Thursday, June 9, 2011


We have now been lovely new house-less for a year.  I miss many things about a garden at my fingertips - most of all those moments when I wander out to deadhead something and find myself 2 hours later moved on to weeding and staking and cutting flowers for the house.  I also miss working hard on a Saturday (or any day), so hard that I ache and burn, yet am completely content.  I miss the neighbors who call out as they drive by, "Your yard looks beautiful!".  They were mostly being nice, but I loved to hear it.

That said, I have enjoyed so much about our lovely condo and the joy it is to hear someone else outside plowing snow in the winter morning, and mowing the lawns this spring.  And, because of the particular design of this condominium, I also get to putter in a few square feet of dirt, and from much of the house look out at the fruits of that puttering.  We have spent much of our few free weekends of this nearly spring, designing and redesigning (one poor bleeding heart has moved 4 times!) our beds, getting an umbrella to moderate the west sun, and generally planning for friends and family to enjoy this little heavenly patch.

Thank you to the architects in the 60s who designed wide eaves for winter sun and summer shade, used brick for very low maintenance, and centered these homes around a patio!  (I would paint the brick to update this look - taupe-y green brick with white trim and the grey roof tiles? And the door - really? ) but I am a lone voice in that plea.

 After watching the sun for days to see where it hits and how it's moving in the sky, we planted herbs, shade lovers, a few annual sun babies, two sweet trees and anything we think might love this spot.  I planted a couple flats of pansies last fall and they are in full glory - almost ready to go bye bye in fact.  A few plants from my Kaysville garden have made their way here via my son Christopher, who took cuttings from my garden, and now I have taken from his.  Heritage flowers, so to speak. This door goes into the hall/kitchen

 Hostas from my old garden, stones from my parents' St. George house and Greg's parents' Denver home fit nicely with the pansies.  Don't you love the little viola faces?

 I can't quite get lavender to grow in the beds, but these two in pots planted last year are very happy.  The flue tiles were from my herb garden up north.  This door leads to the living room.

 In fact, here is the living room!

 Our new cherry tree which is small, but it blossomed gloriously.  More hosta and giant impatiens - and Greg's love, a potted jasmine which smells divine.  Umbrella!

And how is this for a view from the computer?  From my desk - in my chair in our office, I open the french door and this is exactly my view!  Well, I see more what with the peripheral vision and all.  I feel very lucky to have found places to live in my life where I can see, plant and enjoy all this loveliness nature has to offer.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Trees and their Lives

  I have known many people who feel that a tree should be left to its own way, neither trimmed nor pruned, and certainly never taken out!  I may have felt somewhat those passions myself when my interest in plants was a budding love.  And still, when trees are cut simply to clear a spot for nothing, or to build some poor excuse for architecture, I am always saddened.  You can assume there is a but.  But, trees, like all plants have a lifespan.  They have disease which makes them dangerous to surrounding plants and structures.  And they have bad habits.  They rarely drink too much, nor do they often smoke (except at the hand of careless human friends) - but they, like children will often develop a little habit here and there that doesn't seem like much - till one year the neighbor's prized roses have been crushed by an errant branch, or there is a pile of rotting fruit in their driveway.

Some time ago, I wrote about pruning shrubs, perennials and flowers.  The trimming of trees follows similar rules, but with trees, the pruning will create a permanent shape.  Perennials that are just whacked down in spring or fall, will grow as they want, but the shape of a tree and its ability to do its best work - flowering, bearing fruit, providing shade, being beautiful - is dependent on the work of the gardener. There is something so artistic and satisfying about pruning a young tree (because while old trees need pruning too, that's more a hacksaw\chainsaw event, than a pair of hand clippers and small saw like a younger one).  Leaves, flowers and fruit need air and light, so when the middle of a tree has cross branches - branches that grow into the tree mass rather than outward-the tree looks tangled and messy when there are no leaves on it.  A tree with an aesthetically pleasing shape when it's bare, will also be prettier and stronger when it's beautifully leafed out.  (Is this like people?  Because I look soooo much better with leaves, lots of leaves.)

This drawing shows some reasons trees are pruned.  In snowy climates prune broken branches so the snow won't do it for you.  If a branch looks dead - cut it off!  If one or more are growing crossways, cut them right at the trunk, in the spring while you can see clearly - and keep stepping back to see if all the branches are growing out.
Some shooters growing straight up from a branch - off with their heads!  A pretty big one growing from the trunk, but into the tree or toward the ground - off! It's so satisfying! So any branch that is unsafe, sick or just looks bad, should be your springtime enemy.

  Trees certainly do not need to have some arbitrary shape to be beautiful.  But healthy is nearly always prettier than unhealthy.  And each tree species - especially newer cultivars - has it's own ideal shape.  Like this flowering pear, which was bred to have a flame pattern.

Sometimes one that grows unusually can be beautiful anyway, especially if it has room to be seen and grow without interfering, or interference from, other trees or structures.  Like this one!

The touchiest of all tree care topics is when a tree should come out - or never be planted in the first place.  Many neighborhood feuds and community ire has been ignited over trees trimmed, taken out or not planted.
 My version of this eternal dispute is that if a tree is fast growing (i.e.weak structure - which is virtually synonymous), plant at your own own risk and know that one day it may well have to be taken out, or radically trimmed.  Poplars, willows, elms, Russian Olive and others that grow fast are notoriously weak wood and susceptible to disease and bugs.  A weeping willow, near water and from a distance is a beautiful thing. 

But in a normal yard with little ground water nearby, it will overpower homes, power lines and other plants, and drops branches all over the yard with the slightest breeze.  Chinese Elm is very sickly and is almost always host to little worms that land in the hair of innocent children causing trouble for their mothers.  And they are an official weed in most places.  I love the dark bark and beautiful silvery green of Russian Olive along a riverbank.  While I'm driving by.  Fast.  But they are a menace to water managers and people with allergies, and they too are weak and likely to break.

Many cultivars of willow are currently popular with yard builders and homeowners.  The Star Willow is a fine example.  It's hard to even find in research because it is willow grafted to a short, sturdy trunk, which grows in a very round shape, and in spring the branch tips are white so it's very pretty.  Until year 2,when it is completely out of control and the original shape is gone unless you are a vigilant pruner.  Or the coral bark willow, which loses its red bark if not completely cut down each year.  Still it grows to 8 feet around and 20 feet high - so, great for the North 40 where it will define your acreage.  Another new cultivar which grows fast and tall, has some of its parent weakness bred out - Swedish Aspen.  It is a poplar/aspen hybrid and it still grows fast, but resists much of the disease of both parents.  Not a pretty tree, but very good for privacy and hiding the neighbors' garage.

Sadly, many trees just have a lifespan, and they need to be replaced.  Sycamores and Maples do not get what they need from our Intermountain West conditions.  They may live for years, but if you bought your home at the end of the 40 or 50 or even 80 year life, it's hard to say, time to go old friend! Topping (boo) and cutting around power lines may work for a while, but at some point it's just distressing to see a mangled tree  stick around for a scrap of shade.  Sometimes a tree is just too old or too sick or too weak, and it has to go.  There will undoubtedly be, in each such case, someone who wants to hang on to it anyway. 

Great trees for ornamental and shade use in yards for another day. Here is one of my favorites, the Honey Locust.  Tiny leaves that seem to just disappear, filtered shade, and a lovely shape.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Life Sans Garden

Well that's a very sad little title, no? As I read my abruptly final post last spring about preparing for Emily's wedding dinner at our home and looking forward to the year's gardening, I am filled with a mix of sadness, relief, nostalgia and anticipation. And as always, I wonder why I waited so long to face something hard or sad and make it part of the growth and joy of my life!

Shortly after my violas and pansies were planted for the wedding festivities, we realized that for several reasons, we needed to sell our lovely home and yard and move to a smaller, easier, closer to the city and maybe a bit more economical place. I shudder each time I look at our file of plants and their receipts - but then I think, hey, we could have been doing drugs or buying antiques! Building the yard was our hobby and our travel and our exercise and our drug of choice. No regrets. And since the move, I have come to realize that it was oh-so-right a decision and that there are other ways to experience the natural beauty I love. At least for now. We have a lovely condominium with a great central patio and lots of light and room for container planting, and until we find just the right little house with a perfect little yard and big family rooms for the gang - I will write about other gardens and natural wonders that come into my life.

This adventure began with Emily's wedding. Her reception was in the garden and interior of a small studio in the Avenues. Because it was early in the spring, the studio owner let us do the spring clean up and some planting - all all those pots I had filled with pansies were carted right over to her patio! Emily and Tasha and I did the flowers, with logistical support from Kate, and they looked like this:

The pots were great, they added to the charming patio where Emily and Aaron greeted their guests. And we all cleaned up really nicely to celebrate with them. I worked so much in this yard and in the yard of my friend where we held the family dinner, that I felt completely spring fulfilled. The summer took on such a complicated life of its own (luckily for you, full of natural wonders yet to hear of!) that I am very grateful for this lovely day.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What Goes Around...

Here is my spring view from the kitchen window! Johnny jump ups (violas) in my favorite purple pot. I have experienced many springs. The springs of my young life happened in the southwest where there is a barely discernible difference in the seasons, but the last 30 or so have been mountain west spring times and each one has been a delightful surprise. My first experience with seasonal change was winter semester in a small Idaho college town, and I was dismayed at the dead trees and lifeless landscape. When spring came and bulbs rose from the ground and trees sprouted leaves, I was just shocked!

I feel that way every year still. Greg teases that I say - "Oh, the magnolia came back!" or " Hey did you notice that the ornamental grasses are coming up?", as if it's a big surprise. I read a post by a friend the other day, gently lamenting a day spent cleaning and fixing a lovely dinner - and thinking that tomorrow would dawn with those same things to do and little collective family memory of today's accomplishment. I suspect that yard care (we call it gardening to justify our time spent outside) often feels the same to the lawn mowing population. But as long as the temprature peeks above 40, we are looking for projects and and happy to spend some of every day fussing over a patch of dirt.

This year, we have an early (May 14th) outside dinner party for my daughter's pre-wedding family dinner. Since spring can be a relative term for us, I decided to plant pansies in profusion, because they will oblige us with early growth and no nasty surprises in case of a late frost. That also means two annual planting seasons this year since pansies don't love the hot dry summers of the Wasatch Front. So I have a new experience to tackle - planting summer flowers in with the spring primroses and pansies to make an ever blooming annual presence. The same four seasons may come and go and come and go, one pretty much like another. But isn't it nice that we seem to get same thrill from these little guys every year, no matter how many springs pass us by?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Cutting Things Down to Size.

Remember last year when I was late trimming my grasses? This year we have taken advantage of a warmer, drier February and nearly all are already trimmed - a month ahead of last year. Besides making room for the new growth, we found that holding or tying them up while cutting the stems - preferably with a trimmer of some kind - is much much cleaner. I felt like I was battling old sticks and dried heads all summer last year when we just whacked away at them.

It's definitely still winter, but a little fresh air and work outside has me thinking and planning already. My secret garden changed dramatically last year and while it may not need the same kind of design and planting attention this summer, there is plenty of filling in which will give it a more lush feeling. There are several typed of perennials that I have learned to love in these last seasons, and I would like to extol their virtues.

First, coreopsis. There are many varieties and although yellow is most
common, there are now bright and pale pink, white, and a few red varieties. I didn't love them at first, the flowers are small and the plant is bushy, but they blossom all spring, summer and fall, and when deadheaded they are profuse bloomers (deadheading is the key - otherwise they are just lumps of green). I often make my way through my 10 or plants snipping off dying blossoms - but I also sometimes just trim one way back and in a week or so, it is back in force. They are great for pots and as long as they have sun, they'll grow with little water and poor soil. If they get too floppy, I use a circular stake and they stand right up. Like these in the right corner of the photo.Another new favorite is plumbago. My neighbor, Wendi, recommended them and I have really loved what they add. They are a small border plant and I am gradually planting them all around the outside ring of the garden. They are at first green leaved with bright blue flowers, then the leaves gradually turn red until they are really a beautiful fall color. They spread slowly from year to year - but they're worth it!

And maybe my favorite accidental find in a big box nursery is crocosmia! They are part of the iris family, they spread and although they bloom later, the green foliage looks great in the background all year. And when the flowers are done, the seed heads still look good all fall. And hummingbirds love them!It's always good to try a new plant or take a recommendation. You can always give them away, move them or let them die gracefully if you don't like them, but many of the plants I have come to love, were little happy accidents!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Leaves and Lavender Christmas

So it seemed to me that if I were not working this past few months - which I wasn't - and if I wanted to do some lovely and meaningful things for Christmas this year - which I did, I would need to be creative. I thought about my limited creative abilities and since one of my best outlets is the garden, I looked there for some ideas. I have also occasionally refinished some old, or even not-so-old pieces of furniture and last fall the two combined in this little bathroom cabinet. I used leaves from some of our trees and some from neighbors' to give it some texture and personality.

Greg kept an eye on the changing leaves on the beautiful City County building grounds in Salt Lake City, and filled his backpack several days, so I began pressing them in October. Fortunately we have a nearly limitless supply of heavy books around here so I had stacks of them weighing down oak, maple, pear and other varieties of drying foliage. Wasn't sure what I would do with them, but each time I took a peek they were more beautiful, so I let ideas swirl in my head. And I knew that for Katie in her very first solo apartment, I wanted to refinish some piece of furniture, so I was also keeping an eye on the thrift stores for something with possibilities.

The lavender grown in my garden and, as I noticed on walks, in yards all over the neighborhood, I did have some ideas for. I had already made little sachets for a few years - I love the scent of lavender and I sometimes even put one in my pillow to sleep. But the good old www. opened a world of waxes and potions, which I finally narrowed down to candles and lotion. I avoided some first timer mistakes by absorbing vicarious experience shared by many candle makers and natural cosmetic sites - but I also experienced plenty of trial and error of my own! After learning more than one might care to, I can tell you about wicks and waxes, containers and molds, bases and additives, preservatives and scents. I made infused oils with my dried lavender and then set to concocting.After Greg had walked through many a DI wondering "what are we looking for?", we found a perfect little maple mid century modern coffee table (which I discovered from its stamp, was made by an Ethan Allen-owned wood furniture company, in Vermont circa about 1952). Stripping, sanding and hand rubbed staining later, it looked really great. I also added one maple leaf in honor of its wood and to give it a little signature. One of the collages for Eliz is also in this photo.The other pressed leaves I took inspiration (copied) from some pieces I saw at an art show and framed for some of the kids who have homes. I learned in my years of custom framing that any vegetation, pressed or otherwise preserved has a limited life when captured in a frame - but isn't that just how life is anyway?Elizabeth and I had shared a conversation which inspired a piece of collage art for her, and the grandboys each got quilts oh so lovingly stitched by someone everyone is calling grandma. I made one side satiny for rubbing on little cheeks, and one flannel for snuggling and quilted their names in the pattern. Garrett's is brown with cowboy flannel and Morgan's Blue with football flannel.All said and done, the children and friends were gracious interested in their gifts, and some reactions were absolutely etched into my heart forever. But it was I who will be changed in my view of what giving means. For hours and days as I researched and experimented, glued and sanded, and stitched and framed, I thought of all of them. I remembered my children from babies to their wonderful grown up selves. I thought of my friends and what they have meant in my life and what theirs have taught me. I imagined what this or that person might think when they caught a whiff of a lavender scented hand or wrapped in a snuggly blanket for comfort. I didn't care what new thing was in stores, because I was busy wanting to be home working on my projects. As always, I wished I were able to do more - pay some tuition or take everyone on a great trip. But this year I felt less of that. My garden, my eye for design, mostly my slow but willing hands, gave me the opportunity to really show the people I love, one tiny fraction of what I feel for them.
I may never be able to do anything like this again. Time, ideas, energy and the need to work may make it a one time opportunity. But for me it was a magical few months. As I watched my children in our two day sleep-over after Christmas quilting on a big bedspread for Tasha and Christopher, and talking of knitting or crocheting or photograph projects, movies, art and music and of plans with and for friends, grandparents, cousins and each other, I realized that what I know about love I learned from them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Herbs - Growing, Drying, Using, Loving

Loving herbs may sound a bit dramatic - but I still remember a card my mom gave to a friend about 35 years ago. My parents' good friends Phyllis and Herb lived nearby and for her birthday, Mom bought a card that said on the front, "Do you like Herbs?" and inside "He likes yours!". It made her laugh wickedly every time she opened it and I now think of it nearly every time I say the word herbs.

But really, herbs. I love to have them fresh for several dishes that I make often and I had grown them for many years - mostly parsley and basil, in a pot or flower bed near the kitchen. The new herb garden was built last spring with flue tiles and it was just wonderful all year. I also planted a few carrots and two kinds of lettuce between the pots. As the summer progressed it looked like this:I used the herbs all year, and also tried to harvest each plant as it grew thick, to dry for use through the winter. Some I have shared and some I hope to use in potions I am making for Christmas. Our lavender is not in the herb garden, but my 6 plants - plus some neighbor blossoms I snipped with permission - have all been busily producing lovely smelling buds and leaves to make other goodies for family and friends' Christmas gifts. I love the smell of lavender and find it very restful, so I'm excited to have so much to use in creative ways.

The jars I filled with stems from my pre-frost trimming took root before I used them, and now I have several in pots ready to share or plant in the spring! There is something really satisfying about using my own rosemary to make bread - even if it's just a tiny portion of what goes into the recipe. I may never have a garden with more than a few meals worth of salad or veggies, but I can grow, dry and use lots of fun herbs with small and cute spaces.

I like herbs - does Herb like yours?