Saturday, May 30, 2015

Garden Cliques and Communities

From a distance it looks like a clamoring crowd but when you think about it, you realize gardens are like communities.

 Look more closely and see the little clusters of social groups. They have so much in common: they love the sun, the dirt between their toes and drinks after a long day. However they are also individuals and proud of it, with their colorations, textures and heights. Husker Red Penstamone, soft, fuzzy Lamb's Ears and the very tall variety of Black Eyed Susans create quite a contrast.

Often times, family members show similar qualities but can be so different.  Size, color, texture, and leaf shape in endless combinations make hostas one of the most collectible plants. Both their variations and their similarities are what make them look so nice together.
It's true, often opposites attract. Short and tall, thin and wide. They compliment one another, showing off one another's best features. Alone, each is stunning but together they are breathtakingly beautiful.

The serrated edged leaves of the fall blooming Anemone, the red tips of the spring leaves on the Spirea with the cuppy woodland Ginger look phenomenal together.

Some speak a loud, colorful language, while others are subtle. Throughout the summer conversations ebb and flow with first this one, then that one, voicing their thoughts and opinions. 
Some are quiet and let other others do all the talking but the neighborhood just wouldn't be the same without them.
Taken as a whole the subtleties of the garden can be overlooked.
With coffee in hand one needs to stop and observe each little cluster. Listen to the conversations, notice their interactions.
When one is obviously dominating or crowding others, measures need to be taken to assure harmony, often in the form of a sharp spade.
Other areas I wouldn't touch for anything, wishing they could stay in this perfect balance forever.
At first glance this monochromatic gathering seems about as interesting as dry toast, until you notice the sprinkling of dots like laughter and the over-reaching leaves in a wide-armed stretch. Now that's comfort in your surroundings like old friends who know each other well.
Springtime is like the first time neighbors come out after the long cold winter, full of smiles and stories.
Enjoy it now before everyone starts getting into everyone else's business or retreat in the hot summer temperatures.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Moments Later: Gardens in Spring are Amazing!

Despite the cool weather and low rainfall this spring, everything is up, growing and blooming! It always amazes me. No matter what's going on in your life, no matter how busy you've been or the sorrows or the joys, the ups and the downs, God is faithful in his creation. The perennials poke their noses up to sniff the air, check to see if it really is spring and then elbow their way through the barren soil, the crisp leaves, the chilly air. Then suddenly they're pushing and shoving for position. Watch out!
It won't be long before the tea 
room is overtaken and the tea 
pot needs to be rescued from 
this lovely floral runner.

The cracks and  brokenness
 no longer matter. The
 foliage and flowers are all 
anyone notice. They steal
the show.

Almost obscured now, this miniature gazebo protects a new hosta from bunnies and deer but it won't hold it for long. Then on it will go to the fairy garden for magical moments where it will be welcome in the miniature landscapes. 

 Jacob's Ladder, Astilbe, Hardy Geranium and Euphorbia jostle for space around stepping stones. 

 Sweet cups of polka dots don't last long before they burst forth and turn tea time into ice tea time on lawn chairs.

 Finally, I love to see this hosta at this intermediate state, as it seems to be expanding before my eyes. That stone will not see the light of day until fall once it becomes overshadowed by those enormous seersuckered  leaves. 

I love every minute of Spring. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Architectural Detail in the Garden: Hardscapes for your Softscape

difficult to see against the brown leaves
this Eiffel Tower will show up against
the green to come, later in Spring.
 Paris in April
Use your imagination. Let it take you out of your little backyard into the great big world. Or bring the world back home with you from places far away, places full of memories and meaning. From the Eiffel Tower to the Tower of London or the Leaning Tower of Pisa, miniature replicas can be found everywhere. Don't limit your search to the garden centers. Wooden or metal pieces can weather so nicely out in the elements.

 A Garden Gazebo
A darling place from which to view your garden. A darling place to view within your garden. Once again, let creativity be your guide as you look at items with a new eye for usefulness as a garden backdrop. It may be a piece of something larger or need a quick splash of paint but you'll know it when you see it. Train your eye to see things differently.
Broken and discarded or not-so-old "ancient ruins"? You decide. So many cement pieces are made to look like carved Italian marble or straight from the castles of England or Palace of Versailles. Even when they break, which happens now and again, find a new way to use them. When a planter is overflowing with luscious greenery who will know it no longer has a back and is cracked down the center? Or, rather, who will care? And then you have extra pieces to use as decorative stepping stones. You'll start breaking things on purpose!

 Cagey Coral Bells
How about that little plant the bunnies just won't stop nibbling on. It just can't catch a break, until you pop a cage over it and let it sing the glories of new growth. That tender new leaf, tasty as it may be, will get to see another day. And you'll get a chance to see it, too.

Song Birds in the Garden

Painted white and over-sized this one will stick out, even when the plants I put around it grow up and mature. Birds, squirrels, cats, foxes; wire, stone, metal, wood; animals are a natural part of the garden.
This one is in my vegetable garden. There's no reason why a vegetable garden can't be a fun and whimsical place, anything to get me in there to keep up with the weeds!
Leaky pipes? You may need your umbrella!
I don't know why but I just love sticking rusty old plumbing is the most ridiculous parts of my garden, especially the woods and farther reaches. This one gets protected from rain by May Apples or fairy umbrellas for those who are children at heart.

Anything that breaks up the mass of foliage and causes the eye to stop and see, really see the garden serves the purpose. It could be a rock... or something more interesting. Have fun with it.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Garden Math: Straw Bales + Mandala Configuration + Hugelkultur = Manbala Kultur

Straw Bale Gardening is all the Rage!
Hugelkultur or Hill Permaculture
Logs, branches and other heavier organic matter goes on the bottom
Hugelkultur, the garden practice that creates a permaculture garden in the form of a hill to enhance the organic matter for years, allows beneficial organisms to maintain aeration of soil and increases the planting area, has been practiced in Germany and other European gardens for hundreds of years. It was further developed by Sepp Holzer, an Austrian permaculture expert and others. It is becoming widely popular in backyard gardens all over the world. I, of course, can't be tied down to one thing so I've combined a number of garden techniques. See Permaculture Magazine 

The bales are placed over the organic matter and tied together if
you are using more than one together.
 Mandala Configuration
The Madala shape of the garden allows for the most garden planting area and ease of watering. Each branch of the mandala is individually a keyhole garden, which gives access to the whole planting area from the path that goes to the center of the individual branch. See Ecological Garden  
Once in place and watered, the bales would be very difficult to
 move so pick the location carefully. The amount of sunlight is a
major factor in choosing your location.

 Straw Bale Gardening
Straw Bale gardening gives you rich organic matter, heat which is needed early in the Spring to get a head start in the northern planting zones, protection from soil that may be carrying disease such as Bacterial Wilt and Early Blight that ruin tomatoes each year and besides, they're just plain fun! See Straw Bale Gardens and Bonnie plants

I recommend you start early in Spring or even in Fall. I purchased my bales from a local farmer I found on I collected logs, branches and plant matter from our woods and gardens to assemble my hugelkultur bases in the mandala shape. The bales need to be conditioned for up to 2 weeks. This involves adding a fertilizer which is high in nitrogen to start the decomposition stage inside the bales. I tied 2 bales together for each of my sections to give me more planting space. 

 Seeds can be sown directly into the bales. I put in a small amount of potting mix to hold the seeds but it may not have been necessary. I tried some seeds without the potting mix a few days ago and am waiting to  see how that goes.

At first, straw bales require a more constant watering schedule but hold moisture well, if that makes sense. The water goes to the bottom so the tops need to be watered everyday. I plan on installing a timer and irrigation system. Once the straw breaks down and becomes part of the permaculture, though, watering will be less of issue because all of that organic matter will hold water.
 Here, in Wisconsin, we're having a very cold, slow start to our planting season. It's almost the middle of May and we have a frost advisory for tonight. I'm covering the newly sprouted plants and keeping my plants I've started in pots, in the little greenhouse unit 
 In the meantime inky cap mushrooms help break down the straw  

I can't wait for my ManBala Hugelkultur garden to be full and growing!
Happy Spring planting!