Monday, January 26, 2009

Park Seed

Normally, I only order a few things from Park Seed. They don’t carry many heirlooms and the modern varieties that they do carry aren’t all that attractive to me. This year, I don’t know if I just read the catalog more closely or that they had some rather unique seeds, but I really went overboard with my order.

Who knew that you could grow astilbe, coleus and Coral Bells from seed? Or hardy Cyclamen and daylilies? Ditto Stokes’ aster and Toad lilies.

And then there were the houseplants.

I have had astounding success with African violets so it was only natural that I ordered seeds for Fantasy Hybrids mix African Violets consisting of “doubles, semidoubles and singles in all colors, patterns and even speckled bicolors.”

And Ponytail Palm that Park assures its customers “grows in a flash from seed”.

Just for fun, I ordered Blue Himalayan Poppy (Meconopsis betonicfolia). Our New Jersey summers are probably too hot for them but they prefer partial shade and shade is something that I have in abundance.

The bonus pack of seed Park sent me left me scratching my head. I have never ordered anything but flower seeds from them and yet they chose to send me a packet of Sweet Banana pepper seeds. I’m not sure what exactly I will do with them.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Select Seeds

Select Seeds used to be my favorite catalog. The number and variety of heirloom flowers were second to none. It was the only catalog whose early arrival I didn’t mind. This year was a real disappointment. They have added so many “New Introductions” (not all of them heirloom) and (heirloom) bulbs that many of my favorites have fallen by the wayside. My favorite columbine, ‘Grandmother’s Garden’, is gone along with almost all of the rare and unusual columbine that they used to carry. Sweet Rocket can only be had as a mix. They used to sell the purple and white separately. I have purple in the Purple Garden and white in the semi-shady garden and wanted to add white to my new White Garden. Nevertheless, I did find some interesting new seeds to try.

Poppy ‘Heirloom’ (Papaver somniferum) Opium poppies were popular in Elizabethan times and came in a wide variety of colors and shapes. I thought that I would try these in my own Medieval-themed bed.

Foxglove ‘Spanish Peaks’ (Digitalis thapsii) I already have a perennial foxglove, yellow, to match the color scheme in my Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden. The color and unusual shape of this one should be a real stand out along the back of my (white) house.

Stock, ‘Sugar and Spice’ (Matthiola incana) Another flower popular during the Elizabethan era, it is known for its scent. Not surprisingly, it is destined for the same garden as the poppies.

Wallflower, ‘Fair Lady’ (Cheiranthus cheiri) This is a flower that I have wanted to grow for a long time but could never figure out where to put it. Over the winter, I was puzzling over what to plant along the front of my (white) shed which tends to be a bit shady. Wallflowers are colorful and like shade. A perfect match!

Select Seeds is offering a free packet of seed (their choice) with every order. I was curious what they would choose. What I received is neither in their catalog nor online.

Musk Mallow ‘Alba’ (Abelmoschus moschatus) It took a little Googling to get information on this. A perennial, it is listed as a wildflower in Connecticut and tolerates some shade. I will try it in a border that I have found difficult. Plants either love it there or hate it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Seeds of Change

My first seed order arrived today. I love the large selection of herbs and native plants offered by Seeds of Change. They are a little pricey but their seed is 100% certified organic. Here are the new (to me) things from them that I am trying this year:

Orange Temple Bells (Celosia cristata). I fell in love with the different varieties of celosia at Rutgers Gardens. This is the cockscomb type. The color is what caught my eye. It will look perfect against the Ugly Green Fence.

Tall Fernleaf Fiddleneck (Bee Plant) Phacelia tanacetifolia. I’ve never seen this plant, either in person or in a catalog. I’m intrigued by its unique shape. It’s a California native and attractive to pollinators and beneficial insects. It also tolerates a little shade. Sold! The Purple Garden will have a new resident.

Yellow Echinacea (Echinacea paradoxa). I’m growing three different varieties of Echinacea already. Two purple, Echinacea purpurea (passalong) and Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’ (grown from seed) and the white, Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’ (also grown from seed). This year, I’m adding a yellow one to the Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden which has predominantly red, orange and yellow flowers in it.

I’ll be wintersowing all three of these along with Wild Purple Foxglove and Cardinal Flower (also in this order). The Cardinal Flower did not germinate for me last year and I think I know why. A closer reading of the catalog tells me that in addition to 60 days of cold stratification, the seeds should be surface sown. So noted on the spreadsheet.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Garden in Winter

The frigid weather ended with a light snowfall. I hurried outside to take some pictures knowing that snow does not last long in New Jersey. All of what you are about to see was gone before the sun went down.

The sun became the Photo of the Day:

The sky was much brighter than it appears here but I like the gray moodiness of this shot.

I started out with the obligatory photos of snow-capped echinacea.

This is what drew me out of the house initially.

These hydrangeas are right outside my bedroom window.

This leaf was in the running for Photo of the Day. I find it strangely attractive.

Very soon, I moved on to foliage. Common Sage, my favorite of the foliage photos:

I love the colors in this shot:

Moody lavender to go with the moody sun:

Can you guess what this is?

Click here to see what it looked like in June.

This post was inspired by the Green Thumb Sunday Day post at A Journey of Grace & Whimsy. Thanks, Brenda!

Friday, January 16, 2009


When I interview applicants for the nightshift, I tell them that it takes a very tough person to do the job. Anyone who dislikes being alone, is afraid of the dark and/or can’t withstand extremes in temperature is not a viable candidate. Nightshift is one person. Most of the lights in the building are off. The few that are still on are dimmed. The climate control is also off at night meaning that there is no air conditioning in the summer and no heat in the winter. The only exception is the room where the servers reside which is kept at a constant 68°F (20°C) for the well-being of sensitive equipment.

There is a joke in our office that the nightshift goes into the Data Center to cool off in the summer and to warm up in the winter. I tell interviewees that it is no joke. It is very true. One of the good things about the job is that there is no dress code for the nightshift, so we can dress appropriately. One man claims to strip down to his underwear on hot summer nights. I’ve worked chilly weekends in fleece pajamas.

The current cold snap is testing the endurance of the nightshift. I’m glad that I work second shift now and can leave at midnight, before the building has significantly cooled off. It’s not too awful during the week when there is some residual heat from the day. The real torture will come this weekend, especially Sunday night after two full days of no heat.

I remember those nights. Huddled in my parka at my desk. Typing with gloves on. Trying to answer the phone while wearing ear muffs. And when I couldn’t take it any longer, going into the Data Center to warm up. 68° felt balmy.

This is our last heatless winter. My employer has bought a building and plans to move in the spring. We will no longer be at the mercy of a landlord. The nightshift has been promised heat and air conditioning.

And lights. I guess I’ll have to come up with a new motto. We’ll no longer be able to claim:


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Bad Habits

Rory and I both like the Book Review section, but for different reasons

My basement has had a bad odor for a while. I wasn’t too concerned at first. All the houses on my side of the street get water in the basement, so it always smells kinda funky down there. But this wasn’t the usual mildew smell. And it wasn’t a dead animal smell either. I don’t have to worry about that. I have the Fur Patrol Pest Control service. My cats catch and kill any vermin that sneaks into my house and then deposit the remains on my kitchen floor for me to dispose of.

No, this smelled very much like cat poop. Which was very strange because my guys have excellent litterbox manners. The smell has been growing stronger. I finally decided to have a look around this past weekend while I was dragging ornament boxes upstairs. I was horrified to find . . . a big pile of cat poop. Horrified not because I have cat poop in my basement. That’s easily cleaned up. I was horrified because it means that at least one of my cats is having litterbox issues which usually signals illness. The question was which cat?

My basement does not have a door so all three cats wander freely up and down the stairs. It’s their favorite hiding place when visitors come to the door. Except Rory, of course. He works very hard at fulfilling his duties as Official Greeter. When he is not welcoming guests, he too likes to spend time in the basement. I usually see him in the laundry room.

Today, I lucked out. I heard the familiar sound of post-poop scratching and ran down the basement stairs to see who it was. And there was Rory, hiding under a table looking very guilty. He was probably very surprised when I didn’t yell at him.

Another piece of luck: I have to make an appointment to take Tuvok, the big Maine Coon, to the vet for his annual check-up. At 22 pounds, it’s always an event when he goes to the vet in his enormous carrier. Everyone in the waiting room wants to know what kind of an animal is inside because all they can see is a big ball of fur quaking in fear in the back. I’ll make two appointments and bring them both in at the same time. I’m only willing to do that because they travel in carriers.

Many years ago when I was married and owned two dogs, the vet suggested that I bring both in at the same time instead of making two trips. Much like Communism, this was an idea that sounded good in theory but in practice was disastrous. Getting two dogs into the car was a breeze. What dog doesn’t like going for a ride in the car? No, it was once we were underway that the trouble began. Both dogs decided that the best seat in the car was in my lap.

My dog, a Cocker Spaniel, fit into my lap very nicely. It was a little difficult reaching around her for the stick shift but still doable. Then the Dalmatian, my husband’s dog, climbed into my lap. Not only was there no room, but he was so large that I couldn’t see around him. Imagine that you are driving down a local New Jersey road and come upon a Volvo seemingly driven by a Dalmatian and weaving all over the road.

Fortune was smiling on us that day. We made it safely to the vet and back. Ever since then, I have always brought my pets to the vet one at a time.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ordering Seeds OldRoses Style

One of my fondest wishes has been granted. Seed catalogs no longer start arriving in October. Instead, the first catalog, Pinetree Garden Seeds, one of my favorites, arrived in the middle of November, then there was a lull of several weeks before the rest of my favorites began to show up. After years of trial and error, I have narrowed down the catalogs that I consistently use to ones that offer seed that I want to grow and have good germination rates. And the winners are: Pinetree Garden Seeds (also the winner in the Most Attractive Packaging category), Select Seeds (which now carries a selection of heirloom bulbs), Seeds of Change (love their offerings of herbs and native plants), Park Seed and Burpee.

I always tell people that I may work in IT, but I’m not a geek. I prefer to think of myself as a gardener with computer skills. I have to admit that I am a little geeky when it comes to ordering seeds. After weeks of careful perusal, I write out my order from each catalog. This takes several days because of overlap between catalogs. I check each one for the best buy on the seeds that are offered by more than one company.

Next comes the geeky part, the spreadsheets. I create a workbook for each planting season, spring and fall, each year. Every workbook has a Master List, listing every seed (spring) or bulb (fall) ordered that season followed by worksheets for each catalog the seed/bulbs were ordered from, followed by worksheets for each garden bed. All of this effort tells me what I’ve ordered, from which catalog I’ve ordered it and where I’m going to plant it. It also helps me to see if I’ve forgotten to order something.

I know that this sounds like an awful lot of work, but I highly recommend it. I have workbooks going back to Fall 2005 and I’ve discovered some Fun Facts:

Fun Fact #1: Despite the fact that my seed orders vary in content each year, they are consistent in number. I ordered 68 types of flowers and herbs in 2006, 2007 and 2008. This year ended that streak. I ordered 70 kinds of flowers and herbs.

Fun Fact #2: Pinetree Garden Seeds has moved from last to first place. I ordered 5 packets of seed from them in 2006, 10 in 2007, 11 in 2008 and 23 in 2009. I increased the number of zinnia colors that I ordered from them this year not to mention their fabulous prices on my other favorites.

Fun Fact #3: Select Seed, my favorite source of heirloom flowers held the top spot in 2006, 2007 (24 packets each) and 2008 (27 packets) but fell to third place this year with 16 packets. They have begun to carry fewer of my antique favorites and more “New Introductions”.

Fun Fact #4: While the number of cosmos varietes has steadily declined over the years from 4 to 1, the number of zinnias has held steady at four.

Fun Fact #5: I only grew one marigold for years, the variety changing from year to year. That streak was broken last year when I grew two kinds of marigolds. I have ordered the same two varieties this year.

Starting last year, I added height and any special growing instructions. The growing instructions are helpful in pinpointing good candidates for wintersowing (“needs cold stratification”) or reasons for germination failure (“needs light to germinate”).

Then in a final burst of geekiness, I place my orders online and blog the experience.