Archives for July 2011

Sunday Opinion: Participation

In my opinion, participation should be a recognized Olympic sport.  Just like you, I have watched the gymnasts push strength and flexibility to astonishing limits.  The skiers hurtling down steep slopes that would scare me half to death-how do they do this?  The swimmers gliding through water as if it were air, at record breaking speeds.   The ski jumpers,  high jumpers and long distance runners-could I in any way be related to them?  The luge competition-how does anyone come to love to hurtle down a winding path of ice at incredibly high speeds?   

Should the Olympic commitee decide to revise their list of sports, I might be game to try out in a few areas.  The “water until you are blue in the face” contest, I believe I could qualify for the American team. The “plant,  maintain,  mourn, and replant”  sporting event is right up my alley. The endurance digging event-I would have a sporting chance to finish in the top 20.   I cannot believe I would not be a contender for a gold medal in hand wringing.  I might even consider the pruning competition.  The world series of annual planting, which would of course take place over 4 months-this I might try out for.  My trying out for any of the aforementioned sports implies that I have a big dose of the persistence gene.  Those people who run the 60 second dash, and the marathoners or triathalon people could not begin to compete with me over the long run.

I participate in my garden.  When I am not participating-I see all the signs.  Most things that languish or fail-I am to blame.  I am too tired to water.  I do not take the time to figure out what isn’t working.  I let this or that slide until I have a problem right up close and undeniable.   But in general, I am really persistent.  I still love planting and growing-I have been actively involved in this pursuit for 36 years. 

 But all of my persistence with a landscape project involving a client does not amount to a hill of beans, unless I have a partner/client who participates.   It is not their job to know how to participate.  It is my job to make an outline, coach, and communicate.  But I know my limits.  I cannot force anyone to participate-nor would I want to.  There are those who have no inclination to participate; this I admit, reluctantly.  Nurturing a landscape relationship that is about to catch fire is much different than mounting an eloquent defence.  I hate defending.  I like connecting about a goal to be determined.

 The gene for participation has to be there.

This participation gene is a big and easily recognizable gene.  I saw it all over the place, all day long, at the garden tour last Sunday.  Who else would pay so much for a ticket to tour in 93 degree heat, but those people who readily participate in gardening?  World class participators-each and every one of them.  I saw so many sweating faces, taking pictures, asking questions, and saying thank you-the melt down conditions aside.  We were all participating.  Participation in gardening takes many forms.  There are those hands on gardeners.  There are those gardeners who are older, who hire help to keep a landscape and garden in good condition.  There are those young people with an idea, and not much experience or disposable income.  There are those people from every walk of life and persuasion for whom the beauty of a garden constitutes a way of life. 

All and every one of these people who participate in the making and maintaining of a landscape and garden enrich my life.  It goes without saying, in my group,  that the participation in a garden takes the idea of sport to quite another level. The natural world is our world.  It enchants, challenges, and astonishes.  The natural world is a real place to live.  Your participation will preserve our planet, and enrich your life.  What could be better?  I would invite you to participate, with what ever means you might have available.

At A Glance: A Good Day For Photographs


Had I But Four Square Feet…

Alice Harding, whose book “The Peony” is a classic on the subject of growing peonies once remarked, “Had I but four square feet of ground at my disposal, I would plant a peony in the centre, and proceed to worship.”  My sentiments exactly.  But there are other plants that might make muster in my four square feet.  Most certainly nicotiana would be high on my list.  My three foot square Tuscan box is full of them at this moment, and they are looking good.   Henry Mitchell describes peonies as “that rare combination of fluff and majesty”-nicotiana could not be further from that description.  

The flowers are utterly simple.  A long slender tube fans out at the end into 5 distinctly scalloped lobes.  They look back at me with that guiless and frank signature look.  The nod in the breeze.  Can you tell I really like them?  There are lots of species, hybrids and cultivars; I like them all.  Nicotiana sylvestris grows better than 6 feet tall, always needs staking, and attracts every aphid in the neighborhood-so I rarely grow that. The diminuitive nicotiana langsdorfii is a charmer.  

Perfume purple and Perfume white are lovely.  They seem to maintain that same graceful spacing along the flowering stems as the species nocotiana alata.  Shorter nicotiana, such as the Avalon series, have densely bunched flower heads that lack grace to my eye.   

By far and away, my favorites are nicotiana alata lime, and nicotiana mutabilis.  I like them even better, grown in a mix.  Nicotiana mutabilis grows tall, and also needs staking, but it is worth the trouble.  Hundred of white, pink, and rose pink flowers grow on the same plant.  It is never better for me than it is in September; it will put on incredible growth in the fall.  The tiny flowers are always fluttering over something. 

They are not fond of really hot weather, so I have no idea what will become of this planting. Those that talk weather are saying it will be really hot here for another month.  You wouldn’t think this giant pot would dry out very often, but it is a rare hot day that I do not have to soak the corners.  Do I water parts of container plantings-absolutely.  I did soak it thoroughly this morning, knowing there was a possibility our temperature would hit 100 degrees today.  So I had time to take a long look.    

What else am I growing here?  Pink mandevillea, white angelonia, Persian Queen geranium, white mini petunias, and white variegated trailing plectranthus. I have an event going on here-a nicotiana fest.

Orangerie Boxes

Should I be in the mood for some lemons, limes or oranges, there’s a grocery store nearby that has them available year round.  Not so, in 15th century France.  Once citrus made an appearance in France, the only way to make them regularly and reasonably available was to grow the trees.  Between 1684 and 1686, an orangery was built at the palace at Versailles.  An orangery is a building which houses citrus trees during the winter months.  There are over 1000 citrus trees grown in wood boxes at Versailles; many of them are orange trees-thus the origin of the word “orangerie”.  The box pictured above is of Belgian manufacture, the last of a series we had at the shop.  This client needed 7, so they would need to be made up.  

I call any large box big enough to hold a tree an orangerie box.  I was indeed delighted to get a request for 7 custom made orangerie boxes that will actually be used to grow lemon trees.  Buck was happy to oblige.  He built them out of white oak, a common material for garden benches and ornament.  The finished boxes would be painted white. 

They would be lined with sheet metal liners; this keeps the water in the soil away from constant contact with the interior wood surface.  Oak is an incredible durable wood in the landscape.  Oak log rounds buried in the ground for use as stepping stones will last many years.  The liners will add even more years to the life of the boxes. 

Buck designed and made a jig that would hold the bevelled boards for a pair of panels.  Thin strips of wood used as spacers kept the vertical boards exactly the correct distance apart.  This space between the boards allows the box to breath, and the wood dry out readily.   

Buck tells me that the spaces between the boards are not equal.  They range from 1/16th of an inch to 3/16th of an inch.  I am taking his word for this, as I cannot spot this by eye.  Why would he do this?  It enabled him to build the box to an exact outside dimension, while keeping all of the vertical pieces of wood the same width.  His manner of construction is incredibly precise.    

Once the individual panels were finished, he was ready to assemble the boxes.  At 30″ by 30″ by 31″ tall, these boxes are very heavy. 

The finished boxes have steel bands bolted to each panel; this will keep the oak from warping.  I rather like them just how they look here, but my client has another idea. 

I am hoping I get a picture of what they look like with lemon trees in them.  I imagine they will provide very good homes for those trees.   

And not just good homes-these will provide very handsome homes.