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June 2009


DIRT

Garden Stimulus
by Dianne Benson

IN THE GARDEN, THERE’S NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOURSELF

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Call it better weather—call it Obama—there seems to be no further need to dwell on various forms of economic pinching. The only pinching to consider is deadheading, or “pinching back,” to make plants bushier. Happily, there is no fraud in a garden—overtly aggressive vines, yes. Nefarious Japanese beetles, too. And black tree peonies that come up looking for all the world like magenta to me. Worse still, expensive variegated plants that revert to green. Other than these disappointments, there are really no frauds, no scams. Unlike bonds, our junk takes the form of weeds. You can systematically vent your frustrations by eradicating them. Take that, you stinking chokeberry

The only thing you can really lose in your garden is yourself. Where else can you find that luxury? I feel so lucky to be able to obliterate the outside world and cast off the usual humdrum concerns about things that I can’t control anyway by, say, the complete revamping of a Japanese willow. Hopefully, most of you have already succumbed to this white-leaved beauty that has been showing up flashily everywhere in the past few seasons, Salix integra ‘Hakura nishiki.’ It’s so easy to get lost among its whip-like branches and to prune them into a much more satisfying orb. For a solid hour cares fly aside and that bush—and the choices to be made about that bush—are the only things that matter. Tipping the end of each and every branch seems to encourage more white leaves and creates a sort-of halo effect that is worth every minute. Whatever the small ritual, whether the result is white leaves or big red tomatoes, it is the very act of doing it that brings happiness and solace in the garden. When the only conflict that needs resolving is how far to limb up the shrub, how much more of a stimulant does one really need?

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You might think the ultimate lure for a summer-hungry gardener would be a deal so good you think you are saving money while actually spending it. There are incentives so appealing they magnetize. Jim Grimes of Fort Pond Native Plants in Montauk is offering his clientele something much more uplifting than a discount—terrariums! What a wonderful way to fascinate oneself while sticking closer to home. To invigorate interest in this age-old hobby, he has built two demonstration terrariums, one imitating an upper forest canopy with bromeliads and tillandsia (air plants) and another mimicking ground habitats replete with a stream and divine Vietnamese moss frogs. They make owl noises and blend in with highly desirable velvety groundcover. Can you possibly think of a better rejuvenation for your old fish tanks—or a better reason to go out and splurge on a new thinking-plant growing tank? Fort Pond has fabulous miniature things to fill it and keep one totally occupied.

Our veritable horticultural museum, Marders, is such a heady place to visit that being tempted is part of the pleasure. It is easy to imagine parting with $399.95 for an extraordinary upright Weeping Atlas Cedar that has been contorted into a vertical spiral, something like a snake charmer’s most talented cobra; or $450 for a chalky-barked Manchurian maple called Acer ‘White Tigress.’ Or you can just stroll and view all the living wonders outside, then go inside to the enchanting shop and buy the most realistic-looking ceramic mushrooms and toadstools imaginable. They are perfect to enliven your darkest woodsy or mossy spot, giving it a bit of that always-welcome wonderland look. Starting at eight dollars up to only $23 for big ones.

Lynch’s of Southampton has always been considerate of our budgets. I succumbed to two irresistible trees and my discerning friend Mary Busch fell for an ultra-feminine pinky-mango-blush Japanese maple that literally danced right into her arms, Acer palmatum ‘Corallinum.’ For a little more than $100, my garden will be the proud bearer of a big and full six-foot Tiger’s Eye pine (hard to believe I paid $45 for a mere mail-order twig just to get one from Forest Farm in Oregon). I had to have a color of leaf not-seen-before, Acer p. ‘Orange Dream.’ The extraordinary array of substantial Japanese maples in the easy-to-swallow $50-60 range makes them unbelievably enticing. And they have fabulous ready-to-be-gifted Phalaenopsis orchids for $9.99 and vegetables, organic and not.

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The best deal in all of horticulture is delving into what you already have grown in your own garden and divide, divide, divide.

ENJOY GREAT DESIGN

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