What happened was not intentional. I do not normally ease drop uninvited upon private conversations of others. However, (and you know what comes after the words however or but) in this case, I believe it to be unavoidable.
Japanese maple foliage
It had been a busy day in the garden with my overdoing it a bit as usual resulting in aches, pains, and mostly exhaustion. I had my shower, a satisfying dinner with desert, then headed for the deck to keep from going to sleep too early. On the way out the door I picked up my unfinished glass of French unoaked Chardonnay wine, thought what the hell picking up the bottle as well.
The deck sits almost at the top of the hill where my garden is located; a small intimate space beneath three mature cedar trees where I can look down and across results of my labors. I sat my chilled wine on the end table, fluffed up a cushion, preparing to watch the colorful sunset well on its way to dusk. A glass or so later I was well on my way to between somewhat-awake and drifting into a warm comfortable drowsiness the color of Chardonnay, with feelings like a fat cat on a warm windowsill.
Trillium cunneatum, Tall Toadlily
While floating in place I kept thinking-feeling something approaching from behind me along the old overgrown garden path. At first I thought it was my wife coming to check upon me, but she always walks with a purpose. What I was hearing was softer and would start and stop, start and stop as it approached the deck where I sat. As the motion drew closer I thought I could hear indistinct conversation just at lower hearing level. I admit to almost holding my breath and becoming as still as possible to try and hear more distinctly.
The rustling stopped just behind me and I realized it/they were not aware of me. I could not see, but I could hear. At first a babbling, an almost understanding of the sounds, then beginning to pick up on the rhythm of the speech. The voice was soft, low, and almost a whisper, but was now clear to my ears.
“…..you are not too young to learn being thankful. Listen carefully and watch while I point out what you need to know. Sometimes there will be signs to read when you are older.”
“You are among the luckiest alive being born near where we stand. Most your age only get to eat what is in local forest and fields. Not you. We are now in Mr. Bush’s garden. Here you can find cuisine surpassing one’s imagination. There is a world of foliage and flower from Japan, China, the Himalayan Mountains, and more. Even the presentation is impeccable. Exactly the correct container to show off those delectable leaves with this Japanese maple. Smell and taste the bounty of Asian cuisine. Compare it to the local maple tree foliage.”
“Oh, this is yummy, Mommy. Leaves are smaller and more tender. I like the spicy taste.”
“The spiciness you taste is a special condiment Mr. Bush sprays on his exotic plants. You can take one more nibble, but don’t eat too much for I will be showing you more to eat in his garden.”
“Come along now. Over here we have food that is native to the forests of Eastern US; what we usually refer to as soul food. You can ignore the ferns, I am not sure why he grows them for they taste awful. But you will enjoy the spotted geraniums, the Delphiniums are an acquired taste. His Trilliums are beyond description; almost ever species in one garden. Absolute heaven. If you desire an after dinner mint he grows Wintergreen.”
“Can we stay here all night, Mommy? I want to eat all the trilliums.”
“You will get a tummy ache for sure, little spotted one. Far too much for one walk. When we are finished in his garden we will walk over to his water fall and get a drink. Meanwhile, let’s move on over there next. I want to show you his exclusive European cuisine.”
“Here is fine dining at its best, Little One.” The variety is exhaustive; think plants from the Alps, from Britain, France, and Baltic and near East. Every corner of the temperate world. Such tastes as one cannot imagine, only savor. Here try this; European Martagon lilies. Young stems and bloom are beyond words.”
“All in secluded shade where we can be cool and unseen while we dine. Only the best for you my little spotted wonder.”
I have no idea what, but I did something to cause her to notice me. That haughty white tail went straight up along with her nose. She gave a small snort, the young one copied the tail signal, and they serenely flowed from the garden leaving me there to put a cork in the bottle and empty that last glass of Chardonnay.
Preaching to the Choir
If you garden you are probably aware of what I have to say about staying healthy during this coronavirus epidemic. But, it is always good to return to the basics on occasion. Sometimes we forget or misremember. As gardeners we are all members of the same church, but the last time you heard this preached you may have been napping, or acoustics were bad from your pew.
Gardeners and yardeners have built in advantages over a non-gardeners. We are outside in open spaces with breezes blowing, sunlight upon our hatted heads and sp50 shirts. Gardeners generally work alone, so need for masked protection here.
Gardeners know and feel how the garden aids in staying healthy in body, mind and spirit. We also are aware how all three are connected, interlaced, for our overall health.
The Candy Jack
The words Good Health are synonymous with Exercise and Walking. When gardening I am up and down the hillside where my garden is located more often than Tommy Smothers’ yo-yo. I am always forgetting a tool, thinking of something I need back at the house or garage. Ten thousand steps are easily reached on my health app.
I do more kneeling down and getting back up from my kneeler than a devout Catholic at High Mass. Add an oxygen tank to my back while bobbing up and down weeding and removing debris and by my calculations I should be eliminating future penitence.
More lifting goes on than at an Olympic weight lifting competition. Carry those tubs of debris down the hillside and out of the garden to a waiting cart, then forking the debris out of the cart to the waste pile in the woods.
Carrying two-gallon watering cans from the house to the garden, then up the hill to water newly transplanted perennials and shrubs is definitely lifting. When filled that is almost seventeen pounds weight. I should have arms like a gorilla by now. (I had to stop carrying with only my right hand. My arm was getting longer than the left.)
I could go on and on with analogies such as digging more holes than a professional grave digger, but you get the idea. Gardening is manual labor.
Frond of Japanese Painted fern in Spigelia marilandica, Indian Pink
Contact with Our Beginnings and Endings
In case you have forgotten, the soil we play in while gardening carries a reward for us besides a receptacle for our plants. Soil, or dirt, contains something called mycobacterium. Contact improves our brain functions and boosts our moods by increasing serotonin, the happy chemical.
Another case study
You may “know” this one but do not consciously think of it. A study was held proving that blooms of a flowers cause females to smile. Stop and think, men. What do you do to impress the ladies having them associate good feelings with you? Yep. Send them flowers. Be the smile inside or out, male or female, one cannot help but smile when looking at blooms in the garden.
Tree and Shrubs
If you are a shade gardener there are additional benefits to gardening. First that comes to mind is the lowering of temperatures in shade. Usually a gardener can count on ten degrees lower than out in the sun.
The benefits of Forest Bathing, or walking in the woods, has been known since mankind had time to sit and think about it. Intentional time among trees is like a medicinal tonic. It can reduce blood pressure, stress levels, build the immune and cardio systems. Mood, energy, get boosts.
Finally, if the soul is a container, gardening fills it to overflowing.
Deciduous Azalea blooms
Hot and humid means I have problems with my breathing. Supplementary oxygen from my backpack helps, but physical efforts soon become exhausting. I give up the digging and switch over to weeding while on my kneeler, but even in a shady spot I find myself succumbing to the close air, wanting to give it all up. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. Uncomfortable enough that I do not want to be out there in the garden past noon.
Looks as though physical limitations and common sense will dictate, at the least, only half-days of garden happiness while this summer weather prevails. The new schedule is into the garden for activities by 8:00 AM and back into air conditioning before noon. Lunch, a nap, and then stand with my nose pressed against the window panes longing to be outside.
Half a Loaf
There is the old saying about half a loaf is better than none, and there is considerable truth in that one. I talk with myself about a time when I could not work in my garden, being too weak from cancer treatments. Most of those years my garden only received short visits from me, if at all. So, while I may not have everything I want when I want it now, there remains that half loaf of what I desire.
Butter and Jam
I suppose I could take my half-loaf and spread it with peanut butter and jam. Take my time that I have and enhance, enjoy, my garden in the mornings, find other activities for the afternoons. I can still walk my gardens and look at the flowers of summer and how they stand up to the heat even if I cannot. After all, they are my rewards for past year’s transplanting. I can also be thankful that it is summer heat and humidity that keeps me from actively gardening and not a worsening of my current physical conditions.
Gardening & Life
At times gardening is a bit like the rest of my life. Or, at the least, gardening reminds me of my life. How I still have options and those resulting choices belong to me. I can concentrate on the half a loaf that I do not have and do a little dance with dark clouds of depression. Or, another option would be to enjoy and appreciate the part of the loaf I have been given at the table of life. Perhaps even satisfy my sweet tooth with cookies in the breadbox, make the most of what is there, while it is there.
Afternoon tea is promptly at 4PM. I have first pick Darjeeling, crispy almond butter cookies (peanut butter and jam are for breakfast), so join me in cozy conversation while summer simmers.
Living With Limitations:Receiving More than Given
Anemone hupehensis Emily
Receiving More than Given.
In the past twenty-plus years I have been giving presentations Indianapolis, Indiana has always been good to me. My visit this past week to speak to the Marion County Master Gardeners was one that gave me serious pause. I found myself taking time out to sit quietly and contemplate the entire experience.
Hotel Broad Ripple
Even before the trip, from booking to selecting a title for my presentation, to reservations, schedules and other details coming into working with MCMG coordinator Teresa Weaver, all happened without a single hiccup. My landscaper buddy Rob did the driving and we checked into the reserved Hotel Broad Ripple, my first experience with a boutique hotel. Only 13 rooms and each one individual in all details. I cannot think of any accommodations I have enjoyed in the past even vaguely measuring up to the comfort level of my experience with Hotel Broad Ripple.
The venue for my presentation was well organized and ready to go, so all I had to do was shake hands with the computer guy and hand him my thumb drive. The attendees began to arrive and I began meeting old garden friends who came to say hello and share a warm hug with me. So many hugs in one evening! I was informed the event was sold out, so 150 gardeners were out there, but I remained relaxed for so many friends were a part of the audience. Also the members of the MCMG were so friendly and welcoming to me it was like being part of a big family. I felt that my talk flowed and was among my best presentations.
Our room was lower right with our own Deck and Adirondack chairs
The event was catered and I was impressed with the quality of the buffet. I usually do not eat much before giving a talk, but there was much temptation when going through the line with my plate. Mostly I concentrated on the 3 salads available, for someone had really put expertise into the freshness, flavors, and variety.
Small spot in Avon Gardens
We slept in a bit the next morning then walked to The Biscuit for breakfast, needing someone to carry us back to the hotel we were so full. We did manage to walk most of it off on the Monon Rail Trail and the sights it had to offer. From there we shifted to a tour of the White River Park, then left Indy for Avon. No adventure is complete without a trip to a garden center and Avon Gardens was the place to complete our fun day. For once I actually showed a modicum of restraint and only purchased three perennials (desert for my Deer – Hosta).
The entire trip was a continual smooth flow positive energy seeming to charge my batteries. Once home I found myself in my garden watering my neglected plants, making busy with my soulmate the garden while humming an off key tune I could not name. With all the energy I had received my step felt like I was wearing Mercury the Messenger shoes with wings at my heels.
Looking forward too seeing all of you again at my next talk in Madison, Wisc. February of 2020
Living With Limitations:
Aralia cordata Gotemba
Just a Bit More
Over my thirty-plus years of gardening there has been plants that continued to hold a special place on my Lust-List. I would chase one down, make a purchase and transplant it to my garden, mark it from the list and then find myself adding it back to the list. Sometimes I simply eliminated the plant from my list, making the decision there was no need to kill another. Another special plant would give me one or two good years and then decline until one spring I went out and found the plant was no longer with me. Some did not make it that far: I was growing more frustration than perennials.
Just a Bit More Effort
Over time many of the “problem plants” began to fall into a category in my mind. As usual it was the gardener who was the problem, and not the perennial. Almost all reached back to the most basic of garden rules of: locate a plant where it needs to be and not necessarily where you want it. When reading descriptions and individual plant needs for a particular plant on my Lust-List I was remembering what I wanted to remember on plant needs. If a plant description of needs said something like “Appreciates consistent extra moisture, but will perform without it” guess which part remained in my mind. Yep, “will perform without extra moisture.” Perhaps in some gardens, but mostly not so much in my garden.
Aralia cordata Gotemba fruit
The plants that I now had notations beside in my Lust-List became a future special project. My “technical difficulties” in health caused the project to put but on hold for I could no longer do the carrying and digging. Then along came a volunteer who wanted to give me a hand with the project. With his assistance, (well, actually he did all the manual labor), supplies and tools were carried into the garden, stones moved forming an overall outline, bags became layers to mix.
The new bed is at the junction of two paths, roughly teardrop in shape, and is the tip of a larger bed, all outlined by aged stones with the appearance of being nibbled and bored by rock worms. It is located on the north side of a hill and has sun/shade mix with sun traveling across the bed. A base of mixed coarse sand and granite grit mixed with native soil was layered with a bag of unmilled sphagnum peat and mixed. Then two bags of peat moss that were mixed with the previous, followed by bags of pine bark mulch and more peat. All received a final mixing until it filled up the inside of the stones raising above soil level. I wanted an area holding extra consistent moisture, but not a soupy bog. Then a bit of patience waiting for it all to be rained upon and settled.
I have decided to go for drama in this bed since there are so many choices available in foliage textures and colors as well as blooms. My overall concept is for a primary play of foliage. Assembling my special plants for this special bed the first thing I realized was I had more plants than space.
Aralia cordata “Gotemba” is a large herbaceous perennial that resembles a shrub dying back to the ground each winter. If I transplanted it to the new bed and it reached full potential of 5 feet across and 8 feet tall not much space would remain for my other beauties. To solve that one I dug a hole, mixed soil well with peat, compost, and soil conditioner locating the golden foliage showpiece outside the bed at the tip of the tear. If it only reached half its potential in height and width I will be content.
The bed is 5 feet at widest point by 9 feet length: what would you transplant next if it were in your garden?
I have completed my new bed, but want to hear your choice. Next blog I will describe the plants I used.
Living With Limitations: Third and Final (?) Redesign
Being a gardener I am aware there is no such thing as final in garden. Plants are always in the process of change; one dies, another takes over and smothers its neighbors, the design turns out to be nothing like photos you saw in a catalog. Then there is the gardener who always has his or her mind on that next perennial or shrub, perhaps a can’t-resist bulb order. Both gardens and their gardeners being alive are dynamic, and that means continual change.
The second section in my redesign of a southerly section of my garden took a turn (literally) toward the western edge; connecting, then running uphill. Envision a large irregular “L” shape. The western edge of my garden was mostly completed last fall so all that remained was finding a way to connect the two sections making it appear all one flowing design.
Last fall transplants
Close to midway along the western edge of my garden I transplanted one Spilled Wine Weigela, then on each side of it installed a Thread Leaf Spirea. All three shrubs settled in nicely and are looking quite nice this year. When I completed the other leg of the “L” with a Calycanthus Burgundy Spice, all came together with last fall’s yellow and dark purple foliage. The Calycanthus is taller than all the other shrubs used creating a nice pivot point where the two beds join and the path takes a left bend.
‘Completing’ the Redesign
Variegated Dwarf Weigela, Weigela florida `Variegata Nana’, flowering branches, at Visalia Monrovia Nursery
At the other end of the three shrubs installed last year I transplanted Diervilla Firefly Nightglow with its dramatic dark reddish purple foliage that shifts to red in the fall. In June and July there will be sulfur-yellow trumpet shaped blooms contrasting with the dark leaves. Dropping down in front of the Diervilla is a variegated Weigela covered in yellow and green leaves, again picking up the yellow, green, dark foliage theme.
While at a local garden center I saw Hibiscus Midnight Marvel I had been coveting on and off for a couple of years. This time I gave in to that Siren Song and the shrub came home with me. Rose Mallow Midnight Marvel has dark, purple-black-green large leaves with startling-red blossoms reaching up to nine inches across. In the past I was not sure I wanted a plant this dramatic (some may say garish), but it must be my age and failing eyesight, for this year it looked perfect for partnering with the drama of the Diervilla and Weigela combination.
I removed a perennial that had been less than stellar in its
performance for some years and now had a remaining space at the base of a mature wild black cherry. The space was limited, in an awkward location next to a bend in the path, and whatever ended up there needed to tie in with the drama of those last three shrubs. I put my spade down and headed for my favorite local garden center, and then on to a second garden center, all with no answer to my dilemma. Turns out the answer was in my own back yard.
Our sewer line had to be dug up and replaced requiring landscaping to be moved. In the plants moved was a dwarf Nandina which was quickly moved to my garden. It will have new foliage of red/brown, colorful fall foliage and berries of scarlet; all of which fit right in with the colors of its companions.
I then transplanted two clumps of the same daylily I used at the beginning of the bed, this time stepping down the Rose Mallow, so each end of the “L” would have the same texture and color coordination.
As I cleaned up the bed getting ready for the shrubs to be transplanted my first step was to dig all weeds by the roots. Then each hole dug was enriched with compost and after the shrub was watered in, a mulch was spread. I used old newspapers covered by pine bark mulch which is my favorite method to deal with pesky weeds.
See you in Indianapolis September 12th for Presentation: Colorful Combinations for Shade Gardens