Tuesday, July 26, 2016

"It's easy!"

So said Wouterina Riana DeRaad when I swooned over her garden sculpture park. "When you start, you won't want to stop!" That latter I'm sure was meant to be encouraging, but for someone like me, it also serves as a warning: DANGER! DANGER! NEW HOBBY AHEAD!

This stop on the Garden Bloggers Fling was the epitome of garden art and creativity. While I would love to take a workshop, a little voice in my head carps that this is not my art form. The artist learned to work with stucco when she and her former husband purchased a fixer-upper, the themes in these functional yet whimsical pieces reflect her personal history and upbringing, and living in the country, she can put pretty much anything she damn well pleases in her yard and on her house (including the red flying Pegasus from a Mobil oil ad, which I neglected to photograph).

I have some garden art in my yard, all purchased or gifted. If I wanted to create my own, what would my media be? What would be the theme? I'll have to ponder that a bit.

Other examples of creativity abounded on the garden tour, from the use of natural materials to the repurposing of a variety of objects.

Deconstructed weather vane hides chicken wire fence

Saw bowling balls in several gardens - is this a thing?


...more sticks...

... another stick.

Tea kettles to planters

Bird cage?

Shovel birds

Something or other as plant holder

One lump or two?

It's a garden party!

Stone bird bath

Painted lumber

One of the more intriguing DYI projects we came across were these concrete planters. They are not actually concrete but styrofoam containers treated to resemble concrete.

We were first fooled, then amazed. But now that I Googled for some instructions, I see that they are not such a secret to the Internet.

After seeing so much creativity everywhere we went, I came home wanting to somehow duplicate everything. But do I really want a bowling ball in my garden? Where would I put faux concrete planters and what would I put in them? Where would I find enough straight sticks to make a trellis, big or small? And then there is the underlying talent, which I seem to lack - my stuff ends up looking "homemade" instead of "handmade".

But I bet I could put together a door mat from bottle caps.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

What makes a Japanese garden?

While on the Garden Bloggers Fling in Minneapolis, we visited (oh so briefly) the Japanese garden at the Como Botanical Zoo and Conservatory. There was a lot of hosta and pachysandra. Today my son and I visited the Japanese garden exhibit at our own Botanical Conservatory. More hosta and pachysandra. Hmm. That got me wondering just what exactly constitutes a Japanese garden.

I consulted Google and wound up at a Wikipedia entry. Among other info, the elements that make up a Japanese garden are listed. I didn't take many photos at the Japanese garden at Como, but I could see the elements elsewhere in not-very-Japanese gardens (including my own), so they must be somewhat universal.


I've long considered adding a water feature to my garden, but a little research reveals just how much work they are. Also, my imagination has been limited to the rubber ponds sold in big box stores. However, a water feature may be a pond, a stream, or even a dry stream of white sand or polished river stones. It's the metaphor that counts.

Rocks and sand

Rocks and sand may be incorporated into the water feature (see pix above), or installed in their own right, as garden art, a path, a wall, a border, etc. I confess the use of rock in my garden is limited to pea gravel around the AC unit and under the spigot, in the interest of keeping each area clear of weeds. I could add a couple of small boulders for interest.

Garden architecture

If a shed counts as garden architecture, I have this one covered. I don't think that is the intention, although there are countless garden buildings around, some practical, some rustic, some formal, some cute, some functional, some that are all of the above. I am still considering a screened in gazebo like the first photo below.

Garden bridges

No bridges in my flat, flat yard. I dimly recall crossing some bridges here and there on the Fling, especially in the Japanese garden. Apparently, no pix, though. Does an arch count as a bridge? Probably not, but I'd still like to add an arch somewhere. Or maybe my pergola counts as an arch?

Stone lanterns and water basins

I *do* have a stone lantern! Only because a garden design from long ago included some elements of a Japanese garden (I now realize). Do bird baths count as water basins? If so, I have that, too.

Garden fences, gates, and devices

There were some great gates (which I neglected to photograph) on the Fling. I have a (chain link) fence with three gates (two cedar). I'm contemplating replacing the chain link with a privacy fence, which could be simply functional or serve as a visual enclosure. OR it could be incorporated into the garden design as a wall for art, trellises, etc. Devices are trickier. The example on the wiki entry is of a shishiodoshi, designed to scare away birds. All I use are strips of mylar.

Trees and flowers

Interestingly, plants appear near the bottom of the list of elements of a Japanese garden. Naturally, we saw plants everywhere we went on the Fling, especially hostas, hostas, and MORE hostas. (There is a Minnesota Hosta Society. Also, I think it is a state law that every yard contain at least one hosta.) In a Japanese garden, plantings may be selected to hide something, provide a backdrop, or create a vignette. I recently planted a pagoda dogwood and was excited to see what it might look like one day, but only with selective pruning, I was sad to learn.


When one thinks of fish in a garden, koi immediately spring to mind. If one has a pond, the next natural step might be to add fish. But I have noticed quite a few garden art pieces that are either fish or are meant to imitate fish (like salmon leaping among the shrubs). Fish would be one step too far for me, but maybe some colorful ceramic koi would be a nice addition to the hosta bed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fling, flang, flung

Over the past long weekend, I attended the Garden Bloggers Fling 2016, in Minneapolis. This was my first Fling, and my plan was to beat everyone else to the punch by publishing blog posts at the end of each day. However, the browser on my computer screamed "Danger! Danger! Everyone can see you!" when I logged into the hotel wifi, which made me nervous about entering any site that required a password. Also, my SO traveled with me but went his merry way each day, so we spent the evenings filling each other in on our separate but equally fascinating experiences. I barely had time to download the SD card from my camera each night.

While few blog posts have appeared so far re the Fling, there are lots of photos on FB and Instagram. Oddly, I am not in any! The Fling requires a certain amount of mobility and a lot of stamina. I was okay on the former, sadly lacking on the latter, retreating to the bus early sometimes. An afternoon nap and a cup of coffee would have helped, but I simply could not nod off on the bus and no coffee or tea was to be found (my one complaint).

When I go on a garden tour, I look for ideas I can use in my own yard, and mostly take pictures to remind myself of what they are. For example, since I hate my current compost bin setup, I have a lot of pix of compost bins. Not only is it interesting to see what others photographed, many on the tour are excellent photographers, capturing not only what was there but the gestalt of the environments. My photos, such as they are, will show up on this blog to illustrate what I am doing or planning to do.

The next Garden Bloggers Fling is in the Washington, D.C. area, July 22 - 25, 2017. If you write a garden blog, I highly recommend attending a Fling (or two or ten!) Not only will you see a lot of interesting and enlightening gardens, public and private, you will meet a lot of friendly, welcoming, knowledgeable gardeners. Even when I was too tired to converse, I eavesdropped on many an interesting discussion and learned a lot.

Friday, July 01, 2016

Accidentally on purpose

Sometimes gardening goes according to plan, but not always. Here are some cases in point.

Every time I see this Joe Pye growing through the deck, I get irritated. Not at the plants, but at the contractors who did not adhere to my specifications to build the deck on the footprint of the patio slab. Instead, they made it a little bit bigger, encroaching on a bed of perennials. I let these plants grow in situ, just to aggravate myself, I guess. They keep spreading, so maybe they will spread out from under the decking.

The Joe Pye isn't the only plant to grow through the deck. I never planted any Common Milkweed in my yard, but they appeared one day and I decided to let them stay. Now there are clumps here and there, but I have yet to see a single monarch caterpillar anywhere.

There are several other plants growing in my yard that I never planted. I'm sure the birds are to blame for some, but I also suspect the free mulch I have obtained from our county compost site. I love the concept of people dropping off their yard waste and having it transformed into mulch and compost, but the reality is not so ideal. In the spirit of making lemonade from lemons, though, I have incorporated some of the newcomers into my yard.

Usually I try to eliminate the brambles, but this black raspberry established itself on the other side of the chain link fence. My son pointed out the berries, which are few and small, but oh-so-delicious.

Wild grapevine can be a nuisance, but the birds do like the fruit. This year I made a rule: it can grow on the back fence, but not on the side fences. The back fence is hidden from those neighbors by their privet hedge, but the side fences are in plain view. So far, the neighbors on either side have not complained, but the family on one side is moving and I don't want to get on the wrong side of the new people right off the bat.

Pokeweed can be a nuisance as well, but again, the birds love it, especially robins and bluebirds. I let some go, as long as its location is not problematic.

In the past, I have yanked the volunteer fleabane out, but this year let a couple of clumps remain. They are native, and while the flowers are not big and showy, they are profuse and continue for quite a while (unlike the Shasta Daisy, which is now pouting because I moved it). I may take the clumps and incorporate them in actual flower beds, that's how much I appreciate the fleabane.

Then there are a variety of plants that I deliberately installed but which have taken on a life of their own.

Several times I have tried to get Black Eyed Susan going here and there in the yard, without success. But at some point, it established itself in what it must consider prime locations. One spot is in the hosta bed, which doesn't get much sunshine; this year's primary clump seems to be struggling, though, because the Old Fashioned Bleeding Heart is crowding it. The other two big clumps are in front of the 'Betty Corning' Clematis vines. Why? I don't know

Along with the Black Eyed Susan is the Canadian Columbine, which pops up all over the place, here in the hosta bed along with some Black Eyed Susan. I'm happy to let it have its way, as the plants are not crazy thick nor long lasting and the blossoms are so pretty.

Last year, I planted calendula in the bed by the front walk, hoping it would reseed itself profusely. That did not happen, but there are a few plants here and there. Its flowering period last longer than the coreopsis and contrast nicely with the sedum, so I hope they continue to prosper. The tricky thing is to not pull the seedlings when weeding.

Even though I knew better, I planted some mint in the yard once upon a time. Now it is everywhere. I yank it over and over, but it prevails. Pollinators love it, so I am letting this one clump go, a decision I may regret. From my understanding, mints do not grow from seed but spread via its vast root system. I tried growing it in a pot, but it did not do well.

Back to the I-did-not-plant-this category. A chipmunk probably planted the seed for this mystery gourd growing in the flower box on the front porch. Since members of the squash family breed freely with each other, there is no telling what the fruit of this vine will be. I'm letting it grow out of curiosity.

Finally, we see the peril of developing a backyard habitat along with a garden: voracious woodchucks. This guy has become a bit bold, sometimes chewing on the front of the house and one time venturing onto the back deck. If I were quicker and it was not, I'd have an up-close-and-personal photo, instead of this grainy one taken through a window at an awkward angle. (Yes, there is a lot of clover in my yard.)

I'm guessing the deck foray was in search of water, as the ground level bird baths were dry that day (bad of me). In a sweeping lack of logic, I am now supplying the groundhog with water, in hopes it will stop knocking over the bird bath that is on a stand. At least the vegetable garden seems secure... for now.

A neighbor has offered me the use of his Havahart trap, but last night I dreamed there were BABY woodchucks frolicking in the backyard. If that happens in real life, I hope Finn the Helpful Gardening Cat will step up and do his job like he does with the baby rabbits. I appreciate his efforts even though I cannot watch. Or maybe a hawk will get them, if they exist. I'm willing to let Mother Nature do my dirty work.