December 22, 2008

Don't Buy a Plant Reference Book - Just Google It

Here's a photo of my collection of expensive plant reference books that I rarely use anymore. Like so many other aspects of my life, the internet has completely changed the way I look up information on plants. I remember a college assigment to create plant information sheets on a large group of plants. It was such a chore to dig around in books and old catalogs to find the necessary information and a picture. Now all that knowledge is at my fingertips every time I turn on my computer. Another advantage of looking up plants on the internet is that I can find information about the newest introductions. Many of these cultivars aren't in my reference books, since they were introduced after the books were published.
After learning through sad experience that catalogs don't give much information about a plant's shortcomings and often don't have an accurately colored picture, I usually do some extra research on potential buys before ordering. Google is an excellent start. I search for the cultivar and common name or occasionally the latin name. For example, I might type 'Barbara Mitchell daylily.' The first result to come up for this search is from the Dave's Garden plantfiles. The Dave's Garden website allows users to upload their own photos, comments and ratings about plants. I find it to be an excellent resource. If the plant I'm researching doesn't pull up the DG plantfiles as a result, I'll often go directly to their search page. The drawback to this approach is that I'm not a member, so I can't search more than 10 times a day. Anyway, the plantfile on the Barbara Mitchell daylily lists the height, width, bloom time and other data. It also includes seven reviews of the plant from actual gardeners and thirty-eight photos! Barbara Mitchell is a particularly popular daylily, so not every plantfile will include so much information.
If the DG plantfiles aren't enough, I'll click on some of the other search results. Of course different online catalogs give different bits of information, so I can get to know a plant better by reading several of their descriptions. When I was doing a lot of research about the trees I wanted for my yard, I found some excellent information on university websites that came up on the Google search.
Another plant reference website that I should mention is This wholesale nursery is known for selling well-grown specimens of the best plant cultivars. If a plant I'm considering is grown by Monrovia, that's a point in its favor. Their website is beautifully designed and very informative. In addition to their plant search feature, I love the 'Inspiration' section of the website. It features gorgeous pictures of various styles of gardens, a quiz to help you define your style, and information about public gardens throughout the United States.
I do agree that nothing can replace the comforting feeling of settling into a soft couch with a book in hand, but now I can save my book budget for other types of gardening books. If you absolutely have to have just one plant reference book, I'd recommend the American Horticultural Society's Encyclopedia of Garden Plants, nicknamed the plant bible at one nursery where I used to work. For friends who need help narrowing down the dizzying selection of plants for their yards, I recommend Sunset's Top 10 Plants series. Here's the link for the Northwest version, and Amazon also offers versions for California, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest, Florida and the Tri-State region. After reading a nice review of it on another gardener's blog (wish I could remember whose it was), my garden book wish list includes Plant-Driven Design.
Happy researching!

December 18, 2008

Swinging In the Snow

We didn't have to worry about the kids falling off the swings today, with two feet of fluffy fresh snow to cushion their fall.

And is that a line of soldiers with tall caps marching by? No, just snow piled high on the tops of our neighbor's mini-gazebos.

Hubby told me (after the fact) he helped leaf-raker boy climb onto our tacky tin awning to scrape off the heavy snow, then held his hand as he jumped off. Um, mom wouldn't EVER encourage her kiddo to jump off the roof, snow or not. Hmm.

The scene from our front porch. Join us for lemonade? With a high of 19 degrees F, we could forget about ice cubes and just use our fingers instead.

Abraham Darby's Demise Decoded

For non-rosarian readers, I should explain that the disease that troubled my Abraham Darby rose bush (see my last post) was rust. The cloud of orange dust around the poor bush came from the fungal spores that spread the disease.
The big three rose diseases are blackspot, rust and powdery mildew (downy mildew is a more serious rose disease but is thankfully rare and so isn't included in the short list). All of these are caused by fungi. Blackspot (BS) and rust spores need 4-5 hours of moisture to begin growth, so they're more of a problem in humid and/or rainy climates than in places like Spokane. Powdery mildew shows up when days are warm and nights are cool, and it doesn't need moisture to germinate. I see it around here in late summer and fall.
Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings just posted a great treatise on blackspot control, and many of her practices will help with rust control as well. The best prevention for powdery mildew seems to be ample water, as water-stressed plants are more susceptible to the disease. I'm not well versed in all the organic and non-organic fungicides out there, but I like Dee's suggestion to start with the least toxic treatments first.
In his book about English roses, David Austin noted that rose-growers of yesteryear used to get a sense of satisfaction from all the spraying required for healthy rose bushes. Gardeners nowadays are wiser or lazier or both and don't want to deal with the sprays, so disease-resistance has become an important aim for hybridizers. Of the english roses, 'The Mayflower' is advertised as being completely resistant to the big three rose diseases, and most of the newer english roses are listed as highly resistant. After my Darby debacle, disease-resistance is a priority for me when selecting new roses.
Added January 15, 2015 - I decided to give Abraham Darby another try a few years ago, and I haven't seen a speck of rust on him here in Spokane.  I'm so happy to once again enjoy his sumptuous flowers and citrus scent in the garden and in the vase.

December 15, 2008

Abraham Darby's Demise

The sad affair began in the spring when my friend Sandy introduced us. Abraham Darby had shown up on her California doorstep the week before with nothing but a cardboard box for a home. Despite his obvious poverty, he offered her a beautiful peachy-pink blossom and requested a place to stay. Though Sandy was impressed with his effort – how did he manage to produce a flower for her while inhabiting that little box? – the peachy-pink color didn’t quite fit with the cool pinks around her home. Not wanting to turn the poor guy away, she brought him over to meet me.
My color scheme wasn’t as restrictive as Sandy’s, and Abraham promised more of those wonderful blossoms. So I found a place for him near the northwest corner of my home. It was dark and damp there in the mornings, and he really deserved a better spot, but my space was rather limited while living in the northern half of a little duplex.
Abraham settled in and soon offered me more of his beautiful, fragrant blossoms. He nodded with delight as I sniffed and sighed and sniffed again. I found myself looking forward to seeing him each day. My husband rolled his eyes when I talked about Abraham. Was he jealous? My heartbeat did rise a bit when I walked past dear Abe, but I didn’t think that made me unfaithful. If I ever tried to get too close, Abraham quickly reminded me to give him some space. He was a just a bit prickly.
Sadly, our relationship soon changed. I guess I was expecting a lot from him without giving as much in return, and the stress made him vulnerable to illness. One day I noticed a few orange sores troubling him. I made the proper inquiries and brought home some spray that was supposed to cure his problem. Applying the medicine was inconvenient and unpleasant, but I loved him enough to do it regularly for a while. I changed from the delighted recipient of Abraham’s generosity to his caretaker.
Sandy heard of the problem and inquired regularly about her old acquaintance. How is Abraham today, she would ask. The medicine didn’t completely cure the problem, though regular application kept the poor guy from completely succumbing. As fall arrived, Abraham became sleepier and sleepier. He slept through the dark days of winter, and I hoped the rest would do him good.
Spring arrived, and Abraham outdid himself for our first anniversary. He handed me a beautiful bouquet with a tangy lemon scent. I smiled and hoped our future together would bring many more anniversary bouquets. But the sores soon reappeared in profusion. If I happened to bump into Abraham, I was quickly covered with orange filth. He felt embarrassed, and I felt guilty. I knew I should be spraying him more often, but the inconvenience kept me procrastinating.
In desperation, I moved him from his bed to a place where he’d be farther off the ground and could enjoy more of the morning sun. But the upheaval was like a nail in the lid of his coffin. By this point he was too weak to appreciate the warm, dry sun. I found myself sighing in sorrow instead of delight.
The time came for me to leave California and move far, far away. I briefly considered bringing Abraham with me and trying to better control his illness, but knew it would be a doomed effort. His disease had progressed too far, and I worried about him infecting others in my new home. I had to abandon him.
My heart was heavy as I left Abraham behind in a cloud of orange dust. He had given me so much joy, and I tried to focus on those memories instead of the disappointment, guilt and sorrow that troubled the latter part of our relationship.
I still think of Abraham Darby when I see a peachy-pink flower, though no other rose could compare with his magnificent blossoms. I remember his fragrance when I bite into a tangy-sweet slice of lemon pie. Occasionally I see his picture somewhere and am tempted to renew our relationship. Maybe the dry air here in Spokane would be a tonic to his health, and I do have a spot where he could bask in the morning sun. Maybe I'll call and invite him over someday, but I hesitate for now. He broke my heart once, and I’m not ready to risk it again.

Meet Abraham Darby

Added January 15, 2015 - I decided to give Abraham Darby another try a few years ago, and I haven't seen a speck of rust on him here in Spokane.  I'm so happy to once again enjoy his sumptuous flowers and citrus scent in the garden and in the vase.

December 12, 2008

Hurrah for the Gardening Husbands

I'm not talking about the husbands who love gardening for its own sake, though I think they're cool. I'm talking about husbands like mine, who love their resident gardener enough to tolerate and even support the habit! At least my husband knew what he was getting into - we spent part of our honeymoon wandering through Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, Canada. He smiled and nodded as I endlessly named flowers and expressed opinions on which ones I liked, and I knew I'd made a good choice when I picked him. By now he's had ten years to soak up the gardening minutiae about which I like to speak. He knows how to create good soil and could name most of the plants in our yard, though he might not admit that in public. Last year he planted seven rosebushes and fourteen large trees, dug out sod for new beds, worked manure into the soil, and even transplanted a prickly rose bush all of 10 inches without much grumbling (it looks SO much better in its new spot). The garden wouldn't happen without him.
Today is his birthday, so here's a special thanks to dear hubby - you're great!

December 10, 2008

2008 Garden Additions

Note to self: refer to this post when my garden's progress seems SO SLOW! 2008 was my first full year of gardening at my Spokane home, and I planted all sorts of things (in addition to plantings from late summer/fall of 2007). No doubt later years will include more editing: transplanting and shovel pruning. But 2008 was a year to start experimenting. Barren beds were planted with baby perennials, bare root english roses, a few lilacs and hydrangeas and fourteen 15-gallon sized trees. Here's the list:
Anemone 'Party Dress' pink
Anemone 'Queen Charlotte' pink
Aquilegia 'Melba Higgins' (columbine) dark purple
Armeria mauve and hot pink (thrift)
Astilbe 'Red Sentinel' red
Delphinium 'Green Twist' white/cream/green
Delphinium 'Magic Fountains' White
Delphinium 'Magic Fountains' Purple
Decentra 'Alba' (bleeding heart) white
Gleditsia 'Shademaster' (honeylocust - 5 of these)
Helleborus white
Hemerocallis 'Barbara Mitchell' (daylily) light peachy pink
H. 'Big Smile' yellow/pink/cream
H. 'Dublin Elaine' pink/cream double
H. 'Elizabeth Salter' melon pink
H. 'French Tudor' rose
H. 'Joan Senior' white
H. 'Jolyene Nichole' rose
H. 'Lady Emily' rose-lavender
H. 'Lavender Stardust' rose-lavender
H. 'Millie Schlumpf' pink
H. 'Moroccan Sunrise' rose-lavender
H. 'New Testament' pink
H. 'Seminole Wind' rose
H. 'Siloam Double Classic' peachy-pink
H. 'Sue Rothbauer' pink
(um, kind of went nuts on daylilies, eh?!)
Heuchera 'Green Spice' green/plum/cream leaves, cream flowers
H. 'June Bride' white flowers
H. 'Palace Purple' plum leaves, cream flowers
H. 'Patricia Louise' green leaves, rosy flowers
Hosta 'Dancing in the Rain' cream/lt. green/dr. green leaves
H. 'Patriot' white/dk. green leaves
H. white edges on leaves
Hydrangea 'Blushing Bride' white
H. 'Limelight' cream/green/pink
Iris ensata 'Momogasumi' (Japanese iris) white/mauve
I. germanica 'Coming Up Roses' (bearded iris) pink
I. dwarf violet from Robyne
I. dwarf purple from Cathy
I. dwarf blue from Cathy
I. dwarf maroon from Cathy
I. 'Full Tide' periwinkle blue
I. 'Mer du Sud' blue-violet
I. 'Perpetual Joy' lavender
I. 'Pink Bubbles' dwarf pink
I. purple w/ruffles from Cathy
I. 'Pure as Gold' yellow
I. 'Rapture in Blue' light blue
I. 'Rippling River' deep blue-violet
Iris siberica 'Blueberry Fair' cobalt/white
I. siberica 'Just Because' periwinkle blue
Lillium 'Casa Blanca' (oriental lily) white
L. 'Stargazer' (oriental lily) crimson/pink/white
Liriope spicata (lilyturf) purple
L. muscari 'Big Blue' blue-violet
Malus 'Spring Snow' (crabapple - 6 of these) white
Nepeta '6 Hills Giant' (catmint) violet-blue
N. 'Walker's Low' periwinkle
Paeonia from Gma Margaret (peony) red
Prunus 'Kwanzan' (flowering cherry - 3 of these) pink
Pelargonium (ivy geranium) scarlet
Rosa 'Charles Rennie Macintosh' (english rose) lilac/pink
Rosa 'Crocus Rose' (english rose) cream
Rosa 'Eglantyne' (english rose) pink
Rosa 'Lichfield Angel' (english rose) cream
Rosa 'Teasing Georgia' (english rose) yellow/apricot
Salvia 'May Night' dark violet-blue
Scabiosa 'Butterfly Pink' (pincushion flower) mauve
S. 'Butterfly Blue' lavender
Syringa 'Katherine Havemeyer' (lilac) pink/lavender
S. 'Krasavitsky Moskvy' white
Wisteria 'Black Dragon' violet-blue

Whew - guess the garden did make some progress in 2008!

December 4, 2008

Some Trees are like Teenagers . . .

. . . or toddlers (or fill in the blank with the age of your kids) . . . they make a big mess that someone else has to clean up! I was reminded of this picture when reading a post from Floridian blogger about some of his palm trees (though no doubt his are well-cared for and tidy). The palm fronds in the picture above came down from a tree in the neighboring apartment complex during a windstorm. We counted nearly 100 of them in our tiny yard, and they were each 6 feet long. The sides of the fronds were lined with very sharp, inch-long thorns. Some of them got caught in the nearby dawn redwood tree (another messy tree in suburbia, though it's perfect in a forest) and threatened to fall on my kiddos if they played outside on a breezy day. Lesson learned: when you plant a tree, be prepared for the maintenance that will be required when it gets big.
Other trees that are better kept out of small suburban yards: Colorado Blue spruce - who has room for a 30-foot-wide-at-the-base tree? And they're so unsightly with lower branches trimmed and knobby scars showing.
Dawn redwood - who needs a 300 foot tall tree shedding a continuous stream of twigs into their yard?
Poplars & Norway maples - their weak wood means branches could break off and smash your windows, cars, kids.
Quaking aspens - they'll eventually send up hundreds of suckers in an attempt to take over your yard. This I know from experience. The previous owners gifted me with three quaking aspens, plus their numerous babies. Removing them is on the project list for next year.
Lest this become a rant, I should note that there is an appropriate place for almost any tree. I love to see aspen leaves dancing in the wind on a mountainside. Perhaps a pasture would be graced by a giant, fast-growing poplar - if it falls over in a windstorm, it won't hit any houses. Other trees are best enjoyed in the forest or on a 5-acre spread.