Secrets to my success…..

A question I often received from my neighbors was how did my hanging baskets, container plantings, pots, etc. always look so good. While I’m sure the use of good potting soil, supplemented with additional organic material such as fine compost, along with ample doses of a semi-organic fertilizer like Epsoma’s Flower-Tone helped, the real secret was water….and plenty of it. I learned quickly that in the heat of summer, particularly as the pots filled out and the plants became lush that the pots needed water at least once a day. Maybe twice.

And in our two-career busy family that presented a problem…..which was easily resolved by the use of a battery operated watering timer and plenty of drip irrigation and tubing. In fact if you look at my last post, that Louisville deck was during the time my son was an infant…to two careers plus an infant = must have automatic watering system. Some of the supplies I’d find locally, but a great on-line source is DripWorks. I was even able to find some white supply tubing to use around the inside of the front porch. Here’s early spring with the lines still mostly in their winter rolled up spot, and then snaked down with the chains to the hanging baskets..

I used the 1/2 supply lines in most places with the lines to the pots using 1/4 tubes and emitters. I also discovered 1/4 soaker hose that worked very well…almost better (and cheaper) than the emitters. When we put in the patio, I ran a supply line with the 1/2 tubing along the edge, just under the mulch. New sidewalks always had a 3″ or so piece of PVC pipe laid under to allow supply line/hoses under the sidewalk. In this set of photos you can see first an early spring shot of an empty pot with a 1/4″ soaker hose circle, then a late summer shot where it is hard to even notice the supply line.

I even ran supply lines out to some of the garden beds for containers placed within beds. Each of the posts in the photo below had a 1/4″ supply line with a drip emitter in each pot.

At the last house, I had two systems set up, one on each side of the house, each with a two outlet timer – this allowed four unique plant groupings (some with 15-20 pots) each on their own schedule. My only real worry was that the battery would go dead, or an emitter would clog or blow off. However, I took enough walks through to enjoy the garden that problems were easily nipped in the bud so to speak.

Don’t need no stinking land…….

Look closely at the picture to the left. Looks like a nice shot of a border bed, doesn’t it. Wrong! It’s actually on my deck. You can see the wood slats, and if you look real carefully at about the middle along the left edge, there’s the hint of a clay pot. One of the lessons I learned from that first fire escape “garden” was the value of masses of pots to create gardens. Wish I had pictures of that fire escape. From memory the flowers were fairly pedestrian, petunias, violas, my beloved moss roses, whatever I could get at the convenience store in our neighborhood which sold plants each spring. I hadn’t learned to mix plants in a pot, that i could grow herbs, veggies, the tropicals/tender perennials, and even actual perennials in these container gardens.

More shots from the same deck. This was my Louisville home, the transition garden between life on the farm and my new life. A home with a nice deck, but little yard. While I wasn’t yet digging in the dirt to start a new garden, I couldn’t resist the masses of plants…..some I’d moved with me when I left my former life….others purchased anew. A mix of annuals, tropicals – the dramatic cannas to the gawky but yummy smelling night blooming jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum). Coleus played a large role, as did herbs, esp lavender, rosemary, grown more for their scent than any other use.

When we did move on, and build our house outside St Louis, I continued this practice of massing pots. On the driveway to hide the air conditioning unit…

One each corner of the patio………..

At this new Milwaukee house, I’m just starting to feel my way around the garden. Unsure where to take this one. Did plant the couple of wooden barrels the old owners had left behind. One to herbs, the other to a more decorative mix. The first thing I’ve noticed from my earlier gardens is how the cooler temps, esp. nights, have slowed the plant growth. The plants are settling in, but not growing to the abundance I expected. I know, with time it will come…really hoping posting these pics below the ones above, will shame these plants to grow…esp. you ‘Black Magic’ Colocasia…you are supposed to be the tall focal point here..please take note of the one above by the air conditioner. I’ve got my eye on you, and that is more what I am expecting!

Where it all began…

Well, maybe not exactly where it began, gardening has always been in my blood. More where it really got going, my first “real” garden. Located outside Hopkinsville, Ky on one square acre about 40 miles northwest of Nashville. Zone 6b, and I hung onto that “b” hard, convincing myself that I was in a little pocket of zone 7. The garden sat in the middle of a 250 acre farm, and the yearly crop rotation cycle (winter wheat/soybeans one year, corn the next) provided an ever changing backdrop to the beds.

When I first began the garden, I was a determined “perennial gardener”. Forget those common annuals, I was doing perennials (what folly I realize now). With a focus on daylilies, a heavy focus, probably had 300 varieties. A few shrub roses began to creep into the picture, and I started playing with clematis. But as with many novice gardeners, I really didn’t understand the need for structure, for hardscaping to balance the plants, evergreens, small trees, more substantial shrubs to bring form.

I began with a small section along the back fence. That bed with its masses of coneflowers, veronica, lilies and daylilies was at its peak in late June. This coincided with wheat harvest in those years. Making the show just a bit more spectacular with the contrast to the golden wheat.

Next was the back corner with its water garden along the fence. My cat, Machska, loved to watch the fish in the pond. More than one attempt at catching a fish resulted in a very wet cat. The pond had a waterfall at one end and a small bridge crossed the middle, leading to a sitting area by the fence..

This area also taught me a lesson about all white gardens in blazing sun. I have always loved moon gardens, and the cooling effect of a shaded white garden. But here in this spot, the white proved to be glaring. It felt hot, rather than cooling. I will build another white garden someday, but sited in a bit better spot. (oh, another possible advantage of this new shady yard).

I wasn’t to be happy until I had completed beds along all fence lines, and the bed building continued for the five summers I lived here. Edited to add: Looking at this post, I just realized that this picture of bed building is the before of the white garden area posted just above. No area was overlooked including the edge of the deck

This was the garden I began to learn to “paint with plants”, to pick up the color echoes. Daylilies with their center eye, often make a great starting point.

Of course, all this bed building meant needing lots of plants. Every winter orders were placed near and far – from Heronswood (in the days before Burpee bought them) or Forest Farm to the west down to Plant Delights on the east. Milaegars from the Midwest often made a stop. Bulbs appeared from B&D Lilies, from Brent & Becky. And of course, more daylilies. However, until I went in search of photos of this garden I’d forgotten how much propagation I also did – from seeds, from cuttings shared by cyber gardening friends.

As I build this new garden, I need to re-connect with propagation….I’m getting enough little reminders. First the smell of nicotiana in Chicago, and now this picture. Love the lessons each garden I visit or create have taught me.

Streetscaping – Chicago Style

For the last several years, I have been impressed with the street plantings around downtown Chicago. An incredible mix of annuals, tender perennials/tropicals, and perennials all planted in an almost overwhelming abundance. Business took me to Chicago for the day with a stay at the Blackstone Hotel on S. Michigan Ave. I had the opportunity for an early evening walk north on Michigan, through Millennium Park and back.

On the cab ride from our office to the hotel, my eyes had spotted this dark leaved, yellow flowered Dahlia, and my first order of business was to grab a photo of this beauty. However, as I began my stroll, a familiar scent grabbed my attention. Nicotiana, flowering tobacco, planted as a center piece in giant street planters. (immediate mental note to get some seeds for next summer, one of those plants I used to grow each year in my first garden, but long forgotten).

These long beds appear to be newly planted, but I can’t wait to see them in their August Splendor. Cannas, Gingers, ‘Lime Zinger’Xanthosoma, Castor Beans, Cleome, Verbena Bonarensis…so many of my summer favorites.

The lions of the Art Institute were standing proud with a long line of these attractively planted containers.

And then finally, a chance to sneak to the center of the street and grab a shot of that Dahlia. I so love the dark leaved Dahlias, and my last gardens have been too hot for them to thrive. Hmm, maybe this slightly cooler climate will have its benefits. Another attractive red flowered version was planted within Millennium Park, but it was that yellow one that really spoke to me, that I must track down and use in my garden.

The light was beginning to fade by the time I hit the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. My first though on seeing all the buds on the Echinacea was that I was too early to see the garden in its full glory. But then I began to notice how well this garden is planted for interest all summer, the Baptisas just past their bloom, the Stachys in current bloom, Amsonia hubrichtii ready to do its yellow leaved fall show.

But perhaps my favorite photo of all…this little behind the scenes glimpse of the gardeners’ tools. The wheelbarrow, the watering cans, discarded pots and flats and trugs of many colors. I look so forward to seeing the progress of the hard work these tools represent as I visit these gardens over the course of the summer.

Sometimes I surprise even myself……recently clicked the link to a twittering gardener’s blog and was surprised to discover I was logged in to Blogger as Garden Kim. Huh? I don’t have a blog. Then I remembered, I’d signed up over the winter in order to follow my son’s classroom blog. Had totally forgotten I’d chosen Garden Kim as my name.

I guess even then, I knew the garden bug was going to get me again. That I could not keep one of the primary passions in my life tucked away and forgotten. And as this re-awakens, I need to examine where it started, where it went, and then just sit back and enjoy the ride moving forward. Will I get back to the true hortaholic of the past? Do I have it in me to once again put heart and soul into creating a new garden while still grieving the ones before – especially as not one but two no longer exist, sodded over by new owners who either couldn’t appreciate their splendor or found them too hard to handle.

I’ve always been a gardener….I remember asking for a small plot in our yard to grow my favorite moss roses, and learning a hard lesson about putting sun lovers in shady places. In my 20’s as a renter in Lexington, KY, I had the coolest attic apartment in a historic home, and lined the fire escape with my first container garden. When I finally did get my own ground to build in, I quickly went from casual dabbler to fanatic. Much of this metamorphosis was fueled by connecting with on-line gardeners via CompuServe’s Garden forum, some through real life connections with local gardening clubs and the Mid-Tennessee Daylily Society.

I learned to use my garden as a creative outlet, painting with plants. I often thought of areas of my garden by color related names, the peaches and blueberries bed, the blue/yellow bed, the hot garden, the white garden. I spent hours poring over catalogs in the winter, planning and designing new beds, new combos. Spring brought that incredible rush of the boxes and boxes of all treasures ordered over the winter. Lunch hours were spent scouring garden centers for the perfect plant to fill a spot, or discovering the perfect plant to build a new spot around.

However, for the last couple of years, this passion of mine has been repressed. A variety of reasons, a change of jobs, a year of long distance commuting between the old home and a temporary one here in Milwaukee. The uncertainty of owning two homes, moving a family, getting both our careers in place, son settled in school and sports, it was not until this spring that I finally started feeling the bug again. Just little bits here and there. Accepting that while I built and lost two great gardens from blank slates, this new space, in its overgrown, shady, cooler climate will present new and unique challenges. But also new and unique opportunities.

And so in this blog, I’ll maybe spend a post or two remembering the past, mostly it will be about re-building the future. Uncovering the existing bones of the garden – as it is apparent there was an owner who had a garden, and beginning to put my own stamp on the spot. Who knows what names I’ll come up from the areas moving forward?

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