Forever a learning experience

>> Sunday, September 9, 2007

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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