Garden Diary - February 2008

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Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Trash to Treasures

Today was the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of the Tohickon Garden Club.
And there was lots to do. We had a mini white elephant sale of bits and bobs, and magazines,
and boxes of books to be discarded from the club's library. I mumbled something about
"They don't come with shelves," but it didn't stop me from buying 4 or 5 really good books
for the pittance at which they were priced. And clearly I was not the only one.

Rather than Stover Mill, our usual meeting place, we were at the firehouse, due to concern
that the chilly weather would mean the riverside mill would be uncomfortably cold.

But a nice foretaste of Spring, as someone brought a pot of hyacinths in bloom
floriferous results from our potting bulbs for forcing workshop that I taught last year
(go here and scroll down to October 24th for details and how-to do this yourself.)

There was a mini workshop and we were supposed to bring in a forced branch of
something in bloom. People had forsythia, star magnolia, pussy willow, flowering quince.

But the best, the wonderfully imaginative and creative displays were Trash to Treasure.

Take some trash, some of the ordinary household waste that goes into the garbage.
Follow the club contest rules of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania
and make something 10 to 24 inches tall and no more than 18 inches wide
on the theme of what makes you happy in your garden.

I know my garden makes me happy, but I couldn't think of how to express that in dryer lint and plastic scrap.

Clearly, there are other club members far more ingenious and creative than I am.
Dryer lint pussy willows on cardboard branches and sunny yellow flowers.

An incredible bouquet of sunflowers and chrysanthemums,
delphiniums, daisies, and roses. Beautifully arranged too.

And a stunning garden vignette, complete with Puss

with a cardinal made from disposable drinking cups

an egg carton rabbit

and even a dragonfly whose wings were cleverly cut from medicine blister packs.

Fantasy on our part, practicality in nature, with this actual bird's nest
woven from strips of plastic landscape fabric. Wonderful.

After the refreshments and a lecture, all part of the meeting,
anyhow, when it was over Georgeann and Bonnie and I went off for lunch.
And as we passed Kinsman Company in Point Pleasant

it seemed like Trash to Treasures was following us. Not that these pots are trash
but they are certainly being used in an alternative manner than filled with flowers.
No matter. Spring is coming. Soon enough we'll be back to playing in the dirt . . . . .

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Friday, 22 February 2008

It's Still Winter

February often has more snow than January. At least it seems that way. This year is no exception. A little snow. Some rain. Rain on top of snow. Rising temperatures, melting snow. But lest we forget, we got some respectable snow. It started last night and kept on going. First the weather reports suggested 3 to 5 inches, then 4 to 6 inches, finally settling on 6 or more inches. Temperatures in the high 20s Fahrenheit so fine, dry snow. Then a spatter of rain to coat the top with a little layer of ice.

Snow falling on the field cedars

and piling up on the foot bridge decking boards.

I told Fog he wouldn't like it outdoors. He didn't believe me
and kept yowling at the door. So Paul opened it for him. I was right.
He didn't like it.

His sister was much smarter and had a good catnap
on the sofa in front of the wood-burning stove.

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Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Lambing Season

Don't know what the ewes were waiting for. "Now?" I'd ask Jerry. And he'd say, "Not yet."

Paul saw Jerry at the computer club meeting on Saturday, came home, and said that lambing season had started.
This year it's Dorset Hampshire crosses that Jerry's flock is producing. Four, over the weekend, with these twins
and two singletons. He's got a nice set-up in the barn / sheep shed, with three pens where mothers and babies
are kept for a week, so they'll bond and the lambs get strong enough to run with the flock when they are out in the pasture.


Photograph Credit Gerald Barad 2008. All rights reserved.

So darling. There are more by now. Lambs. What a lovely sign of Spring in the country.

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Friday, 15 February 2008

New Jersey Flower and Garden Show

Georgeann and I went to the New Jersey Flower and Garden Show at the Convention and Expo Center in Edison, New Jersey today. I've been here a couple of times previously (this year is the sixth one), but it is not on my yearly must-do list. Now, however, I'm getting desperate for signs of Spring. And what could be better than a flower show.

The cavernous space in the convention center is divided approximately into thirds. One third for the thirteen display gardens,and this year the theme is The Entertaining Garden - Party Among the Petals. There was a powerful aroma of mulch in that area. The very high ceiling meant that the lighting was somewhat dim. Since I didn't find the gardens very exciting it didn't matter. As it was, Georgeann and I took a rather quick tour and counted ourselves satisfied. Yellow daffodils, red tulips, a sprinkling of hyacinths interspersed with tropical foliage plants, evergreen shrubs (gold dust acuba seemed quite popular, showing up in several gardens), often the deciduous trees - birches and such, were not even in bud. One of the display gardens had camellias. Various patios, an occasional fountain, benches and tables, do I recall a jacuzzi? and that was that.

Another third of the floor area was for the booths selling everything from pottery and garden tools, tablecloths and flower arranging equipment, books and bulbs and more. I bought a miniature vase that will be suitable for snowdrops or violets and other such dainty flowers.

Root tubers of Mirabilis jalapa, commonly known as Four O'Clock or Marvel of Peru.
Here it was labeled as Japanese Miracle Flower, and priced at four for $15. Not winter hardy,
which I didn't see mentioned. The same booth claimed that Incarvillea delavayi is hardy
and I heard the vendor telling someone that it would come back better and better each year.
That wasn't my experience in Connecticut, and that garden had good drainage. Perhaps
a sign of global warming? or perhaps overly optimistic marketing.

I thought that the garden show put on by The Garden Club of New Jersey (a member of the National Garden Clubs, Inc., Central Atlantic Region) was the most interesting part of the event. They presented a standard flower show with the theme of Entertaining Around the World. If you're not familiar with standard flower show rules and regulations, allow me to share some of the details. For example, Division I, Design, had five sections. Elegant Accessories, Festive Gathering, Small Parties, Destination Party, and Outdoor Entertainment. Each section had sub-divisions, so altogether there were 13 classes.

Division II was Horticulture, with the theme of Garden Paradise. This one is easier for me to understand. There were classes for branches of needled evergreens and another for broad-leaved evergreens. A class for forced branches, one for forced bulbs. A class for cacti and succulent, with three sub-divisions: pots 4 inches and under, pots 4 to 8 inches, and pots over 8 inches. Pre-registration required for the latter. .

It was Ray Rogers who took the blue ribbon for this beauty.
It is Gasteraloe 'Green Ice', a bigeneric hybrid of Gasteria and Aloe.

Ray told me that, "That plant has an impressive show record: three blues at Philadelphia last year, one at our Philadelphia Cactus and Succulent Society meeting on Feb 10, and this latest one. What it does in Philadelphia this time around without any flowers (I removed the stragglers yesterday) is anybody's guess."

He had other impeccably grown plants that also took blue ribbons - a huge symmetrical Tiger Kitten begonia, and a pot of Veltheimia bracteata with three stems in flower, and the glossiest foliage I've ever seen. Ray was a little disappointed with that blue ribbon win. It seems that his veltheimia would have taken the top prize, but the judges believed they detected the use of plant shine on the leaves. He admits that "Those leaves are remarkably shiny. A little water and some gentle buffing with a soft cloth brings the shine up." Too bad there wasn't some way for the judges to confirm their (invalid) assumption.

A garden club volunteer I was talking to said she was going to make a list of his exhibits. And then next year she'd be sure to enter only classes where he had not. I mentioned that to Ray, and he pointed out that her strategy of avoiding the classes that he entered this year makes the assumption that he'll enter exactly the same classes next year. And in fact, he's thinking about staging an educational exhibit on forcing bulbs or grooming showplants, rather than entering competitive classes. He'd love to encourage more people to enter, simply for the fun of it, and to share the enthusiam for gardening.

"Filled to the Brim" was a class for combination plantings in a pot not to exceed 15 inches in size. There were three sub-divisions: one for a dish garden of cacti and succulents, with a minimum of three plants, accessories permitted, and exhibitor to provide a diagram of the planting with names of the plants required. Another class for a dish garden of foliage and / or flowering plants. And a sub-division for terrariums.

Division III, Special Exhibits, had the theme of Special Gardens. This included educational exhibits on the culture, care, and propagation of lilies and daylilies, another on New Jersey's native plants and their preservation, and a third exhibit on the state's declining forests. Another class for garden photography with classes for film, digital, and alternative processes.

A third section, for artistic crafts with the theme of garden accents, had a sub-division for picnic accents,
to feature a decorated basket no greater than 18 inches in width or depth.

There were a couple of other sections. One for Commercial, which feature a display window provided by Andersen, and another, Youth division, with classes for design, horticulture, and crafts, which might be subdivided into 5 to 8 years olds, 9 to 11 years olds, and 12 years old and over.

I'm not very good at arranging flowers. In fact, you could call my style more stuff things in a vase and hope things don't fall over. So the displays of flower arrangements, with or without a range of accessories, within the precisely detailed parameters of size, plant materials, etc. fascinate me.

Apples, and apples on the pottery

Judges commented that this was too orange . . .
I really liked it.

A fun morning on the way to Spring.

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Thursday, 14 February 2008

Flowers and Ice

It has been such a long winter. Fortunate are we that February is the shortest month (even if one day longer in this, a leap year.) By now I'm impatient for implications of Spring. Yes, it is light earlier and stays light longer. The robins are back. Sheep are lambing. But I want signs that the garden is awakening. Not this year though. Earliest of my daffodils, Narcissus 'Rijnveld's Early Wonder' is barely breaking ground. No sign of snowdrops or winter aconites. I attribute this laggardly snuggling beneath the earth's cover to lack of winter snow, allowing low temperatures to freeze deeper than when an insulating cover of the white stuff protects the dormant, dreaming bulbs. Or mayhap I'm the dreamer. At least I have my greenhouse to sustain me, with that ambience of moist soil and growing plants,

the lemon-y perfume of Freesia alba,

and flowers in bloom.

Cyclamen persicum

My Methuselah cyclamen is again in flower. I've had it since 1973
when my parents brought it back to me from a visit to my sister, in Israel.
It was much smaller then, a tuber that had fallen out of a road cut.
It has lived in a basement under grow-lights, and made the move to New Jersey.
Then in a spare bedroom where the temperature was low except for company.
Now, for 8 years it's been in the cool greenhouse. Where it is happy,
and I am likewise. It's grown quite a bit in 35 years.


Lachenalia mutabilis is a dainty species

The oxalis are long since through flowering, and now the lachenalia, also known
as Cape cowslip, are having a lovely time. Native to the South African Cape,
they're winter blooming, summer dormant, and very easy to grow. All they need
is an infrequent dribble of water while dormant, more water when in active growth.
Low temperatures (my greenhouse thermostat is set at 50 Fahrenheit) while growing,
and regular division and repotting in a lean, gritty mix, late in summer's end
just before growth begins in fall. Lots of different species, easy to raise from seed,
and now some cultivars like this cool yellow 'Romaud' are available in autumn too.

Lachenalia 'Romaud'

Winter isn't over yet, not by a long shot. There were a couple of inches of snow
on Tuesday night, followed by a couple of inches of rain on Wednesday. Slushy, soggy,
yucky. The driveway did get plowed Wednesday evening before everything froze solid and
penguins would have happily been strapping on their ice skates. Today I was throwing snow melter
like rice at a wedding, then levering plates of ice off the asphalt. It was warm enough for water
to run off the hillside and across the top of the driveway, then freeze. Pretty isn't it.

However I think you can readily understand the floristic allure of my greenhouse in February.

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