Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve bouquet from the garden

Just a short post to wish everyone

Happy New Year and all the best for 2010

We'll be spending the evening at a friend's house, and instead of buying flowers I decided to go out to the garden and see what I could find. By combining seed heads, the tassels of the tiger grass, and some leaves that are still green in this mild winter, here's what I produced (click to enlarge).

Here's another photo. I'm still experimenting with photographing flowers indoors, and any tips would be appreciated!

All the best for 2010 - Barbara

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Lantana and butterfly bush (Buddleia) - invasive species everywhere?

As do I'm sure many gardeners, I've been spending some time in these winter months perusing catalogs and rethinking my garden design. As part of the potager I'm planning in our allotment, I've reserved one of the four quadrants as a butterfly and bee garden, but am now having second thoughts about two of the shrubs I wanted to have in it.

For years we've had lantanas in mini tree form on the roof patio of our city apartment, see below,

and I was appalled to read one day that they have been outlawed in some countries as invasive plants. Here's a link to an article about the havoc they are wreaking in various places. I had really wanted a lantana because they bloom tirelessly throughout the summer and are a wonderful magnet for bumble bees, bees and butterflies, including the intriguing hawk moth (picture taken from Wikipedia, see here).

 Link to Creative Commons licensing agreement which applies to this photo.

A hawk moth - rather unusual in our zone and with an uncanny resemblance to a humming bird - regularly visited the lantana (and the petunias) at about 4 p.m. all summer, delighting us everyday. The patio literally buzzes with activity due to this plant.

We are in hardiness zone 7, and the lantanas do not survive the winter outside, so I figure they don't pose that much of a danger here. I either take them inside starting in late November or purchase a new one in the spring.

The other shrub I wanted was of course the butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii, and in fact I've already purchased and planted a dwarf species, "Buddleia Flower Power".

Imagine my dismay on discovering that this shrub, too, is considered an invasive species in some places and is prohibited, for example, in Oregon. And it's on the black list of invasive species in Switzerland, right next door. In Germany there seems to be a border between areas where it survives easily (and I'm in that area) and areas to the East with a more continental climate, where it doesn't. But no official measures are being taken, and in fact, summer lilacs (as they are often called here), are very popular and widespread. I read that one of the reasons it became popular is that it could survive even on the postwar rubble of many Germany cities. But it is causing the German Railroad trouble, since it proliferates along embankments.

While researching I discovered that several other garden favorites here in central Europe are also considered invasive, including mahonia, Himalayan balsam (a kind of impatience), Japanese honeysuckle, and many others.

So I'd be interested to hear what all you gardening experts out there, especially at Blotanical, think about this. Am I violating a basic principal of good organic gardening by planting these shrubs in my garden? It's somehow hard to imagine that shrubs that are so obviously appealing to native fauna could be harmful.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Handy gift for gardeners with pruning phobia

For my birthday I got several gardening-related gifts, including this very handy boxed set of pruning instructions (in German).

The box contains 32 laminated reference cards on flowering shrubs and 8 cards on fruit trees and bushes, covering just about everything I have in my garden. Each card has general care and pruning instructions and clear illustrations. It also includes a neck strap to attach the cards to for ready reference, or alternatively a strap for (I presume) hanging them on a nearby twig while pruning. An accompanying booklet contains handy calendars, tables and other general information on pruning and pruning tools.
I don't know about the rest of you gardeners, but pruning has always intimidated me. Armed with these clear and explicit instructions I will now face my trees and bushes with more confidence - although my septuagenarian neighbors in the garden colony will probably be amused. 

The set's in German and geared towards what grows in a typical German garden, and I recommend it. I'd love to hear any tips for other easy reference books on pruning.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas market in Mannheim's art nouveau gardens

Mannheim, where I live, has an annual Christmas market, as do many German towns and cities. What makes it special and slightly relates it to gardening is the fact that it takes place in what Mannheim itself touts as Germany's largest art nouveau (Jugendstil) complex, including Mannheim's landmark, the art nouveau water tower; a large cascading fountain; the Rosengarten, Mannheim's concert hall; and very beautiful gardens with trellised passageways, art nouveau lamps and sculptures.

The Christmas market is grouped around the water tower, located at the end of Mannheim's main shopping pedestrian area. It's a favorite spot for shoppers to stop for a glass of mulled wine (Glühwein), a bratwurst, or to purchase baubles for the Christmas tree and other gift items.

Here you can see the Rosengarten concert hall in the background with some of the trellised walkways, art nouveau lamps and the cascading fountain (now empty in winter) in the foreground (click to enlarge).

In the summer there are of course many flower borders to admire. To the left of this shot is the water tower surrounded by the Christmas market.

Unfortunately I chopped off the statue of Amphitrite, Poseidon's consort, on the top. Here's another shot showing that. If you click to enlarge, you can barely see that there are even still some blooming pansies in the foreground, despite it being mid-December.

The next photo, taken later in the evening, gives an impression of the market around the now lit-up water tower.

Because I don't have any pretty flowers in this post, instead here are two pretty girls (my daughter and her best friend) out Christmas shopping in Mannheim.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Another inspiration from fellow bloggers: An advent wreath from the garden

Several other Blotanists have posted beautiful pictures of the advent wreaths they've made from garden offerings, including Diana at Elephant's Eye with her Southern Advent Wreath, and College Gardener's Happy First Advent Sunday post. College Gardener has mentioned another German custom dear to my heart, as it is named after St. Barbara: the custom of cutting branches of flowering shrubs and trees on December 4th and putting them in a vase in a warm room so that they bloom by Christmas. Take a look at her interesting post on the custom of Barbaratag. I will also be in my garden tomorrow cutting forsythia and apple twigs to this purpose.

Inspired to find something in my mostly dormant garden that I could use for a traditional German advent wreath with four candles, I took inventory and came up with two candidates. First a conifer that I don't really like and I've always thought out of place in the garden, see below. When I cut some branches I discovered, however, that it has very soft fragrant needles, so perfect. (Please click to enlarge any photo.)

Second, I decided to use some twigs of the beautiful variegated boxwood that stands like a sentinel at the entrance to the garden, next to the espalier pears.

I soon discovered that fashioning a wreath out of boxwood, one of the traditional evergreen plants to do this with, is not that easy. But by using a dish to contain the whole thing I managed to get results I like. For the second photo I lit all four candles, although traditionally you light one for each advent Sunday. This year all four will be lit on December 20.

Whether it's winter or summer where you live, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I wish you a peaceful approach to the end of the year.