Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Garden Whimsy: Climbers

Clematis, Morning Glories,  Trumpet Vine. They all need something to grab onto to pull themselves up, up, up to the sky. I've tried various things, most of them unconventional, some of them natural, others whimsical. We have an old wooden swing set, under which the platform from an old tree house fit perfectly. My husband is a saint with just enough faith in me that things will turn out to make our backyard fun and interesting.

The old swing set is sturdy but no longer has the single, high flying swings our kids enjoyed. We changed those out for a bench swing that fits two or three comfortably with an extra hook for a hanging plant. The platform keeps feet out of the grass or dirt and eliminates the need to replace wood chips underneath. There's no longer any risk of falling as this swing isn't going anywhere at any great speed.
 To create an instant vine covered look I had my son go into the woods behind our house and cut down one of the wild grape vines. They climb the ash, hawthorn and elm trees and eventually kill the trees by shading them out when they cover the crowns. I wound it over and around the frame as best I could. It not only gives the vine covered look but also gives plants something to climb on.

The clematis climbs one leg and reaches over to the old dead vine. It blooms early in that classic deep purple the Jackmanii is known so well for.

The morning glories climb the other leg of the same side and bloom mid-summer. The vines grow quickly since it is an annual and self seeds each year. It has a strong winding habit so it appreciates something to hold on to like long sticks to start it upward.
The other end of the swing set is for the Trumpet vine with its late summer orange trumpet-like blossoms which the hummingbirds love. It does more leaning than winding or vining but grows quickly as a shrub from previous years growth.

On the other end of the yard I have a clothes line in the middle of the garden which makes a great place for clematis and morning glories to climb. I like this combination and use it in a number of places because as the clematis is finishing it blooming the morning glories are just beginning theirs. I'm careful to protect the bases of the plants with chicken wire since it wouldn't take much for a bunny or deer to bite through the stem and kill the whole vine. The deer munch on a few leaves in the middle section and occasionally break a stem but that's not the end of the world.
Once again the vines need something to hold onto. On the clothes line I've had some fun with black metal household items like a decorative basket or bowl base, a vine shaped candle holder and even a scroll-y plate holder.
The black painted metal will eventually rust which I'm fine with. Eventually each summer the metal becomes totally covered with vines and flowers but until then they are similar in theme and color and look interesting on their own.

I also have a rake from an historic home in the area. It is old and rusted and unusable except as decoration or... vine stake! The morning glories are loving this new place to climb.

When there is an empty hole in an area of the garden such as when something has died or been removed a great filler is a nice spreading dead branch and yes, some more morning glories. They self seed so readily and are easily transplanted. They'll grow up the branches and cover them with leaves and flowers.

I can't wait to find something to start climbing my new fence!

Keep the Late Summer Garden Going

Late July: hot and dry. Normally, by this time I've let my gardens go a bit as the mosquitos just chase me back inside anyway when I try to go out. This year, however, I have reason to keep them looking decent for just a while longer. We all have those events occasionally that call for some outdoor entertaining even in mid to late summer. Whether it be a family reunion, wedding, or your turn to host the bbq you've got to step up and go the extra mile. In my case it's an August wedding, well not the wedding, per se, but the guys will be getting ready here and the photographer will be here to capture it all on memory disk  Then there is the gift opening. My daughter-in-law-to-be liked my garden enough in spring to think it would be the perfect place for all this during their wedding.

Well the dear girl just doesn't know what a difference there is between a spring and summer garden! The plants have all gotten lanky and laid down into the paths.  Patches of perennials have bloomed and finished blooming. The lush verdant foliage has gone dull and dry.

We were lucky this year. We had occasional rains well into July but as usual that hasn't lasted. All the rains did was coax the plants to grow much taller than usual and then, unable to support themselves, they just slumped over. This is not unusual and I'm always having to stake things but some things I allow to spill out onto the path. Artemesia is a good example. I kind of like the way the stems curve when they're allowed to sprawl all over. Not this summer, nope, they're propped up with a wire fence. The heliopsis is reaching up for the sky and needed to be tied to the bottle tree ages ago.

Even the chives, daisies, lamb's ears and spider wort are supported and staked..

The common daisies began blooming in May. The Shastas have long since taken their place.  The many different colors of day lilies are finally on their last blooms. The monarda is looking shabby. I'm wondering if sections of the purple cone flowers will be done in two weeks.  

There is so much that needs trimming. First the daisies just needed dead heading, only the flower heads removed, since the stems and leaves were green and feeding the plant. Then the stems went dry and brown and needed a second trimming to the low growth down at ground level. Normally I let the gold finches feast on the seeds but not this year.  And once those day lily stems dry out a bit they pull right out but not this year. They got a careful pruning out.  I hate being so anal about the garden. I like it to be more natural but when your daughter-in-law-to-be thinks this would be the best place, well you go the extra mile.

I keep it watered as best I can but of course I'm conflicted. I don't want to waste water. I rarely just turn on the sprinkler since I know that much of that will just evaporate off the paths. Besides, all the weight of the water just causes more slumping, droopy plants that need more staking. I like to water from below, setting the hose nozzle on shower, soaker or even a wide spray depending on how much room there is underneath and how much area I think I can cover.  I move the hose from area to area while I work nearby. That is another advantage of watering this way. I'm not dodging the sprinkler zones.

I've been given very few duties as the mother of the groom. I've made the bows for the aisle and the gift card box. I tied a pretty ribbon on the bottle they'll use for special notes to one another during the ceremony and attached chicken wire inside a frame for the place cards to hang on. . I'm wearing my big, thick gloves in the garden to keep my nails pretty and trying not to get all scratched up in the rose bushes. Now if I only had just a little control over when the turtle heads, Black-eyed Susans and anemone would start blooming I'd have it made in the shade. Shade! I've been working on that, too.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Capture the Moment

A flower can change in minutes or stay virtually the same for days. The lighting may be your average sunny afternoon or shady corner. On the other hand the angle may be just right to cause the colors to pop, as they say. The reflection of light off the underside of clouds, the sunset, the shadows may create a magical moment. Don't get me wrong I believe in living in the moment, especially those moments when you feel you almost dare not breathe, the perfect combination of light and humidity that gives you goosebumps.
But if you have fully experienced the moment remember to pull out the camera. The pictures will bring up such wonderful memories. The camera narrows your field of view in such a way that you will see things in another way.

Experiment with framing, focus and shapes. If you have an SLR camera you can use focus and lens length to create some interesting effects. You can practice framing your subject as you take the picture, considering the thirds or ninths method in which you divide the view into parts, placing your subject in the various portions of the whole. It is usually more interesting if the subject is not in the center of the picture. If, however, you've barely managed to grab the camera to capture a rare or fleeting occurrence, don't fret. There are many apps for your phone or other device to help you edit or even enhance your image.  Photoshop sure has gotten a bad wrap but as long as you're not making your delphiniums look anorexic or airbrushing out the blemishes until your pulmonaria looks like a hosta, you're fine. It can be quite helpful in straightening out the horizon when you find you've got batman angles or cropping when your field of view was just too wide.
Animals don't get red eye. They get green eye. 

Be patient, you may not get that perfect shot ... this time. Nature doesn't always cooperate. That's ok. In the case of this fawn that was in the backyard eating apples I think the camera actually fascinated him. He continued to eat as I came closer and closer. I guess it was sort of a "deer in the headlights" sort of thing as my flash kept going off. I may go back and take the green out of his eyes, we'll see. I sure do love the heart shaped leaf in the foreground. It's not a great picture but it reminds me of how close I was and the sound of that fawn crunching away at that apple.

Pictures can be invaluable for planning purposes. If you've got a way to get an aerial view of your garden, say from an upstairs window or even from on top of a ladder or picnic table, those pictures can help you map out everything from shade patterns to color coordinating to access paths. On a rainy day or in the midst or a frigid winter you can pull up these images and make plans.

One of my favorite shots of a fallen vinca flower where it landed on the back step.
So, go capture those images!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Garden Detente: Plan and Understand Garden Tasks

To build may have to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.” Winston Churchill


Put plan to paper. You don't need to learn landscape architectural design techniques though I heard a lecture on this and found it very interesting and helpful.  You just need a notebook, even better, make it a graph paper or grid paper notebook. Sketch out your ideas. Study your options.

More importantly, anticipate the consequences of your actions.  You may have done something the same way all your life, everyone you know does it that way, the stores want to sell you these products, they want you to think it's necessary, and you do it every year without fail. What if you didn't? What if you stopped? Would the world end? Probably not.

The dump truck dropping off a load of wood chips next door
Consider that mountain of wood chips that gets dumped on your driveway every year or two. Yes, those fresh chips give a clean, albeit fake dyed look to the borders. Yes a couple inches is fine but they do accumulate, though, don't they? In an effort to get that mountain off the driveway as fast as possible you throw them around our plants and trees willy nilly, giving little or no thought to the natural dividing line between root, which needs to be below the soil line, and trunk or stem, that needs to be above.
Wood Chips 4-5 inches deep spread right up to the trunks of trees and shrubs
We think we're doing our gardens a favor by keeping down the weeds, the competition, and keeping in moisture that we know our plants need but are we really smothering them to death? Roots get water from the soil where they also take in oxygen! They can't do that if we constantly bury the roots deep in wood chips. Burying the trunk too deeply in mulch and chips can cause rot. Eventually you'll have a lovely, bare bed of wood chips, devoid of the beautiful plants and trees you envisioned.
Alternative: a wood chip border around the garden, a wood chip path, perhaps. How about allowing seedlings from your annuals and perennials to come up and fill in the spaces. What a joy it is to discover bleeding heart seedlings or to realize that you won't need to buy morning glories for the trellis. If they don't come up exactly where you want you can transplant them. You may have to do more weeding which may give you time to think or even stop thinking so much. You may get in touch with nature, say a silent prayer in thanks for all that is good.

Consider all that fertilizer that gets sprayed on, spread on, and eventually washed off in the rain. Grass needs nutrients like all the  other plants, well, to a point. Lawn treatment companies want you to think it needs more than it actually does, that the more you apply the better. All that fertilizer puts the grass in hyper mode, growing roots close to the surface, which we then need to water often. Those excess roots die off and become thatch which we then pay those companies more money to come and remove. What if you left the grass clipping on the lawn and allowed them to decompose down under the blades of grass, which you allowed to grow to a good 2 1/2 or 3 inches? Then the grass would get the nutrients they needed and would grow deep roots which they would use to survive the drier periods of the summer. If your lawn needs fertilizer there is a correct time for this as there is also a correct time for herbicides. Use a site similar to this for a lawn schedule based on your area. Sure this tends to only hold true in areas of the country where grass grows naturally. Growing grass in the desert is another thing altogether. Don't get me started.

Be aware of what you're doing when you decide to spray on those broad spectrum pesticides. All insects are not equal.
If you can't solve the bee crisis on your own in your own backyard, which you can't, well at least be aware. Preserve the bees we have. Remember, they pollinate our vegetables, fruit trees, and flowers. I love bees, but bumble bees just send me over the moon. Sometimes when thy're resting on a flower I sneak in a little pet and it makes me feel so happy. Not all insects are pests.

Japanese Beatles are voracious eaters

That said, . Take the Japanese beetle, please. Ba ba... bum. Some insects are just downright evil! The old saying, "Take time to smell the roses." has never held more true because if you have Japanese beetles you may not get another opportunity to smell, let alone see those roses. One or two of these beetles can destroy a rose in under an hour. What a mess. Some years are worse than others. Techniques for dealing with them vary from soil injections to the old soapy water bucket.

A bucket of soapy water is an effective method of killing
Japanese Beatles if the flowers or leaves are within reach
and the infestation is not too out of control.
This is how I choose to deal with them. I place the bucket under my rose or string beans and shake the plant lightly to knock the beetles into the soapy water. A few drops of dish detergent into a little water in a gallon size bucket will break the surface tension and they won't get out. It's pretty cathartic to stick it to the little rats.

The list of garden decisions go on and on: watering, weeding, nursery stock, etc. I'll save some stuff for another day so I can get out in my garden where I really want to be.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Garden Whimsy: Hose Guides

Sure you can buy those non-distinct hose guides at the home and garden stores but why? Yes, of course to protect your plants from being run over and broken off by that hose you're dragging through the gardens but why buy them when you can be creative, be earth friendly, and whimsical.

Hand clippers have become obsolete or have they?
I've created such winding paths in some of my gardens that there is no way I could just pull the hose through without wrecking half the garden. I don't think that hose guards need to be purely functional. They can be attention getters in their own rights. They can be garden items that no longer have any practical use or simply don't work anymore. They can be pipes with elbows and knees. Let the creativity flow.

Some of my garden areas are woodsy and natural. To have a shiny metal post sticking out of the ground would be out of place. Stick a sturdy branch in the ground or strategically place an angular rock so that the hose will catch and not slip over. Keep it in tune with its surroundings unless of course you want it to be a show stopper. Be creative.

Tell me. What creative things have you done to protect your gardens form the water serpent?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Garden Detente: Garden Setbacks

“If you are going through hell, keep going." - Winston Churchill

Winter 2013-14 was especially long and cold in the Midwest
Winter may have been especially rough on your gardens, leaving bare desolate ground which was overflowing with colorful mums just the previous autumn . Spring storms may have sent hail stones through your hosta leaves and winds that shredded your peonies and broke off flower stalks of all kinds. Summer drought and early frosts. The list of garden defeats goes on and on. I know. I've been through it all and have lived to tell though my delphiniums and lupines have not.

Rich mulch where my trolleus used to be
See bare spots as new opportunities. Take the time to amend the soil there.   Use this as chance to practice the repeated color rule by dividing overgrown, crowded perennials and spreading them out in clusters of threes or fives, giving a feeling of continuity to the border.

Hostas are one of the  deer's  favorites
Spring damage goes with the territory. That goes the same for deer damage.Trim off the worst of the damaged leaves that are In full view. Also, flowers, though beautiful, sap energy from plants. Trim back those stalks and flower heads and your plants will be fuller and healthier and will most likely have secondary blooms.

I plan to buy the kit to convert this 50 gal. drum to a rain barrel
Summer drought is especially rough on the garden. Is this occurring more frequently in your area? Take measures to ensure you'll have a sustainable garden like rain barrels and drought tolerant plants. Plant a rain garden. Even if your area is usually lush and verdant, a drought can quickly weaken your plants, making them less resistant to pests and disease. Watering is often restricted and rightly so. Water should be reserved for the highest priority needs. Even when you're allowed to water, prioritize your own water needs. Water trees and plants that would be hard to replace. Be smart about water use in your home such as using rinse water to water potted plants.  Make use of cardboard, newspaper and straw to hold in moisture around vegetables. You can use similar strategies in the flower beds using mulch but don't over do it.

Finally, the early frost, it can take us by surprise. It often does, turning beautiful fall colors to dead shades of brown and black. It cuts our plans short or rushes our harvests. It sends us scrambling for row covers, sheets and pretty much anything we can lay our hands on if we're lucky enough to hear the warning on the news of a possible dip in temperatures. That usually only gives us a few extra days to finish up. Sometimes, just letting the inevitable happen is easier. Then we're on to the fall cleanup and before we know it the gardening catalogs are showing up in the mail again.
The staunchest and hardiest of gardeners will agree with Winston Churchill.
“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” -W.C.

I tend to lean toward Demosthenes who said, "Live to fight another day."

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Garden Whimsy: Prayer Spiral

Sure you can pray anywhere. One does not need a special place but as Dorothy Frances Gurney said in her poem, God's Garden, "One is nearer God's Heart in a garden than anywhere else on Earth." I have had wonderful experiences in prayer labyrinths. I've gone with my bible study friends to local labyrinths but you never feel as totally at ease as you do in your own backyard. 

Spirals are such a part of God's natural creation and evolution. They are fluid, intriguing and even mathematical You find them in fern fiddle heads, sunflower seed formations, vine tendrils and pinecones. There is intense energy as well as overwhelming peace in the order and clarity of a spiral.

I planted mine with marigolds which are both warm and whimsical. My sister added a piece of rose quartz in the center which is sort of fun but possibly distracting. I find it natural to offer my petitions, tell God my troubles, ask my questions, sometimes even rail on my way inward. I stand before God in the center of the spiral. I find peace, quietude, silence in the center. When my soul is sufficiently quieted and unburdened I slowly leave the spiral, listening, waiting, in thanksgiving, receiving from God the answers and  the strength needed to face the day and its challenges. It takes great control not to stop for a weed or pinch off a spent flower. That must be left for another time, ironically  a time on my knees. A time to plant and a time to pluck up (Ecclesiastes 3:2b)

My prayer spiral was a part of my instant garden but it can be added anywhere at any time, in a garden, preferably where you're not competing with too much in the way of  ground covers. Choose plants that will stay put; that's why I choose annuals. I also have the deer to consider so I choose deer resistant plants, marigold, in this case
If you're installing the prayer spiral over sod or other ground cover completely cover the ground, plants and all with cardboard. Determine the center and begin laying out the walking portion of the spiral in wood chips or gravel. Fill in the correlating spiral with mulch or soil. You only need an inch or two. Plant with seeds or insert plants through the cardboard.
Prayer spirals add whimsy to the garden and also a place of deep spiritual connecting with God. God's creations are often whimsical. Why shouldn't we be as we come to him to share our joys and yes, our sorrows?