A MOST LOVELY GARDEN SURPRISE

Rarely do I have occasion to see my neighbors' yards in daylight these days. On weekdays most dog walks happen at dusk or later and on weekends we head to the beach whenever possible. So it was a most pleasant surprise when I spotted something surprising in a neighbor's yard when stiff winter winds forced us to walk on the road this weekend.

I'm not sure I would have even spotted this gem had I not glanced in the direction one of the dogs was detouring toward, but it caught the corner of my eye.

Do you see it?


How about now?


It's a small tree that has been spray-painted acid green (the same color, I think, as my obelisk). I don't know anything about this tree, whether it's dead or alive (I can't think spray paint is good for a living tree, but I'll keep a close eye on it in spring), or who meticulously painted every bit of it.

It's not in a particularly important part of their yard, which was massively re-landscaped a few years ago, but that's what I love about it. It's a little surprise in an area that would be otherwise overlooked.

I love it so much that I'm going to keep an eye out for a dead little tree in our woods that I could do the same thing to.


 What do think about spray-painting trees? Love it or leave it?



FRIDAY FINDS: DESPERATE TO GARDEN EDITION

The gardening bug is biting so hard these days it's not even funny. I'm even planning to check just how frozen the ground is in an area where I want to do soil test. It's sort of ridiculous. Anyway, this week's Friday Finds proves that it's gardening that's on my mind these days.

The All-American Selections winners are interesting. These are plants chosen by a non-profit group for "significant achievements and the promise of gardening success." Two are impatiens (these resistant to the downy mildew that scared people from buying them last year) and several vegetables. The basil selection sounds very interesting to me.

I was thinking of doing a post on planning out when to start seeds indoors, but why reinvent the wheel when Margaret Roach has such an easy and convenient tool on her website?



One way to satisfy the gardening urge is to focus on the backyard birds. Gen has some great tips on attracting and caring for the feathered friends in your back yard.

I'm planning to start as many seeds as possible in soil blocks this year. I bought a soil blocker last fall and I can't wait to use it. But you have to use special soil. Here are some recipes.

I think I'm going to try to grow sweet peas this year. They are so beautiful but mostly I think they have such a heavenly scent.

Happy garden dreaming, everyone!


BRITISH GARDENING TELEVISION FANS, HAVE I GOT SOMETHING FOR YOU

I can't tell you how happy I am that so many of you have been enjoying the British gardening television shows I've been linking to for the last year. It makes me feel like a normal human being, because when I see a new show pop up on my Youtube feed, I get downright giddy, immediately drop everything I'm doing and sit down and watch it.



And I found another one that I think you'll really like. It's called "Monty Don's Big Dreams, Small Spaces." Just the title encompasses so many things that I love: Monty Don? Obsessed. Big Dreams? Well, yeah, who doesn't have big gardening dreams? Small Spaces: Check.

Sadly there are only five of the hour-long shows. Each episode features two families who are creating new gardens over the course of a year. My man Monty shows up in the beginning to help them with their plans, once or twice in the middle of the project to pitch in and then comes back a year later to see how the garden ended up. The gardens ranged from low-budget overalls to $20,000 dream gardens. Some of the concepts and designs were downright strange, but to Monty's credit, even though you knew he was thinking, 'This is not going to work,' he never tried to talk people out of their dream garden but tried to help them make the design more practical.

So here's my question: What would you do if Monty Don or any other serious gardening expert came to your garden and suggested ways you could improve it? I know I'd be taking notes and probably doing exactly what they suggested. I found it interesting that that's not the case in this series. There were some homeowners who were so set in their plans, no matter how impractical, that they weren't going to listen to a thing Monty said. That sort of blows my mind.

Anyway, give it a watch and see what you think of it. I like it because it's gardening on a bit more approachable level.



And I have even better news for you. I figured out how to set up a Youtube channel with playlists of all my favorite gardening shows. So now you don't have to wade through a mass of links in posts. You can just go to the channel. I got most of the shows I've mentioned before linked there into playlists by show and I'll add more as I find them.

I've added the latest in "The Great British Garden Revival" to that playlist and you may want to check out a show that is airing on a different network called "Show Me Your Garden." There's only one episode up so far but I'll be on the lookout for more. The quality isn't as good as in the BBC shows, unfortunately.

It sounds like "Gardener's World" is set to return in March, which seems like it's ages away.


HOW TO RESEARCH PLANTS

One of the great things about this time of year, when northern gardeners have no choice but to dream rather than do, is that it affords the great luxury of spending a great deal of time on research.

I used to just go to the garden center and buy whatever struck my fancy that day. Sending a gardener to a nursery on the first warm day of spring is like sending someone on a starvation diet to the grocery store. It's not going to end well.



But in recent years I have gotten so much better about researching plants before I buy them. This is particularly true with more expensive plants and that only makes sense. A few years ago I made the mistake of coming up with a long list of well researched plants and then spending weeks trying to find them at a local nursery. Fortunately, at least two of the nurseries I like now publish lists of most of their stock, so I can narrow down cultivars depending on what I can pick up locally.

For smaller plants I can order online and I have had great success with most of the plants I've purchased this way.

About three-quarters of the Fine Gardening magazines I've saved going back to 2008. I started going through them on Sunday when the stress of the Green Bay Packers game was more than I could handle. They are a great source of information and inspiration. 

As I research via the Internet, books and my foot-tall collection of old Fine Gardening magazines, I make a list on my phone so I always have it with me. You never know when you're going to be at a nursery that might have what you're looking for.

How I go about researching a plant depends a bit on where I plan to buy it. If I'll be buying it locally, I try to start with nursery-provided plant lists. Some nurseries don't have their 2015 lists available yet, but if their lists from last year are still on their website that's at least a good starting place.

If I'm buying online, I start with a nursery I trust either through experience or reputation. I often refer to the Garden Watchdog on Dave's Garden to find or check up on a nursery.

After I find a plant I'm interested in, I start with a Google image search. It is amazing how different a plant can look in different circumstances. Nurseries often over-saturate the color in photos to make blooms look more vibrant or the color may be different depending on how much sun it's in. I try to pay special attention to photos by home gardeners or bloggers because I feel like this is a more accurate depiction of how a plant might look in my garden.

If I'm still interested in how the plant looks after I've seen more photos of it, I seek out more information on it. You would be surprised at how different exposure needs, size and blooming information can vary for the same plant. I'm wary of information from breeders because they will only provide the information that casts the plant in the best light. Good nurseries are better about providing less flattering information about a plant because it is in their best interest that you do well with plants you buy from them. Bad nurseries (and big box stores, in my opinion) don't care if the plant lives or dies, they just want you to buy it from them. And some of the most practical information comes from home gardeners and landscape designers (who also have a vested interest in the long-term success of plants).

Here's a comparison of different takes on a beautiful English rose 'Abraham Darby.'

I don't think anyone is going to argue that 'Abraham Darby' isn't a gorgeous rose (and I know plenty of people who adore that rose). But reading reports from actual gardeners (in the last column), offer some pretty interesting tidbits. Several people reported having serious issues with blackspot even when other roses in their gardens were unaffected, even though the nursery says it has "superb" disease resistance.

Other home gardeners reported frustration with its heaving nodding blooms on weaker stems, and there is absolutely no mention of that from either the breeder or the nursery. As a zone 5 gardener, the first thing I look for in a plant is hardiness and while many sources claim 'Abraham Darby' is hardy to zone 4 or 5, the report from at least one gardener that it is not CANE hardy in zone 6 is cause for major concern. There is a difference between plant hardiness (meaning the plant won't die in winter) vs. cane hardiness (meaning the canes won't die back in winter. If a rose isn't cane hardy it will have to regrow every year, meaning that it will not be nearly as big as it otherwise would be. It also means that it's not suitable as a climber.

Of course reports from home gardeners on the Internet have to be taken with a grain of salt. There's really no way to know if that person knows how to grow anything, or what the conditions are like in their yard or if they remembered to water it.

But if you can find a local gardener who you trust and you are confident knows their stuff, then that's as close as one can get to the real facts. I've been searching for a new climbing rose for the front of the house (yes, I swore off roses—again—last year, but I lied—again) and after scouring the Internet and even asking readers and friends, I was pretty confused.  I ended up having a wonderful email exchange with a fellow local master gardener who is a true rosarian. He came up with a great suggestion: 'Autumn Sunset.' We're going to get together this week to talk more about it, so that could still change, but I'm certain I'll get better information from him—someone who grows roses in my area—than most places I could look.

I'm not suggesting that hours of research has to go into every plant purchase you make. One of life's true joys is going to a nursery and just picking up something because it interested you. But that's something I only do with plants of a certain cost and ease of care. If I have to spend a lot of money or time babying a plant, I want to make sure that I choose the correct one from the beginning. Too many gardeners get discouraged because they can't grow X-plant (fill in your favorite plant failure there), when it's quite possible they may not have chosen the correct cultivar in the first place.

Take advantage of these long and torturous gardening-free days to do the research you won't have time for once spring has come and you'd rather be in the garden.