect some blooms at some point. I have more cardoon, too, in pots and in the back beds protected at night by motion-detecting sprinklers. It always pays to plant more than you think you'll need or want.

This one is gone, but not forgotten. I was excited to find the seed for this celosia this spring after buying transplants last year at The Garden House. The maroon and green foliage is what's really killer -- the magenta spiky bloom is merely a bonus. Two neighboring Cramers' Amazon transplants are intact. Keep your fingers crossed
that they'll survive the summer.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

California dreaming

Eschscholzia californica comes in shades of white, red, pink,
yellow and orange. I prefer the common orange.

Legend has it that the petals of the California poppy filled the soil with gold. If only that were true, California could find some relief from its budget woes. Nevertheless, the plant is putting on a high-dollar show in my garden. Maybe it's the lack of rain (which is beginning to exact a toll on some plants); the plant flowers better when it's kept on the dry side.

The seeds for these plants arrived in a Christmas card several years ago. A gardener friend of some friends was visiting from California one summer and they brought her by to check out the garden. That winter she sent us the seed and we haven't done without them since. Care is too easy; they germinate each spring and I thin aggressively, pulling out seedlings by the handful. It's hard not to smile when you round the corner and see the pool of sunshine.

I pulled out handfuls of seedlings to give the daylily (left)
a little room to breathe.

These poppies moved themselves here without any help
from me. That red plant in the back is a
columnar barberry. I like this mix of hot colors.

Friday, July 10, 2009

No more Smith & Hawken

This is kind of a bummer. Smith & Hawken is closing down. I always loved getting the company's catalog because it was full of beautiful things for the garden. A tad expensive, but sometimes you could get a good deal on a sale. There used to be a store on Grand Avenue in St. Paul -- I remember visiting it when shopping with friends in The Cities and seeing the most beautiful amaryllis display -- but the store locator only lists one in Edina.

Here's more interesting stuff about the store, via, where guest ranter Maureen Decombe has a well-done essay.