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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Garden Design Elements: Seasonal-shift

I find it very confusing to be in a garden where plants are blooming everywhere you look and there is no place to rest your eyes without seeing something else that screams out to be seen or if you do stop and look at one bloom you have this feeling that you are missing something or not looking at the right plant as if all the flowers you aren’t looking at are tapping you on the shoulder and shouting “Look at me!” “No, look over here at me.” “Look here, too!”

It’s like one long, run-on sentence with no commas.

It might seem exhilarating to be in a garden like that, and for the first few moments it is. But then when you leave the garden and finally have a chance to think about it, reflect back on how it was, you remember it as exhausting, overwhelming, with too much going on at once.

It is like leaving a loud, crowded party where everyone is shouting to be heard over the music. You breathe a sigh of relief after making your way through the crowd and finally stepping out into the fresh air. You can breath again, hear again, speak in a normal voice again.

I enjoy a garden more when every border isn't competing for attention at the same time. I like it when one border’s season ends and its blooms begin to fade, the focal point shifts to another border that is appropriate for the next season. The borders complement one another, taking turns at being the focal point. This draws me back to the garden over and over again, because I know there will be something new to see each time I visit.

When you visit a garden with borders that are designed to peak in different seasons and not all be the focal point at once, you sense there is a freshness to the garden, no matter when you visit. Your gaze is drawn to a particular border that is in its season, without distractions from everywhere else.

I call this design element “seasonal-shift”.

This shift of focus from one border to another does not mean that a border must melt into the green of the garden when it isn’t its season. It will still have blooms and interest, but it won’t be a loud presence when it isn’t its season.

I also realize that this design element may not always work in a garden that is so small that it is basically one border. There the challenge is how to keep one border looking fresh throughout all seasons.

But in a larger garden, in my suburban garden, there is room for multiple borders that each have their own season, their own time to be the focal point.

I’ve just reviewed the plans for my backyard garden design and believe that my garden designer has captured this element of seasonal shift. Some borders will be prominent in the spring, others in summer, yet another in fall. The whole garden won’t shout at once.

I like that. I look forward to the focal point of the garden shifting as the seasons change, to “listening” to each border in its season.

Seasonal-shift. A surprise sixth element of garden design that I’m happy to have in my garden to go with the other five elements of garden design I wrote about earlier:

Wanderability, Placeness, Well-Plotted, Gardimacy, and Hortiful.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Dear Friends and Gardeners August 30, 2010

Diervilla lonicera
Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

In 48 hours, give or take, August will be over and it is on to September. Here in Indianapolis, we will remember this as a record setting August – the driest ever with just .37 inches of rain. This beats the record set in 1897 when they measured .47 inches of rain.

This is a far different summer than I thought we would have back in June, which was the third wettest June in Indianapolis history. That whole month, one of my nephews and my nephew-in-law worked in the garden weeding, mulching, stacking patio bricks, and cutting a nice edge around the new planting borders. They often had to quit early because of the rain or carry on through the mud but did a great job and saved me a lot of time and money in the process.

I saw both of them yesterday at an early birthday party we had for my mom who will be 81 on Thursday. They wondered why I hadn’t written more about them on my blog so they could become celebrities, at least in the garden blogging world.

I had no idea they wanted to be in the limelight like that, though admittedly my blog casts just a faint limelight.

We discussed whether I should refer to them as garden fairies when I wrote about them, if I wrote about them. They both nixed that idea, preferring instead to be thought of as gnomes. I didn’t care for that and they didn’t like the idea of trolls, which they said had a bad reputation. In the end, they thought being called sprites might be okay, or perhaps we just left it that I would refer to them as garden sprites.


Once upon a time, there were two garden sprites named Jared and Ross who came to my garden each morning to weed, mulch, dig, tote and carry while I was at work. Everyday when I got home, I would rush to the garden to see what the garden sprites had done and delight in the beautifully stacked patio bricks, removed one a time over the course of two days or squeal with glee to see where they had weeded. I measured their progress in reducing the 18 cubic feet of mulch in the driveway to a mere pile of dust for me to sweep away. And they often did their work under the threat of rain or working through mud, because they did it all in June, the third rainiest June in Indianapolis history. After watching them work, I concluded that garden sprites, in general, are much harder working than garden fairies, at least in my garden.

The End.

Now, what they do with their fame and the fortune they made working in my garden, and this rather faint limelight illuminating them for an Internet micro second, is totally up to them. But next summer, if they find themselves at loose ends once again, I’d welcome them back because there is always something to do in a garden, especially for two hard working garden sprites like Jared and Ross.

Carpe hortus,


P.S. The picture above is of a Diervilla lonicera bloom, one of the new shrubs planted this spring, one that I am making sure stays watered through this dry August.

P.S.S. This past week, I also ordered gobs of bulbs to plant this fall. I want a nice display for next Easter, which is rather late next spring -April 24, 2011. A lot of flowers and spring bulbs should be in bloom by then. Did I mention that the garden sprites and all their cousins love the egg hunt at my house and never outgrow it?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Coleus Knocked On My Door

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Solenostemon scutellarioides.

Solenostemon scutellarioides who?

Solenostemon scutellarioides ‘Crimson Gold’

No joke, those crazy taxonomists renamed the common coleus a while back to Solenostemon scutellarioides.

I checked out the pronunciation on the Fine Gardening website and have decided to stick with “coleus”. I have trouble with words that end in “ioides” and sound like a fool trying to say them, or make that “more of a fool”.

Fortunately, those who are selling the plants are still calling them Coleus. This particular coleus, ‘Crimson Gold’* was sent to me by Ball Horticultural Company to grow in my garden someplace. It’s from their Versa Collection.

The someplace I chose was a container by the front door. This has not been a good location for many plants through the seasons. It is on the front porch, which, though south facing, gets very little light up by the door. Many a shade loving plant has done miserably in this location including impatiens, begonias, and even hostas.

This coleus did quite well. The six plants in this container have filled in nicely in spite of me never pinching them back and only offering a token amount of slow release fertilizer when I potted them up at the end of May, after they sat in their six pack on the porch for a few weeks.

I don’t like to molly-coddle plants.

I do think they would have been even fuller had I bothered to pinch them back at all. But I like this one well enough to pinch off a couple of cuttings to root and try to overwinter inside.

It’s time to do that now, so I’m adding it to my ever growing list of things to do in the garden. By the way, the fastest growing thing in my garden right now is that list of things to do before the snow flies. It is always that way this time of year. The list is growing longer while the days are growing shorter.

But it would all be better if it would just rain…

*Crimson Gold reminds of those households that include both an Indiana University graduate (Cream & Crimson) and a Purdue University graduate (Black & Gold). Get it?  "Crimson Gold". Or as some of us might prefer "Gold Crimson".

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Three Acronyms To Help You With Bulb Planting

It’s late August and our thoughts turn to buying bulbs to plant this fall for spring flowers next year.

With the garden design in progress, an overall busy summer, and a garden so dry that it seems to be sucking not only water from the faucet but bulb buying motivation from my very gardening soul, I have not yet purchased bulbs.

This means that each and every one of you who just now thought, “Oh, no! I need to order bulbs”, needs to wait just a darn minute or day or two until I’ve ordered mine. Then you can order yours. I don’t want anything that I want to be sold out.

While you are waiting, I have three acronyms to help you remember some basics of bulb planting. Please study these and don’t buy any bulbs until you have committed them to memory and reported back to me.

This should give me time to order my bulbs before you order your bulbs.


Our first acronym, SLOP, stands for Straight Line Obsessive Planting. I’ve written before of the tendency of some gardeners to always plant in straight lines. Don’t do this with bulbs. Do not plant your bulbs in nice neat lines so they will come up like little Soldiers of Spring. Save that kind of planting for your vegetable garden.

Instead, plant bulbs in groupings. Think swaths. If you have an entirely blank canvas, as in you aren’t trying to plant the bulbs in and around all kinds of shrubs, trees, and perennials, you can dig one big hole, set all the bulbs in place… not in lines, in groupings… and then cover them all at once. It is much easier and faster to plant bulbs this way.

And while you are at it, plant odd numbers of bulbs.


Our second helpful bulb planting acronym is GOBS. When ordering bulbs, don’t think in terms of three bulbs or five bulbs or even seven bulbs. You need GOBS of bulbs because the mere fact that you are thinking about bulbs now means you are probably afflicted with Gardener's Obsessive Bulb Syndrome (GOBS).

Or you will soon be suffering from it if you read enough blog posts about how we are all ordering, or have ordered, gobs of bulbs for fall planting. Now you want gobs of bulbs, too, admit it.

But regardless of whether you are afflicated with this syndrome or in complete denial, to have a good spring display of flowers, you will need to plant gobs of bulbs. GOBS of them.


And finally, our third acronym – NOT, “Not Only Tulips’. When you are picking out bulbs, don’t just think you will plant a few tulips and be done with it. That’s not how we plant bulbs! You know better because you read gardening blogs.

Think instead about how your garden will have Not Only Tulips but all kinds of other flowers blooming because just tulips would be boring.

And if you don’t know about other bulbs to plant, run to your nearest bookstore or library and get a copy of the classic gardening book, “The Little Bulbs: A Tale of Two Gardens” by Elizabeth Lawrence and read that to be inspired to fill your garden with a variety of bulbs, Not Only Tulips.

And a bonus acronym, you will NOD off from boredom if you plant only daffodils. Think NOD, for Not Only Daffodils, to remind yourself not to do this.

So remember, SLOP, GOBS, and NOT/NOD, three acronyms and three keys to having a glorious bulb display in Spring 2011.

(This post inspired by Three for Thursday, suggested by Cindy at My Corner of Katy).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

May All Your Weeds Be Wildflowers

May all your weeds be wildflowers” is a charming sentiment.

I hope this is true in my garden. I hope that the weeds that grow and bloom there are pretty enough for someone to say “how lovely” instead of “doesn’t she ever weed”.

There are blooms in my garden, such as the rare Short’s goldenrod, Solidago shortii, that someone might wonder about, if they hadn’t been brought up to speed on the beauty of this flower in the late summer garden.

When I see goldenrod blooming, for that manner, when I see any native wildflowers blooming, I think of the book The Brother Gardeners: Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession by Andrea Wulf.

Wulf tells the stories of gardeners and botanists who shipped plants from the New World back to England where eager gardeners and botanists could hardly wait to get their hands on these strange, new plants that they had never seen before. It’s a good book, based on the lives of John Bartram, Carl Linneaus and others who shaped gardening not only in England but also in the United States.

Back then, in the eighteenth century, they most certainly did not view goldenrod as some common roadside weed. There were no roadsides. Nor did they likely mistake it for the cause of the hay fever that overcomes so many people in the fall. Blame ragweed for that. Instead, maybe they saw a beautiful spray of tiny gold flowers, attracting numerous insects and practically sparkling in the sun.

I’ve heard that many British gardeners love goldenrod and I’ve heard rumors that it is gaining in popularity here in the United States as a cultivated garden plant.

Perhaps a touch of goldenrod is growing in your garden now, as it is in mine, all sparkly and gold and fresh looking amongst flowers and plants that have seen better days and better summers. If it is, whether as a weed or as something you planted on purpose, I hope you are enjoying it.

And on this Wildflower Wednesday, hosted once a month by Gail at Clay and Limestone

May all your weeds be wildflowers, or at least blend in nicely with the rest of your garden.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Dear Friends and Gardeners August 23, 2010

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

I am not pleased to report that we are about to break a weather record that was set back in 1897. That was the year they had the driest August on record with just .47 inches of rain, less than half an inch for the entire month.

With just eight days left in August, we have had just .37 inches of rain and there isn’t any rain to speak of in the 10 day forecast. And we won’t mention that this is going to be one of the warmest Augusts in quite some time, too. Normally, our average rainfall for August is around 3.44 inches.

I have watered the vegetable garden a few times, which seemed to pull it back from the brink last week, though it was so hot when I was trying to get it back in shape that it nearly sent me over the edge. But it is better, and so am I. I am harvesting a few ripe tomatoes every few days, plenty of hot peppers, and as much okra as I’d care to eat. Not to mention that the squash vines have perked up a bit and started blooming again.

The whole garden could use another round with the sprinkler, and will get it tomorrow evening.

Elsewhere, the garden is a veritable plant laboratory, if one wants to study the impact of the third wettest June in history followed by what is likely going to be the driest August in history on plants in a zone 5 garden in Indianapolis.

The grape vine looks about the same as any other year. You would hardly know from looking at its leathery leaves, pictured above, that it is so dry out. The ‘Endless Summer’ hydrangeas, on the other hand, look like they are about to give it up for this year, perhaps for all time. I’ll spare you the pictures.

Another plant that looks great is the calamint, Calamintha nepeta spp. nepeta.
It is loaded with little white flowers and is attracting all kinds of bees, though I couldn’t for the life of me get a good picture of one to show you.

I can’t resist reaching down and pulling the stems through my hands to release its minty fragrance as I walk by it, but need to be careful to watch for the bees who might not enjoy ending up in my hand.

Speaking of bees reminds me that there is a ground nest of German yellow jackets beneath the red maple (Acer rubrum) in the front yard. Nearby is a Forsythia we transplanted this spring that needs water, but it makes the yellow jackets very angry if I forget they are there and get water in their hole. I’ve had to drop the hose and run for cover a few times now so I got smart this evening and set up a sprinkler over there.

I need to go outside now and turn it off, so I’ll close as always with…

Carpe hortus,


P.S. Pray for rain for Indianapolis!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Garden Design Update: Need To Mull, Soon

Garden designs, as it turns out, often take a break in the summer time, or at least mine is.

My last assignment from the garden designer for the garden design was to mull over a list of suggestions she sent me for the backyard borders and give her some feedback.

That was a month ago, and from then until now, we've had very little rain and it has been very very hot, so mulling has been difficult.

One would think mulling would be easy to do with no rain, but it has also been too hot to do much outside, which is the best place to be to mull over a garden design.

Anyway, I vow to commence mulling now and send some feedback to the garden designer soon so that we'll be ready for fall planting, if it starts to rain again.

I did get a notion one hot evening to work out the path through the "woodland garden" and make some changes suggested by the garden designer on where the path should start. Then I decided that I should use some edging blocks previously removed from the old garden beds to line the path until I figured out what I really want to use for the path.
I thought it looked hideous, and kept thinking about how there is nothing more permanent than a temporary solution, so I stopped before this became my solution for the path. I'm shocked I'm even showing it to anyone. Don't judge, it has been so very very hot and dry!

Out in the front garden, four of five Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Sungold' died. This was before the drought of August 2010 descended on my garden, so I don't think it was due to lack of water. I wonder if it was due to too much water because June was the third rainiest June in Indianapolis since they started to keep records.

Speaking of records, I wouldn't be surprised if August turned out to be the driest August in Indianapolis history making this a very conflicted summer in the garden.

Anyway, I pulled out the four dead Chamaecyparis and could see no signs of any root growth on any of them. They popped right out as though they had been planted just a few minutes before. Odd.

I sent a note to the garden designer to let her know. I also told her that I had a trial plant, Juniperus chinensis 'Etzogam', that I had gotten in Cincinnati at the regional Garden Writers Association meeting and was very intrigued with the gold coloring.
This is from Novalis and will be marketed under the trademark name 'Eternal Gold™'

Being a new introduction, it might be hard to find five good sized plants, which is how many I would need. But I'm tempted to hold out until I can find these because did you see that gold coloring?

I know! I don't need to be reminded that I swore I would not plant any junipers in my garden. But I would if I could find these to plant.

There is still some hardscape to install for the garden design, other than the path through the woodland garden.

I need to find a fountain for the patio. The lovely, lovely patio that I love more every day.
Which also needs way better furniture than what I have now.

I also need a gate for the entrance to the vegetable garden. Mary Ann from Gardens of the Wild Wild West sent me a link to a gate featured on the Fine Gardening website that is made with some garden tools. It is pretty close to what I want, though I would like more "hoe" in mine. I'm currently waiting for some proposals based on sending the garden designer and the hort-enabler the link to the picture of the garden gate and asking for something like that but with a bit more hoe in it.

While I am waiting, it is time to get back to start mulling over those ideas and plant lists the garden designer sent me so I can send some feedback.

Friday, August 20, 2010

GUTS: A New Gardener's Acronym

It takes guts to garden under tough situations (GUTS).

Where we garden, whether it is on the edge of the Arctic Circle or the middle of the Mojave Desert or some place in between can make it tough to grow what it seems like everyone else is growing.

Our soil can make for a tough situation, too, whether it is because it is sticky, heavy wet clay soil that sticks to every garden tool that it comes in contact with, or an abundance of rocks that the shovel can barely penetrate without jarring us with each attempt to dig.

Or maybe the tough situation is that we have to plant the garden on a steep hill? Or in a flat area that floods and takes forever to dry out in the spring.

GUTS is when you go without rain for several weeks and have too many days of temperatures well above average. It’s gut wrenching to see how the plants adapt, or don’t adapt. In your gut you know that some plants will just simply have to be let go, to live or not live without your assistance with watering.

Often where two or more gardeners gather, the conversations turns to who has the most guts to GUTS. It’s not a contest I want to win.

Yes, it takes guts to garden under tough situations (GUTS).

Do you have the guts to do it?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Three For Thursday

There was much excitement here at May Dreams Gardens when others became aware that I was going to join in for Three for Thursday hosted by Cindy at My Corner of Katy.

Excitement might not be the right word for it, though. It was more like bickering and arguing.

The garden fairies found out about this post topic and thought they should write the post because they haven’t posted in awhile. They said they had three important pieces of advice for gardeners, having to do with misplaced tools, weeding, and emptying weeds into the compost bin and it would be perfect for Three for Thursday.

I said that sounded like it was going to be too much like the letter I just wrote and posted on Monday .

Then Hortense Hoelove showed up and insisted that she be the one to do the post because most of the time when she writes posts to answer readers’ questions, she posts three letters. She declared rather loudly to the garden fairies and anyone else within a block or two that she would handle the post for Three for Thursday, thank you very much case closed.

I said no, because normally her day is Fridays, that is if she even bothers to post at all. And since she hadn’t posted much lately, I didn’t think she deserved to post on a Thursday. Not to mention, it would upset the order of things around here.

As if that wasn’t enough, the President of the The Society for the Propagation of Old Time Gardening Wisdom, Lore and Superstition (SPOTGWLS aka The Society) declared that she had minutes from a recent meeting that just had to be posted as soon as possible regardless of any special theme to the post.

I told her I didn’t believe her because as far as I knew the last meeting was clear back in June… wait, I am the President of The Society. Does it make sense for me to argue with myself?

I’ll have to discuss that with Dr. Hortfreud.

Anyway, to keep the peace here at May Dreams Gardens, I finally decided that for Three for Thursday, we would compromise. The garden faries, Hortense Hoelove, and I would each post one picture with brief commentary.

From Hortense Hoelove…

Dear Readers,

Here is the picture I’ve chosen to post for Three for Thursday. It is the one picture that answers one of the most important questions that a gardener can ask.
Thank you,
Hortense Hoelove.

P.S. I hope to get back to posting more regularly on Fridays, please send questions.

From the Garden Faries…

Do you know why we call Bulgar Webspinner "Bulgar the Vulgar"?

Because he claims to be responsible for this!
It’s commonly called dog vomit slime mold. It won’t hurt you but it sure looks gross. Bulgar claims he is responsible for this grossness, so that’s why we call him Bulgar the Vulgar!

Posted by,
Thorn Goblinfly

From The President of The Society….

Dear Members of The Society for the Propagation of Old Time Gardening Lore, Wisdom and Superstition (SPOTGWLS aka The Society),

I’ve been forced to limit my words in these minutes, so will dispense with all the usual society business to share a picture which will be part of a program on my garden design thatI hope to present soon. I really wanted to show three pictures, but there isn't space or time for that today.

Here it is…
That’s the first bloom on Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies', which my garden designer planted on each side of the sidewalk in the front garden, known as Neighbor’s View. Since I’m limited to just the one picture, take my word for it that there are three plants on each side of the sidewalk, loaded with buds.

These asters are going to look wonderful when in full bloom, hopefully with all kinds of bees and butterflies tending to each and every flower. What a great way to welcome fall in a few weeks!

I promise, we won't wait too long before having another meeting, one without all these constraints!

President for Life, SPOTGWLS aka The Society.

And that’s Three for Thursday from May Dreams Gardens!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Porch Chat: Seed of an Idea

It's a cool evening after a long day, making it a good time for a porch chat. So put down that watering hose, grab your favorite beverage, and come sit on my virtual porch so we can chat about our ideas.

Ideas not acted upon are like seeds in a packet. Left too long without giving them what they need to grow, they turn to dust. They are nothing.

When we first see a seed, it looks nothing like the plant it will become. Ideas don't always resemble what they will actually become either.

Some seeds have to go through fire, or a cold winter, or even the digestive system of a bird before they can germinate. Ideas, too, often have to be subjected to harsh conditions before they become whatever it is they will be.

Some people give up on their seeds and assume they will never germinate because of how old they are. But they will never know for sure if the seed will germinate unless they give it what it needs to grow.

Some people also give up on ideas if much time has passed since the ideas originally came to be, and assume the ideas will never become something more than just the thought they are.

But they will never know for sure if an idea can become something, until they give it what it needs to become something more than just a thought.

No one should give up on seeds, or ideas, until they have at least tried.

If you have even the tiniest seed of an idea, don’t give up on it!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dear Friends and Gardeners August 16, 2010

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

This past week we got to experience something that hasn’t happened around here in years. Years, I tell you.

Unfortunately that something was every blessed day the high temperature was in the 90’s --- 95, 97, 98, 96, 96, 92, 96 through yesterday to be exact.

At least that’s what the newspaper reported each day and what I wrote down in my big ol’ garden journal. And then for each day I wrote my general observation for the day – Hot. Or Hot! Or Hot!!

With temperatures like those, you can bet I didn’t spend much time in the garden this past week. Mostly I ran out to water plants in containers and then ran back inside where it is cool and air-conditioned.

And to think I grew up without central A/C in the house!

By Sunday, I couldn’t stand it anymore, so I went out to work in the vegetable garden. I worked until I got hot, then I’d come in to cool down and look at a few bloom day posts.  Then I’d go back out to garden some more.

That heat could sure make a gardener hallucinate or something, if they aren't careful like I was.

And that heat brings out the mischief in the garden fairies, too. You’d think they would stay in the shade, sleeping off whatever mischief they got into the night before. But enough things happened in the garden yesterday that I’m sure they were out in full force in the heat.

First off, a wee little fairy named Rye Raker Mahoenee kept following me around in the garden. Of course I never actually saw him, but I knew he was behind me, just the same. Every time I set my new Cape Cod weeder down right beside me, he’d take it and hide it. I’d reach for it and it would be gone and I’d have to hunt for it. He was sure clever in where he hid it, too. I’m sure he thought he was being funny, but he was really wasting a lot of my time trying to find that weeder.

Then another garden fairy, little Miss SweetPea Morningdew, who is usually such a do-gooder, kept adding weeds where I knew I had just weeded. She made it seem like I’d never get done weeding, but finally, I think I got ahead of her, at least through half of the garden. I still need to go out and weed the other half of the garden later.

Oh, and you should have heard the ruckus made by ol’Acer Duckdown when I dumped a big load of weeds in the compost bin. Garden fairies really should have more sense than to chose the compost bin as the place to sleep off their night revelry, but he did and he got a face full of weeds as a result. Serves him right. He was probably out partying with another garden fairy named Bulgar Webspinner, also known as Bulgar the Vulgar. Don’t ask me about him!

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for the vegetable garden. The garden fairies had made a mess of it, but I managed to salvage harvest some tomatoes, squash, and okra yesterday anyway, and got things set right again so I can start sowing some seeds for a few fall crops.

Whew, gardening in the heat is sure not for sissies! If you aren’t careful, you could start imagining all kinds of things going on in a garden.

Good thing the temperatures are supposed to be cooler this week, only in the 80’s.

Carpe hortus!


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2010

Welcome to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day for August 2010.

I wrote in 2009 that August is what separates the real gardeners from the wanna-be gardeners. It’s hot and dry and who wants to be out there now?

In comparison to this year, August 2009 was actually quite pleasant but not as pleasant as August 2008 and August 2007. I hope we return to some Augusts like that next year becuase this August is not so nice.

This August the garden reminds me of the resilience of plants, how little help they actually need from us gardeners, how much they can endure and still bloom.

Above is that common as dirt daylily, ‘Stella D’Oro’. One afternoon back in the spring, I grabbed a shovel and attempt to evict all of these "stellas" from my garden.  Not so easy! A few roots remained, clung to the soil, pushed up shoots, and bloomed. And they bloomed all summer long.

Where lesser plants have withered in the heat, these keep going.

So I’m going to let them stay. But just a few of them!

Elsewhere in the garden, a clematis, variety unknown/forgotten, is blooming.
The freshness of this bloom with drops of water clinging to it is deceiving. Few flowers are fresh or damp in my garden this month, except those like this clematis that I’ve been watering daily.

It’s hard to see in this picture, but this clematis is sprawling across a long container holding some 4” pots of trial plants that I’m planning to plant this fall. What makes this clematis so remarkable, so resilient, so worthy of this much attention?

In late June when the crew came to install the new patio, they told me they didn’t think they could dig this up where it was, so I told them to cut it back and shrugged it off as a loss for the greater gain of a newly designed garden. So they cut it back, and I thought no more about it until one day it was back, covering these other plants, and now it's blooming.

Out in the vegetable garden, the okra seems oblivious to the heat and can be counted on to have blooms each day.
As long as I keeping cutting off those pods, I think it will keep blooming until it is knocked back by frost.

What else is blooming in my garden? What else has the resilience to stand this heat and dryness?

This is ‘Autumn Beauty’ from Botanical Interests seeds. It's tall.

These are several different varieties from several different sources. The bees and butterflies both love them.

Knockout roses, ‘Radsunny’.
They are a nice subtle buttery yellow, much nicer than that garish yellow gold of the "stella" daylilies.

Elsewere I am also enjoying, mostly from inside the house looking out into the garden, the usual marigolds, coneflowers, phlox, black-eyed susans, hostas, coreopsis, salvia, golden rod, yarrow, and hydrangeas.

They all have the resilience to bloom in hot, dry August in my garden.

What’s blooming in your garden?

We would love to have you join in for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. It’s easy to participate and all are invited!

Just post on your blog about what is blooming in your garden on the 15th of the month and put your name and the url to your post on the Mr. Linky widget below. Then leave a comment to tell us what you have waiting for us to see so we can pay you a virtual visit!

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

(My apologies. Mr. Linky was down for maintenance so for this month I switched to "Simply Linked" to give it a try. Let me know how you like it!)

Some of you are not seeing your link on Simply Linked. Here's Mr. Linky, back in businss. Someday, I might combine these two lists. Anyway, link on whichever one you'd like and sorry for the confusion and mess!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

On The Eve of Bloom Day: Elizabeth Lawrence's Garden

Here we are, on the eve of another Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. I'll head out in a bit to see what is blooming in my garden, thinking about Elizabeth Lawrence, and her quote that inspired bloom day, "We can have blooms nearly every month of the year."

I received an email the other day letting me know that Elizabeth Lawrence's garden and five other gardens will be open for The Garden Conservancy Tour on September 25-26 in Charlotte, NC.

If it were just a little closer, I'd be tempted to drive down there for the tour.

When I read posts by other EL fans who have visited, including Dee from Red Dirt Ramblings, I study maps and calculate how far it is to drive from here.

It would take me 10 hours, give or take, to drive there, assuming I drove straight through.

But it appears to me on the map that I'd be driving close enough to a couple of garden bloggers, including Frances at Fairegarden and Christopher Outside Clyde that driving straight through would not be an option. It looks to be about a two day drive, stopping to see Frances and Christopher and their gardens along the way.

I probably won't get down there for this particular tour, but one day I'll see Elizabeth Lawrence's garden and nearby Wing Haven, I'm sure of it.

It is not enough to grow plants; really to know them one must get to know how they grow elsewhere. To learn this it is necessary to create a correspondence with other gardeners, and to cultivate it as diligently as the garden itself. From putting together the experiences of gardeners in different places, a conception of plants begins to form. Gardening, reading about gardening, and writing about gardening are all one; no one can garden alone.”  Elizabeth Lawrence in the preface to her book The Little Bulbs.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Key To Making Your Garden Memorable: Scent

As I lean over the row of marigolds just beginning to bloom, I remember my Dad’s garden.

I remember summer days that seemed to go on forever, and the end of that forever when school started with yet a new forever.

I recall the garden in its end of summer state, with marigolds blooming along the edge and dahlias and zinnias tied to stakes. I remember tall tomato plants and fresh green beans, bell peppers and cucumbers of all sizes.

Seeing a row of scentless zinnias doesn’t evoke these kinds of memories, nor does seeing a dahlia blooming in any garden.

But the marigolds, with their distinctive scent that can only be described as that of a marigold, do.

I don’t need scientific studies to tell me why this is, though this phenomenon of scent and memories has been studied by scientists. I just know how it is. I know that scent is the key that unlocks our memories. Even blindfolded, if I smelled a marigold, it would bring back these memories of my Dad's garden once again.

So if you want your garden to be memorable to those who visit it, consider the scents of the plants and blooms you include. Then when those who visit your garden leave, they will take with them the key, the scent of a particular flower or plant, that they can use later to unlock their memories of your garden.

Scent is the key to unlocking the memories of the garden.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Apparently I Am Growing Odd Vegetables

Apparently, I am growing some odd, obscure vegetables, like okra.

Five of the first five co-workers I asked could not identify the okra I brought in to work for another co-worker who specifically asked for some after I went on and on and on and on about my fried okra.

Fried okra, fresh fried okra, is very good by the way. It is not slimy.  Just like grandma used to make, except I fried the okra in vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan after cutting it in half inch pieces and coating it with corn meal. She probably fried okra in lard in an iron skillet.

No matter - it was good!

Ask around , see if people know what orka is.  Shoot, do you know what okra is? Other than apparently an odd, obscure vegetable...

Monday, August 09, 2010

Dear Friends and Gardeners August 9, 2010

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

They have returned! No more peaceful coexistence. No more sitting back and thinking that we have some kind of truce worked out. How could I have trusted them? How could they have betrayed me like that?

I must gird my loins, whatever that means, arm myself for battle. Bring out the plastic spoons and the bottles of Shake-Away repellent.

The rabbits are back

… and they have eaten to nubs my entire second planting of green beans! Just look at that picture. Well, don’t look too closely because there is some crabgrass there, and that squash in the corner looks half dead because, well, it is half-dead.

It’s been kind of hot around here lately and we haven’t gotten a lot of rain in the past few weeks so the garden looks hot and dry, because it is hot and dry. But I’m still picking tomatoes, peppers, a few pole beans, and some okra.
The okra is really growing well in this heat, though at the end of the day, even those plants look like they could use a good soaking.

With a harvest like that, I know that now is not the time to give up on the garden and I won’t just yet. I’ll clean it up, pull out the plants that are no longer producing, weed the raised beds, water it well, and see what I can plant for a fall harvest. Maybe some spinach and late season lettuce? Maybe even try to sneak in a late planting of green beans?

We’ll see. That should keep me busy until cooler weather in September when the garden designer returns with some of the shrubs and other plants planned for the newly dug borders in the backyard. I’ll have to post a separate update on that, as there is a lot to tell, and this letter post is getting a bit long winded.

Plus I must go now and strategize on how to take back the garden from the rabbits, once again.

Until next time,

Carpe hortus,


P.S. For those gardening friends who are interested, I’m giving away a copy of “Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration & Insights from the Painter’s Gardens by Elizabeth Murray. Deadline to enter by leaving a comment on yesterday’s post is Tuesday, August 10, 2010, 9:00 pm EDT.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Monet's Passion: A Book Review and Giveaway

I mentioned to a co-worker that I had a book on Monet’s Gardens to review and his response was, “Monet had gardens? I love his paintings.”

I replied, in a matter of fact manner, “Monet painted? I only knew about his gardens.”

And then I told him he should read Monet’s Passion: Ideas, Inspiration & Insights from the Painter’s Gardens by Elizabeth Murray (Pomegranate Communications, $35.00) and find out about the gardens.

In her book, Elizabeth Murray provides an in-depth look at Monet’s gardens in Giverny, France, the kind of in-depth look that only someone who has worked in Monet’s gardens and visits them annually can provide.

In the introduction, we get a brief glimpse of the story of Murray’s first visit to Monet’s gardens and how that visit changed her life. “Changed her life”, by the way, is a bit of an understatement. After her first visit to the gardens, she was so taken by them that she quit her job, learned French, and returned to Monet’s garden to work as a volunteer gardener there for nine months.

To find out more about her story, I listened to an online NPR interview where Elizabeth Murray tells us in her own words about working in Monet’s gardens and also about being a gardener. I loved it when she said, “I’m a gardener, no - work!” quite emphatically in response to the interviewer’s question about why she just didn’t go back and admire the gardens. She went on to explain the different relationship you have with a garden when you actually work in it and see it in all of its seasons, when you can walk off the paths and into the borders and beds, when you can be alone in the garden.

And it is from this viewpoint, from this working relationship she developed with Monet’s garden, that she wrote “Monet’s Passion”.

For those interested in the history of great gardens, Murray starts the book with a history of Monet’s gardens and how they were developed.

For those who think they might visit or want to visit Monet’s gardens, she provides a description of the gardens as they are today and includes a generous assortment of photographs of the gardens.

For those who love Monet’s gardens and would like to have gardens like them, Murray explains how you might recreate some small part of these fabulous gardens in your own garden.

I love that approach, the three parts of the book, because most gardeners when captivated by a garden would love to know how the garden came to be, how it is today, and how they can try to make their garden look like that garden. Or at least I do.

A Giveaway!!

For those who would like their own copy of Monet’s Passion to read and enjoy, Pomegranate Communications has offered to give a free copy to one lucky winner.

To enter, leave a comment below telling us about a garden that you love and would love to model your own garden after. It can be a famous garden, an obscure garden, your neighbor’s garden, whatever garden inspires you.

Please make sure the comment leads me to your email address so I can notify you if you are the winner. This giveaway ends at 9 pm EDT on Tuesday, August 10, 2010. I’ll chose the winner via random drawing and notify them via email.

Thank you to Pomegranate Communications for sending me this book to review and for sponsoring this giveaway. And thank you to Elizabeth Murray for an inspiring, insightful and colorful book on Monet’s gardens.

We have a winner!

The winner is lucky commenter number 8, "Aisling". Congrats, I'll be in touch with you to arrange for you to get your book!

Thursday, August 05, 2010


Back in the day, the college daze that is, I took two entomology classes. I took the first one because I was required to. Then I took the second one because I wanted to.

Insects, as it turned out, were not as scary and creepy as I thought they’d be. They were really rather fascinating.

But in those two classes, no one ever mentioned the word “frass”. I would have remembered such a word. "Frass". I had to wait some 30 years or so later to find out about frass on another blog, Going Green Mama. Ever since then I’ve been like a five year old who just learned a new word.

You know what frass is, don’t you? It’s a fancy word for insect poop!

I’ve been looking for opportunities all week to use “frass” in a sentence…

“With all those cicadas in the trees, you should really wear a hat to avoid their frass dropping on your head.”

What is all the frass doing around the tomato plants? Hornworms, again!?”

“Oh frass! I forgot to stop at the garden center.”

Does anyone have a picture of frass that I can post on my blog?”

Has anyone ever studied frass to find out if it is like manure and provides nutrients for plants?”


Really, frass is sort of like a gardener’s secret cuss word.

For example, let’s say you step down on your foot real hard after it falls asleep and you end up twisting your ankle.  You can yell out, “Frass!” and no one will know you’ve just cussed.

Or when the neighbor kids are playing nearby and your garden hose kinks up on you again, you can freely say, “This hose is a real piece of frass!” Then the kids’ parents won’t get all mad because you taught their kids a cuss word, even though in a way, you did.

A gardener’s secret cuss word… this is one of the best new words I’ve learned in a long time.

Try it out for yourself. Let me know if you like it or if you think it is a bunch of frass.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Back to School Time And Our Thoughts Turn To Gardening

It's back to school time and our thoughts turn to gardening as they always do.

As I trimmed back the Blue Dogbane, Amsonia tabernaemontana, the other evening, I couldn’t help but notice the white sap which looks a lot like Elmer’s Glue and seems just as sticky.

Do kids still buy bottles of Elmer’s glue to put in their brand new backpacks along with new folders, pencils, pens, paper, crayons, and whatever else their teachers put on the list of needed supplies?

Buying these back to school supplies in late summer sort of reminds me of how gardeners buy all those “back to gardening” supplies in early spring. Except usually gardeners are delighted for the season to begin, whereas I think most kids, even those who love school supplies, are mostly whiny about going back to school so soon before summer is over.

Oh well, so sad! One day they’ll get out of school, see all those school supplies for sale and wonder how they got to where they are in life, no longer really needing school supplies, but tempted to buy some anyway. Then they can move on past all those unneeded school supplies and instead think about the return of fall gardening and how old everyone around them seems to be getting. Happy Birthday, Oldest Sister Turning 55 Today!

But back to the Elmer’s glue. My Blue Dogbane was a big sappy mess to trim. I ended up with sap on my shoes, my pants, my shirt, my arms, my gloves and even my pruners. Sap, Sap, everywhere. Sap. Thick, white, gooey sap, just like glue.

Normally, I would not advise trimming back Amsonia at this time of year, but not just because of this sap. I’d advise against it because you’ll miss out on the good fall color of its leaves.

The better time to prune Amsonia back so that it doesn’t self-sow all over the garden is right after it blooms in the spring time. It will be less of a mess as far as the sap goes, and you won’t be cutting off all its fall color.

The reason I cut it back now and not earlier in the season is because I am inherently lazy I ran out of time in the spring after it bloomed. Other years, I would have taken my chances with the self-sowing and left it alone, but later this fall, I’m going to be moving this plant to another place in the garden and decided it would be easier to move if I cut it back.

So I did.

Amsonia is in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae, which also includes Vinca and Plumeria. I don’t recall them having such a milky white, glue like sap, so they don’t remind me of school supplies like the Amsonia does.

Other plants that remind me of schools include the Paperbark Maple, Acer griseum. I'm going to plant one in my newly designed gardens in back later this fall

At the moment, I can’t think of other "school supply plants” for a back to school themed garden, but I'm sure they exist.

But if you want a “back to school’ themed garden, and who doesn’t, just add some bright school bus yellow black-eyed susan’s, Rudbeckia, and you’ll be all set!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Dear Friends and Gardeners August 2, 2010

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

This letter post is my 1,500th post on this blog.

I thought about delaying this letter and writing something else to mark the occasion, but then I realized that this weekly letter which usually has an update on my garden is a fitting way to mark this occasion.

When I first started blogging, somewhat tentatively back in 2004, I posted a grand total of seven times between 2004 and 2005, and prior to that I deleted the first blog I started. During those first few years of blogging, it felt like I was planting tiny seeds in a giant field and it was hard to see amongst the vastness of the field if my little blog seeds were germinating or taking root. Did anyone see them? Was anyone out there? Hello? Can you hear me?

It seemed a bit futile.

Then in 2006, I started to see my little blog seeds germinate more frequently. I saw them grow and realized, through comments on my blog, that others were watching my seedlings grow, too. So I planted more blog seeds and sometimes plants. I watered them and pruned them and could see some of them flower.

At the same time, I stopped looking just at my little blog seedlings and found the blog seeds and plants that other garden bloggers were sowing and planting, and I started to help them water and nourish theirs, too. We helped each other! We told each other how much we admired our blog seedlings and plants and whole gardens. We encouraged one another.

And that’s why this letter is a fitting post for my garden blogging milestone.

Garden blogging, as it turns out, is not so much about sowing and planting blog seeds and plants, i.e. posting on your blog, as it is about making connections with other gardeners and encouraging them in their own pursuits of gardening and writing, and living.

And that’s what these letters symbolize. Connections to not just Dee and Mary Ann, but truly connections to gardening friends everywhere.

Thank you to all who have encouraged me, humored me, and admired my little blog seedlings and plants and helped to nourish them along the way to this milestone of 1,500 posts. It truly has been a blessing to garden and blog with each one of you, to read about your gardens and lives, to learn from so many passionate gardeners and to even meet in person!

Carpe hortus,

May Dreams Gardens

All year I dream of the days of May when the sun is warm, the sky is blue, the grass is green, and the garden is all new again!

Sunday, August 01, 2010

You Might Be A Gardening Geek: Blogging Edition

You might be a blogging gardening geek if…

You consider your digital camera an essential gardening tool because while you are out in the garden, you just might see something that cries out to be shared on your blog. After all, that zinnia is so pretty and it only exists for a moment in time in just that light. Bonus points if you have more than one digital camera.

You mark your calendar with various days for special posts such as Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day, Foliage Follow up, Wildflower Wednesday, Garden Bloggers’ Muse Day, etc. Bonus points if you are the originator of one of these garden bloggers’ memes.

When your friends see some garden-y thing somewhere, they tell you about it and suggest that you blog about it. Bonus points if you have done just that.

You’ve gotten on an airplane or driven to the big city to join up for a garden bloggers’ get together. Bonus points if you’ve been to all three U.S. events so far: Austin in 2008, Chicago in 2009, and Buffalo in 2010. Double bonus points if you’ve organized one of these events. Triple quadruple bonus points if you’ve traveled from the United States to England to meet garden bloggers there. (Then subtract those triple quadruple bonus points plus one because we are all green-eyed with envy, Gail and Frances!)

You've made hortonnections through garden blogging that you would have never made otherwise. Bonus points if one of those connections with other garden bloggers resulted in a song about your garden by the singing garden blogger, Annie in Austin.

You are one shy of 1,500 posts on your blog and are writing a list about why you might be a blogging gardening geek, even though you’ve written 20 other posts about why you might be a gardening geek. For that 1,500th post, you are considering if it should be a guest post by the garden fairies, a dialogue with Dr. Hortfreud, or maybe answers to gardening questions from Hortense Hoelove.

Or maybe it should be a meeting of The Society or SGAFO or something more useful like a review of a new hoe? Or maybe I should come up with something about gardening to embrace? Or maybe it should be just the regular weekly update letter on the garden to Dee in Oklahoma and Mary Ann in Idaho and gardening friends everywhere?

Yes, you might be a blogging gardening geek.  I know I am.

Next up, garden blog post number 1,500…