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Saturday, May 03, 2008

Shopping Spree!

On Friday my friend Kim and I went to our favorite nursery. We lost total track of the time, I'm guessing it was a few hours that we rambled about deciding on which new lovelies to buy.

One of the first things on my wish list were variegated Iris. Obviously other people had this on their list too because there were only three pots left, I took two and Kim got the last one.

When we got to the Sedum section I picked up one pot after another and announced "already got it". Kim is a good friend, I don't think she rolled her eyes once. It appeared I had every one already until I came to this 'Diamond Edge'. I can't say it totally wowed me but come on, I already had every other variety :-)

Kim must have wanted me to get this sweet little Pulmonaria because she kept pointing out how darling it looked. Since Kim has a new garden that is almost all full sun, she couldn't get it for herself. I took the hint and got it and I'm so happy I did!

This Aruncus didn't have a tag but it didn't stop me. I have many clumps of the dwarf Aruncus athusifolious and it's such a wonderful plant. How could I pass up a chance to try another variety. The sign at the nursery said it will grow 5 feet tall, how cool is that!

Amsonia 'Blue Ice' jumped in my cart when I wasn't looking. I've been growing Amsonia ciliata for a number of years and can't say I love it but this baby still wanted a chance to change my mind.

Campanula persicifolia 'La Belle' also called me over. I haven't had too much luck with many Campanulas here, I think it might be our acidic soil but the peach leaved varieties do well and this pot was just chock full.

Astrantia 'Snow Star' was brazen enough to bring a twin along, two pots came home with me. I don't know what it is about the Astrantias, I've been growing them for years and they've never gotten any larger but I keep trying and trying with them.

Symphytum, yes, no groans please. This variety didn't have a tag, it was low growing and had pink buds with white blooms. There is a sign with the name at the nursery, at least I have a reason to have to go back again :-)

Two new Epimediums for me (Kim got them too)! 'Orange Queen' was just too fantastic with orange blooms and how could we possible turn up a chance to grow 'Shrimp Girl'. After looking at the size of these plants and seeing how much they were I decided to change the price of my jumbo pots to $7.

Oh how hard it is to walk past the hardy Geranium section. I could take one of each even if I already had it in the garden. There were so many to choose from but we both couldn't say no to Geranium sanguinium 'Tiny Monster', Geranium 'Philippe Vapelle' (had this one once before but didn't give it enough sun), and Geranium 'Brookside'.

The Hosta section is like the Sedum section, I can walk the whole row and say "got that one" but I came across a new arrival of 'Abiqua Drinking Gourd' which I had lost the first year I was growing Hosta. Hooray!

Finally, as you can see in this photo I definitely don't have enough Sempervivum yet so I bought four more varieties. I'll save those photos for another post. I thought I was very restrained because they had so many new varieties and I really wanted them all.

Ok, now it's time for bed. Every muscle in my body aches. Today I potted up at least 100 pots and tomorrow is my last chance to pot up the last 100. A few new gardening friends are supposed to come over and help. I'm so happy, hope you all don't mind learning how to pot up Daylilies because that's what's on the planning board.

For the rest of this week the posts will be geared to the Plant Sale we're having on May 10th. Bear with me, I'll be back to my usual garden craze after Mother's Day.


Friday, May 02, 2008

What's better than a rototiller?


Digging in the compost heap again?

What could possibly make you think I was digging in the compost heap?

Nope, not me, I was sitting here nice and calm all afternoon.

Woofs and Licks,

Calie the wonder-doodle

My package arrived!

My package arrived! I was so excited I met the UPS man half way down the driveway.

It's been many years since I've ordered perennials (other than daylilies) by mail. We've had a wealth of nurseries here on Long Island and I rarely had to go far to find what I wanted. In the past few years though a number of those locations have closed down. Also, I have been lusting over a particular perennial for a few years and just could not locate it.

My shipment came from Digging Dog Nursery in California. I had chosen the ship date so I knew exactly when these plants would come. Inside the box was a nice letter telling me what to do when my plants arrived. I actually stopped and took the time to read the letter.

Time to pull back the stuffing and here they are, the stars of my order, Lysimachia ephemerum. I have only seen photos of this plant and read a number of accounts that it is a "clumper" not a "runner" like other Lysimachias. Only time will tell. If you want to see why it excited me so much you'll have to go to google images and type in Lysimachia ephemerum. I wanted this plant so badly that I ordered two of them and they looked just beautiful already, big fat, healthy plants.

The rest of the plants were more "fillers" for me. They are:
Campanula latiloba 'Alba
Centaurea Macrocephala
Uvularia grandiflora
Verbascum chaixii 'Wedding Candles'
Verbena hastata
Lychnis viscaria 'Schnee'
Salvia Sclarea 'Vatican White'

Other than the Lychnis, these plants were smaller than I was expecting but I'm really not familiar with them so it just might be what they look like in pots.

Upon unpacking them I gave them a good soaking as per the instructions. Then, since it was already early evening, I put them in a large pot for protection and brought them into my breezeway. Today I will plant a the larger ones directly into the garden. The smaller plants will go in pots with potting soil and given a little TLC. They just might need some fresh air and sunshine for a week or two.

In a little while I will go unpack my car which is loaded to the roof with the plants and containers from last night's class. As soon as I get things put back together I will take photos and show all of you some of the container arrangements I decided to do.

Today should be chock full of gardening as Kim and I have plans to also go to our favorite nursery for a little shopping spree. So much to do and see!

Till later,


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Creative Containers - The last class

Tonight is our last Adult Education class on gardening. Our topic will be "Creative Containers" and we will be using different plant material with an assortment of containers. I saved this class for last strictly because of the calendar, I could not have gotten annuals before this week.

Considering the fact that everybody is feeling a pinch in their wallets, I thought I'd look at this topic a whole new way and try to come up with some cost effective arrangements. This morning we'll take a peek at the plant material. Later I'll show you what containers I decided to use and finally, the plant combinations.

The first photo shows a tray of "specialty annuals" I bought at Schmitt Farm on Bagatelle Rd. in Dix Hills. If you live on Long Island I highly recommend this place for these types of plants and hanging baskets. It's a family run flower farm and their prices are very competitive. I bought 13 4" pots and 1 6" pot (with the rex begonia). The 4" pots are $3.39 unless you buy 10 or more, then they are $3.20. The Rex begonia was $6.99 which I thought was pricey but I really wanted it.

Here you can see the Rex Begonia. They also had this plant in jumbo pots for $15.99 but they were very dried out and I was afraid the plants were too stressed so I went for the smaller pot. I could see though that they can grow quite large so it helped me decide what to do with this plant in my garden. I plan on using it in a whiskey barrel in a shady area.

Try as I might, I could not find a companion plant that worked with this. The first problem was that this plant needs to be in a shaded location. I thought I had a plant at home that would work and I was right but you'll have to wait for our weather to cooperate before I can plant this.

This flat of annuals came from Prianti Farms on Deer Park Avenue (also in Dix Hills). When it comes to old fashioned annual in flats, this is the place to shop. Prianti Farms is one of the few places that lets you mix and match individual cell packs of plants. Many other places no longer allow you to take the flats apart.

Prianti Farms has plants that are amazingly fresh, they move them in by the truck load and have plenty of workers constantly stocking the sales area. It was so neat and clean that I couldn't find an empty tray to carry my plants in. One young man was so helpful and immediately ran off to get me one.

This photo is deceiving because there are different types of cell packs in it. Some are four chambered packs and some are 6 chambered packs. You pay more for breaking up a flat like this so the total came to $19.

In total I spent $71 on plants which was really hard on me. I just thought it seemed like a lot of money for what is sitting on my dining room floor right now (it's only 31 degrees outside at this moment).

Here's a close up of half of the flat from Prianti. The red coleus might not have a fancy name but they will be just as beautiful in the garden and I got four of them for $1.89 compared to one plant for $3.20 in the 4" pots.

Here's a close-up of the other half of the flat. That single little pack of Alyssum scented my entire car on the short ride home. I need to go back next week and get a whole flat of those pretties.

See the dusky purple foliage in the bottom left corner? Those are 'Ruby Perfection' cabbage! I saw a photo recently of an amazing planter with these cabbages in them so I will give them a try.

Now comes the fun part. I'm going to scour my yard looking for things to use as containers tonight. Much as I'd like to bring in a Whiskey barrel, it is just too heavy for me. As it is, I'd never be able to do this class without the wonderful help I've been getting from the men at the school. Tonight might be a "two dolly" night.

One last note, yesterday I had a surprise visitor. One of you readers stopped by here with your adorable daughter. It was so nice to meet a fellow gardening fanatic and I can't wait for us to get together again soon!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Hosta 'Liberty' and more

A few years ago a the man who used to run the flower farm near my house gave me a little piece of Hosta. He told me that he'd paid quite a bit of money for a dozen tissue culture pieces and slowly each piece had died. The piece he gave me was tiny and in poor condition but he told me I should try to grow it on in my garden because it would be beautiful.

The Hosta is named 'Liberty' and I think it might be the most stunning Hosta in my garden. I don't have a serious Hosta collection, maybe 150 different cultivars are here. Yesterday I googled Hosta 'Liberty' and found out it was a sport of Hosta 'Sagae' which is another favorite of mine.

How do you like the colors on that beauty?

As my fascination of woodland plants grew, I bought myself a plant named Disporopsis. It's similar to Polygonatum (solomon's seal). Last year another neighbor was away and asked me to watch her house. She's an elderly woman who doesn't care for the yard at all and has let it "go natural". While walking through her yard I could swear I found a clump of Disporopsis but it wasn't in bloom at the time.

I just took the above photo in my own little wooded lot. The previous owner had sprayed chemicals like crazy here but in the past 12 years we've let nature have her way. Does anybody know anything about this plant? I'll be watching it to see if it blooms soon. It would be pretty funny if this plant popped up here naturally.

Last but not least, here's another little beauty I found in the woods today. Look how nice and shiny those leaves are. For those of you who have not been formally introduced to this baby, I warn you, don't touch! This is poison ivy and from now until a hard frost I will only be able to look at our woods and not enter it as I get the most horrific rash from this plant.

I wish I had some photos to share with you from yesterday's trip to the Bronx Zoo. It was amazingly beautiful, filled with trees and shrubs (Viburnum galore) all bursting in bloom. Unfortunately it was also drizzling or raining all day and I never took my camera out of it's protective bag. The zoo is only separated from the New York Botanical Gardens with a massive highway and is such a wonderful place to spend the day.

Today's post is a bit disjointed but it will have to do, I'm off to bundle up and work in the garden. We woke up to a frost warning and I'm a bit worried about my babies out there.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Plant Sale - the story

Many of you have written comments here asking about the details behind our plant sale. We are finally getting a wonderfully wet, rainy day so I thought I'd sit and write a bit about the sale.

This first photo shows Tradescantia 'Little White Doll' which is the best Tradescantia in my garden. It stays in a clump and increases at a nice (but not alarming) rate. It's on my "to dig" list for this Wednesday. Back to the sale...

Five years ago my oldest daughter was in 9th grade and a new member of our high school marching band. They were having a multiple family garage sale (rummage sale/yard sale) to raise funds. We had no junk that we were willing to part with but I had many plants so I dug them up and brought them to the sale. It was mostly Echinacea (purple cone flowers), Rudbeckia (black eyed susans) and lots of daylilies. The daylilies were in buckets of water and when somebody purchased them I pulled them out and wrapped them in newspaper like a slab of meat at the butcher shop. I know for sure I took in at least $500 at that spot and told the parents that since I still had more plants, they should come to my house two weeks later and I'd have a plant sale from here. Most plants were not pre-potted and I dug as people ordered. I think I limped for two weeks after that but we took in another $1200 or $1400. Woohoo!

Since then the plant sale has gone through some changes. I try hard to pre-dig and pot up as much as possible. Each year the list of plants changes depending on what I have excess of in the garden. This year we'll have lots of Geranium cantabrigiense 'Karmina' that you see in this photo.

One hundred percent of our profit is split up and deposited in accounts for students in the marching band. They can't touch the money, it goes to help pay for the week of summer band camp. Many families in our area are having a hard time making ends meet. Some of them have two or three kids in the band and this sale really makes a difference. Students that work the whole sale have earned as much as $100 in their account.

I try hard to offer plants that look as good as what you would get at any top notch nursery. The botanical names are written on 8 inch long pieces of plastic mini-blinds. If I know the cultivar name, that too is written on the tag. Since I pot up roughly 600 plants, that's a lot of writing!

While I realize that many people aren't familiar with the botanical names, I find nick names very misleading. I do have plenty of lists available at the sale for people to look up names and planting information. Each year I also print out 6 - 8 color photos and laminate them for the sale. So slowly but surely my photos are increasing. Hopefully I will have photos of everything in a few more years. The photos always help sell the plants. People are used to buying things in bloom and don't realize they've been forced to bloom much earlier than their natural cycle. Our plants are not forced so if you buy Rudbeckia now, they don't look like much in their pots but come August...WOW!

The profits of three of the last four plants sales went to the marching band. In 2006 though I did not donate any money to them, and made that clear to every customer who came here. Still, I sold out of plants in a few hours. I had been very annoyed by some parents in the band at the previous sale and wasn't sure I wanted to continue to work with them. The band director at that time never once even looked me in the eye and said "Thank you". Maybe I was being petty but I felt it was a simple thing to say. Luckily we have a new director who is amazing. He even came and participated in the sale, something that had never happened before.

All the advance work, digging, dividing, moving soil, watering pots and so on is done by me. In past years my mom helped quite a bit and my daughter Lauren wrote many tags. This year my mom isn't here to help and Lauren is away at school. My husband Don is not a gardener but without him, this wouldn't be possible at all. He does much of the garden clean up including my potting area plus he picks up the slack in the household with laundry, food shopping, cooking and cleaning. Don takes care of all the things like making sure we have a money box with lots of change plus he runs the cashier table during the sale so that I can answer questions.

I wish I knew how to divide the Iberis in the above photo. There are four massive clumps of it just bursting into bloom and I would have liked to have some potted up.

This year we will offer Centaurea montana for the first time. As the sale was always here on our property, people were drawn to plants that were in bloom at the time of the sale (the sale is ALWAYS the Saturday before Mother's Day). Customers would walk my gardens and ask for things that were not potted up. Sometimes I would dig them and other times I just couldn't. This year they will be happy to get this plant but the pieces left in my garden probably won't bloom for me :-(

A big change this year is that the sale will be held at the school, Walt Whitman High School in South Huntington. Last year we had 40 students here and so many cars with customers that our road was almost impassable. One older woman insisted on trying to pet my doodle-dog even though she was asked not to and Calie jumped on her. The woman received a cut on her chin and we were all very nervous. I decided that I couldn't take a chance that my family would be sued for an accident on our property and the school immediately agreed to allow us to hold the sale there. Calie will be staying home.

Any of you who read my blog know I love Sedums and Sempervivums. There will be plenty of varieties available this year. In fact, I could dig many more but nothing is worse than digging a beautiful plant and then not having it sell.

People occasionally try to bargain or offer half price on a plant that is smaller than it's counterparts. My feeling is that this is a fund raiser, not a "let's clear Melanie's garden of all plants" so I don't allow any bargaining. I do allow people to come during the week before the sale though. During the sale itself I am the only person who can answer questions about perennials and there just isn't enough time for me to help every customer. By fielding a few customers in advance, it eases the crush that Saturday morning. Plus I can usually dig more plants to replace what was sold.

This is Heliopsis 'Summer Nights'. I have a large clump but will not be dividing it. By leaving the deadheads on the flowers it seeded around. The seedlings are not all the same, they have different degrees of purple coloration so I realize they can't be called 'Summer Nights' but they are Heliopsis. I weed out any that don't have strong purple colors and will have a few pots of the darkest seedlings for sale (all are bloom size).

If I don't know a cultivar name, I label it by color. After experience I realize that most customers don't care about the name. This Astilbe has been in my garden for many years but was given to me without a name. I've got 16 pots of this beauty and the labels say Astilbe - White.

Unfortunately, this year I've been getting that feeling again. There are a few parents that just spoil the mood and I think this will be the last sale for the marching band. The other night we had a meeting and one parent said she wanted to make some suggestions about the sale (uh oh). She suggested that I add names on the tags that people could recognize instead of those impossible names. I explained that I only have time to write one name, either the botanical name or the nick name and I choose to write the botanical name so people can google the information about the plant and get the right information. This parent continued to say that I should also include the growing information on the tag and maybe draw a sun or a cloud so customers would know where to plant it. I bit my tongue because I wanted to ask if I should also go to each individual customers house and dig the hole. Right now it takes at least 10 hours to write those labels. Imagine if I had to put more information on them!

I'll close this post out with a shot of Anemone's in my garden. They are quite late emerging from the soil so I hope I find them in time to dig up a few.

Some years we've had donations of plants. Last year a friend donated huge clumps of Geranium nudosum and it was very popular. Variegated Hosta are something that I could always use but I haven't had any donations this year. One thing I can't do is go dig those donations (some parents have offered plants in the past and mentioned that I never came and dug them out). I will gladly divide and pot up any clumps that are dropped off here but I can barely find time to sit down to eat a meal and really just can't go to other gardens too.

(Oops, a quick edit added here. I forgot that I do have a wonderful donation of Monarda coming. Last year the red Monarda was very popular as it is such a butterfly magnet so I'm happy to be getting more. Thanks Kim!)

Finally, to answer Dave's question about whether the kids help at the sale, yes they help. The kids come an hour before the sale to help set up the tables and benches. They bring any wagons they might own. We ask everybody to bring recycled plastic supermarket bags. The kids are supposed to bag each plant and help bring them to the customers cars. We always make sure they work in teams, no student should be going alone to any car. Since I don't limit the amount of students who can participate we end up with half the band here so there is plenty of down time for them to sit and eat donuts, or play frisbee or if the weather permits, just lay on the lawn and learn to enjoy being outdoors for a change.

This year I'll ask two or three strong students to come here Friday evening to help load the truck. We'll be renting a truck to get the plants to the school. It eats into our profits a bit but we saved quite a bit of money thanks to the potting soil donation from Zaino's Nursery.

I know some of you have mentioned that you will be coming to the sale. Don't forget to say hello to me! I might only have time for a quick handshake or a hug but I really would love to say "hi".

Tomorrow I'm chaperoning a trip to the Bronx Zoo (amazingly cool place). Wednesday I'll be digging again and over the next week and a half I will continue to post photos of plants that we will feature at the sale. The list of daylilies alone is something to see.

Sorry this was so long, there's still so much to tell about the sale.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Every spring I'm surprised by my lovely Epimediums. I really don't know much about them, just enough to make up one post. When you look at them you think of delicate, fussy plants but in truth they are the exact opposite.

The flowers are not long lasting and if you forget to trim out some of last years foliage you might miss half the show. The show though doesn't stop there, Epimediums have wonderful foliage and they continue to add beauty to the garden all year long.

Most of my Epimediums don't have names posted under them although this one might be named 'Orion'. A gardening friend shared a number of her Epimediums with me one fall. I really wasn't interested in them but she insisted I take some pieces and so I dug them up and popped them into plastic bags. I should know better because everything she's shared with me has been wonderful.

It's embarrassing to admit it but those bags sat on top of the ground in my shade area for a few months. One day I noticed the foliage was peeking out so I quickly heeled them into the ground. They didn't get extra compost, a handful of fertilizer, nothing special at all. Yet, the next spring there they were in all their glory with the most wonderful fairy-like blooms.

This one has a name, Epimedium sulphureum. Last year the day of the plant sale came and my mom asked me why I had never dug any of these for the sale. To be truthful I didn't know how to divide them and I also thought they'd never sell. Well I was wrong, we had this variety and rubrum for sale and they sold like hotcakes.

This is a sweet variety out front. It's in a dry, root bound, shade bed with the worst soil ever but every year it cheerfully puts out this amazing bloom. According to the descriptions I've got here it might be 'Rose Queen'.

This is the first Epimedium I ever grew. It needs to be divided desperately and I will do so in another week or two. You can see how lovely the foliage is on this variety. I won a piece of it as a door prize at a daylily meeting many years ago. Wait, actually my friend Mare won it and I immediately forced a trade on her (I had won a daylily) because the foliage was so entrancing.

This year I only potted up 5 Epimediums, you can see them here soaking up some moisture. They are quite woody and you need a sharp knife to divide them. Also, they have a pungent odor when you cut them, it surprised me. Since our season is more on time this year (last year was late) they probably won't be in bloom on May 10th. I wonder if they'll sell and have no idea what to price them. I'm thinking they'll be $5 per pot, these are full gallon pots and they wholesale here in 5 pint pots for $7.35.

Finally, here's what they look like in a pot on their own. It's hard to tell that they will be something special in the garden. As you can see by Calie the wonder-doodle's face, she's trying to figure out why I'm out there in the rain taking pictures. Calie, you need a bath and a haircut!