Gardening as spiritual practice: Slowing down, looking around

Sometimes, when I approach my house from the road, I think “Oh, what a terrible mess.” I see the weeds that need pulling, the plants growing in the wrong places, the big gaps where plants haven’t filled in as quickly as I hoped.

Thinking about the garden this way–Don’t I owe it to the neighbors to stay on top of my weeds? Is my garden turning into the neighborhood eyesore?–turns it from a joy into a chore. Moreover, such a mindset prevents me from enjoying nature in its cycle, where it is and as it is, in the present. So yesterday I took a few minutes out from weeding to appreciate the gorgeous rosy colors of fall in my garden. The oranges and yellows are here, too, but today I’m sticking to a softer palette.

aster tataricus

Aster tataricus

rose chrysanthemum with yellow center

An unknown chrysanthemum, picked up from a bargain table a few years ago. I’ve made many more of it from its cuttings.

Bee on aster tataricus.

Bee on Aster tataricus

iris domestica seed pod

Deep purple-black seeds of Iris domestica (blackberry lily)

ceratotheca triloba

Fuzzy, foxglove-like blossoms of Ceratotheca triloba.

spider egg sacs in yucca plant

Two egg sacs of Argiope aurantia

anemone hupenensis 'Pamina'

Anemone hupenensis ‘Pamina’

physostegia

A pass-along Physostegia (obedient plant) begins to flower.

Tutorial: Propagating chrysanthemums from cuttings

In late June, I cut back my chrysanthemums to make sure they’re compact and full of buds when flowering time comes in September and October. You can root the pieces you cut back from your own plants, and have dozens more plants the following year. It’s very easy to do.

Rooting cuttings of chrysanthemums:

1. Cut back the stems of your chrysanthemum plants by about half, cutting just above a leaf node (where the leaves join the stem).

2. Separate the stems. Cuttings should include between 3 and 6 leaf nodes. Remove the growing tips to force the plant’s energy into making a vigorous root ball. Then remove the leaves from the bottom half to 1/3 of the stem.

3. Pour a small amount of rooting hormone into a container. Don’t dip stems directly into the container, which could contaminate the entire jar. Thoroughly coat the cut end of the stems with hormone.

4. Use a chopstick, pencil, or other tool to make a hole for the cutting in a pan of sterile potting mix. Insert the cutting into the hole, and firm back around the cutting. Water the cuttings gently, using a rose attachment on a watering can, a light setting on a hose nozzle, or a fine mist from a sink sprayer.

5. I keep my cuttings outside, weather permitting (i.e., it’s not freezing). I put them in a shady spot, like a north-facing wall, where they can get rainfall but not direct sun. Keep the tray watered if the weather is dry; do not allow the mix to dry out entirely.

6. Your cuttings will be ready when a gentle tug on the leaves gives resistance. If the cutting doesn’t come out easily, it has formed a good root mass. In early summer, the process takes me about one month. You can then transplant the cuttings into the garden. Keep them pinched back and watered, and you’ll have abundant flowers in fall.

 

Montrose: Asters done brilliantly

I have always felt ambivalent about asters. They bloom at a time of the year when things are winding down, so their bright colors are welcome. They provide choice food for bees. But I haven’t often seen them grown well enough (certainly not in my own garden), I suppose, to firmly persuade me that their autumn benefits compensate for their rangy, dull, and unattractive appearance during the rest of the year.

Nancy Goodwin’s aster border at Montrose may have changed my mind.

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium 'Fanny's Aster'

Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘Fanny’s Aster’ at Montrose

One side of a long border holds masses of Symphotrichum oblongifolium ‘Fanny’s Aster.’ Pruning the plant aggressively in summer before the flowers set encourages dense growth and lots of blooms. Just across the way, a combination of smooth aster (Symphyotrichum laeve or Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’) and Chrysanthemum x morifolium ‘Ryan’s Pink’ blazes so intensely you forget that summer is over and frost is in the forecast.

Chrysanthemum x morifolium 'Ryan's Pink' with 'Bluebird' aster

Chrysanthemum x morifolium ‘Ryan’s Pink’ and Aster laevis ‘Bluebird.’

These might be worth a little square footage in the garden after all.

Aster laevis 'Bluebird'

Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’

Glorious fall

It rained all last week, and it looks as though this week may serve up more of the same. I believe, though, that those dreary skies may be just what my peach asters needed to coax them into bloom at last.

peach asters or chrysanthemums

Like a number of the faithful bloomers in my garden, I received these as pass-alongs in a plant swap a few years ago, and the donor did not know the plant’s name. I suspect it may be Chrysanthemum ‘Single Apricot,’ also known as Chrysanthemum x ‘Single Apricot Korean.’  They have multiplied assertively, but not aggressively, in a spot that I would describe as having bright shade.

peach aster

I adore this color. It may appear a bit more pink than it actually is; it has a definite, clear orange tint to it, like the color of cooked shrimp. Yet it is a soft tone, unlike my beloved electric orange zinnias or the brassy mums that light up my border from across the garden.

Alas, they make terrible cut flowers, drooping irrevocably within a day. But perhaps if I must linger in the garden in order to appreciate them, then it is just as well.

peach aster