Porch Postulating on 45 Years in One Garden

Porch Postulating on 45 Years in One Garden
High on a Hill in Utica, Indiana We welcome back one-time Garden Rant partner Bob Hill, who has stayed in one beautiful place for a long time. A few very random thoughts while sitting in a screened-in back porch in Utica Indiana in early April of 2020 while mulling over 45 years of home gardening, the memories, connections and friendships born of all that – if not the meaning of life. Phlox subulata beyond the garden gate. This may be the much needed and finest spring in all those years, a rain-blessed chronological PowerPoint of purple hellebores, fragrant witchhazel, pink flowering almond, magnificent magnolias, the shy, blushing ‘Pauline Lily’ redbud, screaming yellow Kerria, butter-yellow Weigela, deep red crabapples and simple white daffodils with yellow centers. The latter well predates our four decades in this place in a 160-year-old farmhouse. I can’t look at them without thinking and wondering about those … Read More

Back to Basics – GardenRant

Back to Basics – GardenRant
Sequestering has brought my focus back to life’s basics.  Deprived of my usual distractions, suddenly I am keenly aware of and grateful for just the mere facts of comfortable shelter, enough food, and the good company of a compatible partner.   At the same time, this self-imposed isolation has also returned my attention to the fundamentals of gardening.  Shocked by vistas of empty grocery shelves, I, like so many other Americans, am concentrating on kitchen gardening this spring.  My plan is to keep the garden producing a succession of crops from mid spring through mid-fall.  To be so productive, the garden’s soil will require a lot of nutrition.  I’m going to supply this in the most basic way.  Today I drove to a nearby dairy farm and picked up a load of last year’s manure. My wife and I actually own a share in that farm’s micro herd.  The farmer, whose... Read More

The Truth, Nothing Butt the Truth?  Forget About It.

The Truth, Nothing Butt the Truth?  Forget About It.
  Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens) on the High Line in New York City last month. I have a soft spot for forsaken plants. The Allegheny spurge quickly comes to mind. Pachysandra procumbens should, without hesitation, be planted in more shady gardens. Do not spurn this spurge. There are hundreds of worthy plants and seeds, hidden in the shadows, of dozens of 2020 garden catalogs. These shy introverts may be lacking only a little sizzle. Here’s your chance for an award-winning plant description. All you have to do is write a short, I-must-have-this-plant description about your favorite nowhere-near-loved-enough perennial, tree, shrub or edible plant. Leave your description in the reply box below. I will judge entries and recognize the best two descriptions here on this post, next Wednesday. The winning entrant will have their choice of one of two grand prizes. The first option is a piece of Pachysandra procumbens ‘Angola’... Read More

On the Persistence of Sheared Shrubs

On the Persistence of Sheared Shrubs
Azaleas as Mother Nature intended. I’ve held off ranting about the examples of sheared shrubs that I see in my town, but no more. Hey, I’m just agreeing with the experts. I Googled “shearing shrubs” and found: Both the Arizona Water Authority and the AZ Plant Lady agree that it’s bad, and Maureen Gilmer in the Seattle Times declares “Sheered Shrubs a Travesty:” If Mother Nature had intended shrubs to be square, she would have created them that way. Yet humans persist in trying to render a free-growing plant into geometric perfection. So there’s the obvious aesthetic objection – the plants don’t LOOK as good, at least in the eyes of most plant-lovers. Correct pruning not only looks better but is much less work. Maureen’s mentor taught her that “The shrub should never look as though it’s been pruned….And if done properly, you rarely have to prune at all,” adding … Read More

Eco-Friendly, Low-Maintenance Gardening with Roy Diblik

Eco-Friendly, Low-Maintenance Gardening with Roy Diblik
During the lunch break Roy answered questions from gardeners, like Carole Galati here. Photo by Kathy Jentz. Way back (it seems) in February, I attended a popular winter event for DC-area gardeners – the Green Matters Symposium of Brookside Gardens. The highlight for me was the keynote address by Wisconsin plantsman Roy Diblik – “Design Strategies for Low Maintenance and Ecologically Beneficial Landscapes.” What’s striking about this eco-gardening approach is its focus on low-maintenance, so it’s good for the environment AND the gardener. Roy started by showing examples of bad public landscapes, in a corporate/civic style we unfortunately all recognize. So much mulch! So few plants! Roy imagines the plants saying “What the hell happened? Why are we so far apart?” Here the wood mulch is so thick, rain can’t get through it. Above, again too few plants and too much mulch, and we were told that it takes regular... Read More

Marketing to gardening ignorance – GardenRant

Marketing to gardening ignorance – GardenRant
I always have books around and these are good ones. I’ll be giving these to the beginning gardeners I know, except for Tom’s, which I’ll keep. Beginning gardeners in the US are the focus of a variety of persuasive techniques. Last April, I posted about how dubious websites and silly memes try to convince people that they’re not just endangering their plants, they might be killing the world. Unfortunately, these often become viral, as people who have grown up depending on digital information spread this stuff without questioning it too much. Gardeners who aren’t sure about mulching, garden clean-up, and other interventions would be well advised to put their devices down and go talk to a green industry professional. For the past ten years or so, I’ve been trying to attend the yearly education days put on by our industry group, PlantWNY. Other than some master gardeners and a few... Read More

The Wife, The Flu, and the Ecstacy of Entering a Gardening Dream State

The Wife, The Flu, and the Ecstacy of Entering a Gardening Dream State
Cincinnati, Ohio January 23, 2020 Dear Marianne, What a treat it was to receive your letter dated January 22nd. And so publicly too! What fun. Despite myself, I somehow got caught up in flights of fantasy borne from your descriptions of your bucolic existence in the benevolent hills far enough west of D.C. to be out of the gridlock and yet still safely within the outer rings of its wealth. You have a good life there by the fireside with your Jack Russell, your garden (which I imagine to be picture perfect), and your former marine (whom I imagine is likewise). Here’s our dog. He’s a spastic, old, not so smart and mostly blind mutt at the end of a long line of people handing him off to other people. He’s a total pain in the butt, but he has a heart of gold. In the end, however, … Read More

Mad for Madison – GardenRant

Mad for Madison – GardenRant
Madison private garden We’re not exactly known as “fly-over” states, but some of us in the Great Lakes area have to try harder to convince out-of-towners we’re cool. It shouldn’t be necessary. Thanks to, in part, glacial activity, we’re blessed with spectacular scenery. Thanks to the inland seas we surround, we have abundant access to fresh water. Thanks also to those inland seas, as well as other factors, we have rich farmland and warm summers—in addition to lake effect snow in winter.  Grounds of Epic Systems If you live in Buffalo, as I do, you’re all too familiar with this narrative. Buffalonians have managed to overcome it, to some degree, by defiantly redefining ourselves as a garden destination. Partly because of that struggle, we’re sympathetic to the other underdogs throughout the Great Lakes region. Cleveland is a great city, for example. Not only does … Read More

Replacing the Hated Arborvitaes with Crossvine

Replacing the Hated Arborvitaes with Crossvine
Arborvitaes failing to screen my view of the parking lot. When I wrote last September that “I hate my arborvitaes” because several of them DIED during a drought (they’re not as drought-tolerant as I wished/hoped), commenter Marianne Willburn wrote, “I hate your arborvitae hedge too. And before some of it died. How about some medium grasses?” I replied that in order to block my view of the parking lot, plants need to be at least 6 feet tall, and that space is very limited. But a better, quicker solution to my screening problem seemed possible, as I wrote in that post: Or how about just constructing a privacy screen and skip the plants altogether? Well, there’s good news on that front because the co-op has recently approved a process for custom-designing and approving screens! Well, turns out that didn’t happen after all, and I won’t be allowed to build a … Read More