Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Off with their Heads!

It’s 7 a.m. on a steamy July morning.  Dragging myself out of my ’76 Caprice Classic, I join a crew of sleepy teenagers congregating in the work shed, stamping their time cards and slathering on sunscreen.  We trudge through the wet grass toward a mist-laden field like a silent army: a horticultural special forces unit, if you will.  Faded blooms break off as I move along the row, gathering them.  Five minutes into the task, my hands are red, orange and purple, dyed with the stain of a beautiful yesterday.  It’s daylily season at Hornbaker Gardens.

If you’re unfamiliar with daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.), you don’t have to wander far to find them.  Their hardy nature has launched them into every landscaper’s repertoire.  Mainstays, like 'Stella d’Oro' and 'Happy Returns', are planted with such regularity that we ought to nominate them to be the new State Flower.  They are, simply put, lily-flowers popping out of grassy foliage. 

Daylilies are billed as low-maintenance perennials, and they can be.  If you ignore them, they’ll grow and bloom in spite of you.  But a wee bit of effort – and believe me it is a cathartic experience for deadheader and daylily alike – will reap results worthy of the expenditure. 

The concept behind deadheading is more than just removing that which is unsightly.  It's about building the plant.  At the base of each blossom lies an ovary.  Once the flower fades, the ovary begins to grow and form a seed pod.  On a daylily, seed pods do two things well: they look unattractive and they suck resources from the plant.  So the simple act of snapping dead blooms off nips this waste in the bud….literally.  Next year’s crop will get a boost of resources from the extra nutrients stored in the tubers (roots).  Translation: more blooms and larger plants next year.

Isn’t that what we all want?  But more than just the promise of a better year to come, we have a better day to enjoy.  Deadheading is like making one’s bed.  Will it be undone again in the morning?  Of course, but it sets the tone for the day, and fills the garden with beauty.  So get out there and trudge through the misty morn.  You'll be glad you did.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Dear John Letter to a Clematis

Dear Clem,

It seems like just yesterday when I caught my first glimpse of your bloom.  So billowy and romantic, like a cloud of white butterflies, engulfing the arbor with beauty.  You had me at hello. Who else blooms like that in autumn?  What other clematis could compare to your abundance?  None.  I knew I had to make you mine.   

And so, the wait began; the years of pining and planning.  I don't regret those years, Clem.  They made me who I am today.  You were worth the wait.  The day finally came, and I brought you home.  The bed was dug, the fence built, the arbor painted.  I had it all planned out: how you would climb the strings and swallow my arbor up in blossoms, sunning yourself each summer, teasing me with the promise of a bower of beauty come fall.  And it was all so good in the beginning.  I bragged about you and sang your praises to any visitors willing to stroll the garden.  I even took pictures of you with my family.

But you've strayed, Clem.  You haven't remained true to the commitment we once shared.  I caught you behind the air-conditioner, climbing up the side of the house.  Mingling with cable lines, going where you ought not.  Why would you go there, Clem?  It's shady there, not the kind of neighborhood for a clean-cut vine such as yourself.  I thought you wanted sun.  I gave you all the sun you could ask for.  But it wasn't enough.  I'll always love you, Clem, but this just isn't working anymore.



Do you have any love/hate relationships in your garden?  I confess, I don't have the heart to rip Clem (Sweet Autumn Clematis - Clematis ternifolia) out completely, but every fall I'm in the doghouse with my husband for this Vine Gone Wrong, as it strings up our cable lines.  I have to drag out the big ladder and rip and destroy its clamp on the wires.  So why not just make a clean break?  I don't know.  I think it's the promise of those ridiculous blooms in fall.  Like a box of Junior Mints: I know they're no good for me, but I just can't help myself.  Take care that you don't get caught up in Sweet Autumn Clematis' irresistible snare.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Growing Together

I buy lettuce seed every year.  I plant it.  I water it.  I get excited as it germinates and grows.  And then I bite into my first leaf.  Ugh.  Blasted bitter Buttercrunch!  I’m all for homegrown goodness, but I’ve never produced a leaf lettuce that tasted better (or even equalled) that of Mr. Grocer’s.  The other day, I was whining about my bitterness (pun intended), when my friend Rhonda suggested rinsing the leaves and storing them in the fridge for a day or two.  “When you pull it out, the bitterness will be gone”.  WOW.  Zip!  Just like that, problem solved.

That’s why gardeners need each other.  Our collective efforts are more effective than our solitary attempts.  Together, we grow better. 

I’d love to join a garden club.  I just haven’t got the time.  I’m up to my elbows in kids, dirty dishes, dog slobber and work.   Being a mama is like that.  My time is not my own.  Someday, maybe, but not today.  And I love it.  Wouldn’t trade it for the world.  But I do miss the camaraderie of growing (and commiserating about) plants alongside my fellow man. 

The garden forums on the internet are bustling with people encouraging one another onward, against drought, disease and discouragement.  Gardeners are, by nature, encouragers.  If they weren’t, they would find a different hobby.  Pessimists need not apply.  One of the groups I follow has a global membership.  Yesterday I visited with an Australian gardener.  North is her sunniest direction, and with the seasons in reverse, her early bulbs are just getting underway.  Fascinating!  The internet has grown a global garden club.

But what about our neighbors: the people with whom we share gardening weather, bugs, nurseries, and conditions?  Could we use the web to knit us together as well?  To cultivate a community of growers into a garden of encouragement?  We need a place to gather together, regardless of schedules.  And that is the mission statement of KankakeeGardener.com: a hub for LOCAL gardening activities, pictures, presentations, and giveaways.  A place to grow together. 

So drop in.  Leave a note about what's shakin' in your yard.  Find out what the local horticulture industry is saying, doing and growing.  Together, we can plant a few seeds of community and see what blooms.  Go to KankakeeGardener.com and join the conversation.
See you there!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dog Proofing Your Yard

Shortly after our dog moved in, the cat moved out.  The relentless chasing and barking, slobbering and sniffing was just too much for her.  My kind-hearted neighbors took our little feline refugee under their wings.  I believe if my garden could’ve uprooted itself and moved next door, it would have.  But plants are mere captives, helpless to remove themselves from the path of slobbering hounds.  For those of you festering in a Fido-Flower fiasco of your own, I offer the following:

How to Dog Proof your Yard:

1.  Do not get a dog.  It seems so obvious, I know, but the urge will come, and you best be prepared for it.  

2.  Put nothing intrinsically valuable in your yard.  If the backyard is the dog's territory, uproot all desirable plant material, and fill in the property with 8” of pine shavings. 

As a puppy-loving planter, I flunked steps number one and two.  
What remains of this list is my experience with 'coping mechanisms'.  

3.  Consider your yard as Monet would.  Squinting your eyes for the 'impressionist' effect helps those dead grass spots blend in better.  If you're looking for a longer lasting solution, water thoroughly over the 'spot' immediately after Fido's pit stop.  This will help wash the excess nitrogen away.  Nitrogen, of course, is good for plants in controlled amounts, but an excessive amount will burn vegetation.  If you don't believe me, drop a handful of fertilizer in one spot in your yard.  We use fertilizer spreaders for a reason.

4.  Tomato cages aren't just for tomatoes.  My perennial bed butts up against our fence line.  This is Oscar's war path: where he paces, chases and defends his territory from all things exterior.  He has shredded more plants defending me from the threat of my neighbor's mower than I care to count.  I got wise this year and employed tomato cages as protection from my protector.  My Carolina Lupines thanked me with a beautiful show of yellow blooms.  It was the first year they made it.  

5.  Put away the pond liner you bought.  Fill in the hole you dug.  Don't even think about it.  Ponds + Dogs = muddy destruction.

6.  Presoaking doesn't pay.  Two years ago, I thought I'd get a jump on germination by soaking my green bean seeds overnight.  This actually reduced germination by 92%, since my dog dug up and ate all but 1 of my pre-soaked beans.  Apparently, he has a fondness for legumes.  I can only assume that he needed some nitrogen fixed in his system.  

Are canines and cultivation mutually exclusive?  They don't have to be.  But the leash-toting weed-puller has to be extra patient and proactive.  

Wonder Dog with Sweet Autumn Clematis stuck in his collar.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

Practical joke - gardener style - played on my friend Renee,
by her neighbors.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Divorcing my Daylilies

When you buy a home, you inherit the yard as well, whether you want to or not.  What was passed down to me was a foundation planting that consisted of Rosy Glow Barberry and Wild Daylilies.  They alternated, like an unfortunate game of leap-frog, all the way around the perimeter of my house.   If you are unfamiliar with either of these selections, let me make some introductions. 

Rosy Glow Barberry is a thorny shrub with burgundy foliage.  Its color, accented with random pink striations, is coveted amongst landscaping plants.  But they're not really 'the plant' for a 3-foot-deep foundation bed.  Rosy Glow needs room to sprawl a bit and requires facer plants to cover it's leggy base.  The plant's prickles are formidable, as noted by it's name "Barb-berry", which reminds me of barb-wire, another element I'd rather not have in my front landscape. 

Wild Daylilies are not to be confused with Hybridized Daylilies.  They are, of course, closely related.  But the hybrids, with their rainbow of colors, have genteel manners and the wilds have none a’tall.  My goodness, I’m jaded.  The truth is, there is a place for wild daylilies.  Their tiger-orange flowers are lovely and I enjoy seeing them along rural roadsides and at the edge of ponds, but they are altogether too aggressive for a manicured landscape, which is what I desperately want my yard to be. 

One long year of hand-to-hand combat, and several pairs of leather gloves later, the Barberry battle was over.  The Daylilies, however, were more tenacious.  I've lost count of exactly when I started my Daylily Removal Efforts, but I'd say I finally got the upperhand around the 5-year-mark.  I thought victory was in sight then.

I was wrong.

Two Daylilies evaded my spade of death.  No biggie, right?  What’s two after the hundreds I had conquered?  Believe me, fellow garden warriors, these last two have challenged – nay - MOCKED my removal attempts.  The first is located inside my spirea.  It’s so far inside the spirea, that I’ve considered marketing a new species: SpireaLily. 

The other is situated ‘just so’ directly under my fence pickets, with its roots lodged in the foundation of my porch and (as if that were not enough), taking shelter beneath my Panicle Hydrangea.  It’s a horticultural triple-threat.  I suppose I could paint some Round-Up on the leaves, but that just seethes with “Poor Sport”, doesn’t it?  Over time, a worthy adversary can sometimes morph into a friend.  What would Wile E. Coyote be without the Roadrunner?  Where would Sylvester be without Tweety?  Tom without Jerry?  Unthinkable.  And so it is to be, for the daylilies and me.  
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