Living With Limitations: Containers
Native Pachysandra with Maidenhair Fern
I am doing my best to contain myself over container gardening this spring (There. I actually said that). I made myself a promise last year to begin this season exploring container gardening for several reasons. One is my lack of energy and strength to continue gardening as usual. A lack of oxygen due to damaged lungs will not allow the physical activities I once took for granted. Or, certainly not to the extent of my past gardening activities. Another reason is container gardening has always fascinated me, but I have never been good at designing containers satisfying my eye.
Cinnamon Fern, Osmunda cinnamom
There are times when events come together in a flow, such as when I watched a talk by Deborah Trickett of The Captured Garden on container design. The concepts and execution flowed from her fingertips as each came into being as if by magic. Such knowledge and confidence could only come from experience and success. Simply put, she was good at what she did; she not only held my attention, but I actually I took notes.
Later I visited Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, IL and Rotary Gardens Janesville, WI. Both were using containers in a way that held my attention, especially where ferns were used. Large ferns as single features in containers and artful arrangements of several containers. Then there were the multiple species of ferns used in and on driftwood and stone.
Ella Square Container
Campaign for Containers
I placed my notes and my photos in a folder and began my concepts for ferns in containers. The search was on for something different in affordable containers, plants I could divide and use from my garden, and a list of sure-would-like-to-haves. Again, things began to flow as I made a rare stop at Adamson We-Grow Nursery, a local garden center. There were my containers; Ella Square containers in the preferred color of teak; something besides the usual round shape. Ella containers were also were of heavy substance being constructed of stone and resin, and had a built in reservoir system to prevent overwatering. I purchased two 16 inch and place an order for a tall 19 inch. They also had large healthy ferns in 3 gallon size for reasonable prices so two of those came home with me as well. Some shopping remains, but enough is here to begin the project.
A container medium is not to be mistaken for a spiritualist in a bottle (from the Fozzie Bear School of Comedy. Waka, waka). Since I am concentrating on growing ferns as features in containers I want the container medium to be long lasting, so I will mixing my own. I will be using soil conditioner which consists of very small chips of wood, usually pine bark. I will then add about one-third by volume of vermiculite and a touch of coarse sand. While mixing I will toss in some slow release fertilizer. My measurements are by eye and what looks “just right”. This will make for a coarse mix that provides a loose root run with plenty of oxygen, and beneath every grain of sand, every piece of wood or vermiculite there will be a drop of moisture held, but remain free flowing. And all remains lightweight making the containers easier to move around as desired during the seasons.
Ghost Fern, European yellow Corydalis
I won’t go into the individual names of all the ferns both already on hand and on my list to purchase for I will be returning to this topic later on as the seasons progress. Some of my concepts for containers will be a pairing of fern and wild ginger (Asarum). Another concept is ferns and hosta, and/or fern with Lungwort (Pulmonaria), preferably with solid green leaves or solid silver. Nothing wrong with simply one fern in a container, or a fern(s) with stone or weathered stump and moss. As you can see I am going for green, centered on textures and outline, all of which will work together and not become too busy. If I were to place a label it all, I would use the single word Serenity.
Have You seen native Indiana yet? Lets go hiking together.
Living With Limitations: Rituals of Renewal
Helleborus thibetanus, Thibetan Hellebore buds emerging
It’s That Time
Once more it is that time of the year for gardeners to begin the ritual of renewal. It may vary from one regional hardiness zone to another in timing, but we gardeners have internal clocks making calendars redundant. Just as a daffodil begins pushing up new growth in the dead of winter anticipating another spring, I am out there performing my own version, and neither of us can be held back by weather.
After a walk in my garden this past week I returned to the garage for my all powerful wand shaped like a dove-tailed weeder. Winter weeds were forming a carpet of fresh green in the paths and between where perennials were last year. Any spot without adequate mulch had these mats of trouble. In the last week of February I was able to wear a light jacket and, while kneeling on a pad, weave my wand beneath the root system of chickweed, crating satisfying piles. The sense of power, the feeling of grand poohbah of the garden, was intoxicating with its sense might; the lifting up over another (including the root system).
Spring bulbs pushing up
The second day was even warmer with almost no breeze and there was no way I could remain inside once I had touched my wand of power. I returned not once, but twice, during that day of spring preview. This time with a rake handle in my hand to clean the leaf litter and broken limbs of winter, clearing paths to work my rituals. Now all those unsightly debris are in organized piles blocking paths and waiting to be carried out to the compost pile. But, they are signs of my long-handled magic, and not so large they cannot be stepped over.
Erythronium, Trout Lilies emerging from the leaf littler
Real Magic Ritual
The real magic remain hidden until I begin my annual spring ritual of renewal; the close inspection of leaf litter. I am seeking the first appearance of native ephemerals shoving aside decaying leaves and revealing themselves. At this time it does require one to slow down and pay attention, bring back memories of last late winter. Just where did I see those fill-in-the-blanks last year? This week I see leaf after single leaf of mottled bronze-green and brown piercing the middle of leaves and pushing aside clumps of others. Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) are already two inches of rustic beauty with a waxed sheen. Upon the hill where there is more sunlight shinning upon the paths Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica) show themselves as slender blades of dark beet-bronze soaking up available sun. Not to be outdone, European Spring Anemones (Anemone nemorosa) have miniature green noses that are now exposed after removing the chickweed. I also see clumps of leaves forming domes rising above the remaining blankets of fallen leaves, so I know there is more to come.
Once that ritual has begun, nothing, including the return to winter, can hold back the natives or the Grand Poohbah of Gardening.
Come Visit. I have a pair of gloves and rake handle customized just for you.
Living With Limitations: Thinking
Helleborus niger, H. niger Sunset Strain
I lay there half-awake listening to wind howl around the corner of my bedroom with yesterday, tonight and tomorrow doing little dances in and out of my mind in no particular order. It is the last of February and we have fast moving fronts with temperatures running up and down the gauge like scales on piano keys. I have watched and listened to thunder, with accompanying lightening, seemingly unending rain, sleet and snow this month. Not much gardening going on in that kind of weather, but then, in February active gardening is not an expected activity. I did get to snap a few photos in between rain storms.
“Black” Lenten Rose (Hellebore x garden hybrid) opening.
I have kept records of photos in my garden for twenty plus years. I watch TV weather forecasts and see changes not only for me, but also the rest of the planet I live upon. Without getting into the politics and arguments in either direction, I will simply relate my concerns as I lay there in the path of a summertime weather system in mid-winter. I suppose I am like most human beings in that as long as it does not directly affect me, whatever it is cannot be of too much importance. If it is not an intimate threat then it can get in line and wait for attention after my immediate needs and wants.
In the past few years the weather has caught my attention like never before. Being a gardener I have been, and still do, pay attention to weather and how it affects my plants. But, now what was once the domain of others less fortunate has come home to roost. I have become one of the not so fortunate ones with a life that demands I pay attention to the world I live in. I can no longer take in sufficient oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide to keep my body active and healthy.
Helleborus X Garden Hybrid, Slate Bloom
I thought I lived in the country, but when I hear a local alert from the nearest city on weather channel warning of pollution, of taking precautions and not going out, I pay attention. If the humidity is high then the extra water in the air makes it harder to breathe. Below zero temperatures robs me of the ability to get sufficient oxygen. Weather changes finally got my attention on a personal level. If I want to breathe I find myself not only paying attention to my immediate world, but also find I am being affected by the actions of people I do not know. At times those strangers are at the other end of the state I live in, or smoke drifts in from forest fires in California, an oil spill in the local river, perhaps pollution from the smoke stacks that bring me electricity running the machine that creates the extra oxygen I need. The list goes on and on, including the auto I use to keep a doctor’s appointment, or radiation for cancer treatment.
There was a time when we did not know the damage we were doing to ourselves, how we were fowling our own nest. Now we really do know and are finding out each day the consequences of our past, and unfortunately, the actions of our present. So, I ask myself what I can do to breathe better and live longer. The list that comes to mind is so long I find it best to choose what I will actually do day to day.
Laying there thinking I wondered what I would do if I saw an auto accident with people were hurt, one remaining beneath the auto suffering, EMS having not arrived. There is no way I could move the car by myself. But if I stop and wave to others then another person stops; then perhaps two or three more because someone was helping you get attention. One person waving could be enough power to upright the auto and save a life.
My upcoming book will be on honest to goodness real paper.
Living With Limitations: Trickster
Hellebore niger, Christmas rose, freezing its little petals off
For the past few years Coyotes have been making a comeback to this area, especially along the nearby river bottoms. On occasion I have heard a call from them that sounds as though it is nearby. I have reason to believe they have been on my property, even inside my garden, pretty sure they have come at night to get a drink from my waterfall. If they are, indeed, that close to us then they are probably on the front porch as well, making sure the enticement of cat food was not left out. I never get to actually see one, but hear them and realize just how intelligent they are in figuring us humans and our habits out.
Monsters under the Bed
I am beginning to think the old American Indiana tale of Trickster Coyote is true. What else could account for me finding plant catalogs under my bed? Surely I would not do that to myself. Surely I would not plant such obvious temptation so near as I rest for a few minutes before going hooking up to my sleep apnea mask. It has to be that wily old coyote playing tricks on me. He is stealing incoming catalogs from the mailbox and placing them where I cannot help but see the cover as I slip into bed. That is downright evil to place such temptation before a gardener who swore off garden catalogs and discarded all his old treasured catalogs only late last fall.
Cover of Plant Delights Nursery
The first colorful temptation was a hardcopy spring catalog from Plant Delights Nursery, laying with enough cover sticking out that I had to pick it up if only to discard it to the trash can. In the motion of tossing the catalog I happened to open a page. It truly just happened and was not a conscious act. The catalog opened and I found myself scanning the pages, only to get hit solidly between the eyes with absolute-must-have-plants. There went ever resolve I had made to wean myself from purchasing any more perennials for my garden. On page 39 there was a hardy Mum, Chrysanthemum ‘Matchsticks’ (Matchsticks Hardy Garden Mum) with straw-yellow and red tipped petals. Toward the end of the catalog was a Little Bluestem grass named ‘Twilight Zone” for its powder blue new growth that ages to lavender. In between those two were several other plants that called to me, but these two drew me in like a giant magnet of garden lust.
Cover of Rare Find Nursery Catalog
In week two the sabotage was repeated. I was beginning to wonder about the security of my home. How was this coyote getting into my home? The sanctity of my bedroom? There beside my Plant Delights catalog was an aching pull into the depths of temptation. Rare Find Nursery was the final straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. My intention was to purchase a few shrubs this year and here was a catalog specializing in trees and shrubs. Featured on the front page was a new Calycanthus. This species of native shrubs has a special place in my heart and garden. I have several cultivars and hybrids and am always on the lookout for the next rare Carolina All Spice. There it was, Calycanthus floridus var purpureus “Burgundy Spice’ with its chocolate brown foliage that does not fade as summer heat comes on. Oh, how my heart and wallet ached, longing to order this one gallon size shrub.
I have reached the conclusion that Trickster Coyote is not only intelligent and crafty, but a lover of gardens as well, and will not, cannot allow, me to suffer the stress of not ordering plants when spring peeks around the corner.
First edit on my forthcoming book is rambling along toward its completion.
Life With Limitations: Stirring
Standing at the window looking out through the February gloom, the rain coming down day after day, it would be easy to let that gray overcast creep into my attitude. There may not have been a light shining outside, but I am a gardener and I know where to find my source of SAD mood-altering light (Seasonal Affective Depression), along with the treatments for symptoms of early onset cabin fever. I grabbed an umbrella and headed for the greenhouse.
I rolled back the door, stepped inside, closed the door behind me, and there I stood in another world. It was so quiet you could hear a mouse peeing on a wool rug, only the sound of misting rain on the roof. I stood there surrounded by the quiet and the aloneness. Not even a cat had followed me to the greenhouse needing attention. I do have to carry my phone in case of an emergency, but sound is turned off. I turned the furnace up, turned the overhead lights, paused and took a deep breath. This was waking up in another world.
There were containers of all sizes on the floor beneath the benches that I had moved in late last fall. The intent was to give them some extra time to put on a bit more growth, then awaken early after dormancy giving me a head start with container arrangements. A few containers were the original nursery pots waiting for transplanting to new containers and possible companions. Most were larger, beginning with 12 inch clay and moving up to 24 inch composite in size. Lots of possibilities to play.
While taking a close look I saw that my plan was working. There were green noses in the clump of Trillium nivale, two of the clematis were showing new leaves. That was just what I needed to get all excited, ready to spring into action. Then I realized there were some new rules to follow. With COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, emphysema) there are restrictions to carrying and dragging heavy containers around. This all has to be organized and thought through before jumping into action. First up, if I am going to move those containers up on to a bench to receive more light they have to be moved before I water. If I do water no walking back and forth with watering cans; get the hose out and turn on the water. Some containers I can move, but not all at one time. The larger ones I will need to leave alone and get help in moving. Pulling and pushing weight is about the same as carrying.
The stopping and thinking took a bit of wind from my sails, but I reminded myself that I had spent the past two years coming to grips with the reality of having this disease. Now was the time to put head work into practice if I was to take care of my health and continue to garden in my new world of limitations.
As it turned out, my body took care of how much I accomplished. I found I did not have the energy nor strength to lift all the containers up on to the bench. What remained would wait until another day; after all, there was no deadline on completion of the task. I could complete that tomorrow and water with the hose. The rest of the project, the large containers, can wait until my wife is in the greenhouse with me. I will say there are times when patience, asking for help, is more difficult than the doing. Then I have to continually remind myself that being hard-headed has consequences.
My latest book is in first edit now. Stay Tuned.
Living With Limitations: Anticipation
Hellebore x garden hybrid random seedling
Gardeners, or this one at least, live in a different world. Usually one of anticipation. Looking forward to that best garden ever next season, or soon as that order(s) arrives with name-your-plants. Ever the optimist even when discouraged by the present.
The first week of February is here and I am sitting at my desk looking past a stand of orchids in bloom, watching it rain. The rain that has been going on for days and forecast says more rain tomorrow. Today one of the things I anticipate is seeing Noah and his famous Ark glide past my patio as it floods. I awoke to lightning and thunder this morning, along with warm near record breaking temperatures. How can one enjoy those temperatures with a walk in the garden if Noah’s Ark keeps getting between me and my garden?
A strange kind of anticipation.
For me, it is a strange kind of anticipation as I am working on deadlines for a feature article and a one page story, both with photos, to be published in State by State Indiana Gardening magazine. There is always a lead time so what I write this gloomy, rainy, day will not appear until the May/June issue. Photos will, of course, come from previous years summer gardens. While I may not be able to get out into my garden, I sure can do a lot of gardening in my mind.
Winter Aconite adding some sunshine to the winter garden.
All of the lessons about practicing being in the present, living our lives now, paying attention as we go, awakening from our dream state; all those psychological states of mind are instructions most of us are aware. We may, or may not, practice what we know but we are aware. Not easily consistently accomplished, and especially for gardeners who seem to always have one foot in the future. Anticipating that next plant, that next season when things will be better, we are confident for we have found the magic wand of the present to wave over the
I am finding that my wand is waning on me of late. As my garden and I have aged together we have decided that the magic of just one more plant is not necessarily a wise answer. Yes, I will still purchase some plants, but my magic comes from analyzing my gardens as I write and describe my garden to others. I can look over many years of photos of my garden and the individual plants for the months of May and June, see all the lessons presented to me. Lessons I can use to keep from waving my wand over and over and getting the same results as in the past. I can have the magic of hindsight and foresight at the same time.
My anticipation for this year’s garden is to make what I have more effective by moving plants around to create better combinations. After each change, I anticipate sitting on a garden bench and critiquing my work and enjoying the reality of being there, so I suppose you could say I anticipate not anticipating.
Keep Reading. Won’t be long now before the announcement.