A Peculiar Fight For Turgidity

The tame, too smug, I cry;
There’s no adventure in security;
Yet still my little garden craft I ply,
Mulch, hoe, and water when the ground is dry…

-Vita Sackville-West
The Garden; 1948

 

 

The other day I was looking up odds and ends when I came across a word I have never heard.  It’s a word that has been rolling around in my mind for days as we are in desperate need of it.  Turgid, or swollen in reference to plants means they have a healthy amount of water hydrating their cells.  Imagine a plant whose leaves are plump and stand upright they way they ought to.  That is turgidity.

Yesterday, I did something rather peculiar.   It hasn’t really rained here for weeks and the trees are beginning to droop.   Everything is looking rather dull and dry.  Even my precious maple my husband planted as my Mother’s day gift is looking sad.

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Anyway, I was doing my daily watering of the garden when it struck me how dehydrated my neighbor’s lilac bush looked.  Its bright green leaves had lost their luster and they drooped and sagged with drought.

My neighbor rents.  They keep to themselves mostly.  We hardly speak.  But through my keen observation I know they rarely look at that end of the house.  They do the bare minimum to take care of the old plants surrounding the property.  Funnily enough, the rose bushes and iris’s looked quite healthy and turgid, but the grand lilac bush of many years was struggling.

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(Above: My neighbor’s neglected rose bush rests its arm on their old meter.)

A thought came to my mind as I stood watering my own plants, and a sly smile creep upon my face.  Stealthily I crept over and threw my hose under its dehydrated branches – turning it on full blast.  I left it there for a moment while I meandered about, falsely pondering my own precious flowers.

Despite my efforts to be cool however, I imagined her watching my every move from her kitchen window wondering what the hell I was doing, and wishing I’d mind my own business.

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(Above: My neighbor’s lilac the morning after I gave it a douse of water.  As you can see it could use a little more.)

But I believe her lilac bush is my business.  It’s all I see out my kitchen window and its large green leaves distract from the poorly painted black and white motif of their asbestos siding.  I thought for sure it might die and they would neglect to tear it out for years – leaving it in the ground to rot and turn brown; much to my sorrow.
I refuse to look at death out my window when I can prevent such a disaster.  So I must utilize the hose and sprinkler for now until the rains come again.  Bring on turgidity please!!

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Deadly Nightshade

This remedy she rejected, saying that she would rather die than do anything that she believed to be a crime or contrary to God’s will.

-Vita Sackville-West
Saint Joan of Arc: 1936

In one of my favorite books (I mean, if I was stranded on a deserted island (touch wood), this would be one of the books I would take) the protagonist tries to unsuccessfully kill herself with the deadly nightshade berry.

Memoirs of a Midget by Walter De la Mare caught my eye as I wandered about my favorite used bookshop Downtown Booksellers.  I intended to give it to my brother as a birthday gift, but as I read the first page I became so enamored with its story and prose that I ended up keeping it for myself.

It was like a secret.  Its title was practically unknown to all, and its author, equivalent to an indie rock group with just a small following.  Even so, it remains one of my favorites and I can’t understand why it doesn’t stand alongside the classics of Austen or Fitzgerald.

SONY DSC“Its bitter juices jetted out upon cheek, mouth, and tongue, for ever staining me with their dye.  Their very rancor shocked by body wide awake.  Struck suddenly through with frightful cold and terror, I flung the vile thing down, and scoured my mouth with the draggled hem of my skirt.” – Walter De la Mare; Memoirs of a Midget 

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I realize Vita would not have had much experience with nightshade, but I was riding along the Paint Creek Trail the other night and saw its scraggly vine creeping along the riverbank.  Its flowers were beginning to turn themselves into berries.  This is where the toxin alkaloid solanine dwells, and I was reminded of the passage above.

The toxin however exists only in the leaves and un-ripened berries, although I wouldn’t eat the ripe ones either.  The toxin can kill you if injested in large quantities, and it is known to cause problems in small children if eaten in any quantity.

Solanine contains properties which are anti-fungal and pesticidal.  This is the plant’s natural defense, making it entirely disease and pest resistant.  Can one of you rosarians please get some of this Solanine in a rose bush?   We’d never have problems again – Yippee!

An interesting fact; this toxin is also produced in potatoes right under the skin, so green un-ripe potatoes should always be peeled.  In fact, some of the toxin still exists in ripe potatoes!  You have to deep-fry them to eliminate most of it.  Boiling doesn’t do the job as well.

Thanks for reading!  Go out and get yourself a copy of that book!!

If you’ve read it, what did you think?

 

The Object Of My Disenchantment

There are few more repaying plants.   Rabbits dislike them; their flowering season extends through May and June; they last for a week or more as picked flowers for the house; they will flourish in sun or semi-shade; they will tolerate almost any kind of soil, lime-free or otherwise; they will even put up with clay; they never need dividing or transplanting; in fact, they hate it; and they are so long-lived that once you have established a clump (which will not be difficult) they will probably outlive you.  Add to all this that they will endure neglect.

-V. Sackville-West
In Your Garden: 1958

What Vita said is all very true.  So why have I been indifferent to our four peony plants growing around our house?  Let me explain, perhaps we’ll both learn something.

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For years I’ve been disenchanted by peonies, particularly our peonies.  I never paid much attention to other’s plants to correct my assumption that peonies are unimpressive in their flowering.  Their foliage was outstanding, but the blooms?  Almost nonexistent.   Our largest produced only four blooms this year, and another plant, only one, while the other two continually produce nothing every year.

Surprisingly, I never gave it much thought as to why our plants were at odds with the consistently generous plants of our neighbors.  However, it struck me last night when preparing for this post that we might be doing something wrong.  I read a little passage from Vita which states, “Never cut [them] down“, very seriously and in italics!  Then I realized our problem.

As I recall, for years we have been cutting them in autumn.  Now mind you, I didn’t give two hoots about gardening up until three years ago (I was raising toddlers), and even then, never paid attention to the peonies because they never produced much of anything.  But here was the problem:

My husband chopped them and I didn’t care because they never produced many blooms. So this cyclical pattern began where my husband chopped them every year and I sat back not caring because they never bloomed anyway. But they never bloomed because he was chopping them.  You see where we goofed?

 

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So this fall I will say no to chopping them down, and hopefully next year they will produce more blooms and I will acquire a new opinion.   I have however, always liked cutting them for bouquets.  They do very well, (lasting over a week) and will add fragrance to an entire room.   I have always liked this quality about them.  They smell wonderfully nostalgic to me-like sweet lemon, and remind me of Victorian front porches dappled with morning sun.

Thank you for reading…

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Ramble On…

He kept them sitting for hours over the dinner table, he who was usually so impatient to move away; he kept them entertained by anecdote after anecdote, reminiscence after reminiscence, observation after observation…

-V. Sackville-West
Easter Parade: A Novel
Copyright: 1953

 

Allow me, if you will, to ramble a bit?  Ramble like a climbing, rambling vine?  One that reaches and twists until its head is in the sun or in this case the truth?

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The Clematis, if planted with good support, such as a twiggy bush – like a rose or lilac, will grow well and fast.  If the support is not there, it will falter and stagnate.  I have also heard that it will produce more blooms if grown horizontally.  Take for example, my neighbors clematis which grows on our side of the fence, much to my delight.  It grows horizontally through the fence and rambles about itself, see the abundance of blooms as a result?

However, for my three varieties of clematis I have chosen other plants to support them.  I have two growing throughout my lilac bush, and I recently discovered a third I assumed was dead. See my post, The Living Dead, for a good lesson on this.  Perhaps I should have read my own post.  Anyway, I thought about transplanting it to the lilacs as well, but instead I simply left it alone and planted a yellow rose bush beside it.  This purple Clematis growing through my yellow Floribunda Julia Child rose will make a striking combination when they begin to flourish.

SONY DSCThe clematis found its way to the rose without any assistance from me.  It shot up from the ground erect and happy, strong enough to support itself, but as it grew too long, it slumped over and slithered across the garden like a snake in search of a branch to coil and climb upon.

 

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The honeysuckle (featured in yesterday’s post Honeysuckle Fireworks ) has done well for me, I am surprised actually because the first year is usually hard on my perennials.  I watch the newly planted with nail biting anxiety, and at the slightest inconsistency or yellowed leaf, I worry and fret.

It seems this year more so than others, I have subconsciously made bright decisions about troubled plants.  I will attribute this to all I’ve read in books for the past two years.  In the past, information that had enlightened me was soon forgotten.  This year however, my focus has been more acute and I’m able to recall garden truths on a whim as if someone besides me has thought of it.

One such example of a bright decision was the transplanting of our Holly bushes.  They were originally planted in complete shade and continually had spots on their leaves and weren’t growing.  So I dug them up and planted them on the west end of the house where the morning sun would touch them.

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I gave them a drop of fertilizer and destroyed all their yellowing leaves as some looked to have the dreaded black spot fungus.  Again, evidence to me that they just needed more sun.  Since bacteria and fungus is usually killed by UV rays I would think more sunlight would lessen the chances of the black spot coming back.  But I am no botanist, this is only my educated guess.  Either way, they are doing quite well. They are now producing beautiful, perfect growth rapidly.

Thank you for reading!

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Honeysuckle Fireworks

…it is not generally realized by the amateur gardener how many shrubs and climbers will lend themselves happily to layering.  It is possible to obtain quite a nursery of young, rooted stock in a short time, at no cost and for very little trouble.
Honeysuckles sometimes layer themselves of their own accord, so avail yourselves of the hint if you want to increase your supply.

-V. Sackville-West
A Joy of Gardening
1958

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Honeysuckle.  Its name alone suggests a heavenly plant.  Indeed it is.   It took very well to my planting it in full sun and I gave it a sturdy support of our little pergola entranceway at our back door.

An avid climber, the honeysuckle will grow about four to six inches a day.  However, you must frequently check on it and guide its shoots in the right direction.  I often find the precious little things stretching their way under our deck, and I have to pull them out and wrap them elsewhere. This picture (above) was taken about two weeks ago.  You can see it was just reaching its goal, grabbing hold of our deck.

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This morning it has reach far and beyond as it naturally wraps itself.  There is no need to train it as you would a rose.  It finds its own way.  Independently emerging around every corner.   Reminiscent of the fairy tale Jack and the Bean Stalk, it stretches to the sky.  The treasures you’ll find as you follow its course are the firework display of blooms that smell heavenly sweet, and continually appear from June until the frost.  My variety starts out white and ends a honey colored yellow just before dropping.

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As Vita explains above.  Honeysuckle takes easily to layering, basically another term for propagation.  Simply cut one of its stalks at a 45 degree angle, and bury it in the ground with some sort of support so that it will not topple over.  Let it be for a year, and you’ll have yourself another plant to ramble up an entrance way or perhaps a  hedge of sweet briar like Vita did at Sissinghurst.

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Here
 are a couple different ways to propagate in detail.   I’ve seen this procedure done in books to many other plants.  In some cases a root growth will have to be applied.

Thank you for reading!

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Garden Of Roses…

Indeed, I think you should approach them as though they were textiles rather than flowers.  The velvet vermilion of petals, the stamens of quivering gold…

-Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden
May 28, 1950

 

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I have been waiting all year for this.  Waiting for the perfect opportunity to purchase my roses.  They will be the staple of my garden forever more.   I knew the perfect place to go, and if you live around you should check them out.  Vita always gave suggestions to nurserymen, as she called them, and as I have become quite a connoisseur of the big names around these parts I will do the same.   The place for roses, without a doubt, is Wiegand’s Nursery in Macomb, MI.

I say this because they have a most well organized selection.  Organized by hybrid teas, old English, Floribunda and the climbers.  Each bush stands against a white picket fence.  What perfect staging!  Someone was clever enough to know the color of the blooms will stand out better.  Their position along the white picket fence also brings to mind the beautifully overgrown gardens of yesterday’s American dream.    Somewhere the Dining Sisters begin to sing in their usual perfect harmony, and all is right with the world.  Sigh…

Anyway, I ventured to this particular nursery because I knew I would find perfect specimens.   Each rose is clearly labeled.  You needn’t bend down to look at tags, but instead the information for each variety is displayed at eye level.

I walked along the pathways of old world romance and waited to be spoken to.  I didn’t have to wait long before I came face to waist with this, the most gorgeous rose I had ever seen. This floribunda Moon dance (above).  Its head did not waver or fall but stood erect, staring at me.  It’s petals did not fall at the touch of my hand.  Its color, a creamy white like churned butter, and its fragrance sweet.  All the leaves were intact and healthy, not one of them disturbed in the slightest.  Then, like a tidal wave, others spoke up.

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Floribunda, Sheila’s Perfume (above) was recommended to me by one of the staff.  I was a bit overwhelmed and told her I was going to plant similar colors that would eventually melt into each other as their colors fade to white, as most do.  I liked the two toned petals of yellow and pink so I added this to my collection.

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Floribunda, Tuscan Sun (above) joined soon after.  I liked it’s big full blooms, and I thought planted  within range of Sheila’s Perfume it would make a nice blending effect.  It starts out with the same pink as Sheila’s Perfume then ends with a peach.   With the Moondance behind them I think they will make a striking show.

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On the opposite side of my garden a white climbing rose will work its way up the fence.  Having a pink climber at home, I had to remember they bob their heads downward when they bloom so I told myself to not be discouraged by this sight at the nursery.  They are not wilting for lack of care or water, they are merely wanting you to see them better.  They have formed this habit of pointing their heads downward, because they know someday they will be a mighty towering thing and will have to look down at you.

I then was intrigued by a rose that is grotesquely named, but fortunately, its flower is not.  It’s called Ketchup and Mustard…

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Beside the Moondance, this bicolored beauty spoke to me in a very strong way.  I was disgusted with the name, but I put that aside.  Its coloring was quite beautiful, and attracted my eye.  Let’s instead refer to it as Sunshine’s Kiss.   Sounds much better than Ketchup and Mustard.  Gag me!  The name reduces a garden to a flimsy hotdog.  Not exactly what I meant before by achieving the American dream.   Anyway, last but not least I picked up a yellow to blend with the unfortunately named.

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Floribunda, Julia Child.  See the white climber in the background.  Like the moon aglow on a starry night.

I emerged from this adventure an hour later covered in blood (the thorns) and sweat.   I choose all Floribunda’s because they are hardier for Michigan.  I felt I had gone about my task carefully.   When I was done I drove away completely satisfied with all of my choices.  Not a drop of regret.  These roses will be in my garden for a very long time, hopefully forever if I can do my job well.   Wish me luck!!

Tell me, what is your favorite rose?

…And as always, thank you for reading…

Garden Tour: Memorial Day Weekend

And now, at last, she was seeing daylight; the obstacles were clearing away; things were really beginning to move.

-Vita Sackville-West
Saint Joan of Arc, 1936

Thank God we made it through another winter and an unpredictable spring.  I realize spring is not officially over until June 20th, but the swimming pools are open this weekend in Michigan, so as far as I’m concerned we can rest easy.  The cold winds will not cross our path for many days.

Once a month I would like to give you an update of my garden.  This is for your enjoyment as much as it is useful for my personal record keeping.  Are you ready to take a little tour?  Here we go…

These photos were taken today, May 27th, 2016.  These are the perennials flowering now…

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Our first sign of Spring is still hanging around.  The hellebores are still in bloom.

 

SONY DSC*Lilacs are still at it, but not for long.  Their flowers are open completely, and their scent is losing its freshness.  Like an old perfume that has sat in the sun too long, they are growing stale.   I clipped what will probably be my last bouquet as the flowers are turning brown with age.

Like clock work, as soon as the lilac’s die off completely all the rose bushes, the hydrangeas and the peonies begin to open.  Soon their colors of pinks, yellows and blues will sit in this little bottle from a local vodka distillery run entirely by women here in Detroit, Our/Detroit Vodka.  Pretty awesome right?  The little bottles they use are great. Perfect for a bud vase when you’re finished with the spirits.

*Set against a mural of the year we signed The Declaration of Independence. I painted it on my garage last summer.  Some people still like to drive by to take pictures. 🙂

 

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Sweet Woodruff will flower all summer, I believe.  Not a brilliant show, but just enough to add balance to the mix of other colors.

 

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My Lemon-Zest Rose bush.  Set against its blue-green leaves will look quite dashing next to our side door which I will paint either blue or red.   Red would be the safer choice.  However, I believe it’s possible find a shade of blue that would not offend the eye.

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Chocolate Oncidium: Smells like Chocolate
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Phalaenopsis
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Phalaenopsis: My friend’s.  It was practically dead when I got it. I was so excited to see it bloom.
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Onicidium: Smells like a Lily
 

 

 

Thank you for joining me on a Memorial Day weekend tour.  Don’t forget to kiss a veteran you love!  Without them the mural on my garage would not exist.

 

 

 

 

A Rose That Spoke

They may roughly be described as roses which should be grown as shrubs; that is, allowed to ramp away into big bushes, and allowed also to travel about underground if they are on their own roots and come up in fine carelessness some yards from the parent plant.

-Vita Sackville-West
May 28th, 1950
In Your Garden

 

 

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Perhaps not exactly what she had in mind was this Oso Shrub Rose called Lemon-Zest.  Yes, other “classic” shrub roses are far prettier, I’m quite sure.  However, I saw this one on sale and I was instantly struck by how healthy it looked.  Compared to the other ‘fancy’ roses surrounding me, its leaves were brighter; every one of them so perfectly intact, and the buds!  The buds were plentiful with a promise of abundant color.

I slipped my hand under the leaves and checked the stems for any sign of grafting.  I do this because if the Michigan winds blow in a hard winter like that of 2013; with snow aplenty and temperatures continually below zero, your rose bush may not live to see another Spring.   Instead, it will die back, and up will pop a different rose; foreign and strange.  It is the rose which yours was grafted upon.  An unwelcomed guest indeed, and you never know what you might get.  So for this reason I prefer un-grafted roses.

This rose, I learned, will flower continuously until Fall and the flowers will not fade to white.  Because I’m such a lover of yellow lately, I thought it would make a nice picture set beside our side door which I intend to paint red or perhaps colonial blue.  I have yet to decide.

In future posts I will speak more of the roses Vita recommends.  I doubt this shrub rose would have been her first choice, in fact, I’m almost positive she would have been displeased as there are more attractive choices for shrub roses.  As she has stated, “I am no blind believer in the ‘improved’ modern flower: I don’t like delphiniums with stalks like tree-trunks; I don’t like roses with no scent and a miserable constitution…” But she has also mentioned that she doesn’t understand the snobbery that some gardeners possess.  However, to me this Lemon-Zest spoke, so its cultivar makes no difference in the world.

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ROMANCING THE CLEMATIS

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An unusual way of treating clematis is to grow it horizontally instead of vertically…but do this as gingerly as you can, for clematis seems to resent the touch of the human hand.
…the reward will be great.  For one thing you will be able to gaze right down into the upturned face of the flower instead of having to crane your neck to observe the tangle of colour hanging perhaps ten or twenty feet above your head.  And another thing, the clematis itself will get the benefit of shade on its roots, in this case its own shade, with its head in the sun, which is what all clematis enjoy.

-Vita Sackville-West
May 15, 1949

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I bought one White Clematis (pictured above) at Bordine’s Nursery the other day.  It was beautiful and perfect.  Compliments rolled from surrounding tongues as I crossed the store to pay for it while snapping these lovely shots.  My plan is to allow it to climb up my lilac bush.   This way I will practically have blooms all summer long, and they will look so romantic glowing in the dark at night.  My own little “white garden” like Vita had at Sissinghurst Castle!

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I resented having to transplant my other clematis.  I know how delicate they can be, and I hope it will survive.  It did not like the spot I put it last year and it was looking pathetic.  I thought it might do better under the other lilac bush (I have two side by side). So, now I will have two clematis of two different colors climbing, and hopefully one day connecting; climbing through each other to make one large colorful hedge.  We shall see.
Anyone have luck doing this in the past?
If you have anything to add or further advice about clematis please leave a comment. I’d love to here from you!

 

“Magenta is a Nasty Color”

 

 The only nasty color produced by the zinnia is a magenta,  and this, alas, is produced only too often.  When magenta threatens, I pull it up and throw in on the compost heap, and allow the better colours to have their way.

-Vita Sackville-West
February 12th, 1950

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Yes, magenta does show up all too often when planting zinnias from seed, so much so that my Grandma complains every year about the abundance of ‘pink’.  She then enquires of my horde and I report that I’m in the same lot.
Then of course there’s the fatal mistake of buying the small “dwarf” zinnias instead of the giant “cut again” variety.  In my opinion the giant ones are better for cutting, and they dry really nicely at the end of the season.

 

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Last year, before the first frost, I harvested the remainder of my yield for drying.  It was a pleasant thing to have the blooms there all winter.  Although shriveled and dull, the reminder of summer was grand.

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If you also do not like the magenta, try clipping and drying it at its bud stage.  They make a striking appearance with their little folds of variegated green.  Grouped together in a vase their buds would be a beautiful sight to see.