Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cutting Your Losses

I am tired of my clematis. It hangs from the trellis, brown and skeletal, a single bloom punctuating the white column behind it. Lush and covered with flowers in June, its desiccated remains a stark taunt to the voluptuousness of summer. I look away and force thoughts of June blue but can feel the irritation rising. I just want it to go away. My flow chart brain kicks into gear and I create a plan to amend the soil, build a berm, and gently prune away old wood but it feels incomplete and I keep spiraling back to square one. I'm tired of my clematis because it's miserable. Amending, berming, and gently pruning won't accomplish anything.

'The President' clematis in spring 2013

A slight tug on the thin stems and they snap free. I continue to tug, curving stems falling around my feet. For every decision I analyze and ponder, there are those that are spontaneous and irrevocably decisive. It wasn't enough that I had decided to pull out the dead wood. I wanted to pull out all the wood - dead or alive. I really just wanted to prune the whole damn thing to the ground and start over. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on.

Spring 2014

I should have stopped to grab my camera and take a variety of wretched photos showing the old thick stems curling through each other like a ball of snakes but I didn't. I was too busy chopping every single stem straight to the ground and pulling out wood so rotten it shrugged from the earth with a careless sigh. When that wasn't enough, I slipped into the small space between the patio and the shrubs and dug it up and replanted it. I needed new stems, straight and strong to hold the heavy blooms I knew would come. 


Cutting the vine to the ground helped me reposition and repair the damaged soaker hose. Fixing a torn soaker hose is very cheap and easy. This was ripped in two places which explained why I always had a wet driveway and a dry clematis.

Clematis are much tougher than they look. I wasn't able to remove every root but this rootball is big enough that it will grow back and be just fine.

My 'President' clematis competes with a row of Japanese hollies for moisture and nutrients in a dry spot between the walkway and the patio. Planted too close to the house in compacted soil, keeping it happy in the summer is a challenge. I moved it away from the wall and amended the soil with about 50 lbs of compost. I created a berm stabilized with rocks to keep the soil from eroding. Soaker hoses circle the newly planted vine.

I stuck the last clematis bloom in a vase with some zinnias. On a Windowsill on Tuesday is as close as I get to the meme In a Vase on Monday.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Odd Man Out

The plant sits in the pot, leaves tight against the soil, and I stand and stare. There is no perfect spot, no patch of earth in need of a jolt of reddish orange so it waits while I consider my options. I should find a spot, stuff it in, and be done with it. But I don't.

I am methodical in the garden, quiet, and reflective. My impulses are saved for time spent with friends who don't mind bawdy jokes and conversations ripe with honest observations and sly innuendo. But when I garden I plan, analyze, research. Plants are rarely moved without thought to where they will go and comparisons made of one location to another. But this one went no further than a pot.

Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica) in sunnier times with Painter's Palette (Persicaria virginiana) and toadlilies. I offered it at my annual plant swap but was relieved when no one took it.

Decisions are harder when you respect a plant. I could have composted it, pawned it off on my neighbor, or just left it to die. But I didn't. Every perfect spot has become less perfect as my garden becomes shadier. But it blooms and then blooms again, fighting for sun, so I love it even more. The realization that I am the problem not the plant hits like a sucker punch to the gut and I'm humbled from the shock of it. I don't need a perfect spot. I don't care if it clashes, gaudy and bright against the subtle blues of the asters and silvery white of the veronica. Tall, gangly, and always slightly out of place, it makes me happy so it stays. I dig a hole, stuff it in and am done.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Mostly Wordless Wednesday

It's so easy to make me happy: a bit of sun, a garden I love, and a stack of books.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Just a Ramble...

My fall garden always surprises me. This is ridiculous since I'm the one that planted everything. I shouldn't be caught off guard by how much is blooming but I am. I get so busy with the start of the school year that I lose track of what's happening and stand on my patio in my pajamas come Saturday, amazed at it all.  

These little 'Dream of Beauty' asters were advertised as needing the ever elusive 'Moist but well drained soil'. However, when I gave them the closest thing to it I could, they almost died. They want to be hot and dry. 

Monarch on the verbena bonariensis

I've had numerous Monarchs in my garden this year

and five fat little caterpillars munching on the milkweed.

These tiny 'Snow Flurry' asters are cast iron tough. Any plant that can handle being stepped on by me and peed on by my four dogs is a keeper.

They are super low growers that can handle dry, bright partial shade.

Native white wood asters (eurybia divaricatus) grow through the variegated 'Autumn Charm' sedum. Both grow well in dry, bright partial shade, too. The wood asters are floppers and leaners so if you don't want them lying on the ground, let them ramble over a cooperative companion.

Northern sea oats, Solomon's Seal, sedum, blue stemmed solidago (solidago caesia), and asters in the shade garden.

 Yellow annual begonias thrived in this shady urn next to the massive Rose of Sharon. I always thought these were fussy plants but they were easy easy easy.

More white wood asters grow through blue plumbago under the Rose of Sharon. Both of these are outrageously tough plants, which is a requirement for staying in my garden. I have a strict "No Whining and No Divas" rule.

 'Piglet' pennisetum and blue mist flower

Blue mist flower grows every where in my garden, especially in the moist, sunny beds along the rain garden. It spreads quickly and I end up ripping it out by the handfuls every fall to keep it from taking over. But it's so pretty I always leave more than I pull.

Native Short's asters are another fall bloomer that grow well in dry, bright partial shade. These quickly grew to be almost four feet tall. They might need to be renamed. 

These soft yellow zinnias were supposed to be three feet tall but never got the memo and are five feet tall instead. Overachievers.

'Serenade' Japanese anemones need less water than most anemones, which automatically gives them the coveted designation of Super Fabulous Plant of Amazingness.

I recently extended the sunny side garden by a few feet in depth. Since my dogs can't resist freshly turned soil or compost, I covered the extension with straw to help minimize the amount of soil they track into the house. Fall rains will help this area settle and the straw will decompose. After I've redesigned part of this bed, thinned out all the seedlings, and filled in the new areas, I'll mulch over the straw to keep the plants from heaving this winter.  I still need to remove the sod by the river bed.

I'm going to extend this area by another foot, but that's as far as I can go. My dogs have an invisible path that takes them from the patio to the dog run, where they chase squirrels and bark at birds. If I move the garden into their path, they'll just run everything over.

I have a huge container garden that I've been working on for years to get just right. This area becomes a wind tunnel during summer storms and everything I've ever planted there has been smashed or knocked sideways. But the miscanthus 'Little Zebra' has held up so well, I'm adding another one. Plastic tulips were the only other option.

This is a mid-sized lespedeza that I cut back every year. If we have a snowy winter, I can pile this spot outside my garage with snow without having to worry about crushing my plants. This plant was only 8 inches tall in March. It looks like a giant pink octopus but I find that charming.

I love how cool these flowers are.

Is that more blue mist flower?

 'Matrona' sedum and knautia with even more blue mist flower in the background

I planted this fragrant 'Fair Rosamond' clematis this spring and it finally bloomed.

And now for something completely different.... white mist flowers!

Fall blooming 'Starman' geraniums grow alongside blue and white mist flowers. Actually, half the garden grows alongside blue mist flowers.

In a plant smackdown, native obedient plant would smother blue mist flowers and leave them screaming for mercy. This plant will gladly take over your garden but the pollinators love it so I give it room to run.

Seed grown gomphrena without a blue mist flower in sight.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Plan D

When I was a kid growing up in California, I was always reminded of my grandfathers Swedish heritage. He came from a family of immigrants who had come through Ellis Island and made a life out of nothing. But my baseball loving, cocktail drinking, poker playing grandmother was English and German, a fact that was rarely mentioned. In her sewing room sat an old blue Carr's biscuit tin covered with drawings of English royalty. Queen Elizabeth the First stared off into the distance while fat King Henry and prissy Sir Walter Raleigh glared from the sides. 

Full of buttons, I found it fascinating and would pour over the contents, always looking for something new. After my grandmother died, the button tin moved into my mothers craft room and when she died onto my shelf.

This winter I became convinced I had an ugly pot problem that could only be fixed by creating something with all those buttons. Maybe I've just spent too much time at my favorite DC art gallery drooling over the mixed media art, but at no point during my delusion did it ever occur to me that I have no ability to create anything artistic. I just knew I was one button away from absolute amazingness.

Game Fish by Larry Fuentes, created using found objects,
 is one of my favorite pieces of art.

I spent my weekends and snow days pouring over my grandmother's buttons, ordering more when the tin didn't offer what I felt I needed. Grand designs began to hatch and my latest project soon migrated to the dining room, where it stayed for months. At some point my confidence should have wavered, stumbled, and crashed, tumbling into the black depths of self awareness. But it didn't. 

Artistic Fantasy

Auguste Renior's Luncheon of the Boating Party

Harsh Reality

Just to clarify - I rarely work topless.

When Plan A, a design that required hours of wire wrapping, only looked good while lying flat on the table but resembled Kindergarten Craft Hour when placed on the planter, I knew I had to start over. Super Simple Plan B worked well for a few weeks but soon fell apart and Plan C never made it past the mental design stage before I finally realized I had zero ability to create it.

Plan B originally called for three button swags of varying sizes. But several of the buttons cracked and faded in the sun before falling apart so I never added the additional strands. 

With the new school year fast approaching and my free time shrinking, I knew I had to face up to the fact that I have only two artistic skills: 1) making a huge mess and 2) sticking stuff to other stuff. Since I have only ever successfully made one thing, it seemed wise to replicate it - with buttons.

So I did.

Using tile mosaic mortar, I covered an old metal birdbath with buttons and beads and then coated it with marine-grade epoxy resin.

I also used beads and charms that say "Be Yourself".

I created the design as I went along. 
Many of the buttons are reminders of people I love.

My birdbath reflects me: quirky and colorful.

Considering the recent shootings in Ferguson, Missouri, I paused before adding the Pittsburgh Police button. The mystery of why my grandmother kept this uniform button intrigued me, but adding it to the mosaic served to remind me that the actions of a few do not define the whole. It helped turn an old birdbath into my own time capsule and political statement, even if the only person reading between the lines was me.

Once I had finished the design, I was ready to paint the bird and coat it in resin.

I used blue exterior spray paint.

 The entire design has been coated in resin. A thicker layer covers the bottom of the bowl to protect the design from standing water. This waterproof resin is designed for boats and is UV-resistant to prevent yellowing and cracking.

My design is safe under a layer of resin.

How to make a bird bath mosaic:

1. Find a metal birdbath and clean it off.

2. Mix up a batch of Mosaic and Glass Mortar until it's the consistency of cake frosting.
3. Spread it on the birdbath.
4. Stick stuff in it the mortar.
5. Coat it in resin.
6. That's it.

This was a really easy project.