The Path to a Better Garden…

Spending time outside in the sunshine and working in my yard is one of my favorite theraputic past times. Over the years, mainly by trial and error (mostly error!) I’ve learned a few things as I’ve tried to turn my yard into a cover shoot for Better Homes & Gardens magazine (never going to happen, ever, never). Actually that has never been my goal. I am proud of the hard work I’ve put in and while the results aren’t always what I’d hoped, I am content (for now). And so, I thought I’d share some helpful tips so maybe you can avoid some of my stumbles or at least get a little chuckle over my missteps…

1. When you get the urge to plant flowers in the spring, wait!
Every spring the sun starts shining and it’s finally warm enough to go outside without a jacket. It’s May and snow and frost seem to be a distanct memory. I get the fever to plant my flowers and tomato plants. It never fails, a week later the temperatures take a huge dip. Trying to cover my newly planted flowers and vegetables with a drop cloth and some bricks in the dark (because I never remember to do these things in the light!) Was not much fun! The next morning, the tarps were blowing in the wind and the plants were “sort of” covered (not really). The following night of low temps, I didn’t even bother. This year I think most of my plants made it through. Time will tell. This is a reminder to myself for next spring, to wait one more week! Probably won’t happen though!

2. Disconnecting your hose in the fall is actually important!
When my dad reminded me to disconnect my hose last fall, I put it on my mental “to do” list, but never actually got around to doing that task. I figured if the hose got ruined, I’d just buy a new one this spring. Turns out, it’s not the hose you need to worry about. It’s actually the pipes leading to the hose that are the issue. Go figure! The water from the hose backs up into those pipes and those pipes break when winter freezes them. This leads to a flood in your basement, when you turn the hose on the first time when you are planting those flowers too early!

3. Self-propeled mowers are only helpful if….
You know how to use them correctly! You have to push the handle-thing foward to make the mower move forward by itself. Doing so, you can then walk behind the mower without exerting too much energy. Pushing the mower without this power assistance exerts much energy!

4. The grass needs to be dry when you mow it.
Mowing the yard in early morning shade before the sun starts heating things up seemed like a brilliant idea to me. If it weren’t for dew, it would have been perfect! Unfortunately, there is a reason for not mowing wet grass, besides wet shoes. Wet grass clumps together and sticks to the blades of the mower. When enough wet grass adheres to those blades, the mower stalls and quits running. You will then spend the rest of your morning with the lawn mower on its side, removing said clumps of grass. As an aside, waiting until the next day to remove stuck grass is a bad idea too. A better idea is to wait until early evening to mow.

5. Lowering the wheels on your mower to the lowest setting leads to brown grass.
Depending on your objective, this may or may not be good tip for you. Mowing is not one of my favorite lawn and garden tasks. I have a hate-hate relationship with the mower. So my logic followed that if I put the wheels on the lowest setting possible, it would cut my grass extra-short. If the grass is extra-short, it followed that I wouldn’t need to mow as often. My logic wasn’t completely faulty as it did indeed lessen the the number of times I stood in the driveway cursing and pulling that stupid cord to get the mower started. However, it wasn’t because the grass took longer to grow in between mowing, but rather because it was brown and had stopped growing all together. Lesson learned – leave the wheels where your dad set them.

6. Leaf blowers are over-rated.
I imagined myself blowing my leaves into to neat piles that I could then vaccum up and easily bag to take to our city’s compost pile. (Our city does come around and suck up leaves every fall from the curbs. However, I rarely meet that fall deadline. I tend to wait until all of the leaves fall so that I only have to rake once. Typically by then the warm fall weather has been replaced by brutal wind, rain and snow. So the annual leaf raking chore tends to be in spring in my world. But, I digress….) Back to the leaf blower… My imagination and reality were vastly different. In reality, I had leaves blowing every which way, in my hair and stuck to my sweaty skin – no neat piles. I bought an electric blower to avoid having to use a string to start it, but that meant a l-o-n-g extension cord that kept coming unplugged. Reversing the blower to suck up the leaves and grind them up was tedious. Leaves (possibly because they were wet) kept getting clogged inside spout-thingy that sucked the leaves up. In the morning, I had an extremely sore shoulder and a back yard full of leaves. Rakes are better for this task.

7. Expect bugs, varmints and droughts
I’ve learned to adjust my expectations when it comes to gardening. If I end up with one or two tomatoes at the end of the season – hurray! Anthing more is a bounty. There will be good years and bad years. A squirrel will take one one bite out of every tomato and leave the remains to rot. A rabbit will eat your tulips before they bloom. Some unknown animal will dig up all your marigolds. You will go on vacation the hottest, dryest week of the year and return to shriveled, wilted, dead petunias. You will wake up one morning to find your plants covered with Japanese beetles. A toad village will take up residence in the pit where your dryer vents. Cicacda killer wasps will move in under the bushes. I’ve learned to let these set backs go (of course I will still rant to my friends about them). There’s always next year.

8. Triple the hardness-level and time commitment to any major project you tackle.
When I first moved in to my house, there was a row of over-grown, ugly (imho) bushes growing along the front-porch railing. I envisioned beautiful flowers growing here. The bushes needed to go. I started by clipping and pruning them back. My arms were scratched and thorns lodged in my finger tips (this is when I learned that gloves are important.) It took over a week of hacking and digging to get the first bush out. In the end, my ex-husband took pity on me and pulled the other three out with his truck in less than 10 minutes. Sigh. But at least they were gone. I also had a brick path in my back yard. Unforunately, weeds sprouted between them. In pulling those weeds, the bricks came lose. This led to weeks of pulling up those bricks, stacking them and trying to knock old cement off them. I purused Pinterest looking at beautiful brick patios and imagined my beautiful new path. That was three summers ago. Making those photos a reality was MUCH more complicated than I anticipated (it always is!) The bricks are still stacked along the side of house and I extended my flower bed and mulched over where the patio was meant to be. This summer’s project is scraping the peeling paint off the back yard fence and repainting it. How hard can that be?

All of this this all leads me to the most important tip of all.

9. Some things are best left for the professionals…
Or at least your teenage children. Last summer I hired someone to pull out the bushes that were home to the cicada killer wasps. This summer I passed the mowing and raking torches on to my teenagers (well, mostly anyway). I’m getting better at recognizing my limitations before they turn in to diasters (well, most of the time) (maybe some of the time is more accurate) (OK, I confess it’s rare. But, if I didn’t make mistakes how would I learn? And what would I write about, to make someone else smile.)

Thanks for reading!

Best Day Yet…

The best day of the year came today. OK, maybe I can’t equivocally deem today the best day of 2018 as we’ve really only just begun. I can say it will rank up there in the top 10 best days of the year though. THIS is the day, I long for most. Is it my birthday? No. Did I get a huge raise? Hardly. Did my children surprise me by spontaneously cleaning the entire house? Did you just spit out your coffee? Yes, I am laughing too. I am dreaming big there!  So what might you ask, makes today, April 12, 2018, one of my top 10 best days of the year? Can you stand the suspense? Today is the first day the temperature made it into the 70’s, the sun is actually shining, and the Ohio winds died down to just a light breeze. You can’t plan for a day like this nor can you count down to it. It just comes seemingly out of nowhere. Bam! Spring fever has arrived.

Yes, indeed it is those little things that make me smile. When I woke up this morning I had no idea, today would be that day. As I walked to the corner Shell Station to get my morning cup of coffee (and yes, I know it is cheaper to make it at home, but that requires 10 minutes less snooze time and yes I digress again. But, I do love parathenticals), it was actually spitting snow. Yet when left the building at exactly 5:01 PM, the sun warmed my face and the wind tossled my hair. I wore no coat or jacket and I was not cold. Not only that, but I actually had no one I had to taxi to an activity after work. Thus, I made a beeline to the local Ace and picked up a pair of fresh gardening gloves and a sharp snipper thingy (I do believe that is the technical term for that tool:)) I even threw in a few packets of wildflower seeds for good measure!

I spent the last few hours digging in the dirt. I got out the rake and started in one corner of the yard. I cleared away the dried leaves from falls that were caught under the bushes and hiding my daffodils and tulips. I pulled out the remants of last summer’s tall grasses. I marvelled at the tips of green poking up through the moist dirt of plants whose names I don’t know. They are ready to burst through and thrive. Maybe I’m being a bit optimistic with that last part (this is me I’m writing about after all).

My knees are dirty, my face is flushed and any passers by probably got to see more of my backside than they wanted (as even with a belt my damn jeans keep falling down. Now I know how plumbers feel.) I breathed in the fresh, warm air that smelled of spring. Oh yes! I am blissful. I feel invigorated. I have that spring energy, where when I look at my yard everything is fresh and has possibilities. That hot, sweltering dusty, dryness of late July is in the distance. I am not yet cynical and too tired to pull another weed or water my withered flower beds or fight another infestation of bugs. Right now, in this moment, I can see the beautiful blooms in my minds eye and it is gorgeous.

 

 

My Thumb Is Not Green…Is Yours?

A few months back the girls and I wandered Wal-Mart on a lonely Friday night. Every few moments one of them would point to some must-have object along the way and beg me to buy it for them. My head already ached and really I just wanted to go home and veg when we made our way from the cat food aisle past the gardening section.

“Look, Mom! Seeds!” My oldest excitedly pointed in the direction of brightly packaged flower seed packages. The flowers on the fronts smiled at me and I thought, “why not?” Growing flowers from seeds could be fun and educational at the same time. We could plant the seeds, watch them grow and finally transplant them outside when it go warm enough. I imagined the girls and I admiring our beautiful wild flowers as we cut them into colorful bouquets.

“OK!” I said. “Let’s pick out some flower seeds.”  The girls squealed and giggled as they picked out various varieties of flowers: zinnias, daisies, pansies… I tried to read the backs to see what type of lighting requirements they required, but gave up as they excitedly tossed the packets into the cart. Next, I picked out a mini-greenhouse. It was only five bucks and included little dirt pods that you just added seeds and water to. Perfect. Finally, the girls picked out gardening gloves-blue for the oldest, a princess pair for the youngest and red for me. As we headed toward the check out, the oldest talked me into a watering can. We had everything we needed, except a green thumb, but more on that later.

Later that evening, we poured the water over our dirt pods and the flat disks magically grew and grew. We had dirt everywhere, but the girls happily pushed their seeds into the dirt and spilled them on the dining room floor.  Thirty minutes later our green house planted, the only thing left was to wait. We didn’t have to wait for long. Within three days, the seeds sprouted. Instead of the recommended two or three seeds per pod, some had six or seven. The youngest protested as I pulled the smallest sprouts and left the strongest. I’d already learned from past experience this process is a must. Several days later the oldest excitedly pointed out the sprouts were getting their cotyledons.

Lost Helpers

“Cotyl whats?” the youngest asked as her sister explained that these were the second set of leaves to grow on the plant. I was impressed. She did learn something at school even though whenever I ask her what she learned she can never remember…

The weeks passed and finally it was time to transplant our young seedlings outside in the flower bed. We pulled on our gloves and got out the rake-thingy and the little shovel. We dug and planted and dug and planted. Within ten minutes the girls lost interest and I dug and planted, dug and planted. Planting a flat of flowers was harder and took longer than I remembered. I wiped the sweat out my eyes with the back of my glove.

“What’s that wet stuff on you, Mommy?” The youngest asked.

” Hard work,” I told her.

“What?” she asked.

“Nevermind…”

“Can I have a drink?”

Satisfied, with the tiny rows of  flowers to-be, we packed up our flower planting tools to get a juice box. The next morning I woke a little early to water the fledgling flowers, only to find carnage.  Tiny leafless stems, holes where plants once grew, if only briefly, remained where less than 24 hours before our little plants represented the hope of a beautiful cutting garden.

Muddy Gloves

A few weeks ago, I noticed the local greenhouse had flats of flowers on sale 50% off.  Not, one to give up, the girls and I picked out some beautiful petunias, begonias and other flowers I do not know the names of. The girls excitedly pulled their gardening gloves back on to help me replant. I started to dig, or rather, chisel a small hole in the ground. Rock-hard from lack of precipitation, the ground did not budge beneath my shovel.  After what seemed like hours of futile digging, I only had a shallow, dusty hole in which to place my wilting flowers. What we need, I thought, is some water. And so, I drug the hose around to the front of the house and proceeded to turn our dusty desert into a swampy mud pit. Not my brightest idea, but I was at least able to dig a hole deep enough to plant our flowers.

Relieved each  morning to see no sign of the marauders that destroyed our first attempt, we watered and weeded our little flower patch every evening. The girls took turns hosing down the flower beds and each other as unfortunately we saw no sign of rain in the near future either. Last weekend, however; we were out of town for the weekend and unable to water our flowers. The temperatures soared into the 90s and the sun baked our flowers a little too much.

The Dried Up Ones

On one end of the flower bed we found several shriveled, dried up petunias  (notice in the picture above the weeds still look healthy and green)
and on the other end our mysterious digging nemesis had up-ended several more.

The Dug Up Ones

Big sigh… So what do you think? Three times a charm? Try, try again? Or hang up the gloves until next spring? Do you have a green thumb? What’s your secret?