Monday, March 23, 2015

Waking up the gardener to wake up the garden

Well, I’ve taken a long hiatus from blogging. I lost the passion for talking about gardening and taking photos after experiencing a litany of back injuries and tennis elbow. These injuries weren’t caused by the gardening, but by something much more sinister: the job that makes my gardening possible!

I sit behind a computer the majority of the day. Let’s face it, the majority of people do. For me work is on a computer. Blogging, news, photography, all use a computer. Even recreational movies are on a computer. Many of my passions had moved to a technology that only allows for sitting, possibly standing. Sure I can shift locations or positions, but in the end if I wanted to participate in these, I had to be stationary. And in order to write about my passion for gardening, I was right back here again – at my computer, which felt very much like work.

I’ve heard a lot about walking desks. I’m fully impressed by those who have walking desks and are successful. My ability to walk in a straight line, type and not fall is akin to the inability of walking and chewing gum. Yep, I’m one of those people.

My officemate sent out an email with the ominous subject, “sitting=death!” Well, it hasn’t killed me yet, but it has taken a toll. After experiencing muscle strains in my lower back, tennis elbow in my dominant arm, and now bulged disks in my cervical spine I have been concentrating on gentle movements and re-gaining my strength.

Now when I watch a movie or read, I walk on a treadmill. It’s become enough of a habit where one doesn’t feel right without the other. This has built more strength, but it also is helping me strike down the demons of my sedentary work life one mile at a time.

Where I thought my gardening life was doomed, I’ve found that with appropriate attention I have very little difficulty doing the physical labor of gardening that I love. Gone are the days where I can pick up cinder blocks with one hand, but hopefully that is not a necessity anymore. If it does become a necessity, I have a loving husband and mostly cooperative 7-year old boy who can help me.

My work has changed as well. Until just over a year ago, I was one of the soldiers in the trenches – going about my day pushing pixels as a web designer. My immediate supervisor moved out of state, and I was tapped to take his supervisory position and the learning curve and rapid shift to a different way of working has also taken its toll.

As many of us often do, I looked to my garden as a way to reset my brain from the long hours at work, but when it came to sharing things as The Durable Gardener, I had lost that focus. I won’t beat around the bush – I was gardening for me because I needed it and I wasn’t blogging because I didn’t need to spend more time in front of my computer…I needed to eliminate the wires as much as I needed to eliminate the weeds.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Durable performers: Bellflower - Campanula 'Ringsabell Mulberry Rose'

I received this Bellflower from Skagit Garden in 2012. Named Campanula 'Ringsabell Mulberry Rose', it has established well and become very lovely in just one season.

This year the bells are very attractive 1.5" long on a delicate stems with medium green leaves. The leaves on my plant stay nice and compact at about 4", while the flowering stems can reach up to 15" high! Very showy. It flowers in late spring through summer. Because of the shipping, it was a little rough around the edges at the start, but it has been an exceptional performer this year.

I received this plant from Skagit Nursery Inc. in 2012. There was no request or obligation to review this vendor's products. This review is in response to my own findings in working directly with the plant.

What is a Durable Performer?
Why do I consider this a durable performer? Because my plants don't get much in the way of love. They need to be planted and grow with only the slightest intervention. No hugs, kisses or Christmas cards here. In 2012 there was a serious drought, so I did water to keep things alive, but that was it.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

I thank Mary for my Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears'

While I was at a Hosta club sale in 2012, I was checking out the plants and containers other gardeners were able to score. I saw some Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears' in one of the containers my friend Mary bought. I had been looking for this durable little hosta for quite some time. They didn't have more available at the sale. Lamenting about this, she quickly separated out 5 mature divisions spreading about 10" wide. The caveat was that I had to return the favor the following year by giving her some of the divisions back. I thought Mary was off her rocker, but agreed.

It's disappointing that I don't typically find this little charmer in local garden centers. Recently, I did find Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears' at a garden center, on sale even. After a quick glance at the plants and the price, I was not compelled to buy these plants at all. The plants were unhealthy, small and way over-priced. I'm not scientific about my limit of cost to desire, but this plant (pictured here) was well in the limit. This problem is all too common.

Would you pay for a plant that is typically a high performer but is in visible distress? I'm not an economics major, but I know there's an equation for this. I frequently go to end-of-season sales and sweep up the perennials that have died back into the pot. It is common for me to buy the kind of plant that a normal (perhaps even sane) home owner would walk by as if it were garbage. I buy these because I know that they will perform. I do it because I see that the roots are still healthy and the plant has completed its season. I do it for the deal. This is my kind of deal. But I could not convince myself, and I tried hard, to buy any of these hostas. Would you?

This year, true to her word, Mary asked for a small division of the Blue Mouse Ears back. I was able to give her almost the same amount of plant back as she gave me in the first place. It was because the plants were healthy to begin with. These little hostas are true performers. They multiply very well. These 6" tall plants haven't needed extra love. No fertilizer has been added for their performance. They are slug resistant and have strong purple flowers. I highly recommend them for front borders or containers.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Garden2Blog 2013, Learning and Growing

I had the opportunity to meet with 20 wonderful garden bloggers from across the nation at Garden2Blog 2013. This event is in its third year and, to my understanding, 2013's edition was the best yet. Our tour guide and host was P. Allen Smith, from Garden Home television and radio. A large part of our days were spent at his Moss Mountain Farm. There were many opportunities to truly meet the other bloggers, our hosts, and their sponsors.

We were treated to wonderful demonstrations, educational sessions, and garden tours over a day and a half. It was a really exciting experience focused around gardening, preservation, and people. Our three garden tours demonstrated the design principles that Allen mentions in all design discussions. The gardens ranged from that of a small home cottage, to a large flowing farmstead.

Arkansas Governor’s Mansion
Completed in 1950, the mansion appears simple and clean in the Georgian Colonial style. A tornado ran through the backyard some years ago which provided an opportunity for new construction projects and landscaping. The 8 acres of property have majestic Southern magnolias, a showy Fringe tree, a cut rose garden, herb garden, formal garden and a large vegetable garden. Local Master Gardeners maintain the vegetable garden, and the National Herb Society maintains the herb garden. The first lady of Arkansas, Ginger Beebe, works with a main gardener who coordinates all of the volunteers and help.

Cottage Home
We made a quick stop at Allen’s Gaines Street city home. The yard is an incredible grouping of mini garden 'rooms'. Each area divided by a combination of greenery and structures that made each area a finished piece unto itself. Containers finished off all of the areas.

This was the most representative of a typical home on the tour. A small house, with a small yard in a residential location with plants that pull the double-duties of visual separation and texture.

Collage of garden photos.

Moss Mountain Farm
This 650-acre farm is the epitome of attention to detail. They use natural, local materials whenever possible. The entire property is visually arranged such that the rooms in the house visually flow into the gardens, blurring the lines between inside and out. Each of the gardens follow the principles of design making the terrace gardens, orchard, vegetable garden, and rosegarden splendid places for education and entertainment.

Interested in the other bloggers who attended? Check out their blogs below. There are many good stories and loads of good information.

  1. P. Allen Smith of
  2. Steve Asbell of The Rainforest Garden
  3. Carolyn Binder of Cowlick Cottage Farm
  4. Teresa Byington of The Garden Diary
  5. Mallory Colliflower with HGTV Gardens
  6. Lynn Coulter of The Home Depot Garden Club’s The Good Seed column
  7. Rhonda Fleming Hayes of The Garden Buzz
  8. Amy James of Our Everyday Dinners
  9. Diane LaSauce of  Home Garden Life
  10. Laura Mathews of Punk Rock Gardens
  11. Kerry Michaels with
  12. Mary Ann Newcomer with Gardens of the Wild Wild West
  13. Teresa O’Connor of Seasonal Wisdom
  14. Jenny Peterson of J. Peterson Garden Design
  15. Kenny Point of Veggie Gardening Tips
  16. Carri Stokes of Read Between the Limes
  17. Chris Tidrick of From the Soil
  18. Chris VanCleave of Redneck Rosarian
  19. Robin Ripley Wedewer with Bumblebee
  20. Barbara Wise of bwisegardening
In May 2013, I was invited to attend the Garden2Blog Event by P. Allen Smith and Associates/Hortus, Ltd. They provided my lodging and meals. Any opinions expressed on this blog are my own. I was not asked to blog, tweet, or post on Facebook about any of it.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Enjoy the Snow

A late season snow storm came to town. Actually it came to many towns across the U.S. and it just kept on moving. The temperatures before the snow were creeping into the comfortable zone. That snug little place where kids ride their bikes again. It is the kind of warm that causes friends to ask where to buy plants for their veggie gardens.

Once the snow storm was announced, many people began to panic about their tulips and other early bloomers. They asked questions about how to protect them from the cold. These early spring flowers are meant to have their leaves up when it is cold. Many plants bloom right on through the winter. These are the epitome of durable plants. They will sit tight, wait for the next round of warm to come, and hopefully put on the flower show. In fact, I would worry more about it being too warm, long before being too cold, for early spring bulbs. Put the worry and shopping off for a bit longer and enjoy the snow.

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hyndrangea quercifolia) just as snow started.

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hyndrangea quercifolia) after snowfall.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tillandsia: Plants as art

Air plants (Tillandsia sp.) can be an easy way to add living art to your house. These are easy to take care of but like all plants, they need the right conditions to survive. Tillandsia are part of the Bromiliad family. These plants typically live on the bark of other trees, but are not parasitic. They get their nutrients from the moisture in the air. High humidity helps these little plants flourish. If you don't have high humidity in your house, you will need to spray or water these in your kitchen sink.

...and let's face it, there is humidity in Illinois only in the summer and it is so ugly that you lock up your windows and dim the town running your air conditioner...

How I made this
In the photo above, I've attached 3 different varieties to a piece of drift wood with floral wire and decorative moss. I picked up the plants at a local nursery and the driftwood from a family canoe trip. You can use epoxy, string or other creative methods to secure the plants to the driftwood. I recommend staying away from methods that might damage the leaves like hot glue.

You can also put air plants in terrariums, decorative globes, or whatever your imagination can come up with. Be creative. If you need some more inspiration, visit Pinterest and search for air plants, tillandsia, or bromiliads, you'll be amazed at what people have created.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Winter ice in Central Illinois

Ah winter, where children north of us are sledding and the children to the south are wearing their rain parkas. Here in central Illinois, everything is glistening with a layer of ice. It really is beautiful, but truth be known, I'd rather be sledding. Enjoy and stay warm.

Chanomeles speciosa (Flowering Quince)

Dusty miller
Cineraria maritime (Dusty miller)

Ice on Rhododendron
Ice on Rhododendron


Helleborus bellardiae 'Pink Frost' (Hellebore)

Helleborus niger 'Josef Lemper' (Hellebore)

Tilia cordata (Littleleaf Linden)

Tilia cordata (Littleleaf Linden)

Tilia cordata (Littleleaf Linden)

Ligustrum vulgare (Common Privet)

Hydrangea macrophylla

Rhododendron PJM

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