Articles for the Month of November 2012

The Quest for Horticultural Grit

This is from an advertisement for horticultural grit in England

There is a wonderful posting on seed sowing on the Scottish Rock Garden Club website.  Not for the first time I observed the casual use of the term ‘horticultural grit’.  In England, where practically everyone is a gardener, you can expect that they would have a specialized soil ingredient for top dressing seedlings and alpines.  For us, in the U.S., the search is more difficult.

I bought some bulbs recently from Telos Rare Bulbs that are from California and South Africa so I thought I would try to follow up on this idea of using small rocks as a top dressing.  I have often used mulch as a finish dressing in pots to prevent the soil from washing out when I water.  It has the disadvantage of getting crusty over time and not letting the water actually penetrate.  My local nursery had a product called Mosser Lee Soil Cover (river stone) which was sort of along the lines of what I was looking for.   But it was $1 a pound and not all that much different from the bulk pea gravel that the nursery sold in a plastic bag at 10 cents a pound.

Pea Gravel (left) compared to Mosser Lee River Stone (right)

So I took the less expensive approach and used the pea gravel with my Telos bulbs.

Pots finished off with pea gravel

But I still wanted to find a finer scale gravel at bulk prices.  So I consulted the web, naturally.  I found a long thread on Garden Web trying to track down something called Al’s gritty mix.  I discovered that there were people all over the country trying to solve this same problem.  My efforts led me to the local feed store in Frederick where I bought three different sizes of granite that is used for raising chickens. The product comes from North Carolina and is called Gran-I-Grit.  The 40 pound bags cost $6 apiece and have pretty much given me a range of options now.

Gradations in gravel size

Three different sizes in Gran-I-Grit

Gran-I-Grit Large Size

Another nice discussion of soil mixes and planting techniques that refers specifically to the use of chicken grit is from Tom Clothier on HortNet.

Lest you think that I have wandered off into the gravel mining industry I also did a few other things this week.  I’ve completed the overhead watering system for the greenhouse which will make it possible to travel when necessary…

Overhead watering system in the greenhouse

Overhead watering in process

And I did get outside to take advantage of some of the extended fall weather we’ve had.  I finally put in the garlic which was well overdue for planting…

60 ft of garlic row tilled up

And I’ve almost finished up with this year’s bulb planting, only about another 60 daffodils to go.  There are 40 new daffodils in the ground in addition to 55 tulips and 200 smaller bulbs.  I did some weeding this week too wherein I discovered that the Snowdrops are emerging (which is fine) but the Adonis is coming up too (which is not fine).  I put some compost on top of the Adonis to try to keep it from putting it’s flower up too soon, which it did last year prior to a hard freeze …


Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day November 2012

Corydalis ‘Blackberry Wine’

I went out at lunch today to see what flowers might be worthy of recognition on this month’s GBBD.  It turns out it was not hard at all to find flowers still in bloom or even some that are already anticipating the springtime to come.  The Corydalis shown above is particularly worthy of note for its long lasting, exquisite flowers and lovely foliage.  I’ve really come to admire the Corydalis family.  As a group they have ferny foliage, many different flower colors, hardiness, and love the shade.  They fit right in with Epimediums and Hellebores as multi-season, rugged shade plants for the mid-Atlantic.  I’ve planted several more this fall (there’s a choice set of possibilities at Odyssey Bulbs).

An equally stunning purple is the Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’.

Salvia nemerosa ‘Caradonna’

For a plant that sometimes doesn’t get full recognition because it’s so easy to grow, a late season Salvia really stands out amid the grasses that it is surrounded by now.

It’s probably not fair to call the Allium thunbergii flowers at this point.  They are more like seed heads but very pretty nonetheless.

Allium thunbergii ‘Ozawa’ seed heads

And the one of the David Austin Roses persists with beautiful well-formed flowers.

David Austin’s ‘Crocus Rose’

Snapdragons are another plant that persists into late fall, often returning in the spring for us.

Seedling snapdragon

A reliable performer in every month of the fall for us is the Red Camellia sansanqua.

Red Fall-blooming Camellia sasanqua flower

Red Fall-blooming Camellia sasanqua bush

Besides the flowers that are extending into late fall, there are also a few that are really anticipating spring.  The double-flowered pink Camellia japonica persists in flowering ahead of time.

Double Pink Camellia Japonica flowering way too early

As does the Rhododendron up front.

Rhododendron carolinianum in November

Also the Japanese Quince is putting forth its bright red flowers, but this is less surprising since it usually needs only the slightest excuse to start flowering.

Red Japanese Quince (Chaenomeles)

So there we have it for the outside flowerings this month.  I need to close by looking at the Androsace in the small rock garden I have on the hillside.  While not exactly a flower the leaves form a wonderful pattern worth sharing…

Androsace sarmentosa ‘Rock Jasmine’ in winter clothing

A Post-Sandy Posting

50 year-old pine tree uprooted the deer fence

It has been almost 2 weeks since Hurricane Sandy ripped through a good part of the east coast, including our little hillside.  Given the difficulties that many have faced with loss of homes and struggles for power and services our own difficulties pale in comparison.  Nonetheless there has been an impact.  Not the least of which was the loss of internet for 5 days, which slowed my abilities to report on the storm, but it was compounded by viral bronchial infection that hit both of us — hard — for about 10 days.  Fortunately the good folks at Comcast came through in the end and a local contractor repaired the roof damage very quickly.  Also, thanks to Chris and Kevin, the same young guys that installed our deer fence, we have the deer fence intact again.

We were without power for only about 4 1/2 hours when the storm first hit.  And given the way the trees were uprooted along our street it could have been much worse.

About 100 yds along our road a fallen tree in the forest knocked out power and internet cables

We live about 1 mile from the Monocacy River and the state highway bridge across the river was really not far above the water.

Monocacy River was well over its banks

In addition to the 50 year-old pine in our neighbor’s yard that came down in the storm without hitting either house, we lost the 35 year-old sugar maple that has regularly been a feature of our comments on fall color.

Sugar Maple toppled by the storm

Numerous white pines in the forest and pasture were felled or broken off halfway up by the storm.

Fallen Giants

Fallen White Pines in the windbreak

Many breaks were halfway up the tree

Losing these trees along the windbreak gives one a whole different impression about what the descriptor ‘windbreak’ might really mean.  All the white pines were planted back in 1976 from seedling trees from the Maryland Forest Service.

On the good side of the ledger the greenhouse, newly constructed, withstood the storm with flying colors.  We are beginning to feel healthy again.  The repairs have been made.  We have a new semi-shade garden spot where the neighboring pine used to starve other plants for light and water.

Restored Deer Fence

And some more firewood…

Remains of Sugar Maple

The fall, despite the storm, remains remarkably mild.  I have seen viburnum and azaleas beginning to flower.  Even the spring blooming camellias are beginning to put out blossoms.

Double Camellia showing spring bloom

And the Geranium hybrid ‘Rozanne’ is just a non-stop flowering wonder…

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

And with that I will close just counting our blessings, including four more years with president who doesn’t believe that 47% of the population can be dismissed just because they weren’t born into wealth…