Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Ur-blotanical

If Gertrude Jekyll were alive today, she’d be blogging like a maniac. Apart from her instructive writing on garden design and general horticulture, she loved the rabbit-hole digression on offbeat topics—she was the Ur-blogger on gardens.

I looked to her diatribe on the naming of plant colors when I was trying to describe the Pink Indigo. Jekyll informs me that mauve is French for mallow. Of course many mallows are not pink, so mauve as a color name is flawed from the get-go. Hence, her point that naming plant colors is futile. Especially since soil and nutrients can have an effect on leaf and blossom hue.
So the color of the Indigo eludes description… not pink, not lavender, the closest I can come is strawberry ice cream that has melted.
The best news to report is that the supposedly fussy fuschia is literally suffocated with buds!

Effusive Fuschia

Oh, and the lightning bugs are back in full force

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Speed racers, sure things, and glacial movement

It’s always fun to look at before/afters to see what’s working. Some plants just overperform despite my inept care, some things are no brainers like cosmos seed, and then other well-laid plans inch along at their own pace driving me mad with impatience.

New fence with crossvine newly planted, August 2007

Crossvine filling in, April 2008

Deck border where St. Augustine was growing, ripped up and turned into rose bed. October 2007

Deck border with Rainbow knockout roses, cosmos, verbena, and not yet blooming sunflowers, April 2008

Front before new bed was dug and edged in fall 2007. You can see the chinch bug-related grass decline. Hasta la vista, @#@!!% St. Augustine!

April 2008. This is going to take awhile before things fill in.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Envy is the most persistent weed in my garden.

An Iceberg boutonniere

Rachel came by last Sunday just as I was finishing a day of labor in the garden. She had come from a friend's house, with a gift of Moroccan mint. The mint was smuggled into the country from Morocco some years ago and they have been propagating and sharing this mint with friends ever since. It's very pungent.
I looked at the pictures on Rachel's camera of the mint smugglers' garden and went into an immediate spiral of envy, stunned by the amount of physical labor, clever design, and overarching vision.
Why do I do this? I remind myself that the style of my garden is mostly informed by my stated desire to keep this plot homespun and quiet in the mode of the house's 1941 vintage. But how much of the plan for my garden is based more on the the limitations of my age/energy, budget, etc.? Is it just a coincidence that green is the color of envy?
Let's move on. This weekend's activities:
planted white verbena in the pink bed
potted purple mini petunias in the muñequita
transplanted lambs ears, dayflower, agapanthus,and oxalis
planted the white oleander propagated from rustled cutting on Arroyo Seco

Finally, in a giant gaping space that has long baffled me in the front window bed, I planted what might be my new favorite plant: Indigofera kirilowii or Pink Indigo. From a casual glance it could be hypericum, the same pinnate leaf pattern, color, and surface touch. But more upright and shrubby in growth. It's got a spreading clump growth habit and reportedly blooms from spring to frost with its sprays of pink blooms. Nursery guy said that while it does sucker, it's easy to control. It's really sweet and old-fashioned. It makes me miss the altheas I had growing in my two previous yards. But I don't have enough room for one now.

Indigofera kirilowii

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hanging Gardens

Effusive Fuschia

It's nice that being identified as a gardener, friends and family give you garden gifts. After a year of missed connections, an old friend finally visited my house for the first time Thursday and came bearing a large hanging basket holding a fuschia plant. It's quite serendipitous, as I've had an empty bracket hanger on the front porch since I've moved in. Voila, empty hook problem solved.
This fuschia is something I would never had bought myself. The flowers look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, all exotic two-tone globes and pendants, drooping like chandelier earrings. It has no doubt been prepped in a greenhouse and brought to its peak lushness and bloom to tempt the unwitting shopper at a nursery. My internet search confirms that it will be a miracle if I can keep it alive. Apparently it may even need to come inside during the worst heat. If anyone has experience with this showstopper, please holla!

Evil Weed
This last week has seen the virulent return of my backyard's most obnoxious and widespread weed, a vine that never blooms, but has little green seeds. It strangles the plants it climbs on and cannot be killed or pulled up. Worse even than nutgrass. Annie, if you're stopping by, please i.d. this scourge so I can curse its name while I'm attacking it.
The geckos are all over the place; this dude was chilling on the cable with his little feet clasped together.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

New Moon

I no sooner got the last of the liveoak leaves swept up (the pile is as big as a 57 Chevy, thank God it's hidden behind garden shed) than the fuzzy caterpillar things have now descended like a plague.
But I'm not complaining. The pink, white, and rose cosmos are nodding among their lacy foliage. This evening I was sitting on the deck, knocking back a vodka tonic and admiring the fingernail moon, when I saw the first firefly.
And while it's a bit early, here's a Mary Oliver poem that says it all.


May, and among the miles of leafing,
blossoms storm out of the darkness—
windflowers and moccasin flowers. The bees
dive into them and I too, to gather
their spiritual honey. Mute and meek, yet theirs
is the deepest certainty that this existence too—
this sense of well-being, the flourishing
of the physical body—rides
near the hub of the miracle that everything
is a part of, is as good
as a poem or a prayer, can also make
luminous any dark place on earth.

A day in the dirt

So much of Tom Spencer's talk about gardens has stayed with me today. The notion of a "gathering in" and careful observation in particular. A friend gave me this sign, which is both a physical truth and a metaphorical one. I'm pretty much always in my garden, whether in actual reality or when lying awake at night thinking about where on my little plot I could manage to plant an allee of Sky Pencil Hollies (ilex crenata). I saw these at Home Repo for $9.98 and am now somewhat obsessed with finding a place for them in my yard.

The backyard pink bed is doing well, all the cosmos are filling in the space between the roses. My plan to define the end of this bed with a wall of aspidistras is clearly not going to work--too much sun. I think a wall of rosemary or boxwood would do better. Next weekend I'll rip out these poor things and put them somewhere shady.

Meanwhile the front yard bed, which is all white flowers, blue agaves, prickly pear and gray-foliage perennials, continues to infuriate me with its slow growth. I am not a patient person; it's a wonder I managed to raise two children without resorting to mayhem. But this front bed is testing my very soul. I thought I had done a pretty good job of preparing the soil, but clearly things are struggling and I assume it must be oxygen deprivation. Salvia coccinea, brought from my Vale house, should be about a foot tall by now. The only things that really seem happy are the iceberg roses and the white plumbago. In despair, I filled in some of the empty spaces with white lantana and white salvia greggii today.

One bright spot is the appearance of buds on the prickly pear pads. I just snapped these cactus off the mother plant at Vale and stuck them in the ground hoping like hell they would make it. And lo, they have. This is my favorite landscape cactus, it has a velvety gray-green patina and is spineless. I love it paired with the roses.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The cosmos is a beautiful thing

Looking north, on the lawn of the David/Peese residence.

A huge bouquet of fragrant and billowing thank yous to Pam, Melissa, Diana, and Bonnie for all their hard work in organizing the first Garden Bloggers Spring Fling. It was fun to read Pam's post about the first night’s conversation over enchiladas at Matt’s. I have to say that my table quickly devolved from dirt and HTML, to how we have assimilated gay children into our extended families. Don’t ask me how this happened but all I can say is that apparently affinity for gardening = immediate intimacy. We laughed a lot and found common ground (predominantly clay, with poor drainage).
And after hearing Tom Spencer speak, I guess it should be no surprise. Spending time as we do, noses close to the ground, inspecting small things closely, we gardeners have a well-tuned sense of what’s important, and what to let slide.
One high point was for me the open lawn at 8 Sugar Shack. What a lovely prospect. It made me want to rush home and reconnect with my own much more humble, yet no less, reverential patch of joy. Happy gardening, garden bloggers!