Sunday, February 7, 2016

No One But You

I sometimes wonder if I were a character in one of my stories, who I'd be. Bits of fiction, funny dialogue, and quirky characters ramble though files that fill my hard drive. I do not write to become an author but to let loose the tangle of words that flow through my brain, exploding like dried corn in a hot skillet. I write because I am a writer.

But to write about a garden is different. There are no clever characters and the setting is always the same. There is no one but me, my strengths and weaknesses exposed with every post. My garden, like my life, is my story and I am not a character but the author. I reveal with words and flowers the labyrinth of a deep heart and busy mind. 

There are no chances to go back and erase the parts I don't like and replace them with perfect scenes and tidy endings. But between everything I cannot control, come the choices I can. I don't wait for what isn't coming or pretend to be anyone other than my own authentic self. I choose to live my life with passion and exuberance and to own every choice I make.  Each trip into the garden reminds me of the difference between a valid reason and a bullshit excuse so I whisper gently or yell ferociously to be your own hero, love. I pick up the shovel, dig a hole, and try again.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Unexpected Pleasures

Special Note: Blogger has been cutting followers from blogs and has yet to resolve this issue. If my blog has disappeared from your feed and you're interested in following, please refollow. Thanks! 

There is a quiet pleasure in doing something simply and absolutely because it brings you joy.

A huge winter storm, locally dubbed Snowzilla, has smothered my corner of  Virginia in 3 feet of snow and closed area schools, giving me several work-free days. So I decided to indulge myself by doing all the non-gardening, stuck-at-home things I love.

Oatmeal coconut chocolate chunk cookies

Fluffy blueberry scones for my snow blowing neighbor

I baked, cooked, and baked some more,

wore pajamas all day and 
laid on the couch by the fire and read,

and shook my booty to
music music  music.

There's a garden under there somewhere....

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Seedy Persuasion

5:41 alarm

5:45 alarm

5:55 alarm


Throw back the covers, slide out of bed,
 feet into slippers, grab robe, 
call the dog who was awake on the first alarm.


Baby and Lucy

Down the stairs and into the kitchen
three sleepy dogs, tails thumping against their beds. 

"Out, dogs" I mumble as I open the back door.
I am not a morning person.

Coffee like jet fuel with sugar and almond milk

Into the basement 

Tap the red switch to turn on the grow lights

Centranthus ruber 'Snow Cloud' and 'Pretty Betsy' seedlings to the left
 Very tiny snapdragon 'Frosted Flames' to the right 


(To see what I'm growing this year, check out my So Seedy 2016 page.)

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Rethink

I've had a recent epiphany that I've been going about my life all wrong. Instead of aspiring to noble causes such as only growing plants that support wildlife, I've realized what I really need to do is just lower my standards. No longer will I seek out native plants or cultivars proven to support a host of bees or butterflies. I don't care what the Latin names are or how to pronounce them. I have a new method to my madness: All plants must sound interesting when yelled across the fence to my neighbors while talking like a pirate.

So many possibilities....

Ahoy there, matey! Me garden's full of naked ladies and giant hairy balls
Gar!! Where's me garden knife? There's eyeballs everywhere!

Yo ho ho, officer! I swear I'm just talking about gardening...

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Million Little Things

We sit in a group, jumping into a conversation with no clear beginning or end. Ideas and commentary are tossed in, stirred, discussed and I see B grin before lobbing a groaner straight at me. I could see the pun coming, his face like a road map, easy to read but the destination always a surprise. C and I laugh, full throated howls while he cooks up another. 

Polished and polite enough to take tea with a queen, when the doors are closed C cusses like a sailor and tells stories bawdy enough to make Mae West proud. I love her like a sister. When stress and pressure builds, jokes slick with innuendo are passed between us, choice words whispered loud enough to make the eaves-dropping men laugh and blush. There will be payback and when we least expect it, a prank will be played to exact revenge. We plot with wives to surprise them with Christmas gag gifts and the circle continues.

These aren't casual acquaintances but friendships with memories spanning nearly a decade. We're a diverse group: men and women, liberal and conservative, married and single. We talk about everything but gardening for none of them are gardeners. These are a few of my "I'll always be there" people and the ties run deep. I do not chose my friends based on their gender, race, or religion. It is a spark, a connection, a feeling of ease and comfort frosted with the knowledge that when they reach out, I'll always reach back.

We are different, B and I. He's quiet and careful, a sports fan who loves his lawn. We've started to lose track of how long we've known each other and mark dates by the age of our children. Long running jokes punctuate conversations and I pretend to ignore him when he pulls out his wallet to bet me $20 my daughter will run off and get married. "I hope your wife has triplets", I reply. His shoulders shake as he laughs.

The swoosh of an incoming text breaks the silence as a picture of B with his son fills the screen. "Just saying hi!" They grin over a menu as they wait for their order, the rest of his family on the other side of the table. I struggled to control the emotional rip tide of my son's deployment to the middle east and he and C watched me slowly succumb, unmoored from my hope that he wouldn't leave. The deployment was repeatedly canceled only to be reassigned, a different date and mission appearing almost daily across my phone screen for weeks as my son passed along the news. A strong hug and gentle advice helped hold back the tears and when I couldn't stop the flow, he waited patiently, handing me tissues til I could speak with ease. We're open and honest and little goes unsaid. I send a smiley face back and tap open the next text.

"Get out of your head. Stop thinking so much! Go dig a hole." I can see C's face as I think of a response. "Easier said than done." I type. "I wish my brain had an off switch." "It's called wine" she shoots back and I start to smile.

C is loyal and fierce and knows me well. I toss the phone onto the patio table and head into the garden. My thoughts spin and loop until I tell myself to stop. Memories of previous deployments bubble to the surface and the tears start again. Multiple tours in Viet Nam, Iraq, Kuwait, and Afghanistan pepper family history and my stomach tightens. I take a deep breath, my forehead on my knees, grass soft against my feet. I know too much of war, of bodies never recovered and the silent specter of PTSD. Fear is not a wide mouthed monster but a gnawing beast that devours you in small bites until you're raw and exposed. My child is no longer a child but a solider and I am powerless to protect him.

New Years Eve 2012 
My 6'5" tall son and his sister one of the few times he was able to come home.

My phone rings, an irritating quack, and my head jerks up. I don't want to talk to anyone, to explain myself. I just want to be alone. M's name fills the top of the screen and I tap open the call.

"Hey, how's it going?" My voice cracks as I answer and I don't bother to hide the emotion. "I'm calling to check on you", she says quietly.

I'm sweating in the August heat and absently swipe at insects that inch along my arm. Hidden by mounds of perennials, it is not my garden that offers solace but the people who fill it. I sink into a patio chair and let my apprehension gush, flowing through the phone to pool at my feet. She doesn't tell me not to worry, that it's his job, he's an adult. She just listens, her voice calm on the other end. His plane is airborne and his final stop is a safe, well secured base. Hopefully, he'll be there for a while, I tell her, before heading north. I take a deep breath and relax for the first time in weeks.

Actions speak a truth words never will, small measures of honesty that reveal the transparency of a human heart. The measure of friendship doesn't lie in grand gestures but in the mundane, steady hum of a vibrating phone and knocks at my door. It comes as a steady pulse against clenched hands that reminds me I am stronger than what I fear. It is my true garden, a refuge more beautiful than anything I've ever planted. 

Part of the shade garden after a rain storm.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Peaceful End

The weather is cool, the leaves are falling, and it's time to say goodnight to my garden. 
2015 was a good year but I'm ready for a break.

'Peggy's Delight' zinnias with silene 'Prairie Fire', pink coneflowers, and helianthus brought in on the wind.

The basil was weird but the zinnias were beautiful.

'Persian Carpet' zinnias

Deadheading casualties

The closest I ever came to the meme In a Vase on Monday was 
Stuffed in a Jar on Friday.

New garden art was added

White alyssum grows next to the birdhouse. I loved this surprise so much I've already scattered more alyssum seeds around my patio steps. 

and alyssum seeds I thought had been overheated and died were ignored by the birds when I threw them out as bird seed and grew along my patio steps instead.

Monarch on a knautia bloom.

Monarchs flew in and I had a few caterpillars.

This picture is too bright, but it was so beautiful in the moment that I had to take a few photos. A young miscanthus 'Morning Light' against phlox, helianthus, and blue mist flower.

I tried to capture as much of the magic of my summer garden as I could even if the light was never quite right.

13 years ago this area was moist and sunny but as the trees have matured it's become one of the driest spots in the garden. The struggling monarda was removed and replaced with dry shade loving plants. The beautyberry will grow to be about 4 ft x 4 ft and will quickly fill the back of this border. 

This fall, after redesigning parts of my garden, I marked bare root plants and other small transplants with orange flags and bamboo stakes to help me remember where they are.

Most of the water directed towards the 'Little Zebra' miscanthus near my back door ends up falling through the empty space between my pots. I was tired of watering the patio so I came up with this solution instead. A 14" long watering spike from the always fabulous Lee Valley Tools was placed at angle into the root ball. I added an old copper funnel to the spike so I'd have direct access to the roots without having to worry about watering the patio.   

The watering spike is lined with mesh to keep it from being clogged by the roots. The funnel is hidden by the foliage but still obvious enough that I can find it when I need to water. 

To prevent small problems from becoming big disasters, a combo that makes my blood boil, I looked for ways to solve the problems that cropped up this summer so I don't have to deal with them next year. 

Part of the shade garden on a cloudy, rainy morning.

The soil has been amended and mulched and I'm ready to put the garden to bed. 

Custom art work by Frivolous Tendencies.

This is my last post for 2015. I'll be back January 1, 2016.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Clean Up in Aisle One: Redoing the Redo

I've decided I'm tired of learning things the hard way. From now on, I'd like all future mistakes to reveal themselves before they happen in order to make sure they never happen at all. The front butterfly garden I designed in fall 2012 has just been redesigned. While this may not seem like a big deal, it's at least the fifth design this spot has sported and I'm still trying to get it right.

It all started with the pink 'Rose Queen' salvia. Reported to be cheerful, resilient, and carefree, she was hard not to love. Spotted hanging out with all the other sassy salvias at the local hardware store, I bought every pot I could find and brought her home. She basked in the high heat of the back patio while I waited for cooler temps, a rotten flirt in her little black pot. She told naughty jokes and made the sedum blush. She was definitely my kind of plant.

'Rose Queen' salvia with orange milkweed and coreopsis in 2013

Young salvia nemorosa plants grow erect for the first few seasons and then begin to sprawl, suffocating everything nearby. As the plant ages, the foliage flops to the side while new growth emerges from the center. There are very few blooms during this period. Once I cut it back to speed up the process, the garden looks like it's been scalped.

Welcome to the Big Ugly!

But that damn salvia flopped faster than a cheap floozy so out she went. My garden is a high class joint! The salvia was suffocating the milkweed, which grew long skinny chicken legs as they struggled to grow through the mat of foliage. The coreopsis, feeling burdened by the demands of gravity, refused to bloom til almost September and then collapsed forward, exhausted from the rigor of standing erect. What had once been a beautifully orchestrated sweep of bright bloomers had become a hideous mess that left me cringing every time I passed. It was painfully obvious I needed to redesign this bed.... again.


The coreopsis are underwhelming, didn't bloom til late summer and are a pain in the butt to deadhead. Pawn them off on a friend. 

Beauty shot!

Harsh reality

There's too much salvia.  Keep the 'Caradonna', which is a much better plant than 'Rose Queen'. Plant swap the 'Rose Queen'.

The salvia looked good for about two weeks in early summer. 'Caradonna' is dark purple. Two huge catmint 'Walkers Low' anchor this hot, sunny, dry bed.

There are too many daffodils and the decaying foliage suffocates everything. Dig them up and find new spots, only to realize I don't have enough new spots.

The leaves and upright growth habits are all very similar giving the bed a boring, monotonous look. Add plants that don't all look the same.

Clockwise from the top left: 'Magic Carpet' super dwarf spirea, 'Phenomenal' lavender rescued from the back garden, 'Prairie Splendor' dwarf echinacea, a 2 ft tall cultivar that blooms earlier and longer than other cultivars, 'Moonshine' yarrow. 

The milkweed breaks dormancy much later than the salvia and doesn't grow well squished and shaded in between other plants. They need more sun to grow robust and full. Move them all into one spot away from the salvia.

I doubled the size of this milkweed patch by consolidating them all to one section.

There are no features connecting this bed to the rest of the front garden and the lack of balance and continuity bugs me. Add more spirea.

I added five dwarf 'Magic Carpet' spirea to the front bed to harmonize with the 'Little Princess' spirea near the front steps. Because I have the geospatial awareness of a rock, I bought a cheap little 30" hula hoop to help me visualize how large the spirea would be at their mature size. The orange flags mark the planting boundary so I knew how much space I had to work with.

Here is the redesigned bed. The design is basic but as long as it grows well, attracts pollinators, and is pretty, I'm happy. The milkweed went dormant as soon as I transplanted it but it will be back next spring.

Except for the spots where the text wouldn't show up against the fresh mulch, the text color matches the flower color. 

The two sides of the bed have more continuity and no longer feel like a disconnected mess. I'm hoping this is my final redesign! As for that sassy pink salvia, I saved a few plants for a bed on the other side of the driveway. It's hard to let a good jokester go. I tucked her in next to the sedum who immediately began to giggle and blush. Now if I can just keep her upright....