Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Bloom Day and a Blogging Break

January is always challenging for the monthly Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. It's too cold for any blooms outdoors, and my garden is a mushy, frozen mess at the moment without even the benefit of some fluffy white snow for an appealing winter scene.  Indoors, the Christmas poinsettia is still looking good, but the only other indoor bloom is this kalanchoe.

I bought this plant before Christmas at a plant sale held by horticulture students at our local community college.  I'm not sure if they grew the plant themselves in their greenhouse or imported it from a wholesaler, but it was quite a bargain for its size.  There is only one problem . . .

Notice the tag in the pot?  Obviously, this is not pink!  But I'm not going to complain--at this time of year any blooms are welcome, no matter their color.  Also indoors, the Christmas cactus is dropping the last of its blooms, and the leaves of two amaryllis are growing several inches a day, but alas without a bloom on either.

Somewhere I'm sure there must be something blooming--if you're in need of a garden fix like me, I'm sure you'll find something colorful among the other Bloom Day posts found at May Dreams Gardens.

This will be my last post for awhile, and I wanted to let everyone know so that you don't think I suddenly fell off the face of the blogosphere.  Last fall I agreed to take over for an English teacher while she was on maternity leave this winter.  I had to think over this proposal for awhile--did I really want to get back into the everyday work routine? Although I substitute teach at my old high school occasionally, that's a little different, and sometimes I feel like little more than a glorified babysitter.  Instead of leaving empty-handed right after the 3:00 bell, this position would mean I would be staying in the classroom for as long as it takes to get things organized for the next day and taking home a bag filled with papers to grade and lessons to prepare during the evening.

But the timing was right--I can't do much in the garden in late winter anyway. And she really wanted ME, not someone new, which, of course, fed my ego; the thought of actually teaching and getting to interact meaningfully with students again was also appealing.  The added paychecks (more plants?? more trips??) didn't hurt either.

And so I agreed to go back to work for eight weeks.  But babies don't always follow schedules, and sure enough, little baby Gabe decided to make an early appearance.  Instead of having three more weeks to prepare for my teaching stint and get the last of the Christmas decorations put away (!), I started teaching this past Friday.    I know many of you work full-time and keep up with blogging, but I have been out of the loop so long that it's going to take me awhile to adjust.  I have a feeling that by the time I have all my work done at the end of each evening, I'm going to be ready to collapse into bed, rather than relaxing by reading some blogs. 

I hope to be able to pop in and visit now and then, and I'm going to try to post a short Bloom Day post in February and March.  But I will definitely be back to blogging in April, when I hope I can share scenes like this:

and this....

See you in the Spring!

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Reflections on 2012

Happy New Year, everyone!  For the past week, the media has been highlighting the top stories of the past year, as they always do.  I usually like to recap the past year in my garden as well, but this year seemed rather uneventful for me, other than the excitement of attending Spring Fling in Asheville in May.  Instead, I thought I would start off the new year by looking back at some of the lessons I learned in the garden in 2012.

'Victoria' blues and whites taking over the front of the arbor bed.

There is always something new to be learned about gardening, and I certainly learned some practical lessons this past year such as how attractive foliage can be in containers, that amsonia has very long, stubborn roots,  or that cats and houseplants don't always go together.  One of the hardest lessons to learn for this stubborn tightwad thrifty gardener was that just because a volunteer plant is providing free blooms doesn't mean you have to keep it.  Due to last year's mild winter, I had many more volunteers than usual.  I dug up many nicotania seedlings to give away in the spring and eventually became ruthless enough to pull the tall plants, even though they were blooming beautifully, because they were crowding out many of the perennials.  But I couldn't bring myself to do the same for the 'Victoria Blue' and 'White' salvias, even though they eventually encroached upon new and tender perennials as well.  If this year's winter is as cold as predicted, I may not have the same problem this coming season.  But if I do, I vow to be more selective and weed out unwanted volunteers.

Aside from these practical lessons, however, most of the lessons I learned this year were more significant and changed some of my perspectives on gardening and even life:

A new double tulip, 'Montreux,' was one of the delights of spring.

Mother Nature has the final say.  In what has to be one of the weirdest weather years in my memory, 2012 began with a mild winter that turned into an unusually early and warm spring.  Indoor projects were quickly cast aside as I eagerly jumped into garden work in March.   As I marvelled at blooms appearing much earlier than usual, I began to worry what the summer might bring, but that thought was pushed to the back of my mind as I delighted in masses of brightly-colored tulips and daffodils. A joyous spring turned into summer, and the worry surfaced again when the rain clouds disappeared.  For two months, not an appreciable drop of rain fell, and I despaired along with gardeners all over the country that my garden would not survive, as I trekked out each day in the heat to drag water hoses around the garden.

Despite the drought, bees and butterflies were abundant.  Natives and tough annuals like zinnias were unfazed by the weather.

But then in August and into the fall, the rain returned.  Words like "severe drought" and "extreme drought" were no longer headlines in the local news.  The drought had taken its toll, to be sure--I did lose a few plants, and many local farmers reported one of the most dismal harvests they had ever had.  But my garden perked up with the welcome moisture, and surprisingly, the harvest on our farm produced normal yields. We were much luckier than many.  I learned that I shouldn't complain so much because there is always someone much worse off than I--at least we don't have hurricanes in Illinois.  And I was reminded that Nature has the ultimate power in my garden and cannot be controlled.  Like life, I must work with what I am given and accept the ups and downs as inevitable and keep moving forward.

The Rose Garden at the Biltmore Estate--my garden looks nothing like this!

Every garden is special, no matter its size or style.  Readers of this blog may think I have a huge garden, judging by the number of different blooms I show from month to month.  But nothing could be further from the truth--in reality, my garden is quite small by most standards and is actually  several flowerbeds without any cohesive design whatsoever.  Each bed started out with a planned design and a color scheme, but in a short amount of time each grew into a crowded riot of clashing colors, fueled by my ever-growing plant addiction and habit of filling in every available inch of bare soil.  My little garden makes me happy, but at the same time I'm never quite satisfied.  If a visitor stops by and wants to "tour" the garden, I look even more critically at it and can't help wondering what they must be thinking--"Sheesh, you call this a garden??"

One of the more unusual garden features in Asheville--Christopher Mello's "Dump Truck Park."

But my trip to Asheville with tours of so many different gardens opened my eyes and my mind to a different philosophy.  My garden may not be as big or tidy as I would like it, and it's certainly not magazine centerfold-worthy, but it brings me great joy, and that is all that matters.

There is never enough time.  I think this has been my life's mantra; rushing to meet one deadline after another, I sometimes think my life has been one big blur.  I thought that would all change with retirement, and to a certain extent, it has, but then I keep adding new activities and new interests at the same time my body has slowed down, saying, "whoa, take it easy!"  I realize there will never be enough time to get all the weeding done or all the projects I have planned in the garden.  There will never be enough time to get my house completely de-cluttered, organized, and spotless (well, maybe if I hire a professional organizer and a cleaning lady!).  There will never be enough time to read every book I have on my constantly growing "to-read" list.

If you don't take the time to look closely, you might miss this busy little bee in the poppy.

There is a quote I've always loved: "Life is short; eat dessert first!"  As much as I like this sentiment, however, I have trouble following it.  Perhaps it's the work ethic instilled in me by my parents and their German ancestry, but I've always believed you must finish your chores before you play.   However, I've come to realize that putting work first sometimes means you miss some special moments. If you are focusing on finding weeds, you might miss the first blooms of the larkspur you thought would never grow in your garden.  If you are always looking downward, you might not see the Monarch floating through the air above you.   There will never be enough time to get everything done, so enjoy the time you have--take those precious moments to enjoy the beauty around you, whether it's the flight of a butterfly, the sudden whirr of a hummingbird, or the laughter of children.  This is a lesson I haven't quite mastered yet, but it's going to be my only New Year's resolution this year--I'm going to practice enjoying the moment.

Garden Lessons Learned is a meme sponsored each season by Beth at Plant Postings.  I had planned to finish this post in time for her Winter Solstice collection, but I missed the deadline.   I decided to finish this post anyway; after all, what better way to start the new year than to remember some valuable lessons from 2012 and strive to do better in 2013.

Wishing you all a Happy and Healthy New Year and time to enjoy your garden!