Living With Limitations: Fair-Weather Friend

Header in Water Falls, November Colors

I don’t truly consider myself a fair-weather friend to my garden. I am out there on occasion in less than desirable or comfortable weather. That is especially true at this time of the year when we have cold fronts passing through, drizzly days, and those sharp winds from the north. There are times when a job simply has to get done before truly uncomfortable weather comes in and remains.

Walking Fern on Mossy rock in Water Falls

I remember my father, being the town barber, often got comments from a customer in his chair, “How come you are not out fishing today, Elmer?” Part of that was a snarky remark on his actually being there to cut hair as opposed to being on a creek bank where he often was. My father would reply, “Well, if I have to be miserable to have a good time, I will wait for another day.”

With COPD emphysema I am sensitive to weather conditions. Cold makes it harder to breathe and get oxygen into my system. A shortage of oxygen in my systems means I lack energy, tire more easily and quickly. That effects when and how much I can have a good time without being miserable. Usually I prefer being in my garden mornings, be it to take photos, transplant, the next project, or simply being there for a walk. With frost and freeze becoming more frequent those mornings are pretty much a no-show in my garden. Afternoons have now become my time to work in my garden. Soon those afternoons will disappear as well, becoming only fleeting appearances. Winter is just off stage ready for its appearance.

Christmas Fern seedlings on mossy rock in Water Falls

My hopes for the immediate future are to cut and remove debris from the garden. It is a task I very seldom get completed and it bothers me when I take a winter walk. Just a neat and clean path can help define a garden of pride. If I can get to the tall standing dead of deciduous shrubs, the hardy gingers, delphiniums, and so on, I feel even better when walking. I take pride in my appearance and, since my garden is a part of me, want it to look its best as well.

Transplanting is over unless I end up giving in to a last minute bulb order that cannot be resisted due to price and must-have impulses. There is one sweet deal on Martagon Lilies that I may consider this week. I have been working on half-completed project remaining that may, or may not, get completed. If the weather cooperates I just may get that one completed and it will become a new bed receiving choice plants in a premium area of the landscaping. Any plant remaining in a container gets to spend the winter in the greenhouse keeping me company on foul weather days.

So. What comes next? I just labeled a folder Garden 21 and it has pages from a catalog with some Hardy Gladiolus photos circled. Included is a ruled pad for notes that will be made over winter on my walks. While the garden is more-or-less bare with its bones showing its a good time to do evaluations, and then remember the changes. Move this plant or that, eliminate the thug, bring in more winter color. If I cannot be out in the garden physically, I sure can be there in spirit, doing what gardeners do best: dreaming of the best garden ever. The one next year.


Aging with your garden? You need my book “A Gardener Grounded”

May not cure your ills, make you younger, but it could help you Feel & Garden better.

Living With Limitations: Shifting Winds

Helleborus foetidus buds

While Shade Garden Solutions is the name of this blog, Living With Limitations has been the theme for some time now. That theme should perhaps have been Gardening With Limitations. Beginning in 2021 I may change the theme title of my blog to more closely reflect what I write about. It will certainly be gardening first, health concerns second. That is the way I try to live my life at this point.

European hardy Cyclamen foliage

Gardening Companions

That is not to say that my age and health are not concerns, for they define the paradigm I garden within. In January I will become 81 years of age. Helping me celebrate my age will be serious chronic health problems with both heart and lungs, among others. I try to think of my aging and disabilities as gardening companions, letting them walk beside me, but not to get in front as we move about.


Having said that, I will add that this has all been discussed with several specialists, in particular cardio and pulmonary. The heart specialist has reminded me that, at my age, even without my medical problems, my mind will always be much younger than my body getting me in trouble. Balance being one of the primary areas of discussion. I am much more prone to falls with my conditions and medications, combined with age. Broken bones from falls usually leads to rehab and stays in a facility with no more gardening at the end. Of course, my younger mind does not listen as closely as my body.

Shrub Border with Bottle Tree

Tough Teachers

My body has been teaching me new ways to approach gardening. Reality is a strict and forceful teacher and I am slowly learning to think rather than reacting to my emotions. It is so much easier to go with the flow of emotions.

Two years ago I sold one half of my hillside garden to a botanical garden. There was a long period of agonizing over that sale, but I know with both head and heart that I could no longer care for what I had put together over thirty-plus years. In time, there was acceptance and then the letting go.

Giving to Get

This past late summer and fall I have marked another one quarter of the remaining garden for sale. More reality as they two years progressed and I found even with some help my garden was coming apart and I was more frustrated than ever before. I came to my senses, admitted to myself that I would have to give in order to receive. Give up another section to keep gardening. Reaction has been good and fellow gardeners have visited and purchased many of the plants. Other plants I have moved to the oldest section of my garden, the one I am continuing. Come spring there will be sales on the ephemerals and then the area will be gone to grass.

As Martha would say, “and it is a good thing”, this realization that reducing the overall size of a garden to the reality of what can be kept up with (and enjoyed) as a first step. In my case, I will be able to complete projects I promised my garden when I first began. The concepts are still clear in my mind and would really make the garden come together in the way originally envisioned. My focus will remain on the one area, without my attempting to spread across the hillside with my visions.  Now, perhaps with a little help from my friends….

Aging with your garden? You need my book “A Gardener Grounded”

May not cure your ills, make you younger, but it could help you Feel & Garden better.

Living With Limitations: Gladly Learning

Fall Foliage Oakleaf Hydrangea

I am glad to have relearned a lesson while relearning Gladiolus.

Monkshood with early frost

Last blog I told the story of how, as a young boy, I formed an opinion about Gladiolus. That vision was carried for the past mumble-mumble years. Since I already knew all I needed to know about Glads, there was no reason to pay attention to further details. When photos appeared in plant catalogs, on nursery websites, I turned the page without truly seeing what was before my eyes. In my defense I will say I specialized in shade gardening and most Glads do best in full sun, or so I understand to date. And, if any of my gardening friends every mentioned growing Glads I never heard them.

I was recently surfing plant porn on one of my favorite rare plant nurseries when a photo appeared that caught and held my eye. Click bait for sure. I hit my mouse button and opened the photo to find out what those captivating blossoms were. Caught! I was staring at a stalk of Gladiolus flowers in my favorite color blend in a shape I never imagined for a Glad. No flouncy blooms resembling a Southern Ladies’ hat to me: rather a delicate in appearance, almost translucent, but definitely open formed flower. You could see into their Biblical parts. For sure nothing like my vision of what a Glad should look like.

Gentiana saponaria with fall foliage

First I went with impulse purchasing and ordered three each of two named cultivars of Glads: three for container growth only and three for my garden. While waiting for the orders to arrive I ordered a hard copy catalog and began to read information from bulb specialty nurseries. I could not have been more wrong about Glads. There are species Gladiolus, and their cultivars and hybrids, with different colors and color blends. Different heights and different bloom times, along with different hardiness zones. All without the stiff stimmed formality appearance of my limited vision.

Thus far I have one order for spring delivery ready to place. I can picture Glads weaving in and around my summer and fall section of the garden along with Monkshood, Asters, Lilium, Daylilies, dark foliage hardy Geraniums. And more. Much more. I am still researching for bloom times and heights for my hardiness zone and know another order will be placed before spring arrives. Then the fun will begin with my new vision of Glads.

My eyes were opened: bit of a revelation on the garden path I travel. I learned and continue to learn: the best part being experiences to come with design, transplanting and growing on with the rest of my garden.

If we were speaking of humans, in Psychology 101 there is a lesson about perceived judgements or opinions. Taking a specific instance and transferring it to a general feeling toward another. I saw one type of Glad and decided all Glads were the same.  Truth be known, I formed an opinion about Glads without having sufficient knowledge. Being a human as well as a gardener I cannot help but wonder how many plants and people I have mindlessly misjudged with no real effort to actually know. How many wonderful plants, how many links with a fellow traveler have I missed in my lifetime?

Aging with your garden? You need my book “A Gardener Grounded”

May not cure your ills or make you younger, but it could help you feel better.

Living With Limitations: Glad to Know You

Gladiolus Boone
Photo Far Reaches Nursery

Have you ever tripped over something that you knew was there, have walked around, avoided, for years? All of a sudden a renewed awareness, right?

I have been aware of Gladiolus flowers long before I became a gardener. I remember seeing Glads, Corn Lilies, or Sword-Lilies, in floral arrangements, quite often at a man’s funeral. Over the years a picture formed in my mind of those funneliform, irregular, flouncy flowers lined up on one side of the stem in neat formal rows. I came to think of Glads as tender florists flowers and not suitable for the open garden here in the mid-West.

Surfing a favorite nursery site for rare and unusual plants I came across a photo that caught and held my eye. You guessed it. A Glad. The attraction was strong enough that I began to read the description for details. Gladiolus dalenii ‘Boone’ had petals shaped different from my preconceived expectations, colored in rich apricot touched in peach at petal tips and throat. A summer blooming, four foot tall plant hardy to zone 6. Really? Zone 6?

Geranium pratense Black Beauty photo Monrovia

I went on to a couple more sites I trust and order from finding other Glads listed into Zone 5 hardiness. Thus far I have ordered two Glads: Boone of course, and a red with white splotch petals named Cardinal which is a zone 8 for container experiment. Several other zone 5 hardiness species and hybrids have been marked for further study (meaning orders in spring).

I will be concentrating my search for hardy Glads on the species G. communis from the Mediterranean region, along with G. byzantinum from the same region, along with G. illyricus from Europe and England. The mix will give me different colors, heights, different bloom times and full hardiness here. All corms of Glads can also be buried deep to avoid winter freezing, adding to their adaptability to gardens.

I also ordered a hard copy catalog from Old House Gardens which seemed to be a wealth of information on the subject. There is far too much information to go into in a blog, so I suggest that if you are not familiar with hardy Glads begin a search for more detailed information with a visit to Old House Gardens website

I have a location in my garden prepared for at least two different hardy Glads with a companion plant as well as the container concept. The garden site is well drained and I have mixed large amounts of soil conditioner together with composted manure. I will transplant a few corms this fall to see how they perform as well as spring transplanting. For companion plants I am considering Geranium pretense ‘Black Beauty’, or Geranium p. ‘Purple Ghost’. There are several other dark leaved Geranium pretense available with varying degrees of darkness with different color flower petals. I am trying to stay toward the purple or blue colored petals to go with the warm colors I have in mind.

Color choices could be imagined from the containers I am ordering in Tequila Sunrise with a base of chocolate. Throw in some soft peach and orange/yellow along with purple-black and I think I have containers that call for a space on the patio near the water falls.

Always about that next plant discovery, the next garden, the next season.

Aging with your garden? You need my book “A Gardener Grounded”

May not cure your ills or make you younger, but it could help you feel better.

Living With Limitations: Modest Miracles

Tricyrtis, or Toadlily

Actually, if I were not being so modest, the miracles I have experienced are monstrous.  Miracles like events that have never happened to me before in my garden. Not once in my thirty–plus years history of gardening. And, to be honest as well as modest, I will have to say I owe much to the COVID 19 virus.

Hemiboea in Flower

Minor Deities only know, the virus has certainly provided all the time needed to perform monster miracles. I have been in self-quarantine since February. Few distractions, indeed. No doctor appointments, no tests, for eight months. No trips past the end of the driveway, very little company. Just me and my garden (with my wife performing all the risky business of the outside world).  Certainly time to play in my garden. A place to maintain what little sanity remains.

From the very beginning of my career in gardening I cannot remember a fall where I actually accomplished all three of my major ‘putting the garden to bed tasks’. This fall I find myself so close to completing all three it’s like, well, a miracle (not all miracles are of the religious nature).

For sure there has always been sections of the garden I was never able to weed before they matured and set seed. By the time I got to one end of the garden, weeds had returned to where I began. I have not shied away from my own contributions this year, but it has been my friends who made the weeding a miracle a reality. This fall I can stand and see only a small area remaining to be cleared. And, there was the bonus of their company while they waved their magic weeding wands.

Zingiber mioga Krug’s Zing

This fall our drought has brought the leaves down early. It’s only the middle of October and my wife has been picking up the leaves from the lawn with the tractor and emptying the baskets of golden mulch on the freshly weeded sections of the garden. She is well over half way through that project. Normally that project last until late November, sometimes into December, but this year looks as though this month will see the end of that task. Seeing the garden put to bed with those blankets is so pleasing to the eye, so satisfying to see another fall project so close to completion.

Only October and usually I am still working into first part of December to complete transplanting. This year I have moved more, purchased more, than ever before. I shut down one more large section of my garden and have been moving my ‘must keep’ plants to the part of the garden I wish to be my final garden. There is a single shrub and perhaps half-dozen perennials to transplant and that is it for the season. I will be able to concentrate on my writing over winter.

In so many senses I am where I am supposed to be with an expired to-do list and a very short lust-list.

This calls for a celebration of the highest order: a favored web nursery to place orders for more plants.

Aging with your garden? You need my book “A Gardener Grounded”

May not cure your ills or make you younger, but it could help you feel better.