Perfection

This year’s fall gardening catalogs began arriving at the end of July. How can a person not be tempted by the lush fields of daffodils, tulips, and lilies? Check out this photo, taken with my camera of a catalog offering.

Love this.  How many plants did it take between the slates to achieve the look?

Love this. How many plants did it take between the slates to achieve the look?

I think catalogs should provide disclaimers. Here are four:

Image appears larger than it will be in real life.

That humungous grape hyacinth? It’s only about six inches tall. At best. Will that climbing rose reach the top of the trellis? Uh – that’s a firm maybe!

It takes at least three years to achieve the lushness of the catalog photo.

Master gardeners know that in year one, a plant sleeps. In year two, it creeps. And finally, if you haven’t torn it out before now, in year three, it leaps. Ideally.

I have a gorgeous clematis (Rebecca) that never bloomed for the first five years. Now, it’s a wild and crazy bloomer. But getting there required more patience than I normally have. I needed blinders so as not to see that plant for 1,825 days, including winters.

You can’t afford the number of plants in the catalog depiction.

Well, maybe someone can. I can’t. Check the price. Instead of the massive field of glorious yellow daffodils bobbing in a gentle spring breeze, the winds of reality hit hard. Five bulbs, $14.95.

Speaking of fields of daffodils, I once bought one hundred bulbs of crocus, thinking that in late February or early March I’d have a swath of blue and yellow beautifulness under my still bare deciduous shrubs. The reality? Only about half of those bulbs germinated. Instead of being this gorgeous field of flowers, it just looked sad.

How many bulbs did it take to create this look?

How many bulbs did it take to create this look?

Flowers in your garden are never perfect.

Catalogs show flowers ironically untouched by nature. I’ve never seen a brown or yellow iris leaf in a catalog. Peonies are never flat on the ground after a rain. No dogs made a hole in that yew bush for a cool place to sleep. And where are the photos of spent daylilies or chrysanthemums in need of deadheading?

Now I’m not naïve! Perfect photos sell flowers. But last year, my cynical-self resolved to not buy from catalogs. In fact, I threw the catalogs away without so much as leafing through them.

This year, I need plants that I can only get in catalogs. I aim to keep expectations low. I’ve resolved to not look at the new plants with a jaundiced eye until 2019 or 2020. I’m living a new mantra.

Perfection takes time.

Grateful, Not Grumpy

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WARNING: The following text has nothing to do with gardening. The category tag – Musings – is correct. If you clicked here for a gardening article, please enjoy the photos.

I recently followed a link posted on Face Book for an app that promised money back for grocery purchases. As I investigated, I found that the app required no fewer than 18 steps for each transaction. My comment? That this was an outrageous number of steps to get ‘there’ and since ‘there’ involved only a few pennies saved, get off my timeline.

I received in reply a nice and neutral note from someone representing the app, saying that they love feedback. Right.

So imagine my surprise a few days later when I received notice of another comment, which said: Old people. Always complaining.

Oh dear. How to respond? Although I consider myself retired – not old – I think I responded like any old person would. I wrote:
How rude! And that was that.

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This incident of and by itself probably wouldn’t have caused a bout of rampant introspection. But in a first visit with a doctor, and in discussion of the reasons why I don’t/won’t take statin drugs, I was told this: Millions of people take statins without complaining.

Which, having already been told that old people complain a lot, gave me pause.

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My motto for years was what you see in the title. Grateful, not grumpy. I owned this motto long before the call for ‘gratitude attitude’ came about, and I clung to it desperately through about 30 years of quality-of-life reducing work. Useless day-long meetings without result, insane deadlines, tasks for which I hadn’t the tiniest qualification, emergency busy-work, mandatory fun – I could go boringly on. But won’t.

And so you see: grateful, not grumpy. Happy to have a job. Thankful to make a more-or-less living wage.

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I guess once I retired and no longer had to fight the good fight, I forgot about simply being grateful. In fact, one of my resolutions for 2015 was to stand up and complain whenever necessary.

Many good things came from complaining. Bottom line, I’ve saved hundreds of dollars. More than that, I’ve made needed changes when before I would simply put up and shut up. Complaining – sometimes grumpily – has brought nothing but good. So I have to say, I’m for it. I have a lot of pent up complaints. You might want to take a peek at my short-list:

• Things that don’t work as advertised. This is a diverse list including satellite TV, wrinkle cream, and ceramic cooktops.
• Bad drivers, especially when driving 75 MPH, a long list that includes truck drivers drowsing behind the wheel, teens who think they are immortal, the guy in the BMW who believes in his right to go ten MPH over the limit, and everyone talking or texting on their phone.
• Medical personnel that blame old age or your supposed habits for whatever ails you – and then go on to do nothing to remedy the problem.
• Planned obsolescence. It makes no sense to buy a new mattress every eight years, a new fridge/stove/dishwasher every five years, and a new computer every three. I have a 40-year-old waffle iron that works perfectly. Why can’t all things be like that?
• Pharmacy price hikes, a symptom of greed in general, which is certainly complaint-worthy.

And last but not least:

• This year’s political campaign. Come on. I would like to vote for someone I can at least respect.

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So here’s a shout out to the anonymous geriogynist (hater of old people). And maybe the snippy doctor as well. If complaining makes me old and the few among many, I will wear both the hat and the t-shirt.

I plan to continue standing up and having my say no matter what. I’ll be grateful not grumpy the rest of the time.

Signage

Last August, I had the first glimmering of an idea to incorporate all my rusty things, of which I have many, into a garden. You may have read A Garden of Rusty Things and, earlier this year, A Garden of Rusty Things Redux.

Somehow, my feet took me often to that small garden, with its climbing rose and clematis surrounded by new daylily hybrids. I would look at the apple and pecan trees, planted to the south and, serendipitously, all in a row. And I would think how wonderful to plant more trees on the other side, creating an apple tree allee. And what if it started in the Garden of Rusty Things and continued all the way back to the property line?

What about another climbing rose to twist around the gas tank? And some bushes. A couple cornus arctic fire and maybe a tuxedo weigela. How about a slate path from the rusty garden to the veggie garden?

And what about a sign?

On a whim, I trudged out to Etsy one afternoon to look for custom metal signs and found Vintage Sign Design. Working with Lori, the shop owner, was easy. A couple of back and forth emails, and we agreed on the design. The price was better than I expected, and the delivered item is exactly what I wanted. Lori promised it will rust over time.

The sign now hangs from my truck frame.

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Bushes and roses are on order. I’ve begun (with Jim’s help, of course) amending the soil around the gas tank for a fall planting. I need to look for two apple trees to start my allee.

More Garden of Rusty Things to come. Promise!

The Importance of Labels

In the summer of 2014, I had great success growing cantaloupe. We ended up with three melons, sweet, juicy and delicious. Last year, we had lots of vines and a couple of runty … well, I don’t know what to call them. I simply put it down to last year’s cool, wet weather.

Despite last year’s failure, we like cantaloupe. A lot. So why not try again?

You probably know that a vine will produce two, maybe three melons at best. This year, I decided to buy four plants. Twelve melons. Six to eat and six to gift. Everything was going along swimmingly until we spotted THIS on the vines.

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Excuse me. That is not a cantaloupe.

Yes, we did get a couple of cantaloupes. One – almost ripe yesterday – mysteriously vanished off its melon cradle. I found the remains back behind the burn pile. I hope that the thief – two-legged or four-legged – enjoyed my lunch.

And yes, I’m pretty sure that thing in my cantaloupe bed is a squash. It’s a particularly nasty squash with tiny hairs all over it. Jim and I planned to identify it when the first one ripened. But just as it started to turn yellow, it exploded. Gross! These are so awful, even the squash bugs haven’t attacked yet.

So how did I end up with squash instead of cantaloupe? I hate to think that the nursery mislabeled the plant. Maybe I didn’t bother to read the individual labels on the plants and just picked up squash set near the cantaloupe. Or, someone misplaced the squash label and replaced it with one that said cantaloupe.

Which got me thinking about the subject of labels in general. My mother taught that it’s not nice to label people. I wonder what she’d say about the name-calling going on right now. Arrogant, crooked, goofy, narcissistic, immoral, ignorant, loser… Sort of makes me remember what middle school was like. But enough about politics.

I promise not to call names or blame. I’d just like to remind all the nurseries I buy from about the importance of labels.

More Like Stuffed Shells

I first heard about lasagna gardening in a writer’s group. One of our members, an Extension Master Gardener, was writing a news article about something she called lasagna gardening. Asked to help edit, I discovered that the term comes from Patricia Lanza’s 1994 book “Lasagna Gardening – A New Layering System for Bountiful Gardens: No Digging, No Tilling, No Weeding, No Kidding!”

Sometimes called sheet composting, a technique of spreading organic matter on top of the soil before it has decomposed, then tilling it under, lasagna gardening is even simpler. Cardboard or newspaper makes up the first layer of garden. The advantage? You can lay this right on top of grass, weeds, and other assorted undesirables. On top of the newspaper, layer combinations of the following:

• Blood meal
• Coffee grounds – Starbucks gives these away for free
• Compost
• Grass Clippings
• Fruit and Vegetable Scraps
• Leaves
• Manure
• Newspaper
• Peat moss
• Tea leaves and tea bags
• Weeds if they haven’t gone to seed

The experts say that to get the most out of layering, you should alternate layers of brown with layers of green – or carbon with nitrogen. Also, brown layers should be twice as deep as green layers. Aim for a 24-inch-deep bed, which will shrink in time. You can hurry up the ‘cook’ by covering the whole thing with black plastic.

So that’s theory and process. Simple enough, right? But a little over the top for my needs. I already have lovely raised beds, one of which is now empty. There used to be string beans in it before the rabbits came. Since then, I have nothing but weeds in that bed.

So today, we dug out the worst weeds since I don’t quite trust the newspaper to manage our vigorous Kansas weeds. On top of that went a single layer of the Miami County Republic – after we read it, of course.

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On top of that went about four inches of dried grass clippings, which by themselves make for a splendid soil. Every bed covered with grass this past winter had dark, loamy soil to plant this spring.

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So now I have two beds ready for fall sowing: broccoli and Brussel sprouts seeds at the end of the July and lettuces at the end of August. All for fall harvest. And while I’m waiting for that to grow, I’ll be getting my other beds ready for spring with the simplified lasagna.

Thank You, Spider Mites!

Two years ago, sitting in a garden design class, I was shocked to see a photo of my house on the presenter’s Power Point as an example of the totally boring landscape. No, the presenter hadn’t come to my house to snap a photo. It just looked exactly like my front yard. Here’s that yawn-producing line of yews.

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And here, the Alberta Spruce trees bank the yews along the front walk.

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After the presentation, I went up to discuss my outrage with the design expert. And was shot down. Yews and spruce, in a straight line in front of the house? Boring. Her solution? Just yank them out and start all over.

Jim’s reaction when I told him this story was predictable. “I suppose you want to take out those perfectly healthy bushes,” he said. And then put an end to discussion by adding: “I like them.”

Indeed, I have a problem with ‘yanking’ a perfectly healthy plant out of the ground. But while discussing my front design with Master Gardener friends, I found the verdict was unanimous. “Always thought your front yard was boring.” “Those yews are nothing more than weeds.”

And the final prediction. “You’ll get spider mites one day on those Alberta Spruce and then you’ll want to take them out!”

Spider mites? As an aside, I am an avid African Violet hobbyist. I live in dread of spider mites, so much so that I won’t bring flowers from the outside inside my house.

Time passed, as it does, until yesterday, getting in the car to go somewhere, I spotted this.

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“We’ve got spider mites,” I told Jim. “Now those bushes have to come out.”

So what are spider mites? My research shows that they aren’t ‘spiders’ but more like ticks. They can spin silk, and I should have guessed what was up earlier this spring. Tiny white webs bloomed all over he Alberta Spruce. I just thought we had spiders. Mark Shour of the Iowa State University Extension has this to say about the spider mite:

“The spruce spider mite and the twospotted spider mite feed on many of the evergreens. The spruce spider mite Is active during spring and late fall when temperatures are cool. This pest generally restricts its feeding to evergreens, with the exception of yews. Feeding damage often goes unnoticed until the hot, dry summer when spruce spider mites leave the needles and enter a resting period (called aestivation). “

Yes, yes, that’s exactly what happened. The damage can be seen in these rust colored spots on the south side of the bush. Here’s the close-up.

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The State University of Iowa article goes on to talk about solutions, as if I wanted to keep those ‘boring’ Alberta Spruce. For those wanting to know:

“Spraying a forceful stream of water (syringing) on plants can be effective in controlling spider mite populations in the home landscape. This method requires persistence and dedication. The use of insecticidal soap or horticultural oil (1 to 2 percent) applications also decreases or eliminates spider mite populations. Pesticides are available that are specific to mites (e.g., Hexygon, Mavrik Aquaflow, Ornamite, Morestan), long-lasting, and kill eggs, but these miticides are available only through a professional applicator. Most products available to the homeowner are broad spectrum (e.g., malathion) and kill mites as well as many types of insects.”

Advice I’m not planning to take. This fall, we’ll remove the three Alberta Spruce (one on the south side) and with them, three yews along my front walk. I have a hydrangea that will stay.

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I’m thinking a North American Fringe Tree at the corner by the drive, flanked by hydrangeas. On the south, a black Elderberry. Maybe some daylilies. Or iris. A sedum carpet ground cover.

But these are just ideas. Thoughts anyone?

Scraping Weeds

This is the time of year when I hear my mother’s voice advising me to “get the whole root!” Mom – who passed on 20 years ago and more – was referring, of course, to pulling weeds. Taking out the entire root means that the weed won’t grow back. At least, not that particular weed plant. At least, according to my mother.

I’ve been pulling weeds by hand for as long as I’ve had gardens. Careful to get the entire root, I weed with a trowel, just in case my fingers alone can’t get the job done. But every year, without fail, the weeds overtake me. I then wait for a cool or rainy, or cool and rainy day to spend in the garden, yanking those pesky thugs out by the roots.

There’s gotta be an easier way, right? Unfortunately, glyphosate isn’t it.

This year – like every year since I retired – I started off with a commitment to daily weeding. And this year – like every year – a couple of rainy days defeated my best efforts.

The May/June issue of TAG (The American Gardener magazine from the American Horticultural Society ) included an article by Thomas Christopher entitled “Winning the War on Weeds.” Exactly what I need!

The first bit of advice caused me to stumble. “Snip, don’t rip” was the suggestion. Evidently, tearing a plant out by the roots disturbs the soil, leaving an opening for more weed seeds to germinate. Okay, so does that mean Mom was wrong?

I then remembered a bit of EMG training advice that I heard but didn’t adopt: don’t disturb the soil by hoeing or tilling. Instead, scrape the ground with a sharp hoe.

Really? Putting these two things together, I got out the nearest thing I could find to a “sharp hoe” – no idea what it’s called.

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With it, I tried to scrape some weeds. Sort of worked but not really.

So Amazon to the rescue. I searched for ‘sharp garden hoe’ and came up with many different options, including this Niasku Weeding Scraper Garden Tool . I selected this option because of price – less than $15 – and no shipping. Here it is!

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Careful now. That edge is sharp!

I wanted to clear the plot that once contained string beans until I decide what next to plant there. (The rabbits got the shoots – another story for another day.) Here’s what the plot looked like when I started.

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Here’s what it looked like when I finished – less than 5 minutes later.

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On a good day, it would have taken me half an hour to clear this bed by pulling up every weed by its roots.

I’m not exactly playing fair here. First, the TAG article admitted that snipping – or as I interpreted it, scraping – only weakens the weed. Another snip or scrape may be needed. And without the shade provided by desirable plants, weeds will overtake the garden once again. Why? Because it takes sun to germinate weed seeds. Or almost any kind of seed, for that matter. Crowding out the weeds with desirable plants is key. So I need to decide what will go in that bed PDQ.

I ‘weeded’ five garden beds in less than an hour. Pretty amazing. Even if I have to do it all again tomorrow.