March 2011 Volume 2 Issue 3
Bland meets Bling
We begin with an improbable (but true, we swear!) story: Recently, I saw a box fall from a speeding truck. I scooped it up and tried in vain to flag down the driver, who was flying along at a dangerous clip. Inside the box, amazingly, were six gaudy Mardi Gras masks. It was clearly an omen that they'd landed beside an Amish farm: My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to merge this great nation's major pre-Lenten festivals, Mardi Gras and Fasnacht Day.
Krewe of Jarvis Rd
As described last year in Coastal Current #1, fasnachts are deep-fried dough wads, like donuts minus the flavor. On Shrove Tuesday we Lancastrians devour them wholesale, thus converting surplus cooking fat to human fat. It's one of our many questionable culinary traditions, like scrapple, lard-laden potato chips, whoopie pie*, and pork & sauerkraut every January 1 for good luck in the coming year.
*Ignore those pretenders in Maine. Whoopie pie is a PA thang. Period.
DOWN ON THE FARMS
Florida: If we were shipbuilders, we'd have smashed a bottle of champagne on its bow. But we're growers, so we launched our long-awaited new greenhouse in Milton in traditional fashion: We divided grasses on its benches.
If we were one of those bogus mint companies you see in magazines, hawking Limited Editions and Collectors' Sets, we'd offer that first batch of flats at an inflated price - Numbered! First Edition! Signed! But we're not that kind of vendor, and you're not that kind of suc - er, buyer. Those Panicum trays will take their place in our Availability among all the rest.
So, no champagne; but we're pretty excited anyway to have fresh, efficient, ship-shape space in the fleet, producing liners for you. There's just something about that new greenhouse smell.
Pennsylvania: Last week we hosted a group of hort students from Longwood Gardens. Their prof, Jeff Jabco, is also Director of Grounds and Coordinator of Horticulture at Scott Arboretum. He's been bringing his classes to our greenhouses (and others) for several years now. Next day, Jeff emailed, "Many thanks for hosting my class... it was a great learning experience. One student said it was his favorite visit because he could relate to the smaller, more intimate feel of the business rather than a large 'plant factory'. It's good for them to see all manner of operations."
The enthusiasm Jeff's charges show for the plant business is invigorating. We're encouraged by each glimpse of our industry's next generation. So, Jeff: Our thanks to YOU and your peers and colleagues nurturing that spark. May all your tribes increase.
Aquarius: Make the effort to reach out and re-establish an old connection. And give it a little extra torque so it won't leak again.
Pisces: A Leo is angling for your attention. Don't take the bait. Yes, you're a 'water sign,' a dreamer, a psychic; but to a Leo, you're just sushi - a 'food sign'.
As I type, Amsonia hubrichtii is just rousing its dormant self from a long winter's nap. (See Tray Bon!) Come warmer weather and longer days, it'll show its true colors: Sparkling blue spring blooms, soft green needles all summer, and electric golden fall foliage. Add it up, and you'll see why this nifty native is the 2011 PPA Perennial Plant of the Year. Amsonia can be slow to fill a pot, but our 72s are well-rooted and overwintered to give you a head start.
Shaping up nicely in our cool PA greenhouses are Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate' and 'Concord Grape'. The former was selected in England, and the Latin name honors two British naturalists, père et fils John Tradescant the Elder and the Younger. Nonetheless, Tradescantia is an American native genus. Most varieties are selections or hybrids of T. virginiana and T. ohiensis.
Brown is Beautiful: The dormancy dilemma
Not all perennials require dormancy to flourish and flower, but many benefit from some cold and will often out-perform plants that have had it too soft. Don't frown at the brown. If you're unsure, just wait. Keep the trays bright, warm and moist (not drowned) until clear signs of life appear, THEN pot them.
Late each winter, we hear from customers concerned about a recent shipment. Some email us pictures of trays with brown foliage, or even no foliage. What's wrong? Actually, nothing. Those plants are simply partly, or wholly, dormant. Pull a few cells and check what you're really paying for: the roots. They should be firm and fleshy, not soft and mushy.
RANDOM USELESS FACT
Quick, where was Mardi Gras first celebrated in America? Nope. It was in Mobile, Alabama, in 1703 -- 15 years before N'awlins was founded.
There are many pre-Lenten festivals worldwide - Mardi Gras, Fasnacht Day, Carnevale, Paczki Day, Maslenitsa. The unifying theme: Pig out and be merry. Feast today, for we fast tomorrow. As for our local version, a caveat. We're happy (mostly) to host the hordes of tourists who stampede in to sample our rich rural ambience and our richer Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, but beware: If you eat like an Amish farmer, you'd better work like one. He did more heavy lifting before breakfast than many of us will do all month, and he needs the fuel. For the sedentary, his diet is sweet & sour suicide.
So please, dine with discretion. Put down the fork, and back away from the shoo-fly pie.