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February 2011

January 2011

Silent takeover - scale - Coccus hesperidum

  DSC_0002It seemed to happen overnight but, of course, it did not.  It takes time to build up a takeover population of hard shelled, syrup producing, life sucking scale. Anything with a Latin name of Coccus hesperidum, must be bad mustn't it?  I have had the flowering maple for several years now and, in fact, I have two which I have trained to standard form.  They are not tight and neat but loose and tree like.  I like having a maple tree or two in the window in the winter and it is even better when they bloom with hot scarlet/orange bells.    DSC_0100I noticed that the left maple seemed a bit droopy.  I checked the soil and it was moderately dry.  The edge of the container seemed sticky.  It takes a lot of scale to produce enough syrup to make the edge of a pot sticky.  The windowsill was also sticky. DSC_0004What had I been doing each time I watered it? I obviously was not checking it for scale. I know, I was looking at the birds or the snow or trying to see whether or not the dogs were still in the yard.  It pays to keep a close eye on your houseplants in January.  This seems to be the stress month for houseplants.  The heat has been turned up for a while, the air is dry,  new growth is beginning to emerge as the days reach ten hours of light or more.  But where did the scale come from?  I answer gardening questions all the time but I have to say I have never seen an adequate answer to this one.  DSC_0007I have introduced no new plants to the collection.  The only answer I have is that perhaps there were eggs in the soil which have been quietly and stealthily waiting to hatch and start the battle.  Do you have any thoughts on this?   I brought the plant to the sink and after I put on my glasses and the horror of seeing all these insects subsided, I saw absolutely no way to remove all those little hard cases.  I usually use neem oil on any insect problems but it only works on the crawlers which hide for a certain amount of time under the hard shell.  The life cycle is two to four months.  DSC_0009 Common sense prevailed.  I hacked it back.  It was five degrees outside when I stuck that stalk in the snow by the back door. I hope those little suckers are frozen solid by now.  Don't get mad, get even.  The plant is now a stick sitting in a pot.  I checked the remaining stick.  I see no scale.  I will keep an eye on it.  I just can't show it to you as it looks too grim.  I know it will send out new leaves.  It just won't match the other tree anymore.  That is the way it goes.  I am checking all the other houseplants for scale and so far, nothing.   They are all getting neemed though just in case.  Are you battling any insects in your indoor garden?  What, when, how? 


Gwynne/Folcarelli Garden - Little Compton, RI

DSC_0139It is said that if you live in a place, you often overlook that which is right at hand.  Sometimes it is just ignorance of the existence of a feature.  Many times value of a place or an object increases with distance and cost.  It is important to take a close look at the opportunities within reach and seize the obvious.  So it was that the garden of John Gwynne and Mikel Folcarelli in Little Compton, RI came to my attention.  Little Compton lies along the coastline in a moderate Zone 6/7 climate.  A Garden Symposium was held last June and there were two gardens featured, both exquisite. The Atwater garden will wait for another Friday. DSC_0219The Gwynne/Folcarelli garden is designed as a series of rooms and each unfolds slowly sometimes startling the visitor with unique color and composition.  The home is lovely with a wonderful, naturalistic feel and both it and the entrance to the cluster of garden rooms give just a little hint to the wonders about to unfold.DSC_0147 There are allees, walkways, paths, and hedging which guide the visitor through the spaces.  DSC_0152A green globe glows serenely in the misty atmosphere surrounding the garden and dares one to come closer and closer until the most thrilling golden garden is revealed.  Variegated comfrey, hakonechloa, yellow yews and a myriad of other golden plants create a circular garden which begs for closer inspection. DSC_0158It is a bright garden on a gray day and it is difficult to leave but a glimpse through the hedge reveals the purple beech arch planted in a garden bed of Alice in Wonderland globe alliums. DSC_0162 The purple teases the eye with dark tones in contrast to the sunny garden left behind.  DSC_0193The arch is not yet mature but its form is clear and already it invites one through the space and around a water feature which sits below this DSC_0169 red lacquer gazebo complete with dancing elephants and printed pillows just waiting for a willing wanderer to climb the stairs and sit still for a moment.  The whisper of bamboo keeps one sitting,  listening, and surveying the scenery. DSC_0177 There is something to be seen from all angles in the garden and the view from this high perchDSC_0175is tranquil yet thrilling.  There is a glimpse of blue to be seen and it is the clear, light blue of Himalayan poppies.  DSC_0155 They are not easy to grow here in RI but the garden conditions have been carefully crafted to host this most valued garden guest.  DSC_0217I was there just as the bloom was starting to fade and the furry pods were forming.  It was hard to walk away from this blue but just beyond, the gray/blue garden sits.  It is a soothing space complete with chairs.  DSC_0207 Many of the rooms had places to sit and reflect. I hope the gardeners can take advantage of them on occasion.  DSC_0203
This garden is still maturing and I hope to see it again and again.  I know I missed many features and unusual plants.  If one can fault a garden for being too intriguing and too beguiling, that simply can't be done.  It is the fault of the observer and not the garden at all.  This garden is more than a treat.  It is an adventure and the views out are as sensual and inviting as the views within.  DSC_0190
I do hope you get to see this garden in person someday but, if not, we shall 'Armchair Travel' to it again to watch it mature and develop.  Many thanks for hopping aboard. 

This garden is scheduled to be on tour again in June of this year.  Visit the website for further updates.        


In Pursuit of Parsnips

DSC_0073If New Englanders were to have to rely on local food in January, parsnips would be more popular.  Related to the carrot, Pastinaca sativa, is the less well know cousin one invites to dinner only if necessary.  Parsnips look like carrots but they are white and the flavor is unique.  They are best left in the ground until after a good freeze since the cold turns the carbohydrates into sugar giving them the honor of being the sweetest of root crops.  Parsnips are rich in potassium, folic acid, and fiber but I grew them because I wanted something to harvest in the middle of winter.  I used a crowbar to plant the seeds in a compost filled hole in May.  DSC_0005Parsnips are biennial and the seed must be fresh as it loses vigor quickly. The tops were lush and green in September.  DSC_0071In November, I covered the parsnip bed with twelve inches of straw to protect the ground from freezing so that winter harvest would be an option. DSC_0078Last week I decided to have some parsnips for lunch.  A nice roasted parsnip salad with mozzarella and olive oil would just hit the spot. It was time to take a walk to the garden. This was not as easy as it sounds.  There is two feet of snow on the ground.  The bottom eighteen inches have a hard crust which sits just below the new, powdery six inches of fresh snow.    The garden gate looked quite a bit lower as I approached it and the option was to shovel a three foot swarth so I could open the gate or simply climb over it.  DSC_0010I say simply but the last few months of inactivity have not kept this gardener limber or, it could possibly be that the heavy boots were just enough weight to keep the foot from swinging high over the gate.  It wasn't pretty and yoga is now on the list.  I made a less than graceful entrance into the garden in search of the burried parsnip covered mound which was the second from the last at the far end.  DSC_0012With all that snow, the mounds looked pretty similar.   I had only brought the garden fork with me thinking that would be enough.  DSC_0020Forks do not work well on snow but I was already committed so the fork broke up the hard crust and then the mittens went to work until they hit the straw.  The fork was employed to loosen and lift it to get at the parsnips.  No lunch has given me this much trouble in quite a while and it was a reminder to be thankful for the rows and rows of produce lined up and easy to pick at the grocery store.  DSC_0015Once the straw was lifted, there was an earthy pungence in the air. The fork easily plunged into the rich dark soil, the parsnips, although I admit they are not pretty, emerged from the depths. DSC_0018I have read that too much nitrogen fertilizer will cause the roots to fork and while I did use an organic fertilizer, perhaps a bit less would have yielded the long thick roots of perfection.  DSC_0019Perfect or not, the parsnips were carried to the house, cleaned and roasted.  DSC_0034-1Added to the salad, they were deliciously sweet with a bit of a nutty flavor.  There is much satisfaction in harvesting a vegetable in the middle of winter.  The EM does not really like parsnips.  Next year, there will be carrots planted in one of the other beds and covered just the same.  For now, I am planning the next meal with parsnips once my flexibility increases, strength returns, and I can get back to the garden.  I guess I need to eat a few more salads.  Have you ever planted parsnips? 


Noteworthy gardens - Poppy Cottage, Truro, England

009_9Five inches of fresh snow are blowing around outside and the icicles are hanging from the rafters although they could be stalagmites since they are touching the earth and only reason tells me that they did not spring upwards from the depths of the snow around the house. 045_45 Cold and snow make this a good day for 'armchair traveling' which always serves as a reminder of past trips and garden inspiration.  Two years ago this coming June I had the good fortune to visit England and a tiny portion of its thousands of beautiful gardens.  The trip centered on Cornwall and some of the gardens within its southern bouderies.  Cornwall is the southernmost portion of England and its climate is quite mild with few extremes.  June was warm and sunny which only presented problems for the photographer.  047_47 Poppy Cottage Garden is a private garden owned and maintained by Tina and Dave Primmer. Both were on hand to greet our group and answer the myriad of questions posed.  They started the garden in 1998 and added additional garden rooms with the purchase of more land in 2003.  020_20It is hard to believe that this garden is 'finished'.  I am sure if I go back to Poppy Cottage I will find new and more extensive plantings as these gardeners have visible passion evident in the attention to detail within these spaces. Poppy cottage walkwayThis is not a huge tract of land but the arrangement of garden rooms, each with well thought out combinations 032_32and color schemes, make it feel as though you could wander forever. 046_46There are paths leading the way from one garden to another and there are sitting areas within many of the spaces.  041_41 The garden is very three dimensional as climbers rise up on columns with some trained overhead drawing attention and traffic to another garden room.006_6 Perfectly edged gardens, perfect grass and stunning colors keep visitors enthralled with the content of this unique garden.  039_39 The largest room in the series of connected gardens is bordered by trees, shrubs, and perennials chosen to complement the adjacent plants.  033_33I have never seen sage as big as the one in the lower left of this picture not to mention the bright, fuschia and purple penstemons. 035_35The borders flow and undulate and eventually lead to a less tamed, but no less interesting area, of the garden with paths of wood chips.  040_40 I have seen few gardens in America which have the diversity of plants and the style of this garden.    I find that travel not only inspires but teaches if one is open to a lesson.  This garden is tended by owners with flair, passion, and generosity.  They open their garden to others to share their work and their joy of gardening.  The garden as a whole is a delight but there is incredible beauty in the small,individual plants grown.  008_8 This Cerinthe major purpurascens seems otherworldly in color.  Who says there are no turquoise plants in the garden? I clearly see it in this one.  Thanks for 'Armchair traveling' with me today.  I am planning on taking a journey each Friday.  I hope you will choose to travel along. 


Snow shadows

DSC_0042I understand snow blindness.  One just has to go outside on a clear, sunny day when there is snow on the ground to experience the incredible brightness a layer of white can give to the landscape and the assault it gives to the eyes of the snow wanderer.  DSC_0044The dogs don't seem to mind and their big game is finding some tidbit in the snow.  DSC_0049I won't even mention what this probably is that they are enjoying.  The shadows are long this time of year and this gardener is grateful when they are visible holding everything in high relief.  DSC_0047There is little to see except the dream of next year's garden blooming in abandon.  It is at this time of year that plans are hatched and perfection is achieved.  DSC_0055In the mind's eye of course.  What are you planning for your garden next year?  


Recycling the Christmas tree

This week, while driving on a major highway, I saw a discarded Christmas tree lying up against the center barrier separating the lanes of traffic.  Like that lone shoe on the highway, I wondered how it got there.  Did someone think that the highway would be a very good place to dump the tree?  More likely, it blew out of the truck or off the roof of the car but wouldn't you think that driver would notice when this event happened and maybe consider what a problem it could be for the next driver in the high speed lane?  This is not the first time I have seen this sight.  Not quite as curious as that lone shoe which has very little chance of actually flying off a foot which is hung out of a window and which must have been purposefully tossed out the window in an act of anger, frustration or just tomfoolery.  Still, I wish I knew the circumstances of that tree's escape all the while being grateful for not having been following the offending vehicle when the event occurred. DSC_0014 I am fortunate.  I do have a lot of area for disposing of a used Christmas tree which was in demand this year. I could have used it to provide needed cover for the birds near the bird feeders.  It would last the winter and keep the birds happy.  I have sometimes done this but the stand was put away and there are a few garden areas which needed some cover.  My sister wanted mine for her campfire on New Year's Eve but I held on to it in order to use the boughs to cover the southwest facing garden areas which tend to thaw and then freeze again causing perennial roots to tear and break.  DSC_0016I have some heucheras planted in these areas and they sit high above the garden in spring if care is not taken to give them a bit of protection from the physics of Mother Nature.  So, with a pair of long handled ratchet pruners and some gloves, I made quick work of the tree disposal.  DSC_0017
Once the branches were snipped, I placed boughs over the plants, tossed the trunk into the woods, and got a dose of cool sunshine all in the space of a few minutes. DSC_0020 As you can see, I had help in the garden today.  Tucker was off plodding along in his slow fashion but Cooper, DSC_0012
Cooper thinks he can walk on water and it turns out he can   I miss being in the garden.  Maybe tomorrow I will prune back a few broken branches from the last snow storm.  The seed catalogs can wait for a bit longer before I turn their pages.