25 March 2013

Fun things to read (and listen to) until spring arrives. If it ever does...

This and that from around the web:
Spring is STILL refusing to show up here in Michigan. Since I can't get out into the garden, I'm bumming around on-line. Here's some stuff I've been finding:

Cityscapes and Garden Gates
If you've read my blog for a while, you know I'm passionate about communicating scientific knowledge about plants and gardening for every day gardeners. Which is why I'm excited that my friend Rachel has started a blog. She's a plant pathologist by training (along with other things...) and she's blogging good solid information on understanding and controlling diseases in your garden. Which is awesome. There is a LOT of scientific knowledge about how plant diseases work, but rarely is it presented for the home gardener. Until now.

Radiolab: Colors
This isn't really gardening or plant related, but it is amazing and mind bending and spectacular. Radiolab is flat out brilliant, and this episode, talking about colors is one of their best. You'll come away thinking differently about the colors you see in your garden each year. And it features a mantis shrimp hallelujah chorus. How can you resist THAT? You can't. So go listen and be happy.

This is a crazy cool site I stumbled on a couple years ago, I think... It is all tomatoes, all the time, and it is amazing. If you are into this most popular of vegetables you'll find everything from advice on growing them to massive collaborative breeding projects to create a whole new class of tomatoes perfect for the home gardener.

The concept of winter sowing -- starting seeds in containers outside in the winter so they'll graduate in the spring -- has been floating around the internet for quite a while, I first heard about it 10 years ago. It is an incredibly simple technique, and I think the perfect way for most home gardeners to start the vast majority of their seeds. Forgot fussing with lights and damping off and hardening off... just start things outside and let nature do most of the work. It is a great concept, that, as so many things end up doing on the web, has been floating around mostly with attribution. But attribution is due, and as far as I've been able to figure out, it is due to a woman named Trudi Davidoff who coined the term "winter sow" and first articulated the technique. So, this is her website. Check it out, give her the credit for terrific idea, and look through the great information she's got there.

Black Walnut Dispatch
I think I've recommended Mary's blog before, but I was reading it today and couldn't get over just how FREAKING AWESOME it is. I mean... in her latest post she imagines James Joyce as a landscape contractor in the very first paragraph and then goes on to compare (poorly drawn) illustrations of crape myrtles to medieval maces or possible unexploded mines. Erudite, silly, plant humor. Is there anything better?

10 March 2013

Spring Preview

We've had a cold, slow start to spring here in Michigan, which honestly, I'm trying not to complain, it is better than last year when we hit 80 in March and then everything froze and got destroyed. But, I still get impatient. Luckily, we have greenhouses. We keep the cool, but warm enough to get a few weeks jump start on spring, and OH is that ever nice! I love all the things flowering right now... sadly, because we're not open for retail this time of year, customers rarely get to see them. So, I'll share them with you now.

I'm currently NUTS about the allionii primrose group. They're gorgeous, TINY little primroses that bloom super early. Like their close kin (and another of my favorites), the xpubescens group, they like good drainage and full sun. The allioniis aren't quite as bullet proof as the xpubescens, but they're still very growable and insanely gorgeous.
Primula minima... frilled, lavender flowers, and a slight sweet scent. Adore.
Primula allionii 'Viscountess Byng' Does it GET any cuter?
Primula 'Lismore Yellow' Great color and a vigorous grower, eventually forming big clumps
Helleborus are, of course, a wonderful early-spring bloomer. I love the massive flowers and bright colors of the newest hybrids, but I'm also really enjoying the more delicate, refined beauty of the wild species helleborus. 
Helleborus odorus Green, almost yellow flowers. To me they are quite fragrant, but about half the people I've told that too don't detect a scent at all.
Helleborus purpurascens Perfectly refined, elegant flowers,  and a lovely shade of bright green on the inside.
 Corydalis solida is another favorite... It is a little bulb that should be as common as crocuses. It seeds around like wild, but who CARES when it gives you jaunty, delicate bright blooms about the same time as crocuses, and then goes dormant so fast it never competes with other plants?

The hoop petticoat group of daffodils is usually represented in catalogs by Narcissus bulbocodium. Which is a shame since it is just about the least beautiful of the group. Here, Narcissus romieuxii shows us how it is REALLY done. Stunning plant, and very vigorous for us, though it needs a sheltered spot to overwinter reliably in zone 5.

Hepatica is one of my favorite wildflowers... So early, so delicate looking and yet so tough! This is our selection of H. nobilis we just call 'Dark Magenta' For obvious reasons. Usually I'm not a fan of this color, but this one REALLY does it for me. Just gorgeous.

Finally what would spring be without the anticipation of more? SEEDLINGS!!! Pure happiness.

04 March 2013

Thoughts on being a nurseryman, one year in

Roughly a year ago, I took my current position as Nursery Manager at Arrowhead Alpines. It has been quite an experience – a wonderful, exciting, mind-expanding experience. Here are some of the things I've learned:

1. I don't know anything about plants
Or rather, I don't know even a tiny percentage of what I wish I knew. As a home gardener, all I really needed to know was how different plants performed in my garden. Just one climate, one soil type. And from an aesthetic point of view, all I needed to know was if I thought a plant was pretty. In the mail order nursery business, I need to know how a plant grows in the ground, how it grows in a pot, how well is ships, how it can be propagated, and how it will perform anywhere in the contiguous United States. I find myself saying “I don't know” a lot more these days. Will this grow in deep south? Is this hardy in zone 3? I don't know! I've only gardened in zone 5! I'm also learning a huge amount, and wonderfully, often when I have to say “I don't know” to people, they go off, find the answer, and then send me an e-mail sharing what they have learned. Which brings me to the next lesson:

2. Most people are awesome
We've got a lot of great customers. I love checking my e-mail and finding notes from people who are happy with the plants they got or sharing information we can use, offering to give us a bit of something super cool and rare. People recommend us to their friends, write about us on their blogs, want to know how Brigitta is coping with Bob's death, and want to help. It is amazing. I love you people. That being said, however....

3. A few people are CRAZY
There was the guy last spring who drove through the nursery and off past all the buildings into the middle of the back field looking for the main office, who then, when Brigitta chased him down and got him back to the actual nursery, accused us of false advertising because we didn't carry all the plants mentioned in some random article in Fine Gardening magazine that we did not write. O_o Or the folks that order the miniature rock garden plants we specialize in and then complain that they too small (sort of the point, people...) It can be a little maddening. But mostly, I just have to laugh. And luckily, 99% of our customers are, as I said, absolutely wonderful.

4. I still like plants. And gardening.
There is always that fear that when your hobby becomes your job, it will suck the joy out of it. I'm very happy to say that hasn't happened. Quite the contrary, I think I'm even more plant obsessed than I was before, if that is possible.

Those are the things that come to mind... Anything you are wondering about the life of a nursery person? Ask in the comments and I'll try to give you an answer.