Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Day in the Glass House

Today was the perfect day to catch up on some things in the greenhouse which have gone by the wayside during the busy holidays. My garden cohort is busy lounging in the Florida Keys, so I had the day to myself and the plants in the greenhouse. Since it was in the mid-60's, I could easily have spent the day deadheading pansies, but that can be Patti's project when she comes back from Florida with a tan!

The lemon trees that spent the summer outside now have huge juicy fruits on them; as much as I would like to take credit for doing something brilliant with them, the fruits just seem to have happened on their own. It's sort of cool, since one tree has three fat lemons on it, and the other is starting to get buds, which promise those amazingly fragrant blooms in a couple of months!

It was mostly a day of "puttering," trimming, fertilizing, etc., which brings me to a couple of points that we're sometimes asked.

With reference to overwintering annuals, the short answer is that it isn't always cost effective, so there are many plants I overwinter, and many others that I don't. For those that do get to come inside, we generally keep just one or two "Mother Plants" of each cultivar. Later in the winter (late January or early February), we'll take cuttings from those plants for next summer's containers. Very often the "mother plants" of coleus, plectranthus, etc., are simply too woody to keep over for a second season, so it's their respective offspring that get to be next summer's star performers!

With some of the coleus cultivars, we only managed to get one good mother plant at the end of summer, so I did a couple of cuttings today of some of the favorites.

In the greenhouse, as in the rest of my garden, I do everything I can to keep with organics....it's really not a powerful politic statement, but I feel better knowing I'm not dumping tons of chemicals in the water supply for those downstream or future generations. I figure that if we each do a little, it adds up to being a major change.

For the inevitable mealy bugs that one finds in a greenhouse, I have had great luck with a product called "Pyola," that I get from Gardens Alive. (A great mail order company....I'll talk about their tomato food later). So far it's proven very successful, and we've kept the insect issue to a minimum.

Since I was the only one in the greenhouse today, I could also use my favorite fertilizer, called "Neptune's Harvest," which comes from a company of the same name. Since it's basically fish by-products, it has a little smell when it first gets added, but works really well, and the odor dissipates quickly. The huge advantage of organics is that they tend to work when nature tells them to work with light, temperature, etc., so there's less requirement to maintain strict calendars, etc.

More about the greenhouse later, but for now, it's time to water the plants!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Amaryllis Care for Repeat Blooms

Now that the first of the amaryllis to bloom are starting to fade, it's time to start grooming them to bloom again next Christmas. It's a really simple process, so here it is.....

After the blooms have finished, cut the stems to a couple of inches above the soil, put the pot with your other houseplants, and continue to water it and fertilize to encourage the strappy leaves to grow.

After danger of frost has gone, put the entire pot outside, in a shady spot for the first couple of weeks. After that, I just put the entire pot somewhere in my perennial bed where it gets a few hours of good sun every day, and forget about it for the rest of the summer. It gets watered when the rest of the bed gets watered. Since amaryllis likes to be pot bound, this works perfectly.

Around Labor Day, I tip the pot on its side and put it in a dry cool spot, to dry out. You'll feel compelled to add water, but dont'!

Six weeks before you want the amaryllis to bloom, trim the dead leaves back, start adding water and fertilizer to the bulb. If you want to move it into a decorative pot for the holidays, now is the time to do that, so you're not disturbing the blooming plant later. (Keep it pretty tightly potted, though). At this point, treat it like a houseplant and just watch it do its thing!

As flower buds start to show, water the amaryllis more frequently. Fertilizing during the bloom period is not necessary. If kept at a cool room temperature (65 degrees or so), amaryllis will bloom for three weeks.

Now that I've said all that, amaryllis is terribly unpredictable in its bloom cycle. I had five going this year, and all are living on different cycles, it seems.
One called "Lemon Sorbet" bloomed first, and was really spectacular during the beginning and middle of December. Two of the others (one "Piquant" and one "Apple Blossom") were blooming for Christmas. The last two (another "Piquant" and another "Apple Blossom") have yet to bud, though they're clearly still alive. Since the "Apple Blossom" and "Piquant" were all treated exactly alike since last year, there is no explanation for why they're blooming at different times. The "Lemon Sorbet" came from Van Engelen this year (amazing company!), so I can understand why it might have been on a different schedule that my older bulbs.

Perhaps I will just enjoy having exquisite amaryllis blooms over an eight week period.......

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Some Early Winter Pruning

It was the perfect day to get out in the garden and do some winter cleaning and pruning. This is the time of year when the "bones" of the garden can be seen most easily, so I like to prune those trees and shrubs that can tolerate it during the winter.

One of my friends talks about having "prune-a-phobia," and jokes that she's always sure she'll make a wrong cut, and ruin the plant for life. Today's projects would have been perfect for her, since they were both tough as nails plants.

We started with the Yellow Anise Tree (Illicium parvifolium), which had really grown out of control in the past year. It's native to the Southeast, so can take a lot of abuse, and always looks good. We have it as a casual hedge in an area under the tree canopy, where we want privacy at neighbors' eye level. Since it had started to get really leggy and wasn't doing it's intended job as well anymore, this was the perfect opportunity to get out there and prune in a way to encourage side branching and bushier growth in the spring. It is such a treat to have something that consistently looks elegant and dark glossy green, even while getting attention just once or twice a year! The fact that it has a great fragrance and interesting bloom is just icing on the cake!

Since the next area over in the garden is a group of Cherry Laurels (Prunus caroliniana), this was the perfect opportunity for some clean up, as well. The plant snobs are usually not fans of homely Cherry Laurel, and it can sometimes be invasive, but it's very sturdy for the somewhat shady, poorly drained space where we have it. Over the past couple of years, it has become my project for a "pleached hedge." It looks pretty cool, like a hedge on stilts! Since we have a privacy fence behind them, the row of naked trunks look really great in the winter light; in the summer the trunks are somewhat hidden by the panicle hydrangeas that grow in front of them, so it's almost something to look forward to in winter. If you've never tried "pleaching," it's a fun project for the gardener who wants to do something different! (This photo is from a nursery that sells pleached Cherry Laurel, not my garden, but the look is similar --- though I only have seven trees in the hedge).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Camellias on Christmas Morning

Here are pictures of "Jury's Yellow" on the top, and "Winter's Snowman" on the bottom

Christmas Morning

There is a lot to be said for the snowy white Christmas mornings I remember from growing up in New Hampshire, but it's hard to beat waking up to temperatures in the high 50's, with sunshine and a promise of mid to high 60's in Atlanta today.

It's almost as if the birds realize it's a very special morning, since they are out in droves today. The chickadees and wrens are all around, along with the nuthatches that seem to walk up and down the tree trunks on their heads. The titmouse family is going to town on the almost dead Sweetgum in front of the house, and there is a pair of Phoebes perched on the pergola, just checking things out from the safety of that perch.

This is the time of year I had in mind when I planted the "Winter King" Green Hawthorn (Crataegus viridis "Winter King") last season. It is loaded with huge red berries, and is a magnet for the Cedar Waxwings and Robins. I don't even mind that they'll probably strip the tree of berries in the next several days; I guess Christmas is a feasting day for them, as well!

We're lucky to have a number of Eastern Towhees in our garden, as well as the Red-Bellied Woodpeckers, Blue Jays and Cardinals. The Woodpeckers can be hugely annoying when they decide to fall in love with the cedar siding on the house, but on days like this when the windows are closed, it's just beautiful to sit back with a cup of coffee and watch them against the naked tree branches.

The only shrubs blooming right now are two hybrid camellias. One is called "Jury's Yellow," which was introduced from New Zealand and is apparently more common in England than in the US. It is really closer to off-white, but it's one of those plants we gardeners need to have just so we can say we have a "yellow camellia." The other one is called "Winter's Snowman," and it is blooming its heart out! I wish I remembered where I bought it, but it has done amazingly well, with virtually no special care, for three years now. Dark green flawless foliage, just covered with big snowwhite blooms for several weeks at this time of year!

In that peculiar way that nature has of working things out, the two very pale camellias are the perfect backdrop for holly berries and the extraordinarily bright plumage on the birds of winter.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Great Apple Cake Recipe!

In my little world, cooking and gardening are two things that go hand in hand. This is an apple cake that I've made a few times, and people are often asking for the recipe. It's great winter comfort food.

Apple Cake with Almonds
Yield: 9 x 13 cake

For the Cake:
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 c. vegetable oil
3 whole eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. almond extract
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3 c. peeled and chopped apples (I typically use Granny Smiths)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the oil, sugar, eggs and extracts until well blended. Sift together the dry ingredients in another bowl, then add to the oil-egg mixture. Thoroughly combine, then add the chopped apples.

Pour into a sprayed pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until a pick comes out clean.

Allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes. It should still be warm when you frost it.

For the frosting:
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 c. melted butter
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 t. almond extract
2 T milk

Stir this all together until blended, then spread over the warm cake. Hold at room temperature.
This will serve 12 comfortably.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Little Photographic Relief from the Cold!

Winter has come to Atlanta! It's been ridiculously cold yesterday and today, so not a lot to do in the garden. Came across this photo from last June, though, so I'm hoping it will keep my mind in the warmth of summer for the next couple of days! Enjoy!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Greetings from the Garden!

As a means of introduction, let me give you a little bit of information that will explain the title of my blog:

I got my education as a chef, and spent about 25 years in the “high end” catering and country club world. I was always an avid hobby gardener, first on the coast of Massachusetts, then in Charleston, and later in Atlanta. My gardens ran the gamut from a little rose garden in Salem, Massachusetts, to a 30th floor terrace in midtown Atlanta.

A few years ago, I decided it was time to take the plunge and get serious about gardening, and I slowly transitioned out of the party business. That’s a whole story in itself…..

Now I spend my days working as a private gardener, with most of my hours being at one large residential property. The estate has a great mix of woodlands, formal gardens, organic vegetables and herbs, and a pretty cool Victorian-style greenhouse. Since I’m a big believer that one’s profession should follow one’s passion, this is a perfect job for me!

When I’m not gardening for someone else, I’m nurturing my own little suburban plot, focusing mostly on perennials. I’m a Georgia Master Gardener, so I volunteer about 150 hours a year with different garden-education related projects around the area. I also teach a program on container gardening.

When it comes to gardening, I think we have an obligation to help each other make the world more beautiful. I would love to see this space develop into an active conversation about what’s going on in my garden and those of others, sharing experiences good and bad, sharing new insights (and perhaps some old ones that are tried and true), new products we each might encounter, gardening events, etc. It would be awesome to develop a space that nurtures gardeners as much as gardens!