Thursday, August 31, 2006

Tale of Two Pumpkins

When Mike and I were dating, our favorite activities were water sports (we lived on a sub-tropical island) and going out to eat. After moving to a land-locked state and one income, we discovered that we don’t have many shared interests left. We continue to try new things (hiking, going to the racetrack, Frisbee golf) in an attempt to find a shared activity. Still, during most of our free time, we end up splitting up. I garden; he plays poker. We both profess to hate the other’s activity, but we keep trying to connect. I listen to “bad beat” stories and he occasionally helps me in the garden. My latest attempt to make a gardener out of him is by appealing to Mike’s competitive side. Hence, The Great Pumpkin Contest.

On July 4th, we each planted pumpkin seeds. Planting around this date is supposed to yield pumpkins by Halloween. I selected the magnolia bed as our garden plot, and let him choose between the two corners. We planted, we watered, and we waited.

Mike’s pumpkin sprouted first, but even the earlier start date cannot account for the size of his vine vs. mine. His vine has at least three branches, dozens of flowers, and is about 8 feet long.

My vine is much smaller and boasts only a few flowers.

We haven’t yet decided the criteria for winning. Obviously, I’ve ruled out size of the vine. We are debated whether the winner of The Great Pumpkin Contest is the person who grows the most pumpkins or the biggest pumpkin (or, perhaps, the most beautiful pumpkin). I'm tempted to skew the criteria to favor me and my puny vine, but I suppose letting Mike win would better accomplish my goal of interesting him in gardening.

Aw, who am I kidding? Look at that vine! He’s going to win either way (unless I “accidentally” step on his pumpkin or spray it with some Round-Up). Mike will win. I will pout. And I’ll be glad when he returns to poker and leaves the gardening to me! Couple activities are overrated.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mowing the Course

Inspired by Front Yard Gardens, by Liz Preimeau, I have removed about 25% of the lawn so far and replaced it with gardens. I plan on tackling another quarter this fall and perhaps one more quarter the following fall. The new garden area is a combination of border and island beds, so the lawn is not only reduced, but is being transformed into grass paths.

As Mike’s only yard duties are mowing and cleaning the gutters (and he detests them both), I thought he’d be pleased by the reduction of lawn area. His comment after mowing on Saturday: “It’s like a goddamn obstacle course out here.” I thought it would be more fun for him - like a race course! I suppose that is the Pollyanna in me.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hardy Hibiscus from Seed

Way, way back when I first started gardening (okay, March ’05), I made the long trek out to Amelia, OH for some plant divisions from my friend Robin. She gave me a hunk of bleeding heart and yarrow. During the tour of her yard, she pointed out a large, hardy hibiscus to me. I noticed that it was covered with seed pods, so, after asking her permission, I plucked a few.

The seeds had an amazing germination rate. As the season progressed, I moved the seedlings into pots, and then, in the fall, I planted the eight survivors in the candy cane (red, pink, and white) bed. Next season, true to their reputation, my hibiscus waited until almost June to emerge, while I fretted all the while. The plants emerged vigorously enough, but are still rather small, 3feet high and 1 foot wide. I didn’t expect blooms this year, but I was still envious when lushly blooming hibiscus appeared at the local greenhouses and mine remained vegetative. In August, however, I began to see flower buds on my own plants and I waited with bated breath for the first to open.

Because these are seed grown plants, and I have not seen the mother plant in bloom, the flower color was a mystery. Questioning Robin revealed that her plant has pink flowers. According to an internet search, the “wild-type” plants have flowers in shades of red, white, and pink. I was fairly sure that I would have blooms that fit with the bed’s color scheme, but I was a little wary of finding purple-pink blossoms. (I absolutely detest mauve flowers.) Thankfully, two of the plants have bloomed so far to reveal shades of pale pink, without a hint of purple.

The flowers are nice, but the plants have a long way to go before they create a substantial presence in the bed. I’m hoping that they’ll leap in the third year.

If you are not looking for a hardy hibiscus in designer colors, I recommend them as a perennial grown from seed. They were easy to grow and have required very little aftercare. I had to water them often while they were in the clay pots sitting in afternoon sun, but I’ve been able to completely neglect them after planting in the ground and morning sun. (I did have to stake two plants, but I’m not so sure that wasn’t the cats’ fault.) They are a great beginner plant for someone with a small budget and plenty of patience. Email me if you’d like some seed!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Garden Carts Rock!

Last fall, I whined about my wheelbarrow. It is too unstable to maneuver with a full load and the darn nuts and bolts keep coming loose. At my readers’ suggestion, I tightened all the hardware down and applied Loctite. I used the red formula, which supposedly seals the hardware together for all eternity. It lasted through the fall and early spring before I noticed that I was, once again, missing nuts and bolts. Still, I limped along with the crippled wheelbarrow. While I couldn’t use it to carry loads, I still used the barrow as a large mixing bowl for amending my soil. It squeaked and shook as I broke apart clay chunks, but didn’t collapse altogether. I figured that I could make it work until my birthday (November) when hoped for a garden cart from Mike.

My birthday came early when Mike helped me with the planting this weekend. After I told him that he’d have to carry the stripped sod to the compost pile by the bucket-full (because the wheelbarrow just wouldn’t make it), he cried “bullshit” and took me to Home Depot to get a garden cart.

Our new Rubbermaid garden cart is a single piece of molded plastic – no separate components to fall apart! It has two wheels, instead of a wheelbarrow’s single, so it is unlikely to tip over. Growing up on a hobby farm, Mike had a similar cart, in which he claims to have transported endless loads of pig poop. Although he’s never seen anyone hoe like me (I now use the cart as my chopping and mixing bowl), he is pretty sure that the thick plastic will hold up against even my abuse. The cart’s best feature is that it holds 300 lbs. Now Mike can give me and the cats and a load of dirt a ride around the yard.

Monday, August 21, 2006

25 Daylilies and 50 Hosta

What do 25 daylilies and 50 hosta look like?

Actually, there turned out to be 28 daylilies and 65 hosta in these buckets. I ordered the bareroot plants in bulk from Gilbert H. Wild and Son, after receiving a flyer in the mail. The company has a so-so rating (76%) on Garden Watchdog, but for less that $1 a plant, I decided to take a risk. The roots (and the water I soaked them in) smelled pretty rank, but appeared healthy. Some of them even had a few green shoots. They roots looked freshly dug and had desiccated very little in the shipping box.

How long does it take to plant 28 daylilies and 65 hosta? About 12 hours, spread over 2 days. Thankfully, I had my garden helpers out in full force.

Where does one with a city yard put so many plants? All 28 daylilies went in the hell strip. I didn’t dare plant any hosta along the street because, while deer are uncommon on our street, they have munched the hosta in Cleo’s Garden in the past. The daylily buds may also be eaten, but I’ll take the risk. I divided the hosta between Cleo’s Garden, the NE Shady Shrub Border, and the North Corner.

By Sunday afternoon, Mike and I were grumpy, tired, and nauseated by the smell of wet roots. He kept trying to throw hosta over the fence (so that he wouldn’t have to dig another hole) and I wanted to whack him with a shovel. (Mike actually begged to be hit so that he wouldn’t have to garden anymore.) At the end, even I was sick of gardening. Admittedly, the last 13 hosta were not planted with much care.

Thank goodness the hard part is over. I’m not sure I’ll order that many bareroot plants again! Hopefully, the results will be worth the work and strained marital relations

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Purple People Plantings

When my Secret Squirrel Agent at Friendship Park told me that they were doing something special with the annual beds this year, I was on high alert. After a few weeks of observation, I thought I had the theme figured out. It was a tribute to the Purple People Bridge!

Turns out that I had overthought a bit. This year’s theme was more simply envisioned as “cool.” I, however, cling to my theory that the color scheme is actually connected to this summer's unveiling of the Over the Top experience on the purple bridge.

Friday, August 18, 2006

My Favorite Spot, August 18th

My garden, too, looks like August crap. Some of it is my own fault. I’m doing major surgery on the sun bed, so it is looking rather bare. I’ve got new beds started with newspaper and straw in both the front and back yards, so my garden looks and smells like the county fair. This week, I’m appreciating the hardscape, instead of the flora. My favorite spot is our outdoor dining set, on the back deck.

It’s my favorite spot, but I’m not spending much time there. The mosquitoes, perhaps sensing that the end is near, are so voracious that we cannot eat outside without coating ourselves in DEET. Unfortunately, the scent of bug spray does not blend well with food. Not that we’ve had any food all week, because we went almost 2 weeks without a visit to the grocery store. To make a long story short, I view my favorite spot from the dining room window.

I love to watch the light play through the umbrella and illuminate the capiz shells. When the shell chime clatters in the breeze, I can almost pretend that the wind is fresh and cool, instead of sticky and warm. My houseplants, freed from the sunroom (which is pending renovations), have never looked better. They enjoy the filtered light and moist air. I prefer the cool, dark house, and gazing out the window at my favorite spot.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Watering Devices

You won’t find any fancy product plugs here. I use very basic tools to water my garden, with the exception of an experimental deep watering device (sounds Top Secret, huh?).

Hose. Yup, I use a regular old hose. It isn’t a soaker hose. It isn’t a coily hose. It isn't a "never kink" hose. It’s a medium-duty, plain hose. I only had two requirements when I bought my hoses. First, they had to reach from the house to the areas I need to water. A 150 foot hose in front and another in back meet my needs. Second, the hose had to color coordinate with the house color. That may sound superficial, but the front hose is very visible and I didn’t want it to be the first thing I noticed as I walked up to the house. I’ve seen hose hiders for sale, but I couldn’t convince myself that they would be easy to use. I managed to find a pale gray hose to somewhat blend in with my white house. I honestly think there could be a market for color-coordinated hoses. At least they could come in white and brown.

Sprayer Attachment. This is usually set on “gentle shower” so that I can use it to water my plants with the hose. The much more chic attachment would be a watering wand, but I bought the sprayer before I’d even heard of such a thing. And the sprayer was only 50 cents at a garage sale. And, before I bought a longer hose for the backyard, I needed the spraying function in order to reach some of my plants with the water. Now, I’d consider a watering wand, but only if it was gifted to me. In absence of the sprayer (or wand), I’ve found that a thumb works quite well.

Sprinkler. This is another fairly basic tool. I use it to give entire beds a good soaking. Yes, a sprinkler has its pitfalls. It is not as efficient (due to evaporation) as other methods (like a soaker hose) and it sprays water on the foliage, increasing the chance of fungus problems. In the sprinkler’s defense, I think the evaporation isn’t all that bad because it tends to cool the air in the general vicinity, providing relief to plants, people, and cats alike. I also haven’t had a single case of mildew, so I am starting to think that sprinkler’s reputation has been maligned. However, I’m not a total lost cause when it comes to water conservation. I plan on putting soaker hoses in two areas I currently sprinkle, cutting back on evaporation and the chance of mildew.
My sprinkler sends out a circular spray of water, but sometimes I need just a half-arc. I would like a sprinkler with adjustable water patterns, so that I can minimize water waste. I’ve seen models with a selection plate and models with individual nozzles that can be aimed in the desired direction. I may consider buying one of these next year.

Hose Splitter. This is perhaps my favorite watering gadget. It turns one spigot into two. Using the selection levers, I can simultaneously sprinkle a flower bed and fill my watering jug. I need a second splitter for the backyard. The best part about this gadget is that Mike doesn't understand how it works, so he never knows which hose will have water coming out of it!

Watering Can. While my front yard hose is long enough to water all of the containers, maneuvering it to certain areas can be difficult. To water the containers near the driveway, I prefer to fill the can and carry it. I also use the can for spot watering newly planted, or just very thirsty, plants. I usually reserve the sprinkler’s use for entire beds in need of water.

Holey Milk Jug. Because I DO care about water conservation, I have a holey milk jug in clinical trials in the front yard. For those of you not familiar with this method, this is how it works:
- Take a clean milk jug, minus the cap.
- Punch a bunch of little holes in the bottom.
- Dig a hole next to your thirsty plant.
- Bury the milk jug so that just its opening is showing.
- Water the plant by filling the jug.
Supposedly, the jug will slowly deliver water directly to the plants roots, minimizing evaporation and encouraging deep root development. So far, I have to give the holey milk jug a big thumbs down. Maybe I punched too many holes, but I have to put far more than a gallon of water into the jug before it fills to the top. Then, it quickly drains. My thirsty hydrangea (the experimental subject) still wilts and pouts nightly. I’m not sure I’ll be burying anymore jugs. Frankly, even partially covered with leaves, it looks like I’m gardening in a garbage dump.

Minus the jug, these are all the watering tools a beginning gardener really needs. I’ll be upgrading to some fancier gadgets next year (my 3rd season of gardening), but they are only a convenience, not a necessity. The milk jug is probably going in the trash.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Watering Practices

Hanna at This Garden Is Illegal recently posted some good advice on watering in the garden. I have to confess that I follow almost none of it. While I let most of the grass brown, I am watering the newly seeded patch colonizing an area of the yard I regraded. I don’t reuse water from the tub or shower. I don’t have a rain gauge, or measure the water I sprinkle on the lawn. I don’t own a soaker hose. I water at whatever time of day I find it convenient and I do have a few thirsty plants (like hydrangeas). I don’t actively practice water conservation, but I do try to make good watering choices. These are a few of my watering guidelines.

Water the Wilted. I almost always water if I see wilting, although using flaccid leaves as an indicator can have its dangers. On a hot day, transpiration in the leaves may simply exceed the roots’ ability to uptake water, even when the soil is moist, resulting in limpness. Watering in a situation like this doesn’t help, and can eventually hurt, if you flood the plant. Some of my plants, like the hydrangeas, seem to wilt every afternoon, but that doesn’t necessarily signal distress. If the plants haven’t recovered by morning, they need a watering.
When wilting really is a symptom of dry soil, water is needed, but it may be too late. Leaves wilt as the plant’s cells lose water and, hence, turgidity. The cells will bounce back upon watering, but if they become too dry, the membrane within the cell will actually detach from the cell wall and then the death knell has sounded. Like a thirsty human, wilting is often a sign that the plant is already in a water deficit.

Nurture the Newbies. Plantings less than a year in the ground get extra water. I don’t wait for wilting. Because the new plants don’t yet have established root systems, they can be almost as vulnerable as potted plants to drying out. While they need regular watering, first year plants do not need to be watered deeply because their roots are busy establishing. I won’t claim to have a scientific method as to the amount of water the new plantings get. Generally, I just water “some.” If I’m unsure, I stick a finger in the soil to see if it is moist a few inches down.

Tough Love. If watered beyond the first year, plantings should be watered deeply to encourage the roots to dive deep into the earth for moisture. If all they receive are shallow waterings, they will not develop the deep root systems that will last them through droughts or vacations. For the most part, though, I have found that plantings established for even just a year have not needed any water beyond rainfall.

Extra Container Care. Container-bound plants are subject to extremes of temperature and air movement. Many first-time container gardeners are surprised at the amount of care required to maintain life in the tiny oasis of a pot. Container-bound plants don’t have the option of sending roots far and wide in search of moisture and nutrients. Instead, they must have it regularly delivered to them. I water most of my containers daily, especially if the container is porous, like a clay pot or fiber mat. Even plants in plastic containers sometimes need daily watering if they are in full sun. Some plants, no matter how much you water them, just don’t like containers. I either plant those unhappy individuals in the ground or toss them into the compost heap.

Vacation Watering. If I’m going to be gone only a few days, I water all the new plants and containers very well for the two or three days preceding my departure. If I will be gone three days or longer, I follow the above procedure and hire/coerce someone into watering the containers every other day. In this situation, I also take extra precautions with newly planted trees and shrubs. Following Carolyn Harstad’s watering advice in Got Shade, I lug a 5-gallon bucket of water to each newly planted tree or shrub and dump the contents at its base. Even if I managed to get the plant on sale, trees and shrubs are too valuable to lose to drought!

This year, I have many new beds and containers, so I spend a lot of time watering. Fortunately, I enjoy it. I love the smell of the cool water hitting the hot surfaces of the dirt, pavement, or deck. While I water, I examine the garden for other signs of distress, or simply appreciate its beauty. I usually make watering my last gardening chore of the evening, so it is my chance to relax, unwind, and transition into my indoor duties.

Tomorrow: a fascinating, in-depth look at my watering devices.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Free the Catmint!

A few weeks ago, I planted eighteen of my seed-grown catmint plants in the ground as an edging in the rose bed. I dutifully covered them with the Plant Defenders in order to save them from my grazing kitties. I intend to use the Defenders for this year only. By next year, the plants should have become established enough to resist being pulled from the ground and robust enough to recover from a little gnawing.

I expected any plant parts that grew outside of the dome to be promptly nibbled off. What I didn’t expect, is that my cats would concentrate their efforts on one plant. The poor plant pictured here has borne the brunt of the grazing. I’ve tried to get the kitties interested in some of the other plants, to allow this one to recover, but they’ve already made a habit of dining in a particular location.

The remainder of the plants are doing very well. A few are even flowering. I am hopeful that next year, when I remove the cages, they will all grow to be so lush. I also hope that the cats will have lost the habit of chewing on the underdog plant and, instead, graze a little more evenly. Five cats versus eighteen plants seems like a fair fight.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mosquito-Eating Guppies

I haven’t shared this with the internet audience, but Mike and I put in a small pond over the 4th of July weekend. The final product is somewhat raw looking, so I’ve been waiting to share pictures until I have some impressive before and after images. While I’m still not ready to post a picture, I’m ready to talk about a first-time ponder’s experience with mosquitoes.

Our pond is a still pond. There is no elaborate waterfall or cutesy spitter. I chose to construct a calm, meditative pond for two reasons. First, I just didn’t want to mess with the gear required for running water. I didn’t want to run an electrical line. I didn’t want to maintain a pump. I spend enough time clearing the pumps in my fountain and the kitties’ water dish. Second, once I get the hang of this pond thing, I want to put water lilies in. They require full sun and still water.

The idea of a still pond is great. The reality, though, is that it is a mosquito magnet. Our backyard is already so plagued with skeeters that I go through a can of bug spray a week. I was wary of putting fish in a pond with no aeration, but I couldn’t find any Mosquito Dunks at Home Depot, so I plopped an oxygenating plant and two, 99-cent goldfish in the water. They happily consumed bugs and larvae for about a week, until we had a thunderstorm. Whether it was the sudden weather change or a turnover in the water (the algae bloom died at the same time), I’m not sure, but the fish were belly up the next morning. I suspected that might happen. The water was too warm and low in oxygen to support goldfish for long.

While I dithered over the ethics of consigning two more goldfish to death in the murky waters, the mosquitoes took over. Within days, the pool was seething with larvae. A visit to Funke’s finally yielded Mosquito Dunks and I put a quarter of a doughnut in the water. While the Dunks are advertised as safe for animal water troughs, I felt uneasy adding the chemicals to water my cats drink. I needed to find another solution. I decided to try guppies.

To most Americans, guppies are aquarium fish. I thought of them in the same way until I deployed to Thailand, in 2002. Stationed on a Thai Royal Marine base, I found guppies in nearly every body of standing water. They were swimming in the cement water garden troughs that rimmed a number of the headquarters buildings. Their bright bodies were flashing in the scummy water of drainage ponds. They didn’t seem to make a significant dent in the local mosquito population, but they demonstrated an amazing ability to live in warm, stagnant, low-oxygen waters.

Remembering the tropical guppy, I first used them as mosquito control in a shallow water garden I maintained on the balcony of our apartment in Okinawa. It consisted of a 4-gallon, flattened pot filled with water and studded with a small “rock” island, bought pre-planted with ferns. Before I added guppies, I would find numerous wrigglers when I conducted the weekly water changes. After the guppies, none. Sadly, the guppies died when I left the garden outside during a typhoon. We moved shortly thereafter.

Besides their appetite for mosquitoes and tolerance of still water, guppies have another great quality: their reproductive capacity. One male and one female guppy will result in more babies than you'll know what to do with. In my small, Okinawa water garden, I could only support two fish, so I bought only the showy males. My present pond is larger, but, as guppies are dearer in the U.S. than Okinawa, I could only conscience buying two fish again. However, I doubled my money by buying a male and a female. Two weeks later, I had five guppies. The female looks to be pregnant again. (Guppies are viviparous. The gestation period is about 28 days, so my female was gravid when I bought her.) As guppies are tropical fish, I will either have to overwinter the guppies inside or buy a new breeding pair next spring.

So, does it work? Are my guppies keeping mosquitoes at bay? It is hard to tell. I don’t drain the pond, so I can’t examine the water thoroughly. From the surface, I don’t see any mosquito larvae. (I could see them during the brief period between fish.) Now that I have five fish in the habitat, I’ve begun to feed them in the evening. They seem to be hungry, so I assume they’ve cleaned the pond of other edibles. I have no definitive proof, but I believe I’m maintaining a still pond without adding to the general mosquito population.

Next year, I’m ready to add water lilies to the mix.

Friday, August 11, 2006

My Favorite Spot, August 11th

This week, the spot I’ve seen the most of happens to be my desk at work. No one wants to see a picture of that (and I’d probably violate 57 security rules if I posted one). My views of the garden have all been in the twighlight or rain, so nothing there has struck me as this week's "favorite." *Sigh* I'm favorite-less,

Instead, will you tell me about your favorite spot in the garden?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Fancy Sunflowers, All in a Row

Sunflowers sounded like such a good idea. They are bright and cheery and feed the birds. I thought they’d be the perfect addition to a cottage border. My sunflowers, however, have gone all wrong.

My first mistake was growing fancy sunflowers, instead of the regular type. I thought red sunflowers would be far superior to yellow. While the color is nice, the blooms are smaller than the usual flower and definitely not in proportion to the size of the giant stalk. I have to actively look for the small, dark red flower heads, unlike the standard yellow beacon.

I also ignored one of the cardinal rules of gardening: thou shalt not garden in a straight line. I lined my sunflowers up like soldiers along the back of the sun bed and sunset bed. Boring.

The final problem with my sunflowers is that nearly every one has fallen over. They seem to grow puny roots to support such extravagant growth. My very tallest sunflower, once sturdy enough to stake gladiolas, is now bowing into the path.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have grown the plain, old, black oil sunflower seeds from my bird seed mix. There is nothing wrong with yellow sunflowers! I would have planted the sunflowers in clumps, not rows. Not only would my planting look more spontaneous, the sunflowers could have supported each other. Perhaps my yard would have looked a little more like this “sunflower house” I photographed in Vancouver, WA.

My one success with sunflowers may turn out to be the plants I stuck into the ground beneath my teepee. The plants are well supported by the twiggy frame and, when they finally bloom, the flowers should be somewhat of a surprise, peeking out from the sweet peas and cardinal vine. If they fall over, taking the teepee with them, I’ll have to declare sunflowers a complete loss for this season.

Friday, August 04, 2006

My Favorite Spot, August 4th

Last year, the steps to the front porch were framed by asters, which I promptly renamed ass-ters for their sprawling, flopping habit. After asking for readers’ suggestions on what to replace them with, I promptly ignored all advice and planted red mini roses. Thankfully, I had the sense to surround them with annuals because the roses, although blooming, have lost all of their leaves!

Even with the leafless roses (which are, by the way, recovering now) this is my favorite spot. I love the combination of red roses, purple heliotrope, and pink and green nicotiana.

Although I maligned nicotiana in an earlier post, I’ve come to really like this annual, even though most of my seeds yielded plants with lime-green, scentless flowers. The plants are bushy and upright, even without pinching. They produce an endless supply of colorful flowers.

Heliotrope is sold as a fragrant annual, but the really fragrant variety, white heliotrope, is hard to find. While my heliotrope’s cherry pie scent is faint, its intensely purple flower head and dark green leaves redeem the plant. I read somewhere that heliotrope is actually a sub-shrub in warmer climates. I may try to overwinter cuttings for next year.

The mini-roses are the ubiquitous Parade roses sold at discount and grocery stores throughout the US and Canada. I bought one in June 2005 (Big Lots) and the second in November 2005 (Bigg’s). They both overwintered in my sunroom (where they molded from the humidity). I planted them out in early spring, just before the hyacinth began to bloom. I’ve read that it is not unusual for mini roses to lose their leaves just after transplanting, but mine defoliated three months after their move. The leaf loss is probably due to some sort of pest, but I’m a lazy rose gardener. I feed them and water them, but that’s about it. If they don’t survive, I’ll find a more disease-resistant mini-rose.

You may notice that I’ve only shown you one side of the front stoop. I attempted to duplicate the planting on the right side, but it didn’t turn out as well. The nicotiana is ALL lime-green (no pink!), the heliotrope hasn’t bloomed yet, and the mini rose is about 1/3 the size of its brother. When I walk up to the front door, I just have to close my right eye, so all I see is my favorite spot out the left.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Challenging the Earth Mother

If I believed in God, I think my deity of choice would be Gaia, the neopagan Gaia, not the original Greek goddess. I would worship the Earth Mother. I would pray in the cathedral of vaulted pines and take a communion of blackberries. To me, Nature is the closest thing to God.

When I speak of Outside or Nature, I mentally capitalize the words, giving them their due as Proper Nouns. Outside is my church, until the mosquitoes (surely they are the demons of my religion) drive me indoors, or at least to the refuge of DEET. (I think I may worship DEET too, or at least give it the status of holy water.)

Whatever your religion, I feel that most gardeners are making some sort of homage to Nature when they garden. For Christians, there is the Garden of Eden to emulate. I was struck by the link between Christianity and gardening at the close of Children of Eden. In the play’s final scene, Noah’s sons and wives disembark from the ark, and each couple makes a decision on which direction to travel in order to repopulate the drowned world. The final couple decides on no direction at all. Instead, they choose to wander the earth in search of Eden. Depending on your paradigm, this is either a testament to our desire to return to a state of grace or an expression of a basic human need to live in harmony with Nature. Either way, it was a powerful ending.

Not only do I hold rather pagan beliefs, I make the same errors of hubris that mortals have committed against their gods throughout history. Once, during a rare moment after I had managed to wrangle Mike Outside to enjoy evening in the garden, he said, “Wow. It is like Nature out here.” “No,” I replied, “it’s better than Nature.” He was aghast at my presumptuousness. Although I expected a lightening bolt of doom from slighted Gaia, I escaped unscathed.

My garden IS better than Nature. Although most gardens are going for a “natural look,” the very concept of a garden is unnatural. Where, in Nature, does one see colorful perennials jam-packed together so tightly that constant maintenance is required, as in a cottage garden. Where do we find raked sand next to a perfectly contorted juniper, complemented by a half-moon foot bridge? How about a symmetrical ring of boxwood enclosing fussy hybrid tea roses? I argue that instead of imitating Nature, we are trying to create our own idealized notion of it, whether that is a sylvan glade, an orderly vegetable patch, or our very own Garden of Eden.

As we garden, whether we do it to glory God or fight evil Entropy, it fulfills a basic creative need within us to improve our surroundings. If in the process, some of us developed swelled heads and an inflated sense of self worth, well, there are worse sins. Like Round-Up.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I was afraid that no one would join my plant swap group, but it turns out that my fears were unfounded. The group is two weeks old and we have five members. The swapping has begun!

I made my first swap on Saturday. I traded my two Russian sage, which quickly outgrew the corner bed, and a hunk of stella d’oro for four enormous basil plants. I expected something small enough to fit into a 6 inch pot. Instead, I received huge, lush plants with root balls so thick and healthy that they had to be cut from the ground in brick-like chunks. I felt like an ass for trading almost bare root plants for these stunning specimens. Because the basil wouldn’t fit in my pots, I transplanted them to the rose/nusery bed, where they look very nice. I can’t wait to make pesto.

I am currently negotiating another swap for ajuga, red daylily, and jewelweed seeds. I’m a swapping junkie!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Hot and Sweaty

I’m sure this is a recurrent theme in the gardening blogs lately: it is too damn hot! Our A/C has been broken for months, but, after sweating through the night, the repairman fixed it this morning. Hallelujah!

Honestly, I don’t mind the physical discomfort while I’m in the garden. The hose is always handy and I stick to the shade and non-strenuous activities. My chief activities have been watering, weeding, and pricking out seedlings. (Yes, I am still sorting through all of my winter-sown perennials!) I am also doing a lot of daydreaming. I stand in the shade, with a sprinkler at my back, and work through design plans to implement in the fall. I have even dared to transplant a few things – knockout roses, siberian iris, burgundy gaillardia, threadleaf coreopsis, and zebra grass. Thanks to copious water, only the zebra grass looks like it is truly suffering. (I’m hoping it will spring back when things cool down.)

After working in the garden for a few hours in the evening, I come in sweaty, dirty, and reeking of DEET. Yesterday, there was no relief to be found indoors, but I’m looking forward to an icy blast of air tonight!