Grow Write Guild #13: Garden, and gardener, in transition

The prompt for Grow Write Guild #13 is to write about the topic of the garden’s end or transition.

I am fortunate to live in a horticultural haven: USDA Zone 7b, where winter happens but not for very long, the ground doesn’t often freeze beyond a slight crust, and a wide variety of glorious plants are both winter- and summer-hardy.

I look forward to the transition from summer into fall. For one thing, at this time of year it’s truly pleasant to be outside in the garden: mosquitoes dissipate along with the humidity, the kids are in school and the days are (mostly) quiet, and nurseries put everything on sale.  But what I enjoy most about this season is the changing of pace that always occurs, particularly within the gardener herself.

What is it about autumn that makes me slow down? People around me continue to hurry as much as ever; the calendar is always chock-full. The list of gardening tasks doesn’t shorten: rake, shred, compost, repeat. I never get the fall food crops in on time, but I’m not bothered. It will happen, in its own time.

My husband would remark that he hasn’t seen me slow down, but I definitely feel a disconnect between life’s flurry around me telling me to hurry up, and my response to that directive. The (relative) ease with which I can slip into a (relative) state of Zen is most pronounced in the fall, and most pronounced in the garden than elsewhere.

red japanese maple leaf

Maybe it’s the mornings of chilly rain that make me want to burrow under a blanket. Perhaps it is because I know I have several slow-moving months ahead of me in the garden, with fewer weed and disease battles in my immediate path, that I can feel so at ease. But mostly I think it’s something deeply biological: Nature is telling me, like she is telling most other living creatures in my environment, to prepare to rest. It’s refreshing to be reminded of my connection to nature; that, opposable thumbs and technology use notwithstanding, I am not terribly different from the rest of the living world.

Anemones: Not driving me crazy, for the moment.

I wrote in response to a prompt from the Grow Write Guild that anemones are a challenging plant for me. Well, thanks to an absurd amount of rainfall this spring and summer, I have finally coaxed one into bloom.

Anemone hupehensis 'Pamina' blossom

Anemone hupehensis var. japonica ‘Pamina’

The weather has turned cooler earlier than in most years, although we haven’t had rain in some time. The anemones looked a bit puny earlier in the day so I gave them a long drink, and they perked up neatly.

Anemone hupehensis 'Pamina' blossom

I mean to savor this plant while it blooms, but not let long-sought success go to my head. I am wondering if I should have the courage to try some other anemones, though? Maybe just one, for now?

Grow Write Guild #10: This Plant Is Driving Me Nuts

The Grow Write Guild’s prompt #10 is This Plant Is Driving Me Nuts.

Anemone hupehensis, Anemone hupehensis var. ja...

Anemone hupehensis, Anemone hupehensis var. japonica, and Anemone × hybrida (commonly known as the Chinese or Japanese anemone, thimbleweed, or windflower) are herbaceous perennials in the buttercup family. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I cannot seem to grow Japanese anemones (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica). These gorgeous plants typically top out at about 3′ tall,  showing lovely wide blooms in shades of white, pink, and lavender from August to October or so. At a time when asters and chrysanthemums dominate, anemones bring much-needed elegance to the fall garden.

Just not to mine.

Anemone hupehensis

Anemone hupehensis (Photo credit: Alexandre Dulaunoy)

Gardening literature alleges that Japanese anemones can colonize large areas and become “almost thuggish.” I wish. This article does acknowledge that they dislike disturbance, so transplanting them can be tricky. If I can find a local gardening friend who has them, perhaps I can try propagating them by root cuttings.

Gardening literature also instructs me to plant them in partial shade to full sun, in well-drained soil (what else is there?). I have plenty of partial shade and I would have thought I had dug in enough compost anywhere I tried to plant them, but my efforts are insufficient. They also apparently like regular moisture and cool soil. This year notwithstanding, the regular moisture, I am sure, is at the heart of my problem. I am habitually irregular in my watering: very good for a few weeks, then forgetting a bit, revisiting it once again, then leaving it while I go on vacation, hoping a little rain falls during the week of above-90 temperatures.

“Tough plants for partial shade!” “Easily grown in average soil!” One can always find Japanese anemone on plant lists with such headings. These reminders only serve to highlight my anemone-incompetence.

Anemone hupehensis 'Prince Henry'

Anemone hupehensis ‘Prince Henry’ (Photo credit: KingsbraeGarden)

This year, though, I may finally be in luck. I have planted Anemone hupehensis ‘Pamina,’ which I got at the Duke Gardens plant sale last fall. When I transplanted it, the root ball fell into perhaps a dozen small pieces, and I planted each of them that was of reasonable size. The others I overwintered in my winter sowing orgy, and transplanted this spring. Then it has rained, almost nonstop, since March.

Here they are the Anemones ‘Pamina’ today, offering such promises as I can hardly hope to believe. Look at all those buds. What method will they contrive to break my heart again?

Anemone hupehensis 'Pamina' in bud

Grow Write Guild #11: Grow Your Own

The Grow Write Guild’s current prompt is Your Edible Rewards.

The last thing I ate that came from my own garden was mint, which I prepared in a sauce for a delicious North African pork tenderloin recipe. My collection of edibles is meager; having a garden of large oaks means wonderful shade for our semi-tropical summers, but they do cut down on the prospective edible landscape. My edibles, except for some blueberries, reside in pots on the deck.

I am, however, planning to experiment next year by intermingling more food crops with the sun-hogging shrubs and perennials on the south side of my garden. Okra, I know, will do very well; I love a good grilled summer squash but fear that if I’m not careful about the selection the plant may overtake not only the shrubbery but my neighbor’s driveway as well:

exuberant mystery squash

This is a vining-type squash that has overrun the small community garden I oversee. I apologize for the poor-quality photo. I don’t know the variety–the seeds came in a seed-swap and were labeled “squash.” I am reminded to be less frugal with information whenever I share seeds with friends.

I also hope to expand my collection of container-grown veg by delving into the world of bush varieties: bush beans and tomatoes, peas (challenging with our volatile spring weather), compact peppers, and eggplant, and by researching and experimenting with more exotic vegetables from Africa or Asia that perform in hot, humid climates.

Every gardener faces challenges when growing her (or his) own food: if it’s not the infernal weather, it’s plagues of insects, varieties that don’t live up to their promises, pollinators that don’t show, or the wildlife that is so charming when it’s beyond the fence, but less so when it takes precisely one bite out of each tomato on the vine, which of course we were planning to harvest tomorrow. So for me, I try to find my rewards in the process of growing, of observing nature in its cycles, and if I have anything to snack on at the end of it all, then that’s cause for celebration in itself. So it’s a good thing that I have mint for the mojitos.

Grow Write Guild # 9

The prompt for Grow Write Guild #9 is to change the lyrics of a song to reflect your relationship with a particular plant or food crop.

With sincere apologies to Barbra, Neil, and songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman:

You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore

You don’t bring me flowers  nearly dead rosemary bush

You don’t bring me fresh herbs.
You hardly look too green anymore.
Just a bare pile of gore
Just a mess of decay.
I remember when….

You used to be so shrubby
You used to have such green leaves rosemary first transplanted

Now after two long months in low light
It’s not good for you, babe.
You’ve clearly got mites.
Well, you just mold over
Like you’ve got a blight.
And you don’t bring me flowers anymore.

rosemary in flower

It used to be so natural.
I thought you’d grow forever.
But honeybees don’t come anymore.
They just fly past your lack of a floral display.

And baby, I remember
All the joy you brought me.
I learned how to cook Provençal roasts and pies.
Well, I learned how to prune you, though needles poked my eye.
So you’d think I could learn how to tell you goodbye.
‘Cause you don’t bring me flowers anymore.

Well, you’d think I could learn how to tell you goodbye.
You don’t flavor meat & three
You don’t bring the bees’ song
You don’t bring me flowers anymore.

Grow Write Guild #7: Write about a plant currently blooming

Write about one plant that is currently in bloom.

One of my favorite plants in the world is blooming now: the gardenia.

gardenia flowers

When I walk into my garden, I smell them before I see them. Their scent is rich, redolent, sweet, but not overbearing. It invites me to take long, deep breaths, savoring the smell as I grow calmer and more relaxed. The flowers do not smell anything like a gardenia candle from a home store, or a gardenia soap or hand lotion; I don’t know if it’s possible to authentically replicate the scent of the flowers in the garden without somehow destroying that unexpected lightness that makes the scent so alluring.

My gardenia hedge started out in 2005 as tiny things in 8-inch pots, as I recall. My sister, knowing of my keen interest in gardening and my keen lack of disposable cash given the young and expensive child in the house (didn’t those shoes fit last week?) and another on the way, told me: I have got a plant source for you. It’s a wholesale nursery, see, and they’re out in the absolute middle of nowhere. It’s two counties away. They don’t have a website and you can try calling them, but no one answers the phone and their answering machine is completely unhelpful. They won’t call you back. Nothing they have is labeled, so you’d better know what that plant you’re looking for looks like. But they’re cheap!

It should be taken as a sign of my desperation that this seemed to me to be a worthwhile, even promising, venture. I drove an hour out into the countryside using vague directions provided by a friend of my sister’s (it is seldom advisable to embark on a journey for which your directions instruct you to turn left at the big rock). As promised, none of the plants were labeled. There were no helpful staff. I bought six gardenias and spent a whopping $18.

beginning gardenia bed apr 05

I did, however, plant them in $100 holes (give or take $90). I had prepared a bed 10 feet wide and about 50 feet long. I tested the soil, amended it accordingly, dug in loads of leaf mold and homemade compost, all before I went shopping (this has never happened since). I planted the little shrubs about 8 feet on center, watered, and mulched generously.

They took off like beagles on the scent of a rabbit. I recall getting flowers the next year, the buds so heavy they bent their branches to the ground like the ball on Charlie Brown’s real wooden Christmas tree.

The hedge is now about 6 feet high, and even though the site is in deep shade for most of the afternoon (and light shade in the morning), the plants have filled in so that there are no gaps between them. They provide a beautiful, rich lime-green wall all year round. And every June (and again in August if I am lucky), I discover new blossoms each day. Their petals are like heavy silk satin; the blooms are the size of the palm of my hand. I cut fistfuls of them to bring inside; their perfume fills the house.