Getting Back In Touch With My Garden

While I was home today, nursing my lower back, Aaron suggested that I go into the back yard and check out the plants that are actually thriving on my benign neglect.

Turns out that the tiger lilies daylilies that I planted back in the fall are not only big and bushy, but are about to bloom! They’re currently sporting tall stalks topped with large orange buds. A photo op will soon be had.

The roses of sharon that I kept in my watering can are still green, while the one I planted in the ground is officially a dead stick. I can deal with hydroponic altheas, I suppose. Maybe someday I’ll manage to plant them somewhere appropriate.

My herb garden was the big shocker for me. I’d just about given up on it after the fuzzy aminals ate all my parsley and sweet basil. All that was left was catnip and two lemon basil plants.

The catnip are a freakin’ foot tall now. And the lemon basil plants are healthy and bushy. Who knew?

I harvested several stalks of catnip, and have some catnip tea chilling in the fridge right now. (I think I put too much honey in it, though. Oops.) I currently have about five stalks of catnip hanging in my dining room, and I have every intention of making Mei a cute catnip toy with The Good Stuff™, as soon as it dries.

Moral of the story? Bulbs good. Invasive herbs good (for my gardening style, anyway). High-maintenance plants not so good.

Seedlings = Planted

Yesterday, Scott gave me about a dozen Rose of Sharon shrublings (twigs with leaves and roots) that he removed from a friend’s yard. However, it rained like a mofo yesterday, so all I could do was stick them in a watering can full of water and hope for the best. This morning, before work, they actually looked pretty good. Perky, not wilty. Good sign.

When I got home from work today, I made myself some dinner and then prepared myself for some digging in the dirt. When all was said and done, I spent about an hour and a half gardening in the mud.

I ended up removing a patch of grass along the west fence that was maybe a little bigger than four feet square. I attempted to transplant the grass/sod/whatever to a bare patch in our lawn, handfuls at a time. We’ll see if that takes, or if Aaron berates me for attempting it. Anyway, I planted one Rose of Sharon in the middle of that newly-created dirt patch, and left the others in the watering can.

All the while, the wind was kicking up and it was threatening to rain, so I re-evaluated my evening of gardening fun once I was done getting the Rose of Sharon securely in the ground. (I hope.) I ended up leaving the remaining Roses of Sharon in favor of creating my little herb garden plot, as my seedlings were starting to look kind of peaked.

I ended up digging up a patch about three feet by five feet, right by the house, underneath the air conditioner. Believe it or not, it seems that this area gets the most sunshine during the most hours of the day. I hope I’m right about that. Anyway, I ended up with six catnip plants in the back row, six sweet basil in the middle row, and two lemon basil in the front row with six closely-spaced parsley plants. I really hope they take.

My two remaining hollyhocks ain’t doing too good. I put them in the front, with the other sun-loving plants that need planted soon. I think they’ll live, although I’m not sure if they’ll bloom (which will make it a challenge for them to reseed themselves for next year).

Aaron has gone on the record as being unenthused about me digging up so much grass, being that we already have giant grassless patches in the back yard. I’m going to make a concerted effort to make all this shit live this year, though. I want to make our shit pretty, dammit. I will make this work.

More Plants?

You guys are going to get sick of me continually blogging about the plants I haven’t killed yet.

You might recall that I got several plants from the resident Plant Guru at work last year. This year, she included her plants in the White Elephant Sale to benefit the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, rather than just giving them away. Everyone who placed a “bid” on her plants was guaranteed at least one plant, since she brought in about 30. It ended up that I donated $7.50 (not including what I gave for the dress-down day and the potluck) and got six plants. Not a bad deal.

Thankfully, Melissa labels her plants, and labels them well, so I knew what I was getting myself into before I selected which plants I wanted to take home. I tried to get plants that would tolerate partial shade, but I *had* to get the lamb’s ear.

Yes, lamb’s ear. It’s pale green and fuzzy.

Today’s haul consisted of:

  • (2) Lamb’s EarStachys byzantia
    6-12″ tall, full sun to part shade, perennial, fuzzy pale green leaves with purple flowers
  • (2) Veronica “Georgia Blue”Veronica umbrosa
    6″ tall, full sun to part shade, perennial, creeping ground cover with small blue flowers
  • (1) Purple ConeflowerEchinacea purpurea (?)
    2-3′ tall, full sun, perennial, magenta flowers
  • (1) Black-Eyed Susan “Goldsturm”Rudbeckia fulgida
    1-2′ tall, full sun to part shade, perennial, yellow-gold petals and brown/black centers

As always, getting plants from other people as opposed to making a planned purchase makes my garden planning a little more interesting. I don’t have much full-sun space, and what I do have is in the front yard (where everyone can witness my neglect).

I hesitate to plant anything of value to me by the mailbox, as I don’t have much faith in the permanence of our inexpensive cheap mailbox post. I’d hate to have to try to move established plants so we can install a new post someday in the future.

I also hesitate to plant anything along the driveway, as our driveway isn’t terribly wide, and I end up walking on the grass when I get in the car (on the passenger’s side, anyway), especially in the wintertime. There are also moles galore (OK, maybe it’s only one, but he’s a busy one) on the other side of the driveway, so I don’t think I’d be keen on planting anything there, really. Although it probably means that we have good soil there, and grubs, and nummy things for moles to feast upon.

My sunny choices are on either side of the sidewalk leading from the driveway to the front door. Either I bite into our front lawn proper (where the best sun is), or I take the foot or so in front of the bushes (which wouldn’t exactly be full sun, since our house faces north; the plants would sometimes be in the shade of the bushes).

The plants I picked seem to have good reviews on Dave’s Garden, though: the lamb’s ear is hardy and potentially invasive, the purple coneflower grows tall and doesn’t need staking, the veronica is evergreen, and the black-eyed susans are also evergreen and seem to be fairly low-maintenance.

I need to sit down and make a battle plan. The time is coming soon when I’ll need to put all these plants in the ground, and I’ll need to have an idea of what this little arrangement should look like when I’m done. I’m not averse to filling in any empty spots with some annuals (impatiens was my friend a couple years ago), but I don’t want my flower bed to look stupid. Y’know?

We’ll see how this goes…

Frost Tonight

Stan Stachak says there’s going to be frost tonight. I do have a few perennials coming up, and I’m not planning to go out and cover them all, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give my rose over to the last frost.

I went out this evening before sunset and pruned the rose back just a little before wrapping it in an old pillowcase and weighting the pillowcase down with some terra-cotta pots. Must remember to remove the pillowcase in the morning before I leave for work.

Hopefully this saves my rose from losing any precious growth. Poor thing looks like crap, but I’m not giving up on it.

(I did feel a little absurd, protecting a rose in the middle of a patch of dirt and weeds. Maybe I *should* move the rose elsewhere, so Aaron and I can plant grass over that entire stretch.)

As for my other perennials… the tiger lilies survived cold snaps earlier in the season, and they’re still just big bushy leaves with no blooms, so I’m not concerned about them. Something’s coming up that I planted by my Morning Glories last year (hell if I can remember what it is), but I don’t really have an emotional investment in it, since it didn’t do much last year. My coreopsis has been heaving during the winter a bit, and is just now starting to grow new leaves, so I’m a little worried about it, but I think it should be fine.

Not a peep from the lavender that was growing next to the coreopsis. This was supposed to be the year it bloomed. I wish I would have known it might not have survived the winter; I had seeds I could have started. Oh, well. Maybe I’ll just let the coreopsis have the mailbox and replant lavender elsewhere.

A Little Help?

Welcome to my problem spot.

When we moved in, there was a giant, out-of-control forsythia bush bogarting this entire space. Or maybe it was two. Yeah, it was at least two. At any rate, we dug all the bushes up, due to their scraggly beyond-hope nature. This, unfortunately, left a giant dirt pit, devoid of grass. I tried growing herbs and a rosebush here, but they all failed miserably. The rose still lives here, although you can’t see its teeny bare twigs in this picture. (Draw an imaginary line down the edge of the house, and the rose lives about half an inch down from the foundation on that line. Yeah, that bushy thing that looks like just another weed.) I also planted some of Scott’s tiger lilies over on the left, by the fence, and I mulched them today. (You can see the line of red mulch by the fence, barely.)

But OMG, look at the rest!

*puts head in hands*

It looks sunny enough now, but a.) this is just before sunset, and b.) this is still spring. The leaves haven’t come in on that maple tree overhead quite yet.

I can’t dig or roto-till or anything here, really, because our TV coaxial cable runs dangerously close to the surface of the yard. We’d have to be really extra careful if we dug up the dirt, even just to plant grass. I discovered this while I was digging up the area to make it a weed herb garden two years ago.

So, questions. Andrea, if you read this, this is especially for you. Melody, too, but I don’t think you read my blog very much, if at all. (Prove me wrong!) 🙂 Anyone else who’s garden-savvy, go for it. Please.

1.) There are plants coming up that don’t look like standard broadleaf weeds. Should I try to identify these, or just say Fuck It? Some of them look kinda neat, but don’t flower. I wonder if some of my herbs came back (sage in particular)? I do know that some of these are the forsythia trying to make a comeback with its remaining root system. That fucking thing will NOT go away.

2.) WTF should I plant here? Bulbs? Grass? Or mulch it and pretend something should be growing? We don’t have very good luck with grass; we’ve tried growing it in various parts of the front and back yards, and only succeed in killing it with heat and drought in mid-August, while allowing weeds to sprout up mighty fine. And those were in sunny areas. This is very, very shady in summer.

3.) Should I transplant my hybrid tea rose? The foliage keeps coming back (but no buds or blooms), for two springs now, despite the fact that I continually forget to cover it in autumn. It’s shooting up tiny canes and leaves from the crown, and the rest of it is pretty much dead. But the crown is alive, so the rose is alive. Right? So, should I try to move it before it finishes dying, or try to nurse it back to health and strength before I move it, if at all? The place it’s currently living is between partial sun and partial shade, I’d say.

I feel like such a damn failure sometimes. As long as I can Set It And Forget It™, I’m good to go. If forgetting to water for a week will kill a particular plant in a particular spot, well, yeah. That’s how I roll. Although I am thinking about trying a new ghetto irrigation system I read about in You Grow Girl that might work for whatever I try to plant under the overhang this year. We’ll see…

Holy Shit, It’s Alive!

Last year, I planted Lilies of the Valley, some purchased from Michigan Bulb and some gifted from Scott at work. None of them appreciated the fact that I often forget to water my outdoor plants. And that I had planted them underneath an overhang, so they wouldn’t receive any direct rainfall. Or sun.

In a last-ditch effort to salvage my plants, I moved them from the overhang to a large container outside. I had intended to move the container inside before the snows came — but, like most of my autumn garden chores, that didn’t happen. So, this container of Lilies of the Valley has been sitting outside the back door all winter. I expected that I’d killed them from drought long before the snow came, anyway, and had pretty much written them off.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the back door this evening and found this:

How’d that happen?!

Add one more to the list of Not Quite Dead plants, I guess. Also on the list: my poor, neglected rose; the tiger lilies Scott gave me; my miniature daffodils; and the seedlings I’m growing indoors.

While I’m on the subject of gardening, let me air one of my grievances about my back yard:

All around our yard are these fantastic arborvitae tree-hedges. They’re easily 20 feet tall, and act as a very effective privacy screen. For some reason, though, whoever planted the arborvitae didn’t want to block out the next-door neighbors. As a result, every time I go outside to garden, the neighbors’ dog starts barking at me.

Now, I’m not scared of dogs, and I’m not scared of the neighbors. In fact, we’ve never officially met the neighbors, even after two years of living here. So, when the dog comes out and starts barking at me, and the young adult male son (Christopher, I believe) comes out onto the deck to see what the dog’s barking at, and finds me squinting up at him into the sunshine, it makes for an awkward moment. Especially when the only thing I can think of to say is, “Hello, puppy dog!”

Yeah, I guess you could say I have a way with words. *facepalm*

I’d like to screen off this section of fence with a natural screen, as well… but, now that I see how high up that deck is, I’m not sure I want trees or shrubs quite that tall on that side. You know? I’d like to have SOME sun in my damn yard. I was thinking of planting my hollyhocks there, but I don’t think they’ll grow THAT tall. If my Roses of Sharon have survived the winter, I could plant them over there, and they’d eventually grow tall enough, I think. It would take a while, though.

I don’t know. I do know that I don’t want to have to stay right by the back door for the rest of forever, in the shielded corner where the house meets the garage. If I were a social creature, maybe I wouldn’t mind. As I am, though, I just want to be left alone to garden in peace.

Seedling Update

[Posted on Flickr by dianaschnuth].

The seedlings are just over two weeks old, and they’re starting to show me what they’re made of. The catnip (above) is growing like mad, and I’m seriously contemplating planting it in a container, rather than in my soon-to-be herb garden. If I actually plant it in the ground, I expect that it will run rampant and destroy all growing things in its path.

The parsley is finally coming up, the sweet basil is growing tall and stately, and the lemon basil is about on a par with the parsley.

I’ve managed to kill four out of six hollyhocks, thanks to us being out of town during an apparently crucial watering weekend. (Who knew?) One had already died from damping-off, and three others just died of thirst. My two remaining hollyhocks are about 2-3″ tall and not very strong. One already needs staked, which can’t be good. I’m hoping they’ll grow out of it (so to speak).

Germination, Continued

I’ll spare you the continued pictorial of the baby plantlings, but I did want to share their ongoing march toward being full-fledged seedlings.

The score so far: Hollyhocks have two tallish sprouts, and two are just starting to pop. Lemon Basil is slow going, with two seeds just barely starting to grow. Sweet Basil has had the lead until today, with all six pellets having good (if still small) growth, and two pots having two sprouts apiece. Parsley isn’t budging yet; that’s OK, though, because it still has to make a few more visits to hell before it’ll start to grow for real. The catnip has been the come-from-behind sleeper hit, though, with five of the six pellets having at least one plant, and most having two or three. This is a recent development — as in, the catnip grew a quarter inch *today*.

I’ve propped open one corner of the lid of my mini-greenhouse, to improve circulation amongst the almost-seedlings. Some of my hollyhocks have a white fungus starting to grow, which I understand is commonly known as damping-off disease. Supposedly, improving circulation should help, as should misting the seedlings with a peroxide solution. We’ll see how that goes. For now, I’m just propping the lid to see if that makes any improvement.

I’m documenting all of this mainly so I can look back later this spring and summer and remember that there was a point at which I was actually growing things, instead of just neglecting and killing them.

[Andrea? Do you have any hippie gardening nuggets of wisdom to share?]

Growing Things

This weekend, I drug Aaron out with me to purchase some planting supplies — most notably, a seed starting kit. I’d purchased several packets of seeds last year, and decided that this is the year I start my own plants from seed.

I ended up starting five plants each of hollyhocks, lemon basil, sweet basil, parsley, and catnip. Well, each peat pellet pot has two or three seeds in it, but they’ll be thinned to one per pot, so we’ll just say it’s five plants apiece.

I’ve never done this before, so I had no idea how peat pellets worked. It is SO COOL. They start out as little flat discs. You water them with warm water, and poof! They become little miniature biodegradable pots! How cool is that?

And what’s cooler? My hollyhocks and my basil are already starting to germinate, after only two days. There are little, pale green stems curling up out of the soil. I opened up the lid of my mini-greenhouse, and it smells like those bean sprouts we planted in first grade. *squee*

So, what’s my diabolical plan? Well, I’m planning to plant the hollyhocks close to the fence that borders the neighbors. This will hopefully act as a bit of a privacy screen, as I understand that hollyhocks can grow pretty tall. Beside the hollyhocks, farther away from the fence, I’m hoping to plant one or two of the potted Rose of Sharon bushes/twigs I’ve been trying not to kill for the past two years. I’m hoping to manage this in a way that doesn’t complicate Aaron’s lawn-mowing mojo.

In the NE corner of the backyard, I’m planning to plant a little herb garden, with my basil and catnip and parsley and maybe some store-bought plants. There’s a decent little patch of sunshine by the fence and the gate, so hopefully I can nestle a little corner of herbalicious goodness there — and, again, not complicate Aaron’s lawn-mowing mojo. I’m hoping that my strategy will reduce the amount of edging for me to neglect.

As much as I’m tempted to go buy myself a nice climbing rose, I know I should hold off. I’ve already just about killed one rosebush from neglect; I don’t need to continue my murderous rampage of flora until I can take care of what I’ve already planted. Plus, goodness knows how much I’ll be able to take care of any of this once we pop out a kid. I can’t help but assume that infant care and gardening are not particularly compatible.

But that’s not for some time yet. For now, I’ll be content in watching my baby plants germinate and make condensation inside their little greenhouse.


I wonder what will come back.

I planted some perennials last year. Some did well. Others failed miserably. I’m eagerly awaiting the return of any plants that survived the winter.

See, I’m a very beginning gardener. I also have the unfortunate habit of getting disinterested in various hobbies at various times, which is not good for living things. My houseplants are a prime example; I tend to forget to water them during the winter, and a few plants that I had intended to transplant outside have died during their dormant season as a result of my neglect.

I also am unsure about simple things, like when to mulch and when not to mulch, or how to prepare a flower bed and with what, and so on. Some of these things I can learn online or in books — still, though, it seems like so much to remember! This isn’t intuitive to me as it is to some.

Anyway, let me give a rundown of what may or may not return for the Spring of 2006…