Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Great Potassium Disaster

Beauty shot

I always wonder why we think others expect perfection of us. We carefully crop out what isn't beautiful or noteworthy to create the illusion of faultlessness. Give me reality over bullshit, any day. I recently burned the crap out of a boat load of plants and have the Instagram unworthy pics to show you.

Reality shot

This area is part of an ongoing project to turn this long side slope into a wildflower meadow. It will take several years.

Last summer I had stone terraces built into my sloped back yard.  Not confident the local soil company would give me true top soil as opposed to fill dirt, I opted to have a zillion cubic yards of pure compost delivered. I filled the terraces half way last fall with compost and leaves and finished the job this spring.  I let a few rainstorms settle the soil and began planting.

After buying the house in November 2017, I had extensive interior and exterior renovations done, which included adding this brick walkway and stairs. The terraces were added last summer to resolve the problem of a steep slope and massive surface roots from the huge maple tree.

The terraces were built around three existing hydrangea, which were heavily pruned last fall to remove dead wood. There weren't many flowers this summer but there was a ton of growth and they'll be amazing next year. 

The plants grew quickly and then stopped. Leaves that should have been deep green were oddly yellowish with red rusty spots. A quick search through one of my favorite garden problem solver books and the internet identified the problem as potassium deficiency. 

Potassium deficiency on persicaria leaves

Potassium deficiency occurs when soil doesn't have enough potassium, which is present in clay soils. My compost didn't have any clay loam or topsoil and was remarkably low in bananas, therefore very little potassium. It also didn't have any worms to add new organic matter. After identifying the problem, I bought a bag of potassium sulfate and applied it to the terraces, promptly burning the crap out all my plants. 

Many plants have been cut back and new growth is starting to show. 

Entire stems turned black, their leaves shriveled and curled before dying a ridiculously dramatic death. Instead of solving the problem, I'd made everything worse.  A wet summer worked to push the sulfate deeper into the soil and through the plants, compounding the problem.  

The middle terrace is full of slightly to mostly dead diervilla 'Kodiak Black'. 

These two are mostly dead but one is showing signs of life.

Shrubs that had been robust looked dead and cussed and spit every time I came near. I apologized, let the diervilla have their say, and walked away. Time is a great healer and if they grow back, they stay. If they don't, they'll be replaced. Their revenge is the money I'll have to spend on plants I shouldn't have killed.

I made sure to wreak havoc equally so both sides of the terraces were affected.  

But sometimes what looks like a disaster really isn't. It's just a set back and you're wiser for the experience. I'm having the soil tested and already added 1000 worms from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm.  Despite how introspective and reflective I can be, I'm not much for emotional self-flagellation. I get up every damn day determined to do my best. Some days I succeed and some days I don't. When my humanness gets the best of me, I figure out where I went wrong, make amends, and then let that shit go. 

New growth on the phlomis

Sometimes the person you have to be the most patient and compassionate with is yourself. I'll have a better understanding of the problem once I get the test results back, which will be affected by the sulfate that's already been added. I'll amend the soil, the worms will help, and everything will be ok. Plants will recover, new ones will be added, and eventually the terraces will overflow with lush, beautiful foliage and flowers. All will be well, even if it's not all well today. Today isn't forever. It's just today.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

One step back, two steps forward

I missed you. It's that simple. I just missed you all. After my divorce and move to a new house, I put up a few posts to let you know I was still alive and up to my eyeballs in projects, as usual. But my desire to chronicle the changes fizzled out and I stopped blogging. I can be very open and very private at the same time and I simply didn't have anything I wanted to share, not even my garden.  I'd decided to keep my blog as a time capsule to a very different period in my life. 

 My front garden has two distinct areas thanks to a massive Japanese cherry tree. One side is shady while the other is sunny. 

But after commenting on a post written by my friend Jason Kay of gardeninacity, I realized I missed the garden blogging community. So I'm back. 

To keep the zinnias from toppling during storms, they're tied to metal stakes.

 I tossed out the seeds for this calendula last winter. Native violets grow everywhere and squeeze out other plants. I pull some and I keep some.

I removed all the grass from the front of my house and filled it with flowers.  

My old garden is gone, removed with a backhoe so that grass and mulch could be laid for a giant playset by the new owners. I've never gone back to see the carnage and was given the news by a much loved neighbor. 

I knew that would happen, despite assurances from the new owners that they would keep the garden.  I miss my old garden but my new one suits me better. I spend a lot of time enjoying it and not much time maintaining it. Weeds cover ground not covered with mulch and I don't really care. Instead of worrying about perfect camera shots, I just go out with my phone and snap a few. 

Whether these daisies are a weed or a wildflower is in the eyes of the beholder. They're cute so I let them stay. 

My new garden and home are happy, peaceful places. The front garden is lush and exuberant and true to the nature of the small town I moved to, total strangers often stop to comment. At first, I was suspicious but it's a welcome relief from the indifference and  expected conformity of the northern Virginia suburbs.

Many of these plants came from my other garden, except the dahlias, which I grow from seed every winter. 

I've seen so few honeybees this summer and only a few swallowtails. But I've had about a dozen Swallowtail caterpillars in my fennel and currently have a new batch in some parsley. A smokebush shrub in the background is in its awkward teenage phase. I love its weirdness.

The rudbeckia hirta self-seeded last summer and were a surprise. I'm glad they're there. The multicolored coneflowers were grown from seed.

These seed grown dahlias are blocking the dwarf variegated abelia behind them but so what. They were supposed to be there temporarily until I found a better spot for them but I decided that spot was good enough and let them stay. I no longer care about having a picture perfect garden or about mastering design principles. I know how to create beautiful design. I just don't think it matters anymore. The dahlias are happy and I'm happy. That's enough.

These dahlias stayed in the ground all winter. I think the tubers survived because they're close to the brick walkway, which creates heat and kept the soil warmer. I'm going to experiment by leaving all my dahlia tubers in the ground this winter to see what happens. I'll grow a few from seed again as backups.

'Millennium' alliums from my previous garden

Here's a recent photo to prove I am very much alive. I'm a huge music lover so when a friend asked me at the last minute if I wanted his extra ticket to a local music festival, I said yes, even though I had no clue who was playing. The music didn't matter. I was in good company and knew we'd have a blast no matter who was on stage. 

While he was getting autographs, I had my picture taken with Chris Janson. I had no idea what his name was until a few minutes before this picture was taken and not being much of a fan of country music, wasn't familiar with his songs. But he was a brilliant entertainer and musician and a few of his songs have become favorites. 

So there ya go. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Great Wall of Retaining

I sometimes tend to think big. I decided this spring to build a retaining wall to solve the problem of a steep slope filled with thick surface roots from a 65 foot maple tree. It would be impossible to grow anything on the slope except ivy and weeds so I decided to have the wall and terracing built. 

BEFORE - November 2017 

AFTER - September 2018
The wall was built out of rebar and concrete blocks above deep, wide concrete footings. The blocks were covered in faux river rocks.

The ivy covered building is my tiny garage turned giant garden shed. It's held together by the ivy, which I'm never removing.

Once the mortar has been cured and sealed, I can fill the wall with soil. I'll let the terraces fill with leaves and the soil settle all winter before planting.

It was just that simple. "I think a retaining wall is the solution" and I considered it done. I planned, budgeted, borrowed, and hired my favorite contractor.

BEFORE - November 2017

AFTER - September 2018

AFTER - September 2018

The wall is huge. It's twice as big, twice as expensive and took twice as long to complete as I had planned but I love it. It keeps roots out but not people. It took two months to complete and in the process we received 12 inches of rain and I ran out of money. Raccoons made nightly inspections on the wall's progress but never offered to help. Jerks.  But life goes on and so did construction. Once the mortar has been sealed, I can fill it with the 300 bags of compost in my driveway and plan my next garden.

The wall consists of three terraces.

The rain allowed the contractor to solve all the hidden drainage issues. 

An oval area has been saved for a lawn of violets and creeping charlie. I'll over seed with microclover seeds but the violet roots are asleep under all that soil, just waiting to suffocate everything in their beautiful way. 

I want a sense of privacy and enclosure and since my neighbor and I both enjoy watching wildlife, including those adorable but lazy raccoons, this part of the garden will be designed with large shrubs that attract birds. Right now, it's a mess!

New brick steps were built last fall and lime washed for an antique look. 

These flagstone steps were already in place when I bought the house. 

The faux river rocks reflect the colors of the brick and flagstone steps. 

Handmade concrete caps add extra seating, a spot for me to climb into the terraces to garden, and look nice.

The bottom walls have beautiful curves. I love the combination of the straight against the curvaceous, hard against soft. Once the terraces are full of soil, cool solar lights will be added. Now I just have to save up enough money so I can fill these with plants! 

Sunday, August 12, 2018

My Socks Don't Match and I Don't Care

Just to let you know, I'm a patient, analytical person by nature. Except for when I'm not. Sometimes I just want what I want and if there's nothing holding me back I can be outrageously spontaneous and decisive. I once went to London for a day to surprise someone who needed surprising. It needed to be done so I did it. It just didn't occur to me not to. 

Zinnias grown from seed

The front garden is filling in.

All the annuals were grown from seed over the winter.

But this summer life has unspooled on a timetable I can't control or influence so I've waited and waited and waited some more. But that's how it goes, isn't it? Sometimes you just have to stand back and look at the whole instead of the pieces and find the beauty in the chaos. 

Coneflowers and naked lady lilies came with the house.

This looks like a mess but there are 50 prairie dropseed grass plugs, 30 liatris spicata, and 30 orange milkweed plants hidden in this mess of turf I've dubbed The Meadow. The dropseed grass will eventually suffocate the turf and take over. I scattered in some rudbeckia because I wanted more color and had too many. Roses grow along the wall.

 Roses in the spring

Violets are everywhere are have to be pulled to keep from suffocating everything. These are all perennials brought over from my other garden.

If the garden reflects the gardener, mine has become a mess of contradictions. The front garden screams "I'm organized and have my shit together!" while the side garden laughs "My socks don't match and I don't care!". I don't know what the driveway garden says but it makes me happy and that's all that matters. The back is a massive construction site as a series of retaining walls of Titanic proportions are slowly taking shape.

To maximize my sunshine, I've lined my driveway with pots and stuffed them full of the annuals I grew from seed. 

Orange poets tassel flower (Emiliana javanica) and gomphrena.

Seed grown dahlia

An assortment of rudbeckia hirta

Life is a dance and you don't always get to pick the music. But get up and shake your ass, anyway. 

Just a wee bit of  The Wall
The concrete forms will be covered in river rocks.

A view of  The Wall from the second story