mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
 Any time I put on gardening gloves -- other than for rose pruning -- I discover after a few minutes that I have discarded them.  I need to feel the soil -- how wet it is, how it responds to pressure, whether a plant is securely seated.

This means that any time I'm working in the garden, my nails become lined with dirt.  Sinking my nails into a bar of Ivory before gardening helps a lot, but only if I remember to do it.  (I never remember to do it.)  I'm trying to clean my nails with an orange stick before going to an Apple Genius Bar appointment, but the results are patchy at best.   Ah, well.  If I have to choose between having my hands in the soil and having dainty ladylike hands, I pick gardening every time.
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
 I am telling my anxiety that if I do *one* thing a day it is not allowed to complain.  Some days, taking a shower counts.

Today I planted out three peppers, two thymes, two tarragons, a Thai basil, and Zaluzianskya capensis .   I also hand-watered transplants that aren't ready as well as front-garden plants that aren't helped by the sprinkler.

That was definitely two things.  Maybe three.
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
 My old gardener was extremely simpático but his workers did a terrible job (heading trees, killing flowers, and so on.)  I let him go this winter.  At the end of rainy season, I started looking to hire a new gardener, together with everybody else in Northern California.

In the last two weeks I had three gardeners ghost on me.  Came, surveyed the garden, promised to give me a quote, then were never heard from again.  I also interviewed three arborists.  One of them, a fruit-tree specialist, did the fruit trees.  The other two, thank Heavens, did show up and give binding estimates.   I'm planning on going with the second one, after double-checking scope with husband.  I may leave one inconvenient leaning oak tree until fall.  

I now have a gardener who's going to do the wildly overdue cleanup as well as monthly maintenance.  If he's a plant-killer too, I'll start all over on the monthly maintenance.

Still to do: find somebody to inspect and fix the sprinkler system.   However, today is a day of rest, dammit.   

My old gardener did all the above: spring cleanup, hedge trimming, tree pruning, and sprinkler maintenance.  I have to keep reminding myself that I wasn't happy with the way he did most of these, and that having to have multiple specialists may be more expensive, but gets the job done.  Sigh.

mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
 The nice thing about posting on DW is that I don't have to look up an image to post.   This weekend, instead of farmer's market, we did the ritual spring plant buy.   I now have three different varieties of tomato, five (I think) of hot pepper, cumin plants (!), a European elderberry, a Bearss lime, a dramatic purple plant whose name I misremember, and two tarragon plants.  Also I watered the front yard when I got home.    The new gardener who was supposed to show up yesterday didn't, and hasn't answered a text.  I fear I shall have to find a new new gardener.  In any case, I'm having an arborist in to look at the condition of some trees I'm worried about, prune the front-yard lemon, evaluate the apples I raised from grafts, and take out the dead peach tree and a volunteer acacia.

I wrote the (quite large) grower of the lime tree and asked about its size; the label says it's a semi-dwarf but not how big it is.  Here's the reply I got:

Citrus can be pruned to your desired height and width. If left unpruned it should reach a larger size planted in the ground. If grown in a pot that will limit to some extent the size.
Well, that's helpful.

mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
(posted for future reference)

I was reading the New York Times account of "the" Mrs. Astor's daughter's wedding in 1884*. The wedding description included descriptions of all the flowers**. The front parlor held "two bunches of choice pink roses set off with the costly Farleyeuse [sic] fern." I was curious about that costly fern, so I decided to track it down . It took some doing because of the misspelling. Somewhere in the transcription and transmission process a "u" turned into an "n".

Farleyense is now known to be a cultivar rather than a species; it was discovered in Barbados in 1865. I found pictures in the Online Plant Guide. It's an exquisite thing, densely packed with leaves and with each leaf subtly shaded from green to pink tips. You can see that it would be very pretty with pink roses.

The American Journal of Horticulture and Florist's Companion v. 6 (no date) comments that it "must for many years continue to be valuable; for it can only be increased by division, and the few who have plants rather prefer to keep them intact as specimens than to tear them up for multiplication." This, together with the slow growth habit mentioned in the Online Plant Guide, would explain its rarity. I assume that the ferns mentioned in the wedding notice must have been in pots surrounding the cut roses.

* "The" Mrs. Aster was Caroline Schermerhorn Astor, who came from an old Dutch family, then the highest society in New York, and married into the then-upstart new-money Astors. She was the lady whose associate, Ward McAllister, coined the idea of the 400, the most elite people in New York. 400, not so coincidentally, was the number of people her ballroom accommodated.

** The reporter lays emphasis on the expensiveness of the flowers: "Palms and ferns and creeping plants, roses and orchids, lilies and violets, carnations and marguerites, filled every part of the house..." The wedding was in mid-November, so the garden plants listed would have been out of season. Carnations used to be one of the most expensive of flowers rather than, as now, one of the cheapest. I wonder what changed in cultivation.
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
 I was trying to identify a Victorian houseplant, "musk";  readers of Stalky and Company will remember that our heroes smashed the loathsome King's plant.  Musk was notorious for its wonderful fragrance; therefore I must acquire  it for my garden.    I did a lot of Googling and eventually decided the particular musk, based on scale, had to be Mimulus moschatus.    I couldn't find it for sale commercially, and the scientific writeups didn't mention the fragrance.

A little more Googling and I found out why.   Sometime before the nineteen-teens, commercial musk stopped smelling.    There are several reputable references in both the scientific literature and in gardening essays, all of which agree that musk used to be ubiquitous in windowboxes and gardens, but that the writers hadn't smelled it in years, even though the plants continued to be available.   Nobody's found a scented wild musk, either.   The plants live on, but the fragrance is unattainable.

Scientists' best guess is that the original musk collected from the wild was a rare scented variant, now, as far as we know, extinct.  The nurserymen who were propagating musk somehow selected for a scentless strain, probably by emphasizing some other plant quality, and within a generation or two, the scent gene was lost in cultivation as well.

mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
Someday I am going to track down the person or persons who recommended pink knotweed as a ground cover and there will be no survivors.
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
For the last five years I haven't been gardening.  This is because of my health, the drought, and the fear that if I went into the garden I would see nothing but dead plants.   Last year I gardened in containers on the back porch, and that worked well enough that this year I walked down into the actual garden.

After a wet winter it is in glorious shape.   Old roses I'd thought dead are putting forth blooms (this is one of the big reasons to grow old roses), all the citrus are blooming, my two bench-graft apple trees are blooming, a couple of native plants have self-seeded down the hill.  In short, I see possibility rather than despair.  I've also been able to take advantage of having a gardener; I can say "Weed that bed and mulch it" or "Make that bed bigger", and it is done.   I can also, just as important, say "Plant those pots where I left them."    

I am bringing back my herb garden this year; I'm adding edibles and flowers to the expanded front bed; and I'm going to start cutting roses for the house.   First I need to make a sprayer of dilute bleach so I don't carry disease from rose to rose.

Today we went to a new nursery in San Mateo, and it is better than my loved and lost Roger Reynolds.   A wider variety of plants, an emphasis on local growers where possible, and more plants overall.  They had loquats, and two varieties of elderberries, and three varieties of currant, and a lot of things I'd expected to be able to buy only by mail order.

I am saving the big shop for my birthday.  This was just a medium shop.  Passiflora edulis, the passionflower that produces passion fruit.  It is an undeniable triffid, but I have persuaded my husband it's the only way we'll ever be able to afford to make passionfruit mousse again.  A grafted tomato, Early Girl.  I chatted with a passing gardener, and he said that grafted plants were more vigorous and more heavy-bearing.  The important trick is that you do not, as with most tomatoes, bury them with the stem belowground, because you don't want the grafted plant rooting on its own.

I will put more plants in a somewhat later next rock, because I am tired.  After we got home, I put on my hat and my rose gloves and pruned the deadwood out of the flowering cherry, the orange (badly damaged by the drought), and the apples.   Now I am in a chair with the hot cat stretched along my legs, and I do not think I shall move for some time. 


Apr. 3rd, 2016 11:27 am
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
 Many of the plants I grew up loving in Indiana and, later, New England don't thrive in Northern California.  They need hours of winter chill, and we don't get enough.   I had assumed peonies were one of those; certainly the garden catalogs said so.  Then I discovered the site of Charmarron Peony Gardens, in the hills above San Jose.   I found the site in midwinter, so I made a mental note to visit when the nursery reopened in spring.  

Yesterday was a glorious day, sun shining, cirrus clouds, birds singing, but not too hot.   We made the drive to Charmarron, which is in a part of the Bay Area I'd never visited -- south of the Bay, in the rolling foothills.  It's beautiful.   Because of the California climate, the hills are mostly bare with the occasional shrub or tree, so you can see the curved body of the landscape underneath.   We wound in and out around the hills and up to the nursery, gasping at delight at the vistas along the way.  We're in the tiny window between winter rains and summer heat, so the hills were green not only with live oaks but with grass.

Charmarron assumes you know what you want in a peony.  There are lines on lines of peonies in the display garden, but they're all just marked by name; no indication of when they bloom, what color they are, what height they are.   It's a display garden, and if you're there when a particular plant is in bloom you can find out for yourself.   Otherwise, there's the woman who owns the nursery, who will answer questions if you can hunt her down and wait for her to stop answering other people's questions.   In general, her answers will be "It depends".  "Does this have a scent?"  "Well, everybody's nose is different."  "What height does this grow to?"  "I've only had that one five years."  Questions about bloom seasons -- even questions specified with "guesstimate" are answered with "It all depends on the weather."  Which is true, obviously.   However, if you ask her a question she doesn't think is dumb, she is a fountain of information and advice.  I said "I'm Sunset zone 16" and she said "Oh, [town name]?  I used to live there."   I asked about chill, and she said no, chill was not the issue, full sun was the issue.  Full sun I have.

In short, the nursery is for people who are serious.  It was tree peony bloom season; the owner imports almost all her varieties from China and Japan.  The Chinese varieties are marked both in characters and in transliteration.  The names not further explained.  I was particularly taken by Shima-nishiki, which comes out in random blossoms of white or red or both.  ("Don't get this if you won't be happy with an all-red plant.  You never know.")   As it happened, everybody else in the garden that day had at least one Asian-descended family member who could presumably interpret some of the names; we just bumbled around and said "Ooh!  That's pretty!"   

I eventually chose "High Noon"; when I asked her to get a pot, she said "Oh!  Haven't I told you about Bartzella?"  It turns out that there are now hybrids between tree and herbaceous peonies.  Bartzella is freer-flowering, lower to the ground, and has a prettier shape.   I came home with a Bartzella for the back garden.  Then we made the long beautiful trip out of the hills toward home.

 In three weeks -- "but I can't be sure" -- I'll be back to look at the herbaceous peonies.  The hills will probably be brown by then.   I need a "Festiva Maxima" to remind me of my youth, and probably one or two more will hop into the back of the car.
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
I shy away from anything with the species name "foetida", but "Sterculia foetida" is a new low. Apparently it lives up to the name: "Coming across a Java Olive in bloom one would think that one was near an open sewer, and any part of the tree when bruised or cut emits this unpleasant odour."

(For people who missed that bit of Latin, "stercus" is "turd" or "dung", and "foetida", the parent of "fetid", is foul-smelling.)
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
My bulb order from Old House Gardens just arrived -- they ship to warmer zones last. That means that some of the bulbs need to go in the ground RIGHT NOW. Unfortunately, I'm a post-migraine wreck. My daughter valiantly took me out into the front gardens and we planted the "grape hyacinths". I put it in quotation marks because Muscari botyroides, the grape hyacinths that Northern Americans grew up with, are now extinct in cultivation, meaning that no nurseries are raising bulbs. I'm planting Muscari neglectum.

I noticed with some irritation that the large, healthy shoot from Mme. Isaac Pereire is blooming and is, of course, Dr. Huey. I try to buy own-root roses whenever I can, but apparently Mme. Isaac was grafted. Time to go out into the garden with the rose gloves and a lopper and Take Steps... tomorrow.

The next urgent planting is six lilies; after that it's just daffodils and heirloom hyacinths, which will probably go in the window-box on the deck so we can admire them.
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
 Further conversation with my son:
Me:  I'm going to put up a string of these in the garden arch so the deer won't come in and eat my roses.
Son:  Oh, the deer aren't eating the roses!  Those are the raccoons.  The deer are eating the tall spiky thing outside my window.*

* Turned out to be the lacecap hydrangea.

Why, oh why, must my garden be OUTDOORS and thus have to share the world with its fauna?   Answer:  Because most of the plants I want to grow aren't miniatures.  Also, sunlight.   And walking past them on the way to pick up the mail.

A further conversation about the papel picado balloons banners:
Daughter:  Oh, those are gorgeous!  .... And they'll probably piss off the neighbors!
Me:  ... I might have  had that in mind.

(The neighbors accused us of lowering their property values when we painted our house bright blue.   They interrupted us during dinner to complain, said the same things over and over, and my husband actually had to be brusque in order to close the door.)
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
  • I got my Botox-for-migraine treatment yesterday.   Oog.
  • I also signed up for a study of migraines.  This one is "what can we find about migraine sufferers that distinguishes them from controls", not to test a treatment.   I'll be filling out a questionnaire, giving blood samples, spending an hour in an fMRI machine, and having a spinal tap.  I'm pretty oogy about the last one, but this research is important to me.  As I told my doctor (the head of the study), this is my gift to the future.
  • It's garden season.   My daughter is scheming with me and we're planning to keep our efforts small.   This house came with a gorgeous planter on the back deck which was slowly abandoned.   I'm replanting it with a mixture of herbs and beautiful things.  I also have two geraniums (the official kind, the blue ones; the red ones you're thinking of are actually pelargoniums), a pretty succulent, alyssum, and, er, two marionberries that seem to have jumped into the cart when I wasn't looking.  I also ordered a chinotto to replace the one that died 3 years ago when the sprinkler system failed.
  • Another of my favorite nurseries has bitten the dust. :(  I found a new one, Wegman's, with an excellent selection, but it doesn't have a beautiful soothing tree-lined lot like the two that went out of business.   
  • We're heading into a horrific drought.  I'll be dialing back the sprinklers to two days a week; the back terrace is already on drip, and only the two tiny patches of grass in front and back are pop-up sprinklers.  I'm also having a drip sprinkler line run to the dwarf navel orange in the patio that has been slowly dying without winter rains.
  • Long-term, I'm starting to think about alternate ground covers for the two patches of lawn.   I would love to do the front in thyme, because I already have the plaque saying "You can do anything you like when you've all the thyme in the world."   I note that most of the groundcovers recommended in xeriscaping articles are actually horrifically invasive and thus inappropriate for California.  This is true even of the California xeriscaping articles.
  • We're paying to have the fscking fan palms that seeded themselves in our back yard removed.   This frees up an entire corner of the yard for something.   Bet on fruit trees.   I'm leaning toward a succession planting of small trees; probably apriums, which I love, a long-harvest pluot, and a nectarine.  That, I promise, is for next year (at least).
  • The downside of asking for a climbing rose to be replanted under your bedroom window is having gardeners dig under your bedroom window.   This is a rose that I bought at my favorite nursery, Roger Reynolds,  closeout sale :( :( :( that was labeled as Climbing Don Juan.  Since Don Juan is a red rose and this one is a pleasantly-scented white, I suspect label swapping.  Anyway, it's a nice rose.
  • Most of the roses in the back yard have survived years of neglect.  Go team old roses.   The Old Blush, an 18th-century rose,  on the garden wall has had a few blooms year-round.   One of the roses has several seedlings around it; I'm going to watch for them to bloom and see what turns up.  (Roses don't come true from seed; if you want to propagate a rose, you have to do it from cuttings.)
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
 ... that my house, which I had always vaguely assumed was on an east-facing slope, is actually on a north-facing slope.

I found this out by installing a compass app and saying to my husband, "Hey, this compass app is broken!"     Apparently it isn't.   All these years, I figured that "My back window looks across San Francisco Bay to the other side" meant that I was looking east, or some variation on it.   Somehow I reconciled this belief with the knowledge that on both solstices the rising sun shines in through my bedroom window, which is at a right angle to the back slope.

I can only say "Duh". 
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
  •  Yesterday, when I came into the house in the evening, I gathered a nosegay of old roses:  Mme. Isaac Pereire, a China I can't remember, and Devoniensis (a.k.a. "Tradd Street Yellow").   I could have added Vineyard Song and Chrysler Imperial, had I chosen.  The kitchen smells beautifully rosy.
  • My laptop ate its hard drive  yesterday and I am going through withdrawal.  My cellphone is great for mail and the Guardian, but terrible for DW and Tumblr and general Web-noodling.
  • Last night the NYTimes app sent me an alert about the Final Four.  This morning the Guardian app sent me an alert about a school stabbing in Pennsylvania.  The Guardian's breaking-news coverage of this story is, as usual, far, far better than the NYT breaking-news coverage.
  • I am mainlining "The Thick Of It".   This has (A) given me a whole new perspective on ministerial shuffles (B) made my internal dialogue far, far more sweary (C) cemented my crush on Peter Capaldi.   Not Malcolm Tucker, mind; I'm not insane.  I am now engrossed in the fannish debates on why the hell Malcolm often wears a wedding ring (n.b. because Capaldi didn't always take his own off) and who the child peeking out of his house in S3 was.
  • Am making steady progress on two 1910s dresses for daughter and self, to be worn to a GBACG ice cream social Saturday.  Definitely in adrenaline mode, but not yet panic mode. 
  • Said to husband, "I'm going out Thursday evening."  Husband:  "He's a lucky guy."  (Off to a movie with [personal profile] movingfinger , actually.)
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
 I just picked the first fruit from the Cox's Orange Pippin apple  I grew from a bench-graft.  According to my back mail, I ordered the tree in the winter of 2007.  It showed up as the stub of a twig with a bud taped into it.  It's a well-branched  -- though completely unpruned -- sapling now, at least an inch in diameter and seven or eight feet tall.   When my husband gets home, we will all have a ceremonial slice of apple.
mme_hardy: White rose (Default)
This is a thoroughly shoddy and snobbish book. These quotations from the introduction will give you a sense of it:
  • Garden history has been abducted by the art historians. This book is an attempt to get it back for the social historian. Too much garden history has been concerned with when gardens were made, what they looked like, who made them and how they changed. More interesting by far is what the makers expected from the gardens, and how they and their successors evaluated their investment in gardening and the return it brought them.
  • There is more to social history than drawing attention to the great gulf which divides the rich from the poor and then whingeing about it. This book is concerned with the middle and upper classes ... They are more interesting because others aspire to be like them.
  • Why do hundreds of middle-class Englishwomen have a white garden and a potager and a collection of old-fashioned roses? Because these features are smart -- or may have been smart about ten years ago -- not because their owners think they are beautiful or useful, but because they make them feel good -- better than the neighbours. Gardens are symbols of social and economic status.
  • The arbiters of garden taste and the innovators of garden fashion are the well-to-do and the creative craftsmen, nurserymen and designers who supply them. The poor are often portrayed as conservative because they have tastes and values which were more fashionable a generation or so earlier.
  • It has been claimed that an interest in gardening cuts across all classes and creates points of contact between people with social differences. [long quotation from Alfred Austin] In practice, one finds that such people have rather different tastes from one's own; it is fashion which binds people together and divides them from others. [it. mine]
I think "snobbish" has adequately been demonstrated. But what about the book? It's not social history at all. It's a series of anecdotes about the wealthy owners of estates, and their professional gardeners. The citations are almost entirely to other people's books, most of them biographies; the few journal citations are to Horticulture, the Journal of Garden History, and the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society. There are no citations to other social historians that I could spot. There are 9 pages of index for a 258-page text, the majority to person's names.

The problem with snobbishness is that, although it makes a history of gardening easier to write, it doesn't acknowledge the osmosis that goes on between social classes. Throughout history, the upper classes often ape lower-class fashions, suitably embellished and refined.  When the upper-classes go self-consciously rustic, they respond not only to the idea of the lower-class garden but to the gardens themselves.   See, for instance, last decade's fad for the "cottage garden", and for the plants that were favored in those gardens in an imagined pre-industrial age.

When gardening, the middle and lower classes work on a different scale; they aren't imitating grand estates because they haven't got the space. As a result, the choices, both in plants and in planting, made by small-scale gardeners are very different from the choices made on the grand scale, and respond to different constraints. A small-scale gardener can lovingly tend a single plant, and focus on it, in a way that only the very wealthiest can afford to pay gardeners to do.    There's a long history of home gardeners carrying forward and improving individual varieties of plants -- for instance, this book entirely ignores the Lancashire mill-hands' preeminence in auriculas and the Paisley weavers' laced pinks.*      During the periodic upper-class crazes for "old-fashioned plants", the plants become available because they have been preserved and cherished in the gardens (and cemeteries!) of the poor and middle classes.  

If you see this book second-hand, it may be worth buying (at a sufficiently low price) for the excellent color plates. Otherwise, you can do better.

* The first citation I found for this was from The Bedside Book of the Garden by D.G. Hessayon , which looks like a much more interesting book.


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