Magazine article Sunset

Gardenguide: Tools

Magazine article Sunset

Gardenguide: Tools

Article excerpt

Some flowers bloom in the most inconvenient places: at the top of an arbor or among thorny branches. And if you grow grapes, you know how tricky it can be to cut a ripe cluster with one hand. That's why cut-and-hold shears were invented: they snip the flower or fruit cluster and continue grasping it firmly until you can transfer it to your free hand.

The shears shown here have 2-inch-long, stainless-steel blades, which are strong enough to cut through soft or woody stems as thick as about 3/8 inch in diameter. They're manufactured by Victorinox, a company famous for its Swiss Army knives. You can order a pair for $21 (including shipping) from the Wildflower Seed Company, Box 406, St. Helena, CA 94574; (80014563359. - Jim McCausland

From monks to painted ladies II Although sweet peas have been an American favorite for years, the colorful and spicy-sweet-scented harbingers of spring date back to an Italian monk, Father Francis Cupani, who discovered wild sweet peas growing in Sicily. This first species (introduced in 1699 and now sold as 'Cupani') had small, intensely perfumed flowers colored deep purplish maroon and a light violet.

Almost 40 years later, the first named cultivar-a rose-and-pastelpink or rose-and-cream mutation from the original species, called 'Painted Lady'-was introduced. And by 1896 European gardeners could also choose a stippled red-and-white sweet pea called America'.

These dainty sweet peas have been rediscovered and are now available by mail from Shepherd's Garden Seeds (860/482-3638). All three have superior fragrance and some heat-tolerance. Cost is $2.45 per packet for a single variety.

In cold-winter areas, order seed soon and start it indoors in late winter to transplant after the last frost. Before sowing, soak seeds for a few hours to soften their coats. Sweet peas do best in a spot where their deep roots stay cool. -Lauren Bonar Swezey

The tapestry of plants cloaking this hillside grows on a site that many gardeners would never touch. The heavy clay soil was bad enough, but the former property owners made matters worse by covering it with a foot-deep layer of crushed rock to control weeds. The only vegetation growing here was a thin line of junipers and a scattering of aspen seedlings. But Mary Ellen Keskimaki of Golden, Colorado, wouldn't be deterred: she wanted a landscape that would be attractive, drought-tolerant, and tough enough to stand up to harsh winters.

Keskimaki arranged to have the crushed rock hauled away. Then she set a few well-chosen rocks in place and covered the clay with a 12-inch layer of sand-15 tons spread over the 4,800square-foot site. She spent a whole summer hand-digging the sand, plus 14 truckloads of manure, into the top 6 inches of clay. By the time Keskimaki was done, "I was in really great shape," she says. The ground was in great shape, too: 18 inches of loose soil with perfect drainage.

Then she started planting-unthirsty natives such as yuccas and lots of perennials for color. In the foreground of this photo, yellow ice plant (Delosperma nubigenum) surrounds a pair of yuccas; to its right, a clump of `Professor Blaauw' Dutch iris rises above an island of pink Saponaria ocymoides. Pink Armeria maritima is growing in the center of the scene, with 'Munstead' lavender spreading behind it and tall bearded iris standing to the right and rear.

During summer hot spells, Keskimaki irrigates the garden every 10 days or so until either the weather cools down or it rains.


Fact-packed packets

* Too bad Botanical Interests had to allow room for a bar code. Otherwise it might have figured out a way to print a botanical encyclopedia on its seed packets. An impressive amount of data has been squeezed on as it is. On the front are both common and botanical names; whether annual or perennial, sun-loving or shade-seeking; bloom period; and size at maturity. All this plus a big, beautiful picture. …

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