Saturday, December 31, 2005
Winter Re-Runs: The Garden on 7/30/04
The Good Customer
What is it about mailorder nurseries? I'm not aware of any other business sector that is so testy about the behavior of its customers, and spends so much on ink, complaining about it in their catalogues. Either the people who sell plants through the mail are by nature a cranky and inflexible bunch, or gardeners are an ungrateful and demanding lot. Two of my favorite catalogues, Plant Delights and Arrowhead Alpines, always have extensive essays instructing us on how to be a good customer. I've never thought I needed anybody telling me how to behave when buying something, but after this last spring, I'm not so sure. I ordered quite a bunch of plants from Arrowhead, and as we had late snow that spring, it took a while to get them into the garden; when I finally got around to planting them, I found about ten plants missing, and e-mailed the nursery to complain about it. The next day it dawned on me that all the missing plants were dormant tubers, as opposed to potted plants, and I remembered I had put the former in a cold garage closet, rather than in the greenhouse, and had just forgot about them. Now, Bob, the owner of Arrowhead has the reputation of being the soup nazi of the mailorder nursery world, so it was with some trepidation that I called him to explain my mistake, but he was quite nice about it (though on hearing my name, he did say "Oh, you're the guy with the terrible handwriting" hey... I'm a retired doctor). Then this summer I e-mailed Barry Yinger of Asiatica, complaining that my Tricyrtis flava had bloomed purple instead of yellow, obviously being the wrong plant. He was very gracious, promising to make it good with my next order. A few days later, the tricyrtis next to that plant started putting out yellow buds, and I realized I'd just switched the labels. It will be interesting to see if anyone highlights their instructions to the customer in the catalogues they send me this next spring.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Winter Re-Runs: The Garden on 7/9/04
Considering that gardening is one of the most popular hobbies in the country, it is odd that there are so few television shows catering to gardeners. HGTV used to have a couple of very nice garden shows, which after being re-run a couple of hundred times, disappeared altogether, to be replaced by yet more home remodeling shows... I call this channel "HTV", now. I would imagine that it's a question of ad dollars, in that much of the gardening industry is still dominated by smaller businesses, which do not have national advertising budgets. The one show I miss most of all, though was called, I think, Garden Architect, and had three sections each week; the first was the garden architect host (Michael?) touring a garden, the third part was a gorgeous Australian gal making birdhouses and such, wielding a saw and paint while in full makeup, and a silk blouse. The middle segment was my favorite, though: a fellow who would each week stop by somebody's urban home to solve their outdoor decorating problem; usually a dreary little backyard with a view of a garage, or perhaps just a deck overlooking an alley. He obviously had a VERY modest budget for his segment, as his creations were equally modest, bordering on cheesy, and quite similar from week to week. If there was a deck or patio, you could count on him first laying down a square of some type of cheap carpeting (which with the first rain would undoubtedly become permanently wet and mildewed). His next addition was always some inexpensive plastic furniture, then the finishing touch: a couple of old pieces of wrought iron, like a piece of fencing and a couple of iron trivets, which he would nail to the side of the garage, with maybe an old, rusting birdcage hanging from a tree. At the end of his segment, he would show the client around his creation, and here's the part I always watched the show for: with the plastic furniture and whatnots that he placed down, there were naturally certain paths that you would have to take to walk by or through them, and in his presentation, these became grand walkways; it was as if an English Lord was showing you through his 500 acre formal garden. The host would dramatically cast his hand towards the plastic chair and table he had just put down, and say "and as you walk down here to the shady area, you can either walk THIS way, or you can take the longer route and come around THIS way, to go out to the main yard" (meaning you could walk to the left or the right of the plastic chair to get to the garbage can in the alley). God, I loved that show. Once in a while, when I'm showing somebody around our garden, I'll point to a bush or something and say "and here at the rose bush, you can either walk THIS way, or you can take the more scenic route and walk around THIS way", but I know that nobody ever knows why I think that's funny.
Monday, December 26, 2005
Winter Re-Runs: The Garden On 5/27/04
Sunday, December 25, 2005
Winter Re-Runs: The Garden On 5/23/04
Saturday, December 24, 2005
Merry Christmas (or is it Happy Holidays) to everyone. My 96 year old aunt is absolutely sharp as a tack, but I've decided her eyesight may be failing a bit; she wrote back to us that she really enjoyed our Christmas card this year, but couldn't figure out HOW we got the kittens to hold still, with those little Santa hats on, and she showed it to three other people in her nursing home, and they couldn't figure it out either!
Winter Re-Runs: The Garden On 5/`11/04
Merry Bells and Fairy Bells
I'm not sure why, in the middle of winter, that I've been thinking today about the woodland lilies; a group of six genera of plants that are in the lily family: Disporum, Smilacina, Streptopus, Polygonatum, Uvularia, and Disporopsis. I don't grow Streptopus, though S. rosea, or rosy twisted stalk is native to Iowa, and I remember seeing it in the woods as a child. I do have examples of all of the other groups growing here in the garden, and they can be sort of confusing: Disporum has five species in this country, and another thirty five or so in Asia, and are often called merry bells or fairy bells (though the two species in the S.E. of this country are often called mandarins). Uvularia is native just to this country, and look for all the world like Disporums (but they have capsules instead of berries for seed). Iowa has two native Uvularias, which we usually call merry or fairy bells, since we have no Disporums... then there are the Solomon's seals (Polygonatum), the false Solomon's seals (Smilacina), and what are sometimes called evergreen Solomon's seals (Disporopsis). Well, anyway, someday I'm going to write up a real report on all of these, with pictures of all of them we grow... in the meantime you might want to consider growing Disporum flavens (also called flavum, or just for real confusion, in older literature, uniflora). This is also called Korean bellflower or fairy bells. It is usually thought to be the best of the genus, being fairly tall, to two feet, and very healthy and vigorous looking. It is one of those plants (like Jack in the pulpit) that sort of unfolds as it arises in the spring, so it always is interesting to watch; when I first grew it, I thought it had been damaged by frost, as it appeared all crooked and bent over in early April, but then it unfolded and rose up, and bloomed, with its pretty, light lemon yellow flowers.