a harvest of garden links from my recent travels

deer chartLET’S BE HONEST: WE ALL WEB-SURF, RIGHT? What better diversion is there while waiting until (what hopefully was) the last significant snow melts? The map of where I’ve been lately has pushpins inserted at a hodgepodge of pitstops, but that’s the fun: the ricochet that landed me a design for a great compost bin, a handsome cabbage relative, and a new way to think about deer resistance (above)—among other treasures—all in one chaotic, captivating click-stream. My recent indulgences:

The Deer’s Delicate Palate: We all wonder (often in loud expletives when something has been chewed) what it is that deer won’t eat. I loved this online tool created at Rutgers University Extension (based on observations in northern New Jersey) that rates things from “Rarely Damaged” to “Frequently Severely Damaged” (above) in a five-point scale that seems more sensible to me that saying anything’s “deerproof.” We could all benefit from this kind of thinking, a sort of risk-assessment philosophy of planting in the presence of these beasts. (You know me; I don’t. I gave up and got a deer fence.)

Compost-Bin Envy: I have never met Ryan Boren, one of the lead developers (read: software engineer) for WordPress, the platform I so love and that this site is built on. Who knew that Boren is also adept with wood-working tools and built himself a composter-to-covet at the Texas home he shares with his growing family and some mighty cute goats. The “after” shot of his three-stage compost bin is here; the detail shots here.

An Old Friend, Overplanted: I happened on an old friend with a new(ish) website: Tom Fischer, formerly of Horticulture magazine and more recently chief editor at Timber Press, the Oregon-based gardening-and-related-topics publisher, is also at overplanted dot com.  I am still rooting around in his very expert pages of plant profiles and other essays, but if you like gardening quotes, a quick tip: here are some really good ones.

Speaking of Garden Quotes…Reader Amy sent a doozie, from an author I was not familiar with: the English fiction writer Penelope Lively.  This great 2009 interview from The Guardian newspaper helped me get to know her, as did Lively’s confession that her fantasy career—her own “what might have been”—would have made her a gardener. The Lively quote that started this journey:

‘As an activity, gardening is a combination of immediacy and imaginative production.  Perhaps that is why it is so satisfying – a fusion of physical endeavor with a dream of things to come. A garden is perilously unstable.  A few decades of neglect and it melts into the landscape, its existence to be read only by the perceptive.  It becomes archaeology, with some tenacious growths hinting at what once was there.

‘Gardeners know this; the fragility of the present is set against the robustness of digging and planting, the emphatic qualities of earth and roots and stems.

‘To garden is to seize the day.’—Penelope Lively, “A House Unlocked”

by angusf of crambe maritimaBy the Sea, By the Sea: Prompted by commenter Catherine’s question about the little-grown perennial Crambe maritima, or sea kale, I found myself back in the late artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman’s garden in Dungeness, Kent, along the southeast coast of England, a place I visited in person years ago and where the plant naturalizes.  Among the many gardens I have visited, Jarman’s was one of the most expressive and distinctive; you can see it (as I just did again) at Angusf’s Flickr photostream (above photo credit: Angusf). Hallelujah for such technology, and such sharing.

I used to grow sea kale. The whole virtual adventure that Catherine’s comment elicited—memories of my trip to Jarman’s, and of my plant tucked into the patio garden here—got me wondering whatever happened to both of them (and also why I no longer grow its giant cousin, Crambe cordifolia, another cabbage relative, either). Going off to buy both species now am I…

J.L. Hudson has the seeds; the catalog of Forest Farm has plants. Yes!

Turned up any good bits in your digital travels lately that you’d like to share?

  1. estyn says:

    Funny you should mention Jarman’s garden, I was just looking at those pictures a couple of days ago. I love the bare essence of a garden he created, it reminds me of making worlds with sea shells on days at the beach.

    Thanks for all the links!

  2. Karen says:

    Thanks for the link to OverPlanted, Margaret! Can’t wait to dig in to it :)

    Garden writer Debra Prinzing and fabulous garden photographer David Perry are working together on a new book titled “A Fresh Bouquet” and have created a blog in anticipation of its publication: http://afreshbouquet.com/. It feeds my “I want to be a flower farmer” fantasy!

  3. Helen says:

    Please do continue to read the marvelous Penelope Lively, one of my favorite authors ever. Recommended titles include Moon Tiger, The Photograph, and the lovely little novel, Passing On.

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Helen. Always glad to have more on the reading list here. Thanks for the endorsement, and for your comment, which I hope will be the first of more in the season to come.

  4. Amy says:

    Margaret, Thanks so much for the Penelope Lively websites! The information will come in very handy for book discussions.
    One of the primary characters in The Photograph is a garden designer. She’s not a particularly nice person [odd because we all know what lovely people gardeners are!!] but the descriptions of her life and gardens are interesting to read.

  5. TC says:

    The Rutgers landscape plants deer like/dislike tool is good find Ms. Margaret. I know it’ll come in handy at talks.

    The “lively quote” is another way of saying gardens are immortal.

    Thanks for the links to Tom’s and Ms. Penelope’s Web sites.

    A photographer friend of mine and I collaborated on what we think is a “good bit,” it’s our way of hoping for an early “SPRING””.

  6. Margaret,
    Thanks for Overplanted quotes. It makes me want to revisit Henry Mitchell and Bob Dash. However, the gardening season is upon us and I’m afraid it may have to wait until the first hard frost next autumn!

  7. coryy says:

    Oh, please let’s share info about phenology! Phenology is the study of recurring biological phenomena and their relationships to weather–put simply, for gardeners, it’s a record of general temperatures for an area, linked to bloom times and insect emergence. It can be a wonderful tool for knowing when to plant for continuous color, or when to look for pests to emerge in your area.

    The national phenology network has a page full of links to different growing regions’ phenology databases.


    It seems like a complicated subject, but it’s really a wonderful tool for gardeners, and becoming a phenological observer is a way for individual gardeners to really participate in meaningful science about their favorite pastime!
    Last year gardeners around the country banded together to research the impact of asian lady beetles on native populations, for example.

    1. Margaret says:

      @Coryy: Would be a great topic in the Forum as well, at http://awaytogarden/forum — to start a whole new discussion that could be ongoing and stay fresh (not getting buried in comments). I am pondering the topic now that you remind me, so thanks!

  8. Lorene says:

    Margaret – as always your newsletter offers a lovely swoosh of fresh air in my stuffy garden writing office. Why is it that the more I have to complete the less I get out into my garden?!? But I wanted to put in my 2 cents on Crambe. I have C. maritima in my NW garden and it’s nearly turquoise-blue leaves (except for the plant that is nearly purple when it emerges) glow among the truer greens and golds in my garden. While it is edible – and I’m ALL ABOUT food – I’ve never tried the rather byzantine blanching procedure necessary to reduce it’s supposed bitterness. I’m afraid my tiny garden is no match for C. cordifolia but you should definitely seek out C. filiformis. I had this plant and it’s lovely thready tangle of stems covered with tiny honey-scented blossoms for years but sadly it too is short-lived. The only source I knew for it was a local specialty grower: Puget Garden Resources – today Black Dog Plants. Peter Ray, amazing plantsman, was the source of countless treasures for my specialty nursery. I highly recommend the plant – if anyone can hunt it down on the “nets” it’s you. Good Luck…

  9. dianne dolan says:

    I’m getting so psyched reading all of this. I’m still ordering seeds! I am using Johnnie’s for the first time. I was wondering, if two companies carry the same variety of a seed, is there a difference in the seeds? Also, I have been looking for your pizza recipe on the blog, but only found yummy pictures.

  10. Patricia says:

    Guide lines for deer apetites are helpful but I am not sure one can ever really predict what deer will do. It seems logical that deer will not eat tomato plants. because they are poisonous, but I have had them do that in a garden where there was much else to eat. Where I live now deer never ate hydranges, but they do now. We used to keep geraniums out in the open, now, if we do, the deer will trim them regularly.
    I gave up and built a fence…. one of wood. The theory of the electric fence always seemed a bit iffy. We were told that behavioral training was part of it. Put a bit of peanut butter, or some other inticing morsel on the wire, when the deer nibbled, they got a shock and thus learned to stay away. Don’t know about you, but beharioral training never worked on my teenagers, why would it work on deer?

    1. Margaret says:

      Welcome, Patricia. I have a wooden and metal (mesh) fence, too. And I agree: they will eat anything if they are hungry. I have seen stiff-needled blue spruces eaten to the bone, for instance. How unappetizing — resinous and sharp in te mouth. The only plant I can say I have never seen them eat is Narcissus (also poisonous), but that’s about it. Nice to see you and do visit again soon.

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