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May 19, 2011

Naked in the Garden!


By Nancy Pickard

Made you look, right?  Okay, okay, we all know Nancy Martin wrote a lovely blog about gardening yesterday, and yet here I come with more flowers, and you're probably sighing, because a little gardening goes a long way if you're not a fanatic.  But this is a different garden today.  It's the bare and naked garden.  This is down in the dirt with Nancy.

If you're sick of flowers, skip ahead to the comments and talk about. . .the naked truth, naked ambition, naked desire, the perils of naked cooking, naked on the lawn mower, and splendor in the grass.  Rafael-nadal[1] Me, I've always been wildly envious of men because they can bare their naked chests on hot summer days. 

 Ahem.  So.  My mom and I inhabit a little condo with a lot of green around it, to which I attempt to add cheerful flowers. I'm still in the planning stage.  Want to help me?  Puhleeze?

Here we have the front walk before I've added any pots or there are any flowers in bloom.  Image1 Those little green things on the right are weeds.  O, hai, weeds! >>>>> 

Okay, this is going to be painful to show you because right now it all looks so dreary and impoverished, as if somebody named Winter has salted my earth so nothing will grow here, neither in pots nor in ground.  But you've got to see the Before so you can appreciate the After in a few months, right?  Besides which, I NEED SOME ADVICE, PEOPLE! 

I'm in Zone 6, btw, but lately we can plant more southern things than we used to be able to do.  Of course, there's no such thing as climate change, snarkity-snark-snark-snark.

So here goes the barren truth of how things look now around our place in Kansas.  Our gardens are itsy, but still take a lot of thought and some work.

If these were your window boxes, what would you put in them?  I've used red geranimums, which are gorgeous, but get leggy even with pinching, and don't last as long as I'd like.  Last year I alternated white and hot pink vincas (periwinkles) and they were lovely and long-lived.   






That bright yellow plant with the black flower is from the genus fire plug.  I suppose I shouldn't complain.  Would you leave it as is, or would you try to disguise it?  And if so, with what? 







 Eek!  This is next thing is embarrassing!  My poor neighbors. 

This is the "big" (hahaha) garden that I've just begun to clean up and prepare. 

Somebody needs to straighten those rocks. 

If this were yours, what would you do with it?  And don't say "dynamite" or "grass," you joker, you. Image1  I'm making this photo very small so you can't see it very well.  Hey, I have some pride, if not a lot of pity for my neighors, apparently.  It will get better soon!  I promise you.  And them.  My neighbors on both sides are both fabulous gardeners with big fat flocks of fleurs.  I hate them.  No, I love them, but man, I've gotta scramble to keep up with the not-Joneses! >>>>>

 Now here's where I seriously need advice! Last fall I had a huge-o evergreen bush pulled out, and now you can see the uglies it hid.  Ack!

I want to plant something evergreen to hide the heat pump, gas meter, hose, etc.  I don't want it taller than 10 feet or wider than 3 feet.  Any ideas?  I'm thinking maybe Dwarf Alberta Spruce, maybe two or three of them.  Whatever it is, it must stay green and full all year long, and it can't take up much room, so no deciduous trees, please. 

These plants light up two tiny bits of garden that get almost no sun.  Image1 Would you believe those leaves stayed that bright yellow-green all winter?! The limpy things in the back that you can't really see yet are Astilbe.  I can't remember what color they'll be, but I think maybe hot pink?  >>>>>>




Finally, this is the back deck, two levels up, before I put any potted plants out here. 

 Gets full sun.  Is a bitch to water.  Just sayin', in case you were thinking of recommending Impatiens that need watering every fifteen minutes in mid-August.

postscript: Between the time I wrote this and now, I've made a few initial improvements to those two teeny plots.  There's some color that's going to sprout there now. . .and doesn't nice framing improve almost anything?

Bonus point for reading all the way to the end!  Rafael-Nada ny

Now you can give me advice, or ask for advice, or talk about other naked things, your choice!



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In case you don't recognize him from a previous installment of my blogging, that's Rafael Nadal, the champion tennis player from Spain. I'm sure this has something to do with gardening.

Nancy . . . the garden . . . always a place of lovely temptation. Yup. Blue jeans and topsiders . . . very comfy. I walked out the back of the house one afternoon. We lived on our little ranch in Kelso Valley . . . three cattleguards, a creek, woods, and hills before you see anyone else. I hear horses coming around the side of the house. Zero time to react except look. There were two cowboys headed through our place to find strays in Cortez Canyon http://www.satelliteviews.net/cgi-bin/g.cgi?fid=270612&state=CA&ftype=valley Our house, if you can find it on the map, was U-shaped. Back to the cowboys. Together they nodded, lifted their hats, and said, "Howdy Ma'am." And they headed out our back gate toward the canyon.

OK . . . Zone 6 is perfect for pyracantha. You can make it look as interesting as you want with pruning, ar nice and tidy with trimming. Very colorful. We had them on the ranch around the inside of the the courtyard. Even our dog Pooh liked them. Well, he liked the berries. Used to eat them.

Maybe I should say, blue jeans and topsiders - only.

That's hilarious! Just you and the breeze and the cowboys. I can sooo understand the temptation, esp. since the last thing you expected was visitors, lol.
"Howdy, ma'am." Bwah! I'll bet they're still telling that story, too.

Pyracantha. . .great suggestion, but Wiki says it has big thorns?

Some ideas for the garden...

Sedums are just crazy easy to grow, come in many sizes & shapes, make great groundcovers and the get covered in tiny flowers that can range from white to pink.

Perennial herbs will grow in crappy soil or good soil. There are like, 10 zillion varieties of thyme. Chives look god and have pretty pink flowers (you can eat them). Be VERY careful of mints and oreganos, which will take over your property if you don't keep 'em confined to pots.

Daylilies are very tough plants as long as the get a bit of water. Plant a few now and in 3 years you'll have big honkin' clumps of them.

Lavendar is another tough plant, as long as it doesn't get too MUCH water. Lots of varieties to choose from.

Butterfly bushes (buddelia) can grow tall, but will also have tons of flowers. Best to whack them down to the ground in winter. They'll regrow fast once the weather warms up.

Lantana ia another toughie and comes in creeping or bush forms and a bunch of colors. Easy to keep trimmed and looking nice.

I agree whole-heartedly with herbs. You don't get a lot of flowers with them, but you get such lovely scents whenever something brushes by them or the wind blows and, of course, the bonus of things to add to a summer salad or to cook with.

You know, hmmm, I do have a corner that might be perfect for a big lavender plant or two. Love the color, love the aroma.

Nancy, I echo Doc's recommendation of sedum. Lots of varieties, and they're easy-care succulents, so can withstand dry soil.

I have some out-of-control butterfly bushes. I cut them back viciously and they just laugh.

About the evergreen to hide your water pump, what about Golden Euonymus? I have three against the back of my house, near the AC. They withstood a lot of snow piling this past winter.

Have you considered a little container garden to grow veggies on your deck?

Nancy - two words - hire somebody - then you can get back to writing and reading! Gardening is too much like cleaning - you just finish it and you have to start over again. Ugh!

Hi Nancy,

You're too funny. There have already been great suggestions. I love sedum (get the Autumn Joy variety if you can) they are so easy to grow, look rubbery most of the summer and then bloom with flat topped, dark red flowers late summer and fall.

For the back deck that gets full sun, portulaca (sp?) do pretty well - I think they are succulents with flowers, and don't need a ton of water. You could always try a selection of cactus. Our community is suffering a water ban all summer because our water main burst and is being repaired. I planted cactus and succulents in pots on the deck, and as luck would have it, we are getting tons of rain, so they'll probably die. Oh well, I tried.

For an evergreen, I like Mugo Pines.

Consider sneaking in your neighbour's garden to see what is growing there, then copy them. No shame in that, and imitation is a form of flattery.

Best of luck!

The Chick Dick Blog

Ramona, golden eunonymous stays in leaf all winter?! I'd never have thought of that one, and now I'll make a point of searching it out to see if I think the colors will work.

"butterfly bushes. I cut them back viciously and they just laugh."

I'm laughing, too. ^^^^ And I love the idea of a pot-bound veggie garden on the deck. I could start with the the two heritage tomato plants my neighbor just gave me.

Every year I purchase a pineapple sage plant just so I can go out and sniff its leaves. It grows to about 3 feet tall, not too thick, and eventually has small-ish red flowers.

As others have mentioned, sedum come in nearly endless sizes and shapes and are spectacularly easy to grow. We have five or six different ones ranging from full sun to moderate shade.

Arborvitae is an evergreen that might fit your requirements. It's slender and columnar, with a nice scent and soft (as opposed to spiny) "leaves." Look for shorter varieties such as the Emerald Green.

Our go-to plant for hot, dry conditions is coreopsis, particularly threadleaf coreopsis. It requires minimal effort - we just cut it down each year and it comes back in a neat round shape around 18 - 24 inches tall and wide. The leaves are very fine and the whole plant looks soft. It produces small yellow flowers that cover the plant in summer. Moonbeam is a popular variety, and Zagreb is particularly drought tolerant. It does need a lot of sun.

The yellow coreopsis looks particularly good with purple flowers on taller stems like veronica, some of which are also good for hot, dry conditions.

For your window box, I'm a sucker for pinks (dianthus). They come in several different heights and smell very nice. Alyssum also smells wonderful and stays small.

As for the deck, well, I'd love to have a full sun location just off the house for veggies and herbs. There are a lot of varieties that work well in pots. Wouldn't it be nice to step out on the deck and grab everything you need to make some salsa, or a caprese salad? How about strawberries?

Donna, lol! Trouble is, I love doing it. Sigh.

Nancy, sedum is so popular with this crowd that I think I should plant a TLC Sedum corner. Thanks for the Mugo rec. Google says I should be sure to get the "Mops" variety.

Sandi, thank you, those a wonderful ideas. I'm going to be busy today googling images to remind myself what these things look like. Then off to the nursery, tra la! My neighbor offered me some of her "tall purple stuff," and I'm going to take it, of course.

Hosta are indestructible, and they come in a million shades of green--we have a nice one that's so yellow-green, it looks as if the sun is always shining on it.

Viburnum? And lots of rhodys that stay green all winter. Garden people know this stuff--aren't you supposed to plant a hardscape of perennials, then fill in with annuals?

Let me go get Rosemary Harris. She knows all about this. What fun to create a whole garden! Can't wait to see the photos from next year. (Although doesn't it take three years to really look settled in?)

Nancy, I think it's really hard to landscape. The idea to copy your neighbors is a pretty good one, but think of it from the extent of shapes and sizes of plants, and relative placements. If you live in a condo, your neighbors' homes are likely to share basic characteristics with yours, so study what makes them look so nice. What basic shapes and colors are used together that makes them so pleasing?

The yellow-green plants are heuchera, also known as coralbells, although that variety may have non-coral flowers, or even none to speak of. They are a good anchor plant in a perennial bed. Astilbe is nice, too, but it vanishes in the winter. I like cranesbill geraniums for your new bed. They are low to the ground, spread in nice clumps, and have pretty purple, blue, white, or pink flowers most of the summer.

If you get some daylilies, look into a variety called Stella d'Oro. They bloom steadily for months, unlike the old daylilies that bloomed for a week or two, and then pooped out. Daylilies' foliage stays around a long time, too. Sweet alyssum is a pretty plant that spreads, and mine reseeded for years and years. And it has a fragrance like honey.

If you plant lavender, remember that it needs good sun, poor soil, and good drainage. Leave a nice space around it if you plant a little one; they spread out.

Petunias are good for your window boxes. Sniff them; I have found that the purple ones smell wonderful, and I buy accordingly. Add some of that chartreuse sweet potato vine, and a couple salvia plants or some Dusty Miller in the back, and you'll have a very pretty combination that will only need to be watered in the dry days.

Before you try to disguise that fireplug you might want to call the local fire department. Bet they tell you it's illegal to do anything about it. And you really do want them to be able to find it, should the need ever arise, right?

I could go topless at the farm, but I'm still chicken. That marijuana-searching plane flies over all the time in the summer.

Nancy, I suspect the "tall, purple stuff" is garden phlox. Take it! It also smells good, by the way, and will spread. Another tall thing to plant, and you might have missed it this year, is gladiolus.

There are tiny hostas in with the heuchera in the photo; they're in front of the coralbells, which have the rounded leaves.

Viburnum is a wonderful choice, Hank! Look for a variety called "Carlii", or similar. They have exquisite fragrance in the spring that will carry over your house.

And while you're planting, leave space for spring bulbs, so you'll have garden color earlier in the year next year. It's not really time to plant them yet, but definitely plan on some in July and August, when it is.

"I could go topless at the farm, but I'm still chicken. That marijuana-searching plane flies over all the time in the summer."

I'm calling dibs on this for a story! Thanks, Topless Karen in Ohio.

Nancy, the golden euonymous do stay in leaf. I think mine are japonica, which are more green-white than green-yellow.

Nancy, who says YOU can't go topless on a hot summer day? You might get some extra attention from the neighbors, and look what you already have in common: you're all in Zone 6!

p.s. I wonder if Rafael Nadal needs any gardening help? I could probably spare a few months out of my life to go weed or something.

These are great suggestions. I'm taking notes for my garden. We do grow herbs and tomatoes in containers on our deck. Rosemary smells wonderful. Plus, if you happen to be naked and making a salad, you don't have to go very far. I used to iron naked sometimes (inside the house, not out in the garden), but I gave myself a nasty burn one day, so I gave the whole thing up. Ironing, not getting naked.

Does anyone have any ideas for making wisteria bloom? We have a vine that is so prolific it will grab you if you stand still for too long, but it refuses to bloom.

Nancy, the sunny back desk is a terrific spot for basil. I grow a big pot of it. Thrives on neglect, which is a good thing.

Karen, lol, give the pot pilots a thrill.
Coralbells, thank you!! I planted those last year and have not been able to think of the name of them. Not only that, but I'd also lost the name of the "heucheras." You are very handy to know. :) I love those chartreuse sweet potato vines. Maybe I will trail them from the window boxes this time.

Harley, we can line up outside Rafe's house to apply for his gardener job, like women lined up outside Arnold's hotel room doors. Or so I've heard.

But Harley, dearest, let's not frighten my neighbors.

Brunonia, lol! About not needing to go far to grab salad herbs if I'm cooking naked. Cooking naked has always seemed more risky than risque to me. Oh, and a friend of mine has the same wisteria problem you do and has called in experts and nada.

Hank, rodys stay green all winter? I didn't know!

Nancy, I would consider putting in a few ligustrum bushes (also known as privet) around the eyesore area. They will thrive with very little attention, produce a nice white flower in the spring and will stay green all year long, even in Zone 7. You can prune and shape them but you don't have to. For the corner on your deck, if you invest in one annual I always recommend a mandevilla. They are surprisingly hearty and can miss several days of water and will last from May through the first frost. They climb and produce beautiful blooms and out of all my plants, this one gives me the most joy to look at. You can also choose to keep it in a container and bring it in for the winter. Put it in front of a sunny window and you can have a touch of summer all year long. Lastly, think long and hard before you put petunias in those window boxes. They are beautiful but the spent blooms have to be pinched almost every day. Not a good choice for lazy gardeners like myself. Good luck!!


Happy birthday, dear Nancy!

(She's on fierce deadline, so we won't throw her a surprise party.)

Happy birthday, Nancy M! And many happy returns of the day, my dear.

Nancy P: what about hollies? You can choose tall or short ones, and if you want the berries be sure to get two, one of each sex. They stay green all winter, too.

Ashley, those are great suggestions--thank you!

Karen, I've thought about hollies, for the birds' sakes if nothing else, but there's something about their shininess that doesn't go aesthetically with this building, kwim? They're too smooth, or something. (Cue birds rolling their eyes.)

Rhododendrons have a similar shininess, if that's an issue (they're also much harder to grow). Viburnums, especially the ones with the highly textured leaves, would fit that bill. We have one flanking each side of the house, and they keep their leaves all winter, then get berries for the birds. Right now they have white blossoms. These are the non-fragrant ones. The Carlii that smells so wonderful is behind the house, and it's much larger.

Ashley's right about the petunias. Maybe purple verbena, instead? It's perfect for a windowbox, since it needs full sun and good drainage:


I would have to buy some of those sedums just for the names: Love Restorer, Baby Burro's Tail, Jellybeans...

I love all this wonderful advice you're getting - I may take notes. I'm in Zone 6B, according to the National Gardening Association. I have to agree, however, with the advice on mint (takes over the world); butterfly bushes (gorgeous, but like big weeds); and rosemary (the smell is divine). However, I vote for Reine's garden, with the wandering cowboys.

Hate to break it to you, Nancy, but if you click on the little picture, it becomes nice and big. :)

Can't wait to see the "after" pictures.

(sorry. I'm screaming.)

Happy birthday, Nancy!
Y'all are making me think I should do a bit of planting -- but no guilt yet. My friends say they don't put things out until Memorial Day because of iffy weather.
Perhaps you can ask your neighbors for advice -- they might even offer some cuttings or clumps from their plants.
Hiring some help for the heavy-duty work makes sense. A friend has done that; after her breast cancer surgery, the doctor had forbidden any heavy lifting. She found a woman-owned gardening company, and the strong sisters come do the hard work so she can just "putter." She's an advocate of day lilies also . . . I like the idea of anything that will come back on its own!
Reine, my mother-in-law has a similar story of going behind a sand dune in Egypt to answer nature's call, only to have a couple of camel riders appear from another direction. Her mantra, "I'll never see those people again, so it doesn't matter." I feel the same way about the young men who gave me directions in New York the time I was caught in the rain in a white t-shirt -- just glad I didn't realize the effect until I got where I was going . . . ah, the 70's and bra-optional lifestyle.

I've heard friends talking about violas . . . anyone with knowledge to share?

I forgot to say that all of the salvias (and there are tons of them) groww well and flower. I have several autumn sages (s. greggii) that have grown huge, but could just as easily be kept pruned to a smaller size.

For flowers in the late winter/early spring, you can't do much better than daffodils or flowering quince.

And put my vote in for coreopsis, too.

Russian Sage, Perovski -- grows in California, Washington and Vermont, so I'm fairly sure it'll grow in Kansas. Perennial. http://www.bhg.com/gardening/plant-dictionary/perennial/russian-sage/

Brunonia -- prune the h*ll out of the wisteria, I mean brutally. Apparently they used to beat it with chains because 'they' thought that it thrived under the abuse.

Happy birthday, Nancy. I love a big, good nursery with knowledgeable helpers who are happy to tell me what to buy. I also like pines, and arbor vitae. And then annuals for color. I also vote for alyssum. How about petunias for those window pots. Some can be trained to cascade, if you like. I'm thinking that dressing appropriately is good. Those are delicate parts there. Great story, Reine.

Nancy, you might want to rethink naked gardening if you're going with pyracanthas. Nasty thorns. And here in our Zone 6, they grow VERY tall very quickly.

Happy Birthday Nancy M.!

I have no foliage stories or suggestions. I have a 5x12 sundeck and right now it has a chair and a clothes drying rack on it . . .

If I ever get a yard, I know where to come to for plant advice! I have no idea what zone Vancouver is . . . Zone Wet?

Hey I do have a plant story. My mom grows an amazing yard but had nothing on one side of her garage, one day she went out to take out the garbage and there was a homeless guy sleeping beside her garage. She screamed, he screamed and ran. Then she planted pyracanthas - for the thorns. No one has slept there since.

Nancy P. I love your deck!

Nancy M. Happy Birthday!!

Hi Nancy,

I know, "Howdy Ma'am." Just like the movies . . . I was like . . . aaaah . . . what is it . . . oh yeah, speechless. And yes, not only do those cowboys remember it, but every cowboy, cook, rodeo roper and their progeny "remember" it! I went to the Kernville Rodeo a number of years back . . . I cannot ever go to rodeo, not ever again . . . .

Pyracantha Lalandei is pretty much thornless - and gorgeous. Some people plant the thorny kinds in front of their widows to discourage intruders. Also for hedge to keep deer and out of the yard or garden. Here's a Pyracantha Lalandei finder:

so much for the "I'll never see them again" mantra. Hmm, you are the only one I know to say "I can't go there again" about rodeos -- what a gal!!

Oh boy...can I just come over? I'm jealous! I've just about maxxed out the space in my garden. It looks like you have a lot of light which is great and you haven't mentioned deer (no room at the condo?) so that's good too. you might ask your neighbors what the slug situation is re hostas. they are beautiful and come in a zillion colors and leaf textures but they can disappear overnight if you're not diligent about keeping the slugs away. I'll take the boxes..
In the windowboxes..what about mixed coleus with sweet potato vine (blackie) and golden creeping jenny. colorful for a long time and no pesky deadheading. And the creeping jenny is a perennial so next year you can just change the other.

Hi Brunonia,

I love Wisteria - but here's the deal on its blooming issues:

It takes 7 – 15 years before wisteria is old enough to bloom.

If it's old enough and not blooming, too much nitrogen is usually the reason. The symptom to look for is, it will have tons of foliage, and few or zero blooms.

It also needs full sun full and really good drainage. You might get nice leaves, but it won't bloom.

Also if you fertilize in the spring, you'll get lots of leaves, but you'll discourage blooms.

I love wisteria, so I hope this helps.

I dunno Karen, I'd rather have a cowboy see me naked than every chopper-flying sheriff in the county!

Happy Birthday, Nancy M!!!! xo

Lordy, Reine, that image made me howl!

About those slugs: Because they are slimy critters with very tender outsides, they are repelled by anything that clings to, or abrades their slimy selves. I have had great success with sprinkling either wood ash or the ashes from charcoal grillouts around my hostas and other slug-attracting plants. They will not willfully cross such caustic substances; it's literally like acid to them.

Whatever you do, even though it will kill slugs, don't use salt. It will also kill your plants.

Happy Birthday, Nancy M.!!!!!!!!!!

Here's the problem these days, it's not just those two cowboys, or the two camel drivers, or an of the in-person witnesses of various acts, it's the darned cellphone cameras and the perpetual proliferation of the image on the web. A man was arrested yesterday for taking cell phone photos of a changing room at Target (no idea why the area was open enough to allow that, changing in a cubicle is far from ideal).

Storyteller Mary, I take it you've never tried on clothes in Filene's basement, Boston. The first tip on the list for wedding gown bargains on their Running of the Brides day is, "Dress smart—wear a sports bra or swim suit so you can change in and out of gowns anywhere in the store."

I'm actually leaving for a nursery now, with all of your suggestions in mind and some of them written down on a note pad. I really appreciate all your thoughtful ideas. I may not get a chance to reply to each of them, but I gleaned cool ideas from them. Thank you so much. I think some other people got some good ideas today, too.

I might rethink the heat pump beautification project away from anything tree-ish. At some point a repair person is gonna need access and you will have to chop some trees down. Then you will have 'holes' for years.

How about a lattice cage and blooming vines for camouflage?

I'm actually thinking of Big Grass now, Mary Lynn. the kind that gets tall and bends over gracefully. It would go with some other big grasses in the vicinity.

I'm late to this garden party, but would like to put in a plug for Heliotrope, which is not only a lovely color, but has the most incredibly fragant scent, an intense vanilla. I'm on the border of zone 4/5, and they grow as annuals here, but I guess in some areas they can be perennial.

I'm just jealous that you guys have enough space and knowledge and a green thumb to have a garden. I'm living vicariously though you guys.

I couldn't read the article all the way thru once my eyes fixed on Rafa! Thanks for the oh-la-la images of him!

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