Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Fire the Gardener?

During the winter I always come up with so many plans for the garden, and it is always right about now that I realize just how many of those didn't come to fruition due to the laziness of the gardener.  (I really should fire her...)  

Lonicera sempervirens 'Tangerine Princess'
I have a shoebox full of seeds not sown, and my deck is full of seedlings not planted.  A new garden section isn't dug, and the beds are not all nicely weeded and mulched (even though I promised myself that this year would be the year.)


Thankfully it is also easy to overlook all those faults.  This time of year the garden is usually bursting with blooms that far overshadow the weeds, and this summer is no exception.

Clockwise from top left:  hellstrip and front garden, Delphinium elatum 'Million Dollar Blue', Clematis 'Niobe', driveway garden, 'The Wedgwood' Climbing Rose
And there are some accomplishments this year to celebrate.  The overabundance of bulbs ordered in winter might have been planted on the late side of spring, but some are already in bloom, such as this Aztec Lily.

Sprekelia formosissima, aka Aztec Lily
And, thanks to my new gazebo garden that keeps out the deer, I am finally able to grow lilies.

Clockwise from left: Lilium martagon 'Pink Morning', Lilium pumilum, Lilium canadense
The gazebo garden is also full of poppies grown from seed this spring.

'Bridal Silk' Shirley Poppy
(Though when I say 'full' of poppies, I mean it, as not a whole lot of thinning happened....)

a rather full gazebo garden
I am am so excited to see my 'Princess Kate' Clematis in bloom for the first time this year.  I planted it two years ago, but transferred it to the gazebo garden last fall after it kept getting nibbled by rabbits.  When I bought it, there were conflicting reports about whether or not it would be hardy in my zone 6 garden.  Thankfully, if it made it through last winter with its lack of snow cover, it is most definitely hardy.  I love clematises, and this one is such a beauty.

Clockwise from top left: Clematis 'Roguchi', C. 'Lemon Bells, C. 'Princess Kate', C. 'Bees Jubilee' (I think)
There were a few plants lost from the winter, but more than enough in the garden have thrived and grown to make up for them.


Maybe I won't fire the gardener after all.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

A Month of Epimediums

We had a cool, rainy spring here in New England.  Finally in May temperatures started to slowly rise, and everything turned green.


This year I declared May 'the month of Epimediums'.  Epimedium (aka fairy wings, barrenwort, bishop's hat, or horny goat weed, as you might call it) started blooming in my garden at the beginning of May.  They bloomed throughout the month, with the latest one finally dropping its flowers on the last day of the month.

Epimedium × warleyense
Epimediums are common in Japan and China, but they were largely unknown to western gardens until a few decades ago.  It is thanks to a few dedicated lovers of this genus that they are now much more widely known and mentioned here when gardeners talk about plants for that dreaded 'dry shade'. 

white-flowering epimedium
One such epimedium enthusiast is the hybridizer Darrell Probst of Massachusetts.  He hunted and collected seedlings on expeditions in Asia along with his interpreter, Joanna Zhang, and networked with other enthusiasts such as the late Harold Epstein.

Epimedium × rubrum
In 1997 Darrell Probst and Karen Perkins opened Garden Visions Epimediums, a small retail mail-order nursery in central Massachusetts dedicated to these plants.  Darrell has largely moved on to hybridizing coreopsis (anyone else have a Big Bang series coreopsis in their garden?), but Karen still owns and operates the epimedium nursery.

Garden Visions
Garden Visions is open for just a couple weeks a year in May to visit and shop in person.  May is always a busy time of year, and I have been trying to find time to drive out there every year since I moved up here.  This year I finally succeeded.


It is a small nursery, but it contained an astonishing number of varieties of epimediums.

Clockwise from top left: E. lishihchenii, E. wushanense, E. sempervirens 'Cherry Hearts', E. × 'Pink Champagne',  E. grandiflorum var. violaceum 'Bronze Maiden'
I visited on a chilly, rainy day during the first week in May.  There wasn't much in bloom yet when I went, but many epimediums are also known for their stunning foliage, especially as they first emerge.

Clockwise from left: E. 'Mottled Madness', E. × versicolor 'Cupreum', E. sempervirens 'Variegated #1'
I loved seeing the growing beds behind the plants for sale.  New epimediums in the making!


Garden Visions also sells a few unusual companion plants, such as bloodroot, one of my favorite spring ephemerals.

growing beds of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Most people know of epimediums as groundcover plants for dry shade, but the genus is diverse. Some are clumping, some are spreading.  Some are evergreen, some deciduous.  And while some of the spreading types do tolerate dry soil, they usually prefer moisture.  Most of the epimediums in my garden are pass-a-longs from a generous friend who has a moist, shady garden where they spread happily.


Epimediums are hardy from zone 5 to zones 7, though there are varieties that can be grown in colder or warmer zones.  They bloom in spring and are best divided in fall.   They are widely known in Asia as a medicinal plant - thus the nickname 'horny goat weed'.  (Legend has it that a Chinese goat herder noticed his flock grazing on a patch of epimedium and then were afterwards much more 'active'.) Thankfully, while goats might eat this plant, the deer and bunnies won't.  

Epimedium 'Pink Champagne'
It was amazing to see so many different epimediums in one place at Garden Visions.  Of course, the hardest part was figuring out which ones to take home with me...


Happy gardening!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Honeymoon

I previously posted about the beautiful Bluebird pair who moved into the bluebird house and started building a nest immediately after I hung it in the front yard.  They industriously built their nest, which was enjoyable to watch, but then.... nothing.  There was no activity for several days, and the house seemed to be abandoned.  Did they move out, or were they quietly sitting on eggs in there?  I took a quick look inside.

a surprisingly empty nest
Confused, I asked someone who knew more about birds what had possibly happened.  Did they find a better place to nest?  I had seen a cowbird checking the nest out.  Did it scare them away?

I was relieved when the woman I talked to said to not lose hope yet.  Apparently bluebirds will sometimes make a nest and then go on a 'honeymoon' before laying eggs, waiting for there to be a better food supply outside.  Sure enough, a couple weeks later after the weather had gotten warmer and bugs started to fly around, the bluebirds were back!  A quick peek inside confirmed it.


Five little blue eggs!  I look forward to seeing babies before too long.

Happy spring!


Monday, April 1, 2019

Location, Location, Location

For the past two years, my bluebird house hung in the backyard in what was really a bad location, hole facing into the wind.  A couple of other less picky birds gave it a try, but no bluebirds.


I finally took it down and moved it to a post in my gazebo garden in the front yard.


A mere four hours later, the house was sold!




Real estate here really is all about location.


Happy spring!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Visit of a Plant-starved Gardener to Logee's

It's been a tough winter for the plants, with little snow cover and a constant cycle of rain and hard freezes.  Small bulbs and plants were heaved out of the ground and had to be reburied.  On a positive note, my Giant Snowdrops were up and blooming early in January.

Galanthus elwesii, aka Giant Snowdrop
February continued with lots of cold but not much snow.  March rallied with a couple good snowstorms before winter finally started to loosen its grip.  Last week it actually (dare I say it?) started feeling a bit like spring.  (I remain a cynic, though, as it has been known to snow in April.)

common snowdrops in the garden
So how do we northern gardeners survive during the long winter?  Let's see... we spend the first couple of months giving our neglected and abused houseplants some much needed love.  After we put all of our houseplants into shock, we obsessively peruse seed catalogs.  We then try to convince ourselves that this year we really are going to plant all those seeds we order...

another winter project - propagation of Christmas cactus
At some point, however, it is time for a desperate gardener to visit a nursery to get a plant fix!  We are lucky to have a couple nurseries with greenhouses in the surrounding area, but last month we took a day trip to visit the real jackpot - Logee's Greenhouses.


Mr. Red House took me to Logee's as a late Valentine's Day excursion.  He really knows the way to a gardener's heart!  Logee's has not just one but SIX greenhouses filled to the brim with botanical treasures.

Clockwise from top left:  narrow aisles run through the packed greenhouses, unlabelled camellia, rows of Euphorbia obesa and Euphorbia suzannae for sale, Callandra surinamiensis aka Powder Puff plant
Logee's is a mail order and retail shop in Danielson, Connecticut, that specializes in container-grown tropical plants, and it has an interesting history.  It was started in 1892 by William Logee.  One of its most famous plants is the Ponderosa Lemon Tree that was brought to Logees from Philadelphia in 1900 via train then horse and buggy.  It was planted in the ground in Logee's original greenhouse and is still there, alive and thriving, and thousands of cuttings have been taken from it for new plants.  It is also called the American Wonder Lemon, as its lemons can get as large as 5 pounds.

lemon from the Ponderosa Lemon Tree
William Logee's children became involved in running the nursery.  His son Ernest hybridized begonias for the nursery and was one of the founders of the American Begonia Society.  Sadly he passed away at a young age from a fall out of a tree while pruning.

Top: Calathea lancifolia 'Rattlesnake'  Center: Pavonia multiflora, unlabeled Hibiscus flower, Rhaphidophora cryptantha (aka Shingle Plant)  Bottom: Acalypha hispida (aka Chenille Plant), Begonia maculata variegata
William Logee's daughter Joy met her husband at Ernest's funeral, as he was a fellow horticulturalist and Begonia Society member.  They became owners of the nursery after William's death in 1952.  Joy focused on scented geraniums and herbs, while also continuing her brother's legacy of growing begonias.


Joy and her husband had two sons.  One, Geoffrey, became a physicist and professor.  His first wife was now well-known garden author Tovah Martin.  Their other son Byron stayed with Logee's, and he and his first wife now run the still family-owned and operated greenhouses.

profusion of blooms from an enormous Australian Sarsparilla vine
The nursery was a delightful place to visit after some long winter months.


So is it possible for a plant-starved gardener to visit such a greenhouse and not come home with a plant or two (...or seven or eight)?

my new Begonia 'Sophie Cecile'
I think not.
Happy gardening!


Sunday, February 17, 2019

For the Love of Beans

Every year I like to grow new types of vegetables in my garden.  While it's fun to try out new varieties, I get very excited when a variety tastes so good that it makes the prized list of 'Veggies I Will Grow Every Year'.  Already on the list were Purple Podded Pole Beans, Hakurei Turnips, Ground Cherries, Black Krim Tomatoes, and salad green Claytonia.  This winter, after finally shelling the bean pods I harvested in fall, I am pleased to announce a new addition: Good Mother Stallard Beans.

Good Mother Stallard Bean pod
The maroon and white beans are beautiful, but they taste even better.  They are a nice meaty bean, and they make an amazing bean broth that adds incredible flavor to soup.  


I started these heirloom pole beans rather late in the season, planting them after I harvested my garlic, and I only planted a couple rows.  Despite this, I ended up with a decent amount of beans, almost a quart.  From now on they will be getting more time and real estate in the garden!


This summer I also planted Jacob's Cattle Bean, an heirloom bush bean that is thought to have been grown by the Passamaquoddy Indians in Maine.  Legend has it that they gifted this bean to Joseph Clark, the first white child born in Lubec, Maine.  Sadly my crop was a failure.  I also planted these beans later in the season, and I think they were shaded too much by neighboring plants.  I ended up with only a few dry beans before frost hit.  These beans were also very tasty, though I preferred the creamier texture and shape of the Good Mother Stallards.

Jacob's Cattle Beans
It is very likely that we owe the preservation and distribution of both of these heirloom beans to bean collector John Withee.  Born in Maine in 1910, John Earl Withee, Jr. was one of six children, and beans were a staple for the family, as times were tough.  Every Friday afternoon John would be in charge of cleaning out and starting a fire in the bean hole, a hole in the ground lined with bricks that worked as an oven.  A Dutch oven full of beans - often Jacob's Cattle Beans - would be lowered onto the hot coals and then covered with dirt.  The beans would bake for an entire day, ready for Saturday night's supper. 

cooked Jacob's Cattle Beans
After marrying and working as a medical photographer in New Hampshire, John Withee eventually took a job as the head of the Photographic Laboratory at what is now Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston in 1960.  He and his wife finally bought land of their own, settling in Lynnfield, Massachusetts.  John built a garden and wanted to build a bean hole to revive the fondly-remembered tradition of his childhood.  However, when he went looking for Jacob's Cattle Beans or any of the other varieties he remembered, he couldn't find them.

Jacob's Cattle Bean flower
He began writing to friends and family looking for the beans he grew up with.  He found those and more.  After hearing stories of nearly losing some of these unique bean varieties, he realized that collecting them could be an important project.  He started visiting food stores throughout New England and putting notices in publications, looking for different beans.  By 1975, John had collected over 200 varieties of beans.  After retirement, he founded a non-profit named Wanigan Associates, made up of members that could grow and share these varieties and keep them alive.  By 1981, he had collected 1,186 varieties of heirloom beans.


As John got older, he started looking for someone to look after this living collection of seeds.  He found a promising seed saving group named Seed Savers Exchange, founded by Kent and Diane Whealy in 1975.  He asked them to take over his organization and bean collection.  Due to this, Seed Savers started growing as a central repository to preserve heirloom seeds, eventually becoming the largest seed bank in the United States outside of the government.


Good Mother Stallard was one of the 1,186 bean varieties that John Withee donated to Seed Savers, given to him by Carrie Belle Stallard in Virginia.  I am very glad that this tasty heirloom was not lost to us.  John Withee passed away in 1993, but his legacy lives on.

available on Amazon
Happy gardening,
and happy cooking!


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