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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Random Acts of Seed Purchasing

In what may seem to some to be an appallingly haphazard fashion, I’ve placed my first two seed orders. The ordering process went something like this:

I need some green beans. Do they have ‘Provider’? Yes, good, I need a packet of those, and oh, look, there’s ‘Kentucky Wonder’ Pole Beans. I think my aunt said those were here favorites, so I’ll get some of those. Yes, check, I need ‘Cherry Belle’ radishes. And there are those ‘Trusty’ tomatoes. That’s what I really want. Might as well try this early tomato ‘Stupice’. It looks good, I wonder if I can get a tomato off of it before 4th of July? Oh, onions. I grew those from seed last year and they did well, so I’ll just get this ‘Parade Bunching’ variety because that’s all they have. ‘Bulls Blood’ beet sounds good. Goodness, I have to try a lettuce called ‘Marvel of Four Seasons’.

And so on until I had ordered 25 packets of seeds. Add to that the seven packets I ordered from another company, and I’m off to a good start.

I used no lists and did no double-triple checking from one seed company to another to figure out who had the best deal. I just picked a company to order from and started ordering. Really, that’s how I order. It’s mostly from memory, a lot on impulse. It may look like “random acts of seed purchasing”, and perhaps it is a little bit, but after 23 years of tending my own vegetable garden, 13 years of it in my current location, I have a pretty good idea of what seeds I need to order each year.

Plus, some of my best vegetable varieties have been impulse purchases, like ‘Cue Ball’ squash, which is now my favorite variety of summer squash. I’m afraid if I made a list and stuck to it, I’d miss out on the next ‘Cue Ball’ squash!

But once I’m done ordering I will make a list so I can keep track of what I have and when to sow it.

So now that I’ve startled one or two of you with my confession of “random acts of seed purchasing”, I’m ready to go to the next seed company website on my list.

While I’m there I hope I remember to also order some more sweet alyssum seeds. I still need some of those, I’m fairly certain. And if I see some other flower seeds there that catch my eye…

Saturday, January 30, 2010

How To Get Me To Buy A Seed Variety.

I am about to reveal to all those who have to write the thousands of descriptions for all those varieties of seeds in all those seed catalogs how to get me to buy their seeds.

Tell me a story about them. Connect them to a person. That’s the hook for me.

Yes, after twenty plus years of buying seeds, I’ve just figured out that I prefer seeds that are connected to a person, that have a story behind them.

When I read about a tomato variety that is “German type, full, hearty beefsteak”, yawn, I might be sort of interested. But if I read that Mr. Emory Trusty grew these tomatoes for 70 years just 50 miles south of here, and Nature’s Crossroads, a local seed company down in Bloomington, has them for sale as ‘Trusty’, I’m getting them. Getting them. Don’t try to stop me.

Even if the seed catalog writers don’t connect a seed variety to a person, if I can make the connection myself, it doesn’t matter how banal their description is in the catalog, I’ll buy that seed.

They can describe ‘Green Arrow’ peas as “garden peas” for all I care. I’m still going to buy them because I connect ‘Green Arrow’ peas to my Dad. I once found an old seed packet for them in a box of seed packets left from the spring he passed away. That spring might have been the only spring he grew that variety, but that doesn’t matter to me. I’m always going to grow ‘Green Arrow’ because Dad did, at least once.

They can write about ‘Emerald’ okra any way they want. It doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to try ‘Emerald’ okra because my uncle told me how good it grew for them, 150 miles south of here. I want to try okra. Now that I know about the variety my uncle grows, it doesn’t matter what the seed catalog writers say about all the other varieties of okra, I’m buying ‘Emerald’.

I could go on, but you get the idea. Tell me the story of the seed variety, and I’m likely to want to grow it.  But if too many seed catalog writers start doing this, I'm going to be in big seed trouble.  Or bigger seed trouble than I'm already in...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What the Plants Are Really Saying.

A little chatter overheard amongst the various indoor plants here at May Dreams Gardens…

“Oh, look, I’m blooming! I’m so pretty and I love my name. 'Blossom Peacock’. Don’t I look just divine, ready for a big ol’ par-tee! Really, I’m just the prettiest… Oh no! I don’t have any leaves. Oh dear. Oh my. How will I ever regenerate my bulb if I don’t have any leaves. I hope I get some soon… Oh goodness. This is embarrassing. Help! Can anyone help me!? I need leaves.”

“Excuse me. Carol. That’s your name, right? Carol, you can see that I’m done blooming, can’t you? If you can, and I know that you can, could you please cut off this bloom stalk so I don’t set seed? Really, I don’t have energy for both seeds and bulb rejuvenation. It’s one or the other. It’s confusing to know which one you want if you leave this bloom stalk. Could you please cut it off? For crying out loud, you aren’t taking a picture of me looking like this, are you!?”

“Hey, what’s it take to get a drink around here? I’m parched. I think the dirt in my pot is shrinking away from the sides of the pot. Come on, I’m dying for some water here.”

“Water? Are you kidding me? Water? Seriously? My roots are sitting in cold, murky water. I think I’m developing a fungus and I can’t breath. Can someone take away this saucer full of water? I’m no expert, but I think that’s the problem.”

“Carol. Over here. Can you check that plant next to me? It just doesn’t look right. I think it has mealybugs or something. Can you move it into the other room? I am so susceptible to those darn mealybugs, you know that, right? Hurry, I see something crawling toward me!”

“I can’t see! It is so dark in here. Did Carol forget to open the blinds again? Geez, that’s the only thing we ask of her in the morning and she can’t even get up early enough to do that before she leaves for work. I need my light. We all need our light. If we band together…”

“Hey! Stop dropping those leaves on me! Get your branch away from me, this is my space. Carollllll, it’s getting kind of crowded over here. I want my own window!”

“I’m blooming! I think I’m the first one. Is there a prize for being first? Did I make it in time for bloom day? Huh, did I? Mmmmmm. I smell delicious, if I do say so myself. Aren’t I pretty! What’s my name? Do I have a name? Hey, when I’m done blooming, what’s going to happen to me? Compost bin? What's that? Oh, dear. I don’t think I want to know! I'll think about that tomorrow. I'm so pretty and pink...”

Hey all you plants. Keep it down. I’m trying to write a blog post here. For the love of blooming radishes, can you just give me five minutes of peace and quiet? Thank you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Hoeing by the Light of the Moon

This Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ grows and blooms beside the entrance to my garden all summer long. I’ll use it to remind myself that this is the year I’m planting by the phases of the moon.

By the way, this doesn’t mean I’m going to plant at night under a full moon or anything odd like that. You know I don’t like to be an odd gardener. It means that I’ll just pay attention to what the moon phases are and plant accordingly. Above ground crops from the new moon to the full moon, and below ground crops from the full moon to the new moon.

But the effect of the moon doesn’t begin and end with planting. Apparently it can also affect the effectiveness of hoeing.

According to the book, “Raising with the Moon -- The Complete Guide to Gardening and Living by the Signs of the Moon” by Jack R. Pyle and Taylor Reese, hoeing, cultivating, and weeding are best done when the moon is waning, between the full moon and the new moon.

So, good days for hoeing in March will be a few days before I plant the peas or after the 29th.

Pyle and Reese also go beyond moon phases to suggest that various signs, like Aquarius, Pisces, etc. also have an impact on different activities. Some of these signs are considered barren signs and others are considered fruitful signs.

They suggest that peas be not only planted when the moon is waxing in its 2nd phase, which is somewhere between a half moon and a full moon but also when the signs are Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces, Taurus, and Libra.

After reading this, I went back to my almanac and checked March 17th which turns out to be in the moon’s 1st phase under the sign of Pisces.  “Close enough”, I say. I’m still planting my peas on the March 17th.

But I’ll probably forget about the moon phases when it comes to hoeing and pulling weeds. You know how it is. When you get that itch to hoe, or weed, you just have to go with it, regardless of the moon phase.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

By the light of the silvery moon…

This is the year that I’m actually going to pay attention to the moon phases when I sow seeds for my vegetables. (Yes, Dr. Hortfreud, I know I say that every year, but I mean it this time.)

The basic idea of planting according to the moon phases is to plant above ground crops on those days between the new moon and the full moon. Then plant below ground crops on those days between the full moon and the new moon.  This is supposed to make them grow better, overall.

The biggest adjustment will be that I won’t get to rush out to the garden on March 17th, my traditional day for planting peas and all other early spring vegetables, and just plant everything all at once on the same day.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac for 2010, I should plant the onions and radishes and other root crops between the full moon and the new moon. This will be between March 1 – 14 this year or after March 29th. I should then plant the peas, lettuce, and spinach sometime between the new moon and the full moon, between March 15 – 29th.

Sounds easy enough, and at least this year, I can still plant peas on March 17th.

Does planting by the phases of the moon make me more of an eccentric gardener? (Yes, I admit to being "a bit" of an eccentric gardener.) Or is everyone saying it is about time I got with the program?

Who else is planting according to the phases of the moon?


Don’t forget to click over to Dee’s blog, Red Dirt Ramblings and check out her contest to win your own Fiskars® Momentum™ Reel Mower. The moon is waxing which is the best time to enter contests, right?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Want To Win a Fiskars® Momentum™ Reel Mower?

Pull up a lawn chair and let’s talk about mowers and mowing for a minute.

Remember when I last mowed the lawn? You don’t remember? Well, I can hardly forget that last mowing because I mowed with a brand new Fiskars® Momentum™ Reel Mower and then I wrote a little review about my mowing experience.

Since then, with almost two months of not mowing to reflect on that experience, I have just one additional thought…

When can we start mowing again?!

I want to mow again! I found this Fiskars® mower to be quite fun to use, and I felt good about using it because it is good for the environment, too. Plus, unlike some other reel mowers, it was not hard to push at all. In fact, it felt like I used the same effort to push it as I did my regular ol’ gas powered mower, except…

It was very quiet. It just made that slight clipping noise as I mowed back and forth and around and around my lawn. It took my mowing experience to a whole new level. I have a feeling that this spring, everyone will want to get one.

Hey, how about getting one now? You could get it all set up and admire it until spring mowing time comes around for you! If that sounds good to you, click over to Dee’s blog, Red Dirt Ramblings and check out her contest to win your own Fiskars® Momentum™ Reel Mower.  Tell her Carol sent you! (Oh, and Dee says you have to enter by January 31st)

Good luck to all who enter!

Friday, January 22, 2010

I've Enjoyed Winter, But Now It Is Time For It To Go

Alrighty now, I’ve enjoyed Winter but now it is time for it to go. Unfortunately, the calendar seems stuck on January and then there is February with all its snow and ice followed by half of March before Spring arrives.

Between now and then, I need to figure out a way to get my hands in the dirt, to smell some fresh flowers and plants, to get off my winter duff and get some exercise so I am ready to mow as soon as the grass starts growing again.

As a proud member of SGAFO, I know that I can no longer just jump up off the couch in spring after sitting there all winter and expect to go out and garden without preparing for it.

Here’s my plan!

Daily exercise either on the treadmill or using Wii Fit. Don’t you wish they made a Wii game that allowed you to mow, hoe, and dig virtually?

Order my seeds. This has nothing to do with my personal fitness, but I need to order them. I didn’t do it a few weekends ago when I meant to and time is slipping away.

Fluff up my houseplants. I can get my hands in the dirt by removing gunky looking dirt from some of the houseplant containers and replacing with it fresh potting soil. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

Visit the local conservatory. If you don’t have a conservatory near you, consider moving. The closest to me is Garfield Park Conservatory, the one in Indianapolis. It has a great smell to it.

Finishing reading my latest stack of gardening books. I need to prepare my mind for the garden, even as I prepare my body for gardening. What? You think my mind is always in the garden. Well maybe it is, but that’s a good place for it, don’t you think?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Achieving Happiness in Your Garden: The Conclusion

The door creaked as I slowly opened it, announcing to any who might be inside the shed that someone was entering. I could imagine garden fairies scurrying to their hiding places and actually saw a few meadow mice as they disappeared through a small hole in the wall.

Who knew when sunlight had last lit the interior of that shed? It had just one window covered over by an old piece of burlap, the kind used to wrap newly dug trees. I entered for only one reason. I wanted to leave a copy of the Five Secrets to Achieving Happiness in Your Garden there so that one day another gardener might find it.

I flipped through the pages of the book I had written the secrets in to make sure they were all there:

Grow the plants you love.

Size your garden for the resources you have.

Buy good tools.

Respect Mother Nature.

Share your garden.

After one last look around at the clay pots, seed packets and gardening tools that were strewn about the shed, I placed the book on the potting bench and left quietly.

As I walked down the overgrown garden path back to my own garden, I knew that the book was safe in that shed and that someday another gardener would find the secrets and use them to achieve happiness in their garden, just as I had used them to find happiness in mine.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Achieving Happiness in Your Garden: The Fifth Secret

I was going through a big stack of clay pots one day, sorting them by size and wondering where they all came from. Since most of the plants I’ve purchased in the last umpteen years were generally grown in plastic pots, I found it hard to believe that I had so many of these clay pots, but I did.

Some I got from my Dad. I remember stopping once at an old dilapidated greenhouse with him when I was a kid and buying a whole bunch of four inch clay pots. I think I have most of them now. My sister in law brought me some other clay pots that her parents found when they were cleaning out their basement. And my Mom’s neighbors gave me another stash of pots when they were cleaning out their shed in anticipation of moving.

As I started to sort the pots by size, I found one oddly sized pot that was a different size than any other clay pot in my stash. As I held it in my hand and looked it over, I realized that someone had scratched words on the inside of it. Could it be the fifth secret?

I peered inside that clay pot and carefully read the inscription as I turned the pot in my hand to see the entire message…

The fifth secret to achieving happiness in your garden is to share your garden.

Share your garden?

Yes, share your garden.

Let others see your garden. Give others passalong plants from your garden. Give away vegetables and flowers from your garden. Share what you know about gardening by showing others how to garden.

And most of all - share your love of gardening and plants with anyone who is willing to try to garden, too.

Share your garden, the fifth and final secret to achieving happiness in your garden.

But is it really the final secret?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Achieving Happiness in Your Garden: The Fourth Secret

Having found three of the five secrets to achieving happiness in your garden, I was on “high alert” for signs of the fourth secret.

As I walked around the garden each day, I found myself stopping to look under every rock for signs of a piece of paper, a box, something, anything that might contain the fourth secret. Whenever I picked up an old magazine or gardening book, I caught myself not necessarily reading it, but instead looking in the margins and between the lines, hoping that the fourth secret would soon be revealed.

Then just as I was about to give up on ever finding the fourth secret, I noticed a thin thread, almost a spider web, attached to my back door. Normally, I would have just brushed it aside, but something made me wanted to follow that thread to its end point, to see what might be there.

I slowly started walking across the patio, thread in hand, and soon found myself crouched down looking under a rather large Viburnum shrub wondering if I should really attempt to crawl under there to see where the thread went.

Just then I heard a little giggle and felt a tickle on my backside, as though someone was trying to put something in my back pocket. Instinctively, I reached back and felt a piece of paper sticking up out of my pocket. I slowly pulled it out and unfolded it.

Yes, it was the fourth secret.

It was powerful. It was brief. Just three words. Three very important words.

Respect Mother Nature.

What more could be said?

We respect Mother Nature when we accept the hardiness zone we are in and choose plants that will do well in our zone.

We respect Mother Nature when we compost and use that compost to amend the soil in our gardens.

We respect Mother Nature when we choose organic methods and eliminate the use of pesticides in our home gardens.

We respect Mother Nature when choose plants that will attract bees, butterflies, birds and other critters to our gardens.

Whenever we have a choice in our gardens, we should always choose the option that respects Mother Nature. To do otherwise will lead to frustration, heartache, worry and waste. There is no point to it when we can achieve happiness by just respecting Mother Nature

Respect Mother Nature.

The fourth secret and three powerful words.

I suspected that it was the garden fairies who set up that elaborate scheme with the thread to get me to kneel down enough so they could slip that fourth secret into my back pocket. I suspected it, but I had no way to prove it, to know for sure.

The only thing I knew at that point was that there was a fifth and final secret to achieving happiness in your garden, and I would give almost anything to find out what it was.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Achieving Happiness in Your Garden: The Third Secret

I couldn’t believe I had been so careless, so cavalier, about one of my old hoes! Normally, I don’t try to use the older hoes for any actual hoeing, especially those with their original wood handles, for fear that the handles will snap off. But for some reason, I felt almost compelled to try out this one particular hoe. I still can’t explain why.

I carefully took it down off the pegboard and proceeded to sharpen the head using one of my sharpening stones. Then I took it out into the vegetable garden and began to hoe. At first, it seemed to work quite well and I could tell it was well-made and had probably pleased at least one other gardener when it was shiny and new.

But then without warning, I hit a half-buried rock and heard a sickening cracking noise as the old wooden handle snapped off right by the hoe head. “Raining Rabbits,” I muttered to myself, “I’ve done it now!” As I reached down to pick up the hoe head, now separated from the handle, I noticed for the first time that the handle was hollow and there was a rolled up piece of paper stuck up inside of it.

Carefully, I pulled out the paper and unrolled it. I could hardly believe what I was reading. I had found the third secret to achieving happiness in your garden!

“The third secret to achieving happiness in your garden is to buy good tools.”

Buy good tools?

Oh, yes, it made perfect sense, as did the previously discovered first and second secrets.

Buy good tools!

Buy good tools because it will make your work in the garden more enjoyable. When you use cheap or poorly made tools, your focus is usually on the tool and trying to get it to cut or dig or hoe or whatever you are trying to do. You lose sight of the pleasures of being among the plants and flowers as you get soaked by a poorly made hose end sprayer. You get frustrated when your just mash the stem of the plant and don’t cut it off cleanly. You get tired trying to dig with a cheap shovel.

But when you have good tools, you can enjoy gardening. You can focus on the plants and the garden. You can observe the bees and butterflies. As you reach for those pruners to cut a bouquet of your very own flowers to bring indoors, there is no thought other than “Snip, what a pretty bloom”.

As you hoe in the garden with a well-made hoe, the weeds are easily cut off. When you dig… well, digging can be hard sometimes no matter how well-made our shovel is.

You don’t even need a lot of tools when you have good tools. Start with the basics - a hoe, a rake, a shovel, a trowel, plus sharp pruners and a hose end sprayer that doesn’t leak and you can achieve happiness in your garden.

Buy good tools.

I now had three of the five secrets to achieving happiness in the garden. As I picked up my broken hoe and took it back to the garage, I couldn’t help but wonder where and when I’d find the last two secrets.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Achieving Happiness in Your Garden: The Second Secret

One early spring day a few years ago, I was sitting in my favorite spot by the window lazily browsing through some very old issues of Horticulture magazine. I came to own these magazines when someone I once worked with paid one dollar for a big box of them at an auction and then gave me all the issues from 1959.

As I casually flipped through the pages, I happened upon the classified advertising in the back of the August 1959 issue and began to read some of the ads. Lloyd Kyler of South Whitney, Indiana was advertising “Red Gold Hybrid Earthworms” for soil improvement. You could get 500 of them for four dollars, or a thousand for seven dollars.

You could also buy 40 surplus iris “mixed some pinks” for five dollars, post paid from Seville Iris Gardens of Statesville, North Carolina. If you wanted them labeled it would cost an additional five cents each. Or for just fifty cents you could get a catalog of hardy violets with recipes from the Vista Violet Farm in Vista, California, and they would deduct fifty cents from your first order.

And then I saw something in very tiny print sandwiched between the headings “Rare Plants, Trees and Shrubs” and “Terrarium Supplies” that I thought said “Secrets”. I could not make out the very tiny print even with my glasses on, so I got out a magnifying glass. Peering through it, I realized that I had just discovered the second secret to achieving happiness in your garden.

Size your garden for the resources you have.

Of course! Reading this was like a smack in the head, like discovering an overgrown zucchini hiding under the oversized squash leaves.

To be happy in our gardens we should have a garden that is a size that we can manage with the time, money, and help we have!

Does this mean we are all now destined to have small gardens? Absolutely not! It means that we need to do a little planning and a little saving, and not be afraid to ask for, or pay for help in the garden when needed.

There are all kinds of books written on the subject of “low maintenance” gardens, which many gardeners refuse to look at because they say they enjoy all the maintenance they have to do in their garden. But don’t be too quick to judge! Spending an entire weekend on the maintenance of your garden may seem like heaven on earth, but if it is week after week after week, and you still have more to do, it may soon seem more like drudgery on earth. Books like “The New Low-Maintenance Garden” by Valerie Easton (Timber Press, $19.95)* are full of ideas to reduce the time spent on the routine and not so routine garden maintenance tasks we all face. Incorporating these ideas into how you garden could mean you can have a larger garden overall.

There are also some aspects of gardening that could take hours or weeks or months to do if we try to do them on our own. Yet sometimes we decide to try to do them anyway and then end up too exhausted to enjoy what we’ve accomplished. Or worse, we realize half way through whatever it is we are doing that we can not possibly finish the job on our own. We leave it half done while we try to figure out “now what”. For these big jobs, we should save up to hire others to help, or find some friends and family to help.

This second secret to achieving happiness in our gardens may mean that we don’t have that big garden of our dreams right away. It may mean that we decide to leave an area planted with lawn until we have the time and resources to plant the garden we want to have there. Or it could mean that we confine our garden to a smaller space that we can enjoy, where we can find happiness.

Reading this secret over and over, I realized it would not be easy to follow and could perhaps be controversial. We are so eager as gardeners to dig up everything and just start planting! But at the same time I knew this second secret was right.

Size your garden for the resources you have.

And you’ll be happier with the overall results.


Thank you to everyone who posted about their blooms for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. I've visited a few posts and will visit more throughout the weekend. January seems to have been a challenging month for many gardeners, but everyone is ready to perservere and stick with it until spring!


*(The New Low Maintenance Garden was sent to me to review by Timber Press. I have not yet reviewed it.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - January 2010

Welcome to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day for January 2010!

Like an advance scout, this little snowdrop has sent up one shoot to see if it is safe to bloom and send for the other spring flowers. It’s January. It is not safe. January is cold and snowy and it will be several more weeks before even the earliest snowdrop actually blooms.

But the good thing about our cold and snow in January is that we expect it. We plan for it, we know how to deal with, and more importantly, our plants are ready for it. They “know” what to do to survive the freezing temperatures, and the snow, the ice, the sleet, the cold. It is the way it is supposed to be. I send condolences to gardeners in Texas and other southern states who experienced this kind of cold last week where it is not supposed to be that cold. They have all learned the hard way that no amount of covering will protect a plant from temperatures that dip into the teens (Fahrenheit).

Elsewhere in my garden, the snow from last Thursday is gradually melting as the temperatures finally got above freezing on Wednesday. After eleven days of literally freezing weather, it is a welcome change.

Inside, I have three amaryllis bulbs from last year that are in various stages of bloom and bud.

The one that is actually blooming is a variety called ‘Green Goddess’.

It was easy to get these amaryllis bulbs to rebloom. Sometime around September, I started to cut back on the watering, let the leaves die back and then cut them off. Then I let the plant rest until right after Christmas when I started watering them again. They are growing at different rates, so I should have an amaryllis of one kind or another in bloom for several weeks.

It’s accompanied by the blooms of the Jewel orchid, Ludisia discolor.

This orchid has faithfully flowered every January and is an easy orchid to grow, with handsome maroon-ish colored leaves with pink stripes. It would be great foliage to show for Foliage Follow up, hosted by Pam at Digging on the day after bloom day.

Elsewhere indoors, the hyacinths are “on vase”, the poinsettia from the holidays still looks very bright red, and the Crown of Thorns, Euphorbia sp, is blooming. But it always has a bloom or two.

What’s blooming in your garden on this fine January day? We would love to find out!

It’s easy to participate in Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. Just post on your blog about what is blooming in your garden on the 15th of the month and then come back here to leave your link in the Mister Linky widget below along with a comment to entice us to come for a virtual visit.

“We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.” – Elizabeth Lawrence

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Achieving Happiness in Your Garden: The First Secret

One fall day, when the sky was quite blue and half the leaves were still on the trees and half were on the ground, I went out to the garden with rake in hand. I wasn’t planning to do a lot of raking, but merely wanted an excuse to be out in the garden on a beautiful day.

As I poked around at the leaves, raking up little piles here and there, my rake suddenly got caught on something. At first I thought it was a tree root, but when I got down on my knees for a closer look, I could see that it was the corner of a metal box of some kind. “What could this be”, I thought, as I laid the rake down to mark the spot before running to the garage for a shovel.

Within a few minutes, I had dug up the box and gingerly opened it, thankful that the lock and hinges hadn’t rusted close. Inside was a single sheet of paper on which someone had written “The First Secret to Achieving Happiness in Your Garden”.

I took off my gardening gloves, and gently unfolded the paper to reveal…

The first secret to achieving happiness in your garden is to grow the plants you love.

Grow the plants you love.

Grow the plants you love - exactly!

If you want to be happy in your garden, you should fill it with the plants you love. It was so eloquently stated in those five words. “Grow the plants you love.” When we plant what we love in our gardens, we will love the plants in our garden. We will want to be out in the garden, enjoying those plants in all seasons, watching them grow, flower, and set seed. We will be on our way to achieving happiness in our gardens.

Oh, it seemed so simple! Perhaps deceptively simple, for I realized then that not everyone has plants they love in their garden.

Sometimes we inherit our gardens from someone else and find that the plants they loved are not the ones we love. May I suggest if that is what you have in your garden, plants loved by a previous gardener but not by you, that you dig them up and pass them along to someone else who will love them? If the plants can’t be safely transplanted, dig them up and remove them anyway.

Sometimes we fall in love at first sight with a new plant, but then once it is in our garden, we realize that we misjudged it. It isn’t what we thought it would be and we really don’t love it at all. I recommend you dig those plants up, too, and either compost them or pass them along, if you want to achieve happiness in your garden.

Sometimes we think that we have too many of one or more of the genus of plant we really love, like roses or daylilies or even agaves, so we stop ourselves from getting more of them, even though we love them. “Frosted Pumpkins”, I say! If you love a particular genus of plants that much, by all means, grow a lot of them in your garden.

And sometimes we see a plant at the local garden center that we fall in love with, but for some reason, we talk ourselves out of buying it. We convince ourselves that we can have a garden without it. We walk away from it. Don’t do that! Buy that plant and plant it in your garden. Otherwise, you will think constantly about that plant you didn’t get, and it will cause you to not be happy with the plants you do have.

Grow the plants you love. What a simple, straight forward secret.

After I had finished reading the first secret to achieving happiness in your garden and thought a bit about whether I was growing the plants I loved, I made a little note on the piece of paper – “this secret discovered by Carol, May Dreams Gardens”, then dated it and placed it back in the box. After gently closing the lid, I laid the box back in the hole I’d dug it out of and carefully buried it again. Someday, I thought, another gardener will come along on a beautiful fall day with rake in hand, and perhaps they will discover the little metal box that contains the first secret to achieving happiness in your garden

Grow the plants you love.

And with the first secret revealed, I knew that my walk down this garden path toward achieving happiness in my garden had just begun. I knew that somewhere there were more secrets to be discovered, and that somehow, I would discover them.

Grow the plants you love.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Five Secrets to Achieving Happiness In Your Garden

I have discovered the five secrets to achieving happiness in your garden.

One day last spring, I found a key and used it to unlock the door to a long-ago abandoned garden shed. As I opened the door, a ray of sunlight fell upon an old potting bench, and on that bench was a small, non-descript book bound in green leather with gold writing. I picked up the book, blew the dust and potting soil off the cover, and gave it a gentle swipe with my hand to reveal the title, “The Five Secrets to Achieving Happiness in Your Garden”. My hands shook as I slowly opened the book and began to read…

Well, that’s not exactly how I discovered the five secrets to achieving happiness in your garden.

One evening I was sitting by the fireplace as the last of the embers were burning themselves out. I must have dozed off but awoke suddenly and was startled momentarily to see five garden fairies standing around me in a semi-circle. Each one was carrying a scroll. One on by one, they slowly opened their scrolls and began to explain the secrets written on them. They allowed me to ask questions until I felt like I finally understood the five secrets to achieving happiness in your garden. After the fifth fairy had shared the last secret, I realized that the fire had died down completely. Though the room was cold, I immediately jumped up and grabbed paper and pen to write down the five secrets…

No, wait, it wasn’t quite like that.

I actually discovered the five secrets to achieving happiness in your garden after years of therapy with Dr. Hortfreud. She patiently listened to me talk in session after session, until finally I jumped up and said “Blooming radishes, I’ve figured out the five secrets to achieving happiness in your garden!” She almost fell out of her chair when I did this, but recovered quickly and helped me to put the final touches on the five secrets. She’s required to keep our sessions confidential, but I’m allowed to tell the five secrets to anyone who is ready to hear them.

And now…

The Five Secrets to Achieving Happiness in Your Garden…

Oh my! Look at the length of this blog post. Look at the time! I really must hurry along and water some house plants. I do apologize! I promise I’ll post about The Five Secrets to Achieving Happiness in Your Garden very soon.

Thank you in advance for your patience!

Yes, There Will Be A Bloom Day After "The Freeze"

A few questions and answers about Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

Dear Hortense,

My garden has been frozen in places where it wasn't supposed to freeze. Should I skip Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day on the 15th?

Frozen in Austin.

Dear Frozen in Austin,

While Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is strictly optional and looking about the garden may be painful and disheartening now after the freezing temperatures, I think you should go ahead and look for blooms on bloom day and write a post about them. Someday, when you are facing yet another hot summer day, you will want to look back and remember. Really, you will.


Dear Hortense

Will bloom day every end?

Faithful Flower Follower

Dear Faithful

An end to bloom day? Well, I don't think now is a good time to stop this tradition because January 2010 marks the end of Year 3. Who stops at the end? Oh, wait, check that. Doesn't February 2010 seem like a good place to start another year of bloom day posts? Sure it does. But before we start at a new beginning, we have to wrap up Year 3 with our January posts. Then bloom day will keep on going for another year. 


Dear Hortense,

Can anyone post for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day?


Dear PW,

Yes, anyone and everyone is welcome to post about their blooms on the 15th of the month for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. There is no excuse not to, even if your blog isn't strictly about gardening. Something blooms for everyone, every month. Sometimes we just have to look a little harder for those blooms. But they are there, and there's no reason not to share them with everyone,

Hortense Hoelove

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Vegetable to try in 2010 is...

This year’s New Vegetable to Plant in My Garden will be…


Okra will help take me back to my roots, to a time when my Dad would drive some of “us kids” down to visit our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in southern Indiana. If our visit was in late summer, one of the foods we’d eat there, that we never ate any place else, was fried okra. It’s been awhile since I’ve had any fried okra, but I kinda sorta vaguely remember that I liked it.

That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll like it now, by the way, depending on how I fry it. I’m sure they fried the okra in pure lard which I wouldn’t do today. But I’m going to try to grow some anyway and give it a try.

One of my uncles recommended that I try a variety called ‘Emerald’, which is described in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog as “A Campbell Soup Co. variety from 1950, early, round-smooth, deep-green tasty pods, high quality and early, tall plants.” While I would like to grow a couple of varieties to see which one does best in my garden, okra is a fairly large shrub like plant which will take quite a bit of space, so I’ll just go with ‘Emerald’ and hope it does well here.

As far as growing okra, I think I am about as far north as you can be and still grow it successfully. If I were blindly choosing a variety, I would look for one described as “early”, which would probably be right for my garden. Okra also needs warm soil for the seed to germinate, so it may be Memorial Day before I sow the seeds outdoors. To hedge my bets a little, I may start some seeds indoors a few weeks before then as well, and plant those seedlings out in the garden the same day I sow the seeds outdoors.

Hopefully by late July, early August, I’ll have some okra to pick and then I can get the “secret family okra” recipe and try to repeat the magic of a summer’s weekend spent with all kinds of relatives, eating fried okra. If I turns out I don’t like okra as much now as then, that’s okay, because okra is in the Mallow family, Malvaceae, and has those big white to yellow flowers that sort of look like another member of that family, Hollyhocks. So if nothing else, okra should be a pretty plant in the garden.

What’s your new vegetable going to be this year?

(Image above courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Stay Calm, Do Not Panic, But...

I did not read yesterday's paper until after alert May Dreams Garden reader Robbie of Going Green Mama left a comment on my seed catalog personality test post  about a potential vegetable seed shortage that she read about in our local paper. 

Everyone stay calm.

I googled it and got some more information.  Susan Reimer, who writes for the Baltimore Sun, wrote about a possible vegetable seed shortage, too, in her column on December 31st.  You can read it and draw your own conclusions and decide for yourself what is best for you to do.

As for me, even though I should be taking down the outdoor Christmas lights, cleaning the house, doing the laundry, paying bills, organizing financial files for 2010, and shoveling more snow off the driveway, all while I would like to just be watching movies and gardening shows and reading gardening books and seed catalogs with my feet propped up and drinking sateady supply of iced green tea from Starbucks, I think I will actually order up my vegetable seeds, just in case.

Stay calm, do not panic... plenty of seeds for everyone... hopefully. 

(Update... I just read my local morning paper and Susan Reimer's article about the potential vegetable seed shortage is in it. Word is spreading...)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Seed Catalog Personality Test

How’s the seed catalog browsing going? Good? Good!

Why is it good? Because if you’ve been thumbing through your seed catalogs, now is the time to go get your favorite one and use it to take the May Dreams Gardens Official…

Seed Catalog Personality Test
Endorsed by Dr. V. Q. Horfreud

To determine your personality type based on your favorite seed catalog, please look at your seed catalog and how you marked it. Did you

a) use little Post-it® note flags to mark the pages of the seeds you want to order

b) circle everything you want to order

c) dog-ear the page if there was something included on it that you want to order

d) mark everything you want to order with asterisks

e) use a combination of all of the above

f) keep a separate list of all the seeds you want to order, noting which catalog they are in, their price and the quantity so you can sort the list and determine how best to order seeds so as to get the most for your money while keeping shipping costs low enough so that your orders will not cause UPS to declare record quarterly earnings.

If you answered “a) use little Post-it® note flags to mark the pages of the seeds you want to order”, it means that you like things to be open-ended, loose and free, to have the option to change your mind, which you can do by just moving the Post-it® note to a different seed variety.

If you answered “b) circle everything you want to order”, it means that you are decisive, and perhaps a bit flamboyant, depending on how big you made the circles, and whether you used a black ink pen or a big red marker.

If you answered “c) dog-ear the page if there was something included on it that you want to order”, it means that you are eager to mark your seed choices, so eager that you couldn’t take the time to find a pen or Post-it® notes. You also tend to be a bit short sided and don't necessarily think things through because the page can only be dog-eared in one direction so you have a problem if you also want to order something on the other side of the page.

If you answered “d) mark everything you want to order with astericks”, it means you are decisive,  but not quite as flamboyant as someone who circled the seeds they want to order, unless the asterisks are really big or done in red ink.

If you answered “e) use a combination of all of the above”, it means that you are impetuous, likely to change often, and unpredictable. Really… circles, asterisks, Post-it® notes and dog-eared pages? You need to back away from the seed catalogs, breath deeply, get some counseling and then come back and try again.

Finally, if you answered “f) keep a separate list of all the seeds you want to order, noting which catalog they are in, their prices and the quantity in each packet, so you can sort the list and determine how best to order seeds so as to get the most for your money while keeping shipping costs low enough so that your orders will not cause UPS to declare record quarterly earnings”, it could mean that you like to be neat and orderly and keep your catalogs in mint condition.

It also means that no matter what you do, it would appear that you are going to order enough seeds to make those seed companies you choose have a record sales year. Forget about UPS, they probably want to deliver the seeds in person just to meet you!

Which answer fits you best?

(Please note that responses may be used by Dr. Hortfreud and other researchers from the completely fictitious Institute for Gardenetics Research and Other Work (iGrow) which is just me when I want to sound more official.)

Monday, January 04, 2010

Ready, Set, Seed Catalogs!

Having picked the last pine needle out of the carpet, or at least the last one that I can see for now, it’s time to…

Get out the seed catalogs!

Ready, set, order! Last one to order seeds is a crummy little dandelion!

Just kidding. Relax, stand down.

There is plenty of time to browse the seed catalogs, make lists, re-do the lists when more catalogs show up in your mailbox, then re-do the lists again when you read blog posts about what other gardeners are ordering. Then re-do them again when you go to the garden center and buy some of the seeds they have. Then re-do them one more time when you discover the online seed companies that don’t have print catalogs.

Lots of time. Oodles of time. Weeks, really.

Around here, I won’t start any seeds indoors until early March and I won’t plant any seeds outdoors until mid March when I plant my peas. I think if I get my seeds orders sent by about mid-February, I’ll get the seeds in plenty of time. Or maybe I’ll shoot for the end of January?

When I do order my seeds, I will order 80% of the same varieties that I ordered last year, and the year before that, and the year before that, especially for the vegetable garden. I like to go with my “tried and true” varieties that perform well for me year after year, like ‘Provider’ green beans, ‘Green Arrow’ peas, and ‘Cue Ball’ squash, and then fill in the rest with new varieties to try. This helps ensure that I don’t a disaster in my garden with green beans I hate or peas that disappoint or ordinary “big as your forearm” summer squash.

But I always try to order a few new varieties, as space allows. And in that other 20% or so that will be new varieties, there will likely be some duds, but there will also be one or two “wows” that I will repeat the next year, and the year after that, and then move to my “tried and true” list, like ‘Cue Ball’ squash.

I love this time of year - these seed catalog reading, seed list making days of winter.

It really is the start of a whole new gardening year.

Ready, set, read those seed catalogs and start those lists!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Once Again, Hyacinth Bulbs Are "On Vase"

INDIANAPOLIS – Hyacinth bulbs are “on vase” once again, and showing both roots and shoots after less than 48 hours.

And thus another gardening year is off and running here at May Dreams Gardens.

I pulled the bulbs out of the refrigerator on January 1st, where they had been chilling since mid-October in a plain brown paper bag, and placed them on the vases filled with water.

And now on January 3rd – roots and shoots.

Forcing hyacinths to bloom using hyacinth vases is one of the easiest and most rewarding activities for any gardener in the winter time. It’s almost as effortless as growing dandelions or chickweed.

I highly recommend it, I encourage it. I could not imagine a gardening year that didn’t start off with it. I must have hyacinths on vase in January.

What? You didn’t buy any hyacinths bulbs this past fall? You don’t own a hyacinth vase? Well, you are in luck! I saw some hyacinth vase kits with a vase and a pre-chilled bulb for sale just the other day at one of our big box stores, right next to the marked down amaryllis bulbs. Surely there is a store near you that also has them! Go today and check. Get one, get two. No wait, get three, because remember that three is the least number that a gardener really knows.

Put your hyacinth bulbs “on vase”, stand back, and wait for the magic to happen!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Dear Garden Journal...

Dear Garden Journal,

Happy New Year, and welcome to the beginning of your 10th year. I love having you on my kitchen counter, with all the notes I’ve written for each day through the past nine years. I love having you so much that I already have a second ten year garden journal tucked away on a bookshelf, waiting for the start of next year.

Today, dear journal, I set up six hyacinth vases with bulbs of various colors. I bought the bulbs in October and kept them in the back of the refrigerator in a paper bag until this morning. Then later in the afternoon, I potted up a few paperwhite bulbs, a Christmas present from a friend. It was sunny but very cold today, so I left the outdoor lights up.

Your gardener,


Make this the year that you keep a journal of your garden, if you don’t already do so. All excuses for not doing it are just that… excuses.

Are you waiting for the first of the new year to start a garden journal? Hey, that’s today! You can start today.

Are you waiting for the perfect journal to write in? You can start with any notebook you have lying around, even that spiral bound notebook sitting in the bottom of that lower desk drawer, the one left over from your school days. Then later, if you find something better to use, you can transfer your first few entries to it.

Are you afraid you will make a mistake and the journal won’t be perfect? I suggest you make a mistake today, on your very first entry, and then you don’t have to worry about that first mistake. It will be over and done with.

Are you concerned that you won’t have anything to write? I have good news to share on that, too. Write anything. Even just the high and low temperatures for the day and whether it was sunny or cloudy or partly cloudy or partly sunny would be a good start.

Are you afraid someone will see it? Unless you are writing your deepest, darkest secrets, who cares if someone sees it?

No more excuses, embrace garden journals. Write a journal entry today and then another one tomorrow and then another one the day after tomorrow. Then before you know it, you will be the one looking back over nine years of garden journal entries!