January 27, 2009

Review of Mail/Internet Nurseries

My garden soil may be frozen, but now is a great time for the gardening chore (delight!) of studying catalogs, pondering choices and ordering new plants and seeds for the coming season.
Here are my reviews of some mail-order nurseries that sell a wide range of perennials, bulbs, shrubs and trees. I plan to do a post on several specialty nurseries later.

Bluestone Perennials
This nursery has one of the top ratings on the Garden Watchdog website. Garden Watchdog allows gardeners to rate mail-order nurseries and includes over 6,000 companies. Bluestone Perennials has a huge selection of - you guessed it - perennials, as well as some shrubs, bulbs and clematis. Many of their perennials come in 3-packs. Each plant is quite small, but the price for 3 plants is very reasonable (and most perennials DO grow quickly). Their catalog is informative and includes pictures but isn't as artfully laid out as some others. Last year I ordered columbine, liriope and two types of heuchera from them and was pleased when they all arrived in good condition.

As the most highly-rated company on Garden Watchdog, Forestfarm is a sure bet when ordering trees, shrubs, vines and perennials. Forestfarm's catalog is thick like a paperback book and costs $5 (though they've sent 2 free catalogs to me since my order). Pictures aren't included in the catalog, but you can find images on their website. They have an astoundingly large selection of plants. Last year I ordered two wisterias, a limelight hydrangea and a lilac shrub. They arrived in a giant box - almost as tall as me - in perfect condition. The plants had nice height but were lacking in horizontal branches, which was perfect for the vines but a little strange for the shrubs. They'll probably fill out this year. And most mail-order shrubs are narrow AND short, so I was very happy with Forestfarm's offerings.

High Country Gardens
A new catalog for me this year came from High Country Gardens. I like their focus on low-water gardening, which is especially appropriate for much of the western US. I learned quite a bit by reading their catalog. Garden Watchdog rates them highly, so I placed an order with them and expect to be pleased.

White Flower Farm
Years ago my landscape design professor named this as his favorite mail-order nursery. Recently I was disappointed to find mixed reviews about WWF from Garden Watchdog. One of the main complaints is that their plants aren't large enough to justify their high-end pricing. Regardless, they would win my 'Prettiest Catalog Award.' Their catalog is very informative, and their exquisite pot combinations are worth studying. Usually there is a $5 charge to order the catalog, but I just checked their site and was able to order one for free. This catalog is worth having even if you don't place an order.

I was going to list a few of the other companies from whom I ordered last year, but was disappointed when I checked out their overall ratings on Garden Watchdog. If you're looking for a good mail-order nursery, perhaps the best advice is to just check out the Watchdog Top 30 list. These companies are obviously doing a good job. However, I think ratings do have to be taken with a grain of salt. Angry people often look harder for a way to express their opinions than contented people. The business of growing and shipping live plants is very challenging, and mishaps are going to occur. A good company will politely find a way to make it right. If you are pleased about your experience with a mail-order company, the nicest thing you can do for them is write a positive review at Garden Watchdog.

January 21, 2009

Garden at Santa Barbara Zoo

Come along for another garden tour, this time to the gardens surrounding the Santa Barbara Zoo in California. Imagine my delight to tour the zoo a couple of weeks ago in 70 degree F weather, while snow continued to accumulate back home in Spokane. Whenever I visit other gardens, I keep my eyes out for ideas that I can transfer to my own yard. The photo above shows the path alongside the Palm Garden. Our backyard plan includes a path around the perimeter of the yard so we can better enjoy the plantings.

This shot shows some of the trees in the palm garden. Unfortunately I can't name any of them. I love the lush, tropical look. Although palms won't survive the winters in my garden, I am striving for a similar full look in my backyard.

Here's an upward view in the palm garden. Probably my favorite plant shape is a fountain, as in agapanthus, daylilies and the tops of these palms. Perhaps firework-shaped is a good descriptor as well.

This waterfall is part of a bird enclosure. The black-leaved plant is very striking. Water features are such a lovely addition to gardens; I need to think of one for my yard.

You'll notice that this waterfall is very similar to the previous one, except the focal plant has green leaves instead of black. These waterfalls are nearly side by side.

The succulents along the rocky ridge add a nice touch of green. Succulents don't mesh with the vision for my garden, but I enjoy them in other places.

I didn't take this shot near the elephant enclosure, but don't these plants remind you of trunks? Whimsy certainly has its place in the garden.

The colors in this photo came out a little strange, but it captures the dramatic landscape around the stream. The alligator area is nearby, so swimming probably isn't recommended.

I LOVE vine-covered pergolas like this one. The project list for my yard includes replacing our tacky aluminum awning with a white pergola covered with wisteria vines.

Here's the view from the giraffe area. My yard is lacking in breathtaking views like this one, so we planted trees all around to keep our eyes focused on the beauty within. Make that the hoped-for beauty within, as we have a lot of work ahead to make our yard beautiful.

Well, it is a zoo. I have to include at least one picture of the animals! I hope you enjoyed the tour and were inspired with some new ideas for your garden.

You're welcome to use any of the pictures from this post if you'll list vwgarden.blogspot.com as the source.

January 15, 2009

Allergy Season Already?!

Is it possible that allergy season has begun here in Spokane, despite freezing temperatures and lingering snow? Unfortunately, coniferous evergreens like juniper, pine, spruce and arborvitae (pictured above) begin releasing pollen in late winter. As a one-woman allergy meter, I have my own way of marking the start of allergy season. Persistant nasal drip, itchy eyes, frequent headaches? Yes, yes and yes. And so it begins.

Coniferous evergreens produce large amounts of dry, lightweight pollen from male cones. Do you see the tiny brown male cones in the picture above? Since these plants don't rely on insects as pollenators, their pollen is designed to fly with the wind over large distances. This type of pollen is especially good at causing allergies because there's so much of it, it stays airborn for a long time, and it sticks easily to moist nasal surfaces.

Not all conifers are equally allergenic. On the OPALS allergy scale (where 10 is the most allergenic), arborvitaes (Thuja) are rated at an 8. But pines (Pinus) and spruces (Picea) are rated at just 4 and 3, respectively. Pine and spruce pollen have a waxy coating that make them less irritating to human noses. So the dwarf Alberta spruces in the above photo probably aren't the ones giving me problems.
Some of the worst coniferous allergy offenders are male juniper and male cypress plants (Juniperus), which are both rated at a misery-causing 10 on the OPALS scale. Chinese junipers were the aesthetic bane of decades past. Thankfully there aren't many of them planted in my newer subdivision. The overgrown junipers below are located several blocks from my home.

If you find your allergies flaring in late winter, you'll find Allergy-Free Gardening, by Thomas Leo Ogren, to be a great help. Professor Ogren has created allergy ratings on numerous plants and gives suggestions on how to find allergy relief. His work is especially important in light of the increasing allergy and asthma problems in the United States.
Someday I'll shell out for a course of allergy-reducing shots. But even after that, I'll stick to plants with low allergy ratings. Best wishes to my fellow - sniff, sniff - allergy sufferers!
You're welcome to use any of the pictures from this post if you'll list vwgarden.blogspot.com as the source.

January 6, 2009

Garden and Fountain at La Purisima

Come with me to visit the garden at a historic Spanish mission near Lompoc, California. La Purisima is so photogenic that lovely shots practically hit you over the head, which is why I took my new Cannon Rebel XS, a digital SLR camera, and plunged into the world of amateur garden photography.
The photo above shows the main fountain in the gardens. I could use one of these in my yard, though the pool surrounding the fountain would be too large for my space.
I love the columns in the photo below. The obvious age of the place is especially attractive to me, perhaps because I live in a such a young neighborhood. Click on the photos to see a larger version.

The garden is filled with gorgeous old oak trees like the one below. Do you think this one has been growing since the mission was founded in 1787?

Here's another view of the central fountain. I tweaked all of these photos to add more color, fix the light and adjust the size. They look a bit more drab and dark after uploading to blogger, unfortunately.

This is the same photo as above, just cropped differently. Which do you prefer? I like seeing more of the trees and sky in the shot below, but I think the first version is better.

Would you like to explore the path that extends beyond this tree? It looks a little spooky to me.

A final view of the fountain with the main church in the background. So what do you think of these first attempts at garden photography? Comments and suggestions will be appreciated. Note to self: upload slightly smaller images next time! Sorry if they don't fit well on your screen after clicking on them.

Sharing makes me happy. You're welcome to use any of these photos if you'll list vwgarden.blogspot.com as the source.

January 4, 2009

Dances with the Daffodils

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 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.

Written by nature's poet, William Wordsworth. I love his work. Here in the far north, we have more need of memories like the one Wordsworth describes. I snapped this picture of daffodils two days ago in California. In Spokane, my daffodils won't appear until April or May, so I'll rely on sweet memories until then. Here's to dreaming of spring . . .