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Monday, May 31, 2010

Dear Friends and Gardeners: May 31, 2010

(This is a continuing series of weekly letters exchanged between Dee, who gardens in Oklahoma, and Mary Ann, who gardens in Idaho, comparing how similar and different our gardens are, especially the vegetable gardens.)
Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

Greetings from the garden on this last day of May, Memorial Day 2010! I’ve attached a picture so you can see what I harvested yesterday morning.

That’s about 10 lbs. of strawberries, in case you are wondering, the second "good picking" from my little 4’ x 8’ patch of strawberries. I weighed them just to be able to tell you that. They are very sweet, too, so I usually eat them plain, no sugar needed. I shared some with some friends yesterday and will eat my way through the rest of them.

I thought about making strawberry freezer jam, but I know me, and I’d probably never get around to it, so I’ll just enjoy them while I have them. I’ve forgotten what the variety is – somewhere around here is a plant tag for them – but they are supposed to be ever bearing. So far, after five years, they seem more like June bearing because once these are gone in the next few weeks, that’s all I’ll get for the season.

I also picked what is probably the last of the lettuce. It bolted with the spinach, which is fine because right in the middle of that bed where the lettuce is, I planted cucumbers, so the lettuce was going to have to be pulled out eventually, anyway.

The rest of the harvest included lots of snow peas, some onions and a few radishes. This has been a most disappointing year for radishes! Many of them just did not form good radishes, and I even waited to plant them when the moon was waning, which is when you are supposed to plant root crops. Because I waited for the moon phase to change, I did plant them a few weeks later than I normally do, but I wouldn’t think that would make much of a difference. I’m going to sow more radish seeds today, mostly around the squash because I read once that radishes help deter squash bugs, and I’ll see if some of those do better.

The rest of the garden is coming along nicely. Most of the seeds I sowed last week have germinated. No doubt the warm days we had last week, with high temperatures in the high 80’s, helped move things along. Now I need to spend some quality time weeding because the weeds are growing just as quickly as everything else in the garden.

I hope you both are enjoying nice weather in your gardens... I hear the birds calling me out to the garden early today on this holiday, so I’ll close as always…

Hortifully yours,

Carol

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Don't forget to go back to Friday's post about the hoe●dag®, to leave a comment about your missing garden tools and enter to win your very own hoe●dag®. Deadline is Tuesday, June 1, 2010, 9:00 pm EST. My goodness, there are some funny stories of missing tools and some sad ones, too. Where are all those garden tools going, and are garden fairies involved in their disappearance? Find out on Tuesday.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Greatest Spectacle In Gardening

There’s a race going on here in Indianapolis this weekend.

Have you heard of it?

It’s the greatest spectacle in gardening!

It’s the race every gardener runs in their garden on Memorial Day weekend, trying to finish planting all those annuals, vegetables, perennials, shrubs and other assorted plants purchased and acquired throughout the month of May.

The  birds are cheering us on and the rabbits are watching in awe as we run about from garden bed to garden bed. This is not the time to doddle and putter about. The race is on, the finish line is just around the next turn. It’s nearly June!


This weekend seems to be for many of us the “unofficial deadline” for getting to the finish line of spring planting. As the green flag drops signaling the start of another race in Indianapolis, the Indy 500, (you knew I’d get around to mentioning that other race eventually), you’ll find me and many other gardeners out in our gardens, racing around planting, weeding, mulching, and hoeing, with plenty of pit stops, trying to get everything planted now.

While I’m out racing around in my garden today, I’ll also be tuned in to that other race, listening on the radio just to hear Jim Nabors once again sing ‘Back Home Again in Indiana’, signaling for me, summer’s arrival in the garden.



Gardeners, start your wheelbarrows!


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Don't forget to go back to Friday's post about the hoe●dag®, to leave a comment about your missing garden tools and enter to win your very own hoe●dag®. Deadline is Tuesday, June 1, 2010, 9:00 pm EST. My goodness, there are some funny stories of missing tools and some sad ones, too. Where are all those garden tools going, and are garden fairies involved in their disappearance? Find out on Tuesday.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Win Your Very Own hoe●dag®

For a brief period of time, I thought I'd lost my new hoe●dag®, the very hoe●dag® I recently reviewed and professed my love for.

It happened this evening. I had just finished mowing the lawn and was planning out in my head what I want to do in the garden on this lovely long holiday weekend. Some of that "doing" was going to involve my new hoe●dag® but it occurred to me that I didn't know exactly where it was.

So I decided to go looking for it. I wanted needed to know with certainty where the hoe●dag® was so that when I was ready to use it, I wouldn't waste time looking for it.

I couldn't find it.

Where was my new hoe●dag®? What had my nephews done with it? They are working in my garden helping with some of the heavy lifting and I am generously letting them use any tool they want to use. They want to use the hoe●dag®. Had they left it in a flower bed? Buried it in some mulch?

Maybe they were just having a little fun and hid my new hoe●dag® from me?

DO NOT HIDE AUNT CAROL'S GARDEN TOOLS, ESPECIALLY THE HOES, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES.

I looked high and low amongst all the hoes, and finally found it, nicely hung up on the pegboard.

Whew, that was close. Stand down. Everyone may now continue what it was they were doing. Ha ha! No one was playing a joke on me. All is good. I know where my hoe●dag® is.

Do you know where your hoe●dag® is? Do you even own a hoe●dag®? Would you like to own a hoe●dag® to use in your very own garden?

If you would, then this might be your lucky weekend because the wonderful people who make and sell the hoe●dag® are sponsoring a giveaway of a new hoe●dag® right here on my blog.

To enter, leave a comment below telling us what garden tool you've lost that you really miss. Gosh, yes, your mind counts as a gardening tool, if you think you've lost your mind in your garden!

One lucky randomly drawn winner will then have their choice of a plain-handled hoe●dag® or one with a handle painted by The Gourd Fairy.

Other details:

1. One entry per person.
2. Please make sure I can get to your email address via your blog or leave it in the comments for me. You can and should disguise your email address something like this: "Indygardener AT G mail dot com, and I'll figure out what it is.
3. US and Canadian residents only.
4. Enter by commenting before Tuesday, June 1, 2010, 9:00 PM EST. Winner will be chosen shortly thereafter and notified via email.

Now, tell us about that missing garden tool that you can't find and really miss and you might win a new hoe●dag®.

(Update June 1st - The winner is commenter 14, Rebecca! Congrats and thank you to all who entered.

Where Have All The Rabbits Gone?

Where have all the rabbits gone?

Are they gone? I haven’t seen any bunnies this year and didn’t have many problems with them last year.

Have they turned their back on my garden, and moved on? It’s almost eerie not to have them around.

They’ve left the peas alone and taken nary a nibble from the lettuce and spinach. They haven’t made a warren in the strawberry patch or left any droppings in the lawn.

Are they really gone?

We had such fun! The rabbits were worthy opponents, and in hindsight, I enjoyed my epic battles with them, my attempts to outwit them and out maneuver them, in a “winner take all peas” contest that commenced early each spring and went on until the peas were tall enough to be out of reach of the rabbits.

They challenged me, made me stronger, helped me become a better gardener. If not for them, I would never have come up with the “spoon trick” to protect the green beans, which, reflecting back, seems to have been the beginning of the end of the rabbits in my garden.

Are they really gone?

They inspired me with their seasonal visits, not only in spring and summer, but at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and even Easter time. Remember Bountiful Bunny? He really seemed to “get it” when it came to growing vegetables.

Are they really gone?

Our battles were epic. Our truces were negotiated. I had rules to fight by and the rabbits had rules, too, to make it a fair contest.

Perhaps the rabbits and I have finally reached that understanding that I had hoped for and dreamed of, where they can come and play in the garden, as long as they only eat clover and lawn grass.

Are they really gone?

Come back!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Hoe●Dag® Review

Short version of the review:

I’ve got a new hoe, called a hoe●dag, and I love it.

Long version of the review:

I first heard rumors of this “hoe●dag” hand hoe via Mary Ann, from Gardens of the Wild, Wild West. When I found out that this hoe really did exist, I wrote a little email to the maker of it to introduce myself and present my hoeing credentials and ask if they had one I could try out and review.

Within a few days, I had my own hoe●dag®. As soon as I took it out of the box, I almost instinctively started to dig a little spot with it. Then I used it to chop out some weeds, grub out some grass, and make a nice furrow in some of the vegetable garden beds. I even used it to pry out some rocks.

Then, and this will surprise many of you, I hired my nephew-in-law to help with some challenging areas in the garden, and showed him all the shovels and hoes, both long-handled and short-handled, hanging on the pegboard in my garage and let him choose any of them to use.

He chose the hoe●dag®. My brand new hoe●dag®. At first I thought maybe I should get to use it first, but then I decided to let him give it a workout. After all, the people who make the hoe●dag® wrote in an email reply to me,

“Please abuse it to your heart’s content and let us know what you think of it.”

My nephew-in-law gave it a workout, in a place where he actually broke a lesser made trowel clean in two, the digging was so hard. But it wasn’t too much for the hoe●dag®. He told me the other day “give it a good review”. So I made sure to try it out some more, before I wrote up this review, by digging, weeding, tilling, and then prying out more rocks with it myself.

My assessment is that the hoe●dag® deserves a Great Review. (What do these young people know about hoeing, anyway?)

This is the real deal, a great hand hoe, well-made by hand and guaranteed forever.

This hoe and I will be spending many hours together in the garden and my garden will be better for it.

I will be always grateful to the wonderful people who make the hoe●dag® in Lewiston, Idaho, USA for sending me this one to review.

Summary of the Review:

This is a great hand hoe. I'm pleased to use it in my garden and add it to my hoe collection.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

You Might Be A Gardening Geek: Photography Edition

You might be a gardening geek when it comes to photography if…

You welcome an occasional cloudy day because it gives you a good WOO to take pictures in your garden. Bonus points if you’ve stood over a plant to cast a shadow on it because that provided better lighting than the direct sun that was shining on it.

You go out in the rain to take pictures of the garden when it is all wet.

You didn’t realize your camera had a red-eye reduction feature to take the red eyes out of human and animal subjects because you rarely take pictures of humans and animals.

You take more than a dozen pictures of the same flower because from one second to the next the lighting changes, the wind blows differently, or you’ve thought of a couple more angles to take the picture from.

You read about David Perry’s “macro in a mason jar” photography tip and tried it with plants.

You show your vacation pictures to friends and they ask if you always vacation alone because there are no pictures of family or friends, just plants and gardens. Bonus points if you show your vacation pictures to fellow gardening geeks and they ask “what is that plant that is partially hidden behind your spouse/child/friend in the picture” and wonder why you couldn’t get them to move out of the way.

You generally always take a camera with you when you are working in your garden so you can take pictures that would be otherwise “lost forever” if you didn’t have your camera with you right then. Bonus points if you shared the picture with an entomologist because you thought it was kind of cool, like this picture of a cicada killing wasp actually attacking a cicada in mid-air.

You are a regular participant in Gardening Gone Wild’s monthly “Picture This Photo Contest”. Bonus points if you’ve won an award. Double bonus points if you’ve entered every month.

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you really ought to consider entering Horticulture magazine’s garden photography contest. One grand Prize winner will be selected by renowned photographer Rob Cardillo; the winner receives $1,000 and the winner's name and winning photograph will be published in the January 2011 issue. Bonus points if you think you would use the $1,000 to buy another camera. Deadline is June 1, 2010 so more bonus points if you now hope that Memorial Day weekend will have perfect garden photography weather.

Finally, you might be a photographing gardening geek if you’ve ever stood up on a ladder to get an overhead shot of your garden to show how the new beds are shaping up in the back yard.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Discovering the Garden Design Element of "Placeness"

I have found a special place in my garden, a spot where I can stop and rest of an evening and look across the lawn,

Or gaze up at the sky,

Or see up close the plants around me.

This place was always here, waiting to be discovered.

Like a diamond cutter studies the rough, unimpressive rock before making the first cut and revealing the beauty of the diamond within, my garden designer studied my back yard before she laid out the garden beds and in the process revealed this special place to sit and rest.

Here I can sit in the evenings with the setting sun behind me and reflect on the events of the day and make decisions about tomorrow. There are shrubs behind me and a spruce close by, making me feel like I am truly in the garden, hidden from view. Yet from here I can view most of the rest of the garden.

This special place was always here, revealed by the garden designer's design. I don't think I would have ever found it on my own.

It truly does reflect the garden design element of “placeness” in my garden and confirms again my decision to work with a garden designer, someone who can see the beauty of a garden in the plain-ness of my yard.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Planting Round Squash

Round squash? Round squash, you ask?

Why yes, I am growing some round summer squash this year, thank you for asking.

Matter of fact, I’m growing five varieties of round summer squash this year. I sowed seeds for all of them in the garden just the other day, just as soon as it warmed up a bit.

There’s ‘Cue Ball’, my first ever round squash that will forever be a part of my vegetable garden, for as long as I plant a garden and can find the seeds for it. It's my signature squash. We go back nearly three, or maybe it is four seasons now and created a special bond last year in Horticulture magazine, June/July 2009 issue, page 16. Good times!

Then there is ‘Eight Ball’, which is a darker green than ‘Cue Ball’, but just as round, and “One Ball’, which is round and yellow.

I almost couldn’t find seeds for ‘Cue Ball’ this winter, so I also got ‘Rondo de Nice’, which looks a lot like ‘Cue Ball’ in all the pictures, but has a lovely Italian name.

And then Leslie from Growing a Garden in Davis heard that I liked round summer squash, so she sent me some seeds for ‘Tondo Scuro di Piacenza’ which I think will be a lot like ‘Eight Ball’ and go nicely with 'Ronde de Nice'.

If we have a good squash year, and I hope we do, I could end up with a lot of squash, even though I planted just one hill of each type of round squash. I’ll do my best, Annie in Austin, to pick them while they are still small or at least only post about the small ones so you won't see any that got too big, like some of the 'Eight Ball' in the picture above.  The round squash varieties are best picked when small, like the one on the far right.

For all my friends who like to get some free summer squash from me, whether they like it or not, I’m also growing ‘Ambassador’. It's a traditional type of “zucchini” summer squash that people expect you to grow in your garden, if you are growing any squash at all. I can let this squash get really big and then people will take it to grate it up and make zucchini bread.

If they don't take it, I will leave the squash in their unlocked cars at work or on their desks when they are away for meetings. 

Did you know that all these squashes have the same botanical name, Cucurbita pepo? I like how that name sounds for some reason. You can’t really say it without smiling. Try it. Cucurbita pepo.

And you can’t really think about a gardener knowingly, willingly, planting six hills of Cucurbita pepo, “zucchini squash”, whether round or not, without smiling and nodding, and thinking that perhaps she’s going just a tiny bit overboard.

Overboard? That’s for boating. In the garden, there’s no overboard. There’s just a gardener and her garden, growing a few varieties of squash, waiting for the first round squash, which she should be picking no later than July 1st.

Dear Friends and Gardeners: May 24, 2010

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

Summer has arrived! Or at least it seems like it has arrived. We went from temperatures barely getting to the low 60's last week to a high of 88 F yesterday (Sunday). Today it could also get up to 88 F and our record, set in 1965, is 90 F.

No warning, just "Ta Da!"... summer.

Oh well, it is better than the snow I hear you are experiencing in Boise, Mary Ann. You have my sympathies. Snow now would freak me out completely.

As you can see from the picture above, my strawberries are ripening and it looks like it is a good crop this year, with nice, big berries. I took some to my mom for lunch on Sunday and she enjoyed them and said they were delicious. Of course they were! They were grown in my own garden, warmed by the Indiana sun!

I spent all of yesterday morning warmed by that same Indiana sun, planting out the rest of my vegetable garden with tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash, green beans, corn, melons, zinnias, marigold and sunflowers. Oh, and I'm soaking some okra seeds to sow later this evening when I get home from work.

I wondered if I would have any room left for a "holding nursery" in the vegetable garden after I planted everything. There are still some plants, mostly perennials, that I need to dig up and move temporarily until the newly designed garden beds are ready for planting. The garden designer kept eyeing the vegetable garden as a likely temporary home for them.

But I wonder no more.

I don't have any room left in the vegetable garden, though I did ask myself as I planted that last bed with zinnias and sunflowers if I should have just left it for holding over other plants. But then I decided I would miss the zinnias and sunflowers, so I planted them anyway. We'll come up with another place to hold over plants.

By this time next week, I should have some pictures of the new beds in the back to show you. I hired two nephews to finish them up with a thick layer of mulch to keep the weeds down until they are fully planted, which could be awhile.

In the meantime, here's a picture of the vegetable garden all planted up.

Those white pipes sticking up are 1" PVC pipe. I pound two foot pieces of that into the ground about a foot, then use that to support the actual tomato stake. It's much easier to pound those into the ground than to try to pound a six or eight foot stake into the ground.

And now looking back at the list of what I planted I just realized I didn't plant cucumbers. Didn't plant cucumbers! I'm not sure I even bought seeds for them. I need to take care of that this evening! What was I thinking? I can't have a vegetable garden without cucumbers. Where will I plant them? I'll figure something out, but now I am defintely out of room in the vegetable garden.

Until next week,

Hortifully yours,

Carol

P.S. Look at this one pea plant. It is heads and shoulders above the others.
It's just begging me to write a separate blog post about it.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Repent!

Repent, ye gardeners, repent!

Repent and pay your penance with hours of weeding for planting, once again, a plant that you had no business planting, that took hold in your garden and while you weren’t looking, spread and smothered and self-sowed and destroyed all that was in its path.

Repent for all the plants around that thug, that monster, that invasive hog-plant that seems to know no bounds.

Oh, yes, proclaim your innocence! You are the victim here, standing there holding that four inch pot with the cute little plant.

They are selling it, it can’t be bad!

Another gardener is offering it to you for free! Would they do that if it was an invasive?

After all it is just one tiny little plant in a four inch pot.

You are Super Gardener. In your garden, you will control it, tame it, make it grow only where you would have it grow. You will show it that YOU are in charge of it.

You should have listened to that little voice that said "Don't plant it". But you didn't. Now you must pay for your transgression!

Repent, ye gardeners, repent.

Dear Garden,

I am sorry that I planted that moneywort, Lysimachia nummularia,  in my perennial bed. I was a numskull for doing that. I now know that the love of planting of moneywort is the root of all evil. Please forgive me. I will work to get rid of it. I promise. Please do not let it grow anymore.

Sincerely,

Indy Gardener

(Now, go wash your hands! You have until 5:00 pm EST to enter to win free soap from Botanical Interests by leaving a comment on yesterday's post.)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How Clean? A Giveaway Sponsored by Botanical Interests

After a day of working in your garden, where you have managed to cover yourself from head to toe with dirt, mud, grass stains, and other stains, how "cleaned up" do you need to be to make one last mad dash to the garden center to get that last (fill in blank here of what you ran short of)?

We have already established that most serious gardeners wear some of the goofiest outfits while out working in their gardens. But when it comes to "cleaning up" a bit to go to the garden center, how clean is "clean enough"?

I'm sure there is a wide range of opinions on this subject ranging from "just go as you are" to "stop, clean up, and change clothes". Plus there is the ever popular "find the cleanest person in the house who has a driver's license and make them go while you take a much needed break".  (Though we all admit that if this cleanest person is not a gardener, there is a big risk that they will not return with the right (fill in blank here of what you ran short of)).

Even those of us who are willing to make that last trip in the "just go as you are" gardening attire we have on, complete with bits of leaves and twigs stuck in our hair, would agree that the one thing we should do before we head back to the garden center is...

Wash our hands.

Treat them well.

Make them smell good and feel a little softer by washing them with a good bar of soap like the new Botanical Interests Gardeners Scrubbing Soap with Basil and Poppyseed.    

At this point, I should insert a picture of my hands before washing with this soap and a picture of my hands after washing with this soap, but my hands, with clipped short fingernails and... well let's just say I am not looking to switch careers to become a hand model anytime soon.

Instead, I'll just leave you with these instructions...

To enter a drawing to win your own Botanical Interests Gardeners Scrubbing Soap with Basil and Poppyseed, leave a comment below and tell us how cleaned up you need to be to go to the garden center.  Be sure to include a link that will take me back to a blog where I can find your email address or put your email address in your comment (disguised of course, something like Indygardener AT g mail dot Com). I'll figure it out if you are the winner.

Comment by 5:00 pm EST on Sunday, May 23.
Open to residents of the United States and Canada.
Winner will be chosen by random drawing and be notified by email.

(Yes, Botanical Interests sent me a bar of this soap to try and they are sponsoring this giveaway.)

Times up! Thank you to all who entered.  Our winner is Kari, lucky #22. Kari, watch for an email from me to tell you how to get your Botanical Interests soap.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A New Family In The Garden

It always starts out so innocently.

For several years, in early May, a local garden club has held a plant sale at the home of one of their members, just off a busy road that I drive up and down many times during the week, especially on the weekends.

Every year, I see their sign advertising the plant sale but always on the day of the sale, I seem too busy and rushed and hurried to stop and look.

But this year, I made myself slow down, for just a few minutes, and stopped in to see what they had for sale. I browsed the tables of daylilies and irises, checked out the daisies and hostas, and then my eyes landed on a tiny groundcover of a plant with pretty snapdragon-ish flowers labeled Mazus.

It seemed vaguely familiar, so I purchased it and took it home. In the rainy days since then, it has been in its pot, on my front porch, waiting with all the other plants for an evening without rain, an evening when the grass doesn’t need to be cut, for me to plant it.

But wait!

It is a groundcover, clearly, and so it must be approached with caution, for its very nature is to cover the ground, and anything else that might grow in its path. Ground-cover.

It was quite easy to do an online search for Mazus and find out that my new little plant’s full name is Mazus reptans. Though one site did indicate it was in the Snapdragon family, Scrophulariaceae, it appears that once again, through the use of phylogenetics, botanist have moved Mazus out of the Scrophulariaceae family and into the Phrymaceae family.

At one time, Phrymaceae only contained one genus, Phryma, which has just one species, leptostachya, that goes by the common name of Lopseed, giving the whole family the nickname of the Lopseed family. However, many sources still show Lopseed as being in the Verbenaceae family. I guess they haven’t caught up with botantists who use phylogenetics to move plants all around to different families and make up new plant families as they go.

Holy Linnaeus! I sure don’t remember plant taxonomy being quite this taxing when I studied it in college. But I do remember it being this fun, sort of.

As soon as it stops raining and the ground isn’t quite so saturated, I’m going to plant my one and only plant from the Phrymaceae family, my new Mazus reptans, someplace in the back to see how it does.

I just hope it doesn’t turn on me and become a menace to the garden!
(By the way, those little spots on the flowers… you do know those are a fairy's foot prints, right?)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Five Things I've Learned So Far From Working With A Garden Designer

Five things I’ve learned so far from working with a garden designer.

1. Lawns should have a shape.

2. It really is nice to come home and find that someone planted something in my garden while I was at work.

3. I’m actually okay with my lawn mowing time being reduced by about half in the back yard.

4. No plan is cast in stone.

5. I can turn into one of those clients who asks the same question more than once, hoping the answer will change.

And a bonus sixth thing.

6. Don’t be afraid to invest in hardscape.

And a bonus seventh thing.

7. A garden designer will help you get plants that you haven’t seen in the garden centers.

And a bonus eighth and ninth thing.

8. Dump your plant prejudices in the compost bin; you might like some of those plants you thought you didn’t like if they are planted in the right place in your garden.

9. Having a garden designer work with you doesn’t “de-personalize” your garden. My garden still feels like my personal space.

And the tenth and final thing I've learned so far from working with a garden designer...

10. I should have hired a garden designer years ago.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Would You Rather Be An Excellent Gardener or A Successful Gardener?

I read a Dale Carnegie quote earlier this week and my thoughts turned to gardening, as they always do.

Before you read the quote, take a minute to answer this question:

Would you rather be an excellent gardener or a successful gardener?

I suspect most of us would like to be a successful gardener but how would that success be measured? If we chose to be an excellent gardener, how would we define what “excellence” is?

Dale Carnegie provides an answer that may influence those who chose “successful” to change their choice to “excellent”.

“Success bases our worth on a comparison with others. Excellence gauges our value by measuring us against our own potential. Success grants its rewards to the few but is the dream of the multitudes. Excellence is available to all living things but is accepted by the few. ~ Dale Carnegie

We are all tempted to look over the garden fence into our neighbor’s garden to compare our gardens to theirs. Who has fewer weeds? Better flowers? Nicer shrubs? Taller trees?

But where do such comparisons lead?

They can and often do lead to us thinking or making negative comments about the neighbor’s garden and his or her gardening ability if we think in comparison that our own gardens are lacking. “If I had the kind of time she has…” “Well, if I spent that kind of money…” “His flowers are nice, but he seems to have no sense of color…”

Somehow, getting caught up in these types of criticisms and put downs is often how we justify our own level of success in the garden, whether we are truly successful or not.

But if we strive for excellence as a gardener, defined as reaching our own potential, then comparisons to others and their gardens are no longer necessary. We can measure our excellence by how close we came to our own potential.

And what is our potential?

Our potential as gardeners ebbs and flows depending on the time, resources, knowledge and money we have to invest in the garden at any given time. These can all be influenced by our own health, the demands of family, the demands of work and even the temperament of Mother Nature in a given season.

As our potential changes, so will our gardens, and so will our definition of excellence.

When we strive for excellence, we no longer need to make comparisons to see if our garden is better than our neighbor’s garden. We just need to look within ourselves and ask if our garden reflects back our full potential as a gardener at that point in time.

If we can do that, garden to the fullest potential that we have at a given time, then we can and should consider ourselves to be excellent gardeners.

And thank goodness there is enough space in the garden of life for everyone to be excellent.

The Wild Garden: A Book Review

One does not lightly pass up a book with a note on the cover that says “Gardeners owe all to William Robinson” – Henry Mitchell.

Nor should one take lightly a book that uses the word “copse” in it, as in,

My object in The Wild Garden is now to show how we may have more of the varied beauty of hardy flowers than the most ardent admirer of the old style of garden ever dreams of, by naturalizing many beautiful plants of many regions of the earth in our fields, woods, and copses, outer parts of pleasure grounds, and in neglected places in almost every kind of garden.”

One should read that book, which in this case is The Wild Garden: Expanded Edition By William Robinson and Rick Darke, with new chapters and photography by Rick Darke (Timber Press, $29.95).

The “old style of garden” that Robinson writes of is a garden laid out, Victorian style, with tender annuals and “exotic plants” that produce that lush summer display, but are gone with the first frost and must be replanted the next spring

This is a fascinating book. Darke has taken the 5th edition of The Wild Garden by William Robinson, published in 1895, and wrapped it carefully in a 21st century introduction and guide for how one might apply the concepts of Robinson’s 19th century “wild garden” to today’s garden.

I've found it very useful in helping me visualize how I would like to plant part of my backyard garden, the part where there will be a copse. Do you know what a copse is? When I wrote an email to introduce myself to the garden designer I’m now working with, I noted that I wanted a copse in my garden, a thicket of small trees and shrubs, planted in an informal style. And yes, she has included a copse, admittedly a small one, in the plan for my back yard gardens.

Robinson advocates in The Wild Garden, which he originally wrote in 1870, for moving away from stiff, formal gardens toward those gardens that allow plants to grow, flower, and fade without having to constantly maintain or re-plant them. He provides several reasons “for thinking wild gardening worth practicing by all who wish our gardens to be more artistic and delightful”. He contends the hardy plants will thrive in the “rough places” in the garden, and they will look “infinitely better than they ever did in formal beds”.

I wonder if my garden designer has read this book? I think Robinson, over 140 years ago, beautifully describes what I hope to have in at least part of my garden, starting with a copse, and expanding out from there, a place where plants can grow and colonize themselves, where they can sprout, flower, and gracefully die back without requiring extraordinary measures to hide fading foliage or provide awkward support, a place where I can just go and enjoy being in a garden.

Yes, I believe Henry Mitchell may have been right. “Gardeners owe all to William Robinson” for moving gardeners long ago away from the formally planted summer garden to a natural, sustainable garden that can be enjoyed in all seasons. And we owe thanks to Rick Darke for bringing this book back to us, some 140 years after it was first written, to show us how to achieve our own “wild gardens”, in several styles, ranging from my dreamed of copse to prairie gardens and meadows.

(I received a review copy of this book from Timber Press, at my request.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Dear Friends and Gardeners: May 17, 2010

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

Monday morning… my gardening vacation is over and I am back to work.

The first question I’ll be asked is “did you get everything planted?”

No, I didn’t.

I never finish all that I want to do while I’m on gardening vacation, but I get a very good start.

The redesigned front garden is nearly complete now; I promise to post some pictures soon. I also made good progress on general weeding and mulching. But there are still some newly purchased plants on the front porch that belong in containers and out back, in the shade, I’m still hardening off my pepper and tomato seedlings.

I used to try very hard to make sure I planted the rest of the vegetable garden while I was on gardening vacation, but now I generally wait until later in May to plant it when I am sure we are truly beyond our frost free date. I have too much invested in those little seedlings to risk killing them off in a late frost. I figure that even planting a week later, by mid-summer, my garden will be all caught up with everyone else who planted theirs earlier.

While I was off this past week, I did get a chance to meet up with the garden designer on Monday. She came by mostly to lay out the new garden beds in the back. I left her alone to figure it all out, and with all the rope she had, she laid out several new beds. I don’t know how she did it, but the way the beds curve and how the curves of each bed seem to complement each other is amazing. She said that if it was done right, I would always feel comfortable in the garden. So far, I do. I can’t wait to see what the beds look like once they are planted!

I also met with the guy who is designing the new patio. He has some great ideas, and I think he’ll have a plan ready soon. They won’t actually start on the new patio until sometime in June, at which point my backyard will turn into a bit of a construction zone. They have to tear out the old brick patio to put in the new, larger one, but will be reusing all the bricks that are currently there. And, to bring in their equipment, they will need to remove a section of the fence and a shrub.

My current brick patio is too small and is dipping down in sections. From “day one”, I’ve also battled weeds in all the cracks, like the little alyssum seedling shown above. I asked the “new patio guy” why that was and he said it was probably not installed according to industry standards but he’d know for sure once they tear it out.  There’s not much I can do about that now, nearly 13 years later, but it is good to know this new patio will last much longer than that.

While all that is going on with the new beds and the new patio, my vegetable garden will be left alone and will remain my summer sanctuary, where I can plant, weed, hoe, and harvest to my heart’s content. I didn’t get a picture of it today, but it hasn’t changed much from last week.

By next week, though, it should be all planted…

Until then,

Hortifully yours,

Carol

P.S. As part of my garden redesign, I will be getting a gate to put at the entrance to the vegetable garden. The garden designer mentioned a “custom gate”, so I am looking through books and magazines for ideas on the kinds of gates I like, to give her some ideas. If you have any pictures of gates that you think would give me some ideas send them my way!

P.S.S. It wouldn’t be right to end without a “Thank You” to all my “gardening friends everywhere” who participated in Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day on Saturday. I’m very appreciative and grateful to all who take time to showcase their blooms on their blogs and join in this Internet meme on the 15th of every month. It is almost impossible to visit everyone’s blog personally, but I try to visit as many as I can, especially those that are new to me. It is a great way to discover, and sometimes rediscover, some great garden blogs and gardeners. Thank you!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - May 2010

Welcome to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day for May 2010.

May. I've waited all year for it.

Not only is the sky blue, the grass green, and the garden all new again, but the blooms are big here in my USDA hardiness zone 5b garden.

Big like these peonies.

I dug these up about ten years ago from my Dad’s stand of peonies that grew on the south side of our house. That probably explains why I used them as a foundation planting at my house, and didn’t think to put them out in to the perennial border somewhere. This fall, I will carefully move some of them to the new perennial gardens being made now. I won’t move all of them, though, just in case the ones that I move don’t make it. I don’t want to risk not having them at all.

Big like Baptisia.

Or rather big like the overall effect of the Baptisia australis, which lures you back for a closer look. I want more Baptisia. I read somewhere that if you cut off the fading blooms, it may rebloom a bit. I think I’ll try that this year.

Big like iris.

Well, big like some people’s bearded irises, sometimes call “flags”, which I don’t have blooming in my garden. Instead I have these medium big Japanese-type irises.

Big like swaths of daisies.

Even if these are plain ol’ weedy ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare), I still like having a few of them blooming in the garden.

Big like roses.

These are the Knockout® Rose, Radsunny. The blooms start out yellow and then fade to a creamy white.

Big like alliums

I planted these last fall and already I can’t remember which variety it is.

Big.

… like the last fading lilac blooms still perfuming the air with their heavy, sweet scent,
… like the double flowering columbine flowers still hanging on, held high above the other plants of the garden,
… like the nodding bell-shaped flowers of Clematis integrifolia ‘Alba’, pictured above
… like the blue of the Amsonia tabernaemontana, blue dogbane, a shade of blue that reflects the sky,
… like the strawberry blooms promising hundreds of sweet strawberries in a few weeks.

Big.

But amidst all the “bigness” of May blooms, out back in the shade of the locust tree, is a small bloom, one I’ve been waiting for, checking each day to see if the buds had opened, hoping it would bloom by today. And when I went out to take a round of pictures for bloom day, there it was… the first bloom of the hardy orchid, Bletilla striata.

Many people are surprised that orchids actually grow outdoors and survive our winters here in Indiana. I believe, based on some online research, that there are actually about 43 species of orchid that are native in Indiana.

This particular orchid in my garden, Bletilla striata, is not a native orchid, it comes from China. It is easy to grow, is hardy to Zone 5 but should be given a little extra mulch in the fall and planted where it won’t stay wet all winter. In the spring, it should be protected from late freezes.

Most of my little stand of these hardy orchids have been through two winters now. I’m hoping they spread a bit and form a nice clump here, so that all the blooms together can one day join the ranks of “Big” in my garden in May.

What’s blooming in your garden on this beautiful mid-May day?

We'd love to have you share your blooms with us on the 15th of each month by joining us with your own Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day post. Just post on your blog about what is blooming this month in your garden and then come back here and leave a link to your blog post in the Mr. Linky widget below along with a brief comment to entice us to virtually visit your garden.

The rules for Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day are simple... no rules! You can include pictures, lists, no lists, common names, botanical names, whatever you’d like to do to showcase your blooms. You can post early, you can post late. We are grateful for whatever you share with us. Thank you, and all are welcome!

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

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mowing With A Troy-Bilt Mower: A Review

Your average American garage contents… probably two cars, a shovel, a rake, a hoe, and a lawn mower, mixed in with some bikes and sports equipment.

My garage? No bikes, and for sports equipment I think I could find a Frisbee® if I could climb over the two electric chipper shredders and move the snow blower over a bit past the lawn cart and the wheelbarrow. I have to be careful, though, not to crash into my stash of clay pots. Let’s not talk about shovels, rakes, and hoes for the moment, they are on the other side of the garage anyway.

Let’s focus instead on the lawn mowers. Yes, there’s a new mower in my garage, a Troy-Bilt B270 ES TriAction™ 21" Electric Start Self-Propelled Mower sent to me by Troy-Bilt to try out on my lawn.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Setting Up The Mower:

The mower was easy to get out of the box. Open top flaps of box, cut all four corners with razor knife so the sides of the box lay flat and wheel it out. It was easy to set up, too. Straighten handle, loosen two bolts, pull handle out eight inches, tighten bolts back down. Pull starter cord and hook onto handle. Add oil, add gas, turn key to electric starter. Engine starts, ready to mow.

It took just 15 minutes or so to set up the mower, with no tools required. Somewhere in there I should have noted to review the owner’s manual.

Mowing with the Mower:

This is where the rubber meets the road, or we should say, the blade cuts the grass. Short version… once I made a few adjustments, this mower mows quite well.

Longer version...

It is very easy to adjust the height of the mower deck to adjust the cutting length, and the heights are labeled “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6”, which I took to mean inches. So I started out at “3” and scalped the first section of lawn I tried to mow. I moved the two levers up to “5”, which seems to be a 3” cut. I measured to be sure because the owner’s manual didn’t seem to note that particular detail.

The mower is self-propelled by the front wheels. My other gas powered mower is a self-pacing self-propelled mower so I was concerned that this one would be too fast or spin out of control in some sections. But it did neither. It moves at a very comfortable walking pace and I never felt it jerk forward, as some earlier self-propelled mowers seemed to do in the past.

I did note that the handle is a bit higher than I am used to and isn't adjustable. But once I got used to it, I forgot about that, and think it made me stand up a little straigher while mowing.  When I finished mowing, I didn't seem to be quite as worn out as with the self-paced mower, probably because I didn’t try to go faster than the walking speed. But overall, it took about the same amount of time to mow.

The cut is good. I used the mower in “mulching mode” with no side discharge and no bagging (I never bag the grass as I cut it) and it did a nice job of cutting with no clumps of grass left behind.

The second time I mowed with it, I put it through a serious work out. First, the grass was dampish in places since it had rained earlier in the morning, but it still cut well. This could be because of the “rake bumper” on the front that helps to separate the grass as you mow.

Then when I finished mowing, I dropped the blade down and “short cut” the areas where I will have new garden beds. I do not recommend cutting a lawn that short, ever, and so question why lawn mower designers even make it possible to cut a lawn that short. But the lawn mower did well through this little exercise. I was cutting nearly two inches off, so at times it would start to clog up a bit, but occasionally lifting the mower slightly cleared out the grass clippings. A better option might have been to put the side discharge chute on. 

(The whole time I was mowing these sections this short I was thinking about how there are actually people who mow their lawns at this height all the time. Why? Don't "short cut" your lawn unless you are going to dig it under anyway for a new flower bed or shrub border.)

Deciding What to Do With The Mower:

When I got this mower from Troy-Bilt to try out on my lawn, I assumed I would try it out, write the review and then look for a good home for it, as I wouldn’t want to give up my self-paced mower, plus I also have a delightful reel mower, plus I have a cheap push mower, plus I have… well, it isn't really all that relevant how many mowers I have.  What's relevant is that I mow my own lawn, usually twice a week during "the season",  and I've mown with all types of mowers, except a riding mower, and amongst all those I've used, this Troy-Bilt mower ranks pretty high as a good mower. 

For more information on this mower and all the Troy-Bilt mowers, visit their website

(Troy-Bilt sent me this mower at no cost to me, with a request for me to use it and write a review of it on my blog. My opinion of this mower is based on my experience after using it twice.)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Breakthrough Session With Dr. Hortfreud: New Garden Beds

Are you ready, Carol?

Ready for what, Dr. Hortfreud?

Ready to make the biggest change of all in your garden. Look at the size of those new beds.

Those are big, aren’t they, Dr. Hortfreud? The garden designer laid them out on Monday and then I “short cut” them so I could see them better.

For the record, Carol, I do approve of the new garden beds but wonder what has happened to cause you to finally do this. You’ve wanted to do this for so long, we’ve talked about it for so long, that I wondered would you ever really do it.

So you don’t approve, Dr. Hortfreud?

No, I approve. It is very well-plotted. But it really isn't my job to approve or disapprove, Carol. I’m your therapist. My job, as we’ve discussed, is to just help you look at all the alternatives, to work through your issues, and help you find answers that you already have. With these new beds, I feel like we’ve made a breakthrough, finally, and a very significant one at that.

I feel good about this, too, Dr. H. These garden beds are so big that I think I’m going to have to give each of them a name, which also helps increase their placeness factor.

Good idea, Carol. We can continue our therapy sessions because I know it will take some intense therapy to work out the names of the gardens, and of course choose plants to put in them.

Well, the garden designer has a lot of good ideas on the plants. Plus, I’ve let her know that she just needs to help place the big plants, the ones that will help define each garden, and then I’ll fill in the rest and that will make it very hortiful for me.

And planting it with plants of your choosing will also add to the gardimacy of your gardens.  I’ll put you down for more appointments, as I’m sure you’ll need them for choosing “the rest of the plants”.

Thank you, Dr. Hortfreud. I appreciate it. Oh, before I leave, here are some “before” pictures, too, for my files. The new beds are where I cut the lawn really short. I did that so I could see them better.

New bed by Viburnums.
I think this will be shady enough in spots that I can finally buy some shade-loving perennials again and not just look at them in the garden centers.

New bed around Locust tree
The new bed makes that small existing bed look even smaller.

New garden bed along east side of the backyard, by the fence.
So big it will have a path through the middle of it, for wanderability, leading to a place where I can sit and rest and view the rest of the gardens and continue my therapy sessions with Dr. Hortfreud.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

You Might Be A Gardening Geek: Rainy Day Edition

You might be a gardening geek on a rainy day if…

You contemplate buying one of those temporary shelters, the kind with the tent roof but no sides, to set up in strategic locations in the garden so you can continue weeding and planting, section by section, in the rain, in the garden.

You go ahead and go to the garden center while it is raining because you figure there will be fewer people there and surely an umbrella will keep you mostly dry. Once there you encounter other gardeners, just like you, doing the same thing.

You walk around your garden in the rain just to see which way the water flows so that later you can make changes to make the water flow where you want it to go.

You use the rain as an opportunity to check your live rabbit trap, find a rabbit, but then it escapes because you are trying to do everything one-handed while holding an umbrella in your other hand.

You are annoyed that your weather station is not working so you don’t know exactly how much rain your garden got, measured accurately to within .03 inches, and instead have to rely on the weather bureau's data, which just isn’t the same.

You are thrilled that even with the threat of rain, your newly hired gardening-helper-nephew-in-law shows up early in the morning and helps move the last of the mulch bags to the back patio and promises to return when it stops raining.

You start looking at some of the shopping sites for spring-flowering bulbs and end up ordering some to be delivered in the fall for planting. (Really, this is a good time to order bulbs for fall, while you can remember what blooms you liked this spring.)

You have more then ten garden books stacked up on your coffee table to read on rainy day. (Yes, that actually makes you more of a book-reading gardening geek, but let’s not quibble about it, because after all it is raining.)

You worked so hard in the garden the days before the rain that you are actually kind of glad to see some rain so you have an excuse to rest. Well, not really, but you tell people that so they won’t feel so bad for you that it is raining when you want to be out in the garden.

And finally, you might be a gardening geek in the rain if…

You make up a little rhyme. “Rain, rain, go away, Carol wants to garden today.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Garden Design Update: Making Plant Choices

I spent yesterday outside gardening in the garden, and only took one picture showing Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokova’ with bits of Snow-in-summer, Cerastium tomentosum, growing with it. The snow-in-summer is the one with the grayish-green narrow leaves. In the lower center are the tips of the maroon leaves of Hecheura x villosa ‘Mocha’ (more on that later).

In the morning I weeded out the grape arbor bed and spot weeded the other beds in the back. Around lunch time, the garden designer arrived bringing with her a sprig of a geranium that she proposed using as a ground cover in one section of the front garden. She didn’t think it was enough different to warrant buying it and pulling out the ‘Biokova’ that was already there, but wanted to compare them. We put that sprig in with the ‘Biokova’ and noted it had a slightly larger leaf than ‘Biokova’, but the blooms were nearly identical, so we decided to use the ‘Biokova’.

My job was to remove the snow-in-summer growing up and through the ‘Biokova’, and then dig up the ‘Biokova’, divide it and replant it so it would in time form a nice ground cover under some yellow flowering ‘Radsunny’ Knock Out® roses.

I should mention that I already had the roses, planted in a nice straight line. The garden designer’s assistant moved the middle rose forward to form a triangle with the three roses and I couldn’t believe the difference. Instead of just a mass of roses in a nice straight line, like a hedge, I could suddenly see three rose shrubs.

I wonder why I didn’t think to do that?

But I didn’t think to do that, which is why I have a garden designer.

Did you know that geraniums (the true Geraniums, not those pelargoniums) are fairly shallow rooted? I dug them up and divided them as best I could, and replanted them around the roses, as best I could, and will hope for the best.

Did you know that snow-in-summer forms a mat of roots and in time, any lesser plants will be swallowed up by it? When you pull that stuff out, the stem stretches like it is made of elastic and then snaps off. I got rid of as much as I could but I’m sure I’ll be pulling out sprigs of it here and there because some of those mats of roots remain under the mulch. I call that kind of weeding “self-inflicted”. I planted it purposefully, after all.

I have snow-in-summer elsewhere in the garden, big mats of it, and it is putting on its annual “see how pretty I am, keep me” show which makes me want to keep a little of it, but try to keep it more in check.

Excuse its rain-soaked appearance. We had some rain last night, perfect for settling in those geranium divisions and the Heuchera x villosa ‘Mocha’. The garden designer brought those, along with the geranium sprig and a sprig from a smoke bush, Cotinus coggygria, probably the variety ‘Purple Smoke’. I said a quick “no thank you” to the smoke bush and she said that she didn’t think I’d like it. She is very patient with my plant prejudices likes and dislikes.

When she showed me the Heuchera x villosa ‘Mocha’, it was a more definite yes. Why? Because I immediately thought those were ones my Dad would have liked because he seemed to like dark foliage like that and I think a garden should include some plants that remind us of those who are no longer living. I have those kinds of plants all through my garden.

The astute reader will note that Cotinus coggygria 'Purple Smoke' also has dark maroon colored leaves, but I still don't like it, so the garden designer can't assume that I'll like any plant with dark foliage.

It must be challenging to be a garden designer. She can come up with the shape of the beds and the general purpose and idea for each area. She can move existing plants just a little to make them look more interesting. But how do you figure out what the garden owner will like in plants? Or maybe it is more important to know what the owner doesn't like? Or maybe it is just more important to just keep suggesting plants?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Dear Friends and Gardeners: May 10, 2010

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

Woo hoo! I’m on vacation for a week to work in my garden. “Having a great time, wish you were here.” Then you could help me weed and mulch and plant up containers.

I’ve already got a good start on weeding the vegetable garden beds, getting them ready to plant. As predicted, we did have some patchy frost Saturday night into Sunday morning so I’m going to wait until at least next weekend before I plant anything else in the garden. I’ve gotten nipped by a late frost before, so I am wary of planting too soon.

In the meantime, weather permitting, I’ll be hardening off my tomato, eggplant, and pepper seedlings, and going through all my seed packets deciding how to squeeze everything I want to grow into the space I have.

It’s like a puzzle, figuring out how much of each vegetable to grow, and then growing it in a bed that wasn’t used for that same type of vegetable the year before. I usually start solving this annual puzzle by first deciding where to put the tomato plants, and then everything else seems to fall into place.

Right now, I’ve got lots of lettuce and spinach growing, plus the onion sets and radishes are ready to pull. I saw a few pea blossoms Sunday evening, and my strawberry plants look like they will provide me with a big harvest in a few more weeks. I meant to take a picture of at least the lettuce, but forgot to before it got dark. Instead, you can see a picture of some chives that I’m growing in the perennial border (above) and the garden as it looked after I weeded for a bit.
I won't have to do any more in the vegetable garden before I plant. It's ready to go and so am I!

I hope you both have a great week. I should have lots to report in my next letter about all my vacation activities and adventures in and out of the garden.

See you at the garden centers!

Hortifully,

Carol

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Baptisia

I was lured out into the cold, sunny garden early this morning by Baptisia australis, selected as the 2010 Perennial Plant of the Year™ by the Perennial Plant Association.

Baptisia australis 'Purple Smoke' has been a nice anchor at the end of the perennial border between me and my neighbor for many years. 

For awhile, I had some other plants growing around it that I thought were keeping it from reaching its full potential, so rather than move the Baptisia, which has a reputation for being a bit difficult to move, I cleared the space around it, and for the past several years, it has been outstanding.

I remember last May when garden bloggers met in Chicago, the Baptisia growing in the Lurie Garden were at peak and caught the attention of many of us, so much so that when I got home, I purchased two more Baptisia.

The first one was labeled as "just" Baptisia australis, and is a brighter purple than 'Purple Smoke'.
It's just starting its second year in the garden so doesn't have as many blooms as 'Purple Smoke', which I've probably had for at least seven or eight years, maybe longer.

The second one, in the middle of the border, is another example of my giving in to temptation at the garden center. Who wouldn't want Baptisia 'Carolina Moonlight' with yellow blooms?
It's a hybrid cross between Baptisia sphaerocarpa and Baptisia alba. The tag said it is also long-blooming. Time will tell on that. Right now, with just two bloom stalks, it isn't exactly drawing the crowds.

Baptisia is pretty easy to grow in the garden. It does best when you plant it in full sun, give it some room, and let it settle in for a few years. In other words, don't move it all around all the time. Find a spot for it, plant it, and enjoy it right there.

Just by looking at the flowers, most people can figure out that Baptisia is a relative of the common garden peas. Both are members of the Fabaceae family formerly known as the Leguminosae family. It also goes by the common name "False Indigo". I would call it that, and for many years did call it that, but a few minutes ago, I decided for no particular reason to not call plants "False" anything. Would anyone else like to join me in this crusade that I just dreamed up? Perhaps the Society should discuss it? They are due to meet sometime soon according to their self-appointed president for life.

So there you have it... a few rambling thoughts on False Indigo Baptisia blooming in my garden on a beautiful, slightly chilly Mother's Day. I think I'll cut a few stems of 'Purple Smoke' and take them to my Mom when I see her later today. 

Plant some Baptisia in your garden and you can do the same next year (or the year after).

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Tale of the Four New Clematis

Once upon a time, Jo Ellen, the Hoosier Gardener, came to see my garden and asked me why I had “caged” my Clematis integrifolia ‘Alba’. She suggested I free it and let it just grow up and around the plants near it.

I decided she might be right, so I wrote a post about it and then proceeded to set it free.

Writing that post got me thinking about Clematis and how I especially love those with bell-shaped flowers, and how I had accidently weeded out my tiny Clematis integrifolia ‘Rooguchi’ last summer (pictured here before I carelessly weeded it out).

Don’t you just hate that sick feeling you get when you are weeding and suddenly realize you weeded out a plant that wasn’t a weed?

Even though my irresponsible, over zealous weeding led to the demise of 'Rooguchi', I decided I should buy a new one.

I inquired online to find a good source of Clematis and Dee of Red Dirt Ramblings  and Mr. McGregor's Daughter both replied without hesitation “Silver Star Vinery”.

Late one night, I proceeded to check out Silver Star Vinery’s website and found not only ‘Rooguchi’, but also two other Clematis vines to purchase. I placed an order for those three Clematis and was pleasantly surprised that the confirmation email was not an automated reply but an actual real person writing to me. She wanted to make sure the plants would arrive when I could plant them.

I replied back to confirm the shipping date and included my blog url in my signature line. Long story longer, Debbie, the star of Silver Star Vinery, replied back that she had read my post about freeing the clematis and she would love a division of my ‘Alba’. She made me a good offer, which included a seedling of one of her “integs” as she called the shrub-type Clematis. I agreed.

My new Clematis arrived Thursday afternoon - the three I ordered plus a seedling called ‘Debbie’s Integrifolia’. It should have blue bell shaped flowers. All are now safely planted in my garden. On Monday, I'll "fork off" a nice division of 'Alba' and send it back to Debbie.

And that is how I ended up with four new Clematis in my garden this spring.

The moral of this story:

Let others see your garden and ask you those “why” questions that make you think and see your garden differently. It may trigger a chain of events that leads to more new plants and other changes “for the good” in your garden.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Garden Design Update: Greeting New Plants

We haven’t been formerly introduced yet, this lovely Chamaecyparis and I, but I think once we are, we will get along quite well.

I never thought I cared much for Chamaecyparis, as a general rule, but I do like this one, and think it is a great addition to the garden. I probably wouldn’t have planted something like this on my own, so I’m glad the garden designer pushed me a little to think again about this genus of shrubs and give one or more a try.

When the garden designer returns early next week to put the finishing touches on the front garden and start marking beds in the back garden, I’m sure she’ll make formal introductions including Genus, species, and variety.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to keep it watered and get to know it better, along with other new plants in the garden.

Hi, Kerria japonica ‘Alba’!

Greetings, Heuchera villosa ‘Caramel’!

Hello, other Chamaecyparis!

Good morning, Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah'.

Yes, the garden designer even convinced me to plant Panicum, switch grass.

Will wonders never cease?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

More Columbines In My Garden

For the longest time, I’ve wanted a nice yellow columbine in my garden. I saw one at a garden center a few weeks ago and almost bought it, but then I reminded myself that with all the changes I’ve planned for my garden this year, this is not the best time to be buying new plants. So I passed it up.

I know! One of the rules of the gardening geekdom is never pass up a plant that you really, really love for silly reasons like you have no place to put it, or you have too many plants (does not compute) or you are “re-doing your gardens so just wait until that is done before you buy more plants”.

Please don’t kick me out of the society of gardeners just yet.

For several days, I was still thinking off and on about that lovely yellow columbine that I passed up when what do you know – I discovered a yellow columbine in my very own garden. Did the garden fairies plant it? Or did an absent-minded gardener purchase it last year, plant it, and then forget about it?

Let’s go with “garden fairies” as the answer.

I did find a tag for it, which was nice of the garden fairies to leave for me. It appears to be Aquilegia ‘McKana Hybrids’, which is not as precise a name as I’d like to see, but it is still a nice yellow columbine with a hint of pink striping and for now, satisfies my desire to have a yellow columbine. It also makes me feel just a tiny bit less remorseful for passing up the other one. 

But it does make me wonder what else is out in the garden that I don't know about?