The next pachysandra casualty….

The days are numbered for this patch of pachysandra. I’ve already started imagining what I could plant here… possibly a lilac bush….

Endangered pachysandra.

Endangered pachysandra.

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Green Thumb

The other morning when I woke for work, I immediately recognized the sound of rain pounding on the roof.

Normally when I hear that sound in the spring and early summer, I frown and drag myself to the shower in dismay. I can’t ride my bike to work. I have to work out in the gym. And, besides that, I’m stuck in the house all day. Even though 8 or so hours of my day are spent indoors, the sight of a gray rainy day in Northeast Ohio depresses me (even though I’ve lived here most of my life).

But this morning was different. My first thought was: Oh, good, the garden and my flowers will get watered!

It hadn’t rained in about a week and we’d just planted about 90% of our vegetable garden. Not to mention the plants I’d recently planted  around the house in my new flower beds. And the red bud tree I’d planted about a month ago, nursing it out of infancy by watering it from the hose every couple of days.

I was relieved because Mother Nature was going to take care of all the plants for me and I wouldn’t have to worry. What a change in perspective for me! Especially considering I had not once planted a vegetable garden at any of my previous residences (though I always wanted to but couldn’t find the time), and I’d taken not one iota of interest in the flower beds I’d planted at my previous homes. Except occasionally to enjoy a flower or two, I pretty much set up my flower bed and let them do their thing. Which meant that the weeds got as big as anything I’d purposely planted.

Up until this point in my life, I found gardening to be a waste of time. It got in the way of my bike riding, writing, socializing. The one or two weekends a year that my mom would come over and force me to plant and then mulch the flower beds was pure boredom to me. I just wanted to get through it as quick as possible and get on with my life.

What changed?

I think it partly has to do with this house. I love it here. I think I’m living in as close to a dream home as I’ve ever desired. It’s odd but I had this vision of living in a place like where I live now as far back as my first husband. I never ended up there as a single person because, well, I guess I knew I didn’t have time for it. Also, I was probably intimidated by the whole idea of living on 3 acres of land in a house where the water comes from a cistern and the waste goes to a septic system. It seemed like too much work (and probably is, Crow handles most of the filtration system maintenance so he could tell you better).

It’s really a house in the woods, as Crow is quick to point out, but to me it’s a cabin. It’s our own private getaway from the world that’s still close enough to all the amenities of a city. I think sharing a place like this with Crow makes me want even more to make it beautiful.

So, initially, I planned to just remove two beds of pachysandra growing on either side of the entrance to our house. I asked my mom to come over and help me remove them and then plant something–anything–in their place. The entry way did have a big rhododendron plant that we wanted to keep. But after all the pachysandra was removed, there would be a lot of open space for plants. Fortunately, my mom is an avid flower gardener and she was able to bring pieces of her own plants over.

I also had three pots of salvia–a housewarming gift from Crow’s aunt and uncle–that had somehow miraculously survived the winter neglected in the front of the house between the ugly bushes. I didn’t mean to neglect them. We were so busy with indoor repairs and remodeling that I just didn’t have time for them. By the time winter came, I thought they were goners, but I didn’t bother moving them. (Hey, the label said they were perennials, so…) I was totally thrilled they were still alive to plant!

I planted the much diminished little salvia plants among the day lilies, forget-me-nots, and hosta plants my mom brought. Two of the three plants have survived and one of them is thriving quite happily! I’m not sure what happened to the third one. It was starting to grow and then it just gave up. I felt horrible when it did.

Happy king salvia!

Happy king salvia!

Well, the external remodeling did not stop at the two flower beds in the entry way. Oh no. There were several ugly pine-like bushes in front of the house that Crow and I both despised and decided they must go. My mom returned another Saturday afternoon and, using Crow’s car for muscle, we yanked those suckers out of there. Of course, this meant we had even more space to plant flowers. My mom again provided some miscellaneous plants.

It didn’t end there, though. I found myself stopping to look longingly at plants in the greenhouse section at Lowe’s. I wanted a Miss Kim lilac bush because it was one of the plants my mom had planted at my house in Stow that I really loved. Miss Kim lilacs bloom after the regular lilacs and smell just as intoxicating. Lilacs are, and always have been, one of my favorite flowers not only because of their generally purple color (except for Miss Kim which is white) and their fragrant smell that reminds me of spring.

Besides the Miss Kim, I started seeing other plants I wanted to try: petunias, pansies, several nameless flowers that I recognize from my mom’s various gardens throughout the year. The next thing I knew, I was actually buying my own plants, reading their instructions, and planting them! I lacked the confidence, though, to believe that I wasn’t going to immediately kill them… I worried as I put them in the ground. Was I doing this right? I talked to them and fertilized them with MiracleGrow and started–this is earth-shattering–checking up on them daily! I started spraying weeds with Roudup and then plucking them out of the garden! This is really monumental if you’ve known me in any way, shape, or form before this house.

Pachysandra be gone! The improved entry way to the house.

Pachysandra be gone! The improved entry way to the house.

Up the street is a place called Crown Point Ecology Center that has a big organic plant sale in May. Crow and I went there to buy some starter plants for our vegetable garden and I ended up buying, on impulse, a nasturtium and a celosia. This was a huge step for me as it was the first time I bought flowers without asking my mom about them first. I was afraid to plant them without advice but I did so anyway following their tags’ instructions to plant in full sun.  The nasturtium really took off and it seems to keep getting bigger and healthier looking each day. I’ve really grown to love those little orange flowers and I wish I’d bought more in different colors. People keep pointing out to me that I garnish salads with the tasty flowers, but they are just too cute to pick so I enjoy them on the plant instead. And eat them? I’m not a cannibal!

Orange nasturtium, much too pretty to eat!

Orange nasturtium, much too pretty to eat!

The celosia is not doing bad either and I think soon I will get to enjoy it’s signature scrunchy, fluffy flower.

Celosia, aka "cockscomb" (hmm... the origin of that word given the appearance of the flower suddenly makes me ponder...)

Celosia, aka “cockscomb”

We bought a lot of mulch. Much more mulch than we needed for the front of the house. My mom suggested mulching along the side and back of the house as well. The previous owners had planted two holly bushes on the side of the house that we liked very much.

New and improved front of the house.

New and improved front of the house.

Various plants including my Miss Kim (right).

Various plants including my Miss Kim (right). Celosia (left), some begonias, and a coleus.

Side of the house featuring the amazing ever-growing hosta and one of the original holly bushes.

Side of the house featuring the amazing ever-growing hosta and one of the original holly bushes.

It was my idea to frame the garden with rocks. My mom’s flower beds at the house where I grew up were all framed by rocks and I always thought it looked really professional. Fortunately, we didn’t even have to buy these rocks. Dig anywhere in our yard and your shovel will hit rock in no time at all! We removed our rocks from the soil Crow dug up in the wooded area of our land. We actually have some really rich soil and so we decided to “transplant” some of it from the woods to the flower beds before we mulched. Much cheaper than buying more soil, for sure.

I would also like to point out that the hosta plants featured in these pictures were but little tiny numbs of plants–rolled up leaves in soil that looked to me like that wiggly plant the medicine girl uses to save Captain Kirk in the episode “A Private Little War.” These plants define prolific! The one shown above got haphazardly moved by me twice and it’s still alive. A great plant, I must say, for the beginning gardener.

Back side of the house. Still needs a little work, but at least there are some hosta in the meantime!

Back side of the house. Still needs a little work, but at least there are some hosta in the meantime!

The backside of the house still needs some work, I admit. It’s kind of hard to plant anything there because it’s shady pretty much all day. A few weeks ago, Crow brought home some coleus and begonias, and I planted some back there, but they are not doing well. I don’t know if they got affected by the frost we had at the end of May or what. I keep feeding them fertilizer weekly hoping they will suddenly feel better. I will be surprised if anything happens, though.

Regardless, I’m proud of the work I’ve done. I admit that every day I walk around the house to check my little babies out. I feel personally responsible for every plant I’ve put in and when they don’t thrive or they die I feel like I’ve failed. It’s odd how attached I feel to the plants. I guess because they are alive, I feel some sort of cosmic connection to them. Like us, they need good food (from sunlight and the soil), a warm place to stay, and plenty of water. I try to find a place that can provide all three. I find myself talking to each one as I plant it in the ground, asking it to thrive and not die on me. “Please be happy, little plant,” I say. I guess this is where your maternal instincts go when you’re 38 and childless…

Another impulse buy--Santa's Delight holly bush.

Another impulse buy–Santa’s Delight holly bush.

So my successes gardening emboldened me to step it up a level. When Crow was buying some trees for our aforementioned vegetable garden, I mentioned how much I love red bud trees (can you guess why??). At the greenhouse, we decided to look at some. They were a bit pricey, but I ended up buying what I felt was a hard luck case–a prospering red bud tree that did not get sold last season. It was bigger than all the other plants and, according to the worker at the greenhouse, probably “itching” to get out of that pot. I liked that it was the kind with reddish purple leaves–a “forest pansy.”

I planted it under Crow’s direction one evening. Crow was sick with a fever and could only sit in a chair and “supervise” while I dug and rototilled the area where I was going to plant it. I needed him there because even though he is also pretty much a fledgling gardener, my instinct before doing anything I’m not versed in is to ask over and over, “Like this? Is this right?” I carefully read the instructions several times and planted the tree with the bulb above ground. We filled the hole with dirt and peat moss and, a week later, I bought a few bags of mulch to give it an extra level of security in its new home.

My red bud blooming shortly after I planted it in early May.

My red bud blooming shortly after I planted it in early May.

I’ve kept up with watering the red bud when it was dry for too long. It seems to be doing really well where I’ve planted it at the treeline on the edge of our yard where I can view it from the kitchen window. I’ve enjoyed it both during its blossoming stage and with its head full of rusty leaves. I really look forward to watching it grow bigger and more magnificent with each year.

Red bud tree with reddish leaves, aka "forest pansy."

Red bud tree with reddish leaves, aka “forest pansy.”

In the last few weeks, we’ve added two clay pots of flowers in addition to the flowerbeds. I wanted some petunias because I heard they attract humming birds, but I had no more room in the sunny spots of my garden. I’d particularly loved the colors phantom and black velvet (any guess why? anyone?). Okay, my pot is pretty much comprised of several varieties of purple petunias and one “candy cane” striped color that I added so that my leaning towards purple would be a little less obvious.

A pot full of purple petunias. And one red and white one.

A pot full of purple petunias. And one red and white one.

Crow put together a pot of pansies which he placed on the stump of an old tree we cut down. As you can see, his color choices are a little more varied than mine… (But he did put a purple one in there!)

A pot full of pansies.

A pot full of pansies.

And now… the vegetable garden… Well, that’s an epic story of its own. We fortunately have a big clearing of trees behind our house that allows sunlight for a majority of the day. This is pretty amazing for where we live. I couldn’t even put in a garden at my house in Stow because my backyard was 100% shaded.

When we originally decided to plant a vegetable garden this year, despite all the other things we had going on, we assumed we’d cordon off a big area of the clearing for future expansion. Because we live amidst deer country in a national park, we knew we would have to build a fence around any vegetable garden we intended to plant… So Crow planned a fenced in area that would be enough for present and future purposes. He got a crew of friends and built said fence… and meanwhile, we went a little crazy with our seed planting and plant buying because it just seems too good to be true that you can grow the food you love to eat.

Our garden and the 9' fence that surrounds it.

Our garden and the 9′ fence that surrounds it.

Needless to say, over several weeks, we got most of what we bought planted: lettuce (three kinds and a bunch from seed), tomatoes (12 plants, several from seeds started in March, several more that we bought while shopping), hot peppers (4 starter plants), sweet peppers (4-6 plants, some from seed, most from starter plants), pumpkins (from seed), spaghetti squash (from seed), acorn squash (from seed), brussel sprouts (2 starter plants), watermelon (2, I think), strawberries (2 starter plants), red onions (10-12 starter plants), basil (3 plants: Aton, cinnamon, lemon), chives, cilantro (not sure it’s going to make it), corn (just in from seed last week), curry (which isn’t really curry, but it smells like it), mint (chocolate and regular, both in a pot) and sunflowers. Additionally, we planted 3 grape vines, a blueberry bush, and two kinds of raspberries (I think–this was Crow’s pet project). And then there’s our starter fruit grove: 2 cherry trees, 2 plum trees, and 2 peach trees. We won’t be getting fruit from those this year because we want them to grow.

Tomatoes of various kinds, sizes, stages of development.

Tomatoes of various kinds, sizes, stages of development.

Lettuce, onions, herbs, and the grapes (on the right).

Lettuce, onions, herbs, and the grapes (on the right).

Hot peppers, some berry bushes, and corn (not above ground yet) to the right.

Hot peppers, some berry bushes, and corn (not above ground yet) to the right.

I’m sure I’m missing something. As I said, we got a little carried away. I don’t expect everything to work out, but I’m enjoying the experience of trying. What impresses me most are the plants that we grew from seed in small containers. When I planted them, they were very small and frail. Most of them have grown immensely in the few weeks they’ve been in the ground. I’m so impressed that something so small has started to thrive. The tomatoes have been particularly successful. I’m totally convinced that tomatoes are a new gardener’s best friend!

Full view of the garden.

Full view of the garden.

Our fruit tree grove. They are very young, as you can see. But someday....

Our fruit tree grove. They are very young, as you can see. But someday….

I feel like I’m starting to understand the development cycle of plants. Watching them grown has forced me to slow down and pay attention more to the plant life around me. I now can identify tomatoes and peppers at a distance from their leaves. I’m even recognizing certain flowers in other people’s yards! I’ve never noticed these details before. But just over Memorial Day, while on a bike ride with our club, I pointed out to Crow every single rhododendron I saw! Two months ago, I wouldn’t have known a rhododendron from a hibiscus or a peony! Now I can identify all three.

It’s been a really interesting journey of discovery for me.  I’m already making plans to plant some lilac bushes and another red bud. Oh, the things I will be able to do to this yard! I’m so excited to see how everything turns out.

Speaking of those plant life cycles, much like people, plants want to survive… As I learned last night when Crow pointed out this lonely descendant of the pachysandra I removed hanging on to the gutter pipe as if to say to me, “Hey, I’m not technically in the garden. So na!”

I didn’t have the heart to hit it with Roundup.

Just yet.

Weeks after being removed, a lonely pachysandra volunteer taunts me from the gutter pipe as if to say, "Hey, I'm not in the garden!"