Mixing It Up

One of the things I love about Belle’s garden is the way that she has mixed edibles with ornamentals, and perennials with annuals. You will find fruit trees and brugmansia, tomatoes and jade plants, and many other examples of food-producing plants alongside ornamentals in Belle’s beautiful garden.

In my own garden, I try to emulate Belle’s permaculture-esque approach. One trellis supports sweet autumn clematis, another provides a structure for a grape vine. Each spring, I sprinkle zinnia seeds betwixt and between the perennials in my garden. Rosemary and sage grow next to coneflowers and rose bushes. I even have a small patch of asparagus, which offers beauty (those fern-like fronds are gorgeous), delicious salad additions, and the sturdiness of a perennial.

There are so many reasons to garden, and we each have our own set of wishes and desires when we bring together soil, seeds, roots, water, and sunshine. My grandparents had a bit of an on-going battle regarding gardening for food or for pleasure. My grandmother loved flowers and throughout my life she planted all sorts of things. My grandfather, though, somehow thought growing flowers was wasteful. He preferred to see any gardening efforts go toward growing vegetables.

Asparagus, Penstemon, and Lilies growing in a tangle.

Asparagus, Penstemon, and Lilies growing in a tangle.

Happily, there is a middle ground, and Belle demonstrates it wonderfully. Pathways that twist and turn amongst the flowers, fruit trees, berry bushes, and vegetables offer surprises no matter which way you look. My favorite time to visit Belle is during her spring driveway sale. At that time, there is an area behind her house that is filled with purple iris and columbine. It is breathtaking — even though she doesn’t have any edibles mixed in that particular area!

Winter look of Belle's mixed garden with columbine and iris

Winter look of Belle’s mixed garden with columbine and iris

 

 

 

Perfection Is For Supermodels & Magazines

Looking at perfect garden photos in magazines or online can have the same effect on my self esteem as looking at photos of models. They both bring unfavorable comparisons to mind. Even looking at my neighbors’ gardens can send me into a gardening depression. Nevermind the fact that photoshop and/or professionals were involved in creating the  gardens in the photos (and the supermodel photos), or that my neighbors are mostly retired and have more time to spend gardening than I do. None of that matters when I am afflicted with garden envy.

Green Thumbs Galore, and especially Renaissance Corner, give us a place to be unvarnished. In that spirit, I’m going to show you images that wouldn’t ordinarily make the cut. The images that are just a little embarrassing. The ones where you can tell how much fun outside the garden this summer has been.

Deep breath. Here goes:

weedy garden 1

 

weedy garden2

weedy garden3

Whew. That wasn’t so bad.

There are bright spots of lovely blooms in each of those photos, and just like I choose to focus on my sparkling eyes rather than my wrinkles surrounding them when I look in the mirror, I choose to see the flowers, not the weeds.

Your garden, in all probability, is not ready to be photographed for a magazine spread. And that’s okay, because, really, how often are average gardens the subject of magazine articles? The most important thing about your garden is that it brings you joy. No matter how badly the morning glory is choking the hosta, or how ugly the coneflower seed heads may be, the gold finches are happy, the cardinals keep visiting, and I smile every time I step outside.

Sharing your own uncut, unvarnished photos can be quite liberating. Please feel free to post yours in the comments, or share a link to your own blog, or share them on our Facebook page. It will make us all feel better!

 

Mystery Plants

Do you have plants in your garden that are a mystery to you? Being a very relaxed gardener, I usually have a few mysteries in the garden: plants that I just don’t know much about. At the moment I have two. One is a seven foot tall beauty that looks like some variety of rudbeckia.

mystery yellow flower

mystery yellow flower

The other is, I think, in the mint family. I didn’t expect these beautiful flowers.

mystery purple flower

mystery purple flower

In the spring time, I wrote about a different kind of mystery — when you plant something, like an iris or a tulip and you don’t know what the bloom will look like. You do, however, know what an iris or a tulip generally looks like. In the case of these two plants, I had no idea. A friend sent them to me in early spring when they were both basically just roots in a clump of dirt. She didn’t know the name of the yellow one, and I’ve forgotten what she told me about the purple one.

Watching the foliage grow, then seeing the flower buds develop, and finally enjoying the beautiful blooms made for an entertaining summer. They are adding so much color to my late summer garden, too — which is nice because it seems like the majority of my flowers are spring bloomers.

Have you had any surprises this summer? Or, have you ever planted something having no clue what you would end up with?

 

Celebrate your Garden

Last night, a lovely Friday night with a gorgeous, bright full moon shining down, my family began what is sure to be a long process: preserving the harvest. We’d picked beans several times through the week and picked even more before sitting down to string and snap them. Next came washing and canning. We managed to get 14 quarts canned by midnight; there are that many more to process today.

We expect there will be that many each week until the end of the season. In the meantime, the okra is quickly ripening. We aren’t sure yet just how productive it will be, but it could well be just as generous as the beans. Since pickled okra is a family favorite, we will be happy to have plenty of jars on our shelves. I’m not so sure how we will feel packing that 130th jar.

Canning

Canned fruit. Picture courtesy of J. Sc.

Then, there are tomatoes. We have fewer tomato plants, but there will certainly be enough that some of them will need to be preserved. So far, the squash has produced in smaller quantities, but within a month or so, it’s likely there will be quite a lot of it as well.  And the corn…barring any groundhog or crow attacks, we are expecting somewhere between 800 and 1200 ears of corn.

All of this leaves out the grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and apples. There will be much smaller quantities of those to deal with, but we do want to try some jellies. The question is: how much can people who have other jobs and other responsibilities get done? The truth is, some of our harvest is likely to feed the birds, or will add nutrients to the soil as compost.

We’ll do what we can, of course, but we probably won’t get every bit of value from this year’s harvest. And that’s okay. There won’t be any guilt for not getting that last jar of beans canned, or making that last batch of chow chow. Instead, we will celebrate the achievements of the season. We’ll count our jars and feel a bubble of pride, and look at the stacks of bags in the freezer and know we did just fine this year.

It’s easy to let the responsibility of the garden become a burden. Avoiding vacations, spending every free moment either picking or processing the harvest, and worrying about what you aren’t getting done when you are doing anything other than garden related chores can suck the pleasure right out of your garden.

Do what you can and don’t sweat the rest. Very few of us are subsisting from our gardens, so it’s unlikely you will go hungry if you miss a few beans or a tomato hits the ground. Enjoy what you do harvest, and celebrate your garden!

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry jam. Picture courtesy of S. B.

Vertical Gardening: Up. Up. Up

There are lots of reasons to try vertical gardening. The most frequently mentioned is space, but even if you have plenty of room you might want to try it for aesthetic reasons. A vertical garden creates an attractive screen, a focal point similar to a painting on a wall, or shade.

Your imagination is the only limit when it comes to vertical gardening. One of the first times I encountered it was in reading Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. As the title suggests, space was the main concern in that book. Bartholomew lays out instructions for growing a number of vegetable garden crops vertically, including watermelon! He uses nets for the melons.

Some plants must be grown vertically for best results. Peas, cucumbers, some varieties of beans, and plenty of other vegetables — not to mention the many types of climbing roses —  require poles, stakes, or trellises. Our fence row is decorated with gorgeous (if invasive) morning glories every fall.

My own current efforts at vertical gardening include a grape arbor:

grape arborsome peas on an old cast iron gate (the pea plants are still tiny):

pea trellisand a structure for a sweet autumn clematis that appeared magically growing up a tree in my front yard last year (I haven’t moved the plant yet — just put together the structure):

clematis trellisBesides an indulgence of my unpredictable whims, all of these vertical structures are simply to provide interest in the garden. I worry about having too many plants that are roughly the same height — or the same color, or that bloom at the same time. (Sigh. The complications of haphazard gardening.)

Belle uses succulents in a really interesting vertical structure. The wooden structure creates a frame, and the succulents are a variety of color and texture. The whole thing looks like a work of art.

Regardless of how much space you have, you may want to try your hand at growing some plants up and up. The most important thing is to make sure your structure is sturdy enough to withstand the pull and tug of your plants. Before we built the grape arbor, our grape vines pulled down the flimsy gate they were growing on.

Dreaming of Spring

Guest column written by Dava Stewart
In Chattanooga, around the end of February and beginning of March, we usually start having random days of perfect weather. The definition of perfect, in this case, is a temperature  between 68 and 73 degrees Fahrenheit, a sky that is a shade of blue that ice and waterfallmakes you want to sing, gentle breezes that tickle instead of cut…

On such days, I want to clean up my flower beds, rake all the leaves away, and start moving and planting. But it’s a bad idea. Our average last frost day is April 15, which means there are going to be several frosts and often even a hard freeze or two between the last week of February and when it’s really safe to plant any tender perennials or annuals.

During March, we also see daffodils budding (and sometimes even blooming!), azaleas and cherry trees bursting with color, and a whole host of perennials coming up. Right now, I have some daylilies, iris, and succulents coming up. None of them will bloom until at least late May, but they are already growing.

Some years, the frosts through March are mild enough that the early flowers are unaffected. Other years, they get absolutely zapped. It’s sad to see a whole patch of daffodils with blooms drooping to the ground, as if they’ve been beaten down, or an azalea with brown edges on all the blooms. But then again, that is what life does to all of us, right? We live through the hard times and bear the scars.

Anyway, there is no other time of year that affects my gardener’s heart quite the same way early spring does. I’m full of hope, trepidation, optimism, fear, and excitement.

 

Looking for Gratitude

I have never been one for resolutions but last week, I heard an idea that I liked. Choose one word for the year and make that your focus and aspiration. My word… Gratitude.

grat·i·tude
ˈgratəˌt(y)o͞od/
noun
noun: gratitude
1.
the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.

Why did I pick gratitude?  Maybe because it is part of my yoga practice – at the end several of my instructors will remind all of us yogis in the class to take a moment of gratitude for taking the time to be good to ourselves and to appreciate others and the world around us.

I am sharing my walk along the path of life with everyone else on this planet. It takes reminding now and then that my path is no different from yours, your family’s, your friend’s, and even the path of people you don’t like.

Holding a rock

Holding a rock

Some days my pack feels like it’s full of rocks and other days it’s like I have wings and speed along.  Regardless, the path must be walked.  Every day. By taking a few moments out to focus on gratitude, I can help my mind to see more of the good – and when I see the good, my pack lightens.  I can open my heart and my mind to choose how I will experience the next moment, the next minute, the next hour.  Positively and with gratitude.

Gratitude - lightness all around!

Gratitude – lightness all around!