A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Spring 2008 Seed Order

I get teased a lot in real life about being overly detail oriented. I will refrain from mentioning the Freudian term that is normally used to describe my “condition” but I’m sure that you are familiar with it. Sometimes, though, attention to detail is a good thing.

I’ve created spreadsheets every year documenting my spring seed orders (since 2006) and my fall bulb orders (since 2005). Each annual workbook contains a master list of everything I’ve ordered followed by individual worksheets for each catalog and each garden. Some interesting trends are beginning to appear.

I’ve been ordering varieties of butterfly weed and foxglove for three years now. Normally easy for other gardeners to grow, I’ve been struggling to get them established in my gardens. I’ve cut down on my orders of cosmos as it is firmly established in my gardens. I’m not ordering any tithonia this year because it gets so big that it crowds out and shades other flowers in the Butterfly/Hummingbird Garden. In that same bed, I’m ordering Maltese Cross for the third and last year. I’ve direct sown it the last two years with no luck. This year, I’m going to wintersow it. If that doesn’t work, I won’t order it again.

I’m trying Bells of Ireland again after a one year hiatus. It didn’t do well when I direct sowed it so I will try wintersowing it. Perhaps if I start with larger plants, they will do better. Monkshood, which never grew for me directsown, grew very well for me last year when I wintersowed it, so I ordered more this year to wintersow. Kiss-Me-Over-the-Garden-Gate also did well last year wintersown. I don’t know if it will reseed itself, so I have ordered more this year to wintersow.

Every year I try something new. Verbena bonariensis and Nicotiana sylvestris were both spectacular last year. They will be making appearances again this year. New this year will be sweet peas and heirloom petunias. I’ve grown petunias from seed in the distant past but sweet peas will be a first.

I was happy to finally get Johnny-Jump-Ups established in one bed. I’ve ordered more this year hoping to get them established in more beds. For the front of my house, I’ve ordered Bowles Black violas. I’m expanding that border to eventually meet up with the infamous Entry garden. A pleasant surprise there were the Nora Barlow columbine that I had planted in the spring but which disappeared over the summer but made a reappearance in the fall. More of those have been ordered also.

The biggest surprise of all is the fact that each year I have ordered exactly the same number of flowers: 69. I was sure that this year I would be ordering fewer seeds since I am going Back to Basics. After all how many different marigolds and zinnias can you have? (3 and 5 respectively). I think what raised my total this year was my decision to go with the same flowers, different colors for my yellow/pink bed at Rutgers Gardens so I effectively ordered double for that garden.

Seeds arrive in the mail daily now. The drawer in my refrigerator is slowly filling. I have to make time now to wintersow my seeds. It turned out to be a good thing after all that I have so many containers.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Another OT Post

This has nothing whatsoever to do with gardening. I'm just so excited because I have literally waited 25 years for this day:


I finally have real furniture in my living room. It's going to require new curtains, new lamps, a new rug and repainting the walls, but it's all worth it. Thanks to a generous Christmas bonus from my employer and a lousy economy courtesy of the present administration forcing retailers to slash prices to the bone, I was able to buy a couch, loveseat, two end tables and a coffee table for the price that I thought I would have to pay for a couch alone. And did I mention the free delivery?

The Fur Patrol is still trying to decide if they like the new decor.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day

This is what desperation looks like:



I don’t have anything blooming so I picked up these primroses at the grocery store.

2 for $5 and I have something to post for GBBD.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Color My World

The Display Gardens at Rutgers Gardens are normally a riot of color. Formal in layout but informally planted, each bed is tended by a different gardener. In some cases, the beds are divided up amongst several gardeners. Their mandate is to interpret a theme using mainly annual flowers not more than three feet high. The result is a kaleidoscope of shape and color.

The gardens will have a new look this year. Rather than a theme, the beds will be solid blocks of color. I’ve been excited about this since it was announced at the Holiday Party last year. I’ve had color gardens at home for several years.

The Head Hatter and I attended a Master Gardener Executive Committee meeting today and afterwards, she gave me a preview of the color assignments for each bed. Mine will have two colors, yellow and pink.

Leafing through my stack of catalogs, I’m discovering that choosing the flowers is more difficult than I anticipated. I don’t want to just plant anything that strikes my fancy as I do at home. This bed will be seen by many people. I need to consider both the flower shapes and heights to lend interest to the monotones. The shades of pink and yellow have to be carefully matched.

I find myself considering flowers that I don’t normally grow. Celosia, statice, lavatera. Another idea I am toying with is matching flowers, i.e. yellow zinnias on the yellow side and pink zinnias on the pink side. And then there is the question of which seeds to wintersow.

This bed is more challenging than I thought it would be. Which means more fun!

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Catalog Dreams

I am a creature of habit. I find comfort in routines. Children also crave routines and rituals. Every August, we would do the back-to-school shopping. New clothes, new sneakers, new backpack. September found us in the fabric store picking out a pattern and fabric for the all-important Halloween costume. Each day my progress was measured. Was it cut out yet? How much was sewn today? Was it ready to be hemmed? Because I always took it down to the wire. Every year it was the same thing. The night before the Costume Parade, I was tacking down the last facings, sewing on the last snaps. Yet somehow, on the all important day, the Fairy Princess fluttered out the door, the Starfleet Officer transported to the schoolbus, Catwoman purred her way to homeroom, Guinevere summoned her Paintball Warrior to her side.

Two weeks later was the all-important birthday party. Two weeks after that, Thanksgiving. And finally, Christmas with all of its attendant decorating and shopping. By January, I was always exhausted and ready for some “Me Time”. Seed catalogs had started to arrive during the last week of December as the holiday season was winding down. I hoarded them in anticipation of the long winter nights. While the wind was howling outside, I was curled up on the couch, planning, dreaming. In my mind, it was summer and my gardens were full of flowers. All of my favorites were there along with new blossoms that had begged to be tried. Everything was perfect. There wasn’t a weed in sight. Anything is possible in dreams.

My accustomed routine was disrupted, though, as the seed companies decided that they could sell more seeds if they sent more catalogs and sent them earlier and earlier. I tried mightily to resist the urge to “peek”. I always succumbed. Gingerbread houses went undecorated and Christmas cards weren’t mailed as I pored over the latest offerings. The January lull became just that, a lull until the first bulbs tentatively peeked out at the end of February.

My nest is empty now. I’m struggling to find new routines. I was granted a reprieve this year as fewer catalogs arrived “too early”. Perhaps because I have not yet formed new habits, I was able to resist their siren song and tossed them into a basket until the proper time. That time is now. The Christmas tree is at the curb awaiting pick-up. The decorations are back in their boxes in the basement. The house and yard are bare but the basket of catalogs is over-flowing. I am ready to begin planning and dreaming.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

A Gentle Plea for Civility on my Blogiversary

Three years. Other than marriage and motherhood, I can’t think of another personal commitment that I have kept for so long. Even in my first post I wondered how long I would be blogging. Back then, I didn’t think of it as blogging. This was supposed to be my garden journal. And I have used it as such, constantly looking back to previous years for information on weather, plantings, bloom times and a few personal incidents of which I knew I would want to have a record.

Each January, as I review the prior year, a theme always emerges. The first year, I noted that whereas I had begun the year writing solely for myself, my garden and my writings had attracted an audience. My second year of blogging saw me stretch my wings to join the larger world of gardening through both volunteer efforts and a paying job. The theme for this year is what I learned about blogging and bloggers.

I lost focus this year. Re-reading this past year’s posts, what jumps out at me is that very often I was writing for an “audience” and not myself, as originally intended. There are a lot of “Look at me! Aren’t I great?” posts. I need to make a real effort in 2008 to get back to my original intent to use this space as a garden journal.

Along the way, I learned that I have been committing a serious blogging faux pas for years now. Apparently, it is considered proper etiquette to comment in response to readers’ comments. At first I panicked. Remember, I was writing for an audience. I didn’t want to lose that audience. My self-worth as a gardener and as a blogger was wrapped up in the proper care and feeding of my audience. My problem was (and is) that I just don’t have the time to compose thoughtful replies to each and every comment on this blog. I don’t have a Mr. Wonderful to help out around the house and garden. What I do have are two paying jobs and two volunteer “jobs” leaving me almost no time for blogging and commenting. After much soul searching, I have decided to accept the scorn of the garden blogging community and not answer each and every commenter.

And there is scorn. It can be absolutely terrifying. Will any of us ever forget the public vilification of the garden blogger who had the nerve to use her blog to make money? Reading bloggers’opinions of her “indecent” act, I felt as if I was being flayed. Where did all of this venom come from? As gardeners, shouldn’t we reserve our wrath for targets that truly deserve it like Purple Loosestrife? Or deer? Although intensely interested in politics, both local and national, I stopped reading political blogs long ago because of the very same viciousness. I hope that I will not have to stop reading garden blogs, also.

Yet another lesson this year is that garden blog readers feel that they have a right to dictate the content of the blogs that they read. If it is a garden blog, then the only permissible topic is gardening. Anything else is strictly forbidden and may incur the awful wrath of the garden blogging community. Who gave readers this right to tell me what I can post? It’s my blog, not theirs. I could understand their point if they had paid me a subscription fee to read about gardening on my blog and suddenly I started blogging exclusively about my cats. Yes, outrage would be appropriate. Money should be refunded. Gardening teaches us that a monoculture is not healthy. Diversity is much better for the environment and the gardener inhabiting that environment. The same principle can and should be applied to blogging. A garden blog can be mainly about gardening with interesting detours into the nooks and crannies of the author’s life and thoughts.

Despite all of this, I have been assured that garden bloggers are nice. They are not at all like those nasty extremists who inhabit the political blogiverse. Really? So I should have been happy to read on a garden blog recently that as a user of Blogger, I am a “loser” blogging in a “ghetto”? Ouch! There has to be a better way to express that thought.

I enjoy reading Garden Rant. The Ranters choose their words carefully. They are able to discuss controversial topics and not hurt anyone. They even inject humor without wounding. Their commenters are another story. In an effort to out-rant the Ranters, the comment section is shrill, nasty, mean-spirited, and judgemental. I know that what the commenters are aiming for is “intellectual” and “rapier wit”, but the result is more “schoolyard bully, posturing on the playground, trying to intimidate the little kids”. Anyone reading those comments could be forgiven for thinking that garden bloggers are just as bad as extremist political bloggers.

My plea then, is this. Before hitting the “Publish” button, stop and re-read what you have written. Better yet, read it out loud, share it with someone whose opinion you trust. Best of all, have someone read your post/comment out loud to you, substituting your name for the subject. Many times, words sound very different when you are the target rather than the author. If, after all that, you feel that your post/comment is fine the way it is, then post it. I’m confident, though, that you won’t. Instead, you will thoughtfully re-write it, tone it down a bit, find a “kinder, gentler” way to express your feelings. We are, after all, gardeners. We nurture, not destroy.

The theme for my gardens this year is “Back to Basics”. After all my failed experiments last year, I want to start over. I want to go back to my roots and plant lots of zinnias and marigolds and cosmos. Rather than exotic effects, I want lots and lots of flowers. The same holds true for this blog. I need to get back to my original purpose.

This is my garden journal. I post in it from time to time. Usually about my gardens, but occasionally about other topics. Everyone is welcome to read it. Everyone is welcome to comment on it. I won’t be able to answer each and every comment. That doesn’t mean that I don’t value your comments, merely that my commitments do not allow me the time to compose the thoughtful responses that your comments deserve. Anyone who takes the time to read and comment here deserves better than “Great comment! Thanks for stopping by.”

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The title of this post was inspired by one of my favorite books, A Gentle Plea for Chaos by Mirabel Osler. I knew nothing about her when I read her book many years ago so I was unprepared for the death of her husband at the end. I’ve been haunted by this book ever since.