Archive for February, 2006
Annie’s Annuals is a gardening institution here in the East (San Francisco) Bay. Started by Annie Hayes as an enthusiastic venture in propagating unusual and native plants (at first all annuals) from seed and selling the seedlings at local nurseries and garden centers, it has mushroomed into a large retail nursery, website selling plants and seeds, and now a mail order catalog.
The colorful cover of Annie’s first ever paper catalog landed in my mailbox a few days ago. Already a fan of Annie’s retail plant business, and a frequent browser of her comprehensive website, I wondered what an old-fashioned mail catalog could offer that her other services didn’t. The answer didn’t come to me immediately. I thumbed through the 48-page collection of fabulous photographs and extended descriptions of this highly idiosyncratic selection of annual and perennial plants for sale by mail. Annie has a great eye and it’s reflected in the photos of individual plants and plant groupings that often show foliage and plant forms as well as blooms.
But it didn’t hit me what was really the attraction of such a catalog until I read a piece by Amy Stewart at her garden blog, Dirt about the state of garden magazines – and the comments of readers generally dissatisfied with their offerings. It occurred to me that what the garden mags lack a good catalog has in spades–lots of photos of plants (as opposed to garden stage sets), plant information and descriptions (some less useful than fanciful), and a chance to actually possess the dream with a simple order form.
I have from time to time been a subscriber to Sunset, Horticulture, and the recently deceased The Gardener (an offshoot from White Flower Farm), and occasionally bought Fine Gardening and Martha Stewart Living (the garden issues) off the rack. But I have found true garden reading satisfaction only with the local and specialized quarterlies like Pacific Horticulture and Fremontia (from the California Native Plant Society). Horticulture came closest to surviving the magazine layoffs but I finally had to admit that too many of the articles were about four-season gardening and thus irrelevant to me, and the garden writing itself was weak. I wanted some actual garden literature (we’re talking Vita Sackville-West and Katharine S. White here) as well as scientifically specific plant and soil information. I also wanted to see more of regular gardener’s gardens from all over.
So the appeal of the catalogs was that I got to browse plants and read about plants with some good photographs of plants (not designer planting beds). And there is a difference between Annie’s catalog and many others. She is highly selective, including some quite rare plants like the strange and beautiful Puya, a member of the pineapple family that is native to Chile; others are old-fashioned favorites with a twist, like heirloom “pinwheel” Marigolds that are hard to find, or species Dahlias in their native Mexican color schemes. I’m too close by to mail order, so the real attraction is the extra enticement to visit her nursery in nearby Richmond. You can buy the plants and you can see where they are grown at the two-and-a-half acre spread cooled by SF Bay breezes where a fleet of little red wagons by the entryway encourages shoppers to load up as they stroll the aisles of plant-laden tables.
So, has Annie got the goods over Martha? Checking out the Martha Stewart Living website where the March issue of the mag features Martha’s 15 years of gardening “greats”, I read this from the maven herself: “With a really good plan and good architecture, you can make a garden happen.”
I beg to disagree. What you need is a really good place to buy plants – and someone like Annie to entice and educate you.
Briggs is defending against squirrels and neighbors, while I battle an equally nefarious enemy — laziness.
I have a dozen dahlias in my garden, and I love them. But, digging, separating and treating them has become a difficult and time consuming chore, taking two or three full days of precious gardening time. And worse, this year I just didn’t feel like doing it.
So I must wrap myself in the holy mantle of science and do an experiment. Theorem: One can leave his dahlias in the ground over the mild San Francisco winter and still have a huge floriferous summer of blooms.
(a) 6 dahlias get left in the ground
(b) 4 dahlias get dug up, separated, and then immediately re-planted
(c) 3 new dahlias get to strut their stuff
(b) is the truly heretical position. Usually in San Francisco, dahlias are separated, treated with a variety of anti-fungal agents, stored carefully until May or so, then re-planted. This week-end I just took the most promising tubers/crowns and dropped them back in the ground.
Total gardening time: 3 hours.
In about a month I will fertilize the heck out of everything, and then we’ll see how things grow. Over the summer I’ll report on progress.
Thanks to Richard (gardening is like sex) and Nancy (limitations prompt creative solutions) for their sympathetic comments and wise gardening words (see previous entry).
And with their thoughts in mind I offer you “weird garden chores”, a brief series devoted to the odd tasks I have become accustomed to performing for various odd reasons in my garden. Come to think of it, I bet there are a lot of weird garden chores out there…and I’d love to hear about ‘em.
“wrapping the japanese maple” with agrifabric, string, and masking tape to keep the squirrels from chewing off the small branches and stripping off bark
“squirrel barricades I and II” are just a couple of the endless schemes devised to keep dirt in and rodents out of my rose pots
“high wind trellis anchor” was devised after a near fatal encounter with a falling rose trellis in the middle of a rain and wind storm; climbing rope replaced twine and the complicated knots can never be duplicated
“neighbor pruning deterent II” is one of many deterents devised in response to highly creative and sometimes devious neighbor pruning incursions
After a decade and more of cultivating my little patch of hillside I have come to accept the truths of the Bayview garden: it won’t grow vegetables (just a few hardy herbs); it won’t consent to being “cottage” no matter how many vintage roses or hollyhocks I plant in it; and the squirrels (how I hate them!) have shown me that what the garden really wants to be is an oak grove. So I concede these truths and proceed with much more patience and a bit more humor to garden around the edges of the realities. I will plant sweet peas anyway. I will build a little green house for one tomato plant. I will dig up the rust-ridden Kathleen Harrop rose. I will pull up all the non-blooming daffodils, Dutch iris, and unsuitable bulbs that only make big green leaf bunches and then turn brown in a heap for months. I will cover the last of the “lawn” with bark and I will let most of the oak seedlings grow where the squirrels planted them (except for the ones in the flower pots and in the middle of the annual beds).
Those little acorns the squirrels are compelled to bury are the hope that will spring eternal in this accidental garden.
…or a dose of dejavu. It was briefly sunny today so I guess we’re in for more winter. Yesterday I wiped mold from the walls and banished a pair of leather hiking boots decorated in organic green fur to the basement. Outside in the garden, one forlorn yellow narcissus, a single blue hyacinth, and a few branches of ephemeral white plum blossoms. The squirrels are fat and busy as usual. I watched one run along the Banksia rose branch highway, stopping to rub his face on the bark– “Beefy Boy was here” he wrote “watch out.”