A Walk Down Peony Lane

peonies

         One of the rewarding things about gardening is the legacy of loveliness you can leave for future generations.   Gardening requires patience as often it takes years to establish something.  You might have moved on to a different house or a different life before you see the fruits of your labor, but future generations will stop and bless you when they see the end result, (and part of the pleasure of blogging is sharing these small doses of beauty).  peonies

peonies

           Every June when I was working I would drive by this old house on my daily commute and admire the rows of flowers flanking both sides of a long narrow driveway.  peonies The house was on the outskirts of a small town, which must have been farmland at one time due to it’s deep lot and wide expanse of front lawn.   Being a novice gardener and knowing next to nothing about flowers, one day I decided to stop and inquire what kind of shrubs they were. peonies

        I parked on the side street and knocked on the back door.  An elderly gentleman answered, wiping his hands on a towel as I had interrupted his preparations for lunch.   Peonies, he said, and if I wanted some I was welcome to dig them up.    He had often thought about tearing them all out, but his wife liked them.   His father had planted them seventy or eighty years ago.    I quickly pleaded with him not to do so, as I and many people driving by had the pleasure of looking at them every year.   peonies

peonies           I never went back in the fall to dig them up, but the next time I was at a nearby nursery I asked the owner for some peony bushes just like Mr. Peony Lane’s.   She was familiar with the house, so I requested one medium pink and one darker one, expecting to wake up to a riot of color in the spring.  

 The following year when mine flowered,

my pale pink peonies
my pale pink peonies

 two pale things appeared.   I know some people like a whitish garden, but I crave color.   Although I was disappointed, they were nice in their own way and did so well that I left them and every year they flower, faithfully, because that’s what peonies do!   

peonies Postscript:  Should you wish to take a walk down peony lane, the video below was taken this past June while driving through the town.  (It is my first time posting video so it may or may not work, so I posted lots of pretty pictures).   Lest you think I am the kind of person who randomly invades other peoples property, I only ventured a short distance up the lane and tried to focus on the bushes using the zoom lens.   I considered knocking on the door, but my initial visit was ten years ago, and I wasn’t sure the elderly man still lived there, plus I had my mother in the car who was tired from an afternoon out.   It was a lovely early June day, sunny and warm but with a nice breeze, the kind of day you wish would stay all year.   It was cool under the shade of those giant trees – peonies like sun, but will tolerate light shade – a perfect vista of a summer day.   Maybe next fall, I will take a shovel and go back….        

 

The Danger Zone

May really is the merriest month, and if you are a gardener, no matter what zone you live in, it can also be the most dangerous time of year.   The garden centers are starting to bring in their flats of summer annuals and hanging baskets. Hanging Baskets

Visit any nursery anywhere and everything is a riot of color.  The petunias are looking all perky and pretty in their spring finery,

Pink Petunias
Pink petunias

their vivid colors saying buy me, buy me….but beware!   They require commitment….lots of commitment.     This year I intend to save myself a summer of watering and weeding and fertilizing and deadheading and just say no.  I will not succumb,  I will be strong.

I am at the point in my gardening life where taking care of plants has become burdensome.  I enjoyed it when I was working, although I did not always have the time and my flowers suffered for it.   It was a respite to dig in dirt on my days off, a mindless occupation which did not require too much thought.    One year I had eleven hanging baskets, (what was I thinking), and twenty rose and hydrangea bushes I was trying to get started, but it was too hot to water at ten in the morning when I got up, and it was dark when I returned home from work.   But that was also the year my plants looked their best, because I gave up and hired someone in the neighborhood to water them.

geraniums
Pink Geraniums in September

It finally got too expensive, (it was a drought year), but I must admit it was a joy to have hanging baskets still vibrant in late September, instead of raggedy, dried out and dead by the end of July.

Paradoxically, now that I am retired and have more time, I am starting to consider gardening a chore and I don’t think I am alone in this.  A few years ago I found an abandoned garden cart at the side of the road, (which I brought home and spray painted lime green to hide the sunflower yellow).

Green cart
Rescued lime green wrought iron cart

My idea was to get some of the pots up off the ground and out of reach of the bunnies which had multiplied like crazy that year.   The homeowner told me to take it, it was free.   She even delivered it so desperate was she to get it out of her sight.   Having to water all those pots was just too much trouble when they were busy travelling all summer.   I didn’t understand at the time, (a few pots?) but now I do.

At this stage in my gardening life I’d much rather read about gardening than do it.    I’m ready to leave the pretty plants to someone else, not to mention the sweat and hard work, and live vicariously through someone else’s planting adventures.   This gardening book Elizabeth and her German Garden, was first published in 1898 but is still timeless today.    (see Enchanted April blog for more about the author).
Elizabeth and Her German GardenElizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth von Arnim

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A bestseller when it was first released in 1898, this book remains a gardening classic. Of course back then there were the necessary servants and gardeners to do all the hard work, still it remains an entertaining read, and proof that the love of gardening never changes.

 Luckily, most of the things in my yard, are easy care – roses and hydrangeas and peonies and lilacs.   I like all the old-fashioned flowers our grandmothers had.  I have mostly pinks, (double pink Knock-Out roses around both front and back decks), some lavenders (French and English and Rose of Sharon) and a few blues (hydrangeas if the soil cooperates and some struggling delphiniums).    I like the look of an English garden with tall waving blooms, (so Downton Abbeyish),  but have not had much success with this scheme.  Phlox, not good, lupines, disappeared, foxglove awaiting judgement.  This year I intend to buy flower seedlings at the farmer’s market as I realized last year they had a better selection and were much cheaper than the nurseries.

Plants can be divided into high maintenance (those that whine please deadhead me, fertilize me, give me a drink), and low maintenance, (those that can take care of themselves).   Lavender is as low maintenance as it gets, (it loves drought), plus it’s cheap and smells wonderful.

Lavender in a Blue Pot
Lavender in a blue pot

Lavender

Heather is also supposed to be a hardy plant, so after spying some flowering on a neighbors lawn while out for an early spring walk, I purchased a ten dollar pot and plopped it in the ground. HeatherOdds are it will end up neglected but I’m having visions of Heathcliff and the moors next spring…..Heather

The other reason for not buying as much this year is the price – it just gets too expensive, so I will be haunting the plant sales.   When the horticultural society holds its annual plant sale for two dollars, I’ll be there.  I’ll even get out of bed early before the best ones are gone.   (Well I was there by noon and got six pots of purple and yellow iris, a few bluebells and a twig they said was a Rose of Sharon which I suspect might already be dead, but all for a grand total of six dollars, everything is half price after noon, another reason not to get out of bed).

Impatiens have fallen out of favor here due to a widespread blight, but they have now come out with a hardier strain, so last year I did my own hanging baskets with a flat from a popup nursery and the end result was cheap and cheerful.

The only seeds I usually plant are blue morning glories along the back fence, Morning Glory with beewhich almost always put on a glorious show, although they can be very late in the year, (see A Glorious September Morning blog), and this year I’m going to try wildflowers again. Wildflower seed packets

Although I don’t expect it will look like the meadow on the front of the seed packet, I did have some luck one year and it was an inexpensive solution for a poorly drained back corner.   Last year I put in glads for the first time, and dug up the bulbs in the fall, but they were pulpy looking when I took them out of storage, so they will need to be replaced.  

Glads and Impatiens
Gladioli and Impatiens

But I plan on limiting myself to four baskets of geraniums from the garden centers, two for the front urns, and two for the back deck, no more…..fingers crossed.

Geraniums
Pink geraniums

My only splurge will be a yellow with pink centre hibiscus bush, because it looks so exotic like the tropics, and my neighbor got one last year but I always seem to be behind on the garden trends.  Yellow Hibiscus 

One year I bought a bougainvillea plant,

Bougainvillea Plant
Bougainvillea on it’s best behavior

lured by it’s vivid pinkness, but I do not live in the right zone for tropical plants.   It overwintered indoors fine the first year, and even bloomed in February but then it got all spindly and shed until it was moved south to the garbage bin.

So goodbye, farewell, annuals at the garden centre. nursery flowers petunias

I hope you find a good home somewhere else….stay strong!

nursery flowers mixed

Progress report to date:   8 hollyhocks at farmers market $3 total, horticultural society plant sale iris & twig $6, one pot of campanula because it looked so purple but when I went to plant it the entire head of flowers fell off ($5 wasted),Campanula bellflower

six pots of lavender ($3.50 each to replace the ones which didn’t survive our harsh winter),Lavender

and my regular bright pink geraniums ($14) which came in a pink pot this year.  Why didn’t someone think of matching colored pots sooner instead of those boring taupe things?Pink Geranium

The Resistance: a Pink Knock-Out Rose Tree which at $99 is difficult to justify as I already have lots of $20 rose bushes, but there is a bare spot in one corner….. 

Knock Out Rose Tree

 The Debate:  this years hibiscus flavor – Fiesta?   Maybe if it goes on sale….

Postscript:  The best gardener of all, and the cheapest, is good old Mother Nature! Cherry Blossoms

 

May Flowers

April showers bring May flowers, so the saying goes.    Finally we are having some signs of spring here after what must be the longest winter ever.   Midway through April and nothing but single digit temperatures, flurries and freezing rain.  The flowers were up and trying to be brave but why bloom when you can hide.   But today it rained, a soft spring rain, destined to bring the first new fuzz out on the trees, a shade of green that is impossible to describe.  new spring green birch trees

Here’s some proof that warm weather is on it’s way.

Forsythia and Siberian Squill,Forsythia and Blue Flowers

Siberian Squill

Purple Vinca,Purple flowers and tulips

purple vinca

Purple Vinca and Orange Tulips

I like the mixture of colors in this clump of tulips, so cheerful to see while walking on a rainy spring day.

Tulips

This is the best time of year for lazy gardeners, as mother nature is doing all the work. 

All the fruits of last years fall plantings are bursting forth, and we can just sit back and enjoy the show.

Pink tulip

my favorite pink tulip

 

 

The final sign, the love birds are back and nesting.   They arrived during the last ice storm and had that nest assembled practically overnight, hence the messy job.  It was so cold they must have felt the need for some extra layers.  They need to do some spring cleaning and so do I, but first a cup of tea on the deck to listen to the birds and gaze at nature’s masterpiece.

Postscript:  for more pretty flower pics see last weeks post Among the Daffodils

Daffodils and hyacinths

 

 

Among the Daffodils

Daffodils are one of the earliest messengers of spring and after such a long late brutal winter, the warm weather has finally arrived.   I think we are in need of a little dose of sunshine, and perhaps some poetry.Daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsmith may be famous for the poem, I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud, but I think I much prefer his sister Dorothy’s 1802 journal entry about the walk in the English Lake District which inspired the poem.

“When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seed ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up – But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway – We rested again and again. The Bays were stormy and we heard the waves at different distances and in the middle of the water like the sea.”Daffodils

This acre of wild daffodils in a wooded lot is enough to motivate me to start my daily walks again.   Every spring I thank the lovely soul who originally planted these heirloom gems, as they have reseeded themselves over the years in a way that my modern bulbs never seem to do.   Mine might start out in orderly clumps, Daffodilsbut the squirrels have great fun transplanting them and they eventually end up lonely as a cloud.  Daffodil

They are especially lovely paired with the delicate blue of Siberian Squill, a bulb that can be invasive over time, but who would mind?  Daffodils & Blue Flowers

Daffodils are the most cheerful of flowers, so bright and sunny, waving in the breeze as if they are announcing that spring is here.   No wonder they belong to the Narcissus family, they demand look at me, and we do!  Welcome spring!    

Daffodils indoors

Postscript:  for more pretty pics see May Flowers blog.