Devils Workshop

has been moved to new address

Sorry for inconvenience...

E-Garden Almanac: September 2008

E-Garden Almanac

The E-Garden Almanac is the push-button, real human journal of Kelly D. Norris. All errors, grammatic grievances, and opinions are that of the author. Kelly is a freelance writer and Master Gardener from southwest Iowa. His passion and obsession with horticulture, plants, and gardening embodies nearly every function of his life. The E-Garden Almanac serves as the web extension of his columns, articles, and lectures.
Learn more here!

My Photo
Location: Iowa

Monday, September 22, 2008

Garden Writers: Day 3

I think we'll let the photos do the talking today. I mean the seminars were great but the tours were the fun. Terra Nova Nurseries and Iseli Nursery. Little bits of heaven, eh?

And a few quick remarks about Plant Nerd Night. Oh gosh what a hilarious event. Dan took some videos of the stellar performance by the Chorus of the Goddess Flora and will post them to YouTube. Type in "Chorus of the Goddess Flora" (or something about garden writers) and you're likely to find something hysterical. Who ever knew that horticulturally themed musicals existed?

Here are some pretty shots from Terra Nova and Iseli. Enjoy! Today (Day 4) a tribe of faithful plant nerds is skipping the tours (I'll do those on Wednesday) to visit two other local gems: Cistus Nursery and Joy Creek Nursery. Woo hoo!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Garden Writers: Day 2

My adjustment to Portland weather has been a lot faster than my adjustment to the Pacific time zone. I was up at 5:00 AM this morning, par normal to my 7:00 AM wake-up in Iowa. I was less than enthused, though I did managed to roll over and take a nap for a few more hours.

The morning began with an engaging seminar by Jack Hart, writing coach and former god-at-the-thrown of The Oregonian. While not engaged by his prescriptive note-taking assignment, I did manage to scribble down a few notes that apply to thoughts I've had recently about my columns and book projects. I even got to hear a little affirmation. It's nice to be right once and a while (and be reminded of it)!

But let's cut to the chase. After all I'm a plant geek, right? I was willingly kidnapped after the keynote by a gang of fellow plant nerds who hastily assembled into what has become known as the "Dan Van" or the "Fairy Van" (an explanation would probably be pointless). Ably led by plantsman extraordinaire Dan Heims, we drove to the Expo Center to bear witness and partake in the semi-annual Hardy Plant Society of Oregon Plant Sale. Flippity wow! 76 vendors on a state fair-sized trade floor with more plants than I could humanly digest. I even ran into loyal iris co-horts Terry and Barbara Aitken, along with others, at the Greater Portland Iris Society booth. Who knew and what a surprise!?

I, along with Steph, Leann, Rita, Dan, Chris, Jimmy, Felder, Sharee, and too many others, ran around like kids in a candy store with pocket change from grandma. They gave us boxes to fill. They provided us with a holding area. They took plastic payment! Feel the crescendo? I promised mom I wouldn't bring home much from this trip. I managed to call her this evening to "amend" my promise with small clauses for "really cool stuff simply can't be avoided" and "under no circumstances shall must-haves be avoided simply because we're tired of planting". I of course am not as tired of planting as she is. As usual she didn't put up much of a fight. Why bother? After 17 years of gardening, she might as well give in. She gets to enjoy it too after all.

What did I bring home? I'll save that for a post-convention analysis post. I'm too tired to editorialize on the nature of feverish purchases. I'm not even sure what all I have.

The garden tours we're equally excellent though not enough time was given to see them all. All were smaller, urban gardens and most possessed incredible amounts of spirit, flair, and good taste. Our thanks to them for opening their outdoor homes to us! See photos below. More tomorrow!

Garden Writers: Day 1

I know, I know. I didn't get anything posted last night to officially kickoff my blog coverage of GWA. When I got back to my room last night I realized that I'd been up for 20 hours. I don't know about you, but that's bedtime for me! Here I am this morning (I'm still functioning on Iowa time) fired up with all the juicy gossip and details that all you faithful followers of the blogosphere are dying to hear. All I can say is that garden writers party hardest.

Getting to Portland was a piece of cake, minus the hasty consumption of a burrito by my seatmate on the flight from Minneapolis to Portland. For those of you who've had to sit through a meal conversation (or even just a meal with me), you know I LOVE burritos. But at 9:30 AM and after just having ate breakfast (which I normally don't do) and not to mention being in an enclosed space with 200+ other people, I was hardly in the mood for a burrito. You'll imagine my relief when arriving at the hotel in Portland (several hours later) I found that the in-house restaurant is a cantina called Eduardo's.

Arriving at the hotel was an adventure in itself I suppose. I waited 3.5 hours to get a room (they were cleaning) only to find that I'd been put in the Swedish hostel special. Seriously I'm not complaining but I wanted to find some excuse to talk about Swedish hostels. I've got a lovely view as evidenced here. Portland is absolutely beautiful!

But the opening of the trade show was simply phenomenal. After having not seen many friends and colleagues for a year (in some cases more!), it was a splendid reunion made even better by delicious cranberry martini's that knocked your socks off (thanks Suzi!), a succulent assortment of Oregon cheeses, and little drink tickets. It's impossible to have too much fun at GWA, but most of us came close last night.

After having enjoyed the trade show and the best part of the publisher's reception last night, which incidentally was the smoked salmon, Sharee Solow, Bobbie Schwartz, Steph Cohen, and I enjoyed some of Eduardo's Mexican cuisine (I was in the mood again). Delicious! The tequila shrimp fajitas and chicken enchiladas were exceptional!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Plant List, etc.

It occurred to me when reading over my last post that I didn't include a list of what I managed to come home with from The Perennial Flower Farm. I suppose it's as much for my own records as I'm likely to lose the receipt!

Carex elata 'Aurea'--Okay so I couldn't go without a little commentary. LOVELY plant and literally glows en masse. I brought home four and the back seat was ashine.

Clematis heracleifolia "Jelitto"--This is from seed purchased from Jelitto. Wow. Sultry, cobalt blue flowers pop off here and there but lack the fragrance as the next clone. Otherwise a stunning (and so richly colored!) C.h. for the garden.

Clematis heracleifolia "Perennial Flower Farm"--Seed-raised clone from their own stock. It's HIGHLY fragrant emitting a musky blend of gardenia, sweet violet, and citrus. Placed in an island bed in the shade near the perimeter for close-up sensual enjoyment.

Rodgersia henricii--Dramatic and unusual, this chocolate flower bears red-chocolate stems and buds that open to the usual frothy white sort to be expected from Rodgersia. The leaves smell awful when crushed (yep, car door) but are otherwise trimmed mahogany. A must-have from the first time I saw it. And when you can stick it next to a Ligularia przewalskii why not? It's called a conversation piece.

Sisyrinchium macrocarpum--After editing the upcoming issue of the American Iris Society Bulletin (October 2008), I've become quite enamored with the possibilites of the blue-eyed grasses. I've enjoyed S. angustifolium clones for many years and appreciated the not-so-different looking S. campestre in prairie remnants nearby. But now I'm in tune with their ultimate potential thanks to the joyful insights of Rita and Edmund Heaton, UK NCCPG National Collection holders of Sisyrinchium, who authored the article I alluded to earlier. Find a copy and you'll see what I mean. Did I actually say anything about this plant in all that?

Iris flavissima--Surely you couldn't imagine me walking away without an Iris could you? This particular clone initiates five distinct flushes of bloom throughout spring and summer (and occasionally fall). For those rebloom-inclined Iris collectors in the crowd, you should be jumping with potential excitement. Is this our holy grail for the better reblooming Iris? Just wait until I cross it! Actually I picked up two more irises, I. koreana and I. reichenbachii. Both diminutive and highly underused, the latter of which I've had before and killed with kindness (and rich Iowa loam).

Draba bryoides--Why not? Every rock garden needs a half-dozen or so Draba.

Astragalus kentrophyta v. tegetarius--A perennial native to California, the western Rockies, and even the Nebraska sandhills, this thing is just plum adorable. And I'm a sucker for a dainty Astragalus. Little papilionaceous flowers, minute foliage, and the need for a magnifying glass when observing it are all valid reasons for it's purchase. Let's face it, I know virtually nothing about really any of them but they're just too darn fun. Just start grabbing some and experimenting. I've killed more than you can imagine (those are the plants you don't tell people you have because usually you don't have them for very long...this includes family members involved in oversight of your work...aka "parents"). General rule of thumb: no matter how cool they are, there is probably a reason they aren't found growing abundantly in a ditch nearby. That being said, don't let that hinder the experimentalist in you. Self-imposed ignorance isn't a substitute for trowel by error, even if you fail in the end.

Veronica oltensis-I'm collecting speedwells now. This was one I didn't have. Seriously, I added eight cultivars (with an unknowing intent to collect them) over the summer. They just showed up! I figure I should at least confess to doing something with them before they become anymore abundant (we're passed 15 now...which for genera unlike Iris and Hemerocallis is actually a modest assortment).

Heuchera hallii--I've always wanted this bijou little fellow. Think of the potential for breeding. Imagine it, coral bells the size of fifty cent pieces running all over everywhere. I can dream.

Sedum dasyphyllum v. glanduliferum--I needed another one and faster than propagating it myself from the abundantly shed leaf/stem fragments that root in every crack they find.

In other news, I'll be blogging (at least attempting to) daily from the Garden Writers Association symposium in Portland, OR. Catch my daily posts and rants from this Friday (Sept. 19) through next Wednesday (Sept. 24). I'll keep them short, sweet, and tantalizing. Then I'll get some kind of wrap-up together when I recover, unpack, and have reminded myself of my daily duties in life.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Perennial Flower Farm

The Perennial Flower Farm, located in Ionia, is the Heronswood of Iowa. No joke, no lie, and I'm not exaggerating if you've caught the point. The owners Steve and Caroline Bertrand have built a most impressive and overwhelming collection of plants that will surely whet any plant collector's appetite. I learn new plants on each visit and it's one of those visits that I'm sharing with you today.

In the bustle of this gardening seasons, I've found little time for one of my favorite of self-indulgences: mailorder gardening. I run a mailorder business so it would seem fitting that I support the niche of the industry in which I make my nest. And boy is it fun. But to my surprise a few weeks back, I realized I would be receiving NO, ZERO, NADA plant orders this fall. I talked about this paring back, though not necessarily intentional (I say that now), in my last post and it's bothered me since. I've got to planting something this fall, right? Then I remembered a promise. When I visited Steve and Caroline back in July to profile them for a chapter in my forthcoming book Planting Passions, I was unable to come away with much in the way of plant material. Days on the road and not wanting to hassle with watering plants in hotel bath tubs (I've done it) were perfectly good excuses then. True to my word I told them I'd be back later this season to make amends for my lack of patronage in July (trust me, it wouldn't take much convincing to get me back up there).

On this quick, daylong escapade I was joined by two endearing plant nerds ala ISU hort majors, Karie Vrba and Tyler Johnson. Put three plant nerds in a car, armed with checkbooks, razor sharp wits, and lots of jazz CDs, and you've got a day trip or a troop of horticulturally-inclined Charlie's Angels. You pick. Oh yeah, and we stopped for lunch at this sports bar in Waverly (home to Wartburg College and the famed Wartburg choirs under the direction of Dr. Paul Torkelson for you choral music fans) called "The Fainting Goat". Good food, fun cups, and a wacko name. We debated getting shirts that said "I (heart) goats" but passed on account of their disturbing ambiguity.

I could go on for days about our visit, which last for the better part of three hours. And here's what we found ourselves coming home with. All of these plants begged to come home with us! Steve and Caroline were hospitable hosts as always and the realm of conversation we enjoyed varied from Chinese ethnobotany to scrimshaw (Caroline is an amazing scrimshawer) to rare Chinese Delphinium, and what to do when friends come calling at 2:00 AM in the morning.

Speaking of Chinese Delphinium...I encountered what is quite possibly the coolest delph I've ever seen. Delphinium forrestii is found at woodland margins often in association with Rhododendron in the provinces of Sichuan, Xizang, andYunnan. What a bijou little baby for the shade! Impressive, choice, and ever so unavailable that buying one seemed like the only option. Don't be jealous, I didn't get one because they haven't quite built enough stock yet. In the meanntime oogle over the photo (at right).

A visit to The Perennial Flower Farm will almost assuredly include a viewing of several impressive stands of Kirengeshoma palmata, the yellow waxy bells. Native to the Korean peninsula and Japan, this yellow-flowered member of the Hydrangea family is closely allied (if not a variant of the same species) with K. koreana noted only for being taller as it carries the same characteristic yellow bells. The yellow waxy bells are choice plants for the fall shade garden tolerating dry shade but prefering a humus rich soil where they'll put down hefty roots and grow into sub-shrubs. Fall, shade, tough. What more could you want? And they combine well with so many things, including the Bertrand's many herbaceous Clematis (no indication given as to "proper" pronunciation here...clem-a-TISS vs. cle-MAT-iss). See photo at left.

Ideas, plants, and people. That's what gardening is about. I can assure you in advance of reading it that the chapter about the Bertrands is going to be wholesomely rewarding. Eccentric plant collectors aren't hard to find. But eccentric and gifted plantsmen are novelties and Iowa is a fortunate home to Steve and Caroline. More information about their business can be found at this link. Drop what you're doing 'cuz they've got plants you ain't never seen!