New African American Museum’s Landscape by Susan Harris

Photo credit: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, let’s visit the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture, located on the grounds of the Washington Monument. The critically praised building is the work of Tanzania-born, London-based architect David Adjaye. I see from his firm’s website that he’s about to be knighted. Photo credit: Gustafson Guthrie Nichol The museum has been SO popular since its opening in September that I haven’t fought the crowds and wait times to see the inside – yet – but did pay a visit in October to check out the landscape by Seattle-based landscape architect Kathryn Gustafson of Seattle. The water feature shown above – called a scrim – is a signature of Gustafson’s work and I’ll have to assume it’s here because I couldn’t get anywhere near it. Fencing to control crowds obscures the view for anyone without a ticket (that would be me). This is as close as I could get. So for a tour of the design ..
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Butterfly weed—why not by Elizabeth Licata

Many of you have heard that 2017’s “Perennial Plant of the Year” is Asclepias tuberosa/butterfly weed. It’s not a surprising choice—attention to attracting and supporting pollinators, especially butterflies, especially monarchs, has been peaking for the past few years and shows no sign of declining. A good thing. Normally, I pay scant attention to “plants of the year” and all the other marketing ploys (trends, predictions, surveys) put forth by the gardening industry. And, no, I will not be using a trademark symbol anywhere in this post. But. In this case, the announcement happened to coincide with another email I received, this one from a local nature preserve, Reinstein Woods. Reinstein is holding a native plant sale to benefit the organization (a lovely preserve that features educational outdoor programs all year round, even at this time of year) and help spread the word about the benefits of native plants. Included in the sale is just about every type of milkweed, including this ..
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Robinson Crusoe’s Ten Favorite Perennials by Allen Bush

It’s the dead of winter, and you might be wishing you were stranded—with amenities—on a desert island with Robinson Crusoe. But Robinson Crusoe is not on a desert island. He is stuck in Kentucky. Crusoe is not afraid of cannibals or mutineers, but he is tired of scraping ice off the car windshield. You may dream of fresh beach towels and fruity tropical drinks, but when Crusoe stares out the window, he sees only ashen skies. Crusoe worries about Donald Trump’s presidency, also, but he is resolute. He vows to be a good citizen and make his garden great again, but these are difficult times. Snowdrop, crocus and witch hazel blooms are weeks away. Crusoe is growing moody. He remembers the advice of his father during the atomic bomb scare in the very early 60s. Crusoe’s elementary school teacher polled the class every Monday morning, asking how much progress each family had made on its bomb shelter. Eventually, everyone had a retreat from certain Russian annihilation, except, of course..
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The myth of the plant killer by Elizabeth Licata

I find bulbs are my most reliable houseplants. May 2017 be the year that nobody insists to me that they have a “black thumb.” Except that I know it won’t happen. I was at a small New Year’s Eve party when one of my non-gardening friends asked for advice about an aspidistra (cast iron plant) she’d just received as a gift, adding the usual “I kill plants” confession. It was kind of cute, and totally sincere. She wants to keep her gift alive. But if she doesn’t, it won’t be because she has a “black thumb.” It’s because houses are dangerous places for plants—in fact, the only time that someone tells me she’s killed a plant, it’s always a houseplant. Most of the houses where I live are centrally-heated in winter, fairly dry, and fairly dark—in other words, plant hell. I always have a hard time keeping my plants alive through the winter; right now, I have a lemon tree and a ficus that are just barely hanging in there—this is why I like forcing bulbs—and I’ve seen many others perish. But th..
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Goals for a New Year by Thomas Christopher

I have eschewed New Year’s resolutions this year – I typically set myself impossible goals such as moderating my seed purchases and then feel doubly badly about the ensuing order-orgy. But I do have some goals for 2017. I’m going to cap the cost of my seed expenditures by indulging my impulse purchases at Pinetree Garden Seeds. This family-owned business offers a very impressive selection of heirloom and organically produced seeds. Most of these items sell for less than $2.00 per packet, considerably less than the $3.95 and up I am finding to be standard at my other favorite retailers. I’ve always been pleased by the quality of the seeds I have received from Pinetree, so why not indulge myself at a bargain rate? I’m not going to try grafting tomatoes again this year. I noticed no difference in the performance, in my garden, of grafted and un-grafted plants. I’m going to broaden my horizons and focus on design rather than just plant accumulation. Specifically, I’m looking forward to ..
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The Landscapes of McMansion Hell by Susan Harris

For making me laugh while I learn, I LOVE the architecture critic Kate Wagner and her highly opinionated blog McMansion Hell. Who could resist her “Pringles Can of Shame ™” award in the photo above? So I recommend McMansion Hell for making me laugh and for educating me with “What the Hell is Modern Architecture?,” the “Pictorial History of Suburbia,” and other great stuff on the site. Now to readers who might suspect sheer snobbery in Kate’s snarky criticisms, rest assured that there’s a higher purpose behind it all – making the point that McMansions are bad for the environment. She’s a proponent of dense, walkable and diverse neighborhoods. So I wasn’t surprised to find McMansion 101 – Landscaping, where Kate rants about the humongous yards and ridiculous plantings around these overbuilt homes. She begins with pointing out three common “Yard Tropes,” like the tiny “Soul Patch” of turfgrass. Haven’t we all seen seen plants around homes that were mere “obligatory green bits” and won..
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Dying on the Vine? Part I by Allen Bush

2015 Baltimore Perennial Plant Association (PPA) symposium. (L-R): Ed Snodgrass, Mary Vaananen, Georg Uebelhart, Allen Bush and Mary Anne Thornton. This is the first of a two-part series on the decline of plant societies and garden clubs. Tomorrow, Scott Beuerlein explains how to dig out of the hole. Many of us who garden, and who benefit from garden group gatherings, have kept quiet about the decline of plant society and garden club memberships. We don’t like to talk about our sense of loss. We feel the same as we did when our teenagers came home two hours late after curfew. We scolded the kids to little avail and kept quiet about it with others. We didn’t want the neighbors across the street to call Child Protective Services. 2006 PPA at Expo Flora Montréal. It’s hard to predict what will happen to most of these plant groups in ten years. Maybe gardeners will cloister again behind a monastery wall, sow seeds and preserve plant species. After all, the Gingko, extinct in the wild, ..
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At the closing of the year by Elizabeth Licata

I always leave this stuff up as long as possible. In our region, the end of the year corresponds rather neatly with the end of the gardening season. Yesterday (Boxing Day), I was texting with a friend who was taking advantage of the freakishly balmy temps to finally getting some bulbs planted I had given him. He wanted to know how deep. It’s a bit risky to plan bulbs this late, as they won’t have much time to get established, but better to do it than waste them. Aside from intermittent bulbing, though, there is little left to do gardening-wise. Now the back garden becomes a wildlife sanctuary (of sorts), with a suet feeder and a seed feeder set up by the pond. The seed feeder is squirrel-proof; if a squirrel jumps on it, the outer guard comes down, blocking him (or her) from the seeds; it seems to work pretty well. The suet is also somewhat enclosed; only smaller birds can get to it. There are also plenty of pickings on the ground. Do I wish we had more interesting birds? Yes. But I’..
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Garden Flags and Bird Feeders: Failures and Fixes by Susan Harris

I’ve complained before about the hassle of bird feeders in my tiny townhouse garden, where the shit-stained baffle isn’t doing the job of keeping squirrels away as these world-class gymnasts simply vault from anything nearby to the feeder. I then complained that hummingbird feeders are too much of a commitment for me. Finally, I gave up and declared that my garden is NOT for the birds after a neighbor complained about the flocks attracted to the feeder hanging out and crapping from nearby branches over her car. So this year, the old hook held up a cheap basket of petunias that looked amazing for months, with just a bit of trimming and only two feedings. Next season I may get more adventurous in my plant choices, but maybe not. I’m fine with cheap, common annuals in colors I like. But I DID find a way to feed some birds with this simple thistle feeder hanging a few feet from my porch, for prime viewing of the goldfinches at the feeder and the mourning doves below it. It works because..
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Nothing to be SAD about? by Elizabeth Licata

Feeling SAD? Try your local conservatory. Ours has a light show every winter. This holiday season, I’m searching for any good news, and this might qualify. Or at least it might save people some money. According to studies conducted by the Journal of Clinical Psychology and the Centers for Disease Control and Production, the condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may not exist. The two organizations started their studies fully expecting to find evidence of SAD, but no signs of light-dependent increases appeared in their depression measures. They’ve concluded that previous methodologies that supported SAD (talk of SAD peaked in the 90s) must have been seriously flawed. Here’s an article from Scientific American summing up the research and a hat tip to my favorite Buffalo weatherman, Don Paul, for a local report that drew my attention. I am sure many of you know people who own “happy lights,” or talk of being afflicted by SAD, especially in late winter. For gardeners, a ty..
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