Monday, July 11, 2016

A gift of weeds

June was an extraordinary month for roses. They were off the hook. People keep coming up to me and telling me how amazing their roses are and I’m loath to crush their spirits, but this year everyone’s roses were incredible. I chalk it up to a very dry winter and spring and therefore far fewer opportunities for black spot to do it’s decimating dance, but also the mildness of the weather meant fewer delicate beauties had a chance to do the dieback and death thing. But now it’s July and if you haven’t been vigilant the weeds are fairly impressive as well.

I gauge my weeding success by the garden cartful. Tuesday I had four – well technically five, but I left the cart in the garden as there was still room for a few more green bodies before it got dragged to the compost pile. Today I have almost a hundred ferns to get into the ground, but first I must weed. I’m not big on weeding. As I’ve written before I try and plant so densely that the weeds don’t have room to establish, much less grow and bloom, but I let my hesperis (Dame’s Rocket) run rampant this spring and now as I rip each collapsed clump out of the soil, I have smothered perennials, and therefore quite a few gaping holes to deal with. But I’m fine with it. It’s just an opportunity to buy more plants.

Weeding can be an almost meditative activity if you allow it to be, as you must focus when you are weeding. If not, you will rip good plants out with the bad, especially if you let the weeds get out of control. So it’s best to do a little weeding everyday. And those of us who do, are rewarded with a repetitive activity that helps you learn to be totally engaged in the present. Totally focused on what you are doing. Being in the moment, not thinking about what you should have done, or what you can do in the future, but concentrating on the actions your hands are taking is the best way I’ve found to relax and let go. Not of the root I’m teasing out of the soil, but of the day. It is a good thing to focus. To be present enough to see which stalks are good, which are bad, which needs both hands and which needs just a little finger scuffle to be removed. Some roots need to come out completely, some roots can just have their foliage snipped off and some roots are actually useful. Useful you ask? What weed is useful? Well technically, the dandelion works as a wick for calcium, bringing it up through the soil to the leaves of the plant, which if left to decay will release the nutrient back to the surface of the soil for other plants to take up.

Hmm? Not that interested in letting dandelions take over your lawn and garden beds? I understand. However if, like me, you have bees, you will have learned how much they love and appreciate the golden suns of the dandelions flowers as a food source.  I have become tolerant of dandelions, although I do try and pop off the heads before they become the lion manes of seeded fluff. I’m somewhat successful, but I still have quite a few dandelions, and I accept that. It’s one of the most Zen things I do.

Gardening has taught me to accept imperfections and to enjoy chance encounters. I have a purple cleome that in now blooming along with Lauren Grape Poppies in a place I don’t remember seeding either plant, but they are beautiful. They clash somewhat with the scarlet Jacob Kline monarda that dominates the bed where they’ve decided to grow, but so does the unnamed ripe peach colored rose that has determined the middle of the monarda patch is the only place in my garden where it will thrive. It’s not a color theme I would have chosen, but all four of these plants’ successes make me happy. And that happiness helps me breathe.

Learning to breathe, learning to be, accepting the garden for what it is instead of focusing on what it could be; these are all lessons that have helped me in all different moments of life, and if I remember to think of them when facing stressful situations, I handle myself better. I have learned, the hard way, that if you go out to the garden to weed and you are upset or angry or frustrated, and you don’t leave those emotions by the “garden gate” so to speak, you fail. You rip up the peas when trying to remove jewelweed, you get handfuls of nepeta instead of creeping Charlie. Those emotions do not work when weeding. You have to stop holding on to them so tight. You have to put down the wrongs of the day, the week, the year and instead pick up a trowel.

This year I’m frustrated by many things in life, as I am almost every year, but I’m not bringing those feelings out among the roses. The weeds themselves could be another source of frustration if I let them, but the felling of accomplishment, of a job well done when I rediscover the cucumber that has been buried beneath pokeweed and black locust seedling, is a feeling that is too lovely to deny.
I am embracing my weeds and their removal as a gift from the universe, the chance to feel joy from clearing an entire bed of nut sedge, the pleasure of astrantia, long hidden finally getting a chance to extend itself up to the sun. The height with which my compost pile is building up to the sky is a visual reinforcement of accomplishment.  And for that I am grateful. Not that I’m volunteering to come weed your garden anytime soon. I have plenty of my own weeds. In my garden and in the rest of my life, but I am grabbing them by the roots and removing them, sometimes careful, something with a ferocious vigor, but with lately, with more and more success.

Paige Patterson is running out of room in her garden but that hasn’t stopped any plants from jumping into her car.

Friday, May 13, 2016

The naming of plants

No one knows how to pronounce the word clematis. I pronounce it KLEM-UH-TIS but many others pronounce it KLEE-MAH-TIS. The truth is, there’s no real, 100% correct way to pronounce it, as we have no one who still really speaks Latin to correct our pronunciation the way Parisians do when I try and use their native tongue to get directions to Giverney or to purchase a baguette. The fact is, that unless you are reversing the syllables or dropping them (as I sometimes am guilty of doing) it is always better to ask for a plant by its botanic name instead of its common one, even if you mangle the Latin a little in the process.

The reason is simple. Plants have far too many common names and they are super confusing. Doesn’t a garden filled with Our Lady in a Boat, Chinese Pants, Venus’s Car, Lyre Flower, Bleeding Heart and Lady’s Locket sound super? Like a fabulous cottage garden filled with the most wonderful flowers right? Unfortunately, such a garden would just be a solid mass of Dicentra spectabilis, since those are all names by which it is known.

When we make plant tags at the nursery we always try and put both the Latin and the common name on the tags, but the large number of common names can sometimes make that a little complicated. Salvia splendens ‘Bonfire’ could be commonly called Bonfire Scarlet Sage. Or it could be Bonfire Splendid Sage. Or even Bonfire Tropical Sage. With a common name all three words are capitalized and the name starts with the cultivar (without the single quotes used to indicate it’s a cultivar in the Latin name) and is followed by the most common, common name, each word of which is capitalized, i.e. Scarlet Sage.

So who determines which common name to use? Well at most nurseries, it’s the person making the tags, so when I was entering the information, I would use the word Hosta for both the common and the Latin name of that plant, but technically I’d be wrong. The correct common name is Plantain Lily, although Funkier is used to be the more common, common name. But in common usage hosta is the word all our gardeners use. Should we use Coral Bells or Alumroot when referring to plants in the heuchera family? I never call artemesia Wormwood, I just call it Artemesia, the same way I refer to forsythia, magnolia, hydrangeas, and clematis by their Latin names only. I’d never call a gingko a Maidenhair Tree but I’ve do call aruncus Goatsbeard.  So it’s a dilemma.

Not that figuring out the Latin names is any easier. You would think the professionals growing these plants would use a consistent source of information to be the reference guides but in the world of perennials, annuals and herbs, but there doesn’t seem to be one. Allan Armitage, a god in horticultural circles, tends to be the most up to date on the perennials and annuals, but even he has said it is impossible to keep up in a printed form as names and cultivars keep changing, growing and expanding.

He has written the textbook on perennials, and another on annuals, biennials and half-hardy perennials and we treat both as bibles in the Marders reference library, but there are too many plants that are not classified within them. The Royal Horticultural A-Z  Encyclopedia of garden plants is also a good source, but it too is not that up to date. And online listings don’t really help either – much to my distress the Brooklyn Botanic Garden uses the Andersen Horticultural Library's Plant Information Online, which only uses the first part of the Latin binomial.

“Wait, wait, wait Paige, what the heck is a binomial?” I hear you ask.  I’m so glad you asked.

A plant’s botanical name consists of two words, and is therefore referred to as a "binomial." The first word represents the larger group the plant belongs to, the genus, and its first letter is always capitalized. The second word is the species and it is always lowercase. A plant’s binomial name should be written in full but lots of nurseries and growers and plant breeders don’t bother.

Most growers actually sell the above-mentioned salvia as Salvia Bonfire, without bothering with the single quotes or the second half of the binomial.  Which makes me crazy. Not because I’m a control freak (although I am a tad) but because when you see a list of plants to buy from and only the first part of the name is used, you really have no idea what you’re getting. I happen to love Salvia nemorosas and loathe Salvia verticillatas, so luckily, because I am a plant junkie, I know that ‘Hypnotic Purple’ and ‘Salute Pink’ are salvias I want to try but that I can skip ‘Endless Love’ – but does a regular, non-plantaholic know the difference? I think nemorosas are significantly better plants, but if a first time gardener buys a plant named Salvia ‘Endless Love’ and is disappointed it’s the way verticillatas look and perform, they’re going to think all salvias are sort of blah and are going to miss out of some excellent plants.

Other then the basic binomial a Latin name can include subspecies, varieties and cultivars. A subspecies (preceded by the abbreviation "subsp.") is a geographically separate population within a species that is almost, but not quite, a separate species.  A botanical variety (preceded by "var.") is a distinct variant occurring in the same populations as ordinary examples of a species. Both of these additions are really not necessary for the home gardener to know, so it’s up for debate as to whether they should go onto our tags. If you know plants, you know that sometime they’re helpful but very few people in the business of retailing plants use them, including most of the vendors we work with in the perennial and annual world. I know, I know, I hear you yawning but hear me out.

A cultivar (CULTIvated VARiety), or selection, is a type that is not naturally occurring. These have been bred or crossed or chosen for some special characteristic. Cultivar names are a word or words in a modern language (NOT Latin) set off in single quotes and capitalized, but not italicized, such as Salvia splendens ‘Bonfire’.

Hybrids, or crosses between different species, are given unique names that are preceded with an x, indicating that this plant is a hybrid between two species — for example, Salvia x superba is a hybrid of S. sylvestris and S. villicaulis. Sometimes that "x" inadvertently gets dropped along the way; this plant is often listed as Salvia superba. And I’m not positive that many of the people who sell us these plants even know for sure when something is a cross or not, and even less know what that cross is.  At the nursery we can decide on having the x or taking it out. I tend to leave it in but I am a maniac.

Another problem we have is that when botanists make taxonomic name changes as a result of advances in botanical knowledge (e.g. the Chrysanthemum genus was recently split into eight different genera, including Dendranthema, Tanacetum, and Leucanthemum) it may take years for the horticultural industry to adopt them, but should we be up to date with the changes? Should our tags have the new names? And will this help or confuse our customers? We could add the new name to the old name with a slash i.e. Chrysanthemum/Dendranthema but some growers will use the old name and some the new – this is the case with Actea/Cimicifuga for example. Cimicifuga has had this new name for years, but very few people, including some awfully good gardeners, use it or know it.  

Do you know Solenostemon scutellarioides? That’s the new name for some of our good friends Coleus blumei. I’m not going to be able to remember that; to be honest, I didn’t even know the second name of Coleus was blumei, and when they shelved the name coleus not all of the plants became scutellarioides. Instead a number of them were moved into the plectranthus category. And of course, to bring us full circle, my adored Dicentra spectabilis has now got a new Latin name as well. Its Lamprocapnos spectabilis – I mean come on, are they kidding me? There’s no way I’m not going to mangle that.  But I’m going to still beg you to try and use the Latin name, if only to prevent you from picking up the annual Chinese Forget-Me-Nots (Cynoglossum amiable) and planting them all in your shade garden expecting them to self seed into a big carpet of blue Forget-Me-Nots which is actually an entirely different species of plant. What you want is the Myosotis sylvatica –  the word Myosotis coming from the Greek word for mouse’s ear, and although the flowers look remarkably similar they’re very little else that about them that is.

Paige Patterson says there’s no such thing as too many hydrangeas – thus the ‘After Midnight’ in her car.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Not the usual suspects

Tired of piles of zucchini overwhelming your kitchen? Not that interested in growing yet one more tomato? Bored with squash? I feel you. I too have gotten to the point where I just can’t stomach the idea of planting yet another row of cilantro to be ready when the currant ones bolt. I don’t have one of those gorgeous, picture perfect potagers, because, as we all know I’m just not that into weeding. So if I’m going to have to slave over something and tend to it’s every little whim and need, I want it to be something extraordinary, or at least something worth talking about.

This is how I discovered cucamelons or Mexican Sour Gherkin Cucumbers (Melothria scabra). A friend was distributing the bounty from his garden in exchange for some of my chickens’ eggs and he handed me a baggie filled with what looked like dollhouse watermelons. Tiny little striped ovals, which he just popped into my mouth. Wow, crazy, pure cucumber taste with a little zip of lime, these babies were delicious and one of the niftiest things I’d ever seen to throw in a salad or on a crudités platter. It has to be the “cutest” edible I’ve ever come across and one of the easiest to grow.

Cucamelons grow just like cucumber, in that they want sun and fertile soil and decent water, but unlike cucumbers, they are super reliable and take up a lot less room.  Still a vine, they need some support to clamber upon, but they’re easy to start from seed and fairly prolific once they get going.
And to go along with the theme, we need to grow one of the melons called Metki serpent melons (Cucumis melo var. flexuosus) – a muskmelon (Cucumis melo) that also tastes like a cucumber (Cucumis sativus). Often called Armenian cucumber and usually found among the cucumbers in seed listings, these melons are almost identical in shape and flavor to the cucumber. They get their name from the fact that they can grow to be almost three feet long, and if not grown on a trellis or support structure of some kind, will twist up into squiggles that sort of resemble snakes.  They are ridged when growing and have a fuzzy skin, but when mature smooth out into one of three colors, a pale green to white color, a dark green or striped, which is the best looking.

I am a huge fan of gooseberries and currants (Ribes) so those shrubs are pushing their way into spaces where radishes and spinach used to grow. When I was a child in England, my favorite desert of all time was gooseberry crumble and I still salivate thinking about it. Ribes were outlawed in America in the early 1900s to prevent white pine blister rust (a fungus they are susceptible to) from affecting the lumber industry, the federal ban was lifted in 1966 but it wasn’t until 2003 that New York State started to allow home gardeners to legally grow these fruits. There are two types of gooseberry plants, the American (Ribes hirtellum) which make smaller fruits but are way more productive and less susceptible to mildew (the one bummer about growing Ribes) and the European (Ribes uva-crispa) which are larger and much more flavorful. Unlike most fruits, gooseberries can handle partial shade, but make sure there’s plenty of air circulation to help you battle mildew. They must have rich soil since they resent drying out, but they adore our soil and even if you get small plants give them about 3 to 5 feet of room to expand as they grow. I promise you the effort is worth it.

Another unusual fruit worth growing is our native elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) a fast growing shrub that the deer don’t seem to like. This might be because the berries when red are toxic, so make sure you’re not harvesting them until they are at their most purple blackness. This is a big plant (it can grow to be 12 feet wide and tall) that has a tendency to sucker, so you need to give it room. I would advise planting it in a hedgerow, not the vegetable garden and trying to find a number of different cultivars as the fruits are better with cross pollination (much like blueberries.) This is another plant that can handle a little shade and although they tolerate neglect, you’ll get a lot more fruit if you keep them well-watered and top-dressed with compost each year. You harvest the berries by cutting off the entire cluster and must cook the fruits to make juice, jelly or wine. I’ve not tried the wine, but I do like them mixed with apples as a pie filling. I do have to battle my birds to be able to really enjoy large harvest, but when I don’t, I never have to worry about them going to waste.

Another native edible that’s worth trying is the pawpaw (Asimina) of which there are actually 9 native species but only one (Asimina triloba) is hardy in our area. These are trees so if your pawpaw is in full sun it’s going to get about 20 feet or so tall and would be happiest allowed to sucker into a big pawpaw patch.  Paw paws are not self fertile, so you need to have two to get fruit set, and the best way to ensure a full crop is help with the pollination with an artist’s paint brush. Seedlings can’t handle full sun, but most of the trees you’ll find will be past that stage so plant them where they’ll get plenty of it. However, do try to avoid planting them in a windy spot, as the leaves can’t handle the constant stress. This might sound like a lot of work, but the fruits are really quite delicious, with the texture of a banana and a flavor that is almost as if you mashed up that banana with a mango and a pear.

I don’t grow pawpaws, but I do have a fruiting quince (Cydonia oblonga) that is one of my favorite plants. Quince resemble hard fuzzy pears that have a fragrance that smells like the offspring of a pineapple and a lemon that made love in a vat of honey.  The fruit is either yellow or pink and rock hard so these are not for fresh eating, but make an incredible jelly and are ready to be harvested sometime in October. It’s not a pretty plant, so mine is tucked around the side of my house, but I adore the plant and will always have one somewhere on any property I own, albeit in as much sun as I can spare and without fertilizer as too much nitrogen makes this plant stress.

Of course, if we’re talking about incredible jelly the other plant that we should all grow is our native beach plum (Prunus maritima). When I was a kid, there were a billion beach plums growing in the dunes (where houses now unfortunately sprout) and almost everyone and their neighbor had a stockpile of beach plum jelly put up for the winter, not to mention that they all also had their own favorite, well guarded secret bushes from which they’d picked their preferred berries. Some of the most delicious fruits are actually growing on two shrubs in the center of The Bayberry Nursery’s perennial sales area and in late summer it’s worth a visit just to steal a few of these tart little treats. Totally tolerant of the salty air and sandy soils of the beach, this plant can also be grown in the backyard and is a perfect shrubby bush to grow if your garden is not all that fertile and you have plenty of light.

But enough with the fruit. A list of other fun things to grow would definitely include lovage (Levisticum officinale) a plant that tastes almost identical to celery but is significantly easier to grow. Normally seeded in late summer or fall, you’ll probably want to start with a young plants instead and in good soil the plant is magnificent with leaves that look like giant parsley and are delicious when used in any recipe that calls for celery and with gorgeous white umbel flowers that set seeds that mature in August. Seeds that are amazing scattered into salads and fruit (they are surprisingly sweet) and that will self sow if left alone, but are better planted farther apart. You might not need a million lovage plants around the garden, but once you’ve cut a stalk to use as a Bloody Mary “straw” I promise you will never go back to celery again.

This year, I’m thinking about growing the rat tailed radish (Raphanus sativus caudatus), specifically because instead of eating the root, you consume the seedpods. Sort of ugly, the pods have that same hot radish flavor, but are an entirely different texture and since I’m a huge consumer of vegetative matter, I’m interested to see what these things are like. Plus they’re meant to be super cool in a stir-fry, fantastic pickled in vinegar with pink peppercorns, allspice and mace and another cool addition to the crudités platter. The seed pods can get to be 8 inches long and are grown in the same way you would grow any other radish, except that you don’t have to tear your hair out it the bolt to seed quicker than expected.

The other day I actually saw seeds of garden purslane (Portulaca oleracea), which has become this hot thing in restaurants all of a sudden, but frankly I draw the line at seeding things in my garden I’ve weeded up previously. I used the weed when making salads, and it is really quite delicious, with a sharp, citrusy tang and a bit of a bite, the succulent leaves add an interesting and distinct texture to herby salads, plus it’s super high in Vitamin C but I enough of these plants have already found their own way into my garden. I’m not bringing in more.

There are so many other interesting and unusual edibles I could go on and on, but I have no more room, in either my garden or this column. But just a few to ask around about would be ground cherries, stevia, pomegranates, kiwis, amaranth, tastoi and perilla. Be careful with the perilla though, as mine self-seeded all over the place. Not that self-seeding is bad, I now let all my self-seeded cilantro go to seed since the seeds of cilantro are actually coriander (two, two, two herbs in one!) and fresh coriander seeds, unlike the dried and dusty ones you get at the store in the tiny glass bottles, are significantly more delicious and work equally well when thrown in with a cooking salmon or a bunch of freshly picked peas.

Paige Patterson has too many tomatoes planted on her property, which is, of course, no big surprise.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

So you say you need a tree

This Sunday will be the first day of spring, which marks many things in the gardening calendar, but for me, it is the beginning of the season when people start saying they need a tree. Now sometimes they know exactly what they want, “I’m looking for a pair of 7 inch caliper Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck Purple’ please,” But most of the time they don’t. So I ask them a series of questions.

First I ask where they live, and if they have deer, to make sure they know when they choose their trees, which will be eaten and which won’t. Then I ask what do they want the tree to do? Do they need it to block their view of something or is it going to be a focal point? Do they want it to give shade, or to flower, or to be interesting to look at all season long? Is the tree is going to be in sun or in shade? Do they want it to be tall or short? I ask where is it going in their garden and how much room do they have for this tree? And then I ask them if they need it to be an evergreen or a deciduous tree. Most of the time they can give me an answer, to at least some of the questions, and we’ll jump in one of the golf carts and zoom over to the areas where the trees that most readily meet their expectations are standing. We use a golf cart because we’ve got to cover 14 acres and the trees that I need to show people are never all gathered together in one spot, quietly waiting.

Occasionally the people I’m questioning just seem to glaze over or look at me cock-eyed as I run through my litany. So I speak to them in a different way. I ask them about their tastes, how they live and what makes them happy. “What kind of house do you have and what does your garden already have in it that you like? Do you need the tree to be green all year long, or is it okay if it loses its leaves? Are you trying to screen out your neighbors house, or to get a little shade by the patio? What shape tree gets you excited? Do you want a multi-stem or a tree with a single trunk?” This last is always an interesting question in that a few trees can come both ways; crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia) and swamp maples (Acer rubrum) come instantly to mind; and most people have very definite expectations of how their trees should grow (multi-stemmed crape myrtles are preferred five to one while swamp maples are expected to have a single trunk.) “Do you want it to look like a lollipop – as if it was drawn by a child, or a vase, or irregular?” Sometimes these questions get us a little further along the way to making our decisions, but sometimes we just get into the golf cart and drive around looking at shapes. Gumdrop. Shrubby. Pyramidal. Vase. Compact. Espaliered. Blob on a stick. Squiggly. Columnar. Oval. Topiaried. Spreading. Open. Layered. Weeping. Weeping is actually a fascinating shape, people either love them or hate them, there really doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

“Do you want it to look formal or loose and more organic? Do you want it to look like you planted it or that it grew on the property from seed? Is this tree going to stand by itself or be in a row? Do they want to line a driveway? Do you want to see it when you drive in or from the master bedroom?” I don’t normally ask people how much money they want to spend, because once we figure out what kind of trees they need or like, we can always find it either smaller or larger, but sometimes they come in asking which is my best bargain. Other times they want to see what’s the most expensive tree we have. Some folks want it to be fully mature, while others want to plant it to grow along with them.

There’s almost always a tree that meets people’s dreams (excepting of course those folks who want an upright evergreen, shade tolerant, deer-resistant, flowering evergreen that tops out at about 10 feet. I tell those people I want that tree too, and if we invent or bred one, we can retire as zillionaires.) For the rest there’s always a tree that’ll meet their wants, but sometimes it won’t work in their realities. I can use both evergreens and deciduous trees to block a view. But it you need to screen out that new house that’s just been built right on your property line and your property slopes down so you’re much lower then they are, I could get you a row of Japanese cedars (Cryptomeria japonica) that are tall enough, but they might cost more than your house did. So sometimes there’s compromises.

I know you’ve always wanted a huge Yoshino flowering cherry (Prunus x yodensis) like the ones in Washington, but since there’s pretty deep shade in the spot you are describing, it’s not going to be happy there. I know, that as a salesperson, people expect me to just give them whatever they want, but a larger part of my job is actually saying no to people who want to put a tree in the wrong place. 

Saying no and suggesting something better, that’s really one of the cruxes of the picking out the perfect tree. No you can’t put a European hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) where it’s going to get salt spray from the ocean, even if you’re a couple of blocks from the beach – if the new foliage gets salt on it, it’ll be toast; a fern leaf beech (Fagus aspleniflora) or any other beech would be a far better choice. No a southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) will not work on the bright, but never sunny north side of your house, but a silverbell (Halesia carolina) would be fantastic there as would the variegated butterfly Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Butterfly’), or a white flowered eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Alba'). I agree that Hollywood junipers (Juniperus torulosa) look amazing in the dunes, but the deer will most definitely eat them in the winter unless you want to wrap them in burlap or fencing. You could substitute white spruce (Picea glauca) which are significantly more deer resistant but unfortunately, look a little incongruous in the dunes, or you could go with Japanese black pines (Pinus thunbergii) but they are susceptible to turpentine beetles. Me, personally, I would wrap the Hollywoods, because they are gorgeous, but this is your choice.

I want to make people happy when they choose their tree, because trees matter. They are significant in both how they change a property and how they make us feel. Trees ground us, and connect us with the earth. So we all want the trees we choose to not just survive, but to thrive.

Then there are the tree collectors. These are people who know almost as much as I do about trees, and sometimes more, and with them, exploring the nursery is a huge treat. They’re the people I snap and email photos for to the moment something crazy, new, unusual or beautiful comes off the trucks. Some of them have huge houses, some tiny properties, some live right around the corner while others live in completely different states, but shopping for trees with them is always exciting. They’re the ones that understand how cool a weeping astringent persimmon (Diospyros kaki ‘Pendula’) is and can discuss with me the merits of it versus the more common Magic Fountain weeping persimmon (Diasporas virginiana 'JN5') – not only in regards to shape, but with a whole long debate on the variable pros and cons of astringent versus non astringent fruits. I adore these folks and have a few whom I have been choosing trees with for over a decade, trees which I’ve helped place and obsess over almost as much as they have, but selling anyone a tree is a chance to get to know them and a chance for me to help them get to know trees, and what could be better than that?

I love selling people trees, not only because there are so many fantastic ones to choose from and because they truly will transform a space with their addition, but because teaching people about trees and talking to people who love trees is a conversation that has the possibility of going almost anyplace. It’s science and nature and beauty and color and form and texture and history and emotion, all wrapped up in a single package of burlap and string.

Paige Patterson has just placed an order for a whole mess of gooseberries to be shipped to her this spring because they remind her of when she was a child living in England.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Repeat Customers

The sky is an electric blue today and the sun is out so the chickens and I are both sunning ourselves on the kitchen porch. The chickens are far more relaxed than I am, lying on their sides on the new doormats stretching their fully extended legs out to get the most of the sun’s beating down warmth.  I tossed handfuls of poppy seeds out into the snow, seeds I bought for a song at the last Hamptons Horticultural Alliance lecture, and I’m watching the squirrels trying to outsmart the squirrel proof feeder that’s filled with hulled sunflower seeds, because I’m recklessly generous when it comes to my birds. It’s a good day.

I’ve been purchasing seeds for myself as well with a vengeance, especially since the Baker Creek seeds finally arrived at Marders, and as I was rifling through the gorgeous packages someone asked if I needed cilantro. Hahahahahaha. Cilantro was planted once in my veggie garden and has been self seeding there with impunity ever since. Cilantro and Bronze fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ‘Purpureum’): are two plants I will never need to buy seeds for again. My fennel has actually escaped the vegetable garden and is now traveling through the flower and shrubby areas of my garden in a way that would be super scary if I didn’t actually love the plant.  I have a similar thing going on with Dames Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) but again, it’s a plant I adore so I’m not that upset about it. 

Unfortunately, Dames Rocket is now categorized by the DEC as an invasive plant, and they’re not wrong to accuse it as such, it’s just that I, like Marie Antoinette, am a huge fan. Actually, Marie is meant to have been super fond of the white variety and although I’ve considered ripping out all the lavender and other purple shades, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It’s Sarah Raven who gives us the tidbit about Ms. Antoinette, raves about the plant, and also uses the seedpods in flower arrangements – a brilliant idea I’m going to steal. Others have less nice things to say, but I don’t care as it does its thing right around the same time as my allium and my foxgloves and I crave its lushness at that time. I do have a form of control at my house, where, after it has bloomed I pull up some of the plants and cut back the soon to be seedpods on others, so it’s not taken over entirely, but I would never eliminate it, as the scent is crazy good and a real magnet for hummingbirds. It would also be a brilliant addition to an evening scented garden as the slightly cinnamony fragrance becomes more pungent with nightfall.

Speaking of invasives, I confess I to having lythrum in my garden. It’s been there about a decade or two and it’s just hanging about, not really spreading or doing anything thug like which I will admit was somewhat disappointing after the rampant way I’d seen it take over wet roadsides in Massachusetts. I had the plant for ages before it went on the DEC NYS invasive plant list and think it’s fascinating how differently plants behave on different properties. This year, I believe, Miscanthus sinensis is going to be on the invasive plant list as is the Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus.) Both are sold as “regulated” now, which means they are being sold with a warning tag attached, but the “prohibited” label is almost certain to be landed this year. I adore my burning bush. Enormous when I bought my house, it was the victim of an unfortunately miscommunicated conversation where I asked it for it to be pruned back by 12 inches and it was instead hacked back to a foot from the ground. It was a hysteric day but the plant recovered nicely and smacks me in the face each fall with it’s blistering red. 

I don’t know what plant we’re going to use to replace all the miscanthus that is sold in the Hamptons, as this is one of the few stalwarts left standing on the deer resistant plant list.  I’m leaning towards the fargesia family of clumping bamboos for a similar look, height and feel, but they’re significantly harder plants to find since they’re much less commonly grown. It should be an interesting spring. Now neither my euonymus nor my miscanthus has ever given me even a single offspring in the twenty plus years that I’ve had my house, but my viburnums and my buddleias, well that’s a very different story. 

Some of these plants have been here since the first spring I bought my house so it’s strange that it took them so long to go crazy, but in the last couple of years, both these suckers are popping up everywhere. I don’t know what happened – if there’s some genetic variant in some neighbors’ yard nearby that’s responsible for the genetic little legs these plants have inherited or if it is my bees that are responsible (the invasion shortly thereafter the bees came into my life) but I could open a nursery with these babies. I’ve dug up and transplanted them all and so far the butterfly bushes are not that impressive florally (I keep hoping I’ll get some cross pollinated superstar) but they keep the bees and hummers happy. The viburnums are just starting to get to blooming size so we shall see it there’s anything worth keeping here as well, but from the way these two are shooting around the garden I think they’re going to join their brethren on the invasive list pretty darn soon. It seems to only be viburnum plicatum types that are seeding, but I shall report back more after the summer when they’ve flowered.

            Naturally, there is of course one plant on the list that I am sort of longing for called Wild Chervil (Anthriscus sylvestris) in its purple foliaged cultivar form called “Ravenswing.’ This flower has dominated the Chelsea Plant Show for years as it looks like a pink Queen Anne’s Lace flower on top with dark purple,  cut leaf foliage that rivals any cimicifuga you could ever hope to meet. And I just happen to have a package or two of seeds that have somehow found their way home with me. But it’s scary entering the world of the invasive plant.

There are two other plants on that list that I wish had never been introduced to my garden, the Iris pseudacorus which I’m been removing for 15 years at least by now, and the Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria). I don’t even know how to begin to get rid of the celandine unless I nuke the whole area it’s taken over, and we all know I’m chemically adverse at this point in my life. The iris isn’t as bad, it’s just that it’s gotten among a bunch of plants I want to save and I have to dig everything up and trash the iris without demoing the other plants but if I focused on it,  it could be done. The celandine is an entirely different story. Although said to be Wadsworth’s favorite flower, it’s out of control in a shade bed right outside the kitchen window and is suffocating all my other shade plants. Spreading by both seed and tiny little corms, the trick is to dig the whole plant up and try and get out all those corms. This is of course much easier said than done, which is why I’m still battling it. I will confess that I think I was silly and actually purchased the hideous thing ages ago, so I am solely to blame for the terrible damage it has done. 

I deeply regret planting the thing, but I need to confess something to you, and that is that I still long for the Cypress Spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) I put into a clients garden 15 years ago. It too is hideously invasive, and on the list, but I adore the chartreuse flowers and the coniferesque, fernlike foliage. It’s a euphorbia, so you have to wear gloves when cutting it and then burn the stems with a lighter, but it’s gorgeous in early spring bouquets. I haven’t been to that property in a while as the owners got Lyme’s disease and lost his interest in gardening, but I fantasize about digging up a chunk and planting it in my own east back border that is already home to a variety of mints and Gooseneck Loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides) and Dames Rocket and all those random self-seeded viburnum and buddleia seedlings. It could be a thugs’ gallery so to speak. A bed that’s a mixed tapestry of flowering shrubs with underplantings of things I need for cuttings, but don’t want to take over the world. So who knows, so I might still someday dig up a few plants and transplant those suckers. Bad Paige.

Paige Patterson is also battling Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Purple Shiso (Perilla frutescens) and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatorium maculatum) – none of which she will confess to having planted.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Recharging in the cold

Like most gardeners, I get a break in the month of January and February to rest and recharge just as my garden does (although this year is going to be a little peculiar, what with my tulips pushing up and my rhubarb sprouting flower stalks in January.) And during this time I gorge on gardening books, magazines and catalogs and attend gardening lectures and symposiums. This satieties my soul the way pea soup and cornbread carries you through a wet and cold January afternoon.

As I work constantly through the gardening year, I rarely have a chance to go on all the garden tours and open houses other plantaholics flock to, so my visiting of other people gardens happens in a darkened room on a stiff seat facing a screen. I have been to Europe with Charlotte Moss, watched Arne Maynard demonstrate his thoughts on various sites’ vernacular and seen Jinny Blom, Sarah Price and Penelope Hobhouse discuss how frustrating it is to be a woman in the garden design field and have it assumed that men helped create their designs.  

Last week I drooled over Debra Nivens plant palette in California and exulted in the way she planted new plane trees all askew and leaning to match the existing ones on the site she was redesigning. Over the next month I will be making the drive to the New York Botanic Garden three times to hear three different Chelsea Garden Show winners talk about the idiosyncrasies of their personal design processes. And I’ll also be dropping in at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in a few weeks to join Thomas Rainer and Claudia West as they speak about their new book, Planting in a Post-Wild World.This is one of my favorite parts of the winter. The learning. I set up Pinterest pages on plants I must have and voraciously consume blogs as if just struck with the gardening bug.  I fold over the pages of various catalogues and write next to entries phrases such as “Need 30.” “Yes!!!” “Finally.” And, “for under the magnolia grove.” When I feed my brain by finally chewing my way through the enormous piles of gardening books and magazines that have sprung up (more hoarder like then fairy ring I’m afraid) around the house I get excited about the possibilities and promise of the back 40 -- one of the Pinterest pages is actually called “the Back 40’ – and think about how I can reinvent the garden.

Sometimes this kind of thing is dangerous. Last year’s massive perennial plug purchase came about because I read too many books on the new perennial planting style and went to a lecture by North Wind Perennial Farm founder Roy Diblik. Another year I found myself buried in an avalanche of flower seed packages (with no greenhouse or even a sunny windowsill to start them in) after discovering various flower farmer blogs. Occasionally it’s depressing when I compare my failure of a vegetable garden (weeds hidden by self-seeded verbena bonariensis that have swallowed up the cucumbers and shaded out the haricot vert) to the ones up there on those screens in those darkened rooms.

I have twice had to delete a tab on Safari so that I don’t go through with yet another order for dahlias. And I have a basket of leftover seeds in the basement that are calling my name desperately and begging me not to order any others before trying them first. But that’s the whole fun, really. This time of being inspired, of dreaming about possibilities and change or total unfettered learning, it’s how I restore myself.

I do yoga everyday, eat only healthy, wholesome food and mainline horticultural information.  I have learned all about Crimson Crush blight resistant tomatoes that for the moment are available only in the UK. I will be growing the Madame Butterfly snapdragons as soon as I have a way to start them in a sheltered area eight weeks before the late frost as their double flowers are not only gorgeous, but supposedly harder for insects to pollinate so longer lasting as a flower. That martagon lilies need lime and need to be ordered in June at the latest if you want to be able to get any to plant in the fall and that you can find the best deals in Canada (I have put a note in my calendar for this years’ purchase. ) I have absorbed the plant names for an easy maintenance garden and reengaged with Sissinghurst through Vita’s brilliant words once again. I have IV drip lines hooked up to  both Margaret Roach’s and Nancy Ondra’ blogs.  I’m reading every book Carol Klein has ever written and winter is flying by.

The other day it was 12 degrees when I woke up so I dragged the waiting pine needle bales over to mulch the artichokes which hadn’t truly died down yet and so couldn’t be mulched.  The ground was frozen so I covered them up but there were still some silvery grey green foliage that looked unfrozen. I know that if I cover them too soon, they push up under the mulch and rot, but this weeks looks like it’s going to be cold enough, finely for them to get some rest. Me, I loathe the cold. Just  dragging the pine needle bags to the garden and spreading them challenged the tips of my fingers and my ears. As we all know, I detest winter,  and still wonder why I didn’t stay put in Seattle when I had the chance, but I am learning to be grateful for this pause. And although I miss my garden and the comfort it gives me to walk through it at all hours and poke in the soil, pulling a weed or two or breaking off a handful of flowers, I am filled with excitement and anticipation about what my upcoming darkened room learning will inspire.

Paige Patterson will confess to having made some of her fantasy purchases this winter, she just won’t admit to which ones.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

It’s beginning to feel a little like Christmas

Okay so as I sit here writing this it’s 62 degrees outside. Now don’t get me wrong, I happen to loathe the cold weather, so I’m not sad about this weather at all, but I am a little worried.

 My flowering quince is flowering, in December. Sigh. Also the hydrangea buds have cracked and I have fresh, delicate little leaves starting to unfurl. This does not make me happy. I tell my clients to grab a butt load of burlap and start wrapping all their hydrangeas, but I’m not planning on follow my own advice. I’m thinking of doing one or two, but I have so many that it’s not really possible, or affordable for me to do them all. So I’m ignoring them and hoping that we’re going to have a winter like the one we had the year I gardened all the way through February -- but I’m not holding my breath.

Instead I’ve decided to try and get in the holiday mood. It’s a little tough right now, as it feels like September out there, and even though our tree is up and decorated, it never really feels like the season is upon us until I make my own wreath. Making your own wreath is one of the best reasons to work in a garden shop or a florist and I recommend it highly. Normally I join in one of our wreath making classes and starting with just a wire ring, a bunch of evergreen cuttings and a spool of wire, I build the whole thing from scratch, but this year I had a client visit scheduled at the same time as the first class, so I had to start with a basic wreath and add onto it.

As you can imagine, my wreath is very similar to my personality. Or at least to my hair. It’s a little wild, unkempt and unruly, almost improvisational you might say. Which is the same way I cook and I garden. It means sometimes things work out fabulously, and sometimes they go terribly wrong. In baking, improvisation is not always rewarded. In music it can be marvelous. Unfortunately I cannot carry a tune. And although my garden looks a little more Miss Haversham than Gertrude Jeykll that’s the look I’m after. Fortunately, wiring layers and textures of greenery in a circle also seems to work out for me.

Blue Atlas cedar, white pine and noble fir, plus a few left over pieces of false cypress scrounged off the floor were placed on top and wired around my base wreath with the loops of wire tucked under the existing balsam. The blue Atlas cedar I cut long so it would extend out like Farah Fawcett’s wings in that bathing suit poster. Then once everything was secure, I grabbed a handful of shorter greens to tuck under and conceal any exposed wires. These I also twisted up and forced into rutting out positions like random Joan Mitchell brushstrokes of green. Luckily there was also some seeded eucalyptus left over from a special order that I was able to grab and tuck in as well. The result was pure Paige. Explosive, excessive and a little off kilter. Intentionally.

At home I knew I still had last year’s silver bow, saved in my Christmas ornament box, so I didn’t make a new one, although I was super tempted by the burlap ribbon we have. I was also good and declined the proffered pinecones, dried pomegranates and limes that were already “picked” or attached to the green sticks used to work attachments into floral arrangements. And although I am dying to use artichokes in a wreath I really want to try and get the ones in my garden to flower more profusely so I can dry and use my own.

I was almost seduced by the silver glitter branches I used two years ago, but sense prevailed. That wreath was so big it didn’t fit on my front door and I had to hang it between the two windows on my front porch, but it was an extraordinarily crazy and fabulous wreath as I used the branches in a radial way, sticking them into the sides of the wreath at a angle so that it resembled one of those starburst gilt mirror you see in interior decorating magazines -- if it was being copied and constructed by a drunk woodland fairy with a glitter fixation.

I also plan next year to grow and dry a ton of allium Schuberti that I intend to spray either silver of gold and use not only on my wreath but also as ornaments on our Christmas tree. I had planed to harvest and dry my gigantic angelica gigas flowers this year, but I blew my chances and left them out too long and they not only got soggy, but I also lost my ability to collect more than a handful of seeds to sow for next year. All the more reason why I MUST win the lottery and stop this silly thing called, “having to earn a living.” It just takes up far too much of my gardening time.

I worked quickly today, getting most of the wreath done in about 20 minutes and then hung it up on a nail to see it and to add the final touches, and yes it could definitely have used a little more work, and a lot more tweaking but I liked it. Hands sticky and black with sap I threw it in the car with a pile of cast off Christmas tree cutting to dress up next year’s tulip pots, brought it home and hung it on the door where, glass of wine in hand, I attached my saved silver bow. Perfection.

Then I sent a pretty sad photo of my finished product (shot in the dark with the unfortunate assistance of my iphone’s flash) to a friend, complete with its off-center silver adornment and she said it was perfect, that the bow was exactly how I would wear one in my hair, “slightly awkward and too close to the forehead.” And of course she loved it. Which is the best kind of Christmas present.

Paige Patterson learned wreath-making basics from Denise’s classes at Marders and has never looked back.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Small is Gorgeous

One of the disadvantages of working in a nursery is that plants jump into your car. It’s a proven fact that a plantaholic working in a nursery will face temptation every moment of every day, although you would think that with the season is coming to an end, there would be fewer and fewer renegades stowing away for the trip to my garden. You would be greatly mistaken. Just today a few stalwart cabbages and a kale or two snuggled into my trunk, as did a bag full of alliums. I know I wrote about bulbs last week, but the ode to tulips was a soul song. Today I want to talk about some of the smaller and less well know bulbs that also desire a place in any decent gardener’s repertoire, and which are tugging at my heartstrings and demanding that I take them home. Immediately.

I don’t understand why more people don’t plant bulbs. Dollar for dollar there is no way to make a greater impact in your garden -- except perhaps with grass seed. Bulbs are transformative and for under $50 (the average price of one three gallon hydrangea) you can add a huge bang of color to any garden. Sun or shade, there’s a bulb for you, most of which are also stupidly easy to plant and to grow.

We all know how easy daffodils are, and even if you don’t like yellow -- which is silly, as it gives warmth to even the most hideous of overcast and gray days  -- there are a ridiculous number of elegant white choices available for sale (and sometimes even found on sale) at all the nurseries selling bulbs. I challenge you to plant a handful of the double White Lions or the gardenia flowered Obdams in your garden this fall and not become an addict like myself. Nine in a tall plain glass vase fill any room with the promise of spring, the scent of new beginnings and a feeling of joy.

I think it’s because we are a culture of instant gratification, and there is less and less cause for imagination in the world, that people don’t plant bulbs. How else could anyone choose to ignore a small smooth orb that has everything it needs within itself to make beauty? I wish we weren't a people who only recognize beauty when it is thrust, fully in bloom, into our arms, but I shall persevere. I shall grab the sleeve of each and every gardening soul who happens to wander past the Marders Bulb Display, and fill their ears with stories of the wonders they are missing.  And I shall not only be pushing the expected daffodils and tulips. I have a few other tricks up my sleeve for those unsuspecting gardeners who walk into my liar.

First I will tempt them with Chionodoxa, a short little bulb, that when happy, not only repeats year after year, but spreads by producing little offshoot bulbils as well as by self-seeding and basically throwing itself throughout the garden with gentle, wanton abandon. A lovely trait in any plant, but especially appreciated by a girl who has a thing for tulips with their dearth of repetitive success. Chionodoxa is also known as glory of the snow as it is one of the first flowers to lift its tiny face to the sun, normally right after crocus, last years plant of choice for my small bulbs indulgence. This year, this harbinger of the spring is something I have decided to invest in by the handfuls. I truly dislike winter, gray skies and the cold, so the upward facing flowers of blue seem like just the thing I need to beat back interminably bleak and chilly days. I have chosen to plant Blue Giant as who doesn’t want a carpet of blue to erupt each spring. Chionodoxa is also deer resistant, a lovely treat and a phrase that I unfortunately say less as less often out here. 

Not to be confused with Scilla or Siberian squill, Chionodoxa Blue Giant is a bigger flower, but the blue of Scilla is a truer blue color and delicately lovely. Scilla is also deer resistant and it too is a wanton and welcome invader of the flowerbed -- but I am a sucker for Chionodoxa’s slightly larger and taller flowers. Next year I plan on investing in Scilla -- as it also blooms at approximately the same time (I’m planning on a carpet of these beauties as well, but a girl’s budget needs to be managed just a little bit.) Scilla aficionados tell me that they think the flowers of Scilla last longer so I shall report to you all after they both come up in the spring of 2017, but if you want to compare, the trick to being able to tell the two bulbs apart when they bloom is that squill is a littler shyer, with it’s flowers nodding in downward facing tranquility, while glory of the snow faces the sun. And both mix perfectly with the littlest of the daffodils we have left at Marders, the Tete a Tetes – all the more reason why a bag or two might wiggle it’s way under my passenger seat this week.

Next I shall dangle a package of Muscari under the nose of the curious gardener and extol the virtue of a tiny bouquet of what look like miniscule bunches of grapes attached to a wand of green. Grape hyacinths also claim a fold of my heart, again for the clear blue color the classic, old-fashioned ones bring to a garden, but I’d be lying if I told you those are the only ones I long for. I have to confess that last year when I got help planting my crop of tulips, I’m afraid I lost a few key patches to over enthusiastic diggers. So soon I must buy more. But really this is to only way I have lost them in my garden. I’ve heard tell that they are getting eaten by deer, but I’ve actually not even seen that happen on my own, or in any of my client’s gardens so I’d love to hear from some of you readers in more heavily browsed areas.

And if by now, the poor trapped gardening soul I’ve been speaking with has not grabbed a few bags of bulbs and bolted for the safety of Brittany and Brian at the register, I shall proffer a handful of Fritillaria meleagris to my hypnotized prey. If anyone wants proof of magic in the world, let them grow a checked Snake's Head Fritillary and inspect its elegant petals’ pink, purple, mauve, green and white checkerboard patterns. How does a flower come to have this delicate etching of mathematical precision? Why would a checkerboard, a grid, be something that would evolve in nature? It’s mind-boggling. Especially since the Fritillaria is a bulb that not only tolerates clay soil, but relishes it. A bulb that likes damp feet? What’s not to love? The trick is to figure out what to plant it with. In England they plant them in grassy meadows but with ticks so rampant out here the wild meadow is not as often requested for the garden tableau as it once was. I long to plant this checkered beauty among my more sun tolerant hellebores, and perhaps shall sneak a few among my Chionodoxa this fall. Gosh a girl can dream.

Paige Patterson buys the bulbs for Marders -- which is bit like letting a shopaholic organize the shoe racks at Bergdorf’s but so far it’s working out okay.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

I'm in Bulb Trouble

In the basement there are, I think, 1300 tulips waiting for the weather and I to be bold enough to invite them out into the garden. You plant bulbs when the earth is cold, and today there were the first flakes of snow, so it’s definitely time.  Now you might not want to plant tulips by the thousands, but I think tulips are the best gift a gardener can give herself as a reward for surviving the winter, and since I abhor the winter, I need tulips by the armfuls.

There are specific tulips I must grown each year, but before I describe each of my favorites, I want to clear up a little confusion. In this country, most tulips do not come back that readily. It’s not the fault of the tulips, in their home countries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Crete and Greece (to name just a few places where they originate) tulips ground in what is referred to as sharp soil. In other words, super well draining soil. They survive beautifully in very cold winters and dry hot, rainless summers, and multiply ferociously. Unfortunately, when they are planted in our rich beautiful soil (or in clay soil like at my house) and then suffer the indignities of our constant irrigating of our flowers and our lawns, they rot. In a perfect world, to have our tulips flower again and again, we’d need to turn those sprinklers off, and let everything die down and go dormant. But since none of us are going to do that, make sure you do amend the soil you plant your bulbs in with plenty compost to make the soil loose and porous. The tulips that I grown in raised beds actually do brilliantly, and some of them are on their third year blooming -- tada -- the power of drainage. But my garden is, in many places, deep, heavy soil, and so many of my tulips don’t come back which is why, every year, I plant more.

One of my favorites, it has flowered for the last two years in a raised bed is the luscious Nightrider. It’s a viriflora tulip, which is a class of flowers that have green in them. Mine are not as darkly vivid as the boxed portrayed them, but the green center of each petal’s back fades to white and before ending in a thick edge of pinky purple. It’s a stunning tulip. I also insist on Ballerina, an orange lily flowered tulip, which means that each of its petals comes to a point. It also has come back for two years. It’s vivid orange works with anything I pair it with in a bouquet, which is why I plant it heavily in my cutting garden. This year I’m adding another lily flowered variety, Burgandy, which I hope will be a dark, drinkable rich wine color. The ballerina varieties all seem to flower for a very long time in the garden and last the longest of all my tulips in the vase. I adore a tulip called Belle Epoque, but it’s a terrible repeater, so I don’t plant too many of them each year. I still add them, because of the fantastic coloring of their flowers. A mauvey pink that looks like it’s been dipped in milky tea, its double flowers remind me of antiques satin bed coats. Double tulips are my weakness I confess, and although they too don’t seem to repeat as well as classic Darwin types, I am a sucker for their lushness. This year I’m adding Dream Touch, a late flowering varieties that has a thin picotee white edging on deeper magenta petals along with Purple Peony which I hope will have the coloring of the robes worn by only kings and emperors as the die that colored them was created from the slime of murexes and sea snails and was, at once time, the most expensive color of a cloth. Most double tulips tend to be late blooming ones.

Balloon is going to be a new addition to the garden, a Darwin, with huge flowers (said to be 5” long – I’ll report in the spring if it’s true) and the genetics to possibly live on for a long time in the garden. I’m also adding Carousel, a Fringed type, with petal edges that are delicately shredded at the tips. It’s meant to start off primrose, creamy yellow and fade to ivory, but its real attraction for me is the delicate red featherings that decorate each petal. It should be gorgeous in a vase, and I like it because it reminds me of the “broken” or streaked tulips in Dutch still life paintings.

Last year and the year before I planted a tulip called Brooklyn, because it was double and it was green and it looked like an artichoke. It was amazing, but this year I’m trying a different green tulip, one called Evergreen that is a Triumph type. The Triumphs are the largest category of tulips are a cross between early flowering tulips and Darwin types and some of the other triumphs I have in my garden are the longest lasting tulips I own. The Evergreen is a true green edged with chartreuse according to it’s packaging, so we will have to see, but I have high hopes for it, as the Brooklyn, although beautiful, was not a strong performer.

Another category of tulips that are gorgeous but definitely do not come back each year are the Parrot tulips, but only a fool would neglect to add those each year. With pinking sheared petals that romp and curl and twist and colors that dazzle these are the supermodels of the tulip family. I always add a white parrot and a black parrot but this year I’m adding Estella Rijnveld a startling candy cane striped explosion of shock, especially when stuffed into an armful of the elegant, delicate, pure dreamy white blooms of Maureen. It’s hard sometimes to remember to buy the simpler tulips when choosing what will fill the ground, but this classic late white is another strong performer in the garden and amazing in a vase.

I wish I had more room to tell you about the others, but you have to trust me and find a place to grown them in your own yard so that then in the spring, on a miserable grey day, we can visit each other’s homes, give a deep sigh and say, “Finally, Spring is here.”

Paige Patterson also has a thing for the blue of muscari and if she had enough money would carpet the world with them.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Food for Thought

I am harvesting Sungold tomatoes by the fistfuls, popping almost as many in my mouth as I do it the colander I’m using to gather them. Such joy. Mouthfuls of pure sun.  But as I bite down and explode them between my teeth I find myself full of worry. Not from my tomatoes, but from all research I’ve been doing to be able to speak intelligently about a lecture we are giving at Marders in October. We’ve invited Vandana Shiva, World renown philosopher, ecofeminist, activist and author, to speak with us on Seed Freedom, seed and crop diversity and how to help farmers make the transition from fossil-fuel and chemical-based monocultures to biodiverse ecological systems nourished by the sun and the soil.  So I’ve been doing a little research.

Now my Sungold tomatoes are hybrids, which means that they were created by using careful pollination crosses to create a series of desired characteristics, disease resistance, size, color, taste etc. and that these plants are created by man and thus if you plant their seeds, you will not get the same tomato, but one with a combination of it’s genes that may or may not be as good. 

It is not a heirloom plant, as it has not been around long enough and heirloom plants have been around for at least 50 years whose seeds are stable enough that if you plant them the following year, you will get the same plant again. They are actually old hybrids, seeds that farmers thought were good tasting enough to want to save and share, and occasionally improve on by cross breeding.
But contrary to popular belief, my hybrid is not a GMO plant. A GMO plant is the result of genetic engineering, not cross breeding. GMO stands for “genetically modified organism” and is a process during which the plant’s DNA is altered in a way that cannot occur naturally from just cross breeding plants, and sometimes includes the insertion of genes from other species.

GMO plants are things like Roundup ready corn, corn that has a gene spliced into it that makes it resistant to the herbicide Roundup so that the field can be planted with this corn, have roundup dumped on it and the plant will survive. This is scary. Roundup (which contains glyphosate that has just been declared “probably carcinogenic to humans”) is not something we want drenching our food supplies or our fields.  But unfortunately, last year, it’s said that 94 percent of soybeans and 89 percent of corn were herbicide resistant, crops that take up over half of all farmed lands in the US.
Of course, just like how overusing antibiotics has resulted in the rise of drug-resistant supergerms, farmers’ almost ubiquitous use of Roundup is believed to be leading to the creation of herbicide –resistant superweeds that are able to survive it’s use. This means that these farmers are having to use even stronger herbicides on the earth and it’s all starting to feel a little overwhelming.

Remember all those Monarch butterflies and their disappearing food sources? Roundup being sprayed willy-nilly on this GMO corn and Roundup ready soybeans is one of the main problems. If you are regularly dumping herbicides on the land to such an extent that you kill every living thing except your genetically modified frankenfood, you are creating a problem. Why can’t we all see this? Why does this have to be so complicated? Why is it acceptable to live in a land where spraying the earth with carcinogens is not only acceptable, but is seen as progress.

Oh and lets not forget that the farmers that are using these crops are not allowed to save part of their harvest and replant it the following year because these seeds are patented and trademarked and belong only to the companies that created them. That there is no more swapping of successful plants between farmers, nor is there any genetic diversity, being grown out there on the land
Or the fact that if all the famers in the world are using the same seeds we are creating a monoculture that is beyond belief, not only losing great seeds, with great tastes, and great nutrition but with over reliance on a limited genetic pool, we’re also creating tremendous opportunities for global susceptibility to a single pest of disease outbreak. Thus the famous Irish potato famine. The problem with monoculture is a loss of diversity, and a loss of diversity creates a vacuum. And a vacuum is always going to be filled, whether with a weed, a disease, or a pest. There will always be issues with agriculture, especially when we have so many mouths to feed, but relying on a monoculture of genetically foodstuffs seems to be taking us the wrong way.

Oh did I mention that by not rotating crops we are also exhausting the soil of the world so that we have to keep dumping artificially created, man made chemical fertilizers on it -- fertilizers that sometimes create more problems in their production and use then they benefit the plant? And that following this method of creating and providing people food, is an almost guaranteed way to kill our planet, not a sustainable agricultural method as put forward by it’s promoters?

As I read more and more over the past couple of weeks, I actually found a lot of the issues to be not only overwhelming, but also incredibly political. There were lots of people trying to simplify things, and others denying scientific observations, and yet others basing opinions on what appeared to be limited scientific research. It was incredibly frustrating and confusing, so as I ate my Sungolds one by one, I decided the best way to get other people involved in this conversation, was to share my newly acquired knowledge. I’m really looking forward to Vandana’s talk and I hope you will get excited about this important discussion about GMOs, the future of our food system and how we can all fight for the freedom of our food and planet and come listen with me.

For more information and reservations call Marders at 631-537-3700.
Paige Patterson is still stunned that it takes 1770 gallons of water to grow 1lb of beef.