Friday, January 21, 2005

A small rant and a modest proposal

When the world wearies and society ceases to satisfy, there is always the garden.
Minnie Aumonier

Wearies? Events have steamrolled right over the wearying, blew by demoralizing, and are careening toward debilitating. The miasma that passes for civil discourse settles over the spirit like a heavy dark cloak - light cannot pass in or out; or possibly a black hole, sucking energy, both personal and planetary.

Maybe it’s time to take a cue from another Aumonier quote

There is always music amongst the trees in the garden, but our hearts must be very quiet to hear it.

Maybe it’s time to turn off the radio. Do I really need to hear the litany of largely undeserved self-congratulations coming from politicians and leaders of every stripe?

Maybe it’s time to remove political and news blogs from my Bloglines list.

Maybe it’s time to visit garden forums, where the disagreements concern the advisability of winter sowing tomatoes in Zone 5.

Maybe it’s time to settle down with some garden writing, seed catalogs and my garden journal. A little perspective, please.

When you’re hanging on by a thread, identify that thread and do all you can to strengthen it. Gardening is my thread, consistently providing therapy through years of ups and downs. If this blink in time seems a bit crazier, well, perhaps it is. Gardening serves as a gentle reminder that the wheel turns and seasons come and go, each filled with its own impossibly tender beauty.

So maybe it’s time to go outside and look for tulip noses poking through the damp earth and reaching into the winter mist.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


Winter flu can take the fun out of seed catalog browsing. The catalogs sat on the bed, next to the Kleenex, but I just couldn’t bring my fuzzy stuffed brain to process all those lovely descriptions and photographs.

Fortunately, as gardeners have learned, all things run their course. My pile of seed catalogs has been devoured and thoroughly cross referenced, a parsimonious process starting with a compilation of a wish list of special seeds followed by checking their availability in the Pinetree catalog, a source of smaller and less expensive seed packets.

Not that I don’t order some from other companies. My seed orders this year include Pinetree, Cook’s, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Tomatofest, Territorial Seeds, Parks, Golden Harvest Organic and Milk Ranch Specialty Potatoes . How do I justify the expense of many different shipping costs? It is a circuitous rationalization beginning with a calculation of how much I would spend if, for example, I were a downhill skier and bought a season pass. Cost of said pass is $399. I’d say that the few dollars in shipping is chump change by comparison. In fact, one can creatively pursue this faulty logic to justify all means of exorbitance - “I have saved so much by not buying that ski pass. Now what shall I do with all that money?”

Just kidding.

Still, I view my gardening expenses as relatively modest when compared to many other hobbies/obsessions.


Each year I love to try some new (to me) heirloom tomatoes plus a few new plants. I’ll save the rather lengthy tomato list for another day, but here are some other interesting finds for this year:

'Purple Ribbon' lavender from Pinetree, a Lavandula stoechas subsp. pedunculata that blooms the first year from seed.

Asparagus fern, a mix of Asparagus densiflorus 'Meyersii' and A.densiflorus 'Sprengeri', also from Pinetree.

Whopper Lighthouse, a Salvia splendens from Parks, described as reaching 30”

Giant Exhibition Coleus collection, also from Parks. I have grown Palisandra and Limelight from this series and was happy to discover this collection. It also includes Tartan, Copper Queen and Scarlet II.

Diva cucumber, a Beit Alpha cuke with mid eastern heritage and parthenocarpic to boot.

Several mâche varieties from Cook’s. After reading a fascinating article in the Food Issue of the New Yorker last fall I am compelled to at least try to grow this gourmet green myself.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Blowout sales

‘Twas the season for blowout sales. Garden Djinn recently posted her good fortune in this regard. Pre-holiday sales abounded as stores tried to clear space for new seasonal offerings.

Having filled almost (the operative word!) every available space and container with tulips and daffodils, I was restricted to a bag of the lovely 'Tete-a-tete' to tuck in among larger cousins.

Yes. Limited by space. Restricted to one small bag. Heh.

Living close to the Jackson and Perkins mothership is always a mixed blessing. Thinking myself safe from the call of the sale, I wandered through the bins of marked down bulbs and stumbled upon iris rhizomes for fifty cents. Not your nameless, generic irises but named and award winning cultivars. What gardener can resist a 700% markdown?! A quick trip home and a few Googles later I was able to come up with colors and hence a planting scheme.

I am unashamed to admit that I really love bearded irises. There, I’ve said it. They are sometimes considered passé or even blowsy or garish. To any reader who feels this way - I beg you to reconsider. The showy flowers are complex, with satiny petals suitable for stunning photographs, and the subtle fragrances, which differ among the cultivars, can be enchanting.

And they are easily hybridized. I am so intrigued by the very idea. If a gardener feels that she has produced a winner she can submit it to the American Iris Society. If deemed worthy, the hybrid can be registered and named. I have always intended to try my hand at hybridizing. Perhaps this spring...and the naming might be fun (Eclectic Moon, Witches Wine, Sweet City?).

My finds:

Sivlerado - light blue and white
Rip City - red
Goodnight Moon - yellow
Dazzling Gold - yellow and red
Sweeter than Wine - cream/purple bicolor
Gnu Blues - pale blue streaked with dark blue
Impressionist – rose /raspberry bicolor
Witches Wand – Violet-black, orange beard