The monochromatic still of winter has its own beauty, of course. But if it's hard to shake off that fog of s.a.d.-ness this time of year, it's because it seems impossible that tomorrow, or the day after that, or the day after that, will be any different. Think Groundhog Day without the happy (or any) ending...and with the clock radio perpetually playing "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" at the alarm.
I couldn't have asked for a better antidote (well, other than maybe getting that imaginary winter home in New Zealand--peonies in December!) than spending a day at the Garden Expo yesterday. The displays of real, live, flowering plants--daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, lilacs, crabapples, fothergillas--cast a spell (or broke the spell?), making the hope of spring seem more than just a hope.
The best thing about the Expo is the programming--seminars all day long on great garden topics by great speakers. It feels as though you're attending a fantasy version of college, where every minute of every course is interesting, you only enroll in classes that you want, and all without any papers due, exams to take, or grades given. (A bit of intruding reality: too many presentations of compelling interest scheduled for the same time slot. Guess I should have taken Human Cloning as a prerequisite.) So here's what (after a painful process of triage) I went to see, and just two (of the many) things I took away from each presentation:
"Diversify Your Garden with Ornamental Grasses" (speaker: Nancy Nedveck of The Flower Factory). #1: Karl Foerster (of the eponymous Calamagrostis cultivar) spearheaded breeding of North American grasses in Europe, during a period when they were virtually ignored here. #2: Consider planting daylilies and Miscanthus silver feather grass in combination; the plumes of miscanthus will emerge in September after daylily flowering has ended. (I like this idea--the chance to extend into fall the span of my daffodil-to-daylily strip in the back border.)
"Integrating Spectacular Roses in Your Garden Landscape" (speaker: Jeff Epping, Horticulture Director of Olbrich Botanical Gardens). #1: Olbrich's new rose garden will feature landscape uses of roses integrated into borders (the garden design work at Olbrich is always so fresh and imaginative that I cannot wait to see this); #2: crushed gravel can raise the pH of surrounding soil, which may cause alkaline-induced chlorosis for rugosas (good to know when considering hardscape and path design alternatives). (Gratuitous #3: It's "cle-MAT-is" for the very winning Mr. Epping.)
"Home Composting How-To" (speaker: John Reindl, Recycling Manager, Dane County Public Works Department). #1: Compost benefits plants by helping the plants' ability to absorb nutrients by improving their "cation exchange capacity" (Whoa--whoa--I'm a liberal arts major!); #2: Grass clippings compact too much, limiting aeration, and don't decompose well in compost piles, hence are better left on the lawn (good...we already do that).
"What's Wrong with This Photo: How to Make the Best of Your Garden Shots" (speaker: Pat Behling, photographer, Trillium Woods). #1: A tripod or monopod will make a big difference in getting a crisp image; #2: a chameleon background reflector is a good accessory, and can be homemade with clotheshanger wire and store-bought fabric.
"Vermicomposting: Indoor Composting with Worms" (speaker: George Dreckman, City of Madison recycling coordinator). Preface: I was primed for this one, having just finished Amy Stewart's new book, The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms. Post on The Earth Moved to come; in the meantime, get the book, read her blog, and hope with me that her book tour will include a stop in Madison. #1: Try shredded corrugated cardboard for worm bin bedding (the worms like the glue); #2: (From an audience member) Sprinkle lime on top of the bedding to control fruit flies.
"Trying WOW! Annuals in the Garden" (speaker: Mark Dwyer, Rotary Gardens). The title may have sounded a little corny, but let me tell you...by the end of this program, the audience was near nigh ready to salute the speaker with flickering lighters. #1: I must visit Rotary Gardens at least monthly during the growing season, to see how they integrate their 100,000 annuals into their border plantings; #2: You can't overuse sweet potato vine, and while 'Ace of Spades' is a nice leaf shape, 'Blackie' holds its color better.
"Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About Container Gardening" (speakers: Jan Wos of Mayflower Greenhouse and Glenn Spevacek of Paine Art Center & Gardens). Another tremendous audience-pleaser; you should have heard the collective groan of disappointment when time ran out just as the speakers were beginning to get into their examples of season-extending fall container plantings. #1: On the importance of foliage: "With fronds like you, who needs anemones?" (I know. Only for certified pun-lovers, like me.) #2: Two words: Centaurea gymnocarpa. Best border and container combiner ever.
I managed to resist most of the garden decoration and accessories booths, until I came across an exhibit featuring works from "Jessy's Originals" in Black River Falls, Wisconsin -- the dried-flowers-in-frames thing, but done in more artful a way than I've ever seen before. I had to pick up a small frame featuring a bloom of Hydrangea macrophylla, dried with just the right mix of denim-blue and khaki-green coloring retained in the florets.
I wish I'd taken my camera for the exhibit at the Expo put together by University of Wisconsin students for the Allen Centennial Gardens display, on garden themes in the works of Edgar Allen Poe. An intriguing idea, which I hope they're planning to expand upon in the gardens' displays this coming season.
All cheered up now: let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.