Friday, June 29, 2007

Wildfires, Clematis & A Too Blue Garden

May Night Salvia, Dame's Rocket, Lupines

Too hot and too smoky to do much of anything today... other than rejoice that I have central air. It's 100 degrees and I can't remember the last time it rained. Smoke from wildfires rise above the meadow, clouding the mountain view.

More May Night Salvia (love that stuff!) Flax, Painted Daisies, Catmint

It occurs to me, as I wander aimlessly around the yard that my new garden patches are too, too blue. Shades of blue and purple are lovely but they need white, yellow, pink, etc. in order to really 'pop.'

No matter how often I march into the nursery vowing I'll buy accent-color perennials, I invariably lose my willpower when confronted with something else that is purple or blue.

Clematis (Climbing Vine)

Sometimes I get it right: I tucked a crimson Dianthus into this spot just to shake things up a little. Now a lot of gardeners would frown on this, thinking pink or yellow would be a tamer, more acceptable combination. Which is precisely, why I chose red. :))

*This photo is deceiving. I stood on top of my fence and shot this pointing down. Practically broke my neck doing it, too! You see, I got a new camera and I'm all enamoured with my brand new toy.

Clematis is a hardy, climbing vine that would much prefer a shadier spot. If the stars had aligned that would have been the case but the young sapling I planted next to it, kicked the bucket. Clematis live for 30 or so years, the perfect accessory for a scrawny new tree. They'll weave themselves into the branches and flower like crazy.

Note the large bud next to the bloom. In another week or so there will be at least 50 of these palm-size purple flowers sprucing up my fence.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Ornamental Oregano

Common Oregano - Origanum vulgare - is Greek for "joy of the mountains."
So, it's quite fitting that Oregano should be thriving in my garden:

Origanum Kent Beauty is going nuts in a rickety old whiskey barrel in the garden we've happily dubbed, 'Dante's Inferno.' In spite of her delicate features, she's a sun worshipping camel.

Look close at the photo above. The flower is that tiny purple jewel. You hardly notice it because it's the bracts that grab your attention. They start out mauve, aging to bright pink & purple. Once the bracts are entirely pink (or purple) they have dried into a color-fast, paper-type quality, ideal for floral arrangements.

Is this ringing a bell? Good for you! Cheaper, man-made versions of this lovely perennial are quite popular in the Pier 1 dried flower department. This, of course, makes me think they are oh-so exotic but they're not. They're just really, really hard to find. Or, so I thought.

Origanum rotundifolium 'Kent Beauty' - Royal Botanical Society, Award of Garden Merit. USDA zones 5-11, full sun, very drought tolerant.

Plant where Origanum can cascade down a wall, over the sides of a window box, or tall planter.

Another mystery plant:
This one reaches 4 feet in - get this - about 6 weeks, giving forth a short-lived burst of delicate lacy, white flowers with pink tips. She has grown from a large bulb I must have planted. Who is she? I haven't a clue. Do you?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Crazy Love ~ Columbines

"This here's a spectacle might warrant your attention." [sic]
So said my cowboy neighbor from Almosta Ranch.
I finally have more Columbines than he has horses.

It all started innocently enough when I made the "98% excited, 2% scared, or was that the other way around?" life-changing move to Utah.

Big raise! Bigger promotion! New, fun challenges! Lots of new faces!

Fifteen minutes into my first day on the job, I discovered I hated that joint more than words could describe. Suffice to say this was a sadly depressing realization.

But, I toughed it out for 2.5 years. During that time, I learned what prejudice was all about. You don't have to be black or brown or poor or whatever. You just have to be different. Because then you are a threat. I was a non-Mormon in a Mormon company.

About the only thing that made me smile during the course of the day, was pulling into my driveway at the end of it.

That cottage garden was peppered with happy little Columbines.

Now that I'm a homeowner, I don't have to worry about getting my damage deposit back.

So, my passion for Columbines is borderline OCD.

They peek out of every semi-shady spot in the yard.
They'll put up with full sun if I force them to:

They are feisty enough to go head to head with domineering catmint (below.)

They create new color combinations on a whim. And, they move around to various parts of your garden, when they get bored with their old digs.

* When we hear the word 'spur,' we invariably think of cowboys and those jangling metal boot contraptions. Spur is also part of the architecture of the columbine flower, that portion of the flower that curls outward and produces nectar inside the spur.

** Columbines (Aquilegia) are highly adaptable perennials that bloom in a bazillion different color combinations. USDA zones 3-9. Boatloads of flowers in May/June - will flower sporadically throughout the rest of the summer with deadheading. They prefer light shade. Will tolerate full sun with regular watering.

Monday, June 25, 2007


It's a new personal best!
I watered 3 cats today!

I'm not talkin' about these gorgeous Catmint bushes. I'm talking about the lazy kitties who are snoozing underneath them most every afternoon. I generally flush out one slacker while I'm sprinkling the flower beds, but three! Now that's a productive afternoon.

, part of the Nepeta family, is a mellower form of catnip. Cats dearly love the fragrance. They brush their noses against it, love to sleep underneath the taller bushes. Warning: some cats will maul a particularly fragrant bush. Thoughtless cats (like Pete) will sleep on top of smaller bushes, flattening all the blooms.

Nepeta 'Walkers Low' Catmint

So, keep the cats indoors and invest in a catmint plant or two. My Six Hills Giant Catmint (pictured at top) is into it's 3rd summer and hitting it's stride. These glorious blooms stretch 5 feet in width, 3 feet high ~ they are without a doubt a gardener's very best friend. Reliable, drought-tolerant, long-blooming, blah, blah, blah. I love them because they weed themselves. Heavy bushes drape over the weeds shielding them from sunlight so weeds can't grow.

* Ideal for hot, windy spots where blue and purple flower spikes can wave in the breeze.

Two blooming in my garden:
  • Walkers Low - More manageable size
  • Six Hills Giant - XXL
PS: I'm NOT some crazy lady with 40 cats. I'm just babysitting more cats than I'd care to right now. They hate each other but they love the catmint...!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Bleeding Hearts

Look close and you'll see why this pretty plant has such a not-so-pretty name.

Notice how the dainty, heart-shaped flowers dangle from her stems? They sway back and forth in a gentle breeze.

Bleeding Hearts are one of my favorite shady ladies. This one stands a proud 4 feet tall in a garden spot that stays damp and protects her from the sun.

As the temperatures climb toward the triple digits, flowering stems drape themselves onto this ceramic fountain - perhaps to keep cool.

In spite of her delicate appearance, Bleeding Hearts are tough cookies, thriving as far north as Alaska and as far south as Florida.

About the only thing they don't like is dry soil. A soaker hose works well. Rock mulch keeps soil cool and damp. Water fountains are a terrific way to help perennials cope with desert heat.

* In the mountains, D. spectabilis (Japanese Bleeding Heart) blooms in June, hardy to USDA Zone 3, goes dormant in the heat of summer.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

System Failure

In loving memory of my digital camera. After years of faithful service, it finally bit the dust.

The term 'System Failure' blinks at me each time I turn it on. (I keep turning it on, hoping it has fixed itself and all is well.)

These are the kind of things that make me a little batty. If it has the power and resources to flash 'system failure' why the heck can't it just take a picture!?

Perhaps this is payback for all the times it was knocking around inside my purse, unprotected. Maybe that's why it decided to croak now... right when the garden is blooming beautifully and I can't capture any of it on film.

As far as toys go, I loved this one best of all. I used it so often the brand name actually rubbed off the body of the camera.

The first picture I shot:

The last picture I shot:

The very best picture I'll ever shoot:

In loving memory of the best darn camera I've ever owned.

PS: The garden is doing great. But, until I get paid again, I guess you'll just have to take my word for that.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Wild Roses

"Some people grumble that roses have thorns. I am thankful that thorns have roses" - Alphonse Kerr

Overnight, yellow roses burst into full bloom - as fleeting as lilacs and just as fragrant. This big, pretty bush reminds me of my Mom - because I snitched it from her garden! It's been transplanted twice, but here it will stay. At six feet, she's too big to survive another move.

Unlike hybrids, wild roses bloom a very short time, just long enough to be pollinated. After flowering, a red bud (called a hip) appears, filled with seeds. Start new roses with these seeds - but be quick about it. Rose hips are tasty treats for local birds.

Wild roses fit my garden because they've got what it takes to survive. They hold up to high winds, are pest free and drought-tolerant. This bush is thriving in a fairly inhospitable place. It grows in ordinary soil, without compost or fertilizer, and they live forever.

The parent of this pretty rose has bloomed every spring, for 40 years, at my Mother's home in South Dakota.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Moonbeam Marathon

Like some of my flowers, I wilt in hot temperatures. That's why I moved so high up into the mountains... because it never gets that hot here. Or, so they say.

It is 99 degrees in Park City, Utah, today ~ with gale force winds pummeling my poor little posies. This being a Saturday, Mother Nature is also foiling my weekend plans.

So, I'm catching up on office work, of all things, though it's not half bad. I'm writing an article about an Ironman triathlete.* My favorite quote was when he said training is easy - you just need to fit 10 workouts into your schedule every week.

Now this assignment has in no way, shape, or form inspired me to pull on the running shoes. Or, leave the comfort of my air-conditioned home on this hot, hot day.

But it did get me thinking about the Ironman triathletes in my garden.

Takes a licking and keeps on ticking...

If I could vote for the hardest working gal in the gardening business I'd go with Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam.'
  • Drought, heat, humidity, clay soil, blustery winds... bring it on. This dainty little baby blooms from early summer through late fall with just a little bit of deadheading from me.
* Attracts butterflies
* Flower heads feed the song birds

If these aren't good enough reasons to rush out and buy yourself a Moonbeam, try this on for size:

Her pretty yellow flowers glow in the light of the full moon.

*Moonbeam is often sold as Tickseed Coreopsis.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Same Time, Next Year?

I was poking around the nursery yesterday, when I noticed they were unloading a whole truckload of Purple Coneflowers in full bloom. In a natural setting, Coneflowers rarely bloom in my garden before August.

This is one of the clever tricks nurseries like to play on us.

We assume since it's blooming when we buy it that it will bloom at the same time next year. Not so - but that's as much our fault as theirs. We won't buy plants unless they're flowering and we hardly ever buy plants in August because we're worn out with gardening...

So nurseries time most everything to bloom in early summer. (Check the plastic plant i.d. tags* for natural flowering times.)

Having trouble growing coneflowers in your garden? Try being mean to them. They thrive in poor soil and dry conditions. Move them to a hot spot where they are forced to fend for themselves. Once established, cut out the fertilizer, amended soil and regular watering. You'll be surprised how long they bloom.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Living Fences

Fun facts to know & tell:
I can't find the keys to my house. I locked it twice and discovered, both times, the only burglar I was frustrating was MYSELF.

After that annoying experience, I put the keys in a special place, so I could easily find them and then... immediately forgot where that was.

However! I am considering installing a lock and all sorts of other things.

I have new neighbors. 47 new neighbors, to be exact. And, they all live within a mile of me.

Suddenly my country cottage is dwarfed by mansions on all sides. With all these changes this place doesn't feel like 'home' anymore. Noise, traffic and lots of new faces have dramatically changed the landscape.

I need a privacy screen and I need it fast! I've landed on yellow-flowering Forsythia because they grow 1-2 feet per year and they're pretty understanding about high winds and poor soil conditions.

At a mature height of 8-10 feet, they'll create a free-flowing, country-style hedge that, with any luck, will keep my dog in and the neighbors out.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Great Grape Escape

Willamette Valley, Oregon
Garden Lover's Paradise
The Pauper's Napa

Most people think opting for a freelance career is risky and unpredictable. It is! But, the alternative can be pretty risky, too.

After 5 years of wasting away in a dull, grey cubicle, I was convinced if I remained a corporate drone much longer, I would surely die.

Domaine Serene, Dundee Hills
Willamette Valley, Oregon

When you announce you're a freelancer, people generally say they could never do that because they'd get bored working alone from home. That's when I have to point out the bleeding obvious:

What makes you think you have to stay home?

The greatest perk to being a freelancer is the freedom to run away at the drop of a hat. When things aren't growing well at my place, I like to go to places where they are.

It snowed on my garden in Park City, Utah last week. It snowed and the freezing temperatures murdered my lonely little heirloom tomato seedling. It made me so mad that I tossed the laptop in the car and sweet talked a fellow freelancer into meeting me in a place where the grass truly is greener.

Where Calla Lilies (Calla Lilies!) grow wild.

If you've never been to Willamette Valley, Oregon, you really should book a trip. It is hands down the prettiest place you've ever seen. Filled with young up and comer wine brats who are hell-bent on proving to Napa that sustainable grape farms and orchards are the way to go.

PS: If you're like me [pretending to be in the office while you're goofing around out there,] fear not. Wireless is free and plentiful and the cell phone works, too! (Just make sure your clients don't hear any clinking wine glasses in the background when they call...)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Blue Flax

Each day, a new color graces my garden. I sneak out on quiet mornings, to enjoy the peaceful beauty of new blossoms.

Blue Flax (Linum) is a wildflower that adapts nicely to our waterwise gardens. Nurture this easy bloomer by placing spent blooms in different parts of your yard. It's an eager re-seeder, gifting you with pretty blue flowers in June.

Flax has a personality that matches my own - energetic in the cool, morning hours, happy for a siesta in the hot afternoons. (When temperatures rise, these tiny blue flowers close up, conserving energy to reopen the following day.)

I would love this plant for the flowers, alone, but it's also a medicinal miracle, proven to reduce cholesterol and aid in the fight against cancer. All flowering things can heal the soul. This happy little perennial can heal the body, too.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Long Live the Snooze Button

Dr. Phil says he likes to "sleep fast so he can wake up and do more stuff." He's always impressed me as maniacal workaholic so I'm not surprised by that.

I'm just like him ~ on Saturdays and also on Sundays. Those other days? Well... that's a whole different ball game.

It's almost a prerequisite that I begin the week by oversleeping on Monday morning. That's because the weekends are so much fun. When the alarm goes off, I just can't get my head around the fact that it's over and I'm facing several days of earning a living before Friday comes around again.

So, I not only sleep late on Mondays. I tend to disappear into my garden for an extra long lunch hour, too.

Look who I met today. A Western Swallowtail Butterfly happily dancing among the Dame's Rocket. It's plentiful in the garden this year and that means I'm harboring a criminal. Experts consider bright purple Dame's Rocket a noxious weed but I don't care. And, neither do the Swallowtails.

It's hard to tell from the photos, but this big bruiser was the size of my hand. Keep butterflies hanging around with a shallow water feature that provides a drink without the danger of drowning. The indentation in a flat rock, filled with a few drops of water is perfect.

* Dame's Rocket can be very invasive in a well-watered garden. Control it by removing spent blooms before it has a chance to go to seed.

** Getting a butterfly to sit still is no easy task. Just ask Gracie, the Shutterbug. She's a real pro at this stuff.

Free Clipart

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Fast-Growing Zinnias

I am slowly, but surely, warming up to the idea that I own a new, very ugly, grossly over-priced raised garden bed.

Which is kind of ironic when you think about it. I needed a raised bed because mountain soils warm so slowly it's the only way to grow my favorite things.

Now that I've paid for this eyesore, I've got about a dollar left over until next pay day. So, I can't afford to buy the seedlings I intended to put in it.

Plan B:
There's only one thing that could make me feel all Zen about this mess... And, that's a Zinnia garden.

I'm hard on anyone who plants annuals and that's purely because I'm jealous. My growing season is too short, the nights are too chilly, pretty little annuals aren't up for the challenge.

Perhaps this 'ugly raised bed built for the price of gold' will change all that. Maybe the better soil, the sunny spot and the soaker hoses on a timer (thank you, Omega Mom) will allow me to enjoy what everyone else takes great pleasure in: Speed Gardening.*

So, I beelined it to Home Depot this morning and purchased a whole dollar's worth of Zinnia seeds. They're one of the few annuals that can be successfully planted by seed in a high altitude garden. Wish me luck.

Everybody loves Zinnias. Meet my soul sister.

* Zinnias are fast-growing annuals. A perfect choice when introducing kids to seed planting.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Strawberry Moon

Just as the moon pulls the tides in the oceans, it also pulls the subtle bodies of water. Tests have proven that seeds will absorb the most water at the time of the full moon - and germinate faster during this time in the lunar cycle.

In case you haven't figured this out by now... Full Moons make ya nuts. If you don't believe me, look back on this volatile week. Everyone I spoke to was having a rough time of it. Even I went off and I hardly ever go off. I blame that on the Domino Effect... when everyone is raising hell about something it inspires me to do the same, darn thing.

Full Moon names date back to the Algonquin tribes of Native Americans. This one is so named because the strawberry harvest comes each year during the month of June.

So, calm down. You survived. Make yourself a Strawberry Daquiri and celebrate. While you're lovin' life, plant some seeds. Better yet, strawberries. They adapt very well to high altitude gardens.*

Live for the moment, while you can... Because if you thought this was a rough week, hang onto your hat. Full moons come around every 29 days ~ which means June has another trick up her sleeve. She's planning to hand you a blue moon on 6/30.

* Fragaria 'Ozark Beauty' is a sweet, ever-bearing strawberry that's fast, fast, fast. Yummy berries in 6 short weeks.

Strawberry Daquiri Recipe:
  • 1 oz light rum
  • 1 tsp powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup shmushed, fresh strawberries
  • 3 oz frozen lemonade

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Egg & I

There's this new craze called the Urban Chicken Movement. I'm aware of it because I accidentally rented an apartment to one of the Beverly Hillbillies.

It's a tiny, little one-bedroom place with an equally tiny yard. Imagine my surprise when 'Jethro' showed up with a small shed, which I later learned is actually a house... for chickens. I couldn't believe it.

In the midst of this neighborhood, populated with people like me who dearly love to sleep 'til noon, he shows up with a rooster who crows at dawn and a whole bunch of funny-looking hens.

According to Jethro, this is a hugely popular movement because they lay eggs, saving you a fortune on grocery bills. My argument was: a dozen eggs costs $1.99. Which of us has lost his marbles? (Trick question.)

So, anyway, I happen to know just enough to be dangerous about the circle of life and chickens with respect to gardens, though I'm not admitting any of this to him:
  • They nibble on the tips of grasses. I suppose if you raise enough of them, you'd never have to mow.
  • They control garden pests, happily munching on snails, slugs, earwigs and other insects.
  • Aged chicken manure is ideal for vegetable gardens.
  • Egg shells are particularly beneficial, providing calcium to help young seedlings grow big and strong.
I'm relieved to report we've found a happy home for the hens. It might take a little longer for Jethro to adjust to his new digs.

* It's no fun having a sleep disorder and that's why the Turner Classic Movie Channel was invented. If you're one of the lucky ones and can sleep through the night, Tivo this wonderful movie, The Egg & I.