What an awkward but accurate title for this post.
You see, it's been almost a year since the "oatmeal snow". That's how I heard it described when I came back into town after a short trip last November. And then I looked out the bathroom window and wondered why I could see that white house across the pond better than ever before.
This early snow had been wet and heavy, with a consistency like concrete. It crushed the beautiful lilac tree that graced the space out my bathroom window, whose arching limbs formed an umbrella of lavender blooms every spring. With its limbs cracked and splayed from the center, there was no coming back.
But what about the daphnes? Five shrubs, partly the shrub backbone of the courtyard garden, their light gray limbs bent and broken. I imagined digging them out and waiting for something new to fill in the holes in this very visible garden.
Daphne "Carol Mackie" didn't start out as one of my favorites, actually finding her way to my garden by way of a local garden designer. But then I came upon scenes like this..
How could you not love foliage like that? Blue-green with a gold band that became more cream into the season. Just enough variegation to define itself from the green uni-blob of summer. But enough variegation to light up a shady spot. Oh, and the flowers, not insignificant, not inconsequential, but more lke a bonus, pale pink to white fragrant clusters in early to late spring.
As the winter went on and became the fourth snowiest one on record, the snow continued to pile up. And without anywhere else for it to go, the damaged daphnes disappeared under the growing heaps.
When I first moved here I was intrigued by trees that were bowed to the ground. How I wondered could a tree just lean over and form a semi circle with itself. While some snap with the weight of snow and ice, others bend until they meet the earth again making arboreal arcs in the forest.
When the snow finally melted mid-April, I could see the daphnes were nowhere as near as charming as these curving trees. In fact they dragged down the entire garden design with their crippled posture and lack of leaves. I made plans to replace them. Often labeled as hardy to zone 5, maybe they weren't meant to be in Minnesota.
I'd like to say it was a "wait and see" approach that saved them, but it was more like a "didn't get around to it" reprieve.
Then two things happened. As the time came near to have the lilac tree removed, a few faint blossoms appeared on the daphnes, the pink flowers the same shade as apple blossoms I thought. Tired of being impaled by the lilac branches across the path, I got out the pruners and started trimming. I lopped off one that formed a perfect "Y". And then I thought, why not. Why not make crutches like the ones they use in apple orchards for ancient trees?
I loved the idea of recycling one plant to help another, but in this case, one tree to help five shrubs. It seemed fitting. Even though at the time I didn't think it would work completely.
Nonetheless I fashioned a number of these crutches, little ones and big ones, short one and tall ones, and positioned them under all the daphnes at various points, forcing the branches upwards but not too far.
Lo and behold as the summer progressed, it became evident my little plant support operation was a success, and one of the more gratifying gardening experiences I've had lately.
Another business dinner. I couldn't wait. I don't always relish my role as a corporate wife. I'm not good at party chatter and smiling while my husband talks shop. And to add to the fun, there were going to be lots of engineers. Oh boy, that will be a hoot.
Wow. Was I in the wrong.
What looked like a high school science fair with all sorts of displays and contraptions turned out be one of the most fascinating events I've ever attended.
Compatible Technology International has spent the past 30 years helping impoverished communities increase their supply of quality food by providing tools that help farmers efficiently store, process and sell their crops.
They've designed tools to prevent the staggering post-harvest losses that occur in developing countries--where farmers lose 15-50% of their crops, often due to spoilage and inefficient processing methods.
Please go to their website and see more about the valuable work they are doing to bring clean water and better nutrition to millions of people in undeveloped countries. I promise it's not boring.
Turns out that engineers rock.
This Bloom Day caught me by surprise! It's a chilly, breezy autumn day in Minnesota, feeling normal after a year of unseasonal, atypical (but, hey, what's typical anymore?) weather.
A quick and cold tour of the garden finds dribs and drabs of color and hangers-on sputtering out a final attempt at carrying on the species.
Time to put our kayaks away. Long shadows and golden light. The Garden Buzz
A lone delphinium defies the windy weather The Garden Buzz
Always a melancholy mood in the garden this time of year.
Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for the one and only original Garden Bloggers Bloom Day!
Have you ever wondered what your garden might do without you? In your absence would it wither and die, turning to dust or would it go rampant and smother your home in vegetation?
I've been wanting to read "The World Without Us" by Alan Weisman where he imagines a world without humans, and how soon it takes for our presence and infrastructure to disappear as nature reclaims the planet.
On the website there's an interesting animation, "Your House Without You", that shows how the process might go.
But where am I going with this train of thought?
I've long been fascinated by self-seeding plants in the garden. And when myself and others write and talk about them, it's usually centered on flowers and grasses. Gardeners concentrate on harnessing the power of these volunteer plants, or eradicating them due their prolific nature.
Not much is said about volunteer vegetables. (UPDATE 10/13 Well, I take that back. I just returned from hearing Diane Ott Whealy of Seed Savers Exchange talking about the origins of their heirloom seed mission. She showed photos of her gardens with self-seeding lettuce and radishes welcomed in her flower beds) Oh yeah, maybe a late-season tomato plant, like the one cropping up in my perennial bed at this late date. But we usually plant our veggies new with each season.
But you gotta love it when a squash decides on its own where and when to grow.
For the past few years I've been barely tending a small potager, nudging it along while it manages to produces enough veggies, herbs and a little fruit to supplement a few meals every week during the summer. With each year its seed bank increases and so does its yield.
I didn't start out to make this garden self-sustaining, or an example of permaculture, I don't think it qualifies quite, but I've found that using a gardening style somewhat akin to that old-fashioned parenting style now referred to as benign neglect, it's a satisfying way to reap a few edibles with minimal effort.
With a permanent growing mulch of strawberries, bolted spinach and mesclun now seed themselves, intermingled with self-seeding cilantro in late spring followed with dill and Italian parsley. Nasturtiums, signet marigolds and kale add color, pungency and texture. I'm hoping that the beets will follow the example of the radishes and spring up next year on their own. Wouldn't self-thinning beets be great?
I add a new variety of pole beans each year, and by now there's a succession of "Blue Lake", "Kentucky Wonder" and "Emerite" that germinate and produce at different times.This is simply done by letting some bean pods dry and fall to the ground. Sometimes I move the seedlings closer to the copper tripod at the middle of this patch. This year some beans also ran horizontal along the twig rabbit fence I built. Those seemed the happiest.
The tripod and fence help to give this self-starting garden some design, but otherwise I call it a hot mess by late summer with its tangled abundance. It might be a form of square foot gardening sans any organization. Weeds are few, choked out by the thick plants that grow without rows. All I do is paw around and find goodies to eat. It's like a little treasure hunt each time.
It some ways it doesn't seem right to be rewarded for such slacking in the garden.
Still wit gathering, but you can get a bit of the 'Buzz' over at Herb Companion magazine. I've just added this beautiful herb with the unfortunate name to my herbal wish list. Click and read all about it.