Friday, May 29, 2009

Amy Stewart is Wicked hot!

Mostly because the room was wickedly hot, and standing-room only. In a bakery. While they were baking. It was held in the bakery next door to the host, Urban Roots, our community garden center cooperative.

One of Amy's slides from a trip to a poison garden that had gotten permission to grow cannabis. Behind bars and under lock & key.

There were 35 to 45 people there to listen to Amy Stewart, of Garden Rant and Dirt, by Amy Stewart, tell stories about plants from her new book, Wicked Plants. Stories with pain, asphyxiation, vomiting, paralysis, rashes and sun-induced blisters that usually ended up with a death (or two). She delights in tales of caster bean plants, planted in pretty public squares, that result in total organ failure and body-wracking pain. Or hallucinogenic peace lilies, planted in public library gardens frequented by children.

Much of what she covered was in her book. Though, she was able to show her Powerpoint presentation which had photos from some of the poison gardens around the world she's visited and had some great anecdotes about those visits. The gist of her talk though, other than horror stories, was making people aware that plants that are not food–can be dangerous. Folks like to protect their young 'uns from electrical outlets–there are 3,900 people injured annually by electrical outlets–but 68,847 annually poisoned by plants! And the deadliest plant of all time? Tobacco, with a death toll of more than 90 million.

Amy's little chest - of deadly plant seeds and their antidotes, picked up in an antiques store. She delights in getting it through airport security. Other than opening it up and checking it out, she's not been stopped–despite clearly labeled jars of totally toxic seeds & plant extracts.

She wrapped up with answering a few questions. As with many events like this, some people don't ask questions as much as they make comments so they can hear themselves talk–not really intending to solicit a response from the speaker. In the movie, The Incredibles, it was called monologuing.

Elizabeth from Gardening While Intoxicated/Garden Rant introduced her, noting that Amy's less a garden writer, in her estimation, than an investigative reporter/storyteller that writes about the plant world. Never truer words spoken. If she's coming anywhere near you, you should take the time to catch her act.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Shady Goings-on

From the office window, the front garden, in the shade of the damn crab apple tree.

I can't bring much light to the topic for the Garden Blogger Design Workshop on Shade in the Garden. I do have a good amount of shade–most of which is provided in a dappled manner, pretty much all day long, from a crab apple tree in my front garden. My back yard is 90% sun, so this is my only significant shade.

First off, I like the shade it provides, but I hate the tree. Actually, I like it every two years for about three weeks. That's when it's covered in absolutely beautiful, pink blossoms. The next 23 months it seems as though in decline, and only serves to shade the garden. I'm told, in the '80s, it was hit by a neighbor that had a bit too much to drink. That didn't kill it (or him). Oh, and the suckers that come up from the tree are annoying. For the most part, I let 'em do what they want to. They are greenery after all.

The strip on the left is under planted with grape hyacinths. This row contains hosta, phlox, iris, rudbeckia, chameleon plant, columbine, Russian sage, spring bulbs, allium, perennial geranium, and more, capped off on the far end by a columnar apple tree.

I never really paid too much attention to putting shade-requiring plants in the front yard. There's plenty of sun worshipers there that seem to be thriving. Or, if they're not thriving to their max potential, they're smaller than full-size, and that's okay too. This is the less formal, jam-packed, chaotic, cacophony of plants I bought cause I liked (and had no other place to put them), or was given (and had no other place to put them). Now the garden is mature enough that even the perennials provide shade on each other.

Street-side path: daffodils, lavender, lamb's ear, huechera, lungwort, and a huge-mungous hosta.

When we moved in this plot was grass, the crab apple and a few bushes (thorny hedges, burning bush, holly, rhododendron and an azalea). Now it's chock-a-block full of dozens and dozens of perennials planted in berms created from the soil cleared out for the paths.

No more mowing, fertilizing, aerating, watering and patching. Now it's just watering occasionally (though it has a soaker hose snaked throughout the whole area, so that's not hard), weeding occasionally (mostly pulling Chinese lanterns), throwing down some compost once a year in the spring, and mulching right before the hordes show up for Garden Walk. I spend my time now each spring–not planting–but separating and dividing the plants.

Middle path: columbine, horseradish, lily, ferns, hosta, bellflower, bachelor buttons, huechera, grasses, iris, Chinese lanterns, forget-me-nots, and some groundcovers from a neighbor.

The shade garden is divided in four strips of garden with brick walkways in between. The bricks were in the garage when we moved in. The past owners collected them from Long Island, the land of their people. They are stamped with Long Island county names (the bricks, not the former owners), which is kinda' cool.

Columbine like the shade here. once the columbine dies away, only the apple suckers and lungwort remain. I just planted a clematis to climb the tree..

Often times, I can find (accompanied) toddlers wandering the paths. The meandering paths seem to be irresistible for little kids. I once found an art class out there sketching the yard. A few times a year, I can look out my office window and see people photographing the garden and/or house.

My favorite plant to stump other gardeners - this is my horseradish. Kind of an old-timey plant that seems to like the shade.

I just trimmed back the tree, as I do every few years, so it'll get more sun this summer. I'll have to see if the plants are happy with that. They really don't care much what I do, as long as I feed them and let them now I care.

The last path, nearest the house: shady characters - lonely peony that ended up there with the dirt from something else, ferns, hosta, burning bush, some sort of arborvitae, rhododendron, azalea, gooseneck loosestrife and lots more.

along the driveway. There are three of these immense hosta that get closer to each other every year.

Toward the neighbor's house. There's that soaker hose.

Gotta' move the rhododendron. It's too crowded where it is.

From the porch: the dappled shade is there until about an hour and a half before the sun goes down.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A garden to follow

The Buffalo News will be following the preparations of Garden Walk Gardeners Jennifer & Jim Guercio, as they prepare their THREE gardens for the 15th annual Garden Walk Buffalo. News writer Anne Neville interviewed Jennifer & Jim last week, in May. She'll do follow-up articles in June and July, in anticipation of the Walk on Saturday and Sunday, July 25 & 26.

Jennifer and Jim have one of the most popular gardens on Garden Walk. Their grand Victorian home has a grand Victorian garden that's been highlighted in local and national magazines. They even dress up in home-made Victorian garb to greet visitors. I posted about their dog's "poo" corner of their garden.

Jennifer & Jim being photographed for Garden Ideas and Outdoor Living magazine.

Better Homes & Gardens has photographed the front yard to be used in an issue in the future (see my post about the photo shoot here). Garden Ideas & Outdoor Living has photographed their back yard to be used in an upcoming issue (see my post about that photo shoot here). The garden is featured in Buffalo marketing materials for the Convention & Visitors Bureau and little slices of it have even been spotted, uncredited, in Garden Gate magazine.

Click to link to the actual video.

The Buffalo News
has even filmed a little video that can be seen on their website, with Jennifer talking about one of the homes she's preparing for the Walk. They have their home and two rental properties on the Walk. Click on the video image to the left to take you to the News site to see the clip.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wicked Amy

Amy Stewart, of Garden Rant and Dirt by Amy Stewart, comes to town this week, on Wednesday, to promote her book, Wicked Plants. She'll be hosted by the bookstore down the street, Talking Leaves (appropriate name, no?).

She'll be appearing at Urban Roots Community Garden Center. Urban Roots is the country's first garden center cooperative. And I'm a part owner, along with 515 other part owners.

I'm also on the marketing committee of Urban Roots, so I've helped a bit in promoting the event. Which means I helped send out press releases,, secured a small blurb in a gardening column of the Buffalo News, promoted the talk in Garden Walk Buffalo literature and will be there early to set up chairs. I'll also help set up a table of the poisonous plants the nursery already has for sale. I had to forward them a list, as even they did not know some of the plants they had were potentially harmful. Elizabeth of Gardening While Intoxicated and Garden Rant must have worked her magic to get a review of the book in Sunday's Buffalo News.

I finished Wicked Plants last week. I am now officially afraid to go outside. I'll also never eat any plant material for the rest of my natural life. I can live on burgers alone I think. From carnivorous cows. Eating cows that eat plants is too dangerous. That's how Abraham Lincoln's mother died.

Actually, I feel even MORE comfortable outside, knowing that most of what I have in my garden is relatively harmless. And I now have more knowledge of the few potentially harmful plants I do have. It's a great read, as she only included plants that had a great ghastly story behind it, or had a death tally.

I'll be there on Wednesday, and I'll have my camera. Stop back on Thursday!

You've got to check out the trailer for the book. It's pretty funny. Stay until after the credits. It's wickedly cute.

Friday, May 22, 2009


One benefit of not having grass, and having all perennials in the front yard is, I haven't been out there yet to do anything. No mowing, weeding or watering.


Three weeks ago

Four weeks ago.

Five weeks ago.

Six years ago.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pronounced Purple Predilection

I swear I didn't do it on purpose, but 90% of what I have blooming currently is a varying shade of purple. Above are the allium.

The purple columbine.

Bachelor buttons.

Silver dollar plant.


Periwinkle (shouldn't these be more the color of... oh... say... periwinkle?).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Andre Le Notre garden at Chateau Vaux le Vicomte

There is so much grand-scale design going on here that it’s hard to comprehend. The view from the chateau is intended to NOT reveal much of the garden through an optical illusion.

The farther you walk into the garden–the larger it gets! The statue on yonder hill is so far away, it can't be seen in this photo.

Each terrace of the garden going back, is just low enough that an average-height person cannot see the next level down from the vantage point of the “back porch.” You see the first-level garden and a statue way off in the distance on a hill. Once you start walking toward the statue, acres and acres of gardens are revealed until you get to the “grand canal” in a valley which is so low you cannot see it in this photo.

The back yard.

Also, there is a reflecting pool way way in the back (top photo) and, if you stand in just the right place, you can see the perfect reflection of the chateau in its entirety.

Le Nôtre also designed the gardens at Versailles and the Tuileries in Paris, amongst many others. He was a busy guy.

The front yard. Subtle.

Scenes from the 1979 James Bond movie Moonraker (as Hugo Drax’s pad), 2007’s Marie Antoinette and 1998’s The Man in the Iron Mask were shot here. Actress Eva Longoria & basketball star Tony Parker had their wedding reception here.

Favorite thing: Having the garden get larger as you walk through it.

Is there anything you do to fool the eye at your chateau?

Visit Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte

This is a favorite old post, created before I was on Blogger. I repeat it here to save & catalog it on this new site. Sorry if you've read it before.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

National Botanical Garden in Spring

When we were in Washington a couple weeks ago, we made a quick trip into the United States Botanic Garden, which is literally in the shadow of the Capital Building. We were searching for places to get in from out of the rain. No better place to spend some time while waiting for the downpour to stop.

There was a small orchid corner room, with beautiful orchids.

Some great foliage to ponder.

A children's garden. Closed. It's probably at its best with no children. The plants looked relieved anyway.

A walkway along the ceiling affords great views of the "forest" floor.

Outdoors was all a bloom. It rained all day. We did up the Native American Museum (wonderfully-designed museum with a native-foods cafeteria!), the Bureau of Printing and Engraving (saw dollars being printed!) and the National Archives (saw the Declaration of Independence, Constitution & Bill of Rights!). It never stopped raining that day. We were soaked.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bloom Day May

Silver Dollar plant in front of Bleeding Heart on the patio.

Any one know what this is? I bought it under the name of "Chocolate Vine." It's been there five years. This is the first time its bloomed. The deep purple, popcorn-sized and shaped blooms smell like a subtle perfume.

Here is the Chocolate Vine from a distance.

The two trees of the espalier are still struggling.

Tulips in the back yard.

Tulips are waning in the front garden.


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