The Verdant Gardener




The Verdant Gardener

  I'm transferring these old blog posts to my new blog (with actual blog software, what a concept) The Verdant Gardener, one post at a time.

Saturday, 9/8/07

The nights are getting cooler and arriving earlier - summer will soon be just a memory.

I have mixed feelings about this, as I do every year. It means time is marching on (but I'm not growing older, I refuse!). It's the demise of long days with sunshine lingering for hours and hours. It's also the end of hot weather, which is fine with me - I'm not a fan of high temperatures.

While I mourn the passing of one season, I welcome fall with joy! It has always been my favorite season of the year. The sun's lowering rays give a crisp edge to blue skies and yet they shine on the world with softness. Trees' leaves turn sunset hues and fall to the ground, waiting for my feet to come along and crunch among them. Fall meant back to school but I rarely minded that. It was the time for new beginnings and opportunities. Bright yellow Nbr. 2 pencils, notebooks not yet scribbled with my latest crush's name or inspiring quotes, and new clothes.

As a gardener, I value fall even more because it is a great time of year to plant and transplant. That means I need new plants. So isn't it a wonderful thing that Le Tour des Plants is just around the corner!

I attended this event last year and enjoyed it very much. I encourage you not to miss out on the bargains to be had and the display gardens to be seen. It's time to get your inspiration recharged and take advantage of fall before it's time to put away the garden tools and dream of spring.

Perhaps we'll run into each other at one of the participating garden centers.

Tuesday, 9/4/07 Tuesday, 9/4/07

I really don't like surprises in the morning.

The rain last night weighed down my crape myrtle's bountiful, scrumptious blooms to the point that one branch couldn't take it any more and split, tearing into the trunk.

How badly did it tear? See for yourself.

Yep, it's bad.

I've asked a friend for advice, hoping that there's some way I can repair and save this branch. Keep your fingers crossed.

Sunday, 9/2/07

First the Farwest Show kept me busy. Then two rapidly approaching deadlines took my attention. And then wham-o, as if I didn't have enough to deal with, I was the lucky recipient of an emergency root canal Friday morning.

It's still very painful, although not the jump-out-of-my-skin pain of Thursday night. The dentist told me it was so inflamed, that it will take several days to calm down. In the meantime, Advil and a vicodin now and then are getting me through. When the pain clears a bit, I ponder that it's rather amazing that something as tiny as a tooth can bring on such massive pain. However, I've had enough of that type of contemplation and I'm ready to heal. I have work to do!

"What does all this have to do with gardening?" you ask. Well, simply put, pain causes restless nights, which result in me walking the house at odd hours and that leads to nighttime discoveries.

This morning, about 5:00 am, throbbing pain woke me. Unable to sleep, I decided to get up and open windows to let in cool morning air (smoky night air from neighbors' fire pits prevented me from opening windows last night). As I reached to open the window in our family room, a streak of white just under the window caught my eye. I paused, giving my eyes time to adjust to the darkness to see what my mind already knew was there.

A skunk was waddling through my garden, weaving its way through my ferns, rhodies and hostas, looking as if it knew the way quite well. It didn't pause to look at me and, as far as I could tell, it didn't slow or speed its gait. It continued on, oblivious to the woman behind the window, its behavior telling me that it owned my garden, at least at night.

I've smelled skunk now and then at night. In fact, I smelled it last night about midnight when I cracked a window to see if it still smelled like smoke outside (it did). I know there are skunks in the neighborhood and I've long suspected one passed through our garden regularly. I recognize that, since I garden for wildlife, I'm going to get all kinds of wildlife. I don't have bouncers at my gate to keep out the unsavory sorts. As long as Mr (or was it Ms.?) Skunk keeps damage to a minimum and doesn't lift his tail in my garden, I'm okay with this nighttime visitor.

I, however, hope to soon be sleeping through the night and leave the wee hours of the morning to him and other nighttime garden guests.

Tuesday, 8/28/07 Tuesday, 8/28/07

Last week was jam-packed with activities surrounding the Farwest Show, listed as North America's top nursery & greenhouse industry trade on their website. I knew it was going to be a long week and I was right. But it was great fun and a wonderful learning experience, too.

My adventures started last Tuesday when I served as a co-bus host with Michael McMahan of Fisher Farms, escorting 37 industry professionals to 5 area nurseries: Farmington Gardens, Eshraghi Nursery, Blooming Nursery, Fisher Farms, and Al's Garden Center.

I snapped the photo at Al's in Sherwood where they were showcasing their 2008 Trials Garden, "Paradise in Bloom." Al's had filled one of their greenhouse spaces with enough varieties of plants to make one's head spin (the photo shows only a corner of the space filled with a fraction of the plants they were trialing). And they only gave us one blue flag each to vote for our favorite. I ended up awarding my vote to Coleus 'Kiwi', more as a 'make my mind up already' gesture than anything else. It didn't help that Al's was the last stop of a day filled with plant eye candy at the other 4 nurseries. I was, without a doubt, satiated - and I loved every minute of it.

Eshraghi, Blooming and Fisher are wholesale nurseries, rarely open to the public, but Farmington and Al's are retail centers well worth visiting. Al's garden trials are finished for this year but stay tuned for its return next August.

Monday, 8/20/07

If you've ever opened your garden, you know what fun it can be and how rewarding the praise offered by visitors. Yes, it can be a bit nerve-wracking, too (will people like my garden?) and it is a lot of work to prepare for an open garden, but it is so worth it.

It's been ages since I've opened my garden (although I hope to next summer) but I did help at a friend's open garden this past Saturday. I'm quite familiar with her garden and her plants (we plant shop together) so when I offered to help spout plant knowledge and answer questions, she gladly accepted.

Her 17-year old garden is a treat! It's chock full of choice plants and old favorites, and garden art. It's a testament to a confirmed plantaholic. The transformation of her back garden from concrete slab, river rock and 2-8 foot tall Japanese maples to its lush container- and art-filled shady retreat is incredible. It was great fun to help but it also gave me focused time to discover plants in her garden and to add to my plant lust list.

Among those must-haves is Chinese rice paper plant, Tetrapanax papyrifera 'Steroidal Giant'. This plant is amazing with its architecturally bold leaves and fuzzy stems and trunks. And, contrary to how I often work, I know just where I'll plant it. It may not even make it to my side yard nursery stash - and that's saying something.

I always comes away with new ideas and ever growing lists of plants to buy after attending open gardens. Armed with inspiration and new finds, my garden continues to grow and evolve (no puns intended), providing fresh joy and new learning opportunities for me. And when the time comes, I'll share my garden with you, for you to take away ideas and plant combinations to adapt for your garden. Soon, you'll open your garden, others will visit and be enthused to try new things in their gardens...and so on and so on and so on.

Just like life in a garden, garden sharing and visiting is a cycle of which we should all partake.

Friday, 8/17/07

I visited 3 delightful gardens today, all applicants for the '08 Seeding Our Future Garden Tour. Serving as chair for the Garden Review and Selection committee is so much fun! I get to meet wonderful gardeners and visit delightful gardens, all of them a symbol of passion and joy

One of the gardens reminded me that I'm very much a flat-lander at heart. I can not escape my Midwest roots and garden perched on a hillside. No matter the view, I just can't do it. It's not the steps that are daunting (a 2 story drop from front to back garden is wonderfully managed with huge stone steps that serpentine down the side yard's slope) and certainly the opportunities to tuck choice woodland plants into the boulders holding the slope along the stairs would be such fun.

Nope, what prevents me from gardening in such a location is my fear of heights.

"Come see the view into the garden from the deck," said our gracious host, "the garden was designed to be enjoyed from within and from above."

Not wanting to be rude, I hiked up the deck stairs and wandered to the edge. Vertigo set it almost immediately. I stepped back and sat down before I fell down.

The garden was lovely - amazing, actually, considering the challenges these gardeners faced - but for me with my phobic burden, it would never do. I'm more than content with my paltry 4' slope; no dizzying heights for me.

Just as there are multitudes of plants to satisfy each gardener's whims, there are varied garden sites to offer challenges and opportunities to suit a gardener's passion. Even if the location or the plants aren't my cup of tea, I delight in seeing what others create and I revel in their ever-so-obvious gardening enthusiasm.

Thursday, 8/16/07

My first task was to redo my Zelkova bed, the triangular bed opposite my Stewartia pseudocamelia bed (you saw the rock wall around this bed in a previous post), separated by a gravel path. I planted it about 2 months ago but I was never satisfied with the result.

In its prior conception, the bed contained Cotinus coggygria 'Golden Spirit', 3 Anemanthele lessonia, 5 Verbascum phoeniceum 'Violetta', 3 Lithodora 'Grace Ward', 3 Helianthemum 'Ben Ledi', 1 Salix nakamurana var. yezoalpina, 1 Hebe 'Quicksilver', 1 Agapanthus 'Storm Cloud' (these latter 2 were repeated in the plantings in the bed on the other side of the path).

"You have too much going on in this bed," Jane said, "and not enough contrast in foliage and texture." She was right, of course. I had already headed down this thought path (you see, I have been paying attention to her advice for some time now). I dragged out my proposed possibilities from my side yard (also called my nursery stash): 3 Viburnum davidii and 3 Agastache x 'Acapulco Salmon and Pink'.

"How about if I add these?" I asked, as I placed the plants in the bed, "and remove those," (motioning to the Verbascum, the Cotinus and the Salix).

"I think you also need to remove the Lithodora," said Jane. They were looking very sorry - they had failed to thrive here - and I needed another texture; I already had too many fine textured plants. Jane suggested I add a grouping of hardy geraniums, possibly 'Rozanne' or G. cinereum 'Lawrence Flatman'.

The picture shows the result (sans the Geraniums, still need to buy those). As soon as I planted it, I knew that this was exactly what it needed. The bold texture of the Viburnums grounded the bed and provided background for the other plants. The grass pops and sizzles against the Viburnum and the Agastache. Before it was barely noticeable.

At first glance, it might look as as though I've paired pink and orange, not an easy combo to pull off, there are definitely color echoes going on between these two plants. The grass has green, pink and orange tones and the Agastache's blooms are orange-y pinks and pink-y oranges. Hopefully, you can see what I mean in this photo. I can't wait to watch the color play between these 2 plants as the seasons progress.

Wednesday, 8/15/07

My dear friend and garden designer extraordinaire Jane Coombs came to visit today. I was looking forward to showing off our garden progress and I wanted to get her feedback and input on my future plans.

Jane is my "can't see the forest for the trees" friend. Whenever I get stuck, unsure which design direction to take, Jane opens my eyes to possibilities I hadn't envisioned. Collaboratively, we come up with a plan that just clicks perfectly with my overall design goals and preferences.

Everyone needs a gardening friend like Jane. Someone who knows your style and can help change your focus to see the possibilities to unlock your garden's potential. Someone to say, "yes, that would look great!" and who encourages your creative endeavors (particularly for those of us who venture more timidly into this area, who doubt our creative thrusts - but I am building confidence). If they are a design professional, that's a plus but it is certainly not required.

I have my notes with its list of to-dos: what to buy, what to plant where, what to relocate, and possibilities to ponder. With Jane's guidance, I've refined my creative vision and I'm raring to get digging. Stay tuned for my progress.

Monday, 8/13/07 Monday, 8/13/07

This was the scene I viewed one November morning in 2005. Somehow, inexplicably, the trunk of my beloved sourwood (Oxydendron arboreum) cracked, toppling this tree in its stunning fall prime.

I still remember how I discovered this calamity. I was standing at the window surveying the garden when I spotted this beautiful fall color on the ground. "What on earth did I plant there that colors so well in fall?" followed by "Where is my tree?!" and then, "OH NO!!"

I mourned its loss, of course, but realizing that change is the nature of gardens, I turned my perspective towards possibilities and new beginnings.

Here is that same scene, less than 2 years later. I think I've done alright, don't you?

I contemplated planting another sourwood. It's such a lovely tree but it is a slow grower plus finding one with a single leader is very difficult. I never did find a tree-form, just shrubby specimens and while those are lovely in their own right, this spot cried out for a tree.

So I planted another love; a Stewartia pseudocamellia, a very stately specimen I found at Al's Garden Center in Sherwood. The only other plants carried over from my old bed to this one are 3 hosta 'Paul's Glory', purchased and planted in memory of a friend who died suddenly 2 years ago. I also removed the old raised veggie beds (stay tuned for my stab at growing veggies in containers on my hot, sunny patio next year), enlarged the bed, added an island bed and a gravel path between the two beds so we'll finally have dry footing from front to back in winter.

Oh, yes, and there's the lean-to greenhouse Gary is building for me (yes, I know I'm lucky to have him). It's almost complete, just waiting for the window and vents to be glazed and the Dutch door frame to be built and glazed. As soon as the rock wall building is done, Gary will finish it up, in time for me to use it this winter (woo hoo!).

Sunday, 8/12/07 Sunday, 8/12/07

As of yesterday, we've completed 95 feet of rock retaining wall (along with 7 more feet of rock edging) with the completion of the section near the greenhouse. As I wrote, one of these days, I'll tally the total pounds of rock and see just how much we've hefted and hauled. If you asked my sore and tired muscles, they'd swear we've lifted thousands - no, hundreds of thousands - of pounds in the last few months. It's likely closer to 3 tons, but that's still a heck of a lot of rock.

Now that we've got this bed's wall done, I can complete the planting. It's decision time. Wonder which of the multiple combinations I've contemplated will make the final cut. Stay tuned!

Saturday, 8/11/07 Saturday, 8/11/07

The wall to the left represents 79 finished feet of rock retaining wall as of last Sunday (you saw this in progress, from a different perspective, in my blog post of 8/3). I still need to finish the very end of it, as it wraps to the right around the point of the peninsula, but that's easy work compared to what we've done so far.

I've also hauled out some overgrown shrubs - they weren't doing well, I was tired of them or both. The bed is a bit bare at the moment but I already have replacement shrubs in mind, keeping my friend and garden designer extraordinaire Jane Coombs' mantra in mind - repeat texture, form and color while varying them. Sounds so simple, right? I'm finally learning what she means and my garden is all the more pleasing to me for it.

Thursday, 8/9/07

Okay, I'll fess up, I've been known to talk to my plants (don't we all do that?).

But now there's a way for them to talk back to us with words!

Students at NYU came up with this ingenious method called Botanicalls, which allows your plants to tell you whether they are too moist, need water, getting a wee bit too much sun or are in dire need to solar time.

How cool is that?

I watched a demo of Botanicalls in action on Good Morning, America this morning. They definitely have a sense of humor, these students. They gave the voice of their Scottish moss a Scottish accent, complete with colloquialisms. So, not only will your plants tell you what they need, but you can have them do so in a way to give you a grin and a giggle.


Saturday, 8/4/07 Saturday, 8/4/07

I'm bouncing with excitement! Look at what decided to come live in my garden!! A red-legged frog!!

We were building more rock wall today when I saw something rustling my Japanese forest grass. I looked closer and saw a large frog. My heart sank as I thought, "Oh, no, a bull frog! Well, he won't live long here."

With Gary's assistance, I caught the supposed offender (and he didn't make it easy). I held him in my gloved hands and asked Gary to fetch me a baggie. You see, I still thought he was a bull frog and I was going to give him a cold sleep towards death in my freezer. Yes, I know that sounds heartless. After all, it's not the bull frogs' fault that they aren't native, that they eat whatever will fit in their mouths, including small birds, and therefore endanger many of our native fauna, including Pacific tree frogs. But because I'm so bent on creating a good habitat for native critters, I just had to do the right thing, even if it made me squeamish.

But then I got a closer look at my amphibian friend. Red legs! Can it possibly be a red-legged frog and not a bull frog? Red-legged frogs are not very common - their numbers are decreasing (in some areas, they are considered threatened) for many reasons, including the influx of bull frogs.

I placed him carefully into a quart jar, topped with window screen while I did a quick google images check. And I had my answer - I had a prized native critter in my garden!

I whooped my joy!

I apologized profusely for mistaking him for a bull frog (that's probably some horrible faux pas in the amphibian realm).

And then I let my new friend loose into my garden.

Give me a few hours and I just might come down from this natural high.

  Photos and Text, Copyright ©2007 Lisa Albert. All rights reserved.

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