You say clematis …

I say CLEM-atis. My sister says cle-MA-tis, which I think sounds phony and stuck up, but what do I know? I ordered my seeds, finally, last night–spent way too much money on ’em, as usual. This year’s lucky recipient of my order was Select Seeds, whose motto is “Heirloom treasures for modern gardens.” Nice, huh? I got the usual collection of sweet peas, calendula, poppies (both California and non-California), nasturtiums and cornflowers. Hopefully they’ll get here in time for me to make my St. Patrick’s Day target planting date.

Um. I also bought a couple of plants. Just a couple. Really, I was very restrained. I was also ordering for my BGF (Best Gardening Friend) Ruth, and she started it, dammit! She ordered a cup-and-saucer plant. And there’s a three-plant minimum order. So, uh, I had to order two more plants, right, or Ruth would have been disappointed? Besides. I wanted them.

So I ordered a mandevilla, ‘Alice duPont,’ that’s the nice pink one. One-year-old plant. The catalog says it’s “lightly fragrant,” which is news to me, though I’ve planted mandevilla before. Hopefully it will get big and bushy and I’ll be able to overwinter it to justify the $5.99 price tag.

I also ordered a clematis. I really love clematis. Select Seeds didn’t have much of a selection–a pink, a purple that’s a lot like one I already have, the ‘Sweet Autumn’ one that will take over your neighborhood if you plant it … what I really wanted was ‘Henrii,’ but no dice. However! SS did have a clematis I’ve never heard of before, Clematis triternata ‘Rubromarginata,’ which it SAYS will bloom from summer to fall and gets 10 feet tall. Also? It’s an heirloom, from 1862, and has a “sweet fragrance that’s been likened to almond.” Sounds terrific, right? Well, we’ll see. Just now I went exploring for photos and it looks like this puppy gets pretty big and fluffy. I’ll have to put it close to the fence next to the neighbor who can’t stand wild things.


Heave ho!

Something about the intense cold and the tons of snow we had this winter has led to a great deal of upheaval in the nearby yards. And I literally mean upheaval. Fence posts are thrown up out of the ground and are tilting at crazy angles; paving stones are all buckled and pushed around, and the grass in the yards is as wavy as an ocean. My garden itself seems pretty smooth in comparison. There are a few places where bulbs I evidently didn’t plant deeply enough are showing, but in general, the garden’s fared better than the walkways and grass.

When we moved in, my husband replaced some of the fence posts in our backyard. It was one of his first do-it-yourself projects here; he dug deep, round holes, poured in concrete (or do I mean cement?), and sank the fence posts. He was so, so proud of himself when he was done. I’m not sure what he did wrong, but those fence posts have been working their way out of the earth ever since he finished, and this year, they may finally have to be replaced if they’re to go on holding up fences.

Why is it that the fix-it-up projects that look the best right after you’re done turn out to be the ones that don’t last?

Photo by Encinalens licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.

Flowers in the snow

I’m not much of a one for bringing plants indoors over the winter. Most times I’ve tried it, I wound up trying to nurture a brown, withered plant for months, only to end up throwing it out come spring. In other words, I like wintering-over better in theory than in reality.

And I must say, nothing I wintered over this winter has really changed my mind. It’s true that my elephant ear (a.k.a. Colocasia) is still unfurling new leaves as I write. But elephant ear is cheating. It grows from a tuber, so it has stored energy that’s not available to regular old garden plants. The snapdragon I brought inside is dead. And I thought the two potted calibrachoa I brought in were dead as well. When I ushered them indoors in October, they were rangy-looking, but they were green, at least. For the past three months, they’ve been nothing but brown.

Until I watered today. That’s when I saw that one calibrachoa had … a flower on it! Granted, it was a pale, wan-looking little thing, but still, it was a flower, at the end of a stringy brown branch. How about that? That one little flower isn’t about to change my mind forever about wintering-over. But on a holiday weekend when we’ve gotten snow already and are supposed to get more snow, it’s pretty neat–one more small promise, like the bulbs pushing up in the garden, that spring really is on the way.

Photo courtesy of Proven Winners®,

They’re here!

Two days of 50-degree-plus temperatures have finally, finally melted the huge snow piles in the front and back yards, and guess what? Guess what was under there? Go ahead, just guess!

Daffodil shoots, that’s what! Also, 10,000,000 tiny little larkspur seedlings. Looks like it’s gonna be another good year for larkspur. God bless the plants that self-sow. There are also a couple of other seedlings sprinkled around–some that might be calendula, and two that sure do look like sunflower beginnings to me.

I’m so excited. I am SO over winter. I can’t wait to get cracking on all the chores that need to be done. I have to clear out the usual ton and a half of chrysanthemum stalks, yank out the sunflower stems, do something about the tangle of dead tomato vines and tomato cages that I never quite get put away in autumn … and prune a couple of rangy rosebushes before they begin to sprout. I’ve read so much differing advice on when to prune roses, and I have to tell you, it doesn’t seem to make a damned bit of difference whether I trim mine in autumn, early winter or early spring. If the weather’s still nice this weekend, I’ll try to get to them then.

Still haven’t put in a seed order. Heating oil cost so much the last time I ordered it—$361 for a hundred gallons—that I’m feeling very frugal. Another good reason to be ready for winter to be done!

Photo by brightcloud.

Flower power

It’s Valentine’s Day, and here at the office, lots of women are flaunting gigantic arrangements of roses and such on their desks. I’m most lusting after a gorgeous sunset-hued bouquet of orchids that a colleague received, but all the flowers are lovely. I’m not particularly a fan of red roses, but if someone loves you enough to send them on this day, at the jacked-up prices florists charge for them now, well, baby, you are loved! Still, even the humblest bunch of daisies is a lifeline to warmth and summer at a time like this. I wonder if that’s why flowers became synonymous with Valentine’s Day? I mean, people couldn’t have been sending cut flowers back in the Victorian era, surely, unless they had personal greenhouses (which perhaps they did).

Strange that we’ve chosen such a fleeting tribute to the hoped-for permanence of love. Flowers are only slightly less ephemeral than chocolate. Not a lot of chocolate being passed around this Valentine’s Day, but perhaps recipients simply aren’t sharing. I wouldn’t blame them a bit. What this office needs is a secret chocolate reservoir that we could tap into when 4:15 rolls around and you just don’t think you can keep going.

Oh, lookee here! One of my co-workers just brought me a chocolate chip cookie. I love her. I love Valentine’s Day! At home, I’ve got a big bouquet of lilies in my kitchen. Doug presented them to me last night because he has study group after work today, and he said he didn’t want me sitting around all night thinking I wasn’t loved. 🙂 Cue the guilt … all I got him was a card!

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

A winter ritual

This afternoon, my BGF (Best Gardening Friend) Ruth arrived on my doorstep, bearing plastic clamshell containers of salad. We sat down at my kitchen table, ate the salad, drank some tea, and, together, looked over the pile of seed-and-plant catalogs that I’ve been receiving in the mail. It’s a tradition of ours; every January we get together like this and page through the gorgeous photos of plants and flowers, dreaming that we have unlimited garden budgets and can afford to shell out $42 for a hellebore plant. We ooh and aah over new gaillardias and gazanias. We point out pictures of plants we’ve tried and failed at growing, and laugh at the memories. (WHY do I keep trying to grow anemones? WHY does Ruth go on ordering lupines in an endless circle of futility?)

Our eyes are much bigger than our wallets. We can’t order even a tenth of what we look at and love. But there’s such pleasure in imagining, in dreaming that I even had room to add a lilac somewhere, or that Ruth might finally have the estate required to properly position one of those massive wisteria in the White Flower Farm catalog.

A gardening friend is a treasure. More than one gardening friend (hi, Marcia!) is bliss. Having someone with whom to share the triumphs (and failures) of seeds and corms and bulbs–and the shipping and handling costs!–is one of my greatest pleasures in life. I know there are a ton of people out there–my husband and kids included–who would sooner be boiled in oil than sit at the kitchen table with a pot of tea, looking at pretty pictures, searching to see if a favorite will grow in shade, giggling at the audacity of a plant description like “Requires warm feet, afternoon shade, alkaline soil and an eclipse of the sun every year. Easy to grow!” But nothing makes Ruth and me happier.

Afternoon Tea Party by Mary Cassatt.

Pass the drumsticks, please

Some flowers shout, and other flowers aren’t quite so loud. Gomphrena, also  known as globe amaranth or drumstick flower, is one of the latter. It’s relatively easy to grow, and the flowers look a bit like overgrown clover blossoms. They come in shades of pink, white and rose, there’s a variety called ‘Strawberry Fields’ that is a bright, clear strawberry (duh) pink. But the blossoms are only about an inch wide, so this is one of those flowers where you should be careful not to be fooled by the great big photo in the catalog.

I don’t usually bother with gomphrena, but Burpee is offering a new one that could change my mind. It’s called ‘Fireworks,’ and while the blossoms are still petite, they really do look like little miniature fireworks exploding in the garden, with yellow stars twinkling at the tips of the purple/pink flower heads. You may have to get right up on them to get the full impact, but still, wouldn’t these be pretty in a small vase set on the powder-room counter? I love the slightly looser look the flowers have.

Photo courtesy of Burpee.