Saturday, January 31, 2009

Garden Inspiration

I've been wanting to participate in Shady Gardener's Summer 2008 Inspiration meme for some time, and what better time than an overcast, cold, snowy winter morning on the last day of January? I don't know about you, but I sure need some inspiration this time of year!

Shady posts monthly themes to address, and as timing has never been my strong suit, I'm going to address both the November topic (think of it as a retrospective!) and the January topic (just in time!). I have a nice cup of tea* at hand, so let's get started!

November's query was "Have you planted anything during the 2008 growing season that you can credit to another gardener (blogger or otherwise)?"

Yes! Rattlesnake master, Eryngium yuccifolium. I only have this photo of its seed heads in winter, but you can imagine blooms similar to see holly (but smaller and white-green, not blue-purple) and foliage similar to yucca. It's a tall-grass prairie plant, native to Michigan and the Midwest, a few Mid-Atlantic states, and states south of those regions from Texas to Florida.

I first saw it in my Ann Arbor friend Aunita's garden, which is a glorious combination of Michigan native and non-native plants, in wonderful combinations of color, texture, size, and shape. Her garden, and she herself, has always inspired me.

Last fall, I talked her out of a division (actually a plant that had seeded itself somewhere she didn't want to keep it), which I got it in the ground before it froze. See, it even sent up some new basal foliage before the snow came (photo from November 8). Innit cute?!

Another new plant in my 2008 garden was red yucca, Hesperaloe parvifolia, which I discovered at the Denver Botanic Garden during a visit to my niece in Colorado in June. I love yucca (even though botanically, it's not) and had never seen any with red flowers, only white. Even though it's one zone out of my range, I ordered two from High Country Gardens upon my return and planted them in July.

Because I'm cheap, I rarely buy plants full stop, let alone by mail order, preferring to get them as free divisions or to start from seeds. So you'll know how taken I was by this plant!

They looked fine all season, getting used to their new, more humid Michigan home. In late fall, I added tomato cages over the plants and stuffed them full with dried leaves (oak, if you're wondering, as they take a long time to break down) for winter insulation. (A former gardening client of mine did something similar with her roses.)

Of course, this ended up being mostly unnecessary as they've been insulated by snow instead, but who knew? You can see the tips of two of the leaves sticking out in the photo to the left. The plants are over two feet tall, so you have a feel for the snow we've had! I know the plants won't bloom this year, and maybe not even next year. It took a division of mature yucca three years to bloom in my garden, so I'm patient. Yep, patient. I'm just hoping they'll have survived the winter, but I'm feeling positive! It's not necessarily the cold that kills plants but the change in temperatures and the heaving of the ground. Insulation helps this, and my babies are tucked in snugly with both leaves and snow!

Shady's January question is "What does your "2009 Wish List" look like? Is there anything there you plan to purchase and/or grow because of your 2008 Summer Inspiration (or even last Winter)?"

Yes! Let's start with wild petunia, Ruellia humilis.

I had never heard of this plant until I saw it in the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park in Chicago in July. I was quite taken by its form (noogie noog!). Then Mr. McGregor's Daughter (MMD) mentioned it, saying "Not only does this native plant pump out the lavender trumpets, it does so on the edge of the blacktop driveway, with no supplemental water and no mulch." Well, hello! I was sold.

But after extensive Googling, I couldn't find any seed or plant sources, anywhere in the U.S. I even asked the friendly native plant experts at Ann Arbor Parks' Natural Area Preservation. They had no record of it being in our local natural areas and they couldn't find a plant source for it, not even after checking with the USDA. It turns out, in fact, that it's a threatened species in Michigan!!

I left words of woe along these lines in a comment for MMD, and she ever so graciously sent me seeds from her own plant! I'm so excited and grateful, and plan to winter sow those precious babies just as soon as it warms up to, say, 32 so I can work outside briefly without gloves!

There are many other things I plan to sow this year, that I haven't grown before, including a dozen varieties of heirloom tomato seeds. They were given to me by Royer Held, a local heirloom tomato guru, in exchange for a copy of my book Fun with Winter Seed Sowing. He has always started his seedlings indoors and was eager to give winter sowing a try. I have often grown tomatoes (in fact, you could say a solitary tomato, planted in a container on my deck in 1990, was the "gateway plant" that turned me into a gardener, but that's a story for another day), and was eager to give heirlooms a try.

In addition to the heirloom tomatoes, I will also be growing chard, leeks, and potatoes for the first time this year. Chocolate flower (Berlandiera lyrata) remains on my wish list (though it has been winter sown) since a freak cold period killed all my seedlings last spring.

And, finally, since Shady asked, here's what my four winter-sown flats look like today. They are eagerly awaiting more "brethren!" Well, actually she asked after my "seedlings," but they won't be sprouting, as you can see, for a few months yet!

* Should my English friends be giggling at the thought of Americans and tea (and fair enough; we did throw a bunch of it into Boston Harbor in 1771 and that water wasn't even tepid!), fear not! My English ex mother-in-law and ex step-mother-in-law enlightened me on the finer points of a nice cup of tea (including the importance of boiling water and adding milk, though they disagreed on whether to put in the milk before or after pouring the water). I even have an electric kettle and indulge in imported tea bags, which are a stronger blend than is sold here, even under the same brand name. Right now it's PG Tips (least costly and easiest to find), though I also like Typhoo and especially Brooke Bond D (hard to find!).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Nature More Calming Than Cities

Well, that heading shouldn't come as any surprise.

What gardener doesn't enjoy spending time with plants, or ache to get their hands in the soil during the long winter? Who doesn't miss their gardens when away from home, perhaps even traveling only in their garden's off season? Who doesn't run up to their huge yucca blooms that have opened (for the first time in three years) immediately after returning from a trip (without even going inside first) to give them a big hug?

Oh, right. That last part may just be me!

But now there's scientific proof that I'm not nuts. You see, scientists at the University of Michigan did a recent study that found that walking in nature is not only good for the soul, but it improves memory and attention. Surprisingly, people who walked for the same amount of time in urban settings did not see these same improvements!

According to a related Boston Globe article, several studies have also found that children with attention-deficit disorder have fewer symptoms in natural settings.

I know I feel more peaceful and relaxed in my garden, and I'm glad that what gardeners have known for so long -- that nature replenishes the soul -- is being studied seriously and is making it into more mainstream media.

Now... Please excuse me while I go whisper sweet nothings to my snow-covered evergreens!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hope in the Unknown

Words from our new President's inaugural address, but mostly from poet Elizabeth Alexander, struck a chord with me and mirrored my own journey:

Eyes on the horizon,
We walk into that which we cannot see
Anything can be made
Praise song for walking forward in that light

Here's to the strength to meet our challenges and the courage to walk into the unknown, with hope and faith intact.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Blankets of Snow

It's been snowing pretty steadily here in southeastern Michigan for the last few weeks. Below, James, the intrepid explorer, treks southwest across my front lawn on Christmas Day. I'd like to think he staked those yellow flags there, as any explorer might, but to be honest any yellow territory markings he might leave are not made of plastic! (Seriously, I don't know what utility those flags mark, or who called them to be installed, as it wasn't me!)

Updated 1/18: Below is the same view today--the shrubs to the left are barely visible and James is inside!

Inspired by Marnie's winter photos at Lilacs and Roses, I ventured outside Monday to get a few more shots of my place. (Just imagine two more inches of snow overall and you're up-to-date for today!)

Here's my front yard, looking due south to the nature area that borders my property. Somehow the garden lantern looks like a gnome to me, in its snowy cap! There's a walking path immediately behind the trees and a creek another six feet beyond that.

Here is part of my backyard, with my neighbor's garage in the background. There's a cute brick walkway between those metal sconces, which had been shoveled as recently as a day before! And look at my little arborvitaes and dwarf Alberta spruces (or is that sprice?), all covered in snow, and that's not even snow thrown from the shovel! (I'm trying to obscure said garage and these babies were on sale for $3.33 and $6.66 each a few years back. They're filling in nicely!)

Frances at Fairegarden posted photos of her indoor seed sowing efforts. Her trays look all warm and cozy, sitting on heating mats. She even has some sweet baby sprouts already. In contrast, my winter-sown flats look like this! But they'll catch up later, as the seedlings won't need to be hardened off. If you're interested in what's planted in them, see my seed list (PDF).

This is my backyard facing southeast from my deck. There's nothing artistic or wonderfully "snowscapy" about the photo, but I wanted to show how much wildlife comes to my feeders. All the tracks in the snow are from wildlife, not people. The path to the left of the tree stumps is made by ducks. They really like to walk single file!

Speaking of ducks and tracks, I found duck footyprints on my deck. In the top print, you can see the webbing, and in the lower ones just the three toes. As a bonus, there are also bird tracks, I think of a sparrow!

Elsewhere in Blogland, leaving winter behind for the moment, Britta at Cat with a Garden mentioned how her cat Chilli sometimes looks like an owl in the way she turns her ears. I've noticed this with my Fiona as well, and dug up this photo as proof.

And finally, Shady at Does Everything Grow Better in My Neighbor's Yard? posted some lovely photos of pulmonaria. This is a favorite plant of mine as well. I just love its freckled leaves and sweet blue and pink blossoms. So I leave you with this wonderful bit of color on what is otherwise a dreary white-gray winter day!

Updated 1/14: Bananas! Yesterday morning when I left for work it was 33° F (1° C), and this morning it's a brisk -3° F (-19° C) (you are noting the minus signs, right?!)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Shop for the Birds 1/15

For my Ann Arbor-area friends, if there's anything you've been meaning to get at Whole Foods (Washtenaw Ave. store only), why not stop by this Thursday, January 15? Five percent of the profits that day go to a non-profit close to my heart, the Bird Center of Washtenaw County. (I admit I'm not a big Whole Foods shopper, but I do get my sea salt and other spices from their bulk section, which is surprisingly affordable.)

The Bird Center is staffed by a small group of dedicated volunteers who care for and rehabilitate injured and orphaned wild birds. I've always liked birds, having grown up with parakeets. Several years ago, I became familiar with the Bird Center through Friends of Wildlife, when a sparrow flew into my glass door. It turned out to be fine, but some time later, I found a baby starling who fell out of its nest (twice--the first time it looked OK so I put it back, the next time, not so much and it unfortunately died later at the Bird Center).

I've donated flowers for their injured hummingbirds and in the summer of 2005, I volunteered at the Bird Center. I mixed up formula, cut up fruit, fed formula to baby birds with eye droppers, caught any birds that escaped from the cages (which I was fairly adept at, based on my childhood experience, and could do by hand whereas others used nets), cleaned cages, and sorted live mealworms out of their packing material (this seemed to gross everyone else out, but I was fine with it).

Here's what I wrote about my first experience volunteering, B.B. (before blog):

Brawk brawk BRAAAWK brawk squack squack flutter escape from cage chase chase chase return to cage brawk brawk brawk BRAAAAWK brawk brawk BRAAAAAAWK. That summarizes my first volunteer experience at a bird rescue center.

I fed young birds with eye droppers (many, many, many birds--as soon as you're done with the row, the ones at the beginning are hungry again!) and cleaned out cages. Baby birds look nothing whatsoever like their adult form, especially not their mouths, which have to be about three times the size of their body! It was really interesting seeing baby versions of robins, starlings, and other birds.

The center is understaffed, underfunded, and overworked.

I got there by 6:00 p.m. and left at 9:45. My back hurt. My feet hurt. I was tired. The whole experience was tiring. Then I dreamed all night of baby birds with wide-open mouths and never-full stomachs, and still saw those images as I awoke.

I'm looking forward to going again.

Seed Swap Merrily on Its Way
In other news, I've sent off two sets of seeds for my seed swap today. I ended up being a little OCD and put together over 30 seed packets to start off each group. I even braved steadily falling snow during a winter storm advisory to go buy a printer cartridge! (OK, so I like driving in snow in light traffic, I confess!) I added some kind of cool and unusual seeds including rattlesnake master, kiss me over the garden gate, Swiss kale, a bunch of varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and clarkia.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Garden Travel Dreams Plans

Happy new year! The nice thing about a new year is, it's so open with possibilities. One of the things I resolve to do this year is... (cue suspenseful music, and add drum roll)... more garden travel. Yay! I've visited pretty much everything within a day's drive of me, and think it's time to branch (ha ha) out! So here is my ultimate wish list (in no particular order), "out loud" to you and to the Universe!

Brooklyn Botanic Garden, NYC
    Wave Hill Gardens, NYC
    New York Botanical Garden, NYC
Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis
United States Botanic Garden, Washington, DC
    United States National Arboretum, Washington, DC
    Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
Mendocino Coast Botanic Gardens, Fort Bragg, CA
Huntington Botanical Gardens, near Pasadena, CA
Butchart Gardens, near Victoria, BC (I pine about Butchart here)
Lüneburger Heide, northern Germany
Eden Project, St Austell, England
VanDusen Botanical Garden, Vancouver, BC
Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia (hellllo, Susan!!)
    Chanticleer Garden, Wayne, PA
    Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve, New Hope, PA
Desert Botanical Garden, near Phoenix
    Tohono Chul Park, Tucson
    Tucson Botanical Gardens, Tucson
Cornell Plantations, Ithaca, NY
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Austin, Texas
Arnold Arboretum, near Boston (may carpool to the area mid June)
    Berkshire Botanical Garden, Stockbridge, MA
    Elm Bank, Wellesley, MA
    Garden in the Woods, Framingham, MA
    Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston, MA
    Gertrude Jekyll Garden, Woodbury, CT

Edited: Rose commented that it'd also be fun to see fellow garden bloggers' gardens. It certainly would, and when I confirm travel dates, I'll post again, hoping to meet up with local bloggers! Also, Rose, and fellow garden bloggers, I invite you to visit my garden, and stay with me if you'd like, if you're ever in SE Michigan. My home is modest, but my garden is nice and I can point you to the best botanical attractions in Michigan and Ohio!

Now, maybe this list leaves you thinking something along the lines of:

1) "Bananas! I can't believe she didn't list [My Favorite Garden Ever]! She can't miss that!"

There, there, now. It's OK! Just comment and I'll look it up. Don't be shy. It may be somewhere I've already been, or it may be something great to add to my list.

2) "Bananas! [Garden on Monica's List] is fairly near my home. I want to go, too!"

Well, cool! Maybe we can arrange to meet there. I love having company, especially a fellow fanatic gardener who knows the regional plants... and restaurants! Let me know!

3) "Bananas! [Garden on Monica's List] isn't so near me but I've always wanted to visit."

Also, cool. Maybe we can plan to meet there! Let me know.

4) "Bananas! That sounds nice, but I can't afford to go anywhere!"

Rest assured that I am a frugal/cheap/budget traveler and it doesn't have to cost a lot to do what you want.

5) "What the bananas is the difference between 'botanic' and 'botanical' in garden names, anyway?"

I'm afraid I just don't know.

Note: By all means, feel free to substitute "bananas!" (a favorite saying of mine) with an expletive more to your own liking.

Looking forward to your thoughts (and choices of expletives!)
~ Monica

P.S. I will attend the Garden Bloggers' Spring Fling in Chicago in May, but it's not officially on my list since I've visited before.