Saturday, December 27, 2008


The holiday season is always hectic. I never seem to be able to begin wintersowing on the Solstice. This year I made a conscious effort to get started as early as possible. I have a drawer full of seeds and over 80 gallon containers in the basement.

I like to try growing different plants every year and my wintersowing efforts are no different. This year, not knowing if it will work or not, I wintersowed hosta and clematis seeds, all of them harvested by me and dried in my kitchen.

The hosta were a last minute addition to my seedsaving efforts. At the end of the season last year, I noticed that thanks to sheer laziness on my part, the flower stalks on two plants that had never been pruned now carried seeds instead of flowers. I gathered them and dried them along with my other saved seeds. I was careful to keep them separate because one set was from my favorite purple-flowered passalong hosta while the other was from one of the hostas that I had purchased cheaply at my local grocery store. The gallon containers where they now reside are labeled [Giver’s name] Hosta and Pathmark Hosta.

The clematis comes from Rutgers Gardens. It grows on the fence along the back of the veggie plot of one of the volunteers. She told me the name, which I forgot almost immediately, along with the fact that it is one of those rare and expensive clematis. Another volunteer had given the plant to her. She lamented the fact that she had never been able to propagate it because she would like to grow it at home also. I pointed out that there were seeds on it and asked if I could harvest some of the seeds to take home and try germinating. I’m hoping that my wintersowing effort is successful so that I can give her some of the plants for her home garden.

Another passalong that I wintersowed today is salvia ‘Lady in Red’. I was given the seed at the Master Gardener picnic. The gardener said that it reseeds wildly every year in her garden. That sounds perfect for wintersowing and for my Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden.

The final passalong seed wintering in a container has origins that must remain in the dark. I did not have permission to harvest it but succumbed to peer pressure on a (public) garden tour. There was beautiful baptisia growing around the parking lot. Being gardeners it was only natural that we each pocketed some seed on our way back to our van.

One of my wintersown failures last year was seed that I gathered from my Madonna Lily. I’m not entirely sure what went wrong. The seed appeared to be mature. It seemed to dry properly. But it never germinated. Undaunted, I am trying again this year. I have some left over that I may try direct sowing in the garden also.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the seed catalogs have begun to arrive . . .

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Nikon School

One of the first times that I showed up at an outing with my new digital SLR hanging around my neck, I was asked “Are you one of those f-stop people?” Shamefacedly, I had to reply no. My fancy new camera was set to automatic. I was letting it do all the work, determining how my photos came out. In other words, it was a very expensive point & shoot camera.

The manual was unreadable. It was written with an amount of assumed knowledge that I simply didn’t have. I found a book at my local library that was quite helpful. After I finished reading it, I grasped the concepts of digital SLR photography, like ISO and aperture, but the details eluded me. I purchased my own copy of the book in the hope that closer study would help me overcome my math phobia.

That was the big problem: all those numbers and all those ratios. In my youth, I was in the honors program at school in every course except math. While my peers headed off to the rarified realms of “pre-Calc” and “Calc”, I slunk into the “dummy” math class and desperately tried to make sense of the numbers that the teacher wrote on the blackboard. As much as I enjoyed crafting essays and studying the grand sweep of history, math was a total mystery to me. Word problems were gibberish. Equations baffled me. Tests had the power to induce catatonia. My brain simply shut down at the sight of numbers.

I was determined to learn to actually use my camera so I went to school, Nikon School. And I’m glad I did. The instructors (there were two) were professional photographers who explained arcane concepts in language that even I could understand. Instead of going into detail about the exact lighting and distances of each setting, they said things like “if you want to get this effect, use this setting”. Bingo! Following instructions is one of my strengths. The instructors were so good that I finally understand white balance.

One of my co-workers is an avid photographer and often utters cryptic comments like “the camera has to know what color white is”. Huh? White is white. Except in the paint store. It turns out that what he has been saying is that light has color. What we see as white, is actually slightly different in different lights such as sunlight, fluorescent light, incandescent light, etc. You can adjust for different types of light or not, depending on the effect you are after.

Nikon School is a two day event. The first day is for beginners. The second day is for more advanced photographers. You can attend one or both days. I opted to attend the beginner’s class only. It turns out to have been a good decision. I can’t wait to get out and try all the new things I learned today. Once I have mastered those skills, I will get a lot more out of the advanced class when I go back to Nikon School next year.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

More On Light

Yesterday’s post featured a photo that I took at the EARTH Center when I attended the annual Master Gardener picnic. I took a number of photos that day and despite the fact that it was late afternoon, they came out rather well. I don’t normally like afternoon light but I think because it was autumn and the sun was weaker and lower in the sky, the light was less harsh than usual.

A wildflower meadow was planted earlier this year for birds.

Paths were mowed through the meadow to encourage visitors to explore the meadow.

Even this late in the year, when most of the flowers have finished blooming, it was beautiful.

You can see all of the photos that I took at the EARTH Center on Flickr.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I’ve been working on a Special Edition Master Gardener newsletter. Lots and lots of pictures. All of them submitted by fellow Master Gardeners. And frustratingly, all of them are landscape. I had one tiny space on the front page that was just screaming for a photo using portrait orientation. Perhaps I had some photos that would fill the bill? Alas, no, but while looking, I was reminded of a photo I took in September that just took my breath away.

EARTH Center vegetable garden
September 21, 2008

This is exactly how it came out of my camera. No photoshopping. I just love the deep rich colors and the contrasting shapes.

Sometimes moments just happen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

December Color

I’m back after marathon nightshifts. Seven in eight days, 77 hours total, with only one day off. The normal maximum is four nights followed by three days off. But thanks to a combination of employee vacation days and car trouble, I worked longer and harder than I ever thought possible. By the end, I was so exhausted that I was hallucinating. Auditory hallucinations. I kept hearing music. Like a radio playing in another room and you can’t quite make out the words or the music to the song that is being played.

Of course, after wearing myself out like that, I developed a raging sinus infection. Which was bracketed by a wisdom tooth first breaking last week and then extracted on Monday. And yet, I still found the time and the energy to go to the gym twice a week, admittedly slightly less than my normal three times a week.

Today, I was finally able to get outside during daylight hours to see what was going on in the gardens. I was pleasantly surprised to find color still.

Antirrhinum majus ‘Black Prince’

This snapdragon is reputed to have been grown by Thomas Jefferson at his home, Monticello. It’s flowers are dark red. The foliage, dark green, during the summer has now turned a rusty red in my late fall garden.

I am developing an appreciation of the role that foliage plays in the garden, both its color and shape.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Plants For Shade

Hush! Don’t tell my boss, but while I spent six nights at work with no lights and no heat, I kept myself awake by writing about plants that grow in the shade. I published the results on Hub Pages.

Monday, November 17, 2008

First Outing

My trusty old digital camera died last May after years of giving me great photos despite the abuse it suffered from me. Of course it chose to do this a week before I was due to visit the New Jersey Botanical Gardens for the first time. I had always planned on replacing it with a digital SLR, but really hadn’t looked into them. In one week’s time, I managed to research brands, features and prices and purchased a Nikon D40.

And then it poured rain. With my old camera, this wouldn’t have been a problem. A little rain had never hurt it (although I’m sure it would have disagreed) and since it was a simple point & shoot, I could operate it with one hand while holding an umbrella. Not so my fancy new SLR. It requires at least two hands and dislikes moisture, heat, cold and dirt. What a prima donna!

The new camera had to wait until June before going on its first outing to NYBG. I put it through its paces. There were a lot of hits and misses, but by the end of the day, I had gotten the hang of this fancy digital SLR stuff.

This was one of those trips that yielded more than one Photo of Day. The first one was taken in the garden at Holly House before we even left.

Acanthus mollis
Bear's Britches

This is a new flower to me. I want it for my shade garden at home.

The second one isn’t even of the gardens.

Old Mill

This is an amazing shot. I took it out of the window of a tram that was stopped so that passengers could embark and disembark. Somehow I managed to keep the camera still despite the rocking of the tram as people got on and off while keeping all of them out of the photo. I did manage to get a little of the railing of bridge that we were stopped on, but that can be cropped out.

I had fun a lot fun that day. I took some “arty” shots like this:

I have no clue what flower that is, but it looks really cool.

I got some neat close-ups:

And I enjoyed using the lens to bring things closer like this duck:

Here’s another flower that is new to me:

Rudbeckia maxima
Giant Coneflower

Walls and fences drew my attention that day. Here are two of my favorite shots:

You can see all of the photos of my trip to NYBG on Flickr.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

First Catalog

The first seed catalog of the 2009 growing season landed in my mailbox today. It’s one of my favorites, Pinetree Garden Seeds. It is also the source of my favorite red zinnias and heirloom Crego asters, as well inexpensive books.

Already my order is taking shape. More red zinnias along with orange, yellow and white ones. I’m thinking of waves of colors. My favorite shaggy Crego asters have been reseeding themselves but I will continue to order them so that I can plant them in different beds each year. I love their colorful disheveled flowers. They look like they have bedhead. Don’t you just love flowers that make you laugh?

I’m ruminating on what to do about my hanging baskets. I’ve tried impatiens and trailing petunias. Pinetree Garden seeds carries two different varieties of climbing nasturtiums. Nasturtiums did very well for me in a strawberry pot under one of the baskets two years ago.

More books, of course. “Sweetness & Light” by Hattie Ellis: a history of the honey bee from the prehistoric era to present day. Originally published at $23.00, it has been reduced to $4.98. “A Blessing of Toads” by Sharon Lovejoy: essays on the creatures in her gardens. Originally published at $17.95, it has been reduced to $4.99. “Brooklyn Botanic Garden Handbook on Garden Photography”, originally priced at $7.95, reduced to $1.95.

It's too early to place my order. More catalogs will be filling my mailbox in the coming weeks.

Mid-November Blooms

Despite the cooler night time temperatures, a few flowers are still adorning my garden.

The pink, blue and lavender blossoms on my Nikko Blue hydrangeas have turned a uniform rosy pink.

That same pink fades to a dull red.

The dull red fades to a sea green.

And finally, the green dries to a dull brown. I leave the dried flowerheads on all winter. They are more attractive than bare branches.

Friday, November 14, 2008


I love my Nikko Blue hydrangeas. When the flowers mature, they are a brilliant sky blue. I love that they do equally well on the shady side of my house as they do on the sunny side.

Half a dozen years ago the sewer line broke and a trench was dug from the foundation to the curb. When the trench was backfilled, the soil in that area was a different pH, resulting in gorgeous pink blooms.

This year, there was a third color. Lavender.

The question is, was the lavender the result of pink mingling with blue or blue blending with pink?

Monday, November 10, 2008


Lamb's Ear

Most people grow Lamb’s Ear for the foliage. They don’t care for the flowers, oftentimes pruning the stalks off before they have a chance to mar the look of the low growing leaves. Personally, I love the flowers. And I especially like the contrast of the tall spikes of flowers to the shorter foliage.

I’m always surprised at the tiny size and intense purple of the flowers. If you look closely enough, you will see tiny leaves on the stalks as if the plant were saying “Look at me! I can grow tall as well as spread low.”

For me, this photo captures all of that. Better yet, it pleasantly blurs what is in reality a very busy background. Immediately behind the Lamb’s Ear are asters. Further back, you can see splotches of orange daylilies. And beyond them, my neighbor’s house. Thankfully, my nemesis, the chainlink fence, is nowhere visible except as a semi-opaque horizontal line.

We’ll award this “Photo of the Day”.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


Salvia Black and Blue

This is one of my favorite photos from this year. It easily qualifies as a “Photo of the Day”. I was trying to photograph the salvia while being mindful of the background. I chose an angle that would capture the form and color of the salvia blossoms that also included the foliage of the hosta growing at the base of the pot containing the salvia.

I love the contrast in colors and shapes. The dark blue against the bright green background. The linear flower stalk against the ovals of the leaves. In fact, I liked the result so much that I use it as the wallpaper on my PC.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Autumn Glory

This is what I see when I step out my door.

I’ve been allowing a tiny Japanese maple volunteer to grow at the end of my driveway. All through the spring and summer, it looks messy and weedy. Then, in the fall, the reason that I tolerate it becomes apparent.

I’ve been taking lots of pictures of the fall color in my neighborhood. Soon the cold winds and rains of November will arrive sweeping all of the leaves away. The glory that is autumn will be replaced by the dull earth tones of winter.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day Blooms

Fading Mums

Heirloom Marigolds

Last of the Cosmos

Marigold Bud

I was surprised to find entry to my polling place at the local high school restricted to one door and guarded by a police officer. Why? This is America. We don't riot. We patiently stand in line, cast our votes and then go on about our day. And if we don't agree with the outcome, we argue about it in court. And if we don't agree with the court's decision, we look forward to the next election. Because there will be a next election. There are no coups. This is America. We have peacefully changed governments for more than two centuries.

I hope that you voted today. It doesn't matter how you voted. It just matters that you voted.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Garden Voices Update

Thank you everyone who has emailed me with your concerns about the mysterious disappearance of Garden Voices. I am happy to report that it is back. There were some hosting problems, but they seem to be solved.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Global Warming Alert

What’s wrong with this picture? It’s snowing. In October. In New Jersey. I’ve lived in New Jersey for a quarter of a century and I have never seen it snow this early. Normally we have our first snowstorm in January.

Wacky weather patterns like this were predicted when the scientific community began looking at the global warming phenomenon years ago. It is very frightening to see this and other predictions about climate change becoming reality. Even more frightening is the fact that it is happening much faster than the experts projected.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

You Might Be a Gardening Geek If . . .

As evidenced by the above photo, I have two more items to add to Carol’s excellent meme, You might be a gardening geek if….

…you have turned one of the crisper drawers in your refrigerator into a seed storage bin.

…the seed storage bin in your refrigerator is nearly full and you haven’t even begun to order your seeds for next year.

It’s only October and my seed drawer already looks full. There are packets that never got planted last year, partially used packets and seed that I have harvested and dried from my garden, Rutgers Gardens and a few other places that I won’t admit to.

The Winter Solstice, when I can begin wintersowing, can’t arrive soon enough. I need to make room in my drawer for the seeds that I will order once the catalogs arrive in the mail as well as seeds that I will be trading for on my favorite seed trading site, the Garden Bloggers Seed Exchange.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Winter Reading

Pinetree Garden Seeds, the seed catalog where I buy my favorite red zinnias, also offers bargain books. I have gotten some great buys on books that would otherwise be out of my reach. They are having a clearance sale, reducing prices to as low as $1. For a grand total of $26, I bought the following:

The French Country Garden - By Louisa Jones
France is often called "the country of four hundred cheeses" to portray its diversity. That same diversity is found in its gardens. Louisa Jones took a tour of gardens around the country and shares her impressions and conversations with the gardeners here. Sumptuous photographs illustrate them for us. The gardens are divided into six themes. “Intimate Country Gardens” features a grandmother’s, a painter’s, and a fashion designer’s garden, each reflecting their own personal interest. “A Passion for Plants” visits collectors of select species and their spectacular collections. The “Celebration of the Senses” gardens emphasize aromatic plants, foliage tones and textures, medicinal plants, edible plants and striking visual effects. In “Formal Play”, formal gardens exhibit whimsy in their playful planting patterns, topiary or sculpture. France is also seeing a rebirth of natural gardening that is explored in “Nature’s Ways”. A final chapter, “Planetary Perspectives” visits French gardens where global issues such as diversity and ecology play a major role.
Hardcover 176 pp pub. at $37.50
Clearance price $5.00

The Looking Glass Garden - By Peter Thompson
Take a trip to the Southern Hemisphere with Peter Thompson and see a whole new world of plants and gardens. Thompson wants us to extend our range of garden plants and touches on 1500 Southern Hemisphere plants and the role they could play in our gardens. He dispels the myth that these plants are too difficult to grow here, showing how these incredible trees, shrubs, flowers, vines, grasses and foliage plants can be used in sun or shade and hot or cool gardens. These plants have a forceful impact with their wild, exotic shapes, sizes and colors. Thompson demonstrates innovative ways to assimilate them into gardens using case studies of gardens where they are used. Hundreds of exquisite color plates illustrate these plants in their native habitats and in gardens. Thompson’s book is also a fascinating personal account of places, people, plants and gardens encountered.
Hardcover 451 pp pub. at $39.95
Clearance price $3.00

A Year in the Garden - by Theodore James, Jr.
Acclaimed garden author James and garden photographer Harry Haralambou take us on a very enjoyable and enlightening tour of their gardens as they evolve month-by-month through the seasons. They also share the story of the evolutionary background of these gardens from the time James purchased the one acre Long Island, NY property in 1974. On this property they have put an Alpine, water, shade, perennial, Japanese, shrub, woodland and secret garden. All come together beautifully to fulfill James' guiding concept that "a garden should be a series of events, spectacles, and occurrences that continue throughout the four seasons." Over 200 color photographs help readers experience all the pleasures of events and seasons in their garden. Hardcover 130pp. Pub at $29.95
Clearance price $5.00

Venzano: A Scented Garden in Tuscany – by Stephanie Donaldson
It was a misty November day, in 1988, when Don Leevers and Lindsay Megaritty first came upon the ancient Tuscan estate that was later to become their home. Nestled among the trees on the brow of a hill, it overlooked a landscape where agriculture still prevailed. Though in a state of neglect and disrepair, Venzano had abundant land and a reliable source of water issuing from a Roman spring. Today, their nursery garden is one of the jewels of the region, with an aromatic plant catalog listing nearly 10,000 varieties of lavender, rosemary, thyme, patchouli, lilies, honeysuckle, damask roses. Marrying exquisitely beautiful photographs to a narrative that is both personal and enlightening, we are given a taste of the daily life of a Tuscan gardener, as well a glimpse of the glorious hills and olive groves that lie just past Venzano's borders. For gardeners, armchair and otherwise, and for lovers of all things Italian.
Hardcover 144pp. Pub at $29.95
Clearance price $5.00

The Plantfinder’s Guide to Garden Ferns - By Martin Rickard
Ferns can add a naturalistic woodsy feel to a planting, or a lush jungly atmosphere. They come in an amazing array of leaf sizes and forms, and shades of green to gold to silver. You may think you’re familiar with ferns, but the variety in this book will astonish you. Rickard, the owner of a British fern nursery, guides readers on choosing and siting ferns, planting and caring for them, propagating them and using them in the landscape. He provides a large A-Z guide to large, small, desert and tree ferns. The color photographs in the book are exquisite. Many capture their beauty in the landscape, while others display individual fronds against a white backdrop. An exciting find for fern lovers.
Softcover 192pp pub. $24.95
Clearance price $5.00

The Random House Book of Old Roses – by Roger Phillips & Martyn Rix
Over 200 varieties of old roses with color photographs.
Softcover 95 pp pub. at $10.00
Clearance price $2.00

Feng Shui - Text: Belinda Henwood, Consultant: Howard Choy
Feng Shui is the Chinese art of harmonious placement meant to create balance between people and their environment. By following the principles of Feng Shui, people can bring this balance to their homes and gardens. Feng Shui can be complicated, but this book simplifies the concepts and touches on the basic remedies. In laying out a home or garden, one should look for a positive energy flow or “qi”. The book describes good home layout and placement of rooms, doors, and furniture. If you can’t change your basic layout, then it discusses simple remedies such as moving furniture, changing colors, adding movable partitions or plants to change the qi flow, and hanging wind chimes or mirrors. Outside, an appealing, simple and natural garden attracts nourishing qi to the home. Feng Shui is good design and makes good sense.
Hardcover 79 pp pub. at $12.95
Clearance price $1.00

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What Is She Doing Now???

To get that last photo of the zinnia from the bottom, I had to literally lay on my back and shoot upwards. While in that position, I noticed that it gave me great views of my neighbors’ trees.

This is the reason why there is so much shade in my yard. Those three trees are growing in other people’s yards and are so large that they overhang my yard. The only time that I get full sun is when the sun is in that small open space of sky.

My neighbors have seen me do a lot of strange things. I’ve dragged furniture out of the house to stand on and reach the tops of tall plants. I’ve walked in garden beds to press seed into the soil (actually recommended on the seed packet). I’ve gotten on my knees and hung my head upside down to take photos. So, as I lay on my back in the grass today with my camera pointing towards the sky, I imagined my neighbors looking out their windows, shaking their heads and saying, “What is she doing now???”

Three Views

Zinnia elegans 'Scarlet King'

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Last Gasp

One of the advantages of the long growing season in NJ (zone 6), now prolonged thanks to Global Warming, are the number of plants still in bloom in October. Not shocking, I know, to those of you in warmer climes but still a wonder to those of us who were raised in much colder areas of the country. I brought my camera with me today so that I could capture the beauty of the Display Gardens at Rutgers Gardens before the plants are removed and the beds raked next weekend in preparation for winter.

Photo of the Day

I love that the seedheads are all leaning to the side contrasting with the rigidly upright stems. The ornamental grasses in the perennial borders captivated me. I have a love/hate relationship with ornamental grasses. In the spring and summer, they repulse me. I wonder how anyone could possibly plant such ragged, weedy plants in their flowerbeds. But in the fall and especially the winter, when they come into their own, I am bowled over by their beauty. I am determined to add them to my landscape. I carefully choose spots where they will look best in my yard. And then, in the spring, the cycle repeats itself. I find myself at the nursery, staring at ragged, weedy plants in pots wondering how anyone could possibly plant such ugly things in their flowerbeds.

Look at the color! The patterns! Who could resist this?

Personally, I like this photo more. It looks like a child scribbled on it.

I’m still struggling with light. Since I was photographing in strong afternoon sunlight which I dislike, I tried getting around it by shooting shaded subjects like this:

That same harsh light, though, produces magical photos like this:

The Yellow Garden Cosmos (Cosmos bipinnatus) in my plot is finally blooming and yellow:

The earliest flowers were white, but like the Seashells Cosmos which curled as the season grew later, these cosmos have become yellow at the end of the season. I like them so much that I think I will grow them at home next year.

Another flower that I would like to grow at home is lantana.

I haven’t figured out how to use it, but after seeing these berries and falling in love, I’m going to try harder to find a way to include it next year.

Just like in my own yard, insects were everywhere.

The sky was an incredible blue today, as you can see from the first photo in this post. While I was photographing the bee, I looked up and saw this: