Sunday, October 28, 2012

I guess we're fudged!

Gardeners are keen weather followers.  We have to be!  In spring we're watching for late frosts that could do damage to our tender plants, which admittedly we put out way too early.  Then in fall, we're glued to the weather stations to keep updated on when the first freeze is coming.  Still, I do take what I hear with a grain of salt, as too many news stations over-sensationalize what's actually going to happen.  However, today I got an email from one of my west coast nurseries that we buy plants from, to inform us that they have suspended deliveries due to the unprecedented nature of a storm coming our way.  Time to sit up and listen!

Some are listing this as the 'Perfect Storm', just over mainland North America, instead of the Atlantic Ocean!  Three weather systems combine to fuel each other into a mega-storm, with tropical storm force winds being felt 450 miles from the center.   Hurricane Sandy will merge with an early wintery system from the west, then collide with an arctic blast from the north, parking the system to churn over the northeast for days.  Computer models can't even predict the track, many showing the storm double backing and looping in on itself as it stalls over the tops of us.  The colored lines of the weatherman 's maps, showing the different tracks, as each computer comes up with a different path. After a while it begins to look more like a craft project my daughter does than a weather model.

It's not the first time that a major weather event has been issued for this area. 'Snowmageddon' or 'Snowzilla', the ever hard to pronounce 'Duratio' and now 'Frankenstorm' all makes you think of movie titles.  For gardeners around here its just another hurdle we're getting ready to jump over.  Summer drought and highest ever recorded temperatures along with record lows during the winter have tested the steel of our plants and gardens.  It's a miracle that we have trees of any age still standing in our communities.  As a gardener here, I hold my head high knowing that to get anything to grow in this area is a major success.  Trying to create those gardens you see in any magazine is a Herculean task.  It doesn't matter what you might try and do to outwit mother nature, she's always going to remind you who's in charge.

This coming week, I sure will bring stories of tree loss and damage, where the only consolation I can give is one of optimism.   Instead of looking at the damage in a negative way, we should view it as mother nature's way of opening up new possibilities.  We can all get stuck in a rut of not editing out plants that maybe have been with us too long until forced to by a weather event.

"I told you, we should of staked the trees!"
From past experiences, I know some twit is going to come into the garden center at the height of the storm and want to buy a tree.   It will take several people to help hold up the trees so they can make their decision.  It's happen to me before during a lightning storm, sitting on a forklift, hauling trees to their pick-up while bolts of lightening hit the ground around me.  Oh, what we have to do in the name of customer service, but some people are just too busy to wait.  Common sense, or lack thereof, is something I like to rant about if you hadn't figured that out.

Stay safe my friends and let's look forward to sunnier days.  Our gardens always seem to bounce back regardless to what is thrown at it.  With all the alarming reports on the news, I often wonder if being a meteorologist is a gateway profession into depression!

Let's go out fighting!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New disease alert for Gardeners

Garden advisory - Important Official Warning!

The Department of Gardening Affairs has issued a new warning for gardeners to be on the look-out for; strange Gnome behavior.  Reports have surfaced that the inanimate non-living statues are also apparently non-dead too.  While isolated incidents have been reported, an extended warning has been issued to be on the lookout for potential outbreaks.

Do you have an outbreak?

Frequently asked questions:

What are the signs?
  • Gnome skin tone will change from a baby fresh pink to a dull grey or green.
  • Clothing will look unkempt, messy and blood stained. Don't be fooled by the red pointy hat or blue jackets as the transformation may be in it's early stages.
  • Gnomes may have open wounds or sores and reports have come in about missing limbs that show no signs of glue.
  • Gnomes that have undergone the change may transmit a low audible moaning instead of the happy whistling or giggling sounds often heard.
  • Gnomes will be unresponsive to communication.
  • It you have a Gnome attached to your ankle area trying to chew on your foot, then it's infected! 

What do they feed on?
It has always been believed that zombies required human brains to maintain operational effectiveness.  However, due to their gravitationally challenged stature, they can only feed on our brain material when we lie down.  However, infected Gnomes will also feed on pink plastic Flamingos and little boy 'peeing' statues as the figurines are unable to stop the flow before being inundated by infected Gnomes.  Should you have either in your yard, we suggest raising flamingo's to a higher vantage point and stockpiling diapers for little boy statues capable of holding large amounts of fluids.

What habits should we be aware of?
While Gnome populations are minimal in city landscapes, the frequency of Gnome usage increases in rural areas.  Retirement communities are known to have the highest elevated populations, so safe distance should be maintained around those communities.  Caution must also be practiced in identifying infected Gnomes from retirees living in such communities.  Symptoms can be similar between the two groups, unresponsive to communication, low growling sounds, unkempt and messy in appearance etc.  Correct identification is necessary before applying control measures listed below.

Does the change of seasons affect infected Gnomes?
Yes, cooler temperatures slow down the gnomes movement around the garden but in freezing temperatures they hibernate in dead leaf litter until warmer temperatures return.

How do I protect my home from an invasion?
Increasing your homes fortification will prevent any intrusion from infected Gnomes.  Anti-Gnome fencing is being issued in high infected areas, which comes on rolls measuring 12 inches in height when placed on the ground.  This product was once mocked in the home landscape but is now hailed to prevent attacks and credited with saving live's!

Outdoor Safety

  • Always notify people when leaving the safety of your house.  Give times of arrival, locations to be visited and carry your cell phone about you at all times.
  • Wear protective clothing when venturing outside.  Kinky boots or thigh high boots are recommend to prevent ankle bites.
  • Avoid cauliflower patches, since they can look like brains and may attract larger numbers of roaming infected gnomes.
  • When approached by an infected gnome, stepping over them has proven greatly effective.

Control Measures

The removal of the gnomes heads has shown effective in controlling the spread but removal should start at the back of the head, just below the skull as the beard has proven to deflect the incision.  Lifting of the severed head for disposal, should be done by holding the red pointy hat as the severed gnomes head will still have the ability to bite!
Should you find yourself unarmed, a large terracotta pot will restrict the Gnomes movement before a chopping implement can be found.  As a back up, super glue should always be carried to glue the Gnome in place until such time that its head can be safely removed.  Because Gnomes will often travel and congregate in packs, ride on mowers has proven effective in large scale beheading.

Tests are being conducted under laboratory conditions to see if the infection can mutate to infect other objects.  Early indications have shown that the disease is restricted to just Gnomes, but concerns remain that other lawn ornaments may be subjected to the same infection.


It looks like we're too late!

If you like what you see and want a zombie Gnome, check out this site for more:

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Old faithful plants - Elaeagnus pungens

So what does a Russian garden magazine, the Augusta National Golf club, and a golden Arborvitae have in common?  Well keep reading and I'll show you.

For this old faithful post, I've chosen one of my top picks for a screening evergreen.  This shrub is just bulletproof;  no major pest or disease problems, deer resistant, drought tolerant and adaptable in just about any location.  Elaeagnus pungens, AKA Silverthorn is well known in commercial landscaping, for all the reasons listed above, but is still relatively unused in domestic horticulture.  The Silverthorn gets its name from the gun metal, metallic gray coloration of the foliage.  Many variegated types exist, offering an exciting alternative to Japanese Euonymus which deer are normally known to browse down.  For myself, the fall flowering aspect is the crowning accolade, though inconspicuous, they will fill the air with a sweet aroma.

Native to Asia, this plant has gained a reputation for making itself at home in North America.  In Florida it is listed as an invasive species.  However, for us in Virginia, it is not considered a threat.  Elaeagnus angustifolia, or Russian olive, on the other hand has successfully escaped and leaped over the garden fence, beginning to invade as aggressively as crabgrass in our natural landscape.  Russian olive is a copious producer of berries that the bird devour in a feeding frenzy and has the ability to be able to lock up nitrogen in its roots, allowing it to get a foot hold in poor soils, out competing our indigenous plants.   Unfortunately,  the reputation of it's cousin has made some people weary, and to further complicate matters, the Silverthorn is often mistakenly called Russian olive, leading to confusion.

It was in a Russian garden magazine that some good friends showed me, where I first began to learn about the health benefits some Elaeagnus offer through its berries.  Though my Russian is a bit rusty, I was able to learn that the fruit of Elaeagnus multiflora, or Goumi Berry, is a great source of vitamins A and E and has the highest lycopene content of any food, even tomatoes   Sadly, our Silverthorn isn't well known for its fruit for which I have only seen a handful of being produced, but that's what keeps this species in check and stops it from running away.

E. 'Fruitlandii'
For those looking for the metallic luster of its foliage, two main cultivars rival each other for the spot light.  'Ebbingei' is widely believed to be a hybrid between E.pungens x E.macrophylla but is very difficult to tell apart.  'Fruitlandii' is the commercial king of the group, with slightly larger, wavy foliage.  It was named for the now extinct nursery that introduced it into commerce, Fruitlands Nursery in Georgia.  The history of Fruitlands has dropped into obscurity over the years but it has been credited for the success of the peach industry in the south.  The owner, Prospector Berckman, a Belgian national, took over the nursery in 1858  and grew it into one of North America's most successful nurseries of that time.  Another one of his introductions that bears his name is Thuja 'Berckmans Gold', a wonderful golden oriental arborvitae.  As with most things, the business slipped away with the passing of the owner, leaving his siblings to continue for a while.  The old home still stands to this day as the clubhouse for the Augusta National Golf Club, where the rest of the nursery was remodeled into the prestigious golf course.  In fact, many of Berckman's plantings still stand around the course to this day.

E. 'Gilt Edge'
Of the Variegated forms, only two seem to be popular in my area (Gilt Edge and Gold Splash), but 'Maculata' deserves a mention at the same time.  'Maculata' is an old favorite of mine that is used extensively in England. However, here on the east coast of North America I haven't discovered anyone producing it, unless you find it in a mail order nursery.  'Gilt Edge' however, does seem to be readily available from Monrovia Nurseries and is a good alternative to 'Maculata'.  The foliage has a prominent band of soft yellow around the margin of its leaves, and is much slower in growth than its parent.  Though difficult to find, 'Eleador' aka 'Gold Splash', is still my favorite, a faster growing form with varying golden coloration.  Either way, both are extremely valuable for their golden winter color that will brighten up a otherwise grey day.

E. 'Eleador'
Height and spread of any Silverthorn can be around 8 to10ft, but they accept heavy pruning with no complaints.  I have found that it is necessary to hack and whack at least once a year to encourage an overall fullness to it's body.  Otherwise, the long whip-like stems can make it slightly less attractive.  As mentioned before, they have no major pest or disease issues to be concerned about, and once established, don't require much aftercare. Hardy down to zone 6.

For some, this plant doesn't register high on their list of most desirable.  In fact, I have a sales rep (who will remain nameless), that regularly refers to them as 'ugly-agnus'. However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to quote a line from a famous plants-woman and celebrated garden designer of her time, Gertrude Jekyll, "there is no such thing as a bad plant, just a plant used in a bad way".  I always get a kick out of discovering how one plant can be connected to so many things.  Just like a spider's web, the common thread can touch many elements at the same time.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Gardening therapy

Design school can only teach you so much, concept and form, elements of design, construction, you name it, they'll cover it.  However, real world experience is where formal education can come up short. Particularly, how to deal with challenging customers.

I did a nice little consult for an elderly couple who needed to replant a small triangular shaped bed in their backyard.  It was a nice, simple combination, something with height to hide a telephone terminal box, with the rest of the planting to transition down.  The plants needed to be deer resistant, and by the looks of the photo's brought in of the previous plants, somewhat easy to take care of.  Needless to say, the previous plants had been completely stripped down.  The garden backed onto a golf course, where the deer roamed freely, from garden to garden at night.

I had my suspicions that deer weren't the key cause of the plant's failure. Azalea's, being shallow rooted, don't favor a lot of sun particularly when baked dry.  Not to worry, "We have an irrigation system!"  Right, the irrigation story again.  However, I couldn't get them to agree on a single thing, beginning with what the space looked like.  The husband would say one thing, the wife would dismiss it and claim a different version.  At one point I found myself stuck between the two of them, as both told me their differing stories at the same time. I wasn't sure of who to look at, so my head switched between the two of them like a Meerkat out of it's hole watching for predators.  It became comical to watch them fight for control of the camera, tugging it from each other, and arguing over what picture was what, so they could give me a synopsis of the lay of the garden.

Oh, I say, that not British!
I had to bite my tongue when the wife mentioned that she wanted a tall straight evergreen with a pair of boxwood's either side, finished off with "fluffy shrubbery" around the base.  I wonder what was on her mind?  I'm sure if I asked the husband he would be looking for the two big, round, voluptuous evergreens in a bed that would curve down in an manner that was easy on the eyes!

It was also interesting to hear where the emphasis should be placed on the direction in which the area would be viewed   The husbands concern was of the view from the golf course side, making a point that it was next to the sixteenth hole, which is a par 3!  Not being a golfer myself, he might as well have been speaking Spanish, but I'm guessing that's where he escapes too.  The wife was obviously concerned with the aesthetics from the house.  Another divide of interests to overcome.

The mediation ended with the two opposing camps reaching a successful resolution.  In fact, they left the decision up to me, being the neutral third party with no underlying agenda.  It was smooth sailing until I helped to load their car, then heard the wife beginning to instruct him on how to plant the shrubs.  Let the battle commence, it's going to be a long drive home for someone.

Reflecting, as one does, on my afternoon in the war-zone,  I began to feel that those golden years of retirement, that you work so hard to achieve, might just be a pipe dream.  I always thought it was all about kicking back, playing golf and enjoying your two fingers of scotch every now and then.  But, in reality we need to carve out our own space, a personal sanctuary of inner peace.  Gardening can do this, provided that both partners aren't actively involved at the same time.  I know for me, when the kids are screaming the garden is a great escape.  That is until they find out where I am.  Maybe in design school, that was what they meant by 'spacial awareness'!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Quiet on the set.....and action!

I'm not one to blow my own horn but, toot toot!  My 15 minutes of fame has gone on a little longer than predicted, with now the release of my 'keepers' television commercial. This is the rough version, the one for airing still needed some airbrush work as I think there was some grease on the lens that made me look fat.  

 I've had more than my fair share of time in front of a camera, from appearing on the live Merrifield Garden Adviser on local cable, to being featured on four episodes of HGTV 'Curb Appeal' as a landscape designer.  The down side with all this filming over the years, is now I can watch how time has been unfair to myself.  Looking back, I've been able to watch the progression of my fine head of hair thinning out, while the joys of indulgence building up.  I blame the hair loss for the comfort eating, I'm a very sensitive guy!  Still, I now wear a cap just to make sure the rest of my hair doesn't blow off, though the cameraman claims it cuts down on the glare.  P.allen Smith doesn't have these troubles, though I wonder if his fine head of hair is real.  It never looks out of place, even on a windy day.

Pre-parenthood - Getting shiny on top but no gray hairs just yet

Though I sound like I'm complaining, it is a very nice perk of the job. You don't see many other companies having their employees featured on commercials.  I dread to think what would happen if a few places I know of did it, a blank stare is sometimes too much work for some of their employees!

If I was told all those years ago, that I would end up on television in a different country, I would've thought you'd been smoking crack.  Now, someone challenge me to run for president, anything's possible now!

"Don't look into the camera", but it's in my face!