Saturday, December 31, 2016

What I've Learned This Year

It's hard to resist doing a year-end retrospective on a garden blog, especially when you live in the Midwest. There's nothing going on out in the garden anyway, so it's fun to go looking through my photo archives to see the goodies stored there. I'm already missing the colors of the flowers, that's for sure. Unfortunately, I still have a few months to go before there will be any new blooms to enjoy. If I get lucky, spring will break early and I might see iris reticulata in late February. And that's lesson number one. Plant more bulbs, especially the early ones!

They always delight me so when they pop up. Planting more of them means even more delight. I did plant some more tulips this year, and I can't wait to see them bloom. I'm not one of those people who marks where they plant bulbs. I'd much rather be surprised when they appear.

I also learned that I shouldn't let the weather keep me from being outside. Haven't we all been chased inside by raindrops? And haven't we all thought it was too cold to go outside? During a late fall spell of rainy days, I missed a week or so of going out into the garden. When the weather finally cleared, I found the last of the roses fading away. I had missed their final blooms!

The snow can be so lovely when you are inside watching it fall. But aren't a few chilly fingers and toes worth the cost of seeing the magic of snow fall?

I'd like to say that I have learned that I dislike the constant watering of container gardening. And yet year after year, you'll find me filling up those same pots with plants that please me in the merry month of May, then make me curse in the dry and parched month of July. This summer was especially hot and dry, and some of my containers languished in the heat. I won't fall for it again. I made myself a note of which plants drooped every time their dainty toes got a little dry, and they won't get planted in containers again. Yes, they may be lovely, but they can only live here when planted in the ground where they don't need so much attention.

Red salvia, too thirsty in a pot! 
New Guinia impatiens, another overly thirsty one!

Most of this looks good, but there was a NG impatiens that didn't survive without constant water
Mostly good, but the sweet alyssum and callibrocha in this box were forever pouting for lack of water

That cleome didn't last long in the heat 

Fireworks pennisetum need full sun to bloom like that, but they droop quickly 

By that same token, some plants loved living in containers, and have earned the right to be planted here again. It was a few years ago that I discovered how well common begonias did in the north facing window boxes, and that lesson really stuck with me. I thought a gardener "had" to do a glorious mix of plantings in each pot to make the most stunning look. Finally I decided that some gardeners, mostly me, delight in the tidy and uniform look of the single plant look. Every year, my window boxes give me a lovely mound of begonias, and they never droop for me on the north side of the house.

Common begonias never droop on the north side off my house

Common geraniums can be kept in the hot sun with little water

Portaluca, moss rose, blooms constantly in the hot sun with little water

Purslane will take hot sun and little water

Caladiums like to be kept moist, but in the shade they did fine if they missed a watering

Coleus container doesn't fade in a mostly shady spot

Mandevilla did great in the hot sun without constant water
Other garden lessons I have learned over the course of years. If I let plants spread, and fill in the spaces, I'll have less room for weeds to sneak in. This means less work will be needed later on. If I plant low maintenance flowers, they'll reward me with easy care blooms. If I don't want to spend countless hours in the kitchen, don't plant more vegetables than you are willing to deal with.

Some common sense lessons were also taken to heart. It isn't a good idea to plan a long trip right in the middle of May when everything needs planting and daily watering. And if you must travel in the heat of summer, for goodness sake, hire a plant waterer!

Last on my list of garden lessons, but most important, is to learn to simply enjoy the garden as is. Don't feel the need to always be doing something to it. Sometimes you just have to sit and watch the garden go by. I make it a point to sit out on the patio nearly every evening, with iced tea and camera at hand. I may do a little deadheading, but mostly I just enjoy. You'll often find me with shears in hand, picking a bouquet for the kitchen. This type of work is something I'll allow into my peaceful evenings, as is a little light watering. But the goal is to slow your breathing to the pace of the outdoor world. It's a heady way to lower your blood pressure and to stop the need to always be "doing". Try it yourself, and see if you can't enjoy the beauty of doing nothing much.