Many, many thanks to everyone who took the time to send kind notes and words of wisdom after reading my last blog post about my broken teeth. I’ve already put some of your suggestions into practice and, I have to say, I’m feeling a little bit more relaxed already. In fact, I got the idea for this post the other day while sipping tea and looking out the window at the heaps of snow and ice in our backyard rather than running all around doing whatever it is I do all the time.
Yes, fellow gardeners, as the magazines tell us, tis the season for enjoying all that “winter interest” we’ve created by following advice to plant things like colorful red-twigged dogwoods and unusual evergreens in a landscape bedazzled with sturdy structures and planters overflowing with cute pinecones and twigs and whatnot. Everything looks so lovely in those glossy photo spreads. But we who garden in parts of the country where actual snow falls, not just a fairy dusting but, say, 10 inches or so, fairly often, followed by icy rain and slush, know the truth about winter interest. In the absence of photo stylists, props and camera crews, it simply doesn’t exist.
Don’t get me wrong; snowy gardens are beautiful, just not in the way magazines portray them. But let’s pretend for a minute that there is a magazine willing to run a winter story that tells it like it is. Articles could offer tips on things like how to spread fresh snow around the yard to obscure all those frozen yellow dog pee circles. A short sidebar might be: “3 Strategies For Chipping Frozen Poo From Snowbanks.” I’m sure a lot of us could submit photos that readers could relate to. Here are some of mine, and I’ve even written captions.
Have you got some “winter interest” photos to share? If so, please email them to me and I’ll post them!
“You’ve got to be f-ing kidding me.” I can’t be sure because I was pretty shaken up, but I’m fairly certain that’s what I muttered under my breath as soon as I realized I’d broken off both of my front teeth in a fall down our basement stairs on Thanksgiving morning.
It was one of those slow-motion accidents, the kind in which you try to catch yourself numerous times to no avail. Hand grabs for non-existent railing. Head hits metal post thingy by stairs. Underside of forearm takes the brunt of the fall onto the concrete floor before knees slam down and then, face—SNAP! About three-quarters of one tooth broke off cleanly and the other sort of shattered, leaving a sharp, jagged, horizontal edge. I remember spitting out tiny bits of teeth, but we looked everywhere and only found one small piece to save in a glass jar, like our moms did with our baby teeth, and we did with our dog, Lily’s.
“Honey, you won’t believe what just happened,” I called to my husband Mike, who was outside putting our plastic Santa and reindeer on the roof. But he could believe it, and so could I. Just two days earlier my new doctor had just one piece of advice for me: “Relax; chill out,” she said, “try meditation or take up yoga, even if you do it just five minutes a day.” This was her prescription for my complaints about digestion troubles, food allergies and just a general sense of feeling alternately revved up and exhausted.
As you might imagine by now, I have heard this before. But propped on one elbow on the basement floor while running the fingertips of my other hand over my broken teeth, all I could think of was how I had fallen because I was once again trying to do too many things at one time. It also wasn’t lost on me that I could have been badly hurt. As it was, once our dentist answered his emergency line and assured me that I must not have hit nerves or there would be more pain, we scheduled an appointment with him for the next day and celebrated Thanksgiving with our friends as planned. (Though I’m sure it was not too appetizing watching me eat.)
What does all of this have to do with gardening? you ask. After all this is a gardening blog. Well, here’s the thing. I’ve tried to meditate many times and just ended up sitting in a leg-cramping position while making a mental grocery list. Yoga is fine, but that’s not going to cut it as a relaxation tool for me. So, aside from working hard to be mindful of what I am doing: “You are walking down the stairs right now, and that is all you are going to focus on for the moment,” I’m wondering what else I can do to bring more calmness into my life and less multi-tasking.
And that got me thinking about gardening. I always think of gardening as my stress relief, my way of relaxing. I’m outside hauling, digging and planting from the time weather permits until it doesn’t. And when all those people walk by saying some version of: “Gorgeous gardens, but that sure looks like a lot of work,” I cheerfully reply: “It’s not work to me.” But is it and I just don’t realize it? I am not one of those gardeners who will tell you that they rarely sit and enjoy their garden because they’re always working in them. But I am the sort of gardener who, in between sips of wine and bites of dinner, looks around her gardens to assess what should be done next.
How did I let that Joe Pye weed get so tall again this year? OMG! Is that aster yellows on the phlox? What’s up with those crappy-looking ornamental grasses? I really should add more compost to those back beds this fall. Am I pruning those hydrangeas wrong? This sort of “monkey mind,” as I call it, equals a never-ending list of gardening to-dos, and I’m not bothered by that. I like being out in the garden working on this or that. But does this mean that gardening isn’t relaxing in the way I think it is? Am I really getting the dose of peace and calm my doctor thinks I need—and I clearly do need since it’s gotten to the point of lost teeth.
What do you think? How does gardening make you feel when you really think about it? And is there a point where it adds to stress rather than easing it? I would love to hear your thoughts as I muddle my way through this process of figuring out how to just “chill.”
A few readers have emailed lately asking if I think it’s okay to just take a few seeds from plants in people’s gardens, or if I think they should ask first. It’s a good question, and one every gardener grapples with, I imagine. I admit that I have gathered a few seeds here and there from other people’s gardens. I didn’t go up into their yards or anything. But if a plant I liked was in a boulevard garden, or poking out of a fence or over a wall, I’d take a few seeds if it seemed like there were a lot to go around. I didn’t think much about this, probably because I wouldn’t mind if people took seeds from my gardens, at least not the ones that are accessible from the sidewalk.
But then the issue came up on our Master Gardener listserv, and I got those emails I mentioned from readers, and I realized that a lot of people consider taking seeds from other people’s plants a horrible thing to do. “It’s stealing,” one gardener wrote on our listserv. And many others agreed. Of course I see their point. And even though we stealers only take a few seeds, what if everyone who came along did that? What if the plant was special, maybe an heirloom grown by the gardener’s grandma and each year’s seeds were a precious treasure to be shared with family members?
I’ve thought about all of these things and decided that I won’t ever take seeds without asking again. But this doesn’t change the fact that I would be happy to share seeds from my own gardens, and I’m fine with people taking them without asking as long as you don’t venture into the yard and frighten our scared-of-everything dog, Lily. This whole thing has got me thinking about ways to share. I could put up a sign on the boulevard next season saying “Please feel free to take seeds from the boulevard gardens!” We live on a corner lot, so there are a lot of plants to choose from out there.
But I’m not sure how to let people know they’re welcome to seeds from plants inside the fence, too. We just need to know you’re coming so we can put Lily in the house. If you live around here, and you’re reading this, just email or call and we’ll tell you to come on over. For passersby, though, I obviously need a better system. I’m wondering if there’s a good a way to join up with other gardeners in the area to start a Little Free Seed Bank, modeled after the Little Free Library boxes that are popping up all over the place. If you haven’t seen these, homeowners, businesses, anyone who wants to, really, can give money to the program and get their own birdhouse-like box to stock with books that people can take and read for free. Take a book, leave a book, that’s the idea, and from what I can tell, it’s working beautifully.
Maybe there’s a way to do something like this with seeds, too. I threw this idea out to readers of my Everyday Gardener column in our local paper, The Southwest Journal, and several people emailed to say they’d be interested in working with me on trying to get a seed sharing plan off the ground next year. If you’re a local reader and you’re interested, too, please email and let me know. If you’re not local, but you like the idea and would like to know what we dream up, just email and I’ll keep in touch.
And, if you have a minute, I would also love to know what you think about sharing seeds in general. Would you be happy to share seeds from your garden with others? Would you want people to ask before they took seeds? Do you think it’s stealing to take a few seeds from people’s gardens without asking?
I’ve nearly finished putting the gardens to bed for the winter. As I worked, I actually did go through with my pledge to rip out all those diseased coneflowers and phlox that have been limping along in agony for years. Aster yellows, powdery mildew; I’m as tired of looking at that ick as they are of having it. So they’re out of their misery now, and so am I.
The upside is, I get to buy new plants next spring to take their places. I can live without coneflowers, but I would miss phlox in the garden. So I hunted around for some truly standout mildew-resistant varieties. Below is some information on the ones that got the best reviews from fellow master gardeners and local garden designers.
Phlox Flame™ Series: The naturally dwarf cultivars in the Flame series have outstanding mildew resistance. Available in a wide array of colors, these phlox have an attractive bushy habit that’s nicer looking than that of other phlox varieties. Zones 3 – 8.Read More»
I’ve been out of town on vacation, so I’m behind on posting. I’m working on something that should be up later today or early tomorrow. But, first, I need to apologize for making an error in my recent post about Scotts. In that post, which you can read here if you missed it, I talked about how the company pleaded guilty earlier this year to charges that they had used insecticides known to be toxic to birds, fish and other wildlife on two brands of bird seed they were selling. They did this to help protect the seed from pests during storage. The products have been recalled, but not before more than 70 million units were sold over two years.
In my post I explained what happened and how Scotts ended up pleading guilty and being fined. But I got one part wrong, which someone from Scotts pointed out to me, so I am correcting my mistake, which I should. I wrote that Scotts tried to cover up the fact that they had coated the seeds with toxic insecticides by falsifying EPA documents. This is not correct. The company’s falsification of government documents was actually part of a separate legal issue going on at the same time involving Scotts illegal sale of pesticides that were not registered with the EPA.
I confused the two issues when researching my column and thought the fabricated paperwork had to to with the bird seed. I do apologize for that mistake. I know how important it is to get your facts straight on these things. I also know it’s easy to glaze over and tune out when talking about legal stuff. But these issues with Scotts are serious and the company’s products are everywhere. As gardeners, we need to stay informed so we can make safe, healthy choices about the products we buy and use in our homes and gardens.Read More»
**NOTE**A correction to this piece was made in my October 2, 2012 post.
You might recall that earlier this year Scotts Miracle-Gro pled guilty to charges that they had illegally used insecticides known to be toxic to birds and wildlife in two brands of bird seed: “Country Pride” and “Morning Song.” According to prosecutors, the Ohio-based company knowingly coated the seed with these insecticides because they wanted to protect it from insects pests during storage.
Millions of bags of toxic seed were manufactured and sold over two years. And even warnings about the toxicity of the pesticides from two of the company’s own employees did not stop them from selling it. The products were recalled in spring of 2008 and, eventually, Scotts was fined $4.5 million.
This incident certainly isn’t the first time Scotts has behaved in a manner that has surely earned its executives a nice, toasty seat in hell. But it’s a good one to call out when talking about the company’s history of asshattery, including making it nearly impossible to buy a freakin’ bag of soil that doesn’t include its products. What are they up to now? you ask.
Check out this post by Amy Stewart on Garden Rant: “Dear Scotts: Just Try, One Time, Not to be So Shitty.” It’s about how Scotts’ lawyers nabbed and quickly trademarked a phrase that garden writer C.L. Folinari came up with as part of a goodhearted campaign to get people excited about gardening and growing different types of plants.
Oh, and Scotts also went public in June about their $200,000 donation to Restore Our Future, the super PAC that supports Mitt Romney. The donation made Scotts one of the first public companies with a well-known brand to contribute directly to an election campaign following the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision on campaign funding.
Scotts has made its corporate character very clear. It’s up to gardeners like us to do the same.
If I could somehow go back in time and give my new-gardener self just one piece of advice, it would be this: Use the lasagna method when starting a new garden bed. Of all the tough gardening chores, removing old weed-infested sod (or any sod, really) rates right up at the top of the This-Really-Bites list. Oh, how I wish I had known that I could just smother stuff rather than wrestle it out of the ground—the sheer force propelling me off to the chiropractor to fix my aching back once again.
There is no such thing as maintenance-free gardening. But gardening doesn’t have to be on a mission to kill you either. This is the beauty of the lasagna method. The goal is to keep light and, to some extent, air and water, from reaching the weeds and turf. There are no exact rules for this process, so I’ll explain what I do and you can modify the strategy as you see fit.Read More»
Do your echinacea (coneflowers) look like mutant, green monsters from an alien universe? Mine do. And that’s because a disease called aster yellows is running rampant in Minnesota this year. The disease is caused by a phytoplasma, a microscopic bacteria-like organism that makes its home in the vascular system of plants.
Not all plants can become infected with aster yellows, but many annuals, perennials, vegetables and weeds are affected by it, including asters, carrots, chrysanthemums, coreopsis, cosmos, daisies, dandelion, marigolds, onions, petunias, potatoes, thistle and tomatoes. Aster yellows isn’t a new disease. It’s just worse this year than it normally is for reasons experts are still pondering. Hot weather seems to have something to do with it.
Aster leafhoppers are the reason why the disease travels through gardens so quickly. They transmit the disease from plant to plant when they feed on infected plants and suck up sap that contains the phytoplasma. After a short incubation period in their tiny bug bodies (the leafhoppers are not harmed), the microorganisms multiply and the insects spread the disease further as they feed.
The symptoms of aster yellows vary from plant to plant. But most of the time you’ll notice that infected plants look stunted and distorted in weird ways. Foliage can be yellow and flowers often look yellow or a spooky shade of green. Seeds and fruit don’t develop. You might also see spindly stems and flower stalks. It’s not a pretty sight.
The biggest bummer, though, is that once a plant has aster yellows it can’t be cured. You’ve got to rip the whole plant out and throw it away. I know, I know. I don’t do that either. I just cut off the infected part of my coneflowers and let the rest of the plant that looks good stay. But that is a bad idea. Yes, I get to enjoy the relatively normal-looking parts of my alien, mutant coneflowers. But by allowing those plants to stay in the garden, I’m ensuring that aster leafhoppers will continue to spread the disease to other susceptible plants in my yard and my neighbors’ yards.
It’s really the same tough reality crew members on spaceships in sci-fi films often face. You remember the plot. They all know that their friend was infected by some horrible monster creature thing down on the planet they just visited without wearing proper protective gear (what’s up with that?). And they all know it’s only a matter of time before a baby monster creature thing bursts out of their friend’s chest and tries to infect them all. But, hey, for the moment the friend seems mostly fine, so why not let the poor sot live, right? We know how that story ends.
So let’s all vow to rip out plants infected with aster yellows—at least by the end of the season when we cut down plants for fall. It’s fine to throw these infected plants in the compost because the phytoplasma dies when the plant dies. Not all plant diseases work that way. Unfortunately, this harsh step won’t guarantee that aster yellows won’t come back again next year because infected leafhoppers are likely to still be around or you could inadvertently bring an infected plant home from the garden center. I think I’m finally going to give up on coneflowers all together. I like them, but I’m tired of knowing there’s a mutant, green monster lurking behind those pretty purple flowers.
Note: This post ran this week as my Everyday Gardener column in Minneapolis’ Southwest Journal.
Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.
— Alfred Austin
I don’t know enough about the English poet Alfred Austin to understand why he thought he could divine who, or more precisely, “what”, someone was simply by looking at their garden. But he makes an interesting point. Having toured many more gardens than I usually do this summer, I’ve really been struck by the vast differences in the look and feel of people’s yards.
Modern straight lines vs. curving cottage beds, shady oases vs. sun-drenched plots for edibles and brightly colored perennials, cherubs and ornate statuary vs. gnomes and silly flamingos. And probably not surprisingly, a near tie between the number of gardeners who like plant tags and the ability to see the soil between each plant and those who would never consider plant tags and prefer a more wild, overlapping look.
What would Austin make of this? “What” are these people? Does orderly equal neatnik, control freak or professional organizer while wild signifies some kind of messy, disheveled, devil-may-care personality? Maybe. But that seems too simple since, once you get to know most people, they often turn out to be much more complicated than they first appeared. He must have meant something more. Might we consider how each gardener’s parents and grandparents gardened? Where they grew up? Whether they need to grow food to put food on the table?Read More»
Okay, just kidding. We’d probably keel over if we had to get the garden in shape for a tour every year. But it was a really fun day and if someone asked, we’d probably offer up our yard again for a tour in the future. Even though it was in the 90s with extremely high humidity, the 9-hour day went by fast and we honestly could have gone on yacking with visitors for at least another hour or two after the 4 p.m. closing time.
The numbers have been crunched and it looks like we had 367 people touring the 11 gardens on display—that’s the biggest year yet for the annual Hennepin County Master Gardener Learning Garden Tour. Our garden is small and the paths are narrow, so we were worried that visitors might feel cramped and rushed in a way that would keep them from experiencing the garden as it’s meant to be experienced.
Luckily, people trickled in throughout the day and meandered down the paths looking at everything. Everyone was smiling and happy and had a lot of questions. It’s mostly true that mean people don’t garden, and this day was a testament to that. Love fest would be a good way to describe the day, really, and who doesn’t want more love?Read More»