What exactly am I doing here?

Mallorn Computing mentioned in The Garden.

Judy White and Graham Rice’s 1999 article mentioning Mallorn Computing in The Garden magazine.

What exactly am I doing here?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to start an existentialist discussion.  This is more likely to be a discussion about social media, pleasing the masses, and picking a direction and sticking with it.  Maybe not even a discussion.  We’ll call it a soul-searching rant (with just a hint of existentialism, a smattering of positivism, and a dash of rationalism).

hort.net has been around for eighteen years (sixteen if you don’t count the time it was hosted by Mallorn Computing, Inc.).  In internet years that’s as old as dirt.  Some of the same features that were started in 1995 are still active (which I’ll claim as a testament to my excellent coding skills and not some fluke or indication of laziness in updating things).  Other features are newer (like our sHORTurl service).  I’m trying to grow and accommodate the needs of Internet users, but lately it’s been like herding cats.  Or trying to find Thismia americana.

It seems that when I start working on a feature for hort.net the Internet landscape will change, and then I’ll have to switch gears to work on another feature.  Rinse, repeat.  I’m starting a lot of projects and finishing none of them.  For example, I was trying to make the image gallery into a canonical source of plant photographs for people.  But then Google essentially stole the content and people stopped visiting.  They could get the photos from Google without even being aware that hort.net existed.

So I started blogging and facebooking and tweeting to bring new visitors to hort.net, but it doesn’t feel quite right.  It might be because I’m rudderless.  I’m posting a scattered hodge-podge of miscellaneous gardening links with no real commonality.  A lot of people make a very successful living doing nothing and talking about it, but that doesn’t particularly interest me.  The whole social media thing is like a giant mutual appreciation society — I’ll follow you if you follow me.  And I have been — following right down the rabbit hole, wondering why my Klout score had dropped or I was unfollowed, and traffic to hort.net still wasn’t increasing.

I started hort.net to leverage technology for the green industry.  I have a BLA (Bachelor’s in Landscape Architecture) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a MS (Master of Science) in Horticulture from the same institution.  But as a kid I was a computer nerd and accomplished a great number of nerdly things.¹   In college most of my elective courses involved things like computer visualization, databases, and programming, and I took on special projects to tie it into my curricula.  This was cutting edge stuff in pre-internet days.  I saw (and still see) how little the green industry used technology, and I wanted to make a difference by melding the two.

I don’t feel that I’ve accomplished that…  yet.  I started down the right path, to the point that Mallorn Computing and hort.net were mentioned in magazines like RHS’s The Garden or Horticulture here in the states.  But I don’t have focus.

Instead, I think I need to pick one topic and run with it.  I have an idea, and I think that you’ll all like it when it’s announced.

Social media is great for getting the word out and has its place, but it’s not going to add content and features to the site.  It’s not going to make people want to stay and participate.  So for now I may tweet and post and blog and whatever, but my expectations and reasons will be different.  I’ll be sharing something because I think it’s interesting or needs to be said, but social media won’t be the focus.  I’m not doing it for the exposure, but instead for the ability to share with people.  I’ll tend to our gardens, both virtual and real, and let that feed my soul.  Hopefully I’ll make the world a better place in the process.

tl;dr²:  Now I’m hanging out with you because you’re interesting, not because I want something.  And hort.net is going to get cooler.

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¹ At twelve I wrote programs to manage my stamp collection and balance my mother’s checkbook; by the age of 17 I had written a basic window manager in Assembly that ran on MSDOS 3.3.  I told you — nerdly.
²tl;dr stands for ‘Too long; didn’t read’.  It provides a summary.

2013 fall plant orders, part 2

Hosta ‘Paradise Joyce’ in the garden. Who can deny the beauty of that foliage? Stuff like this made me order more.

When I first started gardening I didn’t care for Hosta much.  I wanted the flashy perennials that wowed you with colorful flowers, fruit, and foliage.  What I didn’t realize then is that those characteristics are often a flash in the pan; you’re later left with nothing but drab brown seed pods, wilting foliage, or worse — a carpet of solid green.

That doesn’t mean that Hosta are the ultimate answer.  But what they can do is provide a stable architectural foundation in your garden from spring to fall that you can utilize when designing the rest of your beds.  And they’re not ugly!  Some are fragrant, many are variegated in hues of white, cream, gold, steely blue, even picking up hints of orange and red now.  Their sizes vary, they’re tough and don’t need a ton of water or maintenance, and they all have different architectural qualities.  So when I was looking at all of the holes in my garden this summer I realized that I really needed more Hosta.

After looking around online I placed an order this fall from New Hampshire Hostas¹.  They had great prices and great stock, so I figured “Why not?”   Here’s what I ordered:

  • 1 Athyrium filix­-femina ‘Victoriae’
  • 3 Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Coconut Custard’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Doubled Up’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Dream Queen’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Dress Blues’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Extasy’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Fantabulous’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Flemish Sky’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Frozen Margarita’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Gentle Giant’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Goodness Gracious’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Great Expectations’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Ice Prancer’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Kiwi Full Monty’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Orange Marmalade’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Prairie Sky’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Rainforest Sunrise’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Shimmy Shake’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Striptease’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Tiny Bubbles’

My big order of Hosta had arrived!

All of the Hosta laid out on the coffee table. Lula looks on approvingly.

The plants all arrived in great shape, and although some of the plants had lost their leaves because it was so late in the season I could tell that the crowns and roots were strong.

Of course, I’m faced with the same problem as last time. Where do I put them all? I have ideas, but time is running out as Old Man Winter approaches. I may plant them in a holding bed with a lot of mulch to prevent heaving, then get out there in the spring and move them to permanent homes.

It will be tough to wait. Some of these Hosta are really exciting to me — ‘Gentle Giant’ can reach 6′ wide and 4′ tall; how’s that for a bold statement in the garden?  Maybe I’ll have to order more in the spring…

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¹ I have no business relationship with New Hampshire Hostas at the time of this writing.

2013 fall plant orders, part 1

Half of the plants from the order

I used to order plants via mail fairly frequently, but because of time and monetary constraints I slacked off for a while.

Until this fall.  It all started when I was looking for a replacement for my beloved Dirca palustris which had been broken by some careless tree trimmers who worked for the power company.  They didn’t actually kill it, but they broke it in half and opened up a perfect space underneath for my dog, Romeo.  On hot summer days Romeo would dig deep and curl into the exposed roots to keep himself cool.  However, I love Romeo and hate the tree trimmers, so I’m giving the tree trimmers full blame.

The original plant came from Woodlanders nursery in 2003, but their recent catalogs didn’t list leatherwood any more.  Until this fall, that is.  I was so excited to finally have a source again, but shipping was going to be expensive.  “I’d better order more plants since I have to pay pretty much the same shipping rate anyhow,” I rationalized.

I think every gardener who orders via mail has gone through this process to satisfy their plant lust.  There should be a support group.

Somehow I justified my way to twelve different items.  I upped the quantity to five for two of the plants, giving me twenty plants total:

  • Dirca palustris (to replace the murdered one)
  • Stewartia koreana (I’ve always wanted one)
  • Athyrium felix-femina var. felix-femina ‘Minutissimum’ (I have some of these ferns from Woodlanders and they’re great.  They stay 6″ high and are awesome with miniature hosta)
  • Clethra fargesii (why not?  It sounds interesting)
  • Clethra barbinervis (after hearing Dan Hinkley praise this plant so extensively, I had to try it in my own garden)
  • Salvia koyamae (I grew this with great success for several years, until the one year that Aegopodium made its way to that bed and strangled the poor Salvia in the night)
  • Zenobia pulverulenta ‘Woodlanders Blue’ (I tried this in 2003, but killed it pretty quickly.  I wanted to have another shot)
  • Franklinia alatamaha (I have always wanted to try this plant because of its rich and fascinating history)
  • Hosta yingeri (Mine from 2003 is flourishing, but lonely; I ordered five friends)
  • Oxydendrum arboreum (Another interesting plant that I really should be growing.  The only one in town was cut down)
  • Viburnum acerifolium (Another 2003 plant that was getting lonely; it now has a friend to shout across the garden to)
  • Viburnum sieboldii ‘Seneca’ (I don’t know why.  I got caught up in ordering, I think)

The other half of the order, mostly perennials.

I have places in mind for many of these, but not all.  My eyes were bigger than my stomach.  I mean yard.

So what am I going to do with them?  Since the plants came from South Carolina (which is considerably warmer than East Central Illinois), I hardened the plants in the garage at night and left them outside during the day.  Because it’s so late in the season I may not get a well-established root system before winter, so I’ll add a heavy layer of mulch after planting these bareroot beauties to help protect against frost heaving.

Once I figure out where they go, that is.