Archive for April, 2008

Magnolia, Plum, Viburnum…(flower, flower, flower)

Like every garden writer in the history of humankind, I’ve spent my entire career begging ” don’t blow the whole wad on spring. If everything in the yard is done blooming by the 4th of July, how boring is that.

But then every year about this time I’m glad the people who owned this house before us – in some cases WAY before us – believed in planting the usual.

Actually, for our first decade or so I DID have mixed feelings about the magnolia, which would routinely just start opening into a huge glorious pink cloud and then there would be a frost and believe me a huge brown cloud is not glorious. Then things got warmer and it routinely escaped; we got a whole month of being happy that this giant unit eats about half the side yard. This year, however, after about 10 days of splendor it’s already going over. Eighty degrees is not a whole lot better than 29 from the magnolia longevity point of view.

The amazing thing about plum blossoms is that they smell exactly like the cheap plum incense that perfumed so many groovy abodes in the 60’s. Bees love them, though, so when you stand under the trees you see and hear a very cheering assortment of these threatened creatures.

In contrast to the plum, the viburnum ( carlesii) smells wonderful. Like itself and only like itself, a sweet, non-cloying New Englandish perfume that fills the entire yard on warm evenings and justifies the existence of an otherwise unexciting shrub and if it really does freeze on Tuesday night and clonk it when it’s only about half-open I’m going to put face in my hands and weep. This post hints at my addiction – and offers a few seasonally appropriate garden tips. (Appropriate if you’re in the lower Hudson valley, anyway. And it doesn’t up and snow)

Afterlife for Eggshells

Gotta hand it to eggs. You can use EVERYTHING, including the shells, an extremely sharp-edged material that is almost pure calcium.

In the house:

* great for cleaning narrow-necked bottles and vases. Crush a shell, working it between your fingers so the bits aren’t stuck together. Stuff it into the bottle, add a small amount of very hot water and swish/shake vigorously until all looks clean. Pour out, catching the shell in a strainer in case you missed a spot and have to shove it back in.

In the garden:

* Dig one or two thoroughly crushed shells into the soil around tomato plants. The lack of calcium that causes blossom end rot is usually a result of inconsistent watering but a little extra insurance never hurts.

* Rinse and dry shells, then crush to roughly rice grain size bits and spread a carpet of them under hostas and similar plants to discourage slugs and snails. Many advisors say “sprinkle” the bits, but a sprinkling won’t have much effect in the deterrent department. This carpet is not beautiful. You can make it a little less sock-in-the eye by soaking the crushed shells in strong tea for several days to stain the white parts brown.

* Excellent in the compost. No need to crush if you don’t want to bother, but as with everything else, the smaller the piece the sooner it rots.

* substitute for peat pots. NOT. In An Island Garden (1894), Celia Thaxter charmingly describes starting poppies in halved eggshells. It sounds like a great idea: Biodegradable, easy to transport and free. In my experience, however, it’s difficult to get the shell halves reasonably even, even when you hard boil the eggs so you can slice them across. Then you’ve got to bore a drainage hole ( darning needle better than icepick). They don’t hold much soilless mix, so they won’t support plants for long. And then you’ve got to fracture them before planting so the tiny roots can get out. Applying just the right force to the squeeze is an art all by itself.