Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Thought

Yes, friends, occasionally I have a brainwave, and yesterday was such a day. My friend Amy and I attended a session on herbs at Sunshine Farm and Garden in Commerce Township. A very nice woman, who was either Jean or Roxanne Riggs*, shared some tips about growing, harvesting, and cooking with herbs in a pleasant outdoor setting among herb beds, a greenhouse, a farm, a number of chickens, and one voicefierous rooster proud to have an audience. We also got to taste all kinds of yummy herb foods including a simply yumalicious sage cream cheese dip. The garlic hit you first (personally, I love garlic; not just a hint of it, not just a trace of it, but a full on, in your face, wrestle you to the ground kind of blast) and then the sage flavor rounded out the mouthful. My, that was good!

I ended up buying two herb plants: lovage as a treat for myself and the hungry bunnies in my yard (and not, incidentally, for any random, wholly irrational reason like the plant name sounding similar to Lene Lovich's surname, nosirree) and rosemary as vindication. I had heard all kinds of things about how hard it is overwintering rosemary inside, and did so for the first time last winter. I was feeling quite smug right through March because everything was going so well. But then it got a moldy white coating and I ended up composting the plant right at the time it could have gone back outside. Well, that'll show me. Jean said that misting can cause this mold because of impurities in the misting can. Instead, I should create the humidity the plant likes by placing stones in the saucer and keeping the saucer filled with water, a trick my friend Carole does with all her houseplants all year long. (Misting is recommended for tropical house plants, but not herbs.)

But the point. Yes, there was one; you know about my great idea, which was really Jean's idea, anyway. She kept saying that our lives are busy enough and why spend more time with something when here's an easy way. The more she repeated "easy," I got to thinking about the two traits I emphasize in my own presentations: being cheap (why spend more than you need to when often the same thing can be accomplished with things already on hand?) and being lazy (why do more than you have to?). At one point, I borrowed my friend Pete's button maker and created buttons with "Cheap!" and "Lazy!" on them, which I planned to hand out to the first four people who answered a question correctly. It turns out, everyone wanted the cheap button, but no one wanted the lazy button. And so I thought (imagine me looking off in the distance lost in rumination) "Huh. Maybe this "easy" tact would be the way to go with my audiences as well. After all, gardeners are a hard-working bunch and without the context of the talk, one is perhaps reluctant to be labeled (literally and figuratively) as lazy. But everyone likes doing things as straight-forwardly as possible, without wasting extra time and resources. Yes, easy is the way to go."

That is, until it hit me that I would then be talking about myself as being (instead of cheap and lazy) cheap and easy.

So that's another idea scrapped then.

*They are mother-daughter co-owners of the farm, but as we arrived the eeniest bit not quite late but not entirely early either due to some unforeseen traffic delays (a string of red lights and a horse trailer on a curvy, hilly, unfamiliar, I'm-not-passing road), we missed the introductions.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Photo Catch-Up: Cleveland Botanical Garden

Note to self: Do not go eight months without updating your blog and then immerse yourself one day, all day, in a flurry of postings! Ideas will be fresher if posting nearer the time of the actual trips and it's straining sitting inside at the computer all day.

Back on May 24 and 25, I took a little trip to Cleveland to attend a Great Lakes regional meeting of the Garden Writers Association. The 24th was my cat James' 14 birthday, so he got a tuna treat before I left. It took just three hours to reach the fair city, and I was surprised how easy it was to be a lost tourist on the highway--switching lanes (even somewhat erratically) wasn't at all difficult. People let you in and didn't honk. At no point did I feel my life was in danger, which is a nice contrast to metro Detroit. In fact, I continued being surprised by the genuine friendliness and helpfulness of the people of Cleveland.

When I arrived at the University Circle area, I did in fact circle a bit for parking. First stop was the Cleveland Botanical Garden, which was hosting its annual flower show, so it was the destination of many others as well. The lot shown on my map was charging $10 to park and I was, as usual, feeling frugal. OK, cheap. When I saw the woman in the car in front of me turn around, I asked if she was local and whether she had any tips on parking. She told me to follow her, but that she wasn't sure the lot she had in mind would be any cheaper. It turned out to cost $8 and we both decided what the heck. After I parked, she was waiting for me and said she'd walk me to the gardens. Except that I had tickets to see a Monet exhibit at the museum, which she said was right across the street from the gardens. Handy! When we exited the structure, I could see the roof of my destinations, but she walked with me anyway, until departing to enter the gardens! I can just never in a billion years see this happening in metro Detroit or Ann Arbor. We'd give someone directions, sure, and maybe ask them to follow us, but I can't see anyone waiting for and walking a tourist to their destination!!

The exhibit was nice and the earphones explained a lot of the photos, which were mainly landscapes. When I had finished the tour, I ambled across the street to the gardens. It was pretty hot that day, near 90, and I'm glad I thought to take a sun hat, water, snacks, and lightweight clothing. We had a little luncheon and presentation at the gardens and then were free to tour the gardens and flower show on our own. There were maybe 25 attendees at the conference so it was easy talking to people during lunch.

I spent maybe an hour in the gardens because they were a bit smaller than I imagined; partly because they had advertised the flower show as based on the one in Chelsea, and that baby's HUGE, and partially because, as a garden in a city, there was not as much acreage as in other botanical gardens, which are generally located a bit away from downtowns. I met some nice women who tended the herb garden, and I particularly enjoyed the shades and textures of green in a little hosta area.

The next stop later in the afternoon would be Holden Arboretum, but I had a little extra time, so I boarded a free shuttle that drove around the area. The bus driver was genuinely nice and chatted with me when the other passengers had gotten off. Along the way, I saw a really cool modern metal sculpture roof on one of the buildings on the Case Western Reserve University campus.

I had no trouble finding the arb, where we were taken on a tour of the grounds and given a presentation on a model railroad which is set up in the gardens in the summer. There was also a nice dinner and cocktails and I had a virgin bloody Mary. The gardens were beautiful with a great variety of trees and shrubs--many azaleas were in bloom--and several ponds. The paths were nicely maintained and well laid out--they curved and you had great scenic vistas as you rounded a curve into a new section. There were also quite a few benches scattered throughout the garden, which were both practical if needing a breather and decorative, giving a very relaxed and inviting feel to the place.

After dinner I made my way back to my hotel, a Red Roof Inn, and then drove around the area a little. The road from the Arb to the hotel was winding, hilly, and scenic and it looked like a nice area to explore.

The next morning, we met at a private garden owned by a nice older woman whose name I forgot. Her place was absolutely incredible, vying the look of any botanical garden! She had some beautiful plants and a gorgeous pond wherein I heard both a green frog and a bullfrog! Even given my three years of frog and toad surveying, I had never heard the latter on any of my routes!

Next, we got tours of two nurseries in Perry, Klyn Nurseries and Lake County Nursery. We were taken on a tractor tour of the first facility and it was really interesting to see such a large operation of plant growing. Plus, they gave us cookies, bottled water, and quite a few free plants! I got the black grass I had been coveting and two new varieties of coral bells. (I just love Heuchera--they're all so cute and their foliage is so pretty, even when the tiny blooms are gone.) Of particular note was a grove of various varieties of bamboo, which are native to southern Ohio. I wish I had thought to take a photo of that, but I only have one of the expanse of plants. (I tend to get involved in seeing things in person and forget to take photos that I later wish I had!)

The second nursery also provided a tour and several free plants, including quite a few gallon shrubs (some pretty cool variegated dwarf weigelias and dogwoods and a pretty orange-red barberry (yes, I know they're sort of on Ann Arbor's invasive plant list, but I plan to clip any branches with berries and use indoors as decorations) and a bunch of seedlings including a really cool variety of orange and yellow Helenium, which are currently blooming. I don't have their plant tags at hand,or I'd be more specific!

Feeling happily high on tours, plants, and sugar, I headed home!

Photo Catch-Up: Fernwood Botanical Gardens

The WABAC* machine is now set for November 4-5, 2006. Rumble zappo presto, we've arrived! I was invited to speak about winter seed sowing at Fernwood Botanical Gardens in Niles, Michigan, based on a presentation I'd given earlier in 2006 at the Michigan Master Gardener Conference. I was pretty excited about the talk, especially as my stay included overnight lodging in the Gate House, a modest three-bedroom ranch (not unlike the one I own!) where interns sometimes stay during the summer, located just outside the entrance to the gardens. I usually drive to/back from a speaking engagement all in one day, so having overnight lodging was great as it allowed me to see a bit of the area!

The first day I decided I'd like to see Fort Wayne, Indiana. I would have liked to have driven around the Notre Dame campus, which has beautiful architecture, but I happened to be there during a home football game, and, much like in Ann Arbor, I avoid the campus at all costs in those situations!

I did however visit the Shiojiri Niwa Friendship Gardens in Mishawaka, just outside South Bend. It was a small but very nice Japanese garden, fenced in a city block. Unfortunately, the gates were locked, but I walked around the garden perimeter and snapped a few photos through the fence posts, including this one. (You can see a bit of a red bridge to the right of the statue's head.)

I spoke briefly with a nice couple living in a house that bordered the park, who were outside doing fall cleanup. The woman, who had not realized the park was locked, said how much she liked taking a cup of coffee and sitting in the gardens in the morning. Yeah, I could see that. I explained how I lived near a park back in Ann Arbor, and she seemed quite surprised I would come "all that way" by myself.

Next, I visited the Ella Morris and Muessel-Ellison Botanical Conservatories and Potawatomi Greenhouse. The conservatory was scheduled to be closed at end of 2006, but they were preparing for a plant sale fundraiser to save it. I told them about how the Belle Isle Conservatory had come through a similar situation, but I don't know if anyone ever contacted anyone there or whether the conservatory is still open. I hope so. It was a cool place.

Fall flowers were tucked in the tropical room to provide color and seasonal interest.

I found the bark of a palm pretty cool!

The dessert section had a neat display of both very large, towering succulents, and smaller arrangements of tiny cactuses (hey, it's Greek not Latin).

I also drove through the lovely and quaint downtown of a city whose name I don't recall (photo below), as well as the equally cute and quaint downtowns of Niles and Buchanan.

That evening, I returned to the Gate House, stumbled upon an episode of Keeping Up Appearances ("Riiiiichard!") on the local PBS station, made dinner, and caught up on some gardening mags.

The next morning, I woke up early and took a long walk in the gardens and the grounds near the gardens. There's a really neat wooded trail along the St. Joseph River, with a little mill house along the hill heading down to the river.

There was also a prairie closer to the Gate House, as well as tall grasses throughout the gardens. In fact, the gardens were beautiful, even so late in the season, especially in the morning light.

The talk itself went well that afternoon, with a small but enthusiastic audience. I really enjoyed the trip!

* I always thought that was spelled "way back" or perhaps even "WayBack," but alas no. Thanks, Wikipedia.

Photo Catch-Up: Winter Seed Sowing

This year was my third (fourth?) winter sowing season, and the first and only time I've ever lost seedlings. Temperature fluctuations are normal in winter in Michigan and are not a big threat to winter seed sowing. The seeds will only sprout after longer, warmer temperatures, each seed on its own natural schedule. A few days of unseasonably warm temperatures, say in February, won't trick a seed into sprouting only to be decimated through the rest of winter when temperatures sink back to frigid.

It was mild back in late December when I set out my first tray flats. Here condensation levels are perfect for a newly sown, set-out tray on December 23, 2006.

A month later, things had gotten cold and snowy. That's no problem at all, because the seeds are happily dormant in their long winter's nap. The same tray on January 24, 2007, is okey dokey!

By mid March, I had sown a few more flats. The snow had melted temporarily, but it was still cold. Yep. It was all good on March 12.

Three days later, on March 15, it had snowed again and I had set out more flats. Yep. Everything on track. Snow, melting, snow. Yep, that's Michigan. Yawn.

Another three days later, on March 18, the snow was gone again, but it was still cold and the lids of the seed trays had cool frost patterns.

By early April, it had gotten fairly warm for many days in a row and a few eager seedlings pushed their heads above the soil. Hooray! Welcome, harbingers of spring. (There was much rejoicing.) On April 6, temps dropped and it snowed again. Not a big deal. Sprouted seedlings, protected in their dome, can handle a few days of frost. Look, aren't they cute there in the frosted little greenhouse?

Only it stayed well below freezing for many days, enough that for the first time ever, I lost many of my seedlings (peas, beans, moon flowers, and morning glories in particular). I didn't have the heart to photograph their collapsed little corpses.

Now, I probably would have been able to save the seedlings by bringing them into my shed (or a garage, if I had one). Frankly, it probably would have helped just to move them under my deck or under the patio table. (Taking them indoors where it would have been way too tropical in comparison would have been just as bad. Don't try that at home!) But I truly had so much faith in the process, it never actually occurred to me they might actually die, and I wasn't entirely aware of how many frost days we ended up having.

I'm sharing this loss not as a way to discourage anyone from winter seed sowing, but to contrast how well it actually DOES work under normal fluctuations. The lesson I carry with me is to move seedlings to a more sheltered, but still cold, location after, say, two days of extreme cold following a really long period of extreme warmth.

So in late April, I did what gardeners must have been doing for centuries. Dried my tears and reseeded! I used the same WSing containers (and even the same soil, which some people might not recommend, and if teaching a class, I might advise against it myself, but in the time constraints of my real life, it was easier to keep the soil already in place than empty and refill) and kept them covered only at night until it got warm enough not to require even that level of protection. I thought of it as "spring seed sowing" and it worked just fine. Here are those seedlings on May 31 ready to be planted. (Had the winter-sown seedlings survived, they could have been planted out a good month earlier.)

Photo Catch-Up: Parade Company

Sherman, set the WABAC machine to April 14, 2007.

I've been enjoying lots of little day trips this year, and very little blogging. In an effort to create retroactive balance and harmony, I'm going to spend the next few days creating short posts with lots of photos of some of these jaunts. (I just love the word jaunts; it's so, erm, jaunty!)

Back in mid-April, in recognition of National Volunteer Week, Matthaei Botanical Gardens sends vouchers to its volunteers, allowing them free entry to other local (reciprocal) organizations who rely on volunteers. Last year, my friend Carole and I, who both love a bargain (yeah, I'm frugal and even cheap, but I won't speak for her!) enjoyed this benefit with free visits to Greenfield Village and the Detroit Zoo. This year, we went to the Parade Company, which puts on the annual America's Thanksgiving Parade. I used to think this was broadcast only locally, but I do believe it's watched on a wider scale. I've never been to the parade in person, but I definitely plan to go this year.

The approach to the building was somewhat drab and industrial (in a shrinking cities kind of way), but the inside of the building was bright, contemporary, and alive. A volunteer showed us a video about the company, narrated by Mort Crim, and then we got a tour of the facilities, where the floats and "big heads" are stored and repaired, and new designs are built. (The big balloons are stored in a different building--I was deflated not to see Tony the Tiger, as his balloon was, somewhere else in town.)

I liked the book worm float because, OK, I'm a word geek. Always have been.

Each year, there's also a drawing contest for kids where the winning child's design is made into a float. Last year's winner drew a garden with smiling poofy clouds and a bright orange sun wearing sunglasses (which frankly is just how I draw my clouds and sun!). I really liked the content and style.

In addition to all the floats in the parade, many, many volunteers wear big heads of animals, like the deer below, or cartoon characters. You can see the hole for where the person's head goes. Some of these heads are very heavy and one of the volunteers said it also gets hot in there. It's also hard to balance the head at first, apparently. There seem to be at least two of each kind of head design.

Finally, the big finale and main event of the parade is Santa's float. Santa sits on a sleigh, and elves and assistants come out of the door here, where Carole caught me waving.

For some reason, I always wax nostalgic for the holidays in mid August. Maybe it's the sweltering humidity or the endless bites and scratches from working outdoors! But no worries, in February, I'm longing for those very things. I enjoy living with four distinct seasons.

MSU Gardens

I was on vacation this past week, originally scheduled to give a talk on gardening for our feline friends at Powell Gardens in Kansas City. The class was unfortunately canceled, but I took the time off anyway, going here and there instead.

On Monday, I drove to the gardens at Michigan State University. I also made a stop at Bordine's, a little treat I haven't indulged in in about two years. I bought three large zinnias to put in the bed where I had sown zinnias, which were decimated by the groundhog, as well as a few perennials on sale. And I may have picked up a $5 white retro-modern lamp shade for my mother from a craigslister in Williamston.

I visit MSU a few times each year, usually in connection with some master gardener activity. I really like the campus and I enjoy the drive. I tend to take freeways to get there, as I generally must arrive at a specific time. But on the way back, I take random roads south and west until I find myself somewhere familiar (usually Pinckney) and head home from there. It's quite rural south of Lansing, with many agricultural fields, little traffic, and a kind of a calm feeling we don't have in Ann Arbor. Also that famous "farm fresh smell" which I actually find pleasant if not on full tilt. ;-)

It was nice, this time, not to have an event to attend, but just free time to wander the grounds. I had visited the Beal Garden and the 4-H Children's Garden previously, so I focused this foray on the plantings near the ag school. The perennial beds have nice ornamental grasses paired with flowering plants, like the Russian sage in this photo and other colorful flowers out of shot.

I met some folks from Wisconsin who were looking for lawn trial gardens, which I couldn't find on the map. I suspect, like the crop trials, that those areas are located off campus.

They have annual and perennial trial gardens where they try out new cultivars of plants for hardiness, color, and other requirements. What this means is varying patches of color, glorious color! I found a monarch pollinating a zinnia, for example. Ooh!

There's also a cool walkway that has a kind of star pattern at the center, and looking one direction, you see a fountain, whose basin has the same star pattern, and a spherical stone sculpture whose base repeats the pattern. The sculpture is in the rose garden and the sphere rests on a shallow amount of water, so that it spins if you touch it. While I'm not a huge fan of roses, the garden did smell absolutely heavenly.

I love the way MSU integrates gardens around buildings, instead of only having them in a separate location. I'm also not a huge fan of petunias (I love just about all plants so it's pretty funny I've named two lower on my list!), but the way they laid out the bed as a stream or flowing design is pretty cool!

At the edge of the garden near the railroad tracks, I came upon my favorite tree (and Michigan's too!), the white pine. I had the idea to hike over the ivy underneath it and take a photo straight up, which I figured would be suitably artsy. You can't tell at all what I was doing, but I still like the needles!

On my way back to my car, I spied another butterfly at the edge of the children's garden. A good day!

A few days later I found out from Karen at Hidden Lake Gardens that there is also a gorgeous garden outside the radiology building. Apparently, one of the radiologists, Dr. Potchen, has an undergrad degree in horticulture and wanted to create some beauty near the building.