Monday, May 31, 2010

Odd Rules and other Good Design Principles

The other day, I talked about bad garden examples. Yesterday, I visited my sister, whose mostly shady garden is on my list of favorites and I thought some more about the qualities that make it so lovely. When I listed the qualities, I realized the sunny gardens on my favorite list exhibit these same qualities. While today’s list is not exhaustive, I hope it will give you some ideas for your own gardens. Here we go . . .

Odd Rules. Unless you’re planning a very formal garden, buy plants in odd numbers – 3, 5, or 7 – rather than in pairs. It’s a more natural look. And, stay away from “one of everything.” It produces a hodge-podgey effect. Buy one of something if you plan to use it as a “specimen” or focal point in your garden.

Clumps not Rows. Use curves and scalene triangles when grouping your plants rather than lining everything up. When the row ends, your eye doesn’t know what to do. And, if one of the middle guys dies, it’s really obvious. Triangles don’t sound “natural,” but they really do work.

A Little Elbow Room. Remember that your plant will not stay the size it is today. It will get bigger. Leaving a little “elbow room” not only ensures that the plant will have room to grow, but it also produces a restful feeling. Think about how you feel in an elevator with 16 people versus how you feel with only 3 or 4.

One of the things I always do before I stick things in the ground is to set the pots out in the space and see how it looks. It’s much easier to move the pots around above ground than it is to move a plant once you’ve got it in the ground.

Try these ideas in your own garden and see how it feels.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Just Say No to . . .

When I was watering the pots waiting to be planted the other morning, I was thinking about all the great gardens that have influenced me. I was thinking about how I learned about new plants and new plant combinations and fabulous designs by paying attention to other people’s gardens.

But we do not live by good examples alone. Oh no. Sometimes, the examples that stick with us the most are the bad examples. I don’t have a top ten list, but do have a couple. So without further ado, and with homage to Nancy Reagan (wow, did I just say that?!) . . . Just say no to . . .

Garden Gnomes. I know, I know. Some people love garden gnomes, with their little white beards and their pointy red hats. They’re a little too close to clowns for my comfort. Creepy.

Plastic. My mother has a plastic swan planter, which she fills with plastic geraniums and places on a stump in her yard. Every year, I threaten to kidnap the swan and hold it for ransom until she promises to try real geraniums. The other plastic I just say no to in the garden is weed barrier. I’m all for using black plastic to kill grass/weeds in preparation for a future garden, but not when it’s used as a weed barrier. Plastic makes the soil hot, prevents water from getting to the plants, and provides a great place for mosquitoes to breed. Use a "fabric" that breathes and will let the water through.

Red Mulch. It’s eye-achingly ugly. It distracts you from looking at the plants. It’s dyed, probably not with Chrominated Copper Arsinate (which has been banned since 2004), but most likely with iron oxide (which will stain you and your clothes). Go natural. Please.

Okay. I’m done now. Your turn. What do you just say no to in the garden?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Everything's Coming up Roses!

The heat and humidity earlier this week made me melt, but the roses LOVED it. It was just the thing they needed to burst into their full glory. I love roses in the garden. These days, I’m partial to the shrub roses. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Hybrid Tea roses and the Floribundas, but I don’t love digging the trenches in the fall and burying them so they can survive our cold, cold winters. Shrub roses are hardy to our zone and don’t need a lot of fuss and muss.

I mentioned Sir Thomas Lipton in an earlier post. I can’t remember how I stumbled on this one originally, but I loved it immediately and love it still. There are three in my current garden.

Rosa Magnifica is the second hardy shrub rose in Auntie K’s garden. Bright fuchsia blossoms re-appear all season. I have planted this rose in many gardens of “non-gardeners” and they’ve all survived. I have three of these as well.

Morden Blush was a new addition last year, and it’s a keeper. As is Crown Princess Margrethe (an English rose). Graham Thomas, another English rose, has been struggling, but is making a comeback. The rabbits ate the canes down to the crown, so I had to put a cage around it. I thought I’d have to start over, but noticed a small green shoot last week. So, we’ll see how it goes. Last year, I inherited three unidentified shrub roses—all of which are in full bloom now.

And, I do have Rosa Julia Child, a floribunda, in honor of my grandmother. (They both cooked with a lot of butter.) I don’t bury it, but did use a cone last winter. It worked well.

If you like roses, but have avoided them because of the fuss, try a hardy shrub rose. You’ll be glad you did!

Check out this great list of hardy shrub roses from the University of Minnesota Extension Service.

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Critical Eye?

People make a point of telling me how much they enjoy my gardens – how they make a point of walking by regularly, sometimes daily, to see what’s blooming or what I’ve added or moved around. They ask for names of particular plants. They tell me stories about how they once had such and such a plant but could never get it to grow. They always tell me how beautiful the gardens are. And, I always thank them and sometimes add, “It’s coming along,” or “It’s a work in progress.”

But, I’m always thinking, “Oh my gosh, what are you looking at?! Can’t you see all the weeds? Don’t you see how those plants are competing with one another?” “It would be prettier if this moved there, or that was here,” or “I really should get some more mulch in this bed.”

Why do I see my garden in such a completely different way than my neighbors do? Why do I see the flaws and they see the beauty? I hope it is because I am the care taker and have a pre-conceived vision of/for my garden that my neighbors don’t have as passers-by and not that I have a critical view overall.

Today, I challenge myself to open my eyes to see the beauty instead of the flaws.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Poppies in the Garden – At Last!

My love affair with poppies began in 1977, when my Tante Helen introduced me Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Oriental Poppies – 1928.” The colors are so vibrant, yet there’s something restful about the way the flowers lean on each other.

When the movie “Room with a View” came out in 1986, a young couple’s first kiss occurs in a field of barley, “touched with crimson stains of poppies.” It was SO romantic! Then and there I decided that someday, I would have poppies in my garden.

I planted poppies from seed in the garden at my St. Paul house. I watched carefully for signs of germination and kept the area free from pesky weeds. I seemed to have been inundated by thistles, which I pulled, to allow my precious poppies to come up. But, alas, no poppies arrived. Imagine my surprise and embarrassment the following year when I saw a potted poppy at the nursery and immediately recognized my “thistle” from the year before. I hadn’t pulled weeds, I’d pulled up the plants! (Rookie mistake.)

I had a couple other missteps with poppies and thought I’d never have poppies in my garden. Then, toward the end of the growing season last year, I found a few tiny plants on sale for about a dollar each and decided, “what the heck.” I stuck them in the ground, and covered them with marsh hay for the winter. Apparently, that worked. They were among the first plants coming up this spring, and Monday, they started blooming! Beautiful.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Plants Do It

Want berries?! Get a Prince and 4 or 5 Princesses!” This was the text of a sign I saw stuck in a pot of holly last week. It reminded of that old song, “Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it . . .” The song is about falling in love, but, well, um, you know what else I’m talking about.

The sign instantly brought me back to my first attempt at growing blueberries. My blueberries seemed barren – no berries. I mentioned this to Pa Jondahl, who laughed and told me I needed to get a boy plant because my plants needed to have “s-e-x.” I’d had no idea! Obviously. How helpful it would have been, all those years ago, if there had been a sign in the blueberry pots telling me I needed a male plant along with all those female plants I’d purchased!

Today is Ma Jondahl’s birthday. She would have been 86. One of my favorite memories of her is making fruit jerkey (a dried fruit strip product) and talking about random things. One day, she told us with her wry smile, “Being pregnant’s a b*tch. . . . but, gettin’ there’s okay.”

Monday was Ma and Pa’s wedding anniversary. I’m thinking about both of them today – a couple who spoke frankly about human and plant s-e-x. It seems so random that one sign can churn up so many memories, but there it is. And, remember, if you want holly berries or blueberries, get at least one “Prince” for 4 or 5 “Princesses.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Water – Welcome Relief for all on a Hot Day

It was sunny, hot, and humid yesterday – so hot and humid that we had an “Excessive Heat Warning” – not unusual for August, but pretty rare for May. The weather people reminded us all day to drink lots of water. Their advice reminded me that newly planted additions to the garden would also benefit from some water.

My neighbor, Audrey, must have had the same thought. So, after work, she and I hauled 25 gallons of water to the new community garden we helped to plant over the weekend to ensure the seedlings didn’t fry in the hot sun. (There’s no water source at the garden, so we need to haul water in buckets from home!) The plants were looking really sad and droopy when we got there and we gave them all the water we brought with us.

When we got home, I noticed that the water in the birdbaths was gone and things here was drooping, too – even some of the natives, which are pretty drought tolerant. So, I hooked up the rain barrels to the soaker hoses and hand watered the gardens that don’t yet have soakers. As soon as I turned on the hose, the birds arrived. Even before I had filled the first birdbath, they were splashing around under the cool shower from the hose. Monty tried to catch a little spray from the hose, too, following me from birdbath to birdbath until I put the hose down for him to drink from!

I finished watering about 9:30 and headed in for a big glass of icy cold water. Aaaahhhhhh.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Weeding – Three Approaches

When Annie and I were weeding in her garden the other day, we went for “total weed eradication.” Our goal was to get rid of every weed in the garden – and then identify the weeds from the plants when it became clear that we were going to get rained out.

And, while it’s the most common, it’s only one approach to weeding. In addition to “total weed eradication,” I practice both random weeding and selective weeding. Sometimes, total weed eradication is overwhelming – especially if I’m looking at a big bed. Sometimes, I just don’t have time to get rid of every weed. And, that’s where both selective weeding and random weeding come in.

I do what I call “Random weeding” when I’m just strolling through and notice a “random” weed here and there. I pull what I notice and leave the rest for later. This approach to weeding requires the least amount of time. Mostly, I do random weeding on the way home from walking the dog or when I’m on the way to the car or compost bin.

Selective weeding is more than random weeding and less than total weed eradication. Selective weeding is getting rid of just one type of weed in the garden. It’s what happens when I say, “Today, I’m going to get rid of all the clover, or violets, or dandelion, or tree-lets, or grass spears.”

WARNING: Selective weeding can turn into Total Weed Eradication. It’s happened to me. I’m out in the garden pulling up violets, and then I pull up the tree-lets, and the next thing I know, it’s three hours later and I’ve accomplished Total Weed Eradication.

These are the three ways weeds get eliminated in Auntie K’s Garden. Does anyone have another approach?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Plan B

I’ve discovered it’s just as important to have a “Plan B” in the garden as it is in business. I always have a list of things that need to be done—weeding, planting new things, moving things around, cleaning and/or sharpening tools, filling bird feeders and baths, watering. So, having a Plan B isn’t difficult. But, some days I REALLY want to do a particular thing and Plan B isn’t it.

Yesterday, I had planned to help my friend, Annie, with weeding in the morning and plant new things home in the afternoon. There was a huge thunderstorm complex west of us that was supposed to dissipate before the front reached the cities. Our forecast was “rain free.” But, the storm complex held together and poured down buckets of rain on us for two hours. Annie and I weeded for as long as we could without getting drenched and then went to lunch.

But, my afternoon of planting had to be postponed. Digging would have been a mucky adventure after so much rain. So, I brought Elmer Jr. (my beautiful tropical hibiscus) and Arby (Schefflera arboricola) outside for the summer and then weeded some more. By late afternoon, the strong winds had dried the grass enough that I was able to mow. It was a satisfying and productive day, but not the day I had planned. I’m eager to get some planting done.

The weather this morning is quite humid (dew points in the mid 60s) and the forecast is for strong storms this afternoon. Time to sit down with a cup of tea and think about Plan B.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

I’ve got the Blues – But Not in a Bad Way

When I was walking through the gardens this morning, I was overwhelmed by the blues – but not in a bad way. I noticed that almost everything blooming right now is a shade of blue and I can’t remember a time when that’s happened before! I walked through a second time, just to take in the different shades.

Centaurea. These bachelor buttons/cornflowers remind me of a scene in a favorite movie, “Room with a View,” where George and his father bring cornflowers for the Misses Allen and drape them with wreaths and stick the cornflowers into their hair. It brings the spinster sisters such delight.

Linum. This is my friend Betsy’s favorite flower, and I must confess, it’s becoming a favorite of mine, too. The slim feathery stems seem incapable of supporting the delicate blue flowers. So beautiful when they blow in the breeze.

Creeping Phlox “Oakington Blue Eyes”. I’ve used the pinks and purples in other gardens, but found this blue phlox last year and love it. I can’t believe how well it took in just one year.

Salvia. Last year, I saw a long row of salvia in full bloom and thought it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. I wanted to re-create it in my own garden on a smaller scale, so I planted 5 of them on the sunny hill. They’re small now, but will put on a breathtaking show in a year or so.

The Jacob’s Ladder is blooming now, too. And, the Siberian Iris will pop open any day now, adding a deeper hue to the blues in bloom at Auntie K’s Garden.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Landscape Rock—Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

At my St Paul house, we had a hedge of dwarf winged euonymus. And instead of using mulch, we decided river rock would look tidier. And, it did look tidy – for about 3 weeks. (Or was it 3 minutes?) Then, twigs got in there and tree seeds and weed seeds and oh my gosh were those hard to pull because they were wedged in by the rocks! Raking was impossible. My ex was so obsessed about keeping it tidy, he got out there with a broom and tried to sweep the debris away! And, so I learned that rock isn’t as low maintenance as it first sounds.

When I saw the cubed shrubs at my new home, also in a bed of river rock, I knew both had to go. This proved more difficult than I anticipated because the river rock was 8 inches deep. So, before I could get a shovel in the ground to dig the shrubs out, I had to move a lot of rock. I stopped counting at 12 wheelbarrows full. I managed to give away about 30 5-gallon buckets and tried to get rid of the rest on several local free sites. But two years later, I still have a small pile. Seems like I was not the only one who was trying to unload their landscape rock.

Am I the only one who has had an idea that seemed great at the time that turned out to be not so great?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Garden Poetry

I don’t know why, but when things start blooming, I always think about garden poetry! Here are three of my favorites:

Be a gardener.
Dig a ditch,
toil and sweat,
and turn the earth upside down
and seek the deepness
and water the plants in time.
Continue this labor
and make sweet floods to run
and noble and abundant fruits
to spring.
Take this food and drink
and carry it to God
as your true worship.
-- Julian of Norwich from Earth Prayers

Love all Creation
The whole of it and every grain of sand
Love every leaf
Every ray of God’s light
Love the animals
Love the plants
Love everything
If you love everything
You will perceive
The divine mystery in things
And once you have perceived it
You will begin to comprehend it ceaselessly
More and more everyday
And you will at last come to love the whole world
With an abiding universal love.
-- Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Garden is rich with diversity
With plants of a hundred families
In the space between the trees
With all the colours and fragrances.
Basil, mint and lavender,
God keep my remembrance pure,
Raspberry, Apple, Rose,
God fill my heart with love,
Dill, anise, tansy,
Holy winds blow in me.
Rhododendron, zinnia,
May my prayer be beautiful
May my remembrance O God
be as incense to thee
In the sacred grove of eternity
As I smell and remember
The ancient forests of the earth.

-- Chinook Psalter from Earth Prayers

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Garden Helper – Monty the Wonder Dog

Dogs aren’t always welcome visitors in gardens. They step on tender plants, they dig to hide their treasures, and they pee on everything in sight. Many yards on the route of our daily walk have signs warning dogs and dog owners to KEEP OUT and KEEP OFF.

But, Monty, my Westie has always been more of a garden helper than a garden foe. When he was a puppy, he practiced his innate Westie traits at my St. Paul house by keeping the rabbit population in check. It was disconcerting the first time I found a dead rabbit while mowing the lawn, so it soon became my practice to scout before mowing.

He also helped dig holes for new plants – sometimes stopping when told, sometimes so excited at his opportunity to help, he would send a new plant flying. Every once in a while, I’d get frustrated by the flying plant, but overall, Monty has been a welcome visitor and helper in the garden.

Monty turns 13 today – old for a Westie. He’s slower than he once was and he’s not as interested in rabbits anymore (although he will give the squirrels a run for their money from the sunroom window). And, he enjoys soaking up the sun while I read in the garden more than helping me dig.

He’s a great companion, in and out of the garden, and I’m aware that he won’t be around for many more years. So, I’m enjoying our time together while I can. Happy birthday, little pal!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

An Old Fashioned Garden?

One of the things I miss about my St Paul house is the garden. I had worked for years to get it “just so.” And, while I didn’t want to re-create the entire garden at my new home, I did want to include a few favorites. I found a few items without trouble, but two items proved more difficult than I anticipated! And, I really wanted them because I liked the blossoms and fragrance of both. Most times, you get one or the other.

The first item I looked for was a rugosa shrub rose called “Sir Thomas Lipton.” I couldn’t find them in nurseries anywhere. I finally was able to locate a place in southern Minnesota that carried them bare root. When I went to pick them up, the sales person said they didn’t get much call for these roses anymore since they’re so old fashioned.

The second item was a lilac called “Albert Holden.” I drove from nursery to nursery for two seasons in search of the elusive Mr. Holden, and eventually found him at Dundee Nursery in Plymouth. The nurseryman said, “You know, people don’t ask for these old-fashioned lilacs anymore. They want the new varieties.”

I laughed when he said it and told him that it was the second time I’d heard the phrase “old fashioned” about shrubs I was putting in my garden. He said I must just be one of those old fashioned girls.

If it means I have two of my favorites in my gardens now, “old fashioned” is a label I can live with!

Monday, May 17, 2010

My Grandmother's Bird Feeder

Today is Syttende Mai, Norway’s constitution day, and I’m thinking about my grandmother. She had a small herb garden, an apple tree, and a few rose shrubs. She also had bird feeders. Her feeders weren’t the tube feeders I have in my gardens for songbirds. These were tray-like feeders off both the kitchen and dining room windows. I had never seen a bird feeder like it and was convinced that no bird would come to a feeder that was attached to the house with no “cover” close by.

But, come they did! The main visitors to these feeders were sea gulls, who came for bread crusts, left over boiled potatoes, and fish heads. Occasionally, another bird would visit, but the most frequent visitors were the gulls.

I was so fascinated by my grandmother’s bird feeder that I wanted to have one like it at my home. But, squirrels would be the main visitors to a tray-like feeder here in the city, so I stick to the tube feeders. My dad must have had a similar memory of the Norwegian bird feeder, because he built one for his kitchen window! He gets both birds and squirrels at his kitchen window, where he puts out seed not fish heads.

My grandmother had bird feeders as a way to prevent kitchen waste. I have mine because I enjoy sitting in the sunroom and hearing and seeing the birds that come for the seeds. But, I think about her (and the fish heads and sea gulls) every time I put the seeds out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Plant Swaps

At the office the other day, a fellow gardener told me the plant swap flyer for his neighborhood had just arrived. He said he thought about bringing me a copy but he thought that I already had enough plants so I wouldn’t be interested in a plant swap! I laughed, and told him, “I’m ALWAYS interested in plant swaps.”

Some people avoid plant swaps because they think all they will find is the “standard fare” of Hosta lancifolia, day lilies, and Snow on the Mountain. And, it’s true. Those plants do show up at a lot of plant swaps. But, many times, I’ve gotten a lovely variety of Iris, or a peony, or a wild geranium. And, sometimes, “standard fare” is exactly what you need.

For me, though, plant swaps aren’t solely about the plants. They’re about the stories that come with the plants. At plant swaps, you get to meet the person who grew the plant you’re taking home with you. You hear about the environment in which it grew and how well it performed. And, many times, you hear how the plant came from the swapper’s grandmother’s garden, or mother, or dear friend. Those are the best stories.

The stories make plant swaps a much more personal way to add to and subtract from my garden. So, I guess that’s the real reason I like to go to as many plant swaps as I can during the season. It’s not really about the plants, it’s about the stories.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Shrubs, cubed

When I bought my home, it had a giant arborvitae at the corner, an overgrown honeysuckle on the west side, and 4 “cubed” shrubs under the front windows. I discovered that the largest of the cubes was actually a bridal veil spirea—a shrub that wants to flow and drape, like, um, maybe a bridal veil and not be constricted into a cube. They were all too close to the house, the front steps and to one another, so I took everything out except for the giant arborvitae and started over. (Oh, and the cubed shrubs were planted in 8 inches of river rock, but that’s a topic for another day.)

Last weekend, on my way home from Little League, I drove by a yard that had a long squared off “hedge.” I noticed some purple blobs and then some white blobs in the hedge, and then, I realized I was looking at lilacs, cubed! I stopped the car and just stared – not fully believing what I was seeing.

Why, oh, why do people cube their flowering shrubs?! Am I alone in my horror of this unnatural treatment of flowering shrubs?

I can see pruning evergreens to help them keep their shape. And, I appreciate a good topiary and have great respect for Bonsai gardeners. But, I’ve never understood making a flowering shrub into a cube—or a ball for that matter.

If anyone has insights into the practice of making cubes of flowering shrubs, please let me know!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Flower Folly

A couple of weeks ago, I was at an impromptu neighborhood barbecue. Most of us are avid gardeners and were excited about the early and warm spring we’d been having. We ate outside and were noticing that the lilacs were just getting ready to pop open.

I told the group about the anxiety I had about the lilacs blooming the year I got married, since we had decided to use bouquets of lilacs as our wedding flowers. All was well that year. The lilacs came in about three days before our big day and the morning of our wedding, I cut 24 vases of lilacs. One of the women roared with laughter at the folly of depending on the blooming of a flower for such a major event! I had never thought about my dream of being married among the lilacs as folly, but her words were true. Depending on the year, the lilacs may not have been in bloom – even though I had selected a date toward the end of the possible bloom “schedule.”

And, I had been fooled by Mother Nature on other occasions. When I was married, my ex and I held a “Tulip Dinner” on our deck each spring—typically in early May. Several years, it was a lovely dinner and the tulips were in their glory. Other years, it was warm enough to eat outside, but I had to stick plastic tulips in the ground, because the real things were not quite ready yet. And, one year, we had to eat inside because it snowed the night of the Tulip Dinner!

Am I the only one who has “counted on” a flower or shrub to bloom for a special occasion? What are your “Flower Follies”?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shady Sisters’ Spring Sale

’Tis the season for plant sales and swaps.

Last weekend, I was able to get to three plant sales but missed the one at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The Hennepin County Master Gardeners are having their sale on the 22nd. And, this weekend, the Shady Sisters are having their Spring Plant Sale.

The Shady Sisters are friends of mine – sisters and all long-time gardeners, who decided last year to sell some of their rare and unique hostas and other shade-loving plants. The plants are AMAZING. And, the prices are reasonable. Best of all, the sisters are knowledgeable about the plants they are growing and selling.

Last year, I bought some Japanese Painted Ferns, Heuchera, Solomon’s Seal, and several varieties of hosta. Even after getting munched down to the ground by the neighborhood bunnies, the Japanese Painted Fern came back this spring!

And, even though their name indicates “shade” plants, they do have things for the sunny spaces in your garden, too – many natives to our region. I picked up some Liatris, Monarda, and Hemerocalis, which are all thriving again this year, too.

The sisters will be in the garden at 116 Parker’s Lake Road in Wayzata, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 9 to 5. I’ll be there on Saturday. Come on out and see us!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Annuals – the only way to get color in your garden

The other day, as I was in line at a plant sale, a woman asked me if I was going to buy any annuals. I said I had planned to get a few perennials, but didn’t have any annuals on my list. She was stunned at my response and told me, “I don’t know why you waste your money on perennials. They don’t provide any color. Annuals are the only way to get color in your garden. There are no perennials blooming now.” And then she walked away.

I was left standing there, thinking about all of the perennials that are blooming in my gardens right now—lilacs, trollius, linum, creeping phlox, bleeding heart, columbine, anemone, lily of the valley, and centaura (perennial bachelor button). That’s in addition to the “late” tulips, which are still going strong.

I don’t have anything against annuals, and do use them periodically – especially when I have just planted a new bed and there is some space that needs to be filled in. I’ve also used annuals in planters. But, I don’t think they are the only way to get color in my garden – now or any other time of the year.

How about you? What do you have blooming right now? How do you use annuals in your gardens?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cool rain -- filling up the rain barrels

It’s raining this morning. And, that always means a struggle to get the dog to go for a walk. He hates when the droplets get into his ears. I love the rain, though – especially during the day – on a work day! And the plants need it. Things were getting a little dry. Rain perks up the droopy plants and makes the weeds easier to pull up.

It also fills up my rain barrels. I first became acquainted with rain barrels when I lived in Norway. My grandmother used the rainwater for washing – clothes, dishes, and us! Each morning, we got a ladle of water to wash with. It took a few tries to get the hang of washing my entire self with a ladle of water, but eventually, I was able to do it. I didn’t know it then, but I was learning a lot about water conservation. And, I’m sure those memories helped me decide to get a rain barrel of my own. (I’m up to 5 rain barrels this year.)

I don’t use my rain water for washing. I do use it for the gardens. And, with 16 beds, every drop counts! I’ve put down soaker hoses in each of the beds and then just run a hose from the nearest rain barrel to the bed and let it run.

I also use the water from my de-humidifier for the gardens. But, instead of lugging it up the stairs from the basement, I pour the water into the sump pump well and every few days, the sump pump kicks in and waters one of the gardens through the PVC pipe I configured to empty into the garden bed.

Anybody else have creative ways to water the garden? Or creative water conservation ideas?

Monday, May 10, 2010


I think I first fell in love with tulips at the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. I can tell that the masses of bold colors had an impact on me as a 10-year old girl because most of my photographs from that first trip to Tivoli are of the tulips! I’m certain they played a part in my many return visits over the years.

I’m also certain that my decision to include tulips as an integral part of my own gardens was shaped – either consciously or unconsciously – by the tulips of Tivoli.

Tulips were the first flower I planted at my current home. I bought the house in the middle of the summer, and by the time I’d painted and tweaked things on the inside, it was too late to plant most perennials, but perfect for planting bulbs. I dug a 3x5 foot patch and stuck in about 150 bulbs. I’ve added bulbs to every bed since then. This spring, the tulips were (and still are) spectacular. I smiled every morning as I opened the blinds and saw splashes of oranges, pinks, reds, and purples.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who was affected by the color. Neighbors stopped by daily to “soak in” the color. They made a point of telling me how happy the tulips made them feel. One woman asked how I got such a variety of colors – all she was able to get were red and yellow. Runners stopped to say how breathtaking the tulips were. And, a child in a stroller reached out and grabbed one after exclaiming, “Ooooooooh! Look at the pretty red flower, Mommy!” The mother was horrified, but I was glad that my tulips were “grab-worthy.”

After a week or so of so many tulip tales, I wondered what it is about tulips that affects me (and so many others) in such a profound way. Is it that in our northern climate we’re so starved for color after the long gray and white winter? Is it their simplicity? Or, is it that they remind us of some lovely garden from our past? For me, I think it’s a little of each.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day Reminder from Mother Nature

It’s Mother’s Day and I’m itching to get plants in the ground. But, even with our early and warm spring this year, we had a freeze warning last night, a reminder from Mother Nature that our last frost date is May 15th and we shouldn’t get too far ahead of ourselves. So, I’m going to heed Mother Nature, be patient, and wait another week to dig in the dirt.

The cold weather did not, however, prevent me from attending three plant sales yesterday, where herbs topped my list. And, I did get a few things for our new community garden. But, my favorite purchase of the day was an alpine clematis called “Pink Flamingo.” It has pink and white tulip shaped flowers and “Dr. Seuss-y” looking seed heads.

The cold did not prevent me from doing some weeding, either. Weeding is such satisfying work—giving me such a sense of accomplishment. I love how the gardens look when they are weed free. It allows me to get a good sense of the garden – what’s working, what’s not – who can stay where they are and who needs a new home. Of course, I’m going to wait until next week to start moving things around. . .

I’m Auntie K, and welcome to my garden!

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