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....

Catherine

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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