Monday, June 28, 2010

And you wonder why I’m paranoid

File this one under things you don’t want to see in your garden footwear.  Ever.  Under any circumstances.

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No, it’s not mold or a dreadful case of athlete’s foot. Something even worse than that.  Thankfully, I had the presence of mind ('”let’s just sell the house” said the LFG hubby fearfully) to fling said shoe across the yard so forcefully it whisked straight through the Viburnum hedge (below) and bounced off the neighbors fence.  Which bumped the small yellow jacket nest loose.  Yes, that’s right, a most ill tempered member of the wasp family had taken up residence in my muck shoes.  Visit the link to find out more, way, way more, than you want to know about wasps, including pictures.

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On to part deux.  Urban legend says that this (below) is how normal, sensible gardeners store their footwear.  Cuts down on finding twigs, stray children (see last pic), rock collections, long forgotten Easter eggs, or water in them.  (Don’t worry, I just posed the boots this way.  I usually leave mine right side up like a dope.) 

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And when one leaves the boots right side up, one should not be surprised when things take up residence.  As I am beginning to discover to my dismay.

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After shaking the boots vigorously to loosen the web and stamping on them for good measure, I ran upstairs to find my thickest wool socks.  Thus endowed, I reluctantly, fearfully slid the boots on, felt no bite/wiggle/hiss in response and then went about my chores with a firm resolve to wear my boots more often, to bed even, so no critters had the chance to get cozy.

Thankfully, Alaska is not home to giant man-eating scorpions, tarantulas, gnomes, or the rats of NIMH.  Otherwise this would probably be posted from a bed at API (Alaska Psychiatric Institute).

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What would be the worst thing to find in your garden footwear?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tour a Nursery: In the Garden Nursery

I may have mentioned (once or twice a month, and in comments on the garden blogs of others) how Alaska is the pits when it comes to sourcing interesting, unusual, or newly released plants.  This is one of those cases when being proved wrong is a pleasant experience.  Lorri Abel is the proprietress of In the Garden Nursery, a small specialty nursery tucked away in a south Anchorage neighborhood, a place where the surprises were both pleasant and frequent.

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A very savvy businesswoman and member of the Alaska Master Gardener Association, Ms. Abel not only offers hard-to-find plants for her customers, she has also lined up some of Anchorage’s finest for presentations and demonstrations over the course of the summer.  (Why don’t more nurseries do this?)  Last weekend, Sally Arant gave a class on concrete in the garden and even had some of her fabulous concrete works of art for sale at the end of class.  Check out the nursery website for more upcoming classes as they are added.  I see I missed hearing from Annie Nevaldine (a pro with extensive knowledge of plants and a Master Gardener) and Jane Baldwin (Primula queen and Anchorage Master Gardener prez).  Drat!

Lori was kind enough to let me stop by shortly after opening week in mid-May for some photos. Shall we go in?

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One thing I noticed right away (and will be gratifying to the nearsighted among us) was the plethora of easy to read signage.  No endless wandering (that tends to get expensive for me) for that vine or groundcover when you can see right away…

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…where to go.  I’m very good at snooping around for those new or unusual varieties (my modesty is really shining through here), so imagine my pleasure at discovering Brunnera m. ‘Spring Yellow’, Ligularia ‘Osiris Cafe Noir’, and Dicentra ‘Gold Heart’.  And the goodies didn’t stop there.

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Looking over my list of pleasant surprises, I note many of them are shade plants, or as we in Alaska call them, full sun plants.  Yep, we grow Hostas in sun.  Crazy, I know, but it just doesn’t get hot here (75F is a scorcher) and our nights (and soils) are cool so we get away with it.  Some other uncommon treasures: Hepatica americana, Athyrium ‘Lady in Red’, Epimedium (at least three types that I saw), Aruncus ‘Guinea Fowl’, Uvularia grandiflora, and about three or four different Cimicifugas.  Won’t find this list at the ol’ home improvement store.  I know, I’ve checked.

And how many nurseries have a sale table?  Off the top of my head: none around here.  Many just pitch less than stellar specimens or overstock in the trash.  I just saw some lush specimens of Isolepis cernua (fiber optic grass) piled up in the trash at a nursery I won’t name.  (At that moment, I contemplated dumpster diving for the first time since my college days.)  None of that wasteful pitching here…off to the sale table they go.

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I was thrilled to see a section devoted to ornamental grasses, which don’t get much attention in Alaska.  And surprise, surprise, I picked up a grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Eldorado’) I didn’t have.  Actually, as a side note, I thought I had ‘Eldorado’ and was unimpressed with the supposed “gold” tinge.  No wonder.  My specimens must have been mislabeled and are very likely ‘Avalanche'.  I am happy to report ‘Eldorado’ does indeed have a pronounced gold tinge, for those that are wondering.

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This isn’t exclusively a perennial nursery.  There’s a bit of everything.  I found cheerful annuals (like the pansies below) just begging for me to take their picture.  I notice I’m having a yellow moment here.  Noteworthy because I have heretofore forbidden myself to have any more yellow moments.  They draw attention to the dreadful yellow play slide in the back yard…oops, I meant back garden: thanks Noelle.  The yellow slide will be covered in a future philosophical rant upon the fascinating subject of children's play equipment. 

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Now, where was I?  Oh, yes.  There were also trees and shrubs to be had.  Don’t the dapper chaps below look nice?  I had to be very firm with myself, “No more room for shrubbery, no matter how small.”  But aren’t they cute?  Sort of like the horticultural equivalent of puppies or kittens, my eye was just drawn to them.  The kids have always wanted a pet, but I don’t think this is what they had in mind.  Which is too bad because these will never chew shoes, spray furniture, or develop a barking habit.

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Is the non-gardening spouse or companion in a decline over having to troll the nursery for hours and hours?  Or even fifteen minutes?  Clever Ms. Abel has developed a place here for them.  A very inviting and comfortable looking place, too.  I didn’t see any sticks for roasting marshmallows over the fire pit, but then I’d never leave if there was.

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Wow, a whole section (and bona fide sign) for our humble native plants.  Again, a new sighting for me at Alaska nurseries.  Usually, our native plants are relegated to some dark, unlabelled corner of retail sales, like Harry Potter shut up in the broom cupboard.  They are there, but unacknowledged.  Not so, here.

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The sly ones amongst the readership are probably wondering how many truckloads of plants were purchased.  I stunned even myself and went away with just a flat.  Disciplined, that’s me.  Of course I won’t promise not to stop by and pick up more bits and pieces for the garden.  The selection is too good, and Lorri says she can get wiped out of certain plants after a garden designer stops by and buys the whole lot.  You’ve been warned…get over to In the Garden Nursery, pronto.

Do nurseries in your area have seating areas for non-shopping companions?  Sections for native plants?  Good signage?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Are yours real or fake?

No, get your mind out of the gutter.  I meant plants and flowers.  Walking and driving around my town, I had noticed a smattering of frilly, bright greenery.  Not that that in itself is strange, but the occasion I’m thinking of was in January and the snow was about three feet deep.  That time of year, green things do arouse my suspicions.  Green hanging baskets and forsythia bonsai are almost unheard of in summer, so a sighting in January was special.  Too bad it was fabric and plastic.  To preserve the dignity of my fellow Alaskans, all identifying characteristics in the photos below have been edited out or blurred.  I know, I know, that’s no fun at all.

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Take the beauty pictured above.  If you just blur your eyes, it might not seem too out of the ordinary.  Back in focus, I’m wondering where the stem connects to the ground and why is so blooming healthy when there is snow on the ground.  We have no, I repeat, no blooming vines that are that early to start growth.  So subtle is perhaps not the effect this “gardener” was going for.  I’m not the only one pondering this propensity for plastic.  Kelly at Life Out Of Doors was hoodwinked recently by some man-made beauties, blue hydrangeas to be precise.  She was oohing and aahing and snapping away on the old camera and leaned in for a touch.  Yes, you all can guess what happened next.  After the shock (and horror?), a funny post on plastic plants.

For a real live researched post on fakies try Gardening Tips ‘n’ Ideas from the godfather at Blotanical (a garden blog community), Stuart B.  He even mentions the economy: wow, no such meticulous background info here at LFG.  You know if it was on his mind in Australia (and mine in Alaska) it’s at least a phenomenon in the Pacific area.  But wait, Mr_Subjunctive in Iowa has a (more edgy, PG-13 rated) take on fakies at Plants are the Strangest People and even discourses on their care, maintenance, and common pests.  They get the deluxe treatment, complete with Latin names.  Very posh. 

Liza in New Mexico at Good to Grow gets a bit ranty (scroll to bottom of post) about fakies and has a firm philosophy about their disposal.  Speaking of philosophy, here’s one for Socrates: if you plant a plastic plant, does that make you a gardener?  Or a decorator?  The one fakie I saw that didn’t cause immediate scorn, revulsion, or imminent vomiting can be found at Nestmaker in Oregon, where Megan writes about a designer (grandpa’s quote about “more money than brains” comes to mind) having a fake boxwood hedge made to cover an eyesore.  Not too shabby.  And probably more costly than my car.  At Go Away, I’m Gardening, Amy in Texas rejects the I Love Lucy method of fakie gardening and decides to stick with the real thing.  I think we have represented the US pretty well in the imitation plant department.  I’m wondering if fakies are also an international outrage…please weigh in on this if you feel the need.

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What do a persons plastic blooms say about them?  I can see a theme in the arrangement above.  These folks are obviously patriots, with their red, white, and blue mailbox and matching ersatz flowers.  Quite cheering, especially for April (yes, that is snow in the background).  And always timely as Independence Day (July 4th for for Americans) comes around every year after all…they’re just ahead of the game for six months and woefully behind for another six.  A bit like leaving the Christmas lights up year ‘round.

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Pictured above you can see the aforementioned forsythia bonsai.  It is an incredibly hardy variety capable of withstanding –30F with no protection.  I have seen the yard in four feet of snow and the cheerful yellow blooms just shrug the cold off.  (Simply amazing or simply synthetic?)  Here it is keeping company with another strangely hardy creature, the rare, shy, and very slow moving Porch Swan, Cygnus polyvinylchloridus porchus.  Maybe the little documented porch swan nests only in synthetic plants…there could be a graduate degree in this for some dedicated soul.

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My one word answer to the above: really?  That ficus doesn’t even look real.  The forsythia, you could drive by and not give it another look.  This doesn’t even pass the drive by test.  Maybe the Porch Swan has some distant mock songbird cousin that could roost here.  This person is trying…there are lots of perennials in the front yard, however I just can’t in good conscience give an ‘A’ for effort here.  Even in the reproduction plant market, there is better than this.  I’ll just think positive: maybe they are going to clean it and it’s just resting there for now.  And the past month.

We live in a world were fake is often desirable, maybe even better than the real thing.  I myself just had some silk wrap fingernails removed.  They were gorgeous and high maintenance and impossible to garden with.  There is artificial hair, hair/eye/skin/nail color, and implants of all kinds for our bodies, inside and out.  The garden has seen it’s share of synthetic: rocks, dead end wishing wells, grass, beehives, all manner of plastic statuary meant to look like animal/vegetable/mineral/gnome, faux (which is a nicer sounding French word for fake) terra cotta, and even sham gardeners.  You know the one’s I mean: the painted, wooden silhouette of the gardener (usually rather large in the beam) bending over.  If all that and more can be counterfeited, it was only a matter of time before the plastic and silk moved out to the garden in place of the plants.    

Where do plastic plants belong?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Wanted Dead or Alive

Preferably dead.  [Remember those FBI Most Wanted lists at the Post Office?  Next time you’re in line for twenty minutes, leave your small child as a place holder and go and snoop through the small ream of paper that includes some of the worst criminals in the world, pictures included.]  After hours of weed pulling on Saturday, inspiration hit.  Why not write about my top five most hated/dangerous weeds?  Which posed a dilemma.  Now that I had weeded, where could I find an intact specimen of said weeds for a picture?  My imperfection (or laziness) saved me.  There were indeed weeds left in the yard.  I just had to crawl into some tight spots to get a decent shot of them.  So without further ado, the top five weeds in my Alaska yard this year are:

1. Taraxacum officinale or the old standby dandelion.  Kids and bees love it.  The dandies in the turf grass I have occasionally gone to battle with, but it’s the one’s in the gravel and the beds that drive me nuts.  And it’s not as if there are two seeds per plant.

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2. Prunus padus commutata, or the ever popular (OK, in zone 3) May Day tree, whose white flower petals are currently blowing off the tree and around my yard like a summer snow.  It’s a quick grower, quicker than birch even.  In our cold, dry climate (and with our cool soils) there aren’t too many trees that make fast growth.  On a blank lot (which so many new houses are after the builder scrapes off all the vegetation and trees) the need for shade trees (or any trees for that matter) is paramount.  And this one works great with one teeny, tiny, little caveat.  It seeds like the great plant Apocalypse is happening tomorrow.  And it’s seedlings are rather tenacious for their size.  You have been warned.

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3. Campanula rapunculoides and you’d think with a common name like creeping bellflower, people would be wary.  Or not.  I admit the purple flower is attractive, but is that any reason to invite this plant thug into the garden?  This is the hardest weed to pull and grows back the fastest.  I hate, loathe, detest, and abhor it.  And where did I acquire it?

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That’s right, next door.  It is posing with some turf grass and about ten thousand of it’s cohorts in the background.  Short of secretly squirting Roundup along the fence line, what can you do?

4. Campanula persicifolia, the peach-leaved bellflower, and what a beauty it was in it’s first years in my garden.  I had both the blue and the white colored plants.  Though the white is almost completely gone with diligent weeding, the blue has staying power.  It hides amongst the blueberry bushes, Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue,’ and under Pinus aristata.  It grows back if you just rip the top part and don’t remove the roots, but not as quickly as Campanula number 3.  It spreads more slowly as well.  I know when I’ve missed a patch because it sends up two or three foot spikes of blue, bell-shaped flowers in summer.  Can’t hide those under the Geraniums now, can they?

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5. Linaria vulgaris, also known by the rather fattening name of butter-and-eggs.  You pull it and it comes back.  Forever.  Well, perhaps I exaggerate, but just.  As a kid I used to love picking the yellow flowers and biting the end of the spur off to suck out the miniscule bit of nectar.  Well, like so many tastes, it has changed as I have become an adult.  Hate it.  Please do your neighborhood a favor if you have it and mow or pull it.  In a sad bit of irony, I have seen tended beds of this in town…it is in fact NOT a yellow snapdragon, despite the resemblance.  A terrible seeder and not bad at creeping around by rhizomes, too.  Check out the USDA website for a better picture that includes the yellow flower.

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That was my top five for this year, mind you.  Just like the FBI list, next year there might be other (garden) low-life criminals in the running.  Oh joy.

What are your worst weeds?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Plant of the Month: May 2010

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Is this the beginning of something wonderful?  I don’t know, but I do know this: it is the start of one less post I must fret about per month.  Now I can be on virtual autopilot for one fourth of my postings.  (That might be a bit optimistic, now that I think of it.)  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still make an effort, it just doesn’t have to be some fresh, innovative, unheard of and clever topic.  Featuring my favorite plant for every month is a very worthy topic however, if for no other reason than to prove that Alaskans can grow at least twelve plants. 

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So without further ado, my choice for “Plant of the Month: May 2010” is Bergenia.  Yes, that’s right, lowly Bergenia, or Pigsqueak as it’s also known.  Why not something flashier, or more exotic, you’re thinking.  Well, in zones 1-5, which cover most of my (rather large) state, we tend to go for sensible…it saves money.  How did I determine my winner for the month of May?  I scrolled through my vast quantity of (mostly terrible) garden pictures and I realized approximately one in four shots included a Bergenia

I’m not picky as to species or variety.  If it survives, chances are, it will perform well for me.  After checking my handy “master yard list” on ye ol’ Excel spreadsheet, I notice lines 27 through 35 are all Bergenia.  Nine entries on the computer rates recognition as a small collection, I suppose.  My favorite thus far: B. ‘Tubby Andrews,’ pictured below, in a group shot with Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue, some daffs, ferns, Sagina subulata ‘Aurea,’ and Alopecurus pratensis ‘Aureus.’  The flowers on this one haven’t been spectacular for me, but I am a sucker for unusual foliage.

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Some quick stats and info on Bergenia in my yard:

Where: sun or shade


1. flowers in spring/summer,

2. one of the earliest perennials to flower in Alaska,

3. boldly shaped foliage that contrasts well with other perennials and grasses,

4. several flower colors available including purplish, pink, white,

5. the foliage on some cultivars turns red or burgundy in the fall,

6. tough plant, can stand some neglect,

7. good grief…how many reasons do you people need?!

How: plant and forget.  Well, not quite.  I do throw in a handful of compost or rotted manure at planting time and water well the first year to aid in establishment.  I tend to like large groupings, they have more impact and make decent ground covers. 

early summer bergenia 008This plant is like that singer in the church choir.  No, not the one who is always a little flat, sings a beat ahead/behind of the rest, or the one who never attempts to blend their (rather too loud) voice.  We are referring to the singer who is always in the background a bit, never obnoxious, but always spot on, pitch perfect.  Bergenia is not the diva in my garden choir.

What was your plant of the month for May?  Or what plant did you take the most pictures of?


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