Bloomin’ Update 21: Down The Rabbit Hole


I was all set to do a before and after photo spread, starting off with white and colored eggs in the spirit of the Easter holiday, and then segue into a series of photos about my pre- and post-Spring clean-up.

Before: The implied knot garden.

My raking , though, became more of an excavation as I uncovered plants that I hadn’t seen in some time — and my imagination kicked in.  Suddenly, I was a space explorer hovering over an unchartered alien world, boldly going where no man had gone before.  Or, in keeping with the season, I was Alice down the rabbit hole — and the garden grew curiouser and curiouser.

An oasis of peony.

The Valley of Lily of the Valley.

A view of Hosta Heights.

The edge of the Great Boxwood Forest.

The Spiderwort Wood, or as the local tribes call it, Tradescantia.

The Great Desert was once a colorful jungle. What happened here?

The unfurling tendrils of the Ferocious Ferns are poised to snag an unsuspecting wanderer.

When I came to, I was back in my garden, rake in hand and surveying my work . . .

After: The implied knot garden.

. . . still unsure about where I had been.  But at least I have the photos to prove that it was a real place. 

Happy Passover.  Happy Easter.

Bloomin’ Update 19: The Wearin’ O’ The Green


It’s truly a green day! 

I’m on my way to march and play my bagpipes in the NYC parade,

but I wanted to share some of the greenery in my neck of the woods. 

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Swirls of Sedum.

In a matter of warm days, the northern-growing Magnolia went from this. . .

. . . to this. So close!

Crocus make an appearance.

Bela Lugosi Daylilies greeting the sun.

Bloomin’ Update 18: One Week In Two Zones

One day, you’re on vacation in South Florida, gazing at the pattern of a banana leaf sunlit from behind (above) — and the next, you’re bundled up against the wind chill of Long Island.  After arriving home, I went through some random Florida photos and then walked around the yard on Long Island to make a comparison.  Can you guess which photos came from which zone?

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Flora Fan Finds Flora Fun In Florida

We should have known that when we signed the papers for the house, that cluster of thunderstorms would have grown into a monster.

For twenty years now, I’ve been making a list.  One month before Hurricane Andrew slammed into South Florida, Joe and I purchased our retirement home – and ever since, I have worked on my list, editing it, adding to it, rethinking it. 

The list has to do with landscaping our retirement yard, which is pretty much a blank slate.  Over the years, we’ve planted palm trees – thereby giving us the basic garden structure.  But how do I fill in all of the open areas?   How do I adapt my very basic Long Island gardening knowledge to a subtropical zone? 

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Bloomin’ Update 17: Anticipation

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “In the Bleak Midwinter,” and my thought was to use it as the basis for a “Bloomin’ Update” post with photos of wintry scenes.  But this winter hasn’t been so bleak.  In fact, it feels more like mid-March than mid-winter.  Perhaps a more appropriate title should be “In the Balmy Midwinter.”

Holly berries.

Hardy Geranium

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Saving Elephant Ears & Canna — Part 2

For the sake of saving time, I thought I would combine the final packing practice for Canna and Elephant Ears.  Besides, I don’t think I can actually type the words Canna and Elephant Ears one more time.

The process is pretty much the same for both plants.  You will need peat moss, some kind of storage container (like brown paper bags), a shovel, and a room that stays relatively dry and evenly cool so that the plants can be lulled into a deep sleep without freezing.  If the final storage location is too damp or warm, the plants never get a chance to rest and they are at risk of rotting away — and after so much work getting to this point, that would be a shame.

Step 1: Where Canna are concerned, I double up two brown paper bags and label the outside.  I then put a shovel or two of peat moss in the bottom of the bag so the corms have a nesting area.

Step 2: I then place the corms (stem and all) into the bag.

Step 3: I tend to really pack the bags.  I’m not sure if this is correct, but it’s likely that I do this for the sake of space, since I have so many corms to pack away.  Once the bag is full, I then add more peat moss to the bag, shaking the bag so that the peat moss settles and covers the corms.

Step 4: Finally, I have something that looks like this.

Now for the Elephant Ears.  Last year, I stored the Elephant Ear bulbs in a plastic crate lined with a plastic bag.  I’m not sure if this had to do with my loss of energy and wanting to finish the task, needing to save space, or just running out of bags.  Either way, it worked.   By the way, don’t be surprised if your Elephant Ears have continued to grow since you dug them up.

Step 1: Once the crate is lined with a plastic bag, add a few shovels of peat moss into it to give the bulbs a place to rest.

Step 2: Load the Elephant Ear bulbs (stem and all) into the peat moss-filled crate.  Again, I tend to pack a lot in there.  Then add peat moss to cover the bulbs.

Step 3: Ultimately, this is what I am left with.  All that’s left to do now is carry everything into its Safe Room.

The Final Step: Here is the Safe Room — a cement bunker/bomb shelter hidden behind Joe’s  closet in the bedroom.  Now, anyone who knows me or who has read previous posts understands that I have an active imagination.  As my summer plants continue to live, enclosed behind the closet, my mind races back and forth between Edgar Allen Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher and the classic sci-fi film Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  So far, the Safe Room is protecting Joe and me.  So far. . .

Saving Canna — Part 1

Now that the Elephant Ears are out of the ground, it’s time to turn my attention to the Canna forest that is my yard.  The truth is, I never intended to have a Canna forest — things just got out of hand over the years as corms grew and became easy to divide, or I found new leaf patterns or bloom colors and I thought I needed to have three of each. 

I live in Zone 6 and I have tried to overwinter some Canna in the ground, but I have had no success.  I’ve mulched them and planted them along the south-facing side of the house, but to no avail.  So whether you have a few stalks or a forest, this is what you will need if you live in a northern climate and would like to save your Canna for future summers: garden clippers, shovel or pitchfork, stamina.

Step 1: For the sake of this demonstration, I dug the Canna first.  You could also trim the stalk and then dig out the corm.  Either way, pry up the plant, being careful to not damage the corm with your garden tool.





Step 2: Leave about 8″ – 10″ of stalk.  Actually, Canna can grow quite large, so for ease of trimming, it might make more sense to leave the corms in the ground, cut the stalks, and then dig out the plant.









Step 3: As sad as it is to do this job, there is a thrill each time I remove a corm from the ground.  See that white bulbous shape and the group of purple-tinged tips peaking through the roots?  That’s where next year’s growth will occur.  Ah — the promise of next year’s garden!  By the way, this is also a good time to remove any excess dirt.  Don’t divide the corms; that’s a task that’s safer to do in the spring when you unpack them from their hibernation location.     

Step 4: After the corms are out of the ground, I keep them in the potting shed for about a week.  The setting is warm enough for them to dry a bit before packing away, but not so hot that they cook.  Since I have several varieties, I group them in large plastic containers.  I also store them upside down — mostly because my gardening bible, Better Homes and Gardens Complete Guide to Gardening, recommends doing that.  I’m not sure of the reason, but I do as I’m told — and my gardening good book has never failed me. 

Next Post: Saving Elephant Ears and Saving Canna — Part 2.



Book Review: 1493

When children recite, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?” perhaps a more appropriate question would be, “From where does your garden grow?”  That’s the question I ‘m asking myself this Columbus Day weekend after reading the best-selling new book 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles C. Mann.  This meticulously researched book examines the world after Columbus set foot in North America. 

While Columbus certainly has his critics, there can be no mistaking that his arrival in the New World placed the entire world on the globalization frontier.  The author’s position is that much of what we enjoy today can be traced back to what he calls the Columbian Exchange, a means of moving plants and seeds and animals from one part of the world to another part.  It is why, for example, that tomatoes arrived in Italy and citrus arrived in Florida.  So much of what we take for granted wasn’t always so; and much of it would not be if Columbus had not set the process in motion. 

I myself am a bit of a mutt: English, Scottish, German, French, and Italian.  My paternal ancestors arrived in North America in 1675; my maternal great-grandfather entered through Ellis Island.  While this is my gene pool, I wonder just how diverse and worldly is my garden? 

Thanks to the Internet and Google, I learned that what I plant has traveled a long way to be planted.  In fact, my garden could be a lesson for world leaders seeking peace.   Although it heavily favors Asia and Central and South Americas, there is little conflict in plants from many lands successfully sharing common ground.   (Note to self: bring Australia into the mix, but wait until full-out global warming for Antarctica to come into bloom.) 

And to think my melting pot only took 518 years — and still counting — to plant. 

Happy Columbus Day — and enjoy the weekend in the garden.

Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: My Roots Are Showing

This is the end result of a day spent digging and removing Elephant Ears and Canna from the garden, and preparing them for their long winter’s nap.

It’s probably my least favorite day in the garden, and each year, I dread its arrival.  The chill in the air is my signal that, “It’s time.”  Armed with a pitchfork, clippers, and nerves of steel, I apologetically approach each plant.  I want to say, “Believe me, this is going to hurt me a lot more than it hurts you.”  I want the plants to understand that my actions are for their own good, so that they may live to see another summer.  But in the end, I fear that they’ll see me as a Viking, pillaging and ransacking their cozy beds.

Gardeners, I think, must have a bit of masochism in their blood.  Who else would try to trick Mother Nature by planting wrong-zone plants, nurturing them into blooms, and then hacking them down, ripping them from the ground, and storing them over the winter — only to start the process all over again in the spring?  Oh, to be content with zone-appropriate material!

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Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: The Last Bouquet

For this Not-So-Wordless Wednesday post, I thought I would share the words of others, words that could somehow capture my feelings as I stand in the garden clipping some of the final blooms.

“Sorrow and scarlet leaf,

Sad thoughts and sunny weather.

Ah me, this glory and this grief

Agree not well together.”

Thomas Parson, 1880, A Song for September

The last page in this summer's garden scrapbook.

“For summer there, bear in mind, is a loitering gossip, that only begins to talk of leaving when September rises to go.” – George Washington Cable

There is a definite chatter as I get to work, selecting what’s left among the flowers.  Looking at the leggy stems, some of them browned, and the leaves dusted with powdery mildew, I can definitely hear a chorus of pleasantries and goodbyes as the summer guests make their way to the garden gate.

 “A late summer garden has a tranquility found no other time of year.” – William Longgood

There is a definite somberness and calmness in the garden today.  Perhaps it’s because plants that I have nurtured for so long, some from seed started in February, are leaving after a full season of delivering what was promised — and paying my respects is the right thing to do.  Maybe it has to do with the color of the sunlight, warm and golden, fading from the brightness of July.  The shadows seem longer, and the colors more muted – and yet, it feels warm and glowing, especially as the sunlight hits the faintest change of color in the leaves overhead.  More likely, though, the overwhelming sense stems from a combination of the two — and a little imagination.

“Spring flowers are long since gone.  Summer’s bloom hangs limp on every terrace.  The gardener’s feet drag a bit on the dusty path and the hinge in his back is full of creaks.” – Louise Seymour Jones

Oh, yes, there’s a lot of dragging and creaking happening by this time of year.  I do feel the energy of summer leaving me — or maybe it’s just sympathy pains for the plants.  Gardeners, I think, develop a kind of symbiotic (or co-dependent) relationship with their charges.  When they sprout, I sprout.  When they bloom, I bloom.  And when they wither away, a piece of me goes with them also . . .

Until the process starts all over again.