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.



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.


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!

A Garden of Rusty Things Redux

Some background. As a young girl, I daydreamed about making things in the world perfect. I aimed for straightness, evenness, symmetry, and uniformity. No doubt about it, my ideal was a matchy-matchy universe.

I like to think I’ve outgrown that striving for balanced proportion. But no, my ideal garden is the parterre. In fact, one of the attractions of our property was its flatness, a main consideration in designing a parterre garden.

It soon became obvious that a parterre was not in the cards, at least not in this lifetime. Flat land, yes, but overrun by weeds and scrubby trees. When it rains, our backyard turns into a swamp. When it doesn’t rain, the ground develops wide cracks.

Given the money, time, and energy to design and build the hardscape to support a parterre, I’d be set. Sadly, those are the three things I don’t have.


Add to these deficits the fact that I have absolutely no sense of design. I did what I could by edging the newly planted trees – brick in the front, rubber in the back. (All thanks to Jim’s expertise.)


Still. Last year, in an effort to overcome my striving for the perfect yard, I decided on a garden of rusty things. Jim started me off with the old 500-gallon gas tank – we no longer have to drive into Kansas City every weekday and no longer need that much gas.

Followed by an old car frame, partway buried in ground and up on its side. The car frame wouldn’t stay straight in the ground thanks to our prairie winds. Now added to its imperfection is the bar running from the gas tank to the frame. Jim is infinitely inventive!


Then I saw a picture of this amazing archway covered with yellow roses and purple clematis. The photo was in a flower catalog where things are always perfect. I turned the page…

And then, while trolling one of the big box stores, I found the exact climbing yellow rose offered in that catalog. I could not resist. Stumbling over a pot of Happy Jack clematis sealed the deal.


“How are we going to mow this?” Jim asked. Oh yes, I forgot Kansas weeds. My solution was to encircle the area very much like we’ve done with the trees, using plenteous mulch. And while I went shopping yesterday, the good elves got the job done. (Thank you, Jim!)

Couldn’t resist the star. Jim figured out how to hang it so it doesn’t blow in the wind.


Maybe I’ll put coleus and an ornamental grass in the old stainless steel sink. Too bad it isn’t one of the cool enamel ones. I have an old, rusty wagon that will tart it up some more.


Here it is – so far – a garden of rusty things and some plants, mulch, and edging. I can still daydream about my parterre…