As those of you following this site know, I have been fairly inactive here recently. Join me on my new website and blog – Flowers For Your Soul. www.flowers4soul.com. There I explore how the work of tilling a flower garden informs the growth of our souls. The blog and website provide reflections on soul growth and flowers. There are also quotes and practical weekly tips related to gardens and our souls.
I will not be automatically transferring Urbangardenver blog subscribers over to the new blog, but I invite you to visit and follow Flowers For Your Soul.
Read a blog post from Flowers For Your Soul.
The start of spring is clear. I can always spot and name the first flower that appears in my garden – a crocus pushing up through either dead leaves or snow.
Fall is more ambiguous as the season of endings and dying. I never know when I have seen the last of a flower, because I cannot know when the killing frost will come. … Read more.
Thanks for being part of the journey!
I have been inactive on this blog for a while. I still garden, but have been doing other writing and also haven’t undertaken any new garden projects recently. And this year, when I go outside to work on the garden it hasn’t been very satisfying. I feel like I am always “ungardening.” Most of my garden work this spring has been cleaning up storm damage. I am still a gardener, just a little discouraged this year.
Ungardening: Earlier in the spring I took out a dead shrub and removed another shrub that had become overgrown and too big for its spot. I probably shouldn’t have taken everything out, because I didn’t have a new plan for that part of the yard yet, and I had several trips in May and June which impacted my available garden time, not to mention full-time work. Still just a blank space on the side of the yard. Waiting for inspiration. This ungardening activity was before the following weather-related and unplanned projects.
Ungardening: The Mother’s Day snow storm in Denver split my Hawthorne tree. We spent part of a day cutting down the rest of it. Now I am trying to dig the roots out of the yard, and I don’t have a plan for the space. I will probably wait until fall and fill in with perennials. The other tree in our front yard is an Ash tree, which is now susceptible to the ash borer travelling across the country, so I was especially sad to see the Hawthorne go. It was my backup tree if the Ash dies.
Ungardening: Our flowering plum tree next to the driveway looked ill last year and this spring it became evident that it is all the way dead. We haven’t removed it yet, but would like to remove it and plant a new tree. Another ungardening project.
Ungardening: Just before Easter I planted some big pots of pansies for the entrance to our church. They looked great with our cool, moist spring. Then on June 4 they were shredded by a hailstorm. No problem, I was planning on switching them out for summer flowers. Replanted the pots on June 20 and they got shredded by another hailstorm on June 24. Can’t decide if I will replant or not.
Ungardening: My burning bush shrub in the side yard died – probably due to the cold snap we had in November, when the plants were not yet dormant due to warm weather, and the temperature dropped to subfreezing in one day. I took it out and haven’t decided what to do there.
There are definitely bright spots in my garden. A few rose bushes I planted a couple of years ago are filling in nicely. I also have a rose bush I transplanted that looked completely dead, but now there are shoots growing up and a couple of buds on the shoots. Hope.
I spent most of my gardening time this week raking up branches and leaves from storms. I won’t give up, but usually June and July are the months to enjoy the garden. This year, I guess I’ll sip ice tea on my porch and plan my re-gardening projects for the fall. Discouraged but not dissuaded.
This weekend I have assessed the state of my garden. I was gone for the first 2 weeks of July, then we had a week of HOT weather that kept me away from serious garden chores, other than early morning watering forays. So yesterday I strolled around to pick a bouquet and today I assessed the garden work that I need to resume now that it is less than 90 degrees.
First of all, the fact that our first hot week in Denver was the week of July 20 rather than June 20 is wonderful. Most summers we have already had many hot days by this point in the summer. And our pattern of thunderstorms and rain showers has kept the garden looking better than average this year.
So what did I find on my stroll around the garden?
– Lovely flowers – some of my perennials are on their second blooming this summer, which doesn’t always happen and is a welcome treat. The last few lilies are opening. The seeds I scattered in the back garden area have rewarded me with cosmos, bachelor buttons and small sunflowers.
– Many weeds. Many, many, many weeds. After my 2 week absence, I caught up on weeding in the front garden, but I didn’t make it to the back garden before the heat settled in. The cosmos, bachelor buttons, sunflowers and nasturtiums are bravely stretching upward, trying to outpace the grass weeds and bindweed that is competing for attention. This week I must attack the weeds or the flowers will be overcome. Not my favorite part of gardening, but essential so I can enjoy the beauty. I try to set weeding goals, such as a quick spurt of weeding while I grill dinner, or one big bucket of weeds to fill before I take a break.
– My new plantings seem to have survived the heat. Between vacation and the hot week, I took out some salvia and replaced it with lavender. Salvia is a great plant, but I had become tired of the overabundant growth habit, and wanted something more fragrant and less out-of-control looking along my walkway. I know that in an ideal world I would have planted the lavender sooner, but I didn’t want to plant them before I left for 2 weeks. So I carefully watered them during the hot spell and it looks like they have survived. Hopefully they will root well and be lovely over the next few years.
– My lawn looks shaggy. I purposely didn’t mow last week because of the heat. I need to mow now. But my lawn is greener than it has ever been in late July, since I am skimpy with water. Again, the periodic rains have helped our normally drought-prone area.
I enjoy my imperfect garden, the blossoms, the beauty unfolding, the flowers bravely peering above the weeds. And I enjoy the sense of accomplishment from small tasks, such as filling a bucket with weeds. On the downhill side of summer, I want to savor as many moments in my garden as possible.
As the calendar moves from June to July, we are in the season of exuberance in the garden. This spring and summer I have found myself prone to exclamation points when enjoying my garden. The abundant water in May led to amazing blooms in June. I have never seen the roses so plentiful! The peonies were rich in fragrance, the lilies blooming by my back steps make me smile. My clematis was bursting with blooms, and even shared the joy with my neighbors on the other side of the fence. My honeysuckle rebounded from the drastic pruning of a few years ago when we put in a new fence. Even the peach tree which was nipped by frost during bloom time is harboring a few precious peaches. And the current abundance of blooms has made me almost forget the brilliant poppies of spring.
I have been gardening in Colorado for 29 years this summer, and my memory is full of many more years of drought than exuberance. Since careful planning is part of my personality, all this exuberance has me wondering if we will forget the lessons of drought, and the reality that we live in a semi-arid landscape. The fact that the prairie grasses have stayed green longer than many past years may dull our commitment to conservation. The snowpack in the mountains that has filled our reservoirs for our urban water supply is a gift, not a guarantee.
I will keep on emphasizing hardy low-water perennials that add color and joy to my garden, in a sustainable way. And today I will exclaim at the exuberance of the garden and treasure it all the more because it is unusual.
Does most of your gardening attention go to the front of your home? I like my front walk to be beautiful. Right now I have creeping veronica, candytuft, ice plant and pansies in bloom bordering my front walk. But I go in and out of my home via my back door most of the time, since we park in our driveway off the alley. So I like my alley entrance to be beautiful as well – just for me. Every time I have come in or out of the alley in the past week, I have remarked on the beauty of my iris. Several years ago I thinned out iris that were getting crowded elsewhere in my yard and moved the extras to the alley. They are beautiful with very little care and no supplemental watering. This year the iris in my back alley are blooming better than the ones up front.
I like a beautiful back entrance, because my garden isn’t just for show, for those walking by my house, or visiting through the front door. My garden is an expression of me, and I want that expression to be consistent – that I present myself the same way to everyone – front or back door. I don’t put on a different face for show than for regular life.
So this week, notice what greets you in your garden, on your regular route in and out of your house. And put something in that area that makes you smile. Whether it is a pot of flowers by your back door, a special perennial near a side door, or welcoming flowers at your front door. Beauty can greet you at every turn.
Weeding is the essential and unglamorous part of gardening. Hard core weeding means digging deep to get to all the roots. Last weekend I put a lot of energy into digging deep in the back section of my yard, in an area where the weed infestation has been serious. I have been unsure about how I want to use this area of the garden, but I know that getting rid of the weeds is the first step.
My friend Mary Lou calls this type of weed the “cancer” of the garden. It is tempting to dig shallow and just get the spidery roots; but lurking deep beneath the surface is a thick root that sustains the growth of this weed.
Since this area has been so problematic for me, I have decided to just plant flower seeds this summer. I don’t want to invest in any shrubs or perennials until I get the weeds under control, because it is harder to dig deep once new plants are established. I am also wondering if I should return this patch of garden to vegetable production. I’m not sure that I am committed to watering enough to grow vegetables here, so in the meanwhile, I will fill in with a variety of flower seeds. I am waiting a few weeks to plant my flower seeds, because the soil needs to warm up (the forecast is for 30 degrees tonight), and I want to do one more round of digging weed sprouts before I plant.
I am somewhat fatalistic about my battle with weeds. I feel like I will never truly eradicate them, but at this point in the spring, the clear, bare earth makes me optimistic. However, once this sunny garden spot hits midsummer, I am less enthusiastic about digging weeds in the heat, and they often claim victory. I’ll post pictures either way. I should have done a “before” picture of my weed patch. Take my word for it, it was completely covered with weeds!
Springtime in Colorado is a welcome and crazy season. We are so eager for the grass to green up, the leaves to come out, the sun to warm us, and the snow to stop. All of this is true, except the snow isn’t going to stop quite yet. So given that Saturday will be 73 degrees and sunny, and Sunday will be 37 and snowy, what can you do in the garden on Saturday? Cleanup work in the garden is important this time of year, but not as fun as planting new things. Trim back any perennials that didn’t get trimmed last fall, weed the emerging dandelions and grasses, and turn over the soil in garden areas on Saturday, even if it doesn’t feel like you are accomplishing anything. Put some new compost around your perennials, rose bushes and shrubs, and work compost into your garden soil. This will all get watered in on Sunday when it snows (or maybe just rains).
If you really want to plant something on Saturday – do some cold hardy pots of color for your porch. I love to make living Easter baskets this time of year. Pansies and snapdragons are cold hardy, and if you put them in pots, you can move them to a warmer spot if we have a hard freeze (still possible). You can also plant seeds for cold hardy vegetables, such as spinach and peas. You can start planting perennials in the next few weeks. If you are purchasing perennials from a greenhouse, let them “harden off” or adjust to cooler temperatures at night by sitting on the porch or other protected spot for a few days. And look at the weather forecast, so you don’t plant them the day before a cold snap. You can also plant trees and shrubs this time of year. So take your spring fever into the garden on Saturday, spend a little time cleaning up, then jot down some notes about places you need to fill in next week. Put a basket of pansies on your porch and take a walk, enjoying the bulbs and flowering trees, before it snows on Sunday.
Yesterday was the first day of spring – and I spent a little time in my garden, cleaning out leaves, trimming back perennials and enjoying the bulbs that are blooming now.
But I also wondered about water while I was in the garden. Spring is our snowiest season here in Denver, and the spring snows are helpful in moistening the soil and causing the grasses to turn green and the flowers and shrubs to emerge from dormancy with healthy growth. But my garden is somewhat dry. The snow that was forecast for last Tuesday did come, but barely. The little bit of snow hardly compensated for the drying winds. Snow is forecast again for Saturday. Will is come and water the soil, or will it just blow through? As I was in the garden celebrating the first day of spring, I wondered if I should turn on my water and give the garden a drink.
World Water Day is tomorrow, just 2 days after the first day of spring (in the northern hemisphere). Water is always on my mind in my Colorado garden, because we live in a semi-arid environment, and because I feel responsible for conserving water. The truth is, I could water my garden much more than I do. I have never even consumed water up to the first tier pricing level that the water department instituted to encourage conservation. And if I did decide to water more, we could accommodate that expense in our budget. But being able to water more is different from being free to water more. Because I am compelled to conserve. Compelled out of responsibility for stewarding a scarce resource. And also compelled out of respect for my sisters and brothers around the world who don’t have unlimited access to tap water, who are dependent on walking great distances to carry precious water to their homes every day.
Sometimes it is hard to stay committed to conserving water. I wonder how my small stand for water conservation can make a dent in the shortage of water in our region. Does my compulsion to conserve make any difference to anyone? Why shouldn’t I treat the Denver Water pipes that come to my home like springs of water, bringing unlimited access to water to my home and garden?
Deep down, I can’t shake my view of water as a sacred resource. I can’t stop caring about conservation. And the actions of each individual, when taken together in total, can make a difference. If I conserve, and you conserve, and my friends conserve, and your friends conserve, then together we can reduce water use. And when we turn on our hoses or taps, perhaps we can pause and consider our fellow humans who don’t have such luxurious access to water.
If you are interested in learning more about how to use less water in your landscape, I have several blog posts on conserving water. And if you are interested in some facts about World Water Day, view the infographic that I scripted on this topic.
Crocuses look so delicate, but their small leaves poke up through snow and their short stems resist breaking under normal spring snows. The rain and snow that we had yesterday was perfect for watering the ground deeply. This morning, under the bright sun, the snow gave way to lovely purple blossoms.
I plant crocuses right next to the sidewalk in order to spread cheer to all those walking by. I have other bulbs scattered through my garden, but crocuses are so small and easily overlooked, they are best in a prominent location.
Spring is a very up-and-down season in Colorado. I call it weather whiplash. We go from warm sunshine to snow in just a few hours, then back again. Most of this variation isn’t too hard on the plants, unless we get extreme low temperatures. My forsythia isn’t looking very promising right now. It normally blooms in mid-late March. And it may bloom, but I watching it carefully. The -11 degree temperatures in February were harsh and it doesn’t look like the buds are forming. Maybe I am wrong and I will still get bright yellow blossoms. No guarantees in Colorado gardening.
Meanwhile – I am on the lookout for crocuses and other bulbs as I walk through the neighborhood. Last week I was at the Denver Botanic Gardens and admired their early bulbs – crocuses and snowdrops.
Get outside – spring is coming – in between snowstorms.
I know that there are pansies under the snow in my yard. We’ve had a couple of days of melting and now the leaves and buds are visible. I can’t wait to see the pansies and the early bulbs pushing up. They are the promise of spring. Unseen during the snowy spells, but present, living, and ready to push through with happy blooms.
If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I planted extra pansies last fall, in hopes of many blooms this spring. Unfortunately, half of the pansies got crunched when I had workers at my house for a project in November. They didn’t know that the flower bed next to the sidewalk was full of pansies, and the flowers got trampled. Sigh.
I realize my sadness at losing the pansies was out of proportion to my investment in them. The house project cost thousands of times the cost of a pansy, and I can always plant pansies next year. But once they were crushed, it was too late to plant more pansies. Now I won’t have pansies peeking out from under the snow next to the sidewalk. The damage was done.
Gardening is an interesting mix of present joy and past investment. Seeing the buds pushing through the snow gave me joy today. But that joy came because of my investment of time, energy and a little money last fall, when I planted a flat of pansies. And the investment is not without risk, since plants can succumb to drought, deep freezes, pests, trampling feet or any number of hazards. But as a gardener, I still invest, I still hope, all for the joy of the flower pushing through – reflecting hope.