Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I have continued to harvest squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans and enjoy the flowers blooming in the gardens. However, the past few weeks I've been guilty of benign neglect for the garden, yard, and home in general. I've been depressed. The overpowering nature of depression is such that all that normally brings great joy suddenly becomes unimportant.

Like an untended garden, in depression the mind becomes overgrown with weeds, vines, and vermin that eat away at the plants and flowers one desires to flourish. The depression shades out optimism, hope, joy, and laughter. It is easy to become lost in this jungle of runaway negativity. The deep foliage covers the path out, making one wander aimlessly. In the jungle of depression everything is suspect. Like a person lost in an earthly jungle, danger is sensed in everything.

I was taught as a child that when lost in the woods the first thing to do was stop, be still, and get my sense of direction back. (I played often in 32 acres of woodland on my father's farm). Next I was to look for familiar landmarks and use them to find my way back to the path that would ultimately lead home. I was taught that an animal or human being chased or lost will go in circles.

I have been running in circles. I am back where I started. So, on this morning I am standing still, listening to a gentle rain fall outside. I'm looking for landmarks to guide me from this depression and back to the path home.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This Week In The Garden

Harvesting has begun for my vegetable patch. I have been picking beans for awhile now and have harvested the potatoes and planted okra in their place. The zucchini and yellow squash are now providing us some delicious country meals while the white patty-pan squash are not far behind. I have harvested a few salad tomatoes and cucumbers and more are almost ready.

This weekend the grass needs cut (more compost material), and the container plants need watered. We could use some rain, but the forecasters don't seem to give much hope, at least for a few days.

This morning has dawned into a beautiful day and I should have been out taking care of things hours ago. Instead I have been on the computer, writing blogs, working on my blog sites, and enjoying some quiet time. Later today Jim and I are going to check out the new Tractor Supply store that just opened in our town. Lucky us, it is less than a mile away!

Anytime Jim and I go on an outing it is an adventure. He doesn't get out much as he has to depend on me to take him. We look forward to our weekend trips for that reason. He gets a change of scenery and I have company.

Some of the old flower seeds I planted July 4th weekend are actually sprouting. They were 2003-2006 seeds, and I decided to give them a chance instead of just tossing them. I'm glad I did. Just goes to show that something you think will never make anything, will, if you give it a chance.

Thinking about it makes me thankful for all the people who have given me "one more chance" over the years. I hope I haven't disappointed them.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Shade Plants Part Two

When I began gardening at Shady Hollow I suffered failure after failure trying to grow the annual plants I grew up with in my mother's garden. I had grown them in various locations over the years with mixed results, but never the failure I had here. It seemed that when something did grow it was immediately eaten by slugs.

I have mentioned in another post the trusty balsam that was here when I came. It is my number one best annual plant for growing in shade or just about anywhere else. I have seen them sprout and grow in a few grains of sand in the driveway. Balsam will re-seed themselves profusely. They come in many colors; white, shades of pink, red, lavender, purple. I have not seen a yellow or orange one…yet. Balsam flowers are next to the stem and sometimes become hidden by the foliage.

Impatiens are my next favorite annual for shade. A relative of balsam, they also come in many different colors and varieties. All garden centers have flats of impatiens each spring and summer. Once started impatiens will re-seed but not as prolifically as balsam. I have impatiens in containers on my front patio and on the deck. I love their flowers better than balsam flowers as they are easier to see and enjoy.

It is easy to save seed from both these annuals. The seed pods look like little footballs, and when ripe will explode when touched, scattering seeds everywhere. I love to watch small children when they help gather seeds and have a seed pod burst open. I think it's as much fun for me as it is for the child.

Coleus is another of my shade favorites. I have bought them (I bought the cultivar Black Dragon before it became available as seed), but usually grow from seed I've saved from my own plants. Over the years I have grown so many that I now have volunteer plants come up all over the planting areas. The flowers are not spectacular; the foliage is the star with these tough beauties. I keep the flower spikes clipped off until late in the season to encourage the plant to be bushy. In late summer I allow them to flower and set seed for my next year's plants.

Wax begonia is yet another favorite for flower beds and containers. I grow them from seed, occasionally buying a flat if I want a particular color. The seeds of begonia have to be started 6 months before you want blooms. My plant room (subject for another post) is busy with baby begonias starting around Christmas each year. There are several different types of begonia, I happen to be very fond of the wax begonia and limit myself to them, at least for now. They perform great in sun or shade as long as you give them some plant food and plenty of water. In their native habitat, in zones 9 and 10 they are perennial, and can be a tender perennial at Shady Hollow. I heavily mulched a bed of begonias last fall and almost every one came back out this spring.

Moonflowers are a tradition at Shady Hollow. These white night blooming plants are in the morning glory family. The blooms open at sunset and open fast enough to watch. They love full sun, so are grown on the deck. A vine, they twist and curl around the lattice and are pretty during the day. When night comes the blossoms, mostly 4 inches or more across, unfurl and are beautiful.

Four O'clocks are a sun loving plant that do well in part shade. Their trumpet shaped blossoms open in the evening and stay open until mid-morning the next day. They come in shades of red, pink, and yellow and have become a favorite. They are proving to me that they need less sun than the seed packets lead you to believe. Seeds are easy to come by each spring and they will reseed readily.

Another sun loving plant that does well for me in part shade is Cleome, or spider flower. They are upright, tall plants that look best planted in groups. The blossoms are light and airy and here at Shady Hollow are usually pink or lavender. They also reseed readily or you can harvest the seed for next year's planting very easily.

For anyone gardening in the shade, these are the plants that have worked best for me so far. There are many other plants that are recommended for use in shady areas that I have not experimented with. When I do I will let you know how they work out for me here. I'm neither a plant expert nor a Master Gardener. I am just a crazy older woman who loves her plants and her gardens. I grow almost all my plants from seed that I've saved, collected, or bought. I find there is great hope and optimism in the act of planting a seed. You never really know what will happen or how the garden will turn out. That's true of all life when you think about it.

Our lives and our gardens are always and forever a work in progress. May your gardens and your lives grow with beauty and abundance.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Shade Plants Part One

I was asked recently to share some of my tips about growing plants in the shade. This first tip I’ll give is to get the soil in shape as best you can no matter what kind of light conditions you have. Amend it with compost and use mulch to add nutrients, keep down weeds and retain moisture. The discussion of soil can fill several more posts, so I won’t go any further with it here, except to say my soil is far from ideal and is a work in progress.

Second, learn just exactly what light conditions you have in your beds. Watch the areas all during the day throughout the season. I have beds that get little to no sun in early spring, but almost full sun for most of the day during the summer months. Those are the areas I use for vegetables and flowers that demand the most sun for best performance.

If you are planning on growing perennials learn what planting zone you live in. This will help you in purchasing plants that will survive the winter in your area and return for you next spring. I live on the border of zones 6 and 7 here in the mountains. This means I can be pretty confident with plants rated zone 7 and lower. A zone 8 or higher will have to be overwintered inside as a house plant or grown as an annual.

Now for the plants I have the best luck with. In this post I’ll cover the perennials.

Hosta: These plants are very hardy and I have learned they can grow where nothing else will. Some gardeners only grow hosta and there are many varieties to choose from. Hostas are mainly grown as foliage plants, but they do bloom with tall spikes of lavender to purple flowers in mid-summer. They can be grown from seed, but it is difficult and all my seedlings have had plain solid green leaves. Your best bet is to purchase hosta or find someone who will share a few with you. Tip: If you buy a lush container of hosta at the nursery, you can divide the plants inside to get more bang for your buck. They will look pitiful and scrawny the first year, but after that will fill in beautifully. In my experience hosta can stand poor soil, drought, hot sun and deep shade. To me they are an all around winner for problem areas.

Day Lily: These plants are another winner for hard to deal with areas. They care not about soil conditions, survive drought and wet weather equally well and come in a great variety of colors. Now there are cultivars that bloom all summer. I have day lilies on a previously un-cultivatable bank behind my garden shed. I have them at the entrance to Shady Hollow where they get the run-off and car pollution and still thrive. They are considered a sun loving plant but here they get varying amounts of sun and in all areas less than the optimum, but yet they thrive. They can be grown from seed, but your plants will take at least three years to bloom. I collect and plant seed from mine each year and eagerly await their blooming to see what I’ve got. Daylilies can be divided and transplanted after they bloom. Many gardeners will be happy to share with you if you only ask. One or two roots will multiply into a nice patch in only a few years.

Bearded Iris: These are favorites here at Shady Hollow. They are an old fashioned plant, a staple at every old southern home-place. They bloom in spring and are available in a huge selection of colors. When planting iris, be sure to leave the top of the corm uncovered. It needs light in order for the plant to bloom. Iris need partial sun, so don’t plant in deep shade. Mine get a few hours of morning sun and do great.

Purple Cone Flower: These are blooming now in my gardens and are one of my favorites. A prairie plant originally, they love full sun, but do well in part sun as well. A few plants will multiply into a beautiful colony in a short time. Seeds are readily available for purple coneflower and related species. Colors, other than purple, include white and yellow varieties.

Perennial Hibiscus: Flowers the size of dinner plates grace these beauties. I grow them from seed and prefer the Dixie Bell Hybrid variety available from Park Seeds. Started early in spring they will often bloom the first year, growing fuller and with more blooms in each additional year. I will caution that these do need the best soil you can provide and as much sun as possible. They are one of my borderline shade plants. I usually grow them in big (I mean big) pots on my deck and overwinter the pots on the south side of the house for protection. My deck is my sunniest spot and I get much better results from the deck grown hibiscus than those in the ground in shadier locations.

Cannas: I love the tropical look of these plants; even without the blooms they are gorgeous. Like the hibiscus, they really don’t do as well in shade. I grow them in pots so I can place them in the sunniest locations. A warning though, in pots you have to overwinter inside (I use my basement) or the tubers will freeze if you are in zone 7 or lower. Here in North Carolina many folks leave them in the ground all winter with good results. I’ve never been lucky over-wintering mine in the ground. I left them out last year and lost them all. Those that didn’t freeze became squirrel food. This year I am starting fresh with new plants and will definitely overwinter inside.

Foxglove: Warning, if you have small children or nibbling pets, these plants contain digitalis in all parts of the plant and can be fatal if eaten. If you handle them bare-handed, wash your hands afterwards. A biennial instead of perennial they are also one of my favorites. They like moist, partly shaded conditions and are hurt more by heat than anything. They are a favorite of fairies; so of course, I keep some growing at Shady Hollow.

Lilly-of-the valley: Warning . . . another poisonous plant! This plant grows in spring from tuberous runners that grow underground. Their small white bell-shaped blooms smell delightful. They are expensive and once started invasive. They were here when I arrived and I keep them around, it is almost impossible to get rid of them. They do not care about soil, sun, or shade; they grow and spread everywhere.

Ivy: Don’t. I have and it was a mistake.

Virginia creeper: It grows wild here and I’ve let it climb a few trees, but am not crazy about it.

Wisteria: I grew one from seed. I trained it to grow on my old deck. It took a seed grown wisteria 15 years to be mature enough to bloom. It pulled the deck off my house. So, if you must, buy a nursery plant or you may not live long enough to see the flowers. Build a trellis for it from 4” x 4” timbers set in concrete. Then prune it unmercifully.

My wisteria still lives. It sent runners underground into my neighbor’s back yard and climbed her pine trees. It is beautiful over there. I still have the mother vine, but I keep her small and do not let her even get close to the deck supports.

Part two of this will be the shade annuals I grow at Shady Hollow. If you stayed with me this long, may the Goddess bless you for your patience!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Excuses, Excuses

Have you ever been so busy that you suddenly stopped mid-stride and wondered what exactly it was you were headed out to do next? That’s how it has been at Shady Hollow this spring and summer. Add to that the fact I have become addicted to the social networking sites, and oh well….

As a result, I find that I have been neglecting my blogs. When I learned about blogging, I felt joy. I could finally indulge in my love of writing. I set a goal of taking time at least once a week to write something, even if I invoked a dose of criticism from my writer friends and children along of the line of…. “Oh come on, you can do better than that.”

I have a full-time job in a factory. I work the dreaded “second shift” (the hours from mid-afternoon till almost midnight). It is hard to get people to work those hours, but with my children long out of the nest and my love of early mornings watching the sunrise, it works perfectly for me.

With job responsibilities, taking care of the house whole chores (neglected most of time), pets, and the gardens I have let my blogging slip. Not that I haven’t been writing. I keep a detailed journal of my gardening activities. What I plant, where and when, how it performs, etc. I write my plans on how and what to do differently next year. It has been an adventure, gardening in the shade and on a steep hillside where before I had full sun and a gentle slope terraced from years of my daddy’s farming.

I mentioned to a dear friend the other day that I’ve lived here 19 years now and love it more each day. When I first arrived the flower beds were full of useless plants, with the exception of the balsam which reseeds itself each year. I assume the elderly lady who built the cottage planted it all those long years ago, and I consider it her legacy.

When I first gardened here, 19 years ago and for several years thereafter, everything I planted failed. I gave up in disgust, only keeping weeds pulled from those trusty balsams. Their cheery blossoms were the only color in a mass of green. I resigned myself to the balsam. Jim took care of the grass in those days and I concerned myself with the house, work, and other pastimes.

Then we had some trees topped and a few cut down. Yes, it used to be even shadier than it is today! I decided to give it another try. I’d been watching gardening shows on HGTV and had gained a bit more knowledge about how to grow in the shade. About that time I found a website that had all kinds of gardening information, With these two sources of information and inspiration, I decided to give it another shot.

I had taken over the yard work by then due to Jim’s many back problems and resulting surgeries. He just couldn’t do it anymore. I decided to make as many flower beds as I could and cut down on the mowing. I’d much rather dig in the dirt and pull weeds than mow. I started the master plan in 2003. I have accomplished much and learned more about plants that I ever thought possible along the way.

During 2007 and 2008 I let a lot go. We had the 2 year drought that began in 2007 and continued until this spring. Last year Jim lost a leg to peripheral artery disease (PAD). Last summer was a constant round of surgeries and hospitalizations as Jim fought to keep as much of his leg as possible and before it was over, his life.

While I was in the sick room the gardening was mostly abandoned. Jim asked me to keep our container gardens on the deck and front patio going. He loves to sit on the patio and enjoy the flowers. I limited my time and efforts to those.

As I have written before, nature took advantage of my neglect and the wildness all around us crept back into my space. Much of my effort this year has been reclaiming that territory. Also, I have planted more veggies this year than I have in a long time. Jim asked me too, and I wanted to, we both love garden grown produce. The veggie patch is in a newly created bed and has performed well past my expectations. To date we have harvested beans, zucchini squash, yellow squash, and potatoes. We have 3 types of tomato, cucumber, and eggplant growing as we watch; I from ground level and Jim from the window and deck.

Thus, I have neglected my blog. If you have read my excuse for this long, I sincerely thank you. I hope you enjoy my ramblings, I promise to not be so long in adding another. But, right now the beans need picked, the beds need made, and Jim would probably appreciate my making him some breakfast.