That was rude

Errr… I just imported approximately 1,100 posts from a split-identity blog into this one. If this is playing havoc with anyone’s blog reader, I offer sincere apologies. SO obnoxious.

But now stuff is all in one place, at least.

Same shenanigans

This post is experimental. I’m trying to figure out how properly to insert images, now that things have become so hopelessly complicated. Bear with me.

Anyway, I have begun to preserve this blog for my own purposes by saving its entries as PDFs. I started at the beginning, in June 2007 (15 years ago!), and what greeted me? The same-old, same-old. I was making blueberry crisp and eating it off of my Johnson Brothers’ Asiatic Pheasant plates. Reader, we still eat off of these plates every day.

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Moreover, I’m apparently cooking the same old stuff… though when that stuff is fried catfish, hush puppies, and cole slaw, can you blame me? I make this meal about once a year, and it’s so good, every time. Back in the Midwest I could buy fresh catfish, but here in the PNW I have to buy it frozen. Oh well.

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It was followed by the first rhubarb crisp of the year. One thing that has changed since I began this blog is my confidence in making crisps. So far as I’m concerned, I truly have them down to a science.

We moved our rhubarb plants out of the raised beds this year (whatever possessed me to put them there???), divided most of them, and put them in the ground. As a result they’re rather small and we might not have much to freeze. All the more reason to enjoy what we have.

Still here

Hello.

It was a mistake to ever stop writing this blog. It was a mistake to split my identity, again and again. We know where that leads. I should have stayed Snapdragons through everything.

I am currently amidst the painstaking process of saving every entry of this blog as a PDF. It’s the only way I can figure to save the pictures along with the text they match. I’m sure a clever programmer could write a Python script to save them all automatically, in about ten seconds, but I am me and I am resolutely not a programmer so I am saving them one by one, after reading them and contemplating how long ago they were written.

I don’t know how much it came through to readers, but the first year of this blog was the unhappiest year of my life. My old structures had fallen apart and I was revving up to build the new ones, but in the meantime I was alone. In freefall. Scared and lonely. What I put on the blog was what I had: Stuff and Imagination. I had lots of money, so don’t feel sorry for me. I had a lovely house and lovely things and lots of opportunities to have lovely experiences. I also had a boatload of time and mental bandwidth and nowhere meaningful for it to go. And that’s what you saw on Snapdragons.

Things are different now. I am middle-aged. I will turn 42 this summer. I have gained a lot of weight, and my gums are receding and my hair has thinned. I am developing Perimenopausal Rage, if that is a familiar life stage to you; rage about the way people are, about the way biology is, and how shamelessly women’s own bodies rob them of opportunities.

But that isn’t nice, and if you’ve been there you don’t need me to explain it to you, and if you haven’t you won’t believe me, so let’s move on.

We made it through Lockdown. I think that Mimi and I had Covid right at the beginning. In fact, she came home with a fever on February 13, 2020, and had the fever for nine days, and pneumonia too. In early March 2020 I got sick in exactly the same way, and I had never had pneumonia in my life. We are in the Seattle area, where it was spreading early, so I think that’s what it must have been.

The first official day of Lockdown, when Mimi didn’t go to school, was her ninth birthday. Her party was cancelled, obviously. I made her a cake and she put about a hundred tiny plastic dinosaurs on it, and she blew out the candles in her pajamas then watched Cartoon Network all day. My fever had broken the day before. I was under the weather, but mostly up out of bed. Sparks, then, was the third to get sick, though he never had a fever. For him it was more a heaviness in the chest and feeling tired.

Because we thought we’d already had it, Lockdown was less scary and more interesting. We have acreage. We have a big house. In those early months, before we would even get takeout, we had picnics and roasted hotdogs on campfires. We took a lot of walks in the various lovely parks where we live and we were okay.

It didn’t always stay okay–there was a rough patch around the one-year mark, when I realized how lonely and frustrated Mimi was–but we got through it and things are So Much Better now. We are lucky to be healthy and vaccinated and to live in a well-administrated area, and in the past months we have more or less gone back to Life As Usual.

My life, right now, is different from when I began to write Snapdragons. I am older and wiser. I get a lot more exercise. I’ve found some supplements that make me feel WAY better. I sleep well. My mind is easy. My life, with an active pre-teen, sometimes frustrates me because it mainly consists of small splotches of time between driving her from place to place, but it is easy and lovely and frankly, everything I used to want. I do not throw elaborate brunches. I am surrounded by love and laughter and comfort.

I don’t know if I am returning to regular posts here or not. For one thing, I am writing a quarterly magazine which should be consuming all of my personal-essay energy (the first two issues are available for Kindle here and here). For another, I cannot for the life of me figure out how to insert images that are hosted outside of WordPress. Lord help me.

But we’re still here. ALL of us.

–Snapdragons, Sparks, Mimi, Pudding, and Frisky the Pandemic Parakeet.

Quarantine busywork: my planner game

Hello, everyone. Long time no blog, and hasn’t the world changed??? Good grief. Who could have seen all this coming.

(Last year my agent and I shopped a novel that began exactly this way; a statement probably true of many SFF and spec fic writers. Anyway.)

Quarantine has been long (3.5 months now, for us) and weird and we’ve all changed. At first I gained ten pounds in despair, but now I’m busy trying to lose it; not an easy prospect given my myriad metabolic malfunctions (I don’t care what writing advice books say, I personally love alliteration). Because my body is so ready to gain weight and so extremely stubborn about letting go of it, researching, designing, and trying out new health schemas has become an outright hobby for me. Calling it a hobby is weirdly empowering, but it’s the truth. I really enjoy trying new things.

In quarantine, I fell down the rabbit hole of planners. Remember Daytimers from the 90s? People still use paper planners like that, and they are a THING. You can search planner hashtags on Instagram. Planners, now, are as much or more about the BLING as about the planning. Stickers. Foil-stamped dividers. Saffiano leather binders. Gorgeous matte-on-shiny cards with inspirational sayings.

After a week or two of meditating on the phenomenon, I decided it exists because a lot of us never got over workbooks and stickers… and there’s nothing wrong with that. There is a satisfaction and a mental permanence to writings things out by hand that electronic planning simply doesn’t have. I have certainly gone head first down that rabbit hole.

Let me show you my bunny burrow.

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First, my goody drawer. I went on a buying binge of sticky notes, sticky tabs, sticky dots, washi tape, and gorgeous metal divider tabs. I identify with deer and with the moon at this point in my life, so my selections reflect that.

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Next, my actual planner, which continues the moon/night sky theme. This is an Erin Condren On the Go Folio. If you are a planner neophyte, let me unpack that: Erin Condren is a big name in the planner world. She sells highly structured, colorful planners that a lot of women credit with getting them into planning in the first place. These folios are a departure from her original planner scheme. They can be filled with special-interest mini planners for daytiming, journaling, budgeting, medical stuff… the list is long.

The folio itself is a form of traveler’s notebook. A traveler’s notebook is a tough cover–in this case PVC, in many cases leather–with several elastic bands running down the inside of the spine. You insert your own notebooks (blank cahiers, from Moleskine for example, or printed workbooks like Erin Condren’s) and when they’re full, they’re easy to remove and replace.

I don’t have mine filled with Erin Condren’s workbooks. I am using A5 cahiers by Simply Genius, ordered on A-zon. These little cahiers are as cheap as $2 apiece, depending on how many you buy at once, they have a ton of pages, and they’re *almost* as nice as Moleskine.

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Here’s a top view of my setup. You see the metal divider tabs, which I LOVE. They’re widely available on A-zon and Etsy.

The tab with a sun on it is my main daytime book. The one with a moon is my gratitude journal, in which I write five things I’m grateful for every night before bed. The one with a bear is a cardstock insert I made with my recurring chores on it (more on that later). And the one with a star is my goals & intentions book.

Let’s dive in.

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(The planner cover open, so you can maybe see how the notebooks are held in by elastic bands.)

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Here is a sample spread. Each day gets one page (and the weekend days share a page, because I don’t track my food on Sundays). The page has the date and day of the week at top, some colored dots which are my system for tracking a few pet health issues, my weight which is blobbed out because you don’t need to see it, and the weather, as it presents itself just as I’m waking up.

Below that is my to-do list for the day. At the beginning of the week I do the coming week’s worth of headers and, using my chore insert, fill in what I intend to get done that day as well as any appointments (NOT A LOT OF THOSE IN LOCKDOWN, HONEYS).

Below that is where I track my food for the day. This is not detailed; some days I leave it at this level of tracking, and some days I go to SparkPeople to enter everything and get my calorie count for the day, just to keep it real. You can see that I have each line highlighted green, yellow, or red. This was inspired by the two week free trial of Noom I did. In the end the Noom app wasn’t for me, but I love this system as a way of giving myself an at-a-glance, numbers-free way to evaluate how the day went. As you can see these days weren’t ideal. Ah well.

At the bottom, if I have space and inclination, I flog myself with notes about how I did and didn’t work toward my goals that day.

Here’s my BuJo page with the general structure of my daily page outlined.

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It is worth noting that I absolutely use Google Calendar, too. It is the primary landing place for future appointments. Haircuts, dentist and doctor appointments, birthdays: these things land on my Google Calendar, usually via my phone, at the moment they’re scheduled. Every week when I’m filling out my planner, I check my Google Calendar to see if anything is happening there.

For upcoming tasks that I can’t forget about but that will happen on an uncertain date, I use post-it notes until I’m ready to commit to actually writing it into my journal. Here’s a post-it about calling my town’s parks & rec department about a refund for summer camps that probably won’t happen, depending on whether my county moves to Phase III of reopening or not.

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Moving on. The gratitude journal book is fairly self-explanatory, so I won’t show pictures of it. Either first thing in the morning or last thing at night, write down five things you’re grateful for. Oprah told us this in the nineties. It helped then, and it helps now.

Now for my chore insert. It’s a regulation-sized piece of cardstock, folded in half to make it approximately A5 size and to make it into a booklet that can be held in the notebook cover. It thus has four pages.

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The first page are chores that recur on a weekly basis. Happily this is a fairly short list, which leaves space at the bottom to write temporarily recurring stuff on post-it notes, which I can discard when those appointments stop recurring.

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Page 2 is monthly recurring chores. I don’t have a specific day of the month for these; I just add them to my to-do lists as I have the opportunity. I use sticky dots to indicate how many times they have to be done per month; for things like washing sheets and cleaning bathrooms, which apply to multiple areas, I also write numbers on each tab to indicate how many beds or bathrooms I’ve cleaned so far.

The next page is my yearly recurring chores, sorted by the month in which they should happen. Again, these are inserted into my to-do lists as I have an opportunity to get to them. While the list looks short, some of them are Really Big Deals. Edging garden beds, for example. I have lots of garden beds, and they have English edges, which are work to maintain. I also have lots of rooms in my house with carpets that need to be shampooed.

Other than those, the most interesting chore listed here is Chore Bear. What the heck is that, you ask?

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It’s called that because its original form was a little bear my daughter bought me, which holds either a pack of standard sticky notes or 3×5 index cards. I used it for index cards, and wrote the name of one area of the house on each card, and every morning I put the old card to the back and a new one came to the top and that was the room I had to clean that day.

The cards are fiddly to deal with, so Chore Bear has been retired as a physical object, but his spirit lives on. Four times a year (because we need to put a cap on these things, otherwise they take over our lives) I work through the Chore Bear. Every day one area in the house is It. That area is targeted for special attention and for Final Reckonings.

You know what I mean. That pile of papers you haven’t sorted out. That closet you haven’t tidied. Those baseboards that need dusting. Those are all Final Reckonings, and a room’s Chore Bear day is the day those reckonings happen.

So there’s my recurring to-do list. I don’t have a page for daily stuff, because it’s so ingrained and automatic that I don’t need to list it.

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The last cahier in my planner is my goals & intentions book. I am only just getting this one going, so it’s still experimental, but in general I have two cycles of goals: quarterly, which I check in on at the solstices and equinoxes, and weekly, which I check in on every Sunday afternoon.

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Each week takes up a two-page spread. On the left I write what my goals are for the coming week; on the right, one week later, I observe how many of them I met, give myself gold stars for meeting them, or writing somber reflections on why I didn’t and on how I can improve in the week to come.

Because my health schemas are constantly evolving, this suits me. I can give myself new goals to meet my new schemes every week.

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The quarterly goals at this point involve only one thing: the Health Point Average from a self-help book I’m currently reading called Better!: 11 Simple Habits to Improve Your Life by Jason Piken. It’s a really nice book which encourages you to create your own rules for constantly challenging and improving your own health practices. Here, every quarter, I intend to grade myself according to my own rules and to see how I’ve improved in the past three months (or haven’t, heaven forfend.)

And there, darlings is my planner. Plenty of bling to keep me entertained, and since I have the attention span here in quarantine to keep up with it, it is really helping me to 1. actually get things done, and 2. feel like I’m getting things done, which is just as important.

Hope this was interesting!

Flickr problems possible

Hello everyone! Welcome to 2020. All is well here. We recently celebrated another year with Pudding, who is doing great, as are we.

I’m posting to say that the status of Flickr as an extant website is shaky these days. Emails they’ve sent recently seem to confirm that things aren’t getting better.

ALL of this blog’s photos are hosted on Flickr. If it disappears, so do all of Snapdragons’ pictures.

I do not have the time or the heart to manually fix them–and frankly this free WordPress account probably doesn’t have the storage. So if Flickr disappears, so will Snapdragons.

This is your fair warning. If you want to download recipes, tutorials, etc, better hop to it.

So long and thanks for all the fish,
Kat

Garden news: June 14

Summer is really here because I’ve lost the will to mulch anything else. I mean, I have a huge pile of mulch so I will keep spreading it, but I mind. The borders have been weeded, edged, and mulched. Only the hard stuff is left (the veg patch, which is more of a weed patch at the mo, and the shade garden, which is up a hill).

I’m ready to shift into summer maintenance mode: Watering Wednesdays, Feeding Fridays, Supplemental Sundays, and pick things over when I feel like it.

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Stuff is coming out of the garden regularly now. We’re eating lettuce and chard as fast as we can (seriously, I have 15 chard plants and we can’t keep up), I have picked a couple handfuls of strawberries, and yesterday I cut the first big bouquet of the year out of peonies that had flopped all over (to do: order peony rings) and saponaria.

It is also time to cut some things down. The columbines are finished so their flowering stalks need to go, and the Siberian iris and roses need deadheading. I think I will cut off the flowering stalks of my hardy geraniums, too. Last year I did it, which produced a pleasing tidy mound of foliage, but the one or two stalks I missed continued to form new flowers at the tips all summer–so I thought I’d let them all do that this year. But now the plants are just obscured by a haze of mostly-dead flower heads and it’s ugly. So I will cut them back.

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I have a couple of topical discussions for this entry. First, border design. Second, bouquet fillers.

Border design–the selection and arrangement of plants in a flower bed, for the other Americans here–has started to worry me, and I think that means I’ve leveled up. I’ve put in the beds and planted them and kept stuff alive for a couple years, and now I’m figuring out that that doesn’t necessarily mean they look good. I’m refining my color palette, for example: stark blues like nepeta have been ousted in favor of plummier hues like purple sedums, various Spanish lavenders (holy cats, I think I am collecting those), and dianthus. I added a touch of peachy-pink in the form of Georgia Peach dianthus and I think it’s good. White, plum, and peachy-pink is the color scheme I’m aiming for.

Then there’s the problem of making the borders look full and happy. This is partly a matter of letting the plants mature so I see how big they get, then moving them into final places. I have another theory, though: a flower border needs a good solid front and a good solid back. If you have that, you can flub the interior a little.

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By “good solid” I mean solid, as in leafy and green and unmistakable at a distance. Lighter foliage is better than darker foliage for this, and fluffier foliage better than plants on tall thin stems.

My best front-of-the-border plants right now are various dianthus, with their silvery foliage that forms a solid mat and can’t be missed, pale sedums that form tidy mounds, and saxifrages, which provide less in the way of foliage but lots in the way of starry flowers, which are a nice interlude to the other stuff.

My best back-of-the-border plants are globe thistles for sure, and hollyhocks maybe. The weather here isn’t as warm as hollyhocks like it, and rabbits much on them, but the ones that survived last year are growing up tall this year, and they’ll be good. They’re also easy to grow from seed and in my experience many are true perennials.

The globe thistles are a reality I am coming to grips with. They are thistles, and they are huge and spiky and rather horrible in a very thistly way, until finally–in late July or even August–they bloom, and then everyone is impressed with them. I am still not convinced that their flowers make up for the monstrosity of their foliage but they do get tall and solid, they are cheap and easy to grow from seed, and I don’t have any better ideas. So I am growing lots of Star Frost (ie white-blooming) globe thistles.

The interiors of my borders won’t change much. Taller sedums, Siberian iris, foxgloves, peonies, gaura, and various tough Mediterranean things: salvias, lavenders, veronicas. And then there is the question of dahlias.

My husband left his dahlias in to over-winter. Over that winter, his garden flooded and we had a night go down to 17 degrees Fahrenheit, which is unusually cold for here. The dahlias at the soggiest end of the garden died but the rest lived, so I now feel confident that there’s no need to dig up my dahlias every autumn–which means I need to select my favorites and put them in permanent spots.

They get tall enough that they should go just in front of the back-of-the-border stuff. They don’t start to peek above the soil until May though, long after I’m usually busy burrowing around and mulching things. So how to mark them?

With bulbs. This fall I’ll put them in, and plant circles of tall alliums around them. The allium foliage comes up early, and will mark the dahlias’ places. The alliums will bloom while the dahlias are still putting on foliage. Then the alliums will die back just as the dahlias come into their own.

I really feel that I am rather clever for thinking of this.

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Moving from the perennial border to the cutting garden: the question of bouquet fillers.

Listen, darlings, I have no taste or sophistication in the way of flower arranging. I’m happy to plunk a fistful of dahlias into water and call it done. But in the interest of expanding my horizons, and because Johnny’s pictures of all their flowers are so delicious, I experiment with growing bouquet fillers.

Last year I tried Sweet Annie and it was a failure. The plants grew tall and skinny, bloomed like weeds, and didn’t smell all that great. I ripped them up. Likewise this year the Persian Cress, which has already grown and been ripped out.

Successful fillers are saponaria, which looks like a cross between Baby’s Breath and Rose Campion and has the added bonus of actually acting as a surfactant if you want to wash your hair with it, and atriplex, which I still have in plugs but which has grown as lustily and beautifully as I’ve allowed it to.

Honestly, though, my two favorite fillers aren’t listed as fillers at all: cosmos and ammi. Cosmos is ridiculously hardy and easy to grow, and while it makes a profusion of attractive flowers, it also makes a riotous mist of greenery just perfect for tucking in between other things. It self-seeds like mad (because one can’t possibly deadhead all those flowers) so if you’ve bought seed once you can have it forever. Ammi requires a little more care, but also provides clouds of feathery foliage. The darker shades of Dara are absolutely killing and of course the white varieties look nice with anything.

Garden news: Friday, May 31

Okay I’m late with this week’s garden news. On actually-Friday I was sitting at the computer feverishly finishing up a different series of articles for this blog so I could send them to beta readers. When I finished, I rightly thought that I’d put in my computer-work time for the day and went outside. To the garden.

Anyway…

The last week of May hit the garden like a bomb. All the bearded iris that budded this year are in bloom. All the Siberian iris are in bloom. The foxglove is sailing. The columbines and hardy geraniums are petering out. The rose bush I planted a year ago, a David Austin rose called Olivia Rose Austen, is in bloom (yay!) The Spotty Dotty’s flowers are fully unfurled (and “unfurled” is the right word, because they hang long and straight like crimson banners in a medieval hall).

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The sweet peas…suffered depradations by my daughter, who was told she could pick as many as she wanted, and proceeded, over the course of two days and six bouquets, to literally pick every single one that was in bloom. That’s all right; they’re for cutting and she did me a favor by preventing any from going to seed. But I have convinced her to leave them alone for a week so they can re-bloom for her grandparents, who are coming to visit.

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There has been laundry-related anxiety in this household, which I alleviated with two plant orders. From Schreiner’s I ordered irises Batik, Crimson Snow, Attitude, and Gnu’s Flash, and am having an Always and Forever thrust upon me as a reward. Where I will put all these irises is a problem, as I have a relative shortage of hot, sunny sites, but it has all come together in a flash of inspiration. I will move the front row of hellebores out of the corner driveway garden and into the shade garden, where they should get on fine, and put any homeless iris into that spot. It gets the closest thing to full sun I can provide.

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Then, from Bluestone Perennials’ annual clearance sale, I bought variegated Solomon’s Seal, brunnera Alexander’s Great (a giant cultivar, apparently), three hydrangea Pillow Talk to line the back of the terrace garden and maybe hold back the damn hypericum, a tricyrtis Empress to add to my collection (which are happily growing in their new shade garden spots), three penstemon Mystica because OMG have you seen this plant???, a heuchera Marvelous Marble out of curiosity, and…holy cats.. a pink schizophragma, Rose Sensation.

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I’ve had a white schizophragma for a couple of years now. I planted it in the crap part of the shade garden before I understood what I was doing, and last fall when I replanted everything I actually dug it up and left its root ball sitting out all winter and I’ll be damned if the thing didn’t leaf out anyway. So I have re-planted it and I wish it well.

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But now I’m getting a pink one, which requires thinking about. Where do I put it? These are flowering vines with huge potential. They climb. I’d put it over the legacy arbor, but it wants shade. So maybe I’ll try to scramble it up our brick chimney. The chimney is made of an ugly shade of gold brick. It would be nice to cover it.

I also purchased, at Wally World, a shrub rose Icecap which had been grown in a dodgy bark chip media (like something you’d grown an orchid in) and needed deadheading and looked generally so forlorn that they’d reduced the price from $25 to $7.98. I put it in the ground and will treat it right, and I think it will pull through and be enchanting next year.

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So that’s the flowers. The veg garden is making progress. I executed the rhubarb plant that always insists on bolting, and made a crumble out of it. I also picked a mess of chard, several messes of lettuce, and all the radishes, which developed poorly this year. Tiny tomatoes and artichokes are growing. One out of five kale plants is getting eaten by bugs. Pumpkin seedlings are up, and huge, and terrifying. Bean seeds didn’t come up, so I’ll start seeds in trays for planting out ASAP.

And that’s the week in the garden, folks.

Friday garden news: May 24

What a bloomiferous week in the garden. All the early spring stuff is completely finished, and all the late spring stuff has suddenly done its thing. Oriental poppies are blooming. Bearded iris is blooming. Siberian iris. Verbascum. Foxglove. Sambucus. Sweet peas. Columbines (though they’ve been going for a while.) Honey garlic. Even the Spotty Dotty’s buds are cracking open, which fills me with glee. Speaking of podophyllums, I have two hexandrum seedlings. I know, right? One white and one pink. I am chuffed.

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Unfortunately things are not going so well with veg. Hardly any beans have come up. One of my kale plants keeled over. The radishes failed to develop this year. Tomatoes and artichokes are merely slow and steady. The only glory now, and it is a glory indeed, is the lettuce. It’s still tender and sweet and we are eating it up as fast as we can.

It’s been a week of contrasts, weather-wise. It started out dark and wet and chilly and has ended that way too, with two days of sun and warmth (heat?) in the middle. Suffice it to say my plants are equals parts confused and pleased.

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This week I have edged, weeded, deep-watered, and mulched the first two sections of the righthand border. Section 1, I won’t lie, wrecked me. It has sleepers laid behind it to form borders for the auxiliary currant & rhubarb bed, and I had to dig grass roots out from under it. That section had also been invaded by creeping achillea and a giant blackberry root. I got it all out and moved most things in that section prior to mulching, because oh well.

Section 2 was a doddle in comparison. Now I am out of mulch and waiting for a new pile to be delivered tomorrow.

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I have given up on the round corral as a place to plant anything, and moved my specimen peony collection into the driveway garden. This area is sub-optimal for peonies because it gets only a partial day’s sunlight, but I have bearded iris blooming under the same conditions so I figure the peonies can hack it for now.

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I cleaned up generally in the planting-plants-I’ve-bought department. I have three out of four Spanish lavenders planted here and there now, planted the trio of hostas I bought as a just-in-case measure in March, planted my ground orchids in the shade garden, and put seedling globe thistles along the back of LHB4. Those sunny borders need a solid background of plants. I’m going to fill them in with globe thistles and hollyhocks (I have started some Halo Series seedlings). Dahlias can go in front. Speaking of dahlias, hus-tree and I received our emergency replacement tubers from Easy To Grow Bulbs and planted them. We each bought an assorted mix and…I don’t know. Two of mine had sprouts. The others looked a little dodgy. The tubers in mixes are not as nice as the single-variety ones, for future reference.

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Last piece of progress this week was planting my cucurbits. Zucchini seeds went in, and winter squashes Butterscotch and Sweet Dumpling, as well as…oh dear…full size pumpkins Autumn Crown, Valenciano, Fairytale, Lumina White, and Blue Jarrahdale. If these vines grow to full size they’ll swamp the veg patch, but I don’t think they will. Frankly, I’m worried about them germinating at all.

Friday Garden News: May 17

Keeping a garden journal is important if you want to do well by your garden and if you have literally anything else in your life to keep track of. I have been journaling by hand this year, and so far I’ve kept it up, but to be honest I find it cumbersome to write by hand and I end up eliding information. So let’s try writing a Friday blog post every week, detailing what has happened in the garden, for future reference.

Let’s see. Last Friday was May 10. What has happened since then.

Weather
A freak heat wave of 80+ temperatures broke. High temps are back around 60-ish and last night we had a good, solid rain shower. NWS says we got half an inch, but a bucket left out overnight had a solid two inches in it. Everything is soaked and happy, except the cerastium.

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Veg
I am finally picking lettuce. Red Sails leaf lettuce, three romaine mix, and radicchio Bel Fiore make an attractive and tasty salad mix. I ended up with bark chips in this batch no matter how many times I rinsed. Be more careful picking in future.
The Rattlesnake beans are germinating, which means I’m nervous about the places they haven’t germinated yet. Potatoes are coming up everywhere: where I planted them this year, where I planted them last year, and in the raised beds filled with compost. There will be lots of potatoes to dig this summer. Three of the shallot plants bolted, probably due to that freak late frost that also burned the potato leaves. Apparently shallots bolting means the bulbs won’t develop further, so I dug them and used them to make risotto. Tasty.
Other things are growing on happily: tomatoes, artichokes, kale, fava beans, basil, dill, cilantro, and leeks. Parsley and pepper seedlings are coming along nicely. Now where the hell do I put them?
Time to sow zucchini and pumpkins soon, though the weather forecast isn’t particularly warm.

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Cut flowers
I am now cutting sweet peas. I planted them last fall so the plants grew on all winter and are enormous. They did not climb their supports, but they’re so huge and tangled that they sort of prop each other up. All other cutting flowers that have been put into beds are growing nicely. Seeded bachelor’s buttons Classic Romantic Mix where the lettuce was.

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Sunny borders
The hardy geraniums are blooming in the sunny borders, and columbines, and saxifrages (still). Tulips, daffodils, and Italian anemones are over. Salvias and peonies are budding, and the Festiva Maxima peonies I started two years ago are startlingly huge. They might be best in the mid-back. I moved the LHB’s globe thistles to the right-and-proper back, which made me feel better about everything. Dahlias are popping up. Divided and moved three non-blooming bearded iris from the terrace into the sunny borders. Cor, I really need to get started on the RHB. The weeds are taking over. Also the rose is huge.

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Terrace
Lots of symbolic effort there this week. Moved two peonies from the round corral into there. Planted eragrostis Wind Dancer, Verbena bonariensis, and tons of ammi along the end of the path. Planted a swath of globe thistles and another of verbascum Southern Charm. Planted the three Humpback Whale hostas in a pod under the laurel. The regular foxgloves are sprouting up ready to bud. The strawberry foxgloves are sulking.

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Shade garden
Added three maidenhead ferns and three strawberry begonias. Dug up some handfuls of bigroot geranium to spread around. Deadheaded Narcissus thalia, pulmonaria, and brunnera. Mulched some more but not finished.
Things there are *so happy*. It gives me joy. I want another trio of lady ferns. The black snakeroot is finally happy, hooray, and sending up all kinds of new fronds.

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Orchard
The fig twig is dead. The Italian plum is finally leafing out. I hope this rainfall did it good. Found a source for Cox’s Orange Pippin trees: Stark Bros. Best pollinator is Cortland, so will get one of those too. In the fall.

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Pastures and hedgerows
Hawthorn is in bloom, hooray. Also buttercups and the teeny purple-and-yellow frondy things. Hummingbirds have nested, and give me hell.

Pulmonaria, lungwort

Time to celebrate another Very Good Garden Plant: pulmonaria, aka lungwort.

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Pulmonaria growing in my garden in Illinois

Named for the spotted leaves that, I suppose, resemble the alveoli in lung tissue, or perhaps because it was used as a folk remedy for chest ailments (don’t quote me on that, I’m just speculating!), lungwort is a tough plant that, so far as I can tell, will take just about any treatment you throw at it and look great in the bargain.

They’re small plants, topping out at maybe a foot tall and 18″ across. In a harsh winter they will hide underground; in a mild winter their foliage will persist. In early spring they throw out a few new leaves and a lot of flowering stalks topped with numerous tiny, bell-shaped flowers that change from pink to blue as they mature. There are varieties that range from very palest pink and blue to rich and electric.

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A pale pulmonaria in my garden in Illinois

After the flowers fade the stalks will droop. This is the time to cut them off–as well as any old foliage–before the plant puts out its new summer foliage. Then you just let it be, spotty in all its glory, with maybe a feed and a mulch to say ‘thank you’ until next year.

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The foliage of a pulmonaria start in early spring, in my garden in western Washington

They will tolerate a wide range of conditions. I grew them in my Zone 5 garden in Illinois and I grow them in my Zone 8 garden here in the Puget Sound area. I’ve grown them in full sun and mostly shade. Good soil and extremely poor root-ridden soil. So far as I can tell there are only two things that really bother them.

The first is to be too cold. Our last winter in Illinois there was a night that went down to -17F. That killed my pulmonaria (and several other things, too). The second is to get too dry. Then their leaves will lay flat and they’ll look pathetic, but a watering will bring them back to life.

The best thing about pulmonaria, though, is that it propagates from root cuttings. That means that if you’re on a tight budget, or if you’re just cheap like me, you really only need to buy (or be given) a single plant. After that you’re golden.

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Flowers on a pulmonaria start (transplanted the previous fall) in my garden in western Washington

You procure the plant in the spring and put it in a favorable place. Let it grow over the summer. In the fall, about a month before frost, dig it up and plant it somewhere else. Don’t fill in the hole left behind.

Next year, that hole will become a veritable cornucopia of pulmonaria starts, as each root fragment left behind sprouts into its own plant. Let them develop a healthy leaf or two, then plant them out where you want them. In a few weeks there will be more. In fact, it’ll be hard to ever fully get rid of them…but from my point of view, why would you want to?

I have a difficult border in my shade garden under a row of enormous black pines. I’m filling up the front of it with pulmonaria starts. In a year or two I’ll have a solid hedge of pink and blue flowers in the spring, and pretty spotted foliage all summer. Win.

Siberian iris

Everyone loves Dutch iris, but I’d like to draw your attention to their smaller, humbler, but undeniably more useful cousins, the Siberian iris.

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Bagged Siberian iris roots for cheap. They start well this way

I’ve grown Iris siberica in both USDA zone 5 (central Illinois) and USDA zone 8 (Puget Sound area). They survived in both places, though their site in Illinois was hot, dry, and had poor soil. In that location, while their foliage came up, they didn’t bloom. Here on the shores of Puget Sound, in a bed of amended topsoil with clay beneath, they bloom like bonkers. This leads me to conclude that, while they’re indifferent to winter cold and summer heat, they do need some feeding to be happy.

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Two colors of blooms in early June

The primary virtue of everything in my sunny perennial borders is that it produces gorgeous flowers, which Siberian iris undoubtedly does. They’re available in shades of blue, purple, yellow and white. Siberian iris provides a secondary and almost larger benefit, though, in its persistent foliage. The leaves are green and strappy, somewhat above knee height, and persist through the summer until cold temperatures turn them golden. Eventually they collapse onto the ground and then should be cleaned up, but in the meantime, they provide a spectacular backdrop for other things and have a knack for filling in gaps.

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The grassy green foliage persists throughout the growing season, making a good backdrop for other plants. Second-year plant seen here on the far right

Every Siberian iris I have was grown from a bagged root. Above in this post were some I bought at my local major retailer. This was the first time I’ve seen Siberian iris roots there though, and I do pay attention, so if you don’t see them don’t be distressed. Turn to online sources. My bagged-root source of choice is Bulbs Direct, which has the virtue of being cheap and offering a large selection. Their drawbacks are that they have a confined sales season, some roots arrive dead and growing mold, and they have persistent problems with correctly labeling the varieties of their plants. That’s how I ended up with the two shades of purple shown above. For the price they’re asking I’m more than willing to swallow these failings, though, and I’ve always received prompt and friendly replies to inquiries.

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Golden Siberian iris foliage playing backdrop to spent sedum heads in early November

Once established in a happy place Siberian iris is almost care-free. As I said the foliage will need to be cut short after it has collapsed in late fall or early winter; some other perennials stay upright and have winter interest but these just turn into a soggy mess. Do manure them in the fall and mulch them in the spring, just like you would anything else (riiiiight?). Other than that, once they’re in place, don’t mess with them. They dislike being moved and will probably sulk the next year. They’re far less prone to disease than Dutch iris and far less picky about their spot than some of the water-loving irises, though, and they are the only iris Piet Oudolf recommends for naturalistic planting.

Enjoy!

Snow in the desert

We visited my parents in Albuquerque over Christmas. Us coming from the Pacific Northwest, and all of us lately of the Midwest, we sort of expect Albuquerque to be a sunny, precipitation-free haven.

It didn’t work that way this year. Pretty pictures, tho, and maybe the only snow we’ll see this year, since there isn’t a single freezing temperature in our ten-day forecast.

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Happy New Year

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Happy New Year from January 1, that misty, numinous stretch between Yule and Imbolc, when the merrymaking is over and it’s time to rest, and contemplate, and plan.

I am getting my garden seed orders together. Earlier than usual, but then, the catalogues started arriving in December, so I took it as a sign. As you know from earlier entries I’ve had things pretty well planned since August anyway.

Here’s wishing good health to you, good fortune, continuing throughout the year, and that 2019 may be better than its predecessor. Cheers!

Eleven Years of Pudding

Just stopping in to say that Pudding is still with us, and today marks *eleven* years since I first took her home. That’s hard to believe. She predates my husband by six months in the knowing and 1.5 years in the marriage, and predates our daughter by over three years.

Love you, kitty cats, even though you’ve taken to sleeping on my head at night. I don’t grudge you the warmth.

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Bringing in the dahlias

Last night the temperature dipped to the mid-30s, so I’m glad I had the dahlias safely tucked away for the winter.

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Dahlias are a delightful flower that is ubiquitous around here (USDA grow zone 7-8ish) but unheard-of back in Indiana and Illinois, where I learned how to garden (USDA grow zone 5.) This is both because frozen ground in the winter will kill them and because they won’t bloom and thrive in intense summer heat. Here in the PNW, though, the major danger to them is rotting in the wet winter soil.

Last year I joined a local dahlia society to learn how to grow and care for them. A lot of those people overwinter their tubers and generally have good results by doing so; you need to make sure they’re in a well-draining place, either in amended soil or a raised bed, and you’re mostly good to go. The occasional cold winter or long, cold, wet spring (hello 2017…) will kill some, but for the work saved, to the people who grow hundreds, it’s worth the risk.

I only have a few and I have tender feelings about some of my varieties, though, so this year I dug mine.

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The first step to putting them away in the winter is to cut back the foliage to 4-6″ of stem. Yes, it’s sad, I know. You can wait until frost has destroyed the foliage if you want to. Compost the foliage and think of how much good it’ll do the plants next year.

At this point, decide whether you’ll want to divide your clumps of tubers or not. Like potatoes, a dahlia tuber will create many new dahlia tubers during the growing season. Each tuber is capable of producing a new plant, though leaving clumps alone for a few years will create a big mass that grows a bushlike plant rather than a single, tall one. It’s up to you.

If you’re going to divide, you should leave the tuber in the ground for a week or so after cutting the foliage, to let the tubers grow “eyes.” The eyes will turn into flowering stalks in the spring, and without at least one still attached, a tuber won’t grow. So if you’re dividing you need to be able to see them, and to see them the dahlias need another week in the ground to grow them.

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If you aren’t dividing, the way I’m not, then you can instantly dig your tubers up. Use a fork and start 10-12″ away from the stalk to avoid spearing tubers. Gently prise the soil up, then pull the mass of tubers free (they look so much like the mandrake roots from Harry Potter, it makes me laugh) and spray them clean with the hose. Now lay them out somewhere peaceful and not too sunny to dry. They can dry for up to a week.

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A freshly-dug mass of tubers. Do you have your earmuffs on?

Once they’re a little dry, you need to move them into conditions that provide three things:

1. Darkness
2. Enough warmth that they won’t freeze
3. Something to prevent them from drying out completely

Monty Don of Gardener’s World packs his around with spent compost and stores them in a shed. In my dahlia society we put them in trash bags full of cedar shavings (the kind used in kennels), then into styrofoam coolers, which people stored in basements, crawlspaces, garages, and sheds.

Mine are spending the winter in the potting shed.

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There is a possibility of fungal activity rotting your tubers over the winter. There are two things you can do to minimize this risk:

1. Trim off all excess material, like the tiny trailing roots and any damaged tubers. The damaged ones you see above simply split when they were pulled because it had rained recently and they were so full of moisture. It’s okay; there are other, whole tubers on the bunch; but you don’t want the damaged ones to stay because they can only rot. Cut them off.

2. Add a fungicide to the cedar shavings. I put a couple tablespoons of powdered sulfur fungicide in each of my bags and shook it around before I put the tubers in.

Having taken these precautions, you’ve done just about all that can be done to prevent fungal rot. If you really love your dahlias, check them once or twice over the winter, and if you see powdery black mildew cut off the affected parts and store in fresh substrate. When fungus does take hold it tends to affect all the tubers in the same bag, so consider spreading your tubers out into multiple bags, just to hedge your bets.

And that’s it. Tubers are tucked away for the winter. Congratulations!

Darning

Into every sock knitter’s life comes the moment of reckoning.

You’ve knitted your socks.
You’ve worn your socks.
You’ve loved your socks.
You’ve walked holes in your socks.
Now you ought to darn your socks.

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Darning isn’t as romantic as knitting a new sock wholecloth, but it’s far more practical. A sock takes about…eh…well, several hours to knit, anyway. It takes less than an hour to do even an extensive darning job. The places socks wear out mostly don’t show when you have your shoes on, and anyway, you should wear your darned patches with pride. Do them in contrasting yarn. Own the capitalist shills who think you should toss your socks when they have holes. You’re PRACTICAL.

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There are a lot of darning tutorials online, so I’ll let you choose the one that works best for you. MAKE DO AND MEND 4-EVAH.

Cold-weather season

It’s upon us: cold weather. The overnight temperature will dip into the 30s sometime next week, and for the past several days we’ve had severe fog in the mornings. Back in the Midwest it would have caused a two-hour school delay; here in the PNW there would never be a schoolday that started on time if they did that. Fog is an accepted hazard.

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I call it “cold weather season” because it is colder, though positively mild by Midwestern standards. It’s a damp cold, though. This area is a major timber area, and the PNW forest grows with such vigor that anyone who owns land ends up with lots of brush to burn, so nearly everyone has either a straight-up wood stove or a pellet stove, to drive off the foggy damp.

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Calcifer

Dew is persistently on the grass, too, so waterproof footwear is absolutely necessary. What’s less necessary than I anticipated are raincoats. Sure if you’re hiking in the rainforest you’ll want one, or combing a beach for agates, or digging clams or picking up oysters. But for everyday errands you just put up with the rain. You get wet, then you dry off. You stop noticing it.

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I opened the first of this year’s jars of home-canned plums to put on oatmeal for breakfast. This is one of my favorite parts of winter: plums in oatmeal (with milk). These plums are unfortunately pretty tart. Next year I’ll know better, wait until July or even August to buy my plums, so they’re melting-sweet. I canned these with the pits, on the advice of Alice Waters’ wonderful book My Pantry.

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Winter means changes in the animals, too. This is the time of year that salmon are running in the streams. Out in the wilder places, bears are fattening up for the winter on them. In the less-wild places they got fat over the summer by raiding camp sites. A cougar–apparently not very hungry–was spotted hanging out near a local elementary school, and had to be trapped and relocated.

But for us on our little plot of land, the coyotes and raccoons are persistent, and the birds fluctuate. Around this time of year woodpeckers attack our buildings’ cedar siding, blackbirds migrate through, the juncos become sociable, and the cat gets really interested in what’s going on outdoors.

This morning while I was dressing a mourning dove landed on the windowsill and tapped on the glass. It was looking right in at me. When I moved closer it flew away. Clearly a wizard summoning me on an adventure? I don’t know. I’m a hobbit at heart and I’m staying home.

Recipe: Serious chicken noodle stew

I’ve never had a homemade chicken broth that did anything special for me, so in our house we use Knorr chicken powder. I’m saying this to give you a chance to stop reading.

Okay. As you might have surmised, chicken noodle soup isn’t my very favorite soup in the world, but sometimes a chilly autumn evening just calls for it. That’s when I make something like this: as much stew as soup, rich, flavorsome, not watery thankyouverymuch.

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Put 8 cups water in your soup pot. Put 3 frozen chicken breasts in it and turn the heat on high while you go about your other business. When it starts to boil, turn it down to medium.

While that’s happening, medium-dice one large or two smallish yellow onions, two carrots, and half a celery heart. Put it in a large skillet with 1T butter and 1T vegetable oil, and sautee. Add 2 cloves minced garlic toward the end, when the vegetables are nice and brown. Turn off the heat on the skillet.

Your chicken breasts will be mostly-cooked by now. They don’t need to be completely cooked. Take them out of the soup pot, use two forks to shred them into bite-size pieces, and return them to the pot. Add half a bag of Kluski egg noodles and 3T Knorr chicken powder. Bring back to boil. Cook for about ten minutes, until the noodles are nearly ready.

Stir 3T flour into the vegetables, so they’re coated. Add them to the soup pot. Stir and boil until broth thickens, a couple of minutes. Add a handful of chopped fresh parsley and enjoy.

Shade garden, grass garden

That’s it. The shade garden is in. There are still empty spots, but that’s because I’m trying some things from seed next year (lots of Japanese anemones, for example). Here’s a picture of it all planted up. Isn’t it…um…something?

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Yeah, no. It looks like something the cat dragged in. Here is the game plan, though:

1. Everything is now tucked in place for our “winter,” which I put in quotes because I’m from the Midwest. “Winter” here actually means a little light frost overnight, days in the mid-40s, and tons of rain. Winter is a season of growth here, for roots at least. It’s the dry summer that is the dormant season. So, all these plants, lots of which I’ve already had for a winter or two, will spend the next six months getting soaked, growing their roots, and eating up all the manure/compost blend I’ve just fed them.

2. Spring will come and they will jump back to life with bigger, fresher foliage than you see here.

3. I will then mulch the bejeezus out of both the middle and the border, and let me tell you, there aren’t many sins that mulch doesn’t fix. It looks sharp, it suppresses weeds, and it keeps roots moist so plants are happier during the bone-dry summer.

Okay. So that’s done for now. Next up: the grass garden.

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And you thought the shade garden looked hopeless.

This terraced area was filled with overgrown laurels and hypericum when we bought the place. The laurels were diseased and had to go; the hypericum bloomed with an incredibly thick flush of YELLOW flowers so I killed it with extreme prejudice. Now I have to fill in with something else.

The plan is to fill it with mostly-perennials, and to go heavy on ornamental grasses. Grass gardens, formerly firmly associated with the ’70s in my mind, are back in fashion, and I have to admit that there are lots of lovely ornamental grasses available.

The strategy is to peg down a sinuous path through the area, then proceed with manuring and planting as in the shade garden. Just now I don’t have that many plants to put in–just a few specimen grasses and some eupatorium I bought on fall clearance. Overall, my strategy for the grass garden is to leave more space rather than less between things. When I planted the sunny perennial borders I didn’t want to see the ground when they were grown tall, and while it was a nice idea, there are mechanical problems. How do you weed when you can’t see the ground? How do you mulch? And what happens when plants get a lot bigger than you expected?

It’s a problem. So, more space rather than less in this area.

The plants I already own for this area are:

Pennisetum Karly Rose x5
Eupatorium rugosm x3
Salvia spathacea x1
Lysimachia atropurpurea x1
Melinus nerringlumis x1
Schizachyrium Blue Paradise x1
Muhlenbergia Pink Cloud x1
Pennisetum foxtrot x1
Miscanthus graziella x1

If you’d like to tell me that any of these won’t work in the space, feel free, though if you’re right I’ll find it out anyway.

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Beyond these actual living plants that need to be tucked in ASAP, I have seeds for the following:

Verbena bonariensis
Ammi Dara
Briza subaristata
Carex testacea
Eragrostis elliottii Wind Dancer
Melica altissima atropurpurea
Stipa calamagrostis
Stipa tenuifolia
Thalictrum delavayi
Eupatorium canabinum
Cow parsley Raven’s Wing
Angelica sylvestris Ebony
Dierama

And, as you see in the photograph, I really want some sanguisorba (which just isn’t carried in the Lower 48, though it’s popular in Alaska), chocolate cosmos (Plant World Seeds claims to have seeds of a fertile strain…?), Prairie Smoke geum (seeds are gettable, plants might not be), and verbascum Southern Charm which I managed from seed this year, so why not again.

Phew. Wish me luck.