The Point and Place Gardener

Sadly, I have gotten to that age where my cast iron back has given out. My knees gave out long ago. And my ankles are shot too. So for all but the most trivial gardening projects–or container gardening, my favorite type of gardening anyway–I now have to hire muscle.

Hence the title of this post. It actually came about when I was telling the Spoiler about my re-design of the gardens at work.

Work garden in full bloom, June 2019

You may remember this from a year or two ago. I had planted all this myself a few years’ back. I had bought the plants and installed them and they were flourishing–until last year when the roses came down with rose rosette disease. I understand that it is particularly bad on the East Coast–but in a pandemic year, it just made the loss of these roses sadder.

So the roses all had to go and new plants had to come in that were not roses. That was too big a job for me to handle, so as I described to the Spoiler, I had our landscape company do it. I told them what plants I wanted, I told them what cultivars to buy, and when the plants arrived, I placed them–the point and place gardener.

Late May, 2021

And this is how it turned out. Of course there’s quite a difference–and quite a lot of mulch, which normally I don’t generally use. But when the shrubs are this small, and I am not weeding because this is work and not home, and it needs to look presentable because this is a business, you use mulch.

Shady area at work

This area is shady so we used shade perennials. Honestly, I am a little nervous about this because we have woodchucks but we’ll see. I’m thinking that the hosta, especially, look like lettuce to the woodchucks. I sure hope I am mistaken!

We had no sooner gotten everything planted and the woodchuck–whom we hadn’t seen all spring–waddled out to begin dining in our grassy median.

This planting was done right before Memorial Day weekend. I am very afraid to go back to see what’s left on Tuesday.

[Update: I still haven’t been back to see it because of an emergency appendectomy on June 1st with complications. From what I understand, the plants are fine and the visitors–with the exception of our woodchuck–like what we have done. The woodchuck has decided to show its displeasure by tunneling through the mulch everywhere. I have been told there’s a pile in the corner by the steps that we could remove with a truck. Ah well.]

A Garden Conference With Something for Almost Everyone

The Trustees of Reservations, a non-profit group in Massachusetts that is both a preservation and conservation group, is holding its 45th annual Gardeners’ Gathering (virtually, of course) from March 20-22, 2021. The event is free so all my readers may find it accessible and of interest. To register, please use this link: http://www.thetrustees.org/gathering

Michael W. Twitty

This year, its featured speaker will be Michael W. Twitty, shown above. Mr. Twitty is a noted chef and author of The Cooking Gene. He will speak about “culinary justice, sharing knowledge around crops, and practicing integrated learning across intergenerational linguistic and ethnic spaces…. [Mr.] Twitty will deliver his special presentation on Saturday at 11 am. A two-time James Beard award winning author, chef from Washington, D.C., and also a culinary historian, he draws on his African-American and Jewish cultural backgrounds to explore the ways that recipes, heirloom crops, and food shape and evolve with our identities and our history. He will speak about gardens as healing spaces and places to work through the issues of living in a multicultural democracy.”

This presentation sounds amazing and could not be more culturally relevant right now.

Because the Trustees Community Gardens in Boston and the City of Boston are the co-hosts of the event, the Boston Mayor will be the Keynote Speaker and will present several Community Garden awards for “Most Valuable Gardener,” “Rookie Garden of the Year” and “Hall of Fame Garden.”

The Trustees have designed the program to be interesting to novice and seasoned gardeners alike. For newer gardeners, there are workshops on things like seed saving, seed starting and composting.

For the more advanced gardener, there are programs on building raised beds, no-till gardening (one of my personal favorites!) and growing medicinal herbs. There’s lots more on offer as well–check out this amazing 3-day program!

I Can’t Wait To Plant!

Some of my seed and plant catalogs

Well, that didn’t take long.

All you have to do is to look back at my post on January 1 of this year. What I said then was that I thought my gardening in 2021 would be fairly scaled back, as my gardening in 2020 had been.

Apparently though, I underestimated my “pent up” gardening demand.

It’s as if something happened. I am not sure if it was the couple of snows at the end of January and in early February, or what quite happened, but it was as if the “gardening” switch in my brain suddenly got turned on to hyper drive. I can’t wait to plant!

I am poring over catalogs to see what I might want to add to the garden. I am trying to decide how I might incorporate edibles with the copious critter problem that I have. I am planning different container designs (always a favorite thing to do).

I am attending Zoom lectures about different gardening techniques, growing mushrooms from a kit in my kitchen (and that is a story for another day!), and going to webinars about what the plant breeders are doing—one of my favorite topics anyway.

When I am out walking my dog, as she sniffs around my garden beds, I am eyeing them critically to see what can be added, what can be pruned and what can be changed. I’ve already had a little tree pruning done and I plan to do a little more if the weather permits.

Those of you who remember my “sustainable” articles from earlier years know that I am not one to clean up my garden beds too early because I want to ensure that the beneficial insects have plenty of time to survive—so about all I can do outside is prune on warmish days. And while I do love to prune, there’s a limit to how creative that can be.

Fortunately, I am restraining myself from buying (right now, at least) because, well, who knows? We are still in the middle of this pandemic and the last thing I want to happen is to have boxes of plants to arrive when I am unable to care for them.

But it’s such a joy to look at the new plants and to dream! Hope springs eternal!

Welcome 2021!

I usually do a post about my “gardening resolutions” for the new year but this year just having survived 2020 may be all that I need to say–and be extremely grateful for.

It’s a little difficult to know quite what to decide about this year’s garden. I suspect that this gardening year will be much like last, with restrictions and limitations still in place because of the pandemic. So perhaps I will resolve the following:

I have much to focus on without leaving my property. I need to attend more to maintenance;

Any new projects and planting that I do, I will attempt to make as few trips as possible (good practice even during normal times);

And I will continue to reduce my containers and group them to conserve water. Last year, we had quite a drought. Fortunately, I had already begun this practice, but I still spent too much time watering containers. It’s not fun. Some of those are my house plants and it’s still easier to water those with a hose than indoors with watering cans–but still.

So let us look forward to better things in 2021. Here’s to a happy, healthy new year and a fabulous garden!

Walled Off

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This post is another example of a situation where “garden management” left undone has become a huge asset.

Mind you, I am not advocating for this sort of thing. But for a few years, I had unfortunate surgeries that kept me from doing just about anything in the garden–certainly anything as major as pruning large hibiscus syriacus shrubs after they bloom and before they go to seed, as should be done.

And so they self sowed everywhere. As with all weedy plants, I am still dealing with that unfortunate problem.

But in this one instance, the hibiscus actually solved a problem that I had been battling for 20 years in this garden.

This great wall of hibiscus hedge now keeps my neighbor’s riding mower from throwing all sorts of grass and weed seeds into this garden.

I even lost a viburnum to pesticide drift from their property–because of course we don’t spray at all. So there will be no more of that. If anything, some of the great wall of hibiscus might get hit with their toxins–but there’s plenty more where that came from!

Now I just need to keep the “mother plants” pruned after flowering or it will become one great garden of hibiscus!

Unwelcome Pest

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I acquired two little tropical hibiscus plants early this season–on the same trip that I bought the “invisible” impatiens that I talked about on Monday. One is sort of a red-orange color and the other a orange-yellow color–you know, the tropical bright colors that hibiscus come in!

They haven’t bloomed as much as I would like despite the heat and humidity that we have been having but when they do bloom they make me unreasonably happy. I think it’s just that I can count on one hand the number of trips I have made to the garden center this year so anything blooming in my yard is really making me happy.

I also situated them right next to my door–in among my herbs–so I see them several times a day when I come in and out of the house with the dog. So there’s a splash of color with the herbs when they bloom.

I especially like the yellow one. Yellow is one of my favorite colors in the garden. So I watch the buds as the unfurl.

But last Saturday I noticed something amiss with the buds. They would get to a particular stage–almost open–and then stop. I leaned in closer and reached for one and it came off in my hand.

That’s just not typical–hibiscus aren’t THAT fragile–so I sat right down, picked up the pot and took a closer look. I saw two things that troubled me.

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This was the first. If it weren’t for the presence of the ant on the bud, I might have thought it was mealy bugs. But I didn’t see any full grown mealies–just this sort of white cottony stuff.

So I looked a little more and sure enough, there was a little green wedge shaped bug–a green plant hopper. So the white mess is the wax hiding its nymphs.

My first choice–always–when dealing with any pest–is a sharp blast from the hose, which seems to have worked well and gotten rid of the nymphs. We are in moderate drought so I am trying to be judicious about water use, but at the same time, hibiscus are very sensitive to any sort of insecticide, even organics, so the hose seemed the best choice here.

And so far, so good. No more plant hoppers or nymphs. We shall see if the remaining buds open properly. Fingers crossed.

Adaptation

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What are you looking at? Creativity.

We had the house power washed a week or so ago and a shade planter was moved away so that it wouldn’t be damaged in the process.

The next day, I found it out in full sun. Well. There’s no question that it’s too heavy for me and the Spoiler to move back on our own.

So we contacted the person who moved it, who said that he could get back around to us in a week or so.

My plants would be fried in a week so a little creativity was called for.

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So far, so good.

“Holiday” Gardening

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I am not sure that I have ever talked about this before but this is an idea that I used when I worked in retail gardening and I still use it for myself as a handy “marker” to remember important things. I often talk about it in my lectures.

What am I talking about? Well, I key important things in the garden to regional or national holidays. And of course, this is not original to me.

The famous fertilizer company “4-step plan” is based on something similar–the concept of phenology, of when plants bloom.

I found, however, that folks had no idea when plants bloom (or in some instances, what the blooming plants referenced by the fertilizer company were!)

So I changed it up a bit. Here in the United States, everyone knows when Income Tax day is (April 15) or that Mother’s Day is the second weekend in May. Memorial Day is the last weekend in May.

For us here in Connecticut, the lilacs (above) bloom at Mother’s Day. It’s true even in this exceptionally cold spring. So that’s a good marker for folks.

There are some particularly nasty sawfly larva that come out some time between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, depending on temperatures. One skelatonizes rose leaves; the other attacks mugo pine. If I were to say “watch for these in May,” that’s pretty vague. But to say, “keep your eyes open between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day,” now folks have some idea of the timeframe to check their plants.

I even use it to remember that one of my favorite migratory birds, the catbird, usually returns around Mother’s Day. This year it returned May 6.

So “holiday gardening” can be helpful for reminders. And who doesn’t need reminders now and again?

Literally Seeing the Good

It is a strange time in our country and our world. For those of you who have family who have been affected by this virus, you are in my prayers. I know that that may seem to be small comfort, but I am not a medical professional. It’s all I can offer.

I have seen so many posts about getting out in nature and getting out and gardening and undoubtedly I will offer some of my own in the coming weeks and months. Those who remain unaffected still have that as a hope, thank goodness.

One of the very last things I was able to do before most of my state shut down was to pick up a pair of prism glasses. I have not spoken about my 9 month odyssey with double vision here but I know it must have shown up in some of my photographs.

It started last August after vertigo (when I temporarily lost all vision). When I regained,my sight, I could tell it wasn’t “right,” but it took a little while to figure out how.

Once I decided that there were 2 of everything–at a distance mostly–I began the odyssey of trying to fix it. I am still doing vision therapy (and no, I never knew there was such a thing either) but until it helps–if it’s even going to–I need to see so I got the prism glasses.

So ideally now that the world is clearer–and now that I am on forced leave from my job just in time for spring–I will have some interesting things to share.

Now it just needs to stop snowing.

My Favorite Gardening Tool

When we think of gardening tools, we often think of hand tools like pruners, trowels, small spading forks or rakes, or maybe one or the more specialized tools like a Cobrahead or an Asian hand plow.

Or perhaps you are drawn to something larger. I have a fabulous upright weeder that I just draw toward me. It’s a small, specialized hoe, really, with a cutting blade on the inner edge. The handle is about 7 feet long. It requires a bit of precision to use.

Yet of all these tools, my very favorite is something that I use daily, 365 days a year. I just received my third copy at Christmas.

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It’s a 10 year Gardener’s Journal. You can see the new copy, and my “old” copy, which I am about to finish, side by side in the above photo.

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Here’s what the inside of the new one looks like so you can see why I write in it–and record the weather–daily.

But it’s so much more than that, since as you can see, the old one is twice as thick as the new.

I staple receipts from my plant purchases in there. I may staple larger plant tags as well on the design pages.

I will also insert notes to myself for the next season like “don’t buy anymore tomato seeds,” or “need bean seeds this year,” or “bean pole finials stored in potting shed this year.” You get the idea.

I will begin my third decade gardening with this system January 1. It definitely works for me. But even if this system is not for you, I highly recommend some sort of garden record keeping.