Month: June 2014

Hitchhikers and Freeloaders

I grow a lot of plants in pots, because the dry, rooty soil of my garden (about which I complain frequently) is not hospitable to the delicate and needy. So delphiniums, lilies and even tomatoes live in big pots parked along paths and driveway.

As I water and fuss over these potted prima donnas, I often find seedlings coming up in the pot soil, everything from lamb’s ears to chervil to infant peach trees. Tiny and delicate, they are easy to ignore, and as they grow many of them look really good (the beauty of youth). They display the very qualities of leaf shape and colour that made them welcome in the garden to begin with. Sometimes these self-sown interlopers pair so well with the legitimate occupant of the pot that I don’t even think of yanking them out. (I actually have a problem yanking out any plant that’s healthy and attractive — which explains a lot about this garden).

Sometimes the pot seedlings are useful plants. All my Verbena bonariensis died last winter, so I’m happy to see a few popping up in the tomato pots and will transplant them into their own pots and eventually to spots in the garden beds. A kale plant that came up in one of last year’s tomato pots continues to thrive in the pot and furnishes a few kale leaves for salads and stuff.

But there is a Dark Side. Unchecked, the little seedling grows and grows, eventually overwhelming the legitimate occupant of the pot. I stupidly left a rose campion in one of the 2-gallon pots occupied by a “Stargazer” lily, and a plant of lamb’s ears in the other. By the time I got around to wondering why the lilies didn’t look like blooming as they had done for several summers, it was too late. An emergency repotting job only gave the lilies better quarters in which to die.

Then there was the young mullein that almost did in a bright orange lily that had lived in its pot for years. It survived, possibly because the lilies had gone dormant (but dormant looks a lot like dead, so I wasn’t sure until the lily sprouted out this spring).

September 16, 2013

Think about it — a pot contains a finite clump of soil. It’s usually improved, enriched soil, but there is only so much of it. A plant like a lily may thrive in that situation because it’s the exclusive tenant of the pot, with all of the nutrients and water available for it alone. But when a vigorous plant like a rose campion takes over, it hogs all the goodies — with predictable results.

It’s amazing how a gardener with decades of experience can ignore something this obvious. Even now — today — a self-seeded forget-me-not prospers and blooms in a pot prepared for a purchased clematis (“Pink Fantasy”). But see how pretty the tiny blue flowers are, like little stars…

June 28, 2014 I will have to harden my heart and extract the forget-me-not. They grow all over the place, but there is only one pink clematis. It did quite well this spring and I would like to see it bigger and better next year.

Finally, here are some hitchhikers that can’t possibly harm their host.

Tiny mushrooms in pot with Plectranthus cuttings

Tiny mushrooms in pot with Plectranthus cuttings

The Garden at Midsummer

Few words, lots of pictures…

June 1, 2014A pair of house sparrows moved into this birdhouse which had been unoccupied for years. Even though they’re the most common of birds, it’s nice to see them coming and going. I think they have since launched a gang of young birds.

 

June 1, 2014The ex-vegetable patch, now evolving into something else, looks deceptively lush, with an old kale plant rising above lavender and sage.

 

June 1, 2014More lushness and promise in the front garden at the beginning of June, with forget-me-nots hanging on, Allium christophii, a blue hardy geranium, and foliage of asters and crocosmia. Euphorbia “Humpty Dumpty” in the background.

 

June 12, 2014June 12, 2014

 

 

 

 

The murky pink of an unfolding delphinium is a contrast to the unsubtle orange of a lily. Both grow in pots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

June 20, 2014Mulleins have gone from phallic to torch-like, although this one looks like it has an attitude. Note the hose snaking along the path. It hasn’t really rained since May 8, so watering with sprinklers is necessary.

 

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June 22, 2014The ever-reliable climbing rose, whose name I don’t know, is in full bloom. There are a few buds left to open, but you can see the very first flowers browning off. I’m always amazed that this plant blooms so well, since it’s planted right next to one of the Norway maples (whose presence is partly justified because it supports the rose).

 

June 22, 2014

June 22, 2014

The tomato plants are starting to bloom, so maybe there will be a few tomatoes by September. Growing in pots, they are dwarfed specimens, but would do worse in the dry, rooty soil of the garden.

 

 

 

Only now…

In the fourth of H.P.  Lovecraft’s stories serialized under the title “Herbert West, Reanimator,” West tells the narrator that a traveler collapsed and died while asking for directions at his door — presenting him with an opportunity for a really fresh specimen for one of his reanimation experiments. When the fellow comes back to life, he reveals to the narrator that West murdered him. But before that, the first words he utters as life returns to him are “Only now.” Unfortunately, with the return of full consciousness, the subject remembers his murder and never completes that intriguing sentence. Only now… what? Since H.P.L. was an atheist, it was probably not a secret of the afterlife. But “only” is an interesting word.

1. Only I can help you now.

2. I only can help you now.

3. I can only help you now.

4. I can help only you now.

5. I can help you only now.

Five sentences with quite different meanings. The wording is identical except for placement of one word — only. A slippery little word, sometimes redundant, occasionally powerful, as in #1 above. (Sentence #2, in my opinion, is problematic, but I included it for the sake of completeness). A warning before you read any more — I am no grammarian. Like a musician who doesn’t read music, I write by ear.

“Only” is an adverb, derived from Old English “anlic,” meaning “one-like.” But it’s also used as an adjective (“This is my only chance”) and a conjunction (replacing “but,” as in “I wanted to do it right, only I failed”). It can even be a noun, as in “You are my one and only.”

People are often careless in their use of “only,” especially in conversation, tossing it into sentences without much concern as to where it lands. “I’ll only be a minute,” one says, when “I’ll be only a minute” is more precise. There is a tendency to put “only” near the beginning of a sentence, often immediately before the verb. (Makes sense when it’s an adverb). The verb is the action word in a sentence, and “only,”  intended here to convey brevity or insignificance, is applied to the action word rather than to “minute,” the word that really conveys brevity.

This use of “only” is as a “softener,” a word that tones down the impact of a sentence, turning it from a demand to a request. In such a situation,  you may wish to use “just” rather than “only.” “Just” is a kind of throwaway word, and often a sentence is improved by throwing it out.

If you want a rule, it might be this:  put “only” right before the word it applies to. Move it around until the sentence conveys your intended meaning.

“Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” Indeed she does.

“God only knows.” He isn’t talking, but someone else might, unless only God knows, in which case prayer is your only option.

 

Thugs, Prima Donnas… and Mulleins

When I began making this garden in 1992, I didn’t have a lot to spend on the project, so I was happy to fill up the space with pass-along plants from other gardeners, waifs and strays of unknown provenance and tough, easy-to-grow self-seeders. Many of these are still with me, prospering despite the sandy, tree-root-infested soil and dry summers. I’ve written about them here already.

Like most gardeners, I’ve also wanted to grow more challenging plants — refined roses, delphiniums, oriental lilies and (the gardener’s supreme challenge), Himalayan blue poppies. For several years, I pored over the catalogues of a nursery located in the Fraser Valley, and every year brought home a selection of their offerings. I ordered seeds of carefully-researched perennials and successfully raised seedlings. Some of those acquisitions are still with me, and a few are doing well.

Geranium "Anne Folkard" and Clematis integrifolia

Geranium “Anne Folkard” and Clematis integrifolia

 

Dictamnus albus

Dictamnus albus

But. (There’s always a “but”).

My garden is now bursting full. If I want to try something new, something has to be removed. Quite a few of the purchased and grown-from-seed plants are long gone, remembered only from a sad collection of labels in my garden shed. Cosmos atrosanguineus, Gaura lindheimeri “Siskiyou Pink,” Lamium maculatum “White Nancy,” R.I.P. Farewell, Coreopsis verticillata “Moonbeam,” Trifolium repens “Dragon’s Blood” and Cimicifuga racemosa.

The good old tough plants are, of course, thriving. Hellebores, toadflax, rose campion, lamb’s ears, lady’s mantle, foxgloves, fireweed and a number of ferns. The fussy, “quality” plants, however, live in pots. No root competition and individual attention from the gardener in the form of fertilizer and water.

Potted Oriental Lily and Zeke the Cat

Potted Oriental Lily and Zeke the Cat

Pots aren’t foolproof, however. I bought this potted lily a week ago to replace two that gave up the ghost because I allowed self-seeded “hitchhiker” plants to take over their pots. Another threat is excessive winter wetness. A couple of my delphiniums perished from that, and it was literally death to my idea of growing blue poppies in pots. Better results may be possible if one ensured really good drainage and situated the pots in a spot out of the rain (and remembered to check for excessive dryness at times over the winter).

For the past three years, my blue poppies have had their own bed near a magnolia. Last year they bloomed; this year they decided to give it a miss, even though they look healthy. I am catering to them with mulches of compost and peat, extra fertilizer, regular watering and shade from afternoon sun. As in farming and hockey, maybe next year.

Tough plants need to be controlled and discouraged. Delicate beauties need to be cosseted and coaxed. Pots aren’t always a solution and there are no guarantees.

But mulleins look great most of the time. I have given over my former vegetable patch to herbs and mulleins — Verbascum olympicum and Verbascum chaixii. Even before they bloom, they look interesting.

Verbascum chaixii rosette from above

Verbascum chaixii rosette from above

Mulleins seem to know that anticipation is almost better than fulfillment. They take a long time to grow their bloom stalks and look great through the process.

Olympic mulleins, Verbascum olympicum

Olympic mulleins, Verbascum olympicum

In the end, I have to ignore the distinctions between tough plants, refined plants, purchased or self-seeded. Right now, the garden looks pretty good. Right now. That’s what counts.

May 31, 2014