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."