Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Vanishing Act

If I were a magician, my best trick would be the vanishing act. I'm very good at disappearing and often leave few clues. Sometimes you just need to take a break from one part of your life to give yourself time to deal with what's happening in another. I stopped reading blogs and rarely posted. I disappeared from social media and didn't think much about gardening. I was in a holding pattern while I waited for the front brick work and back garden retaining walls in my new garden to be completed and had nowhere to plant my seedlings. Instead, I walked for miles and worked out to force myself to focus on the moment. Music is a constant in my life and when I just needed to get out of my head, I turned up the volume and danced danced danced. I took long baths with a glass of wine and a good book and talked to my dogs, who think I'm a genius.

'Welcome' seemed like a bit of a stretch but I can say 'hello' to anyone. 
Even my door mat was a philosophical choice. 

The past twelve months have been a delicate balance of holding on and letting go, of having the strength to listen to that quiet, steady voice that always speaks the truth and finding the courage to do what needed to be done. Often without realizing it, we seek what we need to nurture ourselves emotionally but our choices reflect who we are.  I needed to come home to warmth, peace, positivity, and balance but also wanted space for my family when they visit. I had divorced the father not the family. I bought an old house, painted it yellow, and began a new life.

The dead tree to the right was removed before I bought the house.

My house in November 2017

The front hardscaping was finally completed in early June. I added over 2,000 pounds of compost to the soil, which is mostly heavy clay.

June 2018

I planted diervilla 'Kodiak Black' and abelia 'Kaleidoscope' under the windows. Diervilla is a tough native shrub that thrives in dry soil in both sun and shade. Both shrubs attract pollinators and have beautiful fall color. Right now the yellow diervilla flowers are blending into the house, which breaks all the design rules but I don't give a rat's ass about design rules. 

The view from the front door

After purchasing my home and beginning a month of mostly interior renovations that ended right before Christmas, I decided to only buy what inspired the strongest gut reaction. I didn't overthink or analyze anything. I simply made a list of what I needed and broke everything down into a Yes or No decision. If I didn't immediately love it and it wasn't perfect for the space, I stopped considering it.

The path from the side porch to the front garden.

I took the same approach to my garden. Without an HOA or spouse to contend with, I went outside, asked myself "What do I want?" and followed my gut. A side slope covered in turf grass was turned into a meadow full of prairie drop seed grass, liatris, and milkweed while I waited for the front hardscaping to be finished. To balance the strong, simple lines of the house, I replaced a scruffy, narrow flagstone path with a wide brick walkway and two curving side paths. A small path dead ends into a semi-circle centered with a bird bath so I can watch the action from the dining room window. Once the brick work was done, I threw myself into creating a new garden.

This bed is full of plants I started from seed that should have been moved out of their growing cups a month ago. What started as my annual seed starting bender quickly became a hostage situation observed with pity by the hefty, vigorous seedlings added to a few pots in May. The miserable, undersized Solo cup prisoners were planted into compost with apologies, a drench of liquid kelp, and a request to please stay alive. They've grudgingly agreed. Some of my favorite perennials from my other garden were also added. This is my new butterfly garden.

A cotinus 'Grace' (purple smoke bush in the far right corner) will eventually give me privacy from my neighbor and will balance the massive cherry tree in the shady side.

Wrens quickly moved into this house and have raised two broods, despite the constant presence of contractors.

The grass has been replaced with perennials and a metal glider given to me after my mom died fifteen years ago has been painted a warm copper and placed under the cherry tree. Plants brought over from my other garden were plopped into whatever spot I could find last November and again this spring, which explains why I have short plants in the back and tall plants in the front. I thought I'd have time to redesign the beds before summer. I'll save that fun for fall.

This bed is full of plants salvaged from my other garden, rescued from garden center sale tables, or gifted by my amazing local friends, who all knew where to find me. 

I purchased these handmade mosaic stepping stones from artist Jan Wilhelmi. They'll be here in about a month and will be placed in front of the copper glider. I love mosaic art because it takes the best parts of what's broken and turns it into something beautiful and new. That's the approach I took with my divorce and my ex-husband and I are still friends.

Gold solar globes hang like ornaments in the cherry tree. 
At night they glow as if full of fireflies.  

The website where I found these called them fairy dust balls. Whatever. The closest I'll ever come to fairy dust or a magic wand is a cheap hunk of plastic made in China but they're pretty and my tree looks cool at night so I bought them.

I have golden, glowy balls in my tree. What's not to like?

Corkscrew vine
Picture shamelessly borrowed from Google Images.
As for the arbor, I've always wanted a rose covered arbor so I bought one. It appeals to the romantic in me and gives the garden a greater sense of place with a prominent entrance. While I wait for the 'Laguna' and 'Climbing Lady of Shallott' roses and 'Baltyk' clematis to grow, corkscrew vine started from seed will quickly scramble up the sides and spill over the top, their purple pendulous flowers hanging down between the beams like fat snails. 

June 2018 
I'm back and will be blogging more regularly now that my new garden is taking shape.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

More is More: The Bat Shit Crazy School of Seed Starting

It must be said that I'm a passionate person and once I commit myself to a cause or hobby, I go all in. I'd get more sleep and have more money if these weren't defining characteristics, but they are so there ya go. To quote Popeye, "I yam what I yam!". 

It's not possible for me to just start a few packs of seeds. But turn my basement into a mini-greenhouse and start 55 different varieties? Yes, please! I open the seed catalogs or visit the websites and am seduced by the possibilities. So many flowers and so many options for just a few dollars. In the past I have methodically made my selections and drifted off to sleep designing my garden and filling all 100 of my containers. I allowed myself five or six purchases made on a whim but usually stuck to a plan. 

Many of these plants were grown from seed. Photo showing original Casa Mariposa garden.

Not this year. This year, I have no plan. I have no idea how much sun I have to work with although I doubt it will be much. I haven't arranged my containers or designed my new garden. There is too much work still to do. A retaining wall and terracing needs to built as well as two new brick paths in the front. The soil desperately needs to be amended, a new shady rain garden created, and shrubs added. But that didn't stop me from buying more seeds than I probably have grow light space for. It didn't slow me down at all. This year, I simply followed my heart and bought whatever seeds I damn well wanted to. Plants I don't have space or sunlight for will go to friends. A plant grown from seed and given as gift is a cup of love. Life could be worse.

Snapdragon seedlings 

I have 58 cups of seedlings but still have empty space under my grow lights for many more.

I grow my seedlings in big plastic drink cups that I've punched holes in the bottom with a hot screwdriver I've heated up on the stove. I cover the tops with a plastic sandwich baggie to act as a mini-greenhouse until the seeds start to germinate and then I remove it so I don't fry the seedlings.

I barely have any room between this set up and the nearby wall and have to squeeze through so I can do laundry. But I don't care because  I have plants growing in my basement in the middle of winter. To see what I'm growing this year, check out my So Seedy 2018 page. I went on a snapdragon bender when I was buying my seeds. Don't judge me. Alcohol may have been involved and I was left unsupervised. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Singular Choice

I'm not sure how to begin this post. Should I explain where I've been for six months or that I no longer have a garden? Casa Mariposa is a memory. The garden lies under a blanket of leaves, holes pock the surface where plants have been dug, and the patio is almost empty, bereft of the pots that brought so much color. The house soon goes on the market and what's left of the garden with it.

BEFORE - My new house is a 1938 stucco Georgian colonial. I cut the shrubs down the night I closed on the house. A huge cherry tree anchors the front yard.

AFTER - I closed on the house at 2:45 pm on a Thursday in mid-November and met my contractor there at 3:15. By Sunday I had a yellow house! I tore out the existing shrubs. The house looked like it was wearing a big green turtleneck.

I spent the summer after the Garden Bloggers Fling was over in my hammock and did not garden. I watered and pulled a few weeds but did not tend or nurture my plants. They grew wild and I turned away. You cannot tend what you know you must leave.

BEFORE - The back yard is an odd set of wooden terraces and poorly constructed steps. A steep slope filled with tree roots is being replaced with a retaining wall. The garage is being held together with ivy.

AFTER - I'm adding a retaining wall this spring to help level out this slope.

AFTER - The existing stairs were a death trap so I had new ones built.

I married young, a wild party girl with no plans in love with an Air Force officer. I was uninhibited and quick to laugh, an enlisted man's daughter eager for adventure. He was handsome and drove a Mustang and I was in love with being loved. But the decisions you make when you're 20 often no longer work when you're in your 40's and in September I asked my husband for a divorce. It was a difficult decision years in the making but life's too short to be unhappy. 

BEFORE - My garage is too small for my car but works as an awesome garden shed. A side porch adds period charm.

AFTER - I'm looking forward to filling this space with plants! I'm still in the process of rescuing and transplanting as many perennials and small shrubs as possible.

AFTER - Cute and funky works for me!

My new garden sits fallow behind an old house in a small country town twenty miles from the manufactured suburb where I used to live. A massive maple shades the weedy lawn and ivy grows with abandon. The existing shrubs have been torn out and a steep slope ripe with tree roots has made transplanting almost impossible. The property is small and I have no place to put most of the plants I'm so desperate to save. A month long renovation ate away at my time and the plants have gone dormant, leaving me to guess their location.

BEFORE - I kept the existing deck but replaced the lumpy stones with brick and removed the boxwood. The brick patio was built around an odd assortment of shrubs that were quickly removed.

AFTER - All the hydrangea stayed, except for one that was sacrificed to the compost pile for the crime of being planted just a few inches from the house and in the way of the painters.

All my pots came with me! Most of these pots have pots inside them like Russian stacking dolls.

I've already started lime washing my brick patio because I just can't resist a project....

But with everything I do, my divorce is as quirky as I am. My soon to be ex-husband and I are still friends, a new relationship to replace the old one. A new garden and life await.

I'm still here!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Art of Nothingness

The shady side 

 Sometimes you just have to stop. 

Monarda punctata thrives in dry, well drained soils.

One week after school ended, the three and a half day 2017 Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling that I coordinated began. Three days after it was over, my daughter and I flew to London for a week, where she will be attending graduate school.

'Limelight Hydrangea' and fallopia japonica in the pot

This is my third trip but her first and we walked for miles each day as she explored the city. We are bohemian travelers. We sleep when we're tired, rise when we're refreshed and make few strict plans. We wandered the markets, toured the Tower, and saw a show. 

annual rudbeckia

I came home to a garden lush with summer rain and just stopped.
 I didn't slow down or take it easy. I just stopped. 

Part of the rain garden and river bed

I did nothing.

zinnias and rose of sharon

I slept, laid in the hammock and read a few books. I lazed away the afternoon on the couch. I enjoyed the garden but didn't pull weeds, except the really big ones, and didn't take many photos. I hung out with friends, spent quiet days with only myself for company, and tried not to think of anything at all.

Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars on the fennel

Not think about anything? I wish. My brain simply doesn't work that way. But it felt good to enjoy my daily mental gymnastics while wearing pajamas at noon.

Annual monarda 'Bergamo'

I have two weeks of summer left before I spend my days with 100 11 year olds who cry about their lockers and lose their homework. I have one goal - to just do nothing.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Letting Go: The Perfection Paradigm

Part of my pollinator garden

It's no small thing to plan a Garden Bloggers Fling, to invite 90 people over to see your garden and organize a three and a half day event while working full time. It took three years. Life kept getting in the way and the task was monumental.

It was my own Mt Everest.

Seed grown 'Denver Daisies' rudbeckia

I spent two years analyzing my garden and redesigning the weak spots only to redesign them again and again. I wanted everything to be perfect or as close to perfect as I could hope for. But that didn't happen.

I love buttons and birdhouses so I had to have these!

The dogs' pee burned yellow circles into the grass and a few of my annuals took their damn sweet time growing large and lush.

I had hoped the metal rods and plastic tubing, which adds weightless surface area for the vines to grow on, as well as the dead wood, would be covered by the Fling. Photo by Diana Kirby

The Ugly Arbor, which had previously harbored an invasive but innocently purchased Japanese honeysuckle, was laid bare, the honeysuckle roots removed to stop its spread. I left the wood and started an annual vine from seed during December but that, too, wouldn't grow fast enough. Hops planted with the hope they'd scramble to the top in a mad dash fueled by fertilizer, climbed the sides with the languor of a lazy drunk. The arbor stood in contrast to the buffet of perennials at its feet, naked and thin, its secrets revealed. I cringed and sighed and walked away. 

A view of  part of the garden that includes a tiny bit of the river bed

Plants died and I replaced them just weeks before the event. Newly purchased shrubs bought the winter before succumbed to leaf blight and I mercilessly cut them down, replaced by 'Little Lime' hydrangea I was assured would thrive in my dry shade. I didn't care. As long as they were alive for the Fling, I was happy. I dug a hole and stuck them in. An important clematis was uncooperative and the anemones took over again. I couldn't find the ferns. 

A search and rescue mission uncovered several ferns but there are still a few that are missing. Photo by Late to the Garden Party 

In my frenzy and exhaustion, I gave up and decided it was all good enough. It was not perfect. I could not even begin to compete with the other professionally designed gardens on the tour so I just let go. 

The back steps and part of my extensive container garden. 

I had a beer and then another and thought. "F*ck it." Two days before the Fling, I ignored the garden and went to see one of my favorite bands, instead. 

A bit of my funky garden art

90 bloggers came to my house. They loved the Ugly Arbor and posted pictures of it on their blogs, while I cringed and sighed and looked away. They said it was whimsical and clever so I took a second look and agreed. No one stepped in any hidden dog poop or asked why the grass was dying. They took pictures of everything and told me how much they loved my garden. I smiled and believed them because I could see it on their faces. 

They took my picture and I cringed again when I saw how exhausted I was, my eyes mere slits in a puffy, sleep deprived face. Then I took a second look and saw pure joy at having done what I was told I couldn't do. So I just let go. Sometimes good enough is enough.