Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Element of Surprise

I am a sucker for surprises. I prefer them to be good and involve lots of chocolate, but even your garden variety surprises can be fun. After moaning about killing my tulips, I had a few bloom just to prove me wrong.

Of course, they're bright orange. I don't recall buying orange tulips, but there you have it.

They're very pretty in an orange traffic cone kind of way.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Killing the Tulips and Other Calamities

Sometimes life just doesn't go as planned. I shouldn't waste my time being surprised by this but it still occasionally catches me off guard. Last fall I planted a lot of tulips. How many exactly? Over a 100 stuffed into every empty space in every empty pot on my patio. So how many tulips do I have blooming? 


Don't ask how much I spent on all the rotten tulips whose lumpy, bulbous bodies fill my wheelbarrow because I've already brain dumped that info into the same file that records how many calories are in a brownie. Apparently, all those empty pots didn't drain quite as efficiently as I needed them to and the tulips slowly began to rot. The snowdrops that I was counting on to cheer me up on early winter mornings before  heading to work also rotted, a double horticultural homicide committed with the most innocent of intentions.

Stay strong, little buddy!

My second blooming tulip is hiding in this pot. Once the tulips bloom, this pot is being relegated to my stack of Ugly But Functional Pots I Feel Guilty About Throwing Away.

So why did my bulbs rot this year but not last year? Who the heck even knows.... They could have been planted too deep in moisture retaining soil in pots with small drainage holes. Or they could have been sabotaged by space weasels, those poop brown rodents with poor taste in beer. 

Beer chugging space weasels are to blame for every garden disaster.

Along with the tulips, the gaura also rotted but that's become such an annual event I'm tempted to hold a parade and sell snacks. Instead of pulling a groundhog out of a hole, I yanked yet another mushy blob from yet another gravel filled pocket and threw it into the compost pile. But has this cured from growing gaura? Oh, please. Don't be silly. Of course not... I think I'm going to stick it in a pot this time. 

Gaura 'Crimson Butterflies' from Santa Rosa Gardens has been ordered to replace the rotten 'Sweet Emotions', which should have been named 'Tammy, I Hate You'. 

Even my Lazarus plant, the 'Cherry Joy' penstemon that survived the winter in a pot, was so shocked at being alive it promptly died. But all is not lost. It rarely is. When my newly-planted-last-fall 'Wine Spritzer' callicarpas died back to the roots, I ripped them out and quickly replaced them with the significantly more sober 'Sem' Sorbaria sorbifolia.

I've had my eye on this beauty for a few years. It's new spring foliage is pink and green.

While I could have settled for a mass of jumbled sprouts shooting out of the root ball, I preferred to just start over and tossed them in next to the rest of the garden casualties. Dead plants tell no tales.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Matter of Perspective

I'm tired and student projects cover my table. The magazine lies cast to the side, its perfect pages turned under and ignored. Clad in sweats and a holey shirt, I crank the volume and begin to move. Hip swaying, booty shaking bass thunders through the house and I dance like my head's on fire. I have no talent for dance and the dogs stand clear as I shimmy and thrash. Out of breath, I slide into the chair and smile. I do not dance because I have talent. I dance because it makes me happy. 

Late June 2013

I grab the magazine and quietly soak in the lush gardens, collections of rare perennials, and expensive pottery. And I laugh. My property occupies a cramped quarter acre in a densely developed subdivision, a warren of people, cars, and square, boxy shrubs.  My dogs have redug all the holes I filled last fall and are pooping in the garden. One of my favorite pots is cracked and another has a hole covered with duct tape. My only water feature is a birdbath but it doesn't matter. It makes me happy so I dig, plant, and dream.

Early July 2014

I once visited a garden I didn't like, a moonscape of plants and pale, flinty gravel. The gardener stood proud, surveying his design with calm satisfaction and I took a second look. My opinion was irrelevant, white noise filling the space between us. It was his garden to love not mine.  So he dug, planted, and dreamed. 

Early July 2014

Saturday, March 14, 2015

So Seedy: Stubborn Resolve Takes Root

When I was a kid I was a feral thing, spontaneous, uncombed, and feisty. Routinely left unsupervised,  I discovered the joys of playing with matches, knives, and road flares. When my family was nearly kicked out of our housing area due to the shenanigans of my brother and I, I channeled my energy into less flammable and bloody pursuits.  Hours were spent riding my bike miles across the various towns we lived in with the only rule that I be home by dark. If I became lost, it was my job to become found and to do it by sundown. What I lacked in civility, I made up for in confidence.

In 2013 when I learned the majority of all plants sold at nurseries have been treated with systemic neonicotinoid pesticides, I resolved to grow all my own annuals and to seek out growers who sold clean, pesticide-free plants. Despite my initial fear that I would soon have a garden without any plants, I decided to try anyway. Instead of ignoring the problem and waiting for growers to sell clean plants, I had to create my own solution.  If I became lost along the way, I would simply keep pedaling until I figured out how to get home. But this time, I'd have a basket of flowers along for the ride. 

Without a fabulous greenhouse or sunroom, I had to get creative if I wanted to be able to grow enough plants to fill all my pots. 

I started very small and only had two plant lights last year. Everything I sowed grew. It helped that I only grew plants that are easy to grow.

I turned shelves in our basement into a flower factory. Cheap grow lights are surrounded with tin foil to keep the light from diffusing into the room.

Seeds were sown directly into large plastic drink cups with holes poked in the bottom. Seeds that need darkness to germinate were covered with newspaper while the other cups were given plastic baggie 'greenhouses'. The name of each plant was written on the cup.

What am I growing?

I broke everything down into four groups that can be seen on my page So Seedy. This page also provides links to the seed companies I used as well as updates on how everything is progressing.

Group One

I started sweet pea and 'Pow Wow Wildberry' coneflower seeds Jan 1. It was way too early but I was excited.

Group Two

From top left to right, clockwise: 'Blue Monday' sage, 'Ensign Mix' dwarf morning glories, ammi majus, 'Pacifica' vinca, 'Mammoth' verbena, pink/purple/orange/white gomphrena 

'Crimson Celebrity' dwarf hollyhocks, 'Mignon Mix' dahlias, 'Tuscany Lavender' verbena,  'Red Dragon' asarina (vine), 'Cottness Mix' dahlia.

Group 3

'Serenita Mix' angelonia, 'Persian Carpet' zinnias, 'Goldfinger' dwarf tithonia, 
'Zahara Starlight Rose' zinnias, 'Peggy's Delight' zinnias,
 'Cosmic Orange/Red' cosmos, 'Sonata Mix' cosmos

Winter Sowing

Orange Poets Tassel Flower, 'Denver Daisies' rudbeckia hirta, hyssop, centranthus ruber (Jupiter's Beard/red valerian), curly parsely, 'Indian Summer' rudbeckia, 'Irish Eyes' rudbeckia

This is the closest I'll ever come to greenhouse. But it's keeping my sweet peas happy so I'm happy. I'll use it to harden off my seedlings before planting them in the spring.

Almost every sweet pea seed germinated. Once our nights are consistently in the 40's, I'll plant them outside. They've been pinched back multiple times to control their growth.

The dahlias also germinated very quickly and I have about 3 dozen seedlings. I splurged on a seedling heat mat to keep them warm.

The 'Blue Monday' salvia sprouted in just two days! I have no idea where I'm going to put all these seedlings. Many will end up being given away.

This spring instead of worrying that my new plants are filled with pesticides, I'll have over 100 seedlings to chose from. Extras will be given to friends and only shade-loving, non-pollinator supporting plants like coleus and begonias as well as organic herbs will be purchased from my local garden center. 

I haven't changed the industry but I've been a voice in the collective scream that is looking for alternatives to poisoned plants. It just took a bit of confidence. 

NOTE: My comments on Wordpress blogs are suddenly being directed into Spam folders. If you can't be reached by email or Facebook, I haven't been able to let you know. I've contacted Wordpress but the problem has yet to be resolved. 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Lazarus Plant

You should be dead, I said. 

A pile of mush, slime and rot.

You should be dead, I said. 

But you're not.

I bought three penstemon 'Cherry Glow' last year from Joy Creek in Oregon and had plans to overwinter them indoors. They ended up spending the winter in a pot outside. Only hardy in zones 7-9, I was sure they were dead when our temps dipped below zero. I was shocked and very happy to find new growth on them.

Well said, Igor.

My penstemon didn't bloom much last summer but did put out lots of healthy foliage. 
This is the only photo of them I took.

Photo from Joy Creek

Friday, February 27, 2015

The James Bond Garden Tour

My garden is frozen solid under a lumpy blanket of ice and snow. With the exception of a single overachieving hellebore, there are no signs of spring. To cheer myself up, I'm reposting one of my favorites. This was originally published 8/26/2012.

Several years ago I decided to treat myself to a garden tour of England. As with most things I do, my tour was a bit unconventional. I could have chosen as my guide a famed landscape designer or horticulturalist but I wanted a different perspective. By hiring James Bond I never had to wait in line for anything and was able to travel by jet pack and Aston Martin. Since Bond is an expert on almost everything, it came as no surprise that he is an excellent gardener, too.

Are there any plants in this picture? I hadn't noticed.

Our first stop was at Barnsley House Gardens in the Cotswolds. Created to be a personal garden by a world renowned horticulturalist, this lush garden covers three acres and includes a knot garden and potager. I swooned over the fullness of the plantings and lounged around the beautiful pond.

As it neared time to leave, I noticed Bond was nowhere to be seen. I snuck quietly around corners and looked behind bushes to see if I could find him. Worried how I was going to get a martini and a ride to the next garden, I finally found him standing by the cabbages. His sleeves rolled up and dirt smudging his handmade Italian suit, a small razor edged cultivator poked from the tips of his expensive shoes. Digging the cultivator into the weeds surrounding the vegetables, he ripped the roots from the soil, retracted the cultivator, and walked coolly by. 

Cerney House Garden

Our next stop was the Cerney House gardens, also in the Cotswolds. Described by an English gardening magazine as "not for those who like everything tickety-boo", I worried that James might not love the garden as much as I did. "James, " I ventured, "Aren't you coming or do you like everything tickety-boo? Is the garden a bit too exuberant for you?" He stared off into the distance while slowly unscrewing the headlight from his Aston Martin. A long narrow headed spade emerged from behind the light, a pair of gardening gloves tied tightly around the handle. Slipping the headlight back into place, he walked slowly toward me, and whispered in my ear, "I love it when you say tickety-boo."

A large organic garden, Cerney House features a meadow, orchard, and a walled garden surrounded by mature trees. Richly layered elongated plantings tumble over each other to create a relaxed garden paradise.

Our last stop before I jetted back to the States, was a stop at Beatrix Potters Lake district home. Long an admirer of her brilliant children's stories, I'd wanted to visit her home and garden for years. Tempted to cozy up to Bond whispering "tickety-boo", I restrained myself and wandered her vegetable patch. Once again he disappeared as I watched for naughty rabbits and talkative mice. Alone in the garden, I took photos and hummed to myself. As I bent to take a closer shot, a grizzled hand thrust suddenly into view, a small rabbit dangling from its grip.

"Drop the rabbit, McGregor". James stood behind the old man, a saber protruding from the handle of a metal rake. "He's been eating my garden! I want rabbit stew for dinner tonight.", the man complained as he loosened his fingers. "I wouldn't recommend it", James responded, his voice detached and icy. "Why?" McGregor asked. "How do you like your rabbits?" "Shaken but not stirred," replied James. "No one eats Peter."  

He lowered the saber as the rabbit ran under the melons, the old man cursing and kicking, clay pottery in chunks at his feet. I stood to the side, in shock. Where had he been hiding the saber rake and where could I get one? Doubtful I be able to sneak a shoe cultivator, headlight shovel or saber rake past airport security, I made a mental to note to ask him if the British government could ship them to the States.

The visit over, I headed back to the car. Pausing by the hedge that ran along the side of the garden, I noticed James up to his elbows in an overgrown shrub. Grasping the severed limbs, he thrust his pruners up his sleeve, and threw the branches to the ground. He tucked in his shirt and sighed deeply, "Gardening is so therapeutic."

Pruned by James Bond

The Ultimate Master Gardener

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Madness Monologues

When I was a kid my mother, who was a nurse, kept a copy of the Merck Manual on her desk. At over 4,000 pages, it housed a diagnosis for everything that ailed you. If your problem   wasn't in the Merck, it was all in your head.  But even the Merck has its limits. Despite reaching epidemic proportions every winter and spring, Geospatial Gardening Disorder has yet to be included.

I suppose tying the children to the roof instead of the plants would be considered poor taste...

As defined by me, Geospatial Gardening Disorder is diagnosed by the delusion that you actually have room in your garden for all the plants you've purchased. Symptoms of full blown GSGD manifest themselves through pacing about the garden with plant/seed catalogs or a laptop in tow and frustrated muttering that if only the afflicted were able to move the property stakes over an extra 40 feet or so, they could annex their garden for free. Missing chunks of lawn and numerous large boxes marked Live Plants! signal the severity of the disease. But be careful! Should you stage an intervention and attempt treatment without the help of a trained professional you risk angering a person well equipped to use a shovel and dig large holes. Chances are, no one will miss you. Consider yourself warned.

Resistance is futile. 

Having gone undiagnosed for years, I've developed a variety of coping skills to help me deal with this fabulous affliction. But the only one that is mildly effective is the employment of the Voice of Reason. I do not like the Voice of Reason.

Rock, paper and scissors give up for the day.  

I recently became convinced my overstuffed garden had room for a giant pincushion flower (cephalaria gigantea). However, the Voice of Reason, a nasty beast if there ever was one, did not agree. Much arguing commenced and after a few frustrated shouts of, "Giant is not Swahili for 'Yes, this will fit in your garden' " I reluctantly accepted defeat. But during a recent daylily buying bender, I turned the voice off and went shopping. Unsupervised is not a wise choice for me.

However, by the next morning, I had some explaining to do.
VoR: I can't believe you bought more daylilies! These are on your Do Not Buy list because you have so many. As a matter of fact, you gave away arm loads of them recently. 
Me: Because they're orange and purple and fragrant and have cool names.  
VoR: Please tell me you didn't buy these because of their names.
Me: Imagine the entire US/Canadian border crowded with people yelling ,"Halt! I have a daylily!". I had no choice.

Early October 2014

I should have armed my less vigorous plants with spears and burning torches to fend off the mighty mist flower invasion but then resistance would have been feudal. 

But occasionally, I'm able to persuade the Voice of Reason that a purchase isn't just necessary, but absolutely vital. When part of my rain garden became engulfed in native blue mist flower and tiny frost asters I knew salvation lie in ripping out swaths of blue fluffy flowers and replacing them with rudbeckia seedlings, actea 'Black Negligee', and pink lobelia 'Monet's Moment'.

From left to right - Actea 'Black Negligee (cimicifuga), rudbeckia 'Goldsturm', lobelia 'Monet's Moment', blue mist flower, and pink chelone 'Hot Lips'. I love my mist flowers so I saved a chunk growing near the chelone.

As I paced the garden muttering to myself, I negotiated moving the native asters to another spot and filling the empty hole with as much lobelia as I could. I could feel the opposition rising like bubbles to the surface as the Voice of Reason countered my move.
VoR: That's a lot of pink. 
Me: That's the point.
VoR: At least it's not a giant daylily.