Tuesday, September 27, 2011

(Fall) Gardening -- Passive Aggressive Tips

Being a host for Garden Chat on twitter last night made me think about how I garden, esp in the fall. Also, how I've learned to garden. Folks tell me that by looking at my garden pics, they assume my garden is much older, and that I've been a gardener my whole life. Really, the garden and I were born together in July of 2007, and what I've learned has been by trowel and error, and by lots of book reading and obsessive google searching. Hope some of this helps, esp if you're a newbie:

-- Each spring I get hatchback loads of free compost from my city. I use this to top dress the garden and lawn in March / April. I also use it in each new planting hole, on the bottom and sides, and top dress the new plant, water, then mulch. That's all the fertilizer I use. Know what I mulch with? All my herbaceous perennials--which make great homes for insects and spiders on the garden floor.

-- In fall I cut nothing down. Why? Let's take for example the black swallowtail caterpillars currently munching on fennel and parsley. They will soon venture off to form a chrysalis, and remain attached to sticks and stems until April-ish when they emerge. Why would I toss them? A lot of insects are bedding down for winter, insects that will pollinate my perennials, give me more seed, and that will also feed hungry baby birds in May. Speaking of birds--I have 5x as many in the winter now that my garden is mature-ish. Flocks and flocks. Here are some things that depend on you leaving your sticks and leaves alone.

-- Not cutting down part 2: I can see the garden so much more clearly, walk it, and think about what needs work. If you try to design in the summer you can't see anything. Besides, winter sucks already, if you at least leave the garden standing you can IMAGINE it alive, you can dream and plan, and that gets you through. Oh, and plants will grab snow with their stalks for insulation, and hollow-stemmed plants are less likely to freeze and die.

-- I do a lot of research. Right plant for the right place. This often means a native species plant, not a hybrid or cultivar because....

--GARDENING IS NOT HARD WORK. It can be if you want it to be, if you love the act. But look--I think even gardeners suffer from the misconception that gardens mean tending, tending, tending. NO NO NO. If I wanted to do the bare minimum necessary to sustain my 2,000 square feet, I could spend 2-4 feverish days in March in it--that's all. This is because I have the right plants in the right soil and light, because I use compost, because I mulch, and I believe because I use so many natives. If a plant doesn't make it, it doesn't get a second chance, but most do make it.

-- As the garden grows, it supports itself more and more. Roots intermingle and share information and nutrients, also choking out weed roots (and weeds themselves from sunlight in a growing canopy of perennial foliage). Don't plant your garden thin -- go thick. Go tall.

-- Garden pests? Forget about it. I may have 5 million aphids and grasshoppers, but within a week of their appearance I have 10 billion apex predator bugs--assassin, garden spiders, mantis. I don't have to use pesticides, which also means more insects, which means more plants and birds, which means more predators, which means I have more insects, which means more plants and more wildlife....

-- My garden is starting to self sow. I move some seedlings, I kill others, I toss seed in my garden and over the fence on to my neighbor's acreage (and out of my car window). The garden wants to do what it wants to do, and left to its own for years it would become a prairie. But it's a garden. So I garden here and there in bits throughout the year because I want to--but it's not really maintenance.

-- I garden for fall. I have blooms into November here in zone 5 with many species of grasses, burnet, chelone, solidago, aster, eupatorium, (yes I use Latin, you should too, and you'll pick it up naturally as if being in a foreign country). It's fall, think fall--but think spring. Dig now and give your plants a head start. Get things on sale. Water well once, then mulch, then forget about it until March.

Don't know if that was interesting to anyone. I speak about some of this stuff in my memoir Sleep, Creep, Leap, but if anyone ever wants to ask a question, I'm game. I might not have the answer, though, contrary to my cat's opinion of himself (he's walking across my hands right now).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I'm on Twitter's Garden Chat & a Giveaway

Every Monday night from 8-9pm cst gardeners from everywhere log on to Twitter and blab like crazy about, well, uh, gardening. Each week there's a different host and topic, but folks often careen away then back again into that topic. It gets a bit nuts. Monday night I'm hosting Garden Chat after hours, from 9-10pm cst--I'll be guesting and the topic will be fall gardening--move it or lose it. My advice, ideas, demands, pleas, and complaints, for what they're worth.

*** I'll be giving away two copies of my garden memoir,  
Sleep, Creep, Leap: The First Three Years of a Nebraska Garden 
(link for excerpt & to buy). To enter, just leave a comment on this post 
about what cheezed you, what you learned, or ask a question related 
to the Twitter discussion. I'll randomly choose two winners--
or, choose two winners who brown nose the most. Haven't decided. ***

If you want TWO CHANCES TO WIN, go to the Q&A at Garden Rant, read why 
I decided to self publish etc, and comment there to enter.  

Amazon -- Kindle

Picture Peeling off sheets of skin from a sunburned back. Spending $1,000 at five nurseries in an afternoon. Raising 200 monarch butterflies. Hearing the wing beats of geese thirty feet overhead at sunset. How one piece of mulch can make all the difference. These are the stories of Benjamin Vogt’s 1,500 foot native prairie garden over the course of three years. After a small patio garden at his last home teases him into avid tinkering, the blank canvas of his new marriage and quarter acre lot prove to be a rich place full of delight, anguish, and rapture in all four seasons. 

Full of lyrical, humorous, and botanical short essays, Sleep, Creep, Leap will leave you inspired to sit a while with your plants, noticing how the smallest events become the largest—and how the garden brings us down to earth so that we can come home to our lives.

Thanks to Brenda, the creator and lord of Garden Chat, for asking me to host this double header! Visit Garden Chat now! Or just log on to twitter and type in the hashtag #gardenchat (but don't forget that for each tweet you'll need to include that hashtag!).

Below are some fall color pics from last year. 

If you want to see my garden from day one in 2007 
I suggest becoming a fan of The Deep Middle on Facebook 
and visiting the year by year photo galleries, 
or you can also link here.

White Boltonia, NE Aster, Wood's Aster

Gold Smokebush, Coppertina Ninebark, Fineline Buckthorn

Bald Cypress


Saliva azurea 'Nekan'

Lots of structure here for wildlife and winter interest.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Picture This, You Nerf Herder

My entry for Gardening Gone Wild's monthly Picture This Photo Contest:

In other news, I saw Doug Tallamy last night. If you've not read his Bringing Nature Home you are silly. His presentation was funny and charming, and it had to be, considering how many non native plants the gardening biz pushes (nurseries, landscapers) on unsuspecting buyers, who plant them and quickly kill off local animal and insect species, and eventually will kill us off. For example, a sterile lawn was partly torn up and replanted with native perennials, shrubs, and trees, and within two years the place was awash in life many times over compared to its lawn days. Tallamy spoke on how he planted a dogwood shrub outside his bathroom window, and showed about a dozen species of birds he views while, one would assume, using the facilities.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Giveaway on Da Rant

Time's running out to win a copy of my little book of garden essays / memoir Sleep, Creep, Leap: The First Three Years of a Nebraska Garden. Head on over to GardenRant, leave a comment to enter, and read the extended Q&A with the chicken lady, I mean, Amy Stewart.

I've been very, very humbled by the flattering comments. I'm blushing. Like a liatris.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Something Wrong is Happening

I've spent countless nights falling asleep not to sheep jumping over a fence, but fixating on garden design--where should plant x go, what if I move plant y here to where plant b is, and then texture it in this way.... I've spent hours on my knees looking at the undersides of leaves, down at ground level between their stems to witness a whole different world invisible to my 5'10" vantage point. I've burned my back, I've cut my skin open, I've been stung, I've been angry, I've been perfectly balanced, I've sweat like a fountain, I've bled and shed my spirit over this garden like a sheet placed over morning glories before the first frost. The coverage of my life in this garden is total, comfortable. And complete.

Maybe not complete, but I feel it's run its course. I've noticed a sharp change in my presence in the garden--not a gardener for myself in the moment, but one looking forward, making a place ready for someone else as a gift. And not birds or insects or reptiles, I mean a new owner.

Oh, I'm not moving anywhere soon, but I'm applying for university teaching jobs, and I am more ready than ever in my life to begin this new chapter a year from now, to move and put down real roots, to make a real home in a real place I love. Nothing against Nebraska or this fine home and garden, I just feel myself slipping away and I can't do anything about it.

I still long to go outside, but there's not much to do. The garden is planted and is now left to its own devices, evolving as it will with only a few nips and tucks on my part. But the 1,500 feet feels constraining. I want more. I want to try more. And not just the rest of my .20A lot, but many acres. A few dozen. A few hundred.

I feel bad now when I'm in the garden, like I'm watching over a sick relative, nursing something, treading water, afraid of what another owner might do here (lawn, pesticides), I'm just so conflicted. This fall I'm planting a few things I may never see mature, and simply hope someone won't pull out. Asters are blooming that never have before. 3-4 year old plants are just realizing their potential. I may be here another year or more, who knows, but it's too late. I won't spend money to add on, that's silly. I've begun pulling away and I hate that. I love this garden, I love what I've learned, I love who I've become because of it. But I suppose it's like any period or place in one's life--it teaches you, you live it fully, you learn from it, and when it's time to let go you have to let go, otherwise you won't be able to savor the next period or place to come along and learn what you need to learn.

But lucky for me I don't have to let go just now. I'm headed outside into autumn, smoke riding the cool air. I suddenly feel a spark like a flame rekindled. I remember our first date, dear garden, the 18 yards of mulch, the young and eager iris and joe pye, the internet searches, the reference books, the failures and discoveries, the fantasies in my head when we were apart (so delicious, like a wave pulsing in my blood). When my hands reach into your soil it is my soil, our soil, clay becoming loam, roots grasping deeper and interlocking, a chorus in the soil, a chorus above, a hymn and a rhythm that was not here before in either of us.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

All About Me

I hope you'll forgive this pimping of myself--that's what we call it here in corn country. Or is it beef country. And it's been so cold here, in the low to mid 50s, so darkly overcast, I've not seen one butterfly or moth in the garden from the safety of my slightly warmer house (I refuse to turn the heat on). The only things stirring outside are some bumblebees and hordes of blue jays, brown thrashers, chickadees, house finches, and mourning doves at the feeders. The sun may break through tomorrow with some 70s in its wake. May. Is it May yet? What a strange year--spring was late and wet, summer dry and sweltering, tail end of August wet, and fall early and dry. On off on off on off. My dad always said it's better to be pissed off than on.

1) Amy Stewart has a short Q&A with me up at Kirkus about my book, Sleep, Creep, Leap (book trailer, excerpt, buy it here). Watch out for a longer review and giveaway at Garden Rant next Thursday.

2) Carole Brown of Ecosystem Gardening did a lovely review of the book, mentioning how she almost spewed tea across her keyboard laughing. Esther Montgomery has a thoughtful and kind review, too, over at Esther's Boring Garden Blog (which isn't that boring).

2.5) I did a guest post at GardenBloggers.com detailing the self publishing process, why I decided to do it, what I hope to get from it, how much money I don't make (not the goal anyway), and all that good stuff. You can find some of this on the above SCL tab.

3) I have a lyrical / contemplative garden photo essay over at Sweet.

3.5) I took 3rd place, honorable mention, and 1st place in two photo contests this summer.

4) Last month I did a radio interview about my garden and writing on a local public station. My voice is sexy if you're distracted while listening to it.

5) And I'm becoming more regular on Twitter (it's the bran flakes), posting pics to Flickr, and also updating stuff on The Deep Middle's Facebook fan page, so like me there. Please. I am a small man.

6) And if anyone is interested in editing or workshop services, I started Dig Deeper as a way to stay in touch with past students and keep myself limbered up. The crown jewel is a 5 week internet / phone workshop for $300 (most writers charge a heckuva lot more). You can see what my students have said about me, too.

Now, back to work. This fall is WAY busy: applying for academic teaching jobs for fall 2012 (I sure miss teaching already), and trying to organize 100+ sources for memoir #3--so far the title is Turkey Red: A Memoir of Oklahoma.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Study in Sunflowers

These pics should warm me up--forecast is for 35 tomorrow night with potential frost... a good 2 weeks ahead of schedule. I had a nightmare a week ago that the asters were covered in snow. If it comes true I'll just have to put space heaters in the garden. And I bet you think I'm kidding.

As always clicking on the pics and expanding them may be a treat. Look for Waldo while you're at it.


Bee's Knees








Female monarch on stiff goldenrod

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Kiowa and Bison Story

Somehow, this Kiowa story seems the most appropriate for today.

When a Kiowa woman named Old Lady Horse looked back on the past, she recalled the not so distant time when all the necessities of life had been provided to her people by the bison. Hides for shelter and clothing, bones for tools, blood and meat for food. “The buffalo were the life of the Kiowas," she said.

When Europeans came to the Plains to build railroads and raise cattle, the bison did their best to protect the Kiowa people from harm. “They tore up the railroad tracks and the gardens,” Old Lady Horse recollected. “They chased the cattle off the ranges. The buffalo loved their people as much as the Kiowas loved them.”

But when the newcomers sent in soldiers and hide hunters, the buffalo admitted defeat and gathered in council to decide what to do. As it happened, the Kiowa were camped on the north side of Mount Scott in Oklahoma at this time [which is now in the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge]. Early one morning, a young Kiowa woman looked up from camp toward the mountain, through the mists over Medicine Creek, and saw the last bison appear like a spirit dream. As she watched, the face of the mountain opened and the bison walked inside, into a world of plum blossoms and freshness, where “the rivers ran clear, not red.” Into this world of beauty the buffalo walked, and the mountain closed behind them and they were gone.

Loan bison in the Wichita Mtns Wildlife Refuge

Friday, September 9, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Poem for the End of Summer

I posted this 3 years ago and have been getting lots of Google hits for it lately. When I read the poem again it haunted me for days--as I suppose the end of summer will do in the echo of dry stalks and frozen aster blooms in a month or so.


Poor summer, it doesn't know it's dying.
A few days are all it has. Still, the lake
is with me, its strokes of blue-violet
and the fiery sun replacing loneliness.
I feel like an animal that has found a place.
This is my burrow, my nest, my attempt
to say, I exist. A rose can't shut itself
and be a bud again. It's a malady,
wanting it. On the shore, the moon sprinkles
light over everything, like a campfire,
and in the green-black night, the tall pines
hold their arms out as God held His arms
out to say that He was lonely and that
He was making Himself a man.

-- Henri Cole

Friday, September 2, 2011

Monarch Tower, Sunflower of Doom, and Other Blooms

Along with the pics I'm interspersing quotes from my grandmother's grade school autograph book, about the time she was 13 or 14 in 1935-ish (it's been part of my memoir research to go through the two books I have of hers). I think some kids made up the rhymes since they are sort of nonsensical--all in the spirit of remembrances and best wishes--while others just use standard rhymes of the day. Some were quite dirty, especially for my conservative, Mennonite German grandmother. So let's get to it--lots of insects and blooms to see over this Labor Day weekend, lots of things to remember as the garden moves into autumn and the ghosts echo louder.

During a 10+ release day

Male on the left, female on the right--folks always ask

This little book is a garden spout
in which your friends may sow;
so here I plant a “forget-me-not”
and hope that it will grow.

Bee on Caryopteris

Remember me you can you must
as long as you can bite a crust,
and if the crust you cannot bite
forget me then if you think it right.

When you sit on a sofa 
with your feet on the rug 
never kiss your sweetheart 
with an everlasting hug.

Be careful where you nectar, esp while mating

I love you mighty
I love you little
I love your pajamas
close to my nighty.
But don’t get excited
and don’t get red
I mean on the clothes
line and not in the bed.

Painted Lady = painted end

Mantis bathing like a cat

Ocean is wide
sea is level
if I had you in the dark
I’d squeeze you like the devil.

(Perfect for the mantis pic--I've hard 6 confirmed monarch kills by mantis predation, based on the number of wings littering the ground.)

Salvia 'Nekan'--found here in Lincoln

Love the fuzzy seed stage of Wild Senna

Senna seeds in sultry sunlight

When a cat runs up a tree
pull its tail and think of me.

Black swallowtail about to emerge

A female among larvae

It’s sweet to love
it’s sweet to have a boy,
but oh how sad
when he don’t suit dad.

Love this shot of a female

I thought and thought
but the thought I thought
was not the thought I
thought. So when
again I think a think
I’ll write it down in
pen and ink.

Indian Grass blooming

When rocks and hills divide us
and you no more I see,
just look into the looking glass
and kiss yourself for me.

And if someone out there can make sense of this one, let me know please? I know it's along the lines of GURAQT and "Say 'lettuce' then spell 'cup.'"

y y u r
y y u b
I c u r y y 4 me