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.