December 31, 2011

Six words of wisdom

“If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly,
our whole life would change.”

“I think, at a child’s birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother
to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift would be curiosity.”
~Eleanor Roosevelt

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
~Albert Einstein

Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
~Steve Jobs

“Plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.”
~Veronica A. Shoffstall

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible;
and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
~St. Francis of Assisi

Dear gardening friends: Thanks for your encouragement, friendship, and inspiration during these past 12 months. Happy New Year!

(Please join Diana at Elephant’s Eye for her 12 Days of Christmas meme.)

December 28, 2011

A mystical story about three Crocus bulbs

On the third day of Christmas, I received a priceless gift. (Note: You might not believe several aspects of this simple story. But I assure you, the entire narration is true.)

I ordinarily shop for next year’s Christmas cards after Christmas. (Oops, the secret is out!) This year, I first stopped at a very busy home and craft megastore, which had a few boxes left, but none to my liking.

I then traveled to a local department store, which I rarely visit. The aisles were nearly empty, and I had no trouble finding an excellent selection of beautiful, reasonably priced Christmas cards. As I walked toward the front of the store, I noticed an end-aisle display of bulb-forcing kits. The options were Amaryllises, Hyacinths, and Crocuses. The price for each kit: $2.99 USD.

I have never forced bulbs before. Several friends have given them to me as gifts, but I’ve never tried it myself. What possessed me to think this should be the time to try it? Well, probably the price. Why did I pick the Crocuses? The other bulbs, for some reason, seemed overwhelming to me for my first attempt.

Was blogging in the back of my mind? Of course it was! It always is. But I didn’t buy theses particular bulbs thinking I would blog about it on this particular day.

In fact, when I got back home I remembered that at some point this week I wanted to participate in Diana’s “12 Days of Christmas” meme. Hmmm, I thought. I could blog about these three bulbs! But I was lazy and chose instead to read my book on the couch with two cats for company. (Pure bliss.) I didn’t feel particularly productive.

This morning when I awoke, I thought about those bulbs (still not potted). And I thought about Diana’s meme. I checked out the days and realized many folks consider today the third day of Christmas! In any case, I “received” the bulbs yesterday and potted them today!

It’s somewhat mystical to me that I even set foot in that store, and beyond that, that I happened to walk by that particular end-aisle on my way out. And the three bulbs were pure coincidence (or were they?). Note: I have no connection, whatsoever, to the company that sells the bulb-forcing kits.

In any case, what a bargain! During the European Renaissance, flowering bulbs from the East were seen as a symbol of abundance and indulgence. They were highly prized and priced. And today I can buy them in a kit at a local discount store for $2.99! The pretty vases, alone, are worth more than that!

I followed the kit’s directions, which included filling the vases to just below the narrow necks, placing the bulbs shoot side up, and putting the whole lot in a cool, dark place for 12 weeks.

With the mild winter we’re having, it’s highly likely the outdoor Crocuses will bloom before the indoor ones, but we’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, what a wonderful  gift!

(Check out Elephant’s Eye’s “12 Days of Christmas meme” for more posts about the gifts of Christmas.)

December 21, 2011

Shared solstice stories

At my house, the presents are wrapped, the tree is decorated, and the trip over the river and through the woods is just around the corner. Seems like a strange time to be discussing lessons learned in autumn (or spring for those in the Southern Hemisphere).

But we’re just now entering the official start to the next season. As lovely as the autumn was here in southern Wisconsin, for some reason it seemed odd to recycle old photos of colorful leaves. So I’m putting on my holiday hat as the backdrop for this “Lessons Learned” solstice post.

All participants in this quarter’s meme have excellent stories to share.

1. Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys takes a humorous look at lessons she should have learned, but still hasn’t. She also shares excellent tips for specific plants, including bulbs, annuals, perennials, and vegetables. Her macro of her lovely Pansies will cheer anyone on a cold winter day.

2. Barbie at The Gardening Blog shares the perils of mowing the lawn too close, and planting sun-loving plants in the shade and large, shrubby plants in tight containers. Barbie reports that TP rolls didn’t work the best for her seedlings. And I enjoy her wisdom in this phrase: “With some research and new-found knowledge, you plant and sow and usually your garden will grow.”

3. Her blogging partner, Christine, at The Gardening Blog has equally sage words: “Once you start gardening, you can’t stop.” A relatively new gardener, Christine already has learned her lessons well, and admits, “I don’t need perfection in the garden.” She’s also finds her garden an excellent place to heal in times of grief.

4. Dona and her team at La Terrazza share Zen moments similar to some I experienced this quarter. She reports finding inspiration while looking up into the canopy of a tall tree with the sun glancing off the leaves. Check out the fascinating capture and words of wisdom on her “Zen” post.

5. Donna at Gardens Eye View suggests we take our cameras with us wherever we go in autumn. I think I’ll have to follow that advice next year. You just never know when an amazing shot will present itself! She also invites us to follow her progress with her “Great Seed-Growing Experiment” this winter.

6. Indie at Red House Garden describes a funny experience with a vining plant. I’m sure you’ll chuckle when you read through her “Lessons Learned” post. She also shows how compost and soil amendment can make a big difference in plant health and vitality. But when shopping at the garden center it can be hard to select manure over beautiful plants.

7. Karen at Garden Adventures shares her appreciation of peace in the garden. She recently moved to a rustic property, and is thankful for autumn days with a meadow, a pond, established woodlands, and wildlife as a backdrop. Though her life is still hectic, she explains, it’s easier to relax in her new setting.

8. Amy at Get Busy Gardening reflects on lessons she actually learned and mistakes she didn’t repeat from last year’s end-of-season reflections. “Gardening is a constant learning experience,” she says. When we think we have control, nature often has other plans for us. Amy shares specific tips on what worked and didn’t work, and includes photos of her unique garden plots.

9. Rose at Prairie Rose’s Garden says she had good intentions for overwintering annuals and tender perennials, but time sabotaged her plans. She and “Mr. P” shared mowing adventures, and she had a strenuous workout planting spring bulbs—although it was well worth it. Check out her beautiful photo of snow-covered Fennel from last year.

10. Lyn at The Amateur Weeder admits that, though she’s an experienced gardener, she still makes mistakes “and probably always will.” But most of her “garden failures” aren’t accidental mistakes, but the result of bad habits she keeps repeating. (I know the feeling.) She closes her post with good advice for all of us.

11. Diana at Elephant’s Eye is hosting a “12 Days of Christmas” meme, which is an excellent transition into the early days of the next season. She describes how looking back a year in blogland “is a bit like remembering people you went to school with.” Head on over to Elephant’s Eye to read about how to join in her meme.

Thanks to all who participated in the “Lessons Learned” meme this quarter. If you have more lessons to share, please comment on this post or on Facebook.

Dear gardening friends, it has been such a pleasure to share lessons, laughs, and inspiration with you during the past year. I have much to be thankful for and much to look forward to—in large part because of you! Here in the Northern Hemisphere the days will be getting longer now. And the cyclical countdown to planting, weeding, and harvesting continues.

Merry Christmas!

(Full disclosure: The snowy scenes in this post lasted just one day. All our snow has melted, and it appears we won’t have a white Christmas for the first time in many years. I’d be sad, but it makes holiday activities so much easier.)

December 15, 2011

Plant of the month:
Cotoneaster horizontalis

A few weeks back, I stepped out of the house looking for something interesting to photograph and everything looked dull. No snow, no blooms, not much fall color left. I was about to step back in the warm house when I saw the frost on the Cotoneaster (a photo I included in an earlier post).

Cotoneaster horizontalis

After snapping a few shots, I made a mental note to photograph it more since it was so vibrant this autumn. But I was too late. The next time I set out to photograph plants, the Cotoneaster leaves were gone. It seems I captured it just before leaf drop—around the time of our first hard freeze.

The plant isn’t particularly beautiful now—although the arching branches are still architecturally fascinating. If you look closely, you can see the bright red berries. But they’d be much lovelier with a blanket of snow, like last year at this time.

Cotoneaster horizontalis, or Rockspray Cotoneaster, is native to Western China. It’s a low-growing (2-4 feet), sprawling shrub, although it’s easily managed and not particularly invasive. The USDA says it’s cold-hardy to -28° F, which makes sense since it has survived here for at least 12 years (the previous owners may have planted it when the house was new, which would make it 24 years old).

I’ve occasionally clipped a few branches for floral arrangements. If you catch them when they’re still green with berries, they form a colorful frame for autumn bouquets. Several sources mention Cotoneaster as a popular choice for Bonsai trees. I’ve never propagated a Bonsai, but I can see how it would be an ideal specimen. Several remarkable examples are featured on The Art of Bonsai’s website.

Layanee at Ledge and Gardens posted some awesome shots of the sun catching her Rockspray Cotoneaster.

One thing that amazes me about Cotoneaster is its chameleon qualities. It morphs through the seasons from a dull mound of branches with pretty berries in late fall, to its climax of color just before leaf drop. (Like Layanee, I don’t have any shots of Rockspray Cotoneaster in bloom. Drat!)

(Entries for the Garden Lessons Learned meme are always welcome! Click on the tab at the top or the Garden Lessons Learned link on the right side of this page. Theres a Mr. Linky link at the end of my "Lessons Learned" post. Ill be posting about the lessons learned at the solstice. Thanks to those whove joined in so far!)

December 10, 2011

What is a blogger?

I generally don’t mix my “day job” with my posts for this blog. I’m not sure why—maybe because the subject matter is entirely different. Not much crossover between financial institutions and plants.

But lately, the topics of appropriate blogging behavior and the niche bloggers fill in the dissemination of information have come up in both worlds.

By day, I’m on a team of seasoned editors who manage and produce content for an impressive (if I might say so) array of print and online publications. Not a whole lot of hard-hitting investigative journalism. But these very talented editors take journalistic ethics and the role of journalists very seriously.

This week, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that an independent blogger who writes several law-centric blogs and has been involved in a defamation case is not protected by the state’s shield law. To learn more about this case, visit this post on, or this article in Time Magazine, or this one posted through The Wall Street Journal. Similar cases in other states have had similar results.

Many of us, however, aren’t convinced that independent bloggers should give up or that their work should be universally dismissed as unprofessional. There have been columnists and editorial writers as long as there have been journalists—maybe longer. Some are trained writers and journalists, and some aren’t.

Bloggers have evolved to serve many of the same functions as early opinion and advice columnists. There’s a valid niche for blogging, along with tweeting, feature writing, investigative journalism, and other reporting methods.

Through this blog, I convey a much lighter message. But recent discussion among the garden blogging community has introduced similar questions about the ethics and role of garden bloggers, specifically. For background on this debate, check out Colleen Vanderlinden’s post about “Garden Blogging and Free Stuff.”

My personal takeaways from both of these discussions: 
  • It’s OK for me as a professional business writer and a part-time garden writer to blog, within the acceptable standards of my employer and the garden writing community. Those standards are evolving, and it’s my duty to abide by them.
  • Blogging, of any type, can be riskier (in some ways) than feature writing. Independent bloggers are finding they don’t share the same protections as employed journalists. (Should they?) But more than that, blogging involves sharing more personal information and often putting oneself “out there.” When writing an article for the company publication, the story is at the forefront. While this is sometimes true when blogging, most posts are written in the first person “I.” So the blogger is putting his or her opinions, personality, and thoughts at the forefront.
  • Bloggers have choices to make. Those of us who are independent call all the shots. We can accept advertising, sell our content, review products, and partner with other organizations…or not. We can share basic information and experiences, our deepest thoughts, and details about our personal lives…or not. If we choose to do these things, we accept the rewards and responsibilities of those choices.
There are many more takeaways from these discussions—some of which are still forming as the Internet and communication evolve. But my biggest personal goals are to be true to myself, to aim for the highest possible integrity, and to realize that most of my greatest lessons learned are better shared with others than hidden under a bushel.

December 06, 2011

Nearly wordless: shades of gray and a surprise

Wouldnt this make a great jigsaw puzzle?
Did you see the cats?

Tee hee.

(Entries for the Garden Lessons Learned meme are always welcome! Scroll down to my previous post, or click on the tab at the top or the Garden Lessons Learned link on the right side of this page. Theres a Mr. Linky link at the end of my last post. Ill be posting about the lessons learned after Dec. 22. Thanks to those whove joined in so far!)

November 30, 2011

Garden lessons learned: autumn 2011

What a glorious autumn we’ve had this year! Before the snow falls, I’m taking stock of garden lessons I’ve learned this season. I hope you’ll join in the meme sometime between now and December 22. This season, I learned:

1. Take a drive. Get out and explore a favorite section of roadway at the peak of fall color. Or travel where you’ve never been before. Several drives to visit our daughter at college got us out on the road. I need to make time for this every autumn, because the views are incredible!

2. Put down the camera. None of my shots out the window of the speeding car were acceptable. (Don’t worry, I wasn’t driving at the time.) So I paused and simply experienced the incredible scenery. Sometimes being forced to part with a camera can be a good thing. It helps you live in the moment and imagine great shots for later. It’s almost like it helps develop perspective and an eye for a good photo without actually taking the shot.

3. Pick up the camera. Take a lot of photos of fall color. This is the first year I’ve done this. I can’t answer why. I guess in the past I’ve mainly focused on documenting specific plants. This autumn I zoomed out a little more and captured a few colorful landscapes. But whether you zoom in or out, take advantage of the magical light and the incredible color autumn provides and put that camera to work!

4. Stay in one spot and observe. One exceptionally wonderful, mild fall day I sat on a lawn chair for about an hour and experimented with my new camera. It helped me to see things in a different way. While it was challenging to stay in one spot without moving around from plant to plant, it was a great exercise in observation and photo composition.

5. Take a walk. Autumn air is refreshing and easy to breathe. Enjoy the mild weather while you can, because before you know it walks will be less comfortable. And you’ll have to wear heavy boots, coats, mittens, and scarves. And your fingers will freeze as you try to snap just the right photo.

6. Look up and down. One day I looked up into the Oak trees, and I felt like I was in a cathedral. The sun was shining at just the right angle to make the leaves glow like stained glass. Another day I captured shots for Donna’s meme (Garden Walk, Garden Talk) about “texture” and “pattern.” Even things that seem mundane and ordinary are beautiful if you look closely.

7. Tidy up when you can. If you have a windless, clear, mild day in autumn, make it a priority to spend time in the garden. Raking, trimming, and planting don’t work as well on windy, wet days. Fortunately, we didn’t have many of these this autumn, but that may not be the case next year.

8. Appreciate each stage of autumn. One day in early October on my drive to work, the colors of the Maple, Beech, Ash, and Hickory nearly brought tears to my eyes. It was overwhelmingly breathtaking. When those trees started to lose their leaves, I was a little sad. But then the Oak, Burning Bush, and Sumacand later the Spirea and Hydrangeaput on brilliant displays. Each stage was stunning in its own way.

But the biggest lesson of all was to truly appreciate autumn. I think I’ve been in too much of a hurry in the past to really enjoy it. Autumn is stunning!

What garden lessons have you learned this season? Whether you’re in the Northern or Southern Hemisphere, please link a recent post about your advice, reflections, or ideas to the Garden Lessons Learned Mr. Linky meme below. I’ll post about your lessons near the solstice (Dec. 22). Enjoy the last days of the season!

November 26, 2011

Bud break before the deep freeze

Every year about this time I start worrying about my perennials and ornamental shrubs. Will they make it through the winter? The buds look like they’re about to break already!

Last year in late November, I posted about Star Magnolias in the neighborhood. They looked pregnant with new life and it was hard to believe they’d survive through the long, cold winter. Of course, they did survive and the blossoms were as spectacular as ever. (One of these days, I must plant Magnolias in my garden!)

Magnolia stellata

This year, some plants and shrubs are showing premature signs of new growth, and it has me worried more than usual. When I look back at my posts about Magnolias from last year, I see that the temperatures were cold enough that I was uncomfortable outside snapping photos. Nothing could be further from the truth this year. Our Thanksgiving and Black Friday were among the mildest on record, with highs approaching 60 degrees.

While I’m not complaining about the mild weather for my own comfort, I’m worried that some plants might have a huge shock when the cold weather hits. They’re probably just fine, but the change will be tough on people and plants alike.

The Scallions and Irises always look like this. Their new growth is evergreen, and they simply take a long nap under the snow.

Allium cepa

Iris germanica

Old growth on the Hollyhocks simply hasn't shriveled up yet.

Alcea rosea

The Daylilies seem to have a little more new growth at the base than usual. Should I be worried?

Hemerocallis fulva

My dear Hellebores seem way too far along for November! I repacked the Oak leaves around them. And learning from last year, I won’t remove the leaf mulch until April! The snow should provide a comfy blanket.

Helleborus orientalis

But the plant that really has me worried is the Hydrangea. This new leaf growth is a goner already. It sure is beautiful, though, in its premature bud break. Hopefully the rest of the shrub will make it through unscathed.

Hydrangea macrophylla

I can’t say these two sources comforted me much, but they do offer great information on plant cold-hardiness: