Wednesday, May 30, 2007


After a welcome week of warm weather, the honeys are in bloom. As kids, we'd pick the petals and taste the sweet nectar from these big, climbing vines.

Bush Honeysuckles make ideal screens and hedges, giving privacy around our homes.

Vine Honeysuckles climb trellises, porches and arbors. Most bloom all summer ~ a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies.

Climbing Vine: Lonicera brownii Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle, USDA zones 4-8, is a prolific bloomer from June through October.

Flowering Shrub: Lonicera tatarica Pink Tatarian Honeysuckle, USDA zones 3-8, is a native of Southern Russia and Turkistan. After a short-lived burst of fuschia flowers sturdy branches provide a colorful windbreak for tender perennials.

Put a little happiness in your garden. Butterflies, hummingbirds and rambunctious little kids will thank you.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tirade! Salsa! Or, the Blonde Donnellys

Pineapple Summer Salsa
  • 1 cup pineapple, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup mango, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup yellow and red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2/3 cup kiwi fruit, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon serrano chili with seeds, minced
  • Ground white pepper to taste
Traditional Salsa ingredients are ideal for container gardening at high altitudes.

Grow a Salsa Garden.

I hardly ever lose my temper. And, that's a problem. Because once people figure that out they get busy taking advantage of my good nature.

A bigger problem, though, is the fact that when I do lose my temper it's kinda like Mt. Vesuvias. People are running for cover, fearing for their lives. Suddenly it's apparent that I'm completely and totally 100% Irish. Mt. Vesuvius erupted today and now I'm sitting here feeling all guilty for throwing a fit.

I've had a major neighbor problem lately and I know why. It's all based on that irrational monster, prejudice, raising it's ugly head again.

You see, I rent the lower half of my house to the nicest family I've ever met. They are kind and considerate and have never ever been late on rent. I planted strawberries for the little girl and giant pumpkins for the little boy.

This great family is from Mexico. And, Mexicans are to the US what the Irish were 200 years ago. (Not welcome.) People on both sides of me are ballistic over this (very legal) family because I live in a neighborhood filled to overflowing with people who are rich and white and... well... a pain in the ass. So, there, I said it.

Now, the interesting thing about a truly impressive hissy fit is how very nice people are to you after the fact. I've been getting lots of apologies from my neighbors and that's because I finally pointed out the bleeding obvious.

I wish things didn't have to come to this. But, sometimes they do. And so, I'll go through my Catholic guilt phase for a little while. And, my neighbors will be extra cautious, kind and polite (for fear I'll go off again.) And, then life will go back to normal. At least, from their perspective. Though I, unfortunately, will always be slightly disappointed in each and every one of them.

* The Black Donnellys could very well be the best series ever produced for commercial TV. So, of course, it was cancelled.

** Salsa is the best-selling condiment in America, high in fiber, low in fat, full of flavor. It's almost as popular as Irish ale, scorned centuries ago.

*** My Irish family was refused entrance to the US. So, we emigrated to Canada and then... (Oh, My God!) we sneaked over the border. That was 7 generations ago. We caused you no harm.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Cowgirls & The Gardening Blues

What to do when garden chores are getting you down:
Step One: Invest in a snazzy new pair of boots.

Step Two: Buddy up to neighbors, bored with their horses.

What's this have to do with gardening?

There's more than one way to mow a lawn.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Fragrant Lilacs in High Altitudes

It's been a busy time for visitors. The last pair departed Thursday, the next person arrived Friday afternoon. Some house guests, like some plants, are high maintenance. Others, not so much. This one rises early without making a sound (and washes the dishes, too!)

This morning, I'm enjoying the intoxicating fragrance of lilac blossoms in full bloom. No cottage garden is complete without them.

Lilacs are misunderstood. They're long-lived and low maintenance ~ getting along fine without extra watering and fertilizer.

I used to be afraid to snip the blooms. Then I discovered that lilacs don't know when to stop caring for their own flowers. The bushes send energy and nutrients to flower stems all summer long.

Do yourself, and the bush, a favor. Picking the flowers re-energizes the lilacs. You'll get lots more flowers next spring.

If you've ever woken up to the fragrance of fresh lilacs on your nightstand, you know that a vase filled with these spectacular blooms can re-energize you, too.

Mountain Lilacs

Popular to 8,000 feet altitude
  • Syringa x persica 'Persian' Lilac
Popular to 9,000 feet altitude
  • Syringa x prestoniae 'Donald Wyman' Lilac
  • Syringa patula 'Miss Kim' Lilac
Popular to 10,000 feet altitude
  • Syringa x chinensis 'Chinese' Lilac
  • Syringa vulgaris 'Common Purple' Lilac
  • Syringa vulgaris alba 'Common White' Lilac
  • S x prestoniae 'James MacFarlane' Lilac
  • Syringa meyeri 'Korean Dwarf' Lilac
  • Syringa x prestoniae 'Royalty' Lilac
Popular to 12,000 feet altitude
  • Skiing and snowboarding on the 4th of July
* When properly selected, lilacs regularly outlive the person who plants them.

* For most flowering shrubs and trees: when in doubt, wait to prune until after you've enjoyed the flowers.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Raised Beds

When I was younger, and went home to visit the folks, my Dad always asked for the keys to my car.* Then he'd disappear for the better part of an afternoon. I honestly thought he was just bombing around town in it ~ because it was cute and sporty and far more fun than the tank he drove.

A year, or so, after he passed away that cute little car's engine caught on fire. It was then I discovered he wasn't goofing around. He was changing the oil and doing all kinds of necessary maintenance.

I'll never know why he kept that secret. Perhaps he thought this was so bleeding obvious that I'd 'know' without him telling me. Instead, I learned my lesson the hard way.

Which brings me to my plight with the handyman.

I had $100 burning a hole in my pocket so I asked him to build me a raised bed for some tomato plants. We never talked budget - how hard could it be? 3 days later my raised bed is complete. First of all, it's ugly. Second, it's 5 times more than what I thought it should cost.

The most frustrating part is that it's all my fault. Just like the exploding car. Because it never occurs to me to ask questions until it's way too late.

When people connect, things happen.
When people can't communicate, life is hard.

PS: Since I'm a glutton for punishment, I did the math. Assuming good tomato plant harvests in my over-priced bed, my return on investment will pay out in about 17 years.

This is what I was hoping to see. One upped, once again, by Wunx:

* Upper photo is not my car. I shot this years ago and keep it on my desktop because it makes me smile. It's the cutest car I've ever seen.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Drought-Tolerant Basket of Gold

Alyssum: Basket of Gold
with late-blooming Tulips

Weather-wise, it's been a particularly confusing month in the mountains. It was 90 degrees last week, 25 degrees last night. Even some of my 'tough' perennials were drooping their heads, this morning, wondering what will be thrown at them next. Alyssum seems to thrive on the abuse and for that, I'm grateful. Because yellow is such an uplifting color when the weather refuses to cooperate. Plant Alyssum Basket of Gold in a sunny, dry spot where it can crawl over rocks or cascade down the side of a raised bed. Tiny masses of yellow flowers pair perfectly with late-blooming tulips.

* Aurina saxatilis, Alyssum Basket of Gold flowers 3-4 weeks in spring.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sprinkler Envy

Mine is not so much a 'keeping up with the Jonses' dilemma as it is trying to keep pace with every Tom, Dick and Harry who've moved into the neighborhood.
It's official.
I'm the only person in the 'hood
who hasn't installed an in-ground sprinkler system.

I'm green with envy at the freedom an automated watering system provides. While my neighbors are out riding their bikes, I'm schlepping hoses all over the yard. So, why haven't I conformed? The answer lies somewhere on that continuum between 'Can't Afford It' and 'Really Can't Afford It.'

The installation is about $3,000 - that's $3,000 more than I have. Plus my neighbor divulged the cost of his monthly water bill. Are you ready for this? It's $600 a month! (Mine peaks at about $90 in August.) Granted he's got a gorgeous yard, but think of the clothes you could buy with that monthly budget!

* I still want an automated sprinkler system but I wonder if we could set them to be less automated? Time them to sprinkle every 5 days vs. 2 and hit the manual override button when it's really and truly necessary.

High Plains Desert Watering - Fun Facts to Know & Tell

Q: What's the best time to water your lawn?
A: One hour after you watered the last time.

Sound crazy? Water sticks to water. Desert soil is hard-packed and baked by the sun. Most of the initial rainfall runs off the hard pack, much like it runs off pavement. (Hence the flash flooding that often occurs in Utah.) Once the soil becomes damp it acts like a sponge, soaking up the rain and holding it in the soil for many days.

Plants and lawns are 'trainable.' Heavy watering, less often, encourages deep root growth so paupers like me - who can't afford an irrigation system - don't have to water so often.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Pretty Persuasive Petunias

Buying a house is scary business, especially for someone like me who absolutely hates being 'the decider.' But, when I first saw the house I would ultimately buy, the yard was overflowing with hot pink and purple flowers. In my mind it was perfect in every way.

I didn't have a panic attack until the day of the closing. I kept driving around the block unable to get up the nerve to go through with it. My real estate agent was looking out the window watching my drive bys. After about 20 minutes, he marched out into the parking lot, flagged me down and said, "Grow up. This is a done deal. Now get in there and sign your life away." So, I did.

And, that's when the trouble began.

Because, after the closing, we walked through the house again and it was missing a bedroom! I was so excited about that blooming extravaganza outside that I didn't notice it was missing a crucial bit of square footage inside.

To make matters worse, those lovely flowers (at least 300 of them) were Petunias that croaked with the first hard frost.

It's this embarassing moment that inspired me to be a savvy mountain gardener. It's how I learned that perennials are not only your best defense against Mother Nature's abusive tendencies. It's also the only way to keep a big garden blooming and still afford to pay the mortgage. (Or, finance the construction project for another bedroom, as the case may be.)

* Hold your horses: May is downright hot up in here in the mountains... inspiring you to plant tender annuals, veggie seedlings and all sorts of things you shouldn't. Then Memorial Day comes. This is Mother Nature's most favorite weekend to exact revenge on all who've jumped the gun. Plant tender annuals on June 1st.

PS: You, too, can be in control of the weather! Simply plan a Memorial Day camping trip and watch how fast it snows!

* Annuals are plants that flower for a single season and then die. Perennials die back in the winter and rebloom year after year.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Guys & Dolls

One of the most confounding aspects of living in Utah is that the people out here think I'm sooo smart. In fact, I've been told many times I'm intimidating because - get this - I have a job and a college education.

I was reminded of this oddity just last night when my 2 favorite yahoos, Dan & Billy, called me from Costa Rica.

They were drinking beers and reminiscing about the Top 10 Stupidest Things Kate Has Ever Said. (That would be me.)

As they're quick to point out, they suffered through the Trivial Pursuit years with me. Since then, they've continually updated this infamous list.

Now they could call me pretty much any time, and save a fortune on the phone bill because they both live in the States. But, their dues are paid in full to that club I call the Mysterious Ways of Men, (meaning they'll call you when they're damn good and ready and not a minute before.)

Like dogs running in a pack, D and B tend to do everything together. They got married at the same time. (Their wives kicked them out at about the same time.) And, this year they've both purchased houses close enough together that they can compete on all sorts of things, including the landscaping. Well, not exactly the landscaping. The women they hope to attract by planting flowers and pretending they're 'sensitive guys.'

I've been 'hired' to draw up plans for their backyards. (If I'm lucky, I'll get a beer and a slice of pizza.)

Since both of them are huge fans of the dumbest game ever invented, I'm filling their gardens with colors that will keep them smiling during the off season, though they probably won't know why.

Dan gets purple and yellow, in honor of his beloved Vikings. Billy gets blue and orange for those slackers, the Denver Broncos.

If you've got a blank canvas of a yard, make your first stop at the local paint store. Stand in front of that wall of paint chips and favorite colors will quickly jump out at you. Once you've discovered your top 2 or 3 colors you'll have a smart game plan for the local nursery.

PS: Single and looking for trouble? Drop me a line and I'll send you pictures. I'd like to marry these guys off before they kill everything that I've planted.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Flowers for Your Hair

"Look at them...

Look at them!

How can they do their job if you don't look at them!?"

I would hear this from my neighbor, Mrs. Lampe, when I walked past her on the way home from school.

Her front yard put 'The Secret Garden' to shame, though people rarely stopped to admire the show.

Gardeners are in tune with the simple beauty that surrounds them, but that's not how it is for most people. We can get so wrapped up in our own little problems, we barely notice what's happening in the world around us.

Flowering Almonds are hard to find but worth the effort. In early spring their branches are laden with pretty, pale-pink double blooms.

Plant a row of these and you'll get to meet every little girl in the neighborhood. They'll sneak into your yard, steal the flowers and weave wreaths to wear in their hair.

After a gorgeous spring show, the bushes leaf out, creating a nice privacy hedge for small yards.

* Prunus glandulosa 'Rosea Plena' - Zone 4, hardy flowering shrub, prefers well-drained soil. Available from Spring Hill Nursery and other online garden shops.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Q & A

Just because I don't write back doesn't mean I'm rude. I'm a wallflower at heart, plus Mom told me never to talk to strangers. A sleepless night = a deep desire to bond with my virtual gardening friends. Here's a brave attempt at responding to your questions:*

How To Start a Garden at High Altitude
- Buy a pair of gardening gloves and go nuts! A bit of peat moss helps dry soil conditions. Put your blinders on Memorial Day. Mother Nature just loves to hand us a final deep freeze when we're all out there camping for the long weekend.

Barnsley Babies Lavetera
- These lovely Tree Mallows do very well in High Altitude Gardens, thriving in our dry, low-nutrient soil.

High Altitude Lilac Bushes
- Lilacs love life in the mountains. That's because they are typically over-watered and over-fertilized in normal garden environments. Prune them after they bloom. These big, pretty bushes start working on next year's buds a month after they produce this year's fragrant flowers.

Planting Trees in High Altitudes
- Dig a hole 3 feet wider than your tree. This provides loose soil for roots to easily spread. Hold off on the fertilizer for a couple of years. Young trees are working hard, we just can't see that since most of the action is underground.

High Altitude Deciduous Trees
- Planting deciduous trees in your High Altitude Garden does more than beautify the neighborhood. Decomposing leaves adds vital nutrients to our poor, native soils. Visit Arbor Day and discover a world of tree options beyond the standard Blue Spruce. (Sort by drought tolerance.)

Dry Condition High Altitude Grass Seed
- Jim, please. I agree that Kentucky Bluegrass is lush and lovely. That's why it does so well in Kentucky, where it rains all the time. In the desert Southwest, the cost of a beautiful lawn comes from maintenance, not installation. Water bills are high because we're running out of water. Dwarf Fescue is an equally lush turf grass - drought tolerant, slow growing. We've got better things to do than mow the lawn every weekend. You can also kiss ChemLawn good-bye. Dwarf Fescue requires little to no fertilizer.

Utah Mushroom Hunting
- It might surprise you to discover that Utah has some of the best mushroom hunting in the world. Just don't eat them unless you're really, truly sure they're not the poisonous kind. Grab your trowel and head to the High Uintas. For more on 'shrooms, click here. (And, no, I don't know which ones get you higher than a kite.)

Park City, Utah Hardiness Zone
- According to the USDA we're zone 5. According to the Arbor Day organization, we're zone 6. That's because the USDA hasn't updated their growing zones in 16 years. Zone 6 plants are a fairly safe bet, in areas of your yard where snow drifts create a thermal blanket, keeping plants warm.

Carlton Daffodils
- Chris, you're a gardener after my own heart... All daffodils are happy in our High Altitude Gardens. Carlton and King Alfred Daffodils are two varieties that naturalize, making more daffies, as time goes on. Other varieties are reliable bloomers but the bulbs won't spread over time.

High Altitude, Dry Soil, Flowering Bushes
- Lavender, Honeysuckle, Six Hills Giant Cat Mint, Tree Mallows, Butterfly Bush, Barberry, Boxwood, Juniper, Privet, Sage, Winterberry... to name a few. Do the world a favor and plant varieties that inspire butterflies to nest.

Nurseries Selling High Altitude Grape Seedlings
- Havier, try this place - it's a good resource. Be sure and send us a bottle of wine for this hot tip.

Kelvedon Wonder
- Mary... bless your pea-pickin' heart. This is my favorite, too! Kelvedon Wonder is a sweet, crunchy, quick-growing pea variety, ideal for high altitudes and short-growing seasons. (65 days to harvest.) Start a veggie garden.

- Don't fall for those gloom and doom stories from the local nurseries. If gardeners can grow tomatoes in Russia, you can grow them at 7,000 feet in Utah.

Do Hollyhocks grow at 9000 feet altitude?
- Sabeeh, hollyhocks are happy to grow anywhere you don't want them to. They would probably grow well on Everest if someone would just scatter a few seeds...

Half the fun of blogging is meeting people from France, China, Afghanistan, Russia, UK, Portugal, Hong Kong, Canada... though, in all honesty, I haven't a clue what grows well in your neck of the woods. Oh, and while I do appreciate the compliments, I am not the slightest bit interested in marrying any of you nuts from Brazil.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Flowering Hedges

Big Max Perennial Sunflower (zones 4-9)
6 feet tall, loaded with blooms
Bonus: Drought tolerant!

There's only one downside to pay day and that's the sad fact that it doesn't come around often enough. But, it certainly is a happy frenzy on the day the paycheck arrives.

I went shopping! For drought tolerant, wind tolerant, Kate tolerant big, big (5 feet tall or more) perennials. Because the front yard of my property gives new meaning to the term 'Dante's Inferno.'

Maximiliana (above) is a perennial sunflower, destined to become the flowering hedge in my front yard. It blooms in August after it's companions, the Arnold Schwarzenegger ("I'll be back...") of roses, grows weary of entertaining us:

Rosa x 'Nearly Wild' Pink Floribunda (Zones 4-8) blooms all summer and puts up with a ridiculous amount of abuse.

Father Hugo is a tried and tested monster of a rose who shrugs off many forms of torture:

Rosa hugonis, 7' tall, 4' wide, zones 5-9. Father Hugo Shrub Rose is what I like to call Kate Tolerant, (which means when I forget to weed him, prune him, or even water him, he'll be just fine.)

Hugo has a short-lived burst of gorgeous lemon-yellow flowers each spring. But, that matters not to the native birds who nest in his thicket all summer long. * Very painful thorns prevent outdoor cats from 'visiting' the nests.

Tip: Don't discard the black one-gallon pots your perennials are sold in. Use them as a root irrigation system for the young bushes and trees you're planting. Sink the pots into the ground, next to new plants. Fill with water once a week. The water goes directly to the roots, where it will do the most good.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


This time of year, I'll do pretty much anything to feed the gardening habit. That's why I took on a freelance project that involves charts and analysis of all things...

So, I'm wasting a good bit of time staring out the window and daydreaming about bells...

Not so much the bell curves of these charts and graphs I'm expected to create. More on the order of:

The 300+ members of the lovely Campanula Bellflower family.
If I could squeeze them all into my garden, I'd probably do so.

Like fine art, sometimes flowers are captivating and we don't immediately know why. It might be the soft colors or gentle lines.

Some gardeners say it's the perfection of the Campanula's bell-shaped flowers they find so pleasing.

Campanulas are reliable perennials requiring no special care, just a bright, sunny location and good drainage.

Most are lovely shades of blue and lavender though the white varieties tend to bloom for longer periods of time.

Bellflowers range from very large (4-5 feet,) to very dainty (6 inches, perfect for rock gardens.)

Three growing in my garden:
  • Campanula carpatica 'Blue Clips' USDA zones 3-8, blooms: July-September
  • Campanula rotundifolia 'Bluebell of Scotland' USDA zones 3-8, blooms: June-September
  • Campanula persicifolia Moerheimii, 'Bellflower Moerheimii', USDA zones 4-9, blooms: all summer.
As I dilly dally the hours away on this most boring chart-building project, it occurs to me... there's no such thing as a bell curve to life. Ups and downs create the jagged edges that come from successes and failures all along our path. Though... wouldn't it be lovely if life ran that smoothly?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Oh, The Places I'd Go

Easy-growing flower garden that won't break the bank:

< - Fringed Shasta Daisy 'Aglaia'
They say youth is wasted on the young, but I don't know if that's true. Most of the youngsters I see are having a swingin' time and that's 'cause none of them are fretting about how to pay the mortgage.

< - Lavender 'Purple Bouquet'
What I am pretty sure about is that money is wasted on the rich. There are numerous species on the endangered list in my little town. None are as threatened as one defenseless group.... people who work for a living.

< - Lavender 'Hidcote Pink'
At first I was thrilled that so many millionaires were migrating to this area. Especially because they were bidding like crazy on my crappy house!

< - Echinacea 'White Swan' and 'Magnus' Mix
Then I discovered it was because they planned to tear it down and build what they call 'a nice vacation home.' (That hurt.)

< - Russian Sage
We attended a flower garden class put on by the County Extension Agent. He had this brilliant idea of asking us to go around the room, introduce ourselves and explain what we wanted to learn...

< - Fragrant Daylilies
The first gal announced they'd recently built a second home here and her husband had given her $40,000 to 'spruce up the yard.' You can imagine how quickly the rest of us clammed up after that.

< - Japanese Iris
If you have $40,000 to spend on high altitude landscaping, purchase multiples - seven one gallon containers of each of these flowering perennial varieties... And hire someone like me to do the hard labor. (Someone like me, not actually me. I've got plenty to do in my own yard.)

These beauties are all drought-tolerant, easy growers, ecstatically happy with the alkaline, clay soil conditions that plague us gardeners in Park City, Utah. Most improve clay soil, over time.

Use the remainder of your budget - $39,000 - on the most amazing vacation you could ever dream up. Because, really, in the grand scheme of things, can't you find better ways to spend that dough?

In the words of Dr. Seuss: Oh, the places, I'd go...