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.

Fall Containers

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In the past, I haven’t done much with containers in the fall. There’s no point, really. “Fall” is a very short season for us. Our first frost comes early in October and much of what goes into a container would be killed by that.

But this year, I have two lectures in October that needed containers. One was a lecture on container gardening itself and the other was a lecture on house plants.

In both my house plants and container lectures, I always like to talk about–and feature–both house plants and succulents. Why? First, because you can’t go anywhere without seeing them. Next, because I like them and I think that, despite the fact that they’re so popular, they are very versatile and great plants for a lot of gardeners in many situations (provided you have sun). So showing them–and talking about how to care for them–is important. Lots of beginning gardeners think that succulents and cactus are the same–because they are sold together. So a little education there is necessary too.

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This is my “house plant” container, where I play off the colors in the croton with the color of the flowers in the kalanchoe and the color of the sedum foliage. This type of planting is called “complementary.” It’s the same design principle as using throw pillows to pick up the color from a painting or a rug, say.

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And this is a late season herb planter with primarily tender perennials. The golden oregano at the front (my “spiller”) is hardy, even in my climate. The tallest plant, the variegated basil is ‘Pesto Perpetuo,’ a tender perennial basil, although I have never successfully over-wintered it without it succumbing to scale. The rosemary (the “filler plant”) will generally winter in my unheated sun porch unless we get a very cold winter–in which case I bring it into the house.

All of these, along with Wednesday’s show stopper ornamental container, will be traveling with me to my lectures in the next few weeks to illustrate some container design principles (as well as some fun fall containers).

I hate the see this year’s gardening season end!

Practicing What I Preach–Sort Of

One of the things I always talk about when I lecture is the importance of foliage in garden design. Even when I am talking about house plants, foliage is the star–I will often bring 20 or 30 plants to display–and after everyone is done “oohing and aahing,” I will remark that it’s important to notice a couple of things about my display: first, how colorful it is and second, that there are maybe only one or perhaps two at most flowering plants int he whole thing (and if there are, I guarantee you one is a phalaenopsis orchid so that I can talk about proper watering technique–not the “ice cube” method.)

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For example, here’s a grouping of plants from my living room. There’s not a flowering plant among them but the grouping is vibrant and colorful. This photo is from last year so it’s changed up a little bit, but it’s still substantially similar–and still no flowers in this low-light area beneath a window.

The same results can be achieved outdoors as well. In fact, when I have the time and energy, I find that it’s almost more fun to create all foliage containers. I have not created anything at all this year–as I type, I am nursing a 3″ scar across the my arm–and I am right handed–that is preventing me from doing anything outside at all, including watering. That’s where the Spoiler comes in handy. But I knew this was coming so I didn’t make this an intensive gardening year. There’s always next year.

For inspiration, however, check out these lovely, mostly foliage containers at Avant Gardens. And then plan for your foliage containers in the future!

Planting for Pollinators

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I hope that by the time you read this I will be in a part of the country that’s a little closer to planting time. I am taking a week to visit family in Oklahoma City–if I can get out of the frozen north in between snowstorms, This is what it looked like when I drafted this post. Needless to say, I won’t be planting outside anytime soon!

But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t planting time where you are. And since many of you are at least able to plant something right now, I thought that I would continue my garden planning posts for a bit.

Planting for pollinators is actually a little more involved than you might think. Don’t worry! Anything you can plant–so long as it’s pesticide free– will help them.

But different pollinators have different needs. And if we are talking butterflies, you actually have to plant for two different stages: the larval (caterpillar) stage and the adult butterfly stage. More about this in another post.

Bees are easier but even bees have certain needs. Ideally you want to make homes for ground nesting native bees as well as have a watering spot for them. Again, more in a later post.

Finally, read up on and consider the “unconventional” pollinators. All sorts of flies, beetles and other insects, including ants, are pollinators. As we try to better our gardens, and plant more native plants, let’s try not to accidentally kill some insects that are actually pollinators by using insecticides indescriminently.

Spring Garden Planning

The Connecticut Flower and Garden Show a little over a week ago was a great reminder that thankfully, yes, spring will soon be coming to my frozen climate whether I personally believe it or not. And even though spring does come slowly to Connecticut–and sometimes not at all (something I often talk about when I show photos of my tree peonies. I can guarantee far above normal temperatures on the day that my tree peonies open so that they flame out spectacularly and only last for a single day. They are an over-rated waste of space in my garden–or perhaps it’s my climate), it is still something that has to be planned for in the garden unless you want to be like everyone else and just go rushing off, willy-nilly in the spring to buy the first thing you see at the garden centers.

While there’s something to be said for exuberance at garden centers (I know that I am all too guilty of that one!), at least do it with some sort of thought or plan in mind. What is your overall idea for the garden this year?

Will you be adding more natives?

Are you planting for pollinators?

Maybe you want to grow your own vegetables? Or add a few berry bushes? Or even start more simply with a few herbs (I was describing most of the Mediterranean herbs last weeks as “basically weeds that can grow in rocks.”) They’re not quite that easy–but almost!

Or maybe this is the year you start your own tomatoes/lettuce/peppers/fill in the blank from seed because you just can’t find what you like any other way.

Whatever it is, do go out and start shopping, by all means, but do it with some sense of what you hope to accomplish. You’ll be happier, you’ll have better results in the garden, and maybe you’ll even help some wildlife or pollinators as well. It’s all up to you–that’s what’s great about gardening.