Lessons in gardening…

DSCN6599My gardening has taken a huge turn this year. Last year, we tried to plant a mongo garden in our back yard. Since we didn’t have any grass, we figured we could use the entire back yard. What a colossal disaster that was. Despite an incredible amount of manual labor to till the ground and prepare the soil, the lack of sun and an army of weeds conspired to repress and strangle my poor little plants. Except for the marigolds. They’re supposed to be what 12-16 inches high, maybe 20″ ? Oh, Google says African marigolds can reach 40″ high. Well, in MY garden where nothing else but weeds could survive the harsh conditions, the marigolds grew to about SIXTY, okay SIX FEET tall. I kid you not. They were mutants! Mr.Tot could enjoy them from his chest-high office windows while sitting down – which, if you’ve watched enough crime shows, means the bullet trajectory, I mean the eye angle, was up and they were TALL. Looking through my pictures, I see I never did take a picture of my backyard turned jungle — it was just too depressing, and too scary. The bugs in there could have eaten me alive!

I also tried to plant an amphi-theatre of flowers – a semi-circle with a path cutting it in half. At the center of the circle, I planted the shortest flowers, and they were supposed to gradually get taller as I got to the outer edge of the circle. The weeds didn’t even cooperate with my height scheme. And the ONLY flower that grew, was not even inside the original semi-circle! D’oh! It was a sad, sad situation.

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So this year I changed tactics. I was not about to do all that back breaking work in the heat for nothing. So instead, I’m doing pot gardening on our porch. No, not growing POT, but gardening IN pots. I restricted my edible gardening to tomatoes and herbs – basil, oregano, and rosemary. I also have a ton of flowering plants so when someone tells me to go to my happy place, now I have one. Except when it’s hot. But it still makes me happy just to look out at all my plants. I am supposed to have several different kinds of tomatoes. I bought cherry tomatoes, heirloom yellow stripey, some kind of purple tomatoes and the standard beefsteak kind. I even got a free mystery tomato plant which should have clued me in that maybe the others were not as they were labeled. My favorite aspect of my porch garden is one of the nicest things Mr.Tot every did for me – he installed one of those curly hoses for me to water. No longer do I traipse back and forth to the kitchen 43 times to water everything. And Tot and I frequently use it to cool down and create our own rain when God falls down on the job.

My tomatoes are now teenagers – 6 feet tall and can’t get enough to eat. I have discovered the joys of fried green tomatoes without the accompanying horrifying main dish served in the movie. And I have new issues to deal with – in place of weeds and lack of light, I have weather which is so hot and humid my blossoms can’t be pollinated (who knew?), and invading squirrel marauders stealing my tomatoes before they could even think of turning anything other than green. While I can’t control the weather, I’m hoping a bit of fertilizer will help and I did wrap my plants in deer netting since my cats are not cooperating in scaring away the enemy, good-for-nothing-bums that they are. As for my many varieties, it remains to be determined regarding the colors, but it is abundantly clear that I have no cherry tomatoes. My first tomato weighed in at 1 pound and a single slice was all that was needed for a mouth watering sandwich. I am really hoping our weather will calm down to a mere roasting to let my plants procreate.

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With the rest of my plants, I have developed some very clear impressions of my green thirsty friends. They have some very distinct personalities. Some are very independent and carefree and others are very needy. Some are drama queens, and some are very moody.

For example, my potato vines like to be mellow dramatic, going completely limp and claiming they’re DYING of thirst. So maybe they are, but really I think they learned the drama queen routine from the Tot.

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Then there are the show-offs – those that flower ALL the time. I happen to love these beautiful cheerful plants, like petunias, and the one on the wire stand with a flower that looks like it’s related to the snail vine. The Petunias are like those people who get too much sun, or movie stars hooked on drugs. They look fabulous for a while, and then despite the constant attention, they look like they’ve been ridden hard and put away wet. They lose their vitality and look scrawny. The snail vine thingy continually looks great but requires a lot of work to continue flowering.

The task of picking the dead flowers is a tricky business: dead ones can mimic the new buds once they fall off and just the sepals remain. I try to do this every day, but with the heat and the Tot, sometimes the days blur together. I’ve tried to get Tot to pick the dead ones, but she ends up pulling the whole branch off or the new buds. Next summer, I’m hoping she’ll be my junior gardner.

I have one plant called a Duranta Repens, which sounds like it’s warning “Repent for the duration”. But I think the naming people gave it the wrong name, because it’s a very care free plant. That snail vine wannabe should be named that.

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This is my grand dame. I’m told it’s related to the shrimp plant, but can’t find it online for the life of me. I saw one tiny little plant with one flower at the Farmer’s Market for $6, but I didn’t write down the name. I got this one at a rather scary flea market in Florida for $11. It’s quite impressive and is not the Diva it would appear to be. Seems perfectly content to just hang with the Bleeding hearts. The Bleeding hearts on the other hand are quite finicky. First they’re too wet, then they’re too dry. A little like Goldilocks, me thinks. Hopefully one of these days, I ‘ll get them just right – probably when they finally get planted in the ground.

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The begonia is also work free and is beautiful with a constant show of flowers. However. It has fallen in with a bad lot. See all these baby grasshoppers. Kind of cute, hunh? NOT when they’re eating my flowering maples (Abutilon) down to a lacy skeleton of leaf veins. They don’t harm the begonia, but annihilate the neighbors. I had to put my poor buties in the witness protection program. I can’t tell you where they are now or the gangster hoppers might find them.

Meanwhile some of showier summer plants are going to become snow birds. They will fly south to Florida to hang for the winter, and then come back north or farther north than Florida anyways next summer.

IMGP0368Next summer, hopefully our back yard will start to transform into a wonderful oasis. This picture is the WRAL garden in Raleigh. A great place with lots of paths and beautiful flowers and lots of things to see and find. I’m just going to move it to my back yard, you know, like they move entire houses? Seriously….   

Okay, actually we have a landscape plan to create a similar impression. It’s our 5 year plan, but I suspect it may take 10. In the woods, we’ll have an azalea garden, a little outdoor chapel/meditation area, a play area, and lots of paths and nooks. This fall, we’re just hoping to map out the plan, and maybe plant some grass

1 comment to Lessons in gardening…

  • This is why our current house is not our ‘forever’ house – our backyard is tiny and abuts a busy street. I don’t want to spend much time in it. I love your pot flowers. Or flowers in pots. Whatever. I totally South Dakota them!

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