Peak Season


The containers on my deck have grown like crazy in the past month-we are  approaching peak season.  The weather has been perfect; most days have been sunny.  Even so,  we have had night temperatures lately in the 60′s.  There are signs of summer’s end, as much as there are signs of summer’s peak. Though I could easily do with this weather a few more months, September 1st is just 2 weeks away.  Once labor day comes, our summer is in decline.  The nights are colder; it seems like less heat and energy comes from the sun.     Annual plants grow and bloom with one end in mind; they need to set seed, before they are done in by frost.  This is an exhausting task. All the while my container plants are putting on size and blooming great, there are signs of stress.  The mildew I have struggled to avoid on my dahlias-it has claimed a few stalks.  The fancy leaved geraniums pictured above are so rootbound I have to soak them every day.  The Japanese beetles have discovered my canna flowers.  The coleus despises the cooler night temperatures.        

The mildew seems to be spreading to my petunias, for heavens sake.  And the aphids on my licorice-this is a first for me.  Do all of my containers grow to perfection-not even close.  Just close enough to provide me with a lot of pleasure, looking after and at them.  There are a few things I do to make the best of the last leg of the summer.  I do feed my pots with liquid fertilizer regularly.  Geraniums like lots of feed-ferns, not so much.  Each one of my containers has a lot of plants in them, or plants that have grown large. I soak my pots with water, and then soak them with feed.  Liquid feed is like a shot of B-12; I avoid the next watering as long as I can, so the plants benefit before a watering washes it all away.  I am sure to flush my pots through between waterings, to prevent a build up of salts that can become toxic.   

  Most of my containers have grown skirts by now.  When I water, I lift the plants up so I can see the soil.  I water the surface of the soil-not the plant leaves.  There is no sense encouraging mildew to spread. I soak them thoroughly, and then let them get quite dry. The rectangles on my north wall only get water twice a week.  Overwatering begonias in hot weather is asking for rot.  Caladiums will hang their heads when they need water.  I snap off the old leaves out that get too tall, and threaten to engulf my chartreuse Janet Craig dracaenas. 

Growing plants in containers is a live and learn proposition.  As in-this rainbow coleus is a very big grower.  This means there are big sections of stalks between sets of leaves.  This makes it tough to get a good shape from the plant in a container.  These Italian terra cotta urns look like they have top hats-funny, this.  This variety would make a great hedge in the ground.

I know Milo is pretty handsome, but the message here is about keeping things clean.  I remove dead or diseased foliage.  I sometimes thin plants to improve air circulation. And I pick up what falls on the ground.  I leave no debris.  What I would gladly let decompose in my garden I don’t think is good for my containers.  My big Norway maple is raining disease ridden leaves; I pick them up, and throw they away.  Fungus can live over the winter.  Sometimes clean gardening practices is your only defence.      

My terrace is my version of a kitchen garden.   Buck cooks here, and I look after the pots.  My small bi-level deck has 14 containers.  It is a rare evening that there is not something to putter over-I like this.  I only get into trouble when I let them go too long.  Consistent attention is much better than an occasional look.  Hauling the containers here from the basement, filling them with soil, and planting-that’s real work. The work now is not that tough, and at some time during the process I plain start to feel better.  

The jumble pot of petunias and trailing verbena has been great, and still looks great-even on the inside.  I have been very careful to pick up the plant mass hanging over the edge, and deal directly with the soil.  I have kept this on the very dry side-a strategy that seems to be working.     

I only had one shot left on my camera before the battery died the other morning.  The pink light at dawn-wow. My little garden is anything but perfect, but at moments like this, I am very glad to have it.

Finished Fountain

I wrote a post earlier in the week about painting a fountain; this was the last step in the renovation of this space. This was the look in 2005.  Once the fountain painting was done, we painted the interior of the pool with black pool paint.  The water plants came last. 

That Plastic Grass Sculpture

What lies behind ball number 3?  I could write a novella about this client, but here is the short version.  She has kept me on the edge of my design seat for better than 10 years.  By this I mean she encourages me to be the best I can be.  Her point of view takes unique and original to an entirely different level.   She collects contemporary art, and has a fierce love for great architecture of any description.  Her landscape is unlike any other that I know of, and is mostly of her own doing.        

8 years ago I made this plastic grass sculpture for her.  To be installed in this very fine and rare example of 19th century French iron cutwork urn lined in tin.  She bought the urn from the shop-her ideas about how to plant it startled me.  Would it have been my idea to plant this urn with spheres of plastic grass-no.  I followed suit-this is mostly what I do with her.  Had I ever made anything like this before-assuredly not.  Did I like it-yes.  Even on a gloomy day in January, there is a garden party going on.  I am skipping over a lot of discussion between the two of us, but in the end, I believed these grass planets hovering did her particular style of justice to the urn, and the space.       

 Many years this sculpture endured the sun-I had a call from her a month ago asking that I redo it.  The fire had gone out of those spheres.  I find even the most UV light resistant material will eventually show signs of fading.  The materials available now are somewhat different than what I had to work with 8 years ago, but the interior structure and urethane spheres were intact.  These spheres bob all around on a windy day; I was pleased to see that the only part of the sculpture that needed attention were the grass mats.  

Once the urn and sculpture were delivered to my shop, we removed all of the faded grass mats and assessed what materials we would need to recover and redo those 7 urethane spheres.     

The grass mats are comprised of a plastic grid; each intersection of that grid has a tuft of grass.  Given that the lime green plastic grass had the best resistance to fading, I decided to do more spheres in that color, with a variety of textures.  The mats come 12 inches square, so fitting them to the curved surfaces takes a little ingenuity, and a lot of time.        

We removed the grass tufts, and fitted the grids in much the same pattern as the original.  Even on the largest sphere, no 12″ by 12″ grid would lay flat.  We had to cut the grids just small enough to enable a smooth surface.  Once the grid pieces had their tufts reattached, we filled in any areas that seemed thin with grid pieces 12″ long, and one tuft wide. Each piece of grid is secured to the surface of the sphere with greening pins.  A lot of this work had to be done on a ladder; the overall height of the piece is about 7 feet. 

This chartreuse plastic grass has vibrant color, and great texture. Neither the urethane balls nor the grass mats absorb water.  Both rain and snow keep it clean.    

 A new life for this sculpture-we finished it today.  I like a working life that has lots of variety, and in this case, a little off beat.  Does it bother me-the plastic part?  Not at all.  No matter the material, the sculpture is the result of the work of a group of real people.   

We loaded up the sculpture this morning.  A large diameter steel ring fastened to the interior of the urn keeps the sculpture upright.  This was an important part of the construction, as the finished piece is extremely heavy.  This also meant we were able to move the entire piece with relative ease.      

The sculpture is back in place, doing its provocative best to tell another kind of story.

Sunday Opinion: The Horseradish Plant

Years ago Buck made a tentative inquiry about whether there might be room in the garden for a horseradish plant. Just the thought of it made me shudder.  This weedy, fast growing, wildly spreading nigh on to invasive plant’s main claim to fame is its fiery tasting, stinking roots.  I know, this sentence needs editing, but I just need to make it clear that the last thing in the world I want for my garden is horseradish.  Fresh horseradish is hot as hell, and is well known for its ability to burn the inside of one’s nose-this part I can live with.  But a plant that is not dug every year for a harvest of roots, and a replanting of a piece will annex every yard of ground within its reach.  Every day it goes unchecked is a day it becomes more impossibly entrenched.  Once you have horseradish, you will forever have horseradish. Plastic tubs and concrete bunkers-I have seen horseradish break out of them with every bit the vigor of bamboo.  Like I said, I shuddered, but I gave Buck no outward hint of my distaste for the idea.  I just changed the subject.  Once he had brought it up for the 10th time, I felt guilty.  What was the the matter with me, denying him his horseradish?  On other occasions he had asked for tomato plants-I said no.  My property is small; I was selfishly unwilling to give up any plant or lawn space for tomatoes. I gave in.

I bought him a one gallon pot of horseradish for Father’s Day.  The only way I could stomach the purchase was to make it a gift from  Howard and Milo.  He was predictably delighted.  The pot sat on the driveway for a month-where would I put it?  I only watered it when it seemed on the brink of certain death.  I probably could have left it on the drive for several years without any ill effect-but the time did come when I planted my new perennial garden.  I picked a spot for the horseradish, out of view from the kitchen window, and have not looked at it since.  I am quite certain Buck has not gone out to look at it either.  Did I encase it in plastic or steel?  No.  After the first frost, my plan is to stand over Buck while he digs it up, shaves down the roots,  and replants a snippet.  This part he does not know about yet-no sense getting him all riled up way in advance of the event.  While he is doing his maiden horseradish dig, I will be giving him tips and pointers about how to handle the yearly culling of the roots.  Owning a horseradish has a good deal of responsibility that comes with that ownership.  I know he is thinking of his previous home.  He had evergreens, grass, and a horseradish- on his 3 acres.  I cannot imagine how much land that plant has overtaken in the last 8 years.

We haven’t spoken again about the horseradish until last night.  He began the conversation with a synopsis of a chapter of a favorite book he is rereading-Bird By Bird, written by Anne Lamott.  Buck writes short stories now and then; Anne Lamott is a writer who also teaches writing.  She has this idea that every person comes with an emotional acre all their own, standard issue.  Every person has the right to do with their emotional acre what they please. They can plant it, or not.  It can look like a garage sale, or a junk yard, or a stretch of unblemished beach.  If people come through the gate of your emotional acre, and do harm, or try to make changes to it, you have the right to ask them to leave.  As a writer, it is important to know what the interior life of a character looks like in order to write convincingly about them.  I don’t know when it dawned on me that he were not talking about writing short stories.  He was talking about the horseradish plant.  He finally told me that he knew that my garden was not just a garden.  It is my emotional acre.  That I did not need to explain or defend that.  It came with me, standard issue.  He appreciated how I had planted something just for him on my acre.  And how much that meant to him.  It does not seem now like there will be any need to dig the horseradish this fall-or ever, really.  Let it go for broke.  When it gets out of hand, as it most surely will,  I’ll be thinking about what is important in life, not a horseradish plant.