Irene Virag's Garden Party

I'm Irene Virag -- a writer, a gardener, a cancer survivor. I think ideas are like plants. They need nurturing to grow. And gardeners share both. So welcome to my blog. It’s all about what’s happening in my garden and beyond.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I'm sorry to tell you this but you won't see my column in Newsday after Dec. 28. I want you to know it's not my decision -- Newsday is cancelling my contract. There's a possibility I might return in the spring. I hope so. But that will be somebody else's decision not mine. 

But as far as you and I are concerned, this doesn't have to mean goodbye. I'll be revamping my blog and revving up my online presence. Click here to visit my website and get on my mailing list for updates about Web-special columns, calendars and much more. 

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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

And the Winners Are . . .

I absolutely loved all the photos submitted in my "Unplug Christmas" contest. It wasn't easy picking a winner. So I picked two -- Celeste Saladino for her five-foot-tall paean to pine cones and Barbara Isralewitz for her grapevine menorah. 
Here are their photos again.


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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Unplug Christmas

I'd like to thank all of you who sent in photos of the natural decorations you're decking the halls with. Your pictures and notes in response to my column about unplugging Christmas gave me hope for a greener holiday. And I must say, I lit up when I realized my column appeared in the paper's annual celebration of holiday lights. I'll announce my winner on Tuesday. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites.

Mother Nature Does It Best
Pege Chellis sent this in with a note saying she hoped I like it. I do. 

A Natural Chanukah
Barbara Isralewitz made a menorah out of a grape vine, pear tree twig, poppy seed cases, pachysandra, Echinacea seed pods, dusty miller and rose of Sharon seed pods. 

A Bird in the Wreath 
Sandy Spitz's homegrown wreath welcomes visitors. 
Here's part of Sandy's note to me: "These projects constitute my holiday decorations...most home grown...all flowers dried by me and painted pinecones, reeds and hydrangeas done by my husband. These decorations go from fall into winter...Although we do not celebrate Christmas, we do celebrate the beauty of nature in all seasons!"

Below are a few more examples of Sandy's handiwork:
Top: Her Thanksgiving arrangement of hydrangeas, strawflowers and pine cones now sits on a rocker on the front porch next to pots of metallic pine cones, staghorn sumac and rosehips with bittersweet.
Middle: A simple spray of greens and berries
Bottom: A pine cone wreath

Who Needs Poinsettias?
Not John Kirincic, whose Christmas cacti are in resplendent bloom just in time for the holidays. 


Shape Up for the Holidays
Al Gallo wanted me to know that he transforms cuttings from his garden into grave blankets and uses greens to fill empty summer pots. He spruces up his artificial wreath with holly and hemlock and tucks in pine cones that he gathers when he goes on walks. He also wanted me to know this: "I love to garden and enjoy your column." 

Paean to Pine Cones
Celeste Saladino's tree stands just under five feet tall is made mostly of pine cones -- dried artichokes, statice and red velvet bows provide finishing touches.  Her wreaths and candle holder below feature walnut shells, acorns and more pine cones. And the table tree is fashioned from sweet gum balls and artifical fruit.

Mr. Bear at Christmas
Wendy Fisher got this carved bear from her son in Vermont several years ago.  He stands on her front stoop and Wendy dresses him up in seasonal finery. "All the children who come to the door just love Mr. Bear!" she writes.

Season's Greetings
Elaine Lilli's flowerpots reflect the season with skimmia, red-berried holly, pince cones, gourds and silver dollars spray-painted gold.  


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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ken Druse Does It Again

I know what book I'm giving to all my friends for Christmas and Chanukah this year.
"Planthropology" by Ken Druse. 

And not just my gardener friends. You don't have to love getting your hands dirty to learn something from this book. There's something fascinating on virtually every page. I spoke to Ken recently for my column and I was struck by how after 17 books, he's still learning and still nurturing his passion for writing about and photographing plants.  
And lucky for us, he's still sharing what he sees with gardeners who get it. So here are two tidbits I learned from "Planthropology," along with Ken's lovely photos, used here with the permission of his publisher, Clarkson Potter. His pictures truly are worth a thousand words -- each. 

How Many Seeds on the Head of a Sunflower?
The seed heads of a sunflower aren't just a candy store for birds and a visual treat for gardeners. They're a lesson in the mathematical wonder known as the Fabonacci numbers: the amount of seeds in the two opposing arches may be 55 and 89 or 89 and 144 -- but the ratio always works out to 1 to 1.618. 

Calling All sieboldii 
Magnolia sieboldii Colossus is one the plants named for Phillipp Franz Balthasar von Siebold, a 19th century plant explorer who found true love and hundreds of new botanical species in Japan. You can read all about him in "Planthropology." 

There's Hosta sieboldii and Clematis sieboldii. And who knows how many others. It would be fun to make a list. Any sieboldii you grow or know about counts. So let's do it.

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