Garden Variety Fun

A few years ago, my partner and I decided it would be good for us to have a garden – someplace to putter, to plant, to dig in the dirt and grow pretty things and salad things and mostly, serve as an excuse for us to get outside more often. We’re still not really good at it, but we learn a little every year, and I’m always tickled when we manage to not kill something. So here are a few garden things that have made me happy this year.

This was the first bloom on the clematis vine this spring. I planted it just last year and it stayed very small and bloomed just a couple of times. This year, it went crazy (not long after I took this photo), but I neglected to take a picture when it had a gazillion flowers. My mom always had one of these in her garden, and I always thought this color was the most awesome shade of coolness.

My partner and our youngest son love fried okra so she wanted to grow her own this year. They were the only plants in the garden that didn’t wilt during the wicked heat and dry spell in July. And now they’re producing okra quicker than I can harvest them. These things grow fast and are hard to kill – my kind of plant. It makes me feel like I know what I’m doing. I do, however, think okra in any form of food is revolting, but look what pretty flowers they have!

As I was hovering over the okra plants with my camera, a bee flew by my nose, landed on a flower, stuffed himself inside it, and didn’t come out. This is him. I think he went into some kind of pollen coma or something. He just stayed there kind of buzzing under his breath.

Thai basil. Also easy to grow and hard to kill. And it has pretty flowers that attract fun insects. This came up all over the front of the garden a few weeks ago. I thought it died over the winter.

Portrait of a tiny, tiny flower.

Sunflowers make me ridiculously happy. These are my first. They’re of the giant variety and so are taller than me and just started blooming a couple of days ago. I went out to take a photo of one and this Spicebush swallowtail was considerate enough to flutter up and plant himself (sorry, can never resist an awful pun) on my flower.

He really, really liked the flower but got irritated at my clicking at him and sailed off over the house a moment later.

Anybody else have fun stuff going on in your garden this year?

A Garden in Spite of Itself, Part 2: All the Pretty Flowers

My mother is an amazing gardener. Her yard is always a lush, flourishing mass of foliage and blooming things and trees that attracts all manner of wildlife from butterflies to bluebirds to cotton-tailed rabbits. Hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, their ruby throats glinting in the sun. Tortoises plod through the dappled shadows. Hers is not just a garden. It’s an aesthetically delightful ecosystem that she planned and put together herself.

If there’s a gene for such green witchery, I did not inherit it. I kill house plants. I kill cactus in pots, ficus and ferns and at least one rubber tree plant. I’ve killed pothos. Nobody kills pothos. I’m pretty sure it’s immune to death. But I did it. My cat might have helped by attacking it on a semi-regular basis, shredding its leaves and eventually, I think, peeing in its pot. Repeatedly. But still, the plant was in my care when the cat killed it. So I think, karmically speaking, it goes on my record.

But just the same, a couple of years ago, my partner and I decided we wanted a garden. It would get us outdoors more, give us something new we could do together, and make our front yard look less like a vacant lot. I thought, What’s the worst that could happen? I should never ask myself that. I am very good at visualizing the worst. I saw us buying all the new expensive plants and putting them in the ground and fertilizing and watering. Then I saw plants shriveling and dying one by one until our garden looked like a botanical graveyard.  The neighbors shook their heads. I felt sad and vaguely ashamed. Or, I thought, things might not die. They might grow and flourish. Plants would bloom spontaneously at my touch and neighbors would say, Look at her pretty little garden! I decided to risk it.

So we had prepared the bed (See Part 1). The time had come to populate our little growing space. And this is where, I must say, I’m proud of my mother. She wanted very badly to tell us how to plan and what to pick for a successful gardening experience right off the bat. I told her, No, we have to learn this ourselves. The whole process, from the ground up. (And yes, I’m a little proud of that pun.)

We wanted to choose everything and arrange it all on our own. So we went to Home Depot and wandered the aisles of the garden center. And that’s when I almost had a nervous breakdown. There were so many choices! And variables to consider. And here we were ready to just pop things in our basket willy-nilly and take them home. At least my partner was. She was excited about the garden and ready to dive in the deep end. I had thought I could follow her lead. But I just don’t work that way.

I am a methodical kind of person. When embarking on a new endeavor, my nature is to research it thoroughly, taking all variables into account, weighing them against each other, and eventually making informed, careful decisions thus maximizing our chances of success. Of course, using my method, spring and maybe summer would have passed before I made my carefully-researched choices for our garden. And B knows that.

We’re going to go, she said, and just pick what we like. So we did. She would hold up a plant and say, How about this? I would remove the little plastic tab thingy from its pot and begin reading out loud about the plant’s sun exposure and climate preference, its eventual height and breadth, water requirements, etc. B would listen as far as the name, make a decision, put the plant back or in the cart, and move on with me trailing behind, still studying the little plastic thingy and muttering to myself. Soon I had a whole handful of little plastic thingies and I was seriously starting to lose my shit. B made soothing noises and led me to the checkout line. Once the purchase was made, I was okay again.

Until we got home. Now it was time to decide what to put where. We had a row of small shrubs already planted and a big expanse of bare dirt waiting for the rest. I started arranging pots on the dirt thinking about all the variables again. Were they annuals or perennials? How tall would they be? What color? Spring or summer bloomers? I rearranged. And rearranged again. And finally B saved me again.

“That looks perfect,” she said.

“You think I should put the Dusty Miller over…”

“It’s perfect the way it is.”

“Or maybe move the Salvia to…”

“Why don’t you start digging holes?” She said and handed me a shovel.

And that’s how we got all our pretty flowers planted. And miracle of miracle, only a couple of them died and the rest flourished and bloomed.

Stay tuned for Part 3: Killing Tomatoes

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