Monday, June 21, 2010

Gardening, A Plant Wardrobe, Plant Three: International Orange Oriental Poppies

Our neighbors, three houses down, have a stand of gorgeous blood-red Oriental poppies. And I've been lusting after them for years, without quite having the nerve to ask for a root cutting. I planted a tiny plantlet of Beauty of Livermere last year, with great hopes, and early this month it started blazing blood-red right outside my desk window. I couldn't be more delighted.

I thought that as a result, I could live without the more common orange Oriental poppies. You know the ones. Life vest orange. Traffic cone orange. Goldfish orange. Orange. The orange that wreaks havoc with almost any color scheme. That orange.

I was wrong. I can't live without them. Beauty of Livermere is magnificent, and I'll love it year after year. But I need the gaudy orange.

Photo: Mine.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Gardening: A Plant Wardrobe, Plant Two - Dr. Huey Rose

I'm not supposed to like Dr. Huey.

In case you don't know, I should explain that Dr. Huey is primarily a rootstock. When those self-important primadonna hybrid teas...


... when gardeners want to grow a fine and attractive rose that has limited tolerance for cold or other issues, that rose will often be grafted onto a rootstock that can tolerate those issues. Dr. Huey is one of the most commonly used rootstocks. So when you buy a hybrid tea rose, the rose above the ground will be the hybrid tea, and the roots below the ground will, most of the time, be Dr. Huey.

But Dr. Huey is rarely content to just leave it at that. His roots will merrily send up branches from below the ground, or from bits of the rootstock that may not be altogether buried. The whole Frankenstein-like rose structure is then said to be "suckering". The branches, or suckers, grow eagerly into long arches, since Dr. Huey is a climber, and the arches are covered, for a few weeks in spring, with lovely semi-double red roses. After that, Dr. Huey subsides into foliage and, um, blackspot.

At the very first signs of this process, proper rose growers descend on the rose with various investigative tools, trace the suckers down below the ground, and rip them right off the roots.

Me? I celebrate. Why? Because I normally can't grow hybrid teas, at all. They don't like me, probably because I fail to give them all of the things - like fungicides and pesticides and, well, regular feeding - that they demand. I normally get two or three grudging blossoms per year from hybrid teas.

Until Dr. Huey breaks ground. When that happens, not only do I get lots and lots of Dr. Huey foliage and flowers, I get lots more blossoms from the original hybrid tea. My theory, perhaps expressed in this blog before, is that all of that enthusiastic Dr. Huey foliage manufactures extra food that the good Doctor generously shares with the hybrid tea. Unlike hybrid teas, Dr. Huey seems to be able to feed itself from prosaic substances like, um, dirt.

But I don't love Dr. Huey primarily for its kindly food-distribution ways. I love Dr. Huey because I love Dr. Huey. Spring isn't spring without those sprays of red flowers. I can see them all over town, because when a hybrid tea dies, Dr. Huey usually survives. But I still need my very own Dr. Huey - or two or three.

In fact (go ahead, laugh) I ordered, and paid real money for, a custom root plant of Dr Huey - an action not unlike paying money for dandelions or crabgrass.  When we moved to our present house and garden, the one hybrid tea was slow to sucker, and I feared that I'd have to live with no Huey. So I panicked and submitted my order. Of course, the hybrid tea started suckering before the custom plant arrived, so now I have two. And that's just fine with me, even taking the blackspot into account.

Image: Mine. A bad shot, but look at all those flowers!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Gardening: A Plant Wardrobe, Plant One - Honorine Jobert

In the perfume world, my other major area of obsession, it's common to discuss the idea of a fragrance wardrobe. An essential part of this concept is that it's a limited fragrance wardrobe. It would probably consist of more bottles than the average person owns (two? three? none?), but not so many that that average person would eye me worriedly and back slowly away. So, less than a hundred. One common figure is ten. I recently posted about this concept, and listed nine perfumes.

So if we're limiting perfumes, if only theoretically, why not go through the same mental exercise for plants? The obvious "why not" is because people don't think that you're crazy if you have a few hundred different plants. But all the same, all the brave talk about simplicity and limiting choices and appreciating what's left could, in theory, also apply to gardening.

So if I were to limit myself to...

OK, I can't limit myself to nine plants. In the whole plant world, from ground cover to trees, only nine different kinds? No. Very funny.

So if I were to limit myself to nine different perennial flowers, what would they be? Nine cultivars - no fair cheating by including "roses" as just one plant.

The first one is obvious: Japanese Anemone Honorine Jobert. The most beautiful flower on the face of the earth. Period. Look. Just look. Could anything be better?

Yes, yes, I understand that no doubt you have a plant that you think is better. In fact, I'm continually surprised that this flower is my favorite. I would have expected myself to pick some dripping, quartered rose, or an exploding peony. When did I become a minimalist?

But there it is. Nothing is more beautiful than Honorine Jobert. No doubt the exploding petals will be represented further down the list.

What about you? Got a favorite?

Image: Mine

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Rant? Ramble? Blogging: It's about voice

I hang around on a forum about blogging. It's partly a forum about making money through blogging, so there's a fair bit of discussion about moneymaking, rather than pure blogging, strategies. (Moneymaking, as you can no doubt guess, is not part of the agenda for my blogs.) Some of these discussions make me a little crazy.

The most crazymaking are the posts about getting "content for your blog". There are cheerful discussions about where you can get "free content!" and how you can find the "best article directories" and other ways to solve that pesky, pesky problem of having, you know, posts in your blog.

When I read these discussions, I find myself shaking my head and moaning, no, no, you don't get it.

But I've been a little puzzled about exactly how to phrase what they "don't get". I know that it has to do with writing your own blog and producing your own content, but that doesn't seem like enough of an explanation. Because how does the reader know that you lovingly wrote and polished every word in your blog, as opposed to briskly selecting those words from an article directory and writing a check?

I've also been doing a lot of reading about writing, and that's where I finally found a way to express the idea:

It's about voice.

"Voice", in writing, is about the way that the writer translates his personality to the page. It's about word choices, and phrases, and mood, and structure. It's how you can distinguish a paragraph written by your very favorite author from one written by the person who wrote the history textbook that you passionately hated in eleventh grade, even if the two writers are writing about precisely the same thing.

Voice is what makes you chuckle and drive your companions mad by your insistence on reading the good parts aloud. Voice is what makes you buy the whole series and put yourself on the waiting list for the next book. And voice is what makes you come back to a website or blog, over and over.

I read writers for their voice.

I don't read the garden books of the late Henry Mitchell, long-time gardening columnist for the Washington Post, because he knows about, say, tulips. I read them because I want to "hear" Henry Mitchell talk about tulips.  I want to read Henry Mitchell's musing about how tulips are "reminiscent of brisk terriers, except better behaved" and his discussion of "the high delight of examining the bulbs" of species tulips. Anyone can tell me about tulip varieties, and how to plant the things, and how to keep them alive. But only Henry Mitchell can be Henry Mitchell.

I don't read Calvin Trillin because he knows where to eat; I read to hear, in his words, what he thinks about the food. I read to hear him dismiss rotating restaurants with "I never eat in a restaurant that's over a hundred feet off the ground and won't stand still." I read him because every moment of reading his work is a moment of sheer enjoyment.

In the same way, I read websites and blogs not for information, not for facts, not for statistics, not for how-tos, but for voice. And when I find a voice that I love, I want to return to that voice again and again.

Information is cheap. Voice is priceless. And that's what people crying "buy content for your blog heeeeeere!" just don't get.

Image: By Glide. Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gardening: The Last Square inches

Did I mention that the garden is full?

It is. Full. There will be no new, expansive plantings anytime soon.

In fact, to point to just one sample spot, there are bearded irises, a buddleia, a rose, an oakleaf hydrangea, a few lilies, some hardy geraniums, and some creeping thyme in a spot that's really only adequately roomy for the buddleia.

So far, this problem has been solved by cruelly pruning back the buddleia and convincing myself that the rose and the hydrangea are perfectly happy waving their leafy arms in the same airspace. And it does all look nice. Lush. Enthusiastic. Leafy-flowery and all that.

The problem with all of this is that my interest in the garden is triggered mostly by planting. No matter how gorgeously leafy-flowery the garden may be, there's something missing if I can't plant at all.

These are the times that I hunt for tiny unplanted or underplanted spaces, and plot what I might do with them. With similarly tiny plants. Microplants.

Violets, for example. We already have a lot of violets, but they're the sort of plant where near-infinite variety is just fine. I still haven't found true fragrant sweet violets, for example; I keep searching for these, and I keep finding lovely blossoms but no fragrance to speak of.

And Corsican mint. Low to the ground, barely thicker than paint, and incredibly fragrant. And creeping thyme, already flowing all over the garden.

And species tulips, in the fall when it comes time to plant them. Itty bitty often-perennial plants, like the little clown-striped Clusiana ones. And blue Siberian squills. And crocuses.

And nasturtiums. No, they're not actually small, but you can plant the fat little seeds in the smallest of spaces, and watch the resulting lily-pad leaves politely negotiate their way into any available space.

And... I'm sure that there are more. Lots more. I'll be posting again.

Tulip photo: By Scott. Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Gardening: Peonies! And celebrating nursery errors.

Photo of a peony in a vase.
Two or three years ago, I planted some peonies that were supposed to be red, according to the packaging.

Then I waited two or three years for them to bloom, because we remodeled things and some trampling was unavoidable.

And during those years, I wondered if red was really the right choice. I'm very picky about my reds. I don't like them too magenta, and I really don't like them orange. I slowly came to the conclusion that red was a mistake.

One of them finally bloomed. And as you can see from the photo, the packaging was utterly mistaken. About the redness.


Photo: Mine.