30 July 2008

roof garden

A little background: Alan is one of B’s and my best friends. He’s also an incredibly talented gardener. Over the past ten years or so, he has lugged countless bags of soil up to the roof of his apartment building in the Village, bought or rescued or grown from seed hundreds of plants, and spent thousands of hours snaking a hose from pot to pot to pot late at night after he gets home from work. I’ve posted about his garden before. But this year, it’s even more beautiful. What that guy can do with a plant in a pot is pretty wonderful.

And he’d be embarrassed to hear me praising him so much.

But look for yourself. Lavender, phlox, roses, gaillardia (“Oranges & Lemons”: I’m envious . . . want me some of that), lisianthus, plumbago, jasmine. His fruits and vegetables this year: tomatoes, cucumbers, melons (“Charentais”), watermelons (“Ali Baba” and “Moon & Stars”), raspberries, grapes (for crying out loud!), and, in the shade of the grape arbor, ferns and heuchera. It’s paradise on a tar roof.

I love my garden in all of its weedy glory and for the overall effect of plant on plant on plant, but I also love Alan’s rooftop plants in pots because I can really get to know them up close and personal.

So here we go, from the top: The grape arbor and some ripening Concord grapes; a rooftop gardener’s potting shed; a long view over to the north side of the roof; lavender, roses, and phlox (and the gardener peeking out from behind the grape arbor). Alan is particularly taken these days with Phlox paniculata “David.” He has six pots of it already (with more to come when he divides them), and the sight and scent of all those flowers glowing in the evening is intoxicating.

Here’s a David Austin rose whose name I do not know. Alan splurged this spring and bought three David Austin bushes from Jackson and Perkins. The bare-root sticks he planted in May are blooming now.

Who doesn’t love plumbago? Well, no one I know. What a flower: Powdery and pure sky-blue and very unusual. Currently this guy is tucked in a dark-blue glazed pot, which you think would be a great effect with the light blue of the flowers, but actually Alan thinks the blue would pop more if the plant were in a plain, old terra cotta pot. I agree.

Nearby is a pot of lisianthus. Alan bought a pack of these plants at Clear Brook Farm in Shaftsbury, Vermont, this spring when he visited us one weekend. I’ve tried growing lisianthus out in my garden, but I think I like the look of it better growing in a pot.

And the gaillardia “Oranges & Lemons” is a knockout. I ordered it this spring from Bluestone Perennials for Alan, but I kind of wish I’d been selfish and kept it for myself. OH well. Heh heh. The bumblebees love it, too.

Finally, some tomatoes and basil (with a privet standing guard at the rear). Most of the tomatoes are “Brandywine,” Alan’s favorite, but there are a few other heirlooms there, too. The plants look especially nice this year because they’re being grown in brand-new soil, which makes a real difference. Alan is finding he has to water the tomatoes and the other water-drinking fruits, the melons, twice a day these days. It gets really hot on the roof!

The leaf closeup is of “Ali Baba.” Alan tells me that the watermelon growing on that plant is already as big as a football. He made a special growing platform for it so that it doesn’t have to rest on the hot tar roof.

And his “Charentais” is also starting to set fruit. Last year he let this melon plant cascade down a wall, and the one melon it produced hung like a pendant from the vine. This year he decided to try letting it grow onto a picket fence. It has really taken off, as you can see. And Alan tells me that he has something like six melons ripening.

Pickling cucumbers are starting to come in, as are Alan’s Concord grapes (see at the very top of this post). Last fall he made grape jelly from the grape harvest. This year he’s planning on making some pickles, too (from the cucumbers, of course).

And where there are grapes there must be just enough shade underneath for some ostrich ferns and dark-leaved heuchera.

summer on the fire escape

A few months ago I bought two packages of acidanthera corms (Gladiolus callianthus). One package I gave to Alan, and the other I tucked away and forgot about until about three weeks ago, when I noticed that the pansies were gasping in the summer heat. Gently I, shall we say, retired the pansies and replanted the pot with the acidanthera. Within a week (eager corms) I had sprouts, and now the leaves are about a foot tall. Here they are, with a newly planted rosemary plant (thanks, Gina!) and some mint. The fire escape doesn’t get full sun, so it’s anyone’s guess how well these plants will do, but so far so good. The sunlight is pretty on all those green leaves, isn’t it?

And stepping back a bit, here’s a fellow who knows how to make the most of a lazy summer afternoon in the city. Hi, Scamp!

23 July 2008


I’ve been tagged. Yes, sirree. By Mr. Subjunctive at Plants Are the Strangest People. Thank you, Mistuh S. Were I a shyer soul, I would pass, but I think this is kind of cool, so thanks!

Here are the rules:
  • Link to the person who tagged me.
  • Post the rules on my blog.
  • Write six random things about myself.
  • Tag six people at the end of my post. (mebbe not)
  • Let each person know that they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • Let the tagger know when my entry is posted.
Six Random Things About Me
  • I met B at church, St. John’s in the Village, to be exact. Not on a blind date, not online, not in a bar, not at a dinner party. He was the parish administrator, and I was a member of the church choir. I walked through his office every Thursday evening on my way to rehearsal and waved hello. It was a very gentle introduction. On our first date we watched the second act of a dress rehearsal of A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters. Then we went out to dinner.
  • Great memory: Instead of spending my junior year of college abroad like all of my friends, I went to Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and participated in a program called Sea Semester (not to be confused with Semester at Sea). It was a twelve-week academic program, half of which was spent at Woods Hole studying oceanography, marine biology, and nautical science and half doing research from a 120-foot staysail schooner called the Westward. We sailed from Miami, Florida, through the Bahamas, up to Bermuda, then up the Chesapeake, and finally back to Woods Hole. The subject of my research project was pelagic tar and how it was filtered out of the water by island systems and the North Atlantic Gyre. While my classmates were sunning themselves on beaches in Bermuda, I was scraping tar off of rocks and analyzing it. We were actually stranded for a few days in the Sargasso Sea. We students served as researchers and crew aboard the Westward. I spent some gorgeous, peaceful nights by myself on bow watch. Which brings to mind one of my favorite bits of etymology from Moby Dick: A mariner sat in the shrouds one night, / The wind was piping free; / Now bright, now dimmed, was the moonlight pale, / And the phospher gleamed in the wake of the whale, / As it floundered in the sea. —Elizabeth Oakes Smith.
  • I don’t get seasick (see above), and I have a high threshold for stomach-churning stimulation. I love any sort of ride at an amusement park or county fair. LOVE the Cyclone at Coney Island. I definitely have never stayed too long at the fair.
  • I once deliberately fell and ripped the knees of a pair of trousers so I wouldn’t have to wear them any more. They were brown-and-white houndstooth double-knit polyester bell-bottoms. My excuse for this bit of bad behavior and the clothes: I was about seven years old and it was the 1970s. On the other hand, my favorite articles of clothing from around that time were a fringed suede vest and a French-cuffed, puffy-sleeved white and brown shirt that my aunt and uncle sent me from Greece. Rock star.
  • I was named for my great-great uncle who was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness: “JARED HENRY HOTTEL, born July 24, 1843; was a soldier in the Confederate Army in the Civil War. He entered the service in the spring of 1861 at the age of seventeen. He served in Ashby’s Cavalry, Co. K, Rosser's Brigade, Jeb Stuart’s Corps, until he was killed in the Battle of the Wilderness, May 5, 1864, by a gunshot wound in the breast, and was carried from the field by Jacob Zirkle, a member of his company. He was buried by his comrades in a garden under a cherry tree on the Plank Road, leading from the Wilderness to Orange Court House. Later, his body was disinterred and brought back to his home for final burial in the family graveyard.” From: History of the Descendants of John Hottel, by Rev W.D. Huddle. Harrisonburg, Va.: C.J. Carrier Company, 1982, pp. 563–564.
  • I always mean to, but I never pack my lunch for work. This means that I spend about $3.00 to $4.00 every day or $20.00 a week on food out when I’d be perfectly happy eating a peanut butter sandwich and some carrot sticks.
Now here’s the hard part: Whom shall I tag? I think mostly everyone I know online has done this bit of self-revelation at least a dozen times, so I will mull over my options for now.

22 July 2008

more on the dahlias

I am dee-lighted but can’t figure out why the dahlias are blooming as early as they are this year when in years past I’ve considered myself lucky to have a blossom or two by mid-October, right before old man Winter comes along with his frost gun.

This year I have given every possible advantage to the dahlias, including:
  • Starting them early on the fire escape
  • Bringing the pots inside on coolish nights
  • Devoting an entire bed to four of the dahlia plants (and a canna) and making certain that the fifth set into the perennial bed did not have to compete for room or light with the plants around it
  • Staking them from the get-go
The more-or-less perfect growing weather we’ve had upstate certainly hasn’t hurt, either. So far this summer, we’ve seemed to get rain when we need it, and B and I top the beds off with water from the hose on the weekends.

I guess all of that would do it. The dahlias have been the favored children this spring. And instead of becoming ungrateful wretches with all of the attention lavished on them, they have grown and grown.

So now all except the Kaiser Wilhelm are blooming. This is so cool. And Kaiser is setting buds, so I think we’ll be seeing some blossoms on him this weekend.

Our friend Randy came over to the house with Betty on Sunday morning to meet my parents and my brother and his family, who were all visiting. B gave Randy the five-cent tour of the gardens while I was watching my niece and nephew race to and from the mailbox. When he saw the dahlias, Randy (who is an experienced gardener) said, “Wow! I can’t believe you have blooms so early!” Which, of course, fills me with pride and a lot of gratitude for his actually noticing the miracle.

So all of this gets me to thinking about my dahlias in years past. Some I started indoors, all I planted in the perennial bed and allowed to get shaded by larger plants around them, and (I think this may be an important point, but I’m only speculating) I grew only dahlias with dinner-plate sized blossoms. Could it be that the plants needed to grow to a particular size before they could begin to devote energy to producing their blooms? I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m going to give the same treatment to some large-flowered dahlias next year and see what happens.

Gina at work wants to see photos, but, alas, none yet. I’m waiting for all of the dahlias to come into bloom, and then I’ll start snapping!

14 July 2008

first bloodstone

This is for Suzann and Joan. Bloodstone! The first dahlia of the summer. Not QUITE open, but I couldn’t wait.

Update on the others: Yellow Gem is opening, as well, and there are buds on Little Beeswings and Andries Orange (I think; it’s either that or the Kaiser Wilhelm). The Kaiser Wilhelm (or the Andries Orange) is slow-growing, kind of like the dahlias I’ve tried to grow in years past. Lots of leaves, but no sign of buds yet.

09 July 2008

note to self: chicory

Good post from 2005 on chicory over at the Bookish Gardener. B would love to grow this in our garden because the flowers are so pretty. I’d never considered doing that for some reason, though I love the flowers, too. They’re a clear true blue. I’d always (ignorantly) assumed we’d have to dig it up from beside the road or from the unmowed meadow to get it.

So I did dig some up in midsummer (when I could actually identify it by the blooms). The roots were brittle, the plants wilted immediately, and I never saw them again.

It is possible, of course, to acquire some seeds (Cichorium intybus or Cichorium endivia) and simply sow them. As we used to say in high school: Duh.

05 July 2008

it must be love

These days the daffodil foliage looks like nothing so much as a sloppy comb-over, yet I will not cut them back I will NOT.

I love daffodils . . . in the spring. With flowers.

But (sigh) I PROMISE I won’t cut them back before the foliage crisps.

mystery solved?

Pam sent me a photo of her mystery flower last night. Looks like Stokesia laevis to me (Stokes aster or cornflower aster). She told me it’s 16 inches at its highest point and a very pretty color, too. Whaddya think: Stokesia?

On another subject, Pam asked for some information about our comfrey plant, so I did a little research and found that what we have seems most likely rough comfrey (Symphytum asperum), rather than Symphytum officinale. Do any of my friends out there in Garden Land grow comfrey? Does yours grow to 4.5 feet like ours does? (I added a little note to the bottom of the post where I first mentioned the comfrey, if you’re at all interested.)

04 July 2008

happy fourth of july!

first tomato of 2008

B here. Normally, in much of the country, and certainly in my old Kentucky Home, tomatoes by July 4th aren’t that much of a big deal. But in the micro-climate on this northern little hill, it’s a miracle. Eaten out of hand with a sprinkling of sea salt, this one little tomato brings tears to the eye. Welcome, holy summer.

03 July 2008

could it be? and so early in the season?

My dahlia saga began in January, when I started salivating over the offerings from Old House Gardens. I ordered some tubers, and then I took a quick breath and ordered some more in February (thanks to an early birthday gift from B’s mom and sister). The tubers arrived in April, and then the agonizing began: When to start them? How much water? Is it too cold on the fire escape right now? I’ll bring them in at night. Should I get some counseling from my neighbor who grows beautiful dahlias? I fussed and fretted over those tubers, but in direct contradiction to the adage about the watched pot (clay, in this case), they all sprouted and began to grow. I considered where I wanted to set them out, decided to dig a nice little semicircular bed next to the chicken coop, and finally planted them all in the ground in early June.

All spring, Nancy Bond from Soliloquy endured my worried chitters about the precious tubers, provided lots of encouragement, and, finally, set me straight: “I’m betting your dahlias grow beautifully! They’re flowers—like the geraniums—that don’t like to be embarrassed by being fussed over too much. :) Good luck and lots of pics!”

Excellent advice from Nancy Bond, who lives in Nova Scotia and has never had any trouble growing dahlias! Last Saturday I checked to make certain no one needed to be staked and then noticed the first buds: No, really, THE FIRST BUDS. Probably not very evident in this photograph, but dere’s buds on dem dar dahlias.

On 28 June 2008.

In zone 5 (formerly 4).

So there.

As old Will wrote: “O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful! and yet again wonderful, and after that out of all whooping!”

But, soft, soft: I can’t wait to see what’s happening this weekend!

(Here’s the whole dramatic story of my dahlias.)

02 July 2008

the mystery unfolds

My friend Pam sent me a new photograph of her mystery plant. The buds are slowly unfurling and appear to be uncovering a light-colored interior. I continue to have no idea what this could be, but I am mightily intrigued.

abbott & costello in greenwich village

B was about to turn in for the night, and because the alarm clock is on my side and he’d had to get up really early on Wednesday morning, he asked me to reset it for a bit later on Thursday morning before I toddled off:

B: J, will you set the alarm for seven thirty?
J: Sure, seven thirty it will be.
B: No earlier.
J: Okay, so what time do you want me to set the alarm for?
B: (confused) Seven thirty.
J: Right, okay.
B: No earlier.
J: (frustrated) What time do you want to get up tomorrow morning?
B: (more frustrated) Seven thirty!
J: Do you want the alarm set for earlier than that?
B: No earlier than seven thirty.
J: (finally getting it) Oh!

01 July 2008

the garden cataloging project

I’ve just read some great posts from Carol over at May Dreams Gardens and Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening followed by lots of useful comments.

I am impressed by Carol’s system (and her handwriting) and Kathy’s attitude about keeping records.

Carol’s posts:
Kathy’s response:
Shady Gardener at Does Everything Grow Better in My Neighbor’s Yard? also posted about her system, begun early this spring:
Lots of food for thought here . . .

sure on this shining night (garden bloggers' muse day)

Sure on this shining night
Of starmade shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.

The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.

Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night I weep for
wonder wand'ring far

Of shadows on the stars.

—James Agee

The American composer Samuel Barber set this poem to music. It's one of the most beautiful settings I know: a perfect marriage of music and words. Here's a recording of baritone Nathan Gunn singing it. Enjoy! http://www.lottelehmann.org/artsong/bios/bio_Barber.shtml
(if the song doesn't play automatically from this link, click on the title "Sure on this Shining Night" on the lottelehmann.org page, and the Windows Media Player should open on your screen; try to listen to the song if you can, because it "sure" is beautiful)

For a little more information on this cool idea, see Garden Bloggers’ Muse Day over at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.