Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Lake & Garden: Planning for Spring

Catriona Tudor Erler's recommendations for wintertime reading

Winter weather does not stop gardeners from dreaming and planning for the season to come. In that spirit, I offer suggestions for fun and useful garden products I’ve come across recently and recommendations for books to keep you company as you sit by the fire and contemplate the wonders of the coming spring at Smith Mountain Lake.

“The World of Trees” by Hugh Johnson
Even if you think you’re not interested in trees, Hugh Johnson’s book will convince you otherwise. The superb photographs draw readers into the book and teach them to see the splendor and intimate beauty of trees. The opinionated, informative text is equally compelling. An example of his delightful style: “It is possible for a tree to be too easy and prolific - to devalue itself by appearing whether it is invited or not. The tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) makes this mistake. ‘Urban weed’ is the phrase most often used about it; even ‘ghetto palm.’ No other tree in this book comes with a ‘Don’t plant at any cost’ label. But before dismissing it we should at least look closer.” You’ll learn about the structure and life cycle of trees, how trees are named, trees and the weather, the use of trees in gardens and landscape design, and tree planting and care. Buy it as a reference book, as a coffee table book and as a book you’ll want to read from cover to cover.    

“Spring Wildflowers of the Northeast” by Carol Gracie
This book is a comprehensive and fascinating look at 30 native wildflowers found in the northeast and as far south as Smith Mountain Lake, including bloodroot, lady slipper orchids, skunk cabbage, spring beauties and Virginia bluebells. The photographs are beautiful, helping to identify the plants, and the close-ups are revealing, showing plant details we generally overlook. The humble blue violet gets prime coverage, and we learn what an exceptional plant it is. You can eat it, it can soothe your soul, alleviate your pain and save your life. And the blue violet is a survivor. When the seeds are ripe, the three-chambered seed pod opens and the edges of each chamber begin to contract. The compacting force propels the seeds out of the fruits capsules, shooting them as far as 16 feet in a ballistic barrage. Then there is the literature associated with violets. All the serious, silly and crude variations on the “Roses are red, violets are blue” rhyme can be traced back to 1590 in Sir Edmund Spencer’s epic poem, “The Faerie Queene”: “She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew, And all the sweetest flowers, that in the forrest grew.”  Whether discussing the latest scientific research on the botany and life cycle of these diverse native plants or the lore and literature associated with them, Gracie’s conversational writing style will keep you reading.   
“Fairy Gardens: A Guide to Growing an Enchanted Miniature World” by Betty Earl
Clap if you believe in fairies. One of the latest trends in gardening is creating miniature garden settings outfitted with tiny accessories for “fairies” to enjoy. The resulting “gardenettes” are enchanting for young and old, and a fun project to do with the grandchildren. “Fairy Gardens: A Guide to Growing an Enchanted Miniature World” will get you started in this interesting hobby that combines the love of gardens with the fascination of miniatures and dollhouses. Laced between instructions and inspirational ideas for creating and caring for a fairy garden, author Betty Earl inserts tales of fairy lore I found fascinating.

“The Untamed Garden” by Sonia Day
The brown paper jacket hides the cover illustration of Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s sensuous painting “The Roses of Heliogabalus,” which depicts debauched Romans being smothered by rose petals. This spoof on the brown wrapper covering sexually explicit books, sets the tone for this fascinating book that explores different aspects of love through plants: innocence in the Madonna lily, flirtation in the peony, romance in the rose, seduction in the cereus, desire in the fig, lust in the orchid and so on. Throughout you’ll find tidbits from myth, history, botany and plant lore to reveal how plants have seduced our hearts, minds and bodies throughout the ages. Present this book to your love one Valentine’s Day, and together you can explore botany and love.   

Calendar: “2013 Tomatoes: A Month by Month Guide to Growing Tomatoes”
Tomato-growing aficionados at Smith Mountain Lake will definitely want to check out this calendar. It looks like a traditional calendar, but goes far beyond, providing seasonal information about how to plant tomatoes, when to feed, how much water to give and dealing with pests. This tomato-culture advice is color coded for eight growing regions so the calendar is as useful to tomato enthusiasts in Southern California as it is to those at SML. The tomato portraits will inspire you to try new varieties such as ‘Indigo Rose’ and ‘Chocolate Stripes.’ The five-star-rated calendar is available on amazon.com for $20.

Each year, the gardening industry introduces products designed to enhance the enjoyment of your garden. Following are a few I came across in the past year I felt were worthy of sharing with readers.

Time-Release Water
What’s a Laker to do when he or she needs to be out of town and there’s no one around to water the outdoor containers and houseplants? A product called DriWater comes to the rescue. This innovative material is 98 percent water, locked up in biodegradable, non-toxic, food-grade ingredients that combine as a gel. When the gel makes contact with the potting mix, the natural microorganisms in the mix slowly break down the gel, releasing the water. One 9-ounce gel pack can provide consistent moisture in a container for up to 30 days. DriWater is available in 9-ounce and 32-ounce gel packs, as well as 32-ounce quart containers. The larger size waters for 90 days, and is excellent for establishing newly planted trees, shrubs and native perennials. Available at amazon.com, they start at $7.

Atmospheric Fog
Nobody needs to have misty fog drifting up from their pond or container water garden, but it sure is fun - and not very expensive. I used the SmartPond light and fogger, which includes nine LED lights that change color from orange to red to blue to magenta. Just set the device in the water, plug it in and watch the mist rise. Put the fogger to another use at Halloween to create a spooky jack-o’-lantern. Fill your carved pumpkin as full of water as you can, insert the fogger and plug it in.  You’ll have a glowing face with creepy fog drifting out the features. SmartPond foggers are available at Lowe’s starting at $23.
Catriona Tudor Erler is a freelance garden writer, photographer and speaker who divides her time between Smith Mountain Lake and Charlottesville. The author of nine gardening books, Tudor Erler also blogs at joyofgardens.com