Tuesday, November 22, 2011

No Bow Necessary

I’m a big gift giver.

I think it’s because I’m a bit of a compulsive shopper and so buying things, even when they’re not for me, gives me a frisson of excitement. I tend not to give gifts at specific times, I am a more random giver, but the holidays are filled with opportunities to do some bestowing, and so I tend to go a little crazy. And being that I am a certifiable plant maniac, I like to gift living things that bloom.
As I’ve written before, I am the queen of cutting crazy bouquets from the outside to bring indoors and to give as gifts. Utilizing everything from bittersweet to pinecones to dark purple viburnum leaves I’m still cutting the faded heads of my hydrangeas to make crazy dried arrangements (although this year, after the hurricane and the heat wave, the colors faded very quickly.)

Last year I found these fantastic sprayed silver branches that I tucked in all my arrangements, including my wreath, because silver makes everything more holiday to me. This year I’m thinking that I’m going to do a more out there kind of a thing and wrap found branches with yarn to give them stripes of color in a scaled down mini salute to the yarn bombing movement. It’s a little more time intensive and involves Elmer’s glue so it could be a dangerous thing, but I like the idea of pink silk cord wrapped branches among my faded hydrangea blooms.

Or I might just grab a can of hot pink spray paint and some glitter, it all depends on how much time I have.

What I know for sure is that those of you who aren’t just getting honey from my backyard beehive for the holidays, are going to revel in my flowering theme. The economy is depressing, the stock market is crazy and we didn’t even get a hard frost, but went right for a freeze two weeks earlier than I expected. It’s cold outside and so I think everyone needs something that’ll flower to bring a little life and color back into their lives.

Now I have all sorts of people to give gift to, from clients to family members, and each has varying degrees of plant expertise, so I can’t do anything too complicated which is why my first choice is the amaryllis. No one kills an amaryllis, I’m fairly terrible when it comes to inside plants, and I rock with amaryllis. So this year, instead of the bottle of wine or the baked good, I’m bringing a big, fat bulb of red, white, pink, striped, doubled and everything in between. I’m mad for the variety called Red Pearl that’s a deep, blood red and Christmas Gift, an amazing pure, huge, white. I’m going to give some of my more subtle friends the one called Exotic Star which is elegantly pinstriped like something you’d find placed in a wabi sabi pot in solitary contemplation on a Zen monastery sideboard. My more audacious friends are getting Cherry Nymph, a double flowered cheeky red bloom that looks like Tom Ford designed it.

For most people, I won’t bother starting the thing, but for the more horticulturally challenged, I’ll get a glass container, fill it full of pebbles and push the bulb in. Then I’ll hand it over with instructions to make sure when they add water that the bulb isn’t soaking in it, and I’ll be gifting them the easiest month of flowering they’ve ever had. Last year I stagger planted six around the house and had flowers from Thanksgiving through February -- it was crazy. I tell people that if they plant the bulbs in potting soil, they can then bring the plants outside in the spring, after all chances of frost is past, and let the leaves grow and replenish the bulb. Then, in the fall, when the leaves begin to yellow, they can bring the plant back into the house and cut back on watering to send the plant into dormancy. Remove the dead leaves, put the plant and pot together into a cool, dark place for about 8 weeks, then bring it out and viola, the whole cycle starts again.

I confess that I get new bulbs every year, but that’s because I want to try new colors and I have a limit on how much room I have for things in pots.

I also give paper whites. For those who find them overwhelming, there’s the Inbal variety, but for me paper whites have the best smell on the planet, a smell that totally signals the holidays in a way nothing else does. Then again, I don’t have the gene that captures the cat urine whiff of boxwoods, who knows, maybe paper whites really do reek, so I only give select, good-nosed people a few bulbs in their stockings.

For those folks in my life who need more instant gratification, I have two gifts to offer, the Christmas cactus and the orchid. I know, I know, everyone think orchids are difficult, but some of them (the Phalanopsis or Moth orchids) are actually quite easy as long as you don’t over water them (once a week in the sink with the spray attachment) don’t put them in direct sun and fertilize when they’re done blooming. If I can get an orchid to rebloom, anyone can.

I’m actually getting so confident I’m going to try one of the more unusual orchids like the one called Fangtastic ‘Bob Henley.’ Not only does it have a crazy name, it has flowers that look like Tim Burton drew them for Halloween hairstyles. It needs a more light and more warmth and more water, but other then that, the orchid folks at Marders tell me I can do it.

Last year’s Christmas cactus is still going, although my cats enjoy chewing on the foliage so I’m not gifting it to those with felines. It’s not actually in the cactus family, but is an epiphyte, which is what most orchids are. Who knew? They tell me the trick to getting them to bloom for the holidays is to make sure they’re spend the fall in a room where the light is not turned on at night which stays cool. The Internet suggests putting them in the closet but I KNOW that’s a mistake waiting to happen so I have mine in a guest bedroom away from the radiator. They like humidity, so get misted on a regular basis. I really should wait to see if mine reblooms before share this plant, but when it’s in flower its so fantastic that I’m willing to take the chance. Beside the white ones are incredible.

Paige Patterson thinks Tillandsia Xerographicas are the easiest plants in the world and are oh so very elegant.

Pages in the Garden

It’s been a strange Fall and I’m slightly stressed about the buds on my hydrangea pushing open in all this unseasonal heat, but since there’s nothing I can do about it, I’m trying to be more Zen. Now most people won’t use Zen as an adjective to describe me, but I’m attempting to reach a more peaceful state when it comes to the ways of my garden and I’m finding there are a few books out there that really help.

Although not a new book, Plant Seed, Pull Weed by Geri Larkin is a lesson on the importance of approaching both the world and the garden with an open and worry free heart.  Daniel Butler’s How to Plant a Tree, is not, only a practical how-to book, but speaks to the emotional, philosophical and folkloric reasons and ways to keep company with the branched entities with which we love to share our world. And Stephen Orr, the new garden editor at Martha Stewart, came out with Tomorrow’s Garden, a book that strikes a balance between the idea of having a gorgeous garden and the tenants of sustainability.  And isn’t balance what we should all be looking for as we head into the coming year?
Of course, there’s nothing balanced about the way I buy books, they’re just drawn to me as if I have a magnetic pull over them and to be honest I could fill this whole page just by listing all the titles of the books that followed me home this year. There are a few however, that would be lovely gifts for gardeners who will be jonesing this winter to get back out there in the muck.  The View from Great Dixter, all about Christopher Lloyd’s great English garden and the impact it’s had on gardeners the world over, is another book that shows what patience and experimentation and letting go of all your preconceived ideas can do to your outside world. Then there’s Hampton Gardens, Jack DeLashmet’s gorgeous coffee table book with the yummiest photos to let you explore and covet those gardens behind the hedges we’re all dying to wander through and own.

For the veggie gardeners out there, The Heirloom Life Gardener by the co-founders of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, is a sweet book. An approachable and simple guide to which heirloom vegetables will work best for you, no matter how or where you garden ­– it even gives you advice on how to save your own seeds for next year’s plantings. A more in depth look at the world of heirloom seed saving is found in the wonderful book Gathering: A Memoir of a Seed Saver. Written by Diane Ott Whealy, a leader in this country’s grass-roots movement to preserve agricultural biodiversity, she talks about how seeds given to her by her grandparents inspired her to co-found and nurture the largest seed bank in this country.

I myself am asking for the new Michael Dirr book, Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs. A combination of his two previous books on trees and shrubs for both warm and cold climates with new photos and new plants added, it should be the go to book of the season. Most zealots have or lust after the huge Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, his 1325 page opus with the black and white line drawings, but those who are slightly less crazy, or those who like color photos to peruse on snowy evenings in front of the fireplace as they are learning to be still, would love getting the Encyclopedia this winter. Hint, hint, hint.

As a final Zen thought, I want to share with you a fantastic book that has absolutely nothing to do with plants, but everything to do with learning to see through forgiving eyes. Arne Svenson and Ron Warren created the remarkably brilliant ode, Chewed, combining photographs of mangled and overly loved dog toys taken as if they were works of art with a few wonderful essays written from the point of view of the self same woobie, this the perfect gift for everyone who has ever been blessed with the company of a four legged critter.  

So at a time when we are thanking the world for all it’s given to us and our families, I’m going to promise to walk through the garden with a more peaceful and forgiving eye, to appreciate and be inspired by, instead of being envious of other people’s gardens and learn to observe the beauty in a wet, eyeless duck.

Paige Patterson has still got a big bag of bulbs that she’s going to plant to help burn off Thanksgiving calories.