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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hortus sanus: Chief Gardening Officer

Congratulations! You’ve worked hard to get to the top, you’ve paid your dues and sown your seeds and now you are the Chief Gardening Officer of your very own garden.

You are in charge. You are the one who makes the final decisions. You decide which row to hoe, which weed to pull, which flower to plant. The buck stops, the fruit ripens, on your potting bench.

You are now the one who is responsible for achieving hortus sanus, a healthy garden.

It’s a lot of responsibility, but you’ve trained your whole life to become the Chief Gardening Officer, the CGO. Perhaps you were a garden apprentice as a child, forced to pull weeds or mow the lawn in the hot summer sun. You hated it, but the CGO’s back then said it would be good for you, it would teach you how to someday be the CGO in your own garden.

You weren’t so sure about that. You thought at the time that if having your own garden meant a lifetime of weeding and mowing, then maybe you didn’t want to have a garden.

But somewhere along the way, you decided that you did want your own garden, a bit of hortus sanus in your life.

To prepare yourself, maybe you read books on gardening, memorized the botanical names of your favorite plants, or visited other gardens to observe them and those that worked in them. All the while, you were thinking about what you would do when you finally reached the top of the compost pile and had your very own garden.

Now you are the Chief Gardening Officer and you’ve learned a few things.

You’ve learned that you don’t have as much freedom in the garden as you had hoped. Who does? There may be family members, your own personal board of directors, who insist on reviewing budgets and plans, who want to come out to the garden to have a look-see and express an opinion. But that’s okay – a necessary evil, as it were. It’s still your garden.

You’ve learned that to make it your own garden, you should plant what you want to plant and remove plants that you don’t like. If you acquired your garden through a merger or acquisition and someone else was once the CGO of your garden, you’ve learned that it is okay to overthrow their regime and build up your own because now it’s your garden.

You’ve learned that sometimes you should hire consultants to help you in you garden – garden coaches, garden designers, even landscape architects to give you advice or help with design or just be a sounding board for your own brilliant ideas of what to do with your garden. However, as the CGO, you have the final say. If you don’t like what they say, you can let them go and bring in others.

You’ve also learned that you can hire help for the heavy lifting in the garden, even bring in someone else to mow and weed, if that’s what you want to do! You’re the CGO, after all. You can’t be expected to do it all, all the time.

Yes, congratulations on your promotion. The name plant on the garden shed door finally has your name on it – Chief Gardening Officer.

Carpe hortus – long live your garden.

Now, go out there and be the best Chief Gardening Officer your garden has ever had. Go out there and build up your empire, your hortus sanus, your healthy garden.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hortus sanus: The wilderness called and it wants your garden back

The wilderness on the edge of a Dallas garden.
What was your garden before it was a garden?

It was a wilderness.

If you did nothing in your garden, the weeds, trees, bugs, grasses, animals, would just go wild. Like a teenager whose parents have left him alone while they go on an extended vacation, the wilderness will invite everything wild to come on in if there is no one at home to tend the garden.

While wild works in some garden situations, few people look at a complete wilderness and think “there’s a garden”. Sure, there can be a bit of wilderness in a garden, and probably should be, but it can’t be the whole garden.

That’s the first lesson I learned about having a healthy garden, about achieving hortus sanus. You have to remember that your garden was once a part of the wilderness and the wilderness wants your garden back.

The weeds want to grow there, in any bare spots they can find and even in places that aren’t bare. They will grow in the cracks of a patio, in the sludge left in the gutter, and even in a half-empty bag of top soil.

The rabbits want to eat there, and so do squirrels, chipmunks, voles, raccoons, mice, and unfortunately for some, deer. All of these wild animals have an appetite not just for weeds but also for the most expensive, most difficult to find, most treasured plant that you have personally planted in the middle of the wilderness you want to turn into a healthy garden.

The bugs want to eat, sleep and make merry in your garden, too. And not just good bugs, which any gardener would welcome as a key to hortus sanus, but all kinds of bad bugs, too.

Once we accept that the wilderness is always there in the background, waiting for its chance, then we aren’t surprised, frustrated or disappointed when we leave our gardens for a week or so and return to find that the wilderness is creeping back in, trying to take over again.

It is futile to try to completely remove the wilderness from your garden. In fact you shouldn’t. You want some of that wilderness – birds, bees, bugs, even a few bunnies - because they are part of a healthy garden. But feel free to fight back some of that wilderness – the weeds, the damaging predators, anything that wants to take over the garden completely.

Finally, when you are out there slaying weeds and other garden demons, remember that fighting back against the wilderness taking over your garden is not the same as fighting Mother Nature. Do not fight Mother Nature, do not try to break the laws of nature. That would be very unhealthy. It is futile and frustrating and you will fail.

But the wilderness, it can be tamed a bit.

Knowing that a big part of gardening is taming the wilderness and accepting that we can never tame it completely, is one of many steps towards a healthy garden, hortus sanus.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hortus sanus


Hortus sanus.

Most gardeners recognize hortus sanus when they see it. It is what we want for ourselves, for every gardener. It is what we hope for, plan for, work for, and plant for.

Literally translated hortus sanus is Latin for “garden healthy” or “garden sane”

Most gardeners want a healthy garden. Most gardeners want a healthy garden without giving up their own sanity to get it. They want a balance between hortus sanus and ego sanus.

When I meet other gardeners, the happiest ones are those who have achieved that balance.

Balance is never easy. It requires practice, patience, and persistence. It requires study and observation and learning. Sometimes it requires “do-overs”, “step backs” and “tear downs”.

The definition of hortus sanus, a healthy garden, is different for every gardener depending on where we garden and what we are capable of doing. It depends on what means we have, both within ourselves and within our checkbooks.

Once we put that shovel in the ground for the first time and realize we are gardeners, the quest begins, whether we realize it or not, for hortus sanus.

I’m on that quest, and have been on that quest for decades.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned so far…


(Thank you to Pam Penick, Digging, for the picture of me in a gazing ball, taken at the Shadrack's beautiful gardens somewhere near Buffalo, New York.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I Am Both Excited and Scared

Stapelia bud
I am both excited and scared.

Back in 2008, when I visited Austin, Texas for the first garden bloggers’ get together, Annie in Austin gave me a start of her Stapelia, which she had gotten from her Aunt Phyl.

I’m excited to announce that after two years of growing in my sunroom, my blogalong passalong Stapelia from Annie now has six flower buds on it. This Stapelia, which Annie thinks might be Stapelia gigantea, is sometimes called starfish flower because the blooms are shaped like a starfish.

I’m scared to announce that after two years of growing in my sunroom, my blogalong passalong Stapelia from Annie now has six flower buds on it. The other common name for this plant is carrion flower. It gets this name because the flowers try to mimic dead meat in both color and scent to attract carrion flies which help to pollinate it.

The sensible thing to do would be to take this plant outside right now and let it bloom there. However, it is not hardy and the shock of the cool nights might be too much for it. I’d hate to lose it to some freakish early frost, which after the season we’ve had, I sort of expect.

Earlier today, I started reading through a review copy of the new book Bizarre Botanicals by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross (Timberpress, $24.95) and was delighted to see that they included Stapelia as a bizarre plant. Must be because it tries to imitate dead meat. Apparently the authors know at least one person who was so disgusted by the scent that he took his blooming Stapelia out to the garden and buried it.

I hope the scent isn’t that bad. I’m both excited and scared to find out. Since it is my sunroom, I can always close the door to that room and seal it off from the rest of the house. If necessary, I’ll do that. Or I’ll take a quick picture when it blooms then cut the flower off and throw it outside.

The authors of Bizarre Botanicals, to be published in October, also noted that this is an easy passalong plant, so maybe it is time for me to take a few cuttings from mine to root and pass along to someone else?

Be excited and scared, I might just offer you one!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reprise: Six Garden Lessons From Hoes

Garden gate in garden in Dallas, Texas
Sometimes gardeners who read my blog and then meet me in person will confess to me that they have never used a hoe in their garden.

Some will admit to not even owning a hoe.

Depending on my mood, I might feign shock and surprise that these hoe-less people have the nerve to call themselves gardeners. Other times, I nod my head in understanding. I’ve gardened long enough to realize that a hoe is a helpful gardening tool in some gardens, but is not an essential tool for every garden.

When touring gardens with others, if there is a hoe hanging on a fence or leaning against a tree, someone will point it out to me. Multiple people will point it out to me. And if we run across a gate that is decorated with garden hoes, I’ll hear about it before I see it!

I am forever linked to gardening hoes, so I might as well “hoe that row’ while I can.

With that in mind, here is a reprise of six gardening lessons you can learn from hoes.

1. Sharp hoes work better than dull hoes.
As a gardener, you’ll work better, too, to if you are mentally and physically sharp.

2. A hoe gets dull with use, so every once in a while you have to stop and sharpen it.
The same is true of gardeners. Over time, all work, even in the garden, can dull the senses and wear you down. Sharpen your gardening senses by getting out of your own garden every once in a while to see what else is going on in the gardening world. Visit other gardens, read good gardening books, check out your favorite garden blogs, talk to other gardeners. Or, gasp, you might even get out of the gardening world to see what else the world has to offer to sharpen your senses.

3. A hoe just hanging out in the shed doesn’t get anything done.
Often gardeners just hang out waiting because they think it might rain or it is a bit cool or a bit hot or whatever. Stop waiting and making up excuses. Get out of the shed and go out into the garden where gardening gets done.

4. Not every hoe can do every kind of hoeing; some are good for breaking ground, others for weeding in tight spaces.
No gardener can be good at every kind of gardening task that there is to be done. It’s frustrating using a small hoe to break up the ground in a large area, and equally frustrating to use a big hoe to do weeding in tight spaces. Avoid your own frustrations in the garden by figuring out what you are good at, and consider hiring out or trading with someone else to do the other work.

5. Different hoes work in different ways.
Some hoes work as they are pulled toward you, a few do their work as they are pushed through the soil, and still other hoes work in both directions. Every gardener works in different ways, too. You can watch how other gardeners work, but for many gardening tasks there is no right way or wrong way. You should find your own best way to work in the garden, to get your best results.

6. A clean hoe lasts longer.
If you take care of your hoes by cleaning them after use and storing them properly, they will last longer. You will last longer, too, if you take care of yourself. After a long day of working in the garden, clean yourself up, eat right and get some rest, then you’ll be ready for the next day in the garden.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fairy Houses: A Guest Post

Garden fairies here on this Friday morning.  How's everyone doing today?

We garden fairies are doing pretty good. Oh, sure, we'd like it to rain as much as Carol would like it to rain, but we are getting by, regardless.

Lately we've been eyeing the grapes which have ripened and then some. Far as we can tell, Carol doesn't seem much interested in harvesting them, so we garden fairies are going to be organizing ourselves a little harvest work group and see if we can't get to some of those grapes before the birds do.

Here tell, this dry summer has been good for grape growers in Indiana, and we are determined to not let our grapes go to waste. We are going to pick them and make wine! After all, for a garden fairy, wine is a primary food group, right up there with nectar, pollen, and fresh garden tomatoes. And we need lots of fairy wine to get us through the winter.

We've also been spying on some of the pictures Carol took when she was in Dallas, Texas a few weeks ago looking at all the gardens with all them other "garden communicators and writers". By the way, we garden fairies, as you can see, are garden writers, too, and we don't know why she didn't take us along, especially if there were garden fairy houses to see.

We are definitely going next year. She can't stop us because that big garden writers meeting and garden touring is going to be right here in Indianapolis!

But we digress. Where were we? Oh, right, garden fairy houses.

The picture above looks to be a Texas style garden fairy house. It's nice enough, but we garden fairies were hoping for something a tiny bit nicer if Carol is going to go to the bother of providing us with accomodations along that order.

We were thinking something more like this one:


Ha! We garden fairies can dream can't we?

Regardless of whether it is a humble cottage or a grand castle, we garden faries think it sure would be nice to have some place like that to go especially when Mr. Fancy Red Fox comes around!

Did you hear about that? There was a fox in Carol's garden the other evening, and she seen it with her own eyes. Oh, gosh, that was sure funny, seeing Carol seeing that fox. But on the other hand, it wasn't funny for us garden fairies, it was darn right dangerous!

Ol' Tangle Rainbowfly saw the fox first and immediately sounded the alarm so everyone could hide. Miss SweetPea Morningdew nearly swooned when she heard the news, even though the fox didn't come anywhere near her. But other than that, everyone stayed calm and the fox ran off so we think we are okay for now.

Anyway, we garden fairies would appreciate a little more shelter around May Dreams Gardens and hope that somehow Carol is going to incorporate some into her new garden design!

Posted by:
Thorn Goblinfly
Chief Scribe and now Garden Communicator the Garden Fairies at May Dreams Gardens

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Garden Design Element: Garden Song

Every garden has its own song.

In my garden, the corn stalks long ago dried up but I like to leave them standing so I can listen to the rustling sound they make when the wind blows one stalk against the other.

Elsewhere in the garden, I can hear the birds calling out to one another – cardinals, robins, goldfinches and all kinds of other birds that I don’t know all that well. They often start their singing early before the sunrise. You would think that some mornings, it is their loud singing that causes the sun to rise.

In the late summer evenings, I listen to the whirr of the cicadas in the trees and the chirping of the crickets, hiding out wherever it is they like to hide. They are joined throughout the day by the buzzing of bees, moving from one flower to another.

A small fountain in front adds to the garden song with the soothing, cooling sound of water.

Sometimes, after a heavy snowfall, the garden rests in silence, the snow muffling the sounds of any creatures brave enough to stir in the cold. Those days remind us of how empty and cold a garden can seem when there is no sound. It is quite eerie.

Sound, as it turns out, is an important garden design element. You never see it, but you miss it if it isn’t there. I call this garden design element “garden song”.

When I read about adding sound to a garden, I mostly find information about adding the sound of water to the garden, or see ads for music speakers that are disguised as rocks. I’m happy to add the sound of water because that would draw more song birds to the garden. But I’ll skip the music speakers, and I probably won’t add any wind chimes, either.

I’ll just add a diversity of plants and bring the garden design element of garden song to my garden that way.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Never... had there been such a summer"

Zephyranthes sp.
Faux rain on a rain lily.

I tricked this poor lone rain lily into thinking it had rained and got it to bloom one more time for me, a fitting end to this summer of dryness.

"Summer, that year, ran through into winter without a break. No rain fell, lawns cracked and you could have swept the bed of the county brook with a broom. Never in living memory had there been such a summer." (Reginald Arkell in Old Herbaceous)

The weatherman informed us this morning that we could set a record today, the last full day of summer, with a predicted high temperature of 94F. The previous record was 93F.

He also informed us that summer officially ends tomorrow at 11:09 EDT.

Never has there been such a summer, at least one that I can recall. We've had dry summers, but not one that was quite like this one that started out so rainy in June.

I can also record that this summer, for the first time, I saw a fox in my garden. I went out to water last night and heard a crashing sound as the fox came out from beneath some shrubs and darted across the vegetable garden. I stood my ground and defended the patio.

Actually, I sort of froze on the patio and wondered if a fox would try to attack a person, like some kind of coyote or mountain lion might. I decided it wouldn't and tried to get a picture, but it darted off, and ran under the fence into the neighbor's yard and then presumably ran off across the street to the woods behind those neighbor's houses.

At least I hope that is what it did.

This is the first time that I've seen a fox in my garden, or even seen a fox in my neighborhood. What does it mean? Why was it there? What does it like about my garden?

Like every gardener, I want to create a garden that attracts pretty birds, buzzing bees, and maybe a passing bunny or two. But not foxes. Foxes, and raccoons, possums, chipmunks, squirrels and voles, don't fit into the idyllic image I have of my garden, unless they are cartoon like and don't eat any plants or destroy anything or leave any scat in the lawn.

After I saw the fox, I took a picture of my lawn.
Fairy's view of dry lawn with locust tree sprouts.
I had hoped to use this picture to show just how far tree roots extend out from a tree. The honey locust, Gleditisa triacanthos gives us some clues because it is a grove forming tree, so it sends up these sprouts from the roots here and there. These sprouts, in time, could become more honey locust trees.

In a normal summer, these sprouts would be regularly mowed down, but not this summer.

Never has there been such a summer.

I'm ready for a cool, wet fall.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Defending Mums

Shocking! Unbeleivable! What is this gardening world coming to!?

Some people do not like mums. How can that be?

Is it the smell? They do have a funny mum smell, but it isn't that bad.

Is it that they don't overwinter well? Well, they don't if you put them in a container now, let them bloom out, and then right before the ground freezes, try to plant them. That will never work!

Instead you should plant them right away, before the buds open up, and let them get established well before the ground freezes. Then once they are done blooming, cover the base with mulch, but do not cut off the stems. Let them go until you see signs of new green growth coming up from the base in the spring, then cut them back.

I've grown the same mums, pictured above, for over a dozen years, and even moved them this spring back to a holding bed in the vegetable garden, and they are still doing just fine. And a dozen years is hardly a record for mum longevity.

Is it that mums are everywhere in the fall? Well sure they are! They provide good color now. Nothing wrong with that.

If you've turned your back on mums, I think you ought to give them another chance this fall. Really...

Friday, September 17, 2010

"...gardeners are all a little like that."


A flight, for any length of time, is a rare opportunity to read without feeling guilty about weeding, watering or wasted windows of opportunity to work in the garden. Or if you are more inclined - dirty dishes, dusty floors, or any other distractions that might keep you from reading a good book.

For my flight to and from Dallas to attend the Garden Writers Association symposium, I took along Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell. I had just enough time to get a good start on this book on the flight to Dallas and then finish it on the flight back.

Old Herbaceous is the story of the fictional Herbert Pinnegar who starts out life as an orphan and goes on to become the head gardener of an English country manor. He is a self-made gardener, who lives and works in the manor gardens through both world wars until the manor is sold. Without spoiling the ending, I’ll just say it concludes with these thoughts from the ailing, slightly senile former lady of the manor for whom he worked:

     “You were very fond of Pinnegar, weren’t you?” said the nurse.
     “Not always,” replied the old lady. “Sometimes, when he was being difficult, I could have smacked him.”
     “Oh, dear,” smiled the nurse. “I hope you never did.”
     “Of course not. That was only my fun. But he was a little trying. One minute he would exasperate you, because he would do things his way, and then he would be so sweet you almost wanted to cry.”
     “How very odd.”
     “Odd? Not at all,” said Mrs. Charteris. “Pinnegar was a gardener… just a gardener… and gardeners are all a little like that.”

“… gardeners are all a little like that.”

I like that sentiment.

“… gardeners are all a little like that.”

We can indeed exasperate others.

We can rattle off our Latin plant names, pronouncing them any way we want to and people just look at us because “gardeners are all a little like that.”

We can show up with a bit of mud around the hem of our pants, a grass stain on one knee and hands that are still slightly dirty looking, even after scrubbing, because “gardeners are all a little like that.”

We can buy yet another plant, even if we have no idea where we will plant it because “gardeners are all a little like that.”

And we can be so sweet, too.

We can give someone an unexpected bouquet of flowers or a basket of tomatoes from our own garden because “gardeners are all a little like that.”

We can dig and divide our most favorite plant and explain to a new gardener how to plant it in their garden because “gardeners are all a little like that.”

We can share our secrets of gardening with anyone who asks or even looks like they would like to ask because “gardeners are all a little like that.”

There is no end to what we can get away with as gardeners, from exasperating to sweet and everything in between, because after all, “gardeners are all a little like that.”

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ladybug, Ladybug... Have You Been to Texas?

"Ladybug, ladybug, where have you been?"

I've been to Dallas, Texas to attend the 62nd Garden Writers Association Symposium, that's where I've been!

I had a Texas-sized good time, too, meeting all kinds of fabulous garden writers and communicators and representatives of companies who sell plants, tools, and all manner of gardeny things. I also attended some educational sessions and visited an eclectic mix of gardens while sweating in the heat.

Now I know what "hot as Texas" really means.

And I discovered a new garden design element that I call "horttery", a word I created by combining "horticulture" with "mystery". Get it? Hort-tery?

The Hoosier Gardener got it and sent me this picture she took of a horttery in a Texas garden.
I'll let you try to figure out what that is for, it is a horttery to me and I'd rather conjecture and surmise than know for sure, because if I knew for sure, then that would take all the fun, the horttery, out of it.

Like everyone else, I took all kinds of pictures of the gardens I saw in and around Dallas.

I'll start at the beginning with the first garden we visited, the Dallas Arboretum.

It nearly brought tears to my eyes to see grass so green and lush. I briefly thought of offering my services to mow it because my lawn is so burnt up with no rain since, gosh, I don't know when, that the last time I mowed was August 6th.

I know some people would rejoice at that gap in summertime mowing, but my lawn is nothing to rejoice about now.

And if you are thinking "Hey, Carol, it's a lawn, use this as an opportunity to let it die and plant a garden there", let me also add that the trees, shrubs, and perennials are also suffering from lack of rain and those who have tried to dig and plant have had to use pick-axes to do so. Not to mention that a well-done, properly maintained lawn is just as much a part of a garden as the trees, shrubs, perennials, containers, patios, paths, and everything else you can find in a garden. Don't get me started!

Waiting for rain to come to my garden, I feel like Emily Baldwin from The Waltons, who waited patiently for Ashley Longworth to return for her. I just hope the rain eventually does return to my garden.

Anyway, after the Dallas Arboretum, we visited another dozen or so gardens on Sunday morning and Monday morning. Would you like to see all of my pictures? I've got a Texas-sized mess of them to share.

Scared you!

You know it isn't my style to show pictures one after the other. Instead, let me conclude with one of the last pictures I took in a Texas garden.

I love a good path in the garden. Who wouldn't want to go up this path to see where it leads? It's a metaphor for life. We never know what's at the end of the path or how steep the climb will be, but we ought to take it anyway.

And with that, I'll conclude this early report on Dallas, Texas by noting that I came home Tuesday mid-day to my dry garden and took pictures for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Once again, I am overwhelmed by the number of gardeners who participate each month.

A Texas-sized Thank You to all!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2010

Delphinium sp.
 Welcome to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day for September 2010.

My garden cries out for rain. Half way through September, it still seems like August, hot and dry. I long for rainy fall days, when the rain falls throughout the day and drips from the leaves as they cling to the trees for just a few more weeks.

Instead, I must live and garden with my current reality. The earth is cracked, some flowers are either dried up or wilted, and I’m running around watering as much as I can.

Fortunately, though, some flowers are blooming and the season still provides a few surprises, like a lone Delphinium bloom, a reminder of June days in the garden.

Ah, yes, June. That was the month it rained so much that we thought the garden would be growing and flourishing forever.

Elsewhere in the garden, back where the vegetables grow, the marigolds, zinnias, mums and a few sunflowers carry forth.
Helianthus annuus 'Autumn Beauty

My goldenrod is in full bloom.

Solidago shortii
 This is my rare Solidago shortii, now covered with pollinators. I hope for some self-sowing from this beauty of my fall garden.

Out in front, the Heuchera are blooming, but I took no pictures, because it is hard to get a picture of their dainty flower spikes. Likewise, no pictures of the Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah’, switch grass, also blooming.

But how about pictures, once again, of the yellow rose of the Knockout® Rose, Rosa ‘Radsunny’?

Rosa ‘Radsunny’

It’s been blooming steadily all summer long.

And all summer long, the aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’ has been growing, branching, and budding up.

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’
Slowly, surely, it will bloom and provide a bright spot to end this dry season in the 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 in 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

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another Garden Design Element Discovered: Horttery

Mystery! Intrigue! What is down there?

Down there is yet another garden design element that I want to find in my garden.

This particular grate at the Dallas Arboretum most likely functions as a place for water to run off the path into an underground network of pipes that take the water off to a nearby lake.

A good solid explanation - functional, rational, simple enough.

Or perhaps it is where garden fairies go to hide on hot summer days when the arboretum is full of visitors. What comes up through that grate as the last light of day fades into night? Is it a portal to another world, a world that exists in every garden but is not often spoken of?

Whatever purpose it serves, it adds a bit of mystery to the garden, a bit of horttery, if you will allow the use of another word not found in any dictionaries, at least for now.

This well in a private Dallas garden also has a bit of horttery to it.

When I saw it, I had to walk up to it to find out who deep it was. I couldn't resist. Hello, helloooo, helloooo down there.

I won’t reveal its secrets or how deep it was!

Deep inside this Dallas garden designed by Rosa Finsely, the garden fairies have quite brazenly built themselves a castle.
What does it look like inside that dwelling? Had I not been in this garden with one hundred or so other gardeners touring it during the Garden Writers Association Symposium in Dallas, Texas, I might have knelt down and peered inside the windows to see inside. But I didn’t, so it will remain yet another horttery, never to be solved.

In fact, a good horttery shouldn’t be solved. It is much more enjoyable to develop theories about it, changing the explanation depending on who is in the garden, what the season is or what other events have occurred that might, or might not provide important clues.

But I'll make no mystery of this... mystery in a garden – horttery, is another design element I want to include in my garden.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Gardening In A Cloud Of Butterflies

Gardening in a cloud of butterflies, I am reminded of all those who gardened before me.

My garden wouldn't be the same without them.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Five Types of Shrub Buyers

Rhus aromatica 'Gro-Low'
After completing extensive research, mostly from years of buying shrubs, I’ve noted five types of shrub buyers.

The Researcher: The researchers know exactly what shrubs they want to buy, right down to the cultivar name. They’ve done their homework. They’ve done online searches for the shrubs they are interested in and cross referenced that information with books and then double checked their choices through online forums to make sure they’ve picked the perfect shrub. Then they spend more hours trying to find that exact shrub for sale.

The Grabber: The grabbers are the opposite of the researchers. They have no idea what they want other than “shrubs”. They go to the garden centers or big box stores and pick shrubs with pretty blooms and leaves and comment, “It’s green, good enough.” And off they go, with their shrubs, which of course they generally call “bushes” because they really don’t know any better.

The Rescuers: The rescuers can usually be found hanging around the back of the garden center where the broken, battered and bruised plants are marked down to clear them out. They are on a mission. They see those poor mistreated shrubs with half their soil knocked out of their containers, branches broken through mishandling, wilting with no water in the hot afternoon sun, and buy those. They are convinced that with a little pruning, a good drink of water, and some soothing garden talk, those rescued shrubs will be just as nice and healthy as the other ones. Oh, and the money they saved!

The Experimenters: The experimenters are looking for “something different”. They want to be on the cutting edge when it comes to their shrubs. Who cares if no one has heard of the shrubs they are buying or there is no information about those shrubs? So much the better. They are willing to take a chance to be the first to have those shrubs in their gardens. They are willing to push the shrubs a zone or two beyond their published hardiness zone. Common shrubs? Please. Experimenters would rather buy annuals than have common shrubs in their gardens.

The Gardeners: Gardeners can be a bit unpredictable and be all types of shrub buyers - researcher, grabber, rescuer, experimenter, all in the same trip to the garden center.

They go in as a researcher, looking for a very specific shrub and the next thing they know, they are a grabber, putting a couple of shrubs on the cart because they are green and oh, yeah, there was that one bare spot that would be good to fill in with a few basic shrubs. (Playing the role of a grabber once, I bought Rhus aromatica 'Low-Gro' and have never liked it because I don't like its scent.)

Then they pass by the clearance shrubs and even though they had not five minutes ago looked in the rear view mirror and promised themselves that they were going to stay away from the marked down plants, there they are, the rescuer, rescuing just a few of them.

Finally, they wheel their cart toward the check out area, loaded down with their one very specific shrub, a few shrubs just because they are green, and another few shrubs that called out to be rescued and snap, they suddenly stop and look down at the tag of a new shrub they’ve never seen before and purr in their special low experimenter voice, “Well, aren’t you different? How would you like to come home with me?”

And then they load that shrub onto their cart and finally pay for their purchases and head on back to their garden.

Researchers, grabbers, rescuers, experimenters, gardeners… all out there buying shrubs. Which one are you, most of the time?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Lessons From The Garden, So Far

The garden is full of lessons, just waiting for us to learn them.

In my first decade of life, I learned that gardening is enjoyable. I watched my Dad enjoy working in his garden, growing red geraniums on the front porch and a garden full of vegetables and flowers in the back yard.

When I was in my teens, I learned that I liked gardening - that I loved gardening. I loved to sow seeds, to plant, to water, to be in a garden. I loved going to garden centers and greenhouses. I loved looking through the seed catalogs and dreaming of someday having my own garden.

When I was in my early twenties, I learned the science of gardening - how plants grew, why they grew, what grew where and perhaps as important as any lesson, how to ask questions and find answers in a garden.

In my late twenties, I learned that we don’t always get to see our harvest at the end of the season or see how big the oak tree we planted would grow after 50 years. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plant it anyway, for others to enjoy.

When I was in my thirties, I learned to appreciate the rhythm of gardening. It suits me to follow a pattern. Sow peas on St. Patrick’s Day, plant the rest of the garden in late May. Enjoy the lilacs in the spring and the brightly colored foliage in the fall. Savor the restful time of winter, and don’t sweat the trials of a hot summer. Repeat each year.

When I was in my forties, I learned that gardening is not always a solitary activity. I started a blog and began to share my thoughts on gardening. I found kindred spirits. I made connections with other gardeners that I could not have imagined earlier in life, that will now last for a lifetime.

Now in my fifties, my very early fifties, I continue to learn about gardening, about plants, about what it truly takes to make a collection of plants become a garden. I’ve learned that if you mix in a bit of humor with the dirt and give in to your eccentricities and idiosyncrasies in the garden, the garden will truly be yours.

I’ve also learned that you can’t possibly learn all there is to know about gardening in one season. That’s just laughable. Even after five seasons or even ten seasons, many people who enjoy gardening are reluctant still to call themselves real gardeners. They realize they have just scratched the surface of the vast array of lessons a garden can teach us and they have so much more to learn.

The garden is always teaching us, even after we have spent decades planting, nurturing, and coaxing it to grow. And there is no rushing it. Each lesson from the garden has its own time and place and has to be learned by doing, not be reading about it or imagining it.

So perhaps the most important lesson to learn about gardening is really quite simple... that the lessons are out there, in the garden, waiting for us to learn them.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Dear Friends and Gardeners September 6, 2010

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

The other day on the way home from work, I stopped at a garden center and bought some grass seed and on impulse picked up the 2011 Old Farmer’s Almanac. I guess that means I am officially looking forward to next year’s vegetable garden and am ready to give up on this year’s vegetable garden.

We are dry, dry, dry. It is so dry that even the thistle are wilting. That’s dry, fellow gardeners. There is no way to water everything I have planted, so I’m spending my time watering the trees and shrubs, not the annuals.

It is so dry that I don’t think the little bit of produce that I’m getting from the vegetable garden now is worth the water it would take to keep it going. Late next week, I’ll harvest the compost from the compost bins and then pull out the spent vegetable plants and refill the bins. I hate to do that when our first frost is still at least a month away, but there is no good reason to put it off.

It is so dry that I haven’t had to mow my now dormant lawn since August 6th, a full month ago. Even when I did mow the lawn the last time, it didn’t really need it that much. And I don’t think I’ll need to mow it again unless we get some rain.

On the bright side, as I noted above, the dryness has weakened some of my traditional stands of thistle that pop up here and there in the garden, where I pull it over and over again, year after year. Maybe the thistle will disappear from those spots forever? I can only hope so.

I also can only hope and pray that we do finally get some rain, even if it revives the thistle, so that I can continue with my plans to plant more shrubs and perennials in my new garden borders later this fall. I’ve ordered some bulbs to plant and the garden designer is coming by mid week to talk about what we should do next, depending on how this fall progresses – if it starts to rain again or if it stays dry.

I’m an optimist by nature, so I think it will rain, and we’ll add more plants to the garden this fall. Then next spring I’ll once again be out in the garden planting my peas for another season starting in mid-March, we when have traditionally started our letter posts for the season (if you consider doing this two years in a row a tradition),

Until then,

Carpe hortus,

Carol

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Gardening Geek: Labor Day Edition

Coleus 'Crimson Gold'
You might be a gardening geek on Labor Day if...

You plan to spend this bonus day off in your garden and hope it doesn’t rain even though you need rain and desperately want it to rain.

You consider this weekend your drop dead date for ordering bulbs to plant this fall. Bonus points if you have already ordered bulbs but decided that because it is a three-day weekend, you should celebrate by ordering just a few more bulbs, just in case.

You lock up your reciprocating saw to keep from succumbing to the urge to do some pruning, because you know this is not the time to prune anything back. Bonus points if you have a reciprocating saw just for pruning.

Your Labor Day cook out menu includes tomatoes along with the last of the summer squash and maybe a melon or two, all from your garden.

You don’t mind that the rabbits ate the last of the green bean plants because it is late enough in the season that they really just made it easier for you to clean up the vegetable garden by eating up some of those plants.

You equate the failure of a garden hose with the end of the season and wonder why a garden hose doesn’t last all that long and can’t believe it didn’t even last all the way through its second year. Bonus points if the split in the hose made it look like “Old Faithful” had just erupted in your yard. (To be fair to all the garden hose manufacturers, the hose that burst was a cheap short hose used to connect the hose reel to the faucet. The hose on the reel has been going strong for about ten years.)

You stop thinking about what is still going to bloom in your garden and begin to reflect back on what did bloom in your garden and how you are going to make it even better next year. Bonus points if you still have some flowers that are yet to bloom before the first frost.

You realize that fall is for planting and look forward to planting more shrubs and other plants later this fall. Bonus points if you realize fall is actually a good time to mulch the garden, too. Double bonus points if you actually do mulch in the fall. Triple bonus points if you start working on a new planting bed or border on Labor Day.

You decide to clean up the garage in anticipation of bringing all the garden stuff inside in a month or so and have to get creative to fit everything in. Bonus points if you have two mowers in your garage. Double bonus points for three mowers, and a life-time of bonus points if you have four mowers in your garage, plus two electric chipper-shredders, a flat cart, a wheelbarrow, more than two shovels, more than three rakes and more than a dozen hoes. And give yourself more bonus points if you have more than five pairs of gardening gloves, and all the pairs are complete.

Finally, you might be a gardening geek on Labor Day if...

Your next big harvest is going to be a season’s worth of compost hiding in the bottom two-thirds of the compost bin.

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Path

A path through a future woodland garden...

Imagine it with more plants...

Little tiny plants that make you want to bend over and see them more closely.

Bigger plants that hide the curve a bit and make you want to see what is at the other end.

Close your eyes and imagine...

Walking down the path in the early morning through the dappled shade.

Ambling down the path in the twilight, with just a few twinkling lights to show you the way.

Think about the fun...

On Easter, when Auntie Carol is hollering out "stay on the path" as her neices and nephews scurry about the garden looking for Easter eggs.

Of watching the path disappear beneath the snow in winter and then have it reappear in spring, lined with tiny little spring ephemerals.

A path through a future woodland garden...

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

September - The Fall May

Callicarpa dichotoma 'Early Amethyst'
Through my 10 20 30 many seasons of gardening, I’ve come to realize that September is just as important a month in deciding how the garden will look in the springtime, as May is for deciding how the garden will look in the summertime.

September… it’s the fall May, at least in my USDA Hardiness Zone 5b garden. (Your September may vary.)

All year I dream of the days of September, when the breezes are cool, the skies are blue, the compost bins are full, and the garden is ready for planting again.

The days of September should not be wasted! There is way too much to do, as noted by Henry Mitchell…

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

I’m taking this to heart this year more so than other years. I’ve lolled around through August. It was hot. It was dry. It was the driest August in the history of Indianapolis, beating the record set in 1897, which you know if you have read any of my tweets recently.

No more lolling! It’s September. Time to garden, once again!

Garden, on three…

One… Two… THREE!

GARDEN!