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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Book Club August - September Meeting

Our Garden Bloggers’ Book Club virtual meeting takes place outside today in the light shade of the honey locust tree.

As you enter the back yard, something feels ‘not quite right’. Something is amiss. There is an air of mystery in the garden.

You look beyond the chairs set up for the virtual book club meeting and off in the vegetable garden, you see a row of late green beans, eaten down to nubs. Gasp! Nearby off to one side, with just his unlucky foot visible, there appears to be a dead rabbit under the snowball viburnum. Just then, the neighbor’s cat saunters through the garden with a look of quiet satisfaction as though he is the king of the garden and has once again proven it.

When I greet you to bring you around to the back yard, I seem to be in a bit of a hurry and am still carrying a sharp spade, as though I was planning to dig a hole.

Or was my spade used for a more sinister purpose?

The pre-meeting whispers begin…

“Did you see the corpse of the rabbit?”
“Did the rabbit eat the beans and then Carol finally snapped and killed the rabbit?”
“What is with that cat, licking his paws and doing all he can to ignore the rabbit? He did it!”
“Does it look like the rabbit was hit with a shovel or attacked by a cat?”
“What happened to those bean plants?


Whodunit is the focus of our virtual book club meeting today as we read and discuss garden mysteries. We have several reviews to go through, so ignoring what might have happened here at May Dreams Gardens prior to your arrival, I present those reviews in the order posted.

Bev at Bev’s Colorado Garden, Trouble in Spades by Heather Webber

Crafty Gardener at In My Canadian Garden, Digging up Trouble by Heather Webber

Old Roses at A Gardening Year, A Hoe Lot of Trouble by Heather Webber

LostRoses at Lost-Roses, A Hoe Lot of Trouble by Heather Webber

Gotta Garden at Gotta Garden, A Hoe Lot of Trouble by Heather Webber

Nan at Letters from a Hill Farm, A Brush With Death by Sheila Pim

Carol at May Dreams Gardens, Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters

KJohnson at Musings of a Garden Historian, A Hoe Lot of Trouble by Heather Webber

Bill at Prairie Point, A Hoe Lot of Trouble by Heather Webber

Annie at The Transplantable Rose, Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert

Nan Ondra left a comment about another Sheila Pim book, Common or Garden Crime

Sara from Farming Friends, A Hoe Lot of Trouble by Heather Webber

Entangled at Tangled Branches: Cultivated, several different mysteries

Gloria at Pollinators-Welcome, The Savage Garden by Mark Mills

Thank you all for posting for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club! We had several regular participants, some people who have participated before but not every time, and some brand new members. All are always welcome!

If you are still planning to post a review of a garden mystery, let me know when you’ve done so and I’ll add you to our list of reviews in this post.

And now as the meeting breaks up and I start to clean up and put away the chairs, I can hear in the background a few of you as you stand around and ask each other more questions about today’s mystery at May Dreams Gardens.

“What do those pruners have to do anything?”
“Is that cape code weeder sharp enough to use to kill a rabbit?”
“Is Carol fast enough to catch a rabbit?”
“Oh my, did you see that hoe? How does that hoe fit in as a clue? There’s
always a hoe around these gardens!”
“Shouldn’t we alert someone about what is going on here?”

I pretend not to hear.

For our next meeting at the end of November, we’ll go back to the classics and read Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perényi. I look forward to having everyone from this month back, plus as many others as would like to join us.

Oh, and one more thing. No rabbits were killed or even frightened in the staging of this murder mystery at May Dreams Gardens. All clues were random, the mystery is completely fictitious and I have no idea how to solve it or finish it up for a nice, neat, tidy, complete blog post about garden mysteries. So it shall remain a mystery.

Happy Gardening and Happy Reading until next time!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Frosty Morn

I think the days of this praying mantis are numbered. Eventually, it is going to get cold and we will have a frosty morning, but for now, summer weather continues.

When will we have frost around here in central Indiana? I don't know about the official records, but based on the last six years that I've been keeping my own garden records, if you guessed any time from October 2 through November 1, you could be right.

I recorded that we had frost on October 2nd in 2003, but didn't see real frost until November 1st in 2002. Last year, it appears we were going merrily along until October 12th when I wrote "suddenly cold". In 2001, we had frost on October 7th and in 2004 it was October 17th. In 2005, cold didn't arrive until October 29th.

See, when you keep a garden journal, you don't have to remember, you can just look it up!

I don't have to look up this particular weed, a late summer annual weed that makes an appearance between the bricks of my patio every year. We are old friends, this weed and I. This is prostrate spurge, one of the Euphorbias. It grows up in the cracks between the bricks and also makes an appearance in nearby flower beds and wherever there is a bare, sunny spot in the lawn.

Luckily, it is easy to pull up and pull it up I did. Like most Euphorbias, it has a milky-white sap and as you weed it out, that sap gets on your fingers and makes them all sticky. I didn't get it all out, but I pulled a lot of it.

And because I spent time weeding out the spurge, I never made it to the vegetable garden to weed out the purslane. It's not flowering at the moment, so I'm not worried that I haven't weeded it out yet.

What is flowering is this Sedum, 'Frosty Morn'. Generally, this sedum has variegated foliage, but most of mine have lost their varigation. That happens sometimes. I should have been more diligent in cutting out the non-variegated shoots, but I wasn't. The flowers are the same, though, very pink with lots of honey bees buzzing about.

I also wasn't up to date on the renaming of this Sedum to Hylotelephium telephium 'Frosty Morn'. Hylotelephium? If I were giving a tour of my garden and said, "how do you like my Hylotelephium", you all would think I was all snooty or something because everyone knows this is Sedum.

What would you think if I called it by one of its common names, Witch's Moneybags? I've been looking at the plant trying to figure out where that common name came from and I can't figure it out. I think I'm just going to keep calling it Sedum 'Frosty Morn'.

And now I'm making my prediction of when we will have our first frosty morning around here.

My prediction is October 25th.

What do you predict for your garden?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Fall Crops, Fall Chores

The garden essayists tell us, and tell us again, that fall is the time to get busy in the garden.

“… but fall--not spring—is the great planting season for woody things. If, in other words, you had thought of lolling in the warm weekends admiring the chrysanthemums and the dogwoods turning red, congratulating yourself perhaps that the weeds are losing heart, let me cheerfully remind you that you should be exhausted (not lolling) since this is the busiest of all the garden seasons. When you are not planting bulbs, digging up bindweed roots, rooting out pokeweed, soaking bamboo, there are still other tasks. Thousands of them. You are terribly behind. The very idea of just sitting about in the sun!” Henry Mitchell

And Eleanor Perényi wrote “As the natural world prepares to shut up shop, the gardener may be inclined to do the same. But as most of us know, fall is the busiest season of the year.”

In my own garden, I’ve discovered that while I was focused on planting new shrubs in the foundation beds on the east side of my house, the purslane was working overtime in the vegetable garden to cover my recently cleared raised beds. It’s a great crop of purslane, through no effort that I put forth, unless you count my effort to clear the bed of the squash plants that used to grow there. Apparently, the purslane took this clearing of the land as a sign that they should grow anew!

I know from experience that if I don’t pull this purslane now and throw it away in the trash, not the compost bin, I will have even more work to do in the spring. And in the spring I want to plant the garden, not weed it.

For new gardeners, or those unfamiliar with purslane, it is a pernicious weed of the worst sort, one that has tormented gardeners for generations. Once you have it, it is nearly impossible to get rid of it. Normally, I'd recommend a good hoeing, but not with this weed! You can not hoe it under, as every little piece of stem or leaf left in contact with the soil will root and grow again. The only way to control it is to pull it out by hand, put it in a trash bag and put it out at the curb for the trash collector.

Even pulling it all out by hand, you will not completely get rid of purslane. Once you have it, you will thereafter and for ever more just need to accept that it will always be there,and plan to deal with it in the spring, in the summer, and in the fall.

But if by chance you have had purslane in your garden and can now claim that you have it no more, please leave a comment or email me about how you did it and offer proof! We'll join forces to publicize your method and rid the garden community of this weed once and for all.

This weekend I'll be weeding out the purslane, and thistle and rogue perennial seedlings that seem to be every where in the garden. After all, fall is the time to be working in the garden. And I know a weed pulled now is a weed I don't have to pull this spring.

But once the weeding is done, I mean under control as we know weeding is never done, and the leaves really start to change, I’m going to follow the advice of Elizabeth Lawrence.

Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.”

What are your weekend gardening plans?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Book Club September Newsletter

Some updates for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club

August-September Virtual Meeting.

I’ll be posting the August-September virtual meeting post on September 30th, so if you are planning to participate, please leave me a comment or send me an email so I can find you and grab a link to your post. Again, the August-September selection is the garden mystery A Hoe Lot of Trouble: A Nina Quinn Mystery by Heather Webber, or you can choose to read another garden mystery book and post about it. If you don't want to read a garden mystery or didn’t have time to do so, you can still participate by telling us about a real life mystery in your own garden. The more the merrier!

Survey Says.

Thank you to all who participated in the book club survey. Based on the survey…

We will stick to a book every other month, so the next selection will be for October – November. We’ll also keep offering a related topic to post about for those who want to participate in the virtual meeting post, but don’t have time to read the book or for some reason can’t get the book.

Your comments were very kind and encouraging and helpful. Thank you!

October-November Book Selection.

Regarding annual asters, the author of our next book selection wrote… “I can’t resist them and invariably let optimism get the better of judgment, which come to think of it may be the first principle of gardening.” Can you guess which book was the one with the most votes in the survey?

Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perényi

I’ve had this book on my shelf for maybe twenty years, and it has been awhile since I read it. I’m excited to be reading it again and sharing favorite quotes and thoughts with others through the book club. I hope you are also pleased with this selection and will join us in reading this classic garden book. And if you don't have a chance to read this book and still want to post something in late November, post about what the quote above means to you as a gardener.

Happy Fall Gardening and Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Who's Afraid of the Big Broad Shrubs?

Are you afraid to plant big shrubs in your garden? Look around suburbia, look around anywhere. Do you see many big shrubs?

You might see some big shrubs sheared back to medium size, but do you see big shrubs left to grow to whatever glorious size they can grow to?

I think too many gardeners shy away from planting big shrubs in their gardens. Excuses abound...

"I don't have room."
"I'll have to prune them all the time."
"I don't have room."
"They'll get so big."
"I don't have room."
"I don't want something that big in my garden."

I don't buy any of those excuses, and neither should you!

I think every garden should have some large shrubs.

The big shrub pictured above is Common Snowball Viburnum, Viburnum opulus 'Sterile'. It's a big one, at least eight or nine feet tall and probably that wide. In the spring the branches bow to the ground under the weight of the big white fluffy 'snowball' blooms, especially after it rains. All summer it provides cover for the birds and a cool place underneath for the bunnies to sleep. The only thing it lacks is fall fruiting to feed the birds.

But the birds don't go hungry at the May Dreams Gardens Bird Cafe as I have several other large shrubs that do have pannicles of small fruit in the fall, including Viburnum lantana 'Mohican', Viburnum dentatum 'Chicago Lustre', and Viburnum prunifolium.

They are all big shrubs. They are all low maintenance. They flower, they fruit, they have good fall color. They provide shelter for birds and other wildlife. They all deserve to be planted in more gardens.

Do you have a favorite big shrub in your garden?
Or are you afraid to plant big shrubs?

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Fun Bulb Articles and Webinars

Are you having fun in your garden? Right now, I’m enjoying my garden because it's raining and my garden could use some rain, as could many gardens. If you need rain, I hope you are getting some.

Yesterday, we set a new record high when the temperature climbed to 92 degrees, breaking the 1891 record of 91 degrees. We don’t need any more of that nonsense. Now that the calendar says “Autumn”, we need cooler temperatures, brilliantly colored fall foliage, asters blooming, and time for garden clean up and bulb planting.

I’ve already planted some Colchicum bulbs (actually corms) sent to me by Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening. They haven’t come up yet, but I’m still hopeful I’ll get some bloom from them yet this fall. If not, I’m sure to see the foliage in the spring. Did you see that Kathy wrote the article ‘Colchicums – Autumn’s Best-Kept Secret’ published in the September-October 2007 edition of The American Gardener, published by the American Horticultural Society? It’s the main article featured on the cover! Congratulations, Kathy!

Awhile back I was looking around the web site of the American Horticultural Society to see what else I get as a member besides The American Gardener magazine and found out that they occasionally host webinars on different topics. Webinars? I’m in! So I signed up for and participated in today’s webinar, “Bulbs That Work” with Allan Armitage.

I enjoyed being reminded of some of the lesser-known bulbs, some of which I have in my garden, and others that I don’t. Those that I don’t have I now want, so I’ll be looking at some on line catalogs to place an order or two as soon as I can. Why should I experience one more spring without some of the early flowering bulbs I don’t have like Iris danfordiae (Danford iris), Eranthis hyemalis (winter aconite), and Anemone coronaria (poppy anemone)?

I noted that Professor Armitage said several times during the webinar“have fun”. I like to follow the advice of the experts, so I’m going to have some fun planting some of the early flowering spring bulbs in my garden this fall and then renew my fun when they bloom early in the spring.

Was anyone else on the webinar?

(The picture above is of some Crocus blooming earlier this spring in my garden)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Advice on Buying Shrubs

Buying shrubs is not an exact science. You need some patience and persistence to get the right shrubs for your garden and it can be scary and intimidating if you don’t know what you want. Unlike annuals or perennials, it isn’t so easy to pull out a shrub that isn’t growing as you expected. There is a certain permanence to planting a shrub.

After spending some time last week looking for new shrubs for my renovated foundation plantings, I have five pieces of advice to offer on buying shrubs.

1. Keep an open mind about what shrubs you want to plant. Rarely will you find the exact shrub you are looking for at the local garden center, if indeed there is an ‘exact shrub’ you are looking for. However, if you are looking for a specific shrub and the garden center does not have it, ask if they can order it from their supplier. You may pay more, but you will get exactly what you want.

2. Know something about where you want to plant your new shrubs and don’t be afraid to ask for help. “I am looking for a shrub for the east side of my house that flowers in the spring and won’t get taller than six feet. I have about five feet front to back in the bed and nearly 20 feet of area to plant” gives the garden center staff quite a bit of information to offer you some choices of shrubs that might work.

3. Read about shrubs in advance so you know the basics and can recognize interesting shrubs when you see them. That may be easier said than done, but doing some homework in advance makes you a more savvy shopper. At the very least, read the tags on the plants, and if there isn’t a tag that provides more than the name of the shrub, ask if they have a reference book that you can consult before you buy. A good garden center should have some reference resources that you can use or knowledgeable staff who can tell you more about a particular shrub.

4. Go to the garden center when it isn’t likely to be crowded. You’re more likely to get help if you need it. I went on Sunday during the time of the Indianapolis Colts game. I knew most of the city would be watching the game on TV or listening on the radio, and I was right. The garden center was nearly deserted except for me, a few employees, and a few others customers who also looked like they might be real gardeners. Or the garden center might have been nearly deserted because it’s fall, and people don’t get it that now is the best time to plant trees and shrubs. Either way the staff to customer ratio was in my favor for getting some help.

5. Don’t dismiss a garden center based on one visit. I went to a particular garden center on Thursday and found nothing. I went back on Sunday and found an interesting shrub that I decided would be perfect to plant below a window on the east side of my house. Garden centers get new stock in and rearrange stock to show off different plants, so give them a second or third chance as long as it looks like a place where they generally take care of the plants and provide good customer service.

My new shrub is Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’, the Gro-low Fragrant Sumac. It shouldn’t get too tall, which is what I wanted for the spot below the window where I planted it, though I may have to control the width a bit with some occasional pruning.

I was already familiar with the Rhus genus of plants and what came to mind first when I saw this shrub was “fall color”, and indeed this shrub should have good fall color. The information on the tag told me it had the other attributes I was looking for, or close enough. They had just one, which was all I needed. I swear as I went by, it fluttered its leaves a little bit to get me to notice it. So I purchased it and planted it in its new home on the east side of my house.

And now a bonus, sixth piece of advice on buying shrubs. Don’t call shrubs “bushes”. When someone tells me they need some new bushes, I just cringe. Real gardeners call a shrub a shrub because that’s what they are, they not bushes.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Taste in Garden Mysteries

What do you look for in a good garden mystery? Does the crime have to take place in a garden? Does the protagonist have to be a gardener? Do you want to learn about plants as the mystery is solved?

For my taste, I like for the crimes to be solved by a gardener and to learn about a few plants along the way when I read a garden mystery. That’s why I like the Brother Cadfael mysteries written by Ellis Peters.

There are twenty Brother Cadfael mysteries in the series, and several years ago, I read them all. I enjoyed the setting of twelfth century England and how Brother Cadfael would be peacefully tending his monastery’s herb gardens, and then get pulled away to solve a murder mystery.

Every time I read these mysteries, I’m reminded of the importance of the herbalist in medieval times. They grew the herbs and provided the potions, tinctures and other herbal brews to treat a variety of ailments. They were sought after as wise and all-knowing, and in the case of Brother Cadfael, as someone who could put together all the clues and help the local sheriff solve the latest murder mystery.

I do recall at times stumbling a bit on how some of the Welsh names were pronounced, and getting a bit lost and tired in some of Brother Cadfael’s recollections of his life as a crusader prior to joining the monastery or the recounting of battles between King Stephen and Empress Maud over the control of England. But those weren’t enough of a distraction to prevent me from finishing each book and eagerly starting the next one.

I’ve kept all the books in this series, and since it has been several years since I’ve read them, I’ve decided I should read them again. This time, I’ll have at my side a companion book, Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden by Robin Whiteman and Rob Talbot. They’ve listed all the plants mentioned in the mysteries, including where they are referenced and how they were used in medieval times. I’d better hang on to this book as it appears that it is no longer available and used copies have increased in value!

You may also be familiar with Brother Cadfael from the PBS mystery series of the same name. If you enjoyed those episodes of Mystery! perhaps you might like the books, too.

What’s your favorite garden mystery? Post about it or post about the official Garden Bloggers Book Club August-September selection, A Hoe Lot of Trouble by Heather Webber, then let me know and I’ll include you in the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club virtual meeting post on September 30th.

(And please take a minute to complete the book club survey to let me know your choice for the next book club selection. I’ll announce it later this week.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

What Makes Cats Happy and a Guest Photographer

As part of the renovation of my foundation plantings on the east side of my house, I decided to dig out all the catmint (Nepeta sp.) growing there. I called my youngest sister and said "I'm digging out all my catmint, do you...". Her immmediate response was yes. I didn't even have to finish the question. She takes nearly any every plant I offer her.

So yesterday I cut the catmint way back, dug it all out, and threw it in a trash bag. This morning, I took it to my sister's house and left it by the front steps and went inside.

When my sister arrived a few minutes later, this is what she found.

Their porch cat, MooMoo, had plunked herself down in the center of the catmint and laid there in a state of feline bliss.

I guess cat's do love catmint. Maybe this is why the neighbors' cats always seemed to be hanging out at my house? If so, they are going to be mighty disappointed that the party is over.

MooMoo, by the way, is a "special needs" cat. She was rescued years ago from some drug addicts by my sister's step-daughter. They said they gave MooMoo's mother LSD when she was pregnant and MooMoo was the only surviving kitten from her litter. Every once in a while, my sister thinks that MooMoo has some flashbacks or trips out from her previous LSD exposure, but is otherwise a good cat. She stays on the porch year around and just generally hangs out.

(Editorial... people like that shouldn't have pets!)

It is pretty shady by MooMoo's porch, but we did find one fairly sunny spot nearby to plant her a bit of catmint. The rest we put in the backyard for the other cats.

I just hope the cats give the catmint a chance to get established before they lay all over it.

(Photo provided by my niece Sophia, age nearly 10 years old next Saturday).

Friday, September 21, 2007

Today I Planted

Have you been following along on my quest to renovate the foundation plantings on the east side of my house? Today I finally got to the fun part. I got to plant some shrubs, including this Beautyberry, Callicarpa dichotoma 'Issai'. It is supposed to only grow to three or four feet with a nice arching habit and have these purple berries on it until early winter.

The tag said it was hardy to zone 5, root hardy to zone 4. To me that means if it gets too overgrown or out of control, I could cut it way back, like I've done with Spiraea shrubs, and it will come back and start over again.

Before we get to the picture of the bed with its new shrubs, let's review what's been done, shall we?

This is how the bed started out. Overgrown with English ivy, there were three half dead Deutzia shrubs in there somewhere, along with the stumps of two Hypericum shrubs I had cut back in the spring (because they were nearly dead after a bagworm attack).
I dug out the shrubs and the ivy, a little at a time. It's not so overwhelming, really, if you just do a little at a time.

Then I tore down the retaining wall and rebuilt it so it was no longer leaning out, looking like it could fall at any moment.As you can see, I also brought in some top soil to bring the soil level back up to the top of the wall.

Are you ready to see the newly planted bed?

Ta da.It doesn't look very full now, but I've only planted the new shrubs so far, the foundation of this bed. In addition to three Beautyberry shrubs, I planted two Hydrangea paniculata 'Tardiva', one on each end. I believe I'm going to have to prune those back a bit to keep them to a height of five feet or so, but they will be nice in this bed with their late blooming white flowers.

To me this looks nice but is a little underwhelming. It takes time for shrubs to grow and fill in an area. I'm planning to add some more to this bed, mostly some daffodils in groups in the front for spring bloom, maybe some daylilies, maybe some English ivy.

Kidding on the English ivy! I'm not planting that again. If I decide to add a ground cover it will be Vinca minor, or something controllable.

Do you remember my bed of False Dragon's Head, Ribbon Grass, and Four O'Clocks?

I cleared it out, too, and planted a forsythia there.
This is an awkward spot because of the need to provide access to the utility boxes and keep the area around the heat pump clear. This particular forsythia is Forsythia x intermedia 'Show Off'. I wasn't planning to buy another forsythia, but the guy at the nursery talked me into it. He said something like "it sure has a lot of flower buds on it". Then I remembered that my sister thought her forsythia was better than mine, and decided that if I had this one, I would have the better forsythia. Ha! Sold!

I'll plant some spring flowering bulbs and other perennials around this, too.

I still want to get some more shrubs to plant on the other side of the heat pump, but I haven't found any shrubs that seem right for this area. But at least I've got most of this area cleared out, except for the daylilies, which I decided were worth saving.

And that's what I have to show for the week. Six shrubs planted. It doesn't sound like much, but as my neighbors on that side kept saying each time they saw me out there working on those beds, "that looks like a lot of work".

It was work, but taking it a little at a time, it was quite manageable. Now I'm looking forward to finishing it up, planting some bulbs, finding a few more shrubs, and watching the shrubs grow and make these beds their own.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Fall is for Planting

After bringing in a half cubic yard of top soil, I'm now ready to replant the foundation bed next to the garage.

For those who are new around here, this bed was full of English ivy (my fault, I planted it there ten years ago) half-dead Deutzia shrubs (they had been over run by the ivy) and the stumps of some Hypericum shrubs that had succumbed to bag worms last year. I dug all of that out, rebuilt the retaining wall, added some new top soil, and now I'm ready to plant.

It took me three and a half hours to rebuild the retaining wall the other day. This morning it took me 30 minutes round trip to get the half cubic yard of top soil and then one hour to unload it and dump it on the refurbished bed. (Your times may vary depending on the size of your wheelbarrow, how far you have to go with top soil, how motivated you are, etc.)

Now I'm ready to plant. Garden centers and nurseries, did you hear that? Now I'm ready to plant.

Yesterday I went to a local garden center, with a skip in my step and money in my pocket, ready to buy. I found summer weary plants still at full-price, and I could have my pick of any number of boxwood and spirea. There was no sign of anyone who might help me find anything and so after walking around a bit, I left, empty handed.

This morning I went past one local nursery at 10:38 AM and the gate to the parking lot was closed and padlocked. That's no way to welcome customers! I wonder if they have gone out of business, or just don't have enough business to open in the mornings.

So I drove clear to the other side of town, to an old established nursery that was open and offering all container grown trees and shrubs at 40% off (with no guarantees). Many of the plants were in fairly sad shape because of the hot, dry summer, but I managed to find a few shrubs that I thought stilll looked decent and they weren't boxwood or spirea. I also easily found someone who helped me find a few more shrubs still doing well.

Now that's the way to run a nursery. Offer shrubs that are different from the ones you can buy at a big box store, admit when stock is not at its best and mark it down accordingly, and then have employees who are willing to help. It was nice to talk to someone who KNEW about the plants he was selling.

Tomorrow, I plant!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When Yellow Jackets Are Threatened

Update: Picture added below so you can see that the nest is hidden.

Yesterday I had my house inspected for termites or any other critters that might be trying to destroy it. Luckily, I had none of those. However, the pest control technician did notice that there were a lot of yellow jackets, specifically German yellow jackets, flying around the porch by the front door.

He said there had to be a nest nearby. After a few minutes of searching, he found the entrance. It was right in the corner of the porch above the front door. You could see they were flying in and out of a little hole between the wood trim and the brick. Once I saw it, I don't know how I missed it because you could even see some residue on the brick where they had been coming and going.

He recommended spraying an insecticide dust up into the hole at night and sold me some to use.

Night came and I prepared for battle. I read the instructions and it seemed like it was going to be pretty easy.

The instructions noted that you should not shine a flashlight or other light source directly on the nest as this would alert the yellow jackets to your presence. To see what I was doing, I turned on the porch lights, which are recessed in the porch ceiling. I figured they would not be a direct light on the nest but would provide enough light for me to see what I was doing.

I was not prepared for what I saw.

There were hundreds of yellow jackets swarming by the entrance to the nest. At that point, I maybe should have stopped to consider if I should be the one applying the dust. Instead I reached up there and gave the dust bottle a couple of good squeezes sending dust up into the hole and all around.

Then I ran as fast as I could down the steps, along the walk and into the garage. Once there, I could hear something buzzing around my head so I threw down the duster and wildly waved my arms all around to try to get rid of it.

"It" was a very mad yellow jacket. And then it stung me on the neck. Ouch! I ran into the house and then realized it was still on me, and it stung me again on my upper chest. Then it flew up by the light in my bedroom where it continued to angrily buzz around.

I fled to the living room, and called my friend and neighbor next door to tell her what had happened.

Then I went back to my bedroom where I could hear that yellow jacket buzzing around the light. I ran into the bathroom to get hydrogen peroxide to clean the two sting sites which were now big welts.

Then I applied a baking soda paste to the welts and called my friend back. I looked up on the Internet to see what else I should do. Apply ice for swelling. So I did that. My friend found a website that said to go to the hospital if you were stung more than 9 times. I was stung twice, so I stayed home, and I had no symptoms other than some swelling of the sting sites.

In the meantime, that yellow jacket was still back in my bedroom. I could not go to bed with it in the house!

So I turned off all the lights in the house except one in the laundry room hallway, hoping the yellow jacket would go to that light, at which point I could use a fly swatter to kill it.

There I sat in the dark in the living room, with my friend on the phone in case I should go into some kind of shock or something, with an ice pack on my neck, waiting for the yellow jacket to go toward the light of the laundry room hallway.

While I waited, I looked up more information on the web about yellow jackets. Turns out they are aggressive when threatened and can sting multiple times.

Then I heard it buzzing again nearby me, in the dark, in the living room. It was coming after me, not going toward the light!

I flew up out of my seat and looked around in the dark. I looked on the computer screen, the only source of light in the room, and it wasn't there.

Maybe I was hearing things.

I sat back down, talked on the phone some more, worked online some more. Then I heard the buzzing again. I jumped up, and this time I saw the yellow jacket. It was hovering near death. I swatted it down and then proceed to swat it to its death.

Then I went to bed.

This morning when I got up, I had hoped to see hundreds of dead yellow jackets on the porch. There were a few, and then later a few more. But activity around the opening has slowed way down, and those yellow jackets that I do see are either crawling on the wall or flying slowly. I'm supposed to dust the nest again in a few days and then when I see no more yellow jackets leaving or entering, I can caulk up that hole.

Once again I think it is safe for visitors to come to the front door, and for me to use it, too. Order is being restored.

And I'll be just fine, too.

What did I learn from this?

1. Have more respect than you think you need for yellow jackets or any other stinging insects. They will sting if threatened, and squirting insectide dust into their nest is threatening to them.

2. Do your research BEFORE you set out to destroy something like a yellow jacket's nest.

3. Gardeners are bound to be stung. Know how to treat a bee or wasp or yellow jacket sting before you are ever stung.

4. Be more observant when you see an unusual number of wasps or yellow jackets because they may be nesting nearby. I had noticed a lot of yellow jackets but just assumed it was a normal amount for early fall.

5. Maybe consider having the pest control technician come back for the kill. Though he didn't offer to do that. Wonder why?

No picture tonight, unless you want to see a picture of a dead yellow jacket. I do have one.

Pictured added so you can see that the nest is hidden behind the wood. All that white stuff on the brick is the insecticide dust residue.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I Didn't Like it a Hoe Lot & Other Book Club Info

Did you ever start reading a book and then never finished it because it just didn't 'grab you' or seem all that interesting? Maybe someone else read the book and loved it, but when you tried to read it, it was a struggle from one page to the next to stay interested or even get interested in the story in the first place.

Yes, you say?

Good. Then you'll understand why I could not finish the August-September selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, A Hoe Lot of Trouble by Heather Webber. I tried, I really tried to finish it, but after six weeks, I was only half way through the book. And even then so many days passed between each reading session that I had to remind myself who the characters were.

As the founder and self-appointed president of the Garden Bloggers' Book Club , I figured it was my duty to try to read the whole book. And then a couple of people reviewed it and said they enjoyed it, so I assumed it would have to get better.

Then I read LostRose's review and I knew I wasn't the only one, and I didn't need to finish the book. Thanks LostRoses.

Whew. I feel a lot better now.

Some of you may be surprised that I don't pre-read the book selections before I chose them for the book club. No time for that! I just pick something and run with it. It could be based on someone's suggestion or it could be a book that just looked fun, like this month's selection.

In a few days, I'll post a review of a garden mystery series that I did like, so much so that I read every mystery in the series several years ago and kept the books. I'm glad I provided a "Plan B" for those who didn't want to read the actual club selection this time, since that's the route I'm taking.

Whew. I feel a lot better now.

Now for some other club business...

If you are posting a review for the book club's current selection or any garden mystery, and I hope you are, please do so by September 29th so I can include it in the virtual meeting club post on September 30th.

And don't forget to take the survey for the book club and help pick the next book selection. The survey is anonymous and has just five easy questions. You'll also find the link at the top of the right sidebar.

I'm actually looking forward to telling you about the other garden mystery series that I really liked. Any guesses as to which one it is? Hint: here's a partial picture of one of the covers of a book from that series...

Monday, September 17, 2007

Real Work at May Dreams Gardens

Just so you know, not all my time is spent smelling the flowers (in this case, asters), taking pictures to share for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day or reading the latest book selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club. Sometimes real work has to be done here. Real work, like rebuilding the retaining wall for the foundation planting bed that was once full of English ivy, Deutzia struggling to survive with the ivy and some Hypericum shrubs that succumbed to bagworms.

I've been digging and pulling and ripping out the ivy off and on for several days, and I've removed most of it. So today was the day to rebuild the retaining wall.

Here's the before picture of the wall, leaing out, all crooked and looking like it might fall down with one good kick.

Here's the 'in process' picture. All the retaining blocks have been removed and that's one of my hoes that I brought out for the job of moving the dirt out of the way.
And here's the after picture of the wall rebuilt.
I sure hope you can see a difference! I used a little level to keep the block level side to side, and ever so slightly tilted in toward the bed.
The most awkward part was getting down here under the Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata).
I'm sure that was a good show for the neighbors to watch. My neighbor next door came over and said it looked like too much work. His house next to me has nothing planted on the side.

When I got all done, I had one block leftover. I'm not sure how that happened, but I don't see a big gap anywhere, so I guess it was just a spare part and I was more efficient building the wall a second time.

Tomorrow I'm going to go to the mulch store and get half a scoop of top soil to fill in the bed. Then the fun part! Going to the nurseries and garden centers to find some shrubs to plant in here.

After that I can turn my attention to the patio, which needs to be weeded. The work really never ends in a real garden.
Any guess as to how long it took me to rebuild the retaining wall, start to finish? Hint: I'm told that I work pretty fast and I had a break to eat an apple and drink some iced tea and then a second break to just get some water.

Can You Turn Down a Free Plant?

This mess is now gone. It contained a mixture of Ribbon Grass (probably Phalaris arundinacea), False Dragon's Head (Physostegia virginiana), and Four O'Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) . I pulled it all out yesterday, still blooming. I don't have an after picture yet, but I will once I've planted something nice there. You all know what bare dirt looks like.

The False Dragon's Head and the Ribbon Grass were passalong plants given to me by a well-meaning co-worker when I first moved to my new house and had a blank slate of a garden. Literally, the only plants on my property at that time were the lawn grasses beginning to germinate in the newly sown lawn.

I graciously accepted these plants from her, and planted them in this spot to hold them over until I had a chance to figure out what I was going to do to create gardens. A few years later, in a nostalgic moment, I sowed seeds for Four O'Clocks in this same area, just because my Dad had Four O'Clocks in a few spots in his garden. I remember that they self sowed in the window wells of the basement windows, and I liked that. (Never mind that I didn't plant them near any window wells, because I don't have any.)

If you've been reading along this blog for awhile, you know that I am now on a mission to get rid of these particular plants. Oh, how I wish I had turned down the gift of these plants or thrown them in the trash!

A new reader, "Jennifer", also a Hoosier, commented a few days ago, "As we were ripping out overgrown landscaping in our corner lot bed yesterday, a neighbor stopped and gave us some of that same ornamental grass that you warn about. Now I have to come up with a way of not planting it without offending the nice lady. Any ideas for a graceful exit strategy?"

Obviously I couldn't say no ten years ago to Ribbon Grass. So I'm throwing the question out to anyone who wants to offer advise on this.

How do you say no to someone who offers you a plant you know you shouldn't plant in your garden? Or that you just don't like? Do you have a 'horror story' about accepting and planting a free plant that shouldn't have?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

My Sisters' GBBD and a Few Other Topics

My Older Sister's Bloom Day Contribution

My sister left a comment yesterday that her lilac is confused and blooming again for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day in September.

Spring flowering shrubs do sometimes get confused and rebloom lightly in the fall. That’s quite a bit of bloom on her lilac, more than I’ve seen before on any lilac in the fall. I wonder how this will affect its spring bloom? I’m assuming the shrub got its signals crossed because of the ‘moderate drought’, followed by some rain and cooler temperatures. It’s really going to be shocked at the end of the week when temperatures are supposed to go up to 90 again, after a few very cool days. It was 50 degrees yesterday at 9:00 AM when I went out to work in the garden.

I want to thank all those who posted pictures and lists of their blooms yesterday for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. There is still a lot going on in everyone’s gardens, but many of us will see flowering come to a halt, or at least slow down considerably, by the time the next Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day comes around on October 15th. Then we'll just have to admire and be envious of what is blooming in others' gardens.

If you haven’t posted your blooms for September, by the way, feel free to do so whenever you get a chance.

Garden Bloggers’ Book Club Survey

I’ve published another survey, this one on the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. The most important question is which book should we read for October. The four books I’ve put on the list for consideration are:

Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perenyi
For Love of a Rose by Antonia Ridge
One Man’s Garden by Henry Mitchell
Dear Friend and Gardener the correspondence of Christopher Lloyd and Beth Chatto

There are only five questions, so if you have a minute, I’d be ever appreciative if you would share your ideas and thoughts on the Book Club. Click here to take the survey, or you can access it above on the right sidebar.

What Would You Do?

And now a question for you to think about and maybe comment on.

Imagine that you’ve been working out in the garden most of the day and realize you need just a few more bags of top soil or maybe another pound or two of grass seed for overseeding the lawn. You decide you need to make a quick trip to the garden center to get it so you can still finish up your project. You look like someone who's been working outside in their garden all day long. Do you....

a) Wash your hands, run a comb through your hair and go get what you need?
b) Do the above but also change your clothes so you at least resemble a clean person?
c) Take a shower to get all cleaned up, then go?
d) Make someone else go for you?

Guess which one I chose?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2007

September blooms at May Dreams Gardens, a mixture of new blooms, old blooms, reblooms and a few plants that won't bloom here anymore.

To the left is Physostegia virginiana 'Variegata', Variegated False Dragon's Head. I did not think it would bloom this year because of the moderate drought we've had this summer. Now I'll remember that it really isn't meant to bloom in August, it's a September flower.

It's not bright and bold, so without Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, I might not have even taken the time to stop and admire it. It's good to admire it now because it is in the same flower bed as the soon-to-be wildly blooming asters.

September bloom day is just a little bit early for these asters, which usually bloom later in September, closer to Michaelmas, which is September 29th.

But they did manage one bloom for me.

Also nearby are some tall phlox reblooming.
We can thank the recent rain for the phlox re-blooms and these candy lilies,too.
I like how the spent candy lily flowers are all twisted up.

A September bloom day post just wouldn't be complete without 'Autumn Joy' sedum. Here's mine.
And finally, take a good look at this mess as this is the last time that common false dragon's head and four o'clocks will bloom at May Dreams Gardens.
I'm finally digging out this mess and planting something decent along this side of my house. Stay tuned for updates.

Here's a list of my blooms in mid-September. I'm sure I've missed some but this is most of it. The 'moderate drought' has cut into some of the flower productivity!

New blooms:

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
Asters (barely) also known as Michaelmas Daisies
Variegated False Dragon's Head (Physostegia virginiana 'Variegata')
False Dragon's Head

Still blooming:

Shasta daisies
August Lilies (Hostas)
Shrub clematis (Clematis integrefolia 'Alba')
False Sunflower
Veronica bonariensis
Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum 'Aureum')
Four O'Clocks
Catmint (Nepeta)
Chocolate Mint
Spirea 'Limemound'

Reblooming (these flowers had disappeared when it was so dry and hot, but have returned again after some rain this past weekend)

Daylily 'Stella d'Oro'
Tall Phlox, white, pink, white with pink center
Potentilla fruticosa
Variegated Kerria japonica
Spiderwort (Tradescantia)
Rain Lilies

What's blooming in your garden? Post on your blog about your mid-September blooms and then come here and leave a comment so we can find you.

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Not In My Garden

After decades of gardening, I’ve developed a few opinions about what should be included in a garden and what should be avoided in a garden.

And Kim at A Study in Contrast has started a meme on “Not In My Garden” just in time for me to follow up my post about what to do in a new garden with what to avoid in any garden.

Ready? Here goes…

Junipers. I have yet to see a juniper that aged gracefully in a shrub border. I have no junipers in my garden.

Cottonwood Trees. Sure cottonwood trees are fast growing, but they are also weak wooded and in the spring the “cotton” gets all over everything and causes even those with no other allergies to wildly sneeze.

Lombardi Poplar Trees. I wrote last year that when you buy one of these trees, go ahead and get a chain saw, too, because you’ll be cutting it down in short order. Whenever I see some of these trees all rowed up, which is how most people plant them, more than a few seem to be dead or in serious decline.

Broccoli, Cabbage, Cauliflower. No matter what I did, my home grown broccoli always had those little green caterpillars in the flower heads. Even though I soaked the broccoli in salt water to force them out, it seemed that when I cooked the broccoli a little green worm would end up in the cooking water. Gross. And don't say "Protein!" Cabbage? Buggy. Cauliflower? Also buggy.

Rocks as mulch. Ditto no plastic mulch. If I have to explain this one…then send me an email. I wrote about this last year, and the only thing that has changed since I wrote that post is that I no longer use cypress mulch, now I use hardwood mulch.

English Ivy (Hedera helix). This is under the subcategory, “Not in My Garden, Again”. I think I’ve almost gotten rid of the ivy. A little goes a long way, and you won’t ever control it and contain it like you think you will.

Planters made out of old tires painted white. Maybe if someone painted them green, the tires would be okay because they would blend in. Just kidding on that. I don’t have a place in my garden for old tire planters of any color and I definitely don't like to see those big spools from the telephone company that people use as outdoor tables.

Plastic Flowers in the wintertime, or anytime. Why do some people who otherwise seem to have nice gardens feel like they need to put fake flowers or fake greenery in window boxes and planters left out in the winter?

Cheap Hoes and any other poorly made gardening tools. I like gardening tools that are well made. It makes the gardening so much easier.

Rabbits, Wolf Spiders, and Snakes. Unfortunately the rabbits can’t read and haven’t figured out that they aren’t welcome in my garden. I’m not sending them the right message when I plant their favorite food (green bean plants) and then leave it uncovered. I also don’t like wolf spiders in my garden. They move fast and seem to jump out just to startle me. And snakes aren’t allowed in my garden, either. I’ve never actually seen a snake in my garden, so maybe I am sending the right “unwelcome” message to them. But just in case, if I am poking around in a place that seems like it would be a perfect home for snakes, I keep a grub hoe at my side for protection.

Finally, the picture above. I try to avoid red and white flower combinations. This was an accident this year. I just wasn't thinking. I bought a flat of mixed colors of impatiens, and planted all the pretty pink, purple, and white ones in containers on my front porch. All the red ones were planted in the back by the hostas as an afterthought. Red (or as they call it ‘crimson’) and white are the colors of a certain university in Indiana which is the rival of my alma mater, Purdue University, whose colors are black and gold. Honestly, if they saw this color combo in my garden, they might kick my out of the alumni association.

I’m sure there are other “NIMG” items here at May Dreams Gardens, but that’s enough from me. I’m waiting to see other gardeners’ lists. While I wait, I’ll be putting together my Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day post for the 15th. You all remembered about GBBD, right? You post what’s blooming in your garden then leave a comment on my post to let us know where to find you. My post should be up late tomorrow to allow the early birds to comment.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

When My Bench Was New

Would you agree that the natural inclination for most gardeners starting out is to plant around the foundation of their house first?

Whenever I moved to a new house and garden, I seemed to plant the foundation plants across the front of the house first, add a vegetable garden the first spring, and then look around to see what other gardens to plant.

Here's a garden made up entirely of sunflowers that I planted in the yard at my second house.I recall that I planted perhaps ten or twelve different varieties of sunflowers in this garden, and it is probably as close as I've come to being obsessed with a particular genus of flowers. I started out like most sunflower growers, with the "Mammoth Grey" in my nearby vegetable garden, and then decided I should have all kinds of sunflowers, to attract birds and bees from miles around.

I must have really liked this garden of sunflowers because I have six or seven pictures of it in my time travel box of pictures. That's a lot of picture of one garden from the film camera days.

Two years later, I was through with mass plantings of sunflowers and planted a variety of flowers in two flower beds in my back yard.
I believe those are Wave Petunias along the front, some Nicotiana back behind and who knows what else. I didn't really start faithfully keeping a garden journal until I moved to my current house and garden.

Do you recognize that bench? That's the garden bench that I painted purple earlier this year and use as the backdrop for most of my vegetable harvest pictures.

Having moved three times to new gardens that were essentially blank slates, I have some advice to offer other new gardeners in similar circumstances.

1. If the builder says, "We'll plant some shrubs along the foundation and a tree in the front yard", make sure you want what they are planting or ask them to give you credit so you can buy your own trees and shrubs. The builder of my second house planted six Andorra Junipers across the front of my first house when I wasn't looking. I promptly tore them out and put them in the trash. I don't like junipers.

2. Plant trees first. They provide structure to your garden. I didn't do a good job of this at my second house so the back yard was still essentially tree-less when I moved away after six years.

3. If you know where you want to put your vegetable garden, don't let the builder sow grass seed in that area. It's easier to sow grass seed later than to dig out grass to plant a vegetable garden. Ditto flower gardens.

4. Don't let the builder bring in fill dirt. If they start talking about "fill dirt" ask them to bring in top soil instead. I did this at my current house and it has been wonderful.

5. Strongly consider hiring a landscape architect to develop a master landscape plan. A good one can show you how to plant in phases, gradually adding plants each year as part of a master plan, so you don't have to buy all the plants the first year. (I wish I had done this!)

What advise do you have for new gardeners?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

My First Daylilies

More pictures from the picture box, opened up on Sunday to find one picture. It's like a time travel box, taking me back in time to other gardens I have tended.

Yesterday, I posted about my first garden beside the patio of a first floor apartment. As soon as I could afford it, I fled that apartment for a nice little house, where I could really garden.

Look at these daylilies I planted there

This is proof that I started out as a "too small gardener" with that narrow border along the back of the house, just big enough for a row of daylilies.

When I planted the daylilies, I didn't realize that I was tempting fate, that some gardeners have planted one daylily and ended up with hundreds of varieties, like Gotta Garden. Daylilies, like several other plants, can take hold of a gardener, in a good way, and never let go.

These particular daylilies were all unnamed varieties purchased from a friend's mother, who did end up focusing on daylilies and irises, and was breeding a few of her own. I bought about ten daylilies and rowed them up, as you can see. I didn't purchase any irises, by the way. I'm not sure why not, but she may have wanted more money than I was willing to pay at the time.

Then a few years later when I moved to my second house, I made arrangements to move these daylilies and a few other perennials to my mom's neighbor's garden for a few months, until I could plant them again at my new house.

Here they are at my second house.
You can't really tell, but I made a much wider bed for the daylilies and it curved out into the yard instead of being straight across.

Later when I moved from this house to where I am now, I left these daylilies behind, along with most of the other perennials. I moved on a cold January day, when it was -19 F, with six inches of snow and ice on the ground, not a good time to be digging anything outside.

The only plants I took from that second house were some of the hostas that my sister-in-law gave me. I planted them in a friend's garden earlier that fall, and then tranplanted them again when I moved to my current house and garden.

I don't regret leaving the daylilies behind. They weren't all that spectacular and they all seemed to bloom at the same time. And I know that if I want to, I can go back to my mom's neighbor and get some of them, because some of them are still there at the end of their garden, left behind from the move from my first house. Here's a picture of one of those daylilies blooming earlier this summer.

It's nice to know those daylilies are there, if I want to get them. But, no hurry. Wait, there might be a hurry... those neighbors are moving in a few weeks. Will the new neighbors let me dig up "my" daylilies? Is there a point in time when I can no longer consider them mine to get? Maybe I ought to go over there this weekend and get them before it is too late?! And is that a yarrow plant next to it from my first house and garden? I probably got that from aunt. I want to get that, too.

Suddenly I'm all nostalgic for my first daylilies and that yarrow, too! Yes, I've got to go dig them up this weekend before it is too late.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My First Garden

Once I opened my photo boxes to find a picture of my current house from back when I first planted the crabapple and spruce, I discovered all kinds of garden pictures from my past. I don't recall taking a lot of pictures of my gardens in the film camera days, but it appears I took my fair share including...

This picture of my first garden.

This wasn't the first time I had planted and tended flowers and vegetables... I grew up doing all of that... this was just the first garden that was my own.

It was a small open area next to the patio of my ground floor apartment. I planted as much as I could in that space, including snapdragons, dahlias, glads, zinnias, tomatoes and green beans. Since the patio was fenced in, and in the middle of an apartment complex, I had no problems with rabbits.

I didn't keep a garden journal back then, circa 1984-85, but I do remember that I bought a shovel, my first hoe, a trowel, a rake, and a garden hose so I could properly tend this little plot of land.

Who knew that first hoe was just a beginning? It's the first one shown in the hoe collection post.

How about a walk down memory lane to some of the first gardens of other garden bloggers? Who has pictures?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Crabapple's 10th Anniversary and Fall Planting Advice

Ten years ago I planted this crabapple (Malus 'Guinivere') in a bed bordered by the side of the garage, the front porch and the walkway that takes you from the driveway to the porch. I took this picture shortly after I planted it. (I scanned in the picture so it is not the best quality.)

I bought my crabapple tree from a nursery on the other side of town, where they grow a lot of their trees and actually have the trees planted until you buy them. Then when you buy a tree, they give you a little stake and tell you to put it by the hole where you want it. Then they dig the tree up and deliver it right to your house and even set it in the hole. For free! (The delivery part, not the tree part.)

At the same time that I bought the crabapple, I also bought an Oriental Spruce, Picea orientalis 'Green Knight'.

This is a picture I took soon after I planted both them on August 28, 1997. (Also scanned in.)

I dug the holes myself, and made sure they were nice wide holes, ready to receive my new trees. I was confident in my hole digging having learned to dig a good tree hole in college (really!) After digging what I thought were good holes, I placed the stakes beside them and waited for the nursery to deliver my trees.

A few days later, I came home from work and saw that the nursery had delivered my trees. They placed the spruce right down in the hole I had dug for it, so in a matter of minutes I finished planting it.

Then I turned my attention to the crabapple, which they had left beside its hole. I hadn't dug the hole deep enough, I decided, so dug down a bit more. Then I used my shovel to determine the depth of the hole and compared it to the height of the root ball. Like they do on TV. Hmmmm... looked about right, I decided.

So I pushed with all my strength and shoved the crabapple root ball down into the hole.

Guess what?

The hole wasn't deep enough.

And there was no way I was going to be able to lift the tree out of the hole. Because a cubic foot of dirt ways around 80 pounds, I think.

Guess what I did?

No, I did not call the nursery and have them come back out and plant the tree for me, but good guess.

I dug some more. I extended the width of the hole enough so that I could drag the tree over to the side at the same level it was sitting in the hole, and then dug the original hole deeper and shoved the tree back over again.

That was a lot of digging, and for a moment, that moment when I didn't know what I was going to do, I wished I had just paid the nurseryman to plant the trees.

But ten years later, all's well that end's well.

I can't believe how small the trees started out and how much they've grown. They were the most expensive plants I had ever purchased for my garden, but I think they were well worth it. There is no one else in the neighborhood with a spruce like mine, nor anyone with as beautiful a crabapple as this one. (Ask any of my neighbors, if you don't believe me!)

And now some useful information from the gardener here at May Dreams Gardens, for a change. My tips on buying trees and shrubs for the landscape...

If the nurseryman is going to deliver the trees anyway, let them plant them, too. I did a lot of digging to plant that crabapple, digging the equivalent of two holes. I always figure that a cubic foot of dirt is going to weigh about 80 pounds. I have no business trying to shove or lift something that heavy.

When you buy focal point plants, plan to spend some money. Buy good specimen trees and shrubs from a reputable nursery. You'll find something different, like I did, and get a chance to talk to someone who really knows about the plants before you decide to buy them. They should help you pick out a good tree or shrub that will grow where you want to plant it.

Plant in the fall. It really is the best time to plant from the tree and shrubs' perspective. And it will force you to go to real garden centers or nurseries to get the plants because the big box stores won't have much left. They are all shutting down their garden centers; most of them just have a bunch of left over plants on clearance, which might be tempting to buy. Indeed, I'll admit to having tried a few clearance plants in the past. But be careful and inspect them closely before you buy them. Don't be afraid to pull them out of the containers to check the roots. And if you can't get them to easily come out of their containers, it likely means they are very pot bound. Don't count on your green thumb to bring back a plant that has been sitting there all summer, most likely not getting the kind of care that a good garden center or nursery would give it. Even if it makes it, it may be years before it "snaps out of it".

Keep a garden journal. That's how I know I planted these trees on August 28, 1997. The specific date isn't important, but it's nice to know the year (isn't it?)

Plant for the future. Trees and shrubs should you bring you years of enjoyment so buy good ones!