Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Blizzard 2010

It’s amazing how quickly a weather forecast can change. On Christmas Eve, the friendly TV weather person was assuring us that the monster storm that was forming in the south would miss us and head out to sea. Instead of being snowed in, I would be able to get to the gym on Sunday to work off all of those Christmas cookies that I’ve been baking.

When I turned the television on Christmas evening, that same weather person was just as confidently predicting that the monster had changed course. A two day blizzard that would bury us in two to three feet of snow was due in town late morning/early afternoon on Sunday. Guess I should get to the gym early.

It was snowing lightly when I entered the gym. An hour and a half later, I could barely make out the parking lot as I walked out the door. My normal short, leisurely drive home became a white knuckle odyssey in near whiteout conditions.

Blogging about my job results in stern emails from HR so we will skip over the reasons why I spent the night in front of my computer remotely tending to (name redacted) network and listening to the wind howl.

It was the wind blowing the snow into giant drifts that made this storm so bad as you can see below.

I had to use my front door since the kitchen door was impassable. There was the predicted two to three feet of snow in my driveway. Two feet on one side and three feet on the other where it had drifted. Worst of all was my poor car which has been hit twice in one week.

You will have to take my word for it that there is a Camry under all of that snow. I think it’s hiding. With good reason. It was after I dug it out and forced it to travel over treacherous roads to (name redacted) so that I could (reason redacted) that it was hit a second time and now has only three working doors in addition to a bent strut from the first accident.

And now for the garden portion of this entry.

Photo of the Day

Those are the tops of the Grosso and Provence lavenders growing in front of my house. They are about two feet tall when not buried in snow. I like this photo so much that I’m using it as the wallpaper on my PC.

You can see more photos of my yard buried in snow on Flickr

Friday, October 22, 2010

Growing, Older

I was a little put off when this book landed, unsolicited, in my mailbox. I don’t like being reminded that I am growing older. Reading the blurbs on the back cover, I was intrigued by the fact that the author was a widow who had lost her husband of forty years quite suddenly and didn’t miss him. That alone was enough to encourage me to read the book.

It turns out that after his death, she realized that her marriage hadn’t been as happy and fulfilling as she thought. Now her life was her own, unencumbered by a husband who had been an emotional burden, and she could finally live her life on her own terms.

Joan Gussow is a nutrition educator, activist and passionate organic gardener. Her garden feeds her body and her spirit. She uses it in this book as a springboard to discuss nutrition, the environment, life in general and her life in particular. She is a talented writer who can start off writing about potatoes, veer off on a discussion of travel leading to the plight of Magellanic Penguins and end up back in her potato patch without losing the reader’s interest or attention.

She had written a previous book about her garden, This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader, which I have never read because I don’t grow food, only flowers, and didn’t think that it would interest me. I know better now and will pick a copy knowing that it will be a wonderful read and not just about veggies.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Monet's Passion

Every gardener knows about Monet’s magnificent gardens at Giverny which inspired so many of his paintings, but very few gardeners have the opportunity to visit those gardens and experience them in person. Lucky for us, Elizabeth Murray who is a gardener and photographer, has written a book about Giverny that is lavishly illustrated with her own incomparable photographs.

She spent a year as a gardener at Giverny and then returned, year after year, at different seasons to photograph the splendid landscape. The book is printed on heavy paper like a fine art book, but its text makes is a practical gardening book also.

We are treated to the story of Monet’s acquisition of the property and development of the gardens. Ms. Murray provides the information that is so important to her gardener readers of how the gardens evolved, which plants he used, where he obtained them and why he chose them. The book includes detailed diagrams of the gardens, which with the accompanying photographs, allows us to clearly visualize Monet’s designs.

Just as important, she includes information on how we can incorporate Monet’s designs into our own landscapes. Whether it is a small pond filled with his favorite water plants or “paint box” beds using the same flowers or vegetables used at Giverny, Ms. Murray offers designs and plant lists for each type of garden or container.

I may never make it to France, but thanks to Ms. Murray’s stunning photographs, I will be able to visit Monet’s garden at Giverny every time I open this book. I just have to decide how to shelve it: with my photography books or garden books.

Review copy courtesy of Pomegranate Communications, Inc.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Blowin' in the Wind

Rutgers Gardens is sponsoring a photo contest this fall. It’s limited to amateur photographers. Photos must be taken between January 1 and September 10, 2010. Only one entry can be submitted in each of the three categories: plants, wildlife and people. I don’t do anything with a heartbeat, so I may only be able to enter one photo if I don’t get a good butterfly or bee photo.

I have been so busy in the greenhouse so far this year that I haven’t had time to take any photos at the Gardens. Yesterday, I found myself with some time, so I took a quick walk around. Quick, because the wind was blowing so hard that taking photos was nearly impossible.

I can compensate for a little bit of movement, but when my subjects are being blown completely out of the frame, there’s nothing I can do.

In spite of the dire conditions, I did manage to get two decent photos.

The sky was a gorgeous blue. I took a lot of pictures of plants silhouetted against it. Just for fun, I turned my camera upwards and took a picture of just the sky.

When I downloaded it at home, I burst out laughing. It screams "Windows98", doesn’t it?

This is the first photo that I took yesterday.

I love how it came out. The flower is past its prime but has such an interesting shape.

Next weekend is Rutgers Day . Rutgers Gardens will be selling plants at the event. Look for me between noon and 4 pm. I’ll be the one in the straw hat selling herbs.

See you there!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Saturdays in the Greenhouse

The Flower House

The Vegetable House

The Cold Frame

The two new greenhouses at Rutgers Gardens went into production this year. Gone are the days of not enough room to work, not enough room on the mist table, not enough room for all the plants. The old, small greenhouse is now used to house tropicals being overwintered while the new, larger greenhouses are used to raise plants for sale or for use in the various beds around the Gardens.

With more space available, we are able to grow more plants. This year’s Spring Flower Fair will be our biggest plant sale ever.

Photos taken with my Blackberry Storm

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blooming in My Garden

The Jack Frost brunnera has become a handsome plant. It is worth every penny that I paid for it.

There used to be daffodils there. Probably if I looked a little harder, I could find them. Luckily, they were free Thalia daffs. There are larger, more established clumps in the Purple Garden and in front of the shed. These are lunaria that have reseeded themselves despite my best efforts to collect all the seeds. The rosebush is Seven Sisters. Obviously, it likes this spot.

A note on daffodils: whereas tulips and hyacinths rarely last more than one year, daffodils have always done well for me, increasing in number every year. The exception seems to be pink daffodils. I have noticed that the pink daffodils that I planted in the Entry Garden fall 2006 have steadily decreased in number each year.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Saturdays in the Greenhouse

After an exhausting day ridding the greenhouse of vermin, Rutger took a snooze in the catnip.

Photo taken with my Blackberry Storm

Sunday, March 14, 2010

More Wild Weather

The forecast was for rain this weekend and I was looking forward to working in the greenhouse. I love working in the greenhouse when it rains. I love the warm humidity and growing plants. I love the sound of rain gently drumming on the roof and sides.

While the predictions were for heavy rain and possible flooding, I’m quite certain that there was no mention of gale force winds. Working in the greenhouse yesterday felt like being in a Hollywood blockbuster disaster movie. The wind howled. The plastic covering flapped. The supports bent. Water flooded in under the doors. And then the lights went out. Queue the dramatic music.

It was late afternoon and good time to go home. My usual 20 minute ride turned into a 45 minute odyssey as I desperately tried to find a road into Middlesex that wasn’t flooded. I finally ended up driving to Dunellen and then taking Rte 28 west into Middlesex. I live on that side of town and knew that it wouldn’t be flooded.

Then it was a quick dinner and shower and, you guessed it, off to work for my final nightshift. I gave myself an hour to get there knowing that Rte 22 regularly floods in the area of Scotch Plains. I managed to get as far as Watchung before being detoured off of 22. The traffic was heavy so I went the other way up the mountain to Rte 78.

Rte 78 has a posted speed limit of 65 mph. New Jersey drivers consider speed limits as minimum speeds, rather than maximum speeds, so you can imagine my surprise to find the traffic crawling along at 40 mph. The driving rain made visibility almost nil. I exited in Summit and inched my way back down the mountain through gushing streams of water and downed tree branches, arriving at my office in Westfield exactly 59 minutes after leaving my house.

Then it was hours of listening to the building groan in the wind while worrying about my basement. Water had begun to seep in as I was leaving. I have a sump pump, but if the water comes in too fast, it overwhelms the sump pump which then shuts down and I’m forced to bail until I can get ahead of it and get the sump pump working again. My concern was that I wouldn’t be home all night and if the sump pump shut down, my basement would flood. My furnace and hot water heater are elevated a few inches off the floor but much more rain than that was expected. Plus what was coming off the mountain.

For those of you who don’t live in New Jersey, Middlesex is located at the foot of the Watchung Mountains. Rain and melting snow drain straight down the mountain and into my basement. Hence my familiarity with sump pumps and bailing. And, no, I wasn’t told about this when I bought the house. In fact, there were people living in the basement when I bought it so how was I supposed to know that the basement regularly gets water in it?

Thanks to the time change, I left work an hour early. Which was negated by the hour it took me to get home. Rte 22 was still blocked, so it was back up to Rte 78 and then creep down the mountain through gushing streams of water and downed tree branches. I arrived home to the beautiful sound of the sump pump still doggedly working away.

Not much sleep today. I was up every two hours, checking on the basement. So far, so good. But I think it’s time to move. Thanks to global warming, there will be more and more severe storms. I’m tired of losing sleep and bailing out my basement.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Spring Has Sprung

The calendar may say it’s still winter, but my garden is started to burst into spring. These cheerful crocus greeted me this morning when I came home from work.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I came, I Saw, I Bought

I skipped my annual tradition this year of buying something at the NJ flower show that had nothing to do with gardening. I did this for two reasons. First, because I was eager to get home and watch the Olympics, I had very little time to spend in the vendor area. More importantly, I had fallen in love with the African violet with the variegated foliage and I knew that there is always a vendor at the Philly show who sells African violets.

A and I were too exhausted after touring the Philly show to tour the entire vendor area, so we confined ourselves to seeking out that African violet vendor and A’s favorite seed source, Landreth Seeds.

I am deeply ignorant when it comes to African violets and so had no idea that there were several kinds with variegated foliage. A helped me choose one. When it grows up, it will have white flowers with yellow around the center. So much prettier than the plain purple one I saw at the NJ flower show.

Friday, March 5, 2010

You Be The Judge

It appears that the same people who judged the NJ flower show, moved on to judge the Philly show. Let’s see if you can guess which of the following was awarded the coveted blue ribbon:

Entry #1

Entry #2

Entry #3

Entry #4

If you thought that Entry #2 was the first place winner, then you should consider a career in flower show judging.

Are you up for another round? Try these arrangements:

Entry #1


Entry #2

Entry #3

Entry #4

Number 4, of course. That was too easy.

But, seriously. A single spray of orchids? Heck, even I could do that. Just buy an orchid plant at Home Depot, spray paint some sticks from my yard and wow the judges at the flower show.

Easy peasy.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Philadelphia Flower Show

This post is my personal opinion only. It in no way reflects the views of Rutgers Gardens or any of its staff. I am not a spokesperson for Rutgers Gardens.

A and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Philadelphia Flower Show today. It was more spectacular than last year. How spectacular? I set a new personal record of 687 photos. Most trips, I average 300 – 400 photos.

Photos of the Day

I just love the light in that photo.

A and I noticed two trends this year: orchids and azaleas. Everywhere we looked, orchids and azaleas. I enjoyed the orchids. They have such a variety of shapes and colors.

The azaleas, on the other hand, got very old, very fast.

I continue to be fascinated by the fact that the display gardens are arranged around entire buildings.

You will note the azaleas.

There are some animals that look great made of flowers.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the elephant has a pedicure.

Some animals shouldn’t be made of flowers. Like lobsters:

As long as we are on the subject of things that should never, ever happen:

Tulips used as pond plants

Ikebana wall hangings

A pointed out this little anomaly.

The theme for the table settings was something about First Dates. She noticed that the flower arrangements are set on laptops. Which caused us to wonder who brings a laptop on a date? What are they doing, Tweeting the date to their friends? Updating their Facebook pages?

As long as we are wondering about stuff, any guesses as to how this tree was transported to the convention center?

I love the trunk but how do you move it?

I did see some really neat stuff.

Like this dish garden.

And these Birds of Paradise

I’ve never been able to have bird houses because the squirrels would chew them up.

Maybe I should try this?

My favorite dog park topiary:

Love the dachshund.

The frog was less successful

And this was just what I needed after a long, snowy winter:

Miles of daffodils.

You can see most of my photos (Flickr choked on about ten of them), the good, the bad and the blurry, on Flickr.

Tomorrow, we’ll play a couple of rounds of “You Be The Judge”.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Small Budget Gardener

I bought my first house 25 years ago. It was an old Victorian in dire need of renovation. The yard was in even worse shape. Previously a rental, the landlord had paved part of the backyard with gravel to create a parking lot. The rest of the yard was a jumble of vines including poison ivy. I was literally starting with nothing. I didn’t even own any garden tools.

Over the next ten years, I tamed the yard. It was a period of trial and error, finding the best tools for the job, finding plants and seeds, learning to compost and most importantly, finally learning to identify poison ivy to which I am horribly allergic. That experience shaped the frugal gardener that I am now.

I wish I had had this book when I bought that house. It would have saved me a lot of time, energy and especially money. Maureen Gilmer has written one of the best how-tos I have ever read. Page after page, I found myself nodding in agreement. Following her clear step by step instructions, anyone can create a wonderful garden with a minimal outlay of money.

There are so many things that I love about this book. She tells the reader what tools to buy, and more importantly, what tools not to buy. She demystifies composting. She makes clear that organic gardening is not just better for the environment but is actually cheaper than using commercial fertilizers. Best of all, she not only tells you what materials you need, she also tells you where to find them. She talks about yard art, drip irrigation, propagation, seed starting and cold frames, all using free or recycled materials.

I only have two small quibbles with the material. She devotes an entire chapter to online sources for tools, plants and seeds, all of which are reputable dealers. What she neglects to mention are the many seed swap sites, that are also well-known and reputable, where you can trade your excess seeds for the seeds you desire for the cost of postage.

I admire the amount of space she devotes to improving and maintaining the health of your soil but she doesn’t go into the no-till method which is thought to be even better for your soil. It also saves you the cost of buying or renting a rototiller.

These are only minor omissions. I agree with everything she says and have field tested many of her ideas myself. I would recommend this book to both newbie gardeners and more experienced gardeners who are looking for ways to save money.

Friday, February 19, 2010

NJ Flower & Garden Show

This post is my personal opinion only. It in no way reflects the views of Rutgers Gardens or any of its staff. I am not a spokesperson for Rutgers Gardens.

The flower show was not as disappointing this year as it was last year. Granted, there were still fewer display gardens than prior to the recession but the ones that were there were more elaborate than last year.

Water features were abundant. I loved this one:

Yes, I know, I cut the top off but don’t you just love the “greenhouse” behind it? It was full of plants, both inside and out.

My favorite fountain was this one:

There were lots of lions & tigers & bears, oh my! I mean, turtles, owls and frogs:

Ikebana continues to fascinate me despite my congenital inability to arrange flowers in an attractive manner. If it were up to me, I would have thrown these out because they were crooked:

Then it was on to the Garden Club exhibits. I saw some African violets that were new to me. I can’t make up my mind if I like this flower form or not:

I definitely like these variegated leaves:

Another photo of orchids which I love but would never try to grow:

And would you think of making this into a terrarium? I wouldn’t.

I found myself very attracted to the cacti and succulents. I can’t grow them at home. I always overwater them, killing them with kindness:

The judges and I had our usual disagreements. Let’s play “You Be The Judge”. Here are the four entries:

Entry #1

Entry #2

Entry #3

Entry #4

Would you have chosen Entry #3 as the winner? Is there any live plant material in it? How about flowers? This is a flower show, right?

Weirdly painted plant material seemed to be popular with the judges this year. Here’s another first place winner:

Looks like something out of a bad scifi movie, doesn’t it?

I have never understood two-part arrangements:

When I saw this, all I could think of was that the designer’s hose cart must have broken and this was her solution for attractively storing her garden hose over the winter:

Thank goodness for the kids’ arrangements. Isn’t this dragon fly amazing?

And how cute are these guys?

The judges and I did agree on one winner:

You can see all of my photos of the flower show on Flickr.