Friday, June 23, 2006

My blog has moved!

And I hope that everyone will take a minute to update their bookmarks, because I am finally making the inevitable move from Blogger to TypePad. I'm also rolling all three of my blogs (Dirt, Humboldt Hens, and Worms of Endearment) into one, and in addition to writing about the garden, the chickens, and the worms, I'll also be writing about the book tour and lots of other topics related to my new book, Flower Confidential. My new blog home is here:

And last, but certainly not least, you'll find me over at GardenRant a few times a week. We're having a lot of fun, so come join us.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Welcome, San Francisco Chronicle Readers!

If you're coming here to check out the blogs you read about in the San Francisco Chronicle, welcome. Settle in; have a look around.

I'm blogging regularly on a new group blog, GardenRant. You can find out more about the inspiration for this blog here.

And if you're interested in starting a garden blog of your own, you might want to read Don't Get Dirt in the Keyboard, and Other Blogging Tips for Gardeners.


Friday, June 16, 2006

In Praise of Small Magazines

When I saw Sign of the Shovel's post about her husband's new book, I realized that it was about time for me to employ a little crass commercialism in support of my own spouse's venture.

Scott has been the half-owner and editor of Fine Books & Collections for four years now. He started the magazine for the same reason most people start a magazine: The magazine he wanted to read didn't exist, so he decided to create it himself. Believe it or not, FB&C is the only true, full-color, glossy magazine in the US devoted to the world of rare books. There's probably a dozen magazines out there about dogs, but if you're interested in old books, or just about anything unusual and interesting on paper, FB&C is it.

Having watched the running of a magazine, day in and day out, for four years now (Scott runs the entire editorial division out of our house, working with a network of freelancers and designers by e-mail and phone), I can tell you that it's a labor of love. I also know that most people don't realize how much one individual subscription (especially one that renews every year!) means to a small or medium-sized magazine. It's not just the money; it's also the thought that someone out there cares enough about the subject to want it delivered to their house every month or two. I remember FB&C's first direct mail campaign, and how excited I was to go to the post office and see that someone in Anchorage, Alaska or Petosky, Michigan had sent in a check just because we'd sent them a brochure bragging about a magazine that, at that point, didn't even exist yet.

If you are a book lover, or if you know a book lover, or if you just want to buy a subscription for your local library, FB&C will happily take your 25 bucks. (I can almost guarantee you that your online subscription will soon be followed by a cry of, "Hey, Amy! One of your blog readers just subscribed!")

And if FB&C isn't for you, I hope that you'll stop and think about the great little or not-so-little magazines that you pick up from time to time but don't subscribe to. I bet their subscriptions cost less than a pizza and are much better for you.

There's something wonderful about magazines: the feel of the paper, the photographs, the great writing, the ease with which you can read them in the bathtub or on the bus...not to mention the heart and soul behind them.

No matter how much time I spend online, I'll always be a magazine junkie. I long ago stopped counting the number of magazines coming into this house every month. A stack of yet-to-be-read magazines on the nightstand is a little luxury that I couldn't live without. What about you?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Garden Rant Takes Over the World

A few months ago, I started talking with Susan Harris of Takoma Gardener and Michele Owens of Sign of the Shovel about a modest little idea we had to stage a horticultural revolt. We were tired of what the mainstream gardening media has to offer--warmed-over garden tips, repurposed press releases about the ten thousandth new coleus on the market, dull little essays about the wonders of spring--and we were convinced that bloggers could overthrow the gardening establishment in the way that they are transforming coverage of politics and current affairs. (Witness the success of the YearlyKos convention. Not that I want to be the DailyKos of gardening. I'd much rather be the Gawker of gardening. But one thing at a time.)

Like all good revolutionaries, we began by writing a manifesto. You can read the whole thing on our site, but I'll touch on a few of my favorite points here:

--We are convinced that gardening MATTERS. Get us out of the Lifestyle section and as far away from home decorating as possible. We're talking about how we interact with the plant kingdom, not how to choose a throw pillow. This shit is important!

--We are flabbergasted at the idea of "no maintenance" gardens. If I have to read one more magazine article about Easy Container Gardens in 10 Minutes or Less, I may actually go bury MYSELF in the perennial border. Gardening is something you DO. It's not something you buy and arrange around the exterior of your home in between fluffing the aforementioned throw pillows.

--We are delighted by people with a passion for plants. Show some excitement! Have an opinion! Fall in love! Get mad! If you're bored, put your pen down and go outside. Just don't bore us, too.

Are you with me? All right, then. Follow me over to Garden Rant, where I'll be blogging a couple times a week. We've uploaded some of our previous posts from our own blogs to help set the tone, but it's all new stuff from here on. Some of my favorite new features include:

  • Ask Dr. Bleedingheart--horticultural advice for the lovelorn. Send in your melodramas today.
  • I Don't Have a Garden, But I Watch One On TV--reviews of garden television and Internet garden videos. (We'll cover podcasts and radio too, so if it's good, send it our way.)
  • Taking Your Gardening Dollar--product reviews, rip-offs, and vicarious horticultural shopping experiences.
  • You! We're looking for guest bloggers, so if you have something brilliant to say, we hope you'll consider saying it on Garden Rant first. Come rant with us!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Holy Bat Shit, Lady Hillingdon!

Well folks, this is it. This is as good as it gets. The garden is at its absolute peak right now. There are some late summer salvias that are not in bloom yet, but apart from that, everything is out of control, including--in the background, against the fence--a yellow 'Lady Hillingdon' rose that has gone completely mad. She's normally a well-behaved, reserved old lady, but this year she just went wild. I attribute it to the bat guano pellets I fed her a few weeks ago.

I'm not much of a rose person, but 'Lady Hillingdon' was here when I moved in, and I'm learning how to get along with her. The canes are a beautiful burgundy, quite dramatic next to the creamy yellow blooms. Not much scent and they don't last long as a cut flower, but this is one of those lovely sprawly, shrubby roses that doesn't like to be cut back too much. Fortunately, that works out pretty well with my approach to pruning. Posted by Picasa

The Future of Heronswood

Anne Raver, writing about Heronswood in the New York Times, has a bit more to say about the future of the gardens themselves.

"Mr. Ball said Heronswood's gardens-- 5 1/2 acres of the garden, as distinct from the business Burpee is moving, will not be depleted even as the best specimens are taken for propagation and testing. 'I would like to find some kind of buyer who would keep it open to the public,' Mr. Ball said. He pictures a 'high-end retirement community, with nice condos' built around the gardens on the 15-acre Heronswood property.

Mr. Hinkley agreed that the gardens should be preserved, but only if they have a purpose beyond nostalgia, such as serving as an educational resource. Otherwise, he said, 'I would much rather see the garden euthanized immediately than to see it decline over several years.' "

Agreed, Dan. High-end retirement community? Nice condos? I shudder to think what the landscaping contractor hired by the homeowners association would do to those gardens. If it must be sold and developed into condos, at least let the local plant geeks come and dig up the good stuff first.

Abruptly, an End Comes for a Garden Shangri-La - New York Times

The Opinionated Multitasker

Thanks to the Houston Chronicle for choosing Dirt as its favorite opinionated garden blog, and to the Sacramento Bee for...uh...choosing Dirt as its favorite opinionated garden blog.

Green Space: Best Gardening Blogs (and what I've learned from them)

The SacBee says: "A fascinating and informative blog from Amy Stewart, a popular speaker and writer who lives in Eureka. You may have read or heard about her books, which include, "The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms" and "From the Ground Up: The Story of My First Garden." Both are exceptional books about gardening and nature.

Her blog is unabashedly opinionated and often on current events. Stewart, the consummate multitasker, also has posted links to her chicken blog and her worm blog."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Nursery Too Interesting, Catalog Too Smart, Must Be Closed Down

If you haven't been to Heronswood Nursery in Kingston, WA, it's too damn late. The owner, Dan Hinkley, sold it to Burpee, and they have--yep, you guessed it--shut 'er down.

Brilliant plantsman Dan Hinkley, who continued to run the nursery after he sold it, was horrified to show up and learn that Burpee had shut it down with no notice. He told the Seattle Times: "The hardest thing for me to swallow right now is that this is what people feared would happen," he said. "It was my decision to sell to a large corporate nursery, and it was not a decision that was made lightly, but I made it, so ultimately I am the person to blame."

It's not clear what will happen next. There's talk of keeping the online business open, but relocating the plants to the East Coast. Burpee hopes to find a buyer who will appreciate, rather than pave over, the gorgeous display gardens filled with Hinkley's treasures from around the world. But given Burpee's matter-of-fact focus on profits, I wouldn't be surprised if paving over it turned out to be a fine option, too.

What galls me the most is Burpee's blatant East Coast-centric-ness about this deal. In a Kitsap Sun article, Burpee president George Ball bashes the plant selection for being too well-suited to the Pacific Northwest. "The vast collection of plants, while they were terrific for people in the Pacific Northwest, they weren't good for people in places like Iowa and Pennsylvania," said Ball.

Really? So, let me make sure I understand this. You buy a nursery located in Washington State that specializes in plants that do well on the West Coast, and then you're surprised that those plants won't grow in Pennsylvania.

He goes on to make this astonishing statement: "When we purchased this six years ago," he said, "we were anxious to make it a profitable company that would be fulfilling our ambition to serve a national audience of gardeners, which is predominantly on the East Coast."

Huh. A national audience...predominantly on the East Coast...Because California is...uh...the world's sixth largest economy, and the populations of California, Oregon, and Washington exceed those of New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire combined. Add to that our year-round growing climate, throw in--oh, I don't know--Canada--and I can see how you'd have a hard time selling us plants.

So instead, Ball is considering taking the plants "back to its Pennsylvania research and production facilities to work on adapting them to other climates less genial than the Pacific Northwest." Ah yes, just imagine the new, glorious, Burpeefied American landscape, populated with reliable year-round bloomers that are perfectly adapted to zones 1-11. I'll never again have the awful burden of traveling to another part of the country and coming across a plant I haven't seen before. Why, it's on page 11 of the Burpee catalog, and yes, it will do just fine in--where is that you live again? Well, no matter--it will grow there, too!

Ball goes on to take a more inclusive approach to insulting gardeners by insisting on dumbing down Hinkley's fine catalog. The Kitsap Sun reports that: "Both Hinkley and Ball indicated that there have been differences over Hersonswood's catalogue, revamped this year with only 250 plants offered and full of bright, colorful pictures like most standard offerings from giant retailers. Hinkley called it a dumbing down that talked down to Heronswood's core customer base. Ball said the old one read like a textbook."

That's right, folks. Burpee knows what you want. Bright, shiny catalog pages filled with ruby red tomatoes and happy little annuals that will grow in any climate. Good, because that's what you're getting.

I close with this sadly prophetic little snippet from Heronswood's February 2006 newsletter. If only George Ball would read his own textbook.

"We humans have an irresistible, sometimes inexplicable, compulsion to “enhance” whatever nature gives us, whether we’re breeding beefier livestock, more abundant crops, or larger flowers. In the garden, you need only survey the hybrid peonies, daylilies, and hostas available today—in a bewildering array of unlikely colors, outlandish sizes, and splashy patterns—to see how very different our altered ornamental plants can be from their wild ancestors. Of course, some of the more bizarre results of selective breeding also make it clear why many gardeners are eager to rediscover the simple elegance of original, unrefined species. "

Read on:

Seattle PI: World-famous Heronswood Nursery closes

Heronswood Nursery

More expletives from the blogosphere here, here, here, and here. Watch out, they're a little upset. Let Burpee know how you feel here.

Want to support Dan Hinkley in his new, post-nursery life? (He signed a non-compete clause, so there will be no new nursery for a few years.) Buy one of his books from a Pacific Northwest independent bookseller.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Garden, Part Two

The chickens are also making inroads into the side garden (and here's Bess in the path). I had intended for this to be an all-culinary garden, with artichokes, sage, apples, rosemary, edible flowers, other herbs, but inevitably, that definition got stretched, first to include other salvias that are related to culinary sage but not necessarily something you'd use to flavor your stuffing, and then to include anything that I felt like planting.

The best news about this garden is that the chickens have practically eliminated the snail population. Clematis, dahlias, and lilies have all sprung from the ground this spring after years of getting mowed down by snails. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Chicken-friendly plants

Here's the back yard looking yummy, as it does this time of year. This is the north side of the house, which means that even though it's an open, unshaded space, the house tends to cast a long shadow most of the year. The back, around the chicken coop, is really the only place that gets full sun all day.

I'm moving plants around a lot to accommodate the chickens these days. I want low-growing plants so that I can look out the back window and see the chickens and the coop. There's no point growing food because the chickens would just eat it. So flowers it is, and creeping, crawling flowers work best because they're not bothered by the girls' scratching and digging. Hardy geraniums are doing well, as are yarrow and lady's mantle. Rose campion, calendula, cerinthe, borage, and love-in-a-mist are prolific self-sowers, so at least some of their seeds survive the scratching and pecking.

What else? A few low-growing salvia, some centranthus, maybe a few heurchera. Half is perpetually in damp shade (near the house), and half in full sun and whatever water I think to give it, which may not be much. It's kind of a jumble, but the chickens and I like it. Posted by Picasa