Flowers for Fun

It’s happening! It’s been so long since I’ve had a gardening vision take physical shape and I can’t believe it’s really happening. I’ve been floating on clouds (sinking in mud?) all week, every time I look out the window.

To start, here’s what I was working with:

Before photoThe long explanation is that I’m tired of planting foundation plants and watching them get eaten by deer, burnt by sun, lashed by wind, situated in poor locations then put in proper locations where they look even punier, and worse. This year I gave up (not completely: fertilizing is done, I’ve been researching when to prune, and I am trying to pay closer to attention to where the plants want to be. Just not focusing all of my energy here). I decided I wanted pure fun, a place to grow my Montana wildflowers and where my roses could shine. I decided on this particular spot because it gets great sun, I have a wonderful view of it from the nursery and I am sick of doing 100 little circles trying to get this area mowed – now it’s just one big circle to work around.

Chris and I started the garden last week by creating an outline with a hose to establish our borders and agree on the general size of what we wanted. Next, we  took spade to dirt and began clearing out the grass and loosening up the soil as we worked. We slapped a wide-brimmed gardening hat on our little Rose, but after the first minor leaf-eating-vomiting incident, we invited her grandmother to come visit and keep her giggling while we worked. So as of yesterday, voila, here’s what we have:

Rose's GardenMy goal was to have a sitting area where I could enjoy the pond, kids at play, the smell of flowers, the shade of the dogwood. In the background several new India Hawthorne were added to expand on the ones I already have (those dead-looking but not dead-acting plants on the right. Deer-resistant does not mean deer-proof, clearly, and I’ll be dealing with that this winter). Behind the bench is my potted rose, which it turns out has sent tendrils of root well beyond the pot. On either side is mounding artemesia, which I chose because it is incredibly soft and adds a fun dimension to the garden. In the foreground are my incredible fall daisies.

Pond ViewThere’s still a lot of empty space, but that’s another factor I was aiming for. My goal is to ultimately have color in this garden from at least March to November, from the first crocus to the last pansy. I’m going to try to control myself and add a little more each month until I have a complete firework, from initial spark to the big bursting bang and the last awe-inspiring fizzle. On the list: butterfly-attracting lantana for the height of summer, as well as sunshiny coreopsis and coneflowers, asters for fall, .

Sitting SpotThe one thing I am going to rush out to buy is a fun staked drink holder … and a couple yards of mulch.

Soaring

This isn’t exactly a garden post: this is a “I yearn to be outside all day again” post. This is about the latest inhabitant of my little oasis. No, not that one. This one:

HawkBeautiful, isn’t she? She’s been hanging out around the back yard all winter. Maybe she’s been waiting for the fish to come back or maybe Akira has made the moles easy picking for her. Or maybe she just likes the view. But just when I think she’s found a better hunting ground, there she is, sitting on a fencepost or swooping past the nursery window to perch on the porch eaves.

Red Tail Hawk

Some days when the sun is just right, she really glows. Her tail takes on a warm rust color and her cream belly seems to reflect the sun. And she always seems to patient and content, as if there were nowhere in the world she’d rather be than just where she is.

This morning was the first time I really had a chance to capture her. Usually just as I’ve attached the zoom lens, she’s disappeared into the sky. But today my hawk spent hours at the top of this tree, quietly watching the world wake up.

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I suppose I’m a little jealous of her. Last year the cold didn’t slow me down, but this year getting outside is a little more of an endeavor. Akira, the little Rosebud and I are spending a lot of time looking out the windows and talking about spring. Which isn’t such a bad thing – it’s good to have a plan when it comes to gardening. But this year, I don’t think spring can come too soon. I’m ready to set out and explore too.

Soaring Hawk

Return of the Dirt People

I know, I haven’t posted in quite a while. Well, I haven’t gardened in quite a while either. Perhaps you remember my pitifully short garden to do list from last year? I do. It haunts me. Daily. And in my mind it has grown exponentially.

But I’ve been a tad bit busy. Since my little Rose (what else?) was born in July, I have managed to get into the garden roughly four times. You see, there are many (surprisingly many) things one can do with an infant tied strategically to one’s chest but if gardening is one of those things, well I haven’t figured out how. But the little Rose did sit in her bouncy chair in September for a few minutes while I pulled weeds (until I realized I was pulling with a tad too much enthusiasm and the little one had a head full of dirt). Then in October I spent half an hour doing my winter pruning in a mad effort to take down the roses; in November I finally moved the daisies; and in December I emptied three of the five bags of mulch sitting in my driveway. Ta-da.

By New Year’s Eve I had drawn multiple plans for next year’s garden and had a head full of dreams.

Some of those dreams involve a tiny trowel and pail for my little helper. Others involve the daisies.

I was very excited for this particular transplant.

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The daisies had been growing radically taller than the juniper and Japanese maple bordering them, embarrassing my little tree and shrubs in their white-petaled exuberance. Finally I decided on a spot to move these hardy flowers: just outside the tidy borders of the mulch that surrounds the pond. Right now the remains of the daisies look like little renegades, just toeing the line of mulch. But to my way of thinking, this was the first step to what will be a glorious cut-flower bed later this summer. I’m mentally picking out mass plantings in such a way that I’m hoping to ultimately have blooms from the first yellow daffodils and tulips in March and April to the last pansies of December. Lantana. Coreopsis. Black-eyed Susans. Thick lamb’s ear around the feet of a little white bench… ahhh. Just saying the names is a mantra more relaxing than any yoga class (as if I had time for that either).

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Will it work out? Who knows. But on days when the clouds are hanging so low that even the dog will only hang half her body outside her little door, this girl’s gotta dream about the garden.

The 10-Year Plan

I think the biggest surprise I’ve gotten out of this year’s blooms is how happy I’ve been with the way my garden looks now. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a ton I want to improve and there have been some sad, scraggly looking bushes. But it’s evident even the worst offender is growing, and some doing even better than that.

Take the irises, for example. They were a gorgeous treat all through May. I’ll have to divide them this fall because they’re doing so very well, and I love the thought that something in this yard is established.

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By the time the sunshine knock-out roses began doing their thing, the hybrid sage was in full purple glory, and things really looked like I’d actually planned this work of art.

Roses and Irises

This ties in, in part, to a fantastic article I read in the January/February 2013 issue of Gardening How-To. The article, “Worth the Wait” by Sarah Dorison (page 32), talked about the need for patience in starting a garden from scratch. Dorison profiled the owner of a landscape design company who advises “Paper first, backhoe second.”

Part of why this article so inspired me was the photos by Janet Loughrey. The “before” photos could have been my, or anyone’s, backyard. It was a square with a few neatly mulched trees. The “after” photo, however included a neat lawn, a lovely pond adjacent to a tidy patio, with all manner of wildflowers and cozy spitting spots corralled by beds of mulch – very much the look to which I aspire.

I’ve also read reminders recently (although the source unfortunately escapes me) that after three years a shrub starts to look established, after five years it begins to look like it’s meant to be in that spot, and after ten years you can’t tell it hasn’t always been there forever. Well, for many of my plants, this year marks the three-year point. There are still some scraggly beasts, and some that haven’t fared so well, and many that need a good pruning, but for the most part the plan is starting to look like just that.

Now, the only downside to this 10-year plan I’m working on is that I’m ready to establish new things now, since I know just how long there is to wait. But drawing is for this year’s to-do list, and planting is for next year!

Iris Beauty

My Summer To-Do List

Being a mom has already proven to be hard work, and I still have several more months to go before my garden-helper-to-be is out in the world. The hardest part for me has simply been that every time I bend down to pull a weed, it takes five minutes, a backache and a bad batch of heartburn before I can struggle my way upright. And digging holes? Forgetaboutit. Urgh.

For the time being, I’m stuck making lists, planning ahead, and pointing (much to the chagrin of husband and every strong-backed individual who has the misfortune to wander too close to my garden paradise). I think I’ve found a few small things I can do, though, and I thought I’d make a to-do list so that by fall I can look back and say, “Well, I accomplished something.” (In addition to giving birth and all that jazz, of course.)

1. Lawn care. Ok, this one falls into the point-and-plead arena, but I thought it would be worth putting on the list simply because Chris has taken lawn improvement into his own hands and I thought it would be worth remembering in October to compare the views and see of our weed and feed regimen has made a difference.

Lawn Improvement Project

2. Control the roses. My knock-out roses may think they’ve won their way out of their pots, but I’m determined to prove them otherwise. I have plans for a simple lattice, using 1×1 wood, screws and a couple cans of spray paint that I’m sure I can do mostly sitting down. I love the enthusiasm of these roses, but their growth is getting out of hand and any day now I’m going to come down the stairs to find they’ve toppled over on themselves and are growing aggressively across the grass.

Knock-out Roses

3. Edge the gardens. While my scraggly plants  are still struggling to grow (less of a struggle this summer, I’m hoping, with this over-hungry Siberian irises out of the way), the grass, clover and other weeds are having no such problem. Chris and I have been talking since day one about edging each garden with stone to create a finite boundary that the mower can easily run over, determining lawn versus garden once and for all. I’m hoping this is the year. I’ve decided if I just pick up a handful of landscaping stones at Lowe’s a month, I could have half the backyard edged by 2022 (partly kidding). Moreover, I figure hand digging and settling in stone is something I can handle while seated on my happy little weeding mat. On top of that, I found a fantastic inspiration piece on Pinterest for how I would like my edging to look.

Let's hope this fall's "after" shot of this scraggly azalea and company is all-around neater.

Let’s hope this fall’s “after” shot of this scraggly azalea and company is all-around neater.

This list is depressingly short right now, but overall I’m not expecting to make many dramatic changes this year. I suppose number four on the list might be to start drawing out the idea I have for extending the garden around the pond, but I have a feeling that will undergo many changes before fall digging time. We’ll start with this for now and see how it goes.

My Favorite Plant Reaches Its Full Potential

Do you see that shrub sticking up deck-high? Just behind the railings? The beautiful, soft green of that most wondrous of plants?

Blueberry BushIf I stick my arm out of my Adirondack chair, I can nearly reach the top of my all-time favorite plant: my blueberry bush!

That’s right, this year I’m living the dream! In just a few short weeks, I’ll be able to pick blueberries from the comfort of my deck, just as I had planned all those years ago when I dug the hole for it. I’m already salivating about the thought of taking my morning Cheerios to the deck and sprinkling it with a few over-sweet berries, yummm!

Veggie Gardening Colonial Style

As I mentioned in my last post, the Lower Garden at Mount Vernon was among my favorite inspiration points at George Washington’s impressive estate, in part because there was no separation between the practical and the pretty, the vegetables themselves were beautiful. The rows of purple-topped chives added interest among the cabbage. Rosemary created a fragrant, beautiful, and simple-to-maintain hedge around the peas.

Lower Garden

Around the fenced-in dipping cistern was a beautifully patterned arrangement of vegetables to benefit from the handy irrigation.

Dipping Cistern at Lower Garden

However, the most unique addition was the apple, pear and peach trees trained to grow espalier along many of the fences throughout the garden. It was mind-blowing how these trees had been trained and trimmed to create a low-lying living fence throughout the garden.

Apple Tree in the Lower Garden

The entire arrangement made me eager to rush home and start digging the perimeter of my veggie-garden to be. Fortunately for Chris, I don’t rush much of anywhere these days and instead am making plenty of to-do lists for the summers ahead. More on that later as well!

Is there anything more beautiful than an edible feast awaiting harvest in the garden?

Is there anything more beautiful than an edible feast awaiting harvest in the garden?