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It's Catalog Time


Rudbeckia, (from she loves me, she loves-me-not) has been chosen Flower of 2008 by the National Garden Bureau. And to my delight, the bureau has named the much neglected and maligned eggplant as the Vegetable of 2008.

What’s this all about, fellow gardeners? The sun is slowly rising in the sky, crocuses are just pushing their way through the melting snow and our mailboxes are flooded with garden catalogs.

For me, news of the Garden Bureau’s annual choices of favorite flower and vegetable is more than enough incentive to put aside, momentarily, the Sunday New York Times and get down to the cheerful business of perusing the garden catalogs that are choking my rural mail tube.

So, how have the lowly black-eyed Susan and eggplant, a vegetable shunned by most Americans and Western Europeans for years, become stars?

Here’s how: First, plants mix, marry and change. And new and interesting species are unearthed by adventurous horticulturalists.

And second, plantsmen in nurseries around the world have crossed and bred popular plants to create new versions to which they can attach fancy names and sell them to home gardeners eager to join the avant garde.

Consider that tulips, stringy, small things, but with arresting blooms, had been growing wild in Turkey and neighboring mountains for years. It was only after enough bulbs were smuggled to Holland that the Dutch were able to hybridize them to present-day size, color and variety.

You, the avid gardener in the Tri-State Area, must decide if you want to enlarge and/or overhaul your perennial gardens or take the easy way and devote yourself just to annuals. Keep in mind, they are not mutually exclusive: You can do both.

In perennials I commend to you one Nickolas Nickou, whose bounty of rhododendron in his Branford garden has won him wide acclaim.  While he’s not strictly in the nursery business, he has been known to let confirmed rhododendron lovers tour his gardens and take cuttings from prize plants.

Cuttings are one of the best ways to propagate new plants. My wife does it all the time. Window sills, the top of the clothes dryer, a dresser are crowded year-round with cuttings from tired old plants starting a new life. Growing cuttings of this past holiday’s poinsettia is much more successful that trying to coax old plants into putting out new bracts.

Some of my favorite plants are dahlias, tuberous begonias, geraniums, callas, canas, impatiens, Christmas cactus (ours always blooms starting at Thanksgiving, just in time for the Goshen Turkey trot).

Zinnias and petunias are always welcome in my garden. Once I have given them a good start in life they just take off on their own with no fuss. But the catalogs don’t want you to use leftover seeds; they have fancy new improved zinnias and petunias for you to play with.

I’ve been growing tomatoes for decades here in Sunken Creek Farm and because of the quirky weather in my microclimatic plot of Goshen, I typically have shunned plants that don’t cut the mustard in Zone 4. These very early tomatoes — usually started with seeds from New Hampshire or Oregon — were small and watery. But now, in the catalog of a nursery that specializes in tomatoes, I am promised an early tomato with the heft and thickness of standard classic tomatoes. No matter, I’ll still transplant the seedlings into my greenhouse.

Which reminds me. My hoop greenhouse with a brand new plastic cover succumbed to this winter’s heavy snows. Instead of slipping down the steep sides, the snow stayed put, froze and the greenhouse collapsed. The hoops that have withstood Northwest Corner snows for 10 years just caved in. The frame of my next greenhouse will be bolstered with boards stiffening the resolve of the hoops!

Now. Let’s get down to business and spell out some of the other new varieties attracting my eye.

1: The Changing Color dahlia: Dahlia’s are one of my favorite flowers, but, alas, they can’t stand a Goshen winter and the bulbs have to be dug up, cleaned and stored in peat or a sterile mix until the next summer. While dahlia’s flowers are of many single colors, a Changing Color dahlia excites me!

2: The Tiki Torch coneflower: It looks much like the tiki torches of Polynesia and should start tongues of visiting gardeners wagging.

3: Candy hand climbing rose. Now you all know that roses grow on bushes or along fences. Here we have an ambitious rose that has a mind of its own and wants to climb like Jack and the Bean Stalk.

4: Tiramisu coral bells. Combining a once trendy dessert with an old favorite flower is no surprise.

If starting from seed, most flowers and vegetables require a six-to-eight-week start underground before the last hard spring freeze. You say, yes, but most bulbs are planted in the fall for spring blooming: daffodils and tulips, in all their various sizes, shapes, colors and forms.

You would be wrong. Happily, there is a sizable number of mid-to late-summer and fall flowers that start either as potted seedlings or as bulbs planted in the spring, again, after that Old Man Demon Frost has gone on his way.

These include conventional begonias, and the unique tuberose begonias of White Flower Farm, callas — ranging from Captain Palermo, a true black, to Giant White; cannas for landscaping or dwarf for containers and all in a variety of shapes and colors.

The list goes on: Butterfly bush, lilacs, Magic Mountain Mix delphinium, white foxglove and Gold Bound Japanese iris, colored hydrangea, Broadway Lights shasta daisy, Red Velvet yarrow and Pink Lace bee balm, the perennial favorite, hosta with various striped leaves, and new varieties of clematis and gladiolus bringing up the rear, but not completing any list.

For more of what’s new this coming season, curl up in front of the fire, turn off your new 40-inch, wide-screen, flat-panel television set and revel in the glorious images of earth rebounding, spring reborn in your garden catalogs.

 

 

 

 


 

 

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