Tuesday, December 31, 2013

What I Have Been Blessed To Do

I am not a religious person, but very spiritual, and I have been blessed in many ways.  I have grown a lot in the last ten years.  I will not say I was led by God because that insinuates that I am special in a way that other people are not, that I received help while others still struggle.  I will say that I reached such a low point in my life that I questioned everything and listened to hear the soft voice that is patiently waiting in all of our hearts to lead us to where we are meant to be.

I left a bad marriage, began volunteering at a botanical garden where my skills were recognized and I was offered a job, I was referred to help others in their gardens and I eventually found love. Taking care of my Mom and Grandma eventually became a bigger job and I quit the botanical garden.  Almost a year ago to the day, taking care of Grandma became a 24/7 job.

In the last year or so I began questioning where I should be in terms of gardening.  Did I still want to work in others' gardens or devote all of my time to Jim and our garden?  Our time together on Earth is limited and we enjoy each other's company so well that it is lonely being apart even for a few hours.  Then came the gardening season of 2013 that I could not leave Grandma's side; I devoted myself to her completely at the expense of myself.  From time to time some of the ladies I work for would contact me, not so much to see how things were, but to see if I was available yet. At least that is how it felt from my perspective. Not my friends, just seeing if Grandma was dead yet because they needed my help.  I could almost hear the disappointment in one lady's voice. On May 31st Grandma passed.  I did a few little jobs, but after the five months of abuse I put my body through, I needed to take care of myself emotionally and physically.  Still feeling sorry for myself, I decided I was going to quit the gardening work.

I have read in a number of places that whenever you are recovering from something, building your body back up, you should expect to spend about twice the amount of time you spent abusing it. Five very long months of no more than three hours of sleep at a time, jumping up and running on an adrenaline rush all through the night, eating fast food or whatever other garbage I could grab in a hurry to keep myself going, and of course, the emotional turmoil of losing a loved one.  Six months later, halfway through my estimated recovery period, brought the Holidays and a mixture of emotions that were hard to deal with.  I was so far off track.

I do not turn the television on a lot and I am not an Oprah fan, but last week Mom found something called Super Soul Sunday.  I listened as I worked around the house and was occasionally drawn in by something a guest said.  One guest, Rob Bell, did more than draw me in, he inspired me.  He spoke of finding your true calling and of a man, a house cleaner, who felt he was privileged to be allowed into peoples' homes to bring them cleanliness and organization.  A bell (no pun intended) went off and that different perspective played in my head as I anticipated the 2014 gardening season.  How could I have forgotten that lesson?  I planned on tuning into the next Super Soul Sunday in hopes of more inspiration, and I was not let down.  There were several good interviews, but Marianne Williamson was just what I needed.  She said so many noteworthy things, but the reminder I really needed was that the more we give, the more we receive.  It is in serving others that miracles occur in our own lives.

I am an introvert.  I am more than content with my close little network of loved ones.  From my perspective, if people expected more of me socially, I would feel overwhelmed.  I was feeling sorry for myself and looking at the whole situation from a negative standpoint rather than the positive.  I have a gift.  I know plants, not just academically, but have the ability to make them thrive and love doing it.  I have worked hard and earned an excellent reputation.  I am honored that there are people who entrust me to work in their gardens.  To them it is a sacred spot that they spent many years, maybe even a lifetime, building and growing. There are few people they would allow to step foot in their gardens, yet they are eager, even impatient to pay me work with their most valued plants.  I enter 2014 feeling inspired to do what I have been blessed to do.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Great Point Experiment

I love garden experiments; when successful, they are amongst the most rewarding endeavors.  I have never bought Poinsettias ... too seasonal, too much work, not long enough lasting.  I had always tried to keep them going without success.  For several years I had one small, struggling stick of a Point that I had saved from the botanical garden I worked at.  Last year Jim bought one for the holidays that still looked fairly decent come spring.  I decided then to give them one last shot, something different than I had ever done.  Normally I would have repotted and fertilized them with minimal results.  This time I put them straight in the ground in an area they would have a decent chance in.  If they were still struggling as the weather cooled, into the compost they would go.  Though hopeful, I was nowhere near expectant of the results.

I cut them back hard before planting them in the ground and did nothing more.  By September when I potted them up, what had not been much more than a couple of twigs were the lushest two-feet-tall Points I had ever seen.  As the weather cooled, they went into the garage, the door being opened and shut morning and night for light.  Before the first freeze, they came in and were put into an unused room.  To make shuffling around easier and to protect the floor, they were put onto a wheeled platform.  To begin with we put them in a closet at night, but then I questioned the need for absolute darkness, especially when they did not always have a lot of light during the day.  On sunny days when we could have the front door (southern exposure) open, they were wheeled into the living room.  Special attention had to be paid to watering.  They needed a lot and do not want to dry out, but they cannot be kept soggy either.  Some of the inner leaves shed, but not enough to effect their beauty.

Another great idea is to cut the Point back to one stem and grow it into a tree.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Why Say NO! To GMO?

I used to buy bags of various animal feed as a special winter treat for my pet rabbits instead of buying little bags of fancy rabbit food.  I would supplement fifty pound bags of rabbit feed with oats, wheat, corn, sunflower seeds or some other bird seed.  Several years ago I bought a fifty pound bag of corn (horse feed) at the farm supply store, but the rabbits would not eat it.  Different rabbits have different taste preferences, so I did not think much of it.  I quit giving it to them, but kept the bag in the garage.

That winter we had a massive mouse infestation in the garage.  I smelled it, it was horrible.  I thought a cat had gotten into the garage and marked its territory because if there were mice, they would have been in the corn.  Come spring I discovered mice, so bad that as I threw things off the shelves or into the trash, they scattered.  Still the corn was untouched.  No droppings.  No partially eaten kernels.  No holes chewed in the bag.  Not a single sign of mice.  Odd, but I did not think much about it and in the garage it stayed.

Eventually we decided it was time for the corn to go.  It got dumped behind the garage for chipmunks and squirrels to carry away, and there it stayed.  Not only did they not eat it, it did not sprout!  After a few weeks it was scooped up and thrown away.

What was wrong with the corn?  I eventually found the answer.  GMO (genetically modified organism).  To prevent seed saving and create dependence upon the seed company, some seed will not sprout (the patent is strictly enforced on any that does).  It is not seed, it is not feed.  It is foreign to our bodies.  Animals will not eat it unless they have no other choice.  In GMO studies, animals develop tumors, become infertile and suffer other disturbing results.  Why do Monsanto and other companies fight GMO labeling?  Because given the choice, educated people would not eat it either.  It is not about saving the consumer money, it is about their profit.  How much is too much to pay for the food we eat?  I say our health.  Many countries have banned GMOs.  The U.S. grows non-GMO food for export.  Why do we as American consumers not have the same right?

Herbicide resistant plants are cross pollinating with others, polluting other crops and creating super weeds.  Insect resistant plants are killing beneficial insects including bees and creating super insects.  What is it doing to the environment?  What is it doing to us?  I have only touched the tip of the iceberg to whet your appetite for knowledge.  If you are not familiar with GMO or GE (genetic engineering), now is the time to educate yourself.

A clip from Doctored explaining the difference between GMO farming and produce grown in beautiful, organic soil (specifically starts at 2:08).

Monday, November 4, 2013

Winter Seed Starting

An article I wrote for the winter edition of the newsletter printed by the botanical garden I worked at.

“Is it spring yet?”  That is a question you may hear me ask anywhere from Christmas onward, much like an anxious child on a long trip.  I have heard that a true gardener enjoys all seasons, and indeed I do, but there is something special about the rebirth that occurs during spring.  Winter erases the previous year’s mistakes, and the bounty of garden catalogs inspires dreams of new plants as far as the eye can see … or at least to the edge of my property.

Even though it will be awhile yet before I can get out and plant in the garden, there is still a plenty of prep work that can be done now.  For instance, ordering seeds and plants.  It is not easy narrowing an order down to a size somewhat smaller than the catalog it is made from.

Seriously, for those who like a great deal and larger selection, seeds are the way to go, and it is a good time to get started.  There are a lot of inexpensive germination mats and grow lights that help to get a jump start on the season and satisfy the need to “play in the dirt.”

This is also an excellent time to start seeds that need stratification.  “Strat-i-fi-what?” you ask. Simply put, some seeds need to experience winter before they will germinate.  This is why many people consider themselves a failure when it comes to starting seeds.  For some seeds, the pre-chilling can be as simple as throwing the pack of seeds in the freezer for a few weeks.  Some people use zipper bags with some sort of moistened growing medium to put the seeds in before placing them in the refrigerator.  I am not sure Grandma would eat from our fridge if she found something containing “dirt” in it.

What works best for me is to let nature do the work.  I put potting soil (either high quality or a germinating mix) into a pot, moisten it well, sprinkle the seeds on top, cover the pot with a sandwich bag to protect the seeds and hold in moisture, and sit the pots outside in a somewhat sheltered area.  For me, under the eaves on the south side of my house is perfect.  Unless I know the seeds require covering with soil (larger seeds or ones that require darkness), I generally do not, as some seeds require light to germinate. Though I try to get the seeds out by mid-January, it can still be successfully done as long as there are at least a few weeks of cold weather left.  I have used this method for the past couple of years, and have had very good germination rates with it. When the temperature is right, the pots burst with seedlings.

How do you know if the seeds you have need stratification? It may be on the seed package, but often times it is not. My rule of thumb is, if it is a perennial hardy in my area, I give it the cold treatment. This technique will not work for most vegetables, annuals or perennials not hardy in your area.  I seldom plant the entire package of seeds at once so as not to have an overabundance of seedlings to thin out. This also provides backup in case of a crop failure.

So the next time you are at the store or are browsing a garden catalog, allow yourself to be enticed by a package of seeds that may have intimidated you in the past. You can be successful if you work with nature.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Why Organic Garden?

It is very easy for gardeners to not see their gardens as they truly are.  Some tend to see them as they imagine them to be, not looking beyond the limits of their own yard to see the vastness of the gardening world or the effect they have on it.  Others, like myself, tend to be full of next years. The garden is an ongoing process, maybe something did not turn out as planned, is in the process of filling in, or there is another plan waiting to commence.  I look in my garden and have to make a special effort to see what did well rather than what needs doing.  Working in others' gardens helps to keep things in perspective, but this year that has been limited.  The first half was spent caring for my dying Grandma, the second half mostly spent recovering.  Lots of heat, no rain, some things thrived, others not so much, lots of planning of what to do better and dreaming of next year. I knew the garden overall looked decent, but there was so much that did not meet my expectations, and like a pimple on your face, you assume that is all everyone else sees, too.

A glimpse of my garden in early October.
Then I went on one of the first jobs in months and perspective was regained. Despite the hard year and many things already being finished and cut back for the year, my garden is shifting into a fall display.  The garden I worked in, though well established, was shutting down for the season. Many of the plants we had in common were either finished blooming or were nowhere near as lush in her garden.  I came home, and seeing my garden in a different light, was amazed.  Why the difference?  She watered more than I did, fertilized and sprayed for insects and fungus and I did not.  What did I do that she did not?  Instead of focusing mainly on plant care, I also focus on soil care and organic gardening.  Healthy soil equals healthy plants.  Chemicals do not.  I have written on this before, but it is so important that I am going to do so again because I cannot stress it enough.

Think of it this way ... If you feed your kids a diet of candy bars and potato chips, they are going to get big, maybe even look healthy for awhile.  However, they will not be getting the nutrients they need to remain healthy and their bodies will struggle.  Eventually they will get sick with something that their body cannot handle and be given an antibiotic.  The antibiotic kills most of the bad bacteria, but the good bacteria are sacrificed as well and the system is thrown out of balance, creating the perfect environment for a fungal infection and health is still not obtained.  A healthy diet provides the nutrition needed for a strong immune system whereas overuse of antibiotics and antifungals lead to superbugs that everyone has to deal with.

The same is true in the garden.  Plants fed a diet of chemical fertilizers do not get the nutrients they need to be healthy, only to grow big fast.  New growth is attractive to insects who move in to feast and infect the plant with disease.  Fungal spores are introduced by various means.  Roots struggle to grow in compacted soil, using up more of the plant's energy reserve. The plant struggles and sprays are used, killing beneficial insects, further throwing off Nature's balance and creating superbugs that effect everything from the food we eat to the clothes we wear.  There has to be a better way.  Forests, jungles and grassy plains have remained for thousands of years without, or until man's involvement.

Back to the soil.  Beautiful, nutrient laden, soil.  Full of organic matter, maybe even a nice, sandy loam. It does not happen by accident and it must be maintained as organic matter breaks down, but when it is present, plants thrive.  Roots easily grow deep in the loose, moisture retentive soil, taking in the micronutrients needed for health and saving energy for fighting pathogens.  Less water is needed.  Weeds that compete with the plants are easily pulled.  Bugs will come, both good and bad, but the plants will be strong enough to hold their own until the good overpower the bad.  Fungus may appear, but a healthy plant can usually handle it.  Planting a wide variety of plants attracts different beneficial insects and prevents bad bugs, fungus and diseases from easily jumping from plant to susceptible plant.  Balance is maintained.  Of course, some plants have been highly hybridized into something that Nature never intended, something that would never survive in Nature, and no matter what the care, are so finicky they will struggle.  One must then make the decision to risk the balance of the entire garden for the one plant, or replace the plant for the good of the garden ... and Nature.

Also see Wait! Don't Grab That Spray!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Sclerotium rolfsii

A few years ago I noticed a few Hostas were not doing so well, but figured the weather was getting to them.  After a few days I went out and they were nearly all dead, leaves and stems just laying there.  I picked them up and at the base were what looked like little insect eggs that I assumed were some sort of spores.  After a little research, I discovered they were Sclerotium rolfsii.

With surgical precautions and precision, I cut the Hostas back, dug them and the surrounding soil out, disposed of the foliage and soil, soaked the rootstock and tools in a 10% bleach solution, poured the bleach water in the hole, rinsed, potted and placed the rootstocks in quarantine until I was sure they were safe to replant.  A lot of work, but it proved successful.

This year it came back and I found it in multiple gardens, perhaps imported in topsoil.  To begin with, I successfully treated it similarly to before.  I began finding it in more plants though and was getting discouraged.  Digging up plants is hard, bleaching soil destroys more than the spores, and it seemed never ending.  Fungicides are mostly ineffective except for a few which are not available without a license.  It was time to begin my own research and experimenting.

Since Neem oil is anti-fungal, I searched the internet to see if there was any information regarding it and Sclerotium rolfsii and found that it did show some promise.  I mixed 1 1/2 teaspoons of 70% Neem oil in a quart of water and sprayed Sclerotium rolfsii spores with little results.  I then had an idea - Oregano oil, which amongst other uses, is anti-fungal.  I could find nothing on the internet regarding its use in killing Sclerotium rolfsii, so I was on my own.

I dropped a few drops of Oregano oil directly on a few Sclerotium rolfsii spores.  They dried up immediately and never spread.  Using straight Oregano oil is not practical, so I experimented until I found a dilution that was effective.

This is the method that ultimately worked successfully for me.  I have not only used it on Hostas, but on Ajuga, Phlox and Siberian Iris.  Cut the plant back as far as possible and clean out all debris, carefully putting everything in a trash bag to be thrown away.  Sclerotium rolfsii spores can easily hide, so doing this makes inspection and spraying much easier and more thorough.  Fill a quart spray bottle with water and add one dropper full of Oregano oil.  Spray to the point of drenching the affected plant and surrounding soil, shaking the bottle frequently to assure the Oregano oil is thoroughly mixed.  Inspect and repeat daily as needed as the spores are so insidious that one missed spore can quickly re-infest when the conditions are right.  Individual crowns may be especially difficult, and at one point I poured a little of the mix into some of them to insure coverage.  It has been several weeks since I have found any spores, and as quickly as they spread, I am hopeful they are under control.

Not all Oregano oil is created equal.  Though I am sure there are other brands as good or better, what I used was California Natural Wild Oregano Oil with 70% Carvacrol.  I cannot guarantee results, but when all else has failed or the situation seems hopeless, it is certainly worth trying.

Prevention is important when it comes to Sclerotium rolfsii. Closely inspect, some even go so far as to sanitize, any plants you import or transplant.  Frequently sanitize tools as well.  Inspect your garden daily if possible, even the veggies.  If foliage is turning yellow or dying, check the base of the plant for spores.  Sclerotium rolfsii strikes fast, so finding it early is key.  Throw infected plant material away, do not compost it.  Do not mulch up against plants; leave an air space around them.  Monitor plants around newly disturbed soil as spores can live indefinitely underneath, waiting to be exposed.  It is the spores that are in the top few inches of soil that cause the damage.

For more information on Sclerotium rolfsii ...

UPDATE:  I hoped that an exceptionally cold winter had killed any potentially remaining spores, but on June 15, 2014 I found a few on one Hosta.  I had about half a quart of last year's mixture in the garage, so after carefully disposing of the affected leaves, I shook it up and poured it straight on the area.  I carefully inspect daily, and despite perfect conditions for Sclerotium rolfsii, I have not found any more.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bug Repellant Recipe

If I step outside the door for two minutes, I am likely to be devoured by bugs.  Too many bug bites and I get sick.  It is horrible!  This is an easy to make, all natural bug repellant that really works.

In a spray bottle mix:
1 drop lemongrass oil
1 drop peppermint oil
5 drops geranium oil
4 ounces water

Friday, June 28, 2013


Do not be afraid to prune!  It keeps plants healthy and looking their best and is simpler than you may think.  Hide cuts by making them where they are surrounded by remaining foliage.   Remember that the last leaf bud or twig will determine the direction of growth, so select one that will not grow in an undesired direction.  Here are a few more rules of thumb.

If a limb is too low, taking a bit off of the end may remove enough weight to heighten it.   Limbs that are crossing, rubbing against each other or growing towards the center are not a good thing. Obviously remove any diseased, dying or dead branches.  Stand back and look at the tree from different angles to get perspective of what looks good and what specifically needs removing.

For most, it is best to prune right after the blooms fade or you will be removing the following year's blooms.  Prune back what is out of shape or oversized.   It is typically recommended to prune out a third of the oldest wood at the base.  For many shrubs, if there is a lot of old, unproductive wood or it is out of shape, you can cut the whole thing back hard, but there is a chance it will not bloom the following year.  That is what I usually do in my garden.   Soon new growth fills in beautiful and lush.  If your Lilac (or some other flowering shrub) blooms are six feet high and everything lower is old, dead wood, they have not been properly pruned.

Have you ever noticed how hedges tend to have a lot of dead at the bottom?  That is usually because they are pruned backwards.  When they are pruned so that they angle out at the top, it shades the bottom and it dies out.  Hedges should be pruned in a slightly pyramid shape so that the bottom foliage receives sun, too.  Depending upon what the hedge is of, if it is out of shape, it can be pruned back hard for fresh, new growth.

While some will not send up new growth and need what they have to store energy for the following year, many will send up new growth when cut back and some will even bloom again.

Many roses bloom on new wood, so prune in the spring to remove old wood and encourage growth.  I recommend pruning back fairly hard (be careful not to cut past the graft on grafted roses) at least every few years.  You can also prune as you deadhead.  Roses that bloom on old wood should be pruned as shrubs.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Beneficial Insects

This began as an update to Thrips :(, but then I thought it might go better as a continuation of Wait! Don't Grab That Spray!.  In the end, I decided to make it its own entry.

It has been a beautiful spring with plenty of rain and the plants are thriving.  One thing plant pests love is new growth, and this year they have it.  I have been finding aphids everywhere, and though I was hoping with all the rain and the virtual flood we had the thrips would have disappeared, they are back, though as yet, damage is minimal.  I have also discovered that they are the reason why my Clematis have done so poorly the past couple of years.

I sprayed some plants with Neem oil, but on most plants it is pointless.  Where do you begin?  Or end? Most everything seems useless with thrips anyway.  My thoughts turned to beneficial insects, particularly for the thrips.  A quick search showed that minute pirate bugs, big eyed bugs, predatory mites and even some nematodes eat thrips.  They cost a pretty penny though, but since there are no assurances that you will get what you are paying for, or that it will be successful if you do, I decided I will try to attract some to my garden.  I have their food source, so all I need are plants that attract them.  Yarrow and shasta daisies are a couple that I already have and are attractive to several of them.  Fennel and Cosmos are a couple of others, so I bought seed and scattered it around the garden.  As I researched beneficial insects, I saw that there are many more that eat thrips, they just are not necessarily ones that are sold.  The best part is, I already have a lot of them in the yard.

The next thing was to hope that lady bugs would discover the feast of aphids in the garden.  Of course, there have to be enough aphids to be an attractive food source for the lady bugs.  In looking in the curled up leaves of an aphid infested plant I saw something amazing.  Tiny lady bug larva.  A few days later in the curled up leaves of another aphid infested plant, the dried up remains of aphids and the skins of lady bug larva that had molted.

A well fed praying mantis.
The closer I look, the more I see a wonderful array of beneficials in the garden.  I discover new ones every day, some insects I have never seen before. As I look them up, I discover others that I have seen for years, but never knew they were beneficials.  There appears to be a wonderful balance in the garden, and though there may be some insect damage, it is minimal compared to the damage that would be caused if I tried to fight the battle on my own with pesticides.

October 6, 2013 update:  I keep check for thrips, and the other day I saw one, the only one since soon after this was posted.  There are also countless beneficials, including minute pirate bugs. Unfortunately cucumber beetles have discovered the roses, but I am sure beneficials insects will reduce their numbers as well.

Also see Why Organic Garden?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Native American Gardening

I recently saw this link posted on facebook and was immediately impressed by the technique. While it is too late this year for me to completely follow the method, I am certainly going to put into practice what I can at this point.  I do not have a wood burning stove or fireplace, but I do have an outside fire pit, so I will collect bones and eggshells in it and see if the occasional fire breaks them down enough.  I am anxious to see if it makes a difference in my own garden.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Midwinter Houseplant Care

When it comes to houseplants, I am happy to have them survive the winter.  Though I only bring in a small start of each at the end of each summer, about this time some are taking over.  Not thick, lush growth, mind you, but a lot of trying to get to the light growth.  Even plants that are holding their own sometimes have some bug issues going on.  Sometime midwinter I get the time and incentive to get things under control.

One by one I bring a plant to the kitchen sink, cut back what needs controlling, clean out dead leaves, spray the remaining leaves to clean them, thoroughly water the plant, flush the soil with weak dish soap water, spray with neem as needed, allow access water and spray to dry for a few minutes, then return the plant to where it belongs.

What began as a very small start of Oxalis
took over two varieties of Arrowhead Plant
and several varieties of Wandering Jew.

Oxalis thinned and cut back hard
and Wandering Jew trimmed
to make room for the Arrowhead Plant.
All cleaned, watered, treated with neem
and ready to return home.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Garden Artistry

When I was a kid, I loved to draw.  I was not a great artist, but some of the pictures I drew are still around and some are not too shabby.  I loved being creative and experimenting with crayons to get different looks.  There was some kids' show on PBS that had a segment where a man taught little drawing tips like how to draw 3D or flying saucers in motion.  He dressed and acted goofy, but I loved how quick and smooth his Sharpie markers drew on big sheets of new, bright white paper.  I was limited to crayons and pencils and scrap paper.  I loved watching Bob Ross.  I once got a little oil painting set at a garage sale and had a blast pretending to be him until the fumes of the oils and cleaner gave me a headache.  I have heard want-to-be artists criticize his work, but to my untrained eye, his half hour paintings looked better than their paintings that took months.

My freshman year of high school I took a crafts class and loved it and the teacher.  I decided to major in art.  That was my downfall.  I took an art class which turned out to be harder, but the teacher (who taught the crafts class also) still allowed for personal creativity.  I then took an acrylics painting class with a different teacher who allowed for no personal expression.  The entire class was trying to perfectly duplicate a picture or painting.  I took the class hoping to learn to better express myself artistically, but was stifled into imitating someone else's creative expression.  I remember a poster on the wall of the Mona Lisa graded.  All the mistakes were pointed out and I think it got a B.  On it was written, "Good job, Leonardo."  That was pretty much what I got from the class.  If even a master's work could not get an A, how would I ever have a chance? Or if a master's work did not have to be perfect to be a work of art, why did mine have to be?  But then, what do I know.  I am still trying to figure out the appeal of paintings that look like a canvas the artist cleaned the brush on.  My artistic desire when it came to drawing or painting was killed that year.  Since then, the only drawing I have done is doodling while on the phone or on the score sheet when the game is slow.  I limit my painting to walls.

I have always loved photography and took a class on art photography my senior year.  It was a hard class, the teacher was demanding.  He seldom gave an A, but he encouraged creativity.  I loved the class.  I do not remember a lot of the details, but I remember some of the key things.  I frequently "grade" professional photos by what I learned.  I think a lot of high end photographers would fail to get an A in his class.  Years later I had a gift certificate for a high priced professional and learned a lot watching him photograph my son.  To this day I am lost if my camera is not nearby.  I like natural photography.  I want to see the detail and relive the moment.  A few years ago I went to an art show featuring the photography of a local artist.  I looked at over-enlarged photos of segments of dying leaves and wondered why it deserved a showing or if people would really pay the high prices to take them home.  Snobbish people stood around discussing how wonderful they were, how she had such an eye.  Perhaps if I had been drinking the wine as freely as they had been I would have seen it, too.  When I am intoxicated by the fragrance and beauty of a rose, I become just as enamored.

"An old crow watching hungrily
From his perch in yonder tree
In my garden I'm as free
As that feather thief up there."
-- The Garden Song

Though I have always been fascinated with growing things and gardening, the extent of my gardening came about by an inability to grow grass.  It quickly became not just a passion, but an artistic expression.  Though I did not realize it at the time, the soil is my canvas and the plants my paint.  I read, I look at pictures, I take what I like and I store the rest in the back of my mind.  Some have suggested I take horticultural classes.  No!  Like in the painting class, I have seen how it limits your imagination.  I want to dream, create, explore.  I want to learn from experience, not just follow someone else's opinion of what makes the "perfect" garden.  Some great combinations have come from what Bob Ross would have called "happy mistakes."  Formal education tells what plants to use and how many.  It is like painting by number.  That is why office building and parking lot landscapes all look alike.  It teaches that you cannot plant just one of something, that Nature plants in multiples or "drifts" and always in an odd number.  The birds in my area (how Nature frequently plants) are not educated enough to count the number of seeds in each dropping to make sure there are three, five or seven, never one, two, four or six seeds.  They are too busy aiming for vehicles and windows anyway, they do not have time to count.  In my garden I frequently have just one volunteer plant come up.  Not everything seeds itself generously.  That is one of the things that makes some seeds or plants more expensive.  There is nothing wrong with "drifts" of one; I like variety, and if well placed, it works.  Those who have been through my garden agree.

"Gardening is the art that uses
flowers and plants as paint,
and the soil and sky as canvas."
-- Elizabeth Murray.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Perfect Garden

Through time, by nature or circumstance, gardeners and their gardens evolve, as does their opinion of what the perfect garden is.  As I work in different people's gardens, I must remember the details that are important to them.  What one person considers a weed, another considers a treasured plant and maybe wants seedlings dug up to share.  Where one person wants plants left at the end of the season for winter interest, another wants everything cut perfectly at ground level.  Their gardens range from one of everything to specific collections, from cottage to formal.  That is the beauty of my work.  Getting to do different things to see what I want to incorporate into my own garden.

When I first started gardening, as many gardeners, I was the one of everything type.  Free plants were especially desirable.  I wanted to try everything.  As time went by, I determined I had to narrow down plants.  Though an extensive list looks nice on paper, there is not room in my small yard for everything.  Especially when they are plants that love to spread ... the type you most often get for free.  One lady I work for laughs that it took her seventy years to get to the point that she did not have to have every plant, but could be content to say, "I grew that once."  Needless to say, by this point, some more invasive plants are very well established and it can be overwhelming to get rid of them.

Through the one of everything phase I did get a good idea of how plants behave and the type I like.  Without fully realizing it, I amassed some nice collections.  In the evolution of the garden, I took out plants that were not spectacular and grouped various collections together to compliment each other as well as show the extent of the collections.  Because of the work I do, I still get lots of free plants, but I always verify first that they are not invasive.

I suppose that now my perfect garden is an organized cottage garden.  I like the lush informal look of the cottage garden, but I also like specific gardens.  Regardless of how the next gardening year turns out, I can already see my shade gardens overflowing with hostas, accented with heucheras, ferns and various shade plants ... rose gardens filled with fragrance and complimented by peonies, day lilies, mums and a wide variety of perennials and self-sowing annuals ... the xeroscape garden lush with grasses, sedums, iris and other hardy plants ... hens and chicks running over in the Sempervivum bed ... a bountiful crop in the veggie and herb gardens.  I am reminded of a joke that they once did an autopsy on a gardener and found she was full of "next years."