a great garden related kind of day

A great kind of garden related day is when I end up with a few plants, a new gardening book, and hear a garden talk that truly resonates with me.

About two years ago I found out there was a Hosta society that serves our area. So I joined. The Delaware Valley Hosta Society. They meet a few times a year and life has gotten in the way until today where I finally was able to go to one of their meetings. Today was their spring meeting and they had a guest speaker I had wanted to meet, Jenny Rose Carey.

Ms. Carey is the Senior Director of Meadowbrook Farm , which is now a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (“PHS”) site, but was once the home of Liddon Pennock.

Liddon Pennock was THE Philadelphia Florist once upon a time. My parents knew him, so I remember meeting him growing up. He created this amazing space which he left to PHS and his legacy continues. But I digress.

Jenny Rose Carey is a well known garden lecturer and she practices what she preaches at her own gardens (follow her on Instagram at Northview Garden or via her blog Before You Garden.)

She came today to the hosta Society meeting to speak on “Glorious Shade”. That is also the title of her new book on shade gardening available through Timber Press. (I was psyched to buy a copy and have the author autograph it for me!)

An approachable and engaging speaker, I was thrilled to learn that a lot of her favorite shade garden plants were also mine! She said with regard to shade gardening, that “slow and steady wins the race.” I was interested to hear that because I never really had a lot of shade gardening to do before we moved into this house. So I have learned in part by trial and error, but I was happy to learn that my gardening instincts have been good.

She went through a wonderful list of plants that are also good companions to hostas. Plants like:

  • Red bud
  • Eastern (native) dogwood
  • Fothergilla
  • Witch Hazel
  • Hydrangeas
  • Rhododendrons/ Azaleas
  • Asarum (wild ginger)
  • Ferns
  • Twinleaf
  • Bluebells
  • Mayapple
  • Trillium
  • Bloodroot
  • Hellebores
  • Heucheras

She also taught people how shade gardens are different. A lot of people expect shade gardens to be as neat and orderly as those sunny beds with all your sun loving flowers. But that is not how they work.

Shade gardening is so very different. It’s softer, it meanders. It’s not perfect and it evolves over time. Or, this is what I have learned over the past few years and really getting into it for the first time.

The ideal shade garden to me is something less formal, less structured. My gardens go into the woods. And I keep trash and what-not out of the woods and remove invasive plants like burning bush when they pop up, but for the most part I let my woods be. I don’t want to overly clean up my forest floor, because what hits the ground is sanctuary for critters and disintegrates into making good things for the soil (fallen leaves, etc.)

Forest floors weren’t meant to be completely tidy, and that was one thing that I got out of this lecture today and it made me glad that we were doing the right thing. I also protect the tree seedlings I find that will help keep my woods going. And some of those seedlings I transplanted into different areas of my garden – like the native dogwoods and volunteer Japanese Maples!

Ms. Carey also encouraged people to have little seating areas. Paths. Water features, as in even a birdbath.

I love hostas a bit excessively, as all my friends and family know. I’m a bit nutty about them. So it was kind of a kick to be in a room full of people that love hostas too! Plenty of the gardeners I met today were from Chester County and other deer heavy areas.

So today was a great day. While not actually in the garden much, I love having the opportunity to meet and spend time with other gardeners and listen to a great gardening lecture. I also came home with a new gardening book and four spectacular hostas!

Thanks for stopping by and happy gardening!

why we plant certain plants in our garden…like pussy willows

Giant Pussy Willow

Why do we plant certain things in our garden if we are planting our gardens ourselves?

Among other things, we plant things which evoke memories. For me one of those plants are Pussy Willows.

I have planted two pussy willow cultivars in my garden: Giant Pussy Willow and Black Pussy Willow. Pussy Willows can grow full sun to part shade and their natural habitat I have read is river banks and sand bars. I know they also do well near creeks and ponds. I never plant anything that is a willow near wells, public sewer pipes, water pipes, septic systems etc.  Their roots can be a problem if you choose the wrong location. The pussy willow is native to the colder parts of Japan, Korea and China.

Giant Pussy Willow or Salix chaenomeloides is upright and arches gracefully.  It needs quite a bit of space because it can grow 12′ to 20′.  I have mine on the edge of my woods and it thrives, but I do prune it about 2 to  3 times a year. These are the pussy willows who get the biggest catkins and they start a fuzzy gray-pink, and get lighter as they open.

My other pussy willow is a Black Pussy Willow or Salix gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’. It grows more shrub like, but you must stay on top of pruning because it can also be a monster.  I prune it to keep it an even round shape.  It anchors a large perennial bed. The catkins are smaller and black. Like it’s giant cousin, it has lovely green leaves during the growing season.  One detractor? The Japanese beetle loves the black pussy willow in particular so I hit it with Neem oil when they are out.

I also have a weeping willow and a curly willow (“Peking Willow”) as well.  They are both planted in areas which were prone to being very wet.  They are, as is the case with the pussy willows, planted away from wells, septic, pipes, etc. And they are a wonderfully natural way to help balance out areas on your property that get too wet or hold water. The Curly Willow can also survive periods of drought nicely.  The weeping willow does not like periods of drought.

Black Pussy Willow

As a gardener in my gardening group writes:

1. They like to grow in damp soil & are well suited for a rain garden. 
2. Hummingbirds like to use the fuzzy catkin material in their nests. 
3. Since they bloom in early March, they provide a valuable early source of nectar for pollinators. 
4. It is a host plant for Viceroy butterflies (Monarch mimic) & several other butterfly species as well.
5. To use the branches indoors, do not put them in water (I always did) unless you are trying to root them. Without water they will dry and the catkins will remain silvery, and leaves will not sprout.

 

Pussy Willows have been a favorite of mine since I was a toddler as per my mother.  And I will admit I have early, early memories of the flower and plant man Mr. Cullinan coming into the city with boughs of Pussy Willows for sale.

Mr. Cullinan came (I think) from the Kennett Square area and he used to come to his customers in a VW Van. I hope I am spelling his name right. He would stop and open his van and it was loaded with seasonal flowers every season.  First pussy willows at the end of winter. Then lilacs and peonies to welcome spring.  All in big florist buckets soaking in water until we bought them inside. And all plants I have in my garden as a grown up.

Related image

I have always loved flowers and gardening, and Mr. Cullinan always meant wonderful plants and flowers. I just loved the big fuzzy, velvety soft catkins of the pussy willows he sold us.  I would put them up to my cheek to feel the softness.

The simplicity of Mr. Cullinan coming around selling flowers is an era of days gone by.  Much like the truck farmers full of in-season fruits and vegetables who would make the rounds, and the milkman.

(Now to digress for a second, Chester County folks do have access to an old fashioned milkman again thanks to the folks at Doorstep Dairy.)

Back to pussy willows.

You will see them around the time of Chinese New Year. Pussy willows are a favorite flower for this time of year and you will see stalks decorated with gold and red ornaments/red packets, colors which signify prosperity and happiness. In the Chinese tradition, this represents the coming of prosperity.

In other cultures pussy willows play a role as well. Ukrainian and Russian Orthodox;  Polish, Czech, Slovak, Bavarian, and Austrian Roman Catholics; Finnish and Baltic Lutherans and Orthodox; and various other Eastern European peoples carry pussy willows on Palm Sunday instead of palm branches. Pussy willows also plays a prominent role in Polish Dyngus Day (Easter Monday).

As I write this, snowflakes swirl with howling, somewhat ferocious winds.  The winds are bending my pussy willows back and forth.  March has arrived like a lion.

Thanks for stopping by.

 

taming the interior jungle

Winter means I only have the inside a/k/a house plants to tend to. It won’t be spring soon enough, but for now it’s all about taming the interior jungle.

Fridays is plant tending day. I start with the big Boston Ferns. They love the dappled shade on the edge of the woods on hooks in the summer, but in the winter they hang from the family room ceiling on hooks the prior homeowner (who was a wonderful gardener in her day, I am told) put up.

The ferns go to the sink where they get watered and misted. I leave them to drain a couple of hours while I tend to the rest of the jungle.

I start with the orchids and small Clivia (offspring from the big Clivia pots.) They are on moisture trays which I periodically add hot tap water to. The orchids each get a couple of ice cubes and today they will get sprayed with foliar feed.

The Clivia along with their mother ship relatives which are in large pots on the floor just get some water. Occasionally I water everything with Irish Organic Fertilizer (you can buy it on Amazon and I use it in my garden and on my house plants and orchids.)

I have two ivy topiaries which I actually made, and they also get watered and misted in the kitchen sink once a week and left to drain before returning to their plant saucers and plant stands. (I have a few vintage plant stands from the Smithfield Barn that I use for indoor plants to save the furniture surfaces.)

I have two citrus trees. One is a grapefruit tree I grew from seed. It has never bloomed or grown fruit but as it has matured it has grown thorns. My other citrus is a small Meyer Lemon. That has born full-sized fruit once and then almost died. It’s now thriving in a new pot and I hope for blossoms soon. The citrus trees are planted with soil specifically for citrus trees and it drains well. I tend to let them dry out before watering again. It’s a balance, but when I overwater they drop leaves.

I did buy a moisture meter which does help keep my plants watered properly. But some plants just defy all logic. Like our giant Mandevilla. We inherited it from the prior homeowner so it is well established and now in a rather large pot. It has a trellis in the pot for the vines but the pot is so heavy it is on a saucer on wheels. At this point every winter it sheds leaves. Constantly. It makes a real mess. Then it looks like it is half dead, but then spring rolls around and new leave start to sprout. But right now it is in the middle of its ugly season where I look at it and swear I won’t go through this again….until summer when the marvelous hot pink flowers appear.

I also have Christmas Cactus. It thrives on benign neglect. It also prefers a more sandy kind of soil. I toss a handful of ice cubes in the pot on the soil once a week and that’s all. I learned from a co-worker years ago that they literally thrive on being ignored.

My addition to the interior jungle this year other than a rosemary plant I am overwintering is the pretty Amaryllis I received as a gift a while back. It bloomed for Christmas, and I thought it was finished blooming and was starting to grow leaves and much to my delight another flower bud is pushing from the base! So right now I am letting the stem die from the first flower and keeping the soil moist so the next flower can grow.

Like my regular outside garden I have learned through trial and error over the years that the best thing I can do for my houseplants is also keep them on a schedule. As long as I stick to a schedule as far as watering and feeding and general tending they seem to do OK.

As for what else a gardener does in winter, well that’s easy. I go through plant catalogs and gardening magazines as I wait for spring!

Thanks for stopping by.

the thanksgiving gift

These past few years my blog has been my journey through my now not so new home county, Chester County, Pennsylvania . It’s also been whatever I feel like writing about at the time – what moves me, inspires me, what I want to share.

I have been a blogger for years, but out here I don’t think there are many people like myself who blog just because they want to write. So I am an acquired taste to many. I am also not a monetized blog, which is a rare species sometimes these days. With the blogging sometimes over the past few years I have had some incredibly negative experiences even with all the amazing and heartwarming and positive experiences of writing. As a result it may take me a few days when someone writes to my blog and is truly complementary.

So what I’m about to tell you is basically my O. Henry story for Thanksgiving 2017. (And as a related aside, if you have never read O.Henry you should. His stories are timeless and endure through the ages.)

Recently, someone wrote to me via my blog to tell me how much he enjoyed what I wrote about. And this gentleman, Chris, has really read what I’ve written. It always leaves me slightly in awe when I realize this because I write for myself. I enjoy the act of writing and expressing myself, it’s my art so to speak. And sometimes (sadly) along with the pleasant commentary , I get really ugly comments about my blog; it’s not always happy thoughts. That is the sad reality of the world we live in.

And this nice man also offered me an amaryllis bulb. And for a gardener like myself, there’s nothing better this time of year than paper whites and Amaryllis. I happen to love Amaryllis and the weird spring and fall made mincemeat out of my remaining Amaryllis bulbs and I actually didn’t have one started for Christmas. Someone from DutchGrown, a bulb grower and supplier out of West Chester had given him a couple of bulbs, and he thought enough of me a total stranger and fellow gardener, to offer me one. (And now I know about another bulb grower which is Chester County local too!)

2017 has been a crazy year for me being a blogger, so I showed the note to my husband, and he said that there is enough good on this earth that we can still take people at their word, even strangers. So today I sent a note back and said I would love to have an Amaryllis bulb and say hello.

I have to tell you I really didn’t expect him to come by today because it is Thanksgiving and he has a family, but he did. Sadly, I had hopped into the shower to get ready for family coming here for Thanksgiving. So he and my husband met instead. And now we have a new friend, well met.

There is that phrase about the kindness of strangers, and it definitely proves itself true here in this situation. And once again my travels through Chester county and my blog have introduced us to get another person we normally would not have met.

Chris, Happy Thanksgiving. This post is for you. Thank you for the beautiful bulb and reminding us what is important in this life. It is a true O.Henry moment.

Happy Thanksgiving dear readers and pay it forward this holiday season. Believe.

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.

the evolving gardener

One of my gardening heroes (and friends), Gene Bush had sent me a note to check in and say hello. He said in part:

I was hoping that I could convince you to write the story of your surgery and how it affected your gardening.

Well I hadn’t thought about it, but it has most definitely affected my gardening. I will note it is not necessarily bad, however it makes the game different now.

My travails with my right knee started in the winter. At the bitter end of February and first couple of days in March, one day, something went pop. It was so loud a sound, literally a “pop”.

That pop was my meniscus. The day it happened I was in the house alone and the pop sent me to the floor, where I stayed for a while, in considerable pain not able to get up and afraid to move.

Eventually I pulled myself up by using the low, heavy bureau I crumpled in front of and hobbled to the bed. This was how I spent the next couple of months – hobbling in pain within my home . It was my right leg, so that also meant no driving….and no walking….and worst of all, no gardening.

I pretty much spent weeks and weeks with my leg elevated and supported in bed as I went through the process of our healthcare system. Getting a surgeon, let alone getting approved for a surgeon by health insurance companies is NOT a speedy process any longer.

As I the days stretched into weeks, I realized that I would not be doing my late winter/early spring clean-up in my garden myself. That meant I also wasn’t going to be putting down all of the mulch I put down every spring.

I am a hands on gardener. I am used to doing for myself. So now I had to find some qualified gardening help.

For a while I had toyed around with using someone I had used in the past, but decided against that person. They were not inexpensive and when I had used them last, quite a few actual plants were removed with weeds. And the plants weren’t, say little clumps of mint or something, one of the plants was my white currant bush and I have been looking for about three years for another one.

I received a referral from a friend for a local landscaper. He spread most of the mulch and God bless him, dug out a 40 year old patch of forsythia so I could have another flower bed. Forsythia is miserable to remove as I removed a lot last summer. Forsythia is why I invested in a spearheaded spade, truthfully.

I paid the landscaper for the work I had initially contracted with him about, and scheduled some more, including driveway edging. The problem is he never returned. He kept making and breaking appointments so eventually I gave up. I will note that I have since done my own driveway edging, I just had to do it standing with more movement of my arms and shoulders then my knees.

By this point we are into May and I had finally had my surgery. Yes, it took that long. Between dealing with insurance company nonsense and the busy schedules of competent surgeons and all the pre-procedure minutia, it was May before I had my surgery.

If you are a gardener you know that a surgery like knee surgery can put you tremendously behind the eight ball. I did my best to find other garden help, but to no avail.

The irony is, I would never hire anyone to do something I was not willing to do myself or generally speaking usually did do myself. But I had people show up, look at my garden which is the rather good shape truthfully, tell me what they might charge… and then they just disappeared.

I can’t tell you how frustrating this has been. So it has made me rethink how I garden. Here I am, offering to pay someone to assist me, and basically they don’t want to do the work.

I am also frustrated by those I interviewed who wanted to tell me how my garden should be. That wasn’t why I was trying to contract with them for garden help. I have my vision, I just need a little help now and again executing it. It’s hardly impossible, it just requires thought and effort. But the difference is, I have an actual garden and in today’s society a lot of people do not. They live in developments where associations within that development make the gardening decisions and often contract out for all of the residents. Everything is the samey- same from house to house.

I will admit I found recovering from breast cancer surgery and other surgeries I have had over the past few years easier than knee surgery. A lot of that had to do with the length of time I was basically forced to sit still and rest prior to my surgery. My muscles went kerplunk along with endurance.

When I first started physical therapy I never thought I was going to be able to do it. I was as weak as a kitten quite literally, except a kitten could move much faster than I could.

But I was lucky to get an amazing therapist through my surgeon. His background before physical therapy was in sports training so he has been and an enormous help, and I discovered his physical therapy practice has a lot of gardeners in it! (Yes I am still doing physical therapy. I actually only started driving by myself a couple of weeks ago, and I’m still not driving long distances. )

I am back in the garden but it’s different than it used to be. One thing that is different is I broke down and bought myself a good garden seat on wheels with a little rack on the back of it. That way I can sit and weed and not bend over or have to kneel. It takes longer, but it saves the strain on my knee. The seat pivots, and there is a little basket on the back for my hand tools. At the bottom of this post is a picture that is close to what mine looks like as I can find.

I bought my wheelie garden seat from a member of my gardening group actually. People don’t realize the good gardening tools do not have to be brand spanking new to be good. As a matter of fact (and it’s somewhat a topic for another post), I search out gently used gardening tools at times.

From pruners that can be sharpened and are built in a more sturdy fashion in the vintage variety, to having back ups for the things I occasionally kill like gardening spades large and small, I am not adverse to garage sale hunting of garden tools.

But back to post surgical gardening. I have learned I have to accept that at least for the near term, there are things I can’t do unless of course I want to end up with an entire knee replacement next time. It’s hard for me to ask for help, but like it or not I know I have to at times now.

Post surgical gardening also means I can’t just do giant guerrilla sessions of gardening any longer. I have to pace myself. I tend now to go out in spurts of an hour to 90 minutes tops. I have to ice my knee every time I have gardened. I also have discovered I can’t garden multiple days in a row, or at least not yet.

Thanks to my physical therapist and tips he has given me I am also learning better posture for gardening for lack of a better description.

Having to adjust my mindset also means my garden has some adjustment. It is not as perfectly weeded as it once was. And I have to be more accepting of that, which I am the first one to admit is incredibly hard. Some people who have come to look at my garden this summer I think are surprised by that in particular, because I’m a little obsessive about my gardening beds. But I have to pace myself or I will literally become a cripple. And if I become a cripple I won’t enjoy my garden or anyone else’s garden.

I have learned this summer that knee injuries in particular are a very common complaint for rabid gardeners. When I had to let the hosta society know I would not be coming to their summer function because my knee wasn’t up to it yet post surgery, one of the event organizers laughed and said there was a lot of that going around this summer with gardeners that they know.

Is it frustrating to have to reset the pace of my gardening? Yes it is and incredibly so. The garden I have now established is a layered garden, so the work is pretty much on going in it.

But now post knee surgery, I have to slow the pace. It has also made me start to seek out some plants that may have lower maintenance – it’s a garden I will let you know ha ha ha when I’ve discovered that for sure.

However, all that being said, my garden is my truly happy place and I wouldn’t trade it for anything! I still love it and love to take care of it… only now I have to be a grown-up and do it at a slower pace.

Thanks for stopping by!