30 November 2009

Pink Dandelions!

How cool is THIS? A pink dandelion! I have to admit that I love dandelions already (not in the garden, just in the periodically mowed collection of grasses and sundries that I call my "lawn") so I am totally thrilled to discover this pink flowered species in the catalog of the amazing and addictive Plant World Seeds. I instantly added them to my To Buy list, and over dinner tonight was excitedly telling my partner all about how cool they are. He was... shall we say, skeptical. Even incredulous. The words "broad leafed herbicide" passed his lips.

Whatever. They're going to be awesome. 

I'm having visions of pulling up ALL the regular dandelions in my yard, and replacing them with pink ones. I'd just love to see people go by and do a double take: Yard full of dandelions... WAIT! Yard full of PINK dandelions???

I can't wait.

28 November 2009

Help! What great seed companies do I not know about?

In a comment on my last post by Plumcrazytreelover (gotta love the user name) suggested I check out Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and they turn out to be a really fantastic seed company I've never heard of before. My already impractically long list of tomatoes to grow just got LONGER. Now I can't help but wonder: What other great seed companies am I missing out on? You can post your favorites in the comments, or post about them on your own blog and just put a link to your post using the Simply Linked widget at the bottom here.
Here are my current favorites:

Pinetree Garden Seed: My main stop for vegetable seeds and standard ornamentals. Confusingly organized catalog, but great selection, and unbeatable prices for intelligently small seed packets.

Johnny's Selected Seeds: Great selection of vegetable seeds, some ornamentals, and supplies -- and the most informative catalog I've ever read. I refer to it more than my reference books when I'm starting seeds in the spring. They do a lot really cool breeding work, and since they are in Maine, they have a lot of varieties that perform well in my cool, short summers.

Seed Saver's Exchange: Insanely extensive selection of vegetable varieties -- they are devoted to preserving heirloom varieties, so I like supporting them. (Also, WmJas pointed out in a comment on my last post, an amusing name if you leave out the spaces between the words...)

Chiltern Seeds: A British company, so prices are high due to exchange rate and shipping but: What a catalog! It is more like a small book, full of crazy ornamental plants I've never heard of. No pictures, so I have to go through it with google to find out what on earth this stuff is. Since seed (even expensive seed from Britain) is so cheap it is perfect when it somes to experimenting with new stuff I don't quite know what is -- and Chiltern is the place to get that.

Specialty Perennials: My #1 favorite sources of seeds of hardy perennials. (I adore growing perennials from seed, best and cheapest way to fill a garden) Warning, though: their customer service is TERRIBLE. It takes them forever to actually ship the seeds, and they don't respond to e-mails or calls asking what is taking so long. But: They always arrive eventually, and always with a few extra packets or two. Just order early and be prepared to wait.

Plant World Seeds: Another UK company (so you get hit by exchange rate and shipping) I'm ordering from for the first time this year -- and they have an AMAZING selection of ornamentals. They apparently do a lot of breeding, and their selections of fragrant columbine  (!!!)  are making me drool in anticipation.

B and T World Seeds:
This is my last resort source of a specific seed. Their on-line catalog includes no description, so it isn't exactly fun to just browse through, and prices are high (even without the exchange rate (they are in France) and shipping, which are bad too) but they carry virtually everything. If I've read about some crazy species, and I can't find any source for it anywhere B and T almost always has it.

So, who am I missing? Share your favorites in the comments, or link to your blog below.

Added 12/09/2009: Margaret Roach at A Way to Garden also has a post on this -- check out all the great suggestions in the comments there!

25 November 2009

Grrr... I hate faked catalog pictures

Okay, I've ranted about this before here on my blog, and as a guest on Gardenrant, but this still makes me mad.
The other day I got a catalog from Jackson and Perkins -- which is good right? I've been complaining about not getting enough catalogs. But this catalog made me mad because: it is full of blatantly faked images. Don't believe me? They have the same images on their website, so you can see for yourself. Here's an example.

Go check out this item -- a single papillo amaryllis. Click though to the link and look at the picture large.
Than look at this one, a group planting of three papillo amaryllis. Notice anything similar? Like the fact that the central bloom of the group of three is IDENTICAL to the bloom of the single plant? As in, they just cut and pasted their flowers together? Look closely at the three bulbs in the pot... Funny that they are identical as well. And that the shadows on the leaves, stems, flowers, and pot aren't quite the same... As in: the entire image was assembled in photoshop from plant bits photographed against a green screen.
Are you kidding me?
How hard is it to grow just one of everything they sell, and take an actual picture of it?
Thankfully, I now also have catalogs from Pinetree Garden seeds AND the Seed Savers Exchange, so I can throw out J&P and indulge in delightful, REAL catalog pictures.

23 November 2009

Plants vs. Zombies

Just in time for the holidays...

A video game for gardeners and zombie lovers alike. Who knew gardening could protect your house from zombie attack?

I'm not kidding! This is an actual game you can actually buy and actually play on your actual computer.
Read an actual review here:

22 November 2009

Dwarf conifers come from witches!

My recent trip to Hidden Lake Gardens enjoying their glorious collection of dwarf conifers

Made me remember seeing this in a graveyard I bicycle past on my way to work every day:

And what is that? Something perched in the middle of that pine tree... Zoom in a little closer and:

It looks like a little dwarf conifer stuck in the middle of a regular pine tree. Which is exactly what it is -- it is called a witches' broom (I'm serious, that's what they're called -- though not to be confused with the disease of hackberries that goes about calling itself witches' broom too) Every once in a great while, a random mutation in a pine tree causes one branch to start growing all short and squat -- they grow there, a little dwarf conifer stuck in the middle of a full-sized tree, until some enterprising horticulturalist comes by, cuts some of the dwarf branches off, graft them onto a regular root stock, gives is a cutesy cultivar name, and markets it as a new dwarf conifer.

Which is exactly what I'd like to do with this one, only it is some 20 feet up in the air, in the middle of a graveyard... Not sure exactly how to get up to it...

19 November 2009

The mailman must have heard me crying

Because he put a Pinetree Garden Seeds catalog in my mailbox! HURRAY! Time to break out a pen and start marking all the wonderful things I want to grow next year...

November 19th and still no seed catalogs

The garden is cleaned up. My last minute clearance sale perennials are all planted. Leaves are off the trees. It is the perfect time to curl up on the couch with hot cocoa and a good seed catalog.
I haven't gotten ANY catalogs yet.
Everyone else seems to have them.
But not me.

16 November 2009

Drooling over conifers

Today's post in a nutshell:
Going to Hidden Lake Gardens

 Has left me saying:
Oh my god CONIFERS!

Inspired by this post by Bert Craig on The Garden Professors blog, I decided to take a trip down to Hidden Lake Gardens -- it is in Tipton Michigan (aka The Middle of Nowhere) which turns out to be about an hour and a half south of here.

And it is spectacular. High on my list of all-time great public gardens I have visited. The lanscape is lovely rolling hills complete with lakes and gorgeous views, there is a marvelous conservatory with tropical, temperate, and arid rooms, but the really highlight is the conifer collection. Absolutely amazing. I came away with a whole list of names scribbled on a scrap of paper.. Lovely rare dwarf conifers I'm sure I'll never be able to afford on what we get paid in grad school, but a man can dream.

Anyway, enough words. On to some pictures:

Just a few of the wonderful colors, textures, and forms in the collection:

A view of the lake

 The cool conservatory that looks like an observatory:

Inside the conservatory:

If you are anywhere near southern Michigan, I highly recommend making a trip. I know I'll be back soon. Maybe this time with my bicycle so I can enjoy the lovely trails through the wooded hills around the lake.

15 November 2009

November Bloom Day

I've never participated in Carol's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day before, where on the 15th of every month bloggers from all over post about what is flowering in their garden, but the contrarian in me like the challenge of trying to post monthly with flowers from my garden... starting in November. In Michigan.

And, unsurprisingly, there isn't much! But I do have:
A couple snapdragons:

A few Verbena canadensis:

And one bud on one of my favorite roses, 'New Dawn' which isn't quite in bloom yet, but will probably make it into flower if the weather stays mild:

And that's it, folks. Whatever am I going to do for December? And January!

13 November 2009

Damn you, Dan Hinkley!

I just finished reading Dan Hinkley's The Explorer's Garden, and he is making me malcontent with my climate.
He, of course, lives and gardens in the Pacific Northwest, and the book is full of drool inducing photographs (as you can see jus from the image of the cover I've included to the right), and the text is full of descriptions of Meconopsis (If you don't know them: Amazing true blue poppies. Beyond lovely.) self sowing in his garden. For those of us in climates where actual weather happens, getting meconopsis to even survive a summer, much less BLOOM is all but impossible.
The severe case of zone envy notwithstanding, I highly recommend the book. Hinkley is not just a great gardener, he's a great writer, and I spent much of my time reading it giggling to myself. That and scribbling notes in the margins about how much I NEED such and such a plant. Since reading the book, I've been writing up lists of plants to try next year: Cardiocrinum (He says they survive to flowering surprisingly often in zone 5. If I can get one to bloom for me just once, I'll be a happy man), LOADS of Geranium (Geranium  not Pelargonium), Saruma henryi, any Rheum I can track down and... Well, you get the idea. My spring shopping list is already too long, and the seed catalogs haven't even started to arrive yet!

11 November 2009

Warning: Science nerd geek-out ahead!

If you visit my blog for the as-advertized "thoughts on plants and gardening" you may want to skip this post. But, in real life, I do plant genetics research. So when a friend told me that Bio-Rad (a labratory chemical supply company) had a new GTCA song (GTCA being the 4 "letters"of the genetic code) I had rush off to youtube to see it.

Perhaps not QUITE as good as their previous smash hit, the PCR song but still undoubtedly awesome.

09 November 2009

Book Review: The Fragrant Path by Louise Beebe Wilder

I'm a huge Louise Beebe Wilder fan, so when I saw her The Fragrant Path in a used book store recently, I eagerly snatched it up.
If you've never read Louise Beebe Wilder, you should. She wrote back in the 20s and 30s, and though that makes her work nearly a hundred years old, her writing remains utterly fresh and relevant. She is, I think, my favorite gardener writer of all time.

The Fragrant Path is (duh) about fragrance in the garden. Like most gardeners, I've not given scent in the garden much thought. I like fragrant plants, but I've never designed with fragrance in mind like I do with color. As Wilder puts it: "We plan meticulously for color harmony and sequence of bloom, but who goes deliberately about planning for a succession of sweet scents during every week of the growing year?" ("...succession of sweet scents..." Love it!)

The answer to that rhetorical question soon becomes clear. Who plans the details of fragrance in the garden? Louise Beebe Wilder does. Throughout the book she describes groupings of fragrant plants she enjoys: "Honeysuckle and loose white rugosa rose make a delicious combination and possess a delicate poetic beauty." And those she feels clash: "I made the mistake once of putting a lily-of-the-valley bed beneath some lilac bushes. The season of the two strong scented flowers over-lapped and the result was unfortunate for they did not blend happily."

Describing scent in words is always difficult, but some of her passages recreate sensations of fragrance so vividly you almost can smell it as you read: "To sleep in a room beyond whose casement honeysuckle scrambles and to awake in the night to the exquisite fragrance that inspires the darkness is an experience of rare quality. Such things invade life's commonplace routine with an ecstatic pleasure."

But don't think this book is all purple prose and poetry -- she backs up that passage on honeysuckle with detailed descriptions of no less than 24 different species of honeysuckles. Inspiration for the garden, and the information you need to actually execute the ideas she gives you all in one book. 

I'm excited now to start exploring fragrance in a new way. I'm not sure I'm ready to start designing fragrance combinations, but I'm going to track down some of the plants she mentions, and spend next summer sniffing and thinking. I'm used to thinking about combining color and texture in my garden. From now on, I want my designs are going to be about color, texture, and aroma.

06 November 2009

Inspiration for one last round of bulb buying

The spring before last I was lucky enough to spend a week in the Netherlands in the height of the tulip season, and the visit the mind-blowing orgy of bulbs that is The Keukenhof. Given there is still time to buy a few bulbs for the garden, I'm posting some photos from that trip as inspiration/temptation... You know you need more bulbs.

First, the amazing river of Muscari.

A gorgeous interplanting of tulips and anemones

Just a few tulips and hyacinths in a graceful, fragrant arc

A macro shot to demonstrate why you really should be growing fringed tulips

There's still time to plant, and the nurseries will have them all on sale... go on, you know you need more bulbs.

02 November 2009

November in the windy City

I just got back from 4 days in chicago for an incredibly awsome conference on Darwin (on the off chance that any of you are evolutionary biology nerds, I'll just say Richard Lewontin, Ronald Numbers, Marc Hauser, Doug Schemske, Jerry Coyne and Daniel Dennett, and let you drool all over your key boards)

While there, of course, I had to visit them amazing Lurie Garden in Millennium park, designed by the great Piet Oudolf. It is a revelation -- now I have absolutely no excuse for letting my garden break down into nothingness by November. I've always been skeptical about ornamental seed heads and such, but no longer. The browns of the grasses, almost black rudbeckia seed heads, and rich yellow amsonia... amazing.

Who knew November could be so lovely?