Monday, February 19, 2007

Design and the Paralysis of Choice

DD One
This is the time of year we gardeners are supposed to sit back and happily finish our plans for summer activities. We’ve made drawing, plans and lists. We’ve looked at glossy magazines until our eyes burn. Now we’re planting our dream seeds and resting our bodies for the onslot of summer activity. But wait! Why do I feel so tired?

Perhaps, its because my reality is something closer to a state of anxious obsession. For starters, those restful activities really don’t provide me a lot of rest. Instead they fill me with longing, anxiety, and angst. Talk about over planning! In my manic mind I can do it all – not a limit in sight! Until spring hits, that is. The problem now, of course, is that spring is growing closer and I am beginning to see the cracks in my over ambition. When was I going to dig up that perennial bed? Oh that’s right, at 4 am one morning when I have nothing else to do. Therein lies the true reason for all the winter knitting - just working off that neurotic energy. It looks so innocent, doesn’t it? Even a simple design like the garden entrance shown above requires a considerable amount of yarn working to get right.

Fortunately, this time of year, I am often saved from the brink of a complete and total planning breakdown by people calling about their own garden designs. As it turns out I can pull unsuspecting clients into this gardening frenzy as well – how fun! So I march forth to spread the disease as best I can. But seriously, It brings me special pleasure to help earnest clients make pleasing, and hopefully reasonable, decisions about where to place trees, shrubs and apple trees; to mull over, with them, the perfect spot for a perennial bed; a berry patch or an herb border; to solve complicated drainage and wind problems and choose the perfect place to place a pond or a staircase, like that shown here. The is part of a large project that took weeks to concieve and several months to complete. The chances for paralysis were many! It is a myth to believe that I know what I’m doing all the time, but I do enjoy doing it, wherever it leads.

So before you have some lolly-headed designer come and make sense of your gardening woes, turn to other resources. Books are what I have in mind. They are a heck of a deal if you compare them to a living designer, and will loop you right back into garden fury without ever leaving the couch.

But first this. Curt Mueller, a friend, fellow gardener, and a great plants man, recommended the following sites and asked that I pass them on to you for the valuable information on germination they provide. I checked them out, and he’s right, of course. Here they are: and Thanks, Curt!

Now for some hard-cover therapy. Classic Garden Plans by David Stuart is a fairly new book of pre-designed gardens. Its advertisement touts it as being “… invaluable to any gardener who wants to design a garden with powerful historical associations, ...” It has great information on how to adapt classic designs into limited spaces and even gives you detailed shopping lists to carry out the plans.

Along the same lines, with pre-designed gardens in varying degrees are; Theme Gardens by Barbara Damrosch, Shortcuts to Great Gardens by Nigel Colborn, Rosemary Verey’s Garden Plans by Rosemary Verey, The Impressionest Garden by Derek Fell and Penelope Hobhouse’s Garden Designs by Penelope Hobhouse. Each of these books has its own take on good quality designs, and grouped, they are a virtual feast for the eyes and hours of fuel for the frenzy! Chucked full of lovely drawings and photos, these books are a collective treasure trove of valuable plant information and design hints on color, form, texture and problem solving. I could go on and on – I do read when I’m not knitting, you know. Well, actually, sometimes when I am knitting. Oops! There’s that neurosis again! If I must be honest, sometimes I draw while I'm knitting (don't ask). I like simple plans, such as this one, which focus in on one or two areas of the yard at a time. Leaving some areas as only ideas allows the opportunity for more drawing later, thus more ideas.

At any rate, suffice to say that there’s a splendid pile of new books on the floor in front of the bookshelf – they seem to grow faster than I can read – or knit. I’ll let you know what I think of them later, but for now I’ll leave you with this thought for spring: no matter how much you plan, there is no such thing as a perfect garden. Those who fall captive to the paralysis of design perfection find themselves unable to turn the earth in the spring. For heaven sakes! Just get on with it! The only thing you’ll regret later is that you didn’t do it sooner.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

For the Love of Ferns! (and killer moths)

DD One
There are over 12,000 named varieties of ferns world wide. As a hobby, ferns could keep a person busy for a lifetime. Or perhaps you just want something to scare the burglars away. I think one of the Platyceriums – the giant stag horn or elk horn ferns - would fit the bill. Hang it in the entry and make sure it is faintly silhouetted at night. In the darkness it would surely look like a giant man-eating moth and put fear in the most hardened heart. Remember, only you know it’s just a fern!

But burglars aside, ferns are not just so much fluff on a pedestal. They come in an impressive variety of color, shape, size, texture and even scent! Take, for example, Nephrodium fragrans. It is, at first glance, just a green fern with fairly short fronds. Stroke its leaves, however, and you’ll be in love. It has a sweet scent, something akin to violets or soft roses.

Ferns range from the graceful to the bizarre. Some look more like aliens than plants, with weird spiky arms and tentacles. They are lacy, frilly, tufted, spiked and puffed. Their colors range from pink to cream, striped to mottled, variegated, maroon to blue and silver to gold. The individual fronds can look like hearts, coins, leaf lettuce, hands, tongues, fingers and toes. Some plants are shaggy, some look like moss. They creep, climb, grow in rocks, in full sun, in the dark, on rotten wood, in bogs, in high humidity, in dry air and in water. The Sheild Fern, shown above, grows on a mountain side in Seward, Alaska. It's growing on a lump of compost and moss at the edge of a small cave in a hillside made of solid rock. The 'tree' to its left is actually a giant root from a tree growing far above.

The Doodia spp. are short ferns of around 15 inches with dark pinkish red new fronds, turning to dark green when mature. Lygodium palmatum, the ‘American Climbing Fern’ is really gorgeous! It’s a vine with finger-like under leaves and frilly upper leaves and has the distinction of being the first plant in the US to be put on an endangered list in the 1860’s. It is available commercially from selected fern nurseries, but make sure they are legitimate and have permits to grow it. Also make sure you know what you are getting. It’s cousin, Laygodium microphyllum – the ‘Old World Climbing Fern’ has run rampid throughout Florida and is considered one of the most destructive invasive plants in the US, suffocating acres of natural landscape in its wake.

In the mean time, back in your budding fernery, don’t over look these guys. Hymenophyllum tunbrigense , one of the so called ‘Filmy Ferns’ has leaves that are nearly translucent. It’s incredible growing out of hanging balls of damp moss with the light casting a greenish glow through its fronds. The photo of P. Tunbrigense here is from John Crellin whoes spectacular photos can be seem at .

Pyhllitis scolopendrium is an upright fern that looks like a cluster of lizards tongues shooting from underground; complete with curled ends. A native of Hawaii, Trichomanes reniforme looks sort of like a collection of climbing, dark green calla lily flowers. Hymenophylllum australe and H. flabbelatum both like to grow upside down, and lend themselves well to hanging baskets or mossy frames hanging from the ceiling. They are breathtaking in a colony, but need to be kept constantly damp, so are perhaps not for beginners.

Look for a Petris tri-colour. An attractive fern with bright red new growth that changes to bronze and eventually dark green. The mid veins remain red even in maturity. Finally, not to be overlooked are the ‘Lady Ferns’; in fact there are over 200 of them with a wide range of color, size and shape. A nice one to try is Macrophyllum ‘Strawberries and Cream’. It boasts bright pink new fronds on a nearly lime green background and is an impressive 22 inches tall.

One more thing. Growing ferns gives you a great excuse to buy more books! After all, you need to research your new hobby. Books on ferns abound, but not all are that great. Although pricey, the Fern Grower’s Manual by Barbara Joe Hoshizaki and Robbin C. Moran is one I go back to time and time again. Both useful and comprehensive, it provides detailed advice on almost every aspect of these wonderful plants. It costs around 60.00, but is worth every penny! Another great source is Choice Ferns for Amateurs: Their Culture and Management in the Open and Under Glass by, George Schneider. This is an old book that is out of print, but I did a google search and found it online for around 20.00.