Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tree Witness

Pinus lambertiana (Sugar Pine)

A guest post from award-winning poet, essayist, and radio presenter, Molly Fisk. Molly gardens in Nevada City, California. Her beguiling radio essays are broadcast on KVMR-FM and collected on two CDs, Using Your Turn Signal Promotes World Peace and Blow-Drying a Chicken.

One of my favorite days of the year is December 26th. It's not that I don't like the 25th - I do. It's just that no matter how hard I try, Christmas will get my number one way or another. It's so loaded with meaning, memory, expectation, and effort. I find myself happily wrapping little presents and singing the third and fourth verses of carols I didn't know I remembered. But after the ribbons and scotch tape, the cooking and socializing, which has been building for weeks, and then the crescendo of the day itself, I'm more than ready for lethargy and solitude.

On the 26th, I stay in my nightgown all morning, browsing through the books people gave me, now and then washing a dish or two. I go for a walk by myself, just to feel my feet on the ground and remember the human animal was designed for walking. I don't get into the car. Lord knows, I don't need groceries, and anything else can wait. My woodstove's flue got stuck last night at the half-way point, so I'll have to pay more attention to stoking the fire than usual. But I won't call for help until tomorrow.

Today the weather is clear and bright and freezing. I live on an acre of mostly open land. When I first arrived, I began planting trees to shade the house and provide more habitat for birds. A decade later, I've started a secret post-Christmas tradition. This is the day I go outside and talk to my trees. I know: it sounds like I've had too much eggnog, but remember, poets are allowed to be a little strange.

I place my hand on each trunk and say hello to the Persimmon, the two Crab apples, the Willow, Maple, Box Elder, and Purple Mountain Ash. I greet the hundred-year-old Apple tree that broke in half last summer under the weight of its own green fruit. I pay my respects to the Almond, which flowers but never sets nuts, to the six Blue Oaks reaching 30 feet into the sky, and the single scrawny Sugar Pine. I walk to the back of my studio and nod to the Little-Leaf Linden I brought in because our town is full of its sisters, flourishing here since the Gold Rush. I stand in the spot where I'd like to plant an Apricot, and wander over to the Juniper to run my hand through its prickly branches.

Some of these trees are going to live longer than I do. I may have planted a few, but I don't own them, I'm just the custodian - glad for their shade and the rustle of wind in their leaves. I go out with my broom on snowy mornings and gently thump the ice from their limbs. I prune the crossed branches and cry if a storm brings them down.

In one of his poems, Robert Frost mentions a Witness Tree - one that marks a common lot line. On the day after Christmas, I have become the reverse: a Tree Witness: slowing my pace so I can meander through the yard and greet these steadfast companions.

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gifts for Gardeners 2009: A gem of a book

Here's an assignment for you: write up the history of humans and plants in 250 pages. Oh, and start in prehistoric times. Remember to leave lots of room for full-page botanical plates.

Catherine Herbert Howell has done it, creatively mixing large themes, exciting details and copious illustrations for her successful sweep through the ages in Flora Mirabilis: How Plants Have Shaped World Knowledge, Health, Wealth and Beauty.

Each of the six chapters includes a timeline showing botanical discoveries and innovations, and the unexpected impact on societies. Sandwiched within the text are spotlights on significant plants.

For example, her chapter on the Enlightenment covers human-plant interaction from 1770 to 1840, peppered with quotes from major players. The timeline displays 50 events including the establishment of Kew Gardens for botanical study in England, and the crop failure that led to the French Revolution. Two-page features on the tomato, rose, grape, cotton and apple appear, not necessarily related to the primary text.

Published by National Geographic, the quality is everything you would expect. The illustrations are from the superior collection of the Missouri Botanical Garden and the appearance of the book is so sumptuous as to give the impression of an illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages. All this for a list price of $35.00.

From its lovely endpapers to its detailed list of illustrations, Flora Mirabilis is a treasure, perfect for savoring at a winter fireside. Your fireside companions will have to get used to spontaneous outbursts of, Isn't this interesting! I recommend it to anyone with curiosity about plants, history or economics.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book from National Geographic.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

Winter Solstice 2009

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Gifts for Gardeners 2009: A glove to love

The Ethel Traditional 'Signature' glove

The English language is about to change. No more “iron hand in the velvet glove”; from now on it’s “the iron hand in the Ethel glove”.

The new Ethel garden gloves for women are a sleek and comfy combination of Spandex fabric with synthetic suede palms, fingers and fingertips. Designed for a narrow hand, they fit me snugly. When in doubt, size up.

Ethel gloves come in more than nine patterns. My Ethel Traditional gloves with a two-inch cuff are ‘Signature’: dark brown with orange accents that look oh-so-Hermès and make me feel like a Parisian gardener swanning down the Rue du Faubourg Sainte-Honoré. They don’t show the red Nevada County dirt either.

How do these compare to Atlas gloves? The stretchy nylon part of Ethel is a bit softer inside than Atlas, and the synthetic suede fingers of Ethel have a much more appealing feel and a tighter fit.

For a regular garden day like today (raking, picking volunteer mushrooms before the dog gets them, scooping up gooky persimmons that fell during the storm) I choose Ethel. A muddy job--I’d go with Atlas.

The Ethel Rose glove

There’s another model in the Ethel line, the ultra-long-cuff Rose gloves. I’m sad to say they don’t work well in a rose bush. They’re fine on the way into the bush, but on the way out the thorns catch the gauntlet cuff. I hope these will be redesigned with the cuff made in synthetic suede. The current version works well with plants that have sharp edges but no thorns, like pampas grass. And my, they’re pretty.

Ethel gloves feel good, allow great dexterity and are fun to wear. I know they’ll give me that extra boost to get out in the garden on those mornings when I’m wavering. They machine wash and drip dry with no trouble at all.

Ethel Traditional gloves come in so many fabric patterns and it’s hard to pick just one. At least I know what to ask for as presents. Hustle on down to your garden center and buy some for the gardener on your shopping list or visit the fun Ethel website.

I received two complimentary pairs of gloves from Ethel Gloves, for trial and review. Actually they look nice together, so they are complementary as well.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Gifts for Gardeners 2009: For gardeners who eat

Many thanks to National Geographic for solving the problem of the perfect gift. This glistening, gleaming book is sure to seduce even the least-interested diner.

Chapters on Seasonal Delights, Favorite Street Foods, Great Food Towns, Ultimate Luxuries and more are artfully interspersed with Top Ten lists on everything from Best Old-Fashioned Candy Stores to Extreme Restaurants.

This book belongs on your coffee table to intrigue and entertain your guests, or in your hands as the ideal host gift.

Available from National Geographic or your local bookstore.

Warning: Do not read this book on an empty stomach. Possible side effects include a troublesome itch for international travel, and a rash of foreign food cooking. Consult your physician if a large meal and repeated doses of the book do not resolve your symptoms.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gifts for Gardeners 2009: All wrapped up

Dianne Benson's Garden Gift Bag

Uh oh. It's the third night of Hanukkah and only 11 more shopping days until Christmas. Time to get cracking.

Luckily for you I have culled through the new garden merchandise and books for 2009 and have a list of five sure-fire gift ideas, one coming each day this week.

Was your favorite gardener extra good this year?

The luxe gift is this wears-like-iron Yard Bag, chock full of items to make a gardener gasp with joy:

*Japanese clippers

*English twine

*Fabled plant markers and magic pencil

*And what she calls the ultimate trowel--all chosen and packed up for you by Dianne Benson, one of the most famous gardeners in America.

A holiday discount takes the price down to $95. That includes gift wrap and a hand-written card.

For more on Dianne Benson check out the intro to her online gardening store and her suggestions on the best dramatic plants for Sacramento and Sierra Nevada foothills gardeners.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

First birthday for Daffodil Planter blog

I was running a fever. That's my excuse.

So I started a blog and the first post was based on an email exchange with flower photographer Catherine Stern.

The blog changed my life, bringing me a new name (all my gardening friends call me DP) and a new career as a freelance garden writer. Guess that fever wasn't such a bad break. A thousand thanks to you all for reading!

From the archives, here's the first post:

Compulsive Gardeners: Top Ten List

It all started one night with an email from a gardener friend:

On Yahoo there was a headline that I thought I read as Compulsive Gardening Threatens Savings for Older Americans. I can relate to that--however, it was Compulsive Gambling, which I can't relate to at all!

We see what we want to see....


This led to a midnight flurry of emails between the two of us, resulting in:

Top Ten Signs That You Are A Compulsive Gardener

1) You know the specialties of nurseries and garden shops in a 50-mile radius, and when they have their sales.

2) You always have a gardening book on your night stand.

3) You buy plants just because you like their names (e.g., Society Garlic).

4) Dethatching the lawn seems like a better use of funds than insulating the house.

5) You resent having to travel out of town for the milestone birthday parties of beloved relatives because you really need to stay home and water during a heat wave.

6) Buying 50 bulbs of one variety of Narcissus is a thrifty choice (bulk discount!)--not an extravagance.

7) You sit in the movie theater, as everyone else is leaving, to catch the end of the credits and find out which garden was a film location.

8) You argue with trained horticulturists about Latin names (oops, Centranthus and Valeriana really are the same plant).

9) You wonder how a serious gardener could call her blog Daffodil when everyone knows that is not the correct...oh, never mind!

10) Your turn--what would you add to this list?

*Turns out that the Centranthus/Valeriana issue is the subject of a lively debate in the horticultural world.

The original post shows the witty comments of my first visitors--thank you all!

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

The dangers of garden literature

1911 edition, illustrated by Troy Howell

Frances Hodgson Burnett has a lot to answer for.

Her children's book, The Secret Garden, may be the best gardening story since Genesis, and it hypnotized me into a lifelong penchant for climbing ivy and a general yen for the overgrown look. Little did I know the price I would have to pay....

We have a tall, wooden gate in a little-visited corner of our garden. We built it ourselves 12 years ago, and you can imagine how my heart rejoiced when I saw ivy from the next-door neighbors staking a claim to our disconcertingly bare gate.

The years passed, and the ivy did what ivy does, and soon the gate was a solid mass of green leaves. It really did present the most charming appearance, provoking our plumber, on a recent circumnavigation of the house, to exclaim as he wrenched the gate open, "It's just like The Secret Garden!" Music to the ears of this Burnett-obsessed gardener.

Yesterday, though, verdant impressions notwithstanding, a visiting contractor pointed out the shakiness of the gate posts and offered to repair them.

The ivy had both hidden and exacerbated the weakness of the gate and the adjacent, wooden fence.

Bitterness coursed through me as I wrested the tangled mat of ivy from the gate and fence.

What a fool I was, I thought, as my Felco pruners flashed through the vines, to be taken in by such a book. It's one thing to fall for that stuff when you live in a land of 19th-century, brick-walled gardens, and quite another when you live in California. Look where my repeated readings of Burnett have got me. Now I'll have to pay good, garden-writing-earned money to repair the damage wrought by English ivy.

Ironic? Certainly. But do I really have to abandon the gardening tastes of a lifetime, go all Modernist and start planting phormiums?

It remains to be seen. In the meantime, there is one vow I can make.

I renounce Frances Hodgson Burnett and all her works.

For at least a month.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving camellias

Camellia sasanqua Photo: Kenpei

White and red varieties of Camellia sasanqua are flinging themselves around Nevada County gardens right now. The small flowers on bending branches are the first course in the camellia feast we'll enjoy all winter.

Wishing you a Thanksgiving table full of food and flowers!

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Do my incense-cedars work for Goldman Sachs?

Calocedrus decurrens (California incense-cedar) Photo: Walter Siegmund/Wikimedia

The vigorous determination. The fervent desire to tower over and control all within reach. As far as I know my incense-cedars didn't get any TARP money, but when it comes to the quest for world domination they're in the same league with Goldman Sachs.

Sure, the cedars always drop some tiny cones, but this year they're inundating the garden. The carpet of cones is so thick the ground is invisible. The dog can't step outside without getting cones wedged in her paws.

Rake them up? Tried that. They came back.

Cones cover the area formerly known as The Lawn, as if we went in for xeriscaping with colored rock. That's a look.

To be fair, the cedars are more generous than Goldman Sachs. They didn't muscle ahead of me in line for a Swine Flu shot.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Which Halloween gardener are you?

Photo: Mansour de Toth (Laszloen)/Wikimedia

To wicked and good gardeners alike--wishing you a Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Autumn evening

The Lovers (Autumn Evening), c.1888, Emile Friant (1863-1932)*

A reminder for all of us to stop with the raking of the leaves, the pruning of the wisteria, the dividing of the daffodils--and enjoy the quiet times of the season.

(Click on the painting for a larger image)

*Emile Friant was a French artist. This painting hangs in the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Nancy in France.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

That's why they call it yard work

Kneeling in my gravel driveway, digging up dandelions with a dandelion fork.

That's yard work.

Raking up needles dropped by the 60-foot Ponderosa pine.

Yard work.

Gardening is different! I happily snap my secateurs like castanets as I march out for a spot of dead-heading and pruning. All things seem possible, now that the weather is no longer scorch-your-skin-off hot.

But yard work makes me tired just thinking about it.

What's your garden task that is never fun and always yard work?

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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Capitol Bees

Bee hives in the White House kitchen garden. Photo: White House

WASHINGTON (DP) The bee hives in the famed White House kitchen garden received international attention this week at the G20 Pittsburgh Summit.

White House beekeeper collecting honey. Photo: White House

White House beekeeper Charlie Brandts has collected honey from the hives and saved it for special occasions.

The First Lady's gift. Photo: White House

While world leaders gathered for economic discussions at the G20 Pittsburgh Summit, First Lady Michelle Obama acted as hostess to their wives. Her official gift to each wife was a tea set featuring White House honey.

The White House found itself in a sticky situation when the Internet began to buzz with criticism of the gifts. Advocates for bees maintained that the bees had been robbed of their honey.

Photo: Infrogmation

During the G20 Summit meeting insect-rights protesters swarmed the streets of downtown Pittsburgh singing, "All we are saying is give bees a chance", and breaking the windows of florist's shops. Special security units clad in white mesh hoods and white coveralls advanced on them, throwing smoke bombs. The protesters formed one large group and disappeared down a side street.

They were later found milling around in the lobby of the Colony Hotel and were arrested for failing to disperse. Further trouble ensued at the City Jail when the protesters insisted on occupying one holding cell with their female leader.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thanks to the gardeners at Blotanical

Palm House on the Pfaueninsel near Potsdam, c.1832-1834
Karl Blechen (1798-1840)*

When I go to the Blotanical website I feel like I'm walking into a huge conservatory. It's a protected space, full of varied plants, with all the world climates represented.

And the company can't be beat! I've met many kindly, expert gardeners there in my first year of blogging, and feel fortunate to be part of a generous community.

Now we're in the annual award season at Blotanical and I want to thank the thoughtful friends who nominated my blog for special mention. It's a thrill for me each time one of you reads my blog, and I'm gratified to think you've enjoyed it.

It's especially nice to be in the Best California Blog category with my neighbor and delightful friend, Pomona Belvedere of Tulips in the Woods; charming Alice of Bay Area Tendrils; the fun native plant missionaries Town Mouse and Country Mouse; and (new to me) Cindee of Cindee's Garden. A wonderful bunch of gals, each with a distinctive voice.

Apparently there was a miscount in the votes because I also ended up in the Garden Blog of the Year category. It's flattering in the extreme to be in the same row with Frances of Faire Garden, Gail from Clay and Limestone, James of Blogging from Blackpitts, and Catherine from A Gardener in Progress. Golly. Made my week.

So deepest thanks for giving the old Daff a boost, and huzzahs to Stuart for constructing this online building where we can all meet. My life, in and out of the garden, is richer because of you.

(If you'd like to know more about the wonders of Blotanical, here's a post I wrote about it last winter.)

*Karl Blechen was a leading landscape painter in 19th century Germany. He came late to art, abandoning his job as a bank clerk, and quickly rose to prominence and a professorship at the Berlin Academy. His style evolved from Romantic to Naturalistic before his early death. This painting is in the collection at the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Autumnal Equinox 2009

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Royal tiptoe through the tulips

Tulipa 'Henry Hudson' Photo: Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center

Prince and Princess of the Netherlands at the White House

WASHINGTON (DP) There are budding rumors about the Dutch royals' recent visit to the White House.

Although the meeting was ostensibly a social call, informed sources report that Prince Willem-Alexander offered economic advice to President Obama, drawing parallels between the recession in the U.S. and the problems suffered in 17th century Holland after the collapse of Tulipomania.

Oddly, the Prince may have proposed a modified version of Tulipomania as a financial cure--suggesting a U.S. stimulus package that would encourage American gardeners to invest in tulip bulbs.

The rumored stimulus package would offer tax credits for households buying over 1,000 tulip bulbs in 2009 and 2010. The Netherlands is the premium wholesale source for tulip bulbs and would benefit from increased sales here.

Agitation is growing in garden centers across the United States, with anxious gardeners demanding to know if there will be a tulip tax credit. American bulb catalogs could not be reached for comment, as their telephone lines are swamped with calls from buyers. 

Last week in New York the Dutch Princess christened a new tulip 'Henry Hudson'. The orange species tulip, with its ruffled foliage, is a popular arrival on the garden scene, fueling speculation that the Dutch are using 'Henry Hudson' to stir up American consumer support for the tulip stimulus package.

Pressure is on the White House to confirm or deny the stimulus package during this prime time for ordering tulip bulbs. If the question is not resolved promptly the Oval Office faces a near riot when the Garden Writers Association meets for its annual conference next week.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Michelle Obama: Arms of a gardener

The official portrait shows her famously toned arms

WASHINGTON (DP) The First Lady's arm exercises were made public today, in an interview to be published in the October issue of Women's Health magazine. The Editor-in-Chief and Fitness Editor from Women's Health appeared on the Today Show to discuss what they call "the fitness scoop of the century" and demonstrate the exercises.
, and News about the Economy
What is not revealed is that the First Lady's 5:30 a.m. workout often takes place in the White House vegetable garden--and that she is in fact gardening energetically, not doing rote calisthenics.

Those in the horticultural community understood immediately that her publicly acknowledged "exercises" were code for specific activities in the garden, and that "reps" referred to the number of plants, or bags of soil amendment, she used.

Here is the First Lady's official workout translated into what she probably does when she is alone in the garden:

1. One minute of hammer curls, in which she lifts dumbells toward the body in alternating motions and which should leave her "fatigued".

Clearly the First Lady is holding a one-gallon plant from the nursery in each hand, and lifting her hands alternately, trying to determine which plant should go in which new spot. No gardener needs to be told how mentally and physically fatiguing such a process can be.

2. Triceps pushdown with an overhand grip, pushing down on the t-handle of a 15 pound weighted pulley, for 15-20 reps.

Again, it is easily understood that she is digging a hole with a shovel, pushing down into the soil 15-20 times.

3. Triceps pushdown with a flip grip. The same movement as Number Two, but with the hands turned up.

This "exercise" is familiar to all gardeners: the lifting of heavy bags of soil amendment from ground to waist level, an obvious accompaniment to digging holes.

4. An aerobic finish to her workout is a floor exercise called mountain climbing. The hands are placed on the ground and the feet come forward quickly in an alternating motion. It was noted that this exercise is "not for the faint of heart".

Any gardener would agree--crawling forward in search of weeds is among the most tiring of garden tasks.

A mystery remains. Why don't all gardeners have arms that look like the First Lady's?

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