Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I had one of those... comes-around-every-once-in-awhile and worth taking note of... magnificent days.
Fence Roses

The weather cooperated ~ it was gorgeous and then it rained ~ so I didn't have to paint! It doesn't get much better than that.

Front Yard

Life wasn't always this good. So, I'm very aware when things are. I hired a new contractor, today, who will hopefully fix all the problems the last contractor created.

Coneflowers (a favorite) are starting to bloom.
The new one said: Looks like you could live in a tent and spend your days gardening and life would be a-okay. (I love it when someone understands me.)

I rescued Mom's Peonies. One bloom. It's a start.

The fact that a constuction guy, with the noisest diesel truck I've ever encountered, noticed my garden makes me realize I must be doing something right.

In a fit of desperation, I planted these climbers to hide the fact that I need a new deck. Now they are so big, I couldn't possibly take them down and build a new deck. (And, that was my grand plan all along...) Caliope Hummingbirds think they've died and gone to heaven.

And, so do those lame-ass tourists. :) Just kidding. Some aren't so lame. This group landed in the yard on my magnificent day.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wasatch Wildflowers

I slept like a dead person, after a full-day hike in Little Cottonwood Canyon. Last week's heavy rains have inspired a spectacular show:

Indian Paintbrush & Something Else*

Sunflowers & Geraniums

Wasatch Penstamon

Mountain Sunflowers


More Paintbrush

Clearly I love Indian Paintbrush

Wild Asters

* I'm not very good at identifying wildflowers. Please let me know if I got some wrong...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Purple Rain

Have you been praying for rain?
Please pray for it to stop, now.
Salvia Verticillata
Purple Rain

It has rained and rained and rained. In fact, it's rained so much I had to put the hard top back on the Jeep Wrangler, cutting short a particularly enjoyable midlife crisis.

I switched cars with L this summer. I have her old Jeep and she has my boring SUV. She's gorgeous and doesn't like to mess up her hair. I, on the other hand, am not gorgeous. Plus, no matter what I do to my hair it always looks like I've been drinking. So, I've been having loads of fun buzzing around town in a 'convertible.'

I bought Salvia Purple Rain in honor of my old fave, 'the artist formerly known as.' We were in the crowd scenes when he was filming his movie, of the same name as this flower.

I don't know Prince personally, but I do know he's unbelievably tiny (shorter than me) and incredibly high maintenance because he used to shop in my store when I lived in Minneapolis. [The movie and my fondness for his music dates me on many levels, hence the midlife crisis!]

This perennial has more confusing names than the rock star - Salvia Verticillata Meadow Sage Purple Rain. Thankfully, it's not nearly as high maintenance.

Purple Rain is billed as one of the best choices for 'lasting color in hot, dry situations.' And, they're not kidding. I have been torturing this beauty for 3 years and it just keeps getting prettier and prettier. Even if you think Prince is a has been, invest in a few of these. Her smoky purple spires are the best cut flowers to come out of my too-blue garden. (USDA zones 4-9, 24 inches high, 36 inch spread.)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Me & the Monsoon

The moment I started painting my house it began to rain.
Why didn't I think of this months ago?

During this long, hot summer, scientists have been experimenting with seeding clouds to inspire a bit of rainfall. Predictions that southern California will soon dry up and blow away has Arnold and a lot of other folks behaving like nervous Nellies.

Seems silly, to me, to go to such great lengths when all you really need to do is make plans to paint the house, or go camping, or decide to have your wedding reception outdoors.

It's taken me 2 months, 4 trips to the store and 6 test gallons of paint to find the 'perfect' color for the latest and greatest back-breaking project, painting the house. During this indecisive time, every day was a perfectly dry day to get this project done.

So, I got up early and painted for an hour and before the paint could dry it began to rain. All I have to do is look hard at the paint rollers and it starts raining again. I was planning to paint all afternoon yesterday ~ which is more than likely why it rained so hard Main Street was flooding.

I'm not complaining. My flowers are bowing their heads in gratitude after this morning's drenching. I desperately miss the cool, wet of a rainy day. Plus, I hate to paint. I'd almost choose an aerobics class over a day spent painting.

But, it does make me wonder... if it's this easy to control the weather, can I do the same with NASDAQ?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Alkaline Gardens

"It is always this way with gardening. Mad success and impotent failure... the gardener hardly knows whether to glow with pride or cover her face in shame." - J. Bowers
Hydrangeas bloom blue in acidic soils, pink in alkaline soils.

I would dearly love to fill my garden with bright blue Hydrangeas and then retire from gardening altogether. It's my absolute favorite flower. But, they don't grow in my alkaline soil. (Well, they'll grow but even if I dedicate myself to 'round the clock perserverance they'll bloom pink instead of blue so what's the point?)

Pincushion flowers become a little schizophrenic in alkaline soils. They can't decide what color to bloom.

When you're a gardener, the grass is almost always greener. (Unless, of course, you live on Kauai.) Western gardeners have a unique set of challenges. As do Southern gardeners and Eastern gardeners and pretty much everyone who likes to dig in the dirt.

A few hardy perennials that take kindly to alkaline soil:

Blue Flax
USDA Zones 5-10

Coral Bells
USDA Zones 5-10

Italian Alkanet
USDA Zones 3-9

Jupiter's Beard
USDA Zones 5-10

Pasque Flower
USDA Zones 5-9

Purple Mullein
USDA Zones 5-10

USDA Zones 5-10

USDA Zones 3-10

Alkaline, or sweet soil, has a pH of 7.3 or higher.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Great Garden Soil

They say ignorance is bliss and I would have to agree.

I became a gardener after I moved to Utah. I thought everyone had to jump on the rim of a shovel with both feet just to force it into the rock hard ground.

Then I rescued my Mother's Peonies and discovered the awful truth. Her soil was rich, black, loose and... downright fabulous. Now I have a deep appreciation for soil amendments.

Grab a handful of wet soil and squeeze it into a ball. Clay soil will form a ball and not break apart very easily. [Congratulations! You're stuck with what I have.] If you can't make a ball, your dilemma is sandy soil. Both problems can be fixed by mixing in a little compost whenever you're playing in the dirt.

Soil pH should be between 6.0 and 7.5. Anything lower is too acidic, anything higher is too alkaline for a happy garden.
  • Alkaline: Lower pH with sphagnum peat moss or pine needles.
  • Acidic: Raise pH by adding crushed egg shells, wood ashes, or lime.
Adding compost/organic matter to your soil feeds the creepy crawlies, aka beneficial microorganisms.

Earthworms and other soil dwelling insects aerate the soil as they move through it and contribute more organic matter with their waste and decomposition. This is how great garden soil is born.

PS: Synthetic fertilizers (such as Miracle Gro) add nothing to the soil's fertility. Plus, they contain salt which can kill the beneficial bugs, build up in the soil and cause harm to the plants you're allegedly trying to pamper.

* Dedicated to Gail, who has problem soil like mine.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Sea Lavender

Sea Lavender

My too-blue garden is blooming ecstatically and that's got me missing the Oregon coast. Some people buy bumper stickers. Others collect shot glasses. My Grandma used to purchase spoons... from everywhere she visited.

My souvenirs are perennials. I collect some whenever I'm on a road trip. Sea Lavender (Statice) was an impulse purchase in Oregon and I fully expected it to be another lesson in futility.

Surprise, surprise it has happily adapted and is flourishing in my polka dot garden.

Sea Lavender is so named because it grows wild in salty marshes (which is why it's loving my alkaline soil.) I have no idea why it is so amazingly drought-tolerant, since it prefers a saltwater marsh, I'm just glad that it is.

Bright clumps of paper-like, purple flowers bloom mid to late summer.

Snip the blooms before they fully open and use them for dried flower arrangements.

Limonium Latifolium (Statice or Sea Lavender,) USDA zones 4 - 11, grows to about 2 feet tall, adding bright purple texture to the garden.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Wild Pitches and Four O'Clocks

On one of my many sleepless nights, I saw a Twilight Zone episode where this poor girl was suffering mightily. The sun was moving closer to Earth and she was dying of heat. (I can relate!) The irony, of course, (TZ is all about irony) was that she was dreaming. When she woke up she was freezing to death because the sun was moving away from the planet.
Wild Four O'Clocks laugh off
110 degree (F) summers and
-30 below zero (F) winters

We went to a Bees game last night to 'beat the heat.' How sitting outdoors in 90 degree temperatures beats air-conditioned comfort at home is beyond me. But, I'm a pretzel, I can bend, so I went and hoped it would be a lively game. What I meant by that was hits, runs and errors by the players, not by me.

The first near-miss was a foul ball that careened into the stands. Mike was thrilled I had a souvenir to take home. Next up, a bat came soaring through the air, landing at my feet. I don't know what bothered me more - the bat, the crazies who mobbed me to grab the bat, or Mike missing the entire point that it practically killed me. ("That was yours. Why didn't you grab it? It was lying right next to you!")

My customized Google home page keeps my finger on the pulse of current events. Today's top stories:
1) 1,000 new wildfires in the West.
2) 1 million Easy Bake Ovens recalled.

Unless you live in the West, you're probably not seeing the correlation. We've been living in an Easy Bake Oven since mid-June. The heat is making us all a little testy.

Certain flowers, however, actually prefer the environment of an Easy Bake Oven. I don't believe it's possible for the weather to get too hot, too cold, or too dry to bother Wild Four O'Clocks. Plant this crazy wildflower in a very abusive location.

Mirabilis multiflora (Wild Four O'Clock) USDA zones 4-8 thrives at elevations above 7,000 feet. Grows best with lots of hot sun and little to no watering.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Beauty of Making Mistakes

Perennial Snapdragons with Salvia

The day my little Snapdragons bloom is a happy day, indeed. These 3-year-olds are not supposed to grow here. I had to get on the phone and throw a little hissy fit with the company before they'd sell them to me. (They sent me a letter saying 'no can do' since they guarantee their plants and these were absolutely inappropriate for my area.) Each summer I'm surprised to see they're still alive and kickin'.

These perennial Snapdragons are blooming down the path from the Azalea, the Hibiscus and the Wisteria - none of whom are supposed to grow here. (They won't win awards, but they're doing just fine, thank you very much.)

I know all this because I went to Master Gardening classes - where I learned a whole lot more about what I was doing wrong vs. right. But, that doesn't mean any of their teachings actually sunk in.

I've been AWOL from the Salt Lake City Master Gardener Association for quite some time. Actually, forever. Since graduating, I've barely found the time to pay my dues, (6 months late, this year, a new record!) much less attend a meeting. Catholic guilt kicks in every once in awhile - like yesterday when I was invited to lunch at Karen's house. That's because some of the nicest people I've ever met are members of the SLMGA.

Like Karen. Her landscaping is so lovely... and complete! I have a good 2 years of digging in the dirt before I can claim the same thing. Not only is her garden gorgeous (wouldn't you know it, I forgot my camera) but her dogs are well-behaved, too! Wunderkind.
Prairie Fire Crabapple Trees (behaving like bushes)

And, Traci. Such a bundle of energy, I get tired just reading her emails. I don't know Traci very well, yet I think of her quite often. Traci spraypainted her dead trees, thus transforming a glaring 'mistake' into a colorful conversation piece. Now why didn't I think of that?

My trees aren't dead. They're happily growing in a horizontal direction. The wind is too abusive for the ornamental trees I originally planted. I am not ready to surrender in my war with Mother Nature, so I chopped the trees down to 3 feet and encouraged them to behave like bushes. They look great!

The thing about mistakes is that we should make some every day. We are the sum of all of our accomplishments and I don't believe we'll ever accomplish much of anything if we're content to follow the safest path and never take a chance.

So, there you have it. In spite of everything I now know, I still fully intend to plant another Bechtel Crab tree next spring. If it dies, I'll spray-paint it pink - because you just never know until you try...

Sage advice for the risk-averse:
You can NEVER go wrong with
Jupiter's Beard (Centranthus):

Monday, July 16, 2007

Lovely Rain

What a lovely day, I thought to myself...
As threatening clouds covered the mountains.
The wind spun dust devils around the yard.
Claps of thunder frightened the horses.

After 6 long weeks of torture, hopeful raindrops began to fall.

Oh, it wasn't a lot of rain.

In fact, the ground is so dry it barely made a dent.

But, it was enough.

To boost the spirits.

Bathe the ponies.

And, bring the meadows back to life.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Sometimes I think life is like walking through a house of mirrors. It’s always me who is blocking the path to where I’d like to go.
Sunset in Park City
I’m hold up in my office today ~ allegedly working on this big writing project but really I’m just goofing off playing with the cats. I'm not particularly thrilled about this writing project. I'm not thrilled about any of the work I'm doing right now and I think maybe that's why I'm so grumpy these days.

It's my job to listen to clients whine about all sorts of problems and then ever so gently point out the bleeding obvious in a way that makes them feel completely and totally elated. (This is how ad campaigns like Tastes Great! and Fresher Longer! get invented.)

I am not a religious person but after several years in the advertising business even I'm resigned to the fact that sooner or later I'm gonna burn in hell.

My garden is blooming ecstatically this year and as I wandered around out there, I realized that's what I need to do, too.

I think this is what's called a midlife crisis. I've been all out of sorts because I moved out here to change everything! To quit the ad business (that never happened,) open a garden shop, (ditto) live a tiny life (half way there) and write a novel that makes people go ga-ga ~ kind of like how they behaved when the New York Times discovered The Lovely Bones.

I took my first-ever solo vacation last year to jumpstart the whole Great American Novel project. I rented a little cabin on the rainy Oregon shore. Curled up in front of the fireplace, turned on my laptop and stared at the screen for the better part of a day.

I formatted the title page.

I chose a really pretty font.

And, then I called my friend, Julie,
and asked her if she wanted to go get a beer.
In the words of some unknown author, that was all she wrote.

Catmint & Roses

The closest I've got and probably ever will get to writing a novel was that vacation in Oregon where I realized that people like Sue Monk Kidd are writers and people like me are lucky to be hired to do the 'easy stuff.'

I wonder if John Grisham ever stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror and said, "Screw it. I’m a hack. But that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to be a poor hack." No one aspires to mediocrity but we all get there sooner or later. Grisham probably tormented himself for years trying to write a great, deep novel. And then, climbing out of the shower one morning, it hits him: Who wants great and deep? When did that ever pay the bills? Now he churns out some dumb-ass mystery novel every couple years and owns a house in the Hamptons.

And, so... there you have it. My garden reaps the benefits of my writer's block. There are days when I'm sorely disappointed in my own laziness. But, at least I'm paying the bills.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Hot Shots

"He loves me... He loves me not..."

Once you become a real freak about gardening, you start noticing some embarassing superstitions. Like the fact that daisies have long predicted my pathetic love life. As little girls, we'd pluck the daisy petals, while repeating that chant, in hopes that the cutest boy in middle school might secretly feel the same way.

In spite of their accurate, negative predictions, I love daisies in any shape or form. Especially the daisy-like blooms of the perennial sunflower family.

Gaillardia grandiflora* is a Western wildflower that has been tamed and hybridized for our gardens. They love hot sun, poor soil and dry conditions. In fact, I've figured out that it is practically impossible to kill them. Which is why they rank pretty high on my list of the 'summer workhorses.'

To keep bright color all summer long, we need a few tireless perennials who just never quit blooming. In that respect, Gaillardia (Goblin or Blanket Flower) are major over-achievers. They blossom in late June, flower until the first frost, attracting a number of unusual butterflies.

Plant these pretty perennials in the hottest spot in your garden and enjoy a summer-long show of bright color.

* Gaillardia grandiflora, USDA zones 4-10, are available from Wayside Gardens and other quality nurseries. Check out their new, exclusive Oranges & Lemons variety.