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The Latest Dirt - Garden Thoughts
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“I hope you survive the hurricane of spring!”


I smiled as I reflected on my friend’s words.  She, like me, was in the gardening business and she had perfectly coined the months of April and May. Our phone call had been all about the to-do list that wasn’t done, the frenzied hunt for plant material, the days that were about 4 hours too short, the meals of take-out and the juggling. The constant juggling. Trying to keep clients happy in the face of shortages – both of plant material and labor. Let me be honest and say that I love my job and there is nothing else I would rather be doing, but this spring pretty much kicked my butt. Last year with the pandemic was extremely busy; this spring was even more so. Like all hurricanes, however, this one will eventually stop and I am hopeful there will not be any damage in its wake.

Thank you…and silk flowers.

This spring has been one for the records as far as I am concerned. Busier than ever. The kind of busy where you lie in bed at night and start to list the things you still have to do until you get so agitated that you get up and start doing them. Even if it’s 3AM. A very dear Aunt passed away in March and I am the Executor of her extensive estate which added quite a bit more to my to-do list. At times I felt completely overwhelmed as I sat in on Zoom meetings with her legal and financial team. Latin names and flowers I understand. Legal terms…not so much. Did you know a Qtip isn’t just for after a shower but is actually a type of trust? 

A huge thank you to everyone who was patient with me this season. Thank you to those who extended grace when I was not as responsive to emails or phone calls. Thank you to those who forgave me when I forgot a plant or two. Thank you to those who offered me a cup of tea when I looked tired. And thanks also to a great team (shout out to Amy and Lauren) who had my back during the crazy times and even the times when I was cranky. Mea culpa.  

For those of you who might have heard me present my talk on container gardening you might remember my discussion of silk flowers and how they should not be used in containers. You might also recall that I had an Aunt who used them anyway. Well, that was my Aunt Mary who passed away. She has quite a few nice silk flowers that I will not be using in containers - they need a good home. If you know of an organization that might want them, please send me an email.

Dragonflies.

Chances are you have seen a dragonfly or two since they live on every continent but Antarctica. And if you have never appreciated these flying marvels it’s time you took another look. 

Dragonflies are in the order Odonata which means “toothed ones” and describes their serrated mandibles.  They fly forward, backwards and sideways at speeds up to 30 MPH. They have four wings and each is able to move independently from the others which is why they are able to fly with such precision. Dragonflies have a head made up of two compound eyes which allows them to have nearly 360-degree vision.

In their larval stage, which can last up to two years, dragonflies live underwater. They eat worms, mosquito larvae, even small fish. Once they hatch they hunt their prey from the air. Dragonflies can adjust their flight to intercept prey with such accuracy that they are 95% effective. They only eat their prey while flying and if they are unable to fly they will die.

If you are still not impressed by the dragonfly consider one of its common names – Mosquito Hawk. One dragonfly can consume between 30-100 mosquitoes every day. In my book that makes them special. Rather than spraying poisons on our lawn and gardens to deal with flying pests we should encourage more dragonflies. Planting flowers that attract other insects will draw the dragonflies like an all-you-can-eat buffet draws a teenager. Dragonflies also love water gardens and water features.

Finally, dragonflies will not hurt humans. They do not bite or sting. They will not sew your lips shut so that you starve to death (something I remember hearing as a child). I have often had them land on me and if I am still, they eventually lower their wings. It has been said that if a dragonfly lands on you it is good luck. Sounds right to me.

Weeping and Bleeding.

Twenty years ago I was a young mother living in my first home. I had my own garden which I spent countless hours working in. It was not large, but it was full. I terraced an unused hillside to make room for more perennials. Carrying and placing large stones while my baby daughter slept in a carrier on my back. Over time that garden became my favorite place; days would start and end there. It was a beautiful backdrop for life – family reunions, birthday parties and the occasional date night.

Then everything changed. A pain, unexpected and deep, pushed its way into my life. It was a dark time. My garden, like a true friend, invited me in. There, in the quiet, with my hands in the dirt I noticed the rhythm of things. Life. Death. Life again. The barren and empty winter landscape gave way to the spring bloomers that had not been dead, but only waiting beneath the surface. I could see, in my garden, a greater plan. A Master Designer. And over time the pain healed.

I planted a bleeding heart in my garden and as I shoveled the last of the dirt into the hole I laid all the pain to rest. The chapter was closed.

Fifteen years later I was living in a new home. One with a bigger yard and more opportunities to garden. To me, it was Heaven. We moved in the fall so I did not have an opportunity to appreciate all the plants that were in the garden except to notice some beautiful trees, including a weeping birch.

Unfortunately, pain was aware of my new address and made an unscheduled visit. They say gardening is cheaper than therapy, so I gardened with abandon. Planted and pruned. Weeded and deadheaded. Tried to create beauty from ashes. 

One day while working in the shade garden I noticed a plant emerging under the weeping birch. Can you guess? It was a bleeding heart. One of my favorite authors, Sydney Eddison, says that “Gardens are a form of autobiography.” My home’s previous owner had plants that were weeping and bleeding. Had he too experienced pain? Had he, like me, found balm in the garden?

These days I am planting more snowdrops; true, it is my logo and I love the toughness of a delicate flower that blooms through the snow, but it symbolizes hope.

What about you? Is your garden telling your story?

Look ma, No Flowers!

Flowers are beautiful. They provide incredible color and interest to our containers and gardens. But they also require deadheading, fertilizing, more deadheading and a midsummer nap to perform at their best. And, if you are like me, the last bloom drops right before your big party!

Why not forego flowers and plant a container of all foliage? These are some of the best options for time-pressed gardeners. The containers on my back patio are all foliage. Because after I have been out in my client’s gardens deadheading all day it’s the last thing I want to do when I get home. Best of all, containers made up of great foliage plants will look better in September than when you plant them in June. You can’t really say that about flowers.

Creating a great composition using foliage is not that different from getting dressed in the morning. It’s all about combining patterns. Choose one boldly patterned foliage plant, one that might be a bit smaller and then a neutral. Of course, all the plants you put together should enjoy the same light and moisture requirements. I often go around the nursery with my inspiration plant in hand and find out what it looks good with. Some of my favorite foliage plants include: heuchera, dichondra ‘Silver Falls’, coleus, colocasia, strobilanthes and cannas.

So this summer why not focus on foliage? After all, nothing says “enjoy that glass of wine” like a container that needs no maintenance.

To see examples of some of my favorite foliage compositions click here

Big News.

I finally have the shed I have been dreaming of for years. Thanks so much to Post Woodworking out of New Hampshire for the beautiful work and great attention to detail. They were a pleasure to work with. To see how quickly the workshop was put together click here.

This is less of a shed and more of a workshop where I will be crafting, designing, filming tutorials and holding the occasional DIY class. My husband wondered where the lawnmower would go and I said, “the old shed!”

This new space is a work in progress and if you have been reading along you know it has been too busy for me to yet accomplish all I would like. First off, is a coat of white paint for the interior. Next will be slate-look vinyl flooring. Then will come shelving, etc. etc.

For now, I just sit inside on the lone wicker chair, and dream.

It has been a busy, busy season and while I always love getting my hands in the dirt, I confess I am looking forward to a little time in the hammock.

See you in the garden,

Deborah

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