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.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Breaking Down in the Garden -- Compost 101

If there was only one thing you could do to make your garden a better place what would it be? Why that’s easy, the addition of compost. This adding of decomposed plant material into the garden is the most surefire way I know to improve the soil and give your garden radiant, glowing health. The question, however, is how do you add compost to a garden that’s two plus acres large without robbing a small back. 

Easy. Play Lotto.

No, but seriously, if I tried to spread compost over all the beds in my garden each year, and top dress the lawns with a thin dusting of purchased compost, I’d be in the poorhouse in a moment. The trick is to make your own. It’s not hard to make compost, but it is time consuming, so I will confess right up front that I am a passive composter. This means I do not flip my compost pile, rather I just let it sit and do it’s thing, but it also means I get plenty of weed seeds that are still active in my pile, so in some ways, I’m making the garden more difficult to maintain. However, lets hold on a moment, because I’m getting ahead of myself here.

First what is compost? Compost is what you end up with when a pile of organic matter breaks down into humus after a period of time. The organic matter is broken down by the soil-borne fungi, bacteria and worms that are already in your garden, and it requires the right mix of green materials (nitrogen rich components -- grass clipping, weeds, vegetable scraps, etc.) and brown materials (carbon rich components -- dead leaves, straw, shredded newspaper, sawdust, etc.) plus the addition of water and oxygen to break down properly. If you have too much green material, you won’t get compost, you’ll get slimily, slippery, smelly ooze. Too much brown material, and the material will take so long to break down you’ll be able to be added to the compost pile yourself. So the balance is tricky. I use sawdust, because I don’t have enough leaves on my properly to balance out all the grass clippings and weeds and fallen apples I toss into the pile, and sometimes I have to buy straw. The brown material helps keep air in the compost pile, because you need aerobic bacteria (the ones that need oxygen to function) to work with the fungi to break down the material into heat, carbon, dioxide and ammonium. This ammonium (NH4) is the form of nitrogen plants need to grow and the only one they can actually take up from the ground. 

Compost is rich in nutrients and so can be used as a fertilizer, as an addition of vital humus or humic acids, and as a natural pesticide for soil, it can help a sandy soil hold moisture and help make a clay soli more porous. It’s like a wonder drug for your dirt.

So what are the rules to creating a compost pile?

1: You need a way to keep the pile in a pile. This is so that the heat created by the fungi and bacteria breaking down elements of the pile will not escape and the trapped heat will help speed up decomposition. This heat will also cook weed seeds and prevent the new soil you make from contaminating your garden beds with billions of tomato seedlings from last years cast offs. If you don’t build up heat, the pile will still break down, albeit significantly more slowly and with unwanted seeds still intact. Most people use compost bins, please note the plural, because you need to be able to turn the pile from one area into another, and you need to be able to start a new pile when the first start to really get cooking. You can buy a compost bin, they even have ones that you can spin around, but as I noted, I’m a bad composter so I have two big piles that I switch from year to year, one of which I’m using and the other of which is my active site. If I had the time and wherewithal, I’d build myself a three-box system with lovely slatted walls for ventilation. And, since I’m not flipping the pile on a regular basis, it would be great if I’d located it in a sunny location so that it had as much heat as possible. Unfortunately mine is in the shade half of the day, so although decomposition still happens, it’s much, much slower, especially when freezing temps arrive in the fall. 

2. Get the ingredient mix right. I’m going to give you a little science here, because it’ll help you understand the concept. We need a good carbon:nitrogen ration, plus some moisture to keep the good bacteria humming. Depending on whom you listen to, it seems that the most efficient composting ratio of carbon:nitrogen falls somewhere in the 10:1 to 20:1 range. Now this doesn’t mean 10 buckets of leaves to 1 bucket of grass clipping. Fresh grass clippings are super high in nitrogen, with a carbon:nitrogen ratio of about 15:1 . And dry, fallen, raked up leaves have a ratio of 50:1. What is lovely is that a bucket of lawn clippings plus a bucket of autumn leaves will give you the perfect ratio. So we don’t have to do the math to figure it all out. Unfortunately, I don’t normally get both at the same time, so this is why it’s nice to have the three-box system for creating a compost pile. In this, my perfect world, I would be able to rake up all my leaves (and those of my neighbors’) and put them in the first bin for use throughout the spring and summer when it’s grass-clipping season. (They’d have to be pretty big bins.) Then I’d throw a barrel or two of leaves down every week after the guys have mown the yard and dumped my grass clippings into the mix. My ratio would be perfect. But life doesn’t work like that, so I sometimes shred newspaper, but I mostly add sawdust (from my husband’s furniture making shop) or wood chips or straw that I buy by the bale when the nitrogen production of the garden is out of control. It’s also a smart idea to throw a few shovelfuls of garden dirt into your compost pile to get it going and bring the garden microorganisms in to start their work. Most people add kitchen scraps, but please avoid fish and meat and dairy as it attracts raccoons and rats and dogs. I am also blessed with chickens so their used bedding is added as well. Sawdust has a ratio of 325:1 so I need a lot less of it then I would need leaves, which is super helpful when the lawn is growing an inch a minute in season. Wood chips are 400:1 so I don’t really add them because they take super long to break down, but I will confess to using them as a way of starting new garden areas. I use them on top of cardboard to suffocate the existing grass, cover them with garden soil and compost and then wait until they start to break down to plant in them. It takes a long time, but I have lots of other garden projects to distract myself with. 

 3. Tend to your compost pile. This is where I fail. You should feed it consistently, which my lawn guys do, but I should be in there myself once a week with my carbon and often I forget. Turning every week would be the absolute best thing if you can, every other if you can’t. Mixing with a pitchfork (a chore I am bad at) every week or two to make sure that all of the materials are blended and interacting speeds things up super fast, as long as you’re pile is not too wet. It should be damp, not wet, wet equals slimy, too dry equals a slow pile. In a few months (if you are good) or in a year (if you’re bad like me) you’ll have delicious dark, crumbly soil that smells like fresh earth.

4. Make sure you have a mix of materials. The combination of different textures and nutrients created by the disintegration of many different kinds of organic matter will make your pile transform into a truly diverse mixture that’s the ultimate in plant nutrition. And don’t start too small, you need enough material to achieve critical mass, so it needs to be larger then a garbage pail, unless you have a small spinning composter that’s built for small amount. And don’t make it so large that you have no hope of turning the thing. That was my dilemma, but one I solved by just continually starting new piles down one side of my property. I now have an entire bank that ready for planting. The unfortunate thing is that if  I keep planting in my old compost piles, I’m going to run out of places to put it pretty soon.

Paige Patterson has too many pears to eat and is thinking about making jam and chutney today!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Deer oh Deer

This past Sunday I gave a lecture on deer at the nursery. I told people that when I first start working with a client I ask them three questions. Where’s your house? Do you have sun or shade? And do you have deer? Then we talk about what they want to do in their garden. The reason I ask about the location of their house is that a great many people who are just starting out don’t know if they have deer or not. Now you might think you have no deer because you haven’t seen them but if you just bought a house in the Northwest Woods, you have deer. Noyac, deer. Shelter Island and North Haven, deer and deer.  I didn’t know I had deer when I first bought my house and that fall I planted 900 tulips. In the spring I picked 3 flowers. I don’t want that to happen to the folks I work with.

Deer in the Hamptons are a fact of life, and I’m not going to get into the debate about the validity of hunting and shooting them, nor am I going to wrestle with the problem of deer fencing when the rules governing fences out here make most deer fences illegal even though these illegal fences are all over the place. Instead I’m going to talk about deer resistant plants how you can work with (or against) the deer you already have.

First, and let me be very clear with this, deer cannot read deer resistant plant lists. So if you come to me and tell me that you planted tons of astilbe because you found it on a list on the internet and you don’t understand why the deer ate it, there’s a good chance I’m going to ask you if you know for sure that your personal deer read that same website, because my personal deer never opened the computer, nor did they search their favorite foods out on google – they were too busy eating my monarda – a totally deer resistant plant on almost all lists (it’s in the mint family) not once, not twice, but seven times.

So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I will say that we have a deer resistant plant list. However at the top of the list it says that there is no such thing as a totally deer resistant plant, and that different deer in different areas eat different things. It goes on to say that weather, location and circumstance can all affect deer. And that the list we are providing suggests plants based on whether they have good, better or the best resistance. Again, I want to mention the monarda that was eaten at my house. I would have put it on the top of my list – I would have gone so far as to say deer proof, and I probably wouldn’t have believed someone who told me five years ago that deer were eating their monarda. My brain just wouldn’t have been able to process it.

But I know why it happened. 

I have always had deer. I had about five that lived at my house for a decade, including a doe that had been hit by a car and had her leg broken. It had healed poorly and she had a terrible, staggering limp, but she was a survivor, and gave birth to her fawns in my far back yard. I had, at the time, about fifty hydrangeas, and she and her babies had a pattern, to which they were very attached. Out of all those hydrangeas, they ate about four. And it was always the same four. I wish I could draw you a diagram, because it doesn’t make any sense until you understand that deer are creatures of habit and once they get a routine they will follow it indefinitely until disrupted or distracted. So they ate a hydrangea in the front east garden, but not the two three feet to the right of it, then they ate another that was eighty feet away but not the seven to that hydrangea’s left, next they travelled to the ridge by the garage which had nineteen different hydrangeas of which they ate the one that was closest to the garage ignoring the five paniculata hydrangeas planted all around it and the other thirteen macrophyllas in the same bed (after decimating the phlox that I had thoughtlessly planted opposite it) and finally they travelled over to the left side of the garden by the shed where they ate (no destroyed) the oak leaf hydrangea. They ate that sucker to the ground. 

This was their path, and it was a path they stuck to, which of course looped by the hostas on the west side of the house (but ignored the ones in the front bed) then passed all the daylilies and lilies and so on so as to better remove their pretty little buds. They only time they veered from this path was when the apples and pears started to ripen in the fall. Then they’d come up by those trees and not only eat the fruit from the ground, but ravish all the plants in the surrounding areas (except the aconitum and the ostrich ferns.) There are Annabelle hydrangeas by the apple trees that they’d walk by all the time, totally ignoring them, until apple eating time – then they’d shred the Annabelles like that was their job. Because that was their pattern.

But we managed, my deer and I. It was okay. I could sacrifice those plants, because they left the rest of my garden somewhat alone. Sure I used deer spray -- I once made the unfortunate mistake of getting into the car to drive back to NYC after spraying the garden. Shower or no shower, that was a tough trip. But we had a deal my deer and I. I respected their path, the way they traveled through the garden, and they let me have a few roses. 

Then a neighbor three house down did some major construction. Construction that lasted for three years. And my whole world changed.

All the deer that lived at his house and the neighbor’s house and in the swamp at the back of his property freaked out at all the hullabaloo and came traipsing over to mine. And they changed my deer’s patterns. So now when I pulled in the driveway I wasn’t greeted by a deer or two, I had a whole herd. And this herd thought they’d discovered nirvana. They thought they’d discovered the best deli on the block and they tried everything. Thus the monarda.

So here are my totally unscientific thoughts on deer feastings. I have no proof, only my personal experience, and what I’ve observed. Mommy deer are mean. They don’t take their babies and coddle them showing them the best food, teaching them what’s yummy and what’s not. The fawns come up to the mommies and the mommies say, “Hey bugger off this is my hydrangea, go eat something else.” And the fawn takes a bite of whatever is nearby. My monarda was nearby. I also believe (no scientific proof again) that baby deer have less formed taste buds and so they don’t find repulsive the food their momma doesn’t eat, instead they start to develop a “taste” for things their parents reject. 

When I started out gardening in this area deer never touched astilbe. Three years later they were loving it in higher pressure areas. Much like how we Americans had rarely eaten cilantro, and then, as it got fashionable, we started to consume it by the bucketful, astilbe got hip with deer. Tastes change, I guess for deer just like for people. When you had your first sip of scotch at whatever young age you first dipped your tongue, you probably thought it was vile. I did. And although a great many of you acquired a taste for it, and will go search it out, I still find it vile. But I’m unusual.  The deer seem somewhat similar in how they acquire tastes for things, although unfortunately very few seem to find anything vile anymore.

When we used to do the deer lecture at Marders, we’d spend an hour pulling together all these deer resistant plants for both sun and shade to prove you could make amazing gardens and live with deer. These were plants the deer had never eaten. Now we bring over one plant. An andromeda, and I joke that if we ever hear of deer eating andromeda we’re all going to go sell shoes or cars. And honestly it’s not that bad, but we do it to make a point. Three years ago I would have sworn on a stack of bibles that deer would never eat ostrich ferns, hellebores, American holly, peonies and iris. But I’ve seen each of those plants consumed in the last two year. So it’s getting harder.

We recommend wrapping evergreens now. Last winter the snow was so deep that I believe if the deer were on your property when it started to snow, they were stuck there until spring. And after eating all the somewhat resistant plants, they got hungry enough to eat the ones that they’d never tried before. And they were stuck there for so long that their patterns changed. And they stayed on the property even when the snow was gone, because that’s what they’d become accustomed to. So evergreens that used to be safe (i.e. American holly) were eaten when there was nothing left to eat in some gardens, while meserve hollies that have been a delicacy for years, in other gardens weren’t even visited.

Plus having learned to eat a plant they previously ignored, it’s now something your deer will be happy to eat when they are hungry. And once deer start eating something they don’t stop. Sure they’ll stop eating it to eat your (or your neighbors) new hostas once they push up in the spring, but your previously uneaten evergreen is in their palate memory now and it’s there to stay. When the other choices become limited again, your specimen evergreen (discovered last year) will be their favorite meal again. If we have another winter like the last two and the deer are stuck in your garden, I’m telling you now, it’s no holds barred. Become good friends with someone who knows how to wrap and tie burlap.

They never ate butterfly bush and privet and forsythia, but these are all plants they’re now developing a taste for, not everywhere but in enough place that it’s worrisome. So how do we deal with the deer having changed their patterns to eat these new plants? We have to change their patterns for them.  The deer never ate boxwoods before, and although it was in only a few instances, there were plants nibbled this winter. 

How do we change the deer’s patterns? We prevent them from getting to the plants. Either with repellents, or with fencing if necessary. Bringing in a new rhododendron? Make sure you spray it, even if you live in a place where they’re not eating your old rhododendrons. The deer might not be eating the old ones because they’re not on your deer’s radar. But bring in a new plant, let them smell the freshly dug earth and see the change in their surroundings and they’re going to visit the plant and check it out. Since deer don’t have hands to feel, they “check things out” with their teeth. If you’ve sprayed the plant and it tastes terrible, there’s a better than good chance you can dissuade them from eating it to the ground. But you can’t just do it once, you need to keep spraying that plant for a whole season, for long enough for the deer to have gotten into a routine of ignoring that plant, to have made a new habit. Repellent not working? Use fencing. Just stop them from getting to that plant until the get used to it. It won’t work for hostas, but we all know those are deer crack cocaine, so be realistic, choose something that has a modicum of resistance. Just do a little research by looking around your neighborhood and talking to your neighbors and gardening friends before you believe as gospel the deer resistant plant list you just downloaded from the internet.

Paige Patterson has revised the deer resistant plant list on an almost weekly basis this year, but just realized she left phlox off the list. Bad Paige.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Little Green Monster

Before Saturday night’s rain, we’d been having a very dry early summer, and although it felt each night like we were still waiting for spring to start, there was just enough heat for everyone’s roses to be able to really show off all their glory.  Of course, timing being what timing is, I wasn’t able to stop by my friend’s glorious garden to admire his fabulous collection and to congratulate him on his 11 ribbons and his silver medal from the Southampton Rose Society’s Annual Rose Show until the following evening, right after work.

“It’s a soggy mess,” is how he greeted me at the entrance gate, “but here’s your rose’ anyway.”

If only my garden looked as glorious as his “mess.”


This is one of the great advantages in working in the garden industry, I get to see a slew of gardens, and although it’s always a joy, sometimes I get a twinge of garden envy. A Little Green Monster that looks at someone else’s property and thinks, “I want that.” Sunday night I had more than a little twinge as we wandered through his property wine glasses in hand, I think my skin actually was showing more than a tinge of Verdi as we sipped and walked.

It’s a small property, but there is a garden that is gloriously full of roses incorporated into all the bed, scrambling up walls and posts and over pergolas -- even wrapping themselves up and over the railing on his second floor master bedroom porch. It is a glorious property, a jewel box of color and fragrance filled with roses rare and voluptuous.

Now just like him, I have Eden roses, but while his have muscled their way up and around his entrance pergola posts to make a ceiling of the softest, most fragrant pink imaginable, mine are just starting to make an impact on the fence where I’ve been training them for three or four years. He has a rambling rose in a dusty purple lavender color that he bought as a small 1 gallon two years ago that is now dripping from the eves of his garage/carriage house – a beauty that made me seriously consider rose theft.

But it was his Leonardo Da Vinci rose that really brought out the green monster within me. The Leonardo Da Vinci rose is part of the Romantica Series and was created by the same breeder who bred the Eden rose, a Frenchman named Jacques Mouchette, the director of the illustrious Meilland Group. The Meilland Group has also brought us such stunners as Bonica, Yves Piaget, Carefree Wonder and Carefree Delight and the Drift roses. He is not to be trifled with, and actually builds better roses than (dare I say it?) David Austin, in my humble estimation.  And Leonardo was staring me in the face, daring me not to shout out this thought to the heavens.

In Europe, Leonardo Da Vinci is a well behaved medium to large sized shrub, but when it was brought to this country, it started showing a tendency to ramble and my friend’s has grown like it’s a steroid junkie, swamping the front of his pool house and enveloping it a curtain of pink that just keeps on growing and throwing out the most delicious quartered, old fashioned looking flowers that bloom on and on and on.

Rich pink, gorgeous and able to last over a week when cut, I long for this rose, but of course, it’s not one of the ones we brought in this year, so I can’t have it.

And to make matters worse, he said I was the one who’d sold it to him.

“Why didn’t you get one too Paige?” he asked knowing that I am a plant junkie. 

The regrets plantaholic are classified in long lists in our minds, or as we get a little older, on scraps of paper, moleskin journals, or the electronic notes section of our phones.

I told him that I most definitely would be getting them in next year, if they were available, but that luckily at the shop we had cornered the market on the best white rose on the planet, also created by the same breeder. This rose, called White Meidland is one of the best, low maintenance roses of all time, disease free with great dark foliage and a tendency to bloom ridiculously well, it also looks (unlike the Knock Outs -- another easy to grow rose) like a great old fashioned rose.  Tons of petals, quartered like Leonardo Da Vinci and fabulous.

Unlike Leonardo, it’s not a Romantica, but instead is more of a groundcover, or landscape rose, a spreader, but it’s excellent in pots, and well deserving of a home in any kind of garden.  And already has found a home in mine.

So okay, no Leonardo Da Vinci for me this year, but I could quell my desire for lush beauty by just throwing a couple more of these into the trunk of my car. So the next day I strode into the nursery, parked by the rose section opened my trunk and reached for the White Meidland, when out of the corner of my eye, wait, isn’t that the last two Pretty in Pink Eden roses, new this year and gorgeously vivid where the original in baby soft pink? How could our sharp-eyed rose connoisseurs not have swept those two baby’s up?  I grabbed both knowing that although I had to have one of them, my friend’s garden would the perfect home for the other. Oh and of course, I threw in a couple more of the White Meidlands, I mean how else could I handle the Little Green Monster?

Paige Patterson has never refused a rose bush a home, although she did finally rip out the two red rootstock roses that pushed up from funeral pyres of this winter’s two causalities.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Silent Night

It is more than chilly as I write this, sitting on my porch listening to the wind dance with the leaves of monarda, monarda that is smothering a set of dwarf hydrangeas that are crying out to be moved, but I’m not complaining. My peonies are in tight buds, the dame’s rocket has exploded into bloom and my weigelas have starting to persuade the hummingbirds that this house is a lovely area to claim as their own. The garden is dense and lush and voluptuous with promise. 

But where are my screech owls? 

It was my husband that noticed the empty space in the evening, the quiet that falls each night without their tiny superball on a snare drum trill punctuating the night’s sounds.
They’re gone, he tells me, but I don’t believe it.

Then, today, I saw Nick from the Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays. He was at Marders with the recued raptors he brings for our clients to see up close in all their fascinating glory. Martino, my favorite, an injured screech owl triggered my husband’s words so I asked Nick, if he too has noticed a dearth of nighttime trilling. 

He said there was a good chance that Dereyk, my husband, was right. Too much winter, two bad winters in a row, and snow that hid all the mice and voles and shrews from my feathered friends — it all added up to starving owls. All those minus 5-degree days and nights must have made the evening sustenance for nocturnals scant. 

That and us. 

We must be accountable for the effects we have. We don’t like voles that eat all our plants, and we all know that mice not only carry the Hanfra virus, but that they are almost more to blame for carrying ticks then the deer. And no one loves rats. They are all our pests and we eradicate them with impunity. But when we do, what happens to the owls? There are no night flying insects during the winter to fill feathered belies, so the rodent population is a necessity that hasn’t been thought about that much. 

And there are no barn left for the Barn owls, much less for mice to nest in. There are no abandoned fields filled with weeds that have matted down to make homes from which to scurry out into the starlit now and see the night sky from which death will come on silent wings. 

When I was a child there was an abandoned house deep in what is now the entrance to the Sagg Swamp. There were barns filled with rusted machinery and abandoned burlap bags. Horses were housed in stables with wooden boards that did not have hermetically sealed joints. There were crevices, nook, crannies and piles of things, there was detritus. That detritus supported life.

We are no longer a society that tolerates detritus. Instead we long for tidiness. The lawns are manicured, perfectly green in their chemical splendor, surrounded not by overgrown vegetation, but by endless rows of burlaped perfection. There are no brush piles for the voles, if fact I bet there’s barely a half dozen compost piles within a mile of my home. We’ve got it all under control, or we’re at least desperately trying to get it there, and I’m here to say it makes me sad.

I miss my owls, but I’m as guilty as anyone else, with traps set out for the rats that accompany my chickens (only one lonely one at this moment) and to dine under the bird feeder I insist upon filling. I am part of the problem, and it’s my missing owls that have brought it home to me tonight.It is hard to be a gardener and a lover of nature, a naturalist at heart, and know you are part of the problem. And I want to change.

But how? I don’t use pesticides. I am as organic as I can be, but the rats were for me a tipping point. I didn’t want rats, but maybe if I had accepted them I would still have owls. I don’t know for sure, but it gives me pause. 

Come to my house, my clients tell me, you can have all the voles you want, but I don’t take them up on the offer – I am super grateful that I don’t have to battle voles in my garden. My owls however, might have welcomed their intrusion.  If I had voles, would I have more foxes too? I really miss foxes. When I was younger and my father used to mow our large fields with the tractor he adored, but used rarely, there was a fox that used to trot over to moment the tractor growled into gear. He knew what the sound of that tractor meant, he knew that the sound of the tractor was a foreshadowing of the falling of the tall rye grass that had grown gracefully tall all summer long and was now going to fall. He knew that as the tractor cut swathes through the sea of green, the voles would dive out in front of the falling grain and he would have a bountiful feast. 

I haven’t seen a fox in three years.

Now, of course, since I have chickens, I am gratefully that I have no foxes dancing in my own tall grass, leaping like red dolphins in gracefully arcs towards that moments meals, but it’s terribly sad. There used to be a den each year on a property that now holds a multi-million dollar mansion. There is no den there any longer of course, but I can not blame that neighbor for wanting to tame his wilderness while I sit behind my deer fence denying another creature we’ve all deemed a pest his right to dine in my yard.

I am conflicted. It’s hard to claim a love of just some of nature and not all of it. It’s difficult to feel like I’m making good choices for the planet when I’m choosing to honor my desire to pick tulips and wade among billowing hydrangeas over another creatures right to enjoy them in a different way.

I miss my owls, and for them I bow my head in apology to the silent night and ask for their forgiveness. 

Paige Patterson asks you to save the date for The Evelyn Alexander Wildlife Rescue Center Get Wild Annual Summer Benefit on August 8th. 

For information and tickets go to 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Three Days in England

Imagine looking at a rectangular suburban backyard garden of about 2,400 square feet that looks like it has been growing for at least a decade. Then imagine you can walk 15 feet and see another one, equally as perfect, but with a totally different aesthetic and its own extraordinarily complicated, interwoven plant palette looking for all the world like it too been there forever. And then another. 
Now add in, as you wander from garden to garden, a crowd filled with people muttering the correct Latin names for all the plants you see in front of you -- quietly debating whether using heuchera was a wiser choice then the more challenging heuchera americana. 
Next throw in an enormous pavilion with individual nurseries displaying rare, new unusual and just plain glorious plants ranging from a wall of perfect potatoes, to auricula primroses presented as if staged for portraiture, to four different companies each showing a Himalayan Poppy with a rosy pink hue instead of the elusive blue (something most of use gardening fools didn’t even know existed, much less had time to long for.)
Welcome to England’s Royal Horticultural Chelsea Flower Show. Or Valhalla, for those of us who are horticulturally inclined.
If you, like me, are a plantaholic, and we both won the lottery and had unlimited funds and the time to visit and experience all things garden related, we would both put a yearly visit to the Chelsea Flower Show on our unfettered gardening calendars. 
Working in the gardening industry is, in my opinion, a creative undertaking, and like a painter or a dancer or a musician, I find it incredibly valuable to be exposed to new ideas, new shapes, new colors and new melodies. Chelsea (as it’s called by most) satiates all parts of one’s inspirational hunger. I had limited time (Chelsea coincides with our Memorial Day week – the Hamptons’ busiest gardening time) and having visited previously, knew that I needed at least one whole day to truly savor the Pavilion where the plant displays are staged and another to take in all three categories of the many gardens that are built on the grounds of the Chelsea Royal Hospital where the show is staged each year. Everything went according to plan and, as it was sprinkling on and off, I was able to view the gardens without being overwhelmed by crowds. My immediate first impressions of the show gardens? Easy. Weeds and rocks.
Wait, wait, wait, I hear you thinking, what is she talking about? I thought she said those gardens were meticulous?
They are, but you see the plants that all the Chelsea designers are using are not the Hamptons classic ingredients of hydrangeas, roses, boxwood and privet. They were using astrantias, camassias, verbascums and anthriscus ‘Ravenswing’ – a purple foliaged pink flowered umbel I can’t even find in this country other than in seed form. And yes there was boxwood, and other sheared evergreens as well as extraordinary walls of hornbeams (which we currently have for sale at the nursery – being very of the moment) but the majority of the plantings were extraordinary weavings of thready, wildflower-looking, perennials that I have no idea how they installed. 
Now I’ve created a large number of gardens, and I work at a company where we install entire properties within 3 weeks and when we leave it looks like the trees and shrubs have been there since the days before they built the extension of the L.I.E, but no matter how tightly I’ve planted perennial and annual beds, I’ve never been able to make it so that there was absolutely no soil exposed.  I have no idea how to layer geums, yarrows, artemisia and orlaya grandiflora 'White Finch' (a plant that looks like a slightly shorter, heavier petaled Queen Anne’s Lace) so that there’s no dirt visible. It appeared as if they had installed the main perennials three months earlier, tweezered in baby seedlings into every exposed soil pocket at the same time, and then let the whole thing grow into place.  
Instead I knew each garden had been started from bare dirt only 19 days earlier. 
Perhaps they had grown the plants in swathes like sod, I thought, or in building block, but even that would be an extraordinary feat of planning and planting. These gardens looked like plantings that had been installed ages ago and then let go to weed, except that the weeds were some of horticultures most elegant and wispy perennial choices. 
The rocks, well almost every garden showcased them in some form, but there were two that were extraordinary.  The first, created by Darren Hawkes in the Brewer Dolphin garden used over 40,000 pieces of hand cut slate stacked like playing cards and assembled into giant elevated ‘stepping stones’ which traversed a flowing stream planted with a wild cacophony of ferns, bleeding hearts, columbines and erigeron karvinskianus, a plant I’m desperate for in my own garden. It was a fascinatingly unusual (albeit labor intensive) way to work with stone. A material it would have never occurred to me to mold in this way. The second, which won gold for best Show Garden as well as the Best in Show award, was created by Dan Pearson and was sponsored by Laurent-Perrier and Chatsworth Garden. (All the gardens have sponsors – gardens and their design, construction and installation can cost over half million dollars each – plus it’s an interesting reflection of a country’s persona when advertising your brand by constructing a garden works.) 
Mr. Pearson disassembled and gathered up 300 tons of rock outcroppings from one of the less visited areas of the 105 acre Chatsworth Estate and reconstructed them on a triangular plot that in Chelsea Garden history is know for being the most difficult site -- it is seen from all sides as opposed to most others that are viewed at most from only two directions. Dan’s garden was magnificent; you really felt that you were sitting back in that unexplored corner of Chatsworth. There was a dying, or perhaps even completely dead oak tree he brought to the space as well as a deciduous azalea (Rhododendron luteum) that in England is almost noxious in its invasiveness and the rest of the plant choices were also unexpected. Marsh marigolds, herb Robert, candelabra primroses and martagon lilies were strewn through the garden as if tossed from a passing car’s windows. And yes, as I learned at a dinner with an “in-the-know” Chelsea Show alumnus, it turns out Dan HAD grown his wildflower and weed laced carpet as a turf that was unrolled and installed the week prior to the opening ceremony.  This garden was revelatory in its inspiration. 
The entire day was incredible.
The second day was also magnificent, especially for a plant junkie like me. Inside the pavilion (which covers an area of approximately 2.5 acres) there are individual displays from nurseries, both family owned and mainstream, showcasing their wares. 
David Austin debuted his three newest roses at the show -- Desdemona, Ancient Mariner and Sir Walter Scott -- all gorgeous, but most likely all just as susceptible to black spot on Long Island as his other roses.  Blackmore & Langdon displayed begonias with flowers the size of soup bowls beneath their traditional color wave of perfect delphiniums stalks running the spectrum from solid refrigerator white to the deepest purple with sooty black “bees” – the name given to the individual florets’ centers. Dibley’s from Northern Wales had a display of streptocarpus that was so incredible I lusted for all of them, especially since I only knew of two or three before stumbling across their stand. 
 The list of nurseries with plants I desired could fill this whole magazine. I even gathered seeds in the hopes that I could start some of these incredible plants (anyone got a greenhouse they can spare??) 
And finally there was The Botanic Nursery from Wiltshire. They happen to hold the country’s the national collection of foxgloves and they had a display featuring 37 different varieties. Now I adore foxgloves, and consider it one of my signature plants, but I only knew of perhaps 15-20 before I got to their stand. Needless to say I coveted all of which them and standing in front of their display thought seriously about how I could bribe my husband to move with me across the ocean.  
Luckily Paige Patterson knows a Land Rover Defender is all the bait she needs to lure her husband to England permanently. So all she needs is a job there any ideas?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Spring has (sort of) sprung

Yes, spring is here, but it’s taking it’s own sweet time. My tulips are up, finally – I just brought a huge armful to my nephew’s birthday party, and the magnolias are heaving with blooms, but I’m still sporting a sweater and I’m not rocking flip flops and shorts anytime soon.

So yes, this weekend there will be annuals on some of the nursery tables, but if you’re looking for geraniums you still have a few weeks to go. And for those of you itching to plant tomatoes, take a few deep breathes and start sowing lettuce or planting thyme and sage instead.

It is however, the most brilliant time to start to plant perennials. For those of us who have irrigation systems it’s time to switch them on, as it’s been a surprisingly dry spring, and if we’re trying to plant, we definitely need to be able to give them a nice long drink the moment they meet the soil.  I have a front porch full of small plugs that I am planning to install on Tuesday with the help of Gerardo and his planting crew. And since they are small plants it’s imperative that I make sure they have good soil and decent water to get them off to a good start.

It’s quite an impressive pileup of baby plants that greet me when I walk out onto the porch to feed the bird feeders and then toss a handful of hulled sunflower seeds to my sweet, single, surviving chicken. I’ve never done an install of just plugs at my own house, but I’m trying to plant in masses more, and it’s the only way to make an impressive show without spending an equally impressive pile of money.
Unfortunately gardening sometimes is a choice. Time or money. And, since I don’t have unlimited funds, I’m banking on having more patience.

I’d like to have the ability to spend oodles of money for big, full-grown plants, but starting out with things that are a tad younger can be equally impressive if you just wait for a year or two. I have flats of foxgloves and poppies and nepeta and salvias and agastache and phlox and echinacea. Woo hoo. And we are planning to get them all in the ground in one go.

I’ve been inspired by all the massive swathes of perennials that I see in garden books and magazine spreads, and in the gardens I help install out here, but my wallet can’t quite manage the requisite quantities when bought in the one, two and three gallon sizes. So I’ve downgraded to a size I can afford to plant in groups of 20 plus. Sixty echinacea will hopefully make a grand impression, as will the 50 phlox flanking them. I have never planted this way before in my own garden but after years of planting three of this and 5 of that, I’ve come to see that the wave of the future for my garden is volume, volume, volume.

Of course, it’s harder to find plugs of unusual plants, but that doesn’t mean I’m still not going to grab up the rarities that cross my path, which is why the entire tray of white flowered ajuga that showed up at Marders a little too small for the perennial tables didn’t go back to the growers but found it’s way to the trunk of my car instead. As did a mass of the half priced primroses from what is called the Belerina series that are on the past-bloom 50% off table. These are hardy, so next year they will be quite lovely when they pop up in my partial shade areas.

There are more of the lovely little Japanese primroses call sieboldii that have blooms shaped like snowflakes that I have my eye on as well, but as I have some of them already, I’m waiting to let customers see the blooms first so they too can enjoy them before I sweep them all into my own greedy little arms. I also am longing for more forget-me-nots that got dug up (unintentionally) when tulips were installed with a little too much enthusiasm two years ago. I noticed they were missing last spring, but promised myself that I would try to grow them by seed before I invested in plants so I’m scattered the requisite seeds in early spring and have my fingers crossed.
However, I’m not that hopefully.

As I have a garden that needs a few days a week to manage, and I still haven’t won the lottery and thus am forced to earn a living to pay for my plant addiction, I have to have help. And help can sometime be a little less discriminating then it should be. This is how I lost years and years of well-established Creeping Jenny. And all my baby hellebore seedlings. The new rule in my garden is no hoes, no rakes and no blowers. Everything that gets removed has to be removed by hand and has to be approved, visually, by me, before its little feet are removed from the soil.

This means I have a lot of baby seedlings pushing their tender little leaves up towards the sun. I already know that some are foxgloves, which is fantastic. And also, that some are the dreaded Impatiens biflora otherwise known as Jewelweed.  Jewelweed is actually not that terrible (rubbing it’s crushed leaves on your skin immediately after contact with poison ivy has actually prevented the rash and if you keep dabbing mosquito bites with its juice for long enough the bite won’t swell and itch) but it does grow to be five feet high in my garden and smothers other, more desirably seedlings.  So I’m teaching the hands that help me to learn the difference.  And how to get down on your hands and knees and really weed. They’re really not that enthused, as they would prefer to rake the soil clean with their hoes and dress it up with a lovely layer of nice clean mulch. But as I’m after a more Miss Haversham goes on a binge planting effect, it’s a skill that I am requiring they learn.

Wish me luck, and if you stop by for some forget-me-nots leave a few on the tables for me.

Paige Patterson needs to invest in a pair of kneepads as she has now been on the planet for over a half century.