Thursday, November 29

Eight Things About Me (A Meme)

I'm almost running out of interesting things to share about myself... honestly, I'm a pretty boring person. But since Mr. McGregor's Daughter and Muum both tagged me for the latest meme to circle the garden blogosphere, I decided to dig a little deeper and see if I could play along. So here's my list:

1. I was very excited to find my first few gray hairs last year. (I'm 31.) My Mom has beautiful silvery-gray hair, and I secretly hope that I have inherited it. If I discover in a few years that genetics has granted me this wish, I'll end my once-per-year lowlights routine and let my mane go completely au naturel.

2. My very first concert: The Violent Femmes at Bogart's in Cincinnati, 1995. I still love music but I may have outgrown my concert-going phase... I haven't bought a concert ticket since 2004. But over the years I've seen a lot of shows, including: Pearl Jam (x12), Radiohead (x3), Bob Dylan, Joan Osborne, Ozzy Osbourne, L7, Guided by Voices, The Melvins, The Butthole Surfers, Green Day, REM, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Beth Orton, Gordon Lightfoot (don't laugh--he was wonderful!) and many more.

3. I took the ACT 5 or 6 times when I was in high school, trying to get a perfect 36. My scores were all only a point or two below that, and it just cost around $25 to take the test, so I figured it was worth a try. This is particularly interesting when you read the next point:

4. I almost had to leave college after my freshman year due to my terrible grades. I had never had to study for anything in my life and was too stubborn/proud to ask for help when I began seeing grades below A's and B's... and by the time I failed Calculus for the second time, I was pretty much at a total loss for a way to turn things around. (Luckily, my request for a second chance was granted and I spent my sophomore year on scholarship probation with a new major and specific goals to meet.) I still feel a large amount of guilt and shame over this, and that I am not at least "earning my scholarship" by working in a noble profession or job makes me feel even worse.

On a side note, I don't think that my two younger brothers know how proud I am of them for their own college successes... but I am. Particularly of Craig, because I know how hard he worked for every good grade he received on his way to a degree in mechanical engineering. That seems much more worthy than receiving a free ride to school and then almost squandering it.

5. My "real name" is Kim, not Kimberly. My last name is a mouthful in its own right, so Mom figured that she wouldn't add to my misery by giving me two long names to fill out on tests and other official forms. Why name me Kimberly when everyone would call me Kim anyway?

6. I am very good friends with my former husband. (Doesn't "former" sound nicer somehow than "ex" does?) We probably would have figured out that we shouldn't get married before the wedding, if we had both lived on our own longer after college... but honestly I have no regrets. Instead, I feel very lucky that there was no acrimony and that we are still in each others' lives. But I do admit that I miss my friendship with his Mom. We still keep in touch but of course it isn't the same.

7. I have posed nude for an artist before. For sketching, not photographs! (And it had nothing to do with attempting to recreate a scene from a well-known chick flick, either. Ugh.) No, it was just one artist generously providing the subject matter for another artist who wanted to hone his skills... although I'm thinking that I might have benefited more from the experience than he did. I know for sure that it helped me to shed some of my own inhibitions and insecurities.

8. I'm not sure whether I believe in any kind of afterlife, but if there is a heaven I think that you should get all of the answers to the outstanding questions you have had in your life once you get there.

Why am I the shortest one in my immediate family? Does Coco think that I am a good dog owner? Could the fact that my Mom and I both have trouble growing aloe be something genetic? Where did the diamond I lost out of my engagement ring go? And was that--or the fact that he insisted on a diamond engagement ring when I wanted something else entirely--supposed to be a sign?

Maybe the answers will just fill the pages of a book that they will hand you, and you can go through it page by page at your leisure. Or maybe when you step into heaven, the knowledge will just swarm into your head. Since I seem to have not ever grown completely out of that "But why?" stage of childhood, I'm sure that I would have a very thick book to go through and so I hope that it is the former. Unless they have gardens there to tend, of course. Then I could probably find a much more enjoyable way to pass eternity! *grin*

Reasons for these photos, from top to bottom: Silver sage the color of my mother's hair, one not-so-perfect fallen flower, my first (and way too small) garden bed at the house my former husband and I bought together, and a begonia photo that both shows some interesting illumination and reminds me of yet another question: Why does cool foliage entice me to buy moisture-loving plants that I know I won't be able to keep happy in my dry garden?

Saturday, November 24

Understanding Miss Willmott

Ellen Willmott was a British artist and gardener who had several plants named after her, including a white, double-flowering lilac and a pale, pink-edged rose. The best known plant that bears her name, however, is a biennial sea holly, eryngium gigantium, known as 'Miss Willmott's Ghost.' Apparently Miss Willmott enjoyed sprinkling the seeds of this particular plant about--in effect, leaving her "ghosts" to appear in the gardens of her friends and acquaintences long after she had departed those places.

You can see an image of her starry, silvery doppelganger (or a similar cultivar) at the bottom of this first picture, courtesy of King Coyote and Flickr. When I first read about Miss Willmott's sneaky propagation of this eryngium, I shuddered. I couldn't imagine someone ever doing that to my garden, and I knew that I would never be so brazen as to invade someone else's garden in that way.

Or... would I?

Hmm. Time to digress for a minute:

Like so many women in her generation, my fraternal grandmother was a "homemaker." Since she was very good at sewing and upholstering, she often did work for other people out of her home while my grandpa earned a living mixing and laying cement. I have always been amazed at how easy Grandma made it seem to create new, tightly fitting cushions for an old rocking chair or whip up a bride's dream dress with nary a pattern book in sight.

Grandma still lives in the house beside my childhood home, where she and grandpa raised their 6 kids--and where I "pilfered" some of her variegated iris this summer. Grandpa died at 57, before he even reached retirement age, and she mostly relies on monthly social security checks to pay her bills. As you can imagine, she could definitely use the money that I would happily pay her for her work on my bridesmaids dresses, business suits, and so on.

Unfortunately, whenever that is offered she insists rather indignantly that, "I will not let my grandchildren pay me for any sewing work! I'm just happy that I can still do this for you." Her good German stubbornness has percolated down through the generations, however, and I can't help but think of how she's saved me at least (yes, at least) $700 in alteration costs over the past decade.

And so I have become determined to do something--preferably something that she simply will not be able to be mad about--to pay back her kindness in some small way. And this is how I came to understand Miss Willmott a whole lot better.

See, I was looking at tulip bulbs this fall when suddenly, an idea clicked. Grandma really loves her "pretties," even though she can no longer do a lot of the heavy work in the garden. She might balk at me offering to buy her mulch or bringing over a new trellis for her now-huge clematis, but... well, really, what could she say about tulips?

Tulips come up in the spring, when any color that breaks the grey/brown of a Northwest Ohio winter is sure to bring a smile. And by the time she becomes aware of their existence, the actual acts of buying and planting them are long over. There has to be some statue of limitations (or so I can claim) on complaining about a random act of beautification. And my trump card is this: Before Grandma can even utter the words, "Kim! You didn't have to do that," or shake a finger in my direction... she will first have to figure out that I am the person responsible for the riot of 120 'Impression Mix' Darwin hybrid tulips in her front garden and huge cast iron pot!

Just a few key, trustworthy family members knew about my tulip-planting plan, which was successfully completed earlier this evening. Armed with a bagful of bulbs, a trowel, a shovel and a 5-gallon bucket, I snuck over to her house just after she left for my cousin's basketball game. I carefully skimmed the mulch off of the top of the bed and stored it in the bucket while I dug up some ground for the "large drifts." (The trowel was used to plant some bulbs into the cast iron pot as well.)

Eventually the bulbs were all tucked in, mulch was replaced and smoothed, and a dusting of oakleaves was randomly raked over the area to further hide any evidence of garden disturbance. It was a little later than twilight when I gathered up my things and started walking home with red cheeks and frosty fingers. And suddenly I thought of Miss Willmott, and remembered my initial horror at her eryngium-strewing hubris, and grinned.

I'm not about to make a habit of planting seeds or even random bulbs in other people's gardens... but I think that I understand her a little better now. I would imagine that as she left a garden in which she had sprinkled her magic ghost-dust, she was hoping for the same thing that I was tonight: To have planted not just a plant, but some delight and wonderment for another gardener to discover.

Friday, November 16

Subtle Fall Color

Autumn has long been my favorite season. There is something beautiful in its decay, in the thought that the earth is going to slumber through the winter and then wake up again vibrantly in the spring. Many people think of spring as the beginning, of the time to clean and organize and begin their lives anew, but I have always felt that kind of energy much more keenly in the fall.
I had expected to show more fall color than blooms for November's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day but I was surprised to discover that lots of flowers are still blooming... and that many of my usual fall foliage stars are just beginning to change into their autumn wardrobes. For example, I am very sure that my oakleaf hydrangea was a deep, ruddy purple by this time last year, while the powdery blue sea kale in the front of this picture had bleached to creamy white.

The goatsbeard behind my trashpicked old milk can is generally entirely crispy by November, but only one of its branches has turned so far. The Japanese bloodgrass has turned even more brilliantly red, however, and the slug-plagued ligularia 'Othello' surprised me by turning a deeper green-violet on the top of its leaves. Generally, you only see that color on the undersides.

Elsewhere, more reds and purples are revealing themselves, but slowly. By winter, this 'Bressingham Beauty' bergenia will be a dark burgundy, but most of it remains green...

...while the tips of my new 'Efanthia' euphorbias are tinged in shades of wine and red.

2007 must be a good year for yellows. In addition to the acid yellow of both 'Sum and Substance' and my low-growing, unnamed blue hosta, 'Sioux Blue' sorghastrum nutens is bidding me a sunshiney good-night... my little "fern grotto," the gilded fronds of Scaly Buckler ferns pick up both the natural wood of the new fence and the pink-tipped 'All Gold' hakone grass...

... and the sedum alboroseum 'Mediovariegatum' shows enough color change to ease my guilt at removing all of its flower buds in the summertime, thereby missing out on potential fall seedheads. (I grow this one only for the foliage, which I love. I don't know why, but I detest its pink flowers in combination with the pretty yellow-centered foliage.)

But the above plants are the exceptions rather than the rule. Even my 'The Blues' little bluestem is still mostly... well, blue! On my way to work, I pass a mass of bluestem that were incorporated into an urban planting scheme. A mere 10 miles south of me, they are already a gorgeous russet. Here are mine:

At least I have the neighbor's beech leaves to add a fall feeling to my garden. They nestle up to the retaining wall, leading the eye to a shock of red bloodgrass and soft background of woolly thyme...

And are artistically scattered over the 'Fuldaglut' sedum that should have already begun to retreat back into the ground.

All very beautiful vignettes, but... I confess, I want more. I want deep color on my oakleaf hydrangeas and for the burgundy laceleaves on my maple to turn a blazingly bright red. I would like to see whether I agree with what my amsonia tabernaemontana tags described as "great fall color." And some may think I'm crazy, but I really want to rake leaves!
So... here it is, November 16th. And still, I wait for the arrival of autumn.

Thursday, November 15

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2007

I got a chance to play with the new digital SLR from work this week. Since I need to learn how to use it, I figured that taking a few pictures in the garden would be my best bet. After all, I've photographed the garden so often that it should help me gauge my skills with the new camera, right?

Well, I learned two things. First, that the camera goes way beyond my point-and-shoot experience, and I am going to need to read a book so I can get the most out of its capabilities. And two... that my nasturtiums are finally blooming! These late-planted 'Moonlight' climbing nasturtiums never did scramble up the chainlink fence like they were meant to, and honestly I had forgotten about them. It was a fun surprise to see them peeking out of a pile of beech leaves.

Those leaves were trying to hide a few other things, too, like the last of the toad lily flowers but I found them anyway. And I was happy to see the white-edged ajuga I planted nearby (and then promptly forgot to water) peeking through the leaves as well. (Whew.)

There's no hiding the blooms on my brave little alpine strawberries, which line the driveway and provide groundcover around some ornamental grasses and raspberry bushes there. I am unlikely to get any more juicy berries, but the sweet little white flowers are refreshing. And I did enjoy the sweet-tartness of two strawberries (and one raspberry) bursting on my tongue last week. Small fruit ripening in November... amazing.

Not so good-tasting are the acid-yellow leaves of the incorrectly named 'Golden Delicious' pineapple sage. I enjoy chewing on flavored herbs while I walk the garden, so on a whim I tried these one day in August... bleeeech. It was like chewing plain old unflavored leaves--and rough leaves, at that! It's very pretty, but I feel that if a plant is supposed to be edible it really ought to have a taste, like my reblooming 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth. (Which tastes like spinach.) So I may go back to the plain old pineapple sage that I usually grow.

Flowers are still going in the front yard, too. Here you can see exactly why you shouldn't necessarily plant nicotiana sylvestris in a highly visible part of your garden: the leaves, flower stems, and flowers attract bugs, and their stickiness traps the bugs that come around to visit. The nighttime scent is amazing, though, so I'm planting them on a less obvious corner of the porch next year.

Last but not least, all three of my 'Paprika' achillea are absolutely covered in flower stalks and buds! The first blooms of this reflowering bent the stalks over into the sedum and heuchera, as you see here. The exact colormatch of the heuchera leaves and the 'Paprika' flowers was not really planned--I don't particularly like actual "matching," either in the garden or in my wardrobe--but it looks okay enough together, I suppose. Dark purple leaves elsewhere in the bed and the visual weight of the nearby rock keep it from being "too sweet" for me.

The sum total of what's in bloom today in the garden is as follows:

- digitalis parviflora (wimpy rebloom)
- unnamed purple toad lily
- miscanthus 'Zebrinus'
- 'Caradonna' salvia
- 'Paprika' yarrow
- chasmantium latifolium
- lavender ('Munstead,' I think)
- 'Hameln' pennisetum (almost done)
- 'Ozark' everbearing strawberries
- 'Canby Red' raspberry
- 'Lightning Strike' tricyrtis
- zauschneria latifolia var. etterii
- panicum virgatum 'Rotstrahlbusch'
- passalong silver-leaf lamium
- 'Walker's Low' catmint
- sedum sieboldii
- sedum cauticola 'Lidakense'
- hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' and 'All Gold'
- Japanese anemones 'Party Dress' and an unknown pink (possibly 'Robustissima')
- echinacea 'Merlot'

- 'Moonlight' climbing nasturtium
- nicotiana sylvestris
- 'Golden Delicious' salvia eleagans
- red snapdragons
- 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth
- 'Huntington Carpet' rosemary
- 'Koralle' upright fuchsia
- bronze fennel

All in all... much more than I expected for mid-November, especially after a few light frosts! In fact, it looks more like October around here, with some trees sporting green leaves and the oakleaf hydrangea just starting to color up finally. I wonder if our extremely late snow over Easter weekend is responsible for shifting the whole growing season back a few weeks. Anyone know if that could still be possible? Maybe not, but I feel like it should take some of the blame--er, credit!

**Edited to add: I was remiss to not mention this originally (excited about my nasturtiums--sorry!) but Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is the brainchild of Carol over at May Dreams Gardens. On the 15th of every month, garden bloggers post about what's growing in their neck of the woods... click here to visit Carol's November post and scroll through the comments to see who else has posted their bloom list!

Friday, November 9

Opportunity Cost

I have a confession: It's already November, and parts of my backyard fence project have yet to be completed. I ran out of warm temperature days to stain the boards, and have officially put off picking up that paintbrush until next spring. But there is also some additional construction work that I need to accomplish in the one section of the backyard enclosure that does not consist of 6ft tall stockade.

My neighbor's short chainlink fence runs down part of my south lot line. It is solid but rusty, and while the beech leaves on the other side of it look very nice right now, the rest of what you see just outside the borders of this first picture do not: a pile of chunked concrete, a line of trash cans, a veggie garden invariably overrun by thistle and morning glories by mid June, etc.

As the chainlink fence is just 40 inches tall, my large, agile garden assistant could hop over the top railing with little effort if she so chose. Fortunately, she seems to know and respect what a fence is--so far. If the neighbors have new people visiting like they did last week, she runs right up to the fence but never attempts to breach it. However, I have the feeling that a taunting squirrel may prove too much temptation one of these days.

And so when I purchased the materials for last month's fence construction, I also purchased several rolls of 6ft tall reed fencing. This fencing is more decorative than anything else, but since it will have the chainlink sections behind it and no horizontal rails for the dog to set her paws on, I'm not too worried about the sturdiness. The plan was to roll it out, finish off "the look" and add some privacy.

However, as I planted bulbs the other day I started thinking about the opportunity cost of putting up this last part of the fencing. When I do put up the screens I will essentially be casting this bed into shade for all but 3 months out of the year.

In other words, there will be no more admiring the fireworks that sunshine streaming through the fall colors of my hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' can spark. There will be no spying the blooms of spring bulbs shining in a random slant of light in March. And my walk to the garage every workday morning will be shrouded in shadow.

These thoughts have caused me to start racking my brain in regards to what I can do to have the best of both worlds. Is it a matter of dealing with the shade from the reed fencing for a year and then putting up something more light-permeating to replace it? Do I cut the reed fencing in half and then post it 2 feet or so clear of the ground to allow sunlight to hit the low-growing plants that I love?

I am not quite sure how to achieve it, but know what I want. I want private openness. Open privacy. An oxymoron, I know... but more importantly, is it a completely unattainable oxymoron? Can I somehow get away with having both in my urban garden?

Saturday, November 3

At Ground Level

I would never say that I am a technophobe. I seem to have inherited my programmer father's ability to figure out almost any computerized gadget--and I wholeheartedly embrace the internet as a tool for communication and research. But there is another side of me that is less than pleased at the increasing technological framework on which our modern life is built. That side of me, for example, resisted getting a cell phone until this summer when my full time job threatened to get one for me. (They meant it as a carrot, but I viewed it as a stick.)

That side of me is also slightly dismayed that I am so much better at keeping track of my garden via this blog than I ever was at keeping a proper garden journal. But I do find that using technology helps me keep up with the garden chronicles better, and I feel that digital photography is at least partly to blame.

It's so much easier to plop your pack of bulbs right down onto the ground and click a little button than it is to write a long description of where exactly you planted Bulb X. Not to mention that you can easily find your digital photographs at all times if they have been saved in a specific folder on your hard drive.

This afternoon, I took many such photographic records as I finished planting all of my spring-blooming bulbs. Last year I planted only bold tulip combinations. This year I went a much less flamboyant with snowdrops, muscari, winter aconite, and the fragrant daffodil 'Geranium.' (I blame The County Clerk for the daffodil purchase, as I hate daffodils. I swear I do. But sometimes I get carried away by the enthusiasm of others.)

I have yet to find an allium that I don't like, and I planted several types of ornamental onions today. 'Ivory Queen' allium karativiense will push its thick leaves up through the edges of a silvery mat of woolly thyme, which in turn should show off its white flower puffs. Golden oregano will carpet the ground below the starbursts of allium schubertii. The rosy, short allium ostrowskianum may fool me into thinking that the 'Fuldaglut' sedum around it is blooming early. And a passalong purple globe allium (probably 'Purple Sensation') will bring early interest to the widening expanse of Japanese anemone in the front garden.

Bulb planting spots were not the only thing in the camera's lens today, however. I love working at ground level in both the spring and the fall, when the slanted rays of sunshine dance through low foliage and I am able to view the magic at close range.

This 'Silver Scrolls' heuchera shows off a flat gray-purple leaf color most of the year, but in the fall its rich burgundy underside sines through as if it wants to join the fall foliage show.

You can see how tiny the leaves of 'Chocolate Chip' ajuga are in comparison to the beech leaves that have dropped from the neighbor's tree. The dark, thick leaves look a lot more ethereal when backlighting shows off the green that their purple tinge usually hides.

I planted my snowdrops amongst this ajuga, hoping that neither will overwhelm the other. Ideally, the dainty combination will elegantly hold its own next to the white- and pink-flowering 'Pine Knot' hellebores.

I have determined that if I had a true woodland garden, tiarellas (like this 'Neon Lights') would be my downfall. I could forgo my beloved fancy heucheras, even, if I had generous drifts of tiarellas.

I adore their handsome, maple-esque leaves, jaunty white bottlebrush flowers and endlessly fascinating center inkblots. That some of them have additional spring or fall color is almost too much to ask from one plant.

I didn't let the fall colors and ground-level discoveries distract me too much, however: I managed to get all of my bulbs nestled safely in the ground. So tomorrow all that's left is to pack away the drying canna rhizomes (they finally got nipped by a patchy frost on Thursday) and harvest the last of the marjoram, tarragon and lemongrass. And then I'll be as ready as I can be for the possible snow that we may see midweek... although I admit that I could definitely use a little more autumn before winter rolls around!

Friday, November 2

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day - November

I haven't "played along" regularly with Garden Bloggers' Muse Day... and admittedly I'm late for this one anyway. But a poem has taken up residence in my head and so I feel compelled to share it.

It has nothing to do with fall colors or the approaching winter, really, but as you will see via the links in the poem it has been haunting my work in the garden:

my mind is
a big hunk of irrevocable nothing which touch and
taste and smell and hearing and sight keep hitting and
chipping with sharp fatal tools
in an agony of sensual chisels i perform squirms of
and execute strides of cobalt
nevertheless i
feel that i cleverly am being altered that i slightly am
becoming something a little different, in fact
Hereupon helpless i utter lilac shrieks and scarlet
- Edward Estlin Cummings