Halloween is hard work!

Not as hard these days as when I used to make the kids picture-perfect costumes, but still! Today I bought four pumpkins (they were on sale) at Home Depot. Two were nice big ones, one was about the size of a large grapefruit, and one was a mini. Brought them home to carve them, and, starting with the little one, began to carve them out. Tiny one–no problem. Big ones–no problem. Grapefruit-size one–OMG, that puppy was so hard to cut through! I tried three different knives. The only one I could control without fear of slicing off my hand was a tiny little (very sharp) carving knife. So I proceeded, tiny little cut by cut. I had thoughts of making a sort of family, and I guess that’s what I did–Papa Pumpkin, Mama Pumpkin, Lil’ Tyke Pumpkin (the tough one–you can tell by the minimalist design), and Baby Pumpkin. They’re not masterpieces, but they’re pretty cute–and I managed not to slice any fingers off.

I also bought 245 KitKat bars for the marauding hordes on Sunday. Can’t wait! Halloween is my FAVORITE holiday!



What is it about me and ruffles? It seems like all the flowers I love best have ’em—old-fashioned roses, peonies, sweet peas and poppies. I was thinking about ruffles while I paged through my spring bulb catalog, wondering how much I dared spend on such luxuries when times are tight, both here at our house and around the country. Is $30 too much to spend on tulips and daffodils? $50? Are flowers truly a luxury?

Well, cut flowers are, unless you cut them from your own garden. I very, very rarely will spend my own money for cut flowers, though I love having them in the house. To me, the definition of “rich” is a house full of blooms. It’s the only part of magazine pictures of fancy decorated houses I really relate to. You can have your antique sofas, your hand-painted wallpaper, those elaborate window swags—what I want is that glass vase of irises!

So I try to rationalize my purchases for the garden. Some people smoke, or gamble, or drink. Me, I plant. And while you can’t eat hollyhocks and sunflowers, they’re still food—food for my soul.

All of which is a long way of saying—I spent way too much money on spring bulbs this year. I’m plant-profligate; I can’t help myself. It’s not all that much dough in the great scheme of things. Among the bulbs I ordered from Scheepers were these parrot tulips, called ‘Rococo.’ So they are—and for a ruffle-lover, they may be the ruffliest things yet!

Photo courtesy of John Scheepers, Inc.

What’s in a vampire garden

I have in my hand my spring bulb order, and just popped in here before I go place it with John Scheepers. I also have in my hand the spring bulb order of my BGF (Best Gardening Friend) Ruth, who came over today for tea and biscotti while we made our joint order up together (so we could save on shipping costs; she’s also my BFF, Best Frugal Friend). And I was struck anew by how totally different our tastes are. For example. Ruth is ordering ‘Queen of the Night’ tulips. These are very, very deep purple tulips; in the photos, the catalogs make them look black. She’s also ordering ‘Black Parrot’ tulips (shown above), also deep dark purple, and to go with them, ‘King’s Blood’ tulips, which are deep crimson red. Her excuse? “I’m planting them against a white shed, and I want them to really pop.” You don’t fool me, girl. You’re a secret Twilight devotée, and you’re planting a vampire garden!

Photo courtesy of White Flower Farms, whiteflowerfarms.com.

Prune heads

I love hydrangea, as you’d realize immediately if you stepped into my living room, where I have a big bouquet of dried ‘Pinky Winky’ on the mantle (its flower heads, shown in the photo, are about ten inches long!) and a lovely arrangement of dried some-other-kind-of-hydrangea-that-for-some-reason-is-dyed-maroon atop a mahogany desk, where it admirable accents the reddish hues of the wood. (Gad, that sentence makes me sound like some sort of warped interior designer, doesn’t it?) I have four different hydrangea bushes, and I love the way the dried flowers look indoors. But I was never sure if I was cheating myself of more blossoms next year if I went ahead and pruned this year’s away.

So … I looked up the care instructions that came with my ‘Pinky Winky’ a few years back (okay, okay–I accidentally came across them while I was cleaning up a pile of papers that’s been on my end table since 2007), and there my answer was! Hydrangeas bloom on new wood, so if I want more flowers, I actually NEED to cut this year’s blossoms and display them in my living room.

Now I have two big vases of cut hydrangeas, one on either end of the mantle, and I must tell you, they look dynamite!

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners®, http://www.provenwinners.com.

The waiting game

My houseplants are still outdoors, so every day, I find myself listening to the weather forecast, waiting to hear about frost. Today I heard the dreaded words: chance of it this weekend in the outer suburbs, which is where I live. And that means it’s time to bring the houseplants in. I hate bringing the houseplants in. First of all, as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, my houseplants aren’t, for the most part, attractive. Oh, I have one nice ficus, but that stays indoors all year. Other than that, it’s a pretty ragtag collection of old amaryllis that may or may not put up flower stalks this winter, a hibiscus that’s too big for anywhere I put it, the odd geranium, an oxalis I’ve had since time began, a couple of way-overgrown Christmas cactuses, one of which never, ever blooms, a fiddle-leaf ficus I rescued out of a trash can, a Norfolk pine that’s barely hanging on after 21 years, a mini-0range tree that’s ditto … you get the idea.

If I didn’t move most of these outdoors for the summer, they’d look even worse than they do. But that doesn’t ease the annoyance of moving a whole bunch of pretty ugly plants inside, to cover every free inch of radiator in the living room. Marcia! Can’t you stage an intervention and make me move all these plants … straight into a big plastic trash bag?

Partnering up

It’s time to order spring-flowering bulbs, so today my BGF (Best Gardening Friend) Ruth and I had lunch together at a new Mexican place in town, and pored over the John Scheepers catalog together. It only makes sense to order with a buddy when you get your plants or bulbs by mail; postage and shipping has become so expensive! And there’s also the great pleasure of looking at the photos with a friend and discussing what’s worked in your garden before, what hasn’t, what you keep falling for even when you know you shouldn’t (why are bulbs like men that way?), and all that good stuff. Gardening’s a pretty solitary activity, on the whole; I don’t want to be making small talk with anyone while I’m shoveling compost out of my composter, or digging holes for daffodils. But ordering–that’s the stuff of good conversation and companionship. So what am I getting? Definitely more of the combo of tulips ‘Renown’ and ‘Dordogne’ (the one shown above) that was so striking for me last year. My BGF Ruth looked at the two photos together and said, “I don’t get it. They don’t LOOK like they’d look good together.” But oh, how they did! Here’s a toast to garden serendipity.

Oh, damn. Just checked the website, and JS is sold out of ‘Dordogne.’ Oh, well! Back to the catalog!

Photo courtesy of John S. Scheepers.

Not crying over ‘Alligator Tears’

I always thought it was “crocodile tears”–and indeed, it is in Shakespeare, who in both Othello and Henry IV Part 2 references the reptile’s use of false crying to lure tenderhearted victims close–before snapping them in two. But the company I trial-garden for, Proven Winners, has named a new coleus ‘Alligator Tears’ instead. Turns out the actual name is Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Alligator Tears,’ which is one heck of a mouthful, much like a tenderhearted victim. But I don’t much care what they call it, so long as it goes on giving me long season color, which this baby sure did. The planting directions touted “exceptional branching and heat tolerance.” Sure enough, the plants grew big and bushy without any pinching on my part (because, well, I mean well, but I just don’t remember to pinch, as the spindly five-foot-tall mums in my side yard more than prove). And in this summer of truly dreadful heat here in Eastern Pennsylvania, these coleus didn’t just survive; they prospered. True enough, I had them planted in containers–one on the front porch, one on the back patio–that I watered just about every day. But while almost all my other container plants browned out in the heat, to a lesser or greater extent, these coleus didn’t. They grew tall and thick and lush-looking, and the dark green/light green combination was eye-catching in both sun and shade. And now, to crown things off, they’re bearing pretty purple blossoms. If I were the sort of gardener who took cuttings and rooted them, I’d do that with these. Hell, considering how tough they were, maybe I will!

But I won’t move them inside. No more moving semi-hardy annuals indoors for the winter. I know what happens—what always happens. Can you say “leaf-drop”? Can you say “spider mite”? Sure you can!

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners®, provenwinners.com.

Very latebloomers

Just when I’m ready to give up on the garden for the year, a bunch of exceedingly late bloomers are making it interesting again. Probably the most surprising resurrection is my Proven Winners mecardonia, ‘GoldDust.’ This pretty little thing never really got off the ground this summer; it didn’t like the heat (though instructions promised it was a heat lover). I put one plant directly in the ground and put the other in a planter. The one in the planter burned out in the brutal heat of June, and the one in the ground just sort of shriveled up as well. I have to admit, I pretty much forgot about them.

Then yesterday, while I was poking around for late-season tomatoes, I noticed that the one I’d planted in the ground was bright green and bushy, if you can call something that only grows about three inches high “bushy.” I checked the container, and sure enough, it had come back, too. They were flowering as well. I’m not really sure where a plant this tiny–the leaves and flowers really are diminutive—belongs in the garden. But I’d try it again, right up front, where I usually plant sweet alyssum or portulaca or lobelia—IF the Farmer’s Almanac was calling for a nice, cool summer.

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners®, provenwinners.com.

I’m hip!

Actually, I’m rose hip. I am now, at least. For most of my life, I remained somehow completely unaware of the existence of rose hips, even though my mom always grew roses in her gardens.

Maybe she didn’t choose varieties with prominent hips. What is a hip, you say? It’s just a different name for the seed pod that forms after a rose flower is fertilized and the petals fall away—in other words, the fruit of a rosebush. What’s interesting about rose hips is their long history of medicinal use. They’re extraordinarily rich in vitamin C, which means they’re useful in treating colds and flu, and are often made into teas. Popular Red Zinger, put out by the Celestial Seasonings company since 1972–I remember the wonder of discovering it back when I was in college, at the first vegetarian restaurant I’d ever encountered—is based on a time-honored marriage between rose hips and hibiscus flowers. When German blockades prevented shipments of citrus fruits from reaching England during World War II, the government urged citizens to feed children vitamin C syrup made from rose hips to prevent scurvy. And in Hungary, hips are made into a traditional wine called palinka.

I don’t use my rose hips for anything, but I do enjoy them. The best ones appear on my ‘Königin von Danemark’ rose, which (shh, don’t tell them I have favorites!) is the favorite of all my antique roses, even though it insists on sending up new shoots all over the (thank heaven!) small front-yard plot I grow it in—and has THE MOST vicious thorns of any rose I’ve ever seen. To redeem itself from this vice, which means it’s always catching in your hair and clothes while you’re trying to do anything anywhere near it, it has the most wonderful, sweet, haunting, subtle fragrance–you have to get your nose right up in there, but it’s worth the trouble. The hips are big and bright red-orange, and actually look as though they’re good for you. Maybe this year I’ll get off my butt and harvest them, and have Marcia over for tea.

Photo courtesy of Beeches Nursery, UK.

Friend or anemone?

About a decade ago, I went through an anemone phase. Not sea anemones, and not the tiny spring bulbs also called windflowers, but a Japanese anemone phase. For several years, every year, I ordered anemone plants from a very reputable plant supplier. Not a one of them ever came up. Wait, in retrospect, I believe I may have had a small tuft of leaves one year. But they were a grand failure, and I marked them off my list of desirable plants. I’m not the kind of masochistic gardener who keeps trying to grow things that don’t come up for me. Summer’s too short for that. So it was adios, anemone, and I never looked back.

Yesterday, I looked back. I went to an event at Prospect House at Princeton University, and while I was there, I toured the garden behind the house. It was a pretty spectacular garden, especially for mid-October. Most gardens you see in autumn are like mine by now–rangy and overgrown, with only a few stray blossoms lingering here and there. The Prospect House garden has clearly been painstakingly planned to look good for a long, long season. There were big lush stands of coleus glowing in shades of red and green and gold. Veronica was still blooming, as were the roses. The elephant ears were enormous! But best of all were the anemones. They came in two colors, pristine white like the shot above (which is Anemone hupehensis var. japonica) and one that was a deep, clear red. They grew as single flowers atop long, long stems. “I don’t like them,” my daughter said. “They lean.” I preferred to think of them as stretching out, like dancers. I loved them. And I’m very much afraid I’m going to have to try to grow them again. Maybe I am a masochist!

Photo by Noodle snacks licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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