Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lessons learned


Here are my top 10 lessons learned from this past gardening season (Letterman style with the worst being #1):

10)Rabbits like Asters - not much more to say here ... I've tried for years now to grow various cultivars cause their colors draw you in at the end of summer and inevitably they get chewed up good ... NEVER AGAIN.

9)Stop wasting time/effort/money on planting tulip bulbs - the wet soil over winter kills them every time ... hopefully planting them in pots in the garage over the winter will yield positive results.

8)Deadhead the Caryopteris flowers much sooner - for whatever reason my Caryopteris 'Sunshine Blue' reseeded beyond my wildest dreams all over my gravel driveway ... had no idea this was a concern so hopefully I took action soon enough this past fall.

7)Accept the use of annuals - I have ignored annuals forever as I couldn't justify their 1 year use - I became too obsessed with watching the progress of all the shrubs/perennials/grasses each year. Well consider me a convert now after realizing the benefit of using annuals as fillers in strategic spots and their obvious use in containers. I've grown to really like the various coleus cultivars ... now let's see if I can actually use them correctly.

6)The lawn is way overrated - I live on about 2 acres and used to pay someone to cut our lawn on a weekly basis. My bright idea was to finally purchase a tractor so I could control when and how high the lawn was cut. Well it takes me about 2 hours a week to cut the lawn and that time is way too precious. Other than allowing the kids a place to play, me no likey the grass. The effort vs reward ratio is way too low so I will continue to chop away at that lawn over the next few years.

5)Should have purchased more mature conifers - thankfully this year I discovered the awesomeness of conifers and the structure they bring to the garden. I mistakenly purchased too many of them way too small (about 12") and it will obviously take them a while to grow to the point where they will make a statement. And knowing their mature size I placed them in prominent places in the back of the border so you can imagine how ridiculous it can look when all other plants are already at their mature size.

4)Be more realistic with available time - my scope this past off-season was way beyond any amount of time I would have ... MUST STAY PATIENT ... I spread myself too thin and never really focused enough on each mini project.

3)Remember the late Fall/Winter season is damn long so must do a better job of planting evergreens - early December through March my garden looks empty ... and each year I know it but don't do enough about it ... the ornamental grasses have definitely helped but I need to add some smaller evergreens more strategically to up the winter interest ... oh yeah ... and I purchased a bunch of red-twig dogwoods this off-season so hoping that will help.

2)Really ashamed of this one - need to start composting - I know I know all the benefits ... just need to friggin do it and reap the benefits ... please don't judge.

1)Accept the fact that I have really poor drainage - last winter killed about 10 boxwoods and numerous other shrubs/perennials because of the dreaded "wet feet". I live in Hunterdon County, NJ and everyone always says "oh yeah you have a high water table there" ... OK whatever that means ... anyway I need to make sure the "likes wet feet" is included with each plant description. I have planted higher in the wet clay to hopefully offset the wetness ... we'll see.

Now you are officially allowed to judge/critique ... I deserve it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I know I know ... this time I'll change

I can read the same gardening magazines over and over again yet some how I come at it with a different perspective each time. I am also so easily influenced by each garden designer's perspective that I continue to search for my "style". It is frustrating yet exciting at the same time. But I think I got a little closer to moving in the right direction thanks to one simple statement I recently read in a magazine.

Last night as I watched the snow pile up, watched the most recent Lost episode frame by frame (amazing what you find the 2nd go round) and read the same Fine Gardening magazine for the bazillionth time, I came across a statement that fit me to a tee (and most plant lovers I suppose). The article was "Liven up your long border" by Jimmy Williams and the statement was this - "The plant collector's mania always fights with the designer's restraint, with the plant collector often winning". Did you like read my diary Mr Williams? THAT IS MY PROBLEM and you know what ... it ain't gonna change any time soon.

This past year I finally came to grips with the notion that you can't force a plant to live under your conditions - which for me is brutal clay and wet soil that can stay for days. Find the plants (especially the natives) that prefer your conditions. This was a big step for me and something I will follow forever. However, I still cannot give up on the trips to the garden centers where I go without a plan in mind other than to look around. This inevitably leads to purchases of plants I have no room for or those that don't fit with what I've already got. You know the drill after that - I'll move this here, that there, I'll put that in a pot, get rid of that and now I can fit these new grasses right there or maybe over there. This process repeats itself all season and I end the gardening season the same way - this winter I'll figure it all out.

I hope by taking the time to document my every redesign step in this blog will help me become a more patient gardener who actually has a plan and sticks to it. Or maybe it will be more of the same and you can laugh at me. Either way, I am going to enjoy the hell out of it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

And I've got the scar to prove it


June 11, 2009 ... it was a nasty, windy, rainy day just like most of June had been ... but a day I believe I will point to as the day "it called me" ... how cryptic you say ... well let me elucidate (stole that word from someone I work with)

I had taken that day off from work in order to catch up on my gardening chores (poor word choice ... have never considered it that). And no amount of rain or wind was going to get in the way. I moved 5-10 shrubs and maybe 10-20 perennials in my never ending quest to "get it right".

** Quick tip - always a good idea to transplant on a cool overcast day ... this may have been the extreme though.

While trying to move a rock/boulder/giant slate, I slipped and the fragile slate broke with a nice sharp edge slicing me right across the arm. Dude ... it hurt ... and I think I could see down to the muscle ... and oh yeah ... some blood splatter. Reality hit me ... I AM GOING TO LOSE THE REST OF THE DAY TO WAITING IN HUNTERDON MEDICAL CENTER FOR STITCHES ... THIS REALLY SUCKS. I contemplated a McGyver move where I could fashion a tourniquet out of my shirt sleeve and keep pushing on. However, common sense eventually took over and I drove myself to the emergency room with a few napkins to keep it clean (yes I am that tough).

Four hours later I returned home with 6 stitches and the use of only one arm. Fear not, I finished transplanting the Hypericum 'Albury Purple' (getting more of these this year)that had been so rudely interrupted, with one arm.

All I could think about in the waiting room that day was how it felt being outside in the elements doing something that I truly love. What once was a hobby had officially been transformed to a "passion" that has been full speed ahead ever since. I know this is my calling and I'm ready to embrace wherever it takes me. The scar on my forearm is there as a reminder to never look back.

3NU62FZ3E2RE

Friday, February 19, 2010

Keeping the interest




For the past few years I have given little thought to gardening/landscaping after early November (zone 6 by the way here in NJ). That was after the bulbs had been planted (with much angst I'll add ... like digging through wet play-dough) and the real true Autumn color had subsided. That was it until mid March or so when the first growths (my new word) of the perennials could be spotted. Then the gardening bug would hit me like gangbusters. What is my point? This year I have found a way to extend my interest from Thanksgiving until current day. How did I do that ... may not sound riveting to you ... but for me it was/is enough to keep me going through the frozen tundra. Here is what I did:

1)Scoured the gardening centers until the very end to get some good 'ol deals on their left over inventory. Some of those bargains went right into the ground (extended my planting season until early December this year ... we'll see if it works). Others went into pots until I can figure out where to put them (planning be damned). You can see a few of my purchases at the top of this post - 3 pieris japonica - "angel fire"@ 3.99 each.

2)Brought in some herb cuttings to grow/keep afloat on my kitchen south-facing window. It has given me something to water, rotate in the sun, smell and can keep the spirit going (OK bit of an exaggeration but you get the point).

3)On-line deals are a' plenty and I've already purchased some grasses/shrubs that will be delivered in the Spring. This has allowed me to start planning their location and again kept the mind occupied.

4)Bulbs in pots - I am done with attempting tulips in the ground so I have got a bunch in pots in the garage ... we'll see how it works ... cause if it does watch out next year ... will be selling them on the street corner I'll have so many.

May not seem like much and to my friends and family who are reading this blog to pump me up, this whole discussion may bore you ... but that's OK ... I'll convert you over soon enough ... ciao.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Sideways landscape version

Just finished watching the latest Lost episode (two circle thumbs up by the way) and it made me think (apologies to those who don't watch ... nah it's actually your loss) what if I were able to compare my do nothing version of the landscape vs my big makeover plan? Maybe every change I made at the end of last season was as good as I thought at the time ... and maybe I have had too much time on my hands this winter and I am only gonna screw it up.

But the fun is in the planning, the execution and then the realization that you really don't like it at all so you can do it all again. Sort of like the movie Memento (sorry about the pop culture references ... it is who I am dammit) - where the main character, who has short term memory loss, purposely doesn't solve his wife's murder so he can continue the chase eternally to "keep himself going". Maybe that is the beauty in gardening ... you can never be fully satisfied with your results - there can and will always be a better version out there if you stress over it enough.

For me this growing season it's about more conifers, more structural plants, better use of grasses, better use of containers (including the right fruits and vegetables - read an amazing book on them this winter - more details in a future post) and time to give up on the bulbs. It's that simple ... for now.

Monday, February 8, 2010

I can dream, right?

Gonna stop with the "Day 1" and "Day 2" titles ... not sure why I did that. Stupid.

I have had this thought for a long time that always sounds great while laying in bed at 1:00 AM or during a flight or during a conference call ...

... And that is to start a business (well just me) of simply maintaining landscapes for those people who care enough that plants bloom as expected and don't look ratty but don't want to do any deadheading, shearing or dead leafing. I hear a lot of people who freak out in the spring and don't know what they have to cut down and not cut down so they don't lose any future blooms. This seems to be most common with those who got the "builder's landscaping package" which looks good at first but then goes to crap. Also, people aren't aware of the potential second blooms that are possible or a new flush of foliage that makes all the difference by mid summer.

And most importantly ... I DIG DOING THE GRUNT WORK. I'll credit Tracy Disabato Aust with that. Her "Well Tended Perennial" book changed my whole outlook on things and as cheeseball as it sounds ... the pruning/deadheading process is like an art form. Sweet.

Now will people pay for someone to do it - probably not - and that is when I give up. But dammit I still sort of think so in the back of my mind so I ain't giving up completely.

On a side note ... to all one of you who are reading this (thanks Jodi) ... going to way upgrade the family camera soon and really want to post a ton of pictures of my adventures this growing season ... even photos of what I killed or put in a ridiculously dumb location.

Ciao ... and hope Jake sends home Vienna tonight ... don't ask

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Day 2

Foot of snow ... this is when the deciduous shrubs look phenomenal ... ordered a bunch of redtwig dogwoods that I wish I had planted sooner ... gotta get the kids out in this snow soon and try to focus on playing with them and not stress over the heaving perennials planted way too late in the Fall ... good times.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Day 1

I SUCK AT GARDEN DESIGN.

There we go ... now that I got the admission out of the way I feel much better. Seriously, for as obsessed as I am about gardening/landscaping/horticulture/plant googling, I really suck at it. But this year I am determined to at least take a step in the right direction. I figure if I document my distorted logic I can at least learn from it and hopefully get ripped on by other anonymous readers (wishful thinking).

So ... I plan on blogging about my off-season purchases (zone 6 NJ by the way), planning, relocation of nearly all existing plants (near 70 according to my Excel plant list which is probably going to be a template used by you all in the near future), new plantings, clay battles, deer battles and most importantly the search for time to do it all (Husband/Father of 2/Corporate khaki-guy).

Consider yourself warned as this will be ridiculously riveting and addicting.

Now gotta run and watch the same DVR'd episodes of Gardening by the Yard ... and maybe the Lost premiere one more time ... poof
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