Thursday, July 30, 2009

Headline yesterday: Tanning Beds are as Bad as Arsenic. Headline in my garden today: Natural Sun Not Always a Boon to Plants.

Every gardening book tells its reader about light changes in the garden. Remove a tree from a shade garden and you have a sunny garden. We removed two box elder trees last summer, which turned a little wild garden of mine into something more like "little garden on the prairie". This big-leaf hosta, so fibrous and hardy, has tried valiantly to look into the sun without benefit of sunglasses, but it is now clear that the result is something akin to its living in a tanning bed. Like all of us who like to run away from our problems, this one went on a trip to a new and shadier garden where it will suffer through this unsightly phase until frost intervenes. Next spring all blemishes will be forgotten. Headline, May, 2010: Travel--It's Not Just for People Anymore.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Yesterday, Montgomery the Snowman found himself sitting on a truckload of plants. It had been a cool summer, but even in Minnesota it wasn't really cool enough for a snowman. Nevertheless, Montgomery made the most of it. He smiled for the camera, managed to avoid a fight with Flag, the resident spaniel, and shook his little belly like the proverbial bowl full of jelly. He noted that his favorite flower is the daisy shining like a star over his head. The sunburned hostas, not so much--but singlehandedly, he gave a much needed chill to the heat-stressed traveling plants. By the time they found their way to my daughter's garden an hour later, they were much revived. Montgomery says that if you can't find a snowman for your garden, you'll have to settle for chilling down any plants you move with a shower of cool water. He recommends a snowman, however, because after yesterday he decided that summer isn't as bad as everyone told him it would be.

Montgomery in the Garden

A snowman sat
(most snowmen can't...)
in the back of a truck,
a man of leisure among transplants.

All dressed in camo he did go:
in leaflike green
and purest white
to romp in daisies all unseen.

He offered chill
that hot, hot day--
the roses danced--
impatiens shrunk away.

His happy smile
did not once wane.
Who said summer
is the snowman's bane?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Filipendula, Queen of the Prairie, is now turning from a tall, pink plume to a spare, golden sceptre. Who will be next in the succession of garden royalty? Maybe Monarda didyma, commonly known as Bee Balm (much less heraldic). This monarda moved with me from our old house to our new house. It survived having been mistaken for a weed and whacked to the ground by my husband the year we got our first gas-powered brush cutter. It has survived wet summers when it dropped nearly every leave from powdery mildew. It has survived dry summers when I failed to water it adequately. Monarda is considered by most to be quite common, maybe even on the verge of being a weed, but there is something regal in the delicate crown-like bloom it shows for so many weeks in mid-summer. For now, let's just call it monarcha.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why do we go to see fireworks every year on the Fourth of July? Because we love the colors? Because there is something magical about a man-made version of shooting stars? Because we have to have something to do for excitement and on that day fireworks are IT? Each year as I watch fireworks, I wonder what it is that draws people to them. They are, I suppose, a form of exhibition art. They are, like theater, a performance never to be repeated in exactly the same way. They spark excitement. Most important, however, may be the fact that their impermanence makes us seek them while we can.

So it is with cyperus papyrus King Tut. An annual grass I have planted in a pot on my deck, it is a one-season affair. If I want one next year I'll have to buy a new one (or figure out how to winter this one over until spring). Yet I had to have one this year, after seeing them last year at Sargent's Garden Center in Rochester. Why did I have to have it? Because I love the color (the fresh green reminds me of bamboo). Because there is something magical about a plant that shoots out on the end like fireworks. And because I have to have some plants that just add excitement to the pot arrangement on the deck, and this year this one is IT. It is its impermanence, though, that tugs at me. Like a child at the fireworks, I don't want this plant to end. And so I seek it while I can.

Friday, July 10, 2009

After my tangle with the raspberry canes a month ago, I have finally been able to enjoy the literal fruits of my labor. Because we are having quite a dry summer, the berries are not particularly large--except near the compost pile, where they are double the size of the berries in the rest of the patch. If that doesn't make even the casual observer believe in the value of compost and/or mulch (I have grass clippings piled up about a foot deep on the compost side of the row) I don't know what does. It makes me think that I'm going to do a better job of mulching and feeding these berries now that I've made some kind of order in the patch.

A berry patch is a step-by-step process. I couldn't mulch until I had weeded. I couldn't weed until I--what? Couldn't stand it anymore? Perhaps. Anyway, I think it is so hard, sometimes, to be satisfied with each single step. We want to get to the finish line in one giant leap, instead of in a thousand small steps. But if we leaped, it wouldn't be a race. It would be a jumping event. A race is run, step by tortured step. I can berate myself for having piled compost in the woods when I could have been dumping it in the raspberry patch, or I can take another step and plan to do better in the future. If I really want to get in shape, I can move the piles of leaves from the woods to the raspberry patch. Maybe I will. Have truck, will muck. Let's hope I don't find any salamanders lurking underneath. If I do, I may run a different kind of race.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Most people see my perennial garden from the road as they are driving by. For it to catch their eye, it should have big splashes of color. As I work amid the towering pink filipendula, I imagine that it does, that it looks as stunning from the road as it does from up close. Wrong. I am always surprised, when I think the garden is in full bloom, to view it from the road, a couple of hundred feet away, and see that it doesn't look like very much at all. Perhaps that is why it is good to remember that no matter which face your garden turns to the world, it is truly seen the most by its gardener, who should plan it for his or her own satisfaction, for the deep gifts it will impart, for the store of knowledge it will constantly unpack. As we toil in the garden, we see the detail that drive-by gardeners see only as a blur. Still, I see bigger color splashes in my garden's future; they give me an excuse to let plants spread. A garden is for sharing, even if only for a moment.

Monday, July 6, 2009

I may never get to making a botanical inventory of my garden, much less my whole property, which includes fifteen acres of woods with some of the most gorgeous (to me) plants on the face of the earth, but it occurred to me the other day that I could make a photographic inventory of my clematises so that I might finally be able to find out what their names are by comparing my photos to online photos. Focusing on a single bloom from a plant renowned for having so many blooms gives that flower such dignity. I could almost feel this one's pride as I took its picture.

This clematis was planted by the south side of our house when we moved in. It had no name tag attached. The first spring it was a tall tangle of brown that I didn't know what to do with, never having had a clematis before. I was advised to cut back some of the brown and to leave some so that I would be able to tell if it bloomed on old wood or new. I did as directed, but it was here that the directions broke down, because as I got busy with the rest of the gardens I neglected to watch for where the plant bloomed. Over the years, it has been a largely neglected child, always eager and green, but seldom blooming. Last fall I decided to give it new hope: I cut it to the ground. This summer it has rewarded me with a nice (not immense, you understand) array of flowers. I think we may have come to an understanding.

Cutting in the fall is a routine I understand. Cutting back partially is not. So whether or not I ever learn the names of my six clematises, I now know I have at least three that love being cut back along with the peonies and Siberian irises. Some inventories have numbers. Some have names. Some are just a dream--like my botanical inventory dream. But they all start with a single plant.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

The garden wishes you a Happy Fourth of July (even if the blue is a little on the pale side).

Friday, July 3, 2009

Waiting for Cleome

Afraid to turn the soil
afraid to plant
afraid to miss that first small fleur de lis
you watch
you wait
you give up.

you see a cluster of green
where you know the
seeds from one cleome fell
when the November cold
cracked the pod
(like the hose you forgot to put away)
and dropped the seeds--
into a savings account
in your name.

The interest far exceeds
Wall Street numbers--
it could be a Ponzi scheme you think--
but then you cease to think
at all
as you watch
the seedlings
grow up
taller than your waist
and fill the garden with their spidery arms,
that legions of cleomes will
strangle your roses.
Gardener's Arachnophobia.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Someone lives in this house, I don't know who. Someone has chewed on the hole that used to admit only wrens, I don't know how. Someone is making squeaking noises in this house, I don't know why. I know, however, that Someone inside is living a life I can never inhabit. I know that whomever it is scares my dog when she goes too close (oh, the power of the unknown!) I know that I don't go too close, either, because it might be mice--or chipmunks--that could stream out and run up my leg. Yikes! I keep my distance. I let the woodland plants surround the property and the grapevines deliver a tasty snack. I watch the shadows fall, the sun glance in, the breeze twist leaves into lazy ticklers. Someone lives in this house. Someone who finds my garden a welcoming place. I forgive the chewing. Almost.