Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Choice by Nicholas Sparks

This month, in addition to moderating the Garden and Mystery Book Clubs at BN.com, I am moderating a discussion of Nicholas Sparks' new book, The Choice. The discussion group kicked off on October 1st -- please join us!

In November, the Mystery Book Club is going back to Agatha Christie -- this time a Miss Marple mystery: Sleeping Murder.

In December, the Mystery Book Club will be talking about the new Christmas release by Janet Evanovich: Visions of Sugarplums.

The Garden Book Club is more general discussion and book recommendations than discussions of individual books. Sometimes we do have an author visit, though, as when Bill Alexander joined us to talk about his great book, The $64 Tomato.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Kiss Before Dying

In October, the Mystery Book Club at BN.com will be talking about the Ira Levin classic (and his first book) A Kiss Before Dying. It has been made into movies twice, once in the 1950s, starring Robert Wagner and Joanne Woodward, and once in the early 1990s with Matt Dillon and Sean Young, so we'll probably talk about those, too. For those of you who aren't familiar with Ira Levin, he went on to write Rosemary's Baby and other classics.

Looking ahead, our featured mystery in November will be Agatha Christie's Sleeping Murder (a Miss Marple) and in December we will feature Janet Evanovich's new Stephanie Plum, Visions of Sugarplums.

Starting in either November or December, I'm not sure which, I will also start moderating a stand-alone book club featuring the new Nicholas Sparks book.

In the meantime, we are still talking about Ruth Rendell's eerie book, The Water's Lovely, if you feel like joining the conversation!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The Water's Lovely by Ruth Rendell

This is a little advance notice for those of you who are following the Mystery Book Club at BN.com. We will be kicking off the discussion of Agatha Christie's classic, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on Monday, August 6. We've also just made the selection for our September mystery book feature: Ruth Rendell's new non-series mystery, The Water's Lovely. Right now it's only available in hardback form but it will be published in paperback form later this month. Rendell is a great British mystery author, I think she was recently made a Dame of the British Empire (like Agatha Christie was) but her books are much darker and more complex. Join us in September if you'd like to discuss this book!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Harry Mania (or I'm Just Wild About Harry)

It's one day and counting until the new Harry Potter book comes out. The publishing world has never experienced anything like this and since this is the last book in the series, I'm sure they are going to milk this for all it's worth. I've read all the Harry Potter books and I've seen all the movies except the one that just came out (my kids have seen it and they loved it). I prefer the books to the movies but my favorite has to be the first book in the series. It was so much fun to meet Harry and his friends for the first time, in that magical world.

I've preordered my own copy from England, but both of my kids will be at Barnes and Noble in Orlando to get their copies at midnight tomorrow night. They may even dress up for it -- I wouldn't put it past them. Oh, and did I mention these are college kids? Apparently dorkiness is an inherited trait. (Sorry, kids.) I may go to my local bookstore at midnight just to join in the fun. Anyway, stop in to the book clubs at BN.com if you enjoy reading and/or talking about your favorite books. There are online book clubs for just about every interest, and if you think we've missed something, let me know and I'll see if we can get one started!

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Starting in August, the Mystery Book Club at Barnes and Noble's website (www.bn.com, click "Book Clubs") will be featuring The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the Agatha Christie classic. While it's not my favorite Christie, it is -- along with Murder on the Orient Express -- her most controversial book. A new hardcover of the book has just been published and we are using that as an excuse to get this discussion going. I'm a diehard Agatha Christie fan -- read my first one, Funerals are Fatal, at age 15 and I've been hooked ever since.

I'm still moderating the Garden Book Club at BN.com but that site is quiet at this time of year -- gardeners are out in the garden in the summer! Except for me -- between writing and traveling this year, I've barely had time for my yard at all. It is unusual for me to travel this much but I figure it goes back to that "to every thing there is a season" and this year it is apparently my season to travel rather than to work in the garden. It's always been difficult to balance my writing assignments with downtime for gardening, but this year my schedule has been completely out of whack. Kind of fun, though!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Summer Salsa

With the chill of winter fresh in our memories, it may seem like summer with its shimmering heat is taking forever to arrive. May and June will soon be upon us, though, ushering in the seasonal craving for brightly colored flowers that seems ingrained in us all. Garden centers will soon be selling everything in bloom as fast as they can set it out, and landscape contractors will have their hands full filling beds, borders, containers and window boxes with foliage and flowers.

After the grays and browns of winter, not to mention the mud-spattered, once-white snow, all a plant needs to sell itself is color, color, color. Take advantage of this seasonal madness by heating up the color palette in your plant installation and design. Crank up the heat with vivid scarlet, flaming orange and glowing yellows, whether you focus on annuals or perennials, and whether you are working in beds or containers.

Perennial flowers tend to have a short bloom period but they also have the benefit of returning year after year. Annuals offer a longer period of continuous bloom, but they need to be replaced every year. On the plus side, the ephemeral aspect of annuals encourages creativity in plant combinations and color schemes, because if it doesn't work this year, you can always try something new next year. Annuals also grow quickly and flower the first year, while biennials flower the second year and perennials may take even longer to become fully established. For a bloom period that is long-lasting throughout the season and from year to year, plant a combination of bulbs, annuals, biennials and perennials, including ground covers and climbers and plants of all sizes in between.

To kick off the summer in style, go for a salsa effect with zesty, hot color combinations and bright, exotic foliage. While red, gold, orange and yellow are traditionally the hottest colors, accenting these colors with deep purple or bold hot pinks can take it to another level of interest. Foliage or flowers in white, silver or blue tones can act as a foil to keep the hotter colors from becoming overpowering, while ornamental grasses can provide an eyecatching contrast in texture without taking away from the color impact.

Another alternative would be to use very dark foliage -- purple, black or bronze -- to set off the hotter colors. Black elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta 'Black Magic') or 'Blackie' sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatus) are popular examples. There are also new sweet potato vine cultivars such as 'Black Heart' and 'Sweet Caroline' series 'Sweet Heart Purple' and 'Sweet Caroline' Red and Purple. Exotic looking 'Australia', Tropicana or 'Bengal Tiger' canna lilies would also work well with a hot color scheme.

It's easy to find annuals that will add a zing of salsa color to a design. Petunia hybrids such as 'Supertunia Red' or 'Surfina Red' are examples, as well as Calibrachoa hybrids such as 'Superbells Tequila Sunrise' and 'Million Bells Red', 'Terra Cotta' and 'Crackling Fire'. Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) is easy to grow from flats or from seed and cultivars such as 'Sun Up Orange', 'Sun Up Red' and 'Sun Up Yellow'. Zinnia 'Banana Treats' and 'Orange Treats' as well as snapdragons (Antirrhinum spp.) like 'Snappy Dark Red' are reliable performers in hot summer sun. African daisies (Arctotis hybrids) can spice up a container or window box planting, especially 'Bumble Bee', 'Peachy Mango', 'Pumpkin Pie' and 'Sun Spot'. Osteospermum hybrids such as 'Sunny Dark Florence',, 'Lemon Symphony' or 'Orange Symphony' are good choices for a hot color design, as are verbena hybrids such as 'Tukana Scarlet Imp' and 'Deep Red' and 'Babylon Red'.

Blanket flower (Gaillardia spp.) would be a good choice for a hot color scheme, especially Gaillairdia aristata 'Oranges and Lemons' or G. X grandiflora 'Fanfare'. Lance coreopsis such as Coreopsis grandiflora 'Sunfire', and threadleaf coreopsis such as C. verticillata 'Zagreb' or 'Sterntaler' also provide sunny color. Try 'Trays Gold' plectranthus (Plectranthus ciliatis) for drought tolerance in a low-growing plant, or add deer resistance to heat and drought tolerance by including bidens (Bidens ferulifolia) in forms such as 'Peters Gold Carpet' or 'Solaire'. Lantanas come in many varieties of hot colors, including 'Citrus Blend', 'New Gold', 'Patriot Classic Desert Sunset' and 'Patriot Classic Firewagon'. Sun loving cuphea (Cuphea llavea) comes in exciting forms such as 'Flamenco Samba' and 'Flamenco Rumba'.

For vivid foliage try new sun-tolerant forms of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) such as 'JoDonna', ''Rustic Orange', 'Twist and Twirl' and 'Texas Parking Lot'. Add interesting foliage plus attractive flowers with sages such as 'Golden Delicious' pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) or Salvia coccinea 'Spanish Dancer'. Mix these with colorful dahlias, daylilies and daisy-flowering flowers to season your design with that south of the border flavor.


Originally published in The Landscape Contractor magazine, April 2007

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Dallas Garden

I had a stopover in Dallas on my way home from McAllen. The combination of a big storm and Memorial Day weekend meant that I was stuck in Dallas for a couple of days. Luckily, I have friends and relatives in that area so it turned out to be a fun opportunity for some unplanned visits.

I spent one night with my aunt and uncle in Carrollton. They have done wonders with their garden/landscape. I'm attaching some pictures of their yard.

(More pictures to follow -- I have to reformat some of the best ones.)

McAllen, Texas - Plants in the Valley

In May I spent some time in McAllen, TX with my sister -- she's been there for several years but this was my first visit. I've been to Texas many times but never to this part of the state. McAllen is right on the border with Mexico, further south than Corpus Christie, and for some reason I was expecting it to be desert, sage-brush country, something like Amarillo. Instead, I found it very flat -- reminiscent of the part of the midwest where I grew up, in that respect -- but the plant life is actually sub-tropical. It wasn't all that different from Orlando, which really surprised me.

My sister lives across from a gated estate that is beautifully landscaped. One of the residents of the estate, Mr. Larry (that's his last name, I'm not sure I've spelled it correctly), gave my sister and me a guided tour of the estate and several people let me take pictures. I'm posting a selection of them, including one of my sister and Mr. Larry.

It was hot as blazes when we went on the tour, at least in the mid-90s. But I enjoyed every minute of our tour, and it was fascinating to see all the tropical plants that have survived there (especially knowing that they've had a couple of harsh winters in recent years).

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Epcot, Encore!

Epcot Flower Show April 2007

My daughter lives in Orlando and works for Disney. I try to get down there every year for the Epcot Flower and Garden Show which runs from early April to the beginning of June. I love Epcot anyway, and the flower show is just icing on the cake. I have so many pictures from this event, it might take more than one post to show even a small sampling.

Cincinnati Flower Show, April 2007

The Cincinnati Flower Show is the only flower show in the United States that has the endorsement of England's Royal Horticultural Society. Under the leadership of Mary Margaret Rochford and the Cincinnati Horticultural Society, this show draws thousands of people from all over the U.S. -- even some from around the world.

I have had the privilege of working with the show for about a dozen years. I am going to attach some pictures from this year's show. Enjoy!

Rowe Arboretum, Indian Hill, Cincinnati - 2007

Another of my favorite haunts in Cincinnati is Rowe Arboretum on Muchmore Road in Indian Hill. If you go there, it's a very windy, hilly area with lots of deer. I got to know Rowe Arboretum, in a way, because of the deer problem. Chris Daeger is in charge of the grounds and pretty much everything else at Rowe Arboretum.

I met Chris originally at a meeting of the American Conifer Society when it had a rare meeting in Cincinnati. Since then, I run into Chris pretty regularly when we both work on the Ask the Experts panels at the Cincinnati Flower Show.

When I first met Chris, though, he was giving a talk to the Conifer Society on his problems dealing with deer at Rowe Arboretum. He made his point quickly and effectively by plonking a huge, dead shrub on the podium -- a shrub that had been killed by deer. Since then, Chris has become the person I always check with first when I'm writing about deer, because he always knows the latest deterrents -- what works, and what doesn't.

Rowe Arboretum is a nice place to visit if you enjoy conifers or if you would just enjoy a walk among trees and wildflowers. I'm attaching some of my pictures, taken in spring 2007.

Krohn Conservatory, Cincinnati - Spring 2007

One of my favorite places to visit every spring is Krohn Conservatory, up by Eden Park, the art museum and Playhouse in the Park. Actually, there is something to see at the conservatory no matter what time of year you visit. Spring is my favorite because the magnolias and crabapples around the museum are in bloom then, and there are all kinds f blooming bulbs. If you go later in the year, be sure to catch the hot air balloon show at the mirror lake at Eden Park. I'll attach a photo taken by Devon Upton -- the balloons were shot by Devon, I took the plant pix. Back to the Krohn: in addition to their seasonal features, they always have a tropical rain forest in one part of the conservatory, while in other areas you can view bonsai trees, orchids, cacti and succulents. The conservatory is free to residents -- in fact, I'm not positive, but I think it's free to all visitors now.

The Poison Diaries

Hi! I'm back after a long gap, as you can see. I've been traveling a lot in the last few months, and I've still got more trips coming up. So far this year I've been to Robinson, IL, Chicago downtown/suburbs - more times than I can count, Orlando, Las Vegas, McAllen/San Antonio/Dallas, TX and next the Bahamas, then Chicago yet again. We may also squeeze in a leaf-peeping visit to New York/Mass/Vermont in the fall, but that's not definite yet.

The big traveler in the family right now is my son, who is getting ready to join his girlfriend in Beijing, China for a week in August, and then they are going to tour Tibet. He keeps telling me about the roads they'll be taking up into the Himalayas, and bridges over 17,000 ft. gorges. Not for me, thanks very much.

Anyway, back to the blog. I'm still at Barnes and Noble, moderating the garden book club. Starting in July, I will also be moderating the mystery book club. We are kicking off by featuring a book called The Poison Diaries, which has crossover interest to both clubs I'll be moderating. The book intrigues me because, although it is fiction, it was inspired by a real garden of poisonous plants at Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, England. The discussions kick off on July 8, so stop in and join us.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Dog's Life

My dog Maggie died this afternoon. She was my first and only dog -- I'd only had cats and rabbits in the past. Maggie was a mix of Lab, German shepherd and chow, pure black when we got her and looking like a lab puppy. Her full name was Maggie Shannon (we voted on her name when we got her) but we called her everything from Maggie May to Maggity to Maggally to Maggie Bean to Ziplock Maggie.

My son had been pushing us to get a dog for a long time, but it was hard when I was working outside of the house. I remember when we took our cats to the vet once, Jonathan picked up a bunch of brochures. I woke up the next morning with a brochure about dogs laying open over my face, with a note from Jonathan saying he wanted a Bassett hound! When we went to a picnic with my husband's coworkers, Jonathan spent the whole time playing with a puppy someone brought with them.

When we moved to Cincinnati, I started working from home so we talked about getting a dog. I don't remember what finally gave us the push, but one day we all went over to Pet First, a small pet shop by our local Kroger where they brought in pets from the humane society. We used to stop in and look at the puppies, but this time we noticed a cute little lab puppy in a cage with a bunch of tan chow puppies and we knew she was the one.

I don't know how I was elected, but in the car on the way home, she sat in my hand -- and she wasn't much bigger than that. She was 8 weeks old and weighed 9 lbs. We soon discovered an odd thing -- she broke two collars simply by flexing her neck muscles. The stitching just ripped. The pet store said they'd never heard of such a thing. When we took her to the vet, she told us whatever the birth certificate from the pound said, she definitely had chow in her, too, because she had black spots on her tongue. She said the other puppies in the cage with her were probably her siblings!

She never got real big, but after a few months her ears popped up like a German shepherd. We had to get her the type of collar that clicked -- she always managed to break the buckle ones. Her neck was so strong we could put a rope on her collar and she could pull the kids on a sled, even though she only weighed 60 lbs. full grown.

Marty had grown up with dogs but she was my first. I took her to obedience school where she got by -- she would sit on command and she was the only dog in the class who would fetch a toy, but she was more interested in playing with the other dogs and she wouldn't leave her graduation cap on for two seconds for the photograph. And while she was great at fetching, she could not relate to the concept of releasing a toy or a stick once she caught it.

We tied a thick rope to a tree in back and she loved to grab it and yank it around. She never did find frisbees or balls very interesting, but she did love stuffed animals. She loved squeaky toys, but of course her first job would be to rip them open and pull the stuffing and the squeaker out. She had a special fondness for lambswool toys and for toys that had sound chips that made noises like real animals: monkeys, cows, pigs, frogs, etc. She loved toys and had a ton of them. Some of her favorites were ones Jessica sent her from Disney World, especially a lambswool toy shaped like a Mickey Mouse head.

We still have the "skin" of a Fred Flintstone stuffed toy that we got her as a puppy. We would get her new toys for Christmas and her birthday, and add them to the growing pile. Eventually there were bins of toys in different rooms. We got a kick out of watching her dig through them all until she found the one she was looking for. Once we were watching an old Saturday Night Live with the "cheeseboiga" sketch, and she ran upstairs and came down with a squeaky cheeseburger toy.

She was always really well behaved in the house. Apart from chewing some chair legs when she was a puppy and maybe four accidents in her lifetime (one after she ate a catnip mouse the cats had left in her reach), she never did anything to make a mess, except shed, and since she was shorthaired even that wasn't bad (except in my car, but we won't go into that). Recently, we went up to Chicago for a quick visit and arranged for a friend of Jonathan's to take care of the animals. Since we were only gone three days, I didn't bother to check with him.

Turns out, we had a miscommunication and he thought I needed him to watch the animals the following weekend. So when we came home Sunday night, we discovered that the animals had been inside the house for 57 hours. MAGGIE DID NOT HAVE AN ACCIDENT - she HELD it all that time. Now I do realize dogs can be gross, but there were no stains, nothing. Luckily we had left plenty of water and dry food so none of them starved, and the cats had their litter boxes, but MAGGIE HELD IT. Can you beat that?

Not that she was perfect. When we were visiting my parents once we decided to bring Maggie with us. She loved the ride but my parent's house isn't made for dogs. My kids and their cousins were playing in the backyard and Maggie was on the screened in porch, when she got excited and ran right through the screen to join the kids. I don't think she ever even saw it. BUT I don't think she ever came with us on our Chicago trips again.

Anyway, we got her in the fall, and she loved to chase leaves. Once a car full of teenagers drove by and they threw a Taco Bell bag out the window. Before I could grab it, Maggie had eaten the whole damn thing, not a scrap of paper left. That dog would eat anything -- mulch, rocks, you name it. Our vet said that is a lab trait. But she was always picky about food. Makes you wonder how bad it could be, if mulch tasted better to her!

Maggie's best friend was a male golden retriever named Sebastian who lived up the street. Sebastian's owner was a boy about Jessica's age, and for years he was Maggie's babysitter when we traveled -- she loved him almost as much as Sebastian. Brian could come in and yell "Maggie!" and she would run downstairs and leap into his arms. She wasn't a jumper and never did that for anyone else. When Sebastian was 10 he suddenly got sick one Friday. He was riddled with tumors and died three days later. Maggie never understood where he went and it's hard to think about that even now. Eventually Sebastian's family got another golden retriever, a male puppy named Hunter who got big fast, about double Maggie's size. We hoped they'd be buddies but she just bossed him around. She could be cranky and when we'd walk down the street Hunter would drop lower and lower to the ground until he was laying flat and submissive. We called Maggie the "PMS dog" and decided Hunter was waiting to judge her mood before he tried to play with her.

As a puppy Maggie loved nothing more than playing with other dogs. She was fine with our cats, and when we got a tiny kitten named Ginger, the two became best friends. Ginger, all 3 lbs. of her, would march across Maggie's body and whack her in the face when she wanted to play. She'd leap on Maggie's back as Maggie walked past the stairs and they would chase each other all over the house. We tried to keep Ginger indoors but we live by a big cornfield and our other two cats are farm cats, so eventually Ginger pestered us so much we started letting her out. One day we saw her head into the field but she never came back. We think a hawk probably got her. So Maggie lost another friend. As she got older, she was less friendly with other dogs and more territorial. She was always fine with our kids and their friends, but we were nervous of her around small children. She could be hyper, more than bad-tempered.

She did stupid things like start barking insanely when the phone rang, running to the door instead. She would go nuts when raccoons, squirrels, possums and other animals regularly visited our deck. She went even crazier when deer came in our yard. She would drive us nuts by running out in back at night and barking her head off, while she rarely barked during daylight hours.

Her favorite thing in life was going for rides in the car with the windows down. Humans rarely sit in my back seat, no matter how much I clean it, because there are always traces of black dog fur. Maggie was all black as a puppy but as she got older she got more and more white on her face and paws. She developed a heart murmur and bad arthritis in her back legs, but she was in pretty good shape for her age, except that lately she'd been wheezing whenever she exerted herself at all.

She hated being left at home, and the minute I'd grab my purse, car keys, shoes, glasses, coat - anything that might mean I was going someplace -- she'd start bouncing up and down with excitement, and she'd be waiting by the door. My car is going to seem pretty empty now. My kids thought I was nuts because I'd be driving with my back windows down during blizzards so Maggie could stick her head out. She loved the rain, and would lick it off the windows. She was terrified of thunder and sirens, though, and she particularly liked to bark at motorcycles and noisy trucks, as well as pedestrians and other dogs.

We intended for her NOT to sleep in the bedroom. When she was little we put a baby gate by the stairs. During a noisy thunderstorm, she was so scared she managed to jump over it and run up to our room. From that point on, she slept in our bedroom. For years I slept on a tiny wedge of space since she was sprawled across the middle of the bed, pushing me off little by little. When we got a new pillow top mattress a few years ago, arthritis and lack of jumping skill put an end to that. We bought her a dog bed, which she slept on about twice, then we got a little throw rug and put it at the foot of the bed and she would sleep on that. During storms, she would literally squeeze under my knees if I was sitting down but she preferred Marty's protection when she was really scared of anything.

I just remembered one funny thing -- at least it was funny at the time. There is a step down from our kitchen/breakfast room into the family room. When Jonathan was little he came downstairs one time wrapped up in a black blanket and in his bare feet. I guess Maggie didn't hear him coming and the black "cloak" freaked her out -- she suddenly leaped up and skidded backwards away from him, falling on her butt off the step into the family room. We said she thought he was Darth Vader come to get her. Another time, Jessica got a little fuzzy teddy bear she named George, which she put on her bed with all her other cuddly toys. Maggie apparently felt that George should be hers, because she would sneak into Jessica's room and steal George off the bed when Jessica was at school.

As I mentioned many paragraphs ago, Maggie was supposed to be the kid's dog, but it didn't turn out that way. I was the one who was home with her all day, even though I had no clue how to train a dog. Somewhere along the line she became what we called my "constant companion" - my completely co-dependent furry toddler. She followed me everywhere, from room to room, up and downstairs -- even when it became more difficult for her to get up and downstairs because of her arthritis. I would tell her to stay, especially if I was just running up to get something, but she was an inch behind me, every time -- my little black shadow.

My husband travels a lot but he always jokes that Maggie's response would be the same if he was gone 30 seconds or three weeks. And he said my habit of trying to sneak out the door with the words, "I'll be back in just a minute, Maggie", when she couldn't come with me, made her think that minutes were hours, sometimes days long.

One thing I've learned from Maggie -- one of many things, really -- is that there is nothing like a dog to show you the meaning of unconditional love. Maggie might have been better off with an owner who knew more about what dogs need, someone younger who could run with her more. She got fed up when I was stuck at the computer when I was writing my books -- she would clamp her teeth gently on my arm and tug when she'd finally had enough."Break time!," she couldn't have said it any plainer. They ask for so little, and they give you so much -- more than we ask for, and certainly more than we deserve.

My dog Maggie died this afternoon. Our house seems empty and my car will never feel quite the same. I will never forget the panicked look in her eyes as her heart began to fail and she couldn't get her breath. The soft, somewhat coarse feel of her old dog fur, the glazed, scared look in her eyes. The feel of her head as it dropped onto my arm a final time. And as much as I love my husband and my kids and they love me, I don't think anyone else will love me quite as much as Maggie did. But I think I understand better now how much she missed me when I was gone.

Postscript: I've added more pictures of Maggie. The one was taken after she had spent a half hour or so pulling toys out of the bin in one room and bringing them in to the room where I work on my computer. She was very pleased with that effort. Jonathan took the picture of her, all sleek and black and shiny, a few years ago. I took the one of her on the deck last summer. The picture of her in the car was the last picture of her, taken on the way to the vet. Even though she was having a lot of trouble breathing then, you can see she was still enjoying that rush of air on her face from the open car window. I'm so glad she had that moment.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Art in the Garden

If a landscape is very formal in design, does that mean it inevitably has a stiff, sophisticated ambience? Does a more natural design automatically create a more relaxed effect? The ambience or “mood” of a landscape or garden design can certainly be influenced by the types of plants selected and the way the plants are arranged, but the effect may vary with the seasons.
Hardscapes and artistic motifs can be used to create a unifying theme between the architecture of the home and the design of the landscape. If the house is of a distinctive architectural period, or if the hardscapes and garden structures feature prominently in the landscape design, those features alone could conceivably create a mood.
The type of ambience would largely depend on the style of the house -- a plantation-style house surrounded by live oaks and magnolias would only need a tray of mint juleps to recall the old South. A house incorporating native stone, and repeating native stonework in the outdoor hardscapes, could create a feeling of the great outdoors by including a natural-looking water features along with wildflowers or a woodland.
Many homes today, though, were not designed along the lines of any classical architectural styles. When the architecture is somewhat generic, there may be an opportunity to create an atmosphere by developing a theme or style that works with the appearance of the home as well as the homeowner’s tastes.
Japanese-style gardens are extremely popular today, in part because they can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Some people define Japanese gardens by the plants -- carefully pruned weeping cherries, Japanese maples, plus pines and other conifers -- while others define Japanese gardens by their use of sand, stone and water, with plantings at a minimum. Others insist that a garden is not “Japanese” without lanterns, stone dragons, bamboo and other accents. Many books have been written about authentic Japanese gardens, but most people don’t require authenticity as much as ambience -- a sense of spirituality, simplicity and serenity.
When it comes to creating ambience in a landscape through the use of garden art in addition to plants, hardscapes and structures, there are no hard and fast rules regarding the scope of the project. An enclosed garden room might be the focus of the design, with a few repetitive features throughout the landscape. A more ambitious project, with a correspondingly larger budget, could tie in custom hardscapes and garden structures with distinctive artwork to pull the theme together.
Flower shows such as those in Chelsea, England, Cincinnati, OH, and others across the United States often feature gardens designed around a single ornate urn, a unique sculpture or a distinctive garden structure. A popular theme in recent years has been to create a garden based on a famous work of art or an artistic style. Examples of this would be designing a palette of flower colors to replicate the colors in a Turner sunset, recreating a section of Monet’s garden at Giverny, or using Van Gogh’s bold colors in combination with sunflowers or other flowers the artist liked to paint.
Whether the design includes a single piece of artwork or an elaborate combination of art, hardscapes, structures and plants, artwork can be most effective when it either reinforces a mood or creates its own ambience. Today there are numerous resources for unusual forms of garden art -- bas relief brick sculptures, art made with moving water, art made to blend in with nature or art that is in stark contrast to the landscape, in both color and form. It doesn’t have to be elaborate - single urn can create the image of an Italianate garden, while a few polished river rocks can become the focus of a meditation garden. A few carefully chosen pieces of art combined with a little imagination and creative flair can breathe some life into almost any landscape design.


File Name: Ambientart
Word Count: 644 words

Originally published in The Landscape Contractor magazine
Photos: Jonathan Davis, Becke Davis, Martin R. Davis

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Dances with Daffodils

There is something about daffodils that seems to inspire poets, most famously Herrick and Wordsworth. Tulips have brought out completely different reactions over the years, most famously “Tulipomania”. Daffodils and tulips are far and away the most popular flowering spring bulbs, so why does one seem to push buttons with collectors while the other brings out the muse?
Maybe it is just because the sunny yellow flowers of daffodils (Narcissus spp.) are such a change from the drab colors of winter. Also, when the daffodils bloom it means that warmer days are just over the horizon. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like daffodils. What’s not to like? Unlike fussy tulips, daffodils will live and multiply for many years after planting, if the conditions are suitable. And while critters might dig up daffodil bulbs, they don’t eat them -- the bulbs are toxic to most animals. Even the nicest daffodils are relatively inexpensive and easy to find. Nearly all daffodil species will survive extremely cold winters, are adaptable to other conditions and, while there are some pest and disease problems, few are serious.
Some people think that the fragrant white forms such as paperwhites are called “narcissus” while the large yellow trumpet flowers are jonquils or daffodils; in fact, Narcissus is the botanical name of the genus, “jonquilla” is the name of a daffodil classification, and “daffodil” is the common name for the same plants. In spite of Wordsworth’s happy hosts of daffodils, the origin of the genus name is less cheerful. The word “Narcissus” is said to be a derivation of the ancient Greek word “narke”, meaning deep sleep or numbness; “narke” is also the root of the word “narcotic”. This connection may be related to the toxic properties of chemicals in daffodil bulbs. On the other hand, the legend of Narcissus is more romantic, but in the end equally unpleasant.
Narcissus was a beautiful young man who the gods had blessed with eternal youth and beauty, as long as he never looked at his own reflection. He should have remembered the warning about a woman scorned, because his lack of response resulted in Nemesis persuading him to look at his reflection in a clear pool. As legend has it, Narcissus was so overwhelmed with his beautiful reflection that he was unable to move away, and remained frozen to the spot. Eventually a beautiful flower grew in that spot, and it was called, of course, Narcissus.
Because so many bulbs are sold by Dutch growers, it is often assumed that daffodils and tulips are native to Holland. This is not true in either case. Daffodils are native to Spain and Portugal, but have been traded and cultivated for hundreds of years. Daffodils have been important landscape plants for over 100 years, but there is still much confusion about classification within the genus. Some experts estimate that there are close to 20,000 daffodil cultivars alone!
Daffodils are important as forced potted and cut flowers to the floral industry, and many homeowners also grow them for this purpose. The very fragrant, white-flowering paperwhite narcissus (N. tazetta) is one of the least hardy daffodil species, and it is the most frequently grown indoors. Generally speaking, the landscape industry does not get into this aspect of daffodil growing because it can be very labor intensive. Landscape contractors and designers usually look for one of two things in daffodils: the ability to naturalize quickly or the ability to make a “show” with large, brightly colored flowers or, in a woodland garden, masses of smaller blossoms. Daffodils are usually planted in rather large quantities for the best effect; this effect will only improve over time as the bulbs multiply and spread.
Daffodils aren’t usually considered plants for containers, but some of the smaller varieties are suitable for planting in 4-inch containers. Examples of these include the popular ‘Tete-a-tete’, ‘Jack Snipe’ and ‘Minnow’. Paperwhite narcissus can also be grown in containers for outdoor use, with about 3 bulbs in a 6-inch pot; paperwhites may be grown as perennials in the south but they are not winter-hardy in the midwest.
The American Daffodil Society uses a classification system which originally divided the genus Narcissus into 12 categories, a system adopted by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1959. In July 1998, the RHS revised their system based in the premise that any daffodil, once given a cultivar name, should be assigned a category in Divisions 1-12; Division 13 is reserved for plants that are only identified by a botanical name. The American Daffodil Society describes Division 13 somewhat differently, and adds a separate classification for miniatures. Both systems are based on flower proportions and are fairly complex. Rather than go into the fine points of each type, the following list gives a basic description along with a few cultivars as examples.

Division I: Trumpet Daffodils
*One flower to a stem
Narcissus ‘Dutch Master’
N. ‘King Alfred’ (or ‘King Alfred’ type)
N. ‘Las Vegas’
N. ‘Lemon Glow’
N. ‘Mount Hood’

Division II: Large-Cupped Daffodils
*One flower to a stem
N. ‘Carlton’
N. ‘Flower Record’
N. ‘Fortissimo’
N. ‘Ice Follies’
N. ‘Kissproof’
N. ‘Romance’
N. ‘Salome’

Division III: Small-Cupped Daffodils
*One flower to a stem
N. ‘Barrett Browning’
N. ‘Queen of the North’

Division IV: Double Daffodils
*One or more flowers to a stem
N. ‘Cheerfulness’
N. ‘Duet’
N. ‘Erlicheer’
N. ‘Flower Drift’
N. ‘Tahiti’
N. ‘White Lion’

Division V: Triandrus Daffodils
*Two or more pendant flowers to a stem
N, ‘Ice Wings’
N. ‘Liberty Bells’
N. ‘Thalia’

Dividion VI: Cyclamineus Daffodils
*Usually one flower per stem
N. ‘February Gold’
N. ‘Jack Snipe’
N. ‘Peeping Tom’

Division VII: Jonquilla (and Apodanthus) Daffodils
*Usually 1-5 (rarely 8) fragrant flowers per stem
N. ‘Golden Perfection’
N. ‘Quail’
N. ‘Suzy’
N. ‘Trevithian’

Division VIII: Tazetta Daffodils
*3-20 flowers per stout stem. (Very fragrant -- includes paperwhite narcissus)
N. ‘Geranium’
N. ‘Laurens Koster’
N. ‘Minnow’

Division IX: Poeticus Daffodils
*Usually one flower to a stem
N. ‘Actaea’

Division X: Bulbocodium Daffodils
*Usually one flower to a stem (“Hoop petticoat” daffodils)
N. bulbocodium

Division XI: Split Corona Daffodils
a. Collar Daffodils
b. Papillion or “butterfly” Daffodils

Division XII: Miscellaneous or Other Daffodils
*Daffodils not classifiable by first 11 divisions; many are inter-division hybrids.

Division XIII: (U.S.A.) Species, Wild Variants and Wild Hybrids
N. hispanicus sbsp. bujei

Miniature Daffodils
Miniatures have the same descriptive divisions as standards, only with smaller blooms, usually less than 1 1/2 inches in diameter.

The International Flower Bulb Centre in Holland reports that the 10 best-selling daffodils are (the list includes the official designations for variety, color and classification):

1. N. ‘King Alfred’ yellow-yellow Trumpet
2. N. ‘Salome’ white-pink, yellow Large-Cupped
3. N. ‘Ice Follies’ white-white Large-Cupped
4. N. ‘Tete-a-Tete’ yellow-yellow Cyclamineus
5. N. ‘Minnow’ yellow-yellow Tazetta
6. N. ‘Fortissimo’ white-yellow Trumpet
7. N. ‘Tahiti’ yellow-red Double
8. N. ‘Las Vegas’ white-yellow Trumpet
9. N. ‘Barrett Browning’ white-orange Small-Cupped
10. N. ‘Mount Hood’ white-white Trumpet

The Chicago Botanic Garden recommends these small daffodil cultivars: ‘Thalia’ - very fragrant, white-flowering, ‘Chit-Chat’ - late blooming, prolific, bright yellow, and ‘February Gold’ - very early-flowering, bright yellow. Their recommendations for large-flowering daffodils include ‘Fragrant Rose’ - white petals, rose-pink cup, rose-like fragrance, ‘Ice Follies’ - white petals, pale yellow cup, ‘Salome’ - white petals and pale salmon cup, ‘Barrett-Browning’ - small bright orange and red cup with white petals, and ‘Poeticus’ - fragrant late bloomer with white petals and red-rimmed yellow cup.
The American Daffodil Society recommends the following cultivars specifically for planting in drifts: ‘Ice Follies’, ‘Tete-a-Tete’, ‘Flower Record’, ‘Delibes’, ‘Unsurpassable’, ‘Barrett Browning’, ‘Scarlet Gem’, ‘Geranium’, ‘Cheerfulness’, ‘Peeping Tom’, ‘Mount Hood’, ‘Spellbinder’, ‘Carlton’ and ‘Viking’.
Daffodils look best planted in informal sweeps or irregular masses rather than neat lines, although they are often inter-planted with tulips and other bulbs to create formal displays. Daffodils are not fussy about soil as long as it drains well - no bulbs like sitting in water, where they would be sure to rot. Daffodils require plenty of sun but can survive under deciduous trees because they have finished flowering by the time these trees leaf out. Daffodils should not be planted under coniferous plants or broadleaf evergreens.
Plant the bulbs at least 4 to 5 inches below the surface, or even more. Planting too shallowly can result in the bulbs heaving out of the ground during freeze/thaw conditions, and it can also make the bulbs more susceptible to fungal diseases. Traditionally, bone meal has been the standard amendment added to the soil when planting bulbs. Some experts still recommend this while others do not. There are many new slow-release fertiziler formulas made specifically for bulbs; if you follow the directions carefully, those can be very helpful.
If daffodil bulbs do not bloom in spring, there may be a number of reasons, including any of the following:

*Either the bulbs need fertilizer OR they need less nitrogen in the fertilizer blend
*Too much shade
*Waterlogged soil
*Too much root competition
*Foliage was removed too soon the previous year -- it must completely dry out and die first
*Transplant stress
*Basal rot or viral infections
*Disease, damage or stress from previous season

The only serious problem that daffodils are susceptible to is Basal or Fusarium rot (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. narcissi), which may appear on bulbs as a white or pink fungus. The fungus can remain in soil for years until presented with a host. This form of basal rot spreads quickly in hot summer temperatures and will usually kill the bulbs. The presence of weeds and excessive nitrogen can also cause the rot to spread more quickly. Planting bulbs deeply in late fall, or lifting and drying the bulbs quickly each winter can help slow the spread to other other bulbs. While there are various chemical controls, the best way to avoid Fusarium rot is by planting daffodil species and cultivars that are resistant to it. These include Narcissus bulbocodium, N. poeticus, N. tazetta and N. jonquilla.
A final note: in Wordsworth’s ode, one of the best known phrases refers to the daffodils “fluttering and dancing in the breeze.” A recent report by a Duke University biomechanics expert noted that daffodils are able to bend, twist and “dance” due to their triangular shaped stems, which reduce wind drag and prevent them from breaking.


File Name: Daffodils
Word Count: 2,138

Originally published in The Landscape Contractor magazine
Photos by Becke Davis

A Very Famous Ode to a Bulb:


I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

--William Wordsworth, 1804


“Lob’s Wood,” by Elizabeth Lawrence, 1971, Published by the Cincinnati Nature Center, Cincinnati, OH

“Narcissus,” by Michael Jefferson-Brown, 1991, B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, England

“The Complete Book of Bulbs,” by F.F. Rockwell and Esther C. Grayson, 1953, The American Garden Guild and Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY

“Taylor’s Guide to Bulbs,” 1986 Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, MA

“Gardener’s World of Bulbs,” 1991, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Plants and Gardens Series, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Inc., New York, NY

“Bulbs: Four Seasons of Beautiful Blooms,” Lewis and Nancy Hill, 1994, Garden Way Publishing, Storey Communications, Inc., Pownal, VT

“Bulbs and Tubers,” by Klaas T. Noordhuis, 1997, Rebo Productions, Inc., The Hague, Netherlands

“John E. Bryan On Bulbs,” Burpee Expert Gardener Series, 1994, Macmillan & Company, New York, NY

“Narcissus Pests and Diseases,” Cornell University Fact Sheet, www.hort.cornell.edu/department/faculty/wmiller/bulb/daffpest.html

“Narcissus Diseases,” by Gary W. Moorman Professor of Plant Pathology, Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service Fact Sheet, 1998

“Daffodils: Crop Specific Guidelines for Growers,” www.clemson.edu

“Suggested Daffodil Cultivars for Iowa, by Richard Jauron, September 13, 1996, Department of Horticulture, Iowa State University, Ames, IA

“Daffodils Do the Twist,” by Phillip Ball, December 6, 2002, www.nature.com

“Chicago Botanic Garden Best Plants for Illinois: Daffodil,” by Jim Kemper, Master Gardener, 1997-2004, Chicago Botanic Garden

“Daffodil Classification System,” Royal Horticultural Society, July 1998


The International Flower Bulb Centre, www.bulb.com

The American Daffodil Society, www.daffodilusa.org

Friday, February 09, 2007

Fragrant Herbs for Container and Garden

Aromatherapy has been a hot topic for some time now, but it shows no signs of fading away. Far from it – scented candles have pushed other merchandise off the shelves in malls across the country, while our television viewing is interspersed with ads for scented air fresheners in liquid, solid or oil forms, plug-ins, machines that shoot puffs of fragrance into the air, even CDs that “play” different fragrances throughout the day.
Since many of these synthetic fragrances are meant to convey images of the great outdoors, fresh cut grass as well as floral fragrances galore, many people assume that just by planting flowers, a fragrant garden is sure to follow. Those who have more experience know that while many flowers are virtually without scent, the needles of some conifers, the bark of some trees and the foliage of numerous plants can often compete with the fragrance of the most valuable perfumed flowers.
Think perfume and many people instantly focus on roses, lilacs or mock orange blossoms. In their strongest forms, these wonderful scents can sometimes be overpowering. To broaden the range of fragrances in your garden, try incorporating a variety of herbs in beds, borders or containers. Herbs are useful on many levels – they are ornamental, many are fragrant, some have medicinal uses and many just beg to clipped for culinary purposes. Some herbs release their fragrance through flowers, but a great many herbs release their aroma most powerfully when brushed against or when the foliage is handled or rubbed.
Plant a variety of herbs so you can choose your fragrance according to your mood – spicy, zesty, astringent, flowery, minty, musky, citrusy, sweet, sour or even for variety, somewhat repulsive. While not all herbs are readily available, a growing number of garden centers, and even grocery stores, are stocking the more common herbs with their staple spring deliveries of annuals and perennials.
Seeds of both annual and perennial herbs are also available in seed form from respected mail order companies. Ordering seeds by mail or online greatly increases the variety of plants available, and most will reach a good size in a single planting season. Most herbs perform best in full sun, and the more tender plants can be gradually prepared for indoor life before the first frost hits.
Start growing herbs in containers until you get a good idea of their hardiness, their soil and water preferences as well as growth habit and ultimate size. Some of the more prolific herbs are best planted in containers in any case, because of their tendency to take over the flower bed. Put the containers along paths or on patios where people will brush against them, or in containers near doors, windows or seating areas.
The following list is sure to contain some old friends and familiar names, but don’t hesitate to try some of the unfamiliar herbs, too. It takes only a minimal investment of time and money to grow an herb garden designed to tempt your nose as well as your taste buds. Try some of the more potent or even “stinky” herbs, too – smelling them can be quite an experience.
Landscape contractors, take note when designing gardens for children – kids love to handle and smell fragrant plants, but their favorites can be clearly delineated by age and sex: little girls pick the pretty or fruity fragrances nine times out of ten, while the little boys gravitate to the strongest scents, particularly the really noxious, repulsive ones, almost without fail.

Anise (Pimpinella anisum) – Anise has been known as a culinary, medicinal and aromatic herb since ancient times. The fragrance is found primarily in the oil found in its crushed seeds. Anise is used to flavor perfumes and soaps as well as mouthwash and toothpaste. It is recommended as a companion plant to coriander.

Artemisia, Wormwood (Artemisia spp.) – Many species of Artemisia are fragrant in varying degrees. Some are pleasantly fragrant, others less so. A. camphorata, for instance, smells like moth balls and can be used for the same purpose.

Aztec Sweet Shrub (Lippia dulcis) – Sometimes used as a sugar substitute, this ground cover has such a sweet leaf that it is often used to sweeten fruit salads. Others chew the leaves like candy, picked right off the plant. Lippia graveolens, on the other hand, is a tender herb commonly known as Mexican oregano, which shares many of the traits of oregano (Origanum spp.).

Basil (Ocimum spp.) – Basil is best known for its use in Italian cooking, as the primary ingredient in pesto sauces. Fresh basil leaves are preferred for culinary use, dried basil is popular in potpourris. The leaves of basil plants release a wonderful fragrance when they are handled. There are many species of basil, and the fragrance varies with the species. For example, Lemon basil (O. americanum) has a strong, lemony scent, anise basil (O. basilicum ‘Anise’ smells like anise, cinnamon basil (O. basilicum ‘Cinnamon’) smells like its name, as does camphor basil (O. kilimandscharicum). A form of Thai basil called O. basilicum ‘Thyrsiflora’ has a very sweet fragrance while O. gratissimum smells like cloves.

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) – Known more for its colorful flowers than for its citrusy fragrance, bee balm is popular as a dried flower in potpourris because of the similarity of its fragrance to the tropical orange bergamot tree.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) – An herb in the ginger family, the seedpods of this plant release a fragrance that is spicy and exotic, loved by some but considered a bit too powerful by others. The seedpods are popular for use in sachets and potpourris.

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) – The scent of this plant tends to be more popular with cats than with people. Centuries back, catnip was valued as a fumigant and over the years it has also been used to make tea.

Chamomile, Roman (Matricaria chamomilla, Anthemis nobilis) – A compact perennial with a strong fragrance.

Chamomile, German or Wild (Matricaria recutita) – The delicate, apple-like fragrance of chamomile has made it popular as a soothing tea.

Coriander and Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) – Confusingly, cilantro and coriander have the same botanic name because they are different parts of the same plant. Cilantro is the herb, the plant itself, while coriander is the name for the aromatic seed of the plant, which is used as a spice. Coriander, which is often found as an ingredient in perfumes and cosmetics, is described by some as “fresh and sweet”. Although coriander is also a culinary herb, others describe its aroma as “unpleasant”, at the very least. Coriander was used in Roman times in vinegars for preserving meats.

Corsican Mint (Mentha requienii) – The potent aroma of this plant is said to be useful as an insect repellent. Corsican mint is best used as an outdoor plant. It can be grown as a ground cover in full sun – it can even be grown between stepping stones, since it will usually survive foot traffic once it is established.

Epazote, Mexican Tea, Pigweed (Chenopodium ambrosioides) – Pungent is a good word to describe the fragrance of this herb – others have said it smells like kerosene or gasoline. Epazote is commonly used in Mexican-style recipes to control gas from black beans.

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) – A bitter, aromatic herb in the mint family. Long considered a cough remedy, a juice extracted from the leaves of this herb is used in the production of liqueuers, syrups, cough drops and candies.

Lavender, English (Lavandula angustifolia) – Although English lavender has attractive foliage and flowers, it is usually grown for its fragrance. It is used in the production of soaps, shampoos, sachets and potpourris. The flower color and winter hardiness vary with the cultivar. French lavender is less fragrant and less hardy than its English counterpart, but it is attractive to butterflies and bees.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) – This member of the mint family is very fragrant but somewhat messy in habit. The strongest aromatic oils tend to be in the lower parts of the plant.

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla) – The foliage releases a sweet lemon fragrance when the leaves are handled or brushed against. Sprigs of lemon verbena can be used as garnishes at the table, in potpourris, to scent bathwater, or for culinary purposes.

Marjoram (Origanum marjorana) – Marjoram has small leaves that are spicy and aromatic without being overpowering. It is best known as a culinary herb, but the foliage releases a subtle fragrance in the garden, too.

Mint (Mentha spp.) – Probably the best known of all the aromatic herbs, the fragrance varies with the type of mint. The strong scent of peppermint (Mentha X piperita) comes from an exceptionally high concentration of menthol in its oils, while the milder spearmint (M. spicata) makes it popular as a kitchen herb. Apple mint (M. suaveolens) and the variegated pineapple mint (M. suaveolens var. variegata) are also popular both in the garden and in the kitchen. The scent of pennyroyal (M. pulegium) is said to repel fleas. All species of mint are vigorous growers and can easily become invasive.

Oregano (Origanum spp.) – The most fragrant and flavorful oregano is not the common O. vulgare, but is considered to be O. hirtum, O. heracleoticum or O. vulgare ‘Viride’. The fragrance of oregano is often reminds people of pizza.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – Rosemary has a fresh, somewhat piney scent that makes this herb popular for culinary use, for potpourris and sachets, soaps and shampoos, and as a garden plant. It grows to a fairly large shrub in the south, but it is not hardy in the Midwest.

Sage (Salvia spp.) – There are hundreds of species of sage, including some that are extremely aromatic. Blue sage (Salvia clevelandii) is popular in potpourris, pineapple sage (S. elegans) has a fruity fragrance and bright red flowers, while purple sage (S. officinalis ‘Purpurea’) has the distinctive aroma found in stuffing and sausages.

Scented Geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) – Scented geraniums are the mimics of the herb world, with species and cultivars mimicking the fragrances of almost every flower and fruit in the garden. The flowers are usually insignificant but the leaves are wonderfully fragrant when handled or brushed. Among the many fragrances to be found in the geranium genus are lemon, pine, apricot, nutmeg, lemon, rose, lemon-rose, mint, apple, lime, strawberry, coconut, chocolate, chocolate mint (this one prefers shade), citronella (known as “the mosquito plant” for its reputed repellent qualities), ginger, apple cider, cinnamon, musk and even champagne.

Thyme (Thymus spp.) – Another popular herb with many species and cultivars, each with distinguishing features, flower or leaf color, or fragrance. In addition to various flower colors and forms, common thyme (T. vulgare) has a familiar scent to those who use it in their cooking. Other fragrances include camphor, lemon, caraway, nutmeg and other spicy variations.

Vick’s Plant (Plectranthus purpuratus) – A tender annual also known as Spanish thyme or Cuban oregano, the fleshy leaves of this plant release a strong fragrance that will instantly bring to mind childhood memories of Vick’s Vapo-Rub R. When grown in a container, Vick’s plant can be overwintered indoors.


Originally published in The Landscape Contractor magazine, also reprinted in the magazine of the Cincinnati Flower Show


“Growing and Using Scented Geraniums,” by Mary Peddie, Judy Lewis and John Lewis,
Storey Publishing Bulletin A-131, 1991, Storey Communications, Inc., Pownal, VT

“Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs,” by Claire Kowalcik and William H. Hylton, Editors, 1998, Rodale Press, Inc., Emmaus, PA

“Color in the Garden, Fragrance in the Garden,” by Norman Taylor, 1953, D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc., New York, NY

“Gardening for Fragrance,” Brooklyn Botanic Garden Plants and Gardens series, 1989, BBG Publications, Brooklyn, NY

“The Fragrant Garden,” by Louise Beebe Wilder, 1932, reprinted 1974, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Garden Book Club at BN.com

At the moment I am moderating the Home and Hobbies book club at BN.com (and I visit a lot of the other clubs on a regular basis). The Home and Hobbies club is about to be revamped so topics like knitting will have a different moderator, and there will be a new book club, that I will moderate, discussing four or five gardening books each month.

I've given the powers-that-be some suggestions for books to discuss including several soon to be published titles and a couple of classics. We may also include a "board" to discuss gardening mysteries, since there are a lot of those available now.

The book clubs are free and now that people are becoming more familiar with the new format (as opposed to the old online university classes), the message boards are getting busy again.

Stop by BN.com to say hi, and to talk about new and interesting books on garden topics.

By the way, the photo has nothing to do with the topic of this post. I just wanted to see some summery flowers -- I'd rather look ahead to those than to think of the pile of cold, wet white stuff I'm going to have to shovel off my driveway in the morning.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Cacti and Succulents

Short of dropping Chicago smack into the middle of the Mohave Desert, it may be hard to conceive of cacti and succulents growing in this area. If Midwest gardeners have grown these plants at all, they were most likely grown as houseplants or greenhouse specialties.
Certainly, in order to survive a Chicago winter, the great majority of cacti and succulents would need to be overwintered indoors. But with exotic gardens and distinctive container plants attracting more and more interest, these fascinating plants are escaping the confines of the house, if only for the summer.
Since cacti and succulents tend to be desert plants, the soil and weather conditions in Chicago are a stretch. Luckily, one of the best things about container gardens is their flexibility. If a plant needs well-drained, sandy soil conditions, those conditions can be made to order in a container. If a plant needs plenty of sun but shelter from the wind, containers can be sited in exactly the right spot. And if the sun moves too far in one direction, containers can be moved accordingly.
Many of the smaller cacti and succulents are ideal for trough gardens or even portable rock gardens. Larger plants may require a container with a wheeled base to make it easier to move the plants in and out with the changing seasons. Give these plants the best living conditions possible, because, with proper care, some are exceedingly long-lived.
Some cacti and succulents are surprisingly hardy. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has visited the desert. Although the sunlight beats down fiercely during the day, often topping 100 degrees, the night falls quickly and desert temperatures plunge dramatically after dark. There are a lot of popular misconceptions about cacti. The idea that they live in sand and sun with baking heat and little rain has led to the death of many housebound pot of cactus.
To begin with, although the terms “cacti” and “succulents” are frequently used together, by definition cacti actually ARE succulents because they store water in their stems. The distinguishing feature of most cacti, of course, is their prickly needles and spines. In the case of succulents – or what most people think of as succulents – the thick, fleshy stems or leaves with their “squishy” appearance and moisture-filled interior are the defining features.
Not all cacti are desert plants – there are also “forest” cacti. These include epiphytes that cling to tropical trees, the genus Rhipsalis, which includes the trailing, jointed-looking Chain and Mistletoe cacti. This genus also includes the more familiar Easter cactus and Christmas cactus. When grown indoors, all of these species go through a period of winter rest when fertilization should be stopped and watering kept to a minimum. The soil should never be allowed to dry out completely. When these plants are dormant, a temperature of about 55 degrees F is ideal.
In summer months, forest cacti benefit from the fresh outdoor air but they should be protected from harsh sunlight – bright, filtered or part shade is ideal. Once the flower buds start to appear in summer, water these as frequently as any other container plant – do not allow the soil to completely dry out. Also, whether indoors or out, the plants will benefit from an occasional misting. When set outside in summer, forest cacti may need protection from slugs. There is one important difference between forest cacti and other container plants – once the delicate buds begin to appear, the plants should not be moved. If repotting is necessary, wait until after flowering.
The image that usually comes to mind when we hear the word “cactus” is the desert type. There are many misconceptions about the way these plants should be cared for, and to begin with it is important to distinguish them from the forest type cacti. Desert cacti, when grown as houseplants, may benefit from the fresh air but unlike their forest cousins, misting is not usually a good idea. Some cactus lovers prefer to keep their plants indoors and simply leave windows open to allow the plants to bask in the hot summer air.
Like the forest cacti, desert cacti will benefit from cool temperatures of around 50 degrees F during their winter dormancy. Many genera of cactus can survive comfortably at 40 degrees F while they are dormant. If these cacti are moved to a garage or greenhouse during their dormant period, place them where they will still be exposed to sunlight – bright sun, but not hot.
Watering needs vary during dormancy and flowering periods. Desert cacti need more water starting in the spring, and water as any other container plant during the summer. By late summer, watering should be reduced in stages leading into fall/winter dormancy, still making sure the plants are not allowed to completely dry out. Overwatering cacti in water or underwatering them in summer can lead to a variety of problems including a number of stem rot diseases. Other problems can occur if cacti are allowed to get excessively warm in winter or if they get insufficient sun in summer.
When repotting is necessary, do not move the plant into a much larger pot – it is better not to allow excess space around the roots. Be careful about pruning cactus, except in the case of damaged stems. Cacti bloom on old growth, and encouraging a cactus to bloom is not always easy. Keeping the plants somewhat rootbound seems to promote the blooming process.
Desert cacti need plenty of sun – indoors or out, during periods of active growth and during winter dormancy. At the same time, during the dog days of summer it may benefit these cacti to give them a little protection from the hottest afternoon sun.
There are far too many types of desert cacti to list or describe them all. Some of the more bizarre-looking cacti include the brain cactus (Echinofossulocactus zacatecasensis), the spiky sun cactus (Heliocereus speciosus), and the descriptive bunny ears cactus (Opuntia microdasys). The genus Opuntia includes several familiar-looking upright forms of cactus, while Rebutia, Parodia and Mammillaria are mostly globular in form. Echinopsis has both globular and upright forms, while the Red Cap cactus, Gymnocalcium milhanoichii var friedrichii, is easily recognizable by its distinctive round orange “stem” that are grafted onto a green base.
Succulents are generally easy to grow, as indoor or outdoor plants. When grown indoors, it is important to give them as much fresh air and “outdoor time” as possible when the weather is mild. Like desert cactus, these plants need a lot of sun but may benefit from a little protection when the summer sun is at its peak. Cool temperatures, a bright but cool spot and occasional watering are all that is necessary to provide during winter dormancy. Water as any other container plant during the summer, reducing water gradually as summer turns into fall. Whether grown as indoor, outdoor or greenhouse plants, succulents need a period of winter dormancy in order to rest and to ensure flowering. Sunshine and fresh air in summer, moist but well-drained soil, shelter from the hottest sun, and bright but cool winter conditions are about all that is required to keep these plants happy for years.
Cacti and succulents are ideal for trough gardens because they grow under similar conditions (which can be made to order in a large trough) and a trough can be situated on a stand that brings the garden closer to eye level. The amazing detail in some of the small cactus and succulent species has to be seen up close to be truly appreciated. A large, somewhat flat, well-drained container can also be adapted to cacti and succulents. Use potting soil that has been premixed especially to meet the needs of cacti and succulents, for best results. A slow-release fertilizer especially designed for cacti and succulents may be applied in spring, if necessary, but be careful not to overfertilize, or to add fertilizer late in the season.
Interesting and/or attractive succulents include Aeonium arboreum (particularly var. atropurpureum ‘Schwartzkopf’), the genus Agave (including the century plant, which blooms once every 100 years), the large and varied genus Aloe (a popular first aid lotion and sunburn treatment), Argyroderma, Conophytum, Crassula, Cotyledon, Delosperma, Dudleya, the roseate forms of Echeveria, succulent species of Euphorbia (as opposed to perennial Euphorbias), Faucaria, Fenestraria, Furcraea, Gasteria, Gasworthia, Graptopetalum, Haworthia, Hechtia, Hoya, Jovibarba, Kalanchoe, Lampranthus, Lithops, Orostachys, Othonna, Pachyphytum, Pachyveria, the annual flowering Portulaca grandiflora, Puya, stonecrop Sedum, Sempervivum (Hens and Chicks), Senecio and Yucca (also called Adam’s Needle).
A trough garden or a collection of containers featuring cacti and succulents can be a good introduction to these fascinating plants. Don’t just sit them on a shelf to gather dust, though – put them out on the deck or in the garden where they can be seen and enjoyed. Treat them as you would any container plant in summer, bringing them indoors and allowing them to gradually go dormant as winter approaches. A little care and attention will keep these plants alive and well as long or longer than the perennials in your garden.


File Name: Cactiandsucculents
Word Count: 1,527

Originally published in The Landscape Contractor magazine
Photos by Becke Davis


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