Sunday, February 3, 2008
Putting It Into Words
Where to begin? I suppose there's no better way than to jump in with both feet and talk about what's blooming right now in what I loosely term my "garden". This is one of my hundreds of seed-grown Hellebores, an H. xhybridus which would probably be classed as "apricot". It's blooming right now in my Newport News, VA yard, which is designated zone 7b on both the USDA and heat zone maps; in reality we've drifted squarely into zone 8 for the past several years. This has lulled me into complacency where many plant choices are concerned (although I've been gardening long enough to remember plunges into the single digits and winters where gigantic camellias died completely to the ground), and it frustrates me in terms of growing things which would like a more consistent cold dormancy than I can provide here. So I employ the "shotgun" technique of gardening - I figure if I grow enough things, something will be successful at any given time of the year.
I've been gardening for as long as I can remember, having been encouraged and taught first by grandparents on both sides, then having read about (and attempted to grow) everything on which I could get my perpetually grubby hands. After some 40 years, I have a vast arsenal of experience and "book learning" in the field, but no credentials whatsoever. My training is in the field of music education, and I have two jobs which (1) fill and fulfill much of my time, (2) finance my gardening addiction, and (3) constantly get in the way of my gardening time. Such is life. At any rate, gardening is my therapy, my addiction, and my goal for retirement, if ever that becomes a possibility.
I've read a lot about garden design, and although I can truly appreciate all of the theories and rules laid down over the years, I don't have the luxury of being able to follow many of these tenets right now. I garden on about 1/4 acre, and since my greatest joy in gardening comes from collecting, breeding, and propagating, I've had to choose those activities over creating a beautiful landscape. I'm sure this will come back to haunt us when and if we ever try to sell the house, but I can't worry about that right now. I do a lot of modular gardening, so lots of things are kept mobile in anticipation of our impending lottery win and subsequent purchase of land out in the country. I have a small, homemade greenhouse in which I winter over tropicals and subtropicals (it's more "ark" than conservatory), an even smaller alpine house for things that need to be kept just above freezing, and several cold frames scattered throughout the garden. In short, my "garden" is a mess, but extremely interesting (at least to me.) This is one of the tropical Calanthes, "Baron Schroeder" currently blooming in the greenhouse.
My horticultural interests tend to wander as the seasons change, which is why I've never been able to settle on any one family in which to specialize. Orchids, particularly the hardier ones (although at one time I had over 300 Cattleya hybrids), are a particular interest; as we speak I have untold numbers of home-hybridized Bletilla seedlings in various stages of growth under lights in the garage (I'm anticipating a visit from local drug enforcement authorities at any time.) The aforemementioned Hellebores occupy an enormous amount of my time, potting soil budget, and garden space, as do hardy(ish) palms, aroids, gesneriads, amaryllids (I have a large collection of Crinums, Clivia, Zephyranthes, Habranthus, Rhodophiala, etc., both in pots and in the landscape), and Sarracenias (this obsession started with a visit to the Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew in 1996). And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Speaking of icebergs, some of my favorite plants are not supposed to grow here at all, including Tree peonies and cypripediums. That hasn't stopped me from trying, and I've had many successes; this Cyp. kentuckiense is one that I grew from a flasked seedling received more than ten years ago. There are lots of techniques I employ to keep these plants cold in the winter, some of which are pretty similar to those used to keep "temperennials" warm.
My goal for this blog is to attempt to bring some organization out of the chaos which is my garden (and my life), as well as to somehow present a sampling of the gardening possibilities in an area which lies "between zones".
I'll try to be less scattered in future postings, and I welcome input from others who may have suggestions or questions that could benefit us all in enjoying this hobby-turned-neurosis.