bad gardener?

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David Austin English Rose in the rain today

Recently Fine Gardening has featured my Chester County garden in their online Garden of the Day section.  That has been such a thrill and honor for me because…well…I have been sending them garden photos for years. They have been a gardening resource forever, and I subscribe to their print magazine.

Fine Gardening is a go to resource for information, new cultivar suggestions, and all around inspiration.

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I can tell you I purchased this from Applied Climatology at The West Chester Growers Market a couple of years ago.  The tag has long since disappeared.

Well Fine Gardening most recently featured some of my daylilies and hydrangeas together.  Naturally it provoked a conversation with the editor I was working with over cultivars.  I can tell people the names of a few of them like Cherokee Star because I planted some particularly well loved cultivars in clumps of several plants. (Well exception to the clump rule were the $5 pots of mystery daylilies from Home Depot end of summer sale a few years ago! I still don’t know who they are!)

When asked about my daylily cultivars, this is what I told them:

OK, you know where I am a really bad gardener? I see things and I think to myself, “They are perfect,” and then I forget what the cultivars are. I can tell you who I purchased all the daylilies from plant by plant, but as far as cultivars, I am so bad. I am going to have to start writing things down.

I try to plant everything with the tags, but as time progresses and I add more shredded leaves or wood chips for mulch, they disappear.

The thing about daylilies is that I buy them for the color. They don’t get purchased because they are rare or anything like that per se; it’s based on the color. I love white daylilies, but my obsession the past few years has been the reds. I also like the pink and the ruffly daylilies depending on the color because they look so ladylike. I don’t know how else to describe it.

Every once in a while I will pick up daylilies on clearance from a big box store to plug a hole, but for the most part I spend the money to shop from nurseries I know because then I’ll avoid things like daylily rust.

Confession time: I do this with well….the majority of plants. I buy plants for how they hit me when I see them.  And that is in person or in a magazine or in a plant grower’s inventory photos.

To me, right or wrong it’s the visual. Color. Texture. Shape. Size. How does the plant strike me? My poor hostas are also victims of garden anonymity.  They live happily in plant witness protection services with many of my other shrubs and perennials.

I always have good intentions.  I plant new thing with their tags.  But then I either get tired of a forest of plastic tags, or I decide I will always remember their cultivar and yank them out, or they get buried by seasonal layers of mulch and applications of fallen leaves. And then there are the plastic tags that chipmunks and squirrels dig up and relocate (oh yes they DO do that!)

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Hydrangea “Little Lime”

This is where I am a bad gardener to some. But you know what? I have been through plenty of gardens, including European ones and  I see tags for rare specimen trees and some shrubs, but not tags for much of anything else. And for the most part, I do not like looking at plastic nursery tags and I do not have the time or inclination for pretty write on copper ones.

It is what it is. I created my garden because it brings me joy.

I look at what I plant much in the way an artist looks at something for subject matter.  It is also very visceral. I look at something and can visualize it in a spot in the garden and then I plant it.  Truthfully it is almost a kissing cousin of the techniques people who are practitioners of Shamanic Gardening. And I didn’t intend it to be.  It’s just what happened.

Shamanic Gardening? What’s that you ask?

Shamanic Gardening integrates sustainable ancient and traditional gardening methods with shamanic principles and modern permaculture. The practices, history, myths, recipes, and philosophies inside this book will enhance your relationship with nature, sustain the earth, delight your senses, and nourish your soul.

Shamanic Gardening [book] includes a cultural history of sustainable gardening, including gardening techniques used by Cleopatra, the Japanese, the Pueblo Indians, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and many others.

I learned about the theories of Shamanic Gardening from Melinda Joy Miller’s book Shamanic Gardening. You can find the book on Amazon and other places.

As a theory, it sounds new-agey.  To an extent it is. It also fits in with the principles of Feng Shui. (See Shambhalla Institute and NO I am not one of their clients or practitioners. I just went ‘web wandering as I was reading the book out of curiosity. But heck even the esteemed British Royal Horticultural Society has been interested in this or they would not have sold the book.)

The reason I delved into the book were funny little things like they say to essentially ask the plant where it want so go.  Any rabid gardener will tell you we all talk to our plants…and weeds.  It’s just a thing. But because it also reminds me of using the principles of feng shui in gardens. Yes really. (Read more here.)

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Echinacea “White Double Delight”

Anyway back to bad gardener of it all. Since my garden has been in Fine Gardening there has been interest in my garden for local tours. That never happened before.  My garden is a layered garden with four season interest and of my own design, not formal with fussy parterres and fountains.

Today some really nice ladies toured my garden.  For consideration in a 2019 event.  But when they asked me if I knew all of the names of a few of my hostas I answered truthfully  that no I did not.  I explained to them how I chose my plants for color, shape, texture, etc and how I thought they would fit.  I also said some were gifted out of other gardens where they had lived for many years without anyone remembering their names. Right or wrong, I felt in the moment like a very bad gardener who had flunked a horticulture class.

IMG_9059Really, I am sorry for my plant amnesia.  I should write down cultivars more diligently. I just don’t.  I see, I feel, I plant, I enjoy.

My garden is something I enjoy very much.  It’s not a formal arboretum — its a four sided, rambling, four seasons kind of a country garden.  To my English and Irish friends it is I am told very similar to their native cottage gardens. But to old school garden club folks, that is not necessarily acceptable here in the U.S.

Cottage gardens and layered gardens are actually a lot more work than a lot of other gardens.  It’s a sensory thing with jumbles of flowers and plants and paths and nooks and seating areas. And other elements to add whimsy. But you have to keep everything trimmed properly or all of a sudden it is just too much garden.

IMG_9058But a cottage garden is the perfect rule breakers garden. Plant what you love. Appeal to your own taste and style.  Make it romantic. And lush.

A true cottage garden says come in and wander and stay a while.  So if people think that about my garden, that is the nicest thing for me.  After all, gardens should be shared…just forgive the garden amnesia.  I can tell you who I bought each plant from, just not it’s particular cultivar name necessarily.  And I never took Latin, so what you get in Latin from me is a gift, usually mispronounced.

I must also note that  just because someone’s garden is welcoming, it doesn’t mean you should just come wander.  Ask the gardener first. Otherwise, it’s sadly trespassing and at a minimum a little disconcerting to the homeowner who wasn’t expecting guests.

Thanks for stopping by.

Here are the Fine Gardening posts:

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the fall into winter garden

I start this morning with a picture of one of my November roses. I have a handful of rose bushes still blooming, and yesterday I was able to cut a small bouquet.

Another oddity given the weather, is this morning I picked fresh raspberries from my raspberry bush. Yes, really!

I have not only planted a “layered” garden, I have done my best to make this garden four seasons. The beauty is different in the fall and in the dead of winter, but if you open your eyes and look around you see it.

I planted a lot of the red twig dogwood shrubs throughout my garden. Some have a variegated leaf some a solid green leaf. Once they start to shed their leaves, the other part of their attractiveness shines through. These shrubs get brilliant red stems that give you the most glorious color from late fall through the winter. There are few things as pretty as seeing a red twig dogwood against freshly fallen snow!

And my hydrangeas – they also provide their own four season attraction. The hydrangeas keep their flowers through most of the winter until winds and what not start to knock them off. (I finish dead heading them in the spring which is NOT the same as pruning. ) It becomes more like a dried flower still life versus the crazy vibrant colors of the growing season.

A lot of my herbs overwinter nicely in this garden as they have enough protection in the beds. I will never get things like basil to overwinter outside, but I have even had tarragon over winter here, which I hadn’t had before. My two big pots on the front walk are filled with lavender and thyme. I will not cut them back I will leave those herbs exactly as is. I finally figured out the trick to lavender was NOT cutting it back if you found a spot where it can overwinter.

I have a much more laissez faire attitude to my garden in the fall then a lot of people. First of all I have a lot of garden and I have to accept that I can’t do everything. So much to the surprise of many, I kind of let my fall garden do what it wants to do. I do not dead head everything. Among other things if you leave the seedpods and whatnot on your shrubs and perennials, it’s food for birds.

But I have discovered if I let my fall garden do what it wants I have this whole other display. It’s almost like looking at a whole other garden. Instead of nothing, I have interest.

We do rake and blow the leaves, and our forest and woods are mostly oak trees, so we put the leaves on the flower beds.

A garden in fall and winter doesn’t have the lush beauty of spring and summer and the riot of color. It’s more subdued and it’s also more structural. You are, after all, looking at the plants without their spring and summer finery.

I do spray everything for deer around now, and I will have to do so again even in the dead of winter. That is the trade-off for having a garden in deer country.

I planted the last of my fall perennials that I picked up on sale and one more shrub. After this weekend I just have some bulbs to plant. But I hadn’t felt like planting them because honestly it was too warm.

I plant mostly daffodils and Narcissus. I gave up on tulips years ago as they are just squirrel food. I like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs for mail order bulbs. Most local nurseries do not get the variety I like, and they are simply more expensive. I have also used a company out of Connecticut called Color Blends.

Today I bought the ceramic vintages birdbaths in and put them in their winter homes in the basement. I bought in one concrete birdbath top, leaving the largest one for my sweet man to flip over and cover for me. It’s just too heavy for me to move.

The kitchen herbs that I have in pots that I do not overwinter inside I will take out of the ceramic and clay pots and put into the flowerbeds. As a result I have a healthy bed of thyme (makes an awesome ground cover), and returning sage and other things like oregano and even some rosemary. I just dig them in and they get covered with leaves and what survives is meant to be and that’s the way it is.

My house looks sort of like a jungle because the Boston ferns have come in from their hooks in the backyard and once a week they get a good water and misting every other day.

During the winter months I will keep myself busy with my ivy topiaries, clivia, and my ferns. I used to do a lot of amaryllis bulbs but I really don’t have the room anymore and the last few years of bulbs I have purchased I have been disappointed in.

Anyway, the time has come for the gardens to sleep. We will be getting a hard freeze over the next couple of days. I will get in the balance of my bulbs, and look to my gardening magazines and catalogs for inspiration for next year. But I will also enjoy my garden in fall and winter. I hope you will too.

Thanks for stopping by.