The Impatient Gardener: July 2016

15 July 2016


I've extolled the virtues of garden tours many times here. I believe there is nothing more inspiring than experiencing a garden other than your own. It's hard for me to think of a time I've toured a garden and not left with a design idea I would like to incorporate into my garden or a plant I absolutely had to have.

Something that's right in my garden right now: The first 'Cafe au Lait' dahlia bloom.

And yet, I rarely invite people into my garden any way other than through this blog (which is much different from really seeing a garden). My mom comes to see my garden from time to time and the occasional neighbor, but that's about it. In fact I actively avoid having people in my garden and have turned down tour requests on a handful of occasion because I know there are parts of my garden that are far from perfect. And when I look at my garden through someone else's eyes, all I see are bare spots where plants have failed, weeds plotting a full-on garden coup and design mistakes that you'd think I would have stopped making by now.

So it was with some trepidation that I gave my blogger friend Linda from Each Little World and her husband Mark a tour of the garden last week. I visited their amazing garden last year and I was happy, although nervous, to swap roles.

But the pressure is (mostly) off when you have dedicated gardeners visiting in a casual situation. They understand that weeds happen and plants get moved and bare spots develop. They also understand that sometimes things just get a bit overgrown. So really, I couldn't have asked for a more understanding audience and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit (while alternately cringing at weeds I missed).

The best looking spot in the garden right now is the annual border along the house. Everything in this border other than the  'Bergaarten' sage and the begonias was grown from seed (or tubers, in the case of the dahlias) by me this winter/spring.

The window box is finally starting to fill in and show signs of "spilling."
What I didn't expect to come from the visit, was for me to get something out of it beyond a chance to catch up with friends and talk plants. And yet, I saw my own garden through another person's eyes. It's interesting to watch other people in your garden. To see what they are drawn to first, what makes them pause, and what they ask about. It's the best way to gauge the flow of a space that I can imagine. Just watch people experience your garden.

Linda, Mark and I also had a chat about what I call the Circle Garden (it's an oval, but that has no ring to it). It was the first garden I really started from scratch on a year or two after we bought our house and I put a ton of work into the bones of it. I still like it and think it has the potential to be a real star in the garden, but what's there now is not working. I told Linda and Mark that it started as a vegetable garden with some ornamentals but then I realized there wasn't enough sun for tomatoes and I built a dedicated vegetable garden. And then Mark pointed out that since much of the rest of the garden in that area is shades of green, perhaps something wildly colorful might work. And from there the three of us tossed around ideas.

I pointed out this Aralia 'Silver Umbrella' to Linda when she visited. It was new last year, but I love how it is growing so far.

The result of that visit is that I realize that the Circle Garden has been bugging me for a long time but I've been ignoring it, and for the first time in years, I'm excited about the possibility of starting completely from scratch there.

Last year I planted this 'Sapphire Indigo' clematis and this year it is growing beautifully. It may be my new favorite. 
It's the kind of inspiration I usually get when I visit a garden. Little did I know it would work the other way too.

So I'm amending my drumbeat encouraging people to visit other gardens to add that it's equally important to invite people into yours, warts, weed and all.


13 July 2016


One of my favorite movies is "Fargo." The relevance of this will soon become clear.

I am alternately fascinated by and intimidated by large machinery. I go into using it afraid that I'm either going to break it or myself, but as soon as I start using it, I'm hooked.

And that's about how it went with the Troy-Bilt CS4235 Chipper Shredder. This thing is a beast. Frankly, in my opinion, if you're going to get something like a chipper shredder, I think a beast is the way to go. You want it to do what you need it to do without ever needing to force it. And that means a big machine.

So how big are we talking? Well, in order to see into the brush hopper, I have to stand on my tiptoes. Granted, I'm 5'2" on a good posture day. The branch chute is adjustable, so you can angle it in several different positions. And it's heavy, too. Fortunately, it has large, very sturdy wheels that make it easy to move. When I gave it its first real test, I wheeled it all the way down the driveway and across the grass over to the compost bin with no trouble.

Yep, the first time I tried out this chipper shredder, I was all alone, which is sort of a big deal for me as I usually require several walkthroughs with a piece of equipment before I'm comfortable with it. I read the manual and was happy to see that the starting procedure is repeated on a sticker on the front of the chipper shredder as well as a quick reminder.

Don't mess around with safety with a machine like this. Safety glasses and hearing protection is required. A handy quick-start sticker walks you through the steps of starting and operating the chipper shredder.

Although I'll be the first to admit that I am sometimes lax with safety equipment, this is no machine to play around with. This is where the "Fargo" thing comes in. Anyone who has seen the movie will recall that one character meets his fate at the hand of a wood chipper, head first. And I'll be honest, I could not get that image out of my head when I first approached this chipper shredder. Fortunately this chipper shredder isn't THAT big and there are a lot of safety functions built in. Still, ear and eye protection is required when using this, so much so that it comes with safety glasses.

Having donned my ear muffs and the safety glasses, I followed the starting instructions to the letter: Push the choke all the way over, slide the "gas" over to the fastest setting (the rabbit), and pull. Despite not having a good pulling arm (something I've discussed ad nauseam here), it started up immediately. You have to love that.

This chipper shredder can accommodate branches up to 3 inches in diameter, which is pretty darn big. I didn't have any that large around, but I did have a small pile of 1.5-inch to 2-inch diameter branches. I slid one in the branch chute and the chipper shredder did the rest, seeming to (gently) grab the branch and guide it through. Frankly I was relieved that I could just put it in and let go so my hands never got close to even the end of the chute. (Again, I'm scarred by that movie, so I think I'm probably more nervous than most.)

Branches are "sucked" into the chute so as soon as they start going, it's a hands-free operation. The white bag on the right is large and will hold a lot of material before it needs to be emptied.

The chipper shredder has a large bag that attaches to the outflow area if you like and despite continuing to feed branches in, I was surprised that it didn't seem like it was filling up very fast. And that's the beauty of this machine: It makes the most lovely little wood chips. I would estimate that the pieces were a half-inch or so. In fact, it reduces material so much that I think the bag would get pretty heavy if it were completely full. I was thrilled though, because this is the size of wood mulch that I will drive many miles to find by the bag. If we have enough material that needs chipping I can see saving a ton of money on mulch.

Branches were reduced to nice half-inch sized chips, perfect for mulch.
Leaves and brush were chopped into lovely tiny bits that should break down extremely quickly, giving compost and leaf mold a big head start.
With the branches dispensed of, I tried out a few other materials in the larger hopper, which works on a gravity feed. Some dry leaves on the top of the pile were dispensed with quickly. This will make composting and making leaf mold an absolute dream and I expect it to cut the decomposition process down by many months. I also tried freshly cut comfrey stems and leaves. Comfrey has very thick, water-filled stems and fuzzy leaves. I wasn't sure which chute would be more appropriate for it, but it seemed to work better to put it in the branch chute. What came out was sort of a gelatinous goo and the machine didn't grab it as easily as it did the dry leaves and branches.

Then I put some half-composted stuff in the big chute. This was mostly damp, decaying leaves plus decaying green material. It didn't really go well. In addition to getting caught up on the way down the brush chute, what came out looked more like the leftovers from a juicer. In fact, I ended up pulling out a wad of material that didn't seem to want to go through, AFTER the engine was shut off and after waiting a little bit just to make sure everything was done spinning. (Again, abundance of caution caused by watching "Fargo" too much.)

What I deduced from this experiment was that dry materials are best. Damp, partially decomposed material probably isn't the best.

I'm certain that this chipper shredder will be in frequent use in fall when we clean up leaves (the idea of all of that goodness breaking down in time for spring use in the garden is thrilling to me) and collect fallen branches and in spring when we do tree pruning. It's going to up my composting game big time and I can't wait for that.

I'll just limit my "Fargo" viewing for a bit beforehand.

Disclaimer: I am a member of Troy-Bilt’s Saturday6 Program which provides compensation to me, and in the case of product reviews, tools or equipment are provided to me at no cost for the purpose of providing an evaluation and sharing my honest opinions.

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08 July 2016


I've tried a few times today to come up with a Friday Finds post, but it feels a little shallow to share links to a bunch of stuff that doesn't matter a bunch when a lot of people are sad and hurt and angry.

So I leave you this Friday with the cheeriest picture I could find: red nasturtiums. Happiness in a flower right there, folks.

I hope you all have a good weekend.

06 July 2016


I have a good reason for coming back to the blog rather slowly after the holiday weekend: I'm down to one eye. Somehow I went on a sailboat race Friday night and before the race was over midday Saturday I had brewed up a cornea ulcer which my very nice eye doctor saw me for on Sunday when the clinic was closed. It's getting better but it had me laid flat out for most of the weekend and I'm still sort of limping along. Gardening is difficult at best and impossible at worst because I can't tolerate any light whatsoever and I only have the use of one eye right now. I can't handle a lot of screen time either, so if you've written me an email and haven't heard back, that's why.

So instead of getting into some larger posts, I thought I'd share a few peeks at what's happening around the garden right now. By and large it's a banner year with warm weather and not quite enough rain but no a full-on drought either. Things are growing fast and furious.

I grew these apricot foxgloves from seed (from Floret Flower) and only five of them germinated and grew to a size that could be transplanted. I wish they'd been more successful because I would love a huge patch of these. I'll try again next year.

I've already cut back the nepeta that lines the path and it has grown back to be nice full puffs of blue-green. The chive hedge in the circle garden got the whack the other day (save for a few plants which we'll eat off while the rest regrows), as did the 'Rozanne' geraniums, which were still pretty with their blue flowers but had grown so big and splayed out so wide that they were flopped on top of other plants. My affinity for 'Rozanne' is waning because of this habit.

The messy bare patch left behind from cutting back the geraniums.

When I start whacking stuff back I generally just have at it and then clean up afterwards. Unfortunately the other night it was too dark by the time I was finished (since I have to garden after sundown) to come back and pick everything up and there was quite a mess to deal with in the morning.

The poppies, which I mostly let seed themselves, are going nuts. It's a bit unkempt but sometimes I like a little wildness in the garden.

The climbing rose 'Autumn Sunset' continues to put on a show. I'm very happy with it this year, just its second in the ground.

One of the clematis I planted in the trough container by the garage is 'Alba Luxurians'. It's new to me and I find it rather intriguing. The buds are tiny green dangling things that almost look like chrysalises, but they gradually open up to a small flower. The description said the flowers were white tipped with green, but so far they have a decidedly lavender look to them. Maybe they will change as they develop, or maybe the color is a factor of them not getting a ton of bright light. It's interesting to me, though.

 I started pruning the boxwood by the garage and then stopped because I realized there was no way I was going to get it even with one eye, so I stopped mid-prune and it will have to look a little lopsided for awhile.

 That's what's happening here. How's your garden looking right now?


01 July 2016


I should not be surprised because this happens every year: Blink and it's Fourth of July. How we got halfway through 2016 and to what we consider the mid-point of summer, I have no idea, but here we are. Summer can slow down already.

The floribunda rose I've been growing in a pot for a few years is looking so great this year. I couldn't be happier with the show it's putting on. 

But let's get to a few Friday Finds to kick off the big holiday weekend.

Some recipes for a few beauty treatments using what you're growing in your garden.

Something about the Fourth of July makes me want to eat berries in every possible form. Blueberry bars fit the bill.

Cool down a hot summer day with a cucumber-mint popsicle.

I pin projects like this all the time because I feel like some day I'm actually going to tackle something like this. Maybe in that basement that I never really got to last winter.

Bratwurst is sacred here in Wisconsin. If you plan to come here, you might want to bone up on the difference between a brat and a sausage. By the way, I'll probably eat a brat on the Fourth of July because of the sake of tradition but I'm so sick of them.

We've got a long-distance sailboat race in the beginning of the weekend and then the weekend will be all about kicking back and really enjoying summer. It's time to start the savoring. What's on your agenda for the holiday weekend?



I have never been great at following rules. I'm not saying I'm a great rebel, but there has always been a part of me that wants to do the opposite of what I'm told to do just because.

Perhaps this is why I don't always follow conventional garden wisdom. It certainly sounds better to frame it that way than to just say that I don't know better. Trying to be a rebel in the garden usually backfires, but sometimes it works out even better than you might have hoped.

This gold-rimmed hosta (another victim of my foolish notion that I will remember its name without a tag) grows happily in a sunny spot in the garden and looks great in combination with a purple-leafed geranium and sun-loving lavender in the foreground.

Hostas are a plant I'd never want to be without, and it's easy to see why some people become "hostaholics." The broad leaves offer an excellent course texture to set off so may other plants in the garden and they come in a size that's perfect for any spot.

One of my favorite hostas, 'June', sits atop the small retaining wall in the garden east of the deck. When I planted it there, a large birch shaded the area for most of the day, but when the birch came down 'June' adjusted well and is growing like crazy. In fact, it looks to me like she's due for division soon.

But they are shade plants, right? Well, sort of. I like to think of hostas as shade tolerant plants, but not necessarily shade plants, even though that's the first place most gardeners think to put them. The truth is, I grow hostas in everything from full sun to deep shade and the color and texture they bring to the sunny spots of my garden is as striking as what they bring to the shade garden.

I'm able to get away with this in part because I garden in zone 5 and pretty far north. Certainly gardeners in hotter zones would have difficultly growing most hostas in full sun. I also don't think that that sunny and dry would work for this notoriously thirsty plant.

This 'Patriot' hosta lived in a container for a year and at the end of the season I plunked in the garden somewhat randomly. It's in a full sun area of the garden but is partially shaded by the taller plants growing around it including lilies, baptisia and 'Limelight' hydrangea, all sun lovers. It provides a great foliage contrast and handles the full sun it gets early in the season with no problem.

The color of the hosta matters too. In general, the lighter in color, the more sun a hosta can handle. Blue hostas won't have as good of color in sunnier locations, although blue tends to look more green as the season goes on regardless of location. Yellow and white hostas are more likely to have good color in more sun but they will get bleached out if they get too much sun and not enough water.

Let those hostas out of their shady box and see the light. I can't imagine my garden without them, both in the sun and the shade.

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