Saturday, May 2, 2015

Dear Aunt Marilyn,

There is  no sane way to describe what happened today so I'm just going to tell you everything. Last Monday I decided I needed some help in the garden. With schoolwork piling up and weeds taking over, I thought that maybe, just this once, I'd hire an assistant for a single day.

I'd spotted an ad in one of the local papers that advertised gardeners to help spring clean your garden. I'd never heard of Odd Bodies Garden Services but since weeding and digging little trenches between the grass and garden is so easy, I thought even a relatively inexperienced gardener could still be useful.

I'm training this 'Major Wheeler' honeysuckle to grow through my trumpet creeper. Who over comes to help will have to leave it alone.

When I called to inquire about the hourly rates and skill level of the gardeners, a man with an strangely deep and slightly weird voice answered. He was a bit of a mumbler and I was becoming frustrated so I decided to end the call and do the work myself when he suddenly started shouting. He was yelling about some guy named Stefano who was the most skilled of their gardeners. He was tall, muscular, and had a big shovel.

Excuse me? 

I'll need to let them know these bird eggs are fake but the nest is real so they don't worry.

Mr. Odd Bodies continued. Stefano was an expert gardener who celebrated all garden holidays. I had no idea gardeners had holidays but was becoming intrigued. He would email me a confirmation with a photo of Stefano so I knew who to expect.

Holy Hot Tamales, Marilyn. When I opened my email, I nearly died. I've attached the photo Mr Odd Bodies sent.  After pounding myself on the chest to get my heart beating again, I searched Google for garden holidays and soon realized Saturday, May 2 is World Naked Gardening Day.

How the heck was I supposed to maintain my composure while Stefano worked in my garden completely naked? Naked, Marilyn! As in not-a-single-stitch-of-clothing. I devised a plan to wear huge dark sunglasses so he'd never know where my eyes were while I 'supervised'.

By Saturday morning, I was focusing on ice cubes and glaciers to keep my body temperature down. World Naked Gardening Day was going to be my new favorite holiday. But 10 am came and went and no Stefano. By 11 my cell phone was buzzing like crazy with a notification from Odd Bodies. Stefano was running late and had sent a replacement. Was he crazy? I didn't want a replacement!

When the doorbell rang, I casually answered it. I tried to appear calm, cool, and collected. I adopted my best, "Why yes, I always have gorgeous men wandering my garden naked" attitude. But when the door opened, it was not Stefano who stood on my porch but this guy. 

Needless to say, I pulled all my own damn weeds. I hate World Naked Gardening Day.


Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Garden Ramble

Come on in! I'm covered in soil but I don't think you'll mind. 

The garden is bursting with growth. I've just started cleaning all the grass out of the trenches between the beds and the lawn and have a long way to go. Someday I'll rip out a massive chunk of that lawn and put in a pond but not today.

These common primroses are one of my favorite spring flowers. I love how simple and straight forward they are.

I've been trying to add more plants with interesting foliage to the garden and love this golden passalong hosta next to the ajuga I've forgotten the name of.

I have loads of dry shade but epimediums thrive in these conditions.  

I think the flowers look like little UFO's.

I found one of our turtles! I'd love to know where they spent the winter. We have three eastern box turtles in the garden that were rescued from the middle of the road.

This corner used to be one of the worst spots in the garden. After redesigning it several times, it's my dry shade success story. The diervilla rivularis by the birdhouse is now six feet tall and the glorious little golden thing in the front is a symphoricarpos 'Blades of Sun' recommended to me by expert planstman, Rob from the The British Gardener. It turns green in the summer and has little purple berries. Even its Latin name - sym for ee carpos - is beautiful.

The iron cattails are part of the failed frog pond turned successful bog garden. Tall white turtle head ( Chelone glabra 'Alba') fill this spot in the summer.

Our native red columbine and 'Corbett's Gold'. These also do well in dry shade.

Silene 'Rolly's Favorite' is much tougher than it looks. It can tolerate drought but is much happier with moister soil so I moved it closer to the rain garden.

I mixed in some variegated 'Valley High' silene to give this area some zing.

I found fabulous new pots to replace the ones that were broken or cracked. These are from Home Goods, which is exponentially cheaper than our local nursery.

Both of these will be filled with gomphrena.

Fred, the bleeding heart, is huge and getting huger. What do you mean you don't name your plants? I've interplanted Fred with 10 oriental lily bulbs. As the grow taller, I'll tie them to the black metal stakes to guide them out of his foliage. When he's gone dormant for the summer, I'll have lilies to fill the spot.

I extended the front beds by another foot to keep my plants from being decapitated by the mower when they flop onto the grass. But of course, I then had room for more plants.... I just finished mulching this. This is a big butterfly garden full of salvia, coreopsis, and orange milkweed.

The new plants are tiny and hard to see but will grow quickly. The squirrels have already been over to investigate. I have deciduous shrubs in front of my house instead of evergreens. I know this gives me winter disinterest, but who cares.

Fothergilla 'Blue Shadow' loves this spot

and I love my fothergilla.

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 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