Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Truth About Pillows




 At what point in your life did you realize pictures of beds piled with lots of beautiful pillows was not going to cut it at your house?

It looks beautiful in the pictures but in real life it takes time to take them off every night, pile them someplace where you won’t trip over them if you get up during the night and replace ever so artfully every morning.  Who has the time?  Who wants to take the time?  And if you’re a man, at what point in the previous words did you think, “What pillows?”


We can move on to decorative pillows on couches and chairs:  they’re sold by the thousands for way more than that little scrap of material is worth.  The first thing that happens if you have children is they are used on the floor for tumbling, making a fort or hitting a sibling.  When adults come to play, the first thing is they are removed to the floor, stuck behind the couch or squished to the point of ruining the shape. 

Don’t get me wrong; I bought into the whole pillows marketing hype.  I love the splashes of color and the beautiful fabrics.  And then I got real!  Except for a few favorites, my pillows have gone to my local Salvation Army for some innocent homeowner to start his or her own pillow fantasy.

All parts of our lives have “pillow examples.”  And as we start to drag decorative stuff out into our gardens, balance how much we L.O.V.E. it against how much work we’re adding to our already busy lives. 

I listened to a story the other day that asked, “Is our new mantra busyness?”  Is the banner we carry all about how busy we are?  Do we somehow feel it validates us as a person?  Think about:

How many things in your home suck time from your life for no good reason?  Think pillows!

When someone asks, “How are you?” do you start your endless list of all the things you are doing?

If your children are left with an evening or weekend where nothing is planned, do they get fussy “because there’s nothing to do?”

Do you have so many beds of flowers that you must maintain them instead of enjoying them?

Do you feel you must fulfill every whim and fancy your aging parents decide they want and when they want?

Do your children know how to fill up time with their own imagination rather than have it manufactured with scheduled events or outside stimulation?

Do you consider reading or watching nature only something to be squeezed in when everything else is done?

Do you never quite have time to fit phoning, visiting or helping others into your schedule? 

If you do fit a call, visit or help into your schedule is the time you allot about your schedule or what the other person needs?

Does busyness make you feel important?  Does it validate that you’re needed? Things wouldn’t get done without you?  No one will be happy without what you do?  Do you think it makes you a good person?

Granted, some folks could use a little more commitment to getting busy.  Busyness isn’t about taking care of family, the home or your job.  I’m talking about all the self-imposed stuff we put upon ourselves that isn’t needed and sometimes isn’t even wanted by others. 

This summer think about what you can eliminate from your busyness.  Whether it’s pillows, a new garden bed, Sally’s tumbling or Johnny’s T-ball - think it through.  Will you be better rested for all the pillows?  Will Sally and Johnny need all these things to be successful adults?  Do you need to go to grandchildren’s every event or their life will be warped?  If it’s “no” to these or things on your own list – think about change.  Busyness for busyness sake is much too busy for a busy person.


Thursday, April 14, 2016

Wild and Crazy



Let the fun begin!
How can you tell if you have a gardening addiction?  When you’re thinking of getting IT, your heart beats faster as if you’re running for the finish line.  You experience a kind of euphoria in anticipation of having IT.  You become blinded to rational constraints; a sort of tunnel vision.  Once you have IT, you want more.  You rationalize that you need IT.  You sometimes spend more money on IT than you should.

Sound all too familiar my gardening friends?  Let me share:
 
The old walnut in all it's grander.
We had to have our largest and oldest walnut tree cut down because it had become a danger to lives and buildings.  We mourned the loss.  And then!  And then, I realized it was an excellent opportunity to have a new garden bed.  Wowzer and kick in that gardening addiction!

Yes, I started breathing faster and my heart was racing.  Was it sugar or garden addiction?  That burst of energy gave me all kinds of thoughts about making, moving and designing.  I was blinded by the fact it would take lots of physical work especially considering there had to be a huge mass of roots to contend. 

Another rationalization was I would simply move things I had and it wouldn’t cost a dime.  Ah yes, rationalization of the finest kind.

First, I asked the forester to leave the stump about four feet high.  And now it was time to “encourage” my good husband into the whole process.  He enjoys designing building projects and so little by little I showed him fairy houses made from tree stumps.  See my garden blog for a picture of the end result. 

I had to be pretty darn ruthless with the existing Comfrey that had surrounded the walnut for years.  Comfrey is an old heirloom plant that is beautiful for about half the summer and a real invasive ugly pain the other half.  It has spread and this patch will not be missed.
Old walnut showing the damage.

Once I had killed (hopefully) the comfrey, I had a blank circle except for the existing daffodils.  Good to go!  Perhaps this is where tunnel vision married rationalization.  Those daylilies that had eventually become too shaded could be moved, it was a chance to get some new daylilies (because one never has enough) and having all this outside my computer room window and off the back porch was an added bonus.  Seriously, I was doing this for the masses, for the love of gardening and alas - for my garden addiction.

It’s been gently suggested by one of my sweet family members that I may want to consider downsizing my gardens in preparation of getting too old and feeble to care for them properly.  Plus, is a yard full of perennials, bushes, trees and things a home selling point or a home selling deterrent?
 
Comfrey around the old walnut.
To date, I’ve tried to consider the suggestion and right now I’m thinking gardening and the beauty are some of the things that keep me going – although perhaps painfully going.  Planning and improving my gardens gives hours of good brain activity.  (I know!  I know! Rationalization!) 

I know from past experience (both mine and my garden friends) that seldom does anyone buy a home and have the same likes as the prior owner.  That goes for both inside the home and the grounds.  They buy a new home with their own set of loves and visions and seldom does it include what’s already been done.

I follow several old home sites and the comments substantiate this.  A few will fall in love with the total package.  Most others will wax on about what they would change and how could anyone be so stupid as to do such and such.  I do hope whoever buys this home from us in the future will have our vision and love of old homes and gardens but if not, so be it.  With a few exceptions, a lawn mower set on low and grass seed will return it to the simple yard it hasn’t seen in years. 
I call this my blank canvas.

I’ve been around too long to suppose my garden will become a nationally protected garden heritage site.  Seriously, it wouldn’t become that even if I paid off the judges.  It’s not that big of a deal but it is the deal I enjoy today with visions of what it will look like for that little patch where the old walnut had stood.

Maybe next year I’ll consider paring down my beds – ha ha ha ha ha ha – Oh gosh that’s a good one. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Outside Planters and Pots

I think I need these!

Outside container gardens have many benefits:  Growing plants even though you don't have a yard.  Covering or blocking something ugly.  Bringing annual color to an otherwise drab spot.  Allowing color to be moved.  Making it easier to water and fertilize annuals.  

Pots can have color coordination, size and style.  They can be any old piece of junk that will hold soil and can be watered - called shabby chic in the decorating magazines.  It can be a sculpture.  It may be attached to the house (as in window boxes), free standing or incorporated into other hardscapes.

The trick of container gardening isn't usually the container or the plants.  The trick is making the container hospitable for a whole summer's worth of beauty.  
These are metal sculptures with pots
on top to look like flowering trees.
Unless you plan to have bog or water garden containers, you must have sufficient drainage.  Nothing kills an average annual quicker than having their "feet" or roots standing in water.  

Tired of your water feature?  Plant it.
Unless you don't mind dragging a hose or watering can around the yard, situate containers where they're easily watered.  Nothing kills an average annual quicker than having their roots dry out.  OK the point being if you mess up the roots, the plant will either be stunted or will die.  Stunted plants really never have time to recuperate during our short summer season.  

Every plant in a single container must have compatible needs.  Water, fertilizer, sun and space needs have to be the same or something will die.

With the exception of some sedum, spurge or arid plants, most will need to be fertilized on a weekly basis.  Even if you use a potting medium with fertilizer included, it will be used up in about a month.  Use a light mix of water soluble all purpose fertilizer for annuals and don't wait until they show need.  By then it will be too late to bring them back to robust beauty.  Don't over fertilizer or make it stronger in the hopes it will make the plants even better.  Too much will kill the plant.  Fertilizing is especially necessary if you are growing vegetables in pots.

Could work?
Some plants will probably need to be pinched back several times BEFORE they get leggy.  It takes a strong gardener to pinch off flowers and buds and then wait until it all comes back.  Read the plant's needs and tendencies to understand which ones need cut back.  Some petunias must be pinched while others are bred to vine and cascade.  Even vines (example is sweet potato) benefit from being pinched at least once during the growing season.  Pinching (cutting) back to a bud or leaf encourages the plant to send out two new stems.  If you do this a couple of times a summer, that plant will be much fuller and healthier - not to mention more beautiful with more flower and/or leaves.   If you've never cut back annuals and not sure what you're doing, learn first; doing it wrong can kill the plant.

Vegetables in pots may need pinching if you've bought regular sized plants.  Dwarf varieties usually don't need as much pinching.  Most herbs don't need much pinching except to pinch off flowers to keep it from going to seed (unless you want seeds such as in dill) or in hopes of getting a few more weeks of beauty.  Basil tends to get leggy towards the end of summer and regular pinching may prevent this.  Use a really deep and heavy pot for vegetable plants with large heavy vegetables or for vines.  Putting a couple of brick in the bottom may help keep it from toppling over.  

As the season progresses, the plant roots will start to fill the container making it almost impossible for it to live without daily (sometimes twice daily) water and weekly fertilizer.  This is especially true if you've planted in a small or shallow container.  There may come a time in late summer where there is no more hope for the container's plants and you can either compost or dig a small hole in your other beds, plop the thing in and hope for a little late season color before it dies.  

Some gardeners will pluck out a dead plant and insert a new plant.  I've never had good luck with this because it disturbs the other roots and the container is usually so root bound that the new roots don't stand a chance.  I break off the dead/dying and insert an ornament such as a little bird house, glass ball or some other little thing to try to look like I meant it to be there.

Little pots will need more watching and care.
If you have really big or deep planters and don't have top heavy or deep rooted plants, I suggest putting filler in the bottom first.  I put a coffee filter over the drainage holes first.  Add filler:  plastic milk cartons, pop/beer cans in the bottom 1/3 and then add soil.  Do NOT use packing peanuts because they're very unmanageable.  Using filler saves money.

I suggest watering pots until water flows out the drainage holes.  Then come back to that pot in about half an hour and slowly water again until it flows out.  The double watering achieves good saturation whereas the one big watering may simply be running out quickly without the entire soil ball getting moist.  

Use water soluble fertilizer on your pot about half an hour after the above good soaking.  Don't fertilize until it runs out - it's wasteful and will end up fertilizing whatever plants catch the runoff.  If the soil is already damp, the fertilizer will go throughout the soil and not just soaked up by the top few inches (where it does no good and can even cause roots to reach up and not down.)

I love my old wash tub
You may have to move your pots during the summer to get adequate light or enough shade, depending on the needs.  What looks perfect in the spring may change once leaves are on the trees and the sun is in a different position.  If you have a solid and flat surface, the pots can be on wheeled bases.  Wheeled bases aren't as sturdy as sitting flat so make sure the base is large enough to handle the weight and height during moving or heavy wind.  

Pots:  Is one enough?  Is a hundred too many?  I've seen beauty in both.  What is never beautiful is the gardener who is into all plants every spring but never quite gets them all potted leaving little bunches of dead plants in plastic pots everywhere.  Or the plants put so beautifully in pots and never cared for again showing a bunch of dead plants all summer.

One of my favorite white and blue combos.

Do the little glass balls on hallow stems really work to keep plants watered?  Not really.  They get plugged, they either leak out all at once or not at all.  BUT they do look pretty - they're just not a watering tool.

A note on hanging containers:  They dry out MUCH faster than other pots because of the wind/air all around them.  They will need much closer observation and care all summer.

Fiber lining holds things in place but the soil will dry out faster.
Fiber lining and unglazed pots will dry out very fast.  Plastic pots can hold too much moisture.  They can be beautiful but be aware of their needs.    

Hope you enjoy the pictures of containers in this article.  Seriously makes you want to rush out and plant something today - except it was below freezing last night.    





         

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Reputations



Places and Things That No Longer Live up to Their Hype:

Steak and Shake – They used to have the food, taste and service thing down.  Now it’s routine to have none of these.

Holiday Inn – They carried the banner of excellence when motels were a new and exciting alternative to hotels.  You can pretty much count on a stay at any of their establishments to be a walk in inferior rooms, service and cleanliness.

Snickers candy bars – Do you remember the melt-in-the-mouth creamy nugget, caramel and crunchy peanuts?  Now the size & quality has diminished although not the price.

Continental breakfasts – Remember when continental breakfast meant fresh awesome pastries, real coffee and perhaps some fresh cut fruit?  Now it’s factory donuts and cheap coffee. 

Folgers coffee – I’m not sure where the big name coffee brands get their coffee or how they refine it but it’s no longer “good to the last drop” or even the first drop.  It all tastes stale. 

Hot tea – Tea needs to be poured into a hot cup, from a pot of boiled hot water and with loose-leaf tea.  I understand micro waving a cup of water, a teabag, a packet of fake sugar and skimmed milk.  But none of that comprises a good cup of hot tea.  None.

Cub Cadet – When you cannot find parts for your machinery, the product is no longer a good buy.

Fat free dairy products – After all these years of the dairy industry making fat free products wouldn’t there have been an opportunity to make it taste good?

Sullivan’s Groceries – We have been blessed to have Sullivan’s Groceries in our area because they have always carried things we couldn’t get in our small towns and they had the freshest produce.  Lately both have suffered. 

News reporters – Unbiased and unendorsed journalism is almost a thing of the past.  Even those who do exposés, do so from an unabashed bias often from perks. 

Surveys – Does anyone really believe the results of today’s surveys?  With so many ways to skew the results, I am a skeptic.

Car designers – Unless you’re a car hobbyist, you’ll have a hard time discerning make, year or model of today’s cars.  I understand comfort, aerodynamics, fuel efficiency, and cost to manufacture.  I don’t understand why cars have such boring designs.  Sameness:  yawn.

Sports bars – It was trendy to cater to those who no longer play sports but want to pump up some testosterone outside the bedroom.  No acoustics, uncomfortable seating, grease-saturated menu items and loud conflicting TV sport channels is simply not going to make it on the long haul.  Even guys who have loved this will start to realize their home recliner and having their kids learn sports from dad is more fun.

Fish and Chips – OK first we have to realize we are not British.  That being said we also have no clue on how to make good fish and chips.   A greasy premade fish patty and frozen greasy potato somethings are not F&Cs even if you wrap them in newspaper.

Reality TV – I’m only hoping these are soon going to be a thing of the past.  Every single one has been exposed as “rigged” and staged.  Stop the madness!

Medical Customer Service – Some medical office personnel don’t understand they’re in the customer service business.  Many do and they do it beautifully.  Others act like you’re an imposition upon their day, you should be glad they give you an appointment and they will tell you what you are going to get no matter what you need.  If you can’t treat even the most trying person with respect you need to find other work.

Full Service – What does it even mean anymore?  It should read:  Full Service Except…

Novel – Just because it’s a long fictional story in book form doesn’t mean it’s a novel.  A novel has merit and a storyline.  Does anyone use the word “claptrap” anymore?

Televangelist - I’m a Christian but there are some televangelists that actually scare me.  And not in a bring them to Jesus kind of way.

Chicago Cutlery - Although never top of the line, it was always the good knives for those who didn’t want to spend thousands.  I have some from almost forty years ago and they sharpen up well and stand up to use.  My new ones “won’t cut hot butter.”

Keurig – I love the premise of single cup brewing but the rising concern about plastic in the landfills can’t be ignored if this company wants to stay in business.  And the whole price gouging on the cups leaves a “bitter taste” in my mouth.  What started as 18 cups for x amount is now 12 cups for that amount or more.  And Keurig making their machines so you can’t use certain brands just adds to the displeasure.  

Country music – I’m not even a country music fan but listening to country radio is a venture in “what the heck” kind of music are they playing.  I’m not saying this music is wrong or bad, it seems it’s a whole other genre.

Note:  Sometimes I don't have any specific pictures that match up with what I'm saying in an article that's not about gardening.  When in doubt?  Use spring flowers!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Say It Isn't So!


Astilbe
My garden friends and I were discussing "short-lived perennials" and I decided to do more research.  The reason being is most gardeners take it personal when a plant dies.  We stew about: What did we do wrong? Are we no longer skilled gardeners?  Have we lost our gardening mojo?   Perhaps it wasn't meant to be!

I thought this was so important that I considered making it a newspaper article.  However, lists of things doesn't transfer well to newspaper copy.  And so it remains here for those of you who want to know.

The definition of Short-Lived Perennial:  "A self-renewing plant that has a shorter life expectancy than most perennials, and only lasts a few years.  New seedlings will typically take the place of the parent plant (in some species) with proper care. "

Bee Balm
Occasionally you’ll see some of these plants described as self-seeding/reseeding perennials or biennials/bi-annuals.  They may be called annuals or short-lived perennials according to the company's whim.   

Self-seeding/reseeding perennials have a life expectancy of from one to three years but they throw off seeds at the end of the season, creating new plants while the old plants die out. 


Biennials/bi-annuals require two years to complete their life cycle.  The first year usually has a basal rosette of leaves close to the ground and the next year they send up flowers.  They die after flowering.  (Examples are Hollyhocks, Sweet William, Money Plant and many Foxglove species.)  Most self-seed.    

Garden blogger, Larry Hodgson says, “Perennial doesn’t mean eternal.”  That's a hard concept to swallow when we've read the label "perennial" and believed we had a long-lived plant.  There's a discussion that plant manufacturers never say "short-lived perennial" because they don't want to loose a sale.  Others say it's because consumers aren't capable of understanding the concept so they just leave it off the description.  Today we'll understand the concept.    
Dame's Rocket
The average life span of an average perennial, planted perfectly, would be about 7-8 years. Long-lived perennials will probably live at least 20 years and sometimes more. 

Short-lived perennials will probably bloom a maximum of 3 years and then disappear. 

It’s normal and not your fault!

If you take cuttings, divide or even take seeds, ever two years, you may have these short-lived plants year after year. 
Hollyhock

Although impossible to guarantee in every locations and situation, the following should be considered short-lived perennials:

The * at the end of the variety indicates they can self sow or self seed.  It may appear they live forever when actually you're seeing a new plant every year.

1  Agastache (Agastache spp.)*
2  Astilbe (Astile simplicifolia)  Divide every 3 yrs.
3  Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata)
4  Basket of Gold (Aurinia saxatilis)
5  Bearded Iris (Iris Germanica)
6  Bee Balm (Monarda spp.) *
7  Blanket Flower (Gaillardia x grandiflora)*
8  Blue vervaine (Verbena hastata)*
9  Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrhynchium angustifolium)*
10           Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)
11           Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia trilobata)*
12           Bugbane (Dimicifuga ramose)
13           Butterfly Milkweed (Asciepias tuberosa)
14           Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
15           Cardoon (Cynara spp.)
16           Columbine (Aquilegia spp.)*
17           Hybrid Coneflowers (Echinacea)
18           Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.) 
19           Coreopsis (Coreopsis Grandiflora, C. lanceotlata) *
20           Dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis)*
21           Delphinium (Delphinium spp.) (longer-lived in cool climates)
22           Echinacea (Echinacea spp.) (some cultivars are short-lived)
Gallardia "Sunburst Tangerine"
23           English daisy (Bellis perennis)
24           Flas (Linum perenne)
25           Hardy Geranium (Geranium spp.) *
26           Goatsbeard (Aruncus spp.)
27           Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)*
28           Gloriosa daisy or black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)*
29           Goatsbeard (Aruncus spp.)
30           Helleborn (Hellborus spp.)
31           Hollyhock (technically a biannual) *
32           Hybrid Tulip (Tulipa spp.)
33           Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis)
34           Iceland Poppy (Papaver nudicaule)
35           Knautia (Knautia spp.)*
36           Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
37           Lupine hybrids (Lupinus x russellii and Thermopsis villos))
38           Maltese Cross (Lychnis chalcedonica)*
39           Mauve (Malva spp.)*
Dianthus "Raspberry Parfait"
40           Hardy Mums (Chrysanthemum spp.)
41           Orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)*
42           Painted Daisy (Tanacetum coccineum)
43           Perennial Flax (Linum perenne)*
44           Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa spp.)
45           Pinks (Dianthus spp.) (some species self-sow)*
46           Prairie Clover (Dalea carnea-Pink)
47           Red Hot Poker or Torch Lily (Kniphofia spp.)
48           Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria)*
49           Scabiosa
50           Shasta Daisy (Leucanthemum x super bum) * (‘Becky’ is long-lived)
51           Tickseed (Coreopsis grandiflora)
30.     White corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca, now Pseudofumaria alba)*

Shasta Daisies
One of the things that will prevent some of these self-seeding varieties from being in your garden year-after-year is keeping your flower beds full, perfectly neat and totally mulched to discourage weeds.  That pretty much eliminates self-seeding perennials. 


There are also long-lived perennials that have some hybridized varieties that are short-lived.  You might see this with some daylilies and ornamental perennial grasses.

The point here is to help you understand the life cycle of these plants before they enter your garden.  Understand you will probably not have them forever.  Don't create unattainable expectations and then be utterly disappointed at the loss.  

Coneflower "Coconut Lime"
Factor in the cost of your short-lived perennial and is it worth it to have only a few years.  I don't mind paying a little more for a long-lived daylily but a new hybridized daylily that may only live five years just won't fit into my gardening budget no matter how hard I rationalize, covet and drool. 

You may have had some of the above for years and years.  You may have an old variety that is more hardy.  You may have a new hybrid bred to last longer.   The garden gods may have decided to rain their goodness on your parade.  Whatever, many of the above short-lived perennials are worth the trouble and eventual demise to have them in our presence if only for a short while.