Mistakes in Scale

My tulips bloomed last week. I know this because as I was pulling into the driveway, I saw a flash of yellow, very far away.
Then it snowed, and I forgot about them. Now they are pitiful- squashed by a foot and a half of very wet snow.

See- way over there, by the bricks...under the window? Yellow and orange tulips?

See- way over there, by the bricks…under the window? Yellow and orange tulips?

Why, oh why won’t I learn to plant big things far away, and little things close?
I kind of learn it- I did put about 20 bulbs into a pot on the porch, where I can sit next to them in the morning sunshine, and I have some other tiny scilla mixed in with the grass just off the patio, so I can strum the ukulele and enjoy their tiny bell shaped blossoms. But putting 6 inch tall yellow tulips 30 feet away from where I walk, or sit, or drive, that’s just silly.
Mistakes in scale are super common- my favorite (now that it is gone) is the Russian sage that the previous owners planted underneath the mailbox. So, think about this- a shrubby perennial, beloved by bees, that gets to be 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide, in a 2 foot wide bed between the driveway and the front walk, right under the mailbox. Did I mention it was beloved by bees? Yeah. It was not beloved by mailmen.
I broke two separate digging forks trying to uproot it. DH was heard to comment one time after I cut it back severely and tried to dig it out, “I hope I never make you as mad as that russian sage made you.”
It didn’t make me mad, it just was in the wrong place. When you are in the wrong place, I let you know.

Another mistake in scale I see all the time is a narrow flower bed along the back fence, planted with geraniums and marigolds. A wooden stockade fence 6 feet tall, with 6 inch flowers in front of it, 20 or 30 feet away from the porch or the patio or the deck.
So, maybe size doesn’t matter, but scale does… what mistakes in scale with gardens to you see? What mistakes do you still make?


Vanilla orchid- surviving the winter…

I tried to crop out the messy kitchen...

I tried to crop out the messy kitchen…

Last fall, I brought my vanilla orchid inside after its summer vacation on the back patio. It was alive, and had grown quite a bit, but it hadn’t topped out the trellis….Now, as I look at the thermometer and begin to count down the days until it, and all my “house plants” can go outside, the vanilla vine is still alive, but still not huge.

The trellis I built is basically a quilt made out of hardware cloth, wire fencing with smaller holes than chicken wire. The middle layer of the “quilt” is sheet moss. I rolled the quilt into a cylinder about 4 inches in diameter and 2 feet tall. I filled it with orchid mix, then set up a pop bottle with pinholes in the bottom.  It is both a tower for the vine to climb on, and an evaporator. It is also modular- I can build another cylinder that will fit into the top, if and when this little vine decides to grow up to the top of this one.

If you are wondering about how much support you need for your vanilla plant for the first year or two, the answer is, a chopstick would have worked for this guy. It doesn’t need a two foot tall tower.  However, the other design element was for a humidity source for the plant- it is dry here, inside and out, on the front range of Colorado, and the trellis also acts as a humidity tower. It spends the winter in The Boy’s room, which also has a fish tank, and a new anole habitat-( and the cricket habitat that goes with the lizard- I didn’t realize that when I said yes to the lizard, I was saying yes to crickets, as well) The fish tank evaporates quite a bit, as well as the anole habitat, but it is still a centrally-heated room in a house in a semi-desert.

When I first built the trellis, the vine was only 4 inches tall- now, roughly two years later it is about 12 inches tall. If I were starting again, I might just use a chopstick, or piece of bamboo, and maybe use a hurricane lamp as a terrarium.

Larkspur- you can grow that

Larkspur and yellow yarrow last July.
Larkspur and yellow yarrow last July.

When I was first building my  garden, my wonderful mother-in-law gave me an envelope of larkspur seeds.  I had the hardest time remembering what they were- I’m not sure why the name didn’t stick with me- those, thingies… bird feet thingies…I would think in my head. I finally have them down, and I have them essentially everywhere. Love them: water efficient, good for pollinators, tall, that pretty blue that flowers don’t usually come in. Pretty cottage garden-y stuff, without needing much water.

They are not perennial, that is, the same plant does not come back year after year, like peonies or rhubarb. Instead, they drop their seeds nearby and plant themselves. I help them along by cutting them back and sprinkling their seeds where I want them.

It is a good thing I am not a super control freak, because often “they drop their seeds nearby” means in the path, or along the edge of the bed, or mixed in with the asparagus.  I have wide beds, with lots of shrubs which were tiny when I first planted them.  Back when my MIL gave me the envelope, the larkspur helped it look like the wide “mixed shrub borders” were something other than wide “expanses of mulch with twigs sticking up.” Now that 8 or 9 years have passed, and the shrubs have grown up, the larkspur can seed itself in the handful of gaps that remain.

To have your own spot of cottage garden-y goodness this summer, don’t wait until someone gives you an envelope of seeds from their yard. Instead, buy a pack, prepare a bed, sprinkle the  seeds and water them in. My self-seeded plants are already up, after having spent the winter on the ground, so it is not too early to plant them.  The first grown will be soft and ferny, and the flowers will grow to be 2-3 feet tall.

You can grow that

Larkspur, yarrow and chamomile blooming way back last summer.

Larkspur, yarrow and chamomile blooming way back last summer.

is an initiative by garden writer C.L. Fornari, to encourage people to get out in the sunshine and grow stuff. You should check it out.