Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Snowstorm Casualties

I won't be seeing these beauties any time soon. I was fooled by 3 straight weeks of lovely, warm weather- downright hot some days! Mother Nature seems to have a thing about Memorial Day. It's as if she knows most everyone wants to go camping. (So, it rains all weekend and then it's gorgeous on Tuesday.)

A hard frost took it's toll and my tomato plants are no more. True confessions: I hated vegetables until I had the good fortune of visiting France in the summer- where I discovered what vegetables are supposed to taste like. Mmmmm.... fresh-picked, vine-ripened, organic veggies. Not that tasteless stuff the grocery stores pass off as produce.

Since then, I've made many feeble attempts at growing my own - not easy at high elevations. These latest casualities were pink heirlooms I had started in a sunny window months ago. I guess it's back to the Farmer's Market for me....

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Memorial Day Snow

I generally know before I open the blinds. It's the silence that wakes me early.

A soft, blanket of snow muffled familiar sounds. The dog peered out at this unwelcome winter wonderland, and promptly went back to bed. Perhaps I should, too. Even the birds are quiet on such a dark, cold morning.

Safe planting date (at an elevation of 7,500 feet) is June 15th but I couldn't stand it a moment longer. Into the ground went 3 dozen tiny seedlings, now crushed under a heavy layer of wet snow.

I hardened them off, with a month of cold nights out on the deck. Will that be enough?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Good with the Bad

Suffice to say I'm having a bad year. In fact, I don't think I've ever had a year as bad as this one. Between relationship, career, money and health problems there have been many days I've wanted to stay in bed. And, just when I thought things were starting to turn around, I got the call that my Mother had a stroke. Nothing can prepare you for the day when a medical professional asks you to sign a 'do not resuscitate' order on your Mom.

So, what's this have to do with gardening? Plenty. Gardening is an active form of meditation. It's the one thing where I can actually 'lose myself' in the work. We all need a place to pray in and play in. I escape to the solitude of my garden, for time to think and now and then a quiet place to cry.

I'm happy to report we didn't sign that DNR. And, she's doing okay. She doesn't know what planet she's on. But, she's smiling. And, that's good enough for me.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Life-Giving Rain

My yard is 1/2 civilized and 1/2 sage brush. (It used to be all sage brush, so I feel like I'm making progress!) I'm overwhelmed by the size of this half-acre property, so I've parcelled it into small sections, creating new garden beds, each year.

In the meantime, the wild side is left to do whatever comes naturally. At least, that was the plan. Then I fell in love with these dainty, little wildflowers - Meadow Phlox. They speckle the backyard, putting on a pretty show after a spring rain.

Mountain wildflowers have evolved to handle adverse conditions, such as poor soil and long periods of drought. Regular watering, or fertilizer, can often spell the end to them. Here's what works: once a month I drench them - in the same way a hard rain hits this high plains desert, bringing everything back to life. (I suppose that's cheating. But, I figure... what they don't know, can't hurt 'em.)

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Wiser About Water

I've had water on the brain for the last 18 days. As of yesterday, I'm realizing there is much I don't know when it comes to water. My rental property has an in-ground sprinkler system that is generally turned on by May Day. This year, I forgot to make a call. Now the lawn folks are so backed up they doubt sprinklers will be turned on before June. I've lost sleep over this, certain flowers will be stunted and the lawn will turn brown during this very dry spring. Armed with hoses, I headed to the property, hoping to salvage whatever was left. To my surprise, tulips are in full bloom, summer perennials are bushing out, the lawn is lush and green. Had the sprinklers been turned on, as they have in previous years, this yard would have received 11,000 gallons* of water during the month of May. Yet, it's doing fine without an extra drop.

Why is this yard doing so well?

  • Perhaps because I let the grass grow. At a height of 4 inches, it's shading it's own roots, keeping soil moist. The grass is tall enough to battle dandelions on it's own.
  • I left fall leaves in the garden beds. Decomposing leaves have created a 'blanket' that retained the moisture from melting snows.
  • Finally, this is a mature garden. Perhaps these flowers have developed a deep enough root system to fend for themselves during dry springs.
Whatever the case, water is a precious resource and this is a lesson worth learning. I intend to cut back on my watering schedule. Maybe you can, too.

*11,000 gallons of water per month may sound like a lot but it's actually a very conservative number. The city has placed a sign in this yard commending me for 'wise-water practice.'

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

True Blue

Timing perennial gardens for a colorful show, all summer long, is my greatest challenge. I've discovered that Johnson's Blue Geranium makes me look like a pro. This is one of the hardest working plants in my garden. Bursting with beautiful, sky-blue flowers in May and flowering, non-stop, through into September. Balance out your garden beds with a few workhorses, such as this hardy, blue Cranesbill Geranium. They'll provide consistent, dramatic color when shorter-blooming perennials begin to fade.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Past efforts to bring wildlife into my yard have been hit or miss. Then a butterfly landed on my arm, while planting Purple Prairie Clover, and I figured I was onto something.

They seem particularly fond of Goldenrod, Lavender, Salvias and Sedum, though I think it is the accidental water source that keeps them hanging around.

I use rocks in the gardens to create micro-climates. Flat rocks with slight indentations pool with water, making an ideal drinking fountain for little butterflies. (No deeper than an 1/8th of an inch or they'll drown.)

Hummingbird nectar, bird feeders and bird houses will encourage lots of activity in your backyard.

Be patient. It takes time for wild birds to discover what you offer. My yard has finally passed inspection - the Mountain Bluebird has come to call. He's a tough sell. I tried every kind of food the wild bird store sold before I figured out that this little gentleman has a sophisticated palate. He's passed up nuts, berries and seeds but can't resist the flavor of a moldy, English muffin.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Public Enemy #1

Chances are, you've seen this plant along highways and in meadows. Canadian Thistle could be the most highly evolved weed you've ever met. It grows to a height of 4 or 5 feet in a single season. It's leaves are covered with sharp spikes that cut through the toughest garden gloves, making it nearly impossible to remove. Each flower head holds up to a million tiny seeds carried on the wind. These seeds can lie dormant for as long as 40 years, waiting to sprout!

Canadian Thistle is an invasive species that migrated here from SE Asia. It has spread across the entire US, killing native wildflowers wherever it grows. Chemical sprays will kill the Canadian Thistle but that doesn't really solve the problem. Our best defense is to remove the flower heads before they go to seed.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Waging War on Weeds

Here's a handy trick to keep weeds in check. Spread a layer of newspaper, 5 or 6 pages thick, on the soil, around your perennial plants. Cover with mulch. The newspaper will absorb water and keep the soil moist as it slowly decomposes. This works great for big, spreading perennials because damp newspaper is pliable, allowing the root ball to expand. Plastic weed barriers aren't so forgiving and tend to stunt a big plant's growth. Pulling weeds is a never-ending battle. Try blocking out the sun so dormant weed seeds can't sprout.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Signs of Spring

Laden with colorful blooms in early May, flowering trees may seem delicate, though I've discovered they're a lot tougher than they look.

Cherry trees, Crab Apples, Ornamental Pears.. all of these lovely trees blossom weeks before tulips unfold.

At an altitude of 7,000 feet we're told that aspens and evergreens are all that will thrive. What's it they say? No guts, no glory.

Grow an impossible garden. Take a risk, now and then. You'll be amazed at the things that will bloom.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Garden Helper

Everyone is passionate about cats - either they love them or they hate them. (Who couldn't love this little guy?) Pete was rescued from the local shelter and promptly became my self-appointed garden helper. Most days you'll find him perched in a tree, keeping a watchful eye on my work in the garden.

If you have outdoor cats, try planting cat mint. They can't get enough of these fragrant purple flowers. Six Hills Giant Cat Mint is one of the best. It blooms most of the summer, needs very little water, grows big and strong without soil amendments. At 24 inches high, it's also a great little hiding place for an afternoon cat nap.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Wasatch Wildflowers

Planting season comes late up here in the mountains. While I'm waiting for my own garden to bloom, I stroll the trails behind my home. These little blue flowers are a welcome sign of spring. I live in an area that is suddenly overrun with tourists. Please don't pick wildflowers. It's hard to resist but the future of our meadows depend upon it. When so many people tromp off the designated trails, they ruin everything in site. Help these little guys along. Instead of picking them, empty your water bottle on them. During dry springs, extra watering makes all the difference. One ultra healthy wild plant can reseed an entire meadow.

Monday, May 01, 2006

High Altitude Gardening

High in the Wasatch Mountains, gardening is a bit of a challenge. Perhaps that's why it's so rewarding. It's May Day and the sun is shining, though I am bundled up in a sweater, waiting for the last of the snow to melt and my daffodils to begin to bloom.

Truth be told I liked this house for one reason and one reason only: a sunny bay window that let's me grow a flower garden in the midst of ski season.

I may spend my days on the slopes but my evenings are spent enjoying the fragrant scent of Hawaiian Plumeria.

You can survive long winters, too, with or without a sunny window. Pick up these happy bloomers at your local supermarket. Enjoy flowers all winter long with the help of an inexpensive grow light.