Sunday, May 31, 2009

That Rose Campion--she seemed like such a nice girl!

Lychnis coronaria (Rose Campion) Photo: Stockxpert

Rose Campion. She sounds like a demure little plant, doesn’t she? Her Latin name is Lychnis coronaria. Again, nothing to give you a clue about her feisty nature.

Lychnis coronaria’s looks are nothing to write home about. She grows from a basal rosette of fuzzy, gray-green leaves and sends up many branching stems almost three-feet tall, with small, magenta flowers in early summer.

She’s no Homecoming Queen. So where does she get the tremendous self-confidence required to take over one of my perennial beds?

She came to my garden more than 15 years ago, as a gift to the previous owners. They were quite amused when she self-seeded in the shady edges near the back fence. She's a biennial, so one year would pass with few appearances from her, and the following year her flowers would be a happy surprise.

All that changed when she moved up in the world and got a toehold in a perennial bed.

No one invited her, she just showed up. Wanting to be polite to a new girl in the neighborhood, I let her hang out with the much prettier and more popular girls, the Tall Bearded Irises and herbaceous Peonies. Apparently the compost tea went to her head like wine.

Next thing I knew she was being rude to the perfectly nice Shasta Daisies, who never caused anyone any trouble.

Now she’s everywhere, grabbing attention as if she were Paris Hilton. I think she even has a Twitter account.

Only the mule deer seem able to ignore her.

Some of my gardener friends say they’d like her to come visit them, since she doesn’t mind the blistering foothills sun and doesn’t need a lot of water after the first summer.

Just watch out. She seems like a sweet little thing, but she’s a Mean Girl at heart.

© Daffodil Planter 2009. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Vote for your favorite summer herb

It's 86 degrees, the end of May--all danger of a late frost is past. Time to plant tender herbs in Zone 7! 

I know I want sweet basil. 

I have five redwood planters that came with the house and they'll be my summer herb garden on the deck, near the kitchen door. One for sweet basil, one for peppermint, one for chocolate mint.

What to grow in the fourth and fifth planters? Our garden is already full of rosemary and lavender. Does anyone go wild for cinnamon basil? Lemon verbena? Maraschino cherry sage? What's your summer can't-live-without-it herb?

Cast your ballots and I'll plant the top two winners!

To vote, click on the word COMMENTS below

Friday, May 22, 2009


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.

I once took an essay-writing workshop from San Francisco Chronicle columnist Adair Lara. She said that if your readers don't like you, you're sunk, and therefore some subjects just don't work, like being a size 6, or having an entourage.

Well, God knows I'm not a size 6, and my entourage is feline, which doesn't count, but I did win a prize the other day. Before you write me off, though, let me add that it was a poetry prize, and therefore marginal - along the lines of winning a spelling bee in Latvian or a recipe contest using only plums and Velveeta. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled. But it's not something to dislike me for.

Adair also said that the fastest way into readers' hearts is to admit something embarrassing about yourself. Which brings me to the subject of riding lawn mowers.

Last summer, trying to cope with almost an acre of long grass, I bought a ride mower. I wanted to call it a tractor, which has a charming, Wendell Berry-like, rural cachet, but it was just a totally suburban ride mower. For an amazingly long time I was able to Tom-Sawyer other people into riding this thing. But yesterday the grass was knee-high and no gullible friends were around to save me.


Since the operating instructions were printed on the fender, I was able to turn the darn thing on and drive it around in circles quite successfully. I even figured out how to engage the blade so actual mowing took place. I tootled along, cutting a wide swath, as they say, until most of the grass was cut. There was just this one little inconvenient hill I had been avoiding, where I had to disobey the instructions and mow from side to side instead of uphill and down, due to three maple trees and the septic tank.

The first two passes across this hill were terrifying but accomplished without incident. Travelling at about the speed of grass growing, my non-size-6 person listing perilously to starboard, I made the final approach.

You think I fell off, don't you? Well, I didn't. I would never fall off a ride mower. Instead, there was a small cracking sound and the steering wheel came off in my hands. Unphased by this development, the mower kept going, heading straight for the largest maple.

That was when, with the speed and agility of a bareback stunt rider, I swung one leg over the saddle and slid gracefully to the ground (still gripping the wheel). No, I didn't break anything, and the mower cleverly stopped all by itself. With regal dignity, I jammed the steering wheel back on its column and walked up to the house.

 The mower is still out on the lawn. It looks kind of sweet there, red body, black tires, against the green of the grass. Since I'm never going to touch it again, I'm thinking of planting some petunias around the base and calling it yard art.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009


At the Fountain, c. 1890, Theodore Robinson* (1852-1896)

Watering is not my favorite garden job.

I can never make it through unscathed. A simple procedure, such as moving the oscillating sprinkler into the center of the blue perennial border, will seem to be going well--when suddenly the hose arcs and strikes my shins, leaving a swath of mud on my pants just above the tops of my rubber boots.

I'm not as dumb as I look, and I finally realized there wasn't any point in doing "just a little bit" of morning watering in clothes I planned to wear into the world. It's one thing to visit Prospectors Nursery bedecked in mud, but agrarian-chic hasn't caught on in other venues.

Nevada County dirt is red and indelible. I'm an excellent laundress, but am defeated by local mud stains, so a new streak of mud is a sadly permanent addition to my wardrobe.

Pass me my watering can instead of a hose, though, and I'm as happy as a child with a favorite toy. I have an old-fashioned Haws galvanized-steel watering can, and using it makes me feel like the girl in the painting.

Time out from the 21st century. Time out from worrying about droughts or global warming. I'm focusing on the fine waterfall from the rose at the tip of the spout, concentrating on the balance of the can in my hand, admiring the plant I'm watering, and remembering why I chose it. Often a butterfly wafts past. The can is wet and I get a swipe of red mud on my pants. That's fine. Nothing can break my mood.

Watering is my favorite garden job--when I have a metal can in my hand.

*Theodore Robinson, an American Impressionist, lived next door to his friend Claude Monet in Giverny, France. This painting is in the collection of The Arkell Museum, Canajoharie, New York.

© Daffodil Planter 2009. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

DVD Review: The Art and Practice of Gardening, with Penelope Hobhouse

Do you live alone in a stone manor house on a windswept moor?

I hope so.

Otherwise you'll have to forswear your family and friends when these two DVDs arrive at your door.

I can't stop watching.

I thought I was past my swooning Anglophile phase, but seeing the words Mottisfont Abbey puts me in a trance.

Penelope Hobhouse, the influential English garden designer, shows us a variety of delectable gardens.

A visit to the grounds of Barnsley House in Gloucestershire, home of Rosemary Verey, is wonderful. Taking a garden tour there with the charming Mrs. Verey, and watching her discussing her creation, is simply stunning. Mrs. Verey has passed away since this was filmed, so the footage is a treasure.

Such good structure and strong branching--I'm talking about the DVD menus, not the plants in the gardens. Menus allow you to choose English gardens or American gardens, gardens by style, or gardener's name--you wouldn't be interested in David Austin's own rose garden, would you? And while one is looking at these options on the screen, there isn't some repetitive drone of irritating music on a 20-second repeat, but the chirping of birds instead.

If one turns away from the screen, and hears only the fluting tones of Penelope Hobhouse interviewing a gardener, an American listener can be forgiven for getting a whiff of Monty Python.

After a good day's work in your own garden, get out the strawberries and cream, and take a relaxing tour of some beautiful English and American gardens. The problem is, they raise the bar so high you may be rushing outside with a flashlight to plant your own laburnum walk, just like the one at Barnsley House.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Mute Monday

Photo credit: Dennis DeFevere

Rosa floribunda  'Easy Going', blooming happily in Palo Alto, California.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Beltane 2009

Mid-point between the Spring Equinox 
and the Summer Solstice.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Arnold the herb Gardenator?

DAVIS (DP) Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger continued down the garden path today. During an appearance in Davis he said that California needed to have a serious discussion about the legalization of marijuana.

Commentators in the smoke-filled rooms of the capitol wondered if this was a strategy to promote interest in what will actually be planted by First Lady Maria Shriver in the forthcoming vegetable garden in Capitol Park in Sacramento. "It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase leafy greens", said Mary Jane, a Sacramento garden expert.

An anonymous source suggested that the Governor made the statement just to gain brownie points with some rural counties.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dogwood Daze

Henry Mitchell called the dogwood, "the last tree God made." 

Undeniably lovely in each of the four seasons, dogwoods create a fairyland atmosphere in springtime. Enchanting in our gardens, I hope you can also get into the woods to see Cornus florida, Eastern Dogwood or Cornus nuttallii, Western Dogwood, in their layered branching, wild beauty.