African Violets

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I have loved African Violets for years, and yet I have never mastered them. My former brother in law always grew beautiful Violets on his east-facing windowsill over his kitchen sink.  When I asked him his secret, he said he pruned off leaves like crazy. It clearly worked. But not for me.

My former sister in law (not BIL’s wife, a different one) said she was able to root African Violets in a glass of water. Alas, I don’t have that skill either.

HHB’s mother has given me three Violets (above) as part of her fantastic collection of uniquely beautiful Violets that she has… No kidding… sitting on the living room floor.

Of all the plants that have mystified me over the years, this is the one. With about a 10% success rate with growing them from cuttings and Violets that barely bloom, here’s hoping that all my failures are in the past.

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Lawns

wpid-20130928_101548.jpgLiving in Wisconsin, I’m blessed to have fantastic public television channels (namely, the Wisconsin Channel).  I am sitting here watching a fantastic program on my least favorite garden item: lawns.

I’ve already learned a number of helpful things I thought I’d pass on.

First: Nitrogen is the best weed control.  So you should actually fertilize your lawn if you don’t want weeds.  Sorry about that Mr. Mayor.  Weirdly, fertilizing your lawn also helps reduce phosphorus runoff which will help our beautiful lakes.

Second: Fertilize in Wisconsin on the summer holidays for sunny lawns like mine; Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day.  Easy to remember and we both know you aren’t really going to parties then anyway.

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Third: The soil under your lawn sucks. (unless you have my gorgeous soil here at New House– the top picture is the soil with no additives under the grass.  I haven’t yet dug a big pit, but it seems to be quite nice as deep as I’m willing to dig).  Professor John Stier showed a picture of his soil at his new-construction home, which looked even worse than mine at Old House (if you can imagine it.)  Add a light layer of compost on top or even better–actually till your soil.  My neighbor at Old House also got great results with core aeration.

Fourth: If you didn’t already know it, to get a very green lawn, water one inch per week.  If the grass goes dormant, it still needs moisture so the crown of the plant can survive.  Since we usually have an adequate amount of rain here in Wisconsin, he suggested watering when you see footprints that stay on the lawn.

The presentation also showed different kinds of grass and their ability to resist drought, and the unimproved Kentucky Bluegrass did a great job.  Sorry Southern Sister, I know how much you miss our pretty grass.

Fifth: You can’t grow grass under trees because the tree roots outcompete the lawn.  So go ahead and plant it every year, SC.  Unless you remove the tree roots (!!) it ain’t gonna grow.

As a person who hates grass and would rather have all gardens, I certainly learned a lot.  Between that and the presentation from a guy at Rotary Gardens (Janesville) about ornamental grasses, I might yet become a convert.

 

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Southern Frustration

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What is this?  My sister likes to puzzle me with her evergreen foundation shrubbery.

I’ll admit that my Southern gardening knowledge is extremely limited… If you know, let me know!

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Goodbye Grama

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My much beloved grandmother has died. She was a real pistol, still working out at her gym in her 80s. A lover of beer and Packer football and art and a good time.

She’d been “poorly” for a few months and could barely talk when I saw her at Thanksgiving. I knew she was dying and as I was thinking about how to celebrate her life, I knew I had to do a flower arrangement.

So here it is.

Some details:

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Bottlecaps from Michelob Ultra, her favorite beer.
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Rosemary, for remembrance. Rosemary was also her sister’s name.

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Dark pink carnations mean “I will never forget you.”

There is Holly, as well, symbolizing everlasting life.

The bi-colored carnations are favorites of my sister. There are roses that are reddish pink, with a white reverse (my favorite) and the whole color choice is based on my sister’s wedding.

There are also coleus and hypericum berries, just for color. The coleus is a cutting from a plant given to me by a dear aunt.  The author Frances Mayes says it reminds her of death.  It will remind me of my Grama’s life.

Although she’s not here to see it, I think she’d appreciate it.

Miss you already, Grama.

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Planting for Fall Color

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It is an unlovely fall day today, but the leaves are gorgeous. I often think about planting for spring color, but fortunately the previous owners thought about fall. With two autumn blaze maples and the beautiful yellow birch leaves…it’s so impressive.

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Looking at the autumn blaze maple from upstairs, it’s like the tree is on fire.

I’ve done my part too, planting a Japanese maple with gorgeous scarlet lacy leaves.

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I’ve spent a lot of money chasing spring color, but now I’ll try to remember… Fall color is just as glorious.

And maybe HHB will rake these gorgeous leaves.

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I want an apple tree

I get like this sometimes, but I really want an apple tree. And I’d like ‘Cox’s orange pippin” and maybe lady Apples. Whenever fall hits, I get a hankering for apple pies, hot apple cider, applesauce. All delicious and they make the house smell so good.

I know that apple trees are a pain, and an insect magnet, but I think It might, possibly, be worth the trouble to have gorgeous apples of my very own, ripe for picking.

We’ll see how I feel about it by spring… HHB is lobbying for a pear tree, of all things. I don’t even like pears, but I do like him, so we’ll see… Oh it’s going to be a long winter.

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Tired of Pretending

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There has come a point in my life where I’m tired of BS. Not that I ever had much tolerance for it, but now I have exceptionally little. I’ve stopped using girly cleaners that don’t work, but smell good in favor of 409, which does work.

In the rest of my life too, I just don’t have time to waste. I’ve given in, and plan to plant knock out roses next spring. The above is my plan for my herbaceous border. The idea is that I will repeat this square til I run out of space.

My favorites were all easy: of course phlox and irises. Of course peonies. But I needed a flowering something that wouldn’t be a complete pain and would flower in June…thus roses. Now I’ll probably still do some fun roses in the “high maintenance garden”–but this garden is meant for good looks. Not pain.

I’ll note that a friend pointed out that my grid was “highly anal retentive.” That makes me even prouder…because I have no time to waste.

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Fall planting

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It is a glorious fall day in Madison, and it’s time for bulb planting.

I arrived home from Connecticut last night and saw a huge pile of bulbs in my front hall. Thank you, HHXB.

Spending a last warm day outside planting in my garden is a great blessing…and it’s so easy: dig hole, throw in bulbs. I’m planting about 750, which is less than I did in the olden days, but I’m wiser now: don’t waste money planting tulips. Plant daffodils, they come back and animals don’t eat them.

Plant crocuses because nothing is better after the snow melts. Plant blue scilla, because it is the purest sky blue.

Ok, enough typing…I have to dig!

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It feels like home to me.

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The humble colchicum. So humble, I had to add it to the dictionary when I typed that. To me, once the colchicums are planted, I’m officially home.

Fall-blooming, and not to be confused with the autumn crocus, they are the answer to the question: what should I plant for the fall that the (deer, rabbits, etc.) won’t eat?

Quite expensive (about $3 a bulb) and hard to find, they are also the answer to the question, “what should I plant that isn’t completely ubiquitous?” 

They are tough, and like most good things, they multiply, so you don’t have to buy more than five. Try them…they are worth the investment, and will make your house look like it could only be your home.

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I’ve Never Been Promised a Rose Garden

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So I’ll make one myself.  My favorite thing about a little downtime/lunch time later in the year (and Wednesdays generally), is that I can forget about my to-do list in the garden and start thinking about my What-If? list.

At the top of that What-If? list: a new rose garden.  The very first garden my former husband and I built together at our old house was a rose garden.  I planted some classics: Abraham Lincoln, V is for Victory (hmm…), and a bunch of adorable minatures, including scentsational, which I think is no longer available, for shame.

Now in my new house, and having just finished the book “Roses: A Celebration,” edited by Wayne Winterrowd, I’m keen to get back to my rosy roots.  A rose I’ve long wanted to grow purely for its historical associations: York and Lancaster.  I love the idea of the end of a civil war symbolized by roses to result in a blending even better than one single color.  (It wouldn’t work as well with our own civil war: not a lot of blue and grey flowers.)

My heart, however, belongs to Therese Bugnet.  I love her terrifyingly thorny canes, that are really only thorny on the bottom.  I love the abundance of her (rather plain) pink flowers.  But without doubt, my favorite thing about her is her lovely winter canes.  Winter lasts a long time up here in Madison… and if snow is on the ground for months at a time, nothing beats some red sticks to remind you of the promise of a springtime to come. 

So though I may have to make the garden infinitely larger, I will grow Therese Bugnet, York and Lancaster along with V is for Victory.  Though life may give us lots of opportunities to make our own rose gardens, it is up to us to dig them.

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