Monthly Archives: October 2010

Dutch Wave Breaks Over New Amsterdam

At the Battery, Piet Oudolf has written another glorious fall chapter to the story of the renaissance of urban gardens in New York City.
Here at the Battery Bosque, the emphatic sweep of plants is at times even more dramatic than the High Line, in deeper soil with broader planting beds.
With just these two gardens and now the new Goldman Sachs headquarters, the Dutch Wave gains force and continues to break over New Amsterdam.

Photobucket

I had seen the prototype of the Statue of Liberty in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris years ago, but this was my first glimpse of this wonderful gift from France on her island home.

These World War II memorial pylons, rising out of a mist of Anemone japonica and grasses, align on an axis that leads the eye to Liberty Island.

Photobucket

Surrounded by grasses bending and tossing in the winds blowing off the Hudson as it meets New York Harbor, the Battery is a splendid backdrop for ferry gazing.

Photobucket

You will not find municipal plantings of the dwarf chrysanthemums seen elsewhere throughout the city in fall, but plants of great line, body, and character sheltered under plane trees.

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Photobucket

Weedy, Weedier, Weediest Mullein

A white seedling of Verbascum phoeniceum is enthusiastically blooming away after the October surprise of early rains.

Photobucket

It held on to its basal leaves in the sere gravel garden all summer in hope of some form of irrigation. Tough little mullein.
I’m never very excited to find self-sown seedlings of this particular verbascum of the dark green, nothing-special leaf.
But seeing it bloom now in late October makes me very glad to have left it in place. Tough, pretty little mullein.

More Echeverias

This mossed basket of various succulents failed to really gel over summer, no doubt from a bad habit of sticking in a hodge-podge of succulents that break off from plants in the garden and need a home to root in. So when I spotted these echeverias at a nursery last week, I reworked the basket to showcase these stunners.

Echeveria elegans giving off suitable chrysanthemum vibes for fall (without the dumpiness of show-bench mums, I might add). I should have been more careful in handling this one judging by the blemishing to the powdery veneer of its leaves.

Photobucket

Echeveria pulidonis

Photobucket

It was also the first time I’ve seen Senecio anteuphorbium for sale locally, which Dustin Gimbel identified when I blogged about this senecio’s inclusion in a local living fence. It reminds me of a spineless ocotillo.

Photobucket

The High Line in Autumn



Photobucket

Crocus sativus, the saffron crocus


I first became intrigued by the High Line when it was in its derelict state. I’d read a New York Times piece about an abandoned elevated railway in Manhattan, its purpose as a rail line to the meatpacking warehouses long forgotten by the citizens who walked oblivious beneath its struts and girders. That the trestled railway had been designed to run directly into the maws of cavernous warehouses, relieving the city streets of the congestion and danger of rail traffic, only added to its allure. Of course, one of America’s greatest cities would invent such an elegant solution! Closed down since 1980 as highway trucking replaced rail, accessible now only to the birds and the wind, soil and grit sifted down amongst the tracks to support an improbable habitat for native plants and nesting grounds for agile urban creatures of all legs except the two-legged. When my oldest son first visited New York, I encouraged him to trespass, hop fences, whatever it took to visit the abandoned railway and bring back photos, which no doubt makes me a very bad mother blessed with a very good (and agile) son, because he complied.

I kept up with news that the railway was being considered for preservation and that a park was contemplated but lost track of the story. And then sometime last year I was presented with the challenge of absorbing the astonishing fact that not only was the High Line saved, but the park was being planted by Piet Oudolf. In recent memory, when has something as thrillingly, ecstatically wonderful happened in furtherance of the creation of a public space?


Photobucket

Continue reading The High Line in Autumn

While You Were Away

I swing between elation and despondency upon returning from an absence to be confronted by a garden that obviously carried on beautifully while I was away.

Bravo, everyone is alive and thriving vs. sniffle, I am clearly superfluous.

As usual, I overstate the case just a bit. I was away for only a week, and rain arrived while I was gone. Never a threat of frost. A garden that couldn’t survive for a week in such cushy conditions is less a garden and more an intensive care unit for plants.

But still, it is surprising how quickly my tenuous ownership of the garden cedes to other creatures, like this guy cheekily casting his web now in high-traffic areas.

Photobucket

And what on earth was making those strange snuffling sounds in the creeping fig-covered wall?
No doubt animals who had taken up residence in my absence and were now beating a hasty retreat upon my return. Yes, that must be what it is.
A red-tailed hawk landed in one of the garden’s trees this morning. Never has this happened before. Evie the white cat must have been under raptor surveillance while I was away.

Unseen tempests caused cannas to crash and Solanum pyracantha and golden tansy to cling to each other for support.

Photobucket

Echium gentianoides ‘Tajinaste’ opened its first flowers with no one to pay the slightest attention to this momentous event.

Photobucket

(If a flower blooms in a garden, and no one is around to see it, is it still a garden? Hmmm…)

Photobucket

The “end of times” rain we had, as the son who remained behind for classes described it, scrubbed the agaves clean of the accumulated grit of summer.
Velvety Agave attenuata ‘Kara’s Stripes’ (who I’ve mistakenly referred to on the blog as’ Kara’s Choice.’)

Photobucket

The medio-picta agave was due for some rainy spa treatment after a recent pruning for work on the house.

Photobucket

‘Yellow Gem’ anigozanthos hoisted five flower scapes.

Photobucket

Which prompted me to appreciate the inadvertently brilliant choice of planting the orangey-gold Libertia peregrinans at the kangaroo paws’ base.
(Which prompted me to race to the nursery and buy another pot of libertia to emphasize this newly intentional pairing.)

Photobucket

The oddity from the pea family, Amicia zygomeris, planted a couple weeks ago, put on lots of fresh growth.

Photobucket

The ‘Campfire’ crassula burst into bloom, but what happened to the smoldering leaves?

Photobucket

The trailing crassula, C. sarmentosa, suspended from a height of 4 feet, is nearly touching the ground.

Photobucket

Photobucket

So nice of you all to carry on without me. (But how dare you!)

Sky’s The Limit

It was recently calculated (but not by me) that my little back garden is all of 882 square feet.
After 20 years of gardening here, methodically covering every inch of that 882 square feet, with moisture and light now robbed by mature trees and shrubs, this past year I became intensely interested in vines. It is a gardening cliche, but where square footage imposes horizontal limits, think vertical.

Photobucket

In addition to the above Dicentra scandens for shade, smaller passifloras are being trialed for sun, like this P. sanguinolenta.

Photobucket

Another group of vines catching my attention are the asarinas, in white, purple, pink.

Photobucket

Cobaea scandens, a shameless tart for the camera, like the asarina is theoretically perennial in my zone 10, and I just noted fresh buds forming in the wake of a recent downpour while I was away for a week in NYC. I really hate missing a good downpour. The bicoastal tradeoff was, while it poured at home in Southern California, NYC stayed dry and comfortable, perfect walking weather.

Photobucket

Thunbergias are also snagging my ever wandering attention. I have no photos of the one bloom of a new peachy Thunbergia alata I planted this summer, but I mention them here as an example of a plant that I must have somehow suppressed inquiry into way back, at a time when I was imprudently skipping over anything blooming in orangey/golden yellow. The longer I garden, the more I value the flexibility to recognize the worth of the plants that want to grow where I live, whatever their color. Thunbergia is just such a vine, so I’m planning to include lots more. (For those with an aversion to strident yellows and oranges, your time has come, with new colors appearing every year in peachier tones.) Ducking in for a haircut just before leaving town, I noted the salon’s thunbergia vines in large concrete planters were still blooming lustily, a nonstop, year-round performance of egg yolk-yellow flowers, with only haphazard care from one of the stylists. With color prejudices cast aside, thunbergia offers up some thrilling vines, including the tropical T. mysorensis.

Along with cobaea, thunbergia, and asarina are other valuable vines, annual in zones colder than mine, like Mina lobata and Dolichos lablab of the amazing purple pods and equally amazing name, like a character out of Doctor Dolittle, right alongside Gub-Gub, Dab-Dab, Chee-Chee, and Too-Too (pig, duck, monkey, owl, respectively).

Photobucket

No luck at all the past couple summers with Eccremocarpus scaber, which flourishes in Northern California, as does Rhodochiton atrosanguineum, which drapes and arranges its blossoms of purple parasols in the most enchanting configurations. Manettia cordifolia arrived in the fall order (from Plant Delights), along with a golden jasmine. Next summer, for pole beans, it will be ‘Trionfo Violetto.’ I may even bring back another Antigonon leptosus, the coral vine I grew years ago. No more sappy dreams of clematis though. Yes, they can be grown in zone 10, but not by me, except for my little winter-flowering C. cirrhosa. And vines don’t necessarily have to climb. They are just as happy meandering along the ground, infiltrating horizontally, or spilling out of pots, where the little firecracker vine, manettia, was planted a few weeks ago.

Photobucket

Lastly, the timeless grape, Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’ has been with me a long time, its curtains a brilliant backdrop for other vines and pots of summer tropicals.

Photobucket

Salvia ‘Limelight’

I certainly don’t have a garden large enough to include a 6×6 fall-bloomer like Salvia mexicana ‘Limelight.’

Photobucket

And I don’t think there’s an affordable pot in existence roomy enough for a mature plant, except maybe the humble trash can. (On my budget anyway.)

The salvia flowers well in morning sun, filtered sun the rest of the day. During winter, full sun is tolerated, which this salvia receives positioned under a deciduous cotinus. As the seasonal light changes, it’s a simple matter of grabbing a handle and shoving it around to find the best light. Pruning it back hard in spring is also a good time for root pruning, basically running a knife a couple inches from the outer edge of the root ball, in situ in the trash can, removing the old roots, and adding fresh potting soil or even pure compost. This salvia loves rich soil. Eventually, it will be best to take cuttings and start the whole process over, since these big salvias get excessively woody with age.

I admit to feeling occasionally silly employing such goofy tricks, especially during spring when there’s this big, hulking trash can full of a dormant plant to maneuver around. That feeling of foolishness evaporates as soon as this salvia finally hits its stride, when everything else is winding down. The leaves are nothing special, but they are a rich green and not bothered or chewed on by any pests, so it does contribute a luxuriant leafiness even when not in bloom. Once in full bloom, you can’t stand in admiration of this salvia for longer than a minute before a hummingbird darts in, causing the branches to bob and sway by its diminutive turbulence.

Photobucket

Other salvias reputed to be good fall/winter bloomers for Southern California include Salvia iodantha, wagneriana, madrensis, macrophylla, karwinskii, all which make very large plants. Obviously prime candidates for trash can culture.

If trash can chic is not to your taste, careful placement of summer pots offers possibilities for concealment. I’m thinking my brugmansia’s next home may be in the trash.

Nerinomania

I went on a treasure hunt for a half-forgotten bulb in the front gravel garden in early fall, Crinum ‘Sangria.’ I was certain it was in there somewhere.

Photobucket

That’s when I noticed the new green tips of the nerines piercing through a sea of gravel. Spring is full of such miracles. When they happen in fall, it makes one gasp out loud.

Photobucket

Yet the crinum remained elusive. Brushing lyme grass out of the way, sure enough, the crinum was buried under Pelargonium sideroides and withering away from lack of light.
(If I could remember where I subsequetly planted the crinum bulb, I’d have a photo of that instead of the pelargonium.)

Photobucket

Which has always been the problem for me with the “other bulbs,” these late summer-blooming bulbs of the amaryllidaceae family: Remembering where I’ve planted them. These bulbs, including crosses like amerines and amarcrinums, were born to thrive in my zone 10, winter wet/summer dry gravel garden, but I’ve been too slow or stubborn, or both, to catch on. For starters, any plant that hates to be disturbed is going to have a difficult time with the incessant renovations taking place in my garden. Pot culture is required by gardeners in zones too cold to grow these bulb outdoors, and that method may provide a solution for me as well, as counter-intuitive as it may seem. (Plus I hate having to mess with lots of little pots.) In my defense, I have never seen these bulbs grown locally, or even offered by local nurseries for sale.

To finish the poor crinum saga, I pulled it out roughly by its pseudostem. With this kind of treatment for a bulb famous for resenting disturbance, I can kiss off seeing a flower from that bulb for, oh, five years. Maybe forever. Sigh. I didn’t really expect it to flower anyway. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t commit, really commit body and soul to a plant, it just will not grow for you. And making a commitment to properly site these summer-blooming members of the amaryllidaceae family where they won’t be swamped by other plants has always been my weakness.

I’m fairly sure I moved the crinum somewhere in the vicinity of the nerines that Matt Mattus of Growing With Plants mailed to me last year in a remarkable gesture of horticultural generosity, in a sunny spot as close to no-disturbance as I can muster. I’m wildly excited about the prospect of seeing Matt’s nerines bloom. The wonders he produces in a Massachusetts greenhouse put me to shame here in mild zone 10.

Upon discovering them in growth in late August, I had carefully marked the site of the dozen or so Nerine sarniensis with blue glass so I didn’t inadvertently stomp on them and began to water them.
(Providing a dry spot for such bulbs has never been an issue. This area was dead dry.)

Photobucket

On September 27, the flower bud forms, backlit by blazing morning sun, another day over 100 degrees.

Photobucket

And today, the flower bud just about to open:

Photobucket

And wouldn’t you know, I’m leaving town for a week on Wednesday. Hurry up, nerine!

In the meantime, here’s a 2006 post by Matt on his nerines, as well as a recent post on nerines from The Exotic Garden Blog.

Warm thanks again to Matt for the gift of nerines. I definitely won’t forget them.

Dishing with the Girlfriends

You didn’t really expect we’d be discussing the latest Manolo Blahniks, did you?

Below is the transcribed conversation of a group of cyber garden pals on the topic of various approaches to overwintering tropicals. All but me garden in a zone colder than 7.

Deanne: So who stores all their Colocasias/alocasias dormant and who keeps them in the green? Curious minds and all that. I lost my ‘Hilo Beauty’ the last time I tried to keep it dormant over winter so think I’ll keep that one under lights this year. What about ‘Mojito’? That one looks like it might make it dormant???? Any thoughts?

Sue: The best success I’ve had is with them semi dormant — in the dark but slightly growing. I’ve also had a couple make it dormant, but that was just luck, I think. The heavier the leaf, the easier they seem to be to winter over.

Eden: I’ve always kept mine under lights and they’ve done great. This year I have too many that are too large to do that. I’m going the semi-dormant route with those. I’ve been doing a bit of research, and that seems to be the way most gardeners go with them. Doesn’t seem that very many have luck with letting them go totally dormant.

Drema: I keep mine under lights. Sometimes they get scraggly but perk up fairly quickly in the spring. I have had the ‘Hilo Beauty’ for three years, and it is under lights in the far corner, not really direct light. It does fade like the caladiums, then shows back up after being outside a while. I think I am going to be more diligent this year to see if I can keep it going. I am a little haphazard...

Saucydog: I overwintered ‘Illustris’ in its pot. It didn’t break dormancy until late June, though. Somewhere I saw a good article on the subject. I’ll see if I can find it.

This is the article I had bookmarked, but I’ll bet you’ve already seen this.

Deanne: Thanks for the input, everyone, and Saucy for that link. I was just curious as to whether you all kept them growing or tried dormant. I’ve had great luck with the big, green C. esculenta going totally dormant but none of the others. I’ve saved my ‘Illustris’ and ‘Yellow Splash’ by keeping them under the lights with only one or two leaves on them. I keep pruning the leaves off as they make new ones because these plants seem to be magnets for spider mites. Some sites say they can be dormant, but I talked with Steve Silk at M&L’s garden tour, and he said he keeps them dormant but in their original pots, not digging them out. I tried that with ‘Black Magic’ a couple years back and lost it, so I’m thinking I’m going to go the lights route and see how it goes. Sue, I’m interested to see how you winter over that Portadora….

Clemmie: I’m avid with interest but going to let you experts all figure it out — will be interesting to take a survey in the spring to see how they all do.

Saucydog: I’ve got an Alocasia “Borneo Giant” (at least that’s what I can tell from googling – I bought it from Mahoney’s without a tag) and I’m going to try to overwinter it as a houseplant – it’s 6 ft. tall! I’m thinking cool bright light.

That’s how I overwintered ‘Illustris,’ Deanne: kept it in it’s pot and just put it in the cool dark basement. When Nick carried all the pots out into the sunlight, I didn’t have a chance to get to that pot right away and I was surprised at what popped up.

Deanne: Holy cow, Saucy, that plant is giganticenormous! I found this on google when I wanted to see what it looked like:

“My experience of overwintering is that they are best kept going, as if they go dormant are more difficult to restart than Colocasia and take a full season to regain their original sized leaves. Keep above dormancy temperature at 5C plus keeping on the dry side. If the leaves show signs of wilting, water from the bottom, standing the pot in a shallow dish of water for a minute or two.”

Saucydog: It’s a pretty fabulous plant, competing for the banana’s spotlight. I think I read that same information, so I’m thinking I’ll try it in a sunny window in my bedroom (which is cooler than the rest of the house).

Deanne: So do you all cut off all the leaves even if you are going to keep them growing?

Saucydog: I’m going to do what I did with the smaller varieties of bananas – remove a few leaves, but other than that, just grow it as a houseplant. I had great success with M. ‘Cavendish’ and M. ‘Siam Ruby.’ It seems to me they have the same habits, so I’m going to try!

AGO/Denise: Can’t add much to this discussion among you experts at overwintering but will say that I let my ‘Lime Zinger’ xanthosoma go dormant, tip the pots on its side, no water all winter, but outdoors in shade. I don’t see this tropical much anymore — maybe it’s trouble to overwinter? It shared a pot with ‘Illustris,’ which has disappeared — just doesn’t return with the same treatment given the LZ. Wondering what to do now for my ‘Mojito’ too…

Deanne: Saucy, thanks for the input. Denise, I’m so jealous of your Lime Zinger! For some reason, I’ve killed one of that and two X. Chartreuse Giant. I think the Xanthosomas don’t want as much water as the Colocasias. I’ve wanted ‘Lime Zinger’ since I saw these stupendous specimens at Longwood Gardens several years ago. They were huge and gorgeous. Sue has one of her profile pics taken under one of those plants.

M: E. sent me some ‘Illustris’ a number of years ago. I’m pretty sure she let them go dormant in moist hamster bedding. I’ve kept them going under lights, but this year I have a couple of huge specimens that I potted up smaller pieces of and put the largest piece, dirt and all, in a trash bag with moist hamster bedding. Who knows what will happen? But it was worth a try.

Drema: I stored ‘Lime Zinger’ both ways, and the one that was kept in its pot under lights and watered regularly bounced back much faster than the one in the corner with minimal light and water. I still don’t have one that is as big as the ones we saw at Longwood, but I am not as diligent about water, food, etc. And I think they sort of grow to fit the size of pot they are in. I have noticed the same cultivar side by side grows bigger in bigger pots.

Deanne: Drema, I’m jealous you’ve kept ‘Lime Zinger’ alive! I’ve killed it and am going to give up on the Xanthosomas.

M: Looking forward to hearing the results of what you’re doing…