Unwelcome Guests

I looked out the window and to my surprise,

I saw a deer of tremendous size,

It was well-fed and sleek, it had quite a girth,

It ate all my tulips–200 dollars worth.

Planning garden beds is similar to planning a party. Combing through your list, you will have chosen the most amiable and interesting of your friends and relatives. However, because of circumstances beyond your control, you find yourself having to invite your best friend’s cousin–she’s the one with the purple hair and pierced body parts. She not only drinks herself under the table, but sometimes under several guests as well. To avoid hurt feelings, Aunt Edith’s doddering brother also has to be included. And Uncle Howie’s interminable stories of his camping trip to Dry Gulch Park can empty a room faster than your sister-in-law’s offer to sing an aria from Aida. These guests may be unwelcome, but they are nonetheless invited. It’s the gatecrashers who are the problem–people you have never met who arrive unannounced.

In the case of my garden, the welcome guests are the roses, clematis, perennials, and annuals. The gatecrashers are slugs, deer, and rabbits; added to this dreary list are the weeds, those ruffians of the garden. See Too Late for Regrets, page 216, for a vivid example.

Slugs will chew their way through a bed of annuals in a few days. These horrible hermaphrodites come out at night and are most prevalent after it rains. To deal with them, I go out with my trusty scissors and emulate Henry the Eighth–decapitating as many of them as possible. Soda cans cut in half and then partially filled with beer can be effective. Every morning when I inspect and find dozens of corpses, I rub my hands with glee and dance my way around the beds.

Deer are charming creatures, but they can devour all the tulips in your beds. A friend told me that allowing chewing tobacco to steep overnight in a bucket, then spraying the emerging foliage in early spring would deter them.

Weeds should be dealt with early in the season; the soil is soft and weeds are easy to pull out. Closely planted perennials and annuals will shoulder out the weeds, depriving them of nutrients and light.

Have you ever had any unwelcome guests–either at your party or in your garden? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Closely planted perennials deter weeds.

Closely planted impatiens deter weeds.

Lucky tulips which have escaped the attention of browsing deer.

Lucky tulips which have escaped the attention of browsing deer.

Gardening Tips of the Week

  1. When buying annuals, perennials, or vegetables, avoid leggy or wilted plants. inexperienced gardeners will be disappointed at their lack of success; disgruntled, they will rush back to the nursery with their pathetic purchases, their dismay matched only by the gloom of the sellers.
  2. To prevent squirrels or other miscreants from digging up newly planted bulbs, throw a few mothballs into the planting hole.
  3. A pair of kitchen scissors is a useful garden tool. Deadheading, decapitating copulating slugs, digging out shallow rooted weeds and cutting string are among their many uses.
  4. Tie a colored ribbon around your small tools; if you lose them in the unmown grass, they’ll be easier to find.
  5. If you are stung by a bee or hornet and are allergic to them, elevate the limb and apply ice packs to the area. Contact your doctor.
  6. Please yourself; that way you’ll be sure of pleasing at least one person.
  7. Livening up inexpensive clay pots. Wipe the exterior of the pot with a damp cloth. Attach masking tape vertically to make as many stripes as you want. Paint the entire pot white (including tape). When the paint is dry, remove tape. The result will be a white pot with perfectly straight orange stripes. Plant with either boxwood or with annuals or perennials of the same color. Line several of these pots against a wall or along a path for a striking look.
    Healthy alyssum and petunias.

    Healthy alyssum and petunias.

    Vibrant flowers surround a fountain.

    Vibrant flowers surround a fountain.

    Great choices make for healthy flowers.

    Great choices make for healthy flowers.

    Potential DIY project for the spring - decorating a simple clay pot!

    Potential DIY project for the spring – decorating a simple clay pot!

“Potager” or Vegetable Garden

I spy with my little eye,

A hungry rabbit two feet high.

He ate my carrots for his lunch, 

Not one or two, but the whole damn bunch.

The French word potager translates to “kitchen garden”–a combination of vegetables and flowers. In medieval times, crops were grown for the table and successful crops were a matter of survival for families.

It was in the great gardens of the aristocrats of continental Europe and England that the idea of a potager evolved. The vegetables were interspersed with perennials, while a separate herb garden was always included.

A combination of flowers and vegetables satisfies the soul as well as the appetite. With the renewed widespread enthusiasm about organic and homegrown food, you might be seeing more and more potagers springing up in your neighborhood.

If you could grow any fruit or vegetable in your backyard, which would it be? Comment below!

It's not a dog's life if you're surrounded by vegetables and flowers.

It’s not a dog’s life if you’re surrounded by vegetables and flowers.

Yellow squash and petunias.

Yellow squash and petunias.

Dahlias "H.G. Hemrick," larksour "Carmine," yellow squash, beans "Derby," and oriental cabbage "Joi Choi"

Dahlias “H.G. Hemrick,” larksour “Carmine,” yellow squash, beans “Derby,” and oriental cabbage “Joi Choi”

Spring Flowers

Okay, I know it’s not spring. But I can dream, can’t I? Another five months ’til that glorious season is upon us.

Here are some beauties to look forward to that should be planted in the fall:

The ruber/corm of Anemone “de Caen.” It would seem unlikely that an exquisite flower could be produced from the unpromising knobby object. In spring, however, parsley-like foliage emerges followed by sturdy stems with plump buds. These unfurl to reveal glowing flowers with velvet centers. These are wonderful flowers to cut for bouquets.

Here are the requirements for successfully growing these:

  • moderately rich, well-drained soil
  • some afternoon shade
  • before planting, soak the tubers overnight in a bucket of water
    The tuber/corm of Anemone coronaria 'De Caen' is hard and raisin-like.

    The tuber/corm of Anemone coronaria ‘De Caen’ is hard and raisin-like.

    Korean lilac 'Miss Kim,' candy tuft

    Korean lilac ‘Miss Kim,’ candy tuft

    A mix of daffodils and tulips.

    A mix of daffodils and tulips.

Gardening Topic of the Week: Tulips

The days are shorter, the nights are longer. It’s official–it’s fall.

In October, I make the much-anticipated visit to the nursery to choose tulip bulbs from the abundant

Tulips "Georgette,"  red or orange. This is a fabulous bunch flowering tulip. Several flowers on a sturdy stem. If you have enough space, plant ten or twelve for a spectacular show.

Tulips “Georgette,”
red or orange. This is a fabulous bunch flowering tulip. Several flowers on a sturdy stem. If you have enough space, plant ten or twelve for a spectacular show.

selection. The many varieties can be bewildering! Therefore, my advice is to look at the tags. They will tell you how tall the tulips will grow to be, and when they will bloom; early, mid, or late spring. Be sure to include those tags in your packet!

A mixture of Darwin tulips. Yellow, pink, and red are easy to grow.

A mixture of Darwin tulips. Yellow, pink, and red are easy to grow.

It’s also important to have a definite plan. A mixture of yellow or red? Perhaps pink and white? Or a section devoted to orange?

The bulbs should be firm and unblemished–bulbs that show any sign of sponginess should be avoided.

The bulbs have to be planted before the ground freezes. I plant them in any vacant areas in the beds. Late spring (when the foliage emerges) is when yellow basket-of-gold and brilliant pink creeping phlox start to bloom. Together with the tulips, you will have a charming show which will last a month.

I treat most of my tulips as annuals even though this seems like a waste. They’re removed once they’ve finished blooming because the spaces are needed to plant summer annuals such as impatiens or lobelia erinus and alyssum. One particular gentleman with whom I walked down the aisle all those years ago strongly objects to this waste. “Why are you doing this?” he bleats pathetically. “I would leave them in.” But as Ingrid Bergman said to Walter Matthau in the movie Cactus Flower, 

“You go to your church, I’ll go to mine.”

"Maureen," a sparkling white tulip that is sure to please.

“Maureen,” a sparkling white tulip that is sure to please.

Plant tulips in clumps of 6 or 8–they’ll look more effective. These beauties, the harbinger of spring, will give the gardener much joy and sense of accomplishment.

Darwin tulips, "Golden Parade,"  glorious yellow which will light up your bed in late spring.

Darwin tulips, “Golden Parade,” glorious yellow which will light up your bed in late spring.

Do you have a favorite October/Autumn ritual? Pumpkin spice latte at the corner Starbucks? Visiting the pumpkin patch with the children or their children? Watching a scary movie by the fireside? Share in the comments below!

Clematis – Queen of Climbers

In Too Late for Regrets, there is a description of a spectacular blue and white border, the background of which is a magnificent display of clematis, “Royal Jackmanii.”

There was a pleasing balance between the white, blue and purple perennials. The silvery border of artemesia anchored on either side by French lavender, the elegant spires of snapdragons, and at the back on either side of the clematis, Russian sage. They would stretch the bloom period into fall.

-Too Late for Regrets, Page 78

Clematis are bluish, pinkish, reddish. After some hail, they'll look quite deadish.

Clematis are bluish, pinkish, reddish. After some hail, they’ll look quite deadish.

Clematis is the queen of climbers; every garden should have several of these beauties. Their colors are entrancing; pink, red, purple, mauve, and white. If treated well, they will bloom with vigor and reliability. This lustrous climber is a rampant grower, though it will take a few years before it starts ramping. It’s a carefree plant and once established for two or three years, all that is required in spring is fertilizing and a good supply of water.

Plants can be like friends and relatives; initially, they are eagerly awaited and made welcome. However, after a prolonged stay, some become tiresome and one longs for them to go. There are others like clematis that are much anticipated; their presence enchants us, their departure leaves a void.

Here are some tips for growing clematis successfully:


  1. Choose the right site. Check the tag for this information.
  2. Prepare the planting hole with compost and manure.
  3. In spring, prune those that need pruning. Don’t worry if you forget to prune, they’ll still bloom.
  4. Never allow the plant to dry out.
  5. In the spring, fertilize and guide the tendrils onto their supports. I use a lot of chicken wire fixed either to a wall or fence.
A stone urn filled with lobelia erinus, alyssum, dianthus, and petunias is nicely complemented by the glowing backdrop of "Ville de Lyon"

A stone urn filled with lobelia erinus, alyssum, dianthus, and petunias is nicely complemented by the glowing backdrop of “Ville de Lyon”

You will be rewarded with a gorgeous display of shimmering color from this most obliging plant.

Here is a list of recommended clematis:

Purple “Jackmanii”

Pink “Ernest Markham” and rose pink “Ville de Lyon” (pictured right)

Pale mauve/pink “Hagley Hybrid”

Pink ‘Nelly Moser” (an early bloomer, some shade)

“Sweet Autumn,” which are small delicate white flowers that flower late.

Fall Chores

In multiple interviews and discussion boards, I’ve cited gardening as my inspiration for writing and drawn connections between it and the creative writing process. Because so many of my readers are of the gardening world, I’ve decided to share some of my gardening tips with you. First up: fall chores.

In Colorado at this time of year, the days are warm. But at night, one can feel the crispness in the air. The garden is beginning to look a bit tired–so is the gardener–it’s time to put the garden to bed.

All of the perennials have to be cut down to approximately six inches; those that are becoming overcrowded can be divided and replanted in other areas. Weeds and grasses that have established themselves must be removed.

This is a good time to spread compost, peat, and manure over the beds. In spring once the snow has melted and moisture has seeped into the soil, digging becomes easy. The soil is friable; it breaks up easily. Any weeds and grasses are easy to remove–it’s important to do this before they strengthen and start growing into the emerging perennials.

Now the excitement of spring planting can begin.

Stay tuned for our next topic: tulips.