Saturday, December 26, 2009

Water, water everywhere!

The poor garden! It's standing in snow and water - again... still. To recap, we returned from a Thanksgiving trip to find the back yard and garden waterlogged - literally so wet that I could not cut the grass. We got significant additional rain that week and the next, and now we have gotten more than 12 inches of snow. I've been in the garden exactly twice since before Thanksgiving - once to check on the fish nearly three weeks ago and again on Christmas Day in search for rosemary! I made a quick check on the fish then, too. They seem to be fine.

Now the concern is root rot.

Whereas, plants look terrible when they dry out, the reality is that they sacrifice their leaves to save their core. So, when you water them they perk up quickly and go back to looking great.

Too much water is a whole different issue. Plants need oxygen, too. When their roots stand in water, they cannot pull any oxygen out of the soil and they can die quickly - a house plant in just a day or two. Our soil is full of clay - and what are pots made of? and what do they hold? One of our first experiences with this yard was a tree that Mitchell watered and watered and watered as it looked worse and worse and worse. When we finally gave up and dug it up, it was standing in a clay bowl of water and had died of root rot. We have spent the past nine years amending the soil, adding humus and gypsum and generally trying to change to composition and it has worked well.

But I am not at all sure that all our best efforts have been enough for this. The magnolia we planted 18 months ago is literally standing in water this morning. Its hole is filled with a special gravel-like substance that is supposed to help, but is it enough?

The xeri-garden is still covered in snow. I know it hates that! I did put nearly 10 inches of gravel and sand in the bottom of that bed and it is built into a slope so that water can drain off and down the hill, but will it work fast enough? Only time will tell.

There are good things to focus on, tho. I won't have to worry about watering for the next month or two. Often that is a hassle in the winter when it's cold and I have to carry water back and forth. We are really replenishing the underground water supply, so the trees and grass will be healthier this summer. We didn't lose a lot of shrubbery in the snow. I was able to get out and uncover a lot of smaller things the first day. We have a lot of breakage in the nandinas, but they can be cut back hard in February and will fill out again quickly. And, it will be in the 50's again today so most of the rest of the snow should met, freeing us from an icy deck. And, I nearly forgot, I still have not had to cut the grass in the back yard!

So all we can do now is wait. Things will either recover or not. And that's the way it is in the garden. We do the best we can, when we can and trust Mother Nature to look after the rest.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

The snow held up long enough for us to have a White Christmas in Central Virginia. The stockings were hung by the fireplace with care and filled with good goodies. We know that Santa exists because he left a muddy bootprint next to the tree - seriously!

Hope all the joys of the season are yours. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I Can See Alaska from my Front Porch!

At least it seems like it.

My earliest visual memory is a snow taller than I am that blocks out the windows. Dark and ominous, it crowds out the sky. It's not the puffy white stuff that southern children know for a fleeting few minutes some winters. It's actually the winter of 1951 in Lafayette, Indiana, where my dad is a grad student and my mother survives in a converted Quonset hut with two kids under four.

Years later I realized that at nearly four I was pretty short and the snow on the Indiana plains that had drifted against our windows was probably only two feet deep, but from my vantage point seemed like a smothering wall of gray. Freud would probably say that's the source of my dislike for snow, and maybe he would be right.

Unless you live on a deserted tropical island (and good for you!) without TV, you know that the east coast is being hammered by a freaky winter storm. It looks like 8 - 10 inches on the porch railings, but the weather-guessers are predicting an additional 4 inches this afternoon. It's beautiful in a way, but has that smothering feeling that I remember from childhood.

I think southerners appreciate snow better when we get two quick inches that last until lunchtime, and then we can go back to normal life. This is not that snow. It will be a couple of days before a plow reaches the nearby main street and we will have to clear our own path to it. This is over-exertion, heart attack snow! This is definitely stay inside snow - altho the neighborhood kids will probably be out at first light to begin enjoying it!

On a brighter side, it will our first white Christmas in 40 years or more. (At that rate, it can also be my last!) Today will be the perfect day for baking cookies and maybe even bread. No shopping, no hurrying around. Just a snuggle-down day with the fire, a good book, and the man I love. What do you think about that, Freud?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere!

It's been very quiet in the garden for the past three weeks... because I cannot get there! After three years of official drought and one year that was "normal" rainfall-wise, 2009 has decided to be a wet year here in Central Virginia. I can't tell you how much we have gotten in the past three weeks - because I cannot walk into the yard (seriously!) to see the rain gauge. In November we had 8 inches before we left for Thanksgiving.

It rained while we were gone, but I was able to cut the front yard (which slopes more, so had more runoff), but I still cannot cut the back. In fact, we have had so much rain that water is still standing - after three, count them, three weeks. We have gone to the shed a couple of times where there was just no other choice, but we have left little foot sized ponds with every step! Every time it almost dries out, we get more rain. Tonight we are supposed to get freezing rain and snow. Normally snow is a good thing (for the garden) because it melts slowly and the ground is able to absorb a bigger percentage (not much runoff), but I am guessing that we are wet all the way thru the good dirt and down to the clay, so now I am worried about root rot!

Most plants can go two to three weeks without watering - they look pretty bad, but they sacrifice their leaves to save their structure and with a bit of water come right back. But wet ground is a "whole nuther" thing. Plants can only stand in water so long before they, too, drown. They need oxygen exchange in their roots and if the ground is just too wet, they cannot get it. The danger in my garden is exactly that. I have built up about eight inches of good rich humusy growing dirt over the native clay. Normally water fills in that eight inches of good dirt and then evaporates off. In these conditions it can't evaporate enough and the water may be standing underground on top of that clay causing root rot. Unfortunately, I won't know until spring.

So, all I can do is hope for sunshine soon and hope that most things have sufficient root structure to hold them thru this "crisis". So all of the photos are from prettier days! The one day I was able to get out to check on the pond, frogger was still there, so thought you might like to meet him. He still looks the same, only larger! Must have been a good summer for bugs.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Guest Garden - Even in Winter

As the first [very] light snow hit Central Virginia yesterday, I needed to think of warmer places and one of my favorites is Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. We have been spending Thanksgiving there for the past ten or so years. Some years we get balmy 70's and some years it's not quite so nice, but usually warmer and sunnier than here.

This year we were not lucky. A low pressure cell was hanging just out to sea, and the entire mid-Atlantic coast - even as far south as South Carolina - was cool and rainy. We had good enough weather to play tennis every morning, but never set foot on the beach - not even to walk - because it just wasn't nice enough. However, in visiting all our favorite places on the island, we found a new one - the Compass Rose park.

Apparently the original development company for the island was named Compass Rose, and this new "green space" is named in honor of that founding presence. [See logo design above.] We saw the park under construction last fall and it will be several years before the vegetation is mature and full-sized, but it has interesting bones and will be lovely in a couple of years - and on a sunny day!!

The park is an interesting blend of hard scape and water features (ponds, falls, bubblers and sprinklers with wide walkways that are easily accessible to handicapped individuals) and areas planted with native plants. In late November there was little in bloom, but one can easily see how pretty it will be "in season" and how easy to maintain it is.

The water features are filled with taro, dwarf papyrus and pickerel rush. I was a bit surprised not to see lotus or water lilies, but they may have chosen plants with less summer spread, since they have such a long growing season. There is also an interesting blend of natural beds with the very "constructed" waterways that are concrete and stone and all very "straight-lined". When it's mature I think the plants will soften the harsh edges in a very nice way and create a neat contrast.

As you can see, the main thing blooming right now is pansies. [What would we do in the south without our pansies for color in the late fall and early spring?] I did find one azalea with a few blooms and one day lily what clearly had lost track of the seasons, but otherwise, it was purple and white pansies. But look at all that white concrete wall and all that water and imagine first hawthorn and then azaleas in bloom next spring - gorgeous!


There is one other Hilton Head sight that I want to share with you. Like other places in the deep south decorating for Christmas creates a fun juxtaposition. Many of the developments had not started their decorating yet, so I had to look for a place to take this photo to share with you. How can you not love blooming spring flowers (see the pink begonias in the foreground and the dusty miller in the middle) and the ribboned Christmas garland? By now many of the entrances have added lights, wreathes and candles - wish I were there to see it!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Winter's First Kiss

The chilly kiss of winter finally touched the garden last night - about two weeks later than usual. We normally have our first heavy frost around the middle of November, but even with the recent cooler temperatures and rainy days, the real cold has held off for a while this year. Early this morning I found frosty grass and pansies with white-painted edges for the first time. The last tomatoes and the mandevilla are definitely gone now.

But there are other blooms still holding their own. We were gone last week and returned to find even more blooms on the sassanquas and two surprises - one of the hydrangeas put out a small, but pretty mophead, and my miniature white rose has bloomed one last time. Both are special plants: mother gave us the hydrangea our first Christmas in this house, and the rose came from my Aunt Agnes' garden. I consider it my inheritance from her.

There's still lots of fall deadheading left to do, and I am falling behind. The obstacle, tho, is wet ground. Two weeks ago we got 5.5 inches of rain and last week at least 3 more, so the ground is sodden. It's so wet that we are walking around the outside edges as best we can to avoid creating "holes" by stepping into the wet, wet ground. I cut the grass in the front and on the side on Sunday, but couldn't even try to cut the back yard because of the standing water in some places.

When I can get back outside to work - after a couple of days of sun and hopefully a bit more warmth - I should be able to catch up in a couple of afternoons. Meanwhile, I am enjoying just looking at the changes. All the leaves are down and the structure of the trees and larger shrubs is showing. The evergreens have come into their own as their deciduous friends have shed their leaves and color.

There's a peace about the winter garden, that's due in part to its emptiness. In two more weeks all signs of the summer abundance of bloom will be gone and we will do the holiday decorating with greenery and berries. After that we'll have the real cold - maybe even some snow. Then the solitary stars of the garden will begin doing their thing. In just six weeks there will be a few camellias, followed by the hellebores, and then the earliest bulbs. Heck, spring is almost on its way!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Last Little Project of the Fall

A ton of rain fell ten days ago (seriously, more than 6 inches in three days) and left the yard and garden a sodden mess. The only walking we did across the yard for the next three days was to feed the fish! But once it dried out a good bit, I was able to dive into the one remaining fall project - making a new bed for the nandina hedge at the back of the lot. Our back boundary is partly fenced, partly filled with a euonomous hedge and partly open. About 18 months ago I started moving volunteers of Nandina domestica into a line (or sorts) to start completing the existing hedge with nandinas. We already have nandinas around the front porch and they produce a lot of volunteers so it was the perfect way to thin the existing growth and at the same time provide plants for a new area.

In order to control the grass and provide a better growing situation I took edging and laid out a bed around the plants that I had already planted. But here's where my problem began. There are many types of edging one can use in the garden and I made a bad choice. Well, at least I installed it poorly. I used a plastic edging that came in six-inch pieces that are pointed on one edge. You pound them into the ground and then hook the next one in as you pound it. The problem was that I did not keep them straight. The resulting bed was a double S-curve. It was difficult to cut the grass beside it, and it looked stupid!

So, my final project of the fall was to pull out the old edging and replace it with a new straight edging. After all that rain the ground was softer than normal, so last Saturday I dove in. I had previously done the homework: measured the length of the bed (20 feet long) and calculated how many feet of material I would need. And I bought the material several weeks ago. This time I chose a steel edging that comes in 8-foot lengths which interlock and are stabilized by driving spikes thru tabs built into the strips. In order to install this edging you must either have soft enough ground to drive it down, or you have to cut a slit for it. With the softer ground, there were only a couple of places that I had to cut a slit with my root knife and those places were where I was going thru heavy grass and having to cut the roots out.

First, I laid out a straight line. Using two iron bars that I drove into the ground at each end of the proposed bed, I ran a rope line and used it to keep my edging straight. Now, if it were my father-in-law doing this project, the edging would have been measured up and down and sideways. For purposes of my boundary, I did not feel the need to do that. I simply used the line to keep the steel strips "mostly straight" over the eight-foot run. The final result is that the bed looks fine, because no one can see the small deviations that exist. The only hard part of this whole project was turning the corners. The steel is bendable, but it's hard to do. I could have enlisted help and used a vice to make exactly straight square corners, but my bed is not that formal and I preferred a softer, rounder corner; so I simply measured where to bend it and then stood on the strip and pulled it up until it was bent about 90 degrees. I have previously used this type of educing and found that if I hammered directly on the edge, some of the epoxy coating chipped off, so this time I placed a board over the edge and hammered on the board. For the corners, I put the board diagonally across the corner so that I could sink the two sides at the same time, and more evenly. I started on the "back" side of the bed - the side that abutts the neighboring property. I wanted this side to be the most straight and look the best - just as one puts the "pretty" side of the fence facing the neighbors.

There was one final problem, of course. I was about 18 inches short on material. It comes in a number of short pieces, as well as the 8-foot lengths, but nothing that really fit well with what I was doing, so I did not close the rectangle on the final side. Instead I used a couple of the old plastic pieces from the former edging. The result is fine and no one will really notice - if I don't point it out to them.

This new bed is slightly wider than the old bed and because it's straight, it now includes some areas that were previously planted in grass, so the next-to-final step was to stray the grass and weeds that are now inside the bed. As soon as they die, I will do one final weeding and put in some mulch for the winter. So now it's Mother Nature's turn. I have straightened out the bed and will have a good mulch done next weekend, so now I need the shrubs to grow.

[A couple of notes:

First, the gorgeous flowers at the top of the post are Camellia sassanqua. Altho I am not sure of the variety, I think it's 'Merry Christmas'. This is a member of the camellia family that blooms a bit earlier in the year than the "regular" camillias. My sister-in-law gave me two last year for Christmas, so this is their first time to bloom in the ground. They are covered with buds and if we don't have a long and really cold spell of weather, they will bloom thru Christmas and maybe into January. My "regular"camillia doesn't normally bloom until the week before Christmas and by then if it often frost damaged. These blooms are particularly pretty with the bright yellow stamins. I was thrilled when it popped into bloom the middle of November.

I am planning a series of posts during the dead of winter on various how-to gardening topics. How to choose the right edging for your location will be one of them. ]

Monday, November 16, 2009

On Hiatus

Dear Friends,

I have moved for a while from the Garden Bench into my garden, i.e., I am concentrating on my gardening blog for a while. After all It's My Garden!

Please come visit me there.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Out From Under my Rock!

[Note: the following was written October 23. Same excuse as last time!]

Sometimes work just completely interferes with life. For the past three weeks I have hardly lifted my eyes from my desk, and yesterday when I finally had a few minutes I discovered fall is arriving.

When last I looked around me the Bradford pears looked like some flamboyant Marilyn wannabee had roamed through the neighborhood smooching them randomly and leaving her lipstick on their tips. Suddenly I saw trees in all shades of red, and started looking around to see what was happening. The maples run from their normal green through yellows and oranges and into reds, while the evergreens provide their steady background of green needles. Everywhere I look are the beginnings of the gorgeous season of trees. As much as one loves Spring's rebirth and the first glimpses of willow green, Fall brings her own exuberant color and that last gasp of excitement before the calm sleep of Winter.

A walk through the garden and I find that the chrysanthemums are starting to bloom, with the promise of many more to come. The pale coral ones - whose names I have lost - are in full bloom and the pink ones that came from Mitchell's mother's garden are full of buds. They are the old fashioned naturalizing type of flower, so will make a blanket of subtle color in another couple of weeks. And the "pacific daisies" - which are really chrysanthemums, too - are on track to bloom about the same time and will make a lovely ground cover for us.

And, there is always a treasure or two if one looks for it. Right now it's the Monk's Hood. Although totally poisonous (and therefore a terrible choice for a garden where there are children or pets around), it is a lovely purple spire standing high above the rest of the plants. Monk's Hood is a challenge for me. I have tried it in three different locations and still have not found the right spot. I suspect it may be an issue of water, not sunlight.

Of course, though, all this beauty reminds me of the work that lies ahead. It's time to start the serious deadheading for the end of the year. That's the kind of thing that can be done broadstroke, but there is plenty of it to do. The silver lining of this particular cloud is that it will all go in the compost pile and by spring we will have new humus to top dress the garden.

It's especially nice to live in a place where we have bloom about 10 months out of the year, and where we will continue to enjoy a flowering yard until Thanksgiving.

Return to The Project

[Note:When I was suffering my writer's block over at the Garden Bench, I did continue to write about the garden, but fell way behind with uploading photos. And, this blog needs pictures! So, I have updated and uploaded. This was originally written on September 25th.]

As I told you last time, I need to re-do the xeri-garden. I have loved it all summer, but if it's going to be really great in the future, I need to stop and smell the catmint and fix some things.

Too wide. Altho it is a great size for its site, I lost track of one of the big rules of laying out a garden. It is too wide and I cannot reach to the back to weed and to work on the plants. The
landscape timbers that I used come in 8-foot lengths, so it seemed simple to just cut them in half and make the bed four feet across. If I were eight feet tall, that would be fine, but at 5'3", I can just barely reach three feet effectively. So, I need a way to make it easier to get into the bed so I can reach across it. The answer is to install some pavers so that I can kneel on them and extend my reach.

Too shallow. I admitted earlier that I didn't put enough dirt in the bed. In my heart of hearts I knew that when I put in the original dirt, but I was so tired that I did not want to deal with it then. I just wanted to finish the bed. So now I need to add dirt.

Too long. Altho I had no real understanding of how large the xeri-plants would be, I still did not buy enough plants to fill the final space. So, I have bought additional plants and need to move some others around to use the space to a better effect. The agastache 'Ava' and the catmint nepenta 'Walker's Low' are both more than twice as large as I had expected, so they are planted too close together. By spreading them out a bit, I can fill more space and they will have more room to expand some more. I want the bed to look full, but the plants don't have to tumble on top of each other to be pretty, and look full.

I have spent the past two weekends fixing the xeri-garden and am finally happy with the current state. Last weekend I mixed growing medium - hereinafter "dirt". Mitchell needed additional dirt for his square-foot-gardens. There is a specific recipe for that, so I just bought extra ingredients and tried to make enough for my bed, too. Remember that I need 5-6 inches more dirt over 32 square feet. I estimate that at 16 cubit feet of dirt!

Mixing dirt on that scale is hard work. First one dumps all the ingredients onto a large tarp. For me it was three different types of humus, vermiculite, and peat moss. To mix them together you first rake them together and then "tumble" the pile by pulling the tarp from one side to the other in both directions. The goal is to get the mixture to look the same throughout the pile. I made enough to top off Mitchell's bed and started to fill mine - when the rain came! I put what was left back into the big bags and stored it for later use.

It was clear to me that I did not have enough to fill the whole bed, so this weekend I bought some pre-mixed gardening soil, more peat moss and some perlite. I was not able to find vermiculite, so substituted perlite. It tends to clump a bit more than vermiculite, but when used in a fairly small amount, it does fine. So this morning I dumped all the soil I made last week back onto the tarp and added new ingredients. More mixing, more tumbling and I had enough new dirt to finish filling my bed.

Now the hard part. I had to dig up all the plants, add the dirt and replant everything. I emailed the nursery where I bought most of the plants and asked what I should do about the broken agastache 'Ava'. Their recommendation was that I "cut it back hard" since I have nearly 60 days until the first hard frost. In our area that is around November 15, so I am cutting it close, but I have hope.

By day's end I had a new bed. I added five new plants: Three Beard Tongues and two Evening Primroses. Penstemon digitalis 'Husker Red' will be the new "big plant" in the far corner. It should be three feet tall at maturity. Two Penstemon mexicali 'Miniature Bells' will fill the mid-space and the primrose Oenothera fucticosa'Youngii-lapsley' are in the front. Under all the catmint and 'Ava' I found three of the small penstemons that had disappeared. I think they are 'Elfin Pink' and 'Violet Dusk' but will not know until spring. I moved them much closer to the front of the bed to give them more room and some sun!

I also moved all of the sedum 'Neon'. It was also too far back in the bed and hidden under the spreading xeri-plants. When I transplanted it in the spring it was not strong enough to hold up its stems, so they flopped this year and were buried under other foliage. I cut everything back this time, so that they should grow up strong and tall next spring and stand above the surrounding plants.

And finally, you will notice a path of small pavers down the length of the bed. These are for kneeling on so that I can reach the back of the bed to work in it. They are close enough together to put my kneeling pad over two, or I can use them "as is". It will make my work easier, but once spring comes and the plants start new growth they will pretty much disappear from sight.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

New Rules... and a Personal Note or Two

For the past seven months I have written this blog as well as another one. In this one I planned to follow the progress of my garden in Central Virginia and try to offer insight and advice to newer gardeners. Altho I have only worked my current garden for ten years, and it is the first one that I have developed myself from scratch, I have worked for many years in other folks' gardens - my mother's, my grandmother's, my aunt's, and my father-in-law's. I have learned from all of them, but have enjoyed going my own way with this garden.

It was my intention that the other blog would be a place where I would comment on the world and current events, and whatever caught my fancy. Unfortunately, I have recently found that I have had extensive writer's block for the other blog ... absolutely nothing has caught my fancy! Altho I had plenty to say here, I have not posted in nearly two months because I was so consumed with trying to figure out what to do "over there". Finally, sanity prevailed. I realized that I truly enjoy writing this blog; that this one has the focus that the other has lacked. So, I have decided to let the other blog lie fallow for a while and work here.

Since it's the fall, with winter well on the way, it may be difficult, but it's the right decision. For the next few months we will look at more guest gardens when we can. I have a number of ideas for a "how to" series to help newer gardeners get ready for spring, or to just give basic information. I may do some surfing and see what's going on in the gardening world elsewhere. And, we can't forget the pond - it's an important part of the garden. In other words, I am not quite sure what I'll write about, but I know that it will be related to the garden. I am also committing to at least one post a week thru February. There may be more than that, but I promise at least one.

I hope you will enjoy this blog and will stay with me. If you are not interested, I understand. Gardening is not for everyone. But what I finally realized is that it is for me!

Guest Garden - Urban Style

It's a lovely, crisp fall day in downtown D.C. and nestled among government office buildings and national museums we found the perfect urban garden!

In one of the many triangles formed when "state" streets cross the numbered and lettered streets is a marvelous urban garden plot. The land is owned by the National Park Service and will someday be the home of a monument to Dwight David Eisenhower - president, general, and cold war leader - but for now it is the home of about twenty garden plots.

The lone gardener that morning was a lady who has held onto her plot for years, she told us, and who admitted that although she and a friend have the rights to two plots, she has squatted on half a dozen others as their "owners" have deserted them. Apparently it is difficult to locate the coordinator, so the plots don't turn over very efficiently. When an owner loses interest or gets too busy to keep up with the work, she takes a little piece here and a little piece there to plant a little something more.

On the morning we met she was pulling up veggies that had suffered from the frost last week, and clearing out the last of the summer weeds. She had already cleared most of her two "legal" plots where she grows mostly vegetables and a few summer annuals. In an adjacent space she has some peonies that are buried too deep and need some attention. In another plot she has some Brussels sprouts and in a fourth, winter greens. She showed us several of her neighbors' plots where we found everything from tomatoes to exotic greens and from roses to masses of overgrown.... whatever! Unfortunately, most of the whole plot was in the sort of disarray that happens in the fall when the gardener loses interest, or it gets too cold to get outside.

In some ways this is the Cadillac of garden plots. Much of it is fenced and there is water available. [The killer for so many urban gardens is the need to carry in water. Most people just can't bring in enough water often enough to keep gardens going in the heat of a city.] There are also a couple of lean-to sheds for storing small equipment.

We promised not to tell the exact location of this garden, since the gardener hopes to gather up some more space and doesn't want the competition! She also doesn't want the park service to get the money for the Eisenhower monument any time soon! It was a lovely place to spend a few minutes and to make a new acquaintance!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"The Time Has Come the Walrus Said....

To speak of many things.... of shoes and ships, and sealing wax; of cabbages and kings." Don't know much about any of them, but it's also time to talk about a focus for this blog.

In March when I awoke to the most gorgeous snow of a decade, I was moved to write about it. Enjoying that, I decided it was time to try my hand at writing a bit. I enjoy writing, but most of my work is business-related and I wanted to give creative writing a try. I had in mind to do some essays or criticism or something else creative.

The blog seemed like the perfect way to start. I know there are a couple of you "out there" who read my efforts now and then (one tells me she looks nearly daily, and I thank you very much!), but mostly I know that only I go to the garden bench at all. I thoroughly enjoy working on my blog, but recently I find that nothing piques my curiosity and I have no real inspiration. After much thought, I realize that it's because I have no focus. I read many other blogs - mostly by other women - and enjoy many of them regularly. But I see that most of them do have a focus. If you haven't already done so, you should look at Drawing In, Charlene's Balance Beam and The Money Pit.

Ms. Carolyn Bender (Drawing In) actually got me into this. I have followed her blog for several years and she does the kind of interesting essays that I desire to do, but she either spends way more time on the Internet sniffing out ideas, or she is way more creative than I. [I suspect both are true.] I have also found a number of good gardening blogs that I enjoy, and some others that specialize in music or women's issues that interest me from time to time, but nothing has given me any inspiration for mine.

I enjoyed writing about our trip this summer, but that was sheer personal indulgence. I considered writing about Michelle Obama, whom I find endlessly interesting, but decided that: a) it would be hard to find something new to say at least weekly, and b) it would be too much like stalking! Someone already has a blog about Brian Williams' daily choice of necktie, and I just don't really have an interest in cupcakes.

What does interest me - way more often - is my garden blog. Gardening is one of two or three things that I really enjoy doing, and I know enough about it to share. The garden changes endlessly, giving me something to observe and ... write about. So, while I reserve the right to return to the garden bench now and then when something does interest me, or I have an opinion that I want to share, but for a while I think I will concentrate on sharing the garden with you.

I have picked the worst possible time of year, with everything dying back, but I have some ideas for a series of "how to's" and I think I will commit for now to writing at least weekly - rather than more often and we'll see how it goes. So, I hope you will follow me out into the backyard and help me get my hands dirty!

Thanks for being there the past eight months.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nov. 2nd - Happy Birthday, Garland!

A belated, but happy, birthday to Garland - the last of my Wise Women. It was she who encouraged me to keep my hands in the dirt until I realized that gardening is in the blood, not in the head. She taught me about native plants, and the white plants which she loves. She tolerated my flaming pinks, as she encouraged me to design with color.

When we sold our house - and garden - out from under ourselves, she sheltered and nurtured my perennials as I spirited them out of the garden before we closed the sale and the new owners took over. Everywhere you look in my garden are pass-along plants from hers, like the sedum 'Angelina' that are a firey gold even today. When she moved to North Carolina she left behind enough of her garden that I can feel like she is here with me every day.

At work she helped me to stop assuming the worst of everyone. I will not claim to have learned to assume the best, as she does, but at least she prodded me along the continuum. She helped me with patience and taught me how important packaging is - in life.

We shared books and altho our taste is rather different, she introduced me to Diana Gobaldon and together we devoured her stories of Jamie Fraser. She taught me that if I buy a new jacket every season, I can get away with my old clothes for one more year. And, that short hair is best for some women of a certain age. But the biggest gift was the gift of her friendship.

I miss her almost daily, but have only to sit for a few minutes to know that some of the wisdom in my life comes from Garland. Now, if only she had taught me timeliness!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Try a Little TLC??

The Post Office has started selling Hallmark cards as a way to increase their revenue. Perhaps a better idea would be.... decent customer service.

For the past year, I have made several trips per week to the local post office. It's amazing how for the past 15 years I counted on the nice route carrier picking up our mail every afternoon, or on someone else carrying it to the nearest drop box! Now that I am the sole user of mailing services, that little job has fallen to me again.

I discovered in the first two weeks that I did not want to go to the window. I don't know if the clerks are "working to the rule" of if they are just incredibly slow, but the worst customer service in town is at the postal window. I have been in there on afternoons when there are more than 10 people standing in line and only one clerk - with no apparent plans for calling someone to the front to clear out the back up.

Many moons ago I switched to using the Automatic Postal Center machine. I can purchase stamps and mail large envelopes in literally seconds and be out of the post office, in less time than the clerk could wait on one person.

There is a down side to the machines if you just want a stamp. The machines only sell sheets of stamps and one must use a credit or debit card, but doing it yourself is definitely faster and you don't have to deal with a rude clerk. All of the PO's in our area have replaced their older style stamp machines with the APC's, so I may never again see a clerk.

Wonder if I can pay for my Hallmark card at the machine?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Two Hair Cuts until Christmas

As I scheduled my next hair cut last week, Nancy asked if I wanted to schedule the following one, too, "since my time will fill up fast before Christmas". A good idea I thought, so I did and then it occurred to me that what we were saying was that it's only two hair cuts until Christmas!

Where has this year gone? I know that time seems to move much faster when we are adults than when we were children, but does its pace continue to pick up forever, until we are just spinning thru the year? Does it eventually go so fast that we don't even notice what happens during the year? I hope not.

This past year has gone quickly - but I think for understandable reasons. The first and biggest is the new job, of course. Being the whale in the fish pond with jolly few fish, I have done a lot of things that would have been delegated to others when I worked in the larger pond (and was only a tuna). It's been fun to get to go out and be with the clients. I learned to take blood pressure and spent many days among the fire fighters in the spring. More recently I was part of a three-person team that bubbled in 78,461 little red circles on scan sheets for a three-week long medical screening marathon. Important to the final outcome, but soul numbing work. I was happy when those three weeks ended!

Then this weekend I attended an event guaranteed to bring home the fleeting nature of time: the college reunion. About two-thirds of my sorority sisters were there, representing the widest possible range of accomplishments and situations - two lawyers and the judge, the teacher, the real estate tycoon, the county administrator, the business owner, the business manager and five retirees. The well and the not-so-well; the slender and the not-so-slender; those who had only changed a little and those who had changed a lot - but none of that mattered.

From California, from Indiana, from New England and New Jersey, and from many places in Virginia we came to touch base with that which unites us. We ate together and then all trouped to the kitchen to help clean up and put away, just as we did together 40 years ago. We partied til the cows came home and danced to all our favorite music and then headed back to our homes and normal lives, but each enriched a bit by having spent time with those closest of friends who had known each other since we made that transition from girl to woman. It was a great reminder of how far we have come, but how much we are still the same ... as 40 years ago. It was a strong reminder that many days have passed and that there are fewer left to come.

I really don't want the rest of my life to be wished away filling in bubbles. I want to enjoy it. I want to savor the days. I want to find ways to look at the leaves as well as smelling the roses.... or more likely, the garden phlox.

I'm thinking some goals are in order:

1) Spend more time with Mitchell.
2) Spend more time on the porch - like eating lunch, or a late afternoon sip of something.
3) Stay in closer touch with friends.
4) Find a focus for this blog.

I still want to write, but am not sure that this daily memoir is what I want to do. Originally my thought was to comment on the world as I see it passing by "from my garden bench". That has not happened. Recently, it has become more of a diary, and less a commentary. I need help moving away from the confines of my life and toward the world outside of me. That may be why I haven't written anything in weeks. I'm bored with my own blog!

So, what I want for Christmas - which is only two haircuts away, after all - is a focus. Any ideas out there?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Fall Projects

It's funny that just two weeks ago I couldn't get any energy or enthusiasm about working in the garden. It was the end of the dog days and both the garden and I had a bad case of the blahs. It's amazing what two weeks of cooler weather can do! Now I have fall projects and am excited to get started!

One: To improve the xeri-garden I started this spring. I've already admitted to you that I didn't let the soil settle before I planted this garden, with the result that now it's settled several inches and I need to add more soil. This week I bought most of the components for Mitchell's square foot garden, so I bought double and will use many gallons of this mix to add to the xeri-garden. I have also done some thinking about plants and have purchased several to finish filling out the box. A recent heavy rain and wind smashed one of the agastache 'Ada' plants, so I also need to do some trimming to get it back into better shape to withstand the winter.

Two: Plant fall asters and other perennials. I picked up five cerise asters to put in the back garden for some additional fall color. There are already some white ones starting to bloom, and some lavender and pink coming along so these will help bridge the bloom gap before the chrysanthemums open.

Three: "Fix" the nandina hedge's "bed". This one takes some 'splaining. Our neighbors at the back are nice people, but their yard is a bit junky for our taste. Fortunately, they have a euonomis hedge about 30 feet long that provides a nice backdrop for my garden across about two-thirds of our lot. It is taller than it needs to be, but I keep our side sheared pretty well, and have used it in my color planning. The hybiscus look great against it all summer as the the fall mums. Two falls ago I took all the little volunteer nandinas we had and started a nandina hedge to fill in the remaining one-third of the lot line. Unfortunately, I laid out the bed by eye, but while sitting on the ground. I used plastic edging pieces to enclose it and when I finished I discovered that it is nearly an s-curve - not at all straight. It is makes life difficult when I am cutting the grass and basically looks stupid! So, my plan is to put in steel edging and square up the bed. Some of the nandinas are now waist-high, so by this time next fall I will actually have a decent hedge back there and I want it to look less amateur.

Four: Irrigation. This is a tough problem. We desperately need to run some sort of irrigation to several parts of the yard, especially those with a lot of shade. I would like to add to our shade gardens, but none of them gets sufficient water to grow the things I would like to add. In all of them the plants have to compete too much with the trees that are creating the shade and there is no natural source of water. Whatever we do will be a big project, so I hope to do a couple of stop-gap things for the winter and then plan out something more permanent. Fortunately, most irrigation systems today can be installed "by the homeowner" and no longer require hiring a lot of expensive work done. I may need to get a plumber to run another outside faucet, but I hope that is all.

I cannot tell a lie. I wrote this two weeks ago and intended to give you some photos, but have just not had the time or energy. Am posting so that I can move on!

Betsy's Garden - Revisited

Early this summer I took you to see Betsy's garden - a wonderful round veggie garden that's pretty much right in the middle of her front yard in a very yuppy west end neighborhood - one where I have not seen any other veggies growing and certainly not in the front yard. Thought you might like to see an update.

Here's what it looks like now. That's okra in the center which is filled with pretty yellow flowers as it continues to provide okra. [We have had two dinners from it this week! - yum!] All around the outside are pepper plants of all sorts - bells of several colors, jalapenos, and dozens that are completely unknown to me. There are some annual flowers mixed in, altho the veggies have pretty much taken over the flowers. In all it's just a riot of happy, healthy plants. Close up it looks like this:

I don't know if she plans to do it again next year, or if she is planning to put in more normal front yard landscaping, but it has been fun watching it grown this summer. Kudos to Betsy for trying something new!

Friday, September 18, 2009

So... Neon is Joyful, too!

Fall is such an interesting time in the garden. It's a time when we say goodbye to our special flower friends, but we also look forward to the new blooms that only come at the end of the year. I have spent a bit of time recently deadheading - cutting back the stalks of shasta daisies, yarrow, monarda and other summer perennials.

While I miss the lushness of the mid-summer garden, there is something special about the transition that is going on now. It's nice to see the last day lilies, the last garden phlox and another flush of blooms on the clematis - even the new ones I planted this spring. But at the same time, there are the transitional flowers - especially the sedum and the very first blooms of the asters. One special plant that bloomed for the first time this year is a perennial begonia. My friend Muzzy gave it to me a couple of years ago, but it doesn't really like our conditions. It would prefer a wetter shade than I can give it, so while it has come up every year, this is the first time it has bloomed. When I transplanted a nandina this spring, apparently I brought a rhizome of the begonia with me and it liked the spot. It started blooming about two weeks ago and has stayed pretty without any additional rain.

I have bought several new asters that I plan to plant this weekend. They will provide both instant color and a bigger drift for next year. These are pink/cerise and will go nicely with the white and lavendar that I already have. I hope to show you the asters in a week or two when they are in full splendor. The chrysanthemums are really not ready to bloom yet. I don't expect them to open until early or maybe mid-October. I did update the planter in the front yard with forced chrysanthemums to replace the summer annuals. [Note in the picture how much the dogwood has grown this summer. It got a small amount of mildew on one side, but seems not to be affected by it. There is a smaller tree that was heavily damaged by mildew, so I am going to take it out in an attempt to stop the spread of it.]

In a recent post I mentioned my sedum 'Autumn Joy' and how much I like it. Well, it turns out that it isn't 'Autumn Joy" at all. It's 'Neon'. While shopping yesterday I found plants marked 'Autumn Joy' that were quite different from mine. They are less brightly colored, and not flat - which mine definitely are. I looked around and found "mine" and they are clearly 'Neon'. I don't love them a bit less, but now I want some "real" 'Autumn Joy' to add to my sedum collection. One of the reasons that I like this flower so much is its source.

Many years ago I went to the bank one day and the teller had a vase filled with sedum on her counter. I complimented her on the flower and she insisted I take one and root it at home. She was a lady whom I judged to be in her late '60's or '70's, so I took it to not offend her. I stuck it in a vase and soon it had roots, so I planted it. I now have three decent-sized clumps that grew from that single little flower. I did not know her name but wrote down the plant name she gave me. I won't be able to go back and tell her that she was incorrect, but I can love it under the right name now.

Pass along plants are the very best!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Serena Melts Down

What had been a mostly uneventful professional tennis season ended abruptly last night when Serena Williams foot faulted and was penalized out of the quarterfinals after a very unfortunate incident with a lines woman. It was late in the second set and Serena was trailing Kim Clijsters 6-3, 5-4 and down 15-30. That means that she was two points away from losing the quarterfinals to Kim.

Serena served and apparently stepped on the back line. The lines woman called the foot fault causing Serena to lose one point and giving Kim a huge advantage. Serena stalked over to the lines woman yelling something and shaking a ball at her. Serena returned to the serving line and started to serve, but then turned around and marched over to the lines woman a second time berating her. At that point, the referee called the lines woman to her chair and inquired as to what Serena had said. More words ensued and the Head Referee and a tournament official came on the court and ruled that Serena's behavior merited the loss of a point. That point was the winning match point and Clijsters won.

Apparently there is not a good enough angle to definitively show the foot fault. To me, it looks like she did, but there is certainly room for discussion. But, and this is a big but, the lines woman ruled. In tennis, referees and lines people are the law. They are situated on the court in such a way that they only look straight down a line and they are not supposed to watch the play - only their line. Their job is to watch carefully and decide instantly if a ball is in, out or on the line. In this case she needed to decide if Serena's foot touched the line at all. Just as we have to follow the law in life, tennis players have to follow the ruling of the judges.

Pretty much everyone agrees that it was an unfortunate incident, but interestingly enough not for all the same reasons. The pundits [did you think they only worked in politics?] are divided on whether or not she actually faulted. Those who think that she did step on the line are also divided on whether or not it was proper for the lines woman to call it. Many think that so late in the match, the lines woman should have let it go. What kind of message would that have sent? That pros who are on the verge of losing (or even winning) a match should not have to follow the rules? Or, that the rule is only for club players and pros get a pass? Neither would have been a good lesson.

More disturbing to me was Serena's behavior. She had a warning at the end of the first set for breaking her racquet in anger, so it was already not a good night for her. Obviously she was upset to be losing, and she had not played her best tennis during the match. But, one does not get a pass on civil behavior because things are not going well. She apparently used some bad language which was not picked up by the live feed. In defending herself to the Head Referee she clearly said, "other people said a lot worse," so she knew she said something inappropriate. She also approached the lines woman in a very menacing way waving her racquet. It did not help the situation that the lines woman was of Asian descent and quite small. The image of Serena at 5'9" and 150 pounds advancing on the lines woman at 4'11" and 90 pounds was compelling, and anyone who sees it would have to think the lines woman felt intimidated.

And, of course, the other loser in this situation was Kim Clijsters. She was playing excellent tennis and probably would have won the match, but she did not get the opportunity to win, or to enjoy the win. Even if she wins the finals tonight, there will always be an invisible asterisk on the match. Apparently they are good friends and Kim was obviously not happy with the way the match ended - even tho it was in her favor.

When my brother was about five he would play and play and play until he was so exhausted that he would completely come apart. After some sleep he would admit to having had what he called a meltdown. Many have described Serena's behavior that way, too. No doubt after two weeks of good, hard, competitive tennis she is tired - both physically and mentally. But it's part of being a professional. Pam Shriver described it best when she said that it's the player's responsibility to keep in control and maintain one's calm to play. Serena failed that test last night.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Transition Time

It's been that time in the late summer when I just cannot get excited about the garden. When we returned from vacation it was the hazy, hot and humid part of the Central Virginia summer and I just could not drag myself out to do anything. Fortunately, we have had a very wet summer and it has grown beautifully, so didn't need much from me except some spot watering - mostly the pots - and some weeding. I have managed a couple of early mornings at that, altho there is plenty left to do!

But there is something about the first of September and Labor Day that changes everything. Mitchell has said for years that fall may begin on the 21st, but the weather changes on Labor Day. More and more I think he's right. The last week has been in the low to mid-80's, which is a few degrees cooler than average, but we should remain in the mid-80's thru the end of the month, and the humidity has dropped noticibly in the past couple of days.

All of a sudden I'm starting to get in the mood to work outside again, and I find all sorts of signs of the fall plants getting ready to make their appearances. So, here's what's happening:

Sedum: There are two of the "tall" varieties blooming right now. 'Autumn Joy' (right) is one of the most familiar and found in many gardens. I transplanted mine to the xeri-garden I created this spring, so altho it is just starting to pink-up, it is not standing up. Normally, it would be 12 - 15 inches tall, but it is still lying down from the transplant. Next year, it will be fine, but this is a floppy year for it. As you can see, it's mostly still green, but there are a few pink petals already.

I discovered 'Madrona' (at the top) a few years ago and love it. The flower heads are a bit more rounded than 'Autumn Joy' which is rather flat, and it is currently a lovely pale rose color. As it matures it will darken and finally become a deep, dark rose that will eventually dry on the plant if I leave it that long. It provides good fall food for the birds, too.

The third sedum is 'Dragon's Blood' which is sort of tall and sort of creeping. Technically it's a "spreading" sedum, but its growth habit is very different from others. The plant has a basal growth habit like 'Madrona' and 'Autumn Joy', but the stems lie down and only the flower sits up. It makes a sort of circular mat overall. This one started blooming about a month ago, and is in its second flush of blooms. You can see how the new blooms are bright pink, while the older ones have already darkened.

We also have three creeping varieties of sedum, but only one is doing well right now. The 'Sea Stars' have struggled for years. They do not like wet feet, and since they are way less than an inch tall, that's tough when we have heavy rain. I have tried to move them to higher ground but, with basically a clay soil type, they are still struggling.

I have replaced most of my 'Sea Stars' with either 'John Creech' or 'Angelina' - both of which were gifts from Garland. When she moved to North Carolina three years ago, I got some 'John Creech' (right) that piggybacked with the many perennials that she gave me. I really love the way it grows in whorls around a main stem, and it makes a great groundcover than can take being walked on. I have put it among stepping stones and it is beautiful. We lost a big patch of it while we were gone in August - so it either got way too dry, or more likely way too wet. The 'Angelina' was a gift this spring, and is a lovely new addition. It is a bit taller and looks a bit like an evergreen with tiny needles, and has a golden cast to the leaves. It didn't bloom this year, but it's still getting over the transplant, too. On the left you can see 'Angelina' in front of 'Sea Stars'.

I have read that there are more than 400 varieties of sedum, so I hope to explore a few more of them someday. I love the ones I have and they help bridge the gap from summer flowers to fall flowers. And, of course, so many of them are pink!

Xeri-garden: I could not have asked for a better result the first year of this garden - I love it. The agastache 'Ada' is magnificent, and it is not quite its full height this year! It is filled with bees and butterflies all day long and looks great against the fence. The evening primrose 'Shimmer' has started blooming again this week, and overall, the whole bed has filled in well. The white salvia has bloomed all summer long, and so has the catmint. There are disappointments, of course. I lost two of the three creeping thymes and the sedum are still lying down, but there is so much promise for next year. I need to do some work on it this fall once everything dies back, tho.

The biggest mistake I made was in rushing to plant. I did not wait long enough for the soil to settle. [If you recall, I put the dirt in and planted the same day.] I should have let the soil sit for at least a week to compact. Unfortunately, it compacted after I planted, so now it has settled about six inches and I need to add soil to the entire bed. I am out of home-grown soil, so will need to buy a couple of bags of top soil and then add a couple of bags of organic matter. Then I will need to top dress around all the plants. Fortunately, most perennials will do okay with this treatment. Worst case, I will have to replant everything this fall. Either way, I should have a good result for next year.

This bed has been a great addition to the yard, tho. You see it as you come in the driveway and when you walk out either the side or back door, so we can enjoy it from many places.

And, a surprise: This is what gardening is all about. Many years ago I fell in love with alstroemeria. They are the backbone of flower arrangements all year long, and actually come from Africa [or so I have been told]. You often see the variety 'Laura' for sale, but few others. I have 'Laura' which is a good solid yellow with darker markings, as well as 'Merry Christmas' which is green with red markings [duh!], but have looked pretty much in vain for other varieties for my garden. Two summers ago I discovered a pot of "Oxana Princess Lilies" at the big blue box store. Clearly they were alstromeria - Alstroemeria hybrid 'Staprioxa' to be exact - so I snarfed them up and planted them. And, they immediately died.

Well, all but one. This morning I discovered one little stem of the most gorgeous deep pink flowers. They live a long time indoors, so I believe that as soon as the sun is off of it, I shall cut it and bring it in to enjoy. Here it is for you to enjoy, too.