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Jump-Starting New Beginnings

It has been my great pleasure to write here for five years, finding the ways that everything comes together in the garden. From thoughts about finding peace and meditation in the landscape to actual planting and plant advice posting here has been great fun. Sometimes, however, it’s time to start new beds for planting and this is what I’m doing now at  www.CoffeeForRoses.com. There I’ll continue writing about gardens, plants, food, and how everything connects to everything…with, perhaps, a slightly broader (more caffeinated?) scope. I hope you’ll stop by these new gardens frequently.

The Best of Whole Life Gardening

Which would be, of course, you. The best of Whole Life Gardening is all the people who have followed this blog over the past few years. I am grateful to you beyond measure…and we’ve had fun, haven’t we?

Now I’m planting new gardens: a link to that new site will be posted here soon. Today, however, it’s my great pleasure to tell you that I’ve compiled some of the best posts from Whole Life Gardening into a new iBook called From Landscape to Life. It will soon be available on iTunes.

Still growing,

New Life For Overgrown Dish Gardens

Most people receive a dish garden as a gift. They are lovely when they arrive, because they’re usually made of three or more houseplants with contrasting foliage colors and textures. Most are in a low dish or basket, and are dressed up with moss to hid the soil. Dish gardens aren’t intended to be long-term plantings, however. Having so many plants crammed into a shallow bowl doesn’t leave much room for the roots. If you have a dish garden that you’ve enjoyed for awhile, you might be wondering how to care for it long term.

Think of dish gardens as a college apartment where several students are crammed into a small space to save money on the rent: being so crowded is doable for awhile, but it’s not a situation that can go on forever. Eventually, in the interest of future growth, everyone must move on. So it is with the plants in dish gardens…after a few months, it’s time for each of them to move up to private housing.

Start by removing the moss that decorated the top. This isn’t necessary, and in fact it frequently prevents people from accurately judging if the plant is too wet or too dry, so begin by tossing it in the compost. Next, tip all the plants out of the container and one by one, separate each from the roommates. You can do this most easily, and with the least damage to the plants, by holding on to the base of the plant and pulling the roots away from the others.

Pot each plant on its own in a new pot. Fill the entire pot with soil – no rocks or broken pot pieces in the bottom. Don’t cover the drainage hole, not even with a paper towel. Just new, moistened potting soil and the plant. Be sure to leave about an inch of space between the top of the pot and the top of the soil so that you can water it easily without the water running all over the place. (If the plant is too big to allow such a space, find a taller pot.) Water the plants well and let the excess water drain out of the hole, pouring out any that collects in the saucer underneath.

Let your plants recover for two or three weeks before you start fertilizing. Once they start to grow again you can begin to feed them according to the directions on the package of fertilizer you’ve chosen.

A new life for old dish garden plants? You Can Grow That!

Here are the plants pulled apart from each other. I think that they are already rejoicing that new digs are at hand!


A New Book for the New Year

I’m pleased to announce that Coffee For Roses is now available for pre-orders on Amazon.  It’s been such fun to write!

Winter Flowers

We love poinsettias at this time of year but a lesser known cool-weather plant is the hybrid Anemone. When my husband and I lived in New York’s mid-Hudson Valley, and he traveled up and down the Taconic Parkway frequently, he would stop at Battenfelds to pick up these beautiful flowers in the winter. For us, they are now a holiday tradition.

The colors are wonderful and the flowers continue to develop and grow much like tulips do even after they are picked. These are stunning cut flowers.

New Developments

Have you ever looked into the processes required to make olives edible? Fresh picked olives from the trees aren’t tasty. They are too bitter to eat as is. They contain the chemical compound Oleuropein, which is considered to have medicinal value because it’s an antibiotic, anti-fungal, antioxidant and anti-viral substance. It just tastes terrible.

In order for olives to be edible some of this Oleuropein needs to be removed, and this can be done with water, brine, or lye. Since lye is the fastest, that’s what is most commonly used. If you want to process your own olives, you can get a free pdf of instructions here.

No, I haven’t found a way to grow olives here at Poison Ivy Acres. But they came to mind as I searched for a way to let readers of this blog know why I have slacked off from posting recently. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in writing or in sharing my passion for plants, gardens, and how these connect with everything else. Far from it.

I’m working on bringing another website into cultivation. At the same time I’ve been finishing my latest book, Coffee for Roses, which will be available from St. Lynn’s Press in May. It’s exciting to be planning new gardens (virtual) and perfecting the latest book. But it’s time consuming work that is currently taking all of my focus.

Some of the things we value in life aren’t straightforward. They require attention to development, discovery, and detail. I think that the time I’m taking now will result in projects and products as delicious as olives, and I hope you agree.

To be kept in the loop about the book and my new venture, Like my Garden Lady page on Facebook or sign up for my mailing list by clicking on the purple watering can in the upper left of this page. I’ll keep in touch.

New crops are in the works...they just aren't immediately edible.

A Low Evergreen? You Can Grow That!

Many of my consultation clients want foundation or garden plants that don’t require constant pruning. They are tired of fighting a losing battle with plants that want to grow tall. For many of these customers I recommend Pinus strobus ‘Minuta.’ The Minuta white pine is a dwarf evergreen that has bluish green needles and only grows to about two feet tall.

Dwarf conifers have a habit of being very small and tidy in their youth and a bit more exuberant in adolescence. Parents of teenagers can relate. So although some photos of the Minuta pine show it as a tiny, round ball, know that in a few years it will grow a bit more loosely. My Minuta is ten years old and it’s just over two feet tall and four feet wide. My guess is that it will continue to grow wider.

Great texture, wonderful color, and hardy in zones 3 to 7, this short shrub is perfect for areas where you want a carefree plant that looks stylish twelve months a year. Grow this plant in sun or part-shade…I’ve grown it well in a yard that only had three hours of mid-day sun, and now I have this plant where it receives four to five hours of mid to late afternoon sunshine. In both locations it has thrived.

Every home landscaper should strive for a yard and garden where they are not fighting the size their plants want to be. Since pruning usually stimulates growth, trimming shrubs is a make-work project for the homeowner. Less work for the gardener? You Can Grow That!

Here is my Minuta pine on a frosty December morning. I love this plant!

Things That Grow Too Well

There are times when something we’ve planted grows well…and then keeps on growing. And growing, and growing. Every season such plants take over more territory, crowd out neighboring selections, and generally behave like assertive thugs.

Some gardeners love such plants. They enjoy the spreading and gladly dig and share the excess with friends and neighbors. Others are dismayed to see their gardens becoming overrun with one type of plant. They periodically scramble to pull or contain the over-achiever, sometimes successfully, and other times less effectively.  Unfortunately people are often hesitant to throw the edited plants away. I frequently visit properties where these clumps of vigorous growers have been planted all over the yard, resulting in landscapes where black-eyed Susans, ribbon grass, or Siberian iris now dominate in all areas.

Not that any of the aforementioned plants are necessarily bad selections. It’s just that we, as gardeners, need to acknowledge how quickly they grow and be willing to divide and remove them when necessary.

It’s not just the plant world where sometimes things grow too well. Perhaps you’ve found yourself overwhelmed with assorted commitments that are basically good things…yet somehow it’s all gotten out of hand.

There are times for casting a hard eye on what’s growing a bit too quickly, and applying an appreciative but firm controlling hand. Some garden tips about controlling plants can be found in Share The Wealth, below. When it comes to work, volunteer activities, family, and the holidays…well, all I can say is learn from your gardens and may The Force be with you.

Consider the ribbon grass, how it grows. It toils not....but I digress. Phalaris arundinacea, ribbon grass, looks great in the pot in the garden center. Later you'll discover that it wants to control the world, and it doesn't even care if it's well dressed during its rampage. Ribbon grass looks ratty from about the mid-August on, and it doesn't play well with others. Grow it in a pot, or not at all.

Sharing The Wealth

Dealing With Aggressive Plants

  • Here’s the rule I use: if a plant more than doubles its size from one season to the next, that’s an invasive plant and it has to go. Proceed to the burn pile, do not pass Go (or the compost pile) and do not collect $200. (Such plants want a Monopoly, hence the association in my mind.) Yes, I may want a fast-spreading ground cover, but there’s a limit!
  • If you’re willing to edit out an overachiever plant on an annual basis, and don’t mind throwing the excess away, by all means keep that selection in your garden. Be honest about your time and energy, however.
  • Grow them in containers! If you especially love one of the classic garden thugs, raise it in a pot. A word to the wise, however: such plants can often be seen growing out the bottom drainage holes. Use saucers so that they don’t root in the soil. Forewarned is forearmed.
  • If someone wants to give you a plant from their garden it just might be a fast-spreader. Ask yourself this: do I really want something that I too will need to edit and control in three or four years?

Fall Clean Up

A Gardening Life – November 17

At this time of year I often get the following comments and questions: “Can I cut my perennials all the way down in the fall?” “Do I have to clear out the flower garden before winter?” and “Have you finished putting your garden to bed?”

These were running through my mind as I took advantage of a late autumn gift day yesterday.  Although I’d planned to be writing most of the afternoon, I had to take advantage of the beautiful weather and spend time clearing out my flower gardens. The truth is, there isn’t just one answer to those questions. There are reasons to clean out a garden now, or “put it to bed” as many say, and equally valid arguments for not clearing things out. Pros and cons for both methods are listed below the photograph in “Sharing the Wealth.”

Yes, you can cut your herbaceous perennials down down now. “Herbaceous perennials” means the ones that will die back to the ground in the winter anyway. This doesn’t include woody plants such as lavender, or those that are evergreen and spring-flowering such as creeping phlox or candytuft. I cut the remaining perennials in my garden down yesterday. As I worked I was thinking about the person who asked if I was done putting my garden to bed, and what went through my mind was that one of the freeing things about gardening is realizing that there are few rules. A garden teaches us to never say never…often things survive against all odds.

There are a few annual Nicotiana leaves left in this garden that wraps around my deck, and some daylily and spiderwort foliage. But most of the annuals have been pulled out or cut down, and the perennials cut down to two inch stubs.

Sharing The Wealth

Reasons to Clear Your Gardens in the Fall and Reasons to Wait Until Spring.

Clear spent annuals and cut down perennials because:

  • When these are left in the garden they trap leaves. The leaf-litter forms places where voles and other small critters can live and eat perennial crowns and roots. Since the voles, chipmunks etc are protected they can easily hide from predators.
  • By taking away the seeds you prevent a great deal of seedlings from germinating in the garden. This will mean less weeding next season.
  • Clearing out a garden in the fall means there is less for you to do in the spring when you’ll be excited about planting.
  • In areas where spring weather tends to be damp it’s good to have much of the garden work done in the fall so you’re not walking on and working with wet soil. Being on and digging in wet soil tends to compact the ground.
  • Clearing out old perennial foliage in the fall gets rid of plants that may have had diseases. Bee balm or summer phlox that has mildew, for example, can be removed and put in the brush pile so that there are fewer spores to infect plants in the future.
  • Leave spent annuals and perennials in the garden until spring because:

  • When these are left in the garden they trap leaves. This leaf-litter protects tender plants so that those that are marginally-hardy are better able to survive the winter. It also provides protection for wildlife and places where butterfly larvae over winter.
  • By leaving the seeds you provide food for birds and other wildlife.
  • Even if you clear out the garden now there will be more cleanup in the spring, right? In the spring there will be more leaves that blow in, winter weeds to pull, and assorted clearing. By waiting you will be doing it all once.
  • As my friend Stephanie Foster once told me, “Snow needs something to fall on.”
  • Leaving the plants to sit over the winter is how Nature gardens. If you don’t want to put a garden to bed, or if it’s not convenient right now, let it stay up all night. A garden teaches us to never say never.

    "I've heard that there are often cocktails served on this deck..."

  • The Permission Tree

    We had a first snowfall today so as soon as I got home I went out with my camera. I posted a picture of the persimmon tree to my facebook page, saying that this tree and I aren’t quite ready for deep winter. One of my friends commented that she’d initially misread my comment as a “permission tree.” Linda’s misreading could actually be a fantastic idea.

    You may have heard of a Wishing Tree. Last June I took photos of the Wishing Tree at the Berkshire Botanical Garden. Many gardens include this tradition and there are many artists who have used this theme in indoor and outdoor installations. A Wishing Tree is similar to a prayer basket, only the keeper of the prayers is alive, growing, and reaching toward the sky.

    What would a Permission Tree be? I’m imagining a plant, probably an older specimen, where people would go to listen to a greater wisdom. This tree would whisper to people’s hearts as well as in their ears. “Yes. Go for it! Even if what you’re planning doesn’t succeed, it’s a good idea and worth putting time and energy toward this goal,” the tree would say to some. Others might hear different advice. “Are you sure you want to do this?” or “Let some time go by, so all of this emotion dissipates a bit. Then come back and we’ll talk.”

    There will be times, of course, when this wise tree won’t hold back. “OMG, what are you thinking?” and “For goodness sake, I plead with you, don’t press send!”

    I need this tree. You?

    Here is my persimmon tree, ornamented with her fruit and a new snowfall. She is a bit young to be a Permission Tree, but after today I will think of her as that. Hopefully she's smarter than I am.