Scorecard: plants vs. me, part two

>> Friday, September 21, 2007

Continuing my inspection of what survived this year, here is bed B3:

This bed was nothing but grass when we moved here in May 2004 and it wasn’t in real good shape. I had a general idea of what I wanted here as soon as I saw it. The bed starts as wide as the concrete pad, at the far north end behind the cherry tomato, and then narrows in towards the fence and will gradually curve back out and circle back to the fence at the south end to form a large round area for a tree. Currently the area is 26 feet long without the large round area for a tree and will, by next fall, be 36 feet long.

All of these plants, except the Butterfly Bush and the Tomato, both at the far end, were purchased as one of those instant garden deals from Bluestone Perennials.

Achillea Angels Breath

Also known as Yarrow. This Achillea was unknown to me and I really like its small bushy habit. The typical Yarrow, see next photo, stands much taller with long thin branches ending in a ‘platform’ that butterflies like to hang out on.

Achillea Coronation Gold

This is the typical Yarrow I am familiar with. I was hesitant about planting this because I am familiar with it from my childhood in Indiana. These grew wild in the fields behind my house and I had always thought of them as weeds. They attract butterflies like crazy but still I’m afraid of it becoming invasive. There are also red varieties which look pretty good. Maybe this is a different variety than the weed I grew up with. I’ll have to wait and see what it does next year.

Arabis Snowcap

Commonly known as Rock cress, this is supposed to be a groundcover with white flowers covering it from April through June. It has not flowered for me, but then it is only one year old.

Aster Alma Potschke

This Aster is one of the New England Aster’s, (sounds like one of those blue blooded sophisticates) it didn’t begin flowering until recently and has grown pretty steadily over the summer. It’s a semi-woody plant that should be covered with bright neon pink flowers until frost. This is another butterfly and bee magnet. Love having these around.

Buddleia Black Knight

I bought this one to replace the two that I killed this spring due to a miscommunication on pruning. I was under the impression that you should cut it back to the ground in spring to make it come back more bushy. The two I had last year were beautiful so I was really looking forward to them being even bushier this year, but alas, it was not to be. This plant is suppose attract butterflies by the hundreds. I have heard that it does, but my garden is so new that the butterflies must not know it is here yet. Yeah, that must be it. I just know they will begin flocking next year. I will NOT prune it as severally as I was told to next spring. Lesson learned.

Chrysanthemum Shasta Alaska

This is one of the main reasons I wanted a flower garden. This plant, along with the Echinacea, just exudes cheeriness. How can you not be a peace with a bunch of these free flowering beauties around? I’m pretty sure that next year it will bloom like crazy.

Coreopsis Early Sunrise

Another one of my all-time favorites. Coreopsis cannot help but brighten up any garden. This is an All-American Selections Gold Medal Winner and is fully deserving of the honor. The bright yellow contrasts so well with the dark green foliage that you can’t help but demand that this be a part of any garden bed.

Dianthus Agatha

This Dianthus is one of the most fragrant of the pinks. One description I read said it was one of the modern pinks. Now, I don’t know what that means but the picture showed flowers that looked double, although I don’t think it is a true double. Earlier this year I had planted some Dianthus Zing Rose in one of the front yard beds and they bloomed a deep rich red all summer. This one didn’t bloom but the foliage looks almost ornamental grass-like. I like it so far even without the blooms.

Echinacea Magnus

Purple Coneflower. As I mentioned earlier, this is one of those flowers that no garden should be without. It is robust, drought tolerant, native to the U.S. blooms all summer through October, excellent for cut flower arrangements and it can even be used medicinally. What’s not to love about it?

Nepeta Walkers Low

Catmint. Blue-violet flowers and fragrant, low-growing and a very prolific bloomer. I was afraid it would increase my neighborhood cat problem, what with all of the bird feeders I have hanging around, but that has not been the case. This plant does attract a lot of bees, for which I am very happy. I have never seen so many bees in my yard as I have this summer. Very nice.

Rudbeckia Goldstrum

This is another of those bright, cheery plants that blooms all summer until frost. Commonly known as Black-eyed Susan because of its large velvety brown center. Bees and butterflies love it and if you don’t deadhead it the birds eat the seeds. I wish I had a large field to dedicate to this plant because it looks really great in groups.

Salvia East Friesland

I have seen this called Meadow Sage, it has the typical purple spikes associated with salvia but is more compact. Last year I planted a couple Salvia Plumosa in one of the front beds and it became lanky and unsightly, this one is not supposed to do that, which is why I was willing to try another salvia. It is very fragrant and attracts bees by the dozens, always a good thing.

Sedum Autumn Joy

Sedum is also called Stonecrop. Someday I’m going to find out where these names come from. This plant surprised me. I am familiar with sedum from when I was a child, my grandmother always had sedum growing around her roses but they were short and I always thought of them as succulents and therefore more like a cactus without the spikes. I learned that this is known as an ‘upright’ sedum which explains why it is so tall. It looked more like a broccoli stalk than a true flower plant, but when the top began turning pink and then red it really began to come into its own. I’m planning on getting a few more of them.

Thymus Pink Chintz

This is creeping thyme. I’m a bit disappointed because it hasn’t ‘creeped’ as expected. It is commonly used in between paving stones and I don’t have very many pavers yet but thought I should be ready. I planted a flat of them after seeing a picture of it in bloom and was told that it can be walked on so I thought it would great to help combat my ‘creeping weed’ problem. It doesn’t seem to want to do anything so it’s another one of those plants that I have to have patience with.

Veronica Blue Carpet

I have always had a thing for spiky plants. Some psychologist will probably tell me something I don’t want to hear about it, but anyway, Veronica is one of those plants that has such a variety of beautiful blue flowers that I just had to have some. You couldn’t tell by these pictures but they do have pretty blue flowers. I started out with three varieties but one of them just shriveled up in this very same bed as these. I moved one of the plants into a front bed where it gets afternoon sun and it is doing much better than in this bed of full all day sun, it actually bloomed. So I think I will move the others there as well.

Veronica Sunny Border Blue

This Veronica has the best color of the three I planted. Honest, I've seen the pictures. The foliage is pretty thick and sets off the flower stalks very nicely. It thrives in clay soil so it will do well here once I get it into some afternoon shade.


Scorecard: plants vs. me, part one

Well, it’s time for a critical look at what did and did not survive in my garden this year.s

This is the first time I have done this since this is my first year as a perennial flower gardener. So far, there are more survivors than fatalities, so I guess I am encouraged enough to continue into next year. Winter will be yet another test.

First, I will examine the backyard beds which are all on the north side of the house.

Here is bed B1, on the west side of the deck and against the south side of the house, as of Sep 21, 2007.

Admittedly, not a very good picture. I will need to replace it with another taken later in the day when the sun is to the west of the house.
The back of the house, when we first moved in was pretty stark. To get from the kitchen back door to the ground there was a porch of 6’ by 6’ solid concrete with three concrete steps down. This deck really changed the character of the yard and it created this ‘nook’ that I thought should be filled with shrubs and perennials. Future plans show a Hydrangea dominating the corner surrounded by Hosta and various other shade plants.

The plants I planted in this bed, over the course of the spring and summer, are:

Astilbe Amethyst (did not make it)
Caryopteris Dark Knight (did very well)
Hosta Golden Tiara (did not make it)
Hosta Piedmont Gold (barely survived)
Hydrangea Parzifal (did not make it)
Lamium White Nancy (did very well)
Marigold Petite Orange (did very well)

Caryopteris Dark Knight

I first heard of this plant this year and fell in love with it. It did so well that I bought two more. One of the others has light green foliage and to me looks a little anemic. Maybe it’s because of where it is planted. I have plans to move it. But this one looks great and bloomed like crazy. And the bees like it! The third one has variegated foliage and I can’t wait to see how it does.

Hosta Piedmont Gold

I don’t seem to be able to find much information on this particular variety. The flower is pale lavender and blooms mid-summer but the flower is not why anyone puts these in their garden. This location, on the north side of the house, is not ideal. It’s in bright shade until late afternoon when the sun reaches under the Peach tree for about two hours. I don’t know if that much sun was burning it or it isn’t getting enough water or the soil is staying too wet. The soil is clay but has had composted steer manure and bark mulch worked into last summer and again the Spring before planting it in May. The leaf tips are not the usual dried crispy brown that is a sure sign of lack of water, but rather they are flimsy as if they are too wet. This one is going to be real challenge to figure out. Once I do get it under control I want several other varieties because do have a wonderful variety of foliage.

Lamium White Nancy

This is spotted deadnettle and is really thriving in this location. It keeps sprouting white flowers all over it and then they disappear only to return again. The foliage is really great, it looks like it is frosted. There are three plants here and I guess I could have put them further apart.

Marigold Petite Orange

What else can be said about Marigolds? I put these here to help create some color because I knew this area would be empty all summer. I am really impressed with their bushiness and long lasting flowers. I haven’t ever pinched the blooms and they just are always there. I am taking this as a sign that they like the shade and the afternoon sun. I have other Marigolds elsewhere in the full sun all day and they aren’t as healthy as these.

The Astilbe, Hosta and Hydrangea all shriveled up and are barely recognizable as having been plants. The really weird part of this is that I planted these three plants, and the Hosta Piedmont Gold, all on the same day and they are all planted in the same location getting the same amount of water, food, and sunlight. There has not been any sign of insect or snail damage on any of them. Why did this one plant survive? Another one of those mysteries that make you go, hmmmm.

Here is bed B2, on the south side of the shed and on the east side of a wooden fence.

This bed consists mainly of Raspberry Heritage planted against the fence. I started with six plants in April of 2005 and they have since expanded into God knows how many. I have had to thin out quite a few to keep them in bounds. They only first produced this year (and they were worth the wait).

The Clematis Jackmanii, climbing up the trellis against the shed, was planted in April of 2006 and is doing well, except they did not bloom the whole year as expected. Last year it produced one lonely blossom at the end of June and was quite large, about 4” across. This year there were about 15 blooms that opened in late May, about the same size as last year, but only lasted for three weeks! The blossoms were darker than last year, and quite beautiful, but I thought they were supposed to last a lot longer.

This is the same bed that I had started a Rose floribunda Honey Perfume last year and it did so poorly that I transplanted it to one of the front yard beds where it survived and flourished.

In 2005, I planted some Plumbago along the shed that did not even last until the end of the summer. There are Daffodils, I planted in November 2004, that came up in ’05, ’06, and again this year just fine.

Out of frustration at trying to find something that will grow in that sunny, warm spot, I sowed about 20 sunflower seeds left over from a couple of packets I purchased in 2006.

Only three came up. I have heard that seeds are not likely to be viable for more than a year unless properly kept. I don’t know how to store them properly and I planted them knowing they may not be even sprout. Getting any of them to actually grow was a fluke.


Why do we garden?

>> Friday, September 14, 2007

It seems a very simple, innocuous question, and at first blush, it has several answers. But I’m not so sure the answers are all that obvious or simple.

Certainly we humans have a desire to be surrounded by natural beauty. At least the more sophisticated of us do. Is sophistication required to want natural beauty surrounding us? I don’t know, I’ll leave that question for the experts on human behavior. I do know that natural beauty is all the more satisfying by the simple fact that we had a hand in creating it ourselves.

One of the main reasons I garden is to attract wildlife. I have always loved music and have an extensive collection, from classical to pop to hard rock to jazz and blues, but nothing is as satisfying as listening to birds chirping just outside my window.

I cannot imagine a world without wildlife. They certainly don’t need us to ensure their survival, but the point has been reached in our co-existence that they do depend on us giving them a better quality of life since we have taken so much of their habitat away. They can be just as healthy if not healthier if we humans did not interfere with them but since we do and have interfered then we need to care for them.

I spent my formative years in a small ‘bedroom community’ south of Indianapolis, Indiana. The house I grew up in was on the north side of town abutting a corn field that stretched for as far as the eye could see and was used to seeing all manner of wildlife right in our backyard. Years later, I went back to that town to see what it looked like, that house is now just south of the center of town and that endless corn field no longer exists. It was sad but inevitable that all of that rich soil that used to provide food now supports driveways, streets, lawns and houses. I did spot a few gardens in some back yards and hopefully they are producing well.

As a youth I was a member of the local 4H club and the FFA (Future Farmers of America). What made me think of this I don’t know. I am sure that my experience in both of these organizations helped formulate my interest in nature even though I don’t remember a lot about either one except I once created a project poster advocating the care of backyard wildlife. I drew pictures of birds, raccoons, skunks, snakes, etc, to show the diversity that surrounded us. So I can truthfully say that I have always had an interest in looking after their welfare. That interest continues today. I have had, at the very least, a hummingbird feeder or two wherever I lived even if I did not have the space for a garden. For those of you who are curious, 4H stands for Head, Heart, Hands and Health and I was pleased to learn via the internet that they are still in existence.

I’m not gardening out of tradition because there isn’t any real gardening tradition in my family. One of my grandfathers gardened, always a vegetable garden, but he had six children to feed so perhaps it was out of necessity. But then he continued after they left home, so I guess that’s proof enough to me that he did it because he enjoyed it and that’s as close to a tradition as I can claim. One of my grandmothers gardened occasionally, never vegetables and nothing more elaborate than a few shrubs and the occasional bulbs. I doubt that anyone in my family is going to carry on the garden I am creating after I have gone. At least no one has yet stepped up to show any interest.

So, why do I garden?

Harvest is of course a reason for the vegetables, herbs and fruits I grow. We eat some of the apples, pears, peaches, cherries and plums from our backyard and share with neighbors but a lot of it goes to the birds and then the trash can. We give some of the apples to the horses that we pass on our evening walks. Its really cool to have them wander over to the fence when they see us coming down the street. The few herbs I have grown so far are just for looks, I am certainly not talented or knowledgeable enough to actually use any of the herbs. I just enjoy their fragrance and form. I would like to know how to use some herbs from my own garden but I just don’t think I actually would. It’s not that I don’t believe it when people say that fresh herbs add so much to cooking, I do believe it, it’s just that I am not a gourmet cook and we eat fairly simple meals. I don’t know, maybe it’s a confidence thing.

As I look back over what I have written I noticed that one central theme is satisfaction. So, I suppose, satisfaction is my driving force for gardening. The satisfaction of having done a good enough job that most plants have actually survived my limited talents. Satisfaction that the plants I have chosen are beautiful when combined with others I have chosen. Satisfaction that I did not ‘copy’ someone else’s garden plan and it all comes together so well anyway. Satisfaction that I have provided what little wildlife we have here with a place to eat and hang out for awhile. I have not yet found any nests but that will come with time.

Whether we garden for the simple, natural beauty we create, the attraction/protection of wildlife, out of tradition, or for the harvest we produce, one thing is for certain, it all leads to the satisfaction of knowing that we had a hand in it. And that is, obviously, a very good thing.


First perennial garden

>> Wednesday, September 12, 2007

With all this talk about first garden memories, see Robin’s Nesting Place and May Dreams, I just want to say that I am currently working on my first garden. First perennial garden that is.

When growing up we didn’t have a garden. My paternal grandmother had some shrubs around her home and a few bulbs and my maternal grandfather always had a vegetable garden. Mom said her family always had a vegetable garden for as long as she could remember. I learned a few things from him about gardening and that is where I attribute my love for gardening. The love for gardening was always repressed though due to lack of time, space and confidence.

While still living at home I would get the urge to ‘pretty up’ the homestead and place a few annuals here and there around the house, things like marigolds, four-o’clocks, snapdragons, etc from seed packets I would find at some neighborhood store.

I wasn’t old enough to drive yet so I couldn’t go to a nursery to see what was growing. Being from Indiana we were surrounded by corn fields and soybean fields so I guess I was always exposed to some sort of vegetables growing around me and my aunts and uncles all had small garden plots. In my first ‘baby steps’ toward gardening I didn’t really learn much except that annuals die over winter.

I read about composting and mulch and manure and thought all of that seemed a bit ‘exotic’ for someone just starting out and was geared more toward the ‘bigger’ plots that I knew I could never have.

When I left home for military service and was never in one place long enough to start a perennial garden, the idea of gardening just kept getting pushed further down the list of things to do ‘in the future’. I did have several vegetable gardens, small patches really, mainly just to do it. I approached these plots as testing grounds for things like mulching, double-digging, pruning, and using steer manure. Originally, the idea of putting steer poop in where I am growing something I am going to eat was a little gross but I had faith in the fact that my grandfather swore by it and I therefore went bravely forth and piled it on. I was somewhat surprised that it didn’t stink the place up like I had anticipated and the tomatoes were really tasty. And since they tasted so much better than what I got from the local supermarket, I was hooked.

Naturally, the next thing I tried to grow was sweet peas and string beans. Some of my most endearing garden related memories is of spending time with my great grandmother on her farm in Somerset Kentucky. I would help her feed the chickens and pick eggs (and watched in awe as she would wring the neck of a chicken to eat for supper that night), milking and feeding the cows and picking food from her huge vegetable garden for supper. I am not sure just exactly how big it was but the last time I was with her I was nine years old and that garden seemed ‘huge’.

She canned a lot of stuff like cabbage, peppers, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, even watermelon rinds (a very sweet treat which I have not found a match for). She even grew tobacco! To me, at the time, that was the most amazing and exotic thing I had ever seen growing in a private garden. But my fondest memory was picking string beans and then ‘snapping’ them for supper. It’s difficult to get that same feeling back but those memories will stay with me forever.

The sweet peas and green beans I grow are nothing compared to that sweet memory of what my great grandmother shared with us but my search continues. I have never tried growing heirloom vegetables or anything very exotic but I am looking forward to trying some this next year.

As I said earlier, this is my first attempt at growing a perennial garden. And I am taking baby steps attempting to not ‘over-plant’ and crowd everything I want in my limited space. I have seen many gardens that get over crowded and over grown and the gardener looses interest in it and the garden just looks like hell. I am trying real hard not to fall into that same trap.

This year I have experimented with a couple of different trellises to see what style I like and to test my carpentry ability, so far I am pleased with one, a tower with four legs that come to a point and stands about seven foot tall. I put cherry tomatoes on it and it appears to be holding up pretty well. Another trellis is very simple, two 2x2’s stuck in the ground with another 2x2 attached at the top and then a grid work of twine to allow peas to grow up them. This one did not work out as well as I had hoped and I will need to improve on it for next year.

My next experiment will be with row covers. I have four raised beds and plan to attach pvc pipe to make frames for the covers made of some sort of cloth. I have seen pictures and seen other people use something similar but have not yet tried them. The idea of extending the season is appealing to me. This year my vegetables are coming in bit later than other bloggers I have read in the same growing zones as me so this tells me that I should start everything a bit earlier next year. But with the winter season as long as it is here my only way of doing this is to use row covers to protect them from frost.

Almost all of my gardening experience has been with vegetables. The few perennial plots I sparingly started last year with bulbs turned out somewhat okay, I lost a few bulbs to rot because of the clay soil and have since added more organic matter in hopes of overcoming that problem. I am also resigned to the fact I will need to add great amounts of organic material every year to combat this problem. I may be pushing it a bit by putting in so many flowers before seeing if that additional organic matter is enough to overcome the wetness tendency of the clay but I have been putting off perennial gardening for so long that I feel I need to just jump in. I have already lost some plants this year and I am trying to figure out if it was because of the water holding ability of the clay or if I am not watering enough. I don’t yet have the experience level to just look at stressed out plants and immediately know what caused the stress. But I am learning quickly about transplant shock. Now if I can figure out how to identify stress from too much or too little water I will have made great progress.

As far as perennial gardening, this is my first and I am taking lots of pictures and lots of notes. Someday, hopefully, I will have a garden equal to those many wonderful, beautiful gardens I see on my favorite garden blogs.


Wayside Nursery order

>> Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Received my order from Wayside today. Wayside uses packing peanuts. I don't know what to think of them. They're bothersome when unpacking and they too easily blow around if you do pack them away securely. I don't really want to throw them away, I might use them when packing things to send to someone in the future. I would prefer the air filled plastic pillows over the peanuts. But by far the best is the plastic 'coffins' that Springhill Nursery uses. They provide the best protection by far.

Weigela My Monet

This dwarf variegated Weigela is more compact than the typical Weigela. The ad claims tighter habit, more robust growth, larger blooms. Part shade to full sun so I placed under my Dogwood tree.
It grows to just 12”-18” high and wide and forms a plump, tight little footstool-shaped plant, magnificently blushed with pink in leaf and bloom. The new spring foliage is bright pink, maturing to green edged in white, and the abundant rosy purple-pink blossoms are far larger and more abundant than on other varieties.
My Monet™ is a superb performer, well-branched and impervious to rough weather. It will be a dependable and lovely presence in the garden or container for many years to come.
Sounds like one of those shrubs that you just ‘set and forget’. We’ll see.
My Monet™ is a dwarf sport of 'Tango,' bred by Bert VerHoef.

Phlox Blue Paradise

This one comes from renowned Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf as a new variety in 2004. It is mildew resistant and the flowers open a pale blue with white eyes, then take on purplish shades during the heat of midday, then regain their original indigo coloring in the evening. They attract butterflies and hummingbirds and their spicy vanilla-clove perfume is perfectly enchanting in bouquets. The blooms come on in July through August and, depending on which article you read, the plant reaches from 22”-40” high and 18”-30” wide. That’s quite a range of height and width. Mine will go into a raised bed so I expect it to reach its maximum height and width.
It is considered a Tall Summer Phlox.
The bloom size is ½” and the hardiness zones run from 4-8, although one site said the zones are 3-9.

Clematis Franziska Marie

Clematis maestro Raymond Evison named this lovely cultivar after his youngest daughter. It's a lovely double with 4–6” blooms of lavender blue, and has the great virtue of blooming on both old and new wood, which means a lot of flowers over the entire season. This should make it easy to prune. There are three different pruning classes which can be bothersome unless yu are careful to keep them straight as to which clematis to prune when.

For beautiful colors, extravagance of blooms, and graceful habit, nothing compares with Clematis, the queen of the flowering vines. Whether used on posts or fences, clambering through shrubs and trees, or following wire frames in borders, they will enrich the landscape. Give them good soil, reasonable moisture, and shade at their roots.

This one will bloom from June–September to a height of 6’.

I place stones around their root zone until groundcover can get established.

I really didn’t plan on buying plants with such renown names attached to them, but they are all beautiful and I hope I can do them all justice.


Organic or not

>> Sunday, September 9, 2007

One thing I have not yet had to deal with in any great numbers is insect pests. Sure there have been the occasional hole in a leaf or chew marks around the edges but nothing to make me want to reach for the insecticides. Not that I would without hesitation, but I just don’t know yet. I would like to believe I wouldn’t. Having not faced the prospect of losing the entire plot my resolve has not yet been tested.

Right now, weeds are my only real enemy and I have been satisfied with just pulling them by hand. I guess I haven’t gotten too tired of it yet. I have learned that just piling 3”-4” of mulch on the bed does not cut out weeds entirely. Since this is my first year at gardening in something other than a raised bed, and thick mulching is the only ‘weed control’ I have used, I have not yet been faced with the horror stories I have read about of weeds completely taking over plant beds.

My experience with growing vegetables has been in raised beds and I have very little problem with weeds there. Insects have always made their presence known but nothing too serious.

I have read books that extol the virtues of maintaining the organic way of life and I have always thought it sounded like a lot of work. Idealistically it would be great if everyone would practice it but I don’t think many people do. There are too many people today, with their busy lifestyles who have become accustomed to having instant gratification and will therefore, if they bother to garden at all, reach for a chemically based fertilizer or pesticide that guarantees quick success.

I have to admit that I have a few of these chemicals in my garden shed. When I first started flower gardening I thought it was inevitable that I would need a ‘well stocked’ chemical shelf of insecticide, herbicide and chemically based fertilizer. I have used Carbaryl on the Box Elder bugs that hang around the shed that sits underneath the drooping branches of a neighbors Box Elder tree. But I don’t have any vegetables growing in that area so I don’t feel I am doing any damage. I sprinkle it around the perimeter of the shed in an attempt to keep them out because they like to hang out inside in the heat of the day. I have cut down on their numbers, there aren’t nearly as many as there was last year. But it never completely got rid of the bothersome little buggers.

I also have to admit to using a complete herbicide when clearing a patch of ground to start a new bed a year before planting anything in it. And again, this plot is not to be used for vegetables.

As far as maintaining plots that already have plants in them, I have five plots that have flowers only in them and they are not completed yet, I fear using anything chemically based, so the chemical based fertilizer I bought remains unopened and unused. The fertilizer I do use is based entirely on animal products and naturally occurring minerals. People have suggested I use Miracle-Gro about midway through the season but after reading the books on organics and re-reading the label of ingredients on the Miracle-Gro I turned away from it. Next year will be year number two for all of these flower plots I started and I plan on spreading composted steer manure in the Spring and scratching it into the soil. So, I am trying to make a conscious effort to stay organic. I just don’t know how I will react if I am the victim of a large-scale insect attack.

I guess I have never believed in a totally idealistic way of life such as organic gardening is supposed to be. Real life and what you read about in books rarely match up. So, in order for me to go totally organic, I am going to have to be convinced it is worth the effort.

The creed of organic gardening is that if you don’t use any chemicals in your plot then nature will balance the population of bad organisms with a population of good organisms so that you will never completely lose an entire plot to voracious insects. Forgive me if I am not completely convinced yet. I am open to trying this lifestyle to see if it works, but the first time I lose an entire plot, then out come the chemicals.

But wait, there are natural pesticides available, if not to purchase then there are many recipes so you can make your own, right? Well, I have tried some of these recipes and they can be a bit messy and don’t last very long. Like I said I have not had a major problem with insects so maybe I should not try to pass judgment on their effectiveness yet.

The most common natural pest control is insecticidal soap. Another popular recipe involves the use of garlic. I have used them both as sprays and remain dubious as to their effectiveness. Other recipes use onion or mint. It seems to me that the action of just spraying insects with a strong spray in order to knock them off of the plant is enough to combat the problem they present. Another recipe I found uses tomato leaves crushed up with cornstarch in water and used as a spray. I have not tried this one yet but those leaves would have to be ground up pretty finely in order to pass through the sprayer head.

I like the idea of the botanical pesticides such as Neem, Rotenone, Pyrethrin and Sabadilla. Although I have never used these I would be willing to try them before using chemicals.

The bottom line on all of these natural pesticides is that they break down readily in the soil and are not stored in plant or animal tissue. These are big pluses for me. As much as I don’t like cats in my yard scaring away the birds, I would not want to be responsible for poisoning one. Also, I don’t want to poison the birds just to keep some plants.

None of these natural pesticides will last very long so that repeat sprayings will always be required. This is itself is a bit of a hassle but still a small price to pay for not poisoning the environment.


New Blogs to list

I just added a few new blogs to my list as suggested by the ladies at Garden Rant.

I really like reading their blog for a slightly different viewpoint to gardening than I take. It is good to look at gardening from a different set of eyes, in this case at least four different sets of eyes. They do get a bit off topic occasionally but not to the point that it detracts from their blog. Thank-you ladies for your view points. Keep up the good work.


Forever a learning experience

Haven't posted much lately, as anyone can see by the date of the previous post. But it hasn't been due to lack of interest.

There are several reasons really, the biggest being it has been so hot that I haven't had the desire to spend much time outdoors in the garden except to move the sprinklers around.

Another reason is that my other interests have taken time away (mainly because they take place indoors in the AC).

I have been reading a lot of wonderful gardening blogs and magazines regularly, learning and planning for next years plots.

In watching my plots take shape this year I have learned a lot. I have learned that cats love my Nepeta Walkers Low, especially one particular grey cat that has created a mini-exercise program for me every morning as I chase it out of the yard. These cats are 'neighborhood' cats and I don't know who their owners are (I know cats don't really have 'owners' so let's just call them 'home and food providers') but they sure love to hang out in my yard. They don’t hang out here just because of the catmint, I also have several bird feeders scattered around the front and backyards that attract them so I am on constant alert to their presence. I rely on the birds to tell me most of the time. When I don’t hear them chattering away I know their quiet is a signal that danger is lurking under the nearby shrubs.

Anyway, watching the flowers take shape and attempt to survive the dry Utah climate has provided me with lots of data to use in choosing more appropriate plants. I have a wide variety of plants in one bed that I had envisioned would be a tribute to drought tolerance and floral beauty. It seems that some of the plants are not as 'drought tolerant' as I was led to believe. Perhaps there are varying degrees of drought tolerance, but I suspect that assumption.

For instance, in this bed I have Achillea Coronation Gold and Achillea Angels Breath that bloom at different times of the year and each has survived beautifully with little moisture and with a showy display of flowers. Then there is Campanula Superba that bloomed beautifully and then quickly suffered under the same watering schedule.

My Chrysanthemum Alaska, Coreopsis Early Sunrise, Echinacea Magnus, Rudbeckia Goldstrum, Salvia East Friesland, and Sedum Autumn Joy have all survived wonderfully with little water while the Liatris Kobold, Heuchera Bressingham, Filipendula, and Arabis Snowcap have all but disappeared as they wilt from lack of water.

Some of these plants may still be 'saved' ny moving to another plot that doesn't get as much intense sunlight. I am guardedly optimistic.

Another thing I am learning, in this my inaugural year of flower gardening, is that the term 'full sun' is a bit of a misnomer. All of these plants I mentioned here are in a plot that gets true ‘full sun’ and by this I mean all-day-long-full-sun not just the six hours that is commonly accepted in the gardening world as 'full sun'. This has become a painful lesson to learn as I attempt to save these half fried plants. I have several other plots that receive ‘full sun’, the six hour variety, and then light shade to full shade the remainder of the day and these same plants are doing much better. So, when I read plant descriptions I scrutinize light requirements a lot more carefully these days.

Since my list of plants that can truly take the ‘full sun’ of that aforementioned plot has dwindled I will need to fill in those spots, that have been vacated by the dead and dying, with more of the same that did made it. This cuts down on the flowering variety that I was hoping to see in that plot but at least there shouldn’t be any more reminders of dying dreams there.

I have also been given a little insight into how to time blooming periods. Seeing it written in a plants description of when plants bloom has turned out to be slightly different than in real life. I wonder if this is the case in all plants. It has been, so far, in most of the plants that I have started this year. Perhaps it is because of the region of the country that I live in, I can only guess and take note as I lose more plants in trying to determine what can actually make it here. I have taken great care to choose only plants that are rated as surviving in my growing zone.

Which leads me to another factor that has mystified me. The ‘growing zone’. This term has, at the expense of plant lives, been further defined through experience. When I first looked at the USDA zone map, attempting to determine what plants will grow here, I was more than a little confused. I understand now that this map is only to be used as a ‘general’ guideline because there cannot possibly any well defined science involved. Adding to my dismay, I have not been able to locate a Utah USDA zone map where I can actually pinpoint my town. I have been forced to choose an area where I think I am located and just accept that I have chosen the correct growing zone. The map is far too non-specific for me to make an accurate determination of my zone, therefore I have had to buy plants with the knowledge that the zone 5 rating or the zone 6 rating may not be accurate. This has turned out to be a disappointment in some cases. Take for example several of the plants that I had placed in the plot that received the ‘all-day-full-sun’ and could not handle that much sun. Does this ‘lack of vigor’ in these plants mean that their zone 6 rating was inaccurate? Given that they received the same amount of water as those other plants that survived, I can only surmise that the rating is inaccurate for this part of Utah.

Now, I must endure winter knowing that the, possibly incorrect, zone identifiers may be a death notice for some of those plants that survived the heat and sun.

I have spoken to other gardeners in the area, some say we are in zone 6, some say zone 5, some tell me that they don’t even bother with that map and just leave it up to the nurseries to tell them what will grow here. But I don’t want to be limited to what the local nurseries sell. Maybe losing plants to the climate is going to have be my price for being renegade enough not to be limited by their offerings.

So, future plant purchases will continue to be made with the knowledge that I may lose the plant. While I am a beginning gardener, as far as flowers are concerned, these lessons can be expensive. Oh what we sacrifice for our hobby.

I have stated before that I have grown vegetables for years and I have learned that they are not quite as sensitive or contrary to weather extremes as flowers are.

The one major lesson I have taken from gardening is that everything you thought you learn each year will be adjusted and more finely tuned the next year. There are, of course, generalities that are fairly constant but you should never rely on these to be 100% accurate all the time.

As long as gardening remains a fun, healthy experience, I am certain I will not give up because of a few failures. I just wish that if the people I buy plants from are ‘pushing’ the definition of growing zones they would at least be ‘up front’ about it and acknowledge that fact so I can have a better idea where to place these plants.


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