31 December 2010

Skywatch Friday: The Garden of the mind's eye

Once again, we've come to the end of a year of gardens, writing, plants that came and went, and of course, Skywatch Fridays. This is the first snowy Skywatch for me since last winter, but I can pretty much guarantee it won't be the last one. 2011 looms ahead in a few hours, and although I plan a retrospective or two, they're not for today. Today, I celebrate the return of the sun and the garden of the mind's eye.

Gisela of Guildwood Gardens quoted a phrase from another writer to me last year that I've kept in my notebook of wonderful thoughts. I had been lamenting the lack of sunlight as winter began, and was creating my own sunlight with collections of golden flowers.

30 December 2010

Everyone loves a garden centre sale...

Is there anything better than a sale at a beloved garden centre? Especially when the sale is 50 % off EVERYTHING, from pots to plants, from ornaments to bird feeders...
That's the case right now til closing on New Year's Eve at Den Haan's Garden World in Middleton, here in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley. Oh, boy...since I had been given some money as a birthday present, I knew I would have to go treat myself. And I did!

28 December 2010

Winter-themed Plants for a White New Year...

I trust that everyone has had a wonderful Christmas, although many of us have been plagued by weather challenges. Here, the Green Christmas gave way on Boxing Day night to an onslaught of weather, including freezing rain, rain, snow, and much wind, assorted power outages and other adventures. Today, the weather continues, blasting us with a few of those 'flurries where winds blow onshore'. But that's fine with me as I have not been outside for two days, content to read, write, nap and otherwise wind down from the chaos of Christmas.

When we were still snow-less in Scotts Bay, I got to thinking about various plants that have snow-related cultivar or common names, thinking that would make for an amusing post. Some of the plants that I have in my garden include Hemerocallis 'Roses in Snow.'

24 December 2010

Blooming Friday: A "White" Christmas of sorts...

Thursday was my birthday, and on Wednesday, LongSuffering Spouse arrived home with a big box full of packing, tissue paper and the like. "The weather is milder today so I could bring this safely home to you," he said. "It's a day early, but happy birthday!"

He chose this phalaenopsis because he knows I like white flowers, and also because it has a purple 'heart' of sorts. Awwwww...So along with being a green-flowered Christmas, it's now a White Christmas too...(and we actually do have a light dusting of snow outside, which is enough for me.
To all my readers near and far, to those travelling and those at home with loved ones, to my fellow garden bloggers, writers, gardeners and book lovers...a Happy Christmas to one and all. May you receive the desires of your heart this season, and may we all see peace on this earth of ours.

21 December 2010

Green flowers for a Green Christmas

After the recent spate of storms, including a rainstorm last night that kept us from watching the lunar eclipse live (but we saw it via the joys of the Interwebs), we are pretty much expecting a green Christmas here in Scotts Bay (and probably all of Nova Scotia). I'm okay with that, because it makes travel easier, and to me, Christmas spirit doesn't have to do with snow, but with family and friends.

Back in March as part of my coping-with-Farch techniques, I purchased my first paphiopedilum orchid, this green-flowered beauty that goes by the name of Paphiopedilum 'Limerick x Greenvale x Cherokee'. As a slightly early birthday present, 'Limerick' has presented me with a flower stalk and bud; I'm intensely excited about this, and decided a post celebrating green flowers would be just the thing.

I've always been besotted with green flowers, which seem to be a very polarizing flower colour; people either love them for their exotic beauty or dislike them because they're not some other colour, like hot pink or blazing scarlet or perfect blue. Well, I love all those colours too, but greens just resonate with me. I have several green flowered phalaenopsis (nameless but lovely).

Many flowers start out green and change to other colours as they mature, including the eryngiums that I grow. The striking bracts surrounding the central flower stalk of Eryngium 'Miss Wilmott's Ghost' are a particular favourite.

'Limelight' hydrangea is a stellar performer in my garden, producing huge, coneshaped clusters of flowers in the palest of green shades.

Others are also besotted with green flowers, as this book 'Green Flowers' by Alison Hoblyn demonstrates. I have this book and enjoy looking through it especially in the dead of winter. Naturally, it's from the good people at Timber Press.

There are green-flowered native plants to charm us, including the delightful Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)...

And more exotic choices such as the green-flowered hellebores.

I love Bells of Ireland for their faint minty fragrance as well as the complex beauty of their flowering stalks. As with many green flowers, the showy part of the 'flower' is actually a modified leaf called a bract.

In this case of Echinacea 'Green Envy', however, both the central cone and petals are delicious green. This was one of my must-have plants when it first was released and continues to be a favourite, long-blooming allstar in my garden.

I was able to acquire echinacea 'Green Jewel' this past summer, and it has also been a jewel of a performer, producing flowers until a hard frost sent it to napping.

I love nicotiana of any colour; this one isn't as fragrant as some of the species and other hybrids, but it was a great performer in containers this past summer. I'm not certain, but I think this is N. alata 'Lime Green.'

Many of the euphorbias boast acid-green flowers, (sort of the colour of Mountain Dew), which are especially attractive when planted near something dark. In the case of Euphorbia charachias 'Fens Ruby', the plant's foliage supplies the dark colour as a fabulous contrast to the flowers.

At least a couple of times during the winter, I indulge in some cut flowers, and HAVE to include green blossoms in the mix. Sometimes they're dyed, but other times they include Bells of Ireland or green chrysanthemums like these.

I look forward to the spring blooms of snowdrops with their happy green accents, but also love to see the lesser-planted but equally charming summer snowflake (Leucojum), which sort of resemble a snowdrop on steroids.

And despite the myriad of tulip colours that we can enjoy, some of my favourites are naturally the viridifloras, or green-flowered cultivars, like 'Spring Green'. They look cool and fresh alongside newly emerging hostas.

Are you a fan of green flowers? What are your favourites?

19 December 2010

What a gardener wants, what a gardener needs...

I don't think it's really very difficult to give gifts to gardeners for Christmas. From plants to pots, from garden art to a few yards of mulch, if it has to do with the garden, we're probably going to be happy with it. I do have some suggestions for the late, panic-stricken, longsuffering spouses out there who are trying to figure out what to give their gardener this Christmas season.

I only recommend companies, books, businesses or products that I have experience with.No one has paid me to make these recommendations, though in some cases I've been given products or discounts to try something out. Just so we're clear on that. In many other cases, I've simply bought the product or dealt with the business and am more than comfortable in recommending them.

Such is the case with buying bulbs, which I do through Botanus or GardenImport. Their bulbs are always top quality, huge, and shipped in perfect condition. And here's a case where gift certificates are ideal; we gardeners love to receive gift certificates, which we can use for planning our spring planting frenzies. More on those in a minute. Gift certificates, that is, not spring planting frenzies.

I have two pairs of Ethel gloves and just love them. The newest ones I got are made of bamboo, and are very comfortable, lightweight but easy to work with. That particular style isn't waterproof, but I have others for doing seriously soggy work. Locally, they're available at Halifax Seed, or can be mailordered from Rittenhouse if you're looking for styles not in stock at your local nursery or garden supply shop.

Every gardener likes to receive well made hand tools, whether secateurs or trowels, dibbers or pruning saws. I get mine either from Lee Valley or the Nova Scotian company TrailBlazer. But don't forget the junior gardener, who will be delighted by these rainbow coloured, safe-to-use tools from Lee Valley.

I don't care for a lot of department store garden lighting, especially those horrid plastic patio lanterns or the type that look like runway landing lights. I do, however, very much like the blown glass solar powered lights from Allsop Home and Garden. These are the Aurora Glow String lights, the 'Seaglass' colour. I have brought mine in for the winter, but had them up on the arbour all summer--my only problem was getting a good photo of them in the evening, but that's a fault of the photographer, not the product. I have one of the 'Firefly' lights as well, but I think you really need to have a few of them to make a good effect.

Garden art is always welcome, providing you know what the gardener likes. I got these metal crows from a young artist a few years ago, and I wish I knew where he had moved to--he does wonderful work from these small cutout type sculptures to large pieces in the shape of coneflowers, iris, cattails and more!

I'm sure wherever you are, there are local artisans who do garden-themed work, whether photography, sculptures, plant pots, wind chimes, or jewelry. I found these papier-tole monarch pieces at the Annapolis Royal Farmers Market this summer, but I have other interesting pieces including pewter earrings from Amos Pewter and copper leaf-shaped earrings from The Copper Meadow here in Canning.

I can never find nearly enough garden-themed Christmas ornaments to suit me, but I do have a few, including those created yearly by Amos Pewter in Mahone Bay. My office is filled with garden-themed items, though, from photo frames to clay tiles done by local artisans.

It's no secret that I am highly enamoured of bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Through the wonders of the garden blogging community, I discovered the exquisite artwork of Val Littlewood. I have three of her bee prints, and also her wonderful little book of collected drawings and paintings from her art show back in June.

Gardening and birding are two activities that naturally go together. My favourite place to buy bird feeders and related items is For The Birds Nature Shop in Mahone Bay, who sell a really fine diverse product line. They have garden items as well as bird feeders, baths, houses, weather stations, bird feed, binoculars and much more, and they have very good mail order service.

Obviously, we can't buy perennials, shrubs, trees or annuals at this time of year (at least in most of Canada) and expect them to survive. However, we can give gift certificates to local nurseries, to be redeemed next spring. Most of the nurseries that I patronize offer gift certificates.

I wrote in a recent garden column in the Halifax Herald that gardeners LOVE gift certificates, including handmade ones. We never have enough compost or mulch, or topsoil...or labour to help us with applying those things.

...for those on a budget, a gift certificate for a few hours labour weeding, planting, moving soil etc is a really, REALLY great idea. Or, a gift certificate for a garden consult, for those who are new to gardening or planning a renovation.

For myself, hubby is going to rebuild my greenhouse next spring, and I'm planning on making it a TARDIS-themed structure. Sadly, it's unlikely to travel through time, nor to be bigger on the inside than on the outside. But you just never know.

17 December 2010

Great Garden Reads: Recommendations for Christmas Giving

One of the very good things about this time of year is that we get to catch up on our reading, or at least we make a good attempt to. We also are thinking about what to get for the gardeners in our lives. As any gardener can tell you, most of us love to read about gardening, sigh over photos of gardens and plants; and there's a great crop of recently published books for the plant aficionado in your life. Here are some of my favourites from the past year.

I swear that Allan Armitage could make me enthusiastic about goutweed, he’s such a terrific and encouraging plantsman. His latest offering, Armitage’s Vines and Climbers, is a wonderful book for those who want to embrace the vertical dimension of gardening. Climbing and vining plants are ideal for any garden or gardener, with the trick being to select the right plant for your location. This is the third in a series Armitage has written (previous volumes are on perennials and native plants) and anything he writes is definitely worth having in your garden library.

Those of us who love plants are often as delighted by observing them in their native habitats as we are growing them in our homes or gardens. Newfoundland botanist and writer Todd Boland has put together a beautiful book in Wildflowers of Fogo Island and Change Islands, a book that can serve as a reference for much of Atlantic Canada. Boland is an excellent photographer as well as an entertaining, knowledgeable writer, and his book is much welcomed by those with interest in native flora.

Another writer from Newfoundland brings us the useful and wonderful field guide Edible Plants of Atlantic Canada. Peter J. Scott highlights more than sixty edible plant species found in woods, meadows, and other wildernesses throughout our region. The book is divided into generalized habitats (seaside, disturbed areas, peatlands, forest floor) to help novice collectors know what plants to look for according to the local ecology. Each plant entry includes one or two good photos of the species as well as notes about the edible portions, and there’s a modest recipe section included too. The book is bound in a durable, water-resistant cover, making it ideal to slip into a pack when going on an afternoon’s nature walk.

Lest someone think I’m biased against growing food plants, Incredible Edibles is a great book for the city-dweller with an itching to grow some fresh foods. Sonia Day, a well-known Canadian gardening writer and all around garden enthusiast, follows up on her highly entertaining Middle Aged Spread with this concise, easy-to-follow handbook of growing advice for “43 fun things to grow in the city.” From asparagus peas to zucchini, Day provides recommendations on how to grow vegetables, herbs, and small fruits, whether in containers or in small urban plots, indoors or out. Ideal for the beginner gardener with limited space and time, and also a great way to introduce children to the joys of growing food, the book also includes recipes for using that home-grown produce.

For sheer, soul-drenching colour and escapism, Exotic Gardens of the Eastern Caribbean isn’t quite as good as a trip down south, but it’s a nice alternative. The authors have visited many gardens on selected Caribbean islands—St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Barbados and Grenada—and have profiled a gorgeous range of plantings, from magnificent private residences with garden creations by landscape architects to lush public gardens. Written in both French and English, this coffee-table delight brims with dazzling photographs of the gardens but also includes intriguing tidbits about the inhabitants, gardeners or otherwise, that populate these tranquil island paradises. If you’ve ever visited one of these islands, this is a wonderful keepsake—if you’ve never been, it’s a temptation to go.

One of the most popular types of gardening in recent years has been gardening with succulents, whether hardy varieties for outside gardens or more tender species used in container plantings. Debra Lee Baldwin’s Succulent Container Gardens is a follow-up to her well-received Designing with Succulents, and is useful for gardeners of all experience levels. I have several dish gardens of succulents in my office, and pots of succulents brightening other rooms, so reading this new volume merely further whetted my appetite for the unusual, intriguing world of succulent plants. There’s no weeding to do with containerized plants, and much less work than tending an outdoor garden, so what’s not to like? It leaves us with more time to spend reading more books about plants.

Anyone who is a plant enthusiast knows that they don’t just sit there and grow—there are complicated chemical processes going on behind flowers and foliage. Some plants have truly odd characteristics, and these are highlighted in the delightfully named Bizarre Botanicals. You’ll find no humdrum hostas or proper petunias within these pages—here are carnivorous plants that “catch” insects for food, plants with spores that burst into flame, plants that smell like decomposing flesh so as to lure in pollinators. Some are stunningly beautiful, others very strange in appearance, but all are fascinating. The authors, both botanists and horticulturists, profile more than 75 unique plants, all of which can be grown as houseplants under the right conditions.

For something a little more practical for most of us, check out Bloom’s Best Perennials and Grasses. Adrian Bloom is a plantsman extraordinaire who has both the connoisseur’s eye and the ability to encourage any gardener of any expertise level. He profiles nearly 400 perennials and ornamental grasses, showing how they can be used in the landscape, and reveals his top twelve plants, most recommended for great performance in the widest range of gardening conditions.

My personal “across-the-pond” horticultural hero is the late Christopher Lloyd, an inspiration to countless gardeners around the world. In The View from Great Dixter, dozens of Lloyd’s friends, students, and colleagues, including his gardener Fergus Garrett, recount anecdotes from lessons learned during their time visiting or working at Lloyd’s family estate of Great Dixter, in southest England. They paint a loving tribute of a gardener, and a garden, the likes of which we will not soon see again. Christo, as his friends called him, had an acerbic and quick wit, and suggested a most excellent way of dealing with forgotten plant names when visiting another’s garden. “Kick it gently with your foot, and then casually ask “What are you calling this nowadays?”

Generally I flinch away from books in the “For Dummies” or “Complete Idiot’s” series, but I really like The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Year-Round Gardening. The authors don’t presume their readers are idiots, but rather fellow gardeners who just need a little extra in the way of advice and suggestions on how to engage in their favourite avocation all year long. Maybe we can’t grow vegetables outside in January in Nova Scotia, but there are certainly garden-related activities for the entire year.

I’m quite clear that I am unlikely to ever visit the Chelsea Flower Show, the epitome of garden shows held in London, England every year since 1912. But with Best Garden Design by Chris Young, any gardener can receive practical inspiration on bringing a fresh, exciting look to one’s own garden. Young presents tips from the expert designers who showcase at Chelsea, as well as case studies on particular designs showing why they work and how to achieve something similar. Nova Scotian gardeners will have to adapt somewhat for plant hardiness, but there are enough delightful variations in design, from post-modern to classical, that any reader should take away something from this book.

You don’t have to be an entomologist to enjoy the wonderfully readable Bees, Wasps and Ants. In fact, the author stresses that his lively volume is not a field guide for identifying these insects, of which there are an estimated mere 150,000 or so species. What he does with this volume is bring us into the world of these important insects, which are variously “cows, police, wolves, pollinators and recyclers.” Along the way, he focuses on the importance that bees, wasps and ants have for gardeners, and shows us how to make better gardeners by encouraging and embracing biodiversity rather than running for the insecticide the first time an ant marches past us on the walkway.

I'm told that I need to start promoting my own forthcoming book a little bit. So: Plants for Atlantic Gardens will be out in late February or early March of 2011. It's not in time for Christmas, but it will be in time for spring planning and pre-planting. There we go. I've done my deed for the time being. You can't get this one now, but you can get the rest of these, and any of them would be welcomed by the gardener in your life--or as a treat to yourself. Happy Christmas reading, everyone.

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