Sunday, February 20, 2011

How Come I Never Learn?

That, try as I might, I cannot keep topiaries alive for more than a few months.


I must be a glutton for punishment, because I keep buying them.

And then they die.

Is there a support group out there for people like me?

Photograph by Boy Fenwick

38 comments:

  1. I only have to look at plants to kill them. People say I'm 'salt of the earth'. This must be the downside of that quality.
    VB

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  2. Dearest R, No,there is no support group..... but there are plenty of happy garden centre retailers who thrive on people buying such expensive specimen plants which fail to thrive!! And try again and again and.....

    What was your topiary spcimen when it was alive...it is very difficult to tell in its dessicated state?

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  3. Reggie --

    Surely you know that (apparently apocryphal) story about Julia Child dropping a goose on it's way to the WGBH living room set and responding with a cheery, Bring out the other goose!

    Just replace them. Unlike a long-established rosebush, say, or a prized camellia, or a row of centuries-old boxwood, they have no plausible claim on your affections.

    (It's absolutely what Bunny would do. She is not a sentimental woman.)

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  4. Were they at least pretty for a few months? It is sad when you seem to do everything right and they just don't thrive. Have a feeling the support group room would be standing room only. Maybe we could sit next to each other?

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  5. I shouldn't laugh, but... There must be a logical explanation. And being cursed won't do.

    We don't have enough light. And, I often forget to water thinking it has already been done. So now I treat them like cut flowers.

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  6. Darn! Another great photograph, and of unimpeachable affinity for the text. What an Epicurean standard, worth every leaf of sacrifice, I should think.

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  7. I bought my first topiary 35 years ago at Fishelson's in Boston. It was lovely until it died. So was the next one. And the next one. Ditto the dozen or so that traveled back with me from Allen Haskell's nursery in New Bedford. All were so lovely while they lasted (and I am generally considered to have something of a green thumb). And then I started buying the impossibly lovely ones from Snug Harbor Farm here in Maine. And like all the rest, one day too many away without watering, too close to a draft, you name it. I am guilty of mass toparicide. You are not alone. I've just become sanguine about it. They're like goldfish.

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  8. By the way Reggie, speaking of sofas and drapes. I had an sweet, patient old middle school English teacher (well, okay, she was actually an old dragon), who would turn purple with rage every time I asked 'how come' instead of 'why'?

    Just sayin'.... ;-)

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  9. Awwe, poor topiary. I've never tried to keep a topiary alive...maybe I should and see what happens. How do you do with other indoor plants? Can't hurt (well, can't hurt you) to try again!
    xo J~

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  10. It's not you dearest, it's the light, temperature and humidity or lack thereof inside your house. I have never been able to keep any until I moved to Florida. There, they thrived and lasted forever. They had plenty of light, and humidity. Up North where you live IN WINTER is not the right place for them. If you want topiaries move to a warmer more humid climate but I don't think leaving Darlington House is an option. At least not for topiaries. Get another and don't fret about it. It has nothing to do with you.

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  11. I hesitate to ask - but would silk work?

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  12. DED - "Drapes" is a verb, quoth the Host.

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  13. Thank goodness!
    I am so glad to learn that everything you do does not turn out perfectly.
    You have the same problems as the rest of us!
    It is not you.

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  14. Hi Reggie,

    In my experience (varied at best), I believe that it is easier to acclimate topiary, or any outdoor plant, to an indoor environment after Summer, and sometimes Autumn depending on your "Zone". I've bought and nurtured camellias and rosemary topiaries in the Summer and brought them in at the last minute. Granted, I've had to sometimes apply a heat lamp and humidifier to replicate humid Summer days, but they survived to see another Summer. It is work, but beauty is a bitch.

    Still, all flower shoppe owners and nurseries can mark me as a topiary sucker anytime between January 1 and March 30 as I am starving for any living greenery in order to make it through Mud Season.

    Yours in topiary Hell,
    Buoni

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  15. What I suggest is getting the dried boxwood ones. They aren't fake, they are real boxwood and they can't die.

    Look on the Treillage website.
    Aesthete, as usual is right. She is the only one.

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  16. Dear Reggie, I feel for you. I killed my money plant and an orange tree because I forgot to bring them in from the frost. I now only have one peace lily still alive in the house as I am so useless. Friends manage to keep them for years but not me. I still buy more and hope for the best though xx

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  17. Dear RD,

    I read and re-read your post on Mrs. Mellon...a DIVINE SCHOLAR of the best kind - self taught. Her greenhouse with trompe-l'oeil foyer topped by a lead finial by Schlumberger is no less valuable than the Rothko hanging in the library amidst the RAREST of Botanists' printed words.

    The words I did not read from your litany of care of the topiary Myrtle is FRESH AIR...they love the cold, they love fresh circulating air...Heat and Humidity is fine but not full direct sunshine.

    Next time - take the babies outside for a little fresh AIR! They will give you many years of Beauty and Scent...and if your a good Reggie - a little flowering too!!!

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  18. I wouldn't call Bunny a "scholar" any more than I would call Jayne Wrightsman an "expert."

    Fawning over rich people may make perfect sense in you're on an acquisitions committee, or running a capital campaign, but otherwise it makes no sense at all.

    (Against this, I remember the day I had lunch with one of Bunny's relatives. He came in late, and started with three martinis. "Is there a problem?" I asked. "I went up to talk," he said, "and she was on the phone with Mitterrand. He wants her to restore the gardens at Versailles.")

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  19. Oh, I forgot, my cleaning lady, who was the one with the real green thumb, used to take them outside twice a week, and left them there the whole day, something you can't do in your neck of the woods. Do look into the fake ones, there are some so incredible even Boy wont be able to tell the difference. It can be our little secret!

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  20. Bwahahaha. Yes, and they all drink martinis so as to recover...:). Collecting china also appears to help.

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  21. We've been potting our rosemary and leaving it in the large kitchen window in our Van Rensselaer manse for years, but this year it did not make it through the Summer, so we left it in the ground to face the Winter. On the other hand, we planted out rosemary in the Pines in a sheltered spot in the ground, and are anxiously awaiting our trip out the first Sunday in March to prune our peach trees to see if it survived. There is no rhyme or reason to any of it, as our friend Fayal would say.

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  22. Yes there is a support group for this...it meets daily at 5:15 p.m. at the Bar....chin up!

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  23. In a land where flora grows like topsy, we are currently mourning the slow demise of several miniature bamboo pots, and two others with whorle-shaped leaves which are awaiting replacement from the flower market. The winter is very dry here - no rains since October - and the sun appears more harsh, with its lower angle scorching the little angels. Judging by other commentators - you are not alone.

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  24. Usually the culprit is either water or sun light, either the lack or over abundance. But it could have been root bound; container plants need to be repotted every two years at the minimum. Another issue for plants at a weekend house is the regular fluctuation of temperature that provides stress that shortens the plants' life.

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  25. The Elegant EconomistFebruary 21, 2011 at 9:44 AM

    Perhaps you are too prompt in despairing and disposing of them? I've had several small specimens for many years now - at regular intervals they sulk and display one or more of the symptoms you mention, but because I'm lazy they've generally pulled themselves together and started to sprout again by the time I get round to contemplating the compost heap.

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  26. A Rosemary topiary is the only one that will stay alive indoors in our climate tended to by a layman.

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  27. Poor thing. The topiary and you. Looks like it might be root bound.

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  28. Too late, I am Queen of this society. But, I will accept your membership because you clearly well qualified! I do the same and haven't a clue.

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  29. Reggie, Lindaraxa is right. They need loads of humidity otherwise they get infested with spider mites (invisible to the naked eye). They seem to die overnight. I noticed too that Bunny's are OUTSIDE!
    Either go with really good faux, keep replacing....or, get a greenhouse......

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  30. Reggie Darling, they are not meant be inside for long, certainly not rosemary. Make it easy on yourself go buy a orchid. Thomas Jefferson grew them, so can you.

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  31. I have the same problem at home. Is it me, is it the light, is it my watering schedule? oddly enough - the one on my window sill at work which gets forgotten for weeks at a time is thriving. I guess it boils down to environment.

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  32. Reg: I consider myself an accomplished gardener and have come to the conclusion that those wonderful topiary myrtles (that's what most of the ones offered in New York florist shops seem to be) were simply never meant to spend a substantial part of their dear lives indoors. A greenhouse or semi shaded outdoor area in a warmer clime are "the place they oughta be". In my New York apartment they have the maddening habit of looking wonderful for about 6 weeks,even rewarding my loving care by sending up a new shoot or two. Just as I begin congratulating myself that my gardening expertise has won the day, the damn thing begins to shrivel, branch by branch. And once that first little limb goes, the whole thing collapses. I vow never to buy another, then, invariably, a month or two later I see a glorious specimen in the window of Plaza Florist (Lexington Ave and 69th street), and I begin the whole vicious, expensive cycle again "just this one last time". And no, no no! No fake topiaries, no matter how "realistic" or "glorious" they look- unless you're a hotel lobby.

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  33. I am able to keep a few topiaries alive until spring by taking them outside on the occasional mild day and giving them a good hosing down. Twenty minutes or so in the cold - mid 40s is not too severe - does them wonders and kills the little pests which plague them inside. An alternative to to stick the plant in the sink and thoroughly rinse it with a spray attachment - try to mimic what a good thunderstorm does so well.

    Most pests do thrive on dry indoor air, but the lack of moving air also encourages their procreation. An open window for a few hours can really help get the air moving.

    Your specimen seems to be in a too small pot - and the water mark on the bottom indicates to me that you may have over watered, which is a big no-no without sufficient heat and light. I've been blessed with a conservatory, but even so, my plants cannot wait to get outside and into the fresh air.

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  34. I was reading a design blog this morning, the writer/designer suggests treating live topiaries as you would a similarly priced bottle of wine, ie you buy it, you drink it, you enjoy it, it's gone, now go get another one. Repeat process.

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  35. Yes Flo, The charm of ephemera! I had the same problem as RD, and now I have faux topes, which even Albert Hadley and David Easton have used!

    Dean Farris

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