Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Nice "Geographic" Surprise!

So I was working on a few things for the website yesterday--technical stuff mostly--and as part of the process I typed my name into "Google" to make sure that if anyone searched for me by name that it did, indeed, direct them to my website. It does. Good news.

While I was there (on Google) I thought I'd nose around a bit and see what people were saying about me and where I've ended up over the past few weeks and months. It's always interesting to see because the various magazine articles, newspaper interviews and other media appearances are now frequently shared in digital, online formats and you never know for sure who's going to pick it up and print it in another part of the country or world. I've been amazed at some of the places I've found myself! All good, mind you.

Much to my surprise I saw a headline that said something about "National Geographic". I immediately dismissed it as another Troy Marden (oddly, there are a couple of us running around) and went on. About two pages later, though, I saw a second headline that said "National Geographic" and had my name in the bylines, so I thought I'd better check it out. I'm so glad I did! National Geographic magazine has an online photo forum that anyone in the world can join--professional or amateur photographers--and post their photos for ratings by others AND the opportunity, just maybe, to have your photo selected as "Photo of the Week".

Needless to say, I clicked on the link and the surprise that awaited me was that TWO of my photos had been selected to run in an article for National Geographic Traveler magazine. What a nice surprise! Between that and the absolutely stunning weather we're having right now, it has been a good week. You can see the National Geographic Traveler piece here:

The opening shot of the gazebo at Longwood Gardens is mine, as is the photo on page 2 (scroll to the bottom of the page and click "next") of the oval spiral staircase at Winterthur.

Coming next week--"Bluebird Blog"!!! I've had a pair of eastern bluebirds nest in an open box atop the potting bench and there are four beautiful eggs. While staying away as much as possible, I can't help peeking from time to time. I'll post some photos of the babies as they grow and develop!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Rarity In Bloom

It's clivia season! I always wait with anticipation in mid- to late March to see whether or not the clivias are going to flower in April. I have two--the common orange variety, Clivia miniata and the much rarer yellow-flowering form 'Citrina'. Both are extremely special plants. The orange one is special because it came from my dear friend, Betty Brown. I helped her divide her enormous plants one year and she gave me a baby from one of them. Each spring when it flowers, it reminds me of Betty.

The yellow-flowered one, cultivar 'Citrina', is special because I was able to find a truly magnificent specimen of it--better than most of the others I've seen. 'Citrina' is actually a seed-grown strain, so there is considerable variation in the intensity of the yellow, the form of the flower and the size of the mature plant. I was lucky and found a really good one in flower a few years ago, so I was able to judge the quality of its blooms when I bought it. The plant is huge. Standing in it's 16-inch diameter clay pot, it reaches nearly 3 1/2 feet high with a 4-foot spread, the inflorescence stretches nicely up to the top of the foliage and the flowers are a clear, buttery yellow and borne in umbels 10" in diameter.

Really good yellow clivias are becoming more commonplace, but for years they were true collectors plants. One of the first yellow-flowering clivias ever sold in the U.S. was at the Longwood Gardens rare plant auction and fetched $10,000!!!!! I can assure you that mine was not even close in price, but it's a magnificent plant nonetheless.

Clivias are easy, tolerant houseplants that will withstand a fair amount of abuse. However, the kinder you are, the more spectacular the results. They make excellent subjects for areas of low light, though extremely low light throughout the year may cause them not to flower. Here's how I treat mine.

Clivia culture: They like to be potbound. My big plant is in a big pot (16" diameter), but for the size of the plant (3o" high x 4' wide) it's still tight. Once freezing weather has passed they spend the spring, summer and fall outdoors on the shady screened porch where they receive about 2 hours of direct morning sun and bright, but indirect light the rest of the day. I water and feed regularly during the growing season--a good soaking once or twice a week depending on temperature and wind (too dry is better than too wet), as well as a good liquid fertilizer (a bloom promoting formula) once a month.

The clivias stay out until mid- to late October. Temperatures down into the 40's are good for them and seem to help promote blooming the following spring. Once frost threatens, I move them indoors for the winter. Now, here is the most important piece of advice I'll give you regarding clivias: Once they have come in for the winter (late October, here) they DO NOT GET WATERED AGAIN UNTIL THE FOLLOWING SPRING WHEN THE FLOWER STALKS ARE NEARING THE TOP OF THE FOLIAGE AND THE INDIVIDUAL BUDS ARE EMERGING FROM THE PRIMARY BUD. And by "do not get watered again", I really do mean that I do not water them at all from the end of October until approximately the first or second week of April! Clivias are native to Africa and they have a very distinct dry, dormant period. If you water them during this time, they still may flower, but most of the time the flower stalk will not emerge from the foliage and all of your blooms will be way down in the leaves! Not pretty.

These short blooms stalks on clivia are an extremely common problem. I get questions about it all the time. The solution is the dry dormant period. They must have it. Clivia are closely related to amaryllis, only without the bulb. Instead, they store water in their massive, fleshy roots, so don't worry about hurting them. On a rare occasion, if I really notice the leaves curling or wilting during the winter, I may give them a tiny sip of water--not more than a cup or two on the biggest plants and less on the smaller ones--just enough to perk them back up a bit. Also, NO fertilizing during the dormant time. Just let them sleep and they'll reward you magnificently in the spring!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Life Lessons

I have a new garden post that I will put up tomorrow, but tonight I feel inspired to take a detour from gardening for just a moment. This won't happen often. The garden blog will remain the garden blog and 99% of the posts will be just that. However, I've discovered something so extraordinary and so touching that I think everyone needs to see it. Some of you probably already have, as this video has "gone viral", as they say and has become an overnight internet sensation with more than 7 million hits. It has been a Yahoo! headline, it was shown this morning on The View and I've already passed it around to all of my friends via email after discovering it on YouTube yesterday.

This is a reminder to all of us to never judge a book by its cover because in each and every one of us lies something extraordinary. I grew up with an aunt who had Down's Syndrome and she was one of the most extraordinary people I have ever known. She taught me not to be afraid of people who didn't look or talk or act the same way I did. She taught me not to judge by what I saw on the outside, but to see the beauty of her soul and the spirit within. The Down's Syndrome reference is a personal reference to a special person who touched my life and has nothing to do with the following video, other than to point out that each of us, as an individual, is unique and extraordinary and should not be judged on outward appearances.

Watch the reaction of the audience to this amazing woman as she enters the stage.....and then watch as she sweeps aside every cynical thought, every snicker and laugh, every raised eyebrow with a voice so powerful and so precise and so beautiful that it cannot be denied. Enjoy and remember the name Susan Boyle. You're sure to hear more from her! And I promise that I'll get back to gardening tomorrow.

Monday, April 6, 2009

If You Don't Like The Weather....

Stick around a day. It'll change!

The weather roller coaster continues to whip us around wildly here in Tennessee. Late last week we had some of the most glorious spring weather we've seen all season--and today?--SNOW (perhaps). Right now it's a warm and toasty 39 degrees and the rain is falling steadily. It doesn't get much more miserable than that.

Don't get me wrong. I'm happy to have the rain. It's always nice to get a little ahead of the game early in the season, just in case we have a whopper of a summer. In addition to cold and rainy, the range of temperatures in the forecast is frustrating at best. I've seen anywhere from 24 degrees for the low to a balmy 31--that's a BIG difference in the gardening world. Thirty-one degrees would hardly faze a plant that was well-established and acclimated to the cold, but 24 is going to freeze-dry newly opened foliage and flowerbuds and may take several weeks to recover from. Tender new growth on plants like hostas may suffer even in a mild frost and 24 will surely freeze them to the ground where they'll have to start over again from scratch--and they will, but it will take a little time.

What to do?

I'm going to take some precautions. Since I now live on top of a windy hill in the rural countryside (without the warming effects of city concrete and asphalt), all of the hostas that are still in containers are going into the garden shed and storage room. Some of them are looking a little weak this spring anyway and getting frozen is not what they need just now. There are also a few shrubs (also still in containers) that are fully leafed out with very tender new growth. They'll probably go in, too. The tropicals and other tender plants are still inside anyway, so no worries about those.

For plants that are in the ground, I'll cover what I can and the rest is on its own. Most things won't be bothered. I'll probably turn some 5-gallon buckets over a few of the hostas that are just emerging so the new leaves don't get burned. I may throw an old sheet or blanket over a couple of other things that for one reason or another I feel the need to protect. Honestly, though, the vast majority of it is just going to have to survive. Tough love. Yes, the new growth on a few things might get nipped and yes, a few plants might have the look of that bag of lettuce that's been in the crisper drawer for a week too long, but plants are resilient. They'll survive.

A note of caution: Do NOT cover plants with plastic sheeting in order to "protect" them. Plastic traps moisture and will actually cause more damage to your plants than if you left them uncovered. Even with 5-gallon buckets, I'll place a small rock or stick under one side just to raise the edge of it slightly off the ground to allow for air circulation. This will keep the frost from settling on the leaves, but won't trap moisture which will turn the plants into ice cubes.

When this cold snap passes, we'll trim the dead and be a little kinder to things than we might normally be for a few weeks until they really get growing again, but even if primary growth is frozen, the secondary buds will kick into gear, expand and grow. In a couple of weeks, we'll never even know there was a late frost. I have to admit, though, that for all of my positivity and optimism, I'm still annoyed. Can we just have one good spring? Is that too much to ask?