Monday, August 30, 2010

Hello from Kenai, Alaska

Twice a year or so, I avail myself of the lazy garden chronicler’s privelege and post a picture worth a thousand words.  This is one of those times.  Some photo ops are too unique to pass up and this pub in Kenai had a stunning bit of artwork painted right outside the door.  The stunning part is no one has filed a complaint.  If this doesn’t capture the spirit of that fair fishing town, I’m open to suggestions.

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Would you try to sneak into this bar if you were underage?  What memorable “artwork” have you seen lately?

Monday, August 23, 2010

To give (a tour) is better than to receive…

…a kick in the shins, a quarantine notice, or an IRS audit.  This bit on how to gracefully give a garden tour might strike some of you as a stretch, at least for me.  Having survived another stampede at my place, I am beginning to consider myself a garden tour veteran.   (See any quote about pride and falling.)  For an entertaining tour aftermath read, check out Margaret at A Way To Garden.  And don’t try calling her Marge.

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My last post on attending garden tours only cleansed half my tour demons.  The other half are to be found here, in some coping strategies for making the big day doable.  Please excuse the huffy (crabby even) tone…I’ll be back to my absurd self shortly.

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1. Enlist the help of friends and relatives for the big day, if you have no servants, or “helpers” as Martha Stewart calls them. 

At my last gig, mom and sister made the desserts and sister-in-law kept the outdoor table well stocked.  She was also an excellent runner.  Why do I need a runner for my garden tour, you ask?  In no particular order, here’s what she had to run into the house for: writing implement and paper, garbage sack (for used paper cups, plates, etc.), master yard list (yes, I have one, and yes, it’s a miracle), napkins, and more brownies. 

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2. Lock the door to your house.  Unless you want to have the garden tour extend to the house or more especially the nearest bathroom.

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3. Make whatever deals you deem necessary with Higher Authority to ensure the weather is fine.  I believe I promised my next born child if the rain stopped.  Then make your peace with whatever weather happens.  This is very important.  Despair is not pretty.

4. Try to stand in one central area in your garden so people can find you if they have a question. 

It’s like a wedding line, you’ve got to be in a certain place for attendees to know who you are.  Also, if you are standing in a narrow walkway or corner, you will clog the flow of people.  Sometimes you will be asked the name of an obscurely described plant and you will have to go look at it to be sure you are both thinking of the same thing.  Return to your central spot after you’ve checked it out (and hopefully answered the question). 

5. Find a good line to tell long winded “garden gabbers” to wrap things up so you can greet/answer questions of the others that are waiting to talk to you.  “I’d love to continue this conversation, but…”  I sometimes give out my email or number to those I would like to renew a garden gabfest with later. 

Though difficult at times, you should try to be firm.  It is not “mean” to excuse yourself from a twenty minute discourse of the history of Echinacea use by the pioneers or the subtle and artistic shadings of various kinds of eggplant.  A garden host/hostess has duties, including the distribution of time as equally to the attendees as possible, should they wish to approach.  Some people are shy and won’t come near if you are in midst of a long chat and show no signs of stopping.  I know I’ve walked away after waiting for a couple of minutes for the owner to notice/acknowledge me.

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6. Even if the garden tour sponsor (garden club, botanical garden, etc.) has not requested it and it is not expected, food and drink are a nice touch.  The table should be covered somehow (I had a big patio umbrella opened over it) if there is a possibility or rain or it’s very hot.  Wet or spoiled food is generally considered unappetizing, even by garden tour standards. 

Beluga caviar and champagne are not necessarily your only options.  My spread was simple: two types of brownies, fresh cut-up fruits and sliced cheeses, lemonade, and ice water.  That’s it.  And they were raving.  Of course, my mom and sister make superb brownies from scratch.  And we Alaskans are used to roughing it, so any signs of civilized behavior, like sharing food, are very welcome.

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7. If you can, convince some friends or family to take pictures of the tour.  Sounds dull, but they are rather nice after all and you’ll probably be too busy answering questions to do it yourself.  I use a picture the LFG hubby took on the tour last year for my picture on the blog/Google/blotanical/etc.  I look dopey (see above photo), but at least it’s authentic.

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8. If you have little ones (or big ones that are inclined to be troublesome), might I suggest getting a sitter to keep an eye on them in the house?  I found that letting them ride bikes in the street is not a good strategy with all the garden traffic coming and going.  I include large, loud, or badly behaved domestic pets in this category, too.  Ninety pound Labrador retrievers that like to jump up on people and little old ladies touring are not a good mix.

9. If possible, have a separate entrance and exit.  On many smaller properties (like mine), if people are entering and leaving by the same pathway, things can get hairy.  Friends, sponsors, or signage can help with directing the flow of people, as you will probably be too busy yakking with guests to help. 

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10. Take any meds you are on.  A family member recommends Paxil, but I’ve also heard valium is effective.  If medication is not your style, I suggest multiple deep breaths and a big smile.  It will all be over in a few hours anyway.

The demons are officially cleansed, I’ll be back to my ridiculous self for next time.  At least until the next tour….

Tips for giving a tour?  Reasons you never will?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Ten ways not to lose your sanity

I had thought of alternate titles for this bit on garden tours, such as “Don’t Go to These” or “Agony and Ecstasy”, but the title I settled on seemed to be more diplomatic or at least, more practical.  Long years of touring, and the last few years giving tours at my garden, have guided my perspective of that delightful, boring, unexpected, tedious, disappointing, charming, frustrating, joyful, or tiring experience that is the garden tour.

But I am just a grasshopper to some of the great senseis of the garden tour to be found online.  Charlotte, who must be the Queen Bee of tours(or perhaps the Grand Doyenne) at The Galloping Gardener muses on how many gardens on tour is too many here.  We don’t quite have that problem in our state…I”m still trying to convince the neighbors that the desire to garden isn’t a mental defect.  Pam at Digging has taken more tours than are residents of my state, check out the “garden tours” category in her sidebar. 

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My humble ranty attempt at a guaranteed, no-fail list of how to enjoy (or at least survive in good condition) an Alaskan tour follows.  (Don’t be too shocked at the departure in tone, even the silly LFG gardener gets huffy sometimes.)  I realize I’m preaching to the choir here, and you are all experts at touring already, but this exercise has been cathartic for me, so here goes:

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1. Don’t forget your camera, stupid.  (This reminder is for myself.  I would never be so curt with my readers.  Twice this summer I have neglected to bring it to my regret.) 

You never know which garden will be your Shangri-La of inspiration.  Or maybe you collect pictures of garden horrors.  Check your batteries and make sure you have space on your film card, too.

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2. Pack for the Apocalypse: Mother Nature is a temptress.  Umbrellas, coats, boots, bear spray, bug spray, sunscreen, etc.  Alright, I was kidding about the bear spray.

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3. Bring your own food if you're going to be hungry.  Bring your own drink if you will be thirsty.  Some tours will have food and drink, some will not.

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4. Use the bathroom beforehand so as not to put yourself in the unenviable position of racing through the tour, leaping into your vehicle, and screeching off with pealing tires.  Please, please do not ask the owner of a private residence to use the facilities.  They probably haven’t swirled the toilet out. 

True story:  After dashing into the house to scrub some dirt from my hands fifteen minutes before a tour at my garden last year, I saw a strange woman leave my downstairs bathroom.  “She said she got here early and had to go before the tour.  What was I supposed to say?” said the LFG hubby.  What a rotten butler.  His instructions for this years’ ABG benefit tour: don’t answer the door.

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5. Don’t show up early (and expect the guided tour).  The owner of a private garden, anyway, is probably out working on finishing touches.  That or trying very hard to relax i.e. taking a valium/having a primal scream.  So refreshing.

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6. Carpool when possible and be careful not to block anyone’s driveway.  Some homes and neighborhoods are short on parking spaces and who wants to walk a mile from car to garden?  Also, carpooling has the added benefit of companionship during the tour.  Now you have someone with which to snidely remark “I would never grow that,” which is half the fun of a tour.

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7. If the owner is on hand, thank them for sharing their garden.  Compliment them if you enjoyed something in particular.  If another person or persons approaches to speak to the owner, make your comments brief and move on.  If your conversation is mutually fascinating, leave an email or a number to reach you (see number 8). 

At so many of the tours, a “garden gabber” would regale the shell-shocked owner with a long history of everything they’ve ever grown (“…and my Uncle Davy used to grow that same rutabaga in northern Flagstaff, except he…”).  All while others wishing to approach become weary of waiting and give up.  It’s hardly fair to the owner and the other attendees to be a conversation hog.  

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8. Bring paper and a writing implement, or a gadget that makes lists.

I have watched people write plant names or nursery names on body parts, cups, and napkins.  If you forget, you are sure to discover a plant or plant source you can’t do without that is unpronounceable or unspellable.  “The nursery is just after the prison, a right turn, then straight until the rock that looks like a ladybug, then another right, then straight ahead until….”

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9. Assuming the role of the host/hostess, when you are in fact, not, is most likely to annoy the real host/ess.  I’m not making this one up: demerits for those that hold court in part of the garden, telling onlookers in a loud voice how invasive a plant is and irresponsible to grow it.  (Just whisper it to your neighbor, if you must.) 

I’m rather fond of grumpy old ladies, and hope to be one some day, but a grumpy old lady tried to usurp my hostess crown.  Too bad the plant she was abusing loudly was not invasive, did not run by rhizomes, and was sterile, so no seedlings.  She had no clue what she was talking about.  I blithely moved to were she was mesmerizing a captive audience and denounced, in a most civil way, everything she said.  She grumped off, dragging her husband behind her.  Good riddance.

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10. Leave things as you found them.  Including berries, vegetables, flowers, garden art, tools, and if you have children with you (and I sometimes take mine on tours when appropriate), remind them about not pulling up the plant tags, if present.  Plant tags seem to have the same magnetism for kiddy mitts that priceless crystal, irreplaceable artwork, and anything with frosting has. 

Luckily, the birds eat my berries, the slugs eat my veggies, the garden art is deeply planted or too weird to steal, the tools are rusty, and the plant tags are non-existent or buried.

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Thanks for letting me blow off some steam.  I shall truly be cleansed from my garden tour demons once the post I’m writing about ways to survive giving a garden tour is finished, coming soon….

What makes taking a garden tour delightful/dreadful? Observed (or participated in) any faux pas on tour?

Monday, August 9, 2010

Plant of the Month: July 2010

Lime, chartreuse, viridian, Paris green, or golden green.  Call it what you will, this color (or range of colors) calls my garden home in many places and many types of plants.  For this month, I seem to have chosen Physocarpus opulifolius 'Dart's Gold' for the prize.  Shrubbery doesn’t usually cheer me for more than a week (or the flowering period), but how can one not love a golden plant that shields (partially) a most hideous, bright yellow play slide.  I would love anything that distracted my eye from that slide.  Yes, even a blue tarp.

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Another reason to love Dart’s Gold: it grows in Alaska.  The number of golden shrubs that can stand it up here must be hovering around four, unless there has been some new breakthrough in hardiness I haven’t heard about.  (Do let me know if this is the case….) 

early summer bergenia 008  How: Water until established, after which drought tolerant.  Seems to tolerate the silty soil.    

Where: In sun, please. 


Early spring: bright leaves in late spring, almost resembling a forsythia when unfurling.  You’ll have to imagine it; my picture stinks. 

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Summer: whitish flowers

Fall: leaves turn brown at edges and senesce a golden yellow (so pretty much the same  color as summer).  Stunning when backlit.

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Winter: Mature bark exfoliating in long, shaggy strips holds winter interest (in Alaska at least.  Not much going on except white and dark green here in the cold months.)

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Why: see above.  Also of easy culture, hardy in Alaska, and available in Alaska.  That last one is rather important.  It is a good mingler, too.  I partner it up with it’s big burly cousin, Physocarpus ‘Diabolo’, Bergenia, Calamagrostis ‘Overdam’, some dark purple Clematis I’ve forgotten the name of, and Picea ‘Ohlendorffii’.

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 What is your favorite gold-leaved plant?  Or if you dislike chartreuse, what was your favorite plant for July?

Monday, August 2, 2010

A hard act to follow….

Don’t you pity the poor sap that has to perform after the prodigy or crowd favorite?  I can just imagine the horror welling up inside such a person as the perfect act goes on and on, getting better and better.  No, I take it back, I don’t have to imagine it.  I have now lived it.  Last Thursday, I toured a delightful private oasis on the Anchorage hillside and realized, to my dismay, that I had to follow this act.
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This lovely spread was part of the Alaska Botanical Garden’s Secret Garden Series, an annual fundraiser that visits some of the best tended, designed, and beloved gardens in the Anchorage area.  (The Last Frontier Gardener is blowing her own horn yet again.  My garden is beloved, anyway.)  So after taking a virtual stroll with me through some of the vignettes at this ponderosa, see if you don’t feel just a bit sorry for me…onward!
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My first groan of affliction was at the sight of this arbor on the front of the house.  The wood is as smooth as a baby’s bottom, I checked.  My arbor (in the backyard, thankfully, so somewhat hidden) is a claptrap affair: fading stain, splinters, and treated wood posts.  For those that do not dwell in our fair state, arbors of this quality are almost never seen.  To be truthful, arbors of any quality are pretty unusual.  After recovering movement in my limbs, I headed to the side yard where…
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I was treated to the sight of the best looking workshop in the whole state.  (I know it’s the workshop and not another residence because over the door, a sign reads “workshop.”)  I showed this picture to the LFG husband, and he started to tear up and had to reach for the tissues.  If we had such a large and lovely place to weld, paint, hammer, tinker with engines, etc., I might never see him again.
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The gardener in the family had a more humble working space, but charming none the less.  A small shed with an attached greenhouse painted a lovely, cheering shade of red, gladdened up a space usually consigned to utilitarian duties only.
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Not only were there outbuildings in abundance, fun and quirky artwork was in evidence throughout as well.  Using my finely honed detective skills, I determined that this gardener seemed to have a penchant for ducks, frogs, and rabbits.
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Are you feeling sorry for me yet?
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My Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ are almost finished flowering, with maybe a dozen blossoms between seven plants.  It just isn’t fair how many flowers are left on this one Geranium plant!
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Even the vegetable garden had an outbuilding.  What do you think: teahouse, outhouse, playhouse, or …?
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The owner’s have a real passion for rock gardens, and I was pleased to discover that the rockery (is that a word?) was not ignored in the found object category. 
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Surely by now, at least the vestiges of pity are welling inside you for me.  Any gardener that can include bright yellow dump trucks on tour day with confidence gets a gold star from me.  And the local children.
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The fire pit was blazing, adding to the ambience as well as smoking the bugs away.  Very clever.
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A couple of plant shots.  I only took a few pictures of just plants.  Most were of ensembles like the one below.
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That’s a whalebone, folks.  If my animal anatomy class serves me well (and it rarely does), it looks like a vertebrae from the whale’s back.  Ouch.
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I insert this picture because it is the exact shade of blue my toenails are painted.  You see how desperate I am?  You are indeed hard-hearted if you can’t feel bad for poor little me yet.
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I should have a dozen of these clever signs around my garden.  “Pending” is so much more hopeful than '”weeds,” which is what my unfinished areas constitute.
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A lighthouse?  Or just lighting?
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Wow, someone in Alaska is growing this grass other than me.  That is if it’s Arrhenatherum elatius bulbosum 'Variegatum’.  The taxonomist who cobbled that string of epithets together should be horsewhipped with a wet noodle.  What gardener is ever going to say it all?  I just call it Arrhenatherum and have done with it.
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Well, by now you know the tour was a ball to take but a wrecking ball to my psyche.  With only a few days until the tour, I am too busy being frantic to feel much self pity.  I look at it this way, by Friday it will be all over.
Any tips for the tour?  Ways to drown my sorrow sans alcohol?


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