Making Magic

A couple of years ago I attended a tufa crevice workshop at Robin's led by Harvey Wrightman. Fortunately for us he brought lots of tufa rock. "Tufa", you say, "What's that?" Okay, think of what accumulates when hot springs leach out limestone. We're talking in earth building times, not overnight. It's a very porous material that accumulates. Think Illion Gorge in New York or maybe Mackinac Island in Michigan, or other places in B.C. with funny limestone mounds. Essentially it is precipitated material, either biological or chemical, of Calcium Carbonate, CaCO3. Sure there can be other materials in it that cast a different color to it. And notice it's not just hot springs spouting. It also happens in freshwater streams. Don't you just love how the metabolism of algae, bacteria and mosses play the part in a biological formation? Once I found a handful in a fast moving stream in the Adirondacks. It was hard but crushable. And it's not something you can find on Google Shopping. So for Harvey to haul a truckload for us was in of itself, a wondrous thing. 

That workshop drew people from five states. Such was the rarity of the opportunity. We had a wonderful day for it, and all went home well satisfied with their prizes. So last year when I asked BNARGS, my local rock garden chapter: "What kind of programs do you want next year?" the response came - "Workshops in April." Thinking back to that previous wonderful day, I arranged for the return of Harvey and "The Tufa Crevice Workshop." Lucky for our chapter Dean, one of our NY members, was able to bring a truckload of Illion Gorge tufa. Wohoo Dean!
Dean's Tufa

Snow Day!


If someone had told me at age 12 that I would want to spend a snow day as an old lady washing pots, I would have fallen over laughing. But that is exactly what I wanted to do today. And I did!

I have been rereading Norm Deno again.


Can you believe it? It is now available online as a pdf, including the supplements! The National Agricultural Library Digital Collection knows a good thing. Thank goodness. Having it as a pdf also means it is searchable, for those of us who are a little, modern.

So today I was all riled up wanting to try early germination with some of my seeds. I found a spot on the floor of the greenhouse that is pretty consistently 42F. That is great for so many of the genera. And I decided to try the primula and a few other related genera under 70F lights. Oh, and I wanted to fool around with some of the Paeonia japonica seed I picked up at the New England Chapter APS meeting. (Thank you Amy!) What better way to spend the day.

First step is making out the labels and deciding what to try where. That was good for a cup of tea and then one of coffee.Oh and then I made notes - reminders - about various genera. I had wanted to fool around with GA-3. But everything I read about, I have always had pretty good success getting sprouted. Guess I will try it eventually. It's supposed to be good for 10 years. I did save some gentian seed back to try. For some reason there has been poor germination for me in the last couple of years. I blamed the seed. It had always come like cress before. (What a difference a spring can make.) Then came the seed prep. As I said I wanted to try experimenting with the paeony seed. So I got out a hand vice. Perhaps you will laugh, but what a godsend for people like me who want to refrain from cutting the fingers. Once locked in place the seed is going no where. And the exacto can really cut a quick slice into the seed shell.

 Then I put on the kettle again for the seeds. This year I did a whole assortment, from my usual soak of astragalus and lewisia to the paeonia - one batch notched, the other not. Tea time!
 Out in the greenhouse, I made up my soil batch for the nice clean pots. The soapstone tamper Rod made for me is such a speedy helper. The one end pushes the soil down to the bottom of the pot.Turn it over and it is sized for the top inch or so. Very neat.
As you can see, Deno is with me in the trenches...that is sink. Oh, and that is sandblasting sand. Of course, one could use chicken grit.

To tail or not to tail - Pulsatilla patens. I did. Thank you Wayne.
 Under the sink near the crawlspace door is the perfect temperature for the 40 F'ers. I reused the lettuce containers. They are a perfect fit.
 Rod's find, my salve for afterwards - raw shea butter. My hands are almost normal. Well as normal as any gardener's might be.

Gardens in June: Aberdeen Calling

Next up on the "Scottish Trip" was my primary destination- the garden I had visited so many times in cyberspace in Ian Young's Bulb Log Both Ian and his talented wife Maggi have been at the heart of the Scottish Rock Garden Society's ether presence for many years. Well, that said, they also were present at other pre-Facebook activities like writing for journals, garnering lots of medals at shows, judging, lecturing, etc. The popular bulb log was started in 2003. Meanwhile both Maggie and Ian are "hero" members of the famous SRGC Forum  Maggi is also co-editor for the International Rock Gardener and provides quite a bit of drive. To see this wonderful garden and visit with these amazing plants-people in person was a dream come true.  Imagine my delight as I peeked out the window in the early morning light. What a view.
 I chortled with delight. Since it was early June, days were long, but I felt no jet lag after the infusion of this scene. I raced downstairs.
My hosts were most hospitable and had laid out a breakfast feast. But I gave into an unmistakable urge to bolt outside and take a breath before I sat down. How sweet the air perfumed by Scotland and the alpines!
 You may have guessed by now I am fascinated with the shape and form of troughs. Not only are they sculpted with a static state, but also add an element of performance during the year.
So many new ideas to try - not only color but flow and texture. I love the compliment of the rock color choice echoing in the sedums, especially the Sedum pilosum, always a favorite. Is it the blue that is so attractive?
Edraianthus have been given a large trough filled with crevices to romp and roam. And what a good one is this. Usually mine will place themselves here and there, but never together for such a display. I did not determine if this was just one plant or many.
Edraianthus serpyllifolius

Mr. Meconopsis

As spring slipped into summer 2013, I was lucky enough to be in Scotland. Perhaps, we should rename it the "Land of Meconopsis"? Ian Christie's fabulous nursery is there, all but hidden in a little town called Kirriemuir. After a relaxed full Scottish breakfast I set out from Edinburgh adjacent in the morning along winding roads that abutted farms. Before long I arrived in a wink-of-an-eye-town: don't blink or you will miss it. The drive through lasted less than a minute. After reversing my steps a couple of times I had to call. Ian is hidden from even Google Maps. This has likely happened before as he himself came out to direct me down the lane. What a fabulous sight: meconopsis in all shades of blue floating adrift over a demure landscape. Who knew blue might come in so many different shades, like a Pantone booklet.

Meconopsis beds
The day was quite gray and overhung, but seeing these beauties lifted the spirits and put a twinkle in the view. Ian is a well known plant guru for several rare species. And meconopsis seem to have captivated him for some time now. The beds there hold probably every known cultivar.
Meconopsis in the shade house
These plants Ian meticulously maintains by division, which he sells to the fortunate gardeners. I did notice the soil was quite rich. Immediately I began to calculate how I might grow them. They would have no problem with the wet cool days of New England, but would need extra water and shade during our (new) overheated dog days of summer. (Hey, if kabs can make it, why not meconopsis?)
True Blue
 What surprised me most was the color variation. Yes there is even an alba form. Next I noticed differences in the size, from salad plate size to handful. Thinking it over - given a century of hybrids or cultivars, I see how everyone got to choose. I wonder how many medals it took. Was it an annual event - to see what next in meconopsis winners?
Ethereal Blue
One thing for sure - meconopsis are hearty eaters. Yes the soil was quite remarkable: rich, friable and deep. Years of composted leaves turned the clay to brown gold. Seems, though, from the banter as we walked along, that they would be indiscriminate as to the type of compost. Made me think vegetable beds soil. Where can I squeeze some in?
Meconopsis punicea
Although blue cultivars predominated, the red of punicea was pretty dazzling too. Of course I shall have to try it at home too. What a red!

May - A State of Mind


Concord MA
Early May in Concord MA
 With apologies to Dryden and his translation of the opening of  Lucretius' De Rerum Natura:
Delight of humankind, and gods above,
Parent of Rome; propitious Queen of Love,
Whose vital power, air, earth, and sea supplies,
And breeds whatever is born beneath the rolling skies:
For every kind, by thy prolific might,
Springs, and beholds the regions of the light.
Thee, Goddess, thee the clouds and tempests fear,
And at thy pleasing presence disappear:
For thee the land in fragrant flowers is dressed;
For thee the ocean smiles, and smooths her wavy breast;
And heaven itself with more serene and purer light is blessed.
For when the rising spring adorns the mead,
And a new scene of nature stands displayed,
When teeming buds, and cheerful greens appear,
And western gales unlock the lazy year:
The joyous birds thy welcome first express;
Whose native songs thy genial fire confess;
Then savage beasts bound over their slighted food,
Struck with thy darts, and tempt the raging flood.
All nature is thy gift; earth, air, and sea:
Of all that breathes~ the various progeny,
Stung with delight, is goaded on by thee.
Over barren mountains, over the flowery plain,
The leafy forest, and the liquid main
Extends thy uncontrolled and boundless reign.

Still Silently Seeking Seeds

Well, you know how it is - when seedlists appear I go right into seek mode, flagging corners on each page of printed copies, making a mental note of where I would grow that species in the garden, deciding what really is the difference in that subspecies or the other, do I want to travel someday to that habitat, and do I need it - really (yes). Seeking is one of the blue ribbon emotions in animals according to what I read in "Animals Make Us Human" by Temple Grandin. It did not take much for me, albeit an animal, but at the top of the chain, to relate personally to what I read, especially about curiosity. Grandin's blue ribbon emotions “generate well-organized behavior sequences that can be evoked by localized electrical stimulation”. So change out the words "localized electrical" for email. Seeking, I understand, is anticipation, curiosity and desire all rolled together. Don't confuse this with pleasure. As any seed-aholic knows, it's the trill of the call...anticipation to investigate...the "what's new!" as one opens the list. Even if I don't order a thing, the world, my world, will be further framed with exploration, understanding and sense. I don't have to smell the flower; just the wonder will do. According to Grandin this emotion is from a genetic basis, not a learned behaviors. This is exactly what I tell my family - it's genetic! Yes I agree. To be truly happy, I instinctively peruse any seedlist that comes my way.

A mere glance at my first NARGS seedlist (back in the 1980'ies) evoked expanding images of my favorite vision-the garden and the wild. As I became attuned to various collections/collector's lists, a kaleidoscope of images poured out. At that time I was very much a devotee of Carrol's Alice, and remember I immediately sensed "burning with curiosity" when I saw an unknown seedlist on my friend's Norman's kitchen table.  Credit him for feeding me an endless supply of lists, many private as he regaled me with stories of packaging seeds on Ev Whittemore's kitchen table for the (then) ARGS. For me each seedlist opens "curiouser and curiouser." Is that a species new to cultivation or is it a rename like Spongiocarpella to Chesneya purpurea? Just when one thinks they have the coloring book of the world finished, something else, fantastic and amazing, pops up on a list. And so far, I am only up to the rock garden plants.

This should give you an idea of the restraint necessary to pass up the opportunity to open a list, any list. When Holubec's list came just before the holidays, I swooned. But briefly, as there were pressing gifts to find for other people, holiday parties, small grandchildren to tend, oh and add in the Big Project due at work. So I procrastinated, since it actually takes time to mail an order. But to be fair, I just kept up with the little people and could not think of anything else.

But during the hiatus of the Christmas holidays, I was on auto pilot. Not a thought but "get the order in" prevailed when the NARGS seedlist alarm went off in my desktop calendar. In case of a seedlist like this, it matters to get one's order in immediately, for a place in fulfillment line. So I, and let me humbly say, in two brief evening sittings, got the online order submitted and paid before a disciplined work ethic could prevail . (Yes, online seed sources are very dangerous. Congratulations to NARGS for making their list so accessible for seed-aholics everywhere to imbibe before reason or the three year old demands attention.)

The annual tea with "seedy" fellows, mostly western Astragalus
Other lists came flashing in via email. By then restraint conditioned from the hundreds of daily emails (the ones that make it past the spam filter because I really want to read them - someday) easily took hold. Alplains snail mailed their catalog, bypassing my conditioning. What a great list! The listing of phlox captured my sensibilities. Pages marked, I was ready to order them all. But wait. As I cleaned up after the holiday clutter I was taken aback by my gardening tins. There were hundreds of seeds I did not get to sow last year! Argh.

Time to regroup. I swore on the spot I would not order until I had sowed every packet in the house. Alpines that is. No need to think of vegetables until February or March. This resolution was short lived. I attended my local Primula Society meeting at Matt & Joe's. The chapter had purchased a share in Chris Chadwell's expedition and was dividing the seeds. How could I refuse to try Primula reidii one more time?  I know just the spot for it now - positioned at the grit base of the sax crevice bed. Who knows when seed will available again?

Ok, but that is all I told myself. No ordering until everything is sowed. So I set to work mixing up soil-less potting mix with sand blasting grit, 5 to 1. After packing small seedling pots full of the mix, I spread the seeds on top for things like penstemons, barely covered saxifraga with grit, and completely covered astragalus and oxytropis (which I had soaked) with a hefty half inch of the grit. I went ahead and planted Ranunculaceae types, even though I have had poor luck with second year sowings. But I am a gardener, so hope prevails.

Chorispora bungeana soaking in warm water
When I was soaking the pea family seeds in preparation, I thought to include Chorispora bungeana just to give it a boost. This delicate little brassica from Afghanistan and Pakistan did plump up eventually, and it turned the water a light green! After its photo, I added a little pineapple juice to the cup and stirred. Several more seeds sank to the bottom and plumped.

Now all seeds needing stratification have been sown and placed outside. The weather cooperated and added a light covering of snow. This morning is was -12 F (-24C) and going colder tonight. We'll have a short thaw next weekend. Perfect. That leaves plenty of time for the 92 species to put under lights in the basement. Next weekend!

This has temporarily limited my enthusiasm for sowing. So I must be silent when I seek through the lists. Don't you miss out. Check out exotic Holubec or western US Alplains  or Chadwell Seeds and order. Grow something new and marvelous. Pot up a few extras to share at meetings. See you there.  Happy Gardening!

March Wins "Cruelest Month 2012"


NARGS Annual/Western Study Meeting March 9-11 2012

On the road to the Bellevue Botanic Alpine Rock Garden
We arrived early for the NARGS Study Weekend entitled "Stop the Car", full of hope for mild spring weather on the tour of the pre-conference garden visits. First stop was Bellevue Botanic Garden. Clouds surrounded us but I thought the weather might be called hopeful. Granted, it did not take much to inspire me since home was covered with several inches of ice and snow as I left. And storm coats were shed!
Bellevue Botanic Alpine Garden
Alpine Rock Garden sign
My friend Anne had been following the progress of this Alpine Garden with great interest for many years. I remembered seeing the original plans back in the '90ies, but had not heard much about it recently. NARGS member Micheal Moshier had drawn up the plans and supervised the installation. (Remember Roy Davidson's splendid little book Lewisias ? Micheal was the illustrator.)

The Rock Garden -what a grand place! Though we beheld it a few weeks before the spring flush of growth, the winter bones were enough. We were thrilled. Things were opening...

Down the garden path
As I recall, the garden began as a rock outcropping, focusing on rare plants. It was quite unconventional for the rock gardening world. Sometime later, vertical additions were made, resembling more of a Kew like standard. Now it is a settled garden: shrubs and trees classically framed a half circle of paths meandering through reclining rocks. There are many vertical features.

Winter garden bones flanked by narcissus
There was plenty of color, albeit for the most part earth tones. Erica was everywhere, providing sustenance for the few bugs that were out. Bulbs were just up, dotting the landscape.
Buns softening the rock garden
By this stage in the garden's life, plantings are large enough to drape and flow. There were the usual suspects, mostly common ones to take the thrashing of the crowds. While it is very difficult to keep extra choice species in a public garden, the gardeners made up for it by superbly growing the what they had.

A variety of daphnes at the base
Lucky for Bellevue to have Rick Lupp (Mt Tahoma Nursery, who does amazing things propagating daphne) live so nearby. As one might expect, there were many, very nice daphne sprinkled about. We encountered the curator trimming them back as we progressed down the path.
Exit to the Perennial Garden
Bellevue WA has its own share of weather woes, as do we all. Many of the rhodies were out when they had killing temperatures. And it was funny to think of the season not to be late enough for the rock garden, but just right for the perennial garden show. But we took the curator's word and made an exit stage right. And yes, what I would have called a woodland garden was in progress. But more on that at another time.

Hard Freeze Tonight

Hepatica x transylvanica opened soon after my return, but did not last long in the heat
 Tonight, two weeks later back at home, we are about at the point of the Bellevue Garden. And we are expecting our first hard freeze in almost a month. After I flew back, I did not bother to unearth my storm coat - until today. My first job upon return was to cover the greenhouse with shade cloth - in March! All last week it was short sleeve weather. Rod started putting in the patio stone to finish off the crevice gardens and got a sunburn for his efforts.
Helleborus thibetanus opened later in the week
Everything sprouted simultaneously, from Corydalis solida to Helleborus thibetanus to the sax bed. And tonight they issued warnings for a hard freeze. At dinner it was already freezing outside. I guess this is what the Bellevue Garden lived through. Keep your fingers crossed!
Jeffersonia dubia seems prepared while J. diphylla 's head is not even out of bed
Saxes add some color to the gray days of March
Saxifraga oppositifolia - will it frost kill?