Thursday, April 30, 2009

There is something about that tall, skinny stem and the big rose ball on top (though these haven't even been set into their summer pots yet and so look a little puny) that intrigues me about tree roses, also called standard roses. I had long wanted to own one, even though they are the most formal of rose bushes and my whole garden is about the natural look. Nevertheless,last year I finally broke down and ordered two standards that were on sale in the Jackson and Perkins catalogue. Later, I was also given one for a gift. I would not say they bloomed profusely, but they bloomed sufficiently to delight me (knowing my own propensity to plant things in the wrong places in my first three or four tries, or to water too much/too little, etc., I try to keep my expectations low).

My plan all along was to overwinter the roses in my garage, which I did. They held their green leaves until almost Christmas, then went into dormancy during the worst of the cold weather. Early this spring, I started setting them outside during the day. The two J&P roses seemed slower to bud than the other one, and so I covered the tops with drycleaner bags and stuffed a couple of wet paper towels in each one to keep them from drying out. They began to bud nicely, although there was much dead wood on them, too. Yesterday I pruned them and moved them onto the deck, where they will live out the summer.

My neighbor has a standard rose planted in a small garden in the middle of her yard. She buries it in the winter and covers the grave with a straw bale. In the spring she lifts the rose, fertilizes generously with "barn dirt" from the family's cow yard, and waters well. This rose was trampled by a bull last year and not expected to survive, but after duct taping and some TLC, it lived and bloomed all summer. Maybe rose standards aren't as fragile as I'd thought? More on this in June. For now, I'm just enjoying the way these formal-looking these roses contrast with all of the natural-type gardens beyond. I'm thankful they survived the winter. And I'm already worrying about whether or not they will give a repeat performance next year. Should I put them in the garage again? Or should I bury them? At least I hope I don't have to worry about a bull leaping onto my deck and trampling them. A deer? Maybe.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Flagnolia. That's Flag sitting by a magnolia of unknown type, and so I've decided to call it Flagnolia until I find out what it really is. The shrub is five years old and is just blooming for the first time. It is covered with buds, but I somehow doubt they will all turn into flowers. The current blooms look very much like those on the big Star magnolia tree pictured yesterday, only these are smaller. No doubt a little searching of the University of Minnesota website would help me turn up the actual name, but so far I haven't looked there. Sometimes I like the mystery of a plant as much as I like knowing all about it.

This magnolia was given to me by a friend, who bought it at a bareroot sale at Farmer's Seed and Nursery in Faribault, MN. It came untagged, and she neglected to write down the pertinent information in her hurry to buy one for each of us and still get back to the car before her husband drove away--every mystery has a motive, right? Anyway, her shrub has been blooming for a couple of years. Mine was no doubt slowed in its progress because I moved it to the current site in its second year. The fact that I hit it with the lawn mower and decapitated one sturdy stem probably did not help it, either. (This is why I don't like to let anyone else mow the lawn: someone else might have decapitated the whole thing.) The mower incident, however, improved the magnolia's shape and left it with one main stem (trunk?) and it has actually seemed happier ever since, unlike Flag, who is not happy about posing for her photo. She has birds to flush, rabbits to chase, squirrels to torment. I feel she is secretly honored, however, knowing she has a beautiful little shrub named after her. I don't plan to tell her the real name even if I ever discover it. Next year, if the shrub is completely covered in white blooms, only Flag's face will show up on the picture--and she will probably still be looking wistfully off into the distance after mysteries only a spaniel can appreciate.

Monday, April 27, 2009

At Last

Blossom snow
April shower of white
Cloud tower
Minnesota lotus
Scent of spring

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How winter hates to let go (April 9, along the south shore of Lake Superior). The reddish brown ridges here and there are ice erosion--red clay from the banks along the shoreline has frozen into the snow and ice, then washed out to sea when the wind blew the ice floes around. Every spring our bank has receded just a little more.

Today is Earth Day, and like everybody else I'm thinking about ways to love the earth. Last year I started planting more root-heavy plants on our bank, hoping to help ease the erosion process. I planted rudbeckia, pampas grass, filipendula and sedum, all plants I have in abundance in my garden in southeastern Minnesota. Will they survive in the alpine-type environment along the Lake? I am waiting for the ice to go out and the weather to warm up so that I can see if any green shoots emerge. If not, I'll be trying some new plants. Most of this planting is done near the top of the bank, because ice rules at the bottom. In its own way, ice loves the earth, too. It sculpts like Michelangelo. Paints like Picasso. It draws me into its ecological web and does not let me go.

Monday, April 20, 2009

So what do we garden for? Not all flowers are made by photosynthesis. See here the lovely dessert plates made up a tea party.

The fruit of the fields and the work of human hands combined to make them. Fresh daffodils (yes, they did start blooming like crazy this week) helped warm up a cold church basement. We garden because everything we do, from composting to weeding to planting to harvesting, takes us one step closer to a result that is larger and more perfect than we can even imagine.

Flowers, though we grow them, are not truly grown by our hands but by their own life force. We are just their stewards, their caregivers, their nurturers. We are paid in beauty, and in the currency of caring, which lets us go on to plant those same seeds in new ground--like raising money for a community need through creating beauty for others. We garden because we are the ones who want to grow.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Spring fever is upon me--a fever to rid my property of this harmless looking little creature. It all started with just fifty cents. The sign said, "Perennials". What a deal, I thought, and quickly hurried home with my Pulmonaria (species unknown), a.k.a. lungwort. I had never cared for the name--"lungwort" sounded like some kind of disease, but the plant, with its pale, white polka dots, looked pretty enough, and I had many empty spaces in my garden. Fifty cents filled one of them.

Following the old "the first year it sleeps" rule, that first year it mounded up nicely, and did nothing else. Its scratchy leaves were a nice contrast to other shiny-leaved plants. It did not hold true to the adage "the second year it creeps", however. By year two, it was already into stage three: "the third year it leaps!" Mine leaped all over the place, into other gardens and, worst of all, out into the woods, where I am afraid it could become an alien invader that will kill off wild flowers and other desirable flora. I hope that this spring fever doesn't spread to your garden or woodland. If it does, take two aspirins and grab the shovel.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

So, will I have daffodils tomorrow? One here, at least, looks eager to please--maybe it will even open today. We have several clumps of daffodils naturalizing in our woods, but that makes them late bloomers, so to speak. Even the meager shade of the bare branches in early spring is enough to make them lag behind. Consequently, they are barely out of the ground while the daffodils in the photo, growing in my garden, are almost ready to go. I planted them in between clumps of day lilies, which makes for a great working combination. As the daffodils die down, the day lilies come up and cover the fading daffodil leaves. I love it when one of my planting plans actually turns out to work--many don't go quite according to plan (see future blogs for these tales of woe as they occur...) For today, there is at least the promise of daffodils. (They do not promise that they will bloom tomorrow--aren't flowers wise?)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Clay pots. I like the way they clatter when I get them out of their winter resting place in the back of our shed--and, of course, I always hope the clatter doesn't mean I've cracked them by knocking them together. But they have a pleasing, hollow sound that is music to my gardener's ears. As a bonus, no matter what I put in them creates a pleasing whole. (Oh yes--and the plants, once they fill out, will cover up any chips caused by clatter. It all works together.)

The answer to economic downturn gardening? Clay pots. They're not just for using inside of fancy glazed pots anymore.

Silent soil
you don't give a root
much encouragement
and stunt
the strongest
you are scooped up
and called
to test yourself
against the fire.
It stops you
in time,
leaving you
and with a hole in the bottom--
but with a clatter, a ring, a voice.

Simple pot--
lover of roots
holder of earth
grower of seeds
pleaser of eyes
upended bell--
you have but one enemy,
and so
it is the hole
that saves you.

You remind me of this
when the hole
is in my heart:
After I go through the fire
I will have a new voice.

Friday, April 10, 2009

As I was potting the magic bulbs yesterday--yes, I finally got that done--I thought about how I don't have the necessary gene for gardening neatness. My pots don't look like the ones in magazine pictures--and here I am publishing pictures on my blog--oh dear. This photo, however, tells me nature isn't all that neat, either. Leaves fall, snuggle in where they can. Stalks topple over any old which way. Squirrels drop nuts wherever they feel like it. Tulips don't necessarily come up in the nice circle I think I planted them in (I did try to be neat about that). Some do not come up at all.

Early spring gardens do not look like the ones in magazine photos. They look like just what they are: plants asking to be given a chance. Just as you haven't read a book if you only read the first and last pages, you don't know a plant by just seeing it in early spring and late fall. The tiny, perfect leaves of this Lady's Mantle show us the shape and formation of the future plants. They don't tell us how beautiful the dew drops on the leaves will be in the early summer mornings, or how the airy, yellow flowers will light up bouquets.

Out of spring's chaos, perennials bring their own order. They have their own genetic code, which, amazingly, seems to tolerate mine. Every plant has its own magic.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

As it waits for green, the Star magnolia reaches for the blue. Sometimes I think magnolia buds are the only things that get me through the winter. They begin to form soon after the tree is done flowering in the spring, so that by autumn they are pussy willow-sized decorations on the bare tree. All winter they wear their furry little coats--not proudly, of course, just out of necessity--promising that one day, when the sky is very blue, and the sun warms things up properly, they will unbutton the coats, slip off one sleeve and then the next..and then drop them in a heap like children do when they come home from school. They will parade their white bridal gown of petals while lawns are khaki, trees are leafless and spring flowers are just poking their heads out of the ground.

Most years this style show occurs around April 9. This year, many plants are showing early growth signs, but the magnolia looks just about like it did on March 8. Today is April 8. The blue sky beckons me outside to rake off winter mulch, which would seem like work, except that I will be watching for magnolia blossoms to open like popcorn in the movie theater of spring.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

For thinking out of the box, it's hard to beat these magic bulbs. I bought them three years ago at a garage sale for a dollar apiece. When the owner called them "magic bulbs", I thought 'oh sure', but he pointed to a row of not-all-that-beautiful stalks growing in a sunny spot along the foundation of his house. "They flower first," he said, "and then the leaves come." I'm sorry to say I didn't pay much attention to any that might have been in bloom, but the old gentleman was so eager to have me try them that I bought three. They grew into tall, exotic plants like short palm trees with burgundy spots on the leaves. I did not see any flowers.

Maybe the reason I don't remember the flowers is that they weren't in bloom along the side of his house--because they had already bloomed indoors, in a box, as mine have each spring since then. When I have gone to the basement to bring up my other bulbs each spring, there they have been, their flowering stage completed and nothing left but a tangle of yellowish-white, dried stalks snaking through the warty, brown bulbs--never any flowers. Each spring I have planted the bulbs outside around May 15 and enjoyed the foliage.

This year they were sitting in a box near the freezer, and one day when I went down to get something, I had the "eeeek" experience when I saw these magical organisms snaking out of the box. I decided I would pot them up and keep them inside for a month or so to see what the flowers are actually like. One is already beyond flowering, but others promise to show me what they are once I get them into a pot, which I have not yet done. Maybe once I can identify the flower, I will even be able to find out the name of the actual bulb, since there are many bulbs with magical qualities and they can't all be named "magic bulbs". For coming up with good names, one really needs to think out of the box. Out of the Box Bulbs?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

"Some kind of cactus" was the only name that came with this cactus. Finally, a 93-year-old showed me hers and told me it was called an orchid cactus. I felt very happy calling it an orchid cactus, because the name seemed to suit the exotic flower. Now today, as I sit writing about it, I have checked the Internet for more information and found that an orchid cactus is white and blooms at night. Oh dear. My cactus is red and blooms in the daytime. It turns out mine has been moved out of the classification epiphyllum phyllantus (orchid cactus) and into another called disocactus e. achermannii. It is now known as a disocactus. Somehow I feel that this is a bit of a demotion, though I know that science is not served by grouping things into broad categories. I make a note to start watching the discactus to see if it blooms at night, too, but in the meantime I content myself with the fact that its blossom is some kind of wonderful.