Friday, March 26, 2010

Landscape Design: I'm still "keeping it subjective"

I wrote this post a while back about the virtues of keeping garden design subjective. If you missed it, hopefully you'll go back to it and agree that it can be unfair to be too judgemental about a garden when as visitors, we don't always know the full story.

A couple of coincidental things have happened since that post - the photo above is my favorite fall beauty of 2009. And just after I found my love for this ornamental kale, and fall planters using them, I read something in a magazine describing my new fave as "common" (the biggest insult in my lexicon) and sarcastically poking fun at people who own them. Soon thereafter, I wrote this post about how I found a garden just like my new, brilliantly designed garden in the pages of a magazine!! was the "before" photo in a garden makeover.

I do generally consider myself a person of good taste. I can flip thorough a magazine or book and after a cursory look, instinctively tell you what's beautiful and what's more...common. I can definitely tell you what does NOT look so great - and on a good day, can point out ways to improve the design.

Here's the problem: in my garden, I'm a little more confused - maybe because it's so much more personal. I'm a little less confident. I hesitate. I'm proud of what I've done one moment, and embarrassed the next. Sometimes when I'm working in the perennial garden and a neighbor walks by, I think they're thinking, "Tsk, tsk, tsk, that woman sure is working hard on that f-ugly looking garden". But then I try to be more positive about it. The truth is, I am only a landscape architect in my dreams. I have a day job and I'm good at it. It took me a long time to learn it. Similarly, even in my dreams, I've been a landscape architect for only about 4 years. It takes time to learn how to work with plants, to design something that works at a real house with its real obstacles. There is simply no way around it. I will have to gain experience, and that just comes with time.

Last night, Joel Lerner, a specialist in landscape and environmental design came to speak at my Master Gardener class. I loved learning about some of the most important design principles such as balance, contrast, sequence, repetition, and proportion. I enjoyed viewing his "drive by" photos and critiquing them - I'm happy to know that my idea of good design matches the fundamental principles of good design. I'm happy to know that the improvements I would suggest are the improvements our expert would suggest. I loved that the successful expert was open-minded enough to invite critiques of his own work in order to encourage us to think about what has been done. What I loved most, was Joel Lerner's message about design that he repeated several times throughout his lecture:

Landscape design is an ongoing process...

As he put it, you'll try something seven or eight times, and then say A-ha! That's it!

What I don't quite understand, is how some people I've encountered in life and on the web can be so critical of the designs of other people, such that they'll laugh, make fun of, or shake their heads. Perhaps I'm being too Pollyanna, but as I heard from an expert, landscape design IS an ongoing process. I'm typically not lucky enough to get things done perfectly on the first try. Even if I did, I sure as hell hope I wouldn't be too judgmental towards people who don't. If I ever look at some one's garden design and laugh out loud, or shake my head, may Mother Nature herself strike my perfectly placed plants down.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

USBG - part 2 of 2, and giveaway winner announced!

Before I launch into the numerous photos I have to share with you, I will announce that Dreamybee has not only a great blog where she talks of books, gardens, and life in tropical Hawaii, but she has also won my giveaway. I promised her a stick hand blender which I think everyone should own. It's tops for pureeing soup, salsa, smoothies, etc. It does the trick and with it's slim profile, is great for people with limited kitchen space like myself! I also promised seeds for tomatillos and cilantro from Baker Creek, my favorite seed supplier. Everything is heirloom. My recipe for salsa verde, I might just share with the world towards the middle of the summer, rather than keeping it a secret, like I originally planned. Plant your tomatillos now - and get some supports ready (like a tomato cage) because these plants really produce!
Now, without further ado, here are non-orchid photos from the United States Botanic Garden. Enjoy!

This looks like my kids took a silver Sharpie to it.

Begonia leaf

This guy (I wonder why I'm calling it a guy???) should take some notes from the guy above.

Beautiful foliage in the "Jungle" section of the USBG.

If you're paying close attention, surprises are hidden everywhere!

Read and be grossed out...

Behold and be even more grossed out...

Why are these types of plants so funny?!

No, not a papaya, but cacao...

Heeeeerre's the papaya.

Now, I'm not complaining too much, but I look specifically for someone with a camera similar to mine, hoping he/she will at least be able to frame a nice photo. But no. We do look like we've had a nice day though, don't you think?

Monday, March 22, 2010

USBG part 1 of 2 - orchid exhibit

*Don't forget to enter the giveaway - winner will be announced on Thursday.

When spring fever hits, it's time to dip into the carefully hoarded personal days and go on a little trip. My husband and I didn't have to travel far as the United States Botanic Garden is just a short ride into the city. Having heard the very cool and funny Curator of Plants speak at my Master Gardener class just the night before, it was fun to visit the USBG for the first time and know some of the behind-the-scenes info ordinary visitors might not. Orchids were currently on exhibit. Part 1 of these 2 USBG posts include some of the fascinating orchids on display. Part 2 (as soon as I get a chance!) will include other interesting plants at the USBG. I hesitate to post so many photos, but I figure you will either scroll slowly if you love orchids, or skim quickly and pick out ones you like if you're not particularly a fan. I think there's something here for everyone! It's hard for me to pick a favorite, since I like the weird man-eating looking ones, but also enjoy something pretty and pink. The orchid above makes it near the top of the list though - the blooms look like prehistoric birds coming in for a landing. Which one is your favorite?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Giveaway: smart stick hand blender, seeds, and recipe!

Sorry, this giveaway is now closed. I thought I'd celebrate spring, my 10,000th view and 100th post with a giveaway! I've recently started a new series of posts on Asian vegetables. So far, they've all been titled "Growing, Buying, Cooking _(vegetable)_". The mission is to demystify some of the Asian vegetables gardeners can grow and give hints on what to look for if you're not growing yet, but spot these veggies at the farmer's market. The second important goal is to share a recipe so that once you've got the veggies rinsed off in the sink, you have a starting point for enjoying them.The bok choy post shared a "family" stir-fry recipe. The bitter squash may be more of an acquired taste, but well worth trying. Napa cabbage was made into my father's infamous dumplings. Daylilies, beautiful and reliable, can be (safely!) eaten in many dishes as well!

To win a hand held stick blender (perfect for salsa, soups, smoothies, etc.), pack of heirloom cilantro seeds, pack of heirloom tomatillo verde seeds, and my special recipe for summer salsa verde, answer one (or more!) of the following questions. I'll choose a winner at random. You don't have to be a blogger, just leave your email address so I can contact you at some point if you win. You can get a double entry by leaving a second comment with how you've spread the word about this giveaway. Contest closes next Wednesday, 3/24.


1) What is your favorite "family" dish - either something you request every time you go "home" or something your family always asks you to make.

2) What is a favorite food of yours that may require an acquired taste to enjoy?

3) What is the most adventurous (or weirdest!) food you've ever tried? Did you enjoy it?

4) What are you craving RIGHT NOW?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Seed starting for the backyard gardener and GBBD post

It's the 15th, which means gardeners all over the world are snapping photos for Garden Blogger's Bloom Day. Head over the May Dreams Gardens' blog to see what else is blooming this (almost officially) spring day.

Quiet excitement ensues indoors as well, as yesterday was seed starting day. Though I've tried many different methods, the one I'm about to show you is a near perfected system that fits my needs perfectly. I love all the kits, trays, and other paraphernalia available in catalogs, and have made many an excuse to buy things in the name of "making an investment". Most of the gear I've purchased has gone straight to the recycling bin. Our Master Gardener class speaker last week, Shephard Ogden (founder of Cook's Garden - and in the running for most enthusiastic speaker thus far - and that's saying a lot!), conveyed his fondness for plug trays for seed starting. Though I would love to have trays of seedlings, my biggest issue is that I have a small garden.
Yesterday, I started the first wave of seeds - they included: 3 black krim tomatoes, 3 Japanese black trifele tomatoes, 3 gold medal tomatoes, 3 tam jalapeno, 4 genovese basil, 3 cayenne peppers, 3 pepperoncini, and 6 strawberry fields gomphrena. Now like many people, my seedlings go under grow lights after germination - and as we know, the plants should be VERY close to the light source - about 1-2 inches. The biggest problem with plug trays for a small backyard gardener is that different plants germinate and grow at different rates and heights. If I had a tray of 24 peppers, I would not have an issue. But a tray with odds and ends means shorter plants are not right under the lights - which will certainly lead to leggy plants, which no one wants.

My assistant and I began by adding water to the seed starting mix. A soilless mix is best to use to ensure the environment is sterile for seed starting - cause you know...FUNGUS (if you're following my posts - you know I've become a fungus freak)! It's best to add water because it takes some time for the seed starting material to soak up the water. It will also increase in volume, so I let the mixture sit before filling my pots.

These are leftover pots from when I bought a gazillion a few years ago. When I run out, I will look into cow pots or another similar product made from easily renewable/sustainable materials. I love the size of these pots because they allow plants to grow for several weeks before having to pot up - and many times, they can go in the ground, as is, without have to pot up at all. These pots sit in plastic carry-out containers - a great excuse to order lots of Indian food in the late winter. I jest (sort of ), because these containers have been used for several years now, and will last many more. 6 pots fit perfectly inside the recycled container. The plant tags are 1/4 of a popsicle stick.

Below, the seedlings are covered with Glad Press 'n Seal (just about the only thing this product is good for!). Small vents are snipped in the top. The seedlings sit on a waterproof tray with a flat bottom so they can enjoy the warmth of the heating pad below. I will check on these every day to be sure they're not too sweaty underneath. If so, I'll make more vents or lift a corner. As soon as the seeds germinate, I'll take them off of the heat and put them under the grow light. The ones that haven't germinated will stay put (another benefit of separate pots in the cheap black trays).

This is how my seedlings are set up after they germinate (this photo is from the vault). I love using the separate square pots because I can move them around in different containers depending on how fast they grow, and how tall they get. The lights will stay in one spot, but I boost the short plants up with books so they can all be resting at the same distance from the light. It's not too perty, but it's works perfectly for me. I'd love to hear about your seed starting method too!

**A note on supplies: Space is maxed out at our house. The lights above are just cheapy lights that totally break down after the month they're set up on my piano. From there, the plants go outside to the pop-up coldframe (The Seedhouse), where they harden off. I will also often start some seeds in pots outside in this coldframe. It's sooooo not the cool coldframe complete with antique window that I would love to have, but the space outside is also maxed out and the pop-up coldframe folds into a serving plate-sized bag and hangs in the shed - the antique window doesn't.

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