Well now, it seems I have once again been remiss in keeping this blog up to date. Take this post for example. It was actually completed back in February. I really need to step it up and update this blog in a more timely fashion. With that said, thank you for reading and thank you for your patience!
Originally written February 7th 2018
It always happens around this time every year – right around the time of my birthday. The winds are shifting, the days are staying awake longer and the sun is warming the earth. As in all previous years, I see signs of life. Already, daffodils are beginning to poke through, the flax is greening up, irises are poking through and insects are darting about. Yet, it is still only February and just the beginning of February at that.
Spring officially returns March 21st but here, in my little Rocky Mountain garden we will be flirting with winter well into the third week of May – typically. I mean, this could be an off year but I won’t be planting anything that doesn’t like the cold until after Mother’s Day. Just like The Who once lamented … I won’t be fooled again.
On this glorious day of days, I am afforded the opportunity to just sit outside. I wish you – you being any kind soul who happens upon these words and reads them – could be here sitting with me now, outside under my pergola, on my dusty, dirty chair and enjoying this quiet… this solitude.. this moment with me. Perhaps I would make us some iced tea. That does sound good and I was halfway tempted to stop writing this post and go inside and make some but this white tea I have is so strong, I find the effects of the caffeine to be too long lasting. So, perhaps, if you were here, I would make an iced tea but some sort of herbal blend. Hibiscus perhaps.
Oh, the GLORY! The sun is warming my aching bones and I can feel the healing transformation. There is a breeze and it is cool but not cold. It is blowing my wind chime about. Don’t you just love the sound of wind chimes? I would love to have them all over my garden. This one above me is a soprano chime so I quite fancy a bass or alto chime to accompany it.
Already, There Is Anticipation
As each day lengthens and warms, already I am feeling it. If you are here, reading this post, you must be a gardener of some sort or at least someone mildly interested in making something of a bit of earth, or container or something along those lines. I say this because if you have any appreciation for the natural world and how it invigorates the gardener, you know what the ‘it’ is.
“It” is abstract in form and changes with each passing day. “It” is a desire, a passion, a longing and a purest form of love. “It” is what is inside me, you and well, everyone really. “It” is what makes me feel alive. “It” is the perfection of a connection that is discovered – and not by accident. In my life, there are only a few core desires that equate to need. Beyond the tangible, the “it” for me is to sink my hands inside the warming earth, letting it slip through my fingers – but not before inhaling its aroma and mold it into something beautiful. It is this love I breathe into it that produces a garden.
My friends, I thank you so kindly for reading. Please accept my apologies as always for any and all delays in between posts.
Until next time, I wish you all the very best of all things. May this day and all days be blessed. Happy Gardening!
Please enjoy these photos of my Rocky Mountain garden in February:
As the snows finally subside for the season and the chances of evening frost have finally passed, it is easy to get lulled into a sense of complacency when it comes to gardening. All that snow has melted deep into the ground and there is no need to worry about watering. Each day of spring presents a brand-new miracle to behold as the earth comes alive. Nature’s magic is in full swing.
As spring matures into summer, the plight of the gardener becomes apparent. Clouds are rolling in. Will it hail? Or, as it was this year, there were no clouds, only baking hot sun. Then the question becomes will it rain? Our rains came late this year but I will talk more on that later. As the garden transcends spring, the true tribulations of the gardener begin.
Quite simply and even more apparent, the typical garden will not survive without supplemental irrigation if you live in an arid climate – as we do in most of Colorado. I personally feel it is irresponsible to create a landscape that requires constant watering. Water is by far the most precious resource and conservation is of paramount importance. With this in mind, my garden primarily consists of plants native to this area or plants that are easily adaptable to our climate and (at times) extreme weather conditions.
Adaptability was certainly put to the test early this season. All around me plants were wilting, the earth was drying and cracking and I was losing plants. I started the habit — which continues to this day — of bringing a five-gallon Home Depot bucket with me into the shower. I position it in a way that manages to catch a lot of the water that would normally flow down the drain. Despite only turning on the water to get wet so I can lather and then again to rinse off, the bucket ends up nearly full. That is five gallons of water every day. I pour this water out on all the beds and if I am feeling generous, the grass. I gravely dislike grass. Beyond the recycled water, I will sometimes get the hose out in the mornings but I am very careful with the amount of water I apply and where.
With so many things that can go wrong in a garden (weather conditions are just the tip of the iceberg), it is a wonder anyone gardens at all. I know I have personally sunk deep into my outdoor chair many times in exasperation. It is arduous work but you know something? Just as Tom Hanks said in ‘A League of Their Own’, “It is the hard that makes it great.” If it was easy and required no effort, there would possibly be gardens everywhere just like the old times — when folks didn’t mind a bit of hard, soul-enhancing, satisfying work.
Oh! The old times! There once was a time when most everyone HAD to garden. That’s right. There wasn’t always a fancy, lit up, refrigerated aisle full of ‘fresh’ produce. If you wanted vegetables – and of course you did as they are paramount to proper nutrition – you had to grow them. You had to not only grow them but harvest them and then prepare them for storage through the winter. Oh, the humanity! I speak facetiously of course but this is an honest reaction in an age when very few bother to make something out of a bit of earth.
The Rains Have Arrived
By the grace of God, the heat of June and early July dispersed and for the last several weeks we have been blessed with afternoon thunder showers. This coincides with our monsoon season but the cooler days and the plentiful moisture is so very welcome. The garden is responding in kind. The wilted plants have given way to robust, green stems and the struggling vegetables are flowering and will soon bear fruit. In some cases, they already have. For example, I have already harvested enough pickling cucumbers to create several jars of delicious pickles.
Oh, to garden! Just when you are about to throw your hands in the air and wash your hands of the whole affair, it rewards you with bountiful blessings.
The tomatoes are ripening, a small petunia formed from a seed of plantings past is flowering, ears of corn are forming on their stalks, perennial 4 o’clocks are blooming for the first time ever, ancho peppers are forming (those that were planted from seed), sunflowers are blooming everywhere, hummingbirds are flitting about the impatiens and penstemons, birds are darting from feeder to feeder and worms appear in every shovel of earth disrupted. Yes, gardening is hard work but it can be ever so rewarding!
As always, thank you very kindly for reading. I pray your day has been blessed.
And now, some photos from the garden. Enjoy!
It is a bit chilly outside this Memorial Day. Well, the breeze is chilly anyway. The garden plants are swaying in the wind and I am enjoying the type of peace and quiet only a garden can provide. Directly in front of me are two large pots that could quite possibly accommodate small trees or shrubs if I were so inclined. Actually, now that I think back, at one point, I believe I did have some small conifers in each of these but they did not survive. For the last two years I have dedicated these pots to growing a very special flower – the Flanders Poppy. As you all know, I am a very sentimental gardener and this particular flower provides more sentiment than most other flowers I grow.
Today, as in most Memorial Days that have passed, I like to sit quietly and reflect. My garden, my solace, my one place I can commune quietly with my thoughts is in perfect form today. How fortunate I am! I have a home, food in the kitchen and a decent size garden to just sit and relax.
I watched a documentary last night on PBS that focused on those that lost their lives in World War I and II. Men and women as young as 18 or 19 died by the scores to save the world from tyranny. I am forty-seven and I have never been drafted nor have I been anywhere near a war. No, in my late teens and twenties I was out gallivanting around enjoying my freedom to do pretty much whatever I pleased. I never had to advance on a beach head attempting to dodge constant gunfire, secure a post deep in enemy territory knowing that any minute an explosive could go off and end it all or worry if a sniper was hiding somewhere ready to end my life. I never had bombs going off all around me as I watched my friends lose limbs or being blown to pieces. No, I have been blessed by not ever having to experience any of these things.
In one part of the documentary, it showed bombs hitting the ground and as they exploded it was as if a geyser of earth had erupted. The narrator then mentioned that men were buried alive under all the many tons of dirt and debris. Imagine that! You are marching forward and bombs fall and there is so much dirt and debris falling over you that you are buried alive. What an absolutely horrific way to die! Maybe if the fates were kind something would hit you on the head to either knock you out or kill you instantly as opposed to breathing in dirt and slowly suffocating.
Thinking about all this now actually has brought tears to my eyes. I think of all the black and white photos of men and women smiling in their uniform or pre-military photos of home life. Men and women who died. These people were someone’s father, mother, brother, sister, son or daughter and because of their bravery and selfless dedication, they gave their lives so that I can sit here in this garden enjoying a type of freedom most still only dream about. It is because of this I view this day not as a chance to have a three day weekend or perhaps take advantage of some sale, I consider it a duty of sorts to sit peacefully in quiet reflection and thank those from my heart who gave so much.
When the bombings were over and the earth was a disfigured war-torn mess, one beautiful thing did happen. Where once there were bodies,carnage and earth stained with blood, a flower grew. Poppies love to grow in disturbed earth as they need light to germinate. With all the seeds brought to the surface, the red of the blood spilled was replaced with the red of a most beautiful and humble flower. It is interesting to note that in many major wars throughout history, poppies would grow from the disturbed earth. With their soft, papery petals swaying in the wind, Lieutenant John McCrae was inspired to write a beautiful poem dedicated to the flower and honoring the men who perished.
Here is John McCrae’s poem as it appeared in the December 8th 2015 issue of Punch Magazine:
IN FLANDERS FIELDS
IN Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Every year I spread Flanders Poppy seeds in more and more places in the garden as it is my way of honoring and remembering. I absolutely love all poppies but there truly is something special about the small corn poppy now known as the Flanders Poppy. Beyond the confines of my own garden, it is my hope to inspire others to grow this flower in their own garden. If you live in a cooler climate, you can spread them in February or late autumn. If you live in a warmer climate, you can spread them in September. Not much is needed really. Just ensure the earth is a bit loose, grab a handful of seeds and broadcast them. That’s it. They will come up faithfully after the cool weather ends. When they have finished flowering, the dried seed heads can be pinched off and when you are ready to plant again just squeeze the dried seed pods to break open the hundreds of tiny seeds inside. To get you started, I definitely recommend buying your seeds from Botanical Interests. If you would like some of my seeds, please leave a message in the comments section and I will contact you asking for your address and will be happy to send you some.
As always, thank you very kindly for reading. I pray your day has been blessed.
Here are photos of the poppies that have graced my garden throughout the years:
I have just come in from a garden much different than the one I will be talking about in this week’s post. There are so many tasks to complete in the spring garden. I leave all the dead growth as is until winter releases its grasp. I like to imagine that by doing this, I am providing the resting plants blankets of sorts. When the frigid temperatures arrive, the once lush green dies and the stems turn all shades of golden yellow and brown. When the snow falls (of which there was not much to be had this year), the stems break and the cozy blanket is formed. Come spring, all this dead growth is in the way and must be cut back not only to allow for the new growth to poke through but also to beautify the garden a bit.
The dead growth may provide a sort of beauty in texture when contrasted with the white of the snow of winter but in the spring garden, it is an eyesore. And, so, the work continues. It seems that no matter how much I trim back (asters, mums, roses, borage, tansy, cone flowers, mints, etc.) there seems to be so much more left. I am getting there though – or at least I like to think I am. I guess I could be ruthless and just grab everything, yank it out, bag it and then smooth over the dirt but this is not my style. Further, if I were to do this, I would run the risk of ripping out the new seedlings (when it comes to self-seeding annuals) or (and I did this today by accident) rip out the new growth of a perennial. I was cutting away some gray, decaying borage when I grabbed a hold of what I thought was a dried borage stem but it was my globe mallow! I ripped it clean out and I noticed the tiny leaves at the base. “Oh no!” I exclaimed. But then I wondered what the plant actually was. It had a longish, horizontal stem. “That’s right! The Mallow” When I bought it, it had a long horizontal stem so I planted the whole thing along that horizontal edge in hopes little babies would spring from it. Well, my hopes have been realized but since it was completely unearthed, I hope I did not cause it too much harm. This is a VERY hardy plant so I am hopeful.
I have a very funny way of working in the garden. I will clear a bit but then I notice a pot that needs to have the soil churned. Once I get it cleared of old growth and roots and have all the soil within smooth and ready for planting, I grab some seeds (borage and mints are a favorite), remove my gloves and create my little rows with my bare fingers. There is nothing like the feel of cool, freshly prepared garden soil. I will often bury my hand deep within a pot searching for rogue root balls from last year’s annuals and then bring a whole handful to my nose where I then I inhale deeply. The aroma is so glorious! With my gloves still off, I will often notice some rogue dried plants that need clearing so without putting the gloves on again I will grab them all and break them up. This results in some very chaffed and cut up hands. I currently have some raspberry hairs in my fingertips not to mention the borage hairs. It’s okay though as this is all part of being connected to my little bit of earth so therefore no complaints. Well, the hairs are irritating if I am being honest. I have some wonderful gardener’s scrubbing soap that I bought from Botanical Interests. It is textured with poppy seeds so I will pause this post for now to really scrub my fingertips in hopes of getting some of these plant hairs to dislodge.
I am back and this exercise was pretty successful. Most if not all of the embedded hairs appear to be gone. This is a great soap!
I have learned over time to not underestimate Mother Nature during the spring months in Colorado. We can enjoy a week of beautiful weather in the mid 70’s and then, in an instant, it can change. The mercury can drop 30 – 40 degrees and then instead of the April rain showers, we get snow – heavy, wet snow. This happened a couple weeks ago and instead of stressing, I just let nature take its course. Usually I would be in a panic – “What about the daffodils! They will break! And the tender foliage emerging… The snow will flatten and ruin everything!” Well, let me just say, this storm did damage many a daffodil and yes, there were some plants completely flattened by the wet snow but they are bouncing back and in the end, my blood pressure was none the worse for wear.
I need to move beyond the tendency to mollycoddle my garden. Either the plants will survive or they won’t. With this concept in mind I really need to steer clear of plants that are not meant for my region. If I stick with natives (or hardy plants capable of surviving the unpredictability of the Colorado climate) I will have a much easier time of it. Not only would these types of plants adapt to our dry weather but they would also have sense enough to leaf out when they should and survive accordingly. Like most gardeners though, I am often tempted by all the beautiful plants on display at my local nursery but I am resisting these temptations this year. I mentioned in an earlier post I am growing a lot of my own plants from seed this year – hardy vegetables and annuals. This coupled with my existing water-smart perennials, I should be able to enjoy the garden more without fussing over it as much and worrying about hail, dry weather and the like. As time goes by, I will convert the entire garden to water-smart, xeriscape and other hardy varieties of plants and MAYBE, I can get to the point where I don’t even have to run the sprinklers. As I think of my pending water bills I realize how nice that truly would be.
For anyone trying to make something out of a little bit of earth – whether as a gardener or as a farmer, we find ourselves at the mercy of nature. Drought, hail, winds, late snows, early snows, sudden frosts, extreme heat, pests, opportunistic ‘weeds’ and the like can test the patience of a saint. And yet, through it all, we continue, we persevere, we learn and in the end, it is WE that adapt.
I thank you very kindly from my heart for reading the posts on this blog. It is my strongest desire that after you read my words, I have inspired you in some way to make something out of a bit of earth. A bit of earth – this reminds me of Mary Lennox in the ‘Secret Garden’ thus I will leave you with these words. Until next time, many blessings and Happy Gardening!
“Might I,” quavered Mary, “might I have a bit of earth?”
In her eagerness she did not realize how queer the words would sound and that they were not the ones she had meant to say. Mr. Craven looked quite startled.
“Earth!” he repeated. “What do you mean?”
“To plant seeds in–to make things grow–to see them come alive,” Mary faltered.
He gazed at her a moment and then passed his hand quickly over his eyes.
“Do you–care about gardens so much,” he said slowly.
“I didn’t know about them in India,” said Mary. “I was always ill and tired and it was too hot. I sometimes made little beds in the sand and stuck flowers in them. But here it is different.”
Mr. Craven got up and began to walk slowly across the room.
“A bit of earth,” he said to himself, and Mary thought that somehow she must have reminded him of something. When he stopped and spoke to her his dark eyes looked almost soft and kind.
“You can have as much earth as you want,” he said. “You remind me of some one else who loved the earth and things that grow. When you see a bit of earth you want,” with something like a smile, “take it, child, and make it come alive.”
“May I take it from anywhere–if it’s not wanted?”
“Anywhere,” he answered.
And now some photos from a winter’s garden in April
As promised in my last entry, I will continue my indoor gardening adventures. The topic today will be the first of many discussing the quintessential African violet.
It would be difficult to imagine any indoor garden being complete without a couple (interpret as dozens) of African violets gracing a window ledge or two or three. As an indoor gardener, we come by our obsession to grow these plants rather honestly. Raise your hand if your mom or grandma had African violets in the house. I thought so. Okay, you can put your hands down now. 🙂
Despite my mom’s success, it took me years to understand the nuances of growing violets. They are supposed to be easy plants but I actually find them difficult to this day. I recall a time when I thought I would be clever. I bought a pot of gargantuan proportions (think a size big enough to grow a ficus tree) and then I collected some rocks. The idea was to create a habitat similar to that of the native habitat of this beautiful, gracious, unassuming, amazing flower. Yes, the pot was giant but that was to accommodate the rocks and then I would sort of “squeeze” the flowers into the rock crevices and then I would have an amazing centerpiece for all to behold. Visitors would exclaim “Wow! I love what you have done here! Look at all these beautiful flowers growing as they would in the wild!” I would then smile inwardly. The joy for me would not be the accolades but the fact I could mimic a habitat. As a gardener – indoors or out – isn’t this our ultimate aim? Well, sadly, the venture proved very unsuccessful. Watering was a problem. Either the soil would be too dry or too wet. Looking back, I suppose I should have filled half the pot with perlite. That probably would have helped a lot. Now that I think about it, I am sure it would have helped tremendously. I may try this again one day but not before I master the art of growing these plants perfectly. By that I mean, I grow them without any issues and even get to the point where I can propagate my own plants. Once I have that down, I will revisit this idea.
Of course, by the name alone, we know these plants come from Africa – but where? I always envisioned an open forest floor dappled with enough sunshine to allow these plants to grow, thrive and multiply. Not true actually. This humble violet’s native habitat is within the rain forests of Tanzania specifically in the Nguru mountains. I learned this after reading probably one of the best written articles about this beautiful plant we all love and enjoy. Not only does it shed some light on the violet’s native habitat but it also raises awareness of its plight in the wild. I strongly encourage you to read it. You will be happy you did — particularly if you love African violets. Here is the link.
This image says it all when trying to determine how to best grow these plants. They grow in small nooks and crannies and love being root bound. In fact, it is my understanding that the plants will not bloom if they are not root bound and now that I think of my own successes and failures, this theory does seem to hold true.
Why do I have Such a Hard Time Growing African violets?
Well, to start, I believe I treat the African violet as I would an atypical houseplant. I have killed many by over watering. I have killed many more by under watering. I have grown in normal pots, specialized ceramic pots that have an outer pot for water and an inner pot that gradually soaks up the water over time and now I use Oyama pots. Even though the Oyama pot is superior in every way I learned that I have been using the pots incorrectly. Like the ceramic African violet pots, there is an outer container where you place water up to a certain line. You then plant the violet in the inner pot and again the idea is that it soaks up water as it needs it. Well, on the inside of this pot is a recess where you are meant to put in some perlite. What happens if you don’t do that? The soil clumps in that recess and one of two things will happen. Either the water will not penetrate through that clump or it will hold onto water like a sponge. So, you will end up killing the violet either by dehydration or by root rot. You see now perhaps why I consider these plants difficult!
Time for Some Education!
This past weekend, the Rocky Mountain African Violet Council had their annual spring show at my local garden center Tagawa Gardens. Oh! How I do love a visit to Tagawa! Having the African Violet Council there was a bonus. I gingerly made my way to the area where the African Violet show was set up. I quietly asked if there would be anyone who could help me determine the problems with my violets. I brought three of my worst. One had a very long neck due to many of the leaves dying, another had crumpled leaves and looked pathetic and the other, a trailer, had many dead leaves around the bottom, I thought for sure it was well on its way toward death.
A very nice lady named Sharon assisted me and then took me over to one of the more senior members of the group and I was told I over potted one, watered another too much and didn’t water another enough. As I listened, I consoled myself with thoughts of “but, I am trying so hard”. I then softly said “Can you help me?” and Sharon sprang into action. The first thing I needed was smaller pots. Her enthusiasm excited me. We bolted into the store on a mission. I purchased some small 3 ½” pots, soil and perlite. We then went back to all the tables, cleared a spot and began our surgical work.
I explained that I was contemplating throwing the sadder two violets out so if this experiment didn’t go well, all was fine. We removed the worst of the three, cleaned off the roots and then decided it would be best to cut off nearly all of the stem – roots included. With a snip, it was done. We then sprinkled some rooting powder on it and she explained I would need to put a baggy over it when I got home as it will gather its water from the humidity in the bag since it had no roots to gather water from the soil.
Here are some photos highlighting the process:
Once surgery was complete, the small, fragile violet was tucked into a pot and all that is left now is to hope it makes it through. That would be a tremendous blessing if it did.
We then worked on the other two violets. Here is the trailer getting its spa treatment of dead leaf removal:
Sharon removed all the dead leaves she could. We then set it aside and prepared the pot – properly by filling the recess with perlite.
And the violet in its improved home:
Sharon put me in charge of potting the final violet. This violet had a salvageable root system but I did remove several leaves and ran by thumbnail over the neck.
Here it is nearly ready to be potted up:
There we have it! All three violets are now in an upstairs room where I have a mini humidifier running 24/7 trying to mimic their native environment if only just a little bit. I will keep you updated as time goes by. I will close for now but before I do, I want to share with you the progress of my seeds!
What you see below are (in order) lobelia, alyssum, tomato, ancho peppers, tomatoes. I am still learning the nuances of growing plants from seeds and already I have lost some but I planted so many, all should still be fine. Further, I should not have started peppers and tomatoes in the same tray as the ground covers due to the different needs of the plants. Still, this is farther than I got last year so I remain hopeful. Thank you all very kindly for reading and if you liked what you read, please share or leave a comment. Until next time, many blessings and Happy Gardening!
And now for some photos and what else but photos of violets!
Is it spring or winter?
As I mentioned in my last post, my garden was responding to the unseasonably warm temperatures. The daffodils were rising ever higher toward the sky, clover was sprouting all throughout, irises were poking through, more violas were springing up in containers and all throughout the garden, chives and garlic onions were poking through the earth and if I am not mistaken, there was a mass of Flander’s poppy seedlings emerging. I say all these things in the past tense because the garden was quite rightly responding to what they perhaps considered an early spring. Then, in typical Colorado fashion, it turned very cold and six inches of snow blanketed everything. Snow is a natural insulator so I am not too worried but I can’t imagine these upstarts are enjoying the sudden rudeness of the cold. Maybe they are? I mean I LOVE the snow so perhaps they are enjoying it as well.
It is currently a balmy 41 degrees outside and the snow is disappearing rapidly. I am a strong proponent of conserving as much water as possible so I have been removing the snow from the stamped patio, the furniture, etc. and piling it in the various beds. We live in an Alpine desert environment so water is extremely precious and I garden with that in mind. As the snow recedes, I can see that the plants braving the sporadic nature of late winter don’t look too worse for wear. Unless we have another incredible heat spell, I think slow and steady will be the name of the game for the bulbs, etc. and those other plants that have yet to grace my garden will do so at a more appropriate time – I hope.
Seed Starting Indoors
This is the year I shall take my indoor seed starting very seriously! Last year, I started my seeds too late and because my grow rack is down in the basement, I learned so many important lessons. One – It is chilly down in the basement, thus don’t expect the seedlings to be too robust without a heating mat. Two – Sporadic watering is not a good way to ensure success. In fact, letting your delicate seedlings dry out is a very quick way to kill them quickly. You would think I would know better.
Well, this year, I built a bigger rack and I attached the light properly (with the help of my handyman). Next I bought a self-contained kit which includes a 72-cell tray, a lid AND most crucial, a heating mat. It is made by a company called Hydrofarm and I bought it from my local garden center. It has mixed reviews on Amazon but considering it is under $40, I am hoping to have success with it.
With everything set up, I filled the cells with some Jiffy mix and then selected some seeds. Here is what I chose to get started:
These selections were purchased from Botanical Interests.
All the seeds were planted on February 22nd and yesterday I noticed some alyssum sprouts! This is a bit farther than what I got last year. Once the true leaves form on the alyssum, I will get them transferred out of the dome and into some paper pots. I need to purchase a second light, another mat and perhaps some other accessories such as a temperature regulator for the mats and timers for the lights. This can get very expensive very quickly but after this initial investment, the savings will be realized when I am not buying full grown plants from the nurseries. Anyone reading this knows that it is very difficult to walk out of a nursery without spending over $100.00 – particularly when you go in early spring and are very anxious to get immediate satisfaction with instant color!
What’s Happening Indoors?
The botanic gardens currently has a fantastic selection of orchids on display – most likely to entice more people to visit during the “drab” winter months. I don’t find winter drab at all. I find it peaceful and quiet. For me, the ideal time to go to the botanic gardens is during the winter for these very reasons. I am invigorated by cold so that doesn’t bother me either. Saying this, when I go to the gardens this time of year, I am there to take photos of dried seed heads or perhaps something exciting in the tropical conservatory.
A few weeks ago, I was delighted to see the many varieties of orchids and I enjoyed taking several photos of them:
Well, as luck would have it (I say with a tad of sarcasm) there was a local nursery selling some of these beautiful orchids. “Oh no!” I thought to myself. I have tried growing orchids before. I mean, how can anyone resist trying to grow these beauties at least once? That ended badly. Once those first blooms were spent, the plant never bloomed again. Was it light? Water? Too much or too little of each? I read that they like this or love that so was trying so many different things. In the end, I think I watered it too much (or maybe too little, I don’t know) and the stalks withered away to nothing. “No more orchids!” I exclaimed resolutely.
This crafty vendor proudly displayed her wares directly adjacent to the entrance of the orangery. Tuning into my affinity for her beautiful specimens, she softly and sweetly asked what I thought of her orchids. I was taking photos of them so I smiled and said I love them very much. “We have several varieties that will grow well in a bright spot of the home” she added.
“Oh, I am sure” I replied with a giggle. I then explained my woes of past growing experiences.
She then grabbed the specimen I was drooling over and had previously photographed. “I see you like this one.”
I swallowed hard. “Yes, it is so beautiful.”
“Well this guy is so easy to grow” she chirped. “All you need is a bright window facing south and this orchid will bloom for you easily.” She went on to describe its watering and feeding needs along with another declaration of how easy it was to grow.
I held this forbidden bit of temptation in my hand. “Look, she said. I have one here where the pods haven’t opened yet! Do you have a south facing window?”
“Just say no, just say no,” I repeated to myself “and this whole affair will be finished in one fell swoop.”
“Yes, I do” I said. “It is very bright and I have a coffee plant growing there along with other plants that love bright lights.”
“What! What are you saying! Stop, NOW!” I exclaimed to myself.
“Well, this would go perfectly in that window, don’t you think?” The sweet lady asked with the sincerest tone.
“It would actually” I said with a smile that stretched from Colorado to Texas.
I had to concede. I had to! I mean, look at this plant. This is MY plant after the pods opened. I listened carefully to all the advice this wonderful woman was willing to part with including light suggestions (my orchid would love the bright, south facing window) and water (at least once a week, don’t let it dry out).
“Do you have food?” She asked.
“I have some from when I tried this a long time ago. It is some smelly yellow powder” I responded.
“I have something here that we make ourselves.” She then handed me a tub full of white and green dots. It was almost like getting handed a serving of Dippin’ Dots. The tag of $20.00 was displayed prominently. “This is quite expensive” I stated after tallying in my head what all this was going to cost me (as you can see from the photos above, I also picked up another beautiful orchid — Neostylis Lou Sneary ‘Blue Bird’ — oh and a pot for the Cattleya).
“You only need ½ teaspoon” she returned. “So, this tub should last you a year. Do you have African violets?”
“I sure do” I responded happily because I am always on the lookout for a decent violet food.
“You can use this for your violets as well. They’ll love it!”
“I’ll get it!” And with that, after not intending to buy a single thing, I purchased two orchids and this wonderful, homemade orchid food. I was feeling good and optimistic about my purchases!
Before I left the gardens that day, I noticed (conveniently) they had several books on orchid care in the gift shop. I started thumbing through one called “The Orchid Whisperer”. I resolved to buy it but to save money would buy it online. I hate to say that but I dropped nearly $100.00 on the orchids, food, etc. and being on a budget, saving $15.00 on a book was very appealing.
Well, my orchid buying adventures went on for a bit there so discussing all my other indoor gardening adventures must wait until next time. I will end by saying that my orchids are still doing well and I am learning a lot from my book. I will touch more on that next time as well. Until then, happy growing. May you all have a very blessed day and as always, thank you so kindly for reading!
And, now some garden photos!
Sitting Outside on a Sunny, Mild Day
The wind blows gently but steadily throughout my winter garden. The chimes provide the melody while the swaying dried grasses create the chorus. There are still leaves blowing about the lawn and the patio seeking a home for the remainder of the winter. I leave them wherever they end up. They will hopefully find some place nice to settle in, sleep and transform. As they decay, they will provide much needed nutrients for the worms within the earth allowing for the cycle of life to complete. All summer they cleaned the air I breathe. Bits of flowing green gathering carbon, singing and dancing allowing the odd insect to have a nibble now and again. As the days grew shorter and the nights cooler, the roots sent the signal to the trunk who sent a signal to the leaves – it is time for rest. The leaves responded. Now, there are only a few clinging dried leaves on the trees but that will change.
It is days like today where I feel the pull to garden a bit stronger than usual. It got up to 65 today and I took a leisurely stroll through the entire garden. If Alice Morse Earle were here, she would be absolutely delighted by the viola blooms. I have two of them if you can believe it! Not to mention, there is a snap dragon beneath the cluster of aspens near the house that still has green leaves. How inspiring nature can be with her tenacity and fortitude.
Interlude from Old Time Gardens
I wanted to include this segment from Alice’s book “Old Time Gardens”. The words are so wonderful and beautifully characterizes this humble little plant.
For several years the first blossom of the new year in our garden was neither the Snowdrop nor Crocus, but the Ladies’ Delight, that laughing, speaking little garden face, which is not really a spring flower, it is a stray from summer; but it is such a shrewd, intelligent little creature that it readily found that spring was here ere man or other flowers knew it. This dear little primitive of the Pansy tribe has become wonderfully scarce save in cherished old gardens like those of Salem, where I saw this year a space thirty feet long and several feet wide, under flowering shrubs and bushes, wholly covered with the everyday, homely little booms of Ladies’ Delights. They have the party-colored petal of the existing strain of English Pansies, distinct from the French and German pansies, and I doubt not are the cherished garden children of the English settlers. Gerarde describes this little English Pansy or Heartsease in 1587 under the name of Viola tricolor: –
“The flouers in form and figure like the Violet, and for the most part of the same Bignesse, of three sundry colours, purple, yellow and white or blew, by reason of the beauty and braverie of which colours they are very pleasing to the eye, for smel they have little or none.”
Signs of Life
It is now nearly 4:30 in the late afternoon and I am sitting outside allowing the setting sun to wash against my face. I filled up all the bird feeders and a group of finches and nuthatches are darting about enjoying a feast of shelled sunflower seeds, whole sunflower seeds and a variety of nuts. In the distance a jay is calling out. Yes, I have food for you as well. Just come and look. I have a whole feeder of cracked corn and whole peanuts just waiting for you.
I went off topic a bit there. As I was saying, I took a leisurely stroll through the entire garden. Beyond the two little brave violas and snapdragons, verbascum leaves are popping up everywhere, the ajuga chocolate chip is also demonstrating its desire to wake from its winter slumber. Well, don’t be fooled my friend. The cold, bitter temperatures will return with a vengeance I am sure. Then again, we may get lucky as we sometimes do and the rest of the winter will be mild. The snow-in-summer leaves are gorgeous right now and they are faring wonderfully. The leaves on the early spring blooming phacelia have been pretty much evergreen. I am already looking for their gorgeous lavender clusters of flowers. Oh! Just near the ajuga and one of the small violas, I can see the tips of some bulbs! The only bulbs in this area are daffodils – unless a squirrel played gardener again. It is a bit early for them but still this provides an early reminder that spring will soon be here.
At the top of the garden in the water smart garden, the silver edged horehound is still green and of course the sedum is draping beautifully over the rocks. Under the kitchen window the dragon’s blood sedum and vinca have been enduring the cold and I know they are eager to stretch their legs a bit. At the bottom of the garden where a grove of bee balms grow, I was amazed by how perfect the creeping Veronica looks. Once those warm days and evenings arrive, I have much to look forward to with this plant.
The excitement is building and already I have visions of what I hope to see this spring and summer. Last year the anemone Coronaria provided me with some exquisite blooms. I did not remove the corms so I am hoping they will survive the winter though odds would suggest they won’t. The star attraction under the kitchen window where the vinca and sedum grow are the old fashioned irises. Last year I had plenty of foliage but no blooms. I am hoping to be greeted by fragrant blooms this year.
In my mind, I have a myriad of tasks to carry out and it won’t be long before I can get to work. In the interim, the sun is setting on this small winter garden so I should think about getting inside. I ordered some biodegradable pots from Botanical Interests today and when they arrive, I shall get some lobelia and peppers started and maybe a few herbs. I am getting a bit of a head start considering I won’t be able to put my plants into the earth until mid-May. No matter. They can grace the inside of the house with wonder as they emerge and grow all the while staring outside waiting for their day in the summer sun.
I thank you kindly for reading! Blessings to you all and happy gardening!
And now some more winter garden photos!
The Bellis Perennis Obsession
The lunatic is on the grass.
The lunatic is on the grass.
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.
Got to keep the loonies on the path.
This is a snippet of the lyrics for Brain Damage by Pink Floyd. Every time I hear it I think of my time in England and the profusion of white lawn daisies – Bellis Perennis – that would adorn each and every lawn for miles around come spring. Lawn purists hate the lawn daisy because it can grow lower than the grass is being cut and just like our dandelion, the little white daisy soon pokes through taunting said purist. I could never understand how anyone could not want this flower to grow en masse but alas.
The lawn daisy, to me, is such an amazingly beautiful little flower that evokes pure happiness and joy. Lazy summer days sitting on the grass making daisy chains is something all should experience. Should you not know what a daisy chain is, basically, you pick the daisy as far down as possible ensuring you have plenty of stem. You then join each stem of each daisy forming a circle. That circle can be as big or as small as you like. A scene comes to mind of a young girl making a chain big enough to fit over her head. Pure joy!
Even Chaucer adored this beautiful simple flower:
But for to looke upon the daisie,
That well by reason men it call may
The daisie, or els the eye of the day,
The empress and floure of floures all,
I pray to God that faire mote she fall,
And all that loven floures for her sake.
Longing for those days in an English Garden
As the years have passed, the longing for the ideal gardening conditions of England has not really dissipated. There were plenty of plants that graced my English garden I never thought twice about or in some instances actually considered a nuisance (geraniums for example) that I now tend to pine for. An English garden is something extraordinary to behold and when I find myself missing my own personal piece of paradise of yore, I attempt to grow plants from my gardening past. There is always the hope that perhaps I will get it right and the plants will move beyond survival and actually thrive.
While I could easily find the taller, Bellis perennis double varieties at practically any garden center, this is not the simple lawn daisy I was longing for. They are too fancy for a start and they are not the English lawn daisy I knew and loved. Trying to find plants proved impossible so I had to opt for seeds. I found a good vendor selling them on eBay. I just checked my online order history and it seems I started this project to grow lawn daisies in July of 2012 which would have been one month after moving into this house. I am trying to remember now where I would have planted them. I have a bed along my right fence that I dug out for the purpose of growing bulbs. It is quite possible I planted them there but if that bed was not formed yet, I would have planted them somewhere else – perhaps under my aspen in the retaining wall. I wish I had created a journal entry to mark the occasion.
Regardless, it seems this endeavor failed because I ordered more May 24th 2014. I do have a journal entry for that and I did plant them in the bulb bed near the front. Here is that entry:
Seed planting! I have been putting random seeds in random locations. For example I potted up the sweet potato vines in the hanging baskets and added some sweet peas along with borage. I took a bunch of miscellaneous seeds including some Achillea and broadcast among the withering bulbs. I also planted some Flanders Poppies. My Bellis perennis seeds arrived and I planted them at the base of the bulb bed. My Phacelia also arrived and I planted them in the right corner near the patio where I placed some Gladiola bulbs. I also put some in four small starting pots and they now sit on the dining table outside. They are also planted in the black planter near the old stand where the converted watering can sits. I hope to see them come up.
The Ever Changing Garden!
I am amused by that old journal entry. While it does accurately record my first planting of the Bellis, I realize that the other seeds planted are now nowhere near their original locations. The Phacelia now is controlled to one area under the kitchen window for example. It is only this season that I had a successful bloom of the Flanders poppies and I never did see the achillea come up. Well, just today I was cleaning up that bulb bed a bit and I think I did see some small sprouts of achillea but it is doubtful they are from that original broadcasting of seeds but the result of my residing birds doing their own bit of gardening.
So, what happened to the Bellis planted in the bulb bed? Well, they came up and I did receive a few small blooms but I discovered a problem. They were growing way too close to the lawn. Now, I know that these plants can be mowed down to ground level and would come back and bloom BUT that was in the ideal growing conditions of England. Here, in my arid, cold Colorado garden, I was not willing to risk putting any stress on these plants so I had to schedule a surgical procedure. I took out my Hori-Hori and dug deep down in a perfect circle around the healthiest specimens and managed to extract a large clump. I then found a space that received morning sun only, cleared it out, amended the soil with all sorts of yummy compost and the like and transplanted the clump.
Post-surgery, I monitored my patient and I babied it something terrible. I hand watered it and ensured no weed came near it. The area I cleared out was of decent size and I thought perhaps my little Bellis Perennis clump could use some company so I performed another surgical procedure. This time, I lifted some Labrador violets and placed them to the left of the clump of daisies. Days and weeks passed and both patients seemed to have adapted quite nicely. Oh, the reason I moved the violets is due to them being planted in an area that had wonderful deep, morning shade but then horrible, menacing afternoon heat and these plants do not like full sun let alone full afternoon sun!
The summer of 2015 came to a close and autumn arrived in grand fashion raining down reds, oranges and gold’s upon the earth. I raked these gifts over my patients tucking them in for a long winter’s nap. After winter released its grasp from the land, I was once again amazed by all the new life in the garden. I slowly removed a portion of the earthly blanket I created from my two patients and was so happy to see green underneath. Weeks passed and soon, the last frost date arrived so it was time to clear the entire blanket of leaves not just from the Bellis but from all parts of the garden. Each day more and more leaves appeared on my treasured plants and then I was graced with blooms. Success and blessings!
Today, as summer starts to wind down, the Bellis Perennis patch is not much to look at but there is a decent amount of growth and there have been many, many flowers and I am confident the seeds are making traveling plans in their quest to spread throughout this entire space and beyond. Well, that is what I would like to hope. Next spring shall tell.
Some say there is no room for sentimentality in a garden. Some adopt the notion of ruthlessness when it comes to achieving the perfect ‘look’ for their little bit of earth. Why? Yes, you can come to regret it if you are not actively maintaining your garden. You know, the usual deadheading, trimming, dividing, weeding and the like are integral to the success of any garden but some take it a step further and refuse to allow anything that does not ‘fit’. Take the manicured lawn scenario for example. A greater portion of our population will go to great lengths to ensure there is no form of adulteration within their patches of green. Yes, a lawn is gorgeous but it is also a menace. Perhaps not so much if you live in England where you have the rainfall to sustain the perfect lawn but for where I live, one can waste so much time and more important WATER trying to achieve the perfect lawn. Come Late July, early August, no matter your efforts, your lawn is going to be more brown than the coveted green. Thank you to those wonderful watering restrictions! (And I mean this most sincerely)
Sorry, I went on a tangent.
I get attached to plants. I am sentimental and I make no apologies for it. I love the stories behind the plants and I have shared one such story with you today. I hope it has inspired you. Perhaps you too have a special plant you have cultivated in your garden that evokes some special memory. If so, please share. Have I inspired you to grow the humble lawn daisy of old? If so, here is where you can order some seeds.
Put some down in the autumn and see if you get some sprouts in early spring. I promise you will be delighted by these petite, humble white flowers popping up to greet you throughout the late spring and early summer – and if you are lucky in early autumn.
I thank you kindly for reading! Blessings to you all and happy gardening!
PS: Oh, yes, after that horrific hail storm mentioned in last post, I am very pleased to say that overall the garden DID bounce back for the most part. Yes, I lost some plants, the trees were damaged as was the roof of our house but overall, after all is said and done, the garden doesn’t look too worse for wear. And now, some photos!
Well, this is NOT the Bellis Perennis article I have spoke so much about. 🙂
I sit here now, dejected, demoralized and on the verge of tears. No sooner was I wrapping up the previous post, preparing photos, etc. did a huge storm role in. Sitting having my lunch and watching a bit of Little House thinking I would head outside to take more photos but use the monopod, the entire room went dark. A storm was closing in and fast. The rain started lightly, then as the winds kicked up, sheets of moisture fell and then crash, crash, bang, crack. My garden was once again under assault. Let me say this, the hail storm mentioned in the first entry consisted of marble sized stones. The stones that fell just now were slightly smaller than a golf ball. My garden can typically sustain such an assault as long as there aren’t many stones and it ends relatively quickly. Not this time. The stones fell quickly and accumulated everywhere once again giving the illusion of snow.
I revert back to the quote from Old Herbaceous:
The gardener is a frustrated being for whom flowers never bloom at the right moment. Change and decay in all around he sees. It is all very sad, and how gardeners manage to keep going in the face of such adversities is one of those things that no fellow will ever understand.
In my current frame of mind, I don’t feel much like carrying on this season. The sunflowers mentioned in the large resin pot? Stripped. The budding poppies I was so happy to see this morning? Gone. What can I do now I am thinking to myself. At this moment, it is proving difficult to hold true to the philosophy mentioned in the previous post — nature’s will be done and perhaps she will be kind enough to leave us with something beautiful — a reward if you will for all of our hard work. I don’t know this time. I just don’t know. It is moments like this when one wants to give up but these words are formed when the wounds are so raw both in the literal sense with the plants outside and with the man typing these words inside.
I will close this for now but wanted to share this all with you. Thank you for reading. Have you suffered any setbacks with your gardening endeavors? Please share if you have. Together we can help one another with words of encouragement. Blessings to you all.
I realize in my last entry I promised a feature on my Bellis Perennis and that is most definitely forthcoming. I promise. In fact, it is very nearly complete. Right now, I have this story that is begging to be written.
(Started writing this 14 June)
According to the forecasts, yesterday was going to be a cool day by all accounts with showers appearing off and on. The prognostications proved valid. The blessing of rain did fall heavily at times as clouds rolled in and then fluttered off nearly as quickly.
And then . . .
Like any self respecting monsoonal type moisture, the cold, dark sky opened up and released a brutal torrent of moisture. This moisture wrapped in ice pounded the ground relentlessly. No amount of sun could assist in softening it before it pummeled the earth below. All I could hear from the safety of my room were the stones bouncing off of every surface followed by steady accumulation. I wanted to close myself down as I did not want to imagine what this profusion of dark, icy moisture was doing to the plants below. So much fell so quickly the earth turned white as it piled up. The resemblance to snow was perfect and like a late spring snow storm, this storm would prove just as detrimental to my gardening efforts.
Where I have chosen to live and garden brings with it an inherited risk. The growing season can end abruptly as an early autumnal frost is not uncommon. Yes, certain plants will recover but usually that signals the beginning of the end for my little Rocky Mountain garden. When spring arrives, the excitement of all the new growth can be hampered by heavy, late spring snows crushing emerging bulbs and slowing down the growth of certain perennials even causing a bit of frost bite. This year I tried in vane to cover some of my daffodils and alliums. The snow was so heavy it sent my little makeshift tent crashing to the ground. Generally speaking, we are usually ‘safe’ from frost by Memorial Day which is observed on the last Monday in May for those who are not from the US. We typically get some decent spring rains but with that, comes the strong possibility of hail and this hail can be devastating to a garden shredding plants down to bare stems, defoliating trees and if a plant does survive the onslaught, it will end up with holes in the foliage which leaves it vulnerable to infection and bug infestation.
I could not bring myself to go outside after the storm. I am not my best in the evenings as I am very much a morning person so I knew any observations of damage would be skewed and considered worse than they actually appeared. The next morning I completed my work out, made my breakfast and with trepidation stepped outside. Upon exiting the house, the first plants I see are the annuals within the Talavera pots section. I have two large resin pots flanking the entrance to the main garden. There, I have volunteer plants growing including Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, Zinnias (though I only see one coming back this year), violas, etc. Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate should be an easy plant to grow but here, they never look their best. One hail storm and you end up with this or if the hail is really bad, worse. This photo was taken at the time of my publishing this article so there are signs of recovery.
I planted up some sunflowers in the other pot and thus far they are faring well and were not greatly impacted by the storm. As I progressed into the garden, I was very sad to notice that my Flanders Poppies were shredded. I then completed my tour of the disaster area and concluded that overall things were not too horrible and as mentioned, today, the garden is recovering nicely. It is this optimism that prompted me to create this post. As gardeners, we experience the best and the worst that nature has to offer and at the end of the day, like all things in life, we just have to hope for the best. We have to believe that in the end, nature’s will be done and perhaps she will be kind enough to leave us with something beautiful — a reward if you will for all of our hard work.
There is a passage in one of my favorite gardening books that summarizes what I am trying to convey beautifully. Taken from Old Herbaceous by Reginald Arkell.
The gardener is a frustrated being for whom flowers never bloom at the right moment. Change and decay in all around he sees. It is all very sad, and how gardeners manage to keep going in the face of such adversities is one of those things that no fellow will ever understand.
Thank you kindly for reading and I pray your garden has presented you with more blessings than heartache. Do you have a success story this season you wish to share? Please do! I would love to hear from you. Have a photo of a beautiful bloom you are proud of? I would love to see it. Until next time, I wish you a blessed day and Happy Gardening!
Now for some images of seasonal blooms: