Search May Dreams Gardens

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Lessons from the Rose: This is Not the Time to Fade Out

What do roses know? About the weather? About the change of seasons? Probably more than we know!

These yellow Knockout Roses®, Rosa 'Radsunny' are blooming as though it is still high summer. But we've had some heavy frost already and by the end of the week, there will be a hard freeze or two.

Perhaps these roses know this but instead of just fading away, they've decided to bloom as much as possible, to not give in until they are iced over, snowed under... Brrrr... I don't want to think about it.

We can learn from the roses as we wind up this gardening season.


Now is not the time to fade out. There are bulbs to plant.

I was planting bulbs today and remembered that I had this trowel, a rockery trowel. It's good for digging in tight spaces with a fairly sharp blade. I don't have a rock garden, but I bought this tool because it was a fun looking trowel.

I used it to plant smaller bulbs, and it worked quite well for that purpose. I pushed the trowel into the ground, pulled out a plug of dirt, dropped in the bulb and then covered it up. All without disturbing the other plants in the area.

I also discovered that it was easier to plant bulbs where I had been watering all summer. Where I haven't been watering, the ground is rock solid. As always, I am watering the bulbs after I plant them.


Now is not the time to fade out. There is still time to plant trees and shrubs.

The garden designer and her digging helper came last week and planted several more shrubs, including three Oakleaf hydrangeas, Hydrangea quercifolia 'Sikes Dwarf', some grasses, and a tree.

The fall color on these hydrangeas is stunning.

The advantage of planting trees and shrubs in the fall is that their energy is spent on root growth, not on top growth and blooming. By the time summer arrives, the fall planted plants will be fairly well established and better able to survive hot, dry summer conditions.

Fall planting has more to do with soil temperature than air temperature, so even if we think it is cold outside, conditions may still be good for the plants. Root growth takes place in soils as cold as 45F (roughly, thereabouts, depending on which source you consult).

Unfortunately, fall planting also has a lot to do with finding good plants still in the garden centers. Not as many people think about doing much in the garden in fall, except for leaf raking, so selections in some garden centers can be rather limited. After all, the garden center owners don't want to get a bunch of new trees and shrubs in for fall and get stuck with over-wintering them.

That's too bad because fall is not the time to fade out in the garden.

It's the time to get going, to plant bulbs, trees, and shrubs, to prepare new planting beds for spring.

Learn from the rose...keep going strong right up until the very end.

Rosa 'Radsunny'

Friday, October 29, 2010

August Dreams Border

And the answer for what will be planted in the East Perennial Border lies in the working name I have given it…

August Dreams Border.

It will be planted with various perennials, bulbs, and grasses so that its crescendo will occur in autumn, with a nice build up starting in August. There will be little hints of color through the spring and early summer, but not enough to take away from the West Perennial Border, which I suppose should now be called…

May Dreams Border.

These names will help me think about the focal time for these two borders when I buy the occasional new perennial or grass or other plant and am waltzng about the garden trying to decide where to plant it.

I realize that many people have suggested and will suggest that both borders should include a variety of plants so they are both interesting all through the growing season with as much bloom as possible.

My preference however, is to not have the two borders competing across the lawn from one another, causing one’s head to swivel back and forth trying to see it all at once, afraid of missing something. I call this change in focal point as the season progresses through the garden seasonal-shift.

Other than asters, tall sedum, and a few toad lilies, I haven’t consciously looked for plants that provide true late season interest. But I will now, and many of the plants will likely be native wildflowers or cultivars of native wildflowers.

August Dreams Border… something else to look forward to here at May Dreams Gardens.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Garden Design Update: Choices

There is a new perennial border in the garden, where before there was lawn. For lack of a more descriptive name, the garden designer currently calls it  "East Perennial Border" because it is on the east side of the garden.

On the west side of the garden there is another perennial border that we call  "West Perennial Border".

Both will end up with new names at some point, when their form, function, features, and flowers take shape.

In the meantime, I have a decision to make about the East Perennial Border.  The garden designer presented two options.

The first option is to plant it with plants like Siberian iris, daylilies, Asiatic lilies and daisies so that it grabs my attention in May, June, and July.

The second option is to plant it with plants like Asters, Rudbeckia, dwarf Joe-Pye weed and tall phlox so that it stands out beginning in the high summer days of August.

I have already decided.

I decided as soon as I was presented with the two choices. I did not hesitate or waver, or pluck the petals off the daisy - plant this, plant that, plant this, plant that.

What do you think I chose?

And do you know what I shall call this new border?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Quarterly Report From May Dreams Gardens

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind., October 26, 2010 – In the interest of full disclosure, management is once again providing a quarterly report on the operational activities and overall production outlook for May Dreams Gardens (GSE-MDG).

This report covers the time period from July 1, 2010 through September 30, 2010. The previous two reports were filed over two years ago. This lax reporting has been noted and management is advised to be more timely with future reporting.

In the area of mowing, for the time period covered by this report, the lawn had been mowed fewer than ten times, due to the dry, nearly drought like conditions. This resulted in the gardening staff becoming a bit complacent and out of shape, such that management is advised to implement a rigorous conditioning program as soon as possible so that staff can be ready to mow again, once rainfall returns to normal levels, or Spring 2011, whichever comes first.

Production activities in the vegetable garden suffered mightily during this quarter, which was noted as one of the driest experienced in the garden. Staff did not want to discuss this, but assured everyone that come spring, the garden would be planted anew and production would likely, hopefully, optimistically return to normal levels in 2011. Due to the trauma of gardening through such conditions, management should also provide staff with access to counseling services through the winter, through a program provided by Dr. Hortfreud.

It was noted that management did provide regular reports of flowering activities through July, August, and September and are encouraged to continue this reporting each month on Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for the foreseeable future.

In the area of expense and income, it was noted that the 3rd quarter is traditionally a time of revenue in the form of fresh vegetables as all the raw materials in the form of seeds, soil, and plants begin to bear fruit. However, it was noted that due to the dry conditions, and lack of supplemental watering in the vegetable garden, there was little income to offset expenses.  However, it is noted that accounting procedures are quite lax at May Dreams Gardens and this financial analysis is based on sheer conjecture on the part of the garden fairies, who, truth be told, do a poor job of tracking expenses related to the garden.

The Board of Directors of May Dreams Gardens continues to encourage capital investment in the garden, most notably for the new patio, new plantings in the front gardens and upcoming plantings in the back gardens. The board was unanimous in recommending further investment in a gate and new raised beds for the vegetable garden and offered praise to management for seeking out a garden designer to ensure appropriate investments were made.

Finally, as in  past quarters, all of management and staff are encouraged to continue to look for opportunities to learn more about gardening and bring this knowledge back to the garden, while at the same time completing the gardener’s life list to provide focus, as time permits.

Analysts believe there should be windows of opportunity (WOO) to complete these activities.

(The forward-looking statements included in this release are made only as of the date of this release, and we undertake no obligation to update any of them to reflect subsequent events or circumstances.)

How’s your garden doing?

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Few Thoughts On Books and Learning to Garden

As Cicero is quoted as saying, “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.”

No doubt, Cicero was referring to a library full of books about everything but gardening. Those non-gardening books, let’s call them “the classics” for simplicity sake, can teach us values that we can apply to the garden – values like: hard work, patience, generosity.

But the “classics” don’t teach us the difference between a Viburnum and a Hydrangea, or the botanical names of all the vegetables in our garden, or the twelve orders of soil taxonomy.

For that kind of information, we seek out gardening books.

Gardening books can indeed teach us about shrubs, growing vegetables, and soil. They can inspire us with pictures, with stories of the successes of other gardeners, and with descriptions of mouth watering tomatoes that we can grow in our very own gardens, if we have a bit of good dirt in some full sun and enough warm days, but not too many hot nights, for the tomatoes to ripen.

Gardening books are good to have in our libraries.

But learning about gardening from books is not the same as learning how to garden in a garden.

To learn to garden, we need to set aside the books, both the classics and the gardening books, and even the classic gardening books, take up our spades and go out into our gardens and start digging.

That’s the only way to truly learn to garden, to become a gardener.

We need to sow seeds, watch them grow, harvest the fruit, clean up the garden after the frost, as the last of the squash bug nymphs scurry out of reach. We need to dig, prune, weed, and sometimes re-dig, say oops when we prune the wrong branch, and then say frass when we pull out a plant we thought was a weed but turns out to be the very plant we carefully planted just the week before.

That’s how we become gardeners.

But aren't those seed heads pretty?

Back behind the compost bins, I discovered fall color in the seed heads of Chenopodium album.  

I am a lazy gardener for not pulling out these plants months ago before they even got close to setting seed. After all, this is the very common weed, lamb's quarters.

I'd better hurry and pull them out now, though, before someone accuses me of being a softy when it comes to weeds in the garden.

But aren't those seed heads pretty?

I'll get to them tonight, or maybe tomorrow for sure. We'll see.

In the meantime, it is possible that any number of critters, including chipmunks, squirrels, meadow voles and birds, all of which I have seen in and around the garden, will have a chance to eat these seeds.

Then they'll do the seeds a favor by passing them through their digestive systems and out onto the ground where the seeds can germinate next spring and become new weeds for me to pull.

It's a vicious cycle.

But aren't those seed heads pretty?

In some areas of the world, gardeners and farmers grow lamb's quarters on purpose and eat the young leaves. You can actually buy seeds for Chenopodium album to plant in your vegetable garden!  No doubt the seeds are for varieties that are improvements over the basic weed.

Apparently, the young leaves can be used like young spinach leaves. But I am taking the same stance on this weed as I do on that fat, greasy weed, purlsane. I don't plan to eat either one any time soon. Someone else can try lamb's quarters and tell me how it tastes.

But aren't those seed heads pretty?

And another interesting tidbit about Chenopodium album. This weed isn't even a native plant here in North America. That's a bit surprising, given how common it is, but plants have their ways, and they do manage to get around the globe by various means, including sometimes tricking people into transporting them.

Who knows, maybe early immigrants brought seeds for lamb's quarters with them from the far flung corners of the words because...

Aren't those seed heads pretty?


Don't forget to comment on Friday's post to enter to win a copy of the new book, Bizarre Botanicals. Deadline is Monday, October 25th, 9:00 pm EDT.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My new Corona® Hoe and I cleaned up the vegetable garden

My new Corona® Garden Hoe and I cleaned up the vegetable garden earlier today.

It didn’t take too long. The plants had mostly dried up before being hit with a bit of frost a few days ago. I easily pulled up the peppers, tomatoes, squash, and corn plants and tossed them on the compost bin. Then I used the new hoe to knock down the weeds and smooth the raised beds.

I was surprised at how hard packed the soil was in the raised beds, even though no one ever walks on them… much. But the new garden hoe, with a generous six inch wide hoe head, made it easy to break through the crust and cut off those weeds.

As I pulled out plants and hoed up the beds, I was reminded that I need to make a decision about redoing the raised beds. The cedar boards that I first put in place probably eight or nine years ago are now more rotted than solid and have pulled away from the 4” x 4” corner posts in several places.

I need to either replace the boards with the same thing and hope to get another eight or so years out of them, replace them with a thicker pine board (maybe a 2” x 8” pine board instead of the 1” x 6” cedar boards I used), or replace them with some manufactured boards that are never supposed to rot.

Or should I get some stones of some kind to edge the beds?

At the same time, I also want to re-arrange the beds using the “keyhole” concept to maximize the space a bit more.

The best time to do all of this is in the fall. But will there be time to do it this fall? Will I decide what to edge the beds with? Will I have the tools to do it?

With my new Corona® Garden Hoe, I’ll have at least one of the tools I need, a good garden hoe. Thank you to Corona® for sending me this hoe to try out. I have many hoes, but lacked a good basic "garden hoe".  I like this one, it is very well made, and with that red handle, I’ll always be able to find it amongst the other hoes in my hoe collection.

Now, what to do about those raised beds...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bizarre Botanicals: Book Review and Giveaway

Someone asked me if I would be getting rid of my Stapelia since it has now bloomed, and I finally got to smell the flower to prove to myself that it really does smell like dead, rotting meat.

Oh, gosh, no. I am not getting rid of the Stapelia. It’s a passalong plant. You can’t just march into the plant section of your local big box store and find one of these for sale. You’ve got to find someone who has one, drop a few hints about how interesting and fun it must be to grow, and then maybe they’ll give you a start from theirs.

Plus, Stapelia is included in the newly published book, Bizarre Botanicals by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross (Timber Press $24.95).

Want to know how many other plants I have that are in Bizarre Botanicals?

Well, I think my cactus is included, or at least it is pretty close to what they call a Tarantula Cactus, Cleistocactus winteri.
I’ve had this cactus for years. It just keeps growing, and growing, and growing. Each section coming up out of the pot does look like a gigantic tarantula leg.

The authors also mention voodoo lily, Amorphophallus bulbifer, in Bizarre Botanicals, which I do NOT have, but I have heard of it. Like the Stapelia, it is also supposed to smell like rotting meat when it blooms. Since I don’t have one, I can’t vouch for this myself but my aunt said my great grandfather had one and he had to plant it out back behind the barn because it did smell bad when it bloomed. (One wonders if I inherited this penchant for growing oddly smelling flowers?)

Fortunately, Bizarre Botanicals includes information on other plants that don’t remind you of dead meat or huge spiders. The authors included interesting looking flowers like passionflower, gloriosa lily, and cockscomb, to name a few.

Browsing through this book, I was impressed with the diversity of plants chosen and some of the bizarre features of them, be it the flowers, thorns, leaves or the excellent impressions of animals that some plants do.

The authors encourage us all to try growing one or many of these bizarre botanicals by providing cultural information for each plant, including a difficulty rating of 1 – 3. The Stapelia is a 2, by the way.

Through a fortunate-for-you mix up, I received two review copies of Bizarre Botanicals by Larry Mellichamp and Paula Gross, so I’m giving one away to a lucky winner. To enter, just leave a comment by Monday, October 25, 2010, 9:00 pm EDT telling me about an interesting or bizarre plant that you are growing or would like to grow. I’ll choose one lucky winner by random drawing.

(Details: Enter by Monday, October 25, 2010, 9:00 pm EDT. Winner will be chosen by random drawing. US residents only, 18 and over. Make sure your comment will either lead me to your blog where I can easily find your email address to notify you if you are the winner, or leave your address in the comments, disguising it of course, along the lines of email AT gmail Dot com.)

(Update, Monday, October 25 - The lucky winner is "Sarah", the ninth commenter on this post. Congrats, Sarah. I just sent you an email to let you know.)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Three Views on Heliopsis helianthoides 'Loraine Sunshine'

Three Views on Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’ presented by Hortense Hoelove, the garden fairies, and Dr. Hortfreud.

Heliopsis helianthoides 'Loraine Sunshine'

Dear Hortense Hoelove,

What do you think of Helopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’?

Loraine S.

Dear Loraine,

I think she’s a tramp of a flower who has been in every bed in my garden. Lovely flower, though, and outstanding leaves, too. I let her stay because her leaves are so pretty.

Yours in gardening,

Garden fairies here! Carol asked us to comment on Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’. Geez, do you know how long it takes us garden fairies to type Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’ by jumping from key to key? Couldn’t she have asked us to comment on a plant with a shorter name, like Zea mays? Hey, did we ever tell you about the night we were partying in the corn patch when suddenly we were over run with raccoons? We don’t know who invited them to our party, but we have our suspicions. Oh, gosh, Carol sure was mad the next day when she saw what those raccoons did to the corn. Hey, what we were supposed to be commenting on? It wasn’t corn… oh right… Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’. It sure is a pretty plant. We like the leaves, especially. Hey, did we tell you about the time the rabbits kept biting off the stems of Heliospis helanthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’? Carol sure was mad…


Yes, Dr. Hortfreud?

I’ve been thinking about why you don’t deadhead Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’ more often to prevent self-sowing.

Why is that, Dr. Hortfreud?

I think it is because you want it to self-sow around the garden.

Why would I want it to self-sow all over?

Because, you have a tiny seed of doubt deep within you that maybe next spring some other plants won’t return, but by letting Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunsine’ self sow in the garden, you know you’ll at least have those seedlings, and though most will revert to the plain green of the species, some will have variegated leaves. But I wouldn’t be too concerned, Carol. Every gardener has that tiny seed of doubt.

Ox-eye daisies! You might be right, Dr. Hortfreud!

Just don’t give in to it, Carol. Before our next session, I want you to go out to your garden and deadhead the Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Loraine Sunshine’ and then we’ll discuss how that felt at our next session.

Okay, but can I leave just a few seed heads?

This post is part of Three for Thursday, sponsored by My Corner of Katy.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Garden Design Update: Time to Plant

Callicarpa dichotoma 'Early Amethyst'
Remember June, when it rained so much that it seemed like the garden would be a jungle by mid-summer?

My spring planted landscape plants got plenty of water through the third wettest June in Indianapolis history.

Back then, I wondered if the "patio guys" would have rain delays like my two nephews who had worked every morning through June hauling mulch, often waiting for it to stop raining before they started, or quitting early to watch World Cup soccer because of the rain.

But July came, the sun came out, and the patio guys had not a drop of rain to stop their progress. No one worried about the lack of rain back then. After all, it was July, summer-time!

But then it didn't rain.

And August came. And it didn't rain.

Instead, we put August on the record books as the driest August in Indianapolis history.

And I watered my new plantings.

And September came. And it didn't rain, much.

And I watered.

And now it is October.

Already, we've had two days with record high temperatures and just two or three brief rainfalls. We are past our average date for a killing frost by about five days and no sign yet of such low temperatures.

But there is rain in the forecast, a predicated change in the weather pattern.

It is time to turn from the desperation of watering to the dream of planting. Soon, the garden designer's crew will plant more trees and shrubs in the back and move a few shrubs to new locations. Then I will plant spring flowering bulbs and move on to the dreaming season, winter.

Dreams, not desperation, drive people forward to plant gardens.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dr. Hortfreud Discusses the Stapelia

Good evening, Carol. I see that your Stapelia finally bloomed.

Hi Dr. Hortfreud. Yes, the Stapelia started opening last Friday.

Do you like it, Carol?

Oh yes, Dr. H., it is very interesting, and it does smell like everyone said it would.

Yes, well, about that flower smelling, Carol. I noticed that you kept going back and smelling it, several times. On Friday, on Saturday, on Sunday, and again this evening. Did it always smell bad?

Oh gosh, yes. It smelled bad every time, and it still smells. But fortunately, the smell doesn't seem to spread beyond the flower.

Well, that's good, I suppose. What does it smell like?

It smells like rotting meat. It's actually disgusting!

So let us explore why you felt you had to keep smelling it.

I wanted to be sure it wasn't my imagination.


And it wasn't. It definitely smells.

Carol, don't you think it is a little odd how many times you smelled that flower.

All for botanical research purposes, Dr. Hortfreud!

So Carol, look in to the flower and tell me what you see.
I see flower parts.

I see. Now, how does it feel to have a flower like this in your house at night while you are sleeping?

I'll admit it feels a little creepy.

That's it, just a little creepy?

Yes, I think so.

Okay. Thank you, Carol. Our time is up for this session. Between now and our next visit, I'll be doing some research to verify my diagnosis, but I think your interest and attraction to this flower is symptomatic of a certified plant geek. Unfortunately, there is no cure, but we can discuss how to embrace this condition and live with it at our next session.

Thank you, Dr. Hortfreud, I think.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

When A Gardener Visits A Forest

When a gardener visits a forest,

She looks for the color of the leaves and finds the red of the Sassafras trees (Sassafras albidum) in the understory.
She remembers how her Dad tried to dig up sassafras trees and plant them in his garden, never successfully because of the deep tap roots. He always said they couldn't take our cold winters.

Nearby, she finds still green leaves on a young Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).
Many people plant this tree in their gardens because it is the state tree.

She continues on through the forest and though she knows this is not the peak season for wildflowers, she manages to find a few blooms.

She makes a mental note to return to the forest in the spring, when wildflowers should emerge from the carpet of leaves and will be the big show.

She finds and follows the dry stream bed deeper into the forest.

And hopes by spring it is once again flowing with water.

Along the way, she finds this rock which would be a perfect rock to sit on and ponder all that is around her.
She sits there for a moment to try it out and then asks if anyone would kindly carry it out of the forest for her so she can take it home to her own garden, but no one offers. It is just as well, she thinks, because it is probably better to ponder in the forest on such a rock, than in a garden.

Further down the creek bed, she finds the exposed roots of a tree.

She thinks it is the perfect place for forest sprites to live. Forest sprites are the wilder cousins of the garden fairies, if there can be something wilder than a garden fairy.

She continues on quietly, so as not to disturb the sprites, and returns to the pond.
Here she considers what the forest teaches a gardener and finds a simple lesson.

The sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts.
It is good to see the forest to remind us of that we too often get lost in finding a particular plant, or worrying about tall flowers flopping over, or fretting that we will never get the garden cleaned up before it snows. The forest reminds us that the garden can do just fine with far less of our interference than we can imagine.

When a gardener goes to the forest...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - October 2010

Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for October 2010!

Here in my USDA Hardiness Zone 5b garden October has so far brought us bright sunny skies, at least two days with record setting high temperatures, and very little rain.

Yet it is keeping its usual promise of ever shorter days, cooler nights, and changing leaf color.

When I look back at the bloom day post for 2009, I see two plants that haven't done as well this year, and have no blooms today - Endless Summer® Hydrangeas and Kalimeris pinnatifida ‘Hortensis’, also known as the Oxford Orphanage Plant or Double Japanese Aster.

Ironically, the asters shown above, Symphyotrichum novae-angliae, were the ones that I dug out in early July and transplanted to another garden bed. These are passalong plants from my aunt, so I am happy to see they survived.

Another aster doing quite well, blooming by the front walkway, is Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'October Skies'.
 Both types of asters were cut back by about half around Memorial Day, which encourages them to branch out, not up, making them less likely to flop over and increasing the amount of bloom on them.

In a nursery bed in the back yard, waiting for a permanent spot elsewhere in the garden is Dendranthema 'Cool Igloo', a trial plant from Blooms of Bressingham.
I did nothing to it and it managed to bloom quite nicely all on its own.

Elsewhere in the garden, the marigolds, Tagetes sp.  have survived with no extra water.
I don't know why people think of marigolds as a summer flowers. In my garden, where I direct sow the seeds for the marigolds in May, they never really start blooming well until mid to late August.

Finally, the Knockout® Rose, Rosa ‘Radsunny’ is still putting on a great show.
It's been blooming since spring and is still going strong. It's a keeper, even if you are like me and don't grow a lot of roses.

How is your garden blooming this month? Are you ready for a killing frost, the end of the show, or is fall the beginning of your second gardening season?

Whatever your circumstances and however your garden looks during these October days, I hope you’ll join us for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day this month. All are welcome!

It's easy to participate. Just post on your blog about what is blooming in your garden on the 15th of the month and then leave a link in the ‘Mr. Linky’ widget below, plus a comment to give us a hint as to what we might in your garden in mid-October. 

By the way, for those who have been participating in bloom day since its beginning, I believe this is our 45th month to do this!

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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hortus sanus: Failure is on the menu at Mother Nature's Diner

Welcome to your own private garden restaurant, Mother Nature’s Diner.

You plan to order beautiful flowers to feast your eyes on, loamy soil that looks like chocolate cake mix, and the perfect amount of rain to wash it all down. For dessert, you’d like a few sweet song birds to listen to, dozens of pretty butterflies to amuse you, and a bonnet full of bees buzzing slowly from flower to flower.

But Mother Nature is a sassy waitress in this private garden restaurant.

She decides what you will actually get and cares not a bit about what you ordered. She secretly has some failure on the menu and for no reason at all she will decide to dish it up for you.

And what does that big ol’ dish of failure look like? It looks a lot like plants that die unexpectedly, flowers that never show up, and ground that is harder than a day old piece of pie left out overnight. Doggone it, the only birds seem to be nasty old starlings, you can’t  find a butterfly to save your garden, and the bees look like they might sting you without a second thought.

But all is not lost! You know that you can still have a healthy garden, hortus sanus, even with some failure served up on occasion.

You just have to figure out a bit about your waitress, Mother Nature, and what she likes.

She likes good compost  and actually helps make that. She also likes plant diversity and maybe a good water feature. Make sure to have all that in your garden, and Mother Nature might be a little nicer when it comes time to serve you your main course and dessert, too.

Keep in mind she does not like gardeners who don’t at least try to meet her halfway, so do try to help and pull your weight in Mother Nature’s Diner by doing some weeding, some deadheading and some planning for plants that will live, and thrive, with the amount of water she decides you will get.

Yep, Mother Nature’s Diner is not a place where you want to act all uppity, like you own the joint. Do that, maybe flash some money around like you can buy whatever you want, and Mother Nature the waitress will give you a bad table, make you wait longer than anyone else, then plop a big ol’ plate of garden failure in front of you and charge you double.

Be humble, be respectful, be gracious, be helpful, be thankful, and leave a big tip. Mother Nature may still serve you some failure every once in a while just to be sure you know she’s not to be trifled with, but mostly she’ll also serve you a lot of success and you’ll have hortus sanus, a healthy garden, as a result.

Buds and Spades and Other Stuff

Any day now...

This Stapelia bud is going to open up and I'll find out what it really smells like.

It is supposed to smell and look like rotting flesh. I can hardly wait.

Seriously, I can hardly wait. I've never seen this flower in person. It will be fun!

Maybe it will wait and bloom on Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, coming up this Friday?


They don't make tools like they used to.

I bought this spade years ago, at a Sam's Club. It was shiny stainless steel. It is still shiny stainless steel.

I thought it would last forever.

The other day, I noticed a tiny tear in the metal, up by the handle. I realized then that this spade's days were numbered, that any day now the tiny tears in the metal would grow in size. "Any day now" turned out to be yesterday when I was digging up some peonies.

Fortunately, this wasn't my only spade. You really didn't think that someone with as many hoes as I have would have just one spade did you? When this spade finally gave way, I grabbed another spade and kept on digging.

Of course, now I need a new spade.


If you are squeamish about plant diseases, look away.

I've never seen such powdery mildew in all my gardening days. It is thick on the stems of the peonies I cut back and moved. I noticed my neighbor's peonies look just as bad.

The peonies were planted on the side of my house and it took a special trip in the spring to go see them in bloom. I moved them to the back garden, where the garden designer suggested they should be planted.

Now I'll be able to sit on the patio, gaze off to the right and see the peonies in bloom in the spring.

Here's a picture of the blooms from a few years ago.

I am posting this picture so you can look at it for awhile and get the images of the broken spade and the plant disease out of your mind.


Watch for tweets on the progress of the Stapelia.

Pray for rain.

Garden well and often.

Carpe hortus.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Happiest Moments in a Garden

We gardeners must look strange to those looking at us from the other side of the fence.

There we are, sweat dripping down our dirt streaked faces and errant leaves and twigs stuck in our hair. Our hands are dirty and so are our clothes. We barely notice others watching us over the fence because we are completely engrossed in whatever we are doing in the garden at that moment.

But we are smiling. Why? Not because we think it will make others suspicious of our sanity, even though it might.

We are smiling because we are happiest in a garden.

I asked several other garden bloggers to tell me about their happiest/fondest moment in the garden.

Dee of Red Dirt Ramblings wrote me and said “My happiest moment in my garden was when I made the Sunflower house with my oldest two children who were four and two at the time. I'd read Sharon Lovejoy’s book, and I wanted to plant a sunflower house for the two of them. We dug a small trench in the yard in a semi-circle. Then, we carefully planted sunflower seeds and hollyhocks outside the doorway. Morning glories were planted to clamber up the tall sunflowers and lace across them. We enjoyed that house until the winter winds took it down. It remains my fondest memory.”

Leslie of Growing a Garden in Davis recalled a special time in the garden with her granddaughter, “Gardening with my granddaughter who now looks at other people's gardens when we go for a walk and chooses things we should get and who says "Come on Nonna...let's garden!" every time we go outside.”

Jo Ellen, the Hoosier Gardener, replied that one of her happiest moments was last spring. “One of my fondest was recently, when I returned from the Netherlands in April. As I pulled into the driveway, spring was in bloom, filling the garden with the incredible fragrance of viburnums, bluebells and daffodils. The color was spectacular, too. In fall, it's the fragrance again, the rich, crusty smell of spent leaves and grass.”

For Gail of Clay and Limestone, it was a similar fond moment, when it all comes together, “There have been many and they all have one thing in common. I am completely in the moment. All my senses are engaged; I'm not worrying about unfinished projects, about how the garden looks or about what others might think. I am there drinking it all in and it is delicious.”

Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening sent me several happy moments, one of them being “I’m also happy to see the first anything in my garden: the first snowdrop, the first daffodil, the first rose... And I'm pretty happy after a couple of hours weeding in nice, moist earth, the sun shining but not too hot, and a gentle breeze blowing, with the song of birds or the sound of children playing happily in the background.”

Barbara of Mr. McGregor’s Daughter wrote, “My happiest moment in the garden happens every year, when I find the first snowdrop in bloom. Even though my fingers and toes are cold, my heart is warmed by the proof that winter will end soon. That little bloom is the promise of spring, the spark of hope, and the rebirth of garden for another year.”

And Frances of Fairegarden wrote, “While I have many, many happy moments, especially with family members, the sighting of the hummingbird in the waterfall may be the most wonderful.”

There are common threads in these responses.

We are happy when others, especially children, join us in the garden.

We are happy in those special moments when everything seems to come together in the garden and we can just enjoy it.

And we are happy when we can enjoy those firsts of each season, no matter how many times we experience them.

Knowing these moments are there in the garden, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed, makes all the sweat, dirt, and even tears worthwhile.

And my happiest, fondest moment in a garden?

When a bloom, a scent or a simple act of gardening - like hoeing, planting a tree or sowing a row of seeds - triggers a forgotten memory of all those who gardened before me and with me.

And what is yours?

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Ten Peas In A Pod
On this the tenth day of the tenth month of the tenth year of the century, our thoughts turn to gardening, as they always do.

I have ten random thoughts to tender on this tenth day.

10. A big shout out to all the garden bloggers in Tennessee. This must be a big day for you all.

9. Out in the garden, this is no time to be tentative. Fall is slipping slowly into winter and then there will be no time left for this year in the garden. Time to follow the advice of John Wooden – ‘Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

8. Weeds can be tenacious this time of year, but I’ve noticed fewer of them in my garden during this dry spell.

7. Do you have any tender plants still in the garden? Don’t be fooled by warmer than normal temperatures. Bring those plants inside if you are going to over winter them. With the way things are going weather-wise, who knows what to expect in the next few weeks? Snow? I hope not, but frost? Perhaps.

6. When you clean up the garden in the fall, don’t leave it all clean swept. The garden fairies, the favored tenants of my garden, need some messiness to create their own winter homes. (By the way, they do not go south to Tennesee or Texas for the winter, contrary to what some gardeners think.)

5. Hortense Hoelove thought she should write this post on tens, but I said no, that would be too much Hortense for one day.

4. I like plants with tendrils.

3. I haven’t found any tent caterpillars in the trees, but this is the time of year I usually find them.

2. I have over ten books by or about Elizabeth Lawrence in my personal library. Actually, I have eleven, but to make this little fact fit this post, I had to say “over ten”.

1. I shouldn’t admit this, but I have a bit of a tender heart for the bunnies in the garden. Don’t tell them, they’ll take advantage of me and the next thing I know, I’ll have ten times the number I have now. And no, I don’t know how many rabbits are in the garden right now.

And that’s my tendered list of ten things from my garden to yours on 10-10-10 (which written that way, reminds me of fertilizer. You, too? Good.)

Friday, October 08, 2010

Hortus sanus: Your gardening helicopter has been cleared for landing

Exteme close up inspection
The tower has cleared you and your gardening helicopter for landing.

Are you constantly checking to see which plants need more water, less water, more sun, less sun, more shade, less shade? Do you inspect your plants daily to figure out if they should be pruned, deadheaded, staked or shaped? Do you take a magnifying glass with you so you can see deep into the crevices of the bark of the trees? Is the local soil testing lab named in your honor because you have performed every soil test imaginable for your garden?

If you are constantly checking and inspecting your garden, hovering over it looking for signs of trouble, then land that helicopter, turn off the propellers, and turn in your pilot’s license. Stop hovering! Stop worrying about your garden. Stop fussing over the plants.

You are driving yourself and everyone around you nuts.

You need to learn that plants require far less attention than you are giving them.

Leave them alone. Let them grow.

Oh sure, you have to pay extra attention to the little seedlings so they don’t dry up before they even have a chance. Ditto the newly transplanted. And it is a good idea to walk through your garden occasionally to look for signs of trouble like bad bugs, weeds, plant diseases and flopped over plants.

But by and large, just let the garden grow. Fight back the wilderness, show the garden you are in charge, follow the laws of Mother Nature and don’t sink your fortune into the plants.

If you do all that and stop hovering and worrying, you’ll end up with hortus sanus, a healthy garden, and you’ll be healthier, too.

“Tower, we’ve got another helicopter gardener ready to land.”

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Hortus sanus: No Money? No Problem!

Ever feel like you are on the outside of the garden gate, looking in, wondering how you could ever possibly afford to have a nice garden, a healthy garden, hortus sanus?

Many gardeners think they can buy their way into hortus sanus. Others despair that they don’t have a lot of money to spend on their gardens, so they’ll be forever in a statue of hortus insanus.

But money doesn’t have all that much to do with hortus sanus. Experienced gardeners know this, new gardeners soon learn this.

It certainly helps to have money – to hire stronger backs than you have, to buy bigger plants, nicer patio furniture, a sturdier fence, etc. etc. etc.

But no money? No problem!

You can spend very little and have a healthy garden, hortus sanus.

It takes no money to make your own compost from your own leaves and garden clippings. And get this – many of your neighbors will let you take their leaves for FREE. Not to mention that utility companies and some cities offer free mulch made from trees cut back along utility right-of-ways or donated by other homeowners.

The plants themselves offer a lot of freebies, too. You can dig and divide some perennials to get more plants, and they’ll thank you by growing even bigger as a result. Other plants self-sow freely which results in more plants popping up all over the garden. And open-pollinated vegetables and annual flowers are just waiting for you to collect their seeds, store them in a cool dry place over winter, and then sow them the next spring. They are depending on you to do this!

And if you have too many of one kind of plant, you can find other gardeners who have too many of another kind of plant and exchange plants with them. For free!

There are many other ideas for how to garden with very little money, including shopping at thrift stores, performing daring plant rescues at big box stores, and even driving slowly down the street on trash day to see what folks have left at their curbs for you to repurpose for your garden.

If you set that as a goal, to spend very little money on the garden, or you just have no extra money to spend on the garden, don’t despair. If you are a passionate gardener, you’ll figure out all kinds of ways to not spend money and still have a beautiful garden.

You will learn, too, that there are places to spend money… on good design, on good hardscape, on good tools, and occasionally on must-have focal point plants, the "bones" of the garden.

But mostly, you will learn that money doesn’t buy hortus sanus. Time in the garden does.

And once you figure that out, hortus sanus, a healthy garden, is within your reach.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Shocking News About Some People

Please sit down before you read this and make sure you are prepared for a bit of a shock.


Some people don’t like to garden.

Breathe now. Clutch a few seed packets in your hand. Look out upon your garden full of flowers to re-center yourself, then take a moment if you must to read that again, to reflect on what it means. Or avert your eyes and go on to some other post and forget you ever read that.

I realize it is entirely possible that some of you already knew this about people, and actually accept and like, even love, people who don’t like to garden. These people who don’t like to garden could be in your own family, in your neighborhood, or at work. You may pass them everyday in the hallway or at the local Starbucks and not know this about them. They look quite normal.

Many of these non-gardening people actual do like nice gardens and enjoy strolling down a garden path, admiring the flowers. But they often don’t care one wit what the flowers are called or how they might grow them in their own garden.

“Their own garden” might actually be a bit of a stretch when referring to the plants that might be around their house. Truth be told, they probably paid good money  to have others create a garden for them. But we all know that they are merely leasing that garden. To own a garden, you have to garden in it.

We also know that the fact that that these people don’t like to garden does not make them “bad” people. They can be and often are people who contribute positively to society as a whole, just not by gardening.

Their reasons for why they don’t like to garden may seem irrational and trite to those of us who love to garden, or it may stem from some deeply rooted fears related to soil, plants, or an honest day’s work in the hot sun. (By the way, the fear of gardening is called kipourikosphobia, says I.)

Whatever their reasons for not gardening, it is not worth arguing with them about it. Nor it is worth trying to force them to garden. If you make them go out and work in a garden, and then foolishly try to garden along side them, you, and they, will both be miserable.

It is really for the best to let the non-gardener stay inside or sit quietly in a chair and watch as you, the gardener, busily, happily tend to the garden. Even if the work in the garden is hard and physically demanding, and it will be sometimes, keep a smile on your face, wear your best gardening hat and your special gardening shoes, hum a happy tune, and at all times make that non-gardener think they are missing out on the greatest experience of their life.

Because they are.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Stray Puppies

“Stray puppies."

They show up in places we’d never expect to find them. Sometimes they are dirty and mal-nourished, looking a bit afraid while at the same time trying to put on a brave face to show us just how cute they really are.

Other times, they are front and center and quite showy. You wonder how you missed them, having walked by that spot so many times. It is as if they showed up overnight.

Our temptation is to keep them. If they are in the right spot, we just let them keep on growing there. Or if they have good potential, we take these stray puppies, clean them up a bit and move them to a more suitable spot.

Did I just write “stray puppies”?

Oops, sorry about that. I meant “stray plants”. Apologies to friends and family who momentarily thought I had gotten a puppy. Ha ha. No dog. You all know better than that.

“Stray plants."

found a stray plant yesterday - out in the garden, looking all ragged and mal-nourished after the hot, dry summer, but blooming its best to convince me to keep it.

And keep it, I shall.

As it turns out, the flower is actually Helianthus x multiflorus ‘Sunshine Daydream’. The Hoosier Gardener wrote about it earlier in September and gave it high marks for its performance in her garden. She reminded me via email where I got mine.

I also give 'Sunshine Daydream' high marks because of how it survived in my garden… forgotten, forlorn, forsaken, for goodness sakes, but determined to bloom.

And bloom it did, enough to get my attention, to finally make me take notice of its potential to be a great plant.

I’ve recommitted to it now and plan to move it to a better spot this week. And I promise to take care of it. Really, please, let me keep it! I promise to do better. I’ll water it and watch over it. Please. I promise!

Oops, I forgot. It isn’t a puppy, it’s a plant.

I still want to keep it… and now that I've found it, I can’t imagine my garden without it.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

I Found Them! (A simple post after a day of gardening)

Mystery Flower
I found this flower blooming in my garden.

There is just one flower, on one stem.

Where in the world did it come from?

I didn't buy it. I looked through my notes on trial plants I received this spring and can find nothing about a plant like this.

I have no idea what it is. It's not a mum, maybe it is a type of confused sunflower?

(Shrug) I guess I'll just enjoy it.


Dwarf Narcissus Bulbs
I found these bulbs while digging in the garden.

My first thought was, "Frass! I didn't mean to dig those up!"

Then I remembered that they are probably bulbs for dwarf narcissus that grow about six to eight inches tall and they are planted in the middle of the perennial flower garden where they invariably get lost among the other plants.

I want to plant some dwarf narcissus near the path I created through the new woodland garden.

Now I'm thinking, "Isn't it wonderful how I dug these bulbs up to plant someplace else? If I'd gone looking for these bulbs, I probably would have had to dig a dozen holes before I found them."

I guess it was just my lucky day.


Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'October Skies'
I found more blooms on my Symphyotrichum oblongifolium.

Let's all practice saying "Symphyotrichum" instead of Aster.

Say it? Let's learn to spell it first.

This is one of those names that I don't think is going to catch on at the garden center anytime soon.

I guess we don't have to use it.


Saturday, October 02, 2010

Hortus sanus: Don't ignore Mother Nature's laws and rules

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'October Skies'
The laws of nature can not be broken!

You must learn to accept and abide by Mother Nature’s laws to achieve hortus sanus in your garden, or you will find yourself in a state of hortus insanus.

You can’t make water flow uphill.

You can’t specify the amount of rain and snow you want to fall on your garden.

You can’t control the speed of the wind.

You can’t plant a tropical rain forest in a zone 5b garden and expect it to overwinter outside.

You can try to break the laws of nature and you might actually feel like you’ve gotten away with it.

But really, have you gotten away with it?

Do you really want to go through your garden constantly looking over your shoulder to see if you’ve been caught breaking the law? What did it cost you to go against Mother Nature’s laws, anyway?

And do you really, truly like the end result of your law breaking ways in your garden?

No doubt if you made water flow uphill or did something to control the rain in your garden or stop the wind or planted plants that just aren’t suitable for what Mother Nature has decided are the rules for your area, you’ve created for yourself one big, expensive, gigantic, overbearing, time consuming garden to maintain. It might even be pretty.

But isn’t it better to just accept the laws and rules of Mother Nature and work within them? Of course it is. And your garden will be healthier for it, as will you.

So if you’ve broken the laws of Mother Nature, or tried to bend her rules, go out now to make amends and set things right. You know it is the right thing to do for hortus sanus, a healthy garden.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Hortense Answers Questions While I Take a Break

Hortense Hoelove takes over to answer a few questions while I take a brief break from Hortus sanus.

Dear Hortense Hoelove,

I got up this morning and heard on the news that there was a field that caught on fire about a mile from here because it was so dry. What should I do?

Parched Pansies

Dear Parched,

For garden’s sake, water your plants!

Hortense Hoelove

Dear Hortense Hoelove,

Now that it is October, can I expect any rain on my garden? September was the 4th driest in history around here, and August was the driest in history.

Rosie Rainmeasurer

Dear Ms. Rainmeasurer,

Oh the money I could make if I could predict the rainfall you’ll get. I could retire on that money and pay for all the water I’m putting on my garden. Of course you can expect rain in October, but I’d still keep watering, just in case.

Yours in gardening,

Dear Hortense Hoelove,

Where did the summer go? I’ve still got planting to do.

Weeping Willow

Dear Weeping,

The summer went into the past but the good news is that summer was never a great season for planting anyway. Fall is for planting, so get out there and plant. And hurry up about it, okay?

Yours in horticulture,