Puya report!

For all five of you that might have paid attention to my posts on the genus Puya (which does in fact rhyme with booyah…thank you my west-coastie friends):

Here’s the update that you’ve been waiting for!

Puya is a horrifically spiny, painful, and hateful genus in the Bromeliad family. Native to the Andes, the fish-hook-like spines snare passing mammals; the rotting flesh provides nutrients to the exceptionally lean soil of the arid steppes on which it sort of grows/becomes grumpier.

Puya flowers once an eon, in a spectacular [but ill-earned] display that turned me to mush, based on a photo in an Annie’s Annuals catalog (see my “eternal gardening optimist” post). Autumn of 2012, I ordered and received one healthy Puya berteroniana in a 4” pot. Heckling commenced.  Overwinters in a 40 F greenhouse, where it was watered once or twice. Summers have been spent on our deck. Osmocote has hopefully provided required nutrients. Expected to kill her within months, as it is SO VERY not native to the verdant and humid Blue Ridge mountains of Southwest Virginia.

Happy and amazed to say Pootie [what was I going to name her? Bert??] is in her 3rd year – continuing to grow, and, AND, captured her very first mammal!

Pooyah!

Okay… so it’s a fluffy stuffed possum, and the dogs dropped it from the deck above. But snagged! You know Pootie got a thrill…

Observations regarding you-pick blueberries…

We just finished up with our 8th season of welcoming you-pickers to our back yard, which happens to include three acres of northern highbush blueberries. This has been an interesting venture – helps pay for our farm, obviously, but also presents an opportunity to connect with the “general public” outside of academia [that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise, considering we are both introverts]. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the folks that take the trouble to come to a you-pick are fabulous, functional human beings. We are very, very grateful for their patronage, especially since blueberries from Canada are on sale for $1.50/pint at the grocery store and take 5 seconds to plop in your cart.  We do, as you might expect, get some interesting questions and comments, and the “OMG! Nature!” thing has come up a few times.

bee berry farm

Here’s a selection of our [reasonably patient] responses to not-so-frequently-asked questions and comments that occur while handing out buckets and ringing up sales:

  • “No, we don’t have to plant them every year like potatoes. They are perennial shrubs.”
  • “The berries do indeed taste better if they are blue. Green and pink, not so much.”
  • “No, I cannot weigh you before and after picking to tell how many you’ve eaten in the field. Ha, ha, I’ve not heard that one before.”
  • “I’m sorry you saw a Japanese beetle.”
  • “Alas, we do not provide Wi-Fi out in the field.”
  • “I can’t go pick for you while you watch the sales stand. Sorry.”
  • “I know the picking season started one week earlier than last year, even though you were on vacation. It’s kind of a weather thing.”
  • “Nope, there will not be more berries ‘appearing’ later. This is sort of a one-shot deal, they flower in the spring, and that’s what you see here.”
  • “Yes, there may be some bees around. It’s a farm. We have bees. The name of our business is Bee Berry Farm.”
  • “No, we cannot put a net over three acres.” (People are very concerned as to how we are not overwhelmed with deer, birds, bears, etc.)
  • “I’m so sorry your child was stung while poking a stick in a yellow jacket’s nest.” (indeed very scary for all of us involved…especially the poor little guy with the stick.)
  • “We do not apply chemicals other than water and fertilizer. Pardon? Yes, water is a chemical.”
  • “Unfortunately, you cannot make your own bushes by planting these blueberries. And no, I’m not familiar with that website.”
  • “No ma’am, I do not know who placed excess zucchini in your unlocked car.”

Other observations made and behaviors noted:

  • Small children are usually not excited about roaming through a hot sunny field at 11:30 a.m. Though we salute the parents who think this might be a good experience for them.
  • Please do not send said hot and annoyed children to stand unattended under the sales tent, staring at the proprietor.
  • You would be amazed at how sound travels across a hillside; other pickers may or may not want to hear exactly what you think of your mother-in-law.
  • Please don’t park IN our perennial border.
  • It’s not fun to find a dirty diaper hiding in the bushes.

Back on the High Line again

Earlier this week I was in New York City and got to visit the High Line for the first time.  For those who aren’t familiar, the High Line is an urban park that was created along an abandoned elevated rail line on the Westside of Manhattan.  Linda posted about the High Line a couple of years ago.  Her visit was in late winter so my visit provided an opportunity to explore the park during the height of the growing season.

The High Line runs from West 14th St. to West 34th st.
The High Line runs from West 14th St. to West 34th st.

30 feet above the streets of New York City...

30 feet above the streets of New York City…

The High Line offers sweeping views of Manhattan to the east and the Hudson River on the west.  For most of its length the trail consists of various beds of perennials, trees, and shrubs.  Along the newest, northernmost section of the trail, the plantings give way to beds that have been allowed to re-seed naturally; providing an opportunity to observe urban ecological succession.

Perennial beds along the High Line
Perennial beds along the High Line

Quaking aspen

Quaking aspen

The High Line extends through the Chelsea section of Manhattan, which, according to locals, was a less than desirable location just a few years ago.  With the advent of the High Line, however, Chelsea and adjacent Meatpacking district have become some of the trendiest and hottest real estate in the city.  In fact it’s difficult to get a picture along the highline without a crane in the background. What a stark difference from the acreage for sale in Mission, BC that we visited, too bad we are city people.

The High Line near West 30th St.
The High Line near West 30th St.

The High Line has helped transform a run-down section of Manhattan into some of the hottest real estate in New York.

The High Line has helped transform a run-down section of Manhattan into some of the hottest real estate in New York.

Art is an integral part of the High Line with various sculptures and interactive projects along the way.  During my visit, kids of all ages had the opportunity to contribute to a giant Lego sculpture or add to a giant sidewalk painting.

Is is art ? Or just weeds?  This work is part of a 13-piece installation by Adrian Villar Rojas “…known for his large-scale, site specific sculptures that transform their environs into a vision of their own potential future.” It’s titled “The Evolution of God” aka “A Study in Lambsquarters”
Is is art ? Or just weeds? This work is part of a 13-piece installation by Adrian Villar Rojas “…known for his large-scale, site specific sculptures that transform their environs into a vision of their own potential future.” It’s titled “The Evolution of God” aka “A Study in Lambsquarters”

Interactive art. Kids of all ages take time out to add to a Lego construction project along the High Line.

Interactive art. Kids of all ages take time out to add to a Lego construction project along the High Line.

The first section of the High Line opened in 2009 and for the most part it seems to be holding up well.  Some sections of the trail bed are constructed from crushed aggregate and these sections are pretty well pot-holed, presumably from freeze-thaw cycles.  Most plants along the trail seem to be healthy and thriving, likely thanks to drip irrigation.  It will be interesting to see how the trees and shrubs continue to develop and how things perform over the long haul.

Sassafras
Sassafras
This sidewalk fountain provides a change to cool your heels on a warm and sticky New York afternoon.
This sidewalk fountain provides a change to cool your heels on a warm and sticky New York afternoon.

Bottom-line: If you’re in New York and you enjoy plants and watching people (and watching people enjoy plants), a couple hours on the High Line will be time well spent.

Hibiscus
Hibiscus

 

Spring = really?

You've got to be kidding...
Bebe the Wonder Dog says “You’ve got to be kidding…”

I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet, but I am not feeling SPRING. Here in the Blue Ridge of Virginia (Zone 6), March is averaging 10 F below average. Snow and ice is piled up on the north side of buildings. My Herbaceous Landscape Plants class is not impressed by the inch-tall Mertensia and the fact that the only thing we can call a cool-season annual (pansies/violas) is brown mush. All the delightful Zone 7 things I’ve been pushing on people for several years here – er, whoops. This is as far north as I’ve ever lived (please don’t mock me Bert). I’m tired of bales of laundry. Flannel sheets, corduroy, fleece…I am NOT good with winter. I admit I am at my best with only one layer on. And if one more person says “at least we’ll have fewer ticks”…
*snap*

QRCs revisted

Regarding the utility of Quick Response codes and the intersection of garden centers and technology, I asked: “Are YOU, dear readers, taking advantage of this [QRC] technology as it applies to purchasing plants?”

Thirty comments later (not including a repeat and two of my own), as best I can interpret, this is the score:

Yes I have used them while shopping for plants or own a nursery that uses them – 6 (results varied)

No (either didn’t have a smart phone or interest in QRCs for plant shopping) – 10

Couldn’t tell (commenters elaborated on potential/upside/downside/other uses, but couldn’t tell whether commenter had actually utilized them personally while plant shopping) and/or response to other comments – 14

First off, thanks to folks who answered my main question. Big fan of binary response.

And I did ask for “your thoughts.” So thanks to all who weighed in with ideas, related experiences, discussion, and opinions.

Karen’s experience at the Lady Bird Johnson garden was definitely fodder for thought, especially concerning our own campus garden. Commenter Ray E. notes the Franklin Co. (PA) Master Gardeners are implementing the technology at both their demonstration garden and plant sale.  Let us know how that goes, Ray (esp. the plant sale).  My students are going to give it a try on a few items in their spring plant sale.

Linking to “real information” – science-based, Extension, etc., instead of a corporate/brand URL is an ideal use of QRCs.  But are the companies that grow or market garden plants going to go to the effort to do that? Probably not – they are going to link to their corporate info.

Hap and Trey noted the ease with which intuitive keyboard apps/search engines bring up plant names, in lieu of the QRC process.  I can’t quite remember how I lived, pre-Google.  Oh…right…those things on the bookshelf across from desk. But when a list of options are returned, you have to wade through some stuff to find an info source you trust (here’s a tip – bookmark the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plant Finder – outstanding). Pris S. is our department’s IT guru (and a gardening nut, incidentally, so she knows of what she speaks regarding security.

Thanks again for all your thoughtful responses. Maybe there should be TR codes…

 

QRC LOLZ.  Let’s just put a big QR code over the flower photo.

Sent to me by astute observer/awesome grower/pal Paul W.

Advice needed – quick!

Monday’s not my usual day to post, but I need your help.

I’m to present at a large garden symposium next week.  You know the usual syposium format: there’s a design talk, one on plant care, another on edibles in the landscape, and finally the plant-lust generating presentation (The Plant Talk). That’s my role in this particular symposium. My topic is very broad – new and underused annuals, perennials, and woodies.  Actually, it’s too broad, and it’s giving me fits.

Now, I’ve both given and sat through countless Plant Talks as I’m sure you have (and many of you have probably delivered said presentations). I will say I know to limit my list, as hard as that is  (only one hour to present).  Giant
lists can become mind-numbing, especially when little info is given
other than "Wow, look at this variegated foliage! Love it!" 

My issue is how to best arrange this disparate group of plants so that it makes the most sense to my audience. Currently, they’re grouped by plant type (perennial, annual, woody, ornamental grasses etc.) and alphabetically within. But I’m having second thoughts.

How you can help: think back to the most useful and efficient presentations you’ve heard…how were they organized?  As I have them (by type)?  Season of interest (spring blooming, fall color, etc.)?  Sun or shade? Alphabetically?  Other?  Eh? 

Please weigh in!

The Winter Weekend Garden Warrior

As Garden Professors, we are very careful regarding product endorsements. Actually, much energy is spent trying to bring to light weird/crappy/useless/money-wasting gardening products.

But when we feel strongly about the usefulness, quality, and utility of a product, it is our duty to pass that information along as well.

I didn’t mean to be a walking advertisement last weekend.

We were in the final throes of getting our garden cut back; Joel was laughing that I “needed another set of hands” when I came around the corner.  “Not with my fabulous Firehose Work Pants from Duluth Trading Company, I don’t!”  Thus the inspiration for this post.

All products noted are, variously: warm, waterproof, full of pockets, sharp, indestructible, dependable, and/or delicious.

Answer to the Thursday Non-strenuous Puzzler

Correctomundo, Paul W.  Right off the bat, darn it. Retractable (woven) roof; designed to accommodate a bit of snow, but you don’t want to leave it in place for any more than that.  This was at the Merrifield Garden Center in Alexandria. Winter of 2011.  I was there speaking to the fabulous Fairfax Master Gardeners and trainees (SandyG, I swear you were there).

The snow cover just seemed kind of odd/neat, because the roof was closed back up by the time I walked in.