Sunday, July 20, 2014

Foliage matters or how I learned to love Astilbe.

Bridal Veil Astilbe

When I first started gardening I was infatuated with brightly colored, showy flowers. The garden I inherited was filled with phlox which were spectacular for the first few weeks of their long season of bloom. Then came the spider mite and the powdery mildew and my phlox-filled garden became a garden filled with diseased foliage.

But despite the phlox problem, I kept falling for the showy flowers— e.g., the cherry red flowers of monarda which really brighten up a gloomy corner but soon become a mass of ratty foliage covered with powdery mildew or the spectacular flowers of hollyhocks which inevitably succumb to hideous rust.

It took me a long time to accept the fact that the flowers of my perennials last for a short time, but the foliage hangs around the entire season. Now I have banished monarda and hollyhocks and greatly reduced the phlox. An evil groundhog is also destroying my phlox and I am slowly replacing them with plants with graceful foliage like Astilbe.

Among the many advantages of Astilbe: they bloom in deep shade, require little care, are easily divided so that you can increase your stock very quickly. They also have a long season of bloom with varieties which bloom in early June, mid-June early July and mid-July. The very first is Bridal Veil pictured above. Its bright white plumes brighten up dark corners of the garden, and instead of turning horribly ugly on it is way out like so many perennial flowers, Bridal Veil fades gracefully to a cream color before turning brown late in the season.

Ostrich Plume blooms in mid-June with bright pink plumes fading to pale pink before turning brown. But even when it has turned brown, the delicate plumes still have ornamental value and even persist through the winter.
Ostrich Plume Astilbe

The later blooming varieties generally have fuzzy foliage unlike the lacy foliage of bridal veil and ostrich plume and they tend to be deeper colors. For the edge of border where low plants are needed, there’s Astilbe Chinensis Pumila which stats blooming in early July:
Astilbe Chinensis Pumila

For spots where larger flowers are needed there’s the spectacular Astilbe Chinensis Purple Candles which grows to about 3 feet tall and blooms in early to mid-July:
Astilbe Chinensis Purple Candles

The last astilbe to bloom in my garden is just beginning now. It's a plant I bought last fall so I don’t quite know what to expect. It looks like the plumes will be pale pink and the foliage is the most beautiful of all with finely cut leaves and not a speck of powdery mildew.

Astilbe is now at the top of my list for most useful plants. I’ll never fall in love with it the way I have with my oriental lilies, but I sure do appreciate its virtues.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Yucca can bloom in deepest, darkest shade!

We have been gardening on his plot of land for 22 years. Many years ago a yucca plan tucked away in a dark corner of our garden bloomed. It was a one-time event and we never expected to see the yucca again—after all they’re supposed to be sun-lovers.

It was too big to move, so we just accepted it as a foliage plant--and the foliage is impressive. But for some unaccountable reason, this year the yucca decided to bloom.

The conditions haven’t changed; it’s still in deep shade. So how account for this? Anyone out there with an explanation?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Survivors: Oakleaf Hydrangea and Blue Billow Lacecap Hydrangea

Oakleaf Hydrangea

My summer garden relies heavily on hydrangeas. About 10 years ago, Rick and I decided to prepare for old age gardening by moving away from labor intensive perennials and putting in more shrubs and ornamental trees. We planted lots of hollies for the winter; quince, early blooming rhododendron and redbud for early spring: lilacs, azaleas for mid-spring; rhododendron and Mt. Laurel for late Spring; and for summer crape myrtle and hydrangea—lots and lots of hydrangea.

This has been a sad year for hydrangea lovers; many of our beloved hydrangeas are just little green clumps with no blooms. Although most died back, they are sprouting new leaves from the base. Mophead hydrangeas bloom on old wood (now lifeless sticks), so no flowers this year. They will live to bloom another day—that is if we haven’t moved into a new climate pattern of severe winters like last year’s.

However, there are some hydrangea that can withstand severe winters—oakleaf hydrangea ( pictured above) which has gigantic fragrant white blooms, spectacular deep purple fall foliage and very showy bark for winter interest.

Many of the lace caps are also very hardy and Blue Billow Lacecap is putting on its usual show and making the bees very happy.
Blue Lacecap Hydrangea

Then there’s Endless Summer which is supposed to bloom on new wood (that is woody stems generated this year) and thus can bloom when the old wood is damaged by severe winters. So far no sign of bloom on Endless Summer, but I haven’t given up hope.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Block Island is Magical in June

Rick and I have been to Block Island many times—we’ve lost count of how many. We have always gone in the summer (July and August and in early September). The beaches were covered with rugosoa roses, festooned with rose hips rather than flowers. We’ve wondered what the island is like when the rugosas are in bloom. This year we found out.

And it’s not just the rugosas with their wonderful fragrance; there were other gorgeous wildflowers we had not seen on Block Island before. Another advantage: weather in the 70’s with low humidity. True we did get rainy days, but we had several days which were glorious.

And although Block Island beaches are never crowded in June, on weekdays we had the beaches practically to ourselves. And all the beaches are open, with none of the beach access problems we encountered in Martha’s Vineyard where the public beaches were disappointing and beach access was severely restricted. The mega mansions took up large stretches of precious beach.

Another advantage of Block Island in June: you can walk into any restaurant without a reservation—-generally not the case in July and August. For a tiny little island, Block Island has quite a few very good restaurants. Our favorites: Atlantic Inn, Manisses, Winfield’s, Eli’s, and newcomer, the Surf Hotel.

Some of these advantages (no crowds, reduced rental prices) apply to September and we certainly enjoyed our September vacation on Block Island, but the flowers in June have decided it for us. From now on we go in June!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Remembering Karen DeCrow

I was not involved in NOW in the mid-1970's and never had the opportunity to meet Karen DeCrow,but I learned a great deal about her when doing research for my book Feminism in Philadelphia: The Glory Years, 1968-1982. The obituaries in the NYT in the Huffington Post did not convey her radical vision. She was a pioneer in bringing what we now call an intersectional approach to the feminist movement. From the section on the 1975 national NOW conference in Philadelphia described in Feminism in Philadelphia:

In her keynote address Karen DeCrow declared:

“This is not a woman’s movement; this is a people’s movement.” She made a public apology to lesbians and gays noting that “our failure has been in not seeing the unbreakable connection between sexual stereotyping and fear of gay people.” She also made an apology to women and men of color, pledging that NOW must use its resources to fight against racism in America, and affirming “this is not a white organization." (p.205)

The “Majority Caucus” which DeCrow led adopted a new slogan reflecting its vision for NOW:

The Majority Caucus adopted the slogan, “Out of theMainstream, into the Revolution.” This was quite a departure from the Statement of Purpose adopted at the first NOW conference in 1966: “The purpose of NOW is to take action to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society now, exercising all the privileges and responsibilities thereof in truly equal partnership with men.” In sharp contrast, national NOW President Karen DeCrow stated in 1975: “Most feminists have concluded that it is time for our aspirations and our actions to go out of the mainstream and into the revolution. To emerge from trying to get a piece of the pie which is tasteless and unfulfilling at best—to changing the very fabric of life for women and men and children alike." (p.200)

The new slogan disappeared at some point after the end of Karen DeCrow’s presidency. From Feminism in Philadelphia:
Interestingly, NOW went from its 1966 founding statement, “to bring women into full participation in the mainstream of American society” to its 1975 slogan “out of the mainstream into the revolution” to the1979 assertion thatwomen are part of a “new mainstream.” With the backlash against feminismgrowing stronger, framing feminism as a “revolution” was probably not the best rhetorical move.(p.295)

Karen DeCrow was ahead of her time; I think her radical vision would resonate with many young feminists today.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A good year for peonies! For hydrangeas not so much

Fernleaf peony

I thought this might be a good year for peonies. They’re reputed to like cold winters and those gorgeous peonies we saw in Russia certainly suggested a connection between frigid winters and spectacular peony blooms.

The peony season began with the early blooming delicate fern leaf peony followed by the most spectacular of all, the non-herbaceous peonies commonly known as tree peonies.
pink tree peony

My favorite combination is a bright white that I planted next to a deep burgundy tree peony.

Tree peonies may have the showiest flowers but they are certainly the most evanescent, lasting at most a couple of days.

Then the herbaceous peonies which combine gorgeous blooms with fragrance to die for—although unfortunately some of the new varieties have weak to non-existent fragrance

a very fragrant herbaceous peony blooming right now in my garden.

My husband deeply regrets that when his father sold his house and moved into assistant living that he didn’t dig up the astonishingly fragrant peonies which bloomed in that garden as far back as he can remember.

The cold weather that may have been responsible for a very good year for peonies was certainly responsible for the hydrangea disaster—-not just in my garden but all over the Delaware valley. My oak leaf and some lace caps have buds, but the mop head hydrangeas didn’t make it. I will really miss them.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Coping with the post-election blues

I’m usually depressed after an election. The candidates I support often don’t make it. This year my major disappointment was down ballot. I was reconciled to the idea of Tom Wolfe’s winning the gubernatorial race and I expect he will be a strong general election candidate.

However, I saw this election as an opportunity to elect several seriously good candidates to the state legislature and most of them lost. Sure, it was very disappointing but I don’t see this as the worst night for progressives in recent memory.

There is a real case to be made that the glass is half-full. Many good candidates lose their first run for office. The first run raises their profile and gives them an opportunity to hone their skills as campaigners. Young progressives like Brian Gralnick, Emily Rodriguez, Jared Solomon, and Billy Smith will in all probability run for public office again. These candidates are not going away.

As Emily Rodriguez put it in an email to her supporters:
That was the question my neighbors kept asking when I left my house yesterday, the morning after the election: "I voted for you, Miss Emily. Did you win?"

Not at the polls, but everywhere else we went, it's a resounding yes.

We ran a great campaign defined by integrity and respect, and we can all be proud of the seeds of hope that were planted in North Philadelphia.

To every voter, volunteer, donor, and cheerleader, thank you. Thank you, Karen. Thank you for your support, your encouragement, and for being there with me and my team throughout this journey.

Until next time, if you need me I'll be out in the community doing the same work I would have done if elected, equipped with new knowledge and new ideas, thanks to this race. I'd call that a win.
We need to support talented young progressives—even if we expect they won’t win the first time. I knew that Emily Rodriguez and Brian Gralnick (and others) were long shots, but when there are young progressive candidates, with their intellect, knowledge of issues, commitment to public service, I want to support them as an investment in the future. Actually, given that Brian Gralnick had no backing from elected officials (other than 9th ward committeepeople), he did quite well for a newcomer.

The newspaper headlines focus on the negative— “Most newcomers lose to party and union backing” , but the news articles describe the seeds of change. As challenger Tomas Sanchez put it:

"This was never about how other people would interpret what we were doing," he said. "We have a long-term strategy that will become apparent more and more over the years."

…"We showed people that we have courage," Sánchez said. "I see this growing. ... I'm not happy with the leadership in my community."

Another hopeful sign, in Philly we have a lot more young progressives who ran for committeeperson this time with an eye to building the infrastructure we’ll need to actually elect progressive candidates. Also, there were far more write in-candidates this time. Jon Greeting's interactive map letting people know where there were vacancies was a tremendous resource. There actually was a buzz about running for committee person. Is running for committeeperson becoming a cool thing to do?

Friday, May 16, 2014

It’s not too late to mount a write-in campaign for committeeperson!

It’s not too late to mount a write-in campaign for committeeperson! The Democratic Party infrastructure is in a sorry state with many committeeperson slots going unfilled.

Thanks to Jon Geeting we have an interactive map which shows exactly where the vacancies occur. Great job, Jon! Please see the map
on his blog at Keystone Politics and also posted on the New Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Caucus (PDPC)website.

I have found both in the workshops NOW/CLUW conducted in2013/2014 and in the committeeperson workshops NOW conducted a decade ago, that often people become interested in running for committeeperson, but learn about the process too late and miss the deadline for filing petitions.

However failing to get on the ballot does not necessarily preclude winning a race in these low turn-out elections. It is difficult (although not impossible) to win a write-in campaign against a candidate who is on the ballot. However, it is very easy to win a write-in campaign when there is an open slot for committeeperson.

A write-in campaign is a more viable option than I once realized. (For years, I had been under the impression that 10 signatures were required.) I checked with Commissioner Singer’s office and found to my surprise that assuming a write-in candidate is the only candidate for an open slot, only one signature is necessary to win!

In other words, if Candidate A for committeeperson gets 100 votes and Candidate B for committeeperson gets one write-in vote, then both are elected-- assuming that there is no other write-in candidate with a higher vote total.

Commissioner Singer has also posted detailed instructions for write-in votes here

There are also write in options for Democratic State Committee although there are far fewer possibilities as there only about 50 slots as opposed to about 3400 for Democratic committeeperson (2 slots per division).

State committee slots are allotted by senatorial district. A list of candidates is posted here

Scroll down to page 93 for the list of Philadelphia candidates for Democratic State Committee. They are listed by senatorial district and the number of slots is noted. In the first district it says "Vote for not more than 8." Nine candidates are listed, so this district would not be an easy one for a write in-candidate to win. There are a few senatorial districts with more slots available than there are candidates and thus opportunities for a write-in candidate.

There is more interest in committeeperson elections this year than I can ever remember with excellent coverage by Emily Guendelsberger and Jon Geeting. See

Feibush vs. the machine

30th Ward Reformer Fight: Are New Philadelphians Finally Flexing Their Political Muscle?

I don't think I would vote for some of these newcomers (e.g. Ori Feibush), but in a city in which less than 10% of the voters turned out in the 2013 primary election, this energy and interest in grassroots political involvement is to be applauded.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Akebono, the most beautiful tulip in the world

This was a good year for tulips- - at least it was in my garden. Usually the underground critters eat most of my tulip bulbs, but this year they decided to leave me almost all of my tulips. And Akebono was the star. It begins looking like a regular tulip but as the bulb opens it looks more and more like a peony.

It’s a soft yellow with petals rimmed by a thin line of brilliant red. It also has the virtue of lasting a really long time as a cutflower.

The only downside is that when it’s fading, Akebono turns into the ugliest tulip in the world-–no need to include a photo of that.

I’m now down to a few late tulips including one of my favorite combinations, deep purple (almost black) Queen of the Night, paired with Maureen, an incredibly long lasting cream colored tulip which matures to a bright white.

The tulip season is (sadly) winding down but the tree peonies are beginning!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Delaware Valley in mid-spring has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth!

Cornell's Pink Rhododendron

During my working years, I always felt that the glory of mid-spring went by so quickly. There would be a brief glimpse of early flowering shrubs and then they were gone. I thought that when I retired I would be able to take it in much more slowly, but somehow it hasn’t worked out that way.

In preparation for old age gardening, I slowly converted my garden from a perennial garden to a mixture of perennials and easy care flowering shrubs. They are all incredibly beautiful but their flowers last for just a few days--if we have serious storms, they are literally here today, gone tomorrow. The show begins with the delicate flowers of deciduous rhododendron Cornell's Pink.

Then the PJM evergreen rhododendron which has the advantage of foliage which darkens to deep purple as the season progresses.

Cherries have the briefest period of bloom of all--especially true of the purple sandcherry which also has the advantage of reddish purple foliage to break up the midsummer wall of green (The downside of flowering shrubs is that for the most part it is a spring show.)
Purple Sandcherry

The shrubs are all blooming later than usual this year but the succession of bloom never changes, the cherries after the early rhodos, the redbud trees with their gorgeous purplish flowers and graceful shape always bloomimg with the cherries and with the astonishingly fragrant early viburnums, followed by the dogwoods and crabapples. So what if they often bloom for less than a week?

Carlesi Viburnum

Crabapple Indian Summer

The azaleas and lilacs are just beginning to emerge.

Emerging azalea

The first lilac

I can never get enough of that lilac fragrance. The Delaware Valley in mid-spring has got to be one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Whenever there’s a Threepenny Opera within easy traveling range, I make every effort to see it

Whenever there’s a Threepenny Opera within easy traveling range, my husband and I make every effort to see it. We went to NYC last weekend to see the production at the Atlantic Theater—the 6th (or maybe7th?) we’ve seen together. Rick was fortunate enough at the age of eleven to have seen the first New York production with Lotte Lenya.

This production got luke warm reviews but we both liked it and would recommend it. I think most reviewers have an ideal production of Threepenny Opera in their heads and no actual production can ever measure up.

The Threepenny Opera has some of the greatest songs in musical theater—Mack the Knife, Pirate Jenny, the Tango Ballad. Judy Collins first introduced me to Pirate Jenny’s song and it’s still my favorite version—although Sally Murphy who played Jenny in the Atlantic production was very good.

Although the Threepenny Opera has been generally viewed as Brecht’s satiric take-down of capitalism, I’ve never seen it that way. Sure there are those famous lines—e.g. “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?” But I’ve always seen the Threepenny Opera as a cynical account of human cruelty with those on the bottom preying on those even more vulnerable, and with a savage portrayal of gender inequality at the emotional heart of the piece. The one time the caricatures become human beings is when Jenny pours out her pain at Macheath’s betrayal in Pirate Jenny’s song, followed by one of the most poignant songs ever written about love gone bad— Macheath and Jenny’s duet in the Tango Ballad.

So if you’re in NYC anytime soon, I recommend the Atlantic Theater’s production of Threepenny Opera. (of course, I’d recommend just about any production.)

Friday was our Weimar Republic day. In the afternoon we went to the Neue Galerie to see Degenerate Art: The Attack on Modern Art in Nazi Germany, 1937.

The exhibit was definitely worth it-–although just because Hitler hated a painting doesn’t mean it was a major work of art. There were some truly awful paintings in there with the Feininger’s and Klee’s. The exhibit also included archival footage of the citizens of Munich wandering through the exhibit looking dazed, uncomfortable and uncomprehending.

Definitely worth it if you’re in NYC before it closes on June 30. And the Neue Galerie has probably the most beautiful café in NYC, a recreation of a Viennese café with pastry to die for.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Finally, I have daffodils!

February Gold

February Gold arrived in April this year but did finally arrive! The early daffodils are all blooming and my old reliable Ice Follies are popping up all over the garden. Ice Follies is the toughest, most long lasting daffodil variety I’ve come across and one of the least expensive as well.
Ice Follies

A carpet of blue scilla is everywhere. This is an amazing little bulb; it flourishes in deep shade as well as in sun, multiplies rapidly, and requires no fertilizer to return reliably year after year. Also, it is one of the very few true blue flowers--as opposed to the much more common purplish blue.
Scilla and Hyacinth on verge of blooming

In the next couple of days, my hyacinth should all be in bloom and I’m really looking forward to that intoxicating fragrance. The fragrance of hyacinth forced in pots just can’t compare to hyacinth grown in the garden.

Hidden away in shady spots, my hellebores are blooming. It's easy to overlook them and one of the great joys of retirement is that I get to really take in the beauty of the flowers. Of course the down side is that I no longer have a long stretch of gardening seasons ahead of me, but I try not to think about that too much.

And yesterday, my first tulip appeared--a tiny species tulip, pulchella. The species tulips appear with the early daffodils. They are thought to be very close to the original tulip varieties with small cups and short stems. They are much less showy than the hyper-hybridized tulips we all love and they last for a very short time, but unlike most tulips they return reliably year after year.

Tulipa pulchella,variety Persian Pearl

At last, the show has begun!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Where are the daffodils?

, Clumps of early daffodils all over my garden by mid-March, 2011

I have been keeping garden records for about 20 years now; there is variation from year to year, but in all my gardening years spring bulbs have never been as late as this year. Early daffodils (February Gold, Early Sensation, Ice Follies, and Tete a Tete) have come as early as late February (not usual) and as late as the third week of March, but this is the first year in which I have NO daffodils on March 31.

Usually at this time of the year I have early daffodils and a few white hyacinth. For some reason the white hyacinth always emerge before the blue hyacinths.

This year the only hyacinths I have are the ones I forced in an old refrigerator in our basement.

The succession of bloom can always be counted on: daffodils appear after crocus, tulips after daffodils, allium after tulips etc. etc. But the timing of this parade of blooms can vary.

I hope with the warmer temperatures we are supposed to get this week, the daffodil show will begin. There is nothing, nothing more cheerful than a bright yellow daffodil. I long to see one!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Finally the debris has been removed from my garden.

My English Laurel crushed by tree limbs

Finally the debris has been removed from my garden. This winter’s storm left fallen tree limbs all over my garden. I had to wait until most of the snow was gone before I could get the debris cleared out. The good news is that most of my shrubs survived—in misshapen form perhaps but still more or less alive.

My English Laurel springing back to life.

Here's another set of before and after pictures:
fallen tree limb dangling from tree

fallen tree limb cleared and yew pruned

I can’t wait to get out there and finish the cleanup, plant a few pansies and maybe a shrub or two in the bare spots.

It is snowing again (!!!)as I write this, but I don’t think we will have storm conditions—with more flying tree limbs. Just don’t think I could deal with that.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Finally, the snow has disappeared from my Mt. Airy garden.

Finally, the snow has disappeared from my Mt. Airy garden. They call it Mount Airy for a reason. An insurance adjuster once told us we were about 400 feet above sea level. It’s great in the summer when leafy Mt. Airy feels about 10 degrees cooler than center city. But when the snow has disappeared from most of the city, there are still heaps of dirty snow in Mt. Airy.

The first snowdrop emerged from the snow last week. We usually have snowdrops from January through early March. Not this year. The first species crocus usually appears in mid to late February and we have lots of early daffodils by mid-March. This year the first species crocus emerged last week and there’s not a daffodil in sight.

I’ve always wondered how my gardening friends in Vermont endured those Vermont winters. This year I’ve gotten an inkling of what it must be like.

I so hope the snow predicted for tomorrow is not much more than a dusting!