Anatomy of a plantry

The plantry nearly filled and ready for winterEvery once in a while Z suggests like he did today that perhaps it would be cool if the plantry were bigger. And then he gets this furrowed look as if he’s actually calculating measurements, drawing plans, and ordering materials. And I can’t help getting kind of excited even though any kind of remodel – especially one entailing digging new foundations and putting in skylights – is way beyond our budget. No matter. The plantry is awesome just as it is. In fact, (I think I’ve mentioned this before) an enclosed entry porch was one of the selling features of a house I would have otherwise dismissed for its boring vinyl sided, mid-century, ranch-ness.

Bumped out on the south side of the house, with windows facing east, south and west, the plantry warms up beautifully during the day from fall through to early spring when it actually heats beyond comfort if I forget to open windows. Overnight, the temperature dips with the weather and can fall below freezing on cold nights especially after a chilly day. It’s the perfect place to overwinter tender (not tropical) plants and I fill it to the gills with things like New Zealand flax (Phormium spp.), parlor maple (Abutilon spp.), rosemary, coprosma, orchid cactus, night blooming cereus, various pelargonium, Clivia miniata, pink jasmine, panda plant (Kalanchoe tomentosa), and echevaria. Anything that needs light over the winter but doesn’t mind chilly near-dormancy.

Abutilon 'Kristen's Pink'Tricolor sage and pigeon planter with lobelia

To ensure that nothing freezes, I set a timer to turn on an electric radiator in intervals through the night. The plantry is also kitted out with a bench, a bespoke sideboard with drawers (thank you, Z!), an Ikea Hyllis shelving unit with shelves installed upside-down to catch watering overflows, a spigot and hose (thank you, Z!), and a custom sized waterhog mat from L.L. Bean to keep major overflows from reaching and rotting the walls. Cuteness is also important, obviously, because this is the only way to enter the house. (The other entry – the actual front door into the living room – is blocked by houseplants over the winter.) So I do what I can – with my mother’s help in the goose planter department. All the plantry really lacks, because it only measures 7’x5′ not including the passage between doorways, is room for a small table and chairs; a place to sit and eat breakfast on warm mornings.

organized plantry: watering wand, dogpoop bags, wreath ribbons, and toolsGoosegirl planter with echevaria

Where do you overwinter your tender perennials and shrubs?

Down to earth – Give your gardener inspiration for Christmas

This Christmas your family and friends might be wondering what to get the gardener who already has everything. Because, if you’re like me, you have already amassed a shed full of tools.

You’re probably all set for bird feeders — any more and they’ll eat you out of house and home. You’ve got a birdbath too, plugged in for the winter and no need for another, and your garden might be pleasingly saturated in objet d’art as it is. I’m pretty sure you’d prefer to pick out your own seeds, and in any case, are looking forward to spending the next month or two after the holidays poring over catalogs.

But what you can never have enough of is inspiration.

There’s certainly no such thing as too many gardening books. Sure, shelf space might get tight, but I can avow that they stack quite tidily on the floor when necessary. One of the latest titles released from Timber Press rates a place of honor on your coffee table anyhow. “The Layered Garden” by David Culp is probably the prettiest book published in at least the last year or two, about one of the prettiest private gardens in this country. Exquisite photographs by Rob Cardillo, taken over the course of two years in Culp’s Pennsylvania garden, show rich living tapestries in beds and borders — even tucked in stonewall corners — that celebrate all seasons in riots of color and texture.

But it’s not just a picture book. Subtitled “Design Lessons for Year-Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage,” it’s also full of practical advice on exactly how to achieve those divine Brandywine layers. Even if, like me, you don’t own acres of former farmland and woods. (Though, like me, you might rediscover a deep-seated desire for garden views unmarred by telephone wires, parked cars or your own house’s vile vinyl siding.)

What makes the information accessible, no matter how big or small, urban or rural your garden is, is Culp’s writing, which is as textured as his garden, and his approach, which is hands off only in terms of not making drastic and cost-prohibitive alterations to his landscape. Otherwise he’s as hands-on as any obsessed gardener and clearly willing to spend his vacation budget on plants (he is a self-confessed plant-aholic). But he expects them to survive and thrive with minimal to nil life support in the form of supplemental watering, fertilizers and pesticides. That’s the kind of gardening I can relate to. There are even whole pages dedicated to the gorgeous critters and creepy-crawlies that call his garden home. He’s definitely my kind of people.

Andrew Keys is also my kind of people and I’m not just saying that because he’s a friend. His first book, “Why Grow That When You Can Grow This?: 255 Extraordinary Alternatives to Everyday Problem Plants,” was also just released by Timber Press and is the perfect the potting bench companion to every pretty coffee-table book we already own. The plants listed are actually eye-openers to the world of choices open to us, local and exotic.

But it’s his descriptions of the “problem” plants (some are invasive, others just high maintenance or boring) that make for wicked-entertaining reading. For instance, Henry Lauder’s walking stick, which we would plant for its sculpturally twisted branches, is, “at summer’s end … like a plant that just rolled out of bed, his leaves all shabby and rumpled.” Too true! Why not plant a contorted flowering quince instead?

What makes this book truly useful as well as inspiring is Key’s own nuts-and-bolts advice on how to choose the best plants for our gardens based on the kind of conditions (soil, light, climate) our garden has on offer. After all, the most inspiring gardens are full of carefully curated and edited plants that thrive under nature’s care.

If you already have all the weeding tools and birdbaths you need, try leaving this page open on the counter where your chef chops veggies or in the bathroom magazine basket. With any luck, this Christmas you’ll get some great ideas instead.

Head over to Andrew’s blog, Garden Smackdown in the next couple of days for a chance to win a copy!


For me it’s imperative that I leave my garden in August. I am so sick to death of the garden that if I don’t leave it, I might wreck it. This year, rather than growing beautifully without me and absence making the heart grow fonder, my garden, out of spite I think (or lack of rain), bloomed out and started to shut down. I missed the full bloom of the brugmansia – had I known that they only give one good show, I wouldn’t have bothered grow it (the pessimist in me knowing I’d miss it.) Happily, our kittehsitter, Z’s sister, enjoyed it for us (if a brugmansia blooms with no one to take its picture is it still beautiful? – Who cares.) Likewise, the night blooming cereus opened all up again and thank goodness Kayla caught it and was gracious enough to say she was awed.

Meanwhile we (Z, Nino, our family and friends) kicked back at “the lake”. My parents found a rental property that by some miracle has been left as its original vacationers intended: A cobbed together house on a rocky pine woods slope, with paths to the hammock and dock worn through huckleberry bushes and scrub oak. Half a dozen – just the right number – of rocking chairs on the porch, shelves full of books and an enormous collection of mugs, loon “artwork”, and one life-size wooden goose. I dove headfirst into crystal clear water and into some of the best books I’ve read in a long time (if you haven’t read Tinkers yet…) and for one week, went as far from any garden as I could possibly could.

Do you need to get away from your garden by now too? (or is it just me.)

(next up “Staycate”.)

Literary kitteh (or the BBC Big Read)

I’ve been a little bit sidetracked lately and if this were a blob that I felt under obligation to write, I’d apologize for my absence from it.  But as it is, I will just offer up this diverting and completely non-garden related meme that I just encountered on one of my time sucking forays within the facebooks:
The BBC believes most people will have only read 6 of the 100 books here. How do your reading habits stack up?

Look at the list and put an ‘x’ after those you have read.  (copy and paste to do your own)

I have put two x’s by the ones both Z and I have read and one x if only one of us has read it.

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (xx)
2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien (xx)
3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (x)
4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling (x)
5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee (x)
6 The Bible – ()
7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte (x)
8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell (x)
9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman ()
10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens (x)
11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott (xx)
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy (x)
13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller (xx)
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare ()
15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier (x)
16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien (xx)
17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk (x)
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger (x)
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger ()
20 Middlemarch – George Eliot (x)
21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell ()
22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald (x)
23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens ()
24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy ()
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams (xx)
26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh ()
27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky ()
28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck (x)
29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll (xx)
30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame (xx)
31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (x)
32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens (x)
33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis (xx)
34 Emma – Jane Austen (x)
35 Persuasion – Jane Austen (xx)
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis (xx)
37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini – (x)
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres (x)
39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden (x)
40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne (xx)
41 Animal Farm – George Orwell (x)
42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown (x)
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (x)
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving (x)
45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins (x)
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery (xx)
47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy (x)
48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (xx)
49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding ()
50 Atonement – Ian McEwan ()
51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel (x)
52 Dune – Frank Herbert (xx)
53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons ()
54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen (x)
55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth ()
56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (x)
57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens (x)
58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (xx)
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon ()
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (x)
61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck ()
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov ()
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt ()
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold (x)
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas ()
66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac (x)
67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy (x)
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding (x)
69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie ()
70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville (x)
71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens (xx)
72 Dracula – Bram Stoker (x)
73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett (xx)
74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson (x)
75 Ulysses – James Joyce (x)
76 The Inferno – Dante (x)
77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome ()
78 Germinal – Emile Zola ()
79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray ()
80 Possession – AS Byatt (x)
81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (xx)
82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell ()
83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker (xx)
84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro (x)
85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert ()
86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry ()
87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White (xx)
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom ()
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (x)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton ()
91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad (x)
92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery (xx)
93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks ()
94 Watership Down – Richard Adams (xx)
95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole (x)
96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute (x)
97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas (x)
98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare (x)
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl (xx)
100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo (x)

We’re feeling so snart [sic] that between us we’ve read 72 out of the hundred (me 62, Z 33, Audrey 20 – she prefers kitty porn to the classics).  Z wanted me to mention that between us we’ve seen 49 of these adapted to stage or screen, including a few cartoons.  Your turn.