Monday, March 14, 2011

Microclimates and the melting snow

My dear friend, former college roommate, and amazing garden photographer Karen Bussolini and I are seen here at the book signing table at the UCONN Home Gardeners Conference last year. She writes with an artist's eye.
Enjoy her guest post below.

March 10, 2011

This winter’s deep snow protected leucothoes planted later than I probably should have, covered a multitude of things undone and, with drifts of 3 feet or more, allowed me to prune on snowshoes rather than hauling out a ladder. But I missed all the thoughtful time at the window spent gazing at gardens simplified and stripped bare. Winter usually helps me see how to tweak edges and connect everything more gracefully. The gardens are full of herbaceous color – plants I call my foul weather friends. But this year the only visible color was the top 2” of blue wrought-iron chairs sticking up out of the snow. All the ‘Golden Sword’ yuccas, hellebores, Helictotrichon sempervirens, ‘Berggarten’ sage, dianthus, lamb’s ears, heucheras and other perennials whose foliage usually persists long into winter have only just now made an appearance, but they’re looking really fresh.

Snow melted first in perfect circles around each trunk of my oak grove and along boulders and rock walls and got me thinking about microclimates. Snowdrops are blooming like crazy in those warm, protected places. I’ve made a note to plant more in the places where snow first melts, for who can get enough first flowers? But I’m also paying attention to where snow still remains. I’ll plant some there too, so that I’ll have a really long season of bloom. And more of my beloved silver plants will go where it’s high and dry and sunny.

When the garden is bursting with plants, it’s hard to see beds any way other than how they already are. But after 22 winters of window-gazing at this land, I noticed something new this year. Heavy rains that last week flooded the Housatonic River and lifted icebergs onto Route 7, left quite a bit of water in my yard. A patch of sitting water next to a neatly edged bed full of Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (yellow all winter) and other moisture-loving plants suggested that I incorporate that patch into the bed. Contours of the land, defined by water, are just now clearly revealed in a way they never are when things dry out. An interesting pattern has emerged, with drier light-colored leaves on higher ground, darker leaves lower down where it is wet, pools of water on low ground and the end of a wood-chip path has washed out onto the lawn. These intricate patterns are far more interesting than the long simple curved line I drew. They show me how to integrate the garden beds and lawn into my wild natural landscape, and give me great clues about what to plant where. When it stops raining I’ll lay down newspapers and old cardboard to kill the grass and mark these patterns before they disappear. But first I’ll take a photo from inside to remind me when all is lush and green, where the water is.

Karen Bussolini is a professional garden photographer, author, eco-friendly garden coach, and speaker. She resides in South Kent, CT. Here books are available for sale at Natureworks.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tiny Treasures

Yesterday, I bundled up and prepared for an afternoon outside in torrential rains doing garden consultations. Boy, was I surprised when the sun came out just after noon. Spring was in the air as it warmed up to the point where I sat outside with my client and literally watched the flowers bloom! It was magical. As my eyes first spanned the property, all I saw was tired lawn and vole tracks everywhere. The longer I sat, the closer I looked. Soon, I noticed that the lawn was filled with tiny tufts of species crocus foliage. Wait a minute, there's a flower bud. Hey, when did that bunch of crocuses open? They weren't there before. Flower after flower appeared, as if by magic, before my eyes. Now I can't say that they were all open when I first sat down. Maybe they were and I missed them as I was so used to looking at the barren winter landscape that I didn't expect to see flowers. Or maybe, just maybe, I happened to be there when they emerged and flowered. It certainly made me spend the rest of the day a lot more aware of my surroundings. When I arrived home, out to my own gardens I went. There they were, my very own beloved species crocus, in flower everywhere. I had forgotten how many little bulbs I had popped in at the tail end of the season, just before the snow arrived. Snowdrops too. I added hundreds of them. As I turned the corner to the south side of my house, there was the very first Iris reticulata flower in full bloom. Never underestimate the power of a tiny flower to stir your soul. I have a feeling things are going to be in fast forward now with the weather promising to be in the 40's and 50's all next week. I have a serious case of spring fever, that wondrous feeling of anticipation that wakes me up at sunrise every morning because I can't wait to get outside and see what's up. Spring officially starts next Sunday, March 20th but for me, it started yesterday.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pass the Bottle! Here Comes a New Name...

Welcome guest blogger Stephanie Cohen. Enjoy her post!

          Once upon a time plants were named for real people. In jolly old England, both first and last names were always used. So we have plants named for some of their illustrious plant hunters, breeders, and designers such as Vinca ‘Gertrude Jekyll’, ‘Dianthus ’C.T. Musgrove’, and Syringa ‘Miss Ellen Willmott’.  Others are named for famous personages as Picea ‘OttoVan Bismarck’ or Paeonia ‘Joseph Rock’.  In recent times Calycanthus raulstonii ‘Hartlage Wine’ was named for Richard Hartlage,  Hosta “Paul’s Glory’ was named for hosta great Paul Aden, and Hemerocallis ‘Stephanie Returns’ named for yours truly. America, being a tad more casual, allowed first names to suffice. Later on, the first name plus an adjective would do the trick as with Dianthus ‘Spotty Dottie’ or Hemerocallis ‘Sassy Shannon’. Other  unique names were for places that the plant could be found as Coreopsis verticillata ‘Zagreb’ or Sequoia ‘Filoli’ and ‘Los Altos’. Plant names often help you visualize something tangible about the plant, such as tell you its color as in Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ or Boltonia ‘Pink Beauty’.  Some names like little, dainty, and dwarf reassure us that this is a small plant. And certain perennials are even named for lively dances as ‘Rhumba’ ,‘Samba’, or ‘Bolero’ which means the colors are hot and vibrant.
For a while it seemed we had run out of good new names. “Never!” said the new name gurus. Let’s use food names! It’s no wonder we are gaining weight with perennials such as Hemerocallis ‘Cotton Candy’ and ‘Cream SoufflĂ©,  Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’, ‘Cherries Jubilee’, and ‘Brownies’,  or Pulmonaria  ‘Spilled Milk’ and ‘Raspberry Ice’. Once in a while a food name was used that was actually healthy, such as Hemerocallis ‘Carrots Forever’  This list is as endless as a grocery order for an NFL Team.
Next we started to get very playful as we went from Hosta ‘Great Expectations’ to ‘Hanky Panky’, ‘Striptease’, ‘X-Rated’, ‘Breeders Choice’ and ‘Bridegroom’. Then there’s Actea ‘Black Negligee’.  Not to be outdone, check out Daffodils with  names like ‘Peeping Tom’, ‘Salome’ and ‘Rapture’ . Are the plants having relationships we dare not talk about?  Radio, television, movies, email, blogs, and Facebook have all influenced our sexual behavior and now it is creeping into our plant names.
Last but not least, over 20 years ago we started with Begonias named ‘Gin’, ‘Whiskey’, and ‘Vodka’ . It always made me laugh. Many years later Spring Meadow introduced Weigela ‘Midnight Wine’,  followed by ‘Summer Wine’ and ‘Wine and Roses’. The race was on  to see how many delicious concoctions we could identify. We have Miscanthus ‘Cabaret’ , Lamium maculatum ‘Cosmopolitan’, Heuchera ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, ‘Lime Rickey’, and ‘Southern Comfort’, Coreopsis  ‘Tequila Sunrise’, Hosta  ‘Manhattan’, Gaillardia ‘Burgundy’, and Papaver ‘Champagne Bubbles’ all adding to our increasing list  of drink names. I do think hardy hibiscus wins the prize for names like ‘Bordeaux’, ‘Chablis’, Grenache’ and ‘Cranberry Punch’ as well as the Cordial series. I often think of Luther Burbank thinking about the white snow on his beloved Mount Shasta and naming Leucanthemum ‘Mount Shasta’ for it. I know times are tough, but what is our green industry thinking about as they sit and ponder names as “Mint Julep’ ‘Raspberry Wine’, ‘Partytime’, ‘Vintage Wine’ or ‘Sangria’? Are they discussing their plant qualities or their libation exuberance?
Perhaps they have exhausted this trend. Otherwise, we will be forced to go back to my friends the begonias with ‘BadaBing’ or ‘Bada Boom’ and ask this version of the Sopranos to help us because all that we will have left  after getting rid of sex and drink names is Hosta ‘Praying Hands’ and Resurrection Lilies.

Submitted by Stephanie Cohen
, author of "The Perennial Gardener's Design Primer" (co-authored with Nancy Ondra) and "The Nonstop Garden" (co-authored with Jennifer Benner, a CT resident). These wonderful books are available at Natureworks and at our classes. 
Visit her website: