Monthly Archives: March 2011

When Tovah Martin gives you a plant…..

I think I may have mentioned it before, but I am not a big fan of houseplants. I find my time off from outdoor gardening a refreshing change from plant induced worry and care , and hate having to find all the appropriate space and lighting to be successful growing things indoors.

 I have also come to realize that the trait I find most endearing about my outdoor plants is that in 99% of the cases when something is going wrong ( disease, pest, damage etc)  I can cut the affected baby to the ground and it will shoot out all new and clean , thus further inflating my very large gardening ego. With houseplants, as a rule this is not so true, and in the cases where it is ,the progress is slow going -flatly deflating my gardening ego.

Back in Fall 2009 at the tail end of my Master Gardener Classes, Tovah Martin    came in to lecture to us on growing houseplants. Tovah spent many a day working in Logees Greenhouse(s) and is caretaker in her own home of numerous plants which she loves dearly. Can I just say she is a-dor-a-ble!   I first “met” her through the books she wrote  about one of my gardening super heroes, Tasha Tudor. Given the opprtunity, I would love to garden the way Tasha did, with all her glorious cottage-y borders, yankee thrift and chickens.  I have the corgis already ( she had many),, but my Tasha experience would be lacking as I would never give up electricity, proper heating, UPS delivery 365 days a year, and of course, Bill. I am also not, as both Tasha and Tovah are, a bonnet and calico dress wearin’ kind of girl, relying as I do on “foundation garmments” and make-up to enhance and deflect the eye.

But I digress. Back to Tovah. I was so looking forward to this class, and trying my hardest not to act like a crazed groupie. She talked to us about the vagaries of the tropicals , and  in my starry-eyed state  I took zero notes. I just wanted her to be my best friend, skip the whole indoor plant thing. At  the end of her lecture she announced that she was going to give away the divisions of a plant she had used to demonstrate re-potting in sort of a raffle/lottery. Well, guess who one of the winners was?  EE-GADS! How to decline??  There was no way I could not accept such an offering and still remain able to gush all over her and get her to sign my new book, “The New Terrerium” .

So, I took the division, and jotted down the only word I wrote down in my notebook that day …..Ammonum Cardomom….just that exact thing, no other words at all.

This week in my fervor to get back to my garden-ness, I tried working outside  but it was COLD and SNOWING again. So I turned to the least likely place you will ever find me, tending the  houseplants that have finagled their way under various and convoluted circumstances into my living room. The Tovah Plant, (as I like to lovingly call it) has grown and grown, on might even say thrived, but that is tempting fate . It needed re-potting and so I took it to the kitchen and went in search of my master gardening notebook. Given that I know next to nothing about houseplants, but have vague notions that some prefer to be pot-bound , root pruned, and other uncomfortable sounding treatments, I figured i would look up the plant and at least try to give it the proper care .

My search using the name found in my notebook, Amomun Cardomom left me scratching my head. Cardomon is a tricky plant to grow. The directions used words  like “fussy” and “difficult to grow”.It  does not like drafts, sunlight, or a  regular watering schedule. It likes to be misted daily, but have it’s roots kept dry. Blah-blah, on and on with all it’s Diva requests.

Um, this could not be the plant I had been tending, that is for certain. More searching ensued.

Turns out the most common mis-identifiation in Houseplant Unniverse, is  ID-ing Amomun Cadomom when you really have Alpina Nutans (Cinamon Ginger). Both plants look very similar, and both have spicy scented foliage. BUT Cardomon is FUZZY on the underside of it’s leaves and difficult to cultivate outside a warm steamy greenhouse.

I can not, and will not accept Tovah, MY Tovah, was wrong. I must have in my dreamy eyed  stupor somehow imagined she said Amomom Cardomom, when what she really said was Alpina nutans. I forcefully brush the thought that I have never heard of the plant before and could not possibly have written it down without someone not only saying it ,but also spelling it for me, out of my head.  Tovah is not wrong, not now, not ever.

I potted up my Tovah plant and put it back on the windowsill. It is happy, and it likes it’soriginal  name, Tovah Plant, better anyway.

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Boston Flower Show 2011

Last week I had the joy of attending the Boston Flower Show at the Seaport Expo Center. I say that completely without sarcasm, (really) as it was such a delight to see so many lovely displays by area landscapers and nurseries and I even enjoyed the floral displays that usually leave me a little bewildered and perplexed . ( Let me clarify by saying I appreciate their beauty and the work involved, but the “art”,  themes ,and interpretation leave this simple gardener shaking her simple head).

As I walked around snapping the odd photo here and there, and talking to the other master gardeners there about what new and exciting things they saw, I started to think about the overwhelming-ness of it all. For instance, I have a perfectly wonderful magnolia that I enjoy immensely when it blooms for   three minutes in April ( if no late frost whacks it), yet here I stand gazing longingly at a new magnolia introduction ,whose name escapes me  but the vision of it’s deep purple blooms won’t leave my head. An urge comes over to hit the ground running trying to find  it in a nursey somehwere and rush home to squish it into the garden. That is, my friends, beyond all reason. Every year there will be so very many plants I do not have , need to have, and  just plain drool over. The point is you can not have them all. I must keep reminding myself to rein it in, there  is no more room, and the plants I already own are just perfect.

I think back to the well marketed beanie babies that were all the rage in the 90′s when my kids were little. The hype around the release of each new animal with a clever name and cuteness coming out it’s ears, added to the fact that you could not find them anywhere, made the draw irresistable to my offspring. Every extra penny was spent on them, every birthday wish list wasted on requests for them, every christmas stocking chock full of the little suckers, and there they sit in a box in my cellar.

Fast forward to the end of the endless  Winter 2010-11, right on the cusp of spring, when, after the 6 feet of snow have almost finally melted ,you can see the crocuses poking out their little purplely and yellow  heads and fat  buds ready to explode on the spring blooming trees and shrubs, and every gardener is at their most vulnerable with the promise of the season ahead of them dangling just days out of reach.

 Smart trade show people put together an irresistable combination ;the smell of dirt and mulch, the fragrance of  flowers we have been separated from for 6 long months, and the explosion of color and texture  arranged in picture perfect garden vignettes you long to linger and lounge in. And then they add in those elusive plants, the newest , the oddest, the most unique. The ones your gardening friends will be jealous you found, the ones that you and only you have, the ones  you blow a huge chunk of your garden budget on.It is madness and genius, and usually it gets me every time.

This year, though , I was too busy to buy much of anything. A few quick trips into the vendor aisles yeilded two tiny garden gnomes and a new wood and wire trug , that’s it. I took a picture of the magnolia, but refused to go find David Haskell ( the evil temptor) to get it’s name. I have thus far resisted the urge to google it. I am hoping to hold firm until it is a sweet memory. What do you think my chances are?

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Clematis and Roses

Now-ish is the time to attempt to get out in the garden to start some chores. I know I am chomping at the bit to get cracking out there, and I will begin , as always with my two BFF plants, clematis and roses. About 4 weeks before last frost date (or after) is a good time to get out the pruning shears . If you pruned either plant  in the fall and were lucky to have them survive the winter unscathed, think of that pruning mistake  in the same way you think of the time you stole a stop sign back in high school. No one got hurt, no one got caught, it was reckless and you were young and foolish , and you will never do it again. EVER.

As far as the clematis plants go, I will cut back all my vitacellas, my ternifloras (Sweet autumn) and late blooming large flowered hybrids to about 12 inches from the ground.

Often mother nature has done it for me and the vines are snapped off just where they need to be……. like magic!

Any of the others will get pruned if there are any dead areas, or if they need to be re-trained after having gone on a wayward path. (If only my mother could have done this to me back in my aforementioned high school days, she probably would have more of her sanity left)

As for the roses, there is a lot of literature regarding pruning. I like things to be simple, so here is what I do. Any dead or diseased canes get pruned out (that is a given with any plant). Then if they are bushy types (like the polyanthas) or shrub roses I will prune them back a little , tidy them up, and thin them if air circulation looks impeded. Climbers do not get pruned at all, unless they need serious retraining as you loose all that great height you have gained if you cut them.

If you are pruning hybrid teas or hybrid perpetuals, get out a book because they need pruning that involves angled cuts in specific places and many other directions I find too fussy. I only grow roses that fall in the “pruning 101″ category and also require no spraying , extra watering, or winter protection. If you are easy, this is the home for you.

The very best thing about roses and clematis, is growing them together. Like oreos and milk, cheese and crackers, spaghetti and meatballs  they complement each other as well as bring out the best in each other. Some would say like a great marriage, but I will stick with the food analogies, I like food  ;)

I have heard complaints of having to disentangle  clematis vines  from thorny climbing roses after cutting them back in the spring , and I agree that is a painful job. The solution is to inter-plant your climbing roses with only clematis that fall into the  group 2 pruning category, or in my system the light prunes These clematis never have to be pruned at all ( but can be lightly pruned after first flush of bloom if you want) and once planted with a climbing rose the two can be left to their own devices until the end of time. When picking your rose/clem combination choose a color combination that pleases you and match the final height of the vines. Many of the new introductions of Group 2 clematis are shorter in response to the great demand for smaller vines for container planting, so older varieties may be better suited for growing up a rose.

 I grow many group 3, or hard prunes, with roses and do not mind separating them out in the spring ,as garden chores go it is light work,just a little thorny. But whatever clematis you choose I am certain you will be very pleased with it.

out my kitchen window

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Latin Lessons (yawn)

Here in the land of boresville this morning , I am using some down time to brush up a few common Latin words that help with plant ID.

Back in high school I took 2 years of Latin ,and mandate that my kids do the same, first so they can suffer as I did ,and second to help with college writing and SATs . I remember my teacher Mr. Davidson very well. He was a funny guy who knew how to make the time we spent in class go a little faster, so I count him among my faves. At the beginning of the year he made us all choose a Latin name to be called in class. As you can expect the boys all chose (in the immature fashion of 15 year olds) names like Gluteus Maximus and  Caligula……… I honestly can’t remember mine, but I was quiet and remarkably unclever back in the day so it was probably something like Phillipa.

I wish I had the fortitude to call myself Lesbia or Regina. Regina means queen , which is close to Diva, so that is the name I would chose for myself today (let the Lesbia thing go already).

I  can still hear the chant  of conjugation : amo,amas,amat,amamus,amatis amant,amare,…..made worse by the fact that a.) I didn’t love anyone so did not need to learn to say it 50 ways and b.)  the word order in sentences made it beyond difficult to figure out who was doing what to whom ,which is a point that needs clarification in my book especially when it comes to love.

I already know my latin colors and numbers, those are  like the Sesame Street parts of the language . Now I am moving on to words that describe a plant in other ways and are often given as a prefix to their name.

Caprifolium means “climbing like a goat”  an lupulus “like a wolf” . Odd ways to describe a plant .

 Complexa means”complex, interwoven branches” I like the complex part, so now I am Regina Complexa.

 Scandens sounds like it would have some connotation of promiscuity or wantonness, but sadly it just really means climbing. Bummer.

Atomarius is speckled, Maleagris , and conspersus mean speckled as well. Can you tell me what kind of language needs three words for speckled?

Cineracus means covered in gray hairs, weird to have one word mean that, but now I have a Latin name for Bill.

There are several different words that mean striped (striatus,syrtriatus) and more than you would think for splotched or spotted (maculata, pardinus, guttatus). I must find out have that is different from speckled. 

For describing the color red and /or red traits such as veins, stems or leaves , there are over ten words. Apparently Roman plants were many many variations of  red.

I have a brain like a sieve, so most of this will be long forgotten , or buried so far back in the recesses of my mind , behind the grocery list and the kid’s taxi schedule, that I will never be able to recall the words when I need them, but I am making the effort anyway. It is too cold to go outside , I am sick of every book I am reading, and I  must either stave off the boredom or succumb to nesting on the couch with the 30 boxes of Girl Scout cookies that are taunting me from the cabinet and watching reality TV. 

 …but your Latin lesson is over…….Quidquid praecipies, esto brevis   :)

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