Sunday, October 31, 2010




I'm having a really hard time focusing on work right now. It is the end of October, my first Autumn back in the mountains, and all I want to do is play!
Every time I see this trellis it inspires me. I want to do more of these! This one was super simple, super easy, and it turned out quite beyond my expectations. Normally I have to screw something up several times on the way to getting it right. In this case, though, the whole project just... worked. My intent was to mirror the window on the house with the framework of the trellis. I 'almost' did. At the end, though, I had not properly figured out my materials and doing what I wanted to do would have cost quite a bit more than I estimated.

Still, I love the shadow this throws against the garage, and I love the way the middle clematis has outlined the one pole. The clematis were added late summer, so they didn't have a chance to grow much. But, just wait 'til next year! This will look awesome...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010



Another re-post. When I was working at The Preacher's house a couple of weeks ago, this article was so familiar, I thought I had written it within the last few months. Much to my surprise, it has been a year. Here goes:

Yesterday I worked for a client who is my favorite kind... someone who truly loves her garden. She has a small front yard in a suburban neighborhood that is still in its early years, and from her front windows she looks out into a sweep of color. The house sits down from the street slightly, and the colors she has chosen for the garden pick up colors in her drapes and artwork. Her favorite view is from her office, where she looks through a foundation planting of loropetalum, thinned and trimmed back to frame a view of the Knockout roses that grow right in front of them, and then the upward slope of the yard allows her to see, through the Radrazz red blooms, a bed of deep blue salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue' surrounded by lantana 'Gold Mound'. It isn't quite the design I would have done but she loves it, and patiently adds more of the same to the mix to achieve a fuller, and fuller, and fuller, look.
And so that's what I was doing yesterday, filling in with more salvias, more artemesia 'Powis Castle, more salvia leucantha 'Purple on Purple', tucking new plants into existing borders, weeding and trimming as I went. A pleasant enough job. It was a cold day with temperatures hanging around 46 degrees, and my helper and I were moving along at a pretty good pace.
Until I hit the freaking ground cloth. I was going to move a line of hydrangeas from the west wall of the house to a shadier spot in the back yard, and as soon as I put shovel to ground I knew I was in trouble.

I hate ground cloth. Hate is a powerful word, and I reserve it for truly awful things, like terrorism, and ground cloth. I hate hate hate ground cloth because it keeps decomposing mulch from adding humus to the ground, and because the cheap stuff tears and pokes up through the mulch and shreds into pieces that end up who knows where, and because the good stuff -- like the fabric I had just hit with my shovel -- is expensive and just... wrong. It is hard to change plantings with ground cloth in the way. The mulch we dutifully add to the beds each year decomposes and sits on top of the fabric, making it oh so much harder to remove, and eventually seeds sprout on top and wiggle one little hair root down through the weave of the textile, and next thing you know there's some big honking weed firmly rooted right through the cloth, and you either have to cut it back and suffer with sprouts that continue to grow from the root forever, or you rip the thing out through the ground cloth and tear the cloth... grrr. Stupid ground cloth.
Now, to be fair, this particular yard had been mulched with lava rock originally, and that is one circumstance in which I have used ground cloth, too, as a barrier to keep rock from sinking into the soil. But have mercy, this bed had ground cloth pinned so tightly around the base of the hydrangeas, the poor things couldn't sucker and spread at all. On top of the fabric was several inches of lava rock, and on top of that was a layer of wood chips, because the current owners of the house had decided they didn't like the lava rock, and on top of that was the generous layer of pine straw we had put in, because they didn't like the look of the wood chips either. Here is what I had to do: rake off the pine straw, shovel up the rock and wood chips, schlep it around to the backyard in a 15 gal. nursery container (I didn't have my wheelbarrow... thank goodness I had the container!)and spread it underneath the back deck, pull, tug, and cut the heavy fabric from around the shrub, and then do another two feet. A job that should have taken one hour took four, thanks to that ground cloth. Stupid ground cloth.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Plant Blindness -- I wrote this in 2006

Late one evening a few months ago, (this was written in 2006, from a barrier island off the Florida panhandle) a truck hauling a trailer pulled up to the empty lot across from our house. The driver got out and backed a Bobcat off the trailer, and set about his business of mowing down a trail into the lot. The lot was for sale; it is not uncommon for a realtor or owner to have a path cut so prospective buyers can walk into the property and have a look around.

For half an hour or so I heard the machine snapping branches and cracking limbs, then the machine was loaded up again and the truck left. I didn’t think too much about it.

The next day, though, I walked over to check out the new trail. I was dumbfounded. The Bobcat driver had driven right over a beautiful, healthy red cedar. It tilted at a forty five degree angle, trunk deeply scarred, roots mostly exposed. Why? He could easily have gone around the tree, and left it as a focal point for a new home. Was he was testing out his machine to “see what it could do”. Why would someone wanting to make a good impression leave a beautiful tree partially uprooted, halfway laying over on its side?

I don’t believe this was a callous or insensitive man, but I do believe he saw this cedar tree as a challenge, an obstacle to be overcome. He did not see it as a living, breathing and quite beautiful specimen, as I did. He exhibited what is known as ‘plant blindness’, a term coined by James Wandersee, PhD, a biology professor at Louisiana State University. Plant blindness refers to our failure, as a society, to see plants as anything more than a green blur or a background. Until something calls our attention to a particular plant, we tend to overlook it.

Even as a professional gardener, I am no different. There are countless plants I never ‘see’ until some particular characteristic is pointed out. Then, suddenly, I will see that plant everywhere.

Without the plant kingdom, the animal kingdom would not survive. In short, no plants, we die. Or, if animals ever out-breath the plants, the animals lose. Duh.

Why then, are we so unimpressed by the plant kingdom that provides the very air we breath? Humanity is more interested in animals than it is in plants. There are terms for this, too: zoochauvinism anidd plant neglect. Our educational system does not help. Biology classes at all levels place much more emphasis on animals, though that symbiotic relationship between plants and animals cannot be denied.

Maura Flannery, a longtime columnist for American Biology Teacher, said, “I am not alone in my prejudice; to many, botany is synonymous with what is dry, complicated, and uninteresting in biology.” Indeed. I have to admit it was pretty dry stuff to me, too. Not one of my various biology teachers was willing to take the class outside to introduce us, up close and personal, to a plant. We learned about photosynthesis from a book.

By putting more emphasis on the study of animals, my teachers were demonstrating zoochauvinism. By not taking us out and showing us how to measure the rate of growth in a vine from day to day, or pointing out the vivid colors that attracted insects to a flower, or letting us marvel at how a blade of grass could break through an asphalt parking lot, they were exhibiting plant neglect.

Think about it. How often do we read articles in the newspaper that relate to plants? The 2002 demise of the Wye Oak, this nation’s largest, and some say oldest, white oak (Quercus alba), hardly got any press coverage, but a story about a dog being rescued from a boat that same year was carried all over the world. We read articles about the longevity of sea turtles, but who in the world knows what the oldest living tree is? (It’s a bristlecone pine, nearly 4800 years old, and it is still alive, growing in the United States.) Curiously, one botanical story that does get coverage is the blooming of a voodoo lily, which smells like rotting meat. Whenever this occurs in a public garden the press is always there, ready to record the disgusted reactions.

Our children are being shortchanged by the lack of plant knowledge, but there is still little impetus for them to be curious about that half of their world. Video games certainly don’t feature plants. Neither do movies, or games, or books, though library shelves bulge with children’s books about animals. Plants drawn into cartoons are only vague green shapes without detail. Television has long featured shows introducing us to the animal kingdom, and now there are entire channels devoted to animals. And the plants? Well, there is HGTV, which reduces plants to accessories good for decorating our homes. Never has that program really educated me about how a plant grows, or thwarts its enemies, or has sex.

If we don’t know a plant, we don’t really see it, and if we don’t see it, it becomes nothing more than an obstacle, a challenge to our machines. Something to be knocked over, and left at a funny angle in the woods. And yet if they all die, we all die. The image of a big bulldozer capable of scraping up all the plants in its path flashes through my mind. Another image flashes, of thousands of acres of a single crop, which could all be wiped out by a single pathogen. Another image flashes, of rain forests slashed and burned so grass and grain can be grown to feed cattle. Diversity lost, and we never really realize it, because we didn’t recognize what was there to begin with.

As gardeners, we can combat plant blindness by becoming plant mentors. This simply means sharing what we know about the plant kingdom and its wonders. We can mentor children, especially, since they are so open to the wonders of the world. We can also mentor our peers. Would it have made a difference to the driver of that Bobcat if he had known the name of the tree he tried to run over? Would developers slow down just a little in the scraping of every inch of land if they realized a plant in their pathway might be older than their great-grandmothers? Can we help a teenager make the connection that plants breathe out, so that he can breathe in?