Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I had a lovely email exchange with a spectacular blogger about her current landscape project. One of the things I enjoy most about blogging is the wonderful people I have had a chance to "meet" that normally never would have crossed my path in this world. Always a pleasure to exchange ideas, frustrations, plans with others who share your passion for certain topics. It should come as no surprise to my handful of readers that I have some real passions in life. One of the top ones is gardening. I confess I must use the term loosely at best. I plant things. Some live, most die. Regardless, my competitive nature makes this all the more a pleasure to me in the trial and error of learning what works and what doesn't. One thing I have learned is this. You can read all the books, study the little plant tags in nurseries, follow directions to the letter, and you will have some failures. Most would learn from these lessons. I on the other hand, tend to try again and again and again. Eventually one of two things happen. I give up in disgust, or I relish my success against the odds-even if it is only for one season. Gardening is not for the perfectionist or the faint of heart. Climates change, soil changes, light changes, sometimes on a daily basis.

I grew up in Iowa, home of the blackest, richest soil on this planet. I have HOURS of old home movies from my mother taken of her garden, peonies, and her prized roses. The woman had a green thumb for anything! We moved away when I was 13 and frankly I did not return until about 12 years ago, which was unfortunately during January when the normally mile high fields were nothing but barren soil. Well, I literally made my brother stop the car on the interstate overlooking a large stretch of open fields. I was in AWE of the bare field, littered with cornstalk remnants and untold piles of past cow wanderings (yeah, TMI I know). He was sure his little sister had lost her last marble as I gushed about the intense black gold for miles and miles. Mr. Ex-school principal was NOT impress by my random delay. My sister however, "got it" immediately as she has her own challenges in the Rocky Mountain soil. How I longed to dig deeply in that field and savor the smell, the feel, the potential of that fertile soil. Even considered discarding my belongings to fill my suitcase with all it would hold of the precious soil. Wacky I know. Instead, I came home to stare in horror at my own "field of dreams". Not so much.

I now live in the "high desert" climate (alleged Zone 5 for those who care) complete with hard pan clay soil, rocks aplenty, and let us not forget mandated water restrictions. Add to that my back yard is actually fill dirt excavated from my neighbors homes into the back yard prior to my arrival to Prince Charming's humble abode. Bottom line-royal mess of nothing but clay, rock, and weeds. Large expanse of grass and half the yard monopolized by an above ground pool. Not a gardener's paradise by any means. Fast forward after years of literal blood, sweat, and tears to now. I have a smallish patch of grass-less grass equals less water and more flowers :)! Besides, I have 3 "grand dogs" who love to romp in the grass when the concrete is 100 plus degrees on their tiny paws in the summer. I also have three tiered raised beds that allow me to have trees, plants, flowers, and a sufficient garden for summer veggies. Tucked around the edges I have more beds to hold my roses, more perennials, rhubarb, gooseberries, and catnip for my cat herd enjoyment. I even have an awesome compost pile that serves my little world with plenty of nourishment for my cherished plants. I have found a way to make a place for anything and everything that strikes my fancy in my garden. My favorite flower of all time is the peony. No scent in the world can compare to the fragrance from one blossom of this plant. If only it bloomed more than once a year, and only if the time was extended. But, no worry, for even when not in bloom, I'll settle for the dark green bushy foliage. It will remain smack in the middle of my garden as long as I live it is THAT important.

I have also learned to only slightly regard what the books, tags, and experts say about what grows in your area. Those are guidelines for the majority. Newsflash, more often than not you can get away with those that grow in areas both colder and warmer if you consider your own space. Now, if it says tropical zone 9, and you live in zone 2 in the bitter north, you will have troubles. HOWEVER, just how badly do you want to enjoy that tropical slice of heaven? For example. In my area, a tropical just won't work unless I admit two facts. First is I live in the arid desert. Most tropicals need a LOT of water. Heat I have, but water is done by hand. Do I want it enough to know I may have to water up to twice a day? If yes, I buy it. Second, what may be a perennial in zone 9 is only a annual in my area. Meaning, I can buy it and know full well I only get to enjoy it one season and it goes to the compost pile. REALLY tough to swallow, but I've learned it is OK. No year goes by that I don't have massive amounts of fuchsia, and lately angel trumpets. I just enjoy them every second until the cold arrives and move on. I admit in fall my kitchen can be over run nightly with pots I try to bring in overnight to preserve a few more weeks. I have no light to bring in cuttings or overwinter anything. I have tried, trust me, doesn't work in my cave. So goes for things that say absolutely grow in my zone. Killed them more than I can count. My clay soil kills them, or the wind, or the heat. The point is you have to be willing to take some risk, some failure, and celebrate the small successes.

This last Saturday I spent the entire day in the yard. I had to dig up some perennials that I wanted to move to our rental, move some items that have outgrown their location, compost some that were obvious "failures" that I know if they haven't emerged yet aren't alive. Great plan, except 9 hours later I could barely stand or walk. By Sunday, the back is in full suffer mode of consistent spasms. Today is a bit better, but have to change position a lot. Again, gardening is hard work. While in my lovely reading chair, I finally had time to place my yearly order for plants. I have ordered from many vendors, some with great success and some were bitter disappointments. I've yet to find one that has everything I may want in a given year. I still buy a lot at the usual places like Walmart, Home Depot, Lowe's etc. But the ones I order from consistently always come through with awesome deals for me and coupons so I feel less guilt trying some new items or some I know will only thrive for one season. While getting a pen to begin my order form, I glanced up to see this

You have to excuse the huge mess on the porch, that's what happens after weeks of massive wind and snow, everything gets shoved up against the house. But see the visitor on the fence peeking in to see what's happening? Darn strays show up daily. I don't mind visitors, but the squatters have to start paying rent or something. No more room at the inn guy, better move along.

OK, first I will show you what I have wanted to plant for several years now. I almost made it last year. Our plan was to remove our no longer functional above ground pool (that monster flat structure outside the window above and behind the cat), add a nice stone patio area with a massive covered pergola. I planned to add my existing wisteria to it and plant some grape vines to another area. Something like these Red Seedless variety would be ideal as the Prince loves grapes.

Well, I didn't get my pergola after the last minute backyard wedding ordeal last year. We had to cover the pool with a deck for the party, and now we don't have the energy to start over. Some day, but not in the near future at least. I'd still like some grapes, but for my next front garden expansion.
So, I sat down with my favorite Michigan Bulb catalog and got down to business. Don't let the name fool you, this company has a little bit of everything. My favorite part is the prices are VERY reasonable, shipping is very low, packaging is wonderful, and customer service is tops. I have ordered from them for years and if I had a problem with an item they always fixed it right away. They even have a life time guarantee on your plants so what do you have to lose? And no, I don't work for them, nor did they pay me for any of this. Just sharing my experience with a company I enjoy.
So, anyway, one item I wanted to try this year was a trumpet vine. One of the clematis finally bit the dust, so I needed something to soften the back fence in the deck area. I also have a passion for hummingbirds and they love this plant. I got a mix including both a yellow and orange variety.

While admiring this, I was elated to see a climbing hydrangea vine. I have searched for many years for one a local nurseries with no luck. Theory says it will grow in my zone. Past experience with hydrangeas of any form as been a total disaster. Most have not lived past a month in my yard. I have planted, potted, moved, sheltered, you name it. Zero success with any variety. Cross your fingers for this one cause I LOVE IT!

On the same topic is this beauty. I admit I have not tried this variety which is a shrub form before. I have looked for them with no success, but the Frosted Cherry is headed to my yard for the good old college try as well. I should have given up by now, but by golly I will find a way to grow these darn plants if it kills me. Stubborn old goat aren't I? Isn't it lovely with the ice cream shaped flower heads...............................

I have a variety of lilies from orientals to day lillies. Not my favorite exactly, but the day lillies are good performers for me so I persist. I also have these wacky toads that find my yard like magnets and get enormous. Kind of fun and help with bugs so I tolerate them. Then I saw this-it's a toad lily. Yes, I chose plants I like from color, scent or a wacky name. He's on the way now too.

I have had a purple butterfly bush in my front yard since I moved here 15 years ago. It grows like crazy, tolerates the extreme weather, and still covers itself in purple flowers like a carpet. I bought a rainbow variety for my Princess last year, but she hasn't mastered the trick of plants need water, so it died. This beauty was on sale for $2.99, so I got two, one for me, one for her. Yummy riot of color!

Here is a classic example of how I chose plants. One look at this baby and I was sold. It looks strange, lonely, and almost pathetic. Green Wizard Rubekia, yes please, I'll have one of those too!

At last, we have a plant I have secretly yearned for at least 10 years. Five years ago I bought 3 ferns to trial a new "side yard" area that was never touched before. Only one survived my neglect and heat. It is awesome in midsummer, underneath lies a carpet of silver beacon lamium that glows. This creature is a ghost fern, be still my heart. I can already see it glowing in the dark slice of heaven I call my secret garden. ON SALE, yes please, I'll have one thank you!

I won't bore you with the approximately 12 other items I added to my list to replace old favorites or add to them. Suffice it to say with my "special coupon" of spend $40, get $20 off your order, I got some long awaited favorites and more for less than $45! Wanna know a secret? If you check out their website, or sign up for a free catalog, you can have a coupon just like it too. Go ahead, check it out! All these lovely photos are from their website so you can enjoy more there!

My next quest will be for another favorite I can no longer seem to find in my area. It is called Love in a Mist. How can you not like a plant with that name? Seriously! I got seeds several years ago, but since then NO ONE stocks this seed and I have looked for hours. I may have to break down and order them from another vendor, but man they are pricey for seeds. If you grow these beautiful creatures, send me some seed pods OK?

One more thing. I have another favorite website to share with you. It is called the Garden Web.

It is filled with useful articles, photos, and forums for all varieties of garden issues. Better yet, there are also home forums for as many topics as you can imagine. Check it out, you'll like it.
So, what is your summer dreaming for this year? Are you as ready for digging in the dirt as I am? Favorites? Failures? Do share!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Monday worth getting up for....

Ever enter a comment on a posted giveaway, just on a whim because the "prize" was so captivating you couldn't resist? Ya, I do that on occasion and never give it another thought. Imagine my surprise today to do a quick visit to The DIY Showoff and see my name in print as the winner of this amazing prize!!!!!!!! I can hardly wait to try out this piece of technology in my home- fondly known as the cave. Thanks Roeshel for this amazing giveaway opportunity. Amazing to learn I actually won something. If you haven't been there, run now to her blog and check out all the amazing creativity she features. Just a warning, you may be there for awhile for the projects are endless!