Monday, February 24, 2014


Gardening offers so many metaphors for life. For one thing, a garden is always in process. Even if you sat down and carefully drew out a detailed garden plan and followed it exactly, you would find upon completion that you wanted to make edits. That's just the nature of things. You learn as you go along. You see what works and what doesn't. You make edits, improvements. This isn't terribly different from life, I hope.

Gardening demands experimentation, as well. In Michigan, my Cherokee Purple tomatoes were magnificent. In Florida, they were something like a disaster. And so I had to look for tomato varieties that might work better for me here. Enter Gardener's Delight, Brown Berry Cherry, Black Plum, Brandywine, Black Krim, and my favorite--in terms of names--Beam's yellow pear. Some have done better than others. Some I'm just now growing seedlings for their trial in the garden. At the end of each season, I take careful notes on each variety so that as time goes on, I can make better choices.

Sometimes the experiments are with plants I've never heard of. Someone on Twitter suggested that I try growing Rat Tail radishes. I thought, why not? They sounded interesting enough, if only because they don't really produce root vegetables but rather seed pods that you pick much like beans. I also liked the the suggestion that I could pickle them. The experiment seemed to going rather badly, though, until last week. All I was getting was tons of leaf growth on plants over five feet tall. Then, suddenly, they started to flower profusely. And now I have the most curious and tasty snack I've ever grown.

The pretty flowers of Rat Tail radish

The spicy little seed pods of Rat Tail

I've also been experimenting with different varieties of sugar snap and snow peas. I've grown accustomed to the beautiful magenta and pink flowers of the Dwarf Grey sugar snaps, but they never produced peas for me. This season, I tried Oregon Sugar Pod II snow pea. Appropriately, they are producing white flowers and a continuous supply of peas. 

Fresh peas are just behind those flowers

I've finally had the courage to pop a nasturtium flower in my mouth, which then led me to put them in all of my salads and even eat the leaves. 

This nasturtium is getting a little
friendly with my ant statue.

Finally, the greatest experiment, the biggest leap of faith I've taken in the garden continues to yield results. As I was trimming back the tomato plants today, encouraging them to focus all of their energy on ripening the fruits they have on before I pull them up and replace them with the spring season plants, I noticed something in two of my pineapple plants. 

A fruit is on the move

We'll be eating pineapples again this summer. These will be particularly special because they are fruiting from the crowns that I cut off of my first homegrown pineapples we ate last February.

I agree with Ulysses, who says, "How dull it is to pause, to make an end," in life and in the garden. As long as I continue to experiment, I may find my fair share of failures, but I'll also find that the garden is forever "a bringer of new things."

Monday, February 17, 2014


I used to work with someone who estimated any activity would take 20 minutes. We would invite her over, and she would say, "Okay. I'm leaving home now, and I'll be there in 20 minutes." Her house was near the university where I was working on my Master's degree. On a good day, it would take me 40 minutes to get home from there, but her estimate was half that. If I was trying to compile a report that  required her input, she would say that I would have it in 20 minutes. I would simply smile. I liked her positive thinking, but I think she's the reason I really learned how to think exponentially.

Three weeks ago, I announced my plan to redesign the Secret Garden. I mentioned that I thought it would take me four weeks to complete. I'm now thinking I should revisit exponents. The plan may well have taken only four weeks had I just gone out and bought everything already built, plants already grown to full size. As is all too often the case with me, though, I couldn't stomach the thought of paying more than $30 for a planter. I couldn't imagine paying $8 (after coupon) for a grapevine ball. I wanted plants that are almost impossible to find and have to be grown from seed. So let's just say that I won't be revealing a completely redesigned Secret Garden next week. I have quite a bit more work to do.

Here's what I've done so far. I have made progress with the path. I've been slowed a bit by the discovery that the 12" pavers I purchased three years ago are no longer to be found in stores. I'm still pondering how to deal with this, but it may come down to me pouring pavers of my own. The upside to this is that it will be considerably cheaper, and by now, you all know that this pleases me.

75% complete

I've dug up and relocated quite a few plants, which means that part of the planting plan is coming together. I've also placed one of the planters.

One planter has found its new home
I had to do a little triage with my trellises. They've always been a bit wonky, so I decided that I would attach them to one another to ensure that they would remain even. When I pulled the first one out of the ground, I discovered that it had left one of its legs behind. The rest of the trellis was showing signs of cracking, so I stained it and its twin to match the arbors and give them a longer life. I'm pretty pleased with the transformation because it creates symmetry with the blue arbors at either end of the garden and the blue wall of the house opposite the trellises.



Finally, I'm conducting a bit of an experiment. I want to use Germander as a low, clipped hedge. Most people I've spoken to haven't heard of Germander. It's part of the mint family. Since it's so obscure, I had to order seeds. Again, the upside to this is that I paid only $4.50 for them and could ultimately grow hundreds of plants. The downside is that they've taken 14 days to germinate, which means that they're just wee little fellas right now and are likely to remain so for a while.

Let me introduce you to Germander

So that's where I stand at this point. With each successive post to this blog, I am noticing the compounding of a theme, not of my creation, that resounds week after week. It makes me think of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach," with one minor revision:

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand, 
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of [patience] in.

And so, here continues the lesson. I estimate it may take considerable time to reach that goal. The garden will likely be finished much sooner.

Monday, February 3, 2014

DIY Garden Projects

I been working diligently on the Secret Garden overhaul this past week. I keep trying to remind myself that it always looks much worse before it looks better. Most of my time was taken up with construction and garden craft projects, which I'll get to in a moment.

I was also able to convert all of the garden's sprinkler heads to drip irrigation. The drip lines running all over the place don't look gorgeous right now, but they will certainly help make the garden look lovely. They'll also make things a little easier for me, as I'll no longer have to worry about the pop up heads beating the living daylights out of some plants while completely missing others. Better yet, I was able to run micro drippers straight up the fence and into my elevated planters. Everyone will think that I run out every day to water them. It will be our little secret. The cost to convert was free, thanks to the folks at DIG Corporation and their contest I won last year. I couldn't get these in until I cleared the garden.

The conversion head with the lines snaking around the garden

At this point, you all know that I like power tools and must find building projects to keep me occupied. The new garden design involves planters, so I've built the first of four. I'm not pleased that it cost $27 to build, but I have plans for bringing down the cost of the others.

No idea why the top looks warped...anxiously
awaiting the return of my DSLR from the Nikon hospital

If you ever read a blog post in which someone explains how to do a project and claims that it's easy, even though it looks somewhat complicated, I suggest that you just consider it really complicated. I've taken a risk on something that I really hope pays off because making this succulent sphere was tons of work, and I have yet another one to make. Cost? $35 each. Big risk.

Here's hoping the succulent sphere fills in

Finally, I have spent three years trying to find the right lighting solution for the garden, but have always come up short. I'm feeling pretty good about what I'm working on now, though. I bought a grapevine wreath from Michael's for $6 (thanks to a 40% off coupon), and after soaking it in the bathtub for a day to make it pliable, I've made 4 grapevine balls that form the structure of my lights. That's all the more information I'm going to give right now.

How is that a light?

So, I've really not shown you much this week, just hints of what you'll hopefully see when the garden is complete. It's all pretty unnerving at this point. After all, it could go so spectacularly wrong. But it's fun to try something and see how it works out.