Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thankful for wheat

A few stems of black-tip wheat.

Wheat was never an option in the home garden when I was growing up. Wheat was a field crop, something farmers planted by the acre and harvested with huge noisy machines. Those amber waves of grain were pretty, but they were destined to be bread and, as everyone knew, food crops and ornamental crops just didn't mingle.

Funny how these boundaries, like so many others, are history.

This Thanksgiving, among the many things -- big and small -- that I'm grateful for, I'm glad that Brian had the good sense to plant black-tip wheat (Triticum durum) this year. We got the seed from Territorial Seed Company and it germinated quickly in a sunny spot between the garage and the side door. The green shoots quickly grew into buff-colored spikes that took on an ethereal glow in the late afternoon sun. The black in the awls didn't quite rise to expectations but it was still satisfying.

Sunshine lights up the wheat at left and right in early September.

Satisfying outside in the sun and now satisfying inside on the table. The wheat dries beautifully and is a natural for autumn/Thanksgiving decor. You can go minimal with just a few stems in a vase or lush with a bunch tied together with a ribbon. And, now that Thanksgiving is over, some of the wheat can go to a friend for use in a Hanukkah play and some can be recycled for use in Christmas decorations. No boundaries.

Bundle a bunch of stems together for a lush effect.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Golden children of autumn

The larch tree was in glorious form a few weeks ago. Today its soft, golden needles are gone.

Witch hazel begins blooming in October when most other shrubs and perennials are done or nearly done.
As autumns go, this one is more muted than others. Oh sure, there has been some color but it was shortlived, cutting out long before it should have. Blame it on the sodden, gray, cold October -- the foliage seemed to give up early, calling it quits before the reds, yellows and bronzes were fully developed and dropping quickly into swaths of brown leaf litter. Still, there were a couple of bright spots -- the larch, or tamarack, and the witch hazel. Both are worthy choices in the northern landscape.

Our best representative of the native American larch (Larix laricina) has settled in nicely at the end of the driveway. It's a good companion for the trio of black spruce, also native here. Both species like it boggy and are happy in the low area where they were planted. Larch is a crazy conifer, bearing cones but also shedding its soft needles in fall like a deciduous tree. Because this one is sited next to the spruce, its bright gold contrasts sharply with the green of the spruce. It punctuates the season like a giant exclamation point. It! Is! Autumn! Enjoy!

Witch hazel is another one of the kinda crazy relatives in the plant kingdom. Native witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, starts blooming in October when much of the rest of the garden is easing into dormancy. The threadlike petals look like miniature party streamers. You have to look closely, not only are the flowers small, they start blooming when the shrub still has leaves, making them somewhat difficult to see if you're not paying attention. Witch hazel has attractive leaves, attractive bark and attractive form. And it has history, having been used by American Indians for hundreds of years to treat cuts and bruises as well as colds and coughs.

Medicinal plant expert Steven Foster says the shrub was a favorite "witching stick" of dowsers searching for water in colonial America. It has nothing to do with witches but comes from the old English word for pliable branches "wych".  I've never used witch hazel although I have seen it recommended for use as an astringent or to soothe insect bites.

Even in autumns when color runs rampant across the landscape, larch and witch hazel are notable for their contributions. And in a fall like this one they're appreciated even more.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Seventh Day November up for viewing

Grouse such as this one have visited several times recently to feed on the crab apples. This grouse visited Nov. 8, missing the Seventh Day Project by one day. You can view the Seventh Day Project: November in the column at top right. (The cage around the tree is to protect it from browsing deer.)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gardening with Bette

Sillydoggarden is about as far removed from urban gardening as you can get. But we believe wholeheartedly in greening city spaces so we wanted to pass along this charity fundraising auction for the New York Restoration Project, a nonprofit founded by Bette Midler. (Thanks, Tracy and Alex, for your work with the project.)

If I only had a few extra thousand dollars lying around I might be inclined to bid on lunch with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner or meeting Melissa Etheridge. Browse the site and dream about what you would bid on -- and let me know.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Season opener ... and closer

It may look like they're confused, but these crocus are blooming right on schedule in November.

It was just six months ago that I was trumpeting the arrival of spring's first crocus. Now, in November, I'm all agog over its fall-blooming cousins. Symmetry in the garden, whether through time or space, is a pleasing concept and the little crocus supplies it in a big way. How many other plants can herald the start of gardening season and announce its end as well?

To my eye, crocus are among the most graceful of flowers. They show up in spring when most of the rest of the world is still brown. And they show up in autumn, when much of the world is turning brown again. It's a perfect fit on either end of the seasonal spectrum. Most of us are so conditioned to crocus as a spring flower that seeing its familiar form in the fall is enough to turn heads. The first time I saw fall-blooming crocus was in Washington state. I was driving down a street in a tiny town near Fort Lewis when I saw a line of purple shooting up through fallen autumn leaves that were piling up against an iron fence. I had to stop the car and look -- such is the power of surprise in garden design.

I planted a few fall-blooming crocus some years back in a thicket of lingonberry and in a patch of low-growing, creeping veronica ('Waterperry blue'). They're beautiful, but really, I should have planted at least 20 times as many. Like many small bulbs, they show best when planted in large numbers.

This fall, I planted about 75 fall-blooming crocus -- some by the stairs to the deck in a bed of pussytoes and some by the reflecting pool. (I've nicknamed those by the pool as "doe crocus.") I thought I was planting purple Crocus speciosus, but now, after examining the blooms for several days, I'm wondering if the supplier mixed up the order and sent 'albus' instead. I'm not seeing any purple, and what I am seeing seems to fit the catalog description: "A pure white form of C. speciosus with pointed segments and a yellow throat." It's not a major issue -- they're still lovely and I'll simply order more of the purple fall-bloomers next year.

I planted some in the pussytoes by the deck stairs where they'll get plenty of sun and a chance to dry out in the summer.

A purple crocus pokes its head out of a patch of lingonberry. (The bronze-red plant is a hardy geranium seedling.)

A delicate close to the season.